When the Desert Rose comes to port in New Ghelspad, Dechan finds that his ancient holy symbol is gone. Bartholomew is at his side, continuing a conversation about the efforts of Traladar in the Darkonese Civil War. It seems that everyone remembers Bartholomew taking the journey to Traladar with them, and weathering the Night of the Vampire in the library of Vandevicsny Manor.
The heirs to The Missed are greeted as heroes in the Enclave. They are once again afforded the best training money can buy, and they are honored with a feast at the Double Rose that is attended by the leadership of both the Enclave and the Nova Vaasan embassy.
In the eyes of the Darkonese government, the heroes are to be lauded for saving the Vandevic family, who have been allies of Darkon-and Rivalis--since the dark days of the Darkonese Civil War.
Thanks are also due from Nova Vaasa because the heroes succeeded in finding the monster that slew Father Enver of the Boritsi Trading Company. The creature assumed Enver's identity and fled a band of pursuing justifiers and inquisitors. Until the heroes returned and told their tale, they had assumed that the monster had escaped justice forever.
Carrie ends her training faster than half the heroes, and she immediately dives into research in Androlov Manor. She spends three weeks and 1,000 gold crowns to master an additional second-circle spell.
Following his training, Dechan once again is able to use his divinations to ferret out the secrets of the cloak the heroes won from Branko Gobbet. Previously, he learned of its ties to southern wizards and the goblins of the Dymrak Dread, but he had not unlocked its true potential.
Dechan also identifies the feather token, cementing the heroes' knowledge of its full capabilities and its history.
A package arrives in the Enclave for the heirs to The Missed. It has come from Traladar and includes a note from Lord Gustav Vandevic. In the note, Lord Gustav thanks the heroes for their deed on the Night of the Vampire. He presents three items of magic to the heroes, wishing them well and offering his hope that the heroes will find use in them.
The first item is a talisman taken from the bodyguard of Lord Ourosco, whose name was Hosk, the Mankiller. Lord Gustav sends this Talisman of Warrior's Courage to Beatrice, with his thanks for her stunning bravery leaping into the carriage of Lord Ourosco not once but twice, and facing Hosk face-to-face.
The remaining two items are possessions of the vampire Andru Vandevic. When Andru finally reformed in his crypt after eight hours being held at bay by David's scriturra, there were some items left among the remains. Two possessed a magical dweomer, and Lord Gustav believes both would be best served in the heroes' hands. The first is the Ring of Heroes, while the other is the Akiri Ladder Amulet.
All three items have been exhaustively studied by wizards in Traladar, at Lord Gustav's expense. Detailed notes accompany each item.
At the end of morning devotions at the temple, Moss Charles asks Dechan to walk with him to the parade grounds. There, in the blustery December wind, he reveals that he has learned of a job that might just interest the heirs to the Missed legacy. Moss explains that the Overlord of Darkshelf Quarry is looking for a group of adventurers to help his people. Darkshelf lies in the badlands of former Arak, placing it on Darkonese soil--and therefore beyond the purview of Nova Vaasa--but deep in the Mountains of Misery region--and therefore well beyond the realm of the Iron Crown's interests.
According to the rumors, the problems facing Darkshelf include the Slave Lords. In one recent raid, in fact, the villagers pushed back the slavers. It's rumored that some slavers were even captured and executed. But the Overlord is worried that the problems around his village are not quite over.
Dechan agrees that this sounds like something that his friends might be interested in investigating.
It is a half day's ride to New Ghelspad, Moss says, and then a two-day journey to Darkshelf, on the eastern coast of former Arak. Moss assures Dechan that, if the heroes reveal their identities, they will be able to procure passage on a ship south as soon as one becomes available.
Dechan is eager to gather more information on the Slave Lords themselves. When he asked Moss for more information on the wizard among their ranks, though, Moss suggested that Dechan's mentor in Androlov Manor might be better suited to answering that question.
Dechan finds Labonita in front of several books, cross referencing something. He does not trouble her with questions about what she is doing, and she does not volunteer. She dryly asks whether he has mastered another spell--a sore subject considering Dechan's astronomical growth in recent months. When he replies that he has not, Labonita does not seeem much relaxed.
