A party of adventurers and mercenaries was to set out in search of the lost magic of the Dwarves. Legend has it that an enchanted torch of dwarvish make, once belonging to the Deldrimor royal family, had been forged to bring light even to the most oppressive darkness.
It saw last service saving the people of Ascalon from certain annihilation. My family history is intimately connected to this particular artifact. But most relevantly to anyone else, it could potentially be used to unlock the secrets of dwarven magical reservoirs. Many such reservoirs, essentially, were ringed all around the ruins of the particular city I was to investigate.
But the problem is, this citadel, where the artifact is likely to be still buried according to the old family correspondences, is located in the middle of a blasted warzone. I had need of mercenaries before departing Rurikton for the Shiverpeak Mountains. Two potential hires expressed interest: one only worked in a pair with a friend, but the friend apparently couldn't be reached. The merc, whose name I hadn't inquired after, had some worries about the danger of working with magical reservoirs. Now, a lot could go wrong. It could leak, or explode. It could be captured by enemies, and used as a weapon against us. Another, a Lionguard, was intrigued, but stuck on active duty. A third, a norn introducing himself to me as Asmund, was willing to come -- as my archaeological work was for "a good cause". This, however, was not to be a Priory project, but if I'd said anything more, I'd be risking a lot of unfriendly questions from the Seraph, should the new hire turn out to have charr sympathies. Still, I'd thought a norn in Rurikton, fully arrayed in thick winter gear straight out of the Shiverpeaks, would be a low risk for that.
We were running out of time. News of the planned expedition had doubtless gone ahead of me, and there'd be others searching for my artifact. I set out, in Asmund's view, rather hastily, as he'd asked several times whether I was prepared enough for such a long trip "home". We would be going across half the breadth of the Kingdom of Kryta, and then some as we headed high into the mountains. Asmund had a tendency of attacking first and asking about battle plans later -- but he was as tough as ten men. It helped with the Harathi scouts that he could grab one by the neck and snap it. "Do you like hunting?", inquired Asmund. "Many good boars here."
I replied, "It's been some time since I did so. Been out of practice since I'd served in the Ebon Vanguard."
He seemed, then, that he was mildly intrigued to learn I'd come from Ascalon. I figured I'd made a good choice in mercenaries. By chance, we went by way of the Ascalon Settlement as our last civilized stopover before we'd be uneventfully traversing, day and night, across nearly a hundred miles of open field country toward Kryta's eastern border. "You sure you can handle the cold?", he asked, as we ascended the mountains in search of a distant Deldrimor treasure.
Between the biting cold wind and the rations on the trip, the norn was right: I'd prepared too impatiently and hastily, as the wintry wilderness was to prove. Mine ran out, and I was reduced to eating hairy spider legs in the freezing cold, with only the conjured, occasional fires of Balthazar to keep warm. When cooked, spider legs taste kind of like lobster, but raw, they are not something I'd want to have to choke down again.
We were not alone up there.
The Elder Dragons have an insatiable appetite for magical artifacts. With news that an item of particular power might still exist at the Krok's Hollow site, Jormag's minions came after us in force.
The gruff norn mercenary had tried his best to be reassuring. "The icebrood haven't gotten past the dredge. Yet." My life was saved during an ambush that surely would have killed me, had I came alone. "No luck is here. Only Asmund." As this expedition approached ever closer toward a destination no longer marked on any modern maps, stopovers at a couple Vigil and Lionguard stations were punctuated, every single time, by icebrood attacks.
As we approached toward the lost citadel, Asmund tried to take a back route through the tunnels. The front approach to the city, no doubt, was in the direct line of artillery fire. The Molemen had, no doubt, heard about the artifact and were digging for it. The Svanir behind us, I could only imagine, were trying to find a less stealthy way to reach Brechnar's torch.
The skirmishes along the Delve were as brutal as any I saw in the War. It was chaos -- the Moletariate using familiar stealth tactics and attacking friendly lines from every direction. From cramped spaces to huge, vast chambers extending along for several miles, it became more important than ever to evade the dredge's attention. Between the fighting forces, we passed by the ruins of Maladar's Fort, an old Stone Summit fortification. We still had a few more miles to go before the Old Citadel could be reached, emerging through a tunnel at the west end of the ruins.
THE snows fell silently on the streets of Krok's Hollow, now home to only the dwarven dead and an army of mole people. The chittering of molemen and the distant heavy mortar blasts echoing across the rows of crumbling buildings gave an ominous tone of imminent death to visitors.
The dredge could, and did, appear around every corner. Taking a left turn, we ran into several of them, Asmund as usual slaying several, as we ran northward from the western quarter of the city toward a Dwarven hero's burial site. Gazing down at the roads from atop the hill, it was clear that the alarm had been raised, and the dredge were converging on the hill from every direction.
Asmund tried to fight them -- but they were too many, and too strong! It was my turn to save his life. The chaos storm I conjured, and the hounds of Balthazar, bought time to patch his injuries. We'd have to make a break for the eastern gate, the dredge in hot pursuit along the northern road, punctuated by an enormous borehole. We got separated.
Fortunately, a collapsed wall section provided an escape route.
After escaping Krok's Hollow with torch in hand, the kodan fortress nearby was our final rest stop. I paid the promised stipend, as he had done the job to my satisfaction. But there, as I'd mentioned why I'd left Ascalon to live in the Shiverpeaks, he was at first in disbelief -- and then started talking madness and tried to convince me to surrender to the charr.
"Give me that torch. I will take it to the Priory myself." I was not about to hand over a historical legacy of both the Reedly line and my proud countrymen.
Lyssa must have intervened in my favor. After a long and chilly silence, he finally said, "I didn't come to fight you. I'll be going my way now, and you go back to your Separatists."