15th day of Alturiak. Mid-Morning. Entrance to Mines.
As Kersath and Kre move about the entrance examining the newfound tracks, Ortho, Druckner, and Snagger see to the mules and taking out some of the equipment for the trek below. After some shuffling of equipment from their personal mounts to the mules or their backpacks, the companions bid farewell to Garyld as he sets out to return the mounts to Milbourne.
With the dwarves seeing to the equipment, Dain lifts his backpack containing his goods and turns to his leader, "Talimar, shall you, Kre, Beleg, Garth, Ras, Kersath and I scout out the upper level of the mine and let the dwarves get down to their business? It wouldn't hurt to see what the mine's new visitors are up to. I don't know if we should storm the mines blades drawn, though." He smiles and continues, "I'd hate to hurt old Druck's feelin's by making him miss a tussle."
Druckner takes a moment from securing a line to one of the mules and smiles at Dain, "You tussle up without me, Ortho an' Gnore an' you'll be sorry!"
"Druck, Snag, it falls to us to get the mules down into the mines. Ah suggest we start puttin' together the lift while the others take a looksee to see who or what made these tracks. Ah'm not real crazy about bein' surprised," states Ortho matter-of-factly.
"Ok, but it'd probably be easier if we started buildin' tha thin' right over tha hole," answers Druckner.
"Wal, then let's go. Yer the engineer," agrees Ortho.
"We spent ah lot o money on dem mules," comments Snagger, "Ah'd lak ta make sure they're safe. I'll walk right behind dem mules. Ye know, keep em in check an keep any monsters from gettin' em. One things fer sure, we don want some big monster caryin' 'way half our geer. So les make sure they got somebody ta watch ther tails."
"We'll go with our normal order of march," begins Talimar as he sees the others are nearly ready. "Kersath and Kre about thirty yards ahead of the others scouting. Beleg and Gnore will follow with Beleg carrying one of Garth's enchanted light stones. Then Garth and myself with Snagger and his mule and Dain behind us. Druckner and his mules will be followed by Ortho and his with Ras bringing up the rear. That agreeable to everyone?"
Seeing the nods of approval from everyone, Talimar moves forward to secure his own gear, ready to start the trek down to the mines. After a while of remaining silent while the dwarves make their arrangements with the mules and start planning the 'mule lift', Kersath approaches the group from his position near the mouth of the cave. "I hope you got it all figured out, because right now there's something a bit more important concerning us...Those tracks," he points to the footprints, "could have been made by another group of mercenaries, here to reclaim the orc stronghold. They might be the rest of Ramor's men who we never found." Everyone can see Kersath's eyes go bright with a faint glow of rage, "In any case, we should be doubly careful when going in there. If they came and saw all the orc bodies, they might be better prepared for us."
With a deep sigh, the dark elf shakes his head and adds, "Boy, never though I'd become so serious. I mean, I'm becoming really depressing." And with that, he returns to his post near the cave's mouth.
"I think he's right," says Talimar as Kersath walks away. "Until we know for sure who and what these tracks mean, we'd better be on the lookout."
Turning to Kersath and Kre, Talimar motions them forward, "We are all ready. Lead on..."
Without a word, the dark elf and the youthful thief make their way into the main tunnel of the mine entrance. The train of the group easily moves through the large tunnels of the mine as they head into the interior. Kersath and Kre see that the footprints continue on into the mineshaft as well. After a few yards, Beleg takes an enchanted stone from Garth and holding it aloft, can now easily see in the normally dark tunnels. Several yards behind him, Dain takes out another similarly enchanted stone and holds it up to allow its light to lead him as well.
The mules are a bit reluctant to enter the tunnels but a few well chosen and encouraging words from Ortho has them moving right along. The tunnels are quiet and appear to be undisturbed since the last time the Company was here; excepting of course for the footprints leading below. Following Ol' Grizzler's map again, the Company heads down the long main tunnel and into the chamber marked as the 'Flitch of Bacon'. Kersath acknowledges that the footprints continue on but that the party made their way to the right and investigated the chambers beyond before obviously returning to this chamber.
Continuing on, the Company stays south and follows the long chamber until they reach the 'Poached Egg Chamber' and the area there with a number of stalactites on the floor. Kersath again remarks that the tracks veer off the main passage to apparently investigate the tunnel leading beyond.
"I'm inclined to believe they aren't remnants of Ramor's band," remarks Kersath to Talimar as they wait for the dwarves to navigate the mules through the narrow tunnel with the stalactites. "They appear to be checking out these dead-end tunnels. You'd think they would know they were dead-ends if they were of his band."
"Possibly," states Talimar as he rubs his chin, pondering the words of Kersath. "But it could also be that they were checking them to insure that they were clear again. We'll know more when we reach the second level and the shack there."
Kersath nods as he rejoins Kre up ahead as they move into the last chamber on the first level. A few minutes later they are joined by the others and the group thankfully takes a needed rest. Guessing the hour to be shortly after noon, they decide to take a quick lunch as Druckner unloads the equipment necessary to build the pulley for the mules. Following their meal, Kre and Kersath venture down the rusty ladder in the shaft to investigate the chamber beneath.
