The Day of Many Arguments
The companions sat in the Stonehill Inn, a central locale in the small town of Phandalin. It was a dreary sort of night outside, but inside the inn was cozy and full of drunken voices. Falkrunn strummed lightly on her lute while servers brought her the occasional mug of beer, which she drained consistently. Her meal of stew and bread was free, bought by her playing, and she felt finally, pleasantly comfortable.
She rested on a wooden stool near the fireside, watching the inn bustle with activity and excitement. Her uncle, Gundren, sat hunched over a nearby table listening to the squabbling of Lorskan and Keyzana. It was always something with those two. Olara stayed out of it, crossing her arms and leaning back in a calm manner as if nothing could pull her from her reverie. Flavio was contentedly scribbling something into a book and nibbling at a cheese plate.
“Though skies may darken with the night, the hearthside of Dwarves stays alight, and when the dawn breaks forth anew, our mugs are filled with another brew,” Falkrunn sang. Gundren looked over in recognition of the song and raised a mug to her.
They had reached the pinnacle of their journey, and now their goal had become clear: find Wave Echo Cave. Destroy the Black Spider.
There was a sudden bang as the cold wind and rain pushed through the door. Falkrunn stopped playing immediately, and half the inn turned to look at the newcomer. A soaked and perturbed looking Druid crashed through with a look of annoyance, then slammed the door shut behind him when he spotted their group. His long white beard was dripping with rain water. It was the Druid from Thundertree, the one who had given them the map to Cragmaw Castle. What was his name again?
“I suppose I should say I’m pleased to see you all still alive,” he grumbled, looking down at the new face of Gundren and holding out a hand abruptly. “Reidoth. Druid. Keeper of Thundertree and watcher of the young green dragon who haunts that forsaken town.”
“A pleasure,” Gundren said with a nod, although he didn’t seem pleased at all, and he wiped his hand on his other sleeve when the Druid released it. Falkrunn set her lute aside and approached the table warily. The Druid smelled of his journey, which means to say he utterly stank.
“I have news,” Reidoth said, dragging an empty chair across the wooden floor noisily and slamming it unceremoniously next to the table.
“Well hello to you too,” Falkrunn said facetiously. Clearly social interaction was not a familiar concept to this one. He grinned and took a seat.
“Is it about the dragon?” Lorskan asked, leaning in closer.
Reidoth nodded solemnly, then cursed suddenly and slammed a fist on the table. “This was a hard journey for a lone old Druid!”
Flavio waved down a server and pointed to the Druid. The young woman nodded and returned shortly with a mug full to the brim. The Druid gratefully drank half of it before wiping his mouth and continuing. “The cult of the dragon, the one you encountered? Well, it has split,” he said, taking another large gulp of ale. “Half stayed behind to worship the dragon. They seek to increase its treasure horde, and suggested Phandalin as the perfect target for his rich desires.”
“Phandalin is a small town. It’s only just gotten back on its feet after the Red Brand invasion,” Falkrunn protested.
“What of the other half of the cult?” the Dragonborn cut in.
“Gone, to Neverwinter I suspect.”
“When will the dragon attack?” Olara straightened, staring intently at the Druid.
“I’m not sure if it will. I only sought to warn you that it may.”
“That’s not a lot to go off,” Lorskan grumbled, but his gaze withdrew, and he looked thoughtful.
“Are you offering your help?” Keyzana asked the Druid after a moment’s silence.
Reidoth eyed the group, which had grown to six members, then nodded. “I will do what I can,” he said, and added reluctantly, “if I must.”
“A night’s rest, then,” Falkrunn suggested. “It is late. We can discuss what to do in the morning.”
They all agreed, and one by one they ascended the stairs to their rooms, some finishing off mugs of ale or getting into discussions with other townsfolk.
“Oh,” Keyzana said, standing at the foot of the stairs and looking Reidoth up and down, “I would suggest a bath before we leave.”
The Druid grunted and lifted an armpit, taking a loud sniff. “It’s not so bad,” he said, dropping his arm again and shrugging.
