The Broken Crown

Dhom's Story

Stoneheim Hold had been carved out generations ago. Clan lore told of how a natural cave system had been extended over the centuries, taking shape around a deep magma forge and rich veins of iron ore. Smiths had transformed that iron into great wealth, and masons worked caverns into great halls, and fortified the cave entrance into an impregnable fortress designed to hold off an army. Stoneheim’s proud warriors had easily held off Goblin hordes and Orcish raiders there, and that was part of the problem – they watched lazily, and in the wrong direction.

Dhom was still an apprentice smith when they lost Stoneheim. He thought he was a pretty good smith by then, although his parents still disagreed – Stoneheim had a significant reputation to maintain, and young upstarts with only a quarter of a century of experience couldn’t be trusted to produce the finest weapons and armour yet. So he still laboured in the workshop of his mother, Braenlyn, but that was enough to earn him a vote on clan matters.

In a way that made it partially his fault; the sages warned against it, but he vociferously agreed with the majority to extend the magma channels in search of increased forge heat. Afterwards they thought that must be why it happened, with either the sound of the tunnelling or the great machines to raise the magma calling up the invaders.

The first kobolds seen that night actually burst into a tavern hall. The day’s mining shift happily interrupted their drinks for a brawl, and the alarm was raised. The stout smiths quickly joined them and pushed the kobolds back deeper, a direction they seemed strangely reluctant to go. Then things rapidly became worse, with the tunnels belching forth unholy alliances – beetled hulks, and things with too many tentacles, and others with too many eyes. The warriors running down to join the fight soon joined the rout upwards and outwards, confusion and fear strangely seizing everyone.

Once outside the bedraggled clan regrouped, but it was too late. A tide of kobolds were trying to fight out of the gates, not into them, and the dwarves fled before the creatures of the deeps came out into the night. They trekked for days for get to their sister clans further into Mzendethil; every family had lost members, and most were only carrying the wounded, not what they would normally have chosen to carry with them on a long journey. The clan had survived but their status had forever changed.

The clans that had taken them in were kind, but also pitying – what kind of dwarves would lose their home so easily? Dhom joined others in swearing they would not be so easily surprised again, and reluctantly borrowed gold to hire master rangers to train them. The erstwhile smiths’ strength and stamina proved useful as they roamed the mountains under the expert eyes of the humans and elves.

Dhom had always had an eye for detail, a skill that proved useful, and he soon gained an agility that his appearance belied. But although he gained a proficiency with a bow he still often preferred to use his strength in new martial ways against the creatures they encountered.

As they trained, and mapped and patrolled the caves near their adopted holds, their clan elders were not idle. Their trade caravans around the kingdoms were recalled and their last master-crafter goods were sold, debts were called in, and warriors were re-equipped and trained further. The first groups back to Stoneheim Hold had been quickly rebuffed by Kobolds, with the fortifications now working against them. But plans had been drawn up and the dwarves had long memories; they needed many years to prepare, but the time came for them to reclaim their home, and their honour.

Dhom and his fellow rangers led and flanked the dwarven force as they retraced their steps back to the hold. The area had been increasingly avoided over the years, and the rangers soon noticed that also affected the wildlife; no way to supplement their provisions on the march. As the fortress was scouted at dawn, no sign of any kobolds were seen; Dhom his fellow rangers kept a careful watch, bows nocked, as a team of rogues scaled the gates and disappeared above. Soon the gates creaked open; they all winced at the noise, but nothing emerged.

Dhom and his colleagues were gestured forward, switching to axes for close work. But the darkness behind the gates revealed nothing but bones and musty smells. As the rangers worked their way down, with the main force behind, much had changed; new tunnel mouths gaped, and rubbish and detritus filled the ruined, previously gleaming, halls.

Dragging tracks and strange footprints with snail-like glimmers could both be why the only kobolds to be seen were dried husks. Rangers were sent short distances down side passages and reported strange noises; scouts were posted as the force stalked slowly towards the main forge chambers, the center of the old hold. Ahead, Dhom froze – the magma was no longer moving and had gone cold and dark, but darkvision showed floating shapes with four eyestalks heading towards them. Ducking behind a fallen beam, the rangers switched back to arrows as the fighters and priests hurried towards them.

This time the battle was short and sweet. But the central chamber didn’t feel like the end, and every scout sent to the further halls reported unsettling sights and noises. Everywhere had been defiled and parts strangely eroded. Home didn’t feel like home, and the treasures they had hoped to win back were no longer in the upper levels – in fact, strangely little was in the upper levels. As the elders and warleaders conferred, Dhom already knew the decision would be to pull back; they had been ready for kobolds and Hulks, and the Spectators had proven no match for the clan, but there was much worse here and little to fight for any more. They could take the bones of their clan away to be buried, and there was some honour to be regained there, but it was too late for their home to be their home again.

