A TOUCH OF GRAY
Following their run-in with the undead dwarves, the adventurers were indecisive and unfocused, with everyone moving off in different directions with no clear leadership of purpose. This was nearly their undoing.
While Nammosi searched the northern passage, with Kari following a short distance behind and Raben splitting the difference, Elrian opted to enter the grand hall and explore the double doors along the south wall. Nod, Peron, and Rhaina trailed after, with the rogue drifting toward the western doors.
Nammosi established the northern passageway led to another guard room, a mirror of the one Rhaina and Nod had explored to the west. She and Kari began making their way back to the entry hall where Elrian had picked the locks of the ornate double doors revealing a short hallway leading to another set of doors, the floor between carved with a dwarven king’s journey from a lowly copper mine to the Axeholm throne.
With Peron standing watch over, Nod crept inside, spotting gray-skinned dwarves behind arrow slits in the sidewalls. He quickly backed away, shouting, “Duergar!” Almost in unison an alarm resounded and the opposite double doors opened to reveal a throne room, where sat a towering duergar king with blank, dead eyes and a red beard that spilled down across his gray flesh. The veins in the monarch’s chest glistened, pulsating white through his gray flesh, forming a network of spidery branches from a central trunk.
Three axe-wielding duergar sentries poured out of the chamber and into the main hall as the adventurers backed away.
Elrian cast sleep, laying one of the duergar low. Kari attempted to end him, but his blade found no egress through the slumbering gray dwarf’s armor. Peron struck a deadly wound with his magical arrows, and as the duergar rose, he and his companions retreated to the throne room and Nod closed the doors behind them.
Realizing they were in serious trouble, and in need of a short rest, if for no other reason than to attune to the magical items they carried but unable to put to use, they scampered to find a safe haven. Rhaina had climbed one of the great columns in the main hall, and lingered behind as Peron, Nod, Kari, and Raben made their way back into the cavernous passageway where they had faced off with the undead dwarves earlier. Pressing forward, they found them all slaughtered. Their curiosity would go unresolved.
Rhaina, from her position on the column, saw the Duergar King appear on the balcony overhead, while another duergar, somewhere deeper in the upper level, was admonishing what he called an “undead witch”, promising she “would be fed soon enough “. She scampered to the ground just as an ungodly wail cut through the hall. She crumbled to the ground, hovering a death’s door. Nammosi and Elrian, a short distance away, were staggered by the sound, but pressed forward. While Nammosi saw to Rhaina’s rescue, Elrian addressed the monarch overhead.
Calling for peace between them, and as a tribute to their arrogance for trespassing on his territory without proper etiquette, Elrian offered up his Staff of Charming as an offering. The Duergar agreed and invited the party to pay their proper respects in the throne room and he departed. Joining up with Nammosi and Rhaina, they went in search of their companions, but they had fared no better before the banshee’s wail.
Peron, Kari, and Raben all succumbed to the horrific screech and lay dying amongst the putrid corpses of the former inhabitants of Axeholm. Luckily, Nod was insulated from the wail, as he was deep inside the cavern. Smartly, he turned his attentions upon Raben, knowing his healing powers would be in much need. Raben raised both Kari and Peron, then all four rejoined the others as they headed for the security of the portcullis guard room for a much needed respite.
While the party took their hour to recover, Elrian had made the decision to rescind his tribute to the Duergar King, to ignore the monarch’s invitation to the throne room. They instead opted to explore the upper levels, via the stairwell leading up out of the guardroom.
At the top of the stair they discovered a large vat room, with three long benches across from copper vats, each with a groove carved in the center. On either side of the room were bedchambers, one with Thulasian decor, the other was a bit more rough around the edges, with animal furs and skins rather than wool and silk sheets and blankets. Nod entered first and searched the room, noting the bed had been recently laid in, but then a giant spider descended from the shadowy ceiling and bit the Tabaxi bard, sending him into an hour long coma.
Kari burst into the room and cleaved the arachnid in two with a mighty swing of his axe and the rest of the party followed. Raben administered to Nod while Elrian examined a curious bowl at the bedside — its waters reflecting the Duergar throne room, empty and still. Rhaina failed to pick the lock to the only chest in the room, but she had better luck with a side door to the south.
Peron had heard chipping sounds from within, like steel on rock. He said, “We’ve got a miner on the other side of this door.”
Everyone steeled themselves, then Rhaina opened the door.
Standing in a rough-hewn chamber was a man they all recognized. He had been in the Stonemill Inn on their first night to Phandalin. Peron had taken note of him, suspecting he was trouble.
It seemed his instincts may have been right.
to be continued