The Journal of Micar’eyl Auvrymtor: The Fires of Mount Hotenow
Who are you more scared of: a giant red dragon or your grandmother? It was a close thing, but Rodrik seems to have decided he’s more scared of his grandmother, or at least the results of taking House Thann’s money to rebuild Neverwinter. I’m not quite sure of all the politics, but apparently it would have meant having to marry Nharaen Wands, a woman he’s sure wants him dead. So instead he took Klauth’s money, and the results of that … remain to be seen. Selûne help us all.
Rodrik, Valtha, and Cefrey were all showing signs of infection from the aboleths’ madness, so I used a healing ritual on them (though I think Rodrik might have been recovering on his own). Valtha seems fully cured, but I was only able to push the infection back in Cefrey’s case. Hopefully she can fight off the rest on her own.
Speaking of, what has everyone else been doing while Rodrik and I play at government? Cefrey has been obsessively slaying the remaining plaguechanged monsters as people fight to reclaim the Chasm. Seipora has put out two issues of the Waterclock. The first one chronicled our liberation of the Chasm — including the fact that the Sharn have taken over the Source Stone, which took a little of the shine off our achievement. The second contained a screed against monarchy, saying that Nasher Alagondar was corrupted by his power and that Rodrik is doomed to the same path. I suppose that depends on what you mean by “corrupted.” Anyway, Rodrik isn’t terribly pleased and starts looking into putting out his own broadsheet to fire back, though I bet Seipora would publish his response herself if he asked.
As for Valtha, she’s been working with those dwarves on the Gauntlgrym expedition, and soon enough she accompanies Thoradin Hardhammer to the Hall of Justice. The Mirabar dwarves are ready to head out to Mount Hotenow. He makes some comments about how they helped save the city and he hopes we are suitably grateful, which is fair enough. There is some discussion about how we might help repay them, which Rodrik steers away from paying their supply debts and more towards sending support.
Specifically, sending the Northern Five. Including Rodrik. Yes, and doesn’t that cause quite a snit-fit of discussion. He makes the case that it’s important symbolism. He needs to be personally involved in the recovery of Gauntlgrym, which will forever after link it to Neverwinter, or at least as long as the stories endure, and, well, here’s what I think:
You can call Neverwinter a “kingdom” if you want, but it’s a mostly-ruined city of little importance to anyone not living here. The supply of highly competent and exceptional people we have to draw on is not that large. If Rodrik wants to get anything done, he probably does need to do it himself. If it’s a choice on where to spend his time, the day-to-day administration is easier to find someone who can take care of it than the big, sweeping stuff that requires heroism. Of course, it would be nice if he could find time to father an heir in the middle of all that.
That does leave the question of who will be in charge while he’s gone. His First Secretary is going with him, so I guess my glorious drow imperium will just have to wait. Grinch would be the obvious next choice, but we don’t trust him enough yet. So Rodrik names that paladin of Amaunator named Lander Greycastle as Minister of Justice and makes him regent. I suppose it’s the best out of limited choices. Greycastle is unlikely to make a play for the throne himself. He’ll probably give the Brightwoods a lot of shit, but I hope being a paladin means he will refrain from massacres and mass hangings and keep to things that Rodrik can reverse to make himself look good when he comes back.
Right before we leave I get a private visit from Jarlaxle. He tries to play it off as no big deal and make it sound like I should be the one who wants to go to Gauntlgrym to get vengeance for my clan (as indeed I do). I can tell that he’s far more invested than he wants to let on, though. Whatever happened the last time he was in Gauntlgrym, he wants to correct it or balance the scales or avenge himself or something like that. And he’s worried about Maegera, as anyone aware of Maegera would be. I wouldn’t be surprised if he shadows us and makes a traditional Jarlaxle surprise appearance eventually.
So, Gauntlgrym … how are we going to find it? What separates us out from others searching for Gauntlgrym is that everyone else is looking farther north. We know that the partial routes we have encountered all seem to pass through the Crags. Our other big clue is that we believe Gauntlgrym’s legendary forge that supposedly spit out magic items like a fountain was/is fueled by the primordial at Mount Hotenow’s roots. The obvious answer is to go to Mount Hotenow and search for ways down into the Underdark from there.
We decide to head up the coast, with the Northern Five serving as the advance scout for the approximately 100 dwarves making up the greater expedition behind us. When we get far enough north, we’ll break off to the east and approach Mount Hotenow from its western face. That minimizes the amount of time we have to spend trudging through the mountains.
Our first obstacle is a swarm of plaguechanged bears. Dangerous to fight, but right now they seem to have no guiding intelligence. I take a chance and try using a variation on the Abolethic Sovereignty’s song I’ve been experimenting with to send them a simple command: “Go into the ocean.” It works fine, and they swarm their way to the shore and out to sea — and keep going. Don’t seem to be sinking, they just keep going. Wow, hope they don’t make it all the way to Returned Abeir…
Then we come to the small town of Port Llast. Since the eruption the harbor has been filled with silt and most of its citizens abandoned it. It’s now a ghost town, with legends of dark sacrifices to evil sea monsters within. I try to sneak in to scout around, but I make some wrong turns and get surrounded by sahuagin. They’ve got me trussed up and ready for sacrifice when the others burst into town and help fight them off. That was a close one!
There are more sahuagin out there, but they’re not going to mess with 100 dwarves, especially considering we’re only staying the night. In the meantime we look around the town. We also find signs that the Cult of Umberlee is active, and also smugglers. They bring goods in here, then take it over land to Neverwinter to avoid the tariffs. Clever.
The next day we head into the woods. That’s going all right until the ghost of our old (dead) friend Marcus de Tylmarande appears out of nowhere! It seems that Valtha conjured him up recently to satisfy this halfling air pirate looking for the card from the Deck of Many Things that Marcus briefly possessed. We all wag our fingers at Valtha for that.
