Jockra

XXXIX, Orlishuz

The party has just defeated the mighty dragon Infyrana in the mithral mines below Orlishuz, paving the way for the dwarves and their Vrechan allies to retake the mountain hold. They come to the palace-fortress of Orlishuz in answer to a summons by King Arnik Valster VII. Present are: Targus of Aras, Okfaust the Green Elder, Morin of Phaedrus, Ando Arasan, Atrophos Solanum, Archbishop Nix Lagomorphia of the K’taul, Stonemender the dwarven engineer, and King Kjern of Vrecha.

Hundreds of armed dwarves bustle busily about the massive palace cavern of Orlishuz. Dim light from the magma moat illuminates the entirety with an eerie reddish glow. Corpses, spent arrows, discarded weapons, and other detritus of battle litter the approach to the castle. You think back to the massive number of kobolds you saw reinforcing this keep when you were here a scant few hours ago. It must have been a fight for every inch of ground to retake this place.

The stench of burning flesh wafts through the air and you see a crew of workmen methodically tossing kobold corpses into the flow. You can’t help but pause a moment, watching fascinated as a body sinks into the molten rock with a puff of flame and sickly sizzle.

A phalanx of armored dwarves bristling with spears and axes blocks the bridge to the palace, but after a brief exchange between Stonemender and their captain, they part with a synchronized stomping of booted feet to admit a shoulder-width path to the heavy stone doors.

Targus steps through the phalanx, adopting a well-practiced military bearing and proceeds to stride up to the stone doors. He snaps to attention, anticipating the doors’ opening.

One of the heavy stone double doors sits askance in its frame, cracked beyond repair. Whether battered down when the dragon took Orlishuz, or just this morning by the dwarves, you cannot say. Shaking his head Stonemender runs his fingertips over the crack and sighs in dismay. Then at his slightest push the remaining door swings silently open on oiled hinges to reveal a magnificent vaulted hall beyond. The reddish glow from outside refracts through panes of stained glass to create a multi-hued smattering of light reminiscent of the crystal geode-temple where you took refuge last night. Rows of pillars carved to resemble stoic dwarves flank the central aisle to left and right.

At the far end the vault widens into an audience hall. Elevated on a dias is an ornate marble throne. Empty gem settings dot the throne’s surface like open sores, attesting to the greed of the kobolds that occupied this place for months. A crew of dwarven workers are righting several overturned benches in the audience hall while others mop up blood stains and clear debris. More armored dwarven knights stand sentry between the pillars, seemingly made of stone themselves. At the foot of the dias, a large wooden table has been set up. Upon it, several maps are smoothed out and weighted down by a massive warhammer and a silver beer stein. Still in full battle regalia, King Arnik Valster VII is frowning at one of the maps as you approach. Absently he picks up the stein and takes a swig of ale, slamming his hand down on the map in annoyance as it begins to roll up. One of his attendants whispers to him and points in your direction, bringing your approach to his attention. As he looks up from the map his frown vanishes and his face splits into a grin. He sets the mug down and walks around the table to greet you, arms spread wide in welcome.

King Arnik Valster VII of Orlishuz: “You are truly all that Kjern claimed and more! I had come to think my father was a fool to ally with outsiders; that his folly had cost us everything. May he forgive me. You have renewed my faith in men and elves and delivered us from a slow but sure death by freezing and starvation. You have returned to us our home. Myself and my kingdom are forever in your debt.” clasping each of you by the hand in a gesture of friendship “No worldly possession could be ample enough reward for your service, but name it and if it is within my power I shall grant it.”

Targus smiles and considers the dwarven king’s words. Try as he might, nothing came to mind.

“Doing the good work of Agan and helping those in need is reward enough, Your Majesty.” Targus says with a bow. “I cannot speak for my companions, but I require naught more than a mount, for my efforts. Also, I wanted to ask you if the coins hoarded by Infyrana, the Bitch Dragon, are the property of Orlishuz or were they taken prior? If none lay claim, then I should seek equal shares for the Heroes of Harenshire and our most recent companions.” He indicates Nix and Atrophos.

“A far truer reward would be to see your partnership with Kjern’s people and the elves flourish. The evils of the world CAN be conquered if they face a united front.”

Arnik turns to Stonemender with a raised eyebrow…

Stonemender: “Our counters did indeed find the contents of our treasury amongst the dragon’s hoard. I have the comparison records here.” he holds up the tally book you noticed the dwarf scribe writing in earlier “However, her hoard far exceeds what was contained in our vaults.”

King Arnik Valster VII: “It is not for me to reward you with what is by lawful right, yours already. Minus the contents of Orlishuz’s treasury, the dragon’s hoard is yours to split as you choose, as are her hide, teeth, heart, and other valuable parts.”

