Garil Norgrum

Dwarf Fighter

Description:

Age: 58
Height: 4ft. 2in.
Weight: 224lbs.
Eyes: Gray
Hair: Dark Brown
Build: Squat

Bio:

Garil Norgrum seems a simple dwarf, without much embellishment or decoration about his attire. Save for a simple locket, he is without jewelry, and his wargear is standard militia issue. Bearing a warhammer and shield and donning a scale mail tunic, Garil looks every inch the proud and grudging soldier.

Formerly a militiaman of his mountain home, Karak Duin, Garil bears a series of runic tattoos running the length of his shield arm which he claims are from his time in service there. He tends to keep them covered with sleeved shirts because of “first impressions and all – wouldn’t want to give someone the wrong idea”.

“Ah, Karak Duin. A finer city has never been dug. The widest tunnels through any mountain this side of the great ocean, and the loftiest ceilings – almost makes a dwarf worry that he’ll fall upward into the sky. And the statues! Stonework so detailed it could make my old captain weep to look at. A fine place, a fine place.

Shame the goblins couldn’t let it be, but that’s the way they are. So many of them came barreling through their digging tunnels and from wherever else the moldy bastards like to hide. Every day it seemed we had more ramparts to rebuild, more corpses to clear. Praise Moradin, the skulls we cracked in those mining shafts! I hope you never see such carnage in all of your days.

I’ll be back someday, mark my words, but for the time being I’m out here, in the wide-open. By the time I’m through I’ll have so much treasure and honor, they’ll welcome me back with a feast and a parade if I have it my way, and I’ll march all the way to the family crypt with the biggest gems my ancestors have ever seen. That will be the day, I tell you.

In any case, I have some adventuring to do, stones to carve, and gold to earn. And you can bet I’ll be holding on to all of it, since there’s not a pint of ale worth a greenskin’s left foot to buy up here on the surface!"

KEEN CRAG – The First

I have finally made it to civilization – maybe I should have checked a map before decided to head east from Karak Duin. leagues of forest and not much else, but I’ve made it to a human settlement they call Keen Crag. Seems I’m not the only adventurer around these parts – though I am the only one with the sense to bring a shield. Maybe these whelps haven’t had any real combat experience under their belts, not that ‘m complaining about the company I’m keeping. There’s an elf – one of those religious types, and he was feeling the effects of the mead pretty heavily. It’s no dwarven brew, but it did the job. And a gnome – wizard though he might think himself to be, I think I’ll get along just fine with that one. He’s willing to stand and trade insults; when I throw something his way, he throws back. My kind of person. Maybe he’ll take me to this Hilltown someday and I can see what kind of machines they’ve been building, and what type of folk raise that kind of spirit in someone so small. And then there’s the big lizard we have tagging along. Not much for words, but I have my eye on him. No reason to trust the beast as of yet.

We’re heading to the woods again, just after I got out of that blasted place – looking for some missing kids who likely got scooped up by an animal. The man’s crazy, mark my words – even the barkeep Stanick says so, but by the looks of him he’ll pay well enough for the work. I’ll find out soon enough if his pockets are as heavy as they look, and whether those wolves like the taste of my hammer.

KEEN CRAG – The Second

It’s been a little while since this all happened, I’ve been, eh, busy since we got back from the Fathom Forest. You’ll have to excuse the fuzziness of any details.

As we gathered our things to head off to the woods in search of Willem’s missing children, we noticed an elf with a gigantic hat, spinning wild tales as they so often do. He was rattling off some kind of poem or other wordy madness, claiming that he had heard of this mystery and wanted to join and help us find the children who were taken off by werewolves. I’ll tell you now – that was the first I had heard of any werewolves, but it wouldn’t be the last. Where he got the idea I can’t say, but still a dwarf can’t rest easy and just tell himself the fool made the whole thing up. Not after what we saw…

This poet, the gnome, and myself left the tavern to get down to business. The dragon man decided it wasn’t worth his time looking for kids, and the elfin holy man was far too drunk to make sense of which way was up and which way was the door, so we left without them. I knew that we had a good chance of finding wolves out when we headed to the woods to search for the wee ones – the drunkard had his gear stolen by one the night before – but now that there was a chance at werewolves in the mix I didn’t know what to expect. It wasn’t long before we killed our first fang-pup, but I can’t tell a werewolf from a plain one, despite my best digging through its remains. In any case we eventually reached the forest’s edge.

Just as we did, however, some manling starts flinging arrows down at me from a tree! He couldn’t hit me, of course, and from what I hear his aim still hasn’t improved, but we decided to take him along with us in any case. Seeing as he can apparently track things through the forest and all. He did know where the pillar was, so he was good for at least one thing. Not good at noticing the spiders we were swarmed with later on, but I got some good exercise splattering those all across the trail.

Anyway, listening to whatever signs it was that the human saw, we eventually came across some lost elf praying to the sun or some such nonsense. I didn’t see the sun for fifty six years, and I turned out just fine, so I don’t quite understand what he thinks is so great about it! In any case we let him come along too, since like the human he’s interested in investigating the strange happenings in the Fathom Forest.

We followed the tracks into a cave, where I saw the most blasted thing. Well, after I knocked a bunch of gnoll skulls off of their former shoulders, that is. Seeing as how the other four can’t even tie their boots, much less fight for their gold. After that, I found Willem’s nephew, all right. Or, what was left of him. Some sort of dark ritual had happened there, the likes of which I hope you never see. Not a sight for frail hearts, to be sure. I tried to get Willem out of the cave, to isolate him from the massacre, but the party didn’t believe me when I said there was nothing there. They thought I was trying to steer them away from some treasure, to keep it all for myself! The nerve!

Well maybe it was for the best that they didn’t abandon me, since it ended up Willem was leading us here as a trap. Didn’t find that one out until the foppish elf in the hat barreled through the door and everything went dark. And I mean real dark – the kind not even a dwarf’s eyes can cut through.

The rest is a bit of a blur, but we managed to kill some beast that generated the darkness and see some girl-thing, a demon if I reckon, or maybe one of those werewolves we were after. Still not sure they aren’t involved, after all. Said her name was Neelos, and then vanished somehow. I tried to get Willem to give me the straight of it, but he decided he’d rather taste the human’s blade, and that was that.

We found some papers with a bunch of the madman’s scribbling all over them, I couldn’t make two ways of the stuff. The others came to some conclusion that the symbols mentioned this Neelos thing we were up against a sight earlier, and that these were perhaps mad rants in the language ‘Moleck’ or some such poppycock. I didn’t like to look too long – it was coated in the kind of shapes that make a dwarf’s brain itch at the sight of them. They decided to take it back to the Hare of the Dog to see if we could sort it out. I pulled a silver tooth from the lad’s mouth – didn’t seem right to just leave it there. He deserved better than what they made for his grave.

KEEN CRAG – The Third
The others left some time ago to track down some lady in another forest hut who might know a thing or two about lunatic chickenscratch. I want nothing to do with that, poisoned my mind enough as it was just seeing those symbols. Something magic about it, and not any of my clan’s business. And besides, I had a silver tooth to go and fiddle with at the smithy, make it into something beautiful, you know? Just now got back from fashioning it into something that might do the kid’s memory proud. Now just need to find out where they all went off to, and see if there isn’t more gold and gems to be found in their wake!

FORT GALLANT- The First

After checking in with ol’ Stanick, It was determined that I should probably hoof it off to catch up with the group, as they had been on the road a full day at that point. It’s a fair stretch of work, strolling along with these, eh, powerful thighs for so long, but I had the glint of my new silver ring to keep me company while I hustled off in pursuit of the rest of them. I’ll look on it to remember two things in particular: First, that I should be careful in who I trust, lest they lead me into a trap again, and second, that I best find out who it was that thought they could make quick work of Garil Norgrum and put an end to their foolishness!

In any case, I eventually came across the hut they had set off to find, in search of some lady whose name I never bothered to learn. Supposing she could read those bedeviling letters, we had meant to have her tell us more plainly what was meant by it all, but by the look of things she was long gone by the time they showed up. And not in a pretty way, mind you.

It wasn’t too difficult to follow the trail my friends left behind – for all the talk about tracking the human spouts, he himself sure isn’t hard to find. I later came to what I can only assume they thought passed for a battle, with the fallen bodies of some mercenary types and a good dozen broken arrow hafts – still not the sharpest aim, that one. Again, I headed off to where they surely must have gone, if dragon footprints are any indication, and came to the walled majesty of Fort Gallant. Closest thing to a proper building I’ve seen since leaving Karak Duin. Still robbed me blind just to get into the place. Rules are rules, whether I like them or not, and so I walked through the gate a good 40 gold lighter.

Knowing the company I keep, elves and scoundrel, it would seem, I headed for the Cloak and Stagger, a stale and moldy tavern with not much to recommend it. I found my compatriots seated at the center of the bar at a large table, gave a nod to the barkeep, who goes by, eh, Thiles, was it? and settled right in amongst the lost and the damned. Wasn’t long until we had made ourselves a new friend, calls himself Son Haj something or other. Humans! Always with the overlong names as if it gives them any sort of weight in the world.

