Thrice The Brinded Cat

Beholden Defenders

Moonday, Rainyday 20, CY 594

This was to be the most exciting day of my life. The day I truly begin as leader of my clan and regent of the Malachite Hold. Today, a delegation from the nearby clan of Duvek’s Mine was coming to town to meet with me. This was supposed to be my day. Oh, how wrong I was, Dear Diary. Please keep reading . . .

Kenric was up bright and early again this morning as he had a most exciting and important day coming up on the morrow. He had a meeting at noon with all of the members of his expedition to Mors Frigus. They had a lot of plans to plan and people to organize and he had a lot to do before that meeting. He poured over his notes and scrolls and last minute details, sweating away the hours before noon.

McCreedy was probably up all night staking out the mayor‘s place. He said something about getting the mayor’s guard schedule figured out and that he’d be sure to come on down to the Malachite Hold around dinner time in order to meet the dwarves of Duvke’s Mine.

Listens To Wind visited Find Work, Cauldron‘s employment agency and was there just as the doors opened at eight bells. Listens, Karina and Braeden had hatched a wild plan to take over the tunnels under Orak’s Bathhouse in order to start an adventurer’s school and animal training camp. He was looking for laborers for hire: some guards, a few maids, carpenters, overseers, and such. Well, we’ve got a lot of loot so we might as well spend it somehow, right?

Braedon was still working out the details for our latest Meet the Moonhowlers party. The last one was such a success that we thought we’d give it another try. Besides, the Stormblades had been tearing up the newspapers these days with stories about supposed raids and such – let’s face it, we needed the PR! He started off at Townhall and met with Edith to figure out how to rent the city’s Pavillion. She said the new cost (after taxes) was 50 gold per day. He also asked her advice about caterers and entertainers. She suggested he inquire at Lady Knowlern’s Cusp of Sunrise.

Karina spent the morning talking with Father Kristoff, begging him to look into ways to get her memory back. The good father finally threw his hands up in the air and admitted he had no idea how to do such a thing. “Why don’t you go ask Jenya, girl? She would probably love to study you and your condition.” Karina, wasn’t happy with Kristoff for giving up on her so easy, but she went to the Church of St. Cuthbert across town anyway. Jenya wasn’t available so, in true Karina fashion, she stopped at the offering box on the way out the door and gave a donation of 10 gold pieces to the Church of St. Cuthbert – mostly to thumb her nose at Kristoff. After that she came down to the Hold to help me with my preparations.

At lunchtime everyone gathered outside the Bluecrater Academy waiting for Kenric to escort us inside the massive arcane university. Braedon, Listens, Karina, Rufus Laro, Celeste and I all stood on the steps and talked excitedly about what little we knew of Kenric’s mission. Rufus, the acolyte of The Cudgel, knew the least so we spent a lot of time filling him in on what we knew about Mors Frigus, the mysterious demiplane, and the access gate Kenric had found under Maximillian Weer’s apartments. Eventually a page opened the massive doors to the Academy and took us inside. It was amazing inside there! I was a little freaked out about the size of just the Grand Entry Hall – it looked to me as if just the Hall was bigger than the entire building. How could that be?

Listens To Wind saw my confusion as I gazed around in awe. The sheer size of it and all of the artifacts, tapestries, artwork, winding staircases, galleries, balconies, chandeliers and the countless doorways and entry ways and hallways that jutted off from the Grand Hall in every direction was a bit more than I could take in.

“It takes a little while to get used to,” the big ranger said in a hushed voice, "Kenric told me the wizards ran out of room inside the Academy centuries ago and have been adding new space from the inside ever since. " I nodded, still speechless, still not understanding.

“I’m not really sure how it all works,” LTW continued, “this is just the entry hall. Kenric has taken me to libraries, laboratories, apartments and meeting rooms, and those are just the places he is allowed to show me. Kenric has access to a lot more of the place than that and even he isn’t allowed into every room or wing.” The pale Suel looked truly in awe as he spoke. “I bet this place on the inside is even bigger than all of Cauldron,” he said. And I believed him.

The page took us up a flight of curving stairs to a long carpeted hallway lit by hundreds of candles set in wall sconces. We passed dozens of doors and hallways, occasionally another robed wizard would be seen crossing the hall in front of us, but the wizard would always be too busy to notice our little gang. Eventually we were led to a large meeting room where we found Kenric behind a wooden desk loaded with several stacks of parchment. He looked tired. Several other people were already in attendance and they were in serious conversation with him.

