Elumai - Eladrin Wizard 4
Berend - Dwarven Fighter 4
Corrash - Dragonborn Warlock (Fey-Pact) 4
Romto - Halfling Cleric (of Pelor) 4
Mord - Dwarven Fighter 4
Only one item of business remains at Winterhaven, the delivery of a personal letter from Elumai to Rond. Unfortunately she is denied access to the manor, with Lord Padraig having asserted control back over his grounds now that Lord Riva has left, but the guard who greets her promises to pass on the missive. With that task complete, there is nothing left but to shake the hands of those who wish them farewell, and strike out on the King's Road.
The Road is semi-interesting in itself, consisting of an upper layer of what seems like petrified earth, solid as rock and carrying both the company and their chattel smoothly across the landscape. The first day is bright and airy, a welcome respite from their recent travails, and they spend a quiet night out under the stars. On the second day, the weather takes a turn for the worse, with a shroud of grey overhead and occasional insipid rain in the air.
Farmsteads along the route provide little clue as to country living on the Plain. Those closer to the road enjoy apparent protection from roaving contingents of the Kingsblade, although the company doesn't encounter any, and enquiries as to the level of banditry yield simple answers: "More'n sometimes, less'n others."
Eventually however they catch up with Lord riva's caravan, rolling at a leisurely place along the road ahead. Guard Captain Jilonto-Ressar immediately rouses the mage, by what seems like knocking on the inside of the empty green covered wagon which is pulled ostentatiously at the head of train. Riva appears almost immediately, welcoming the party and calling immediately for a rest for drinks and vittals.
Much conversation ensues, as Riva takes the opportunity, now that there isn't any immediate threat, to try to get to know the party better. Everyone is happy to contribute: Berend bluntly reveals that he is travelling to make his fortune, and if possible to track down distant relations; Mord waxes lyrical about his Uncle's travelling carnival, only to have the fib unsubtly betrayed by the quizzical comments from those around him; Elumai describes her need to contact her mentor, Parle Cranewing, a tiefling from her home Dyonosis; and finally Corrash describes his hunt for clues as to the fate, or whereabouts, of the spirit guardian of his tribe, the dragon Rhamish.
Riva confesses he isn't an expert on dragons, although in the words of a famous poet, he knows a man who is, but does explain that dragons are known in the Kingdom, being bonded with champions in great games held at a faraway Citadel (Corrash is singularly unimpressed with this notion). To Elumai, he offers hope of contacting her distant mentor from Emerandes, using the magics and technologies which will be available to them at the great city. By the time the camp is picked up and the caravan moves on, even the normally stoic Jilonto has taken an interest in what this strange company of adventurers has had to say for itself.
Two further days of travel go by. Lord Riva disappears into his wagon and isn't seen again until the party finally arrives at the first great obstacle in their journey; The Gash.
A great, star-shaped crack in the earth which intersects directly with the King's Road, this slab-sided chasm appears almost impassable, and yet, as they approach, the company sees that this is not the case. Perched precariously atop a thick pillar of rock almost a mile across and situated at the exact intersection of all four spurs of The Gash, the trading and mining town of Crow's Atoll offers passage across the abyss using wooden gondolas suspended by taut ropes. Passengers embark at tram-houses on either side, pay fees for both themselves and their haulage, and are pulled across the tramway by bemuscled labourers operating large pulleys.
The company take this all in their stride, of course, which is more than can be said for several other pale and wide-eyed passengers on their crossing from the western side of the Gash to the southern tramhouse of the Atoll. On the way they spy a strange separate 'island' of rock to the south west of the town, it's chiseled peak pocked with dark holes like mouths. Riva greets them as they disembark, and recommends they avail themselves of the local facilities while he "fetches a package" which he's "had on order for some time." Looking around, they see the town is quartered by two long, wide roads like highways, and combined with the tight, angular architecture and the otherwise efficient use of space, both Berend and Mord feel that it was doubtless a dwarf who planned the town.
Their efforts to sell some of the artefacts recovered from The Keep are fruitless at first, but they are ultimately directed to Nestor's Fineries, an establishment in the richer southern half of the town. Nestor claims he is practically emptying his coffers by ultimately offering 250g for two of the reclaimed rugs, now restored to dazzling splendour by Elumai's magic, but is unable or unwilling to buy the remainder. In any case, this seems like a good start to the day, and the party heads back up the road, intending to enjoy the local hostelry. On the way they pass a giant statue of a resolute-looking dwark carrying a huge pick-axe over one shoulder; the inscription on this impressive rendering reads, "Rock Was Friend and Foe, Teremoen Crow".
After an initial visit to The Wellhouse for a well-deserved scrub, the party retires to one of the local inns, The Bluff. Perched right on the northern tip of the rocky island, its most impressive feature is a wall consisting of a lattice of large windows looking out over the drop. Innkeeper Smitty Green is happy to serve mugs of his best export, Shent, a green-frothed ale fermented from the seaweed of his homeland, but the adventurers' attention is drawn to a noticeboard in one corner.
