19 March, 103 CY
The adventurers arrived in Blasingdell, late afternoon. It had been raining most of the day, but the three had been quiet even before the weather turned bad, each lost in their own thoughts. The sight and even the smell of the mining town was a welcome break from the wearying travel. Erky Timbers, who’d come with them in the hopes of setting up shop in the town as a professional alchemist thanked them for the escort and broke company with them to seek his contacts. The adventurers then approached a three story stone and wood structure with balconies ringing the outer walls. The image of a griffon rampant facing a clutch of eggs adorned the sign-board hanging over the front entrance. The three entered the building and shook off the rain.
A local woman welcomed them to the Griffon’s Nest, introducing herself as Helda, and seeing the three to an empty table amongst the locals. She took their orders and saw them filled swiftly. With food and drink in them, Aramis thought to ask about his sister in law. He described Iva to the bar wench, but she claimed not to have seen anyone matching the description. Dejected, Aramis lapsed back into silence for the rest of the meal.
After they’d finished eating, they ordered a round of drinks and started asking the nearby locals about the Stone Tooth. After a few drinks and some amiable conversation, a man called Tomms suggested they try either the Scholar’s Nook or Moradin’s Forge. The bookshop, he explained, was owned by a man called Ashrem Dewitt, and the temple was headed by Sister Alonsa, a priestess of the Allfather and descendant of Durgeddin the Black.
“I’d be careful seekin’ that place, were I you. The orcs’ve been more aggressive of late, an’ the rumors’re that they’ve retaken the Mountain Gate – the entrance to fallen Khundrukar.”
They thanked the man for his help and his warning, dropped their belongings off in their rented rooms, then left the dry warmth of the inn. “If we hurry, we may be able to visit both before it gets dark,” said Aramis. Azal nodded quietly in agreement as she followed closely.
“I say we start with the Scholar’s Nook,” suggested Bhavik.
“Sounds good,” said the priest.
The odd wooden tower built in the middle of the town housed a surprisingly robust library. The inside was garishly painted but well appointed with comfortable chairs and ample reading corners. The proprietor was a large human man with bushy red hair wildly erupting from the top of his head in all directions. He leaned against a counter just inside the front door, reading a thick book.
“Welcome ter the Scholar’s Nook!” he said in a booming voice. “I be Ashrem Dewitt – owner, operator, and all around ne’er-do-well.” He chuckled as though he’d made a joke and finished his opening spiel, “What can I do fer you lot?”
Aramis looks around wistfully, wishing he had more time to browse, but Bhavik cut straight to the point. “Ever heard lore about the Stone Tooth?”
Dewitt nodded. “Oh, aye. I have. What’s yer int’rest innit?”
“It’s a place of interest in our travels. We seek both adventures and danger,” the shifter answered with a wry grin.
“Hmph,” grunted the large man. “Ye’ll find danger aplenty, suren. Adventure’s less certain. I’d hate ter send a bunch a green knobs off ter their deaths.”
The priest frowned. “We do have some experience with such matters now.”
Bhavik nodded and explained, “Well, you see, there are some unsavory duergar types about that area that might have something we seek, an item that was stolen from common decent folk and which should rightfully be returned to them.”
Dewitt made a face. “Duergar, eh? Ain’t heard peep ’bout no gray dwarves in the ‘Tooth.”
“But you have heard of others in the area,” the warden pressed. “Do tell… What lurks in the ‘Tooth?”
“Orcs’n worse, so the tales say. Might be the Great Ulfe hisself, but like as not that’s all hot air.”
“The Great Ulfe?” Aramis wanted to know. Azal fiddled with her cloak impatiently.
The bookkeeper turned toward the priest, eyeing the symbol of the Raven Queen across his tabard. “Aye. Ogre warlord, the worst of the lot, some says. But that were long ago. Ain’t heard hide nor hair of ‘im in near on twenty years.”
Aramis produced his journal and begin scratching notes in it. Dewitt snorted, “Writin’ a book are we?”
“Just keeping my thoughts organized,” said the priest.
Changing the subject, Bhavik said, “You have interest in lore and tales and the like do you?”