We recognized Sasha, Kenric’s first mentor at the Academy. I like Sasha, she’s neat. Kenric looked up and saw us enter then introduced us to the others in the room. There was Canon Morphus Runedald, Headmaster of the Academy’s School of Abjuration and Canon Mipswich, Headmaster of the School of Evocation. The other seven people in the room were a group of wizards belonging to something called The Seekers of the Arcane, which was some kind of treasure hunting group with “lodges” all over the world. This group of seven formed something called a “philosophy” within the Bluecrater Academy. It was all a little confusing to me and I’m not sure I cared much. I was there to find out whose skull I was supposed to cleave with my axe, not to concern myself with the bizarre pecking order of wizards!

After the introductions, Kenric began asking the others in the room for various reports. Canon Runedald announced he had spent a few moments on Mors Frigus when the Arch Chancellor ordered he and Kenric to secure the portal. He said he found it bitterly cold and that the place seemed to affect memory. He said he had a hard time remembering previous seconds but still retained a memory of why he was there so he guessed the place erased a person’s newest memories first and longer exposure would probably erase older memories. Karina was “found” inside this demiplane (trapped within a birdcage) and she had absolutely no memory and we don’t know how long she was actually there.

I listened as the various magical types discussed if there was a way to reverse the effect of memory loss and what they could do to protect us from the cold. They talked about how big the place might be and if gravity acted normally. They talked about tactical movement and the fact that everything we encountered must be tested. Both Runedald and Kenric spoke of what they saw during their brief glimpses beyond the portal. Of how they saw garbage piled up before the doorway and then jagged peaks in the distance. The ground looked like greenish mud, and the ground beyond the portal appeared to be lower than the ground at the base of the peaks, as if the portal sat in some kind of depression or crater.

Runedald mentioned that he would wear a pair of magically crafted boots to help resist the effects of the freezing temperatures and suggested the rest of us find magical rings, potions, scrolls or any other magic that could do the same thing. Celeste mentioned several spells that could be used to avoid planer effects and Kenric admitted he had been working hard scribing as many of these scrolls as he could afford.

Tomorrow, when the mission started, it would be the Moonhowler’s job to hold the portal open and, with the help of Mipswich, we would secure the immediate area beyond the portal. Once inside, Runedald and Celeste would setup a magical basecamp and the Seekers would begin the first of dozens of experiments Kenric had devised – they would analyze the portal and see how it works from the other side. They would test the flow of time and the effects of gravity and of the cold. The would test the mud and the pile of debris, taking as many samples as would be needed for more advanced tests in the labs. They would test the effects of each school of magic and they would experiment with the cold and how memory was affected there.

While the Seekers were busy with their tests, the Moonhowlers and Celeste would explore the area outside the portal. We would map what we could of the place and look for other denizens of the plane. We would see if any creatures that lived there were hostile or if they were intelligent. We would see if there were any social or political structures amongst the populace. And, in particular, Kenric wanted to find out if either one of the two missing and presumed dead wizards, Maximillian Weer and Fetor Abraxis, were there.

It was a long list of things to do and we weren’t assured any of these things could be done successfully. There were a lot of things that could go wrong and each step would be fraught with danger, but that’s the kind of thing we Moonhowlers do. And besides, Kenric is one of our best friends and he needed our help. By Moradin‘s Short Whiskers I would make damn well sure we did everything in our power to see him succeed at this. Because that’s the kind of thing friends do.

The meeting lasted only an hour. Afterward, we were escorted out of the Academy and I nearly ran back to the Hold to get ready for my big day!

Within another hour Farip and Belifra, the Holdwives, had me dressed up in my finest outfit. I was dressed spectacularly in a mixture of my finest plate armor, which shone like the midday sun in the light of the forge, and a mixture of fine silks, sashes and jewelry that the Wives had procured for me. Wow, I looked like a badass princess. The Hold was also a sight to see. Every nook and cranny was cleaned and waxed and the stone shone with dark malachite like its never shone before! Red banners with the black emblazoned hammer of my new clan hung in every room and hall. The smells of roasted meats and fresh ale and bread was dizzying. Torches, both magical and mundane, bathed every inch of the place in a warm glow.