Keyzana raised an eyebrow, then left.
After another quiet moment, Gundren stood and patted a hand on the Druid’s shoulder. “It’s bad,” he grimaced, then ascended the stairs.
The Druid looked over at Falkrunn and lifted his arm for another thick lungful. She wrinkled her nose and quickly departed.
Falkrunn, Flavio and the two Elf women sat at their table in the inn, breaking their fast on roasted pork cutlets and fresh strawberries. Falkrunn sipped a dark ale and checked the stairs again. “Didn’t I say morning?”
Olara shrugged and Keyzana sighed. “Morning can mean many things to humans and Dragonborn’s alike.”
“Excuse me,” Flavio said, though he was barely listening, so engrossed in his writing as he was.
There were heavy footfalls coming down the stairs, and everyone turned to look up as, wait, who was—was that Lorskan?
The Dragonborn had shrunk somewhat, his shoulders leaner and his entire frame wirier. His scales were still black, crested by two golden horns, but his features had softened, and his build was not so intimidating. Everyone stood, staring up at him. Flavio’s mouth hung open.
“Lorskan?” Flavio asked.
“Dramatic entrance, much?” Falkrunn asked after a moment, frowning.
The Dragonborn nodded, smiling, and turned to show them two wings that now stretched and unfurled from his back. “What happened to you?” Flavio stammered as Lorskan folded back the wings.
“I have sworn an oath to Bahamat.”
“I’d say,” Falkrunn snorted. “You can fly now?”
“That’s convenient,” Olara added. “What’s your wingspan? Can you still breathe fire?”
“Did the transformation hurt?” Keyzana asked curiously. “Did you know this would happen?”
“How is your armour going to fit?” Falkrunn asked, “now that you have wings and you’re not so—big? Can you carry someone else when you fly? How many people can you carry at once?”
Lorskan raised a patient hand. “Yes, I can fly. And I will need new armour.” He strode toward the door.
“Okay, sure,” Falkrunn said, nodding to the others. “Yup, this is normal. Perfectly normal. Uh, barkeep?” She gestured across the room, waving down the human behind the counter and pointing to their table. “Yes. I’m going to need another drink here. Actually, make that two. A strong Dwarven ale, if you don’t mind.”
Lorskan left to buy new armour, and a short while later the Druid and Gundren came down to eat. The Druid had thankfully bathed, and no longer smelled of rotten goblin feet. They explained Lorskan’s sudden transformation, and Gundren shook his head, “you all asked a lot of questions, considering he probably doesn’t know the answer to any of them yet.”
“I guess we’ll find out just how big the change truly was,” Keyzana was saying when a young messenger boy ran through the back entrance and trotted up to her, bouncing on his feet.
“Message for you from the Mayor!”
“Me?” Keyzana asked, taking a scrap of rolled parchment from the boy. With a confused expression, she broke the wax seal and unfurled it. As she read, her eyebrows knitted together. Slowly, she rolled it back up and tucked it away. The boy stared up at her expectantly with an open palm, practically dancing on the balls of his feet now. She reached into her money purse and dropped two fat silvers into the boy’s hand, then patted him somewhat condescendingly on the head. She looked rather uncomfortable having the tiny human around. The boy’s eyes grew wide when he saw how much she’d paid him. “Thanks!” he gasped, then turned on a heel and sprinted away.
“What is it?” Falkrunn asked hesitantly after the boy had gone.
“It’s—my family,” Keyzana answered slowly.
“What do you need from us?” Olara asked.
“Nothing for now. Thank you, friends, but I must go. I’ll be back in a moment.” With that, she left the inn.
Olara and Falkrunn shared a glance before Falkrunn went to their other companions and said, “come, let’s gather up Lorskan and decide what must be done.” They all agreed and were soon outside the weapon’s shop. Lorskan had just been fitted for a new shirt of chainmail and a breastplate.
“I have somewhere I need to go, first,” the Dragonborn told them.
“Where’s that?” Flavio asked.
