As they continued to run they eventually heard the frantically searching ghouls’ voices grow increasingly confused. Desira’s spell had worked and they were effectively hidden from their undead enemies.
Eventually the group managed to run within range of the bell tower which turned out to be on top of a church, likely dedicated to the dwarven god Torag. They proceeded much more cautiously, however, when an arrow narrowly missed them as they approached.
They could hear cursing in dwarven from atop the tower and, those who understood, decided to try and negotiate with what they hoped would be an ally.
It was rough going as they learned that the ghouls had tried all sorts of tactics to try and get the church to lower its defenses. It was only after being doused with holy water that the group was quickly ushered into the lower level of the church.
There they saw what remained of the dwarven people of Shurg. Between the combined efforts of Tharrison “harry” Balg, Crim, and Al’ev “Olive” Reldin along with the occasional suggestion from Sindri Stribog, the group was able to learn what had happened to the once proud city.
It started with a small attack on the outskirts a few months previous. Orcs and Giants had appeared from the city’s primary surface entrance and attacked. They kidnapped several dwarves then disappeared. A few days later, they returned, but with them they brought the missing dwarves. But these dwarves had been transformed into the ghouls that now filled the city. Another wave of attacks had commenced, and a more people were kidnapped. This cycle continued until eventually, all of Shurg had been occupied and the Orcs and Giants who had started the mess in the first place were no longer around.
The other thing of interest that they learned was that there had been a human who had been here with the dwarves not too long before the Heroes had arrived. He had been very good a dispatching the ghouls in their previous attacks on the church. The dwarves hadn’t seen him in some time, though, and had assumed he either succeeded in seeking out help, or had been lost to the numerous ghouls beyond the church’s doors.
Much of the next hour was spent in contemplation over what the group’s next move should be. They all agreed that they should try to save the remaining dwarves in the tower, of which there were only five. Two men, a woman, a child, and their leader who was the head cleric of the church. When the heroes suggested getting them out of the city via a portal, not one dwarf was willing to go along with it. Hatred of arcane magic was a deeply held belief of many dwarves, and they all would have rather died than take the portal Sindri could have created.
This frustrated many of the heroes, but Al’ev had been expecting it. He had had more experience with this very issue than he cared to recall. Instead, the group eventually agreed that they’d have to flee the city with their dwarven friends via the very tunnel that the Orcs and Giants had initially attacked from. Before resting for the night, Sindri, Desira and Al’ev took flight over the city and gathered up suitable arms and armor for the dwarves to use. It was readily available to be found as there had been much fighting throughout the city.
The next morning found the dwarves looking apprehensive and Al’ev with an escape plan. While the others discussed the merits of possibly using the rooftops, an idea that certainly did appeal to him at first, he knew that the positives would quickly become negatives when they were spotted. He imagined it wouldn’t take overly long for that to happen as they were going to be moving slow and there had been scouts on building rooftops the previous night.
Instead he brought forth another idea, one that he had heard a dwarf drill instructor mention years ago.
“Speed is the essence of war.” the dwarf had said, pulling Al’ev’s chain shirt down far enough so that the half elf’s eyes were level with his own. “Don’t you ever forget that, long ears.” And he had let him go to continue on to the next recruit.
Clearly the lesson had stuck. Al’ev used a spell and a bit of his energy reserves to summon no fewer than 14 steeds. It was enough to get the entire group through the city with enough speed for them to not even have to worry about the numerous ghouls everywhere.
The plan was a success. They saw many enemies as they streaked through the remains of the city. His allies and friends were all accounted for by the time they reached the first break in the tunnel. He had allowed himself to relax then while they all discussed which way to take their dwarven friends.
They were able to determine that the tunnel branched off in two directions. One to the North, leading deeper into the Larian Mountains and another leading South, straight to the doorstep of the Iron Fist Monastery.
Eventually they elected to go south and, after a bit of travel and a scramble through a blocked exit from the tunnels, they arrived at the monastery where they were permitted entrance.
The monks had no idea what had transpired inside the massive mountain city of Shurg. The heroes let their dwarven allies explain everything to the monks, only jumping in at the end to explain that they had come seeking the black dragons.
Eventually the issue of Garyuu Reddaile was raised and Al’ev knew this was dangerous territory. He excused himself, lest his emotions take hold of him in the middle of the monastery.
When he was away from the group, the others explained the fate that had befallen their monk friend and he rejoined them in time to tell the monks that they would be returning to the place Garyuu had fallen to retrieve his remains.
The heroes stayed a night in the monastery and, in the morning, they said their goodbyes to the dwarves they rescued then made their way back into the mountains.
It was after a while of being back in the tunnels that they came across something that didn’t quite fit with the rest of the terrain they had seen.
It was a man laying against the tunnel wall, dressed in the garb of the Crustakin Hold regular guard. This was one of the men who had been under Captain Morgan when he marched off to rescue his people from the red dragons shortly after The Brine Dragon of the Southern Sea incident.
The man was clearly a bit out of it and Desira used a bit of her power to restore the man to a healthier state. He began answering their questions, and they learned just what the creatures who were inside the dwarven capital were.