A bunch of rambling and chatter later, we set off to find some shops. Figured there’s not much point in chasing after any of those rumors we heard about a magic portal in a tower or some elf princess trapped somewhere or other. Neither of those hold my interest, and it’s no stretch to say the slurred words of those who uttered the rumors aren’t so trustworthy in the first place.

I did meet perhaps the finest sight I have laid eyes on in some while when we visited the shop of a one Aglid – The kind of woman you need to romance before trying to rub noses! I know it’s supposed to be beneath me, but I couldn’t help sizing her up a bit while she was dealing with the others’ requests for trade – I don’t think my beard would get even half way around her waist if I tried my darndest! That she would even give me the time of day lets me know just how few dwarves end up out this way. While I was ah, distracted, you could say, my friends found themselves on the losing end of a few lopsided deals with the damsel, but she was fair enough to me in selling a potion of magic stone or some such. I’ve no need for it, but you don’t pass up a chance to line a good dwarf’s pockets when she looks so lovely…

In any case, The other tradesmen we met weren’t much to talk about. The crew embarrassed me in front of another dwarf by their foolish inability to barter, and some orc-spawn had his grimy mitts all over a few dwarven axes. He even had the gall to pretend he didn’t murder, lie, cheat, or steal to acquire them. Blast it all.

Anyway come back to Thiles and we learn that Jericho, the king of this place if everyone’s to be believed, probably has Kirin whatshername and if we can talk to him then we can talk to her, let her read that book, and I can get back to hunting down that demon – or was it a werewolf? No way to be sure.

Well, the very next morn we found out pretty quick that we needn’t run off trying to impress the man to get his notice, seems he’s noticed us pretty readily as it was. A batch of his men, and another one of those demon things barges in. Maybe he wasn’t a demon – I’m not sure what the elves put into my pipe and things were a little hazy there for a moment. Either way the demon straight up and tells us to put our hands behind our backs and march off. I did as I’m told – when I’m a guest in somebody else’s prison it’s pretty wise to do the polite thing and follow the rules. Dragon boy didn’t think so, but off we went once they had him starched and bagged.

Long story short, Jericho wanted us to kill some half orcs and get him a giant green gem. Say no more. Well they did say lots more, but I didn’t need to hear it.

The new roguish one is really something else – climbing the walls and peeking in through the roof of the place we were sent to. Really thinks he’s crafty, I bet. The wizard tricked them all somehow, looking like one of those pigmen, and opened the latch so I could push my way in. We cleared the room right quick, but not quick enough for our Bard, who decided that the middle of the fighting was high time to start looting the orc I had slain! No manners at all that one. And he pocketed all the gold for himself as well. After the sturdier among us finished the fight, we headed down some stairs to where the rest were. They all died too, the sodding greyskins. I couldn’t seem to hit any of them, which just made me the angrier – I’ve been trained specifically in the bashing of orcs, you think I would have been a bit more productive. But one thing’s for sure, I can take some lumps and keep on ticking, so I did just that.

Eventually the Rasp fellow we came to kill started yapping, so I gave him a look that means business, and I don’t lie, but I swear the bugger pissed himself. So spooked he was that he opened up his fat gobber to call for help, so I snapped it clean off and ended that discussion. Now I’m a few precious stones and gold pieces richer (even managed to hand off some pretty sash to the fancy singing one so he’d relinquish an emerald, the fool), and I’m lugging the Eye of the Basilisk back to the keep to hand to Jericho myself.

They’ll write stories about this someday – a gem this marvelous in the hands of a Dwarven son of Karak Duin are dripping with poetry – and when they hear it back home I know I’ll get a few gears turning in the elders’ heads. Look what young Garil is becoming! The Glory!

FORT GALLANT- The Second, and The Interminable

It has been many days since I have written here, in large part because the book you hold was not in my possession for a length of time. How long, I cannot say, but I might chance a week or so, if I had to. In any event, here’s what happened, as it happened, best I can remember.

We had just finished tearing down that orcish dog Rasp and gutting him for the Eye of the Basilisk, a wondrous Gem, really. I wrote my last entry while we were sitting around after the deed, but in more detail what wnet on is that I took the tartan off the git and had the rest of the party head back to the tavern to report that we had the gem, ‘in a safe place and all’, and were ready to make a trade for Kirin so that we could get on with the translating and continue the werewolf hunt, or demons, or whatever that Neelos thing is. Sick to my stomach it makes me, quaking with rage. Demon, werewolf, or twisted child, it matters not. I’ll have its skull by my tale’s end, I swear it on the ring I bear upon this hand of mine.

Sorry, that’s a bit of the ole rage leaking out. In that moment I was pretty self satisfied, having beaten an orc at his own game and enjoying the company ofthe singing elf and a gallon of ale while we waited for the arrangements to be made. He even made me a promise to immortalize me in a poem, what with the Gem and the Grandeur. Wouldn’t the lads in Karak Duin love to hear that, the native son with the mighty stone! What I wouldn’t give to hold it again, but that’s for later in the story. I had best get to telling it.

The saying back home is ‘Never send an elf to do a dwarf’s work’, and by Moradin if it isn’t the truest thing I have ever heard. The clods came back, and couldn’t manage to close any sort of deal, and instead folded right in half when the guards wanted us to come gather up with the gem and wait to be bagged again. Unfortunately, that’s the deal they had made on my behalf, and so I’m bound to honor it, however foolish it may have been.

We gathered around some shops for a time, and I had another bit of fancy with the dwarfette. I shan’t embarrass myself trying to explain the whole thing, but I bet my new friends would tell you all sorts of embarrassing lies about how we conducted ourselves. In any case, I did manage to convince a shopkeep to stitch the Karak Duin sigil upon the tabard I lifted from a fallen orc, and he set to making a real garment of the thing. In the end we headed back to the Cloak and Stagger to await our summons and make good on our end of Jericho’s bargain. As a honorable party is wont to do, ye see?

Well the demonspawn comes once more upon the morn, and has us hooded and led out once more. I don’t fight it, seein how they don;t make a move for my pack with the gem, and they eventually have us brought before the King of Thieves. It’s only now that I see what an apt title that is, as the disgrace of a man has us hand over the gem without arranging a meeting with Kirin, and instead has us tossed in the very prison he liberated because we never got permission to kill his lieutenant. I suppose it IS true that we never had a writ of execution, but it’s all a tad underhanded for my tastes, how he set that all up and had us take a fall.

To make it all the worse, Mezla Mezla’s tremendous ‘poem’ had no mention of me whatsoever. Not that it was all that impressive, or even likely to fall on dwarven ears down the line, but we had an understanding that I would be the focus of the thing. Alas, elves.

We spent quite some time in those cells. Only once before had I been locked away in such an arrangement, and I can tell you that the jails back home are a fine sight nicer and more respectable places than what these surfacers have cobbled together. They had us fight each other for their entertainments (save for the pirate, who was nowhere to be seen), fed us refuse and brackish water, and had no intention of leting us out to explain ourselves or stand trial.

I’m not one to buck the law, but if a dwarf can’t have a trial, if he can’t defend his actions and be judged in the sight of his ancestors and the assembly, then the ones who hold him haven’t a leg to stand on. In time I decided they wouldn’t have legs, one way or another, once I had my say. and a say I would have.

After a time we found that we were locked up with Kirin nearby, and should we ever find our ways out she might help us with the book – assuming it was still around to be read, as all of our possessions had been swiped – and she’s no fan of Jericho’s either. Eventually the demon comes to feed us and alerts us the the presence of a key we should be trying to obtain, so I set my mind to ‘obtaining’ it.

They had me dance with the gnome, so that they could laugh at the struggles of us ‘little people’. I suppose you can’t expect a lot more from your average human, not understanding there is a lot more to size than height alone, but it rankled my ire. From what I could gather, they had the elves slap each other about for a bit before they both fainted from the thrill of it, and would likely make space for the two of us to trade fists while they watched and bet upon us. I ca’;t say I haven’t enjoyed being a spectator in these types of things before, but the fighters are always consenting to the fight, and somewhat evenly matched! Where’s the sport in it otherwise? Regardless, I jabbed my way to circle past the Warden, before I turned on him and took hm down, tearing at the chain that held the key.

it wasn’t to be. before I could prize it from his neck, the other guards came and kicked me Kicked, like cowards! I lost a tooth in the ordeal, among a sizeable portion of my blood, and was flung bodily back into my cell. But my wizarding friend was no worse for wear, so I suppose things could have been worse.

I won;t bore you with the details, for they were few, but my stay stretched on, dreadfully so. the only things I had to keep me company were the ever diminishing friendliness of my comrades, the memory of the gem I had lost, and the depths of my bitterness, my fury. And my shame at my failure, which seems to have hampered our best chance at escape.

