As the crowds gathered outside, the group went into the Temple of Bahamut to tell what they had learned. The priests in the courtyard stood agape as they entered, awed by the furor outside the walls. The head priest greeted them excitedly, having already heard about their great deed. Exuberant over the freed dragons, he bequeathed a robe to them that had been worn by an ancient priest of their order. Turning to more serious matters, they fished out the piece of the necklace they had taken from Gyss. He confessed to having never seen the symbols on it before, and said that they might need to seek someone of far higher learning to discover its meaning. Deciding that the followers of Pelor might know something regarding the pendant, and that they needed to show them the axe they found, the party set off for the temple of Pelor.
Having never yet seen the temple of Pelor, the party took a moment to marvel at it. Unlike the temple of Bahamut, it was one single stone structure without a courtyard or grounds at all. It was built of white stone and capped in gold and was easily the finest structure in all of Fallcrest. Unlike at the other temple, the crowds followed them inside the temple, and inside they found what could only be the high priest leading a praise service in honor of Pelor. As the heroes entered he said, “Ah! The Heroes of Fallcrest! Thank Pelor for sending you to our aid, he has not forgotten us in our hour of need!” While Tordek attempted to argue whether Muradin or Pelor had actually sent him, Andraste requested a private audience with the high priest. Being ushered into the private chamber of the priest, they revealed the axe that they had discovered.
“Is this really Orland’s Axe?” Andraste asked the high priest.
“There is only one way to be sure,” the high priest replied, “give it to me.” He motioned to Styx.
Styx stubbornly held onto the axe, “Only if you promise to give it back.”
“My dear lad, I could only give it back if it were not Orland’s Axe, it is a sacred relic!”
“But surely Pelor would want it to be wielded by someone who will vanquish evil,” Andraste raised an eyebrow.
“Is he a devout follower of Pelor? Pelor would never want his axe in the hands of a heathen.”
A familiar voice from behind them interjected, “I’ll vouch for them Markous, they may keep the axe.” The group turned to see the familiar face of Heiros, dressed in fine armor with a purple cape hanging from his shoulders!
“These are my friends, Markous, I promise that they will use the axe for righteousness.”
“If you insist my lord, they shall keep the axe,” Styx hesitantly handed over the axe. The high priest raised it up, then thought for a moment, “perhaps you would prefer to do it yourself lord?”
“Sure.” Heiros took the axe and held it above his head. Suddenly the axe began to glow with a bright light, the thunderbolts engraved on the side disappeared and turned into an image of the sun. As Heiros handed the axe back to Styx, he said, “This is indeed Orland’s Axe, use it well.”
“What’s with all this lord business?” Andraste asked curiously.
Heiros explained to the group that the Country of Mantiben was divided into counties, and each county was ruled by a paladin. The lordship of the counties was not hereditary, however, and whenever a new lord was needed, he High Circle of the clerics of Pelor met at the capitol of Tybar and voted on who would take over this duty. This even applied to the ruler of the country itself, the Holy King of Mantiben. A year ago, the Lord of the Nentir Vale had vanished without a trace, Heiros had been elected to fill the role. Rejecting the position was not an option.
Andraste decided to see if the new Lord of the Nentir Vale or the high priest knew anything about the mysterious necklace. “These symbols look familiar,” Markous said, “but it eludes me, perhaps you should send it to the capitol so the scholars there might look at it.” Uldrin, having received dispensation and an escort from Heiros, volunteered to take the remnant of the necklace with him. The group watched him as he left with his escort of paladins.
The group found adjusting to their new renown very awkward. Tordek decided that it was a chance to do something positive for Fallcrest, signing autographs and taking up the patronage of Jimmy’s General Goods Store (If it’s general, and it’s good, it’s Jimmy’s!). Andraste gave nominal waves and attention to anyone in town who came up to her. Tryn tried to stay out of the limelight, literally hiding in the shadows from her newfound fame. Bristlethurn turned humanitarian (mortalitarian?), going to local temples to heal the wounded. Styx had become a local heartthrob. All the girls in town began to follow him around, sighing and swooning whenever he gazed in their general direction. All this attention did not sit well with a barbarian from the wilderness, so he grew dauer and scowled at all of the new fans. Alas, this seemed only to cement his reputation as a ‘brooding bad boy,’ and his gaggle of glowy-eyed girls grew. After a day or two, Tordek decided that it was time to return to Hammerfast, to take his trophy before the Lord of the Dwarves, Ohrgrem Stoutshield. The group exhuberantly agreed to come with him and get out of town for awhile.
