(I don’t own most of what you’re about to read, but if you’d like to read the saga from the party’s first adventure, click here.)
Laughter could be heard from outside Sildar’s office. The laughter of children. Upon hearing this, Vigo, Kir’thiri, and Ben looked out to see some much-needed hope in their world.
Lily was playing with Carp, each squealing as they chased each other around in circles outside of the townmaster’s office. It seemed that maybe, hopefully, both could begin to see past the trauma they’d each recently experienced. Though in truth they were surrounded by horrors still.
Sildar had explained the areas where he needed the most aid in attempting to keep Phandalin’s citizens safe:
Axeholme, the lost dwarven fortress that had been rediscovered by crews attempting to find Wave Echo Cave without Gundren’s map. If it could be cleansed of the undead or ghosts, or whatever supernatural ailment it was reportedly under, Sildar planned to have the people hold up behind its walls.
Find Wave Echo Cave using Gundren’s map to determine if there was any truth to the tales regarding its riches/capabilities. If so, maybe Sildar, the Lords’ Alliance behind him, could use that to Phandalin’s advantage. And if not maybe the bulk of the danger in the area would slink back to its shadows.
Communication with the delegation from Beregost — led in part by Wylan Tallfellow — had been lost and with it Sildar’s link to the southern Sword Coast. News was too valuable in this time of prebattle and Sildar needed those lines back open.
“I’ll go for any of our choices,” Ben said. “Let Kir’thiri decide. She’s good at that stuff.”
“I agree,” Vigo added. “Where are we going fearless leader?”
“Let me think about it,” Kir’thiri said with a sigh, unsure of how she felt about her new role as a leader.
Vigo smiled at Lilly and Carp playing, but a flashback to his little sister and brother playing tag close to the woods outside of Beregost shook him from their games. In his memory, Fildo had come up behind him, “You should be closer to them. Protect those that cannot protect themselves, son.”
Vigo snapped out of it and looked at Sildar. “Hey Sil, my dad taught me a thing or two about fighting when I was a kid. Do you think you could spare a little time to help me remember some of the finer points?”
Sildar looked at Vigo and nodded appreciatively, “I admire a person who wants to learn a new skill set. But, alas, I’ve far too much on my plate at the present time.” He pointed to Ben, “But I’ve shown a few steps and strategies to your friend, here. Maybe he could teach you some things.”
Vigo beamed at the idea. “How about it, Ben? Do you want to want to show me some moves?”
Ben, who was poring over his memories of everything that had happened recently, hoping that he had remembered any and everything that could prove useful to Sildar while, at the same time, weighing the virtues of the choices before them, snapped his head up at this name.
“Mmm? What’s going on?”
“I thought,” Sildar said, smiling, “that maybe you could show Vigo some of the steps I showed you. It will make for good practice for you as well.”
“There’s a war coming, Ben,” Vigo explained. There was a look on his face that Ben had never seen him wear. “I want to relearn how to fight.” Vigo made stabbing motions with his very empty hand. “Can you help me?”
Ben looked at Vigo with a disbelieving stare for a beat, then decided as he led Vigo outside. “Well, I’ll do my best. I haven’t been doing this very long. But yeah, let’s start on some unarmed things, first. Or did you want to learn sword stuff? I don’t really know any other weapons.”
Vigo seemed to remember that Ben had been armed with quite a few axes whenever they’d first met but didn’t say anything. He picked up a discarded shield that would no longer be good for much beyond training. “Let’s start with this. Come at me, Ben.”
Ben stopped Vigo with a hand on the halfling’s chest, reaching down to do so since he stood some two feet taller. “Um, let’s not start at ‘come at me’ speed. I’m thinking we need to work footwork first. It all comes from that, I’ve been told.”
“Right. You are the one that stood toe-to-toe with Vemonfang!”
Vigo’s announcement caught the ears of a few bystanders, “he fought a dragon!” came someone’s voice. Followed by, “killed it, did he say?” from another. Soon a small crowd gathered to watch the two heroes train. Vigo and Ben worked on stances and handwork. Vigo quickly picked up a few things in his study. Sildar looked on with what could only be described as pride, watching Ben demonstrate maneuvers to Vigo before finally forcing himself to return to the task at hand and leave the young men to their training.