In the end, the bowman and kirin made something happen in that fighting hall, and came back with the key to free us from the cells. We made haste to the chamber, found most of our belongings intact, and suited up before I spotted a door that we headed through.

Inside was the warden and his lackeys, for a time. driving my shield into the back of one, I speared him through, but we would not pry free. I suppose I was a bit heavy handed in my vengeance, and by the time I separated his corpse from my spikes, the rest had fallen before the blades of my allies. They had gathered around the strung up form of our missing friend, and so we brought him down and sought an exit. Seems they had been questioning him about some whereabout or location of sorts on a map. I never knew the upperworld was so vast – it boggles the mind to contemplate just how wide open of a mess I have gotten myself into coming out from the Halls of Duin into this outer realm.

We happened upon Jericho’s treasure trove – paltry, compared to what he would have us believe – but I took some very fine bracers from the stash. The least he could repay me with, I would say. The corundum it is set with is pristine, and the ermine is rather dashing on me, I must profess.

Nearby, I stumbled across the recently deceased ‘king’ of thieves – while I was lost in the beauty of the facets of my new armwear, it seems Kirin had cut the doublecrosser down. There we also met with the demon guardsman – called himself Rynn or something of the sort, took the Basilisk’s Eye, and said he was headed off to the Holy City of Aleford. Not but a stone’s throw from Karak Duin! Perhaps I can find something in those Temples of Pelor to bring back and make my name.

So, that’s what I wrote, and that’s where I am now. On a stolen horse past some guards I bribed to head to a city to chase a demon – who I have perhaps become a party to – and to run from a regicide I committed. Not exactly the heroic tale I had thought I would have to tell about myself to my fellows upon my return home. It seems I had best hope the Rynn has something in store for me to make a legend out of, or I doubt I’ll show my face before the Karak again in this life.

And, apologies for anything I left out, or any struggles of handwriting you see above, but it’s no small feat riding a horse whole towing another behind, all while holding up an unconscious man. Snatching a passage or two here and there while we stopped to water the horses doesn’t led itself to cohesive storytelling or the finest penmanship, it would seem.

FATHOM FOREST- The First, once more

We’re heading to The North – or so the tree-hugging human and the lady tell me. Not sure just how they can tell this far away from the core, up on the surface – how can you really feel the pull or the earth, you know? They said something about maps and the sun or somesuch, but that’s madness if you ask me. Either way, we’re going. Or we were, before we lost our horses.

The snoozing prisoner on my lap is no light load, and every so often he shifts and groans. It’s honestly making this whole riding thing harder than it has to be, and I won’t lie about considering letting him fall a few times just to teach him a lesson. In any case, the horses got scared by who knows what, and ran off after a few of us took some tumbles into the mud. I tied one off to a tree, but it dragged me for a ways and sped away like the rest of them.

We made camp and patched up The Pirate, who finally woke up after all that commotion. I asked him about why he was being tortured – that information being the only reason I wanted to keep him around, curiosity’s sake you see – and got some shifty looks from the others. Blast their hides, I want to know what’s so valuable in that little head of his! He ended up letting on to the fact he has some map of his father’s that would lead to great treasure. The treasure sounds great, the map less so, and the fact that he doesn’t seem to actually have this map on hand means I’ll stick to getting the Eye of the Basilisk back, thank you kindly.

After gathering firewood for the rest of us, seeing as the others didn’t think it fit to do any work around our camp, who should come stumbling into the clearing but our old elf drunk from The Hare of the Dog! He falls over himself, delirious, clearly still heavy in his flask. Bless Stanick Osborn and his generosity, taking care of this one, elf or no. I did notice some symbol on his hand, but it’s probably one of those artsy tattoos that elves like, and I didn’t think much more of it.

As Safeir babbled on, and puked up the food we gave him, I walked around to keep watch for the night. a few hours into it, he rose, screeching with golden eyes, tearing at his skin with unnatural vigor. The long and short of it is this – Werewolves ARE real, and I ought to pay a little more attention to the rantings of our flimsy poet. We subdued him in time and blindfolded the fool, which Kirin claimed would keep him from turning as he couldn’t see the moon. Suns, moons, and stars! These surfacers are up to no good; the longer I’m up here, the clearer that is. We discuss taking him to some Deacon Oron who can reverse the curse or cure him in some way, and get back to marching.

On the way there, I figured it would be good to ask Kirin what this Neelos business is all about – since saving her was for the purpose of getting her to read those symbols in the first place. She said she couldn’t read us what we wanted, but the Holy City of Aelford might have what we’re looking for. And as for Neelos, he was once a man who became consumed by his ambitions to become a warrior that would rival the gods. If he’s such a lofty champion, why didn’t he fight us when he had the chance back in that cave? Perhaps he took one look at my hammer and thought the better of it; more than one goblin has soiled himself before its majesty in the past. So either he’s nothing to worry about, or word of my might has reached even those who would challenge the gods.

We marched on through the forest for another while, and I won’t bore you with the details, but we fought some trolls later on in the trail. Giant beasts that stink worse than these elves do, and they saw fit to hook their claws into me and pin me into the dirt, biting and tearing all the while. It seemed neither of them had interest in tasting my hammer and would rather keep me from swinging it, which seems to be a trend lately. Not that the strategy worked: you can’t hold a dwarf down for long, and you don’t lay a finger on the likes of Garil Norgrum and live to tell the tale! I have a little more gold in my purse for the trouble, but I doubt I’ll lose this stench for a few days yet.

And so on we walk, through these woods, to the city where the gem – my gem – is hiding. I’ll take it back, and we’ll find out all there is to know about this Neelos and his book, and root him out. I swear by the ring on this hand of mine that the only thing left of the demon will be an oily smear on my shield, and the knot in my beard I tie off for another grudge settled. A Grudge that drives me, step after step, though the Fathom Forest and beyond.

FATHOM FOREST – The Second, and AELFORD, The First

Well, it ends up that Kirin never drew her blades during battle with either of those trolls. Matter of fact, I can’t recall her being in sight when either of them came around! She’s quick to let us know that they were Ettin or somesuch, but a load of good that knowledge did to keep them off of me! I’ll have to be sure to keep my eye on her, lest she summons more of the beasts to attack us. Or maybe they were after her, and I’m only here as her shield! I don’t particularly mind that, but she should at least be up front with a dwarf when she’s using him. And maybe hand over that fancy pommel gem of hers as payment.

After some time in the woods, with the manling’s pup chewing out some deer hearts – has a penchant for that, y’know – we learn that our ranger friend is a bit more of a mystery than we had assumed. The man leaves no trace as he walks through the woods, and makes no sounds. He can skin a woodlands creature better than I’ve ever seen, not hat I have seen it often, but the others tell me it’s a sight rarely seen. He hardly talks, but I’m starting to wonder just how much our hooded shadow really knows, and what it all has to do with this Neelos business.

That’s not what’s important about this forest though, the most important thing is the fact that water falls from the world ceiling. They tell me this happens all the time, but I won’t have it. Water belongs in only a few places, and above a dwarf’s head is not one of them. It strikes you in the eyes, and makes your beard limp! After they all had a laugh at my ironclad defensive prowess, they told me to stop worrying about this ‘rayn’ and ‘skye’ and go to bed. So I did what I could, and let the animals keep the next watch, for whatever good they’ll do.

That wasn’t the end of the water, either. Eventually, we smelled salt and it was coming from a huge plane of what looked like lava glass, glinting off in the distance. It’s supposed to be water, the whole thing, far as you can see, and then deep enough again to cover a mountain. It’s like a magmahold, but wet and cold – but how it glinted in the light of their sun, like a field of gems… While I was eh, observing the ‘sea of an-ass’ (or anahs, or anus, they couldn’t decide on what it was called), apparently some of the other spotted some ugly lady and lost their stomachs. We decided to go around so as to not fight something smelly again, but the dragonman was itching for a fight. Most I’ve seen out of him since this whole thing started, we actually strung words together!

Eventually we come across a gorgeous, absolutely massive city. You could hear the activity from a distance away, how crowded it was and all. Kirin was apparently last here some fifty hears ago and might know some people in the alchemists group and the armorer’s circle, which works well enough for me. Any armorer worth his salt is a dwarf, and any dwarf would remember a business contact after a mere fifty years! We’ll be sure to get a deal. I asked the guard a few questions as we passed though the gates and he seemed to know who Deacon Orin and Rynn were, so it seems like the map-people have led me to the right place. However our timing ’wasn’t best’ since there were a load of people here for a Festival of Frost, which is something I can definitely get behind. They even have a fighting tournament they call The Feud, and it starts in 3 days! I can’t see why it was bad timing that we were here for the event, this seems like the only reason worth coming above ground I have found yet.