“I fear we keep no such mounts as would be suitable to your stature or status. Ponies and mules mostly, but certainly shall I have a dozen of the finest desert horses of the south purchased at market and delivered to your home in Skole as soon as the mountain passes clear.”

“As long as my blood reigns, Orlishuz, Vrecha, and K’taul will be brothers in the North. Likewise, you and yours are always welcome here for all the days of my reign and those who might follow me, Moradin willing.”

“Well, since all of that is settled, we shall divide the dragon’s hoard equally. I’m sure we’ll all take trophies from the dragon’s corpse. I, myself, will grab some of the beast’s hide.” Targus says. He continues, “Perhaps, Your Majesty, you’d be kind enough to arrange some wagons for us, to haul our treasure.”

“Might I also suggest, noble king, that the Barony of Harenshire would make a fine first stop for your caravans. Perhaps our svirfneblin artisans have goods of particular interest to you.”

Ando: “Wagons will be unnecessary. My magic will transport us and our treasure when we are ready to depart.”

King Valster: “We have not traded with the south since an earthquake closed the Pass of Rambault several generations ago. Now that we are granted access to Whitehoof Pass by the grace of his Highness and the Vrechans it is a renewed possibility that we will certainly consider come springtime.”

There is a commotion at the entry as a dark-bearded dwarf in blood-spattered armor exchanges hasty words with the guards and tromps into the audience hall.

Dwarf Captain: bowing low “Pardon the intrusion my King, but you asked to be informed as soon as the situation in the river district had resolved.”

King Valster: “Of course Captain, continue.”

Dwarf Captain: “The last of the kobolds have been destroyed. The city is ours.”

Valster places both hands palms down on the table and lets out a visible sigh of relief

King Valster: “That is great news. Excellent work Captain. We still have much to do to restore the damages done by the dragon and her filth, but we can begin to move the populace back up soon. Stonemender, please dispatch word to my other advisors to attend me here within the hour.” turning back to the party “Again, I cannot thank you enough. I must prepare to address my men and meet with my council. The royal guest quarters are not habitable at this time but I have made arrangements for your comfort and refreshment in the Vault of the Gods, presently the only clean place in the mountain. Captain, please show them the way and provide anything else they might need.”

Targus and his companions follow the captain to the Vault of the Gods.

“So, Ando, where should we go in the morning? Should we head back to Harenshire, or are you ready to jump onto the open road? Maybe I’ll track down good Polonus to accompany us on our journeys.”

Targus begins removing his armor and cleaning his sword, while sitting on the bed provided for him.

“What was the haul from the treasure? I have to figure out how much I’m donating to Okfaust’s grove and to the Green Brotherhood.”

The Vault of the Gods is a cyst in the earth, similar to the inside of a gigantic geode. The place is as it was when you last left except the dwarven dead have been removed and several plain but comfortable looking cots have been laid out for you. Also a low table and chairs, several glasses, a cask of wine, and a platter of bread and cheese has been set up. A central monument to Moradin in the shape of a crystal anvil and several shrines to his allied gods are the only other adornments in this beautiful naturally occurring phenomenon.

Ando: “I’ll be creating a portal to my tower in Harenshire so Okfaust can return home. We may as well stop in so I can look in on my tower and restock my component pouches. I could catch up on a lesson or two with Skodris. It would be good to see Polonus as well. I’ve not had a chance to visit with him since his return from Cobb. We could rest and decide where to go from there.”

Morin: “I’ve a list here that Stonemender gave me.” Grinning broadly he hands you a parchment torn from a ledger. It reads:

Coins Gems
52,000 cp 21 @ 500 gp
43,219 sp 20 @ 1,000 gp
55,793 gp 12 @ 5,000 gp
2,371 pp
Art Objects Consumables
2 @ 400 gp candlesticks Potion of Vitality (x5)
8 @ 750 gp silver settings Potion of Recovery (x2)
10 @ 3,500 gp fine crystal silverware Gruntroog’s Warhorn
1 @ 4,000 gp tapestry Javelin of Lightning (x4)
1 @ 2,400 gp painting
6 @ 4,500 gp statues of adventurers
2 @ 2,000 gp platinum drinking horns
4 @ 600 gp electrum candelabras
6 @ 150 gp embroidered pillows
2 @ 1,000 gp glass figurines
1 @ 10,000 gp golden statue of dragon

Targus whistles in amazement when he sees the ledger. He looks off in the distance, his mind considering the enormity of the wealth the heroes now possess. With a serious face, he speaks.

“On second thought, Okfaust, I won’t be donating anything.”

He quickly launches into loud peels of laughter. A few minutes go by until Targus is composed enough to speak.

“Rest easy, friend, I speak in jest. I’m true to my word. I don’t know, though, if I can count that high.”

