Safely back in the city the party spent the day taking care of sundry errands. First up was visiting the clerics of Moradin Soulforger, chief of the Dwarven gods. He was consulted on a variety of curses afflicting party members. For Iban’s slowly growing stony scales, he said he was unable to do anything — only powerful magic could aid him, though he did not know what or how. Meanwhile, Zhuld Zir continued his researches of the Earth Dragon and shared his results with the party. The Earth Dragon, it seemed, was an aspect or avatar of Abbathor, the Dwarven god of evil. It was the centerpiece of a cult in this area long ago, before even the founding of the Dwarf Kingdom of Khwarizm. The cult had been obliterated when they tried to take control of the Dwarves of the region; there were no survivors, the records stated. Why it’s apparent temple would have resurfaced now was unclear.
The party next called on their patron, Nali, at the city’s citadel. He was happy to see them and seemed very aware of their activities (they were reminded that he was the chief of intelligence for the city). The party decided to fully lay out their activities of late, providing him with details and a copy of their map. He said he would look into this dwarf named Orrin, their employer, and his silent partners. Although interested, he admitted that he had a great deal on his mind of late, what with the menace of the Giant King to the north and other odd doings around the Kingdom. When asked, he knew nothing of Floi, his brother, save that he had not beena round much; he was interested in learning that the other dwarf apparently had some sort of “business venture” in the works — he was still persona non-grata in their father’s eyes. Among the various troubles, Nali mentioned the lights in the sky to the south, which the party had also heard tell of in the taverns. The dwarves had not done anything to investigate this, and Nali welcomed the party’s offer to investigate. Normally, he told them, the dwarves paid little heed to the happening higher in the mountains (the dwarves, he explained, felt secure and content in their deep halls; what passed in the higher places was no concern of theirs, and it was well known that various dangerous things dwelt above, seemingly content in turn to ignore the dwarves far below). Nali said he would detail a guide to take them to an exit from the city. From there, they should follow the Kaz River south to avoid becoming lost in the trackless mountains. He had no idea how far the party would need to go, nor did he know what they might expect, save dangers.
Their interview completed, the party returned to the main city in order to purchase supplies for the overland journey. As it was still the month of Harvester (i.e. September) they did not expect undue cold weather; however, they did procure some colder weather gear just in case. During their provisioning, they spotted the same evil-visage, slightly glowing older dwarf in the crowd. Rather than grinning evilly, this time it appeared angry as it stared at Cadwallider. The wizard approached it but, once again, it simply vanished into thin air before being reached. The meaning of this ghost (as the party called it) remained unclear.
After a restful night in their quarters, an early knocker at the door was admitted by their butler. A dwarf had come with a sack of gold, the 750 gold coins promised them by their employer. An hour or more later, a second dwarf begged admittance. This one was a soldier of the city guard, sent to escort the party. He also delivered a sealed note from Nali which informed them that their employer, Orrin, had been found murdered in the Third Deep (lowest level, slightly slummy) portion of the city. This concerned them a good deal, and there was some concern that the money they’d received might be cursed or poisoned, but that did not seem to be the case. (a side note that did not come up: ZZ may have noted that all of the coins received in payment were of a very old minting, pre-dating the formation of the Kingdom. This is not necessarily as unusual as might be expected, as Dwarves often hoard gold for generations, and old coins often come into circulation — the dwarves, being quite lawful, have had very standardized coins for millennia, so the old and new coins are exchanged without any concern. What was unusual in all this, however, was that every coin was old — there were no newer ones in the mix).
Their escort now led them through the city, up to the Second Level (the highest level, home to the richest clans). He escorted them through a number of passages and past several guard posts, to the south-southeast. They eventually came to a vast cavern where the incoming Kaz River split into two smaller courses that encircled the underground city. Form the notch side there were bridges crossing each branch, guarded by a small but strong tower, manned by a company of soldiers. The party was escorted across the right-hand bridge and followed the full Kaz River for some distance along a damp path that eventually exited the mountain into a slowly rising valley beyond. Here their guard parted ways, and the party began a slow ascent to the south, deeper into the Anchor Mountains. The river climbed slowly as they followed the valley, great peaks to either side soaring far above them. There was no sign that a vast dwarf kingdom lay somewhere below them.
The first danger they ran into, almost literally, was a group of huge spiders. These were quickly dispatched with minimal trouble. Late in the day, however, they met a worse foe. Coming towards a widening of the valley, an area filled with a light pine forest, they spied four Stone Giants loitering along the edge of the (now somewhat diminished) Kaz River. The Giants spied them and seemed to chat amongst themselves, when one of them took up a huge stone and hurled it at the party, missing widely. The other three giants laughed at the poor throw of their fellow; the party did not, and attacked, starting with a Fireball by Cadwallider. This rather angered the giants, who all began to hurl stones, as the others in the partgy either fired ranged weapons or rushed across the open ground to attack. Havok took a potion of hill giant strength and began to hurls tones of his own. ZZ and Iban rushed in first, each engaging a giant, the dwarf dodging nimbly below the lumbering brute and Iban simply smacking at one such that it was stunned for a short time. Cadwallider took the worst of it, though. By firing magic missiles and a lightning bolt at the largest one, he drew its ire, and a lot of large stones. The last nearly killed the wizard, and would have if Wulfred had not turned back from the melee to administer aid (he lived but his left arm was permanently maimed). After a very tough fight, however, the giants were at last defeated, the last two fleeing but cut down before they could escape.
The party plundered the sacks they had and garnered some loot, and there was talk of tracking them to their lair for more. However, the giants appeared to have travelled the rocky river bank and there were no tracks for any of their skill to follow. Needing rest due to wounds and the fact it was late in the day, the party decided to find a nearby place to make a secure camp. First, though, they cut the heads form the giants and put three on stakes; the fourth they took with them. That night, they saw strange flickering lights of blue reflected off of clouds to the south-southeast. The next morning, Havok (I think it was) cast speak with dead and asked the giant’s head two questions: “what are the lights in the sky?” they are the Ice King; “What is the direction to your lair” southsoutheast. The party groaned that yet another “king” seemed to have entered play; the “directions” to its lair were less than helpful. The party now set out into the Zir Woods (as their dwarf guide had named them when describing the lands they were heading into). The woodland was light on undergrowth and travel was relatively easy, though the land continued to slowly climb. At one point, they spotted a number of flying creatures above the trees, glinting blue or silver, though they did not get a good look nor did they try to. Eventually they came to a place where the Kaz River abruptly turned to the northeast. They broke from it at this point and continued south, eventually deciding to rest of the coming night before proceeding, and hoping to see somewhat more of the lights now that they were closer to the apparent source…
– Experience: 2783 XP each (3062 XP for those getting +10%) — Joe, Troy played Wulfred so you get XP