DANGER IN DARKSHELF

 

  Darkshelf was so named for the stony waterfront consisting of dark shale and slate. On a rocky bluff overlooking the village less than a mile to the north, a massive quarry operation had been producing modest amounts of limestone and granite for decades, stone used in construction all around the region and neighboring nations. In the last three to four months, production and profits have quintupled, ostensibly due to the efforts of Bazili Erak, a orange-haired dwarf with beard to match, who talked the overlord of the Darkshelf region, Nestor, into granting him title for a share of the revenues. The dwarf’s mining ability has not only quintupled production output, but he has also pursued new tunnels in the quarry and uncovered veins of pure quartz, and claims to have found the beginnings of a vein of gold deep in the quarry.

A small dedicated workforce toils in three shifts around the clock to extract limestone from the quarry. There are three levels to the mining production and a steady flow of oxcarts hauls rough blocks of limestone from the mines to the docks. From there, the stone is loaded by large hulking steam cranes into river barges that travel up and down the coast. Most of the barges transport the rock to the nearby city of Highport, a dark city ruled by Orcs and Goblins.

The Orcish coin has drawn in bandits, pirates, and slavers to the small village. Sailors, fishermen, and farmers have been abducted recently. A few have been found been found savaged and dismembered along the shores of the river, suspectedly left as a warning to any who might try to battle the villains. However, Bazili Erak stepped up and hired a group of four soldiers from the Drachensgrab Hills. 

Bazili led these fighters into the woods to the East of the village, tracking the bandits back to their camp. During a midnight raid, they were able to wipe out a large part of the bandits and freed a score of captives. They also captured a few of the bandits alive, dragging them back to Darkshelf where they were swiftly tried and executed by hanging. Despite the recent successes against the bandits, a cloud of unease still hangs over Darkshelf. The citizens know that the bandits might return at any time and seek revenge. But for now life continues as it has for the last few months with the quarry cranking out rock for sale to Highport.

Our heroes found themselves, as oft they do, enjoying the local tavern for the evening. Bazili Erak was present, as usual, for his evening meal but on this occasion he was meeting with the Drachensgrab mercenaries, offering them a job working as security on the quarry docks. A local man named Silas overheard the discussion and offered his services. Afterwards, Silas recruited several other adventurers within the tavern, hoping to boost the security detail and make the job easier. He recruited an elf ranger known only as Caelynn, a cheerful halfling monk named Joros Highhill, a very hungry wizard calling himself Rhan Cygnarson, a gnome mage called Tibult, Ram McLargefist the barbarian, and city watch officer Voss Willowfall.

Before going to the quarry, the party visited the local Church of Saint Cuthbert of the Cudgel. Saint Cuthbert is the combative deity of Wisdom, Dedication, and Zeal. They found that only one acolyte was present and he was rather unhelpful. They did purchase some holy water from the priest before departing the Church.

Late that evening, the newly hired security force – led by Silas Cooper – left Darkshelf and walked the short distance up the rising road to the north and arrived just outside the quarry proper near midnight. The four mercenaries from the tavern was strangely absent, but the other seemed not to notice perhaps because of the musical performance taking place near the quarry docks.

The performer from the tavern, The Great Rodello, was there near the docks playing a tune and singing a little song. The guards, three of them wearing dark cloaks against the chill of the night, watched the performance respectfully if not uneasily as the others approached. When Rodello stopped playing his tunes, the guards spurned him, shouting for him to leave and stop distracting them. Rodello departed with haste much to the confusion of Silas and the others. However, he was later replaced by a man calling himself Igor, the Mediocre.

The party met briefly with Bazili Erak who explained their duties for the night. They would remain in the caves of the dock area, acting as a security force for any intruders who may try to enter the Quarry by way of the Pelyra River. Bazili explained that a group of bandits have recently been harassing his men here at the docks. The presence of the party will serve to bolster security and deter future attacks from the bandits.