The librarian turned back to the shifter. “People flap their jaws. Sometimes whot comes out resembles reality. I’ve an int’rest in the true lore, aye.”
“Tell you what,” Bhavik offered. “Put the truth in our ear about the Stone Tooth and we’ll return in kind with the gods’ honest truth about what actually lives there now, what’s been going on, and what the common folk have been lying to you about.”
“Hah hah hah! Brazen ye are, but ye’ve not the look of warriors hard enough ter survive the likes o’ that place.”
Bhavik was not done yet. “Is it a place you think yourself particularly fit to survive?”
“That may be, boy, but that ain’t the issue now, izzit?” said Dewitt. He laughed again.
“It is if you’re not as tough as me,” answered the shifter. “Give me a chance to prove my mettle, maybe then you’ll be less apprehensive about those moral questions.”
Dewitt leaned forward, intrigued. “Prove it how, lad?”
“It’d be difficult to feel bad about sending someone off to their doom when they’ve at least the steel in their blood that you have. Mark a spot and stand firm in it. If I can knock you off of it, then perhaps the orcish hordes upon the Stone Tooth would be well advised to step aside when we set our sights upon them.”
“Hah hah hah! Thinkin’ ter knock the denizens o’ the ‘Tooth right off’n their perches, eh? Ye amuse me, boy! I accept.” The large man came from around the counter and stood in the middle of the room, as far as possible from anything breakable. When he was ready, he smirked at the warden and said, “Let’s see whatch’ye got.”
Bhavik stepped back to a reasonable distance, met the large man’s eye, and then charged in like a bull to push him off his stance. Aramis and Azal watched the proceedings uneasily. The shifter impacted with great force, but the librarian remained where he stood. Dewitt winked down at the shorter warden who nodded and acknowledged defeat.
“Mayhap you’re right, big fella. Maybe we aren’t tough enough for the orcs at the Stone Tooth. Thanks for the fun of it all anyway. If it’s your convictions you choose to stand with then so be it. Life will find a way if it is meant to be.”
Aramis spoke up as Dewitt returned to stand behind the counter once more. “We have reason to believe that the duergar we seek are in Khundrukar.”
Azal nodded and said, “We need to find the duergar for the sake of our friend. Please any information you gives us would be greatly appreciated.”
To Azal, the librarian said, “‘Want’ ain’t ‘can’ lass. And that’s the truth. More likely’n not, ye’d be cursin’ me name as ye died horribly on orcish spears.”
Azal’s hands balled into tight fists. “Why are we so worried about damn orcs? We need to find the duergar!” she insisted. Gritting her teeth, she continued, “A man’s life hangs in the balance and you refuse to tell us? It’s our choice to sacrifice for him.”
Dewitt smiled gently and shrugged his large shoulders.
Bhavik turned to his companions and said, “Let’s off to the Forge then. See if they’ve a different story to tell.” Azal growled in agreement and followed the warden out the door, slamming the door behind her. Aramis, however, hung back.
“We’re going to look for the Stone Tooth, whether you help us or not. Our friend means that much to us. We’d stand a much better chance knowing what you know.”
“I’m convinced of yer sincerity, boy,” said Dewitt. “I’ll tell ye what. How about ye talk ter Sister Alonsa. If ye can convince her, I’ll reconsider tellin’ ye what I know. Fair?”
“Fair enough,” replied the priest. He followed his friends back out into the wet streets.
They crossed the town to the large structure called Moradin’s Forge. The temple of the Allfather also served as the biggest ironworks in Blasingdell – a massive forge adjoined the chapel structure. The evening’s work seemed to have come to a close and most of the apprentices had gone home or to the tavern.
Aramis asked a young man where he could find Sister Alonsa. “We’re looking for the Stone Tooth, and we were told she could help us,” he explained.
The assistant smith nodded and went in the back to find the priestess. A few moments later the back door opened, and a handsome dwarven woman in a heavy leather apron emerged. “Oy,” she said by way of greeting. “What can I do for you, then?” Her eyes took in each of them in turn, lingering perhaps a second longer on the red-skinned tiefling.
“Sister Alonsa, I am Brother Aramis, recently arrived from Oakhurst. We’re looking for the Stone Tooth, and we were told you could help us.”