The kids, Darrim, Delmore, Bazre and even little Boola were all dressed in fine linens and smart caps of felt. They dutifully helped out wherever they could, decorating the feast hall or helping in the kitchen. The forge apprentices, Bran and Broke had spent the last two days polishing every tool and accoutrement in the Shrine of Moradin. They had hung iron pomanders filled with ambergris and camphor in all of the corners of the forge so the place smelled less of sweat and brimstone.

The kids had even put a fine black cape on Terrafax, the guardian stone elemental and they had spent several days polishing HM-005 and HM-006, the steel automatons.

But the most amazing was Yathaub. My Captain and Man At Arms, Defender of the Hold and hero of his people. He looked amazing! Dressed in his fine leathers, a gift of Moradin himself, and resplendent in the rapiers and other weaponry attached to various places on his body, the dark stalker looked impressive. He was serious, too. His dark creepers flitted about in the shadows as he paced the halls, occasionally barking orders to his creepers or the wives. I noticed he was less severe when it came to the kids and he always stopped to smile and pat the head of little Boola whenever she passed.

Wow! I was ready.

The only thing I was missing were some dwarves from Duvek’s Mine to impress. Where were they? They should have been here by now!

Listens and Kenric went upstairs to Jzadirune to meet with Belterton Hamstock and they were gone for a long time. I was getting nervous and anxious and those two were upstairs gabbing with the gnomes, for crying out loud! When they finally did come back in the later afternoon they had plenty to report on regarding the new gnomes of Jzadirune. The deligation from Duvek’s hadn’t arrived yet so I sat and nervously half listened as LTW and Kenric tried to tell me what the little guys had done with the place. Apparently there were now about two hundred gnomes upstairs – geesh, do they breed like rabbits, or what? The gnomes had been busy restoring all of the old illusions and such that had adorned those halls. Apparently only a few were still in operation when we liberated the place last year. Belteron had turned the old king‘s throne room into an office and a museum and they had begun a few major projects. In light of the problems with The Vanishing of a century ago the gnomes had decreed to go only old-school from now on and disband their pursuit of technology. They also planned to find a way to re-open the main entrances to Jzadirune – well that would be nice. Then me and my dwarves wouldn’t have to go through Ghelve’s Lockshop each time we wanted to go to the surface and back. Then LTW started talking about his animal training thing and how he and Belterton talked about training giant badgers for use as mounts and I sorta lost interest . . .

It was almost eighteen bells when all of a sudden Yathaub and two creepers entered the Hall of Stone where I sat trying not to listen to Kenric worry about his upcoming trip to Mors Frigus. “My Lady, may I present Private Luhrech of the City Guard" he said while bowing.

Behind him a half-orc city guard entered. I had seen him before, he was one ofLieutenant Twobuckles’ men. A gnome in Jzadirune livery, each holding a tiny pike, flanked him to either side.

“Thank you, sir.” Luhrech said, nodding to Yathaub, who returned the nod. “Mistress Blackhammer, I am here to inform you your guests are in town. They have been here for quite some time now and I am only here because they have been…er…making a bit of a mess of the ”/wikis/the-slippery-eel" class=“wiki-page-link”> The Slippery Eel and the Lieutenant wanted you to have a chance to intervene before he has to inform Captain Skellerang. I am so sorry mistress. It seems the Slippery Eel’s new proprietor is seeking restitution for … uh … damages."

“Oh for the gods sake!” I shouted. “What in the name of the Nine Hells are they doing there? They are supposed to be HERE!!”

I leapt up and ran out the doors, the rest of the Moonhowlers in tow. The gnomes couldn’t keep up, but they followed us anyway. Bless their little hearts and souls. Its nice to have friends.

When we got to the Slippery Eel we found utter chaos and disaster inside. It was hard to believe this was the same place Edith and I had spent the evening over drinks and dinner just the other night. Only three haggard looking serving girls and an exasperated barkeep were there along with a whole pile of rowdy dwaren miners! Suds were everywhere.

There were twenty-one of them, in all. Adrick Garthun, their leader, looked up at our entrance and shouted above the din, “My thanes! It looks like the Keeper of the Hold has finally noticed our presence. It seems our Honor Guard has arrived!”

“I am no Honor Guard, Clan Chief Garthun,” I shouted back, “but Braenna Blackhammer, Clan Mistress of the Malachite Hold!”