We ended up dodging the crowd and stepping into an establishment called “The Hearth and the Harlot”, and I have to tell you, it was the right place. That hearth! It was massive, single piece hand carved Onyx, and the mantle was easily some of the best gemcutting I have ever seen. It was only right, then, that I later learned that it was brought in and done by some Dwarves from Karak Duin around 100 years ago. Claire, the lady who runs the place, didn’t know the specific clan. Nonetheless, fine work! Of my own kin! They even paid 10,000 platinum for the piece, which seems a fair price by my estimate. She was so taken with the fact that I appreciated the true beauty of the place that she let me drink for free the rest of the night. She didn’t have any rooms left though, we were to try and find some Lady Gray to talk about that later. Claire called her a sycophant, which I think is book-learnin’ talk for a rump-smoocher, and we will have to smooch her rump in return if we want a place to stay for a while while we sort out our business here.

A few tankards of ale later, We play a drinking game against some old man, who has all sort of word-rules and phrase tricks that I never quite wrapped my beard around. The good news is that I wasn’t as far into my cups and the good Mr Winchworth, and actually made it a few rounds. The bad news is I lost the game, and got my wager back and then some despite the fact. I suppose the man hasn’t had as good of a sport recently, and was glad to have played even if we didn’t challenge him. I can see the sense in that, but it still rankles my hide to be paid for losing. Paid in two forest garnets with a valuation of 1,000 gold pieces, that is. Maybe it doesn’t rankle all too harshly. The others won some tokens and prizes of little relevance, and I have already forgotten them.

During the game, we turn around to discover that our singsong elf was up to his old game, spinning phrases and music for coin, and as far as I can tell, it worked. He started off with his usual lyrics and rhymes, which of course had little to nothing to do with me, but then transitioned into what sounded a lot more like a temple sermon like the kind I used to hear back at the Anvil-Altar in Karak Duin. I suppose he was smart enough to read the crowd, which came as a surprise to me, but our little choirboy got those church types in a frenzy and it paid off for us all.

We spent some time after talking with a former champion of the Feud, calls himself Alder. He apparently dethroned some champion of Hextor previously, and If we can get a writ of acceptance from the Deacon, or maybe someone else important, we could enter. Alder starts in the 8th round since he’s earned his keep, but I don’t get much more out of him. Other than the whole no magic thing, but that shouldn’t be an issue on my end. We can also maybe enter as a group instead of individually, though I haven’t heard all the details. It is supposed to be a way to draw the eye of the gods, and you get a match per person per day for seven days, advancing as you win. Win enough, and the gods will cast their eyes on me. Good enough! The thought of Moradin’s gaze in my direction fulfills all my wishes from when I was a wee beardling, and I can’t pretend I don’t still fancy the idea.

Eventually, while I was busy with this tournament business, we heard word that the Treehugger has made arrangements with the Lady Gray, and we are to stay at her estate, which they call ‘The Nightingale Flat’. What I was told is that she quite fancied the idea of his God, and wanted to be charitable to the wood-strokers of the world, so she handed it over for some incredibly low price, which better yet, I didn’t have to pay. It’s beginning to sound as if having plant men around is actually worth something, in a city of all places, and we sidled off to get ourselves moved in. Eventually some fellow named Geeves lets us in, and we get established. We each get a room, so I don’t have to smell elves as often, which is quite the plus.

The next morning, after breakfast is made for us by the servant man (Look who’s a big shot now, haha! Wait till I tell the boys back home), we head to talk to the Deacon. Passing by some robed people and quite finely masoned buildings, we approach a wooden door and an acolyte lets us in, but only for ‘a few minutes’. I suppose the Deacon is a busy man, so we’ll have to be short about it. Perhaps I was a tad too short about things, because I wasted no time in bringing up the reason we’re here – to deal with Neelos and learn how to stop it. Teh rest of the party wasn’t too keen on my haste, but Why would I wate time on less important things? Except for the gem, I did ask about that, but it IS an important thing, after all. I won’ be getting it back, it seems, which is a shame. We handed over that demon book and everything, which all seemed to get the Deacon in quite a worry.

What I gleaned from his panicked murmurings is that ‘this is just a prophecy’ and that the Dark One of eras past has returned, which means maybe Neelos is real and we’ll need to put it back where it came from. His flesh could only last so long, but it seems his soul has lingered in this world, and while he might have been some gifted warrior, it sounds like he’s outgrown his boots and might need a hammering. That’s something I think I can do! It seems that girl we dealt with back in the forest was ‘like a child who has learned an alphabet but not its meaning’, so we had best get around to the deed before she smartens up.

Oh, right, about that prophecy, seems something I ought to write down. They said that a band of eight will face the dark one and finally disband his soul, and unbind it from this realm. This band was to be known as the Stalwart Knights. I’m not sure as to whether the Deacon and Rynn thought we were those stalwart knights – I’m plenty stalwart, though the rest not so, and I can’t pretend any of us are so very knightly.

A flirtatious pirate, two clergy elves – one of whom is a werewolf that speaks too much – the other who hardly speaks at all, a singer with a penchant for injury, a gnome with less sense than a candlestick though twice as bright, an archer with questionable aim, a grumpy dragonman, and a Lowborn Son of Karak Duin; whatever name we deserve isn’t for me to say, but I wonder just how well ‘The Stalwart Knights’ fits us. I suppose with time, we shall see.

In any case, we will be spending some time in town until that Feud starts, and ‘ll get a chance to burn some coin and then see just how knightly I can be beneath Moradin’s eye.

AELFORD – The Second

The Deacon and his acolyte gave us two pieces of information that matter, if you don’t count all the Neelos stuff – we will need to come back to meet him in the temple district at midnight for some sort of trial, which will get us into the tournament if we make him happy enough, and also that the eye of the basilisk isn’t going to be leaving that statue anytime soon so I had better get used to being without it. Unless I win the tournament, and then maybe I can ask for it as a reward. Doubt they’ll give it, but it can’t hurt to try. Apparently the Deacon at the time led some sort of crusade to get it back after a siege laid the city low around two centuries ago, and only found the one. We found the other, so hopefully we’ll get some sort of parade in our honor, but again, no idea on whether or not that Rynn fellow is going to try and take the honor from us again.

Oh! And he did ask about our werewolf friend after doing some furious scribbling in whatever paper stack he had at the time, and we showed him the tattoo and all. It looked lighter in color, according to those of us who bothered to pay attention to it before, and was still spinning around. The Deacon said that meant he might not turn again for some time, and that the changes don’t always follow the full moon. He has specialists in his employ who could help, and he hasn’t reached some stage where he can’t be helped, at least they didn’t think so. The process to remove the curse or what have you is apparently long and painful, but Safeir decided to go for it – after all, if Son can stand being chained for a few days, why can’t he?

So we left him there to be treated, and hoped for the best. They had two prior successful attempts to deal with this sort of thing, so we’ll let them work. One took only a week, maybe less, and the other was several months, but there’s not much else we can do at this point so we sent him on his way, and then went on ours.

As we headed out to the temple district at large, a carriage trundles along and lets out a rich looking half elf, which means he’s only half bad. Apparently he knows Glim from back in their school days, and the gnome completely missed this old acquaintance coming along because he was buried in reading some scroll or other, which I can’t say comes as a surprise. After they caught up, it was decided he would stick with us for a while, since he too had business with the deacon, and I gave him a pass despite the magical Elfiness because he made some comment about Glim finally growing stones. That was good for two reasons – I’m not the only one calling them stones anymore, and he’s giving the stunting a hard time, so he’s all right by me. The others, of course, proceeded to interrogate him and it was all rather uncomfortable. What I got out of their squabbling is that his name is Leo’nel and he apparently has some magic or other. Ostracized by his elven village for his mannish half, and his self-important ‘arcane knowledge’, he left to study with some academy or other, where he met Glim. Bored, if I’m being honest, I took the opportunity to head off to what looked like a dwarven temple and do something I have been meaning to do for a very long time. I would have done so earlier, but this was the first shrine to Moradin I’ve come across since leaving Karak Duin.

It was a good feeling, no, a grand feeling to be back in dwarf-masoned halls once more. I would have liked to spend more time reveling in the feeling, but I had business to attend to – the business of atonement and repentance. Exposing my arms, and the shameful tattoos I bear, I knelt before the Anvil-Altar and set about my prayers, surrounded by the hewn stone statues of the heroes of old. I gave prayer and a promise of penance for Clanggedin Silverbeard, and his forgiveness for what I have done, and Dumathoin, for my brother’s keeping and protection. I failed him, but Dumathoin would not, if he accepted my offerings. I prayed to Muamman Duathal, that he keep me, in turn, on this journey, and Ulaa, that she would watch over my kin and their industries while I was away. And of course to Moradin, that he might see my intent and bless me in its pursuit.

I left the altar, lighter in gems but heavier in spirit, despite the generous looks the other dwarves gave me for respecting the old ways and the like. It’s a burden, you see, but it must be done. Throne below, I hope so dearly that I am given the forgiveness and respite I seek. I’m not one to take everything as a sign, but if I were to perform well in the upcoming Feud, it might just mean that I’ve been heard and that the Gods part their beards to smile upon young Garil, at least for a moment.