Lily and Carp stopped their games and watched intently as they practiced, particularly the young girl. Both clapped their little hands, first Lily then Carp joined in, in support of their heroes.
Kir’thiri, seeing an opportunity, approached Sildar as he headed out, away from the other warriors, messengers, and sell-swords. “Sildar, if you have a brief moment I need to ask your advice on a matter.”
“Certainly,” Sildar said, not stopping. “If you don’t mind walking and talking. I apologize, but there are many things that currently need my attention.”
“Of course,” the gnome nearly double-stepped to keep the old warrior’s pace. “I do not wish to keep you from your tasks. I have noticed during the journey that we have had need of certain . . . skills and I don’t possess them but have been the only one capable of making the attempt.” She described an instance, hesitantly — attempting to take Sildar’s temperature on the topic before wading all-in — in which she had to be unseen and pick a lock. “The nature of what I’m asking is not always thought to be the most honorable, but the skills may prove vital to our continuing journey. Do you follow my thought or know of someone who might impart some of this type of knowledge?”
Sildar smile, knowingly, but didn’t want to embarrass the young ranger. “Hmm,” he thought. “Not many thieves around Phandalin just now.” Sildar rubbed his stubbled chin. “Oh! I believe Ry’ven’s got a thief in tow. What was her name . . . El, Elm — Elyra! That’s her name. She could maybe show you some things. Ry’ven swears by her prowess. Such praise is not easily come by, I can tell you.”
Kir’thiri could feel her face warming. “Thank you,” she hurried. “I hope to seek out Ry’ven’s company soon, but I fear that I may need use of those skills I mentioned in our journey to determine the value of Wave Echo Cave. I will figure something out though. I’ll trouble you no more. Thank you for your consultation.” with that she smiled to him, pulled her hood up quickly, and made to slip out of the building.
Sildar carefully caught her shoulder as she began to step out of the building. “No, sorry, I was unclear.” He released Kir’thiri’s shoulder. “Elyra is here, in The Stonehill Inn. She and Ry’ven doubled back from the northern delegation. They’re how I heard some of the clearer details about Axeholm. Ry’ven headed on down to the fort, but Elyra had some things to tend to before catching up. Just go to the inn and tell Elyra I sent you and see what she can do for you.” Sildar nodded Kir’thiri on with a kind smile.
“Thank you, Sildar,” Kir’thiri said, smiling more warmly than she usually did. Kir’thiri watched from the door of the Townmaster’s Hall at the children playing together. She looked at Ben & Vigo as they trained together as not just adventuring companions, but friends. She looked at the grave concern on the faces of some of the folk who were bustling about the town, and at that moment, made her decision. “We must go to Axeholme. The immediate safety of these people needs to be our foremost concern right now. I wish Gundaren a safe journey to Wave Echo Cave, and I hope he finds his brother unharmed, but there are so many who need to be protected, and we can’t do that here. We go to Axeholme.”
Decided, Kir’thiri made haste across the street toward the Stonehill Inn. She was halfway across when she realized she hadn’t the faintest idea of what Elyra looked like. “Dammit.”
* * * * *
The crowd around them finally began to disperse. Tired from the session with Ben, Vigo sat down next to Carp. The warlock looked over the old wooden shield and realized that it was beyond his capabilities to mend it with his magic.
“Hey Carp, do you know where I could get another one of these?”
Carp playfully bashed the broken shield with the present Vigo had given him – by the look of the blasting rod it was not the first time he’d hit something with it, Vigo noted – while Vigo was asking his question. The little boy was laughing again, finally, as children are wont to do. He stopped walloping the busted shield long enough to point at Vigo’s new blasting rod and whispered up to the halfling warlock, “Rikard.”
Taking Vigo literally and pointing him toward the best place to get a wooden shield in Phandalin: Rikard Ditchborne.
“Carp,” Qelline’s voice came from down the road. “It’s time to head home.”
Carp pouted a bit and he and Lily huddled closer together, not wanting their fun to end.
