An Occupied Village
After leaving the Lands Within the Wind, the group found themselves standing beneath an arch of golden sandstone, taking what shelter they could find from the white-hot sky. Below them was the dwarf village of Kled. The blazing heat was comforting to all in the group except for Elleandra, who was unaccustomed to such conditions.
The central plaza of the village, with a jagged edge of curving salients that resembled tongues of flame, could be seen from their vantage point. The circle was paved with cobblestones of crimson sandstone and a small windmill with slowing spinning sails could be seen in the middle of a round plaza. With each rotation, the mill pumped a few gallons of cool, clear water from a deep well and dumped it into a covered cistern.
The residences of the village were arranged in a series of concentric circles enclosed by a single low wall of red brick. The huts themselves were made of rounded red flagstone walls. The buildings stood only about five feet high, and none were covered by any semblance of a roof. Their interiors were visible and stone tables, benches, beds and other furnishings could be seen.
Looking out of place were several huts constructed of wooden and cloth just outside the city. The banners of Urik and House Lubar could be seen fluttering in the afternoon breeze. A large number of soldiers, all wearing the red tunics of Urik were marching in and around the village. Kelvor estimated the there were about 200 soldiers occupying the village of about 400 dwarves.
The group quickly realized that there was virtually no chance of a successful assault on the village and so they decided to ambush a patrol and sneak into the city to attempt to contact, or start, a resistance to the occupation. After moving to a better location to ambush a patrol, they waited patiently under the hot sun until their prey appeared. Although they were hidden well, the patrol was alert and ready for trouble. A brief combat ensued between them and the forces of Urik, lead by a templar and his half-giant guards.
Gwyn dressed herself in the templar’s robes and Morg and Kelvor made makeshift outfits from the half-giant’s tunics. The rest of the group donned the garb of the soldiers and they all headed into the village. Because of Chai-Tak’s size and appearance it was decided that he remain behind. Kelvor was able to lead the party past several Urikite patrols. Morg used his gift with the Way to eavesdrop, attempting to find the dwarves they had freed from the Urikite templar on the way to the Cistern. Eventually they heard that Niva and Marok were being forced to work in the obsidian mines.
The Obsidian Mines
Still disguised as a templar and guards, the group made their way from the city into the foothills of the mountains towards the obsidian mine. They were briefly stopped along the way at a guard station, but Gwyn was able to bluff her way past the guards with very little difficulty. Once the mines were reached, more guards were convinced to fetch Niva and Marok for “interrogation” by the templar.
Taken out of sight, the two dwarves were relieved to see Morg and his companions and told of the occupation of Kled by a powerful psionicist named Maetan Lubar. Although the dwarves did not like the occupation, they were unwilling to cause trouble for the forces of Urik or do anything that would endanger their village. During this exchange an mine Overseer challenged Gwyn for taking away his workers during their shift. She put on her best act and succeeded in turning him away with an arrogant flip of her hair. Confused by this stubborness and illogical attitude the group started to make their own plans for attacking the forces of Urik. The dwarves were adamant that nothing endanger the safety of the village.
Just as the the group was about to leave the mines and head back towards the village to start trouble, the Overseer returned with a number of guards, prepared for combat. It appeared that Gwyn was not as convincing as she thought. Although the skilled forces of Urik fought well, they were little match for the seasoned veterans of the desert and the combat was over quickly. Niva and Marok were in awe of the the groups skill, especially that of Morg who they claimed fought like a warrior of legend.
The dwarves escorted the party out of the mine area and south of the village. Just as the sun was setting, they arrived at a hill of sand partially covering a section of ruins. What they saw at the hill was barely comprehensible – two dwarves wearing full plate armor made of steel and holding steel great axes were standing guard over two enormous bronze doors. With a few words the guards allowed the party to pass through the doors and into a cool tunnel.
The Ruins of Kemalok
The tunnel they moved down was lined with wide strips of animal hide, gray and cracked with age. The lining was supported with wooden beams to keep the sand from cascading in an burying the excavation. The corridor was so low that everyone had to practically crawl through it. Eventually the tunnel opened into a small chamber, where a makeshift camp had been set up.
A venerable dwarf emerged from a tent and greeted Niva and Marok, he was introduced as Lyanius, the village Urhonomus. The previous exploits of Morg and his companions were retold as well as a description of the fight with the mine overseer. Nodding throughout the telling Lyanius welcomed the group to the ancient dwarven city of Kemalok…
“I found Kemalok 200 years ago when I happened upon a short section of parapet the wind had uncovered. I knew instantly that I had uncovered a dwarven city form the time of the ancients. The merlons were too short for your people, and the stonecraft was far beyond anything the paltry mason or our age can achieve."