While I was busy, the rest of them had their separate ways, I ended up rejoining them in the crafters district later to pick up some new fighting gear, since I intend to win that tournament and might need a bit heftier armor and a hammer that has seen a little less rough use lately. It ends up that we shopped at the open workshop of Ivar Von Ivan, the armorer we learned about at the Hearth and the Harlot the night before. His shop, which he called “The Dragon’s Arsenal”, had some pretty incredible pieces. Nothing we could afford of course, so we stuck to the ‘lowly’ master worked items. Lowly I say because while I thought they were just fine, Ivar seemed less than impressed with his own work. There was one piece that was apparently taken from the horde of some dragon by the name of Sangana. The dragon was apparently hording valuables in The Copper Desert some sixty years ago, and an army defeated him and pillaged the loot, some of which seems to have made it out this way. Hearing the tale, and maybe remembering something he learned in that glitzy school of his about werewolves and their weaknesses, Glim decided to pony up and purchase the toothpick. What use he had for a blade escapes me, but maybe a little bit of dragon luck rubbed off on it and he’ll turn out more handy in a fight.

The pirate couldn’t keep himself away from the water any longer and had run off to go see to that boat he won drinking with that Dan fellow, and from what I hear he decided to be charitable with some fish he caught, giving half to sale and the other half to beggars in Squalor’s Grotto. Probably not what I would have done, and not what I expected him to do either. The running off part sure, but the giving food away? Different story.

After some more time at the stores and such, but not enough time for me to find a gem cutter to train with, or at least buy some tools from, we headed to the bars. Hearing about this place they call The Square, ringed by four different inns, we set off to see how the ale in that part of the foreign quarter compares to what we have sampled to far. I’m getting a bit ahead of myself, but I still have yet to taste anything far beyond goblinish greenskin swill up on the surface, but the rest seem to enjoy it.

Regardless of what we set out to do in the square, what we ended up doing was a little bit different. It wasn’t long after we arrived that we heard, and then saw, a naked woman dangling out a window. Some of the party ran off to save her, and I just sat back and chuckled while magic of some sort boosted our new friend Leo’nel to twice his size, and as he struggled to pull her down, she fell, nude mind you, right onto our pious elf cleric. The sight of it! I doubt a woman has ever been that unclothed near him, or that near him at all really. I nearly split my pants laughing!

It got a lot less funny shortly after, when Lady Grey herself came by and saw the whole thing. Whether or not it was as bad as it looked – groping a screaming nude woman in a public square like he was, in the middle of the day – it did LOOK pretty bad. Smelled bad too, seeing as Sadron had picked up a touch of the flesh-rot on his wrists somehow, which I have yet to figure out. More reason to stay away from him if you ask me. Anyway the whole thing was bad enough that she can’t be seen associating with the likes of us, and so her charity was quickly reversed, leaving us homeless as a result. A shame, since I was looking forward to having elf-odor-free lodgings for the next week or so in The Nightingale Flat. Just my luck, it would seem; Moradin in his glory has seen fit to punish me with the stench for the time being, which is only fair.

The woman, calling herself Dion, who caused the whole mess, was very apologetic, and invited us in to the Fat Minstrel to apologize over a drink. We learned there that her husband, who goes by the name of Tusk, is a bit of an animal when he gets lusty. Big surprise, name like that! Long story short, he’ll be down eventually once her charm potion or whatever wears off, and we really should meet him. So, we drank and ate until we did. He seems a nice fellow, despite being a half Orc, and invited us to a free musical performance that evening, which we promised to attend. In the meantime, we had picked up some rumors, like that some servant girl is spying on her mistress, some farmer has a polymorphed prince rabbit on his cabbage farm to the east, and that a band of Orcs is in town on the lookout for mercenary work. If I’m lucky, they’ll find it in the Feud at the business end of this new hammer of mine.

Before the performance, we had to set out to explore the other taverns in the square and arrange some lodging for ourselves. Leo’nel was given a room in The Lazy Badger, and I grabbed a room there for myself as well. It had straw mattresses and the like, so the others were unwilling stay there. Pah! Mezla Mezla and Sadron decided to stay at the Fat Minstrel, the only remaining rooms, and Glim, Son, and Thrash booked accommodations at The Crimson Pipe, which has fanciful blue roof tiles, and is just perfect for their tastes, or so I assume. Glim had popped in to the Wizard and Mug, but didn’t bother to ask around and left the place rather quickly. An elf runs the place, and it’s got wizard right there in the name, so no need for me to accompany him, and his leaving so fast confirms my decision as correct.

Of note, there did seem to be a jobs board in the square, though all the postings for the day had been taken. Perhaps tomorrow after the Deacon’s test we can see what things need heroics and earn ourselves a little more coin, treasure, and glory. Plus, the rest of the crew will need something to do while I fight in the Feud every day, winning the blasted thing, so they can busy themselves with odd jobs while I once again do all the work if they can’t find anything else to do during The Frost Festival. Again, I doubt there will be a parade for us to march at the head of until I come back as the new champion and put Moradin rightfully atop the heap of Gods in this place.

Returning to the Fat Minstrel, we readied ourselves for the promise of some fine music and a way to kill the time before we were to return to the Deacon at midnight. After another round of ales, the orcman and his wife came over and let us in on a little secret – he once got himself a pack of cards in the Tamboori Jungle from some curio shop. Telling us he wasn’t always a bard, and that he once was a sight more awful than he already was, he credits the cards to turning his life around and making it so’s all he’s wantin’ is to do some good in the world and make people happy.

The trick with these cards is you’ve got to tell them how many you want before you take them, and the pretty pictures will fill you with whatever their charms are – but only the once, and never again. I thought it was all fancy talk and didn’t much care for it, but Mezla being the fool he is went for it right away, and talked to the cards to let them know he wanted five. He talked to the cards, I can’t emphasize that enough. But plain as granite, five of them came out and he ended up losing all of his things and gaining some book or other. Can’t say I saw why I would want to have that happen to me, but he seemed rather pleased as he ran off naked to the market to purchase some new clothing with Glim’s money, which he traded the cards for. Now he’s without a sword or a lute, so I suppose I will just have to settle with listening to his voice some more.

Some more rumors abound, as flowing drinks are wont to cause, and looks like we’re finally the talk of the town, and for good reasons this time! The pirate’s charity was well received, and word has gotten around that the Deacon has hired some people to take care of things for him. Some flirting by the ranger, which was not well received, and some flirting by Son, which surprisingly was, and we were well and warm and in our cups by the time the music came around. We watched the performance Tusk put on and it was actually quite nice. I’m not up to snuff on musical matters but I found it enjoyable, and I think the rest of the people at the bar did too. I can’t help but feel like the song had more than just regular lyrics, as the story told felt a little bit of prophecy to it all. Least that’s how I felt.

He went on about how our journey here was far from done, and come the sunrise we’d descend through judgment valley, with no direction but to trust our final destination – to follow what we know – to follow with faith in her direction and not to fight the flow. In the end, we would weigh our worth before her majesty, no longer strangers. Now I don’t know exactly what those cards did to our singing friend, but they might have just given the half orc a touch of ‘the sight’, as the stone priests used to call it back home. I suppose only time will tell.

In any case, we’re off to the Temple of Pelor once more, now that midnight has nearly come, and it’s dead quiet with no activity in the temples district. I’m going to stash the book for now, since it seems like an acolyte has just opened the door for us to usher us in, and we’ll see what the Deacon has in store for us – and whether or not these ‘Stalwart Knights’ as we may be can indeed be found worthy in this judgment valley to come.

AELFORD – The Third

I’m beginning to wonder if I shouldn’t take writing this down more seriously. I suppose you’ll read the story soon enough, but this journey of mine suddenly got a lot more important than it had looked like. And it ends up my story HAS been heard, and by the most important ears in the world. Guess I don’t need the bard after all.

As we were led into the hall of the Temple of Pelor to meet Deacon Orrin, the acolyte who took us through the door left us at that giant gold statue with the basilisk eyes and told us to wait. Which we did, for what seemed like a pretty long time if you ask me, before we finally heard footsteps. But they weren’t the Deacon, it was Safeir and his new ‘handler’, a man by the name of Johann. This new acolyte told us that he’s responsible for our furry friend while they work on establishing a cure for his condition – though that can’t be done until he’s turned back again during the next full moon, and he’ll be in a cage at that point apparently. So why does he have a handler now, when we’re maybe two weeks out from the next full moon? (Had to have Thrash explain this one to me, I still don’t get all this skye-object business) Apparently if he is harmed in certain unknown ways, he may be triggered back into a werewolf episode even without the moon as his body or his curse tries to protect itself, or some such book-talk. In the end it means Johann is around to make sure he is safe, and also to stop him from entering the Feud with the rest of us. Wouldn’t that be a sight!