After their dwarven employer departed, the party explored the caves and established waypoints and roving patrols. They also discovered a small “hidden” room which apparently served as storage as it contained several empty pallets. During the first hour of their watch, Tibult the Gnome used his natural abilities to speak with small creatures to summon a cave rat. During a short but squeaky conversation between the gnome and rodent, Tibult discovered that the caves were often visited by monsters that came from below in the quarry. The rodent explained that whenever the dwarf invited new people to the caves the monsters would come and kill them.

At about the same time, the guards from outside on the docks spoke with Silas, explaining that they were going to shutter the front doors of the caves because they had seen lights on the river. Closing off the caves would help to secure the quarry. Silas was tempted to climb up on the ledge of the cave entrance, separating himself from the rest of the group, but he decided not to do this. Instead, he watched as the guards closed and locked the double wooden doors to the caves. Silas raised an eyebrow, and checked the door. The wooden doors were about five inches thick and reinforced with metal. Not only that, but the door was designed to be locked from the outside, essentially trapping all of them inside the caves. He pushed on the doors helplessly as he heard a heavy wooden bar being placed on the other side by the guards. He tested the doors with his Thieves Tools, finding that the door was built specifically to defeat any attempts to pry the door open from this side.

As Joros Highhill buised himself with searching the “secret storage room” for anything interesting, Caelynn searched the area for any obvious tracks. Neither found anything of interest. However, they were surprised to hear Ram attempting to smash down the wooden doors while Silas supervised. The barbarian slammed his large frame against the doors several times, finding that the door was too firmly secured to be battered down by even his strength. Meanwhile, Voss and Rhan searched the metal door at the opposite side of the caves only to find that it was locked from the other side too.

They were trapped in the caves, and that was when they noticed the wraiths slowly approaching from the far end of the caves. Their eerie green eyes glowed menacingly. Wraiths are incorporeal creatures born of evil and darkness, usually victims of another undead spirit that has turned them undead by draining their lifeforce. Such spirits can assemble an army of undead quickly, allowing their spawn to propagate other monsters. As such, wraiths usually move in packs, seeking out the living to consume them with their life-draining touch.

 

 

The party wasted no time in moving into action. However, they found that the wraiths were formidable. Although they did use their holy water to coat their weapons, the wraiths managed to inflict enough damage to knock several of the party unconscious, leaving them dying and on the verge of being turned undead. However, liberal use of Keoghtom’s Ointment managed to save our heroes from the brink of death’s door. In the end, most of them smelled of aloe, but they were alive.

They settled in for the night, resting and setting watches in case any more wraiths arrived. In the morning, the two wooden doors opened to reveal the treacherous Bazili Erak and four of his men. The party sprung into action, slaying the four guards. Unfortunately, Bazili knocked Silas to the side with a well-placed shoulder and ran towards the cave entrance. As he ran, he adjusted a ring on his finger, activating a Blink spell. The dwarf winked out of existence and returned within the cavern hall, running as fast as his short legs would carry him towards the metal door.

He turned the corner, pursued by Joros Highhill. However, Bazili was too quick and managed to reach the door before the Halfling could stop him. He adjusted another ring, causing a burst of smoke and a small explosion as he enacted a Knock spell. The Dwarf leaped through the now open doorway, rushing down a flight of steps into the first level of the Quarry mines.

The party regrouped and decided not to chase Bazili into the mines. Instead, they chose to trek back to Darkshelf to see the authorities. Leaving the caves and the docks, they walked along the twisting path back to the village. They decided to follow Voss who suggested they go to visit the town Overlord named Nester. They walked to his large estate on the far side of town and knocked on the door.

The door was answered by Nester’s servant who refused to allow the heroes into the estate and informed them that they were marked as being wanted for the murder of several miners and mine guards earlier in the night. The servant suggested that they leave right away, and slammed the door.

The walked back into town, following Voss to the Watch Station. Caelynn and Rhan decided to hang back away from the group, deciding to wait to see what might happen next. Tibult and Ram lurked outside the building while Igor posted up on the other side of the street to wait and observe. Silas went to meet with his Underworld Contact, seeking passage out of the city.