“Well, I mean she could stay with us,” Qelline offered.
“That’s not a bad idea,” Vigo told Ben.
The fighter nodded in agreement. But, how to convince Lily? Finally, it was Vigo who sold the little girl on the plan.
“Lily, we need you to protect Carp and his mom while we go get this fort ready. Can you do that?”
Qelline smiled as Lily begrudgingly decided that she could. Carp and his new friend ran down the road toward the farm.
“I’ll go with them, too,” Willow added. “If that’s okay? I’d like to repay your kindness to me when I arrived.”
“It’s not necessary,” Qelline smiled. “But of course. I could use the help getting ready to go, if I’m being honest.” The halfling farmer stopped as she turned to leave.
“It’s not my business, I’m sure, but I do find it fascinating that you know someone from the Church of the Blessed Horn.”
Ben and Vigo both clearly had no idea what Qelline was talking about.
“The piercings?” Qelline mimed a chain from her ear to her nose. “The decorative chain with the small pearl is the indication. I’ve not seen their members in these parts for ages.”
* * * * *
“Anyone who would be aligned with Ry’ven would likely be a person of renown, so I should just ask the barkeep.” Satisfied with her logic, Kir’thiri approached the barkeep, lowered her hood, and quietly asked if he could direct her to a traveler by the name of Elyra.
Toblen smiled. “Aye, that’s her over there,” he pointed to a woman, a half-elf maybe?, Kir’thiri couldn’t be sure, sitting by herself in the empty Stonehill Inn. The woman, wearing leather armor and a long, dark green cloak, sat with her feet up in a nearby chair. She noticed Toblen pointing and took Kir’thiri in with bright, kind — but keenly observant — eyes, then smiled and waved the gnome over.
Timidly, Kir’thiri made her way to the table. The half-elf spun her feet out of the chair, using them to offer the seat to Kir’thiri.
“I’m Elyra Jentheris,” she smiled. “How may I be of service?”
“I – um,” Kir’thiri fumbled, quickly taking the offered seat. “The thing is, see, Sildar said that you maybe, that is that you might –“
Elyra laughed. “It’s okay. Just ask what you’ve come to.”
Kir’thiri took a deep breath and let it out. “Can you teach me to pick locks and be sneaky?”
Elyra, definitely enjoying this twist in her afternoon, sat up and reached into a tucked-away pouch, procuring a copper piece. She pitched it to Kir’thiri, whose catch was anything but smooth. Trying again with another copper piece, Elyra flipped it to the gnome ranger, watching as Kir’thiri snatched it with ease.
“I can work with that,” Elyra said.
* * * * *
Ben was impressed with how he’d trained Vigo, and with how the halfling had convinced Lily to stay in safety, making him feel a bond with the annoying halfling for the first time. That being the case, Ben accompanied Vigo to Rikard Ditchborne’s armory.
“We’ll take two!” Vigo announced to the armorer. “Here’s a lovely gemstone for your trouble, good sir.”
“You paid for mine?” Ben asked, wielding the solid wooden shield and testing its maneuverability.
“Shield bros!” Vigo boomed, reaching his shield up to tap Ben’s.
“I’m never calling us that,” Ben shook his head as the pair walked back out of the store.
* * * * *
It was in their second hour of training that things turned sour between Kir’thiri and Elyra.
“So, you’ve not told me your name,” Elyra said watching Kir’thri’s nimble fingers work the lock.
After some hesitation, Kir’thiri shared it.
“And how do you know Ry’ven?”
“He taught me when no one else would,” Kir’thiri explained in a somewhat wistful tone. “I learned to be a ranger as I walked with him, amongst other skills. He was a good teacher if stern at times.”
Elyra stopped, staring Kir’thiri in the eyes.
“What’s your real name?” the half-elf demanded.
Brustling at the swift change in tone and vibe of the situation, Kir’thiri finally responded, nearly spitting her answer. “Y’sarra Thornwind.”
Elyra’s eyes narrowed. “We’re done here.” She grabbed her thieving tools and practice locks from Kir’thiri and stormed off.