What followed was a lot of silence and confused looks. I didn’t really have the patience for it and was more than a little horrified by the destruction of the Slippery Eel. I marched across the room and handed a leather pouch with twenty gold pieces to the barkeep for his trouble. He looked inside and smiled gratefully. That was easily five times the cost of the damages and cleanup. He should smile. And, hopefully, Tarmy Twobuckles would find a way to keep news of this debacle from reaching the ears of Captain Skellerang.

“Dwarves of Duvek’s Mine,” I said in my loudest indoor voice, “I am pleased to welcome you to the city of Cauldron proper. But the Malachite Hold is what you have come to see and it lies far beneath us. Let us go and we shall show you a proper welcome!”

The dwarves all lined up behind Garthun and a thin dwarf who appeared to be a priest. They followed us out of the Inn and across town to the entrance to Jzadirune. Little was said as we proceeded across town. Each dwarven thane (and there were nine of them) marched single file, another dwarf (a bannerbarn) hoisted a flag with their family crest upon it.

Garthun and the priest, Gimgin Falfek was his name, commented on various features of the town as they passed. They were very impressed by the gnomes guarding the doors outside Ghelve’s Locks until they figured out the gnome guards were not mine but belonged to the gnomish enclave of Jzadirune. Adrick muttered something about “more proper guards”, but I could not hear the rest.

The dwarves were also impressed by the craftsmanship of the wooden elevator that led from Jzadirune down to the Hold, below. We exited the elevator and made our way to the Hall of Stone.

Adrick spoke to me as we walked, “How long are you plannin’ on letting the little things scurry around o’er yer head?” he asked.

“Those ‘little things’ are the gnomes of Jzadirune. They are my allies and I have no say in whether they stay or go,” I said to him as gently as I could. Adrick grunted in response.

Terrafax, the Hold’s elemental guardian materialized by rising out of the stone floor. The stonespike loomed above us and regarded us for a long while before bowing and in his rumbling voice said, “I serve you, Braenna Blackhammer, Mistress of the Hold and welcome your guests.”

Terrafax bowed low and I noticed Adrick and Gimgin exchange glances and a shared smile. I thought it was odd at the time but then put it out of my head as we continued down the brightly lit hallway and entered the Stone Hall.

As I mentioned, the Hall was resplendent in the trappings of Clan Blackhammer. The statue of Zenith Splintershield that dominated one corner of the hall was still shrouded in canvas and chains so as not to distress Yathaub at the sight of his wife’s killer, but the automatons guarding the Underdark Bridge came smartly to attention as we entered, a dark creeper behind the controls of each. Yathuab strode across the room, two creepers at his heels as he approached.

“My Lady,” he said, using the noble honorific which I had not earned yet from the Cauldronites above, “the feast hall is ready for your guests.” He bowed deep, but never took his eyes off Adrick in the process. Yathuab played the role to perfection.

“A magnificent beast! And well trained!” Adrick commented.

I growled. This dwarf was uncouth beyond my wildest imagination. “Clan Chief Garthun, may I present Yathaub, Guardian of the Hold.”

“I see,” was all Adrick said as Yathuab turned to lead us to the Feast Hall. The creepers flitted in and out of the shadows at Yathaub’s feet as we walked.

I heard Gimgin, the priest, whisper to Adrick , "“Tis unnatural. They’ll need to leave before this Hall is fit for dwarves.” I ignored the comment.

The next three hours pass by in a blur. The dwarves know how to party and loudly. Over the course of dinner I got to know them a little better. Adrick was the leader of the dwarves of Duvek’s Mine. He is named the Clan Chief and his banner, a golden pick on a blue field, is that of the traditional Duvek clan who left the Malachite Hold during the Great Schism centuries ago.

Adrick was a gruff looking tattooed dwarf with black hair streaked with grey. Gold earrings and chains bedecked his face and neck; his fine studded leather, marked him clearly above the rest. When Adrick grinned his mouth was full of gold teeth. This seemed unusual to me.

Gimgin Falfek, the priest, was always by his side. He had white hair and a slight build under the dark blue robes of the priesthood. I looked for his holy symbol of Moradin throughout dinner but failed to spot it.

Hulking, Hurking Stoutmug, was Adrick ’s body guard, a massive dwarf with tiny eyes, his dark face criss-crossed with many scars, marking him a veteran of countless battles.