Silas was informed by his contact that most of the town is either in Bazili’s pocket or being blackmailed by him. The dwarf is powerful and resourceful, backed by a large organization based out of the city of Highport. For 100 gold, Silas could be transported to The Hidden City of Suderham in two days.

Voss and Joros discovered that Nestor was inside, sitting at the table with several other authorities of the town, discussing what to do about the reports of violence at the Quarry. The village overlord Nester, middle aged and stocky, stood up and patted at his graying hair. “Bazili was here early this morning, and reported that you and your miscreant friends murdered a score of guards and twice as many miners at the Quarry,” he said with a sigh. “I’m disappointed, Voss. I suggest you surrender now and wait in the cell for a trial.” He gestured to the small holding cells at the far end of the room.

Voss recognized most of the people at the table with Nester. There were some of the Watch officers, the town Magistrate, and two of the more affluent village merchants. However, she didn’t recognize the Elf that was sitting at the table. He was tall and slender with hair the color of hay. He introduced himself as Glyrthiel, keeper of the Quarry guardhouse.

Although Voss and Joros tried to reason with Nester, they did agree to surrender their weapons and enter the cell for holding. The group slowly left the office, leaving a single Watchman to oversee the prisoners. Within an hour, Glythiel returned with a large plate of foof for the prisoners and guard, but neither Voss or Joros would eat it for fear that it was poisoned. Sadly, the guard devoured the fine smelling food and did not die. Poison didn’t seem to be an ingredient in the breakfast feast.

While Voss and Joros remained imprisoned, the other party members did some investigating around the town. The searched Bazili’s and Glythiel’s houses, seeking incriminating evidence. In the end, Silas was able to recover a logbook from Bazili’s office in the Quarry offices that contained all the incriminating evidence they would need, however it was clear that there was no way to seek proper justice in Darkshelf.

The logbook was written in code, Thieves Script, the written form of Thief’s Cant. Silas was able to decipher the logbook easily, revealing that Bazili is working for someone named Brubgrak from Highport. Bazili used Brubgrak’s coin and influence to negotiate a deal for control of the Quarry. Bazili is a part of a growing slaver network who are taking captives and funneling them to the despoiled city of Highport in Pomjari. Brubgrak acts as a broker, buying slaves from bands of slavers and hiding them in the depths of the lowest level of the Quarry until they can be shipped under cover of darkness to Highport. From there, the captives are sold in the slave market.

The book also indicates that almost every merchant and authority figure in Darkshelf is either being paid off by Bazili for cooperation or being blackmailed to ensure their loyalty. The Quarry serves as a convenient front for the slaving network, and it is clear that most of the miners understand what is going on within the mines. Increased wages have bought their silence and cooperation. Although the first and second shift are legitimate mining activities at the Quarry, the third shift is made up entirely of Brugrak’s men. Additionally, the recent raid on the “bandit camp” was actually a staged affair for Brubgrak to eliminate some of his slaver allies who had been suspected of failing loyalty. Bazili met with them under the pretense of discussing business, and wiped them out. The most dangerous ones were murdered outright and then rest were dragged back for a “trial.”

Brubgrak is confident in his control over Darkshelf because of the presence of the Cult of the Elemental Eye. These corrupt prophets have come from Highport and established two sources of power: the Church of Saint Cuthbert and a small shrine in the lowest level of the Quarry. Any priests found to be visiting the town are hunted down by the mud cultists and sacrificed to their vile god.

Finally, the logbook has a section of names of several “untrustworthy persons” who were duped into becoming trapped in the caves and killed. The roster holds about 250 names, including that of two allies of the party: Kwon the Monk and Jane Goodall the Druid.

Having gathered all this information and deeming the village to be unsafe, the party helped their friends escape the jail. Together they headed into the woods to find a safe place to take refuge and plan their next moves.

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