Several notices include offers for work from a local guild known as the Propspector's Union, and it quickly becomes clear that the mines hereabouts operate mainly on shift work rather than employ a large, permanent force of labour. One prominent note advertises for "Local manpower of strong fortitude, or transient labour of a similar disposition" to clear out some kind of infestation in Mine 6. Details are scarce, but the note is signed by the foreman of the Union, one Asimuth Royt. Underneath all these offers for work, the party uncovers an older poster, torn and stained, advertising a celebration in the town square for the ascension to power of Dewey Crow in the 5-yearly mayoral cycle. The date reads two months ago. There is a portrait of the attractive, straight-bearded female dwarf, and squinting at the picture, the company spots a small hole just above the bridge of her nose, as if someone has been throwing darts at the picture. The poster is duly taken down for later use.
At this point the party splits up. Mord decides to try his hand at this 'gambling' thing he's been reading about, and Smitty shows him to a dark, smoke-filled back room. The rest of the party cross back over the road to the offices of the Prospector's Union. Royt, a muscular dragonborn, takes the time to pay the wages of several men queued up at his desk before talking to the party, and he seems delighted that someone has at last volunteered for the job. Apparently the work at Mine 6 ground to a halt after a wall deep in the mind suddenly collapsed, killing one of the men there instantly, and unleashing a band of "stinking lizardmen" which the knowledgable adventurers quickly identify as troglodytes. Two more men were killed in the ensuing retreat, and two others were taken by the trogs. Royt offers the princely sum of 100g if the company were to investigate the mine and bring back evidence of retribution against the creatures. They accept, and determine to set out immediately, despite the lateness of the day.
Meanwhile, Mord engages his opponents, including a gnome, orc, and several dwarves, at one of the card games he has recently learned. He is quickly suspicious of the gnome, after watching him secrete a card from his hand up the woolen sleeve of his shirt, an act which he is sure runs contrary to the rules. He calls him on it, the gnome protests his innocence. Mord decides to unleash the latest trick he has hit upon to intimidate others: hammering a six inch nail straight through his hand and impaling himself on the table. "If I'm willing to do that to myself," he says, eyes watering with the pain, "imagine what I'm willing to do to you!"
This is too much for the gnome, who admits his deceit and is removed to an undisclosed fate by the orc. It's enough to garner the respect of his fellow players, and in the interests of friendship they limit their soaking of him to only 10g across four hands. Mord, perfectly satisfied that he has mastered this ritual, gives up only when his friends arrive to remove him.
Using one of the precarious cage-lifts which take drop the miners to their work, the adventurers descend upon Mine 6. The shelf of rock outside is littered with abandoned equipment, including an overturned cart, and a thin railway snakes its way into the mouth of a broad cave. Sconces hammered into the rock at irregular intervals hold aloft what look like large iron spikes glowing red-hot. Although they emanate no heat, they wash the area in a somewhat unsettling and infernal glow.
Following a map given to them by Royt, they descend into the mine, passing several side-passages, one of which, marked with a skull-and-crossbones by the foreman, actually has two sets of tracks merging with the main line. Eventually they come upon the location of the cave-in. It's a large, bulbous cavern. A large pile of rubble on the eastern side and a rough, yawning tunnel leading deeper into the rock obviously mark the site of the cave-in, and an outstretched hand clawing out from beneath seems to mark the resting place of the unfortunate miner caught in the collapse. Blood and signs of fighting are everywhere, but what catches Berend's eye in particular is the seam of rock which the miners were apparently working, a thin stratum of rainbow-hued mineral which stands out from the grey rock like the filling in a cavernous sandwich. An overturned cart nearby has spilled a full load of the stuff onto the ground, and being unlike anything he has ever seen, he takes a small chunk for later examination.
The party assembles into defensive formation, Corrash lights his staff, and they advance into the tunnel. Soon, they hear voices up ahead, and Corrash spies four silhouettes just out of range of his light... troglodytes, protected behind a makeshift fortification of wood, rocks, and metal. In coarse draconic, they bemoan that they've been lumbered with guard duty while there's a "match" going on.
The group engages them from a distance, but Corrash is punctured several times by a flurry of deadly javelins from the lizard-men, two of which taking up defensive positions behind the others, and the party is forced to advance. Elumai's Freezing Cloud does limited but useful injury to all four troglodytes, and as one of the front line is finally killed, the creatures at the rear sound a retreat, and head off down a side-corridor. This forces the party's hand, and both Berend and Mord charge forward, attempting to leap the barrier and engage the creatures head-on. Mord is the more successful, bounding over the barricade and smashing like a torpedo into one of the troglodytes, bloodying its snout and forcing it to stagger back several steps.
The two creatures who fled have retreated to a second line of defense -- another barricade similar to the first -- but as the dwarves break through the first barrier, they decide against a retreat and turn to face the party...