Azurami - Eladrin Wizard 4
Berend - Dwarven Fighter 4
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard 4
Finial - Half-elf Paladin 4
Jonas - Human Ranger 4
Xavier - Dragonborn Warlord 4
Corrash - Dragonborn Warlock (Fey-Pact) 4
Mord - Dwarven Fighter 4
Romto - Halfling Cleric (of Pelor) 4
Elumai decides to make the acquaintance of Orontor, a thin, somewhat dishevelled and stringy-haired gentleman, who has been quietly observing them. After closing the door to the Customs House behind him he does reveal that he might have some work to throw their way, and offers to meet them in a couple of hours at the Halfmoon. The company agrees.
In the meantime, they decide to take a look around. Jonas determines to investigate the east side of the Hall -- and the Mages’ teleportation circle in particular -- while Berend and the others prefer the prospect of a shopping trip to lighten their moods (and purses).
Jonas crosses the river to investigate the magic circle. It is inscribed onto the rocky surface of a raised plinth of rock, a complicated pattern in the shape of several concentric circles of carved runes which surround the form of a bronze minotaur. It is somewhat different in style than the statues at the entrance (more heroic and stylized), and squats amidst the runes at the centre of the plinth with arms wide. It is smooth and featureless, but obviously old, the relic of a bygone era.
Traffic through the hall doesn’t seem to pay the circle of runes any more respect than they would anything else; several people step up onto the plinth and cross below the gaze of the statue as Jonas observes. Soon however, three more unusual individuals approach. Hooded, their features obscured, and dressed in woollen robes the colour of bleached bone, they slowly ascend to the plinth before arranging a selection of offerings at the foot of the statue. The gifts seem mundane in the extreme -- a strip of salted beef, a dusty bottle of what is presumably a spirit or wine, a string necklace – but they are placed with reverence and as the three supplicants withdraw, they bow in quiet veneration of the statue.
Departing, Jonas spies an emblem embroidered into the backs of their robes, barely visible -- the image of a shattered skull – and something else as well. Getting a better look at the face of one of the men, he is shocked to see that where his left eye should be, there is only a gaping red hole. His interest piqued, he slips into the crowd and follows the trio to the south-western corner of the Hall, where they meet up with eight more of their number, all with shaved heads and the same desecration of flesh, standing in a circle and chanting a murmured hymn.
Getting as close as he dares, he overhears various whispered fragments of their conversation – “The offering has not been taken… our patron has gone silent…” – before they catch on to him and move on in irritation.
Meanwhile, the rest of the group descends on the Deepgem Company, run by the old smith Ulthand Deepgem. The shop is lit only with the simmering red glow of the forge at the rear, and Ulthand himself, a leathery-skinned, grey-haired old dwarf with a beard like a thick grey scarf down to his lap, sits rocking in his favourite recliner while his apprentice tends to business out back. Berend browses the shelves of weapons and armour, and chooses a fine set of spiked gauntlets to accessorize his scale, before taking the opportunity to get Ulthand’s opinion on his sample of flurock.
As with seemingly everyone else, the dwarf is repulsed by the material, not just for its apparent stink (which is still undetectable to the adventurers), but also because of its uselessness. Ulthand dons a greasy, elbow-length leather glove and takes the fist-sized piece of rock off Berend, banging it on the ground where a sizable fragment crumbles away. “Whatever it is, lad, it’s no good to a dwarf,” he concludes in disgust.
Next on their agenda is Gendar’s Curios, run by a drow merchant who has given his name to the shop. It’s a welcoming affair, built of large stone bricks and a slate roof, and it even has a window of sorts, in which is displayed various salves, powders, herbs, and bottles of ambiguous intent. Elumai, in particular, senses an opportunity for the spending of her money, and engages the whispery-voiced, one-eyed elf (although he wears a patch over his left eye) in barter for any Rituals he might be able to offer. At first, he seems reluctant, more interested in what the company can do for him in return for the exotic goods he provides, but the gleam of the party’s money proves too enticing, and he sells Elumai a ritual book containing the Ritual of Enchant Magic Item.
At this point Jonas rejoins them and relates his encounter. The emblem of the shattered skull is quickly identified by his companions as a symbol of Vecna, ascended lich and God of Secrets, and it seems clear that these acolytes have removed their eye in veneration of that most evil of deities (and perhaps their hand as well? Jonas did not see one way or the other). This raises the question of what they’re doing here, why they’re offering such apparently worthless tributes, and why their “patron” is quieter than he or she should be.
