Bili Ironfist sat behind a teak desk, rubbing his bald scalp as he watched a large half-orc enter his office. Ironfist studied the greenskin as he approached, and Ironfist’s trained eye could see that this half-orc was an experienced and cold-blooded killer. Ironfist had seen his type before: Cambion Scurge, the Crusader’s secretive enforcers who serve to make sure the Crusader’s legions don’t lose their spines or their loyalty in battle.
“What brings ye t’ Forge, Scurge?” Ironfist asked, already knowing the answer. Indeed, he already knew how this conversation would play out.
“The Crusader has business here,” was the curt reply.
“The Crusader can’t just walk in like he’s the Lord of the Underworld, y’know. We’ve a civilized society here, and it’s my job to keep it that way.”
The half-orc produced a cloth pouch and tossed it onto the desk. Ironfist inclined his head and an aid stepped up to inspect the bag. Nobody looked surprised when he emptied the bag onto the table and a multitude of jewels cascaded across the polished teak surface. The aide inspect a few of the jewels, gave a nod that confirmed their quality, and began to return the jewels to the bag, counting them as he went.
“Just don’t make a mess,” Ironfist said to the half-orc, concluding the negotiations. The half-orc gave a sharp nod indicating acceptance of the terms, turned, and walked out of the office.
The clouds hung low over Lougheed, casting a grey pall over the town and temporarily concealing the huge mountain the loomed over the town. The mountain was Forge, home of the dwarves, and it dominated the sky over Lougheed like it dominated Lougheed’s economy and the thoughts of Lougheed’s people.
It was unusually cold for this time of year, and the surrounding fields remained unploughed because the soil was partially frozen. Pillars of smoke rose from every chimney in the town, intermingling with the grey clouds to add to the gloom.
The frozen ground crunched underfoot as Lythvard inspected the carts, just to make sure everything was all right. Sebastian Redtail’s guards had theibarn well-secured, but you could never be too sure, not on a mission as important as this one. The carts contained the bodies of thirty-two dwarf warriors, who Lythvard, Robbin and Thybalt were returning to Forge in an attempt to put their souls to rest and, perhaps more importantly, convince the Dwarf King to choose peace instead of war.
After a well-earned bath in the tavern, the party enjoyed dinner with Sebastian Redtail, who had made good on his promise and had brought a cartload of Church gold to Lougheed, and Turin Undonae, the white-haired high-elf diplomat who had promised to introduce the party to the dwarves of Forge. Over dinner they discussed the ins and outs of Forge politics, and the best way to move their plan forward. Forge has a five-member Council, consisting of the heads of the five clans in Forge. These council members provide advice to the Dwarf King, who usually ensures he makes the decisions that have the support of the majority of the Council. It is also possible for the Council to veto the Dwarf King if the Council can unite. This has never happened.
So the path forward was becoming clearer: to prevent this war, the party would have to convince the Council members as well. They had a cartload of gold that might assist their cause, but they debated the best way to use the gold. Their bribes would have to be discrete, yet there was no way they could get that much gold into Forge without attracting attention.
One option was to use the services of Justina Sweetblade, a local brigand who boasted of being able to smuggle anything in and out of Forge. Her band of outlaws had already helped the party once, carrying the thirty-two coffins over the rough, hilly terrain that the carts couldn’t handle. There was only one reason Justina Sweetblade was helping them: Robbin Basketweaver.
Robbin left the tavern that night, braving the cold to speak with Sweetblade at her camp just outside of town. Sweetblade explained that she could get the gold into Forge, but on one condition: her way in and out must remain a secret, and thus her smuggling team cannot be accompanied. Also, she would need to know where to put the gold after she got it inside.
The long, low wooden tables contrasted almost comically with the incredibly high stone ceiling that hung, concealed in shadow, over the communal hall in the Pebblebeard clanhold. Most of the long drinking tables were unoccupied, but one group sat at the end of one table huddled in conversation. Three dwarves listened as a jittery human told stories of his service in the Crusader’s army.
The conversation was cut short, however, when a half-orc suddenly appeared, lifted the human off the bench, turned him around, and plunged a knife through his chest. The half-orc kept pushing down, until the human was lying on top of the table, the knife in his chest pinning him to the table, with blood quickly spreading out across the table. The half-orc released his grip on the knife, revealing its unusual bone handle, carved into some kind of demonic form. Blood began to spill over the table edges spatter on the stone ground as the half-orc turned back receded into the shadows.
