Who’s Laughing Now?
*23 Mirtul, The Year of the Trusted Covenant (1479 DR)
Sweating out their very essence in the oven hot air, the party ignore the rumbling echoes behind them and push on into the depths of the mine. Eventually the heroes discern a red fiery glow in the distance and, creeping up to reconnoitre the source of the light, Danforth discovers both the origin of the tapping and the site of Karadhan’s inspiration.
A vast chamber of Delzoun origin opens up before him – Is this an outpost of fabled Gauntylgrym? There is no time for archaeology, however, as in the distance a team of grey dusty dawarves hammer away at a stone face riven with fissures that open up a view into a great boiling fire beyond.
More jagged echoes of steel on stone ring from various passages extending out from the chamber while between the party and those breaking into the lava flows stands another long dead dwarf, bigger than the rest, and at his side the very same sceptre drawn in Karadhan’s journal.
Despite Paelias’ absence, who, despite his talk, seems to have taken flight at the first sniff of undead opposition, the party take up their standard negotiating stance and charge in for a bloody resolution.
Before long an undead horde surrounds the heroes as dwarves pour in from the side tunnels, to be joined by ferocious flying fiery things belching out from the cracks in the rock opened up by the zombie miners. But fortune favours our brave explorers as enemies are dispatched and the sceptre is retrieved just as the chamber begins to collapse in on itself as lava pours on from the shattered walls.
They can practically taste the first pint waiting for them in either Neverwinter or Helm’s Hold as the party sticks a collective finger up at Balol, who has returned to his post in the gallery of the sacrifices. The devil seems unconcerned at the insolence, and offers only the cryptic response to the taunts, ‘Well I must say, you do have some interesting enemies.’
The party’s demob happy mood soon dissipates however, as at last they discover the source of the rumbling heard earlier – A cave-in that blocks the main exit. The party remember there is another way out – the ventilation shaft taken by the Asmodeus-loving dwarf in her escape – the shaft still guarded by a smirking Balor.
Negotiations ensue that see the devil happy to let the party use the tunnel – as long as they agree to do some unspecified task for him at some point in the next year, or, should they fail, surrender a soul to him. Balol finds it difficult to understand why the party should balk at such a generous offer: giving over a soul and joining him in Asmodeus’ domain is no bad thing – after 500 years of cleaning out the charnel pits the damned are rewarded with a brush – and there is so much to experience in the Nine Hells – it could take an eternity to do all of it . . .