Our train of wagons and weary survivors arrived at the Dwarven stronghold late in the night. Luckily for us though, one of the guards on the gate recognised Jasper Trueforge from his previous travels and after a short sequence of shouting and various bearded heads bobbing up over the palisades and back again, the gates swung open and a bleary eyed Dwarven king greeted us and ushered us inside.
Soon we were surrounded by dwarves who quickly assessed which of the rescued prisoners needed immediate attention from healers. Regdar had done a pretty good job of stabilising and healing though, so mostly it was a case of finding beds for them while the party met with the king and his council to report on our attack on the Hill Giants’ steading and warned them to be on the lookout for a werewolf hill giant.
The next morning we gave the council a more detailed briefing and traded for supplies for our ongoing journey. Walking around the village, we were followed by curious dwarven children, their facial hair varying from the full dwarf beard in the adolescents to patchy fuzz in the infants. They were keen to hear about our adventures too, so I regaled them with songs and tales of the hill giants.
Worried about the threat of our werewolf hill giant pal Varg following us, we’d been constantly scanning the road and woods around us as we headed to the stronghold, but seen nothing. Just in case though, we requested whatever silver weapons the dwarves could make for us quickly before we left.
The rest of the day is filled with more discussions with the king and his council. Buoyed by our mission’s success against the hill giants, originally organised by the rulers of Hochoch, we are able to persuade the Dwarves to communicate with the human forces and hopefully work with them where possible against the forces of the giants. The dwarves also had a patrol heading in the general direction of the elven territories and were quite happy to assist the group of elves we’d rescued in getting back to their people. While the elves couldn’t promise anything from their leaders, they did promise to request that they also communicate with the dwarven and human armies. To help with this communication, Vogue volunteered to head back with the elves to act as an envoy and Barratt asked to go with the next patrol heading towards Hochoch to help with the negotiations there.
The dwarves it seemed, used to work quite closely with the stone giants at Howling Crag. In fact, young dwarves would often be sent to apprentice with them. This arrangement being of mutual benefit as the dwarves learned stone masonry from the masters of the element while the giants had tiny little helpers that could do all the fiddly bits.
A couple of years ago however, all contact with the Crag stopped and nothing was heard of from the dwarves that were currently there. Dwarven deputies sent to Howling Crag were politely turned away and warned not to return.
“It’s all that Belastroya I reckon” exclaimed King Dwon-Ki-Klong. “Lothar was a bit funny, but it was only when Belastroya started gaining influence that the stone giants started to withdraw into Howling Crag”.
“Do you have anyone here who might know the Crag well?” I asked. “someone who apprenticed there for instance?”
“Ah, you’ll want to have a chat with old Defan-Dur” the king suggested. “He was a master of dwarves there and only retired back here just before the mountain closed”
“Pac! Get in here!”
at the king’s call, a short but definitely non dwarf human entered the council chamber.
“Yes my king?”
“Take these adventurers to Defan Pac. They need to talk to him”
“Yes my liege. Right away”
Following Pac through the village, he explained to us that his family had been rescued by a dwarven patrol when he was a baby and his family had built up strong ties with the clan. When it came time for him to apprentice as a teenager, his father had persuaded the dwarves to take him on and he had learned much about working stone and was now Dwon-Ki’s trusted steward.
Pac knocked on the door of a small cottage and introduced us to a very old and wizened dwarf, who was the previously mentioned Defan-Dur.
The old dwarf was a very useful source of information. He informed us that the mountain under the castle was riddled with passageways and halls, there being as much under the ground as above it. Also, he mentioned that when he was originally working at the Crag, both giants and dwarves used an entrance at the base of the mountain through a long tunnel leading into the under citadel but decades ago it had fallen into disuse as all traffic was instead sent up a climbing track to the main gates on the castle.
The next day, we set off to Howling Crag with the dwarven children singing the burny man nursery rhyme behind us and waving goodbye to Vogue and Barratt.Approaching the mountain, we stop at the top of a road that winds its way down a sheer drop to the base of the Crag, a massive castle of three conical towers carved from a mountain. Carefully avoiding the eyes of probable watchers on the towers, we skirt around the mountain to the north, where Defan-Dur thought the old entrance used to be.
The whole area had obviously overgrown nearly completely since the giants had stopped using it, but luckily I still remembered a few tricks from my archeological days and looking for the telltale signs of slightly stunted vegetation I soon spotted the remains of a cobbled road, which we followed until it reached a deadfall at the base of the mountain.
Examining the rubble, Kurrek-Drong determines that it’s likely to be a passageway that was blocked by a landslip. Diving into the rock like some sort of strange fish, Drong burrowed his way through and found himself in a dark passageway. Hanging a mountain he burrows back to us and we set to work trying to shift enough rocks to gain access.
A couple of very tiring hours and a lot of bruises and abrasions later, we had managed to clear enough rocks to scramble through into the passageway, which we follow into the mountain.
This was obviously the old entrance. Obviously carved by skilled stone workers and is large enough for a procession of giants to walk down. After about three quarters of a mile, it opens into a huge chamber which contains a couple of very dilapidated wooden buildings. They are very disused and barely standing as age and rot have eaten away at them but the remaining furnishings of mixed sizes show that whoever built them was quite wealthy and was designing them for both giants and dwarves.
As we proceed further along the passageway, we see detailed murals on the walls which progressively get more intricate and start to be broken up by statues in alcoves at various points.
There are a few cave ins and the odd bit of minor flooding but the passageway is still sound and progress is good. Still paranoid about our big hairy friend, I wedge a silver dagger, point upward, in a deeper pool on the path just in case we’re being followed.
Estimating that we must be directly under Howling Crag by now, we notice what looks like a torch flickering ahead. I cautiously edge up to the end of the corridor where I find a huge solid stone door. With a nearly burned out ever burning torch on one side and two giant sized handprints on the door about ten feet above the ground.
Trying to push the door fails, but Theseus realises that the door rolls aside and straining to the maximum he rolls it aside a little. Wedging it open with spikes, we crawl through!
On the other side of the door we enter a large stone hallway with various stalagmites and columns. To our left, a more natural cavern opens up containing some strange crystal stalagmites which flash as arcs of electricity flicker between them and the walls. Ahead of us in the distance we notice a stone stairway rising and can hear the muffled bleating of sheep.
Heading up the stairs I sneak up and find the passageway getting much lighter and opening up to a crossroads where there are six sheep and a cart, laden with merchant’s supplies. Some of these are definitely from Hochoch. More steps lead up straight ahead.
To the left, the corridor opens up into a loop to the cavern where the crystalline stalagmites are and a small opening leads into a cavern where we can see a dozen geodes have been mined out. As we move to investigate them, we see bright balls of light flitting between the stalagmites as well as some odd creatures apparently made of solid rock and others looking like strange rocky whirlwinds. Apparently this part of Howling Crag is not as quiet and uninhabited as we’d hoped!