The thanes of Duvek’s Mine, nine in all, each wore a ceremonial apron denoting rank and family among the clan and their man-at-arms bannerbarns were never far from his thane’s side. There was regal Thane Dwythur Whurrak and his bannerbarn Norradin Whurrak, the loud and obnoxious thane Bofim Thrall and bannerbarn Nalgur Thrall, and the drunk thane Nordrim Bofgin with his ever-dilligent Falgur Bofgin at his side. Then there was thane Oring Nofdrak who tried to slap the butt of poor Belifra whenever she passed by and his bannerbarn Erak Nofdrak who only laughed and encouraged his master’s poor behavior. The reserved thane Bin Durgin watched moodily while his bannerbarn Thrim Durgin stood behind him and took no food or drink. Thane Gimert Vier told bawdy jokes all evening long and no one laughed louder than Barakral Vier his bannerbarn. Thane Mabir Ellag wandered around the dining hall all evening long and appraised the art and stonework with his bannerbarn Yuryur Ellag and the thane Gloret Bartak told stories of epic veins of gold, silver and hidden caches of gemstone while his bannernarn Azauk Bartak confirmed each story.

After dinner we went for a tour of the Hold. I showed them the Guest Hall and Kitchens and Pantry before taking them to see the Shrine of Moradin. I was ready for them to be mightily impressed by the forgeworks of the shrine, but Adrick dismissed the place as if it were nothing.

“Show us your mining operation!” he shouted and the thanes all shouted their agreement.

“Sire,” I said, “we do not have a mining operation in the Malachite Hold.”

“What!?” Adrick exclaimed and the thanes all began talking anxiously among themselves.

“Then where is yer nursery?” he asked, “the women – where are they kept?”

“I am not at all sure what you mean, Sire.” I responded. “We have no nursery here and we certainly do not KEEP women!” I was getting irritated.

“That’s a real pity, lass.” he said, the insult not escaping me, " Why don’t we get down to real business, then. The treasury. Lead on.”

I looked at him sternly. “If I had a treasury, I would not be showing you where it is!” I said back to him.

There was suddenly much quiet amongst the thanes, the mood in the Stone Hall changed drastically then.

Adrick looked at me quizically, “What do you do here, then? Where are yer resources? How do you expect to see any profits to support a proper clan?”

“We work the forges of Moradin. We do the Dwarf-Father’s Craft and we support ourselves just fine!” Now I was getting angry. Real good and angry.

“I think we’ve all seen enough," Adrick continued. "This is a fine space and it will do. I am prepared to offer you a spot as bannerman – er, woman. Maybe even Sheild-barn, if you prove worthy to me.“

“Mister,” I said (I could see his insult and raise him one, ha!) “you’ve come to the wrong place if you expect that you have any claim at all over the Malachite Hold! This is my clan, this is MY hold and you will watch your tongue when you are here as MY GUEST!”

“Hahaha! Listen to the little buckla talk!" he shouted and the thanes all began to laugh. "She thinks quite mightily of herself, don’t she! She talks as if she has located the Brutal Pick, itself, and if she holds it in her grubby hands! Hahahah!”

I growled. This wasn’t going to be pretty.

“In the presence of the nine Thanes themselves, I now declare this Duvek’s Hold! And I, as your Chief, require this hearth-maiden to pledge her fealty to me and Clan Duvek. Kneel faithful one, your time of glory is at hand.”

Through gritted teeth I managed to spit out my next words, “I kneel to no man or dwarf, but only to the Dwarf-Father and I believe your stay here has come to an end. Please take your thanes and bannerbarns and get out of the Malachite Hold!”

“You test my patience and hospitality, buckla. A slight I could overlook – if you wore a beard! But the best I can offer you now is a speedy escape from my wrath. Begone! Away from my sight and don’t you ever show your face at my hearth again! You are hearby banished from Duvek’s Hold!”

“The only thing that is banished here will be your head from your neck, Adrick Garthun.” And at that I grabbed the axe from my belt. The Moonhowlers, my blessed friends and allies alike, spread out across the room and prepared for bloodshed.