Eventually the Deacon did come down to meet us, and he was dressed in his fanciest clothes, I would say. All multicolored and frilled with a special hat to top it off. I suppose that’s why he made us wait so long, he had to get gussied up for us, his stalwart knights. He told us that what we were about to do is part of some prophecy, and he has consulted the scriptures and found that a ceremony of some sort must be performed. He was pretty tight lipped about what exactly this ceremony was exactly, but we found out soon enough. I think part of his hesitance was that this ceremony has never been done before, and never was thought to have been needed, since everybody figured Neelos was dead and the hubbub wasn’t needed. Looks like the humans were wrong, as usual, because they don’t pay attention to their history, and they don’t make sure their grudges are good and settled.

Well our good Deacon informed us that he will be our guide through the trial to come, and that we would see whether or not we truly are the fabled Stalwart Knights. He also threw in that Neelos has the power to dominate people’s souls, and on that comforting note he led us down some stairs that opened up in front of the statue. We descended for some time, and I began to feel more and more at home as we dropped into the depths of the earth. My companions were a little on edge, but maybe now they understand how I feel up on top like them. That was, until it started to feel hot, which made me think we were coming upon a mamgahold, but I was disappointed when we did not and instead were in a big circular pit, open to that blasted Skye of theirs up above. In any case, we gathered around some stone seats, which was a bit like home, and then were told to take off our clothes. I did this, but he said even the jewelry had to go. That meant both the little boy’s tooth ring, despite the fact my grudge on Neelos has not been settled (though this act was part of settling that grudge, so I supposed it counted) and my brother’s amulet, despite the fact my shame has not been redeemed. While doing this, compounding the problem, the deacon took note of my tattoos and I had the sinking feeling that he knew what they were. Little did I know that my shame would be soon relieved after all, and in a way I least expected.

Once we were all seated and nude, we began preparing to smoke a pipe. Leo’nel corrected Orrin, who was under the impression that the herb was Peronist something or other, and said it was truly Sphinx whatchyacallit. He said it was easy to abuse, and could cause divine sight if done correctly. Well in any case we were all to smoke the pipe, and then wait. Embarrassingly, many of my companions don’t seem to understand how to properly smoke, and struggled not to cough. They really just don’t build them hardy outside of the mountains, just like the rune-fathers always said. Of interest, Glim, who is so very new to this whole, well, everything, said directly “oh, so I just put my mouth on it?” I know, I felt the same way you do now.

After some waiting, and some uncomfortable shifting in our chairs, I finally felt the effects of this smoke. There was a strong relaxation, followed eventually by a very high strung feeling. The room began to feel incredibly hot, even worse than it did before, and we all began to sweat intensely. Then I heard a voice, as if from inside my mind but not my own, that told me “just let go, you can’t control this”. As my heart began to beat harder, I realized the only thing I could hear was the pounding of its rhythm before the room went black.

Eventually, after what seemed an eternity in the dark void, I began to hear my feet echoing on stone, just like it sounded back home in Karak Duin. I then detected the sounds of an anvil being struck, and began to head in that direction. Eventually, I reached the source of the sound, and before me stood a paragon of drawfism, well bearded and muscular, hard at work before the forge, striking the iron with expert skill. As he turns his gaze upon me, he tells me, in a glorious voice, strong and true, “Ah, Garil, I have been expecting you.”

I quickly fell to my knees in reverence before him. This was surely Moradin himself, my Lord, my God, with my name upon his lips. My skin bared, and my tattoos exposed, I felt as a worm before the feet of a king, which was the truth of it after all, but he still chuckled and told me to stand. In His presence, to stand tall! It is an honor beyond explanation. But the honor was not over yet, as he began to recount a story I had heard befor,e at the anvil-altar as a child. Moradin, in his majesty, told me once more about the usefulness of iron. How iron can be shaped into many things, and experience chips, folds, and changes it, but it can always be recast and reformed, made into something new. Bound to a new purpose, but with the scars of experience still within, new yet old. A memory remains of its past, even as it is set to new purpose. He then asked me a series of questions.

The first, was what I felt about my companions. I was perplexed, as they were not here, and were eleven, mannish, or gnomely, and should likely not be tainting His mind with their existence. But I told him the truth, that I felt they were lacking in seriousness, to which He laughed. He then asked if I believed myself to be a strong dwarf, and I told Him that I did not, though I wished I was. It’s the truth, after all, but He comforted me, and told me “you may believe you have failed Me, and failed our people. But I know better”. It was at this point I felt a change within my mind that has not left me to this hour – that of shocked and merciful disbelief. Moradin, the king of all, the Lord of the Core, has seen my prayer and has heard my soul and forgiven me. I began again to struggle not to fall to my knees, and He continued. He said to me that He needed me, that ‘We’ needed me, and asked me to be strong for Him now, before taking the iron from the fire and plunging it into my chest.

As if from within my body, a mark began to birth forth into my chest. I was branded not upon my skin, but within my being, and Moradin reforged me into something strong, into something useful to Him. It is the sole purpose of my life to serve Him and the dwarven people, and I have never been more overwhelmed, humbled, overjoyed, or honored in my entire existence. I woke then, and wept for many minutes, to the concern of my companions. If only they knew! If only they understood the shame and burden I have carried for so long, and the revelation this trial has borne!

I saw then that the others all had the mark upon their chests, and that we are now bonded in this venture, and are truly the Stalwart Knights of the legend. Our gods have brought us here together for a purpose, and we are bound now to that effort. Bound now to each other. Garil Norgrum, son of Karak Duin, is bound to a gaggle of unserious surfacers. But it is Moradin’s will, and so it shall be done. I will need to acquire another article of jewelry to swear upon and keep me to that focus.

I suppose I may have been too quick to label them unserious, as Thrash seemed very motivated after our experience to begin making moves to track and slay Neelos. Perhaps meeting his God has had some transformative impact upon him. I cannot say the same of the others, unfortunately. Perhaps it will come in time.

Before we left, the Deacon gave us a writ to enter the tournament of The Feud, as we clearly have the divine qualifications. He also told us not to run around and expose our chests or brag to any who would listen that we are legendary champions, as “evil has ears everywhere”. Apparently all the help we will need has been entrusted us by the gods, and comes from within. We set off to seek more leads on Neelos and to move forward on our knightly quest.

We began with the temple of Boccib, to see if any occult or demonic presence had arisen. I did not go within their temple, but the others who did told me that no information of value was found there. As I expected of witchbreed devotees, useless. Probably working WITH Neelos if I had to guess. After, we went back the the Quare to check the jobs board for anything that might pertain to demons and otherworldly trouble, and had one sign about hunting that smelled like it might be the thing we were looking for. It ends up I was wrong, but we met with a lazy looking blonde human named Endertas at the Crimson Pipe and agreed to a contract to bring her the head of Marcellene, the Vampire Queen, who has been disrupting her business. Shipping goods or some such. Thrash negotiated a price, with a third up front, and so we split the spoils and will slay a vampire after the Frost Festival is complete. Perhaps, before her end, I will learn from her where to find Neelos. Or perhaps I will have simply earned coin and made a good tale to send home or my heroics. Either way, I agreed to terms, and must complete the bounty.

While I was negotiating with the woman (who has no love for dwarves, it would seem), the others had determined that they could place bets on the tournament if we located two halflings brothers Jimund and Rooin, so we set off to the docks to find them. They were excited, of course, to see me as a new entrant to the tournament and gave me good odds to advance past the first round, proving that they’re smart businessmen and know a fighter when they see one. Problem is, their company, Freight Gate Incorporated, needs to get a load of Rapture, which is a special beverage from the jungles off of one of their quarantined ships. Apparently there is some fever going around and so The Arturan, as its named, is inaccessible for the time being. If we could get them their shipment, we could place bets, so my friends hungrily set about doing so. I’m not one to break laws like that, but there was little I could do to stop them from conning the guard to let them onboard. Or maybe he conned us, since he out gambled several of them (typical) and now we’ve been exposed potentially to whatever the disease might be.

Anyway, tomorrow is the Feud, and I know now that I have Moradin’s gaze upon my hammer. My path is set, and the time is now, for glory and triumph, before we set foot once more upon the trail to Neelos’ unbinding from our realm.

AELFORD, the Fourth

It’s been several days since I have written – we have spent the intervening time drawing blood and cheers, and then draining mugs of ale, celebrating our survival yet one more day. How like the old times it has been, back in the depths of Karak Duin, except this time it comes with strange company and fewer goblins, so I suppose I’ll call it a fine time. Or it was, until this morning. I suppose I’ll start at the beginning, when the Feud began.