When she learns that Dechan intends to travel into the badlands of former Arak, Labonita only becomes more passive aggressive, making it clear that she does not understand why anyone would travel to such a forsaken region, for any reason. Dechan shifts the subject to that of the Slave Lords, though, and Labonita perks up at the realization that Aedoin might have some of the information he seeks.
She tells Dechan that her sister has not been home in some time, and she is not expected back any time soon. However, Aedoin might have left some information on the Slave Lords' wizard in her notes. Effectively, she offers to raid Aedoin's diary tonight for Dechan's education.
Not realizing how his mentor intends to gather the information he wants, Dechan proceeds to gather his friends. He and Carrie leave Androlov Manor together, first going to Valornhouse, and from there on to David's home. As they begin to speak, Alliama arrives, having swung by in the morning with a quail for food. Master Ioan smoothly shifts from delivering servings of tapioca to preparing the quail for cooking.
It takes only a few short minutes for the heroes to agree that this is just the mission they've been hoping for. Ever since they saw the Slave Lords' yellow sails on the horizon during their journey to Traladar, they have been considering how to mitigate the evils of these terrible people across the east coast.
They discuss the supplies they will need, and the best route to take on their journey, and then they prompty set about gathering provisions, gear, and other necessities.
Dechan, Gwendolyn, Kyler, and Beatrice go out to gather information on Darkshelf Quarry. They consider their options. They could easily walk to a wealthy establishment such as the Golden Stallions or the Double Rose, but that would not provide the sort of information they seek. Instead, they go carousing at Inn of the Three Witches.
There, after hours buying drinks and making friends, they begin to piece together some of the larger framework of the situation ahead of them. Much of this comes at the end of the night, just as the heroes were about to walk away from their search. Dechan, using a divination to scan the thoughts of those present, finds a man who once worked in the quarry at Darkshelf.
This man proves to be a trove of knowledge, though his experiences are somewhat dated. What he shares is included in the information in the Tales of Darkshelf sidebar, on the left.
The heroes decide that they will attempt to garner goodwill among the villagers of Darkshelf, and also seek to emulate their parents' success in the Scarlet Falcon Trading Company. To this end, they acquire 250 gold crowns worth of leathergoods from Walkers' Emporium, three large casks of honey from the hives Alliama entrusted with Schel north of town, and an additional hundred gold crowns worth of food. They attempt to also procure clothing, but they are not able to make an arrangement on such short notice.
Kyler accompanies Alliama to get the honey from Schel's cottage. As usual, Schel is a woman in motion. She does not answer Alliama's knock so much as open the door as Alliama raps on it. She greets her visitors as old friends, and quickly takes them to the honey in its large casks.
She leaves them to finish gathering the honey--Kyler carries two of the casks himself. Alliama asks to check on the bees, and Schel is amenable. She ducks out, telling them to shout up to Wynne before they leave, so she can lock up after them.
Before leaving, though, Schel mentions that she feels as if she is close to finding proof that Gryphon--owner of Gryphon's Stables--is up to something nefarious. When Alliama and Kyler press for more information, Schel reveals only a little of what she has learned. She points out that the last time she shared her knowledge with someone in power, Gryphon was able to disprove her theories and poison Schel's relationship with the Watch.
Alliama and Kyler are able to learn that Schel believes Gryphon has mistreated animals on his premeses, but there is clearly more to it than that.
Soon after Schel leaves, Alliama summons a feathered watcher and sends it to Gryphon's Stables. If she is within a mile of the creature's habitat in three days' time, it will come to her with a report on what it has seen at the stables.
As she and Kyler stand at the door, Wynne comes downstairs from the loft. She greets them with the wily smile she often wears, and she bids them good day as they leave.
Intrigued, Alliama and Kyler stop by Gryphon's Stables on their way back with the honey. They take notice of the sign at the gates that reads, "NO MAGIC," and they step inside. They meet Gryphon himself after a servant fetches him, and the portly stablemaster takes them on a tour of the stables. Kyler scries on the stables, as well, by means of his new raven companion. They do not see a mistreated or underfed animal from either vantage.