They were dead dwarves whose heads had been embedded with crystals. These crystals were much like the gem that held part of Nalef Reldin‘s soul. But these were twisted, tainted things and Al’ev knew his fears were about to be confirmed.
The guard held up several of the crystals for the heroes to examine, explaining they were his people.
The villagers of Crustakin Hold were indeed the souls that inhabited the crystals in the ghoulish bodies. They were being used as a food source for the demons controlling the bodies as though they were puppets. Captain Morgan and his men had spent a long while “rescuing” their fellow townsfolk from their dark prisons. But they were all still trapped in the gems.
Al’ev’s thoughts drifted to the gems he destroyed when the ghouls had first attacked his friends and then to the other he had to have incinerated as he burned down the door in the dwarven city. He thought of the voice of the human child that had cried out. It was as he feared, he had destroyed the soul of an innocent child. He was already more his father’s son than he had ever wanted to be. He grew sick and stepped off to the side, letting his friends handle the questioning until he was again able to utter sentences.
The heroes learned that this man had splintered off from the great Captain Morgan when he disagreed with a deal he was about to make. He didn’t explain with who, or what it was about, and Al’ev guessed they weren’t going to know until later when they ran into the captain himself.
Al’ev told the man he had done a good job and that, if he kept going south down the tunnel, he’d eventually reach the Iron Fist Monastery. He made the guard promise one thing before he left, however, and that was that he’d keep his people safe. Al’ev didn’t mention that he intended on finding a way to restore the people in those crystals even if it took him all of his long years ahead. Assuming he wasn’t killed first, of course.
That brought him back to the present moment, and the group continued down the tunnel, getting further and further into the mountain range. Eventually Harry identified a small crack in the wall off to the side of the tunnel and stated that beyond it should be a cavern. He explained that the way the rock formations were told him this and that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to take a look at what may lay beyond.
It looked like grass, though not the kind one could sometimes find in a cave, such as mold. This looked more like the kind one would find out in an open field. T’lemya decided to go back through the crack then drag Al’ev back through. When the magus stepped into the cavern, he decided to take a risk.
Light filled the room at the magus’s call, and it reflected off the grass—and reflected, and reflected, and continued to reflect until the cavern’s tunnel at the other end came into sight. The grass, it turned out, was actually crystal rock. It was a kind of formation none of the group had ever seen before.
Eventually the majority of the group went ahead to explore. Velius and Sindri were adamant on staying near the entrance to the cavern, though. Al’ev wasn’t about to leave them alone. He decided to keep watch over his friends, knowing that the others would call if they needed him. He passed time by practicing a few dance steps his mother had taught him and attempting to weave it in with his swordplay.
Meanwhile, the majority of the group had discovered something of wonder in the tunnel beyond the cavern. The further in one went, the more the “grass” covered. Eventually everything the eyes saw was covered in the strange formations, from the floor to the walls and even the ceiling. As Caramel continued on ahead of the group she eventually was surprised when she turned back and saw the others had somehow ended up standing on the wall. It took her a moment to realize that instead of them standing on the wall it was her who was guilty of this action. By simply following the path, the gravity seemed to shift as one went. The pathway continued along the tunnel, which still reflected Al’ev’s light back in the cavern, spiraling its way into what turned out to be a forest made of crystal shaped like normal plants.
They heard activity up ahead of them and Crim took this opportunity to stealthily make his way forward of the group. T’lemya followed. They were stopped after a few moments when they saw a pair of dwarflike creatures sawing up the crystal trees much as one would a normal tree in a lumber mill. They were still recognizing this when a pair of war cries rang out across the crystalized forest.
Two human men broke out from cover ahead and off to the left of Crim and T’lemya’s current position. They were charging the dwarf like creatures who were only now reacting to their presence.
One of the men was dressed in a garb that was similar to that of the man they had encountered back in the main tunnel. A guard of Crustakin Hold. The other was dressed drastically different, sporting darker armor parts of it appearing to be made of the scales of a black dragon. They fell upon the dwarven creatures with an almost feral aggression, clawing at their enemies foreheads.
After a few moments of struggling, they seemed to carve what they had come for from the dwarven heads and ran back into the forest. T’lemya rushed back to the cavern to inform Al’ev what she had seen. Crim returned to the rest of the group to do them of what had happened.
The man in the dark armor was unmistakable. It was Captain Morgan.
Back at the entrance a few moments had passed after T’lemya related quietly and with as few words as possible, just what had happened. Al’ev desperately wanted to meet up with the remainder of the group, but Velius and Sindri, for whatever reason, refused to leave this spot.
The choice was eventually taken from their hands, however, when they heard the demon voices of the ghouls approaching from down the main tunnel. Velius worked his way back through the crack to see if it was what they thought. Indeed, 10 of the ghouls appeared to be approaching their position from the main tunnel.
Informing Al’ev, Sindri, and T’lemya, they all set off to meet the rest of the group, Al’ev taking dancing lights down along the way. They continued along the tunnel and met up with the rest of the group in time to tell them what had happened at the cavern’s entrance.
They didn’t have to say much as the voices were now heard from only a little bit behind them.
They prepared themselves knowing exactly what it was they were fighting now…