“The Nothic cave under Tresendar Manor. He has something magical, and I want it.”
Falkrunn folded her arms. “Why?”
Lorskan paused. “Because, it’s—important to our quest.”
“Fine,” Falkrunn replied. “But I’m coming this time.”
“I’m in, of course,” Flavio said.
“So am I,” Reidoth said begrudgingly.
“Yeah,” Gundren finally sighed. “I guess I’m in too.”
They all looked at Olara expectantly, and she held up her hand. “I’m alright. Go ahead. I’ll go find Keyzana.”
With that, they traipsed after Lorskan, up the hill to Tresendar Manor.
They entered a wide, naturally formed cave that was nearly pitch dark even to Falkrunn, who had darkvision. Reidoth flickered into better view when he summoned a flame to glow before him, lighting their path. There were half-eaten corpses strewn above the cavern floor, and the air was supernaturally cold. A giant green eye appeared in the dim light followed by a skittering across the rocks and a low hiss as the hunched Nothic creature appeared. They had encountered the creature before, only a week ago, when they had stormed Tresendar Manor.
Lorskan began to talk aloud. “It’s good to see you too.” Silence. “I don’t have food, but I can make a trade? Shiny for shiny?” More silence.
“What’s happening?” Gundren leaned in and whispered to Falkrunn.
“They’re communicating telepathically,” Flavio answered as though it were obvious.
Falkrunn turned and began to slowly walk along the wall of the cave, searching.
“Are you sure?” Lorskan was saying. “I can find more food for you if you want?”
Falkrunn saw more gnawed bones and lifeless bodies. A severed arm here, a broken skull there. There was an echo as Lorskan stepped towards the treasure chest the Nothic creature was protecting. There was another unpleasant hiss. Falkrunn turned to see what was happening. “I will trade you,” Lorskan was insisting, but it seemed the creature would not agree.
This is going to go badly, Falkrunn thought in annoyance, making her way back to the cave entrance as Dragonborn and Nothic continued to argue, only one side being heard. Falkrunn spotted Keyzana and Olara hanging back at the entrance of the cave, and she moved over to them as swiftly as she could.
“Olara,” she whispered, looking up at the Elf, “I need you to shoot that creature in the eye. Take it down if you can.”
She nodded and, without a word, drew the fletching of the arrow to her cheek and released in a breath. The Nothic spotted the movement at the last second and pulled up its shoulder with a hiss, the arrow burying into its hide.
“Give me that quarterstaff on your back!” Reidoth shouted at Lorskan as they jumped out of the way of the Nothic’s vicious claws. Lorskan tossed the staff to the Druid and he twisted it in his hands expertly.
The Dragonborn skirted around the swiping Nothic and went for the treasure chest. The creature spotted him and narrowed his bulbous eye. The acid green eye darkened to an angry red and Lorskan fell to his knees, crying out in pain and clutching his middle. Gundren took the momentary distraction to rush at the creature, his hammer raised in one hand. Lorskan continued to crawl towards the chest as the Nothic turned to this new onslaught of attacks.
Gundren’s hammer struck the creature in the face and thick vines twisted from the ground and wrapped around its legs at the same time. The Druid was holding up his arms and smiling at the effect of his spell. Another arrow pierced the Nothic in the chest, shot by Keyzana, and in the same moment there was a flash of white light as a spear pierced through the Nothic and into the ground. The Nothic’s body burst into white flame, and the large green eye went dim after a few shudders from the dark creature. Reidoth walked up to the dead body and wacked it with his staff for good measure.
“Congratulations, I think it’s dead,” Falkrunn said sarcastically, having not even raised her own weapon.
Lorskan was crouched over the open chest and was sifting through pieces of gold, silver, green gemstones, and a small container of glowing vials. Keyzana inspected the vials and noted them as various healing potions. “There’s nothing magical here,” he said in disappointment, leaning back on his heels.
“What exactly were you hoping to find?” Keyzana asked, entrusting the potions to the Druid with a knowing nod.