Once the rage-induced numbness in her body wore off, Kir’thiri shook the stunned look from her face. “What in the hell just happened?”
* * * * *
“Hey, lookit what Ben and I bought!” Vigo shouted, holding his shield up toward a darkly hooded and angrily scarfed Kir’thiri.
“Get back to the inn!” snapped her angry yet muffled reply. “We’ve got an early start to Axeholme! First thing in the morning! GO!”
It seemed to all who knew her that the gnome ranger’s attitude had readjusted to its base setting.
* * * * *
Toblen had laid out quite a spread for the party (in truth he had cooked up the last remnants of food he hadn’t wanted to pack for the journey to Axeholme.) Eggs, ham, bacon, sausage, biscuits, a myriad of cheeses and various stylings of potatoes covered the table. Kir’thiri picked absently, nibbling a small bite here, a morsel there. Ben ate quitely from his plate, keeping whatever thoughts he was thinking to himself. Vigo ate noisily, scarfing his food.
“We will be on the road in less than thirty minutes,” Kir’thiri said through her gritted teeth. “You shouldn’t eat so much heavy food.”
“Nah,” Vigo muttered, only half paying attention to her as he focused on which food combination mouthful would make for the perfect breakfast bite. “It’ll make for a good, solid poop later.”
“But, why do you want it to be solid?” Ben asked over a biscuit. “I find those painful.”
“Yuck!” Kir’thiri shook her head disgustedly. That’s when she noticed Elyra walking in. Kir’thiri sat up straight and kept her eyes down.
“Gentlemen,” Elyra said, coming up to their table. She placed her pack down and walked over to Kir’thiri.
“Hi, uh, hello.” Vigo swallowed his hardly-chewed food.
“. . . hi.” Ben offered.
Kir’thiri pushed her chair back abruptly and bolted from the inn with Elyra right on her heels.
“Where do you think they’re off to?” Vigo asked as he flipped over his shield and began loading food onto it like a serving tray.
* * * * *
“Kir’thiri, wait,” Elyra said, easily keeping step with the gnome.
“What do you want?” Kir’thri asked.
“Just,” Elyra stepped in front of Kir’thiri, stopping her in the street. “Stop. Let’s start over and I’ll explain. My name is Elyra Jentheris,” she extended her slender hand. “And what’s your name?”
Kir’thiri took the offered hand and shook it. “I’m called Kir’thiri, but my name is Y’sarra Thornwind.”
Elyra explained her position. How that for the last fifteen years she had traveled with her mentor, Ry’ven. How that he had taken her in when no one else wanted her and taught her the ways of the rogue. And how that for nearly all of that time he had lamented the loss of a previous protege, Y’sarra Thornwind. He’d sought her out, word of her, anything, on all of their travels but heard nothing.
“That — that doesn’t make any sense,” Kir’thiri shook her head. “I’m only twenty-two. I — it can’t have been that long.”
“Which is why I reacted the way that I did.” Elyra offered. “It seemed a ruse, something to hurt my mentor. It was only after I calmed down that I could think clearly: maybe you were being honest.”
* * * * *
Sildar met Ben at the breakfast table, such as was left of it.
“Seems I missed out,” the old soldier sighed.
Ben slid his plate over, offering some of what he had.
“No, thank you,” Sildar said, making his way to a kettle. “This will be fine. So, it’s off again, eh?”
The two fighters sat together, discussing this and that. Ben couldn’t help feeling that maybe Sildar was enjoying his company, talking about mundane things while the realm fell down around them.
Before long, though, the party reconvened and made their goodbyes. They were off for Axeholme.
* * * * *
It was an uneventful and quiet trip down south. Too quiet for everyone (except Ben, who found the peace quite restful.) Even open plains should have had some sounds. Birds, insects, something. The party heard nothing.
It was on the next morning, merely three hours out from the ancient dwarven fort, that Ben found a letter that had been slid into his pack.
Forgive my scribblings but I am an old man in a hurry. It seems all of my days are hurried as of late . . .