“I spent the next century and a half excavating the ruins, first working alone and eventually coming to be a leader of an entire village focused upon eventual reestablishment of Kemalok.”
“Since the arrival of the Urikites, our work on Kemalok has nearly halted, robbing us of our focus. We cannot let them discover its location and plunder its treasures. The spirits of our ancestors have become restless with the presence of the Urikites, futher hindering our ability to make progress.”
“I believe that you may have the ability to calm these restless spirits and if you can, you will prove that you are truely heroes and we will fight the Urikites along side of you.”
Morg was especially unnerved by his comments, but the group agreed to follow the old dwarf. The tunnel opens up into a small chamber. The path they took lead to a small stone walkway that looked as though it had once been a bridge. Beside the causeway lay more than a dozen weapons of various materials. Several of them looked to be quite ancient, judging by the rot of their wooden handles or the yellowed brittleness of their bone blades. Lyanius commented often as they made their way through the excavation.
“The remains of those who entered here uninvited.”
On the other end of the bridge, there was an arched gateway in a magnificent stone wall. Inscribed into the stone were several strange runes which none could read. A few feet above the gateway hung a portcullis of rusty-red iron. It was supported by thick iron chains that disappeared through a set of openings into the gatehouses that flanked the pathway. The walls of these buildings were constructed of white marble, so finely cut and carefully fit together that even a sliver of torchlight could not have slipped between them. The group was impressed with the craftsmanship from another age.
“Beyond this gate, place your trust in the strength of your friendship, not the temper of your blade. You may go no further unless you leave your blades behind.”
The group deposited their daggers, axes and sword outside the gatehouse, except for Merric who refused to go unarmed. As the group moved through the archway, a chest-high figure steped from around the gatehouse corner. It wore a complete suit of black metal plate mail, trimmed at every joint in silver and gold. In its hand the figure held a battle-axe of polished steel with scintillating lights and its helm was capped by a jewel-studded crown of galeaming white metal. The only thing visible of a face was swaddled in green bandages, and the eyes burned with a glow as yellow as the afternoon sky.
“This is Rkard, the last of the dwarven kings. Show him you bear no weapons and he will let you pass.”
On the other side of the gatehouse, a confusing warren of tunnels branched off in a dozen directions, leading down what had once been the grand avenues and hidden alleys of a sizable metropolis. The greatest part of Kemalok still ay buried under mounds of sand, but enough of it showed to see that most of the buildings were constructed of granite block. The five-foot doors and narrow, chest-high windows left no doubt that this had indeed been a dwarven city.
Eventually they came to another bridge leading to a gate. This bridge was made of wooden planks, half-rotten and patched here and there with the wide, flat ribs of a mekillot. An immense set of iron doors blocked further passage once the bridge had been crossed. Lyanius pushed open easily, as much a testament to his strength as the engineering. A short tunnel lined with chest-high arrow loops leads to a series of vaults, revealing the outer bailey of a once great castle.
Passing through this area, the party was able to peer into what had been the shops and homes of the castle’s smiths, tanners, fletchers, armorers and dozens of other craftsmen. Their tools, made mostly from steel and iron, still hung in the racks where they had been neatly stored thousands of years ago. The amount of metal the party saw was staggering and beyond anything they had ever seen, or dreamed.
Moving through another gate and into the inner bailey, they arrived at a courtyard before a square keep of white marble. The keep rose high overhead and the roof was lost in the sand overhead. At each corner of the keep stood a round tower, its arrow loops commanding much of the courtyard below.
“The Tower of Buryen, home to the dwarven kings for 3000 years.”
On each side of the entrance foyer sat a pair of stone benches, one sized for the short legs of the dwarves and one for the longer legs of humans. In the corners stood full suits of dwarven plate mail, the shaft of a double-bladed battle-axe gripped in the armor’s gauntlets. Both the armor and the weapons were made of polished steel, gleaming as brilliantly as the day they had been forged.
Vinara noticed that there was no sign of life in the suits of armor and that they were much too small for a dwarf. Although they were about the right height, they were far from broad enough for the massive shoulders and bulging limbs typical of the dwarven race.
“Our ancestors were not as robust as we are today. They even had some hair.”
The next area they moved through was a huge hallway running the perimeter of the keep. The floor was arranged in a pattern of polished black and white squares. At even spaces along the walls, tall white columns supported the vaulted ceiling above. Between each set of arches was a mural painted directly onto the wall.
The first painting before them portrayed a dwarf dressed in a full suit of golden plate armor, a huge warclub cradled in his arms. From beneath his golden crown cascaded a huge mop of unruly hair that hung well past his shoulders. That was not the “worst