Dhom moved to where his mother Braenlyn’s workshop had flanked the magma forges, searching through the rubble and ashes for the past. Shifting a rock, he spotted a squared hammer for shaping platemail, and grasped the haft with a grin.

Hammers could be used for other things, and perhaps it was time to range further afield.

For a while.

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Raen's Story: A New Client

The manor house was easy to find; its newly constructed facade stood out like a sore thumb against its ancient neighbours. Huge marble lions flanked the as-yet unfinished gate, their gilt eyes shimmering in the late afternoon sun. This flaunting of wealth was never a good look, but against the rugged backdrop of Fortitude it was laughable.

As Raen passed the gate posts and ambled down the path to the house, she amused herself by predicting which parts of this gleaming monstrosity would be stolen or vandalised first. The perfectly manicured shrubs lining the path? The gold-plated iron gate that lay on the lawn waiting to be hung? The… “gods! Is that a gem-encrusted door knob!?”, she thought, disgusted.

Despite her distaste, all of these things were good signs to Raen – this client had more money than sense. She mentally doubled her rates.

Raen stretched to grab the door knocker, another lion, and just out of easy reach for a dwarf. She knocked. After a moment the door was answered by a stern old man. He was dressed well in a butler’s attire and he surveyed Raen with a steely face and his nose turned up. Raen had taken care to scrub her worn clothes and plait her hair more neatly than she usually would; apparently she still failed to impress.

“You must be the new help”, said the butler with a sneer. “Please come this way”.

Raen followed him up through the gaudy entrance hall and through a side door into a cloak room. “You can leave your… belongings… here”, he said, gesturing to her beaten pack and various axes. She reluctantly obeyed, some clients would insist on this despite the guards they undoubtedly employ.

Raen was led in silence through several corridors until they reached a large mahogany door. The butler knocked once sharply and was bade entrance by a booming voice on the other side.

The doors swung open to reveal an immaculate wood-panelled study. One wall was lined with book cases, each stacked high with old leather-bound tomes; the opposite wall housed a fireplace. Against the back wall, behind his desk, sat her client.

“Do come in, Raen is it?”, beamed the man behind the desk. He was dressed extravagantly and his hair and moustache were slick with oil. The common twang in his voice confirmed Raen’s original suspicion, this man wasn’t born into nobility. Knowing Fortitude, his wealth wouldn’t have been gained through legal means.

Raen approached and sat in the seat that her client was motioning to.

“I’ll cut straight to the chase”, said the client, leaning back in his chair. “I’d like you to take care of a problem for me, you come highly recommended as a…"

“…person who solves problems”, Raen cut across. This man had no subtlety.

“Yes!”, he agreed, enthusiastically. “Well my problem shouldn’t be difficult to solve. I’m looking for a gnome.”

“Any particular gnome?”, Raen enquired.

“Yes a gnome who, and I’m sure it’s an innocent mistake, seems to have borrowed a very precious item of mine”, replied the client, his brow furrowed.

“I see”, said Raen, “what can you tell me about them?”. She got the impression that there was something more to this job, something personal. “And what did they steal?”

“Oh no”, replied the client, far too quickly. “As I said I’m sure he’s just borrowed it. The item in question is a rather rare book of mine.”

“And you want what, the gnome? The book?”, pressed Raen.

“Ideally both, you see he’s a nice chap and I’m sure this is a misunderstanding, so I’d rather like to speak to him about it”, said the client.

Raising her eyebrows, Raen said “alright then, tell me more about this gnome I’m supposed to kidn… bring to you, and then we can discuss my fees”.

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Armies and Orc Slaying
from Salzar's Journal

We are on the cusp of such a great event. Today, the politicians of Askor rally an army to march on these lands… and I find it difficult to sympathise.
My most pressing matter is to hunt down this orc that slew Leala’s allies and left her a scar. I can see Enna is furious with these things, so I do not think that if we encounter another orcish child, I will be able to save the poor thing.

We shall see.

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Enna: the point of no return

When Arannis at the forgathering told Enna that her father was killed during the attack of Askor, a darkness enveloped her and stripped entirely her soul of any good left. She felt at the top of a steep cliff surrounded by void, emptiness all around. Alone, she felt so alone. She could not bear the comfort that Wrenn was trying to give her. She just pushed him aside. Even the mead she drunk so heavily that night did not overcome the feeling. It barely numbed her.

So when she heard that the Orc called Grarzuk was still alive and hunting rangers, nothing could hold her off to track him and to kill him. Grarzuk, Carric killer, alive! One thing will keep her going, picturing his severed head rolling to the ground. She will have no rest until it is done, even if it costs her life.