It was five days journey on the King’s Road to Hammerfast. After a few hours travel the crowds had completely dispersed, and the heroes were left finally, mercifully, to their own thoughts. By the fourth day they passed the woods where they had slain the goblin warlord. On the fifth day the road began winding through the hills, the weather turned mildly colder as they made their way up the side of the mountain. By mid afternoon they had come across the entrance to Hammerfast. For the unitiated, it seemed modest, just a small entrance in the rock with statues of dwarves on either side; to Tordek, it was grand and welcome sight. As the group came up to the entrance, they realized the statues were carved from the mountain itself. One by one, they passed into the realm of the dwarves.
Hammerfast was a strange sight to behold, it was a series of rooms and chambers carved from the mountain. For beings so accustomed to buildings and sky, it didn’t seem a city so much as one very large house. Yet as they moved through the city, with Tordek at the fore, they realized that there were more chambers here than any mansion or palace they had ever seen. Slowly they moved deeper and deeper into the mountain, marveling at the size of the whole thing. Chambers got larger, with elaborate carvings along the walls. The mountain itself was alive with hustle and bustle of thousands of dwarves working in the mountain. Anvils clanged, chisels chipped, and fires were stoked. Finally, after having traveled deep into the heart of the mountain itself, they came to a large grand room, and in the center a throne carved from the rock itself rose from the floor. Before them sat the Lord of Hammerfast himself, Ohrgrem Stoutshield.
“Approach, Tordek, son of K’thurl. What news do ya bring me about your mission?” Ohrgrem motioned the dwarf fighter forward, paying little attention to the group of outsiders with him. Tordek pulled the now rotting head of Gyss out of a sack.
“An offering to my lord. The head of your enemy.”
“Ah, but you have done well, Tordek. Long have the Stoutshields ruled under the mountain, and as long as we have ruled your family have been vassals in our service. Your father served my father, and his father served my grandfather, but for this deed it is now in my power to do something none in your family has achieved before.” Ohrgrem stood and blew a large horn positioned by the throne. All work in the throne room and in the adjoining chambers ceased, it seemed as if the whole mountain itself had paused at the king’s will.
“Now hear this!” Ohrgrem shouted in a booming voice, “On this day, I declare Tordek, son of K’thurl, a free man. Tordek, you may now choose a last name for yerself.”
Tordek was speechless, taken so aback by the honor given him. Finally, at the goading and whispers of his friends he said, “I have earned my freedom through the slaying of goblins, I guess I shall take the name Goblinbane, my lord.”
Ohrgrem smiled, “I present before you today Tordek Goblinbane. Accord him the respect he is due!”
The throne room bowed in homage to the free dwarf that now stood before them. Everyone there was under the patronage of Lord Stoutshield. To be free was almost to be nobility itself, for nobody under the mountain was free to do as they willed save the Lord himself or a free dwarf, and there were precious few free dwarves left in the world.
“Is there anything else I can do for you now, my lord?”
“Not here, the Holy King of Mantiben has asked that I might let you return to his kingdom. He’s heard of the great good you did dispatching those goblins, and he’s hoping you’ll continue in your aid. I have given my dispensation to such end, and it’s my hope that you will go and make yourself useful.”
“Of course, my lord.”
“Just remember your people, Tordek. Mantiben is the only country that can fight the darkness to the south. They hide behind their walls, but our people are on the other side of that wall. Do what you can to get Mantiben to fight in this battle.”
“Aye, my lord, by your leave.” Ohrgrem dismissed the party, still never addressing the outsiders.
The heroes found the dwarven crafting halls much more accomidating. Along the various nooks and crannies they found oddities and wonders of every kind. Having gold in their pockets from their recent victory, they outfitted themselves in the finest of dwarven craftsmanship. Finally, the end of the day neared, they inquired as to where they might find lodging, to which a dwarf replied, “Oh, there are already chambers laid out for Tordek Goblinbane and his retinue.” Too tired to argue, they were ushered to the chambers and drifted off to sleep.
