The four members of Heroes 4 Hire remaining on active duty, Alton Beeblebrox, Dajjal, Lt. Diplo Norixius and Illyia Baham, boarded the Sea Wyvern with their cargo and departed for the 3-day sail to Darkshelf, barely across the border into the Kingdom of Valenar. They arrived around noon on Zol, the 24th of Jo, unloaded the wagon and the horse and stabled them at the livery, and then checked into rooms at the Highmoor Inn near the center of town.
Darkshelf, a small village roughly twice the size of Hellespont, was so named for the stony waterfront consisting of dark shale and slate. On a rocky bluff overlooking the village less than a mile to the north, a massive quarry operation had been producing modest amounts of limestone and granite for decades, stone used in construction all around the region and neighboring nations. In recent years, production and profits have quintupled, ostensibly due to the efforts of Bazili Erak, a flame-haired dwarf with beard to match, who talked the overlord of the Darkshelf region, Neistor, into granting him title for a share of the revenues. The dwarf’s mining expertise has not only quintupled production output, but he has also pursued new tunnels in the quarry and uncovered veins of pure quartz, and claims to have found the beginnings of a vein of gold deep in the quarry.
However, all was not entirely well with the quarry. As the small, dedicated workforce tunneled more deeply, they broke into an underground springs that flooded parts of the quarry and drowned several members of the crew. Other workers reported eerie sounds — including moans, cries, rattling chains, sobs and rhythmic chanting — coming from some of the disused tunnels. Also, the human workers, drawn mostly from Darkshelf and the surrounds, filled two shifts at the quarry — Day and Swing. The third shift — Graveyard — was rumored to consist of dwarves from Bazili’s clan. The human workers never mixed with the dwarves or even saw them, except as occasional shadowy figures deep in the tunnels. Only Bazili dealt with these dwarves.
The quarry wasn’t the only place where mysterious trouble had arisen. On the Darkshelf waterfront and along the Pelyra River nearby, several half-eaten bodies, both human and animal, had turned up. Carnivorous fish were suspected, even though some of the victims were found well inland. Perhaps most troubling, pirates and slavers had been active in the region lately. Sailors, fishers and farmers had been abducted. Neistor seemed to have succeeded in turning the slavers back for the time being. Bazili and his unseen dwarves lent a hand, tracking the slaver gang to its hideout in a midnight raid and freeing a score of captives. The dwarves also killed several slavers and captured a few of them alive. These prisoners were dragged back to Darkshelf, where they were swiftly tried and executed.
The team inquired with the innkeeper as to where to find Lord Neister, the nobleman Brancis Bowe told Illyia was looking for adventurers for a job that sounded related to Illyia’s inquiry, and they proceeded to the hamlet’s town hall and Neister’s office. They introduced themselves to his receptionist Rita, she annonced them and Neister saw them at once. Neister told them of his concerns of the quarry and its surrounding problems — the results from the quarry seemed to good to be true, the raid on the slaver’s camp was a little too quick and clean, why no one had seen Bazili’s clansmen, no actual gold ore had been produced from Bazili’s claimed new find, and most of all, the attacks that had been killing his people and leaving the bodies looking half chewed-up. He had also sent an agent of his, a Shou monk named Kwon, to investigate the attacks, but after a few reports he hadn’t been seen nor heard from in several weeks.
Lord Neistor, a thin, middle-aged man with raven hair, asked the Heroes 4 Hire to investigate the quarry and by doing so, hopefully find Kwon… alive. He offered a decent sum of payment, and the team accepted the job. H4H took the rest of the day to prepare a plan of action and gather supplies, and Diplo made friends with the innkeeper and his wife, Zek and Julienne Highmoor, Julienne being the inn’s cook and a quite accomplished one at that. Diplo implored her to teach him her signature Apple Pie recipe, and through a bit of flattery and flirtation, she obliged the blue dragonborn with some lessons in the kitchen. Diplo quickly picked up the culinary treat, and began producing Highmoor Apple Pies in quantity, to the delight of the town.