She will attend her father’s funeral in Neænarion standing or not, joining him then in the rite of passage. She closed her eyes and had a vision…

In pure Elven tradition, her funeral starts with a slow procession, over a bed of flowers of the season, in respectful silence. Her body is anointed with scented oils, and wrapped in a tapestry woven with images from her life. After the procession, her body is cremated on a funeral pyre of fragrant wood, and once cooled the ashes are placed in an urn that is then interred in the local memorial deep in the forest.

Once the funeral is over, friends and family gather to eat, drink and be merry, telling tales of the departed. This celebration will go on for several days. Her spirit finally freed and made one with the forest.

She opened her green cold eyes and there is one last thing to do.

“L’quelin Orco naa ba Orco as lala cas”

(“The best Orc is a dead Orc with no head”).

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Wrenn's Story: Murderhobos

Once the rest of the group had engaged the priests in conversation, Wrenn had slipped away, hoping that everyone would be kept busy while he investigated. Based on his journey last night, he knew that the temple was involved in something shady. He just needed some proof.

Wrenn had thought, perhaps naïvely, that by uncovering the dealings of The Ogre’s Rest he’d prove his skills to the criminal element in Ponterin. His curiosity had been piqued: his thirst for knowledge, especially secret knowledge, was driving him now.

The stealthy gnome had barely had chance to investigate the room – he’d seen ledgers on the desk and a safe – before he heard a commotion in the main temple. He’d popped his head out to see what was happening and was caught by surprise when he saw his friends attacking the priests.

Instinct and adrenaline took hold and before he knew it he’d fired several arrows into the fray. He’d not intended to kill anyone, just to ensure that none of his group were hurt. When he saw Enna behead the first priest, Wrenn lowered his bow, horrified.

“Shit shit shit”, Wrenn thought as he dashed back into the side room off of the main temple. He couldn’t watch any more. He could cope with killing monsters in the wilderness, especially in self-defence. This was something different entirely. This was murder.

Wrenn’s mind was racing, and he knew he didn’t have long before somebody outside the temple heard the fight. For his own peace of mind he had to find something incriminating. If the temple were part of something dark or treasonous then the party’s actions could be seen as justified.

He fumbled with the safe and managed to unlock it. Inside was some silverware but nothing more, at least nothing that sprang to his attention. He moved over to the ledgers, flipped one open and read as quickly as he could.

The ledger contained accounts for the Ogre’s Rest, and they definitely indicated that something illegal was going on – huge amounts of money were changing hands. Would it be enough? He certainly didn’t feel and better about what was happening in the next room.

The image of a human head toppling to the ground flashed across his mind again. The rage and hatred on Enna’s face was mixed with a perverse pleasure. Wrenn had thought he could learn to manage her better, to curb her murderous ways, but he’d been wrong. “She’s just too broken”, he thought.

He entertained a dark thought for the second time in a week – the first being when Enna was threatening to kill Jesh.

“She’s too dangerous. She has to go.”

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The Cleansing has begun!

Enna is pleased: 6 unfaithful priests killed.

What a bloodbath!

She was exulting to put things right. How dare they! Pulling a con on the party to lift a curse? Seriously? What is wrong with people?

About time to show people what is acceptable and what is not. In such trouble times, righteousness is key. They will learn that one way or another.

The cleansing has begun!

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The Reaper's Offering
from Salzar's Journal

I am starting to believe that I need Wrenn’s help to unlock further lore into the Black Onyx.

Today, we have sent six innocent souls to the Reaper, with two more likely following afterwards. If only I understood the secret of the Black Onyx. If only I could have brought the six back to a more useful position in their lives. Could the Reaper be punishing me for not destroying his cult of false worshippers, by hiding this information from my eyes?

Necromancers make it seem so easy, so why am I unable to grasp such simple concepts? I have studied the lode points of the soul, I have traced the pattern of lines in flesh, but still such a simple thing eludes me.

Further research is required. I do hope that Nerull appreciates the death of those priests in his name.

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Wrenn’s Story: Fortitude

The journey had not been easy by any stretch of the imagination, Wrenn felt a surge of relief as the town of Fortitude came in to view.

The badlands of Hazelmire had lived up to their reputation; more than once, Wrenn and his companion had been mistaken for easy targets by bandits on the road.

Wrenn still was, to an extent, easy pickings, despite Hilda’s efforts in teaching him how to use a blade. Hilda was not – her skill with a rapier would never cease to amaze Wrenn.

The gnome had always considered himself at a disadvantage when it came to combat, his small stature being a sign of weakness. Hilda, a halfling, had dispelled this myth completely. She used her height to her advantage: darting between legs, slashing at ankles and knees, and making the most of tall folks’ lack of practice with smaller targets.

