Varis, Illias and Faun are part of a caravan, a glamour cast upon them to disguise their identities. To all but the caravan master, the three heroes are merely elven treasure seekers. The caravan stops at the base of an old mountain range and the three depart.
Ambassador Riunda receives the three heroes in her private chamber within the human Emperor’s palace. "The humans have defiled the tomb of an ancient half-elf, Shadras the Betrayer. From his tomb they stole many treasures, but of most interest are five urns. Within these urns is a great and dark magic. While the elves are not powerful enough to recover these by force, fortune has brought us a slight boon: One of the urns has been stolen away; my scrying reveals the urn lies deep within an ancient dwarven stronghold.
“The Emperor has already assembled a mercenary party to recover the treasure, but they are not yet sure where to being the search. These human mages are skilled and clever, however, and we can only assume that they will send the party off within a matter of hours.
“You three must travel west, to the dwarven stronghold. And go quickly! The hired thugs must not recover the urn. Return the urn to our own land, to Etharch Deanach. If possible, discover who knew to steal such a thing. And for the safety of our people, do not let your identities or mission be known.”
The three elven heroes make their way up the side of the mountain pass in the dusk, along an ancient path now left to beasts. As they climb, the slight beating of wings reveals the silhouette of a winged humanoid flying above them from the east. It disappears into the mountain above.
Faun is deep within the heart of Shileagh, the Great Willow. He has cast aside his elven form and communes with the Grovemaster’s spirit. Grovemaster Earthsunder’s voice is strained and rasping, spiritually scarred by the Upheaval centuries ago.
“Faun. The Great Trees are dying. The elves are in a Winter Age and may not last into the Spring. Take this seed and begin our Knots anew.”
The flock of crows that is Faun takes the fist-sized seed into their number and flies from Shileagh’s heart._
The great entrance is in view, only one of a gargantuan pair of doors intact. A makeshift wall encircles the entrance, behind which are a pair of scaly creatures, bored with their watch duty. Without hesitation, the three skillfully kill the guards without raising any alarm.
Within the dwarven hall is grand, angled pillars reaching to a ceiling hidden in shadows. The glamoured light from Faun’s pipe acts as a soft torch; brightening and dimming with every puff. Wide stairs at the hall’s end descend into darkness. From beyond come the sounds of industry, metal on stone, creaking ropes, diminutive chattering, and a deep growl barking orders.
The elves approach unnoticed to see an even greater hall beyond the stairs. Within the hall’s center is a shaft leading deep into the mountain. Above this, suspended by knots of ropes and a tree trunk carved into a crude pulley, sways a massive dwarven statue. The statue is crawling with the diminutive, scaly creatures and topped by one singular lizard-man haloed by frost. Beyond the pit stands a beast of a thing, a dragon-headed woman in polished armor, a heavy leather cloak across her back.
Illias, the elven ranger, sends an arrow into the ropes, snapping one and sending the statue swaying around the pit. The dragonborn furiously shouts in Draconic, astounded by the incompetence. Another arrow barely misses the pulley, alerting the monsters to the heroes’ presence, and sending the statue plummeting to the floor. The stone colossus smashes into the ground, spilling kobolds across the floor, before sliding down into the shaft.
Moments later the mountain shakes and a thundering roar bellows from beneath the earth.
The elves advance in earnest, eager to slay these monsters. At Faun’s beckoning, snakes erupt from the ground and carrion birds erupt from the air. Illias’ arrows fly fast and often, as if backed by a band of archers. The knight Varis is a fearsome wall, pushing into the dragonborn and its kobolds with swings of his mighty hammer.
The singular kobold’s ice magic brings freezing tendrils from the earth and air, wrapping Varis’ legs and blinding the ranger. Faun retaliates savagely and many kobolds fall torn and half-devoured.
Varis’ great strength shatters the ice as the dragonborn thunders forth; the two clash with hammer and sword. The ranger’s arrows pierce the kobold sorcerer first in the hand and next in the skull.