Late that evening, three of the four Heroes left Darkshelf and walked the short distance up the rising road to the north and arrived just outside the quarry proper near midnight. Diplo stayed back at the Highmoor Inn, making pies. The trio split up at a point well out of sight of the quarry guardhouse, an imposing stone structure two-stories tall with battlements like a small keep. Illyia stealthily approached the guardhouse, while Beeblebrox circled past it to the location of the ventilation shaft opening atop the bluff overlooking the quarry’s open pit face, as described in Kwon’s last report to Neistor. Dajjal circled the entire quarry pit the other direction, invisible and away from the guardhouse, and when on the opposite side of the pit happened upon a patrol of worg-mounted goblins. At first they missed him, but a small shift in the wind and the sensitive noses of the worgs alerted them to the invisible tiefling’s presence. A short fight ensued, and Dajjal dispatched them, albeit not without injury.
Beeblebrox took almost an hour of searching, but eventually found the ventilation shaft, hidden amongst a thicket of saplings and looking like an abandoned stone-lined well approximately 5’ wide. He lashed off a rope to a nearby tree trunk and rappelled down the shaft 40 feet to a rough-hewn chamber, once he had forced a metal grate out of its mortared seat in the ceiling. Once in the chamber, he hid the now-free gate behind a small pile of mining rubble, sneaked down a narrow corridor and came to a small sleeping chamber, complete with some folks sleeping. He retreated without seeing who was there, as not to awaken anyone that might raise an alarm, and then took another narrow side passage which led to the massive entrance cavern just inside the giant cave mouth that leads into the quarry tunnels from the open pit outside. He could hear the familiar sounds of some language, quietly echoing across the huge chamber, too far away to discern intelligibly. He sneaked across the cavern until he was within earshot, and eavesdropped on a conversation of a group of four goblins, standing guard in the entrance cavern. Surprised to find them there, Beeblebrox retreated unseen back up the rope and the ventilation shaft to find his teammates and inform them what he had found.
Meanwhile, Illyia used his raven familiar Nightshade to aerially survey the guardhouse, similarly discovering the guard force overwatching from hidden positions on the parapet were in fact goblins. He then circled to an unwatched section of the wall, climbed down the ravine “moat” (no water, just a rocky crevice) and up the other side, up the wall to the parapet, then up the wall of the second story enclosure to the roof unseen. He then asked his familiar to reconnoiter the interior of the second floor via one of the several double doors on the parapet level. Nightshade shapechanged into a fly, slipped in through a crack, and discovered several bedrooms, one ornate and two squalid, as well as a prison with near 20 slaves shackled and in various states of abuse along with their two bugbear taskmasters. Having all the evidence he needed, Illyia had Nightshade withdraw, and then he withdrew the way he had came, successfully exiting without discovery.
The trio returned to the Highmoor Inn just before dawn, rested until midday, and then informed Neistor of their discoveries. Having his suspicions now confirmed, he asked the Heroes to destroy the operation, rescue the slaves, find Kwon and capture the ringleaders for questioning and trial, and he added to their compensation that they may keep any plunder they find that isn’t directly associated with the mining operation or its equipment and supplies. He also assigned his Sergeant of the Guard to accompany H4H with a squad of troops to take the guardhouse. The party planned a midnight assault, so the group went about their business for the remainder of the day. Diplo went back to pie making practice, and gave delicious pies to each of his teammates. An altercation broke out when Dajjal managed to steal Beeblebrox’s pie out from under his nose and eat it as well, and the fight was eventually broken up by the city guard who arrested the brawlers and took them back to Neistor. Neistor dismissed the charges against his commissioned adventurers, with the warning that this was the only time they get a freebie for misconduct in his lands.