Her eyes narrowed ever so slightly and she said, “And what might ye be seeking there?”
“A better life for the downtrodden and justice exacted upon thieves,” said Bhavik.
She quirked an eyebrow at that pronouncement, and replied, “Thieves, eh? Who’s been robbed, then?”
Bhavik continued, “Those around Oakhurst have lost a great treasure, and we believe it is the duergar that have wronged them. This thing they have stolen is a life bringer, but in the wrong hands, it could be dangerous.”
Azal interjected, “This treasure may save the life of one we hold very dear. My- Our friend is very sick, and this thing is the only thing that may save him.” Her voice cracked and she said, “We are racing against time to find it. Please, any information you can help us with would be more than appreciated.” Aramis placed a hand on Azal’s shoulder, offering silent comfort.
The dwarf woman took a deep breath and nodded to herself, “All right, so ye’re not looking to loot the place. Tell me more about these duergar.”
“They left this behind,” said Aramis, producing the whistle Azan-gund from his belt pouch and offering it to the priestess. “Can you tell us anything about it?”
“Nephelium,” breathed Alonsa. “How did you come by it?”
Aramis took it back and put it away. “The man our prize was stolen from said they dropped it when they fled with what we seek. The whistle is a dark device used to raise the undead – of duergar make. Our friend Erky Timbers identified the metal, and that led us to seek out Khundrukar, said to rest beneath the Stone Tooth. So now we must find the Stone Tooth. Can you tell us the way?”
Her fear of aiding and abetting grave robbers was less than that of her desire to stop gray dwarves from doing the same, and so she gave them directions to finding the Stone Tooth, identifying natural landmarks and even suggesting they get a map of the area from the Scholar’s Nook. They briefly described their encounter with Ashrem Dewitt and she told them to remind him that he owed her twenty gold as a way of letting them man know that they had her blessing to seek out the Stone Tooth.
“Your help may make all the difference,” said Aramis. “Good evening, and thank you again.”
“Excellent,” said Bhavik as they walked back to the Scholar’s Nook through the drizzle. “Let’s see what we can get out of that mule-head Ashrem now.”
Aramis nodded absently, frowning at the tiefling, who’d been particularly sullen since they arrived. “Are you all right, Azal?”
She put on a fake smile and said, “Sure. Just fine.”
“All right,” he said, hearing the lie but deciding to leave it be for the time being.
They reentered the library/bookshop and told him what the dwarf priestess had said.
“Sister Alonsa wants her money,” Aramis said.
Dewitt guffawed. “I’ll just bet she does.” He climbed up a ladder to disappear onto a higher floor and rummaged around for a time until he found what he was seeking. He came back down with a map, and pointed out the landmarks Alonsa had referenced.
“Can we keep this?” asked Aramis.
“Sure,” smirked the librarian. “Twenty quid.”
As they were making ready to leave, Dewitt called out, “Iva! Come see this. Probably the last look you’ll get of these ‘adventurers’ bound for the Stone Tooth!”
Iva Charlot emerged from one of the hidden reading corners and blinked in surprise at the sight of her brother-in-law. “Aramis?” she said uncertainly.
“Iva?!” the priest exclaimed.
Azal nodded hello to Iva, took the map from Aramis, and excused herself. “I’m going to study this outside. Sorry for not sticking around.” Then she departed without another word.
Turning back to his sister-in-law Aramis said, “You don’t need me to tell you this, but Orson’s sick with worry over you.”
“Of course,” she replied softly. “But he’ll do what’s right.”
“After what happened, I’d like to know what you’re doing out here.” He paused to take in her armored form and the sword on her hip. “In that armor…with weapons?”
She smiled slyly. “Guess you’ve never asked about my side of the family. Did you think we were all sheep herders and wool spinners?”
“Well, yes,” Aramis answered honestly.
She explained about her search for the cause for her son Henri’s condition. Her uncle Garon had heard a tale of a child with a similar condition in Blasingdell, and she’d come to track the family down. She was seeking any connection the child might have with her own son, and Dewitt had been intrigued with the quest and decided to help her find them.
When she’d finished her tale Aramis said, “I can help you look…for tonight, at least. Tomorrow we set out for Khundrukar.”