Going further into the less-visited area of the Horned Hold, the party finds an old minotaur crypt. Lucan takes a ceremonial axe from this room and barge through the only other door into a room that is occupied by the duergar. It once held reservoirs of water, but now the reservoirs are mostly dried up and contain slaves. Among the slaves, Tam’elanath is rediscovered by the party, but Paldemar is not. He breaks free and joins the fight, and together they continue into the hold and slay the leader of the Grimmerzhul duergar, Murkelmor. After this, they persuade some orc mercenaries to let them pass a checkpoint, and go to find the rest of the slaves in the Hold’s kitchens, where another fight breaks out. And just when it seems like things are going well, Thair Coalstriker reappears with the duergar theurge who revived him.
Notes: Tam’elanath was captured in Lakeside and brought here by the duergar. Garmeth is particularly well-spoken in the conversation to persuade the orcs to back down, which is unusual given his known difficulty in sensible discussion. The fight in the kitchens was not going so well at first, but the party was just bouncing back when Thair and the theurge showed up. In the next session, this would almost result in a total party kill, but thankfully that did not happen.
Anyway, it’s not my fault Thair keeps getting brought back.
Far, Barrakas 13, 998 YK (Day 27)
After defeating the wights in the ruined chapel, the party proceeds to the opposite end of the room, where there is an old portcullis in place. Stahlstrauss attempts to lift it, but it gets stuck halfway; Cecil crawls underneath and opens it with a lever on the other side. The ancient mechanism eventually gives, and the portcullis opens. The party proceeds up the darkened stairway.
At the top, Cecil lights a sunrod, and reveals that they are currently in a crypt-like room, with sarcophagi along the floor and in alcoves on the wall. At the far end, there is a large statue of a skeletal minotaur (identified as the minotaur personification of death) which appears to have been intended to hold a weapon (though the weapon is now gone), and a chest in front of it. Garmeth picks the lock on the chest and removes the item from within, which is a magic cloth mantle that fades away at the edges – apparently some sort of ritual burial shroud. He takes it and wears it, and the party proceeds down a different set of stairs to a closed door. Before anything else, Stahlstrauss bangs aggressively on the door (why? Who knows). Frantic voices yell from the other side to prepare for combat. The door is opened all the way.
The room contains three deep pits, one of which is filled with water. There are more duergar in this room, and two spiny creatures (identified by Eshunu as spined devils, or – more accurately – “Spinagons”) who are tending to the dry pits, which contain sets of slaves packed tightly and chained against the pit walls. One of the slaves is an elf, who is attempting to mock the devils, but the devils find it amusing rather than bothersome. They all attack the party as they enter, save for one devil who begins killing the chained slaves, thinking that the Eclipse Collective has come to rescue them.
Framarth, the theurge (equivalents of priests to the duergar) in the room assails the party with blasts of brimstone and horrible fumes, causing them some damage while the other duergar and the devils fight them directly. In the confusion, the elf slave sees an opportunity to slip out of his shackles as he has been planning for some time, and makes a daring acrobatic escape, fleeing out of the room and out of sight. The fight continues in spite of his escape, as the Collective is more of a threat.
But the elf is more formidable than he seems. A short time later, he returns to the room, and opens the chest where the duergar were keeping the slave’s possessions. He quickly reequips himself with his gear, and begins firing arrows from his bow while trying to stay out of sight. Before long, the duergar and the devils are beaten, and the elf introduces himself to the party.
It is none other than Tam’elanath Edroin, one of the very first members of the Eclipse Collective (before it was even called that). Zil’dejin recognizes him instantly, and Tam’elanath explains how he was captured by the duergar in Lakeside some time ago. He decides to take up arms again with the party, at least until he can get out of Thunderspire. The Collective then frees the slaves, who tell the party that Paldemar is not among those just freed, but there are other slaves in the great hall. They request that the party escorts them back to safety. Remembering the trouble at the Seven Pillared Hall, they are reluctant to do so, but eventually Zil’dejin leads them to the armory they discovered earlier to arm the former slaves and parts with the group to lead them out of the mountain himself.
Meanwhile, the rest of the group proceeds onwards in the direction they were told to find the great hall, and find a door that seems to hold loud yelling and laughter behind it. Thinking this to be the hall, they open the door to find what appears to be the head of the duergar within, accompanied by a few of his men. This is Murkelmor, the head warlord of the Horned Hold. As the group enters, he tells them that he intends to sell them as slaves to the mind flayers. Combat begins.
Murkelmor and his men fight hard, but are overwhelmed. Though they are able to expand in size (and strength) when cornered, the Collective wears them down before long. Tam’elanath demonstrates his almost-forgotten skill by turning one of the shock troopers into an apparent sponge, with a massive singular entry wound and dozens of tiny exit wounds on his back. Their leader Murkelmor is spared for the purpose of obtaining information, but all of his men are killed. He is bound (read: wrapped entirely with rope from neck to feet) by Stahlstrauss and interrogated by the party, revealing some important information. Paldemar is no slave of the duergar, and has apparently recently been dealing with a gnoll named Maldrick Scarmaker, who runs a gang of his kind in Thunderspire called the “Blackfangs.” They operate out of an area elsewhere in the labyrinth called the “Well of Demons.” Murkelmor gives no more information than this, so Stahlstrauss thinks to leave him in his bedroom and fill the room with smoke from the fireplace there. Eshunu prevents this from happening, and so the group just leaves him there instead. They also take a treasure mounted on his wall: a fierce-looking greataxe, clearly taken from the minotaur statue found earlier. It is taken by Lucan.
From here, they proceed further towards the great hall, and encounter a group of orcs, accompanied by an ogre and led by a half-orc. As combat is about to begin, one orc (who fled the party earlier) recognizes the group, and begins yelling in panic about the terrifying warforged and the man who split his own tongue on his axe. The Collective attempts “diplomatic” resolutions, and rattles off their defeats of the duergar so far while talking down the orcs. Eventually, the orcs subsist, and are willing to let them pass, particularly because they are now looking for Maldrick Scarmaker and his gnolls. The half-orc leader attempts to mark their map to indicate where they can find the Well of Demons, and the party goes on their way.
They find an abandoned barracks, bar the door, set up Stahlstrauss and Eshunu to watch over them, and rest for the night.
Sar, Barrakas 14, 998 YK (Day 28)
When they wake, they proceed across a bridge to the last section of the Horned Hold they have not yet visited: the great hall. They are two duergar on guard at the door they enter through.
As they enter, Tam’elanath quickly spots a pile of rubble which is out of the ordinary. He calls attention to it, and it becomes apparent that the rocky covering is obscuring what appears to be a pile of raw diamonds.
The duergar now notice it as well, and flock to the diamonds to have their share. As they are distracted, Cecil binds one of them with the icy Chains of Levistus; the other one, rather than helping, bends to his greed and takes the opportunity. Both of them are killed quickly. Before long, though, they are supported by more duergar, and the party is assaulted by more guards and Rundarr, the duergar’s champion.
Besides this, crossbow bolts are hitting the party members from an unknown origin. Tam’elanath and Cecil are eventually pushed away from the rest of the party into a side hallway, where they discover the three remaining slaves. They inform the two that one of the duergar had turned invisible while they were watching.
Just as the fight seems to tip in their favour, there is some noise behind Eshunu, who is positioned “safely” on the bridge. A duergar theurge has arrived to join the fight.
And she has brought the revived Thair Coalstriker.