Renaer Neverember walked into the tavern with a dark-skinned human companion. “Ah, Korahd. Where is everyone?”
“We’re all here, today,” the eladrin replied. “Too dangerous to wander the streets alone now. Who’s your friend?”
“This is Nugai.” He turned to the man. “Nugai, this is the group I was telling you about.”
The man nodded. “Yes, it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance. Renaer has always had only good things to say about you all. Professionally, I am known as Brother Ondateem. But since we are to work together, it may be simpler for you to refer to me as Nugai.”
“Welcome to our humble establishment,” said Wean.
“Well met, Nugai. I’m Korahd Shadowinter; this is Wean, and that’s Swift over there.”
“Thank you very much.”
“Did Ranaer bring you up to speed on what’s going on here?”
“He did.” Nugai paused, his expression turning sympathetic. “I was very sorry to hear about your friend.”
“Thank you.” Almost immediately, Korahd’s eyes welled up with tears.
“He died doing his job,” said Wean. “The best many of us can hope for. Also, we were very outmatched. It’s a mistake we hope to avoid next time around.”
Nugai nodded solemnly. “Might I secure a room for my tenure among you?”
Korahd wiped her eyes. “Oh, of course! Let me show you.” Nugai smiled warmly and let her lead him away. “We’ll put you in this room here, okay? Come see us once you’ve gotten settled.”
“Of course. Thank you.”
Nugai returned downstairs a few minutes later, as Lord Neverember was taking his leave. “If there is nothing else, I will be returning home.”
“Be well, Renaer,” said Nugai.
“And watch your back,” added Swift.
“Thank you, I will,” said the nobleman.
“We’ll send word when there is some,” said Korahd. After Renaer left, Korahd grabbed the last bottle of raspberry mead from the bar and sat at her favorite table.
“As to the task at hand, you have the artifact, which has told you the location of the vault. You have secured the three keys, as well?” said Nugai.
“We have,” said Swift.
“Is there anything more you require?”
The Shifter shook his head. “Only thing left to do is prepare for meeting a dragon … however you do that.”
Nugai smiled. “I am inclined to pray.”
“Say something nice for me too,” said Swift.
“And mending, if and when that meeting goes poorly for us,” said Korahd.
Without further ado, they rose and left the tavern.
Korahd peppered Nugai with questions on the way to the mausoleum, not all of them pertinent.
The cleric took her questions in stride, thoughtfully replying to each. “I am not certain of the best recipe for preparing displacer beast. Perhaps something with curry?” he said as they neared the mausoleum.
The Q&A was interrupted as the largest tree growing in front of the entrance awakened and growled, “Only those of Brandath blood are welcome here! Begone!”
“Oh, but that’s where you’re mistaken, Your Treefulness,” said Korahd. “Wean is, in fact, a scion of that house.”
“He is not. None of you are.”
“If I may, Green One, how do you know that for certain?”
“I can sense you do not carry the blood of the Brandath family line.”
“I take it this was not one of the keys,” said Nugai.
“Not according to the Stone, no.” Korahd reached into her bag of holding for the Stone. “Say there, Golorr, do we know anyone with the blood of Brandath?”
“There are books that cover these things,” said Wean.
“Do you have one on you?” asked Swift. “’Cause that would be awesome.”
“No, but most libraries in the northward should have a copy. I expect I can find a copy if we want to track down one of these Brandath kin.”
“Do we?” asked Nugai.
“No idea. Just seemed like information worth sharing.”
“I don’t know if we have that kind of time,” said Korahd. “I’m still not wholly convinced that the Zhents or bloody Orcus himself didn’t follow us here. So, fellows, what do we do?”
“I am the protector of this tomb,” said the treant. “I can only let those of the Brandath line enter.”
“Treant, are others allowed to enter with permission from someone of the right bloodline?” asked Wean.
“Blast it all,” said Korahd. “Fine, let’s find a Brandath.”
* * *
The adventurers were annoyed that Renaer did not know about his mother’s family mausoleum and its treant guardian. Somewhat sheepishly, the young nobleman agreed to accompany them for the last part of this task.
The treant nodded to Renaer respectfully. “Lord Neverember. Your mother was a lovely person.”
