In which a retired hero is motivated for one last quest…
Balekeep spans a river valley with Dwarves primarily living on one side and Orcs living on the other. It’s been here tens of thousands of years, first as a Dwarvish town, then as a contested place between Dwarves, Giants, and Orcs. Myths say the competitors united about 10,000 years ago fighting off an elemental. An uneasy truce has existed ever since.
And it’s the place I call home, as much as I’ve ever been able to call any place home.
Today, Maudi came to say her daughter, Halaur, is the latest in a string of children missing from Balekeep. In a city the size of Balekeep, it was difficult at first to notice such a large number of children were missing. Communication within the different Dwarfish provinces is grudging at best, and communication between races can be especially difficult. Now the number of missing children has climbed to at least 50.
Ah, halaur, a gift, the daughter who came to the family when Maudi thought she would have no more children. Halaur is, well, the second niece of my first nephew. Dwarf families are complicated – our lives are long and families often have many generations living in town. My sister has three sons, the youngest, Gurak, is married to Maudi’s aunt. Maudi came to me, beseeching upon my former life as an adventurer to join the efforts to find her daughter.
So here I am, entering The Alagh (battle-glory) to meet a group of adventurers trying to find the children.
I met Niva and Allara, a Mul and an Eladrin. They and their cohorts call themselves “The Lady Slayers”. Ha. The zander of youth. But then, my first group called ourselves The Dungeon Divas. Hard to believe that was 70 years ago. That adventure started with missing people too.
Niva and Allara shared their stories of what they’d found, the children they’d already rescued, the larger story of what was happening in the caves under Balekeep. They think the children are just raw materials for a larger plot. And there is a time limit to how long they can investigate before the town thaurki destroy the underground chambers. Chambers where possibly more children are trapped. They spoke urgently, energetically, passionately. I saw myself through their eyes, a grey-haired dwarf woman. Garbed in well-worn hide armor, patched on the forearm to match the scar underneath. An old-style knapsack with large (maybe too large?) weapons strapped on the back. A retired adventurer seeking to re-live her youth. Not true. I’m just here to find Halaur.
They said they needed to meet up with the rest of their party, and invited me along.
Underground, we found the rest of the party. These tunnels are a mixture of vintages, some ancient, some only thousands of years old, and some recent. Then, a completely smooth room, perfectly circular with a ceiling so high it can’t be seen, even made the experienced hairs on my head stand up. Strong magic. Here we found the rest of the party talking urgently. Apparently, Tryn, a Halfling rogue, had examined a locked door well enough to know she shouldn’t mess with it without some magic help. She was strongly urging Cragbeard (dwarf fighter) and BRND (half-orc paladin) not to bust down the door. Tryn seemed relieved to see Allara and together they opened the door.
We entered a room with a dirt floor that was dark and smelled of unwashed bodies, excrement, and fear. Under pallets in the corners we could see pits filled with children. Sargh. There were at least 60 children here, too many to rescue by ourselves and too many to leave behind. BRND agreed with me that we should go back to town for help. But first, she needed to take the weakest with her. Paladins. We raced to the temple to report our findings to Torque. It was impressive how many men appeared with gear ready to mount a rescue.
By the time we got back, some of the children were out of the pits, blinking confusedly. The men formed groups and worked to pull up all the kids from the pits. I looked around and called out for Halaur, but she was not among these children. As the kids gathered in the smooth, cylindrical room, Tryn reset the mechanical part of the door lock. I’m not sure which was the jargh to write the message on the dirt floor of the children’s prison.
It was a long escort through the tunnels – over 60 children, 10 men from town, and us. And some tearful reunions at the temple. Even more tearful were the parents whose children weren’t among the rescued. This missing children problem is bigger than I realized. Especially when I add the two score babies BRND told me about saving, and the extensive caverns they haven’t yet explored…
Back down in the caverns, there was searching and fighting to do. A kobold sentry ran off and came back with two more kobolds and some large construct. This monster looked pieced together from other beasts…Dragon? Kobold? Undead? It was time to show these Lady Slayers and dismiss any doubts they had of the usefulness of a grey-haired dual-weilding dwarf ranger. As I reached over my shoulders for my battleaxe and warhammer, I named the Beast as my enemy, Leib norogh ist miz kurnha, vas em bi!
But I was slow to get to it. Apparently, I had reversed my weapons when I sheathed them on my knapsack. Thudul. That never happens. I don’t think the rest of the group noticed my slowness, but it may have been a bit lucky to be slow to the fight. It gave me time to study the Beast.
The construct waded through the battle, breathing fire at every turn. For a brief instant, I was blinded by smoke and light. Then it was time for the old reflexes to kick in. I strode toward the construct. A kobold leaped at me, I slashed with my axe. He dodged it, but ran straight to my swinging warhammer. Then I was at the construct, aiming for those sensitive areas. As both strikes connected, I could see the Beast was going down. I backed away in time to avoid the fiery explosion as the Beast became a smoldering hulk.
As the smoke cleared, I could see the rest of the party had fought well. I could also see some signs of respect in their eyes. As long as they never know about the mis-sheathed weapons, or that I won’t be able to make another attack like that until I rest, we should be fine.