The journey back to Fallcrest was a peaceful one, but filled with anticipation. Tryn, being from Tybar itself, knew that there was a chance some correspondence had arrived from the capitol. The question of the necklace swirled in their heads, but it was soon replaced by the realization that their celebrity had not dissipated in the last 10 days. Crowds still gathered around them as they came back into town. Styx noticed that inside some of the nearby houses, there seemed to be caricatures of him drawn onto parchment and hung on walls, he scowled at the thought. The group separated, Andraste and Tordek went to see about a scale chest they had commissioned with Teldorthan before they left, Bristlethurn wanted to go to the temple and heal some more of the sick. Styx, finally realizing the upside to being famous, wanted to spend some time in the company of some of the young women in town, and Tryn wanted to go back to the Nentir Inn to have a drink and slip away from the crowd. As she came into the Inn, she noticed that in the shadows a figure sat watching her. He made no noise or motion, but his eyes followed her every move. Not being one to beat around the bush, Tryn walked right up to him and said, “Um, excuse me, but you seem to be watching me for some reason.”
“Are you one of the Heroes of Fallcrest?” The man was human, appeared to be about 30, and was dressed in shabby leather as if he had traveled in it a great deal and had worn it out; his eyes seemed strange, but when Tryn looked into them she could see nothing abberant there.
“Maybe?” Tryn eyed him suspiciously.
“I need you to assemble your friends for me, it is most urgent.”
“Not without a name and some explanation as to who you are, buddy.” Tryn was not one to trust random strangers in shadows.
“Very well, my name is Xairus, Uldrin sent me here.”
“Good enough for me.”
Most of the group was easy enough to assemble, she found Bristlethurn, Tordek, and Andraste right away. It took a little looking before she realized that Styx was in the middle of a group of no less that fifty giggling girls. All of whom were flirting with him and looking for any reason to feel his muscles or chest. Andraste turned to Tryn, “Head back, I got this.” She then proceeded to make her way through the throng, took Styx by the hand, and loudly yelled, “Time to go, darling!” As they headed away from the group there was a great din of whispering as all the girls gossiped in unison.
“Thanks,” Styx said sarcastically.
“Don’t worry, it’ll just make them want you more.” Andraste replied.
Back at the inn, Xairus had apparently gotten up, though Tryn thought it looked like he hadn’t moved an inch. There were chairs for each of them placed around the table. When they sat down, Xairus pulled out the shattered necklace they had sent with Uldrin.
“I’m here about this”
“We were the ones who found that,” Andraste said, “it was used by a goblin to control dragons.”
“I know it controls dragons, the inscription around it says as much.”
“You know what language that is? Tell us!” Andraste was ready for answers.
“How much do you all know about the army that marches to the south?”
Most of them knew very little, the fey wild had little dealings with the dark army in the south, but watched their portals for any threat from them. Tordek knew that there had once been eight dwarf cities in the continent of Endirah, and that an army of undead, demons, devils, and all manner of other evil creature had swept across the lands. Now only one dwarven city remained.
Xairus looked as if something was far off in the distance, “The dark army is ancient, it has been attacking countries in Endirah for hundreds of years now, conquering everything in it’s path. There is only one place they have not yet conquered, and that is Mantiben. The wall itself keeps them out.”
“No wall lasts forever,” Styx said with a snort.
“The wall is more that just the bricks and mortar that you can see. Why do you think the king requires Arcane Stonemasons to maintain the wall? Every brick contains a spell, it is that spell which is the actual wall of Mantiben.”
“Then why not just fly over it, or sail around it?” Styx could not see the big deal with an arcane wall.
“The spell itself places a bubble around Mantiben. You cannot fly into it and you cannot make port at its harbor. The only way in is to go through alternate planes.”
“What does this have to do with the necklace?”
“This language is the language of that army.”
“But how could an artifact of the dark army get past the wall?” Andraste’s look had turned serious.
“There are only two possibilites,” Xairus’ look was deadly, “either there is a crack in the wall or it was smuggled through the fey wild.”
“Well I can guarantee that it did not come through the fey wild.” Andraste spoke confidently. It seemed as though she might continue, but then she seemed to stop and think better of it.
“I tend to agree with you, that is why I requested Uldrin teach me a ritual that would point to any crack in the wall. I will need all of your assistance to complete it however, it is very draining.”
“What does this ritual entail?” Tryn’s eyebrows shot up incredulously. “Is it dangerous.”
“Only somewhat dangerous,” Xairus’ tone was completely serious, “don’t worry, I doubt you will be incinerated like the last group who attempted the rite.”
Tryn did not seem comfortable with the risk involved, “Are you sure this is the way to go? I mean, maybe we should just go check in the fey wild real quick first.”
Andraste’s eyes grew wide, “No! I mean…no, I’m sure that this did not come through there. We need to perform the ritual. Hey! Why don’t we get Heiros and some paladins to help us? I’m sure more people will make it easier to complete.”
