Age of Ascension

Episode Four: Into the Narrows

The journey over the Skyhalls had not been easy, but Mogrir was a competent guide, and remembered each turn and slope of the passage by rote. The rough passes had made for an arduous journey, with numerous short climbs and treacherous drops. The heroes became more confident, though, as Mogrir assured them they’d passed borders patrolled by Mountaineers from the town of Narrows; some of them his own kin. It was to be his first homecoming in many long years since he set off in search of his fortune, precipitated by a letter he had received no more than a week after the group’s return to Valcora. His aging uncle, partially responsible for his upbringing, had asked for him. And Mogrir knew that the proud old dwarf wouldn’t ask him to make such a journey lightly.

Shortly after sunrise on the 11th day of their journey, the light tree cover of the mountainside gave way, revealing a wide stone rode which sloped downward, into Narrows. The town was a build into the sides of a great chasm in the earth, as most Avencians knew, but it was a wonder as one looked into the blackness of the steep canyon that anyone could call it home.

As they approached the descending road, the heroes overheard an argument. Standing shoulder to shoulder across the wide road, three stout dwarves and five men held their ground as their leader traded heated words with four burly Osprian men. Not far off, three Knights of the Wolf, protectors of County Fourswords, busied themselves patiently in the grass, flanked by their war hounds. Despite the fact that Narrows was well within the Eastern borders of County Fourswords, it seemed they’d been denied entrance as well.

The red-faced Osprian was livid, and insisted he and his companions be let into the town. Apparently, a wanted criminal had cross the border of Ospria, and they had tracked him as far as Narrows, only to be denied entrance by the town guard on account of an edict handed down by the town’s rulers. Spittle flew from the dwarf’s lips as he poked the Osprian in the chest, and explained for the second time that the town hadn’t the resources to support travelers and was struggling to organize a defense against goblin raiding parties that had been the end of three supply caravans already. The situation seemed grim. Mogrir noted, however, that the shouting dwarf wore a scarf of white and crimson: Boldbrew colors.

Their conversation was brief… Mogrir offered his help and that of his friends in exchange for entrance, and it was accepted owing to his family ties. The others, meanwhile, had made their introduction to the Knights Wolf, and learned that they were awaiting entrance so they could join the many patrols deep in the chasm, where they maintained a constant vigilance against ogre. Moloch recalled and recounted that County Fourswords wasn’t usurped through military force, like most of Valcora, but claimed by adventurers of great renown who slew the king of the ogres somewhere in these very hills. One of the older warriors nudged the fresh-faced lady knight beside him, and explained that she had yet to slay her first ogre and earn a full knighthood.

Before they passed into the town, the group assured both the Osprians and the Knights that they would do their best to expediate their entry, but this didn’t placate the Osprians, who ended up in an argument with the Knights as the party trudged down the sloping road, into the shaded chasm.

Now nearly midday, they could see the entirety of the town as the sun reached its zenith and shone directly into the chasm. Homes and shops of all sorts were hewn from the brown stone chasm walls, decorated with carefully lain brickwork and simple, square windows. Each of many narrow ledges served as the equivalent of a street, and they were connected by winding stairs hewn out of the rock, or else gently curved bridges spanning a the fathomless drop. Here and there, stone fountains were carved from the walls in the image of lions or rams, their mouths producing a steady trickle of fresh water irrigated from the surface in stone channels. They elected to pass through the town for now, and hike yet further, to the secluded house of Uncle Jasper Boldbrew.

He heaved the door open with a grunt, and his aged and withered eyes lit up at the sight of his company. Utterly insistent, he scarcely spoke to the heroes until he had set out a platter of smoked cheese and mugs of dark beer. They sat in silence as he went about his fussing, taking in the layers of history and character about the house, and the scent of cherry-tinted smoke from the old dwarf’s pipe.

After welcoming Mogrir with all the cheer he could muster, and being introduced to Lidya, Moloch, and Rose, it was apparent that the troubles of the town weighed heavily on him. With little prodding, he spilled forth a tale of woe; the coffers of the Boldbrew clan had run all but dry, and the thane was losing his will as the townspeople and all four of its dwarven clans succumbed to poverty. He delivered dire news about a fatal encounter with ogres that’d taken the life of Mogrir’s cousin. And when he seemed he could bear no more heartache, he succumbed to tears.

“Oi, nephew… and the wors-…. The worse of it all… it’s thane Boldbrew! He’s got so depressed… he’s quit drinking!”

Tears followed.

When the elderly dwarf had calmed down, he accepted the heroes’ assurances that they would offer their services to the thane, but it seemed Uncle Jasper was holding something back. Properly chided, he relayed his fears that it would take more than clearing out a goblin den to invigorate town and clan, but if someone could retake the old Boldbrew Distillery, long since abandoned to the ogres… it would mean the world to all involved.

With a sense of urgency, Mogrir led the party into the Hall of Thane Boldbrew, a grand building hung with banners of red and white. As they threw open the great iron-bound doors, they disturbed the dust and stillness within. Though stoic guards stood at their posts, and though servants and advisors milled about in a daze, and even though Thane Tolke Boldbrew himself sat at the head of the feasting table in the center, it was like walking into a hospice. As the group absorbed the tangible depression within the hall, an impressive snore echoed from the rafters. Slouched in his seat behind a half-eaten leg of mutton, the Thane slept. There was an ornate stein at his right hand, but it had been untouched, and a puddle around it told the tale of servants who had tried in vain, perhaps out of habit, to refill it.