“Weiger-hut!” “Weiger-hut!” “Weiger-hut!” “Weiger-hut!” the thanes all shouted. I had no idea at the time what that meant, but later I would learn it was the dwarven word for ‘blood challenge" and was invoked by the heads of a clan’s family whenever a challenge to leadership was called into question

Adrick grinned that gold-toothy grin and held up his hands for silence. When the thanes stopped their chanting he said, “I will not soil the blade of my axe with such filth. I name Stoutmug in my stead. Do you, child wish to face my champion? Let us forgive bloodshed today and relent. Our brothers have been divided for far too long. Do you really want to be the one to bring division to the dwarves once again? Has living with these humans for so long truly robbed you of the blessing of Moradin, the All Father?”

“You speak untruths,” I said. “You are the one who is in the wrong here. Leave my home now and no one get’s hurt. That I promise.”

“So Be it! Fight and learn your place, buklah. Herkun, try not to kill her if you can. Her confessions to our people will be helpful and she can only confess out loud if she is still alive. Her severed head will only do in a pinch.”

The thanes and Adrick created a circle about me, their bannerbarns behind them, each holding their family flag high. The priest, Gimgin, handed a large and heavy red-painted dwarven urgrosh to Herkun Stoutmug as he entered the circle to face me. This dwarf was absolutely huge and his armor looked thick and Impenetrable. But I was angry and if taking this hulk down was what I needed to teach these dwarves a lesson, then I would give them a lesson they would not forget.

I concentrated on my opponent as he approached, but I watched the faces of my worried companions as they prepared, as well, just beyond the circle of thanes. They knew this was my fight and they wouldn’t do anything to interfere, but, then again, I knew they had my back and they weren’t going to let anything happen to me.

I saw Kenric cast a spell and he was momentarily bathed in a dim golden light. Braedon moved to a spot outside the circle directly across from the dwarven priest. I saw him grab his symbol of Pelor and he watched the dwarf’s lips, waiting for him to cast a spell of his own. Listens To Wind and McCreedy each drew weapons of their own and moved to position themselves behind a thane of their choosing and Karina used her magical slippers to climb up the walls of the Hall of Stone, her hands ready to let loose eldrich fire.

Stoutmug charged at me and I was surprised at his speed. The urgrosh is a deadly weapon with axe heads mounted on both ends of a steel pole. The blades whirled as he charged, I stepped aside but was caught across the shoulder by two of the blades. The thanes clapped and Adrick even laughed. It hurt but that only fueled my anger.

I struck back at Stoutmug. Hard. His armor dented and split under my attack and I saw a look of surprise cross his dim, tiny piggy eyes.

Then I paid no more attention to the thanes or Adrick . It was just me and my opponent and we traded blow after blow. Stoutmug could rain down a flurry of attacks with that weapon but the distance between each blade was fixed upon the pole’s length which made the arcs of his swings limited in where they could strike. It also made his blows weaker and even clumsy. I struck him with my more agile battle axe far more times than he landed blows on me – and I hit harder.

The seconds passed as years for me and the fight continued inexorably to its conclusion. Stoutmug was much bigger than me and he was in great shape. I was suffering from dozens of wounds and the floor ran slick with our mingled blood and sweat. But, I had the battle in hand. Eventually, Stoutmug began to tire and we both knew the end was near for him. I would win this battle. It was difficult, but by Moradin, I would win.

Adrick sensed it too. Frustration played heavily across his face. He sized up the situation. There was me, a mighty warrior, but about spent. Then there were five of my companions against twenty of his best dwarves. The math was easy. Even for someone as dimwitted at Adrick .

“My thanes!’ he shouted. “bring me that bucklah-bitch’s head!”

What did he call me!??!!

Adrick drew a shortsword from his belt and charged at me. The priest, Gimgin, tried to cast a spell. I would learn later that Braedon was waiting for just that opportunity and calling for the power of Pelor he cast a counterspell and blocked it!

McCreedy sunk his daggers into the back of Gimert Vier before the thane could even draw his hammer and Listens to Wind nearly chopped the priest, Gimgin, in half with a swing from his two-bladed silver sword.

The thanes and bannerbarns were quick to react and surround both McCreedy and Listens in a circle of steel shields and whirling axes and hammers.

Soon I was surrounded, too, and badly wounded. My biggest threat, however, still appeared to be Stoutmug so I ignored the rest and took one final swing at the hulking dwarf. I landed a solid blow to the side of his head with the edge of my axe. His helmet went flying and he dropped to the ground in a heap and clank of armor, shield and flesh. I reversed my swing and flew into a rage at Adrick Garthun, sinking my axe deep into his side. He looked at me with equal parts fear AND terror. Ha! Take that you slimy bastard!