The next morning, Robbin explained Justina’s conditions to the skeptical party. Redtail said he could look after the gold if necessary, so the party decided to leave the gold in Lougheed for the time being. If a bribe recipient wanted the gold, he could pick it up himself from Lougheed.
With the decision finalized, the party rolled out of Lougheed on their carts, taking with them the dwarf bodies, the orc heads, and some golden necklaces Redtail had made using the tusks taken from the orc heads.
The track to Forge led them into a steep canyon, which rose steeply on their left and right. If they looked up, they could make out the grey sky snaking between the two sides of the canyon, in parallel with the path. On their way the passed several dwarf patrols. Some were returning from a patrol, others were on their way out. Sometimes that would observes two patrols meeting on the path, where they would stop, light up some tobacco, and the returning patrol would share stories and warnings of what they had seen out there.
After several hours travel, the canyon widened, and the intricately carved stone entrance stood where the canyon floor met Forge. Carved into the canyon walls above them were numerous alcoves, each with a pair of dwarf guards armed with crossbows, eying the visitors warily.
The five-meter tall stone door to Forge lay open before them, presumably because it was too heavy to open and close every time someone wanted to get in or out of Forge. A large number of guards ordered the party to stop, so they brought their carts to halt near the entrance. Turin introduced himself, and spoke of the bravery of the three bulette-slayers, and requested they be invited into Forge.
Being a representative of the Elf Queen, Turin was granted immediate admission to Forge. The three party members, being strangers despite Turin’s introduction, were inspected with greater diligence. The dwarf guards demanded to know what was on the carts. Lythvard explained that he carried the dwarves who fell defending Crozier. The trio had carried the slain from Crozier to Forge so they could be laid to rest with their dwarven bretheren.
Impressed that an elf, human and a tiefling would show such respect for dwarven culture and the dwarven warrior spirit, the guards allowed them to enter. The carts had to be checked, of course, for contraband, and a few dwarves also protested about allowing a tiefling demonspawn into Forge. For a moment it looked like prejudice would prevent Thybalt from entering Forge, but one Dwarf remembered that his morning runestone divination had urged him to “grab the troll by the horns” today and, with the tiefling having horns, interpreted the divination to mean that Thybalt should be granted access to the dwarven homeland.
They passed solemnly through the massive stone doorway and were taken into an antechamber where their carts were taken from them. The party kept the thirty-two gold orc-tusk necklaces, and the sack of rotting orc heads, and watched their carts be led away, presumably to prepare the bodies for the funeral ceremony.
They were led into a low but wide tunnel, obviously a major thoroughfare within Forge’s labyrinthine networks of tunnels. Even an untrained eye would be impressed with the degree of precision this tunnel was constructed with. Stone walls met the stone floor and ceiling at sharp right angles, and each stone fit snugly in with those around it. The floor stones were arranged into some kind of pattern, but its meaning was lost to the visitors. The only architectural failing the trio of adventurers could observe was the low ceiling, which forced them to stoop and admire the intricate stone patterns on the floor a bit more than they would have liked to.
Their guide told them they were entering the Pebblebeard clanhold, and that they were being taken to meet with the Pebblebeard clan chieftain, Councillor Adalagin Bluefist. On their way they passed through the clanhold. They saw a huge chamber filled with long, low wooden tables – “Fer drinkin’,” their guide explained. This was the Pebblebeard communal hall. As they moved through, the party also noticed that one of the tables had a large and distinctive stain that was now familiar to the adventurers: a lot of blood had been shed onto that table, recently.
The ancient clanhold revealed more of itself to the adventurers as they moved through it. There were rooms for martial training, water running through a stone aqueduct system, family dwellings, and communal steam baths separated by gender, among other things.
Eventually their guide stopped at a seemingly nondescript door mid-way along a seemingly nondescript tunnel. The guide indicated they should enter, so they stepped through the portal and into Adalagin Bluefist’s chamber.
Adalagin Bluefist greeted them amicably, and thanked them for bringing their fallen bothers home. The party began their explanation of the unfortunate events at Crozier, describing how renegade orc cohort had attacked Crozier on the mistaken belief that the dwarves had taken something valuable to them. The attack was not sanctioned by the Orc Lord, so for the Dwarf King to declare war on the orcs would be huge mistake.
Bluefist shook his head solemnly at this tale of innocent lives needlessly ended, and agreed the war was a bad option. The problem, he explained, was that the majority of the Council had been itching for war for sometime, and this incident had provided the spark they needed. The dwarves have since been whipped into a frenzy, and it was too late to back out of the war now. There would be a funeral for the Crozier fallen, then a twenty-four hour wake, and upon completion of the wake, the Dwarf King would march his army into the northern plains. The one council member who might support the peace option – Garnorn Silverhammer of Clan Copperhelm – had been suspended from the Council while accusations of skimming some money from the annual tithes could be investigated.