The knight’s hammer strikes the dragonborn squarely in the jaw, spraying blood and sharp teeth punctuated by flickering lightning. His attack is met in kind with both sword and a cascade of electricity; Varis falls to his knees. Faun explodes into a flock of ravens to fly across the pit and shield the knight with his own body. But Varis musters one final blow. With one fluid motion, rises past his companion and brings the hammer arcing into the dragonborn’s face. Scales and bone are shattered and one terrible eye are burst.
With the a furious roar, the dragonborn spreads her leathery wings and falls into the dark pit, hot-white flashes flickering against the sides of the shaft. Soon after the mountain again shakes and an infernal roar bursts forth.
The battle over, the elves consider their next path. The octagonal hall has exits on all walls save the far diagonals, each with wide stairs leading further down into the rock. Before the north exit stone benches and other rubble is pushed up to serve as a wall. Crude markings along the wall depict dwarves killing kobolds, accompanied by some message in draconic runes indecipherable to the elves. The entrance itself is flanked by ornate carvings of dwarves falling in glorious battle. A beautiful oak tree has been etched across the archway; it seems strangely elvish.
Intrigued, the elves proceed cautiously, their keen eyes and hands searching for traps. As they proceed down the stair, the walls on either side depict a history of the dwarves of this outpost. The elves are unversed in dwarvish writing and must discern the past through images alone.
In ages long past, when the orcs and duergar rose against all order, both elves and dwarves made a great alliance. All was glory until the elves betrayed their allies and abandoned the dwarves at their most perilous hour. Upon the day of a great battle, only a single wing of elven cavalry remained true; many died and the forces of evil won. These heroes forever after lived as exiles sheltered by their dwarven allies.
From ahead, beyond the hall and within the tomb, the sounds of industry are heard. Dwarvish orders, a low shuffling and the slightest sound of stone grating on stone. The advancing elves halt and reconsider. The knight stays back while the ranger readies an arrow. The druid becomes many and scatters into the room, hoping to be unnoticed or ignored as stray crows.
Inside is a dwarven tomb, filled with the aftermath of a one-sided battle. But where the dead should be lying in heaps the kobold corpses are animated and stumbling, bearing loads of broken stone. Dwarven spirits float among them, pushing, cajoling and harrassing. Where a kobold lifts a stone to its place, a ghost glides in working earth magic and mending the broken sarcophagi.
One dwarven spirit stands larger than the rest, and from his manner and stance he is the obvious leader. The druid Faun returns to his companions and advances again into the chamber, this time as an elf. The singular dwarf turns from his overseeing and eyes the elf with narrow eyes.
The dwarf bends down to a knee, “Hail, friend elf.” His voice rises, it is almost a question.
Faun swallows his distaste, “I am Faun.”
The ghost rises and smiles, “Lord Hammerfist Slatefoot.”
“And why are you here?”
“Not long ago we were forever to stay in the mighty halls of the dead. Drinking and fighting and fucking. But a dark force has defiled this stone, and our spirits were stolen from our final home and condemned here.”
With a translucent hand, Lord Hammerfist waves toward the unnatural kobold servants.
“We slew those who entered our tomb. And put them to work! Ha! But some magic prevents us from leaving this place to clean these halls. Unless,” the dwarf narrows his eyes, “you truly are a noble ally.”
Again Faun suppresses pride, “I will rid this menace.”
The dwarf laughs heartily and from his chest pulls out a magnificent ring. It is a brilliant metal, angular and inset with a strange blue gem.
“Take this ring, Faun. Wear it and you are an anchor for our spirits. Call on us when the time comes!”
Faun bids farewell and Lord Hammerfist returns to his work, shoving a stumbling kobold zombie.
The three heroes reunited, Faun explains his encounter.
Illias spits. “Pah! Dwarves! If only we could clear these ruins of kobolds and dwarves.”
The druid eyes the luminescent ring, “If that is the way of things.”