They entered the mausoleum.
Inside, a family emblem was emblazoned on the floor between four ostentatious marble coffins, each engraved with the names of those interred within. After a passing glance, they continued farther within. Empty sconces adorned the walls, cobwebs and dust indicated that no one had tended to this place in a long time. More stone coffins lined the walls in alcoves.
A wide stone corridor ended before an adamantine double door bearing Dwarvish runes. The doors had neither handles nor hinges and the writing on them read: “THE THREE KEYS. BRING THEM FORTH." The adventurers presented the three “keys” that the Stone of Golorr had identified and the great door swung open ponderously.
Beyond, three age-worn columns supported crumbling stone bridges 60 feet overhead, with the ceiling rising another 20 feet beyond that. Set into alcoves were twelve sets of double doors made of iron. Each door was embossed with images of dwarf warriors in plate armor.
“Do you have dwarves in your family tree, Renaer?” Korahd asked. “Or did they just build all this for your family?”
“No idea,” the young man admitted.
“Perhaps you should reconnect with your mother’s side of the family,” advised Nugai.
The party took a few minutes to explore the chamber, and after a while, the cleric of Lliira commented. “Most of these doors are fake. Those are not,” he pointed to the two sets in the northwest corner.
Past the doors on the eastern wall, the path turned southward. The north wall bore a large square fresco that depicted dwarves battling goblins. At the far south end of the chamber, expertly carved stairs climbed 70 feet up to the next area.
Three pillars running the length of the hall were carved to resemble warhammers, with their square heads pressed against the floor. The west wall bore a cracked mosaic that depicted a dwarf smith at a forge, crafting dwarves out of black metal and diamonds. Three archways in the east wall led to crumbling bridges that spanned the entrance foyer and ended in front of adamantine doors. A little more than halfway down the hall, a section of the western mural had broken off, forming a heap of shattered tile on the floor.
“Okay … this place is confusing,” said Swift. “Great craftsmanship … but confusing.”
“The wealthy can afford the most insane of architects,” said Nugai.
“Hey, there’s a door over here,” said Korahd, pointing to the west wall, near the south wall. The door was heavy, and Nugai stepped up to push it open for the group.
A dust-filled room must have lain untouched since the time of the Delzoun dwarves. Green copper urns on platforms overflowed with coins, gems, and more. They unceremoniously shoved it all into Korahd’s bag of holding.
They crossed the southernmost of the three bridges first and spent some time forcing the door open. The north, east, and south walls of the room were adorned with dust-covered frescoes depicting dwarf smiths at work in their forges. An iron anvil sat atop a raised stone block in the middle of the floor. Both fixtures were draped in cobwebs. Swift noticed that the stone hammer being wielded by the smith in the fresco on the south wall could be removed. It left a hammer-shaped indentation in the wall.
“We may need that somewhere else,” said Korahd.
Nugai examined the hammer. "There are Dwarvish runes here.
“What does it say?”
“They translate to ‘Let hearts be lifted and battles won.’”
“I like the hammer.”
“Oh, and there are runes on the stone beneath the anvil, as well. ‘Let the hammer fall and the anvil ring.’”
“So let’s take the hammer to the anvil and see what happens,” said Swift.
Nugai nodded. “Sensible.”
When the anvil was struck with the hammer, an aura of protective magic enveloped everyone.
“I feel good, and I’m not scared at all. I just feel kind of… kind of invincible…” said Swift.
“Me, too,” said Korahd. “I got a very positive attitude about this.”
Across the north bridge, they found a 10-foot-tall painted statue of an armored male dwarf wielding a battleaxe and wearing a mask standing at the back of the room. Before the statue, set into the floor, was an adamantine trapdoor with a pull ring along one side. They looked around for more Dwarvish verse but found none. And so they considered the statue.
“I think it’s a dwarf!” said Korahd.
“I know it’s not Gond,” said Swift.
“One of the obscure Dwarf gods,” said Nugai.
Korahd nodded. “I’ll have to find a dwarf to ask when we’re done here. Should we see what’s in the other room before we go opening this door?”
“Might as well take a peek,” said Swift. “Try the trap door?”