Xairus stared at her, “I’m afraid Heiros and his men have all marched north.”
“There are two camps in the capitol. One camp believes the wall is impossible to breach, and that the necklace must have been the work of witches; the other camp is my camp, and knows that whoever leads that army to the south will not stop until he controls all of Endirah. The other camp has more people in it, so Heiros was dispatched to the north to deal with these ‘witches,’ I came myself to seek your aid because I knew you might be the only ones who would believe me.”
Styx’s lip snarled, “So there’s an army bent on your destruction to the south, and you send all your men north? Smart.”
Xairus’ look was tired, as if he had been fighting this same battle for days, “You and I are in total agreement, but there is nothing to be done. Prepare yourselves, we do the ritual tonight.”
As the sun set, Xairus lead the group north a little ways in the forest. Once there, he pulled out a pouch and began pouring its contents on the grass. The pouch contained what seemed to be a white powder, and with it he drew a circle. When the circle was finished he inscribed a cross within it, aligning it with the cardinal directions. Then in each quadrant he placed a symbol. Andraste thought that one of the symbols looked remarkably similar to one of the runes on the necklace. “What is this you are drawing?” She asked, “Why does it bear the marks of the enemy?”
“These symbols are older then the language of the dark army,” Xairus replied matter of factly, “This is the language of Amdir, the dragon slayer. These are symbols of protection and invocation drawn with the bones of dead warlocks.” Some of the group inched away, realizing now what the white powder was. “Let us begin.”
The group stood around the circle while Xairus stood in its center. Closing his eyes, he began to chant in an ancient tongue. The circle of crushed bones beneath them began to glow brighter and brighter as he continued. Within the circle, they could see something like glowing dots appear on the ground and head straight towards Xairus. Every time one got to him, it appeared to take away some of his strength. His chanting faltered slightly as more dots reached him. Styx came into the circle itself, wanting to keep the dots on the ground from reaching the center. He yelled out a mighty roar, and the dots gravitated towards him. As they reached him, he could feel the strength being siphoned off from him. As if the very life was being sucked out of his body. Tryn encouraged Xairus to keep the chanting up while Andraste opened up the full power of her mind. Feeling the spell itself hanging in the mindscape, she joined Xairus in chanting; though she did not chant the words he did, but instead bolstered the spell with companion words. The dots came to her also, and her head felt heavy as they reached her. Tordek too decided to help keep the dots away from Xairus and Andraste, and took his place opposite Styx in the circle. Though many of the dots now were occupied with Tordek and Styx, dots still remained near Xairus. Bristlethurn summoned his bear into the center, and it glowed brightly as the dots seemed to get sucked up inside of it. Finally with a roar of pain the spirit bear vanished, taking the dots with it.
The chanting grew louder and more urgent from Xairus, sweat rolling down his forehead as he put every ounce of strength into the ritual. The dots had now fully manifested as spirits, their deathly hands reaching out to Tordek, Styx, Andraste, and Xairus and sucking the life from them. With great effort Styx stayed on his feet, but he could not feel whispers in his mind. Andraste continued to chant as well, but her psychic abilities could hear thousands of voices whispering around her in the dark saying, “Give up! All is Lost!” Tordek roared out defiantly, “For Jimmy’s General Goods!” Trying to find a way to keep his strength. But finally, he collapsed to the ground, hearing a voice in his head say, “Even this shall turn to dust!” Bristlethurn helped him out of the circle and back on his feet, but now the spirits that had left him were all upon Xairus. Xairus’ voice grew faint, his words just a mumble. Reaching deep within himself, Styx roared with defiance, “Not yet! You have not beaten me yet!” All the ghosts swarmed on top of him, but it gave Xairus the opportunity he needed. Finishing the chanting with a flourish, the circle erupted in a bright light. All the spirits got swept up in it, and when it dissipated they had disappeared with the cross and the symbols. In their place all that remained within the circle was an arrow pointing to the southeast.
Xairus looked an inch away from death. The group had to help him get back to Fallcrest. “You must move quickly!” He rasped, “I know the exact place where we enacted the ritual, it’s why I chose it. I can draw you a map where the crack in the wall will be. You must find it and stop whatever is causing it.”
“You’re not coming with us?!” Tryn looked crestfallen.
“I’m afraid the ritual has drained me too much, and there’s no time to lose. If there’s a crack in the wall it means that it could fall at any time. You must make haste, get to the wall, and pray that you are not too late!”