With some effort, the thane was roused, and seemed pleased at Mogrir’s return in his docile state of half-sleep… but quickly the conversation turned, and he gruffly admonished Mogrir for being away during the clan’s troubled times. Between the harsh words, he denied any sort of depression, and assured them that brave Boldbrews were assembling even as they spoke to crush the goblins once and for all. Still, he was obviously bitter about the situation: Count Brande of Fourswords had heard of the clan’s troubles and put them on the payroll as guards and militiamen. Although he made this sound like the insulting action of an opportunistic ruler, the party knew of Brande’s good reputation, and that guarding the town was something the Boldbrews had done for generations anyway; the Count had simply found a way to pay them a wage in these troubled times without it seeming like charity.

The Thane’s greatest concern was that the town wouldn’t be fit to host the Council of Cups this year, for the first time in over a century. Mogrir knew it well; a gathering of brewers and vintners from across the empire, sampling and selling their best vintages in a spectacular faire. As the conversation turned once again and tempers rose, Mogrir offered a sum of coins to the thane, as his rightful contribution to the crisis and as a show of support. As he expected, though, the thane turned even this gesture into an insult, and shouted them out of his hall.

The day wore on. The heroes sought refuge at the Grinning Ogre, famous for the particularly impressive specimen of an ogre skull behind the bar. As busy as she was in the dinnertime hour, the barkeep, a lady dwarf with a charming smile despite her homeliness, handed them the registry so they could claim a room. In a flash of insight, they checked over the names of guests staying the night, and noted one in particular: Carmine Federica. An Osprian name.

As they planned their next move over venison stew, the group overheard three farmers across the common room, arguing over a map spread on the table between them. A brief conversation with them proved fruitful; they’d combined their knowledge of the area to narrow down the location of the White Eye goblin tribe’s lair. One of them knew that there was just one good standing water supply in the area, and advocated poisoning it. Another recalled that the small valley where the lair was located had once been a riverbed, before the stream was diverted to supply water to a nearby farm… fortunately it had burned down years ago, and the family was in no danger now.

Despite their earnest encouragement, the party was unable to convince the three farmers to provide them much aid beyond leading them to the valley in the morning. Before they slept, the heroes penned two notes regarding their findings to the Osprians and the Knights waiting outside the town, and sent them along with a messenger boy.

A scream woke the party that night, and they rolled from their beds, reaching for weapons, only to discover that it was Rose who’d cried out in the grip of a nightmare. She hadn’t told anyone, but the dreams had been disturbing her sleep since the incident at Haunted Grotto. Moloch, performing a strange examination, was able to confirm everyone’s fears; Rose’s body was serving as a vessel to more than one spirit. Examining their options, the group resolved to make a journey into Coaldust Marsh as soon as possible. At this time of year, Lidya’s grandmother would be biding her time there as the rest of her family’s caravan made their rounds in the Statelands. She was a soothsayer, spirit-talker and fortune teller, and would surely provide insight into Rose’s situation.

Morning came far too soon for Rose, and she suffered from unshakable fatigue for the entire day. Nonetheless, the group set out for the valley, guided by the farmers. They came upon the valley, and under cover of the early morning fog, they confirmed that it was the locations of the White Eyes lair. A cave led into darkness along one of the walls of the valley. Weighing their options, the group settled on a more immediate solution than poisoning the small pond in the center of the valley. While Mogrir and Moloch provided a distraction in the valley itself, Lidya and Rose would follow the ledge around the valley to the earthworks that had been used to divert the river, and Rose would destroy it with her explosives, flooding the valley once again.

Mogrir and Moloch were the first to act, running into the center of the valley shouting battlecries, as Mogrir’s weapon and shield slammed together, echoing off the valley walls. The whoops and shrieks of goblins from within the cave entrance were soon followed by an outpouring of the stinking beasts. Meanwhile, Lidya and Rose crawled on their bellies through the long grass. One of many goblin patrols circling the valley spotted Rose, but had its throat punctured by a bolt from Lidya’s crossbow before it could fire. In her tired state, Rose’s progress was painfully slow, but little by little they crawled toward the dam, as the battle raged below.

Moloch erupted into flame, charring goblin flesh as they backed away from him. Meanwhile, Mogrir’s mighty hammer sent more than one to the abyss, their bodies arcing through the air. A second goblin patrol lurched out of the grass as Rose planted her entire stock of explosives at the base of the earthworks, but it ended up much like the first thanks to Lidya’s marksmanship. Finally it was done… Lidya and Rose scrambled away from the dam and Rose hurled her last bomb toward it, her willpower holding out as it sailed towards its target despite her weariness. The tremendous explosing rocked the valley, and in moments the river was crashing into the valley below. Moloch and Mogrir wasted no time in escaping the onrushing current, as the goblin defenders were far too bewildered to give chase any longer.

A couple of hours later, the battered foursome trudged back into Narrows to report their victory to the Thane… and to plan the route they would take into foreboding Coaldust Marsh, the next day.

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Grimstead

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