Morin: “Well, if this dwarf has his numbers right, not counting the consumables this ends up having a total worth of around 482,736 gold. If we split that evenly six ways it comes out to 80,456 each.” Morin’s grin could not get any wider. “I asked Stonemender to have it packed into six chests for transport.”

“I think we should all allocate some money for the Vrechans—to relieve their depleted treasury. Okfaust, I’ll be donating 20,000 gold pieces to the Green Brotherhood and, specifically, to the maintenance and upkeep of the Grove of Lowen in Harenshire. I care not what the rest of our coin is spent upon. All I know, Ando, is that I’d like to get on my way. I’ve got things to do, places to go, and people to liberate from evil. Let’s make haste to Harenshire. Go ahead, produce your magic chalk so that we might be gone from this place and on to further adventure.”

Morin: “What happened to (doing his best Targus impression) “return to your homeland to celebrate the occasion—with much wine, ale and women?”"

Ando: “I am eager to be our way as well, but perhaps we should stay long enough to make sure the caravan of food we sent gets here. I’d never hear the end of it if we left Snagger stranded here all winter.”

Okfaust: “Aye, I’ll be giving some ‘o me share ta the Vrechans. Ya can’t eat gold but it may help some if they can find surplus to buy somewhere in the North. We may ha’ liberated Orlishuz’s graineries but t’may not be ‘nuff ta last em through. I saw them lads down in the camp w’it ribs a’showin; been on short rations fer weeks I’m bettin. Here’s ta hoping Snagger’s wagons make it through the pass afore the snows hit.”

Targus: “Eh? I guess you’re right—I did say that. I’m just eager to get moving. I appreciate the dwarves’ hospitality, but I’m afraid I’ll grow too restless should I spend another day stationary. Let’s head out to Kjern’s lands. Maybe we can even ride out to meet Snagger’s caravan? Anything’s better than waiting around here for something to happen.”

Morin: “Well I didn’t force march all the way up North, losing a good horse in the mountains, and then do all the dirty work just to give away my hard-earned treasure. No, my coins will be coming with me. Kjern can eat snow. If he wanted a share, he should have come to kill the dragon instead of “keeping the kobolds off your back.” Gods, I am freezing my loins off!" Morin shivers and wraps up in a blanket on his cot.

Ando: “I’m exhausted and bruised from a rather full day of dragon slaying myself. I’m going to retire.” Ando closes the spellbook in his lap and places it in his pack.

Several hours pass.

The Vault of the Gods is quiet. The embers of the fire have died down and all the companions are asleep in their cots, even the elves who are usually light sleepers.

All save Targus.

Usually you have no trouble finding sleep after battle. You know you should be tired and the wounds you took should ache but they seem a mere annoyance as you scratch absently at the poultice Okfaust bound to your arm. You feel restless, even energized. As you replay the events of yesterday’s battles in your head your thoughts turn once again to the future and the somewhat spontaneous declaration you made to your friends. Laying on your back on a cot you stare at the domed ceiling above you. Light refracts multicolored off the crystalline formations. Wait, what light? The fire has burned out! You bolt upright to see a soft glow coming from one of the vault’s alcoves. Agan’s shrine. The one that holds the platinum dragon idol, you are sure of it!

Targus rises quickly from the bed and approaches the alcove where the platinum dragon rests. He drops to a knee and genuflects in front of the idol.

“If this is a sign from you, my Lord Agan, I humbly await your guidance.” Targus says quietly.

As if in answer to your plea, the faint light grows into a strong radiant brilliance. Mounted on the wall behind the platinum dragon idol is a plain white shield: the symbol of The Protector, the aspect of Agan that protects the weak, liberates the oppressed, and defends order. This shield now begins to glow, then it grows slowly larger, expanding, until it is twice the height of a man. It glows as bright as the sun now, and you reflexively shield your eyes, unable to gaze upon it directly.

Then the glow fades to a dim light. As your eyes adjust you can now see through the shield to a place beyond. The shield-shaped doorway opens onto a mountainside. Above is a snow-capped peak of impossible height wreathed in mist and clouds. Far below, a green sea laps placidly against the forested base of the mountain. Inside the portal stands a graceful female form in ornate white-enameled armor bearing spear and shield. Though you have never seen the face behind the featureless mask of her winged helm, you recognize Valsharane.

Agan’s Exarch beckons to you as her soft melodious voice sounds in your mind.
Valsharane: “Come Targus. You have been summoned.”

Targus rises to his feet and walks through the shield-doorway. His head swivels left and right, taking in the sights of this mystical realm. He inhales deeply through his nose and then exhales slowly through his mouth.

“It is good to see you again, mighty Valsharane. Because of you, my friends and I are still alive. I’m eternally in your debt, it would seem.”

Targus bows politely and snaps to attention.

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Voralak

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