Not sure what to make of Schel's concerns, the two heroes rejoin the others. Gwendolyn and Bea suggest that the horses might simply be under illusions masking actual poor quality. That could explain the stablemaster's admonition against magic. No matter what, though, they agree that they do not like Gryphon, and they want to aid their friend the urban druid however they can.
Soon after Alliama and Kyler have returned with the honey, the heroes Leave for New Ghelspad. Astride their newly purchased horses, they arrive in the evening.
They procure passage with the same ease that Moss predicted. Then, hoping to gether more information, Dechan, Kyler, Alliama, Gwendolyn, Bea, and Carrie stay up till dawn at a local tavern. Again, they are fortunate to find several people with first or second-hand knowledge of Darkshelf, and they add to their growing base of information, as shown in the Tales of Darkshelf sidebar.
Two days later, the heroes' ship comes to port at the docks of Darkshelf. Alliama's bird has not found her, as it will not leave the Forest of Shadows by such a margin.
It is late in the day, and the heroes are eager to move quickly. David and Gwendolyn head straight to the general store, aided by teamsters waiting to unload the ship that brought the heroes.
One of the teamsters is eager to ingratiate himself with the heroes. He tells them to say to the storekeeper that "Elie sent ya."
Inside the general store they meet Blaine the shopkeeper, but when Blaine asks the heroes' names he is incredulous at their claims to be the heirs to The Missed. He gives his name, first, as Markus Valorn. This offends Gwendolyn, in particular.
As the other heroes close in on the general store, Blaine's initial incredulity shifts into dawning horror that he has indeed offended the children of the Goblinslayers of the Iron Crown. Within minutes he has agreed to very fair prices, and to accomodate the heroes in their plans to bring goods to the impoverished frontier town of Darkshelf.
Dechan, in particular, is relentless. He continues to pressure the storekeeper on his remark about being Markus Valorn. He uses this, and Blaine's growing surety that the heroes really are the children of The Missed, to ensure that the villagers will receive fair prices on all these goods, especially the honey.
Blaine agrees to pays 225 gold coins to Gwendolyn for the leathergoods, and 165 coins to David for the food and honey. The store's money comes in a combination of Darkonese crowns and Nova Vaasan stallions.
Anxious to prove himself worthy to the children of The Missed, Blaine offers to show the heroes where Neistor, the Overlord of Darkshelf stays.
During this conversation, Kyler and Bea have studied the town and its surroundings by means of his summoned raven. From the aerial vantage, Kyler spots the Pelyra River, and the waterfall where it crashes into the Nocturnal Sea. He also sees the wide stretches of rocks and boulders in the dead, frozen lands that were once Arak.
From the street, Bea looks at the one-street town, with its fortified town hall, saloon, general store, and even the simple shrine to the Lawgiver. The shrine appears to be a two-story structure like the others in Darkshelf, with a simple wooden sign nailed above the door, emblazoned with the fist of Bane.
Hanging back a short distance, Alliama calms Big. Nothing lives around here. When Arak was a domain, there was no life, not even water. In the two and a half decades since the end of the Great Upheaval--and Darkon's annexation of the former domain--that has changed only a little. The Pelyra River is one example. But there are no indigenous animals, and little more than weeds grow here even in the prime growing seasons.
The heroes confer briefly in the street. Dechan describes the conversation with Blaine to the Valorns. They turn to the saloon, and the apparent rooms on the second floor. A balcony overlooks the main street, but in the winter cold the balcony is not occupied.
Inside the saloon, a piano player makes music in the company of four ladies dressed as saloon girls. At the sight of them, Kyler backs into the street. He wears a mask today, as he has several times recently. He seems to fear women on days like this, and he insists that Bea tell Alliama and Carrie not to be nice to him. Though his friends are confused, they relent and go inside without him. Big stays in the street with Kyler.
During the exchange in the entry, Dechan, Gwendolyn, and David go to the bar. They greet the innkeeper, Mick, who is initially incredulous when the heroes claim to be the children of The Missed. This time, things are smoothed over fairly quickly, and Dechan negotiates prices for four rooms, with breakfast and lunch, but no companionship from any of the four saloon girls.