They return to the inn to contemplate these matters and await Orontor. As the bell signifying the end of trading hours rings out across the Seven-Pillared Hall (despite the fact that no bell is to be seen), he emerges from upstairs, with two strangers – a dragonborn, and an eladrin – in tow. He seems very pleased to see the company, and tells them that his two “guests” may have interests which “align with our own”. As he says this, the dragonborn circles the table, sizing up the party and receiving a frosty glance from Jonas in the process, but he eventually sits and introduces himself as Xavier. His companion, whose cloth raiment and the orb she carries at her waist suggest she is in the same line of work as Elumai, introduces herself as Azurami.
TODO: physical descriptions
Orontor describes the work he has in mind, becoming increasingly more incoherent and paranoid in the process. He reveals he is one of the Mages of Saruun, but by his language it appears he is a low-ranking and put-upon member of the organization, given the jobs no-one else wants (watching over Brugg, for instance), frustrated with being marginalised from the greater works of the Mages, and feeling like his talents are being overlooked. Paldemar, the head of the Mages, is a particular focus of Orontor’s ire, and its Paldemar’s apparent links to the Bloodreavers – who, Orontor claims, have made various clandestine deals with the Mages – that he wants to use to his advantage, sending the company into the Bloodreavers’ lair to do as much damage as they can, and if possible, kill their leader (who they already know is a hobgoblin named Krand).
Orontor’s jittery manner and the self-serving nature of the commission doesn’t sit well with the adventurers, but newcomer Xavier, detecting their reluctance, has more to add, recounting the chain of events that brought him to the Seven-Pillared Hall. Three days ago, he was travelling the Plain to the south of the Gash, when he came upon a caravan that had been attacked and destroyed. Amongst the dead bodies, a soldier, with his dying breath, implored Xavier to seek justice and rescue his kidnapped captain, Matorna-Reevash, as well as recover the cargo they were escorting. What that cargo was, he did not say, but it was apparently the property of the Court of Cloaks.
Orontor, detecting a surprising lack of enthusiasm from the party at the prospect of being compensated for committing bloody violence (well, with the exception of Berend), latches onto this lifeline, promising that the hostage Xavier spoke of was surely being subjected to egregious tortures every minute that they sat in comfort debating whether or not to even attempt a rescue.
Still, this does not seem to be enough, and Elumai, sensing an opportunity, demands that as part of the payment, he arranges an audience for them with the Mages. Orontor is incredulous, reminding her that this is an unsanctioned commission designed in fact to strengthen his position within the order… but the tenacious eladrin insists (despite Berend’s protestations), and Orontor has no option but to acquiesce, wondering aloud how he will pull off such a feat without raising suspicion. The deal is struck, however, and he takes his leave.
After donning their armour and, in the case of Xavier, meditating on the upcoming fight, they heave open the Dragon Door and set forth into the labyrinthine tunnels of Saruun Khel. They quickly pick up halfling tracks on the other side, but remembering Rendil’s earlier advice to simply “stay right”, advice which he also apparently followed, they push on through the dark until eventually they come to a rectangular arch. Built into the stone lintel are five carved eyes, staring out at them, and an investigation of the doorway reveals neglected and long-since seized-up machinery, perhaps designed to change the configuration of the eyes by lowering recessed stone ‘eyelids’ hidden in the carving. In any case, the mechanism is useless, and the archway doesn’t seem dangerous, so they move on.
The tunnel on the other side opens into a large chamber like an audience room, with a balcony at one end, and a metallic double-door leading to the east, on which is carved the image of a single, staring eye with multiple eye-stalks. Rendil’s tracks lead directly to this door, and there are muffled voices speaking goblin on the other side, so the party decides to make use of the balcony. Xavier takes the opportunity to unfold his wings – unusual for a dragonborn -- and springs to the upper level in impressive style while the others clamber up with varying degrees of skill. A single door also leading east appears to be unlocked, and Berend barges through... much to the consternation of his new dragonborn companion, who has counselled a cautious and meticulous approach to the task at hand thus far.
On the other side, two goblins sit at a table, lazily sharpening their axes, while two larger goblinoids – hobgoblins, by the look – lie snoring on filthy beds. Taking them completely by surprise, the party rushes the room, and battle is joined. The quarters are confined and movement is difficult without attracting the opportunistic blades of their foes, but soon all-but one of the creatures has fallen to a barrage of magic and steel, and the last hobgoblin, until now forced to improvise by smashing a brazier of smouldering coals over Jonas’ head, finds himself facing a full complement of experienced adventurers.
Quite a racket has been raised by the melee, however, and the attention of the party is no doubt diverted by two other entrances to the chamber, leading to who-knows-what...