“The cold air. It must be cast from a magical item.”
“That’s what this is about?” Flavio asked in surprise. “The cold air is from a spell used for a common elite household item. It keeps meat from going rancid.”
“There is a rumour,” Gundren explained, “that such a spell could be tied to the Forge of Spells, known to be somewhere in this area.”
“So, it’s nothing special,” Falkrunn added, “and this was a waste of our time. I’m going outside to start a fire, because I, for one, am starving and bored.”
“I’ll come with you,” Keyzana told her, and Olara followed absently. The others stayed behind in the cave to search it more thoroughly.
“I don’t get it,” Falkrunn said, shaking her head, “we are wasting so much time sitting around. We need to get to Wave Echo Cave. We need to find whoever this Black Spider fellow is and kill him.”
“Or her,” Keyzana added.
“Or her! I don’t know why we’re still in Phandalin.”
“What about the dragon?” The Druid demanded as the rest of the group strode up to their burning campfire.
“You said yourself you don’t know if the dragon is going to attack.”
“But what if it does?” Lorskan demanded, “you would allow the people of Phandalin to die?”
“Since when do you care?” Keyzana frowned.
“I care,” he said in annoyance.
“Good for you,” Falkrunn said. “Uncle, what do you think we should do?”
“I need to find my brothers,” Gundren told them. “I asked around at the inn, and anyone who has heard of them thinks that they went to the mines.”
“Then that’s where we need to go,” Falkrunn smiled.
“We need to kill the dragon,” Lorskan said. “And to do that, we first must go to Neverwinter and destroy the cult.”
“Why do we care about them?” Olara asked.
“They seek to destroy what is good in this world,” the Dragonborn said, seating himself at the opposite end of the fire. “We must take them down. Then, we can steal their cloaks and go to the others in Thundertree under a guise. We will kill the others in the cult, and then we will take on the dragon.”
“The disguises will work for two seconds,” Gundren shook his head. “The moment we attack the dragon, it will incinerate us. And besides, we could get black cloaks from just about anywhere.”
“I’m not travelling another four days in the wrong direction,” Falkrunn growled in frustration.
“I can’t leave my brothers for that long,” Gundren added.
“Your plan doesn’t add up,” Flavio said quietly.
“There is a lot that doesn’t add up here,” Keyzana stood. “Let’s take a vote.”
“I must go to Neverwinter,” Lorskan said solemnly.
“Then you’ll go alone,” Falkrunn said. Everyone went quiet.
“I have an idea,” Olara said finally, uncertainly.
“Well,” she paused thoughtfully, “why don’t we leave someone to guard the town of Phandalin, in case the dragon attacks. Then, we go to the mines and find Gundren’s brothers, and perhaps even take down the Black Spider. If anything goes amiss, we return here.”
“I can do you one better!” Reidoth smiled, finger in the air, white hair sticking up in a wiry mess, “I will speak with a raven—yes, I can do that,” he said to the group’s doubtful gazes, “and tell it to watch the town.”
“So, you’re willing to go with us to Wave Echo Cave?” Keyzana asked, and the Druid gave a tight-lipped nod.
“So long as I still have your promise to help me defeat the dragon.”
“Of course,” Keyzana promised again.
“You are all idiots,” Lorskan grumbled, standing and kicking a log inside the fire. “I hope the dragon swallows the town of Phandalin and the mines cave in on top of your stupid, stubborn heads.” With that, he turned on his heel and stomped into the darkness.
“What a pleasant fellow,” Reidoth said seriously, sitting cross-legged next to the flickering flames.
“He hasn’t changed as much as I thought,” Falkrunn noted to her two Elven companions, and they nodded in agreement. The sky had grown darker. They had wasted nearly the entire day arguing. “There’s no point in continuing on anywhere today. Let’s sleep here and strike out at dawn.”
“Here? Instead of at the inn?” Flavio groaned.
“Less distractions out here,” Falkrunn said, looking around nervously. “I think.”