Nugai grabbed the ring and attempted to lift the door open. When he did, the statue’s eyes lit up and a blast fire struck the cleric. The protective magic from the anvil room took some of the flames, but he was still singed. “Ow,” he said.
“Rat crap!” said Korahd.
“I will tend to my burns while you investigate the next bridge. If you want to do that. Though perhaps we should try to stay on task to reach the actual vault.” Korahd and Swift crossed the bridge while Wean sat with Nugai, attuning to a magic headband they had found.
The advance scouts found four suits of rusted plate armor sized for a dwarf, standing in the corners of the final bridge room. Each suit was draped in cobwebs, and Dwarvish runes were carved into the far wall.
Korahd called out: “Hey, Nugai, which is the rune that’s shaped like a man in a boat?”
“Sure,” she said, nonplussed, “but how do you say it in Dwarvish?”
Nugai pronounced it then said, “Have you found a Dwarven Kama Sutra?”
“Maybe? I can’t read any of this. I guess we need you to come translate it once you’re less charred up.”
About eight minutes later, Nugai joined the others. “It says ‘A secret never before told will part Dumathoin’s lips.’”
“Is ‘Dumathoin’ Dwarvish for ‘vagina’?” asked Korahd.
“I think he’s the God of secrets…” said Swift. “So that makes sense.”
“But that’s not the one in the other room, with the mask?”
Swift shrugged. “Don’t think so.”
“Ah. I see no lips to part. Perhaps it refers to opening a passageway?” said Nugai. “Does anyone care to part with a secret?”
“I was the one who farted and ruined Midwinter!” Korahd announced. “I’ve never said that aloud.”
A spiral stairway opened in the middle of the floor heading deeper into the dwarven complex.
“Your gaseous confession has opened the way,” said Nugai.
“Oh, good.” The eladrin’s cheeks were reddened. “Let’s move on.”
The cleric did not conceal his grin. “You serve the Joybringer well, my new friend.”
Although deep underground, the vault below was lit by streams of sunlight that poured down from the ceiling, catching motes of dust in their luminous pools. Ornate columns supported a vaulted ceiling, which was adorned with carvings of dwarves basking in the presence of their gods. Deep alcoves lined the walls, and piled in one of them was a vast golden trove.
Out of the dusty gloom stepped an aged dwarf clutching a staff carved and painted to resemble a pair of entwined dragons – one red, one gold. Despite the dwarf’s age, his eyes were steady and bright. “I wasn’t expecting anyone,” he said plainly. “As you can see, the place is a mess. Perhaps you should come back later, after I’ve tidied up a bit.”
“That’s all right,” said Korahd. “We’ve had months to clean our tavern and you’d never know it to look at it. Korahd Shadowinter at your service.” She approached him.
“Barok Clanghammer. Pleased to meet ya.”
Nugai introduced himself then thought to say, “This is Renaer Neverember.”
“Oh, Lord Neverember. My, have you grown. Last time I saw you, you were a wee lad.”
Renaer frowned. “Uh, hello. I apologize, but I don’t really remember you.”
“Of course not, you were mebbe a few months old.”
“Are you a guardian here?” said Korahd. “Or one of them? We were told there’s a gold dragon here somewhere.”
“Dragon? Dragon’s can’t enter Waterdeep, lass.”
“Oh? Oh. We saw one in the harbor, but maybe that doesn’t count as the city.”
“And we are deep beneath Waterdeep, are we not?” said Nugai.
The dwarf shrugged, so Korahd pressed on. “Well, dragon or no, the Zhentarim have been trying to get into this vault, and we… Well, we’re tired of crossing paths with them over the Stone of Golorr.”
“Zhentarim you say?” said Barok. “Who has the stone now?”
“We do. Or, more specifically, I do. We were thinking that, if we simply give it to you – well, you in the absence of a dragon – that might keep them from getting in here.”
“It seemed like a solid plan at the time,” said Wean.
“I see,” said Barok.
“And,” Korahd added quickly, “we aren’t interested in the treasure. Not in any of it. That isn’t why we’re here. We just want to make sure that Bad Guys can’t have it.”
