“There are forces at work far darker than goblins or slavers, that threaten to destroy the Realm itself.
I seek to stop them.
I would have you by my side, but I leave in the morning, with or without you.”
Ill tidings gather when news arrives that members of the Gorra militia were lost while investigating the secret passage Rennick’s slavers used through the Pass of Mooncast Shadow. Their investigations triggered magical traps that collapsed the tunnels, crushing all within. That very day, Duke Lornodel discovers that his own Captain Garig disobeyed his commands, and joined Lord Falel and the dwarven merchants to hunt down Rennick Zammere.
Enraged, the Duke commands the Rangers to gather support, track the dwarves, and bring them back to face his wrath.
Baelas and Torrack take they party with them on their search. At the end of their first day in the foothills, the party finds the camp the dwarves had made, but in the night are attacked by a band of hobgoblins and dire wolves. After defeating them, Ronan finds bloody shreds of dwarven leather armour that the goblinoids were using to give their wolves a scent to follow. Determining that some of the dwarves must still be alive for this band to be hunting them, Baelas decides to follow the fresh tracks of the hobgoblins. The trail leads them through a maze of winding crevices into the Norungarr Mountains, where they discover the partially buried outpost of a Lost Dwarven Stronghold. From a distance, they can see the hobgoblins that control it, and the grizzly dwarven bodies that hang from its battlements.
From there, Baelas finds where a battle took place which resulted in a landslide. From the rubble he finds the trail of the surviving dwarves, and tracks them some distance away, to a small concealed cave.
Inside the cave, the merchant Glanir guards Falel and Garig as they rest. They are the only survivors of the team that set out, and Garig is poisoned by many of the goblinoids’ arrows. The dwarves have found a secret entrance to the Stronghold in this cave, but the party decides that their mission is to return to Brinnigarr with the survivors.
The Duke’s fury has abated by the time they return, though he still places the dwarves under armed guard in the infirmary. He tells them in no uncertain terms, that they are forbidden to attempt to return to the overrun Stronghold. Though Garig is shamed, Falel and Glanir immediately ignore the command, and begin their planning.
Brinnigarr is abuzz with whispered concerns. Why would the Duke possibly defend these slavers, or allow a Stonghold of goblins to exist so close to Tellarainne’s border? Is he not the Defender of the North?
Iarien seeks out Chancellor Tinithael for answers, and the steward admits his own ignorance and strong desires to know the truth. They carry out a wager, to see who can uncover the most information in a day. Should Tinithael win, his prize would be a kiss from the priestess. Should Iarien win, she would receive a favour from the Chancellor.
Iarien and Ronan cautiously approach their uncle the Duke. They ask for any explanation he might give.
The Duke claims he can tell them most of the truth, but binds them to a Fae Pact to ensure their secrecy.
He informs them of another Pact, far more ancient than recorded history. The nature of which is only known by those who rule the Kingdoms of the Realm. This Pact allows the slavers known as The Crimson Talon to operate free from prosecution throughout the Realm. The Duke warns that this Pact is so ancient, that it possibly extends to every living soul, regardless of their knowledge.
Discouraged, Ronan and Iarien meet with Milo and Baelas to discuss their plans. They know Falel will return to the mountains, but are uncertain how to proceed.
Milo sets them straight. He points out that these slavers and a Stronghold full of goblins are insignificant next to the dangers presented by whoever is supplying them with these unearthly horrific vials. He convinces the party of the importance of getting to the bottom of this, and they plan to leave the next morning.
Preparations are made. Iarien informs the dwarves in the infirmary, magically heals their wounds, and tells them to be ready.
Iarien meets with Tinithael, who has acquired and studied both the original and forgery of the Fal Tannor heraldry tome that caused Iarien so much grief upon her arrival in the north. Tinithael claims to have found the changes the High Priestess has made, and through a musical Mending spell reveals an erased and unheard of branch of the Fal Tannor family tree – a brother of the Duke named Tallonell. Bound by her pact, Iarien is forced to admit defeat and surrenders a kiss to the Chancellor.
“It is a shame I had to win that from you.”
“Well, I still need that favour.”
Iarien asks Tinithael to distract the guards watching the dwarves in the morning, so that the party may do exactly as the Duke forbids, and the Chancellor agrees.
The party gathers in the morning. Tinithael is true to his word, and collecting the dwarves, they carefully make their way to the mountain cave, and the secret passage into the Stronghold sewers…