We all awoke in our varying inns, having undergone the trial and becoming bound as Stalwart Knights. I still feel strange, bearing this new mark upon my chest, but I am emboldened by my encounter with the High Lord Moradin and his confidence in me. I know now that I must protect my new friends, as peculiar as it is to hold non-dwarves in such esteem, and find two finely crafted platinum rings among my belongings in the morning – surely a gift from the gods, and a tool by which I should shield others from the harm they place themselves in as we seek Neelos and purge this realm of his taint. I offer my thanks in a hurried prayer, and head out into the hall where I meet Leo’nel, emerging from what he is called ‘the presidential suite’. Must be one of those wizard school terms, but he can call a bed whatever he wants if he likes. Whatever the others are up to seems almost trivial now, when before I would likely rattle off some insult about cook learners or elves or some such, now I can think of little beyond service to my God and the duty with which I have been tasked. It might benefit me to dabble in the clerical arts, or perhaps to dedicate myself to the path of the Anvilsworn – “paladins” I think they call them up here on the surface – to commit myself more fully to the divine favor I have been shown and demonstrate my thanks for the blessings I have received. But that will have to come later, as we have a tournament to win!

As Leo’nel and I descended the stairs of the Lazy Badger, we feel a chill air draft through the windows and hear the clangor of hundreds, even thousands of people milling about excitedly outside. The Frost festival is upon us, and in full swing. We see Glim eating some suspicious soft cheese that I remember being left out last night – Churry must not have thrown it away, but I suppose that’s what to expect at an inn like this. An inn for warriors, not the pampered fools who would contend with me in the days to come.

I made a reaquaintence with Aldur, the Stone, who is dressed in fine battle regalia, which is pristine, polished, and altogether too clean for a battle-hardened fighter. Perhaps he is either not nearly as well worn as I was led to believe, is so rich that he can afford parade dress, or is so talented that none have damaged his gear. We’ll see if that holds! In any case, he tells me that he likes to look his best while sitting in the champions’ box, to please the crowd, and he always attends the early days so that he can scout out his potential competition while he sits at midline in the coliseum. I tell him I’ll be sure to put on a show for him, and we head out to gather our companions and head to the event.

It is not long after leaving the Lazy Badger that we hear a distinct scream, one that we are overly familiar with at this point, and hustle of to the Crimson Pipe to find a crowd looking amusedly at the ceiling before Glim talks to a dwarf with an iron amulet and discerns that it is Son who has been causing the ruckus we heard – no surprise there, I should say. Once we reach his room, it is revealed that he hasn’t been able to drain his bladder since an encounter with some woman or other, and is now in considerable pain. He will not be attending the feud, it would seem, so we leave him with his misery and chamber pot and venture out into the crowd.
There are a great many people flowing in a mass towards, who knows where, but we presume that it’s off to the coliseum, which Sadron claims is near the temple of Pelor. Glim and I can’t see much, but we manage to spot some familiar elven asses ahead of us and follow them to our destination. We eventually reach an absolutely enormous structure, similar to the great hall deep within Karak Duin, but this is not carved down into the earth, as is proper, but is astonishingly built up, above the surface, towering high enough to seat nearly all the city. Maybe I didn’t give these humans enough credit for their architectural abilities – this is a feat of engineering beyond my understanding. As we find some seats, the Deacon steps forth and summons the fighters for the tournament down to the sands in the center.

He gives a speech about welcoming the worthy to this day of the Feud, and how we do both him and the gods great honor by being here. He looks forward to our tribute, and then announces some Halfling by the name of fullbort mugwort or bloodsport or who knows what exactly, but the crowd seems to know him, and then we shuffle to the arena floor amidst other would-be contenders, and are led into a holding area in a pit below the sands, to wait our turn. It is not long after that we hear terrible creams, and then cheers and ‘ooooh’s from the crowd, and a dead man is dragged from the sands past us in the chamber. We were led to believe that you couldn’t die here, but that may not be the case after all. I see an anxious tightening in the chests of my companions, and chuckle a bit to myself, remembering how few of them have ever looked death in the eye before.

It’s not long after that Mezla Mezla is summoned by the guards to make his stand. He seems rather pleased with himself to go out before the cheering crowd, and I wondered to myself whether I would have to sit through another one of his rambling poems if he survives, surely overstating his majesty and leaving me out altogether, once again. After some time, he returned, triumphant, saying something about smoke bombs and the like, and then Sadron is called. He had the gall to ask me to cinch his armor for him, to which I pointed out he ought to have a quire for that sort of thing, and since he wouldn’t part with his gems I let him find somebody else to do it. He came back later on, also supposedly victorious, and claimed ot have fought the very same Halfling that Mezla had defeated! Perhaps only the champions are immune to death here, but it’s no matter. Garil Norgum won’t be doing any dying anytime soon, not with the eyes of Moradin upon my back!

It is at this point that Glim is called to fight, and the poor gnome is trembling mightily at the prospect of what he’s gotten himself into. He fumbled with the deck of cards we got from Tusk, and, sure as can be, all of the clothes vanish from his body and he is left naked and gearless – not even his spellbook about his person. No sense in pulling out those cards, I’ve been telling them all, seeing how the luck has already been used up, but nobody will listen. In a panic, he throws the cards to Sadron and mumbles some incoherent prayer, and is rewarded, miraculously, with a new staff, limned with a soft light. I suppose he met with his god during the trial as well, and got a gift similar to the rings I found that morning. Perhaps the gnome patron finds it humorous to wait until a terrible moment to bestow his blessings, and I am once again thankful to count Moradin as my Allfather and not any other.

As the gnome shuffles nakedly, with nothing but his large stick to defend himself, I had a moment of sadness knowing I was about to lose the closest approximation to a friend that I have found on the surface, but shortly thereafter was both relieved and astounded to find that he survived his ordeal after all. Where he got the skill I haven’t a clue, but old Winchworth lived to fight another day.

Leo’nel was next, and I sat patiently, knowing they were simply saving the best for last. HE too managed to best the Halfling, and I knew in that moment I had even less to fear for my first round than I had thought initially. Two witchbreeds managed to best him without the aid of their magic, and Gim without even his ‘trusty’ crossbow, so what hope did he stand against me?

As I am called to the sands, I stepped out into the ruddy light of the cold day, and saw the Halfling some ten paces from me, gesturing rudely and posturing for the crowd. How could such a man boast so, having been killed four times that very day? I had the opportunity to rush in then and hurl him down, but did not take it, as it would be unseemly to take advantage in that way, and instead spread my arms wide, beckoning him to try me. The crowd reacted well to this, happy for a show, it would seem. The Halfling hurtled tward me, faster than I had expected, and dropped a globe f raw smoke that stung my eyes and he steped to the side, thinking he cleverly had misdirected me. How foolish he was to underestimate a dwarf! I batted at him with my shield, and the spike drove true, into his chest. As he staggered, reaching for his belt to procure another globe, I casually swatted with my shield again, and he spun to the sands, dead upon impact. My hammer never tasting his flesh, I gave a salute to the crowd, and locked eyes with Aldur – my message clear; I am coming, and your scouting is complete.

Upon returning to my fellow knights, the Deacon arrives and informs us that we should head home and prepare for the remainder of the tournament, and that things would ‘not be so easy’ in the days to come. I took that as a good thing, because there is no honor in fighting without a true challenge, and it does Moradin’s glory no good if I am to drop amateurs without effort for the remainder of the Feud.

We learned later that the rules had been changed – never a good sign, but this city does seem to have a few things backward about it – we were the only ones to progress beyond this first round and now will fight as a unit. Apparently, if I win, I have to sit out for two days to allow the lesser fighters a chance! So be it. We quickly though up a fighting order to ensure that Aldur and I faced one another in the final round, and I took to drinking heavily in the interim, knowing I wouldn’t be on the sands for a few days. I proceeded to the Temple of Moradin in the temple district to offer my remaining Forest Garnet in thanks for the blessings I had received and as tribute to the work I was to do in the coming days for Moradin’s glory and the furtherment of the dwarven cause.

I fought again in the second round, so that my friends could lick their varying wounds, and faced off against a monk or some sorts, carrying around a wooden stick and being altogether too much of a dancing type to threaten me. Knowing how the crowd loved my showman’s antics, and honestly enjoying their approval at my risk taking behavior, I decided it was best to try to hit not the man, but his staff instead, to break it and leave him unarmed and scrambling for refuge while I stalked him down. IT was not as easy as I had hoped; I made a clean strike against the wood of his staff, but it bowed without breaking, apparently far more flexible than I had thought. Doing away with the idea, I struck him down in two blows without issue, and took absolutely no damage from his flailing blows. This is twice now I have faced ‘champions’ of Aelford and have yet to feel any pain. I began to wonder if any could best me, seeing how little resistance I had faced thus far. Regardless, I took the night off and drank heavily, and waited for my next fight.

As the third day dawned, it is apparent the Sadron had not acquired himself a squire, despite me telling him to. It seems he needs something like a ‘hand’ instead, and should go find some poor child he can dupe into following him. Good luck with that! He spent his time instead soothing Son’s groin, and so I had to help him with his armor before his match. Little good it did him, since he decided to run headlong into his opponent’s spear several times and fall in battle. He was revived, thankfully, and then played with his cards and ended up getting some form or other of statue and blue stone, and seemed quite pleased with himself. He offered me the cards, but I’ll be having none of that, for now at least. We were permitted to advance, despite his losing, but Sadron will be out of the tournament. It should be noted during this time, Mezla Mezla is NOT drafting poems to our glory, or even his own, as he is too busy reading a book about how best to exercise. He wants to be able to prance around even more lithely than he already does, the fool. Perhaps not such a fool after all, as he pranced his way toward skewering his next opponent through the throat and winning us day four.