During the course of the conversation Bluefist struck upon an idea that might take them one step closer to preventing the war, and satisfy Bluefist’s personal desire for retribution at the same time. The previous night, there had been a brutal murder committed with impunity in the Pebblebeard communal hall. The murderer – a half-orc – blatantly flaunted Forge law and make no attempt to hide his identity, suggesting that the Chief Warden had taken a bribe to permit the killing. That the Chief Warden was taking bribes was not what angered Bluefist so; instead, it was the fact that Ironfist’s coffers where growing larger at the expensive of Clan Pebblebeard’s much-valued peace and tranquility.
If the party could expose Ironfist’s corruption, the scandal might see him suspended from the Council. When asked how they might expose the corruption, Bluefist replied bluntly: “Find the half-orc.”
As the meeting was concluding, a messenger entered the chamber and informed Councillor Bluefist that there had been another kidnapping, just like the last one, with a red hat left at the scene being the only clue.
The large half-orc was packing up his travelling gear after spending the night on the stone floor of the Stormcleave communal hall, when a squad of Stormcleave wardens surrounded him. A quick estimate told him that there were at least twenty dwarves around him, all armed. The guard captain informed him that he was to surrender his weapons and armour and with them to a holding cell, until “a resolution to a delicate matter can be found.” Seeing himself hopelessly outnumbered, the half-orc surrendered, trusting that his bribe had been sufficient.
Their assigned guide, Bluefist’s steward Momnorlum Stormcloak, was leading them through the tunnels of Forge towards the Stormcleave Clanhold, when the party suddenly found themselves in a tunnel filled with dwarves, all slowly shuffling in the traffic towards the same destination. Momnorlum explained that they were all heading to Forgeheart for the funeral of the fallen. It was impossible to fight against the flow, so the party allowed themselves to be swept down the Foundry, where Forgeheart was located. The regretted the loss of precious time, but there was nothing that could be done.
The foot traffic spilled out of the tunnel and into an immense cavern. The rocky walls on the far side were so far away they could barely be seen. Looking up, the orange light from thousands of other entrances to the cavern on higher levels appeared like dim yellow stars in a night sky. This was the Foundry, the traditional seat of dwarven tradecraft. The Foundry floor was dotted with large, honeypot-shaped iron furnaces, each as large as a three-story building, and rivers of magma flowed along straight channels cut into the stone floor. There would be countless workbenches littered with all manner of tools, but these were obscured from view by the crowd the had filled every square inch of the Foundry floor.
The crowd focused on the slightly smaller honeypot-shaped furnace roughly in the centre of the Foundry floor. Unlike the other giant furnaces, this one was carved from a single boulder. The outside of the stone furnace was adorned in intricate stone carvings depicting the history of the dwarven race, whilst the inside of the furnace, seen through a large opening that had a stone ramp leading up to it, was a bright orange maelstrom of fire and magma. The super-heated air around the opening shimmered, giving the illusion of magic. The party of three were looking at what few outsiders had ever been privileged to see: Forgeheart.
Suddenly, the crowed hushed. The bodies of the thirty-two fallen dwarves were carried by the crowd across the Foundry floor. Raised arms carried the bodies above the crowd like crowd-surfers, each member of the crowd doing their bit to push the bodies ever-closer to the glowing opening at the front of Forgeheart.
The silence continued until the last fallen dwarf had joined his warrior ancestors inside Forgeheart. A fearsome, one-eyed dwarf elevated himself above the crowd by standing on a stone dais and began addressing the crowd. Momnorlum whispered to the three adventurers that this was Councillor Valdag Greybeard, Battle Commander of the Forge Armies.
In a fiery and angry speech, Greybeard demanded retribution for the act of wanton violence committed against their brethren. The crowd cheered emphatically, and the chant of “War! War! War!” echoed up from the Foundry floor into the cavernous expanse above them.
After allowing the chant to continue and gain in fervour, Greybeard called for silence. It took a few moments for the crowd to fall silent, and then Greybeard concluded his speech.
“On the morrow, we march on the northern plains to erase the orc kingdom from history. But until then, we celebrate and remember our fallen comrades!”
As if by magic, every dwarf on the Foundry floor had a filled mug of ale in their hands. Each mug was raised high, heads faced upwards, and each dwarf let out a long roar from the bottom of their bellies. The roar continued until they were out of breath, and then the drinking began.