Without a problem, Kersath and Kre easily pick up the trail of the group as it continues on into the mines below. A couple of hours of fruitless searching and they return above to report that the shack below and the others chambers are all clear. Druckner reports that they are prepared to lower the mules below as the Company quickly sets about to take the equipment from the backs of the animals. Feeling confident that the pulley is secure and the shaft having been expanded to allow the mules to pass below, Druckner nods that he is ready. The other companions make their way below, carrying the other equipment with them leaving Druck and Ortho above to handle the mules.
It is late afternoon as Druckner and Ortho finally climb down the rusty ladder, Druckner wearing a broad grin as he carries the pulley over to one of the mules. He nods and smiles at the words of praise from his companions as they begin to load the equipment back onto the mules.
"My design. Ortho's idee," he says as he slaps his companion on the back.
Unsure of the hour in the dark underground, but relying on the heightened sense and abilities of the dwarves and the drow, Kersath, they surmise that it is early evening as they move into the chamber containing the shack that was the headquarters of Ramor's men. As the group moves into the chamber, Kersath becomes visibly angered as he moves through the area where he was bested by Ramor. His blood boiling, the dark elf feels a rage come over his body as the battle replays slowly in his mind. His companions give him a wide berth as they move to investigate the empty shack, Kersath walking over to the area where Ramor landed the near fatal blow to him, the ground still stained red with his blood.
"I believe we should camp here tonight," states Talimar as he leaves the dark elf to his own thoughts. "We can use the shack to build a fire for the evening and can easily defend this position. I believe we have gone as far as we can this day."
The others nod to Talimar as they take stock for the first time of their own tired bodies, the packing and unpacking of the equipment on the mules and the labor involved in lowering them below having finally taken their toll. "Beleg, Druckner and Talimar will take the first watch, followed by Gnore, Ras, Garth and Snagger. The last will be manned by Kersath, myself, Ras and Dain," states Ortho as Talimar broaches the subject of the group's watch.
Gnore shakes his head at the suggestion of the watch, "No, as always, I'll share first watch."
"Perhaps we could swap then Gnore, since I prefer a midnight or dawn watch anyway," Beleg says. "Of course, I'll abide by whatever our leader thinks best," he adds with a glance toward Talimar.
Gnore looks up at the large paladin and nods with a thoughtful frown, "I'll make the switch with ye." Likewise, Gnore glances in Talimar's direction out of reflex.
Talimar shrugs at the two, "Whatever makes you happy. The only real requirement is to have nightvision on each watch."
"I think I should be in the middle watch but not the last one too," states Ras as he notices a slight error in Ortho's order. "Halflings get tired to ya know," he winks at Ortho and then tends to securing the area.
"Ah, sorry 'bout that, Ras," laughs Ortho. "I'm sure Kre wouldn't mind ye coverin' his watch though!"
After securing the area, taking the equipment from the backs of the mules and seeing to their feeding, the companions settle down to a quiet meal of dry rations. The evening passes without event as the companions spend their first night in over a week in the dark underground again. Conversation is light throughout the night as the companions keep their thoughts on the task ahead but it is jovial when found.
16th day of Alturiak. Morning. Garlstone Mines.
Guessing at the hour, Ortho finally awakens the other companions as the last watch comes to an end. Consuming a quick breakfast, the Company quickly has the mules loaded and ready to head further down. Heading out of the chamber, they move north again and head to the room with the doorway leading to the caverns of the orcs. The footprints of the mysterious group continues deeper into the mines, again heading off in other directions to scout out the other chambers. Upon reaching the chamber with the door, the companions strangely find that the doorway has been shattered, completely broken away from its hinges.
Speaking a few minor words of power, Dain checks for the presence of magic and after a few moments, softly nods his head. "There is a residue of magic here. Old, a number of days or so, but magic nonetheless. Apparently they didn't like that Ras locked the doors on our way out..."
Unable to determine anything else that happened there, the group moves on into the guard chamber of the orcs. Passing through this chamber, the group first notices the foul smell throughout it. The bodies of the orcs there are being consumed by a number of different carrion and the smell is truly awful. The Companions quietly pass by the decaying remains of the orog Garundzer, each thinking of that terrible battle and the loss of Brother Randor.
Despite the stench, Beleg takes a moment to stop and kneel, quietly praying to Forseti for Randor's soul. After a few moments, he rises and nods to the others to continue. A couple of hours later, the group finally reaches the last chamber of the orc caverns and the one in which they originally met the Svirfneblin. Kersath quickly notices that the trail they have been following continues east through the secret tunnel leading to the Underdark. There is no sign of the Svirfneblin anywhere or any evidence that they met up with the group that headed east.
"Wal, what do we do now, fearless leader?" asks Druckner of Talimar. "Do we wait here or continue on and try ta find the Svirfneblin?"
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