But rather than heading directly back to the moon to bask eternally in Selûne’s radiance (I assume) Marcus realized that something was wrong. His body does not rest and is coming after us. Someone, specifically the lich Valindra Shadowmantle, raised it as a horrible undead wight and is coming after us. The same thing has been done to Branwen Farlong.
We continue on into the mountains and find a place to hole up and wait for the attack. Valindra appears accompanied by her two wights, but the ghosts of Branwen and Marcus show up to fight on our side. That’s enough to allow us to turn the tide and defeat Valindra again. Of course, she’s not permanently gone. Ghost-Marcus warns us that she has moved her phylactery into the Host Tower of the Arcane in Luskan, where she is presumably consolidating power, though ghost-Marcus does not say that.
We say the farewells that the suddenness of death prevented us from saying the first time around. Marcus tells Seipora to take care of Seldra and thanks her for continuing their work in Neverwinter. Branwen gives an indictment of the path that Rodrik has chosen, telling him it will lead to no good end. Uh, thanks Branwen. Marcus wishes that Valtha hadn’t raised him, but it turned out well. Branwen tells me she’s glad I’m trying to be all heroic in her place, which I am suitably embarrassed by, and I promise to look in on the Sunken Flagon every once in a while and make sure Moonshine is doing well.
The next day we reach Mount Hotenow. It is the tallest mountain in the Crags, and it belches forth fire and smoke continuously. Magma falls back into giant cracks and crevices that surround the mountain. We heard there was another group of dwarves that headed out for the Crags, but that was several months ago and no one has seen them since. Valtha finds some signs that lead us to a cave where there is a small fortified dwarf camp. There are about a dozen of them still alive, and they are overjoyed to see Valtha and hear that dwarven reinforcements are on the way.
They explain that they have been under assault from fire elementals and fire giants for weeks now. We are introduced to Vandra Hillborn, their leader elected in Neverwinter. Also keeping their spirits up is Kathra Barrelhelm, a priestess of Moradin who was sent by Moradin personally. She explains that Gauntlgrym may not be Moradin’s highest priority, but it is the mission that he personally assigned to her. Valtha looks — I don’t know. Jealous? Sympathetic? I can’t read it, but I know she feels something.
They are all on the edge and one of them in particular, Gurdis Grimtor, seems to be losing it a little. He keeps babbling on about how maybe the Fires Below are right and another eruption by Maegera is the only way to find the path to Gauntlgrym. I recognize when a morale-booster is called for and I begin strumming the melody to a traditional dwarven song. One-by-one, all the dwarves gradually raise their voices and join in, reminding themselves of why they are here and what they are fighting for.
Vandra tells us the fire elementals seem to act out of the hall of King Gommoth, their fire giant lord, who keeps a temple deeper in the mountain. That night Vandra confesses that some dwarves have not been killed but instead defected to join the Fires Below. Valtha attributes it to the psychic remnants of the primordial infecting everyone. Still, my song appears to have strengthened their spirits enough that Gurdis does not disappear during the night.
We head into the caverns the next day. We fight several fire elementals and dwarven defectors and a salamander. Seipora and Valtha have an argument about whether the dwarven defectors should be hated as traitors or pitied for being under mind control. Valtha is of the opinion that they are damned for abandoning their sacred duties, while Seipora opines that the only difference between them and Valtha is that Valtha has friends capable of pulling her back from the madness.
Then we fight the fire giant leader and his fire giant cultists and slay the leader of the Fires Below. The cult is somewhat broken. We go through their documents and religious texts about the ecstasy of Maegera’s awakening. We also read about the river of liquid flame and how it winds past the red dragon’s lair to the cavern where stands the doors to the city of the jailers (that is, Gauntlgrym).
When the rest of the dwarven expedition catches up with us we discuss the next steps. There is no clear path through the tunnels beneath, but this river of liquid flame could get a few of us (that is, the Northern Five) where we need to go. If we can find Gauntlgrym we can back-track along the tunnels and find the path the full expedition needs to take to get there. The dwarves can build us a boat of metal capable of enduring the trip, but Valtha and I have to put our heads together on a way for us to survive without baking alive. Ice and cold magic is something that neither of us specialize in, and the heat will be insane. Finally I’m able to use a spell of communing with magic items to modify some potions of fire resistance we found in the cult hoard to help us survive the trip.
We sail down the river of fire. It is a miserable, burning trip and I can feel my stamina leaking away. Just as the Cult documents hinted, we are ambushed by the red dragon along the way. We land the boat and fight her in a furious back-and-forth that nearly sees Cefrey’s death. In the end we win and examine a glowing multi-colored orb she possessed, apparently an orb that allows communing with Tiamat herself. It can also serve as an engine of destruction when fed with gold.
Rodrik wants to use it for some reason but fears Klauth watching (which tells me an awful lot about why he wants to use it). Valtha wants to destroy it, but I talk her out of it for the moment. We don’t need to make Tiamat our enemy for no reason. Well, I mean she’s probably our enemy in that everyone is her enemy, but we don’t need her to take an immediate interest in us.
We find a few magic items in the dragon’s hoard, of which we take what we can use and conceal the rest. I get a sweet pair of elven stealth boots that are just my size. I am invisible! I am inaudible! I am the night! Hah, just kidding. It’s funny, I never thought of myself as a sneak next to some real rogues I’ve known, but the magic that has come my way seems to push me there.
There are also 13 red dragon eggs in the nest. Klauth eats those to stay alive, you know. We take them with us for now. I have an interesting idea or two about them.
Anyway, we get back on the boat and endure more fire hell before finally arriving at the gates of Gauntlgrym.