A strange group of 3 customers sat at the bar in madam Freona's teakettle. The hour was late, and the place had mostly cleared out, save the worst of the drunks and those who had a seat at Rando's nightly poker game. The group consisted of a dwarf, a large man, and a dragonborn. Adventurers, no doubt, for where else do the unusual races of the world mix and share their skills to cast out the darkness and its servants?
"Ok human, I promised ye a drink and a tale, and now ye have tha drink, so I must tell the tale", said the dwarf. "Well", said Culhwch, wiping foam from his beard, "I believe this single drink won't cover your long-windedness Gundar. You better talk quick!" Gundar eyed the human, made a face and said "You humans are so hasty. Those short lives don't help with your sense of respect and patience". Culhwch rolled his eyes and laughed as he made a twirling gesture with his finger- hurry it up already. The dragonborn watched this exchange and took it all in. Gundar had asked him to be here, and, although he personally had no stomach for the ale these two consumed in such quantity, he was glad to be a part of this sharing of friendship with the members of the band. "I think you both will want to hear this. It's relevant to tha jobs we've been doin in tha area" said Gundar. "I thought you were going to tell me about your people, dwarf" said Culhwch. "I'm getting to that you fool!" Gundar practically roared at him. Culhwch laughed and decided to stop riling up his old friend. It was far too easy. "Aye, my people. What happened to me clanhold, me past life". "As you know the dwarves are a proud folk. We of the Heldenhammer clan is some of the proudest. We kept our hold beneath the Dragonspine for some 800 or so years. Fended off the foul dark elves and dark dwarves, both of which wanted our finest works. I've told ye in tha past that I was a tunnel hunter, a type of dwarf scout sent out into the tunnels to see beyond the borders of our hold. Ye see, unlike the castles and fortifications of you surface dwellers, the underground races always have ta be thinkin attack could come from any angle. The dangers we faced living under the rock and soil were many, and the dwarves are not a numerous folk. Often we rely on the best weapons and armor, as well as some truly nasty traps to keep our foes away". Gundar chuckled at this thought, and Culhwch smiled a little as he though of how many souls much have been sent to Morrigan's realm at the hands of dwarven ingenuity. "We lived in relative danger, not because our enemies were so numerous, but because there were few nearby we could count on for strength if we were attacked. We had trade agreements with some surface lands, and at least one long standing treaty with the sverneblin gnomes of Tasthnelingorp, but those little fellas were hardly warriors." There was a commotion at the halflings' game table that stopped the story. One halfling with an eyepatch was yelling in the highest pitched voice at another across the table, accusing him of cheating. The other was saying something about how the first fellow's feet smelled like rotting cabbage. Madam Freona starting yelling across the bar at all of them, telling them they'd better settle down before she called the Black Fist in. The three at the bar knew this was an empty threat. Ever since the Bullocks took up residence here Freona hardly needed the help of the Fist and there was seldom any real trouble. Rando had whatever situation had broken out back in hand, no doubt soothing feelings so he could bilk more of the diminutive crowd out of their earnings. "As I was sayin " Gundar continued, shooting a dark glare over his shoulder, "we were able to hold our own and did well understandin' the threats in the area around us. We protected our hold and tha material wealth we had acquired fiercely. There were a few extremely rare and highly valuable items that had been crafted or found over the centuries. These were mostly sealed away in the thane's treasury. 'Twas hardly a secret we had these, for they was the pride of our hold. I might even presume our downfall was due to one of these items, though I know not specifically which. I can tell ye that I was away on long patrol, several weeks in the underdark. When I returned, well, it was scene of the most heartbreaking loss I can tell ye." Gundar's face became stoic and sagged a little further here. "All of me friends who weren't away were dead. They died at the hands of an odd and crude force. From what I and the other surviving scouts could see, a very large group of goblins, kobolds, orcs, ogres, knolls, and assorted beasts descended upon the hold. They clogged our traps with their dead, and many of our folk showed evidence of dying under the effects of some sort of poisonous vapor. Me people sold their lives dearly, taking perhaps as many as 10 of the invaders for every dwarf. The thane's treasury had been breached, and its riches looted. In many ways this assault appeared fairly straightforward, but it was the makeup of the force that was most unusual. These normally useless dregs had been formed into an organized band. They appeared to use tactics as well as have at least some knowledge about their target. They suffered a high number of casualties, yet pressed on despite this. Me and the surviving tunnel scouts followed their backtrail as far as we dared and there couldn't have been more than 100 bodies left. They had traveled back to their destination urgently, never really leaving the signs of rest. Driven you would say. That was odd too. Our hold was thoroughly destroyed, and there could not be another similar threat to such a force for many wheels." Culhwch and Krev sat awestruck, silent as the dwarf went on. "Me and the rest of the tunnel scouts, we had nothing left to cling to. We made for the surface and each went our separate ways. We were all too stunned and really there was nothing left of home. We all felt a tremendous amount of guilt over being away in our hold's hour of need. We were looking down for a threat instead of up you could say. The guilt had driven our little group apart. We all went to find new places, but we agreed to always stay in contact with one another, in case one should happen upon the architect behind our home's downfall. It was during all this unrest here locally in Phlan that I started to feel an itch." Culhwch looked like he was about to say something, then the dwarf cut in "I swear human if you make a joke about me rashes we are gonna go ta blows!" Culhwch smiled and innocently gestured "who me?" The dwarf went on "this itch I speak of, involves the gut. You start to feel like you see something or feel something and it goes with something ya seen or felt before. Well all this dragon business, these cults and the issues with the Fey folk, it reminded me that an awful powerful being was behind uniting those lesser mobs and sending em into Heldenhammer Hold. It reminds me of the work of a dragon, if I'm being specific." Here Krev suddenly got excited, and spoke for the first time since the tale began. "What makes you say that? There are many powerful creatures that could command such a force". Gundar replied. "Oh I know. I thought of that too at first. But like I said, an itch. It really began when we heard about that dragon Skrollwerx. He be the red devil that had so many factions working and dying just to grovel at his feet." Gundar nervously rubbed the warm metal of the red ring he had taken from that fool Spernik. "So I started asking questions, and spoke to some with the Enclave. I recruited a few minor scholars to dig into records for me and turn out anything having to do with those beasts right around that time." Gundar paused here briefly for effect. "There weren't a lot- I suspect a monster that cunning leaves few survivors. But there were stories, and sightings, and at least one tale similar to mine. It fits, but I know not which of the tyrants to pin the crime to yet. And now, I find, that I may be the last." "What do you mean?" Krev cut in. The excitement that his ancient kin might somehow be involved had him as on edge as either had ever seen him. "I mean," said Gundar, "that when I began to ask questions I had reached out to all my surviving scouts. I wanted to know what they might have discovered. And I couldn't reach a one of them. All gone, vanished as though they never existed." Culhwch looked troubled. He said "maybe they just moved away, out of touch?" Gundar shook his head. "No manling, we was kin. One or two maybe, but not all. And that itch, it grew more nagging than ever. This was the work of whatever monster was responsible for making me clanless, I'd bet me finest axe on it. And when I finally figure out which one it is, there will be a great many dwarves I'll need ta be avenging." Gundar banged his empty mug on the bar to signal he was done talking. Now, it was time to drink to the dead.