An hour before midnight, the troop of city guards, twelve strong under the command of the Sergeant, headed out with the four Heroes 4 Hire to stamp out the slavers of Darkshelf Quarry. Diplo and Dajjal marshaled the guard in a staging position just out of sight range of the guardhouse, while Illyia and Beeblebrox stealthily approached the structure along Illyia’s previous route, and the two raven familiars kept constant overwatch from the air. The elf and the halfling moved like ninjas, silently executing eight goblin guards on the parapet before they could raise an alarm. Four others saw them coming, and a short archery fight broke out, with one goblin running in a set of double doors to the interior of the second floor. After killing the remaining goblin archers, Illyia used Prestidigitation to shoot a red flare into the night sky over the guardhouse, and then the two pursued the goblin into the second story, following his sounds to one of the squalid bedrooms where they were met at the chamber door by the two bugbear taskmasters and the goblin that had just warned them. They killed the goblin, knocked one bugbear unconscious, and the other bugbear fled the losing fight. He ran down a spiral staircase, skipping steps in his haste, and Beeblebrox pursued, not skipping steps. The top step of the stairs was rigged with a bear-trap-like mechanism, which snapped on the halfling’s ankle wounding him and holding him fast.
Illyia leaped over Beeblebrox and caught the fleeing bugbear at the bottom of the stairs and managed to knock him out as well. He then freed Beeblebrox’s foot using his short sword as a makeshift crowbar on the jaws. Once freed, the two of them took the time to manacle both unconscious bugbear slavers, and then proceeded down the stairs to join the fray, already in full swing.
Meanwhile, once the flare was sent up, Diplo, Dajjal and the troops moved in to force open the front door of the guardhouse, which they found securely barred from the other side. Diplo and one of the troops took turns smashing and chopping the door open until it was little more than kindling, and the guardsmen inside were now awake and readying for the attack. Diplo, Dajjal, the Sergeant and the troops swarmed in, and a rousing melee ensued in the main hallway beyond the entry door. Illyia and Beeblebrox joined the fray a few moments later from the other direction, catching the guardhouse’s Sergeant at Arms unawares and knocking him unconscious. The guardhouse forces deteriorated quickly, about half dying and the remaining either being knocked unconscious or surrendering. The troops moved quickly and efficiently, room to room, floor by floor, securing the rest of the occupants who surrendered and killing those who would not. The Heroes 4 Hire searched each area thoroughly, careful to loot only that which their agreement with Neistor allowed. They discovered a spiral staircase they assumed went down to the basement stables and blacksmith’s forge area, but found instead that it lead to an underground cavern, connected to the stables via a secret door, used as barracks for the goblins and a den for their worgs.
The team and the troops eliminated the goblins and worgs in the barracks cavern, then moved into the stable area, killing a bugbear smith and his two goblin assistants, and capturing the half-orc stable master. With nearly 30 slaves rescued, six quarry guards, the quarry sergeant-at-arms, two bugbears taskmasters, half-orc cook and half-orc stablemaster captured and no serious casualties or fatalities sustained, the Sergeant of the Darkshelf Guard left ten of his men to garrison the guardhouse, and then he, with one soldier and the party, marched the freed slaves and prisoners down the road to Darkshelf. They handed off the prisoners to the jailhouse, attended to the slaves’ injuries and well-being, and reported everything to Lord Neistor. Neistor ordered the Sergeant to garrison the quarry guardhouse with additional troops, bringing the total to 24, and directed them to remain hidden inside the guardhouse in hopes to capture Bazili Erak or any other party associated with the slaving operation hidden amongst the legitimate mining business… such as his assistant Glyrthiel, a female elf rumored to be some sort of Eldritch Knight.
With that, the team returned to the Highmoor Inn midday and went to bed, exhausted from a fruitful night of combat and discovery.
What other evils could be lurking in the depths of the quarry tunnels? Where is Bazili Erak and his mysterious assistant, Glyrthiel? Will the Heroes 4 Hire ever find Kwon?
Find out TOMORROW, on “TGC: Heroes 4 Hire!!”