“So you would give me the stone to guard? Yes, I guess if I have it no one else would be able to get to the treasure.”
“Do you … live down here?” asked Swift.
“Yes, I try to take care of the place.”
“How do you get in and out? The way we came in hadn’t been trodden in decades.”
“I have my ways. I am a dwarf after all.”
Swift frowned. “Very powerful people are killing one another to get the Stone because it is the map to the only way into the most secure vault in Waterdeep … but you have your ways. You must be very powerful yourself.”
During the conversation, Wean wandered the vault, stopping to pick up a single gold piece from the pile. When he returned to the others, he said, “He seems to legitimately live here.”
“That’s not yours,” said Barok.
“What are you talking about?”
“I heard you take gold from the pile.”
“I wouldn’t be much of a guard if I couldn’t tell if someone tried taking something or stop them from doing it.”
Wean flicked a piece of gold back into the pile, but not the one he took. The dwarf seemed satisfied. “Barok, are you a dragon?”
The dwarf burst out laughing, and Korahd, startled, joined him. “I like you,” said Barok when he’d recovered from his mirth. “I haven’t had this much fun in ages.”
“So you guard this treasure,” said Swift. “That makes this situation problematic. As Korahd said, we don’t want the gold really. But someone who already killed one of our friends wants it very badly, and he knows we have the stone. So as long as that gold stays here, he will be coming after us to get the stone and information.”
“Well if I have the stone. I can change the keys, then no one will be able to enter after you leave,” said Barok.
“But then how with the rightful owner know how to get in? And who is that anyhow?”
“Lord Neverember is the rightful owner. Well, the other Lord Neverember.”
“Also the Zhents would still come after us.”
“Are you asking to move in with me?”
“Not really asking for anything. I’m saying that we have to give the Zhents no more reason to want to get in here. Then the information we have is worthless and they’ll leave us alone … maybe.”
“That doesn’t seem like Barok’s problem, no,” said Korahd. “We’ll have to deal with the Zhentarim ourselves, one way or another.”
Barok nodded. “I can prevent them from getting the gold, but that’s about it. Without the stone, they wouldn’t be able to get in here.”
Korahd took the Stone out of her bag and offered it to the dwarf. “Then, here. Take it. Please.” Barok nodded and accepted the Stone. The eladrin exhaled in relief. “I only need ONE inanimate object talking to me, please and also thank you.”
“Will the stone know the new keys, once you change them?” asked Wean.
“Unfortunately,” said Barok.
“How much gold are we talking about here? Does it even matter if the Zhent’s get it? They’re already immensely wealthy, are they not?”
“If they want it so badly, there is probably a very bad reason for it,” said Nugai. “I would say keeping it from them matters.”
“Well, I don’t want to be on the receiving end of death for not having an item the Zhents assume we have, so it would be nice to resolve that detail before we ascend to the impending doom which waits above.”
“That seems a separate matter from whether or not the Stone remains with Barok.”
“It seems material to me. Could we not simply break the stone, so there is something to hand over; both preventing re-entry into this place AND giving us a chance at falling off the Zhent’s ‘to do’ list?”
“Do you want Barok to give us a RECEIPT?” said Korahd, incredulous.
“Well… We can give it to you, and the Zhents will kill us. Or we can give it to them and be done with it,” said Swift.
“I already gave it to him, Swift. Do you want it back?”
Nugai frowned. “Well, I am here for Renaer. My Lord, what do you think?”
The nobleman looked exceedingly uncomfortable. “My father embezzled this wealth. I feel we should return it to whomever it actually belongs to.”
Korahd sighed. “Right. The people it actually belongs to.”
“If Barok will allow it,” said Nugai. They all turned their attention back to the dwarf.
“If we could even get this much money out of here, would you allow us to return it to its rightful owners?” said Korahd.
The dwarf considered for a long moment. “Aye, if you feel that’s best, Lord Neverember. Let me walk you out.”
Unfortunately, as they entered the iron door gallery, they stumbled into a fight in progress: Zhents led by Manshoon against Zhents led by Istrid Horn. Seeing this, Barok shapechanged to an adult gold dragon.
“I knew it!” cried Korahd.