Later, Alliama sneaks Big to her room under a cloak as if he is a drunk companion. She shares a room with Gwendolyn, who is willing to share space with a fully grown panther. Bea rooms with Carrie, Dechan and David. Kyler sleeps alone which suits him just fine under current circumstances.
Upstairs, the heroes discuss what lies ahead, and how they will proceed come morning. Alliama lists off the many challenges they face, including the very real possibility that they will face the undead in the lowest reaches of the quarry.
Carrie uses a cantrip to clean her bed. She apologizes that she cannot do the same for Beatrice.
At dawn the sound of many wings wakes Carrie and Beatrice. The sounds has come from within the saloon, and Carrie is sure that it came from Kyler's room. She is eager to learn the nature of Kyler's magic, and she attempts to listen in when a conversation begins in Kyler's room.
Beatrice listens from the hall, but she only hears the end of the conversation, which seems to involve Kyler accepting something. When Kyler emerges later that morning he has not covered the lower half of his face, and he seems like himself again.
Carrie points out that the oddly moving brand that Kyler wore on their previous adventures has been absent lately. Bea cannot say more, and she declines to curry messages about Kyler's practices to Carrie.
Downstairs, the heroes find themselves faced with the prospect of the breakfast they prearranged. Watery eggs and off-tasting bacon sit centered on the plates they are served. The nature of the bacon takes center stage in their morning conversation. Alliama first thinks it is horse, but by the time Dechan sends Mick to the general store to get some of the provisions the heroes brought south, the true nature of the bacon seems to have been confirmed.
Mick returns with the food the heroes brought, and Dechan asks him to have it prepared for lunch. Then they walk the short distance to the town hall, and Neistor the Overlord. They are brought before the Overlord swiftly enough, and they find the man willing to trust them with his deepest suspicions.
The village overlord is a stocky, middle-aged man with graying hair and a beard to match. "The results from the quarry seem too good to be true," he says. "And the raid on the slavers' camp was a little too quick and clean, if you ask me." He starts counting on his fingers as he paces back and forth across the room. "And then there's the dwarves that work in the quarry at night but that nobody ever sees. And, of course, the terrible attacks we've had around Darkshelf."
He turns to face you. "Something's not right at that quarry. Will you look into it for us?"
Dechan replies, "Probably. But...what's in it for us?"
Neistor offers the heroes 250 gold coins to investigate the quarry.
The heroes accept these terms. They leave the Overlord's office, and they immediately begin to plan.
David suggests running ahead of the others and taking a position as a worker. The others would come along behind and present themselves as they are.
Dechan asks to go along with David, carrying no weapons or components beyond salt and soot. His holy symbol is worn under his robe. David concurs, and he admits that he would like to take a handful of shurikens as weapons. Bea expertly hides three of the little stars on David's person.
The two men run ahead, accompanied by Kyler's raven.
A half mile inland, they face a choice of two paths. The path runs along a gaping pit chiseled from the rock of the bluffs. A stone guardhouse rises from the pit wall. The building has a mix of light and dark stones, giving it a mottled and decaying appearance, though the stonework looks solid. The could climb to the stone guardhouse or descend to the quarry floor and enter the yawning mouth of the dig site. They choose the latter, and they quickly convince a pair of guards to take them to the workers.
As David tries to do the work of two men, Dechan speaks with the other two workers with them about the flooding, the sounds of ghosts, and the slave camp.
Some time later, the others arrive. They take the road that climbs to the guardhouse. The guardhouse is separated from the main slope by a stony crevice, perhaps 10 feet wide and at least twice that deep, with crumbling, mossy walls. A narrow wooden bridge with no railings spans the crevice, ending in a sturdy-looking wooden door.
About 10 or 12 feet above the bridge and door, a crenellated parapet overhangs the walls slightly. There doesn’t seem to be a soul in sight.