Gundren led as seven of the strangest, most unlikely companions hiked through the hills: two Elves, one Dragonborn, two Dwarves and two Humans. They travelled east of Phandalin with full packs and sharpened blades. Reidoth sent his crow to watch over the town of Pandalin and warn him of any dragon attacks. Falkrunn prayed there would be none.
Eventually they came about an excavated hill that Gundren recognized as the one he and his brothers had dug. “We’re close,” he told them, stowing away his map. The ground around the excavation site had been trampled by two-legged creatures of varying sizes, but the dirt had been kicked up too much to distinguish which creatures in particular.
The entrance to the cave was somewhat hidden, but Gundren pushed through the hanging grass and scattered stones and they followed him through. This side entrance opened into a natural cavern. Around the walls were scattered various barrels and crates containing mining equipment and food supplies. The stony ground was wet, and the cave was filled with stalactites and stalagmites that dripped and sweated into the rocks.
Ahead was the facedown body of a Dwarf.
Gundren ran forward, splashing through the puddles to get to the body. Fear shot through Falkrunn as she ran after him. With effort, Gundren rolled the body over and stared down at the open-eyed face of his middle brother. Falkrunn recognized her uncle immediately and gasped as she went to his side. The body was covered in stab wounds and dried blood. “Noooo!” Gundren cried out, shaking his fists skyward. His cry echoed through the cave.
“This body has been dead for at least a week,” Olara said quietly. They all stepped back and gave Gundren a few moments to collect himself. Falkrunn cursed and began pacing.
After a minute or two, Gundren pulled the boots from his brother’s feet and replaced his own. “What are you doing?” Falkrunn demanded.
“They were from my mother,” he explained, wiggling his toes in. “These boots have magical properties. They make the wearer faster, and allow him to jump farther, though that does not seem to have helped my brother…” he sniffed, trying to keep the emotion from his growly voice. “We should bury him in the stone.”
“We don’t have time for that,” Keyzana said gently, “but we will return. I’m sorry for your loss.”
After a pause, Gundren nodded and stood, taking a few light steps in his newly acquired footwear.
Falkrunn shook her head, feeling sick, and went to the opposite end of the cave where a rope was tied and thrown down the cliff’s edge. She leaned over and looked down. There was a platform, and then another twenty-foot drop after that to the cave floor. “We should go down,” she called back, her voice echoing across the stone walls. Without waiting for a response, she grabbed on to the thick rope and crawled over the edge. Keyzana came up and put a hand on the rope in case it slipped. Falkrunn gritted her teeth and began her descent.
When she reached the bottom, Falkrunn sent up sparks of gold and blue light to her companions, indicating it was safe. Keyzana came down the rope last, and the knot slipped. She fell the final fifteen feet, landing on Flavio and causing him to drop onto his back. He winced in pain and grabbed his arm. Reidoth helped him to his feet. “Sorry,” Keyzana breathed, rubbing her neck and standing.
They moved on, listening for any unusual sounds. The group followed a twisting passageway and encountered a split. “Left, or right?” Falkrunn asked.
“Right.” Keyzana told them, indicating for them to listen. They all strained their ears and, sure enough, Falkrunn could hear the whooshing of waves crashing on a shoreline. “Wave Echo Cave,” Keyzana smiled, and they headed down the righthand passageway.
They came upon a large cavern with a pool of still black water. Falkrunn reached down and picked up a sizable rock, hurling it into the water. It splashed, and the water rippled out from its touchpoint. Nothing happened.
“What was that about?” Reidoth hissed, grabbing her by the arm.
Falkrunn shrugged, “thought I’d try something.”
Below, they could hear the dull roar of an underground river. Keyzana sent her hawk to investigate. Meanwhile, the Druid bent down and appeared to be talking to a rock. “Um, what are you doing?” Falkrunn asked awkwardly.
“I’m asking this beetle if he knows where we need to go,” He answered matter-of-factly.
“Ah, right,” Falkrunn nodded, raising both eyebrows to the rest of the group.
“Hmm, just as I suspected,” the Druid said a short while after.