On the fifth day, Glim’s magic stick is not enough to save him again a dwarf, but who can blame him for that, and so we have lost two consecutive bouts. The Deacon, in his generosity, or perhaps because of the strange rules they have made for us, allows us to continue. Leon’el quite quickly realized how dependent he has been on his magic, as he falls in short order to his opponent, making it three in a row we have lost. Some Stalwart bunch we’re turning out to be? We can handle our drinks, however, as we learned night after night celebrating the frost festival with the other revelers.

The seventh round dawned, and only Mezla and I remain. Who would have thought? He faced off against a raging barbarian who gave him a real fight, and the crowd seemed happy for the first time in days as they got to witness a real spectacle. The other fights thus far have been either sloppy affairs, or over far too quickly for anyone to have gotten properly into the battle. It seems people had been spending more time filing in and out of the area than actually doing battle! Mezla set that to rights by taking incredible damage, and I was surprised to see him keep his feet after a series of punishing blows. Maybe that exercise book has something to it after all. He then remembered that he owns a rapier, and decided to actually use it, flourishing the blade in quick succession and finishing off his opponent. I didn’t know he could move so fast! The only other times I have seen him in such haste was when looting a corpse I had so kindly laid before him. It seems he has finally decided to put his ‘talents’ to use – though I’m not sure why he has taken so long to display them, as we’ve certainly been in dire straits before.

It was at this point that the eighth day of the feud, the final, had arrived. I had finally convinced Sadron to hand over what gems he did have, attached to rings, but they’ll do, and left them as offerings again before the anvil-altar at the Temple of Moradin. Trusting that it would be enough, despite the fact they’ve been handled by an elf, I gathered up my things and made my way down to the arena to face Aldur and earn Moradin his rightful seat atop the pile of gods defeated in his name. Aldur fights for Pelor, the patron of this city, and I knew I had to make a show of it to truly honor my God and His name before these people. So I did.

Upon our introduction, we stood facing one another, and I promptly made a boastful act, to which the crowd gave surprised and pleased gasps – I threw my shield aside. No dwarf with the protection of His patron should need such protection! I knew I could always try to pick it up again if needed, which I wouldn’t, and I could always swing my hammer with two hands should the need arise, but it did not. Maybe I should have tried that, since I did miss more than I would like, and when I did make contact with Aldur, his plate often held firm. He’s a tough one, and I can see why they called him “The Stone”, resilient guy, that one. He graciously dropped his helmet upon the sands, but kept his shield. Not so confident in his god, it would seem!

After some baching of one another’s chestplates, we decided to have a grapple or three and I was handily outwrestling him, so he made a run for it and I tripped him on his way out before riling up the crowd once more – what good is finishing your opponent too quickly if it stops the exultation of the people? Aldur was having none of that and charged forth again to strike me, so I dropped one of Aglid’s acid flasks at our feet to scald us both. It hurt, but not overmuch, and I got him as well. I don’t think he liked having acid on his person, and it allowed me to smash him down into the sands with my hammer, and I was then declared the victor. A good fight, and a better celebration. I was the Champion of the Feud, Breaker of The Stone, and Moradin was honored properly. I even took some damage, finally. No point in being champion if you’re never harmed, right? It is in pain that we show our truest dedication.

We drank heavily that night, and sang a swarthy song – something to the effect of “All we do is win, no matter what, victory on our minds, we can’t ever get enough”. It warmed my heart to see my companions so pleased with my performance, and I don’t remember paying for an ale the whole time. Perhaps it’s because the other Knights decided to shirk the law, as is their way in all things, and bet upon many of the rounds of the tournament. It sounds as if I won them a great deal of coin, which is one of the few things they care about. The next morning, however, came with new surprises.

Son’s ailment was properly resolved by the time we assembled at the crimson pipe, and tells us in a conversation with the barkeep that I have another role to play now that I have won – I am to participate in the culmination of the Frost Festival, though the event is ‘a bit barbaric’. Wondering what I am to do, we head off to see Deacon Orrin and ask just what this is all about – I was not made aware of any obligations of mine, but it seems I am now committed and wanted to properly honor Moradin’s glory in this holiest of celebrations. We passed by some acolytes who had come to collect me, and I was led to meet with the Deacon while Sadron and the others set to distributing some pamphlet or other Sadron had been writing.

I learned then that I was to publically execute Aldur before an assembly, which is a long standing tradition I nthe Frost Festival. The old ways dictate that a sacrifice to the gods must be made, and that the Feud used to be properly ‘to the death’. Since that alteration allowing fighters to be revived and protected on the sands, a falled champion must be beheaded to mark the closing of the tournament and make it all official. The Deacon did not want this tradition to continue, but noted that I was ‘not incorrect’ in thinking that this was the will of the council, and who am I to disagree with those who know the gods better than I? I was given a rather fancy sword with which to do the deed, and the Deacon seemed very discouraged and saddened when I told him I would carry out the deed expected of me. I couldn’t refuse; not really, exile from the city seemed to be the expectation if I did not carry my responsibilities through, and we had further business to attend to – and a friend in werewolf rehab that I could not abandon.

I prayed upon the matter, but was given no guidance, and in remembering the old hymns and lessons of Moradin, felt that it was vague on the topic and that the choice was truly mine to make. It never was though, not really, as these are religious traditions and I had made a commitment, knowingly or not, upon entry into the Feud. I did consider for a time breaking the sword upon the cobblestones with my hammer and declaring a new age of Moradin’s grace, whereupon no honorable combatant should die needlessly, but dismissed it as a fanciful and childish whim that is obviously brought about by spending too much ime around elves. When the moment came, I stood before an empty chair, and Aldur walked peacefully up to receive his fate. Seeing no complaint on his end, I ceremoniously pointed the sword toward the Temple of Moradin, and with a swift downstroke, parted his head from his shoulders.

Or, I tried at least. I haven’t ever swung a sword before with intent to kill, and misjudged how easy it would be, getting only about halfway through. I managed to end it shortly after, but not before spraying blood upon some onlookers and eliciting a grimace from many in the crowd – Sadron even vomited at the sight. They call him a choir boy, and I suppose I feel a little sorry for laughing at him for that in the past, as he proved it true in that moment.

I realized then that I had never actually been given instructions on what to do next, and the Deacon, likely in protest, had not attended the ceremony, and so I stood as the crowd disbursed, waiting for whatever was to come next. Eventually some acolytes collected the blade from me and came to clean up the mess, while my party and I debated what to do with the body. We were maybe going to bring it to the temple of Pelor for whatever burial rites they use, but then the other champions came up and took away his body from us, giving me various looks as they soldiered past. I felt their sorrow – Aldur was a decent man and I felt him somewhat of a brother-in-arms after our various interactions. Plus, it was a shame to have to end his life – anyone who could manage to give me trouble, what little he gave, deserved to be honored for it. I had to comfort myself with the fact that it appeared this is what he wanted, and that his honor would have to come from the fact that he will always be remembered as the man who fell before Garil Norgrum, Champion of Moradin – is that what I am now? I do like the sound of that! I wish I had given him a cleaner death in the end, but nothing can be done about that now.

We did have other business to attend to. We headed to the Fat Minstrel to get something to eat – but I was forced to bathe and was attended to by someone who washed me, and was kind enough to keep my beard dry. Professional, she was. When I came back inside, the rest were squabbling over something about Vecna and left eye winks, and I promptly reminded them that we had a vampire to kill, so we then sauntered to the Crimson Pipe to talk to Enderdas the dwarf-hater and make good on the deal Thrash and I had arranged several days prior. First, of course, Sadron had to give out more of his foolish pamphlets and pick up some metalworking book from Ivar von Ivan, but we made it to her eventually.

I learned then that she actually had no idea if there really was a vampire attacking her caravans, but that we should head to the Lantry region, and the town of Redhawk, to sniff out what exactly was going on. She wanted either a fanged head of this Mercellene, or some other evidence that it was not a vampire causing her woes, and we set out to make preparations for our journey.

I do have some thoughts – we sought her out initially because we were tracking Neelos and wanted to find anything that might be supernatural and demonic – and we may yet find it. If it is not a vampire after all, but something darker, the troubles in Lantry may yet be related to Neelos. As I close this chapter of my jourmal, I am drawn to the silver ring upon my thumb, forged from the silver tooth taken from the poor boy Neelos so brutally and ritually disfigured, and remembered my grudge on the demon’s name. The Deacon may no longer hold any love for me, but we are the Stalwart Knights, and it is our task to drive his presence from this world. I pray to Moradin that we shall root it out, and this town of Redhawk may yet give us more clues as to where we will find it and make good on our promise.

Garil Norgrum

The Awakening fishmode