Kyler and Gwendolyn risk the ominous bridge, and guards from the rooftop order them to wait upon hearing the heroes' intentions at the site. Some time later they are met by the elf, Glyrthiel. She holds a bow on them, and a half-dozen men follow suit in the corridor behind her. Glyrthiel seems to believe the heroes' identities when they give them.
She listens to the heroes' offer of help against the slavers and the random slayings, and she says that the workers and guards of the quarry have no need for such help. After all, the slavers are defeated, and the monsters preying upon villagers are a village problem. She concedes that one worker was taken from a work crew returning to town, but that does not seem to trouble her much.
Kyler mentions that there are two people working in the mine right now who should be returned to Nevuchar. At first Glyrthiel assumes they are criminals that the heroes have been sent to retrieve, but when Kyler makes it clear that these two, "David and Dechan," are not to be harmed or treated poorly--and they are specifically not criminals--she grows confused. SHe brings the heroes to a waiting room, though, and then goes to collect the two workers.
In the waiting room, Kyler enters a trance. He sees the world through the eyes of his summoned raven. He sends it back to the quarry, trying to locate David and Dechan ahead of the elf. He takes a different path from the guards, though, and finds himself in the northwest section of the dig. Working his way south, he finds several human workers with picks and shovels. Then he finds a ramp leading down into the earth..
Kyler sends the raven to the lower level, and there he finds more mining. This work, though, is being done not by humans--and not by dwarves--but by goblins. Kyler observes the little monsters through the raven's eyes, seeing that they are indeed working the mine. Then he continues to explore.
Next, the raven enters a room that threatens Kyler's very sanity. The floor in this cavern is packed sand, pale yellow with flecks of iridescent material. Tendrils of pale mist or smoke writhe along the ground, carrying the rank odor of muddy filth and the sharp tang of resin or incense.
Ahead rises a pyramidal spire, as thin and sharp as a dart. It is composed of dusky gray stone, marbled with the ghastly white of dead flesh. A non-Euclydean spiral adorns the visible side of the spire. It is this symbol that nearly breaks Kyler's mind. The very sight of it threatens to overwhelm his attention and devour his consciousness. Worse, some part of him recognizes it. Is familiar with it!
A pit filled with glowing coals lies just beyond each corner of the spire. Yellow and blue flames dance over the coals, and tendrils of smoke and mist wander among the tongues of fire before escaping the pits and creeping along the floor.
A priest in a violet robe intones prayers to the spire and its sigil.
An irregular pool ringed with slime lies beyond the spire. Two massive tiger beetles lounge in the muck.
After a moment observing the priest, Kyler sends the raven down a side passage. Deep shadows fill this oddly shaped chamber. The silhouette of an overturned cart is visible in the gloom. Heaps of dirty furs and soiled straw surround the cart. A few lumps of coal have spilled out of the cart onto the floor.
Goblins stand guard here. They are not working the mine, and they quickly spot the raven. They react with their slings when the raven takes wing and attempts to escape, but it is the priest who reacts quickly and with enough precision. The priest attacks the raven from behind, and at a distance, and the raven...dies.
Kyler discretely shares the rudiments of what he just experienced before Glyrthiel returns with David and Dechan.
Dechan is not ready to go, yet. He still hopes to learn something, or push the elfin woman into some sort of rash action. He resists leaving. He goes so far as to asks whether they're workers for pay or if they're slaves. Glyrthiel's already dark expression does not change appreciably at this demand.
Kyler leans close to Dechan and whispers to him while putting on a show of dragging his friend away, "Goblins...and a crazy priest..."
The heroes leave the guardhouse and make their way towards town from the quarry, but they are already suspecting that they might not make the return trip. They have work to do here tonight, and multiple mysteries to solve.
Bea points out that the goblins Kyler spotted actually fit the height of the description of Bazili Erak's dwarves that the heroes received in the Darkshelf saloon. The man who saw a "dwarf" indicated goblin height.
David suggests returning at night, when no human workers are present. That will allow the heroes to do their work without risking the lives of innocents from the villagers. It has begun to seem like the slavers were a red herring, but what they know awaits in Darkshelf Quarry is an evil that cannot be denied, and it must be stopped.