First, know that I agree with the decision that you and your compatriots came to in readying Axeholme over claiming Wave Echo Cave for The Lords’ Alliance. I stand with the council always but, in this, I believe they are letting fear rule over duty. What is it all for if not the safety of the people?
The Lords’ Alliance has ceased any further funding for your party. I have seen to the cost of your boarding while in Phandalin, but, alas, so long as you march against the wishes of the council, as they see it, you’ve lost the purse strings of your lofty benefactor.
Thanks to the generosity of your friends and yourself, I have been able to guarantee the safety of these fine people of Phandalin through the use of the sellswords you saw upon your return. They shall be protected as they prepare to move.
For one more day, only.
At which point, I’ve left instructions for Toblin to lead everyone in your direction. I pray to the gods that whatever you encounter in Axeholme is easily handled by then.
Elyra, the protégé of Ry’ven, was dispatched by her mentor to aid things on this front, while I do my duty to the council and lead a group of Lords’ Alliance-funded mercenaries to claim Wave Echo Cave.
We were well met, Ben Ornkwrungeler, and I am very fond of you.
Until we share the road again,
Griffon Calvary of Waterdeep
“Well,” Kir’thiri sighed after Ben let her read the letter. “Looks like the time schedule’s moved up for the people of Phandalin’s arrival. Let’s get a move on.”
* * * * *
Getting into Axeholme had been tricky. A portcullis barred the party’s way to the front entrance, so they had to scale the Sword Mountains and descend through a natural chimney into a thoroughly destroyed room.
Next came the giant spiders, where everyone held their own fairly well and got to marvel at Elyra’s vaulting over Ben’s shoulders, flipping mid-air onto the back of one of the spiders before decapitating it with her two daggers.
Then hordes of ghouls! So many ghouls. Dwarven ghouls, Elven ghouls, even a couple of human ghouls. Ben fell in the party’s first bottlenecking attempt but was brought back by Kir’thiri’s healing potion.
When the party found the throne room, Ben sat on the throne.
“Don’t sit on the –” Kir’thiri yelled. But it was too late. The largest ghoul, King by way of the crown on its head, came around from the back of the throne and attacked Ben.
“It’s a curse always being right,” Kir’thiri muttered as she entered the fray.
Then the Ghoul King’s screech caused another horde of ghouls to come down a chimney into the large stone fireplace!
There, where the newly-arrived ghouls were still bunched together, Kir’thiri saw her chance. Hail Of Thorns. So help her gods, the spell never worked for her but damned if she could miss this opportunity.
“Okay you shitty-ass spell, work!” And Kir’thiri fired her arrow into a ghoul at the center of the horde. Suddenly the skin began to flay from the tattered bodies of the undead.
“Ah, ha-ha-ha,” Kir’thiri laughed. “Finally!”
Elyra made short work of the horde after that, engulfing them in flames as Vigo finished off the Ghoul King. He claimed the corpse’s fallen crown and popped it on his head, removing it before the others could see.
Then, all of her ghouls dead, an elven banshee attacked the party!
After every member of the party got an attack in, the frenzied banshee let out a wail that felled both Kir’thiri and Elyra! Luckily Ben and Vigo finished off the banshee before anyone died. Ben looked around to make sure both ladies were still unconscious before bopping Vigo’s shield with his own.
“Shield bros,” Ben smiled. Vigo beamed.
* * * * *
Ben gave a shocked but grateful Elyra the last remaining healing potion, and so the party rested that night. In the morning they cleared Axeholme room by room in anticipation of the citizens of Phandalin’s imminent arrival. During the course of which, thanks to Kir’thiri’s new lock-picking skills, the party acquired a magical helm and gauntlets.
“Hey, Ben, put ’em on!” Vigo said excitedly.
“Don’t just put on strange –” Kir’thiri warned, but to no avail.
Standing tall in the gauntlets and the helm, Ben’s eyes glowed red as he felt a strength course through his arms.
“Rargh!” Ben laughed. “I am a god!”
Vigo pointed to a small empty room. “Ben, hey, go see if you can see in the dark now!”
While the men experimented with their newfound toys, Elyra and Kir’thiri discussed what came next.
Wave Echo Cave.