“What’s that?” Flavio asked.
“Beetles are exceptionally dumb.”
“Huh, go figure.”
“Not much from the other side,” Keyzana told them, returning to her own eyes as her hawk disappeared in a flash of light. “It’s definitely an underground river. Besides that, there is a group of tunnels up ahead that are rather short and twisted, and on the other end there is a passage that looks to be hewn naturally from the rock.”
They agreed to try the smallest tunnels first. The Dwarves were able to walk through the mineshafts comfortably, while the humans were of a height to the ceiling and the Dragonborn and Elves were bent down.
“What was that?” Flavio whispered, turning abruptly.
“What?” Reidoth asked, looking back.
“I thought I heard—”
There it was again. A distant slurping noise.
“That can’t be good,” the Druid groaned. “Can’t we move any faster?”
They couldn’t. In fact, the mineshafts had grown tighter, and they had yet to find anything of value, informational or otherwise. “We need to turn back,” Gundren said, “there’s nothing down here for us.”
They turned a corner and hit a dead end. There were abandoned pickaxes and lanterns, and golden vines spread across the walls, waiting to be excavated. They all groaned in unison. “Now we really need—”
The sucking sound came again, followed by a yelp as Flavio was suddenly grabbed by the ankle and pulled back down the passageway. They all pushed forward to see what had grabbed him. Flavio fell heavily to the ground and scrambled to his feet, wiping at his arm where an acidic slime clung to his armour and was seeping through. He cried out and shook it free, pulling out his weapon defensively and waving it in front of himself. A massive, gelatinous creature loomed in their only exit. The goop shifted and reformed as it eyed its new prey.
The tunnel was too small, too cramped. How were they going to fight in this? There were too many of them.
“Everyone DUCK!” Olara shouted, drawing out her short bow and raising it. She was the farthest from the creature, and there was no room for her companions to move out of the way. She swore in frustration and lowered her bow a few inches, watching as disaster struck.
Keyzana, who stood just in front of Olara, raised her hands and managed to direct a powerful blast of missiles toward the blob. The bolts struck her target and submerged into its transparent mass, the magical energy surging through it. It dripped and oozed in fury. But, before it could strike, Flavio raised his hammer and slashed. The creature slid out of his way just in time, and Falkrunn took the distraction to cast a protection spell over herself. She then pushed under the legs of her companions and jumped past Flavio to get to the monster. Gundren followed her through but tripped over Lorskan’s leg and went sprawling into a pool of acid, burning his hand and shouting in distress. He pulled away, took out his hammer with his other hand, and swung down ferociously. The hammer dropped heavily into the slime and it split apart. He cried out in victory, but his joy was cut short. The creature snapped up, now two instead of one.
“Watch out!” Reidoth called, releasing a shimmering white light at the two globs. The goo seemed to convulse for a second, and then the first half of it slid up the wall, vibrating with anger. Lorskan jumped and ran past the two blobs, rolling behind it and getting some splatters of acid on his new armour.
The first blob, which was now high up on the wall, shot out and punched at Flavio, knocking him off his feet. The other blob shot up at the Druid and hit the man heavily in the torso, causing the cast of moonbeam to cease from his hands. Falkrunn turned as Olara shot past her, somehow managing to dive through the crowded mineshaft to the very forefront of the conflict. She leaped over the blob and landed next to Lorskan, who had yet to raise a weapon.
Just as Olara got to her feet, Keyzana released a ray of frost, but the creature jumped further up on the wall and the frost hit the stone wall, crackling. Next to the frost rose a hot flame cast by Flavio, who was still on his back. It shot out like a spear and hit the blob on the wall, piercing it through the middle and causing it to shrink and convulse. The goo bubbled and hissed, and a horrible smell filled the room. It convulsed again and the flame inside it dissipated. The blob reached out to attack again, quivering frantically. Gundren raised his hammer and cried menacingly. The Druid also reached up with his newly acquired quarterstaff and smacked the blob. The thing flew across the tunnel and hit the opposite wall, exploding into a thousand droplets of acid.