The stone beneath me buckled and with a roar of rending stone Terrafax burst up from the floor and began clubbing the thanes and bannerbarns that had surrounded me. His assault was freakishly amazing to behold and the dwarves were stunned. “How dare you attack the rightful Mistress of the Hold! I sentence you to death!” the stone elemental shouted.

Suddenly, the air was aglow in magic! Globes of sizzling eldrich fury flew from the heavens and Karina began picking off the bannerbarns with her magical artillery. Arcane fire and sizzling energy flew and struck at the dwarves as Kenric opened up his attack. A glowing morning star appeared above the melee as Braeden called forth his divine spiritual weapon of Pelor.

Then Yathaub entered the fray.

The doors to the Underdark Gate blew wide open and HM-005 and HM-006 lurched into the mass of quickly panicking dwarves. Each one with a dark creeper at the helm and each one pounded stone and flesh with their massive metal arms. Shouts of alarm and pain could be heard as the creepers carved a path of destruction through the dwarven ranks.

“Milady! Yathaub is here for you!” I could hear the enigmatic dark stalker shout. I saw him out of the corner of my eye. He was a blur of dark shadows and black mist. The dwarves fell before him – three would fall for each one of his attacks and I realized two of his creepers must be battling as well – down at kneecap level and hidden from my view.

Adrick sneered at Yathaub and shouted a challenge.

“Zenith!” shouted Yathaub, “I will have my sweet revenge upon you! For Laila d’Aub!”

Zenith I thought. This can’t be Zenith, can it? This is Adrick Garthun, right? But I didn’t have time to wonder or worry as the battle raged about me. Braeden fought desperately to reach me and I to him for I needed his healing powers in a bad way.

I saw Adrick advance on Yathaub and he delivered a flurry of swipes and swings with his sword. Yathaub deftly parried, ducked and side-stepped each one. Adrick continued his advance and I was certainly worried Yathaub would never be able to take him.

Just then, Adrick howled in pain and leaped up on one foot, off balance. I glanced down to see a creeper with a dagger firmly planted in Adrick ’s foot.

Yathaub wasted no time and drove his gifted rapier, Sentinel, through Adrick ‘s eye. The clan chief could only stare with his single remaining eye, stunned, as Yathaub yanked the weapon free and pulled the dwarf’s eyeball out of its socket.

A tremendous rumbling crash sounded throughout the Hall and the huge double doors leading to the Shrine of Moradin burst open. And there, standing in the doorway, was the stone statue of Moradin, himself. In his massive stone hands was a massive stone battleaxe and the statue stepped through the door and brandished the weapon fiercely.

All stopped their battles to look.

Then, the canvas and chains that wrapped up the large stone statue of Zenith Splintershield flew up into the air and landed on the ground some yards away. But beneath that shroud stood not the statue of the dwarven prince, but of a brash looking gnome. I recogized that stone visage as none other than the gnomish god, Garl Glittergold!

Everyone in the Hall stood stunned and silent. Their individual battles momentarily forgotten.

Then the statue of Moradin spoke, “Dwarves relinquish your weapons. Pledge your support to the mistress of the Hold.” Its voice echoed throughout the hall and reverberated into my soul.

Those bannerbarns and thanes still standing dropped their weapons and stood, mouths agape.

Aldric shouted out, “My thanes, we leave now! Bannerbarns, hold off the infidels until we return with reinforcements!” I saw the priest draw a dagger from his belt and there was a flash of light that emanated from the golden blade. Although he was bleeding profusely from a gruesome wound, Gimgin leaped forward and threw his bloody arms around Adrick . Then the two of them disappeared in a flash of light.

The thanes and bannerbarns all dropped prone to the ground and bowed their heads to the Shrine of Moradin and the KinKeeper, Garl Glittergold.

They begged for forgiveness.

“Pledge!” Garl Glittergold shouted.

They pledged. To me! To Braenna!

Braedon bowed deeply to the statues and thanked them for their timely assistance. I turned and knelt, too, before Moridin and said “I am your servant.” Yathaub placed his hand to his heart and bowed low.

The statues said in unison, “Dwarves of Duvec’s Mine, approach. Defenders of the Hold, bring me the weapons of these fallen dwarves so as to make tribute. There is much to atone for here."