“When we get there, let me do the talking”, cautioned Hilda, interrupting Wrenn’s thoughts.

“You’re the boss, Hil”, he replied.

They were on their way to meet a couple of Hilda’s old criminal contacts. Wrenn was quite new to this side of the law, but he found it increasingly exciting. Despite his studious nature, he was starting to enjoy the adrenaline rush of planning and executing a heist or burglary. It had helped support him on the road and, since meeting Hilda, he was getting much better at it.

“Fortitude is run down” was the first impression that Wrenn got when they entered the town. It had a seedy feel to it, he definitely didn’t like the way the residents were looking at him as they trudged down the main street. Clouds of dust were kicked up by passing horses and wagons, and there was no shortage of stray dogs fighting over scraps.

Hilda knew Fortitude well, and led them through a maze of alleyways towards the outskirts on the opposite side of town. Before turning a last corner, she spoke to Wrenn.

“OK last warning, let me lead and we should be fine. The guy who owns this place is a nasty piece of work”, she said. “You’re OK around half-orcs, right?”

“Why wouldn’t I be?”, asked Wrenn. “I’ve lived around them all my life”

"Well Murgarak is definitely more orc in his demeanour than human. Just warning you", Hilda replied.

Hilda lead Wrenn around the corner, in front of them stood a dilapidated building, each of its three stories more shabby and rickety than the last. Huge soot marks covered the bottom floor and the place looked like it hadn’t been cleaned for years. Over the much-repaired front door was a worn and barely-legible sign: The Black Cat Tavern.

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Enna's mission

After the killing of the Orogs, Enna was gaging at the stench of their blood. It became so overwhelming, she looked at the party around her and she knew she had to leave. She withdrew deep in the forest, she needs cleansing. A lot of thoughts came assaulting her, all the Orcs killing, the Orc baby and then the Orogs. How many more she is prepared to kill or even murder? Is her revenge fulfilled? After all, she has killed Thokk, surely it should be enough? Does she like who she becomes?
The forest calms her, soothes her, she feels it into her bones, her Elven roots giving her redemption of her murderous behavior. She feels at peace. Then she hears a deep voice calling her:

“Faele Searal”
(Good Morning)

Enna perplexed, looks around her: did someone just speak the language of the faeries? She did not hear someone talking Sylvan since the Elves Gathering she attended when a child.

She replied: “Faele Searal. Ma Geli?”
(Good Morning. Who are you?)

And then, the Treant reveals himself in his great majesty. Enna is in awe. And kneels before Him. Her Sylvan is so rusty, she switches to Elvish:

“Saesa omentien lle. Cormamin lindua ele Lle, Aran en Taure”
(Pleasure meeting you. My heart sings to see Thee, King of Forest)

The Treant is pleased to see her showing him such respect that he emits a small laugh, all the leaves trembling and the roots crackling. The Caretaker of Tarreld Forest asks her why she looks so troubled. Enna confides in him, seeking his deep wisdom. He tells her that all life is to be respected even when it destroys the forest. He invites her to climb a nearby tree to the top and shows her the destruction of the forest because of a large camp.

Enna saw the size of the deserted camp and understood the formidable army that it represents. Such destruction shakes her Elven roots very deeply and she sees the true face of evil. Enna becomes alarmed and thinks that she must tell her friends that she left behind.

And then, she understood, she will not kill or murder for revenge anymore but for a greater mission, saving her Elven heritage. And anything, anyone that will go against that, will die.

She bows to the Treant and takes her leave, tracking her friends. She climbs in a tall tree to gather her bearings and she saw some smoke in the woods. She decides to follow it. When she arrives at the camp, it is empty but she recognizes her friends’ tracks with others she does not understand: a Hobgoblin? A female Human? A male Human? What were they up to?

The tracks were going in the direction of the South East: leading to Ponterin. She runs fast towards the city, barely taking some rest. She knows that she will find them at the castle.

Now these guards…. They better stand down, she is not in the mood.

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Circular Paths and Missing Princessess
from Salzar's Journal

Three things of note.
The first is that the paths we’ve been taking lead back to one another. After meeting the Priest of the Unbroken Circle, I’ve decided it’s time to educate him. Today, I will pull him to one side and explain to him the nuances about Reaper Tharoth.
The second is that we were incorrect with our assumption of the princess being the princess. We were wrong. There’s not much we can do about that now, but I wonder how we can resolve this situation.
The third is that Wrenn has taken to reading the book I’ve lent him. He will soon learn the secrets of Nerull. I do not believe my short companion is much interested in the religion or worship of this lost deity, but I do believe that he has the same thirst for knowledge that drives me. I would be a terrible scholar if I did not share such things with him.

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