The blob on the ground shot up to attack Falkrunn, and she turned just in time to throw her hammer into it. It absorbed the hammer, falling back and eating at the metal inside it. “That was my favourite hammer,” Falkrunn cursed. The blob shot at Gundren suddenly, and he raised his shield in defense. As the blob clung to his shield, Olara made her shot and hit it with an arrow. The creature rippled in agony, then slid off the shield and dropped to the ground, dead.
Falkrunn leaned down and picked up her hammer, inspecting the damage. Noting that it wasn’t too badly pockmarked, she replaced it at her belt with a shrug.
“So,” Keyzana said accusingly, trying to push through everyone to where Lorskan stood hunched. “you don’t fight anymore. You used to be a fighter, and now you’re a—a—what are you exactly?”
“A paladin,” Lorskan said calmly.
“Oh, a paladin,” Keyzana said mockingly. “How nice for you, not having to get your hands dirty anymore. Now we have two useless people in this group instead of just one.”
“Hey,” Flavio said defensively, and Falkrunn held back a snicker.
“I swore an oath,” Lorskan explained slowly, “to Bahamat, when he changed me. I swore that I would not kill anyone but Tiamat and her followers.”
“Why?” Keyzana cursed, throwing her arms up, “so you could fly?”
The Dragonborn shook his head. “I made my choice.”
Falkrunn didn’t know how to perceive this change in the Dragonborn. She narrowed her eyes and stared at him for a moment, then sighed. “C’mon, let’s get out of these hellish mineshafts. I’m sick of smelling the Druid.”
They went again through the cavern with the unmoving black water and took the secondary entrance that Keyzana had described from the eyes of her hawk. Once through, they saw that this path was much roomier than the last. They came upon a stairway cut into the rock and leading up into a tower. Flavio, who was walking in front, turned to the group and gestured to the stairs. “Should we go up?”
They all murmured their agreement and ascended the stairs. The tower was small but finely carved and shut by a decorated wooden door. Flavio touched the edges of the doorway, feeling for traps. Seemingly satisfied, he jiggled the knob and pushed it open with a creak. Inside, there was a stone counter with alcoves carved into the wall behind it. The alcoves were all empty, and there were scattered, unreadable pieces of paper everywhere. On the floor were the skeletal remains of small humanoid bodies. Gundren strode over to the counter and looked behind it. He reached down and picked up a lockbox, which he placed on the stone and examined. Olara walked to him and pulled out a lockpick from her cloak, but after fiddling with it for a few minutes, she sighed and declared the lock too rusted to properly open. Gundren stowed the box with his other belongings.
There were small, vertical arrow slits in the wall, and Reidoth raised his torch to get a better look at them. Lorskan reached for another door on the opposite side of the tiny, circular room and pulled it open. There was a stone pathway that led from their tower to another. Falkrunn crossed carefully behind him, and they entered another, similar tower with the same arrow slits. This appeared to be a guard’s tower. Looking across the cavern, Falkrunn could see from this angle that the tower in which they had just been was carved to look like a regal wizard. It was incredible Dwarvish craftmanship, and she gazed out at it in awe for a full minute.
“Amazing work, isn’t it?” Gundren said with a satisfied smile. She nodded, speechless. It reminded her of a home long forgotten.
There were bones in this room too. “Dwarves. And Orcs,” Olara declared, examining the remains closely. Remnants from a battle fought long ago.
“This must be where the main entrance to the cave used to be,” Reidoth said, pointing his torch out into the expansive cavern. He was right, of course. The entrance had been caved in from the battle fought centuries ago. Falkrunn still remembered the stories of the magical battle in Wave Echo Cave. The Dwarves, Gnomes and human spellcasters against the Orcs of Uruth Ukrypt.
There was shifting on the ceiling as Reidoth’s torch cast light into the vast cavern. “What is that?” The Druid whispered, and they all looked up.
The ceiling was alive.
“Stirges,” Olara whispered, gazing back at her companions, “hundreds of them.”