The dwarves all approached the statues and kneeled. The Moonhowlers gathered up their weapons and dropped them at the feet of the two statues.

Thane Dwythur Whurrak then spoke to the statues. “We honor the Weiger-hut, oh Lord, as is your command to us long ago. Clan Mistress Braenna defeated our Clan Chief and his Champion in fair and honorable combat, therefor we submit. We have acted foolishly and without honor, Lord, therefore we offer our lives as forfeit and remain here only as your gracious will desires.”

“Clan Mistress!” the statues boomed. “What is your bidding?”

I looked around me in astonishment. The dwarves of Duvek’s hold looked up at me.

“They may leave, my Lord. But all who wish to stay may do so. Braedon, would you see to their wounds?”

Braedon cast what healing he could on the dwarves. One bannerbarn was dead and many others wounded horribly. Eventually, all of the dwarves left, save for Stoutmug who approached me and offered himself as a bloodoath. A year and a day he would seve me, he said. His life was mine to command.

A moment after the dwarves departed there was a flash of light and the statues of the gods disappeared. The doors to the Shrine of Moradin suddenly reappeared back on their hinges and the canvas and chains once more reappeared upon the lump of stone that used to be the statue of Zenith.

I looked around in wonder. And then I heard the gnomish giggles. Belterton Hamstock and a bevy of gnomes suddenly emerged from several of the doorways and entered the Hall of Stone.

“Milady!” shouted Belteron’s squeaky voice. “We thought you could use a hand with those foul, no good hooligans from Duvek’s Mine. I hope that is alright with you.”

It took me a while to realize the gnomes had snuck in and cast a whole string of illusions on the statues and the Hall. Moradin and Garl had all just been a trick! Wow! I love my neighbors.

Just then, three dwarves entered the Hall, bloody and bruised. They threw themselves to the ground at my feet, and said they could no longer be a part of the vileness of Duvek’s Mine. They pleaded for their lives and the lives of their families. I walked among their prostrate forms and regarded them for long and uncomfortable moments.

Then I spoke. “By the mercy of Moradin, if you take up the name of Clan Blackhammer and if you pledge your lives to the lives of this clan, I promise you shall never be asked to perform wickedness for as long as you draw breath. Promise me your sword, your axe and your hammer and I will do all I can to bring your families here and to keep them safe for as long as I draw breath. Give me your pledge and I will give you mine.”

“We promise, my Lady!” they shouted, “we promise our axes and our lives to you and Clan Blackhammer!”

And thus, Nalgur Thrall became Nalgur Blackhammer, Falgur Bofgin became Falgur Blackhammer and Erak Nofdrak became Erak Blackhammer.

We then stood. My acolytes and their families joined us. Yathaub and his creepers joined us. Terrafax and the Moonhowlers joined us and we spent the next hour cleaning up the Hall of Stone.

Yathaub apologized for his bizarre behavior. “My Lady. Yathaub is sorry. Let his words be witnessed by stone and air. He has no idea what came over him. When Yathaub saw that foul dwarf attacking you he could only think of his one true love, Laila d’Aub and the evil…thing…that took her from Yathaub, and…”

“My dear Yathuab,” I interrupted him, “you do not have to apologize to me. I understand the pain and the loss you feel and I don’t care that you thought Adrick was Zenith. You saved my life back there. You showed up when I needed you the most and you and your people,” I looked down at two of his creepers and smiled at them – they even smiled back (you wouldn’t want to see that – it wasn’t pretty, but the intent was appreciated) “you served the Hold well, today. You all fought with honor and with bravery. Every one of you!”

Amid the wreckage, Braeden found a small holy symbol with the depiction of a jeweled dagger pointing down etched upon it. He brought it to our attention and told us this was the symbol of Abbathor, an evil god of the dwarves and brother to Moradin. He told us he is the god of greed and his evil knows little bounds.

I took the thing from him and stared at its surface. I looked over at the ex-bannerbarns who were currently helping to haul discarded weapons and armor away. I looked over to Stoutmug who was sitting, propped up against the feet of the covered Zenith statue.

Ach! I threw it in the trash.

But I looked down and saw a bloody eyeball laying on the floor. Now THAT i picked up, and smiling a wicked smile, put it in my pocket. A nice little reminder; not all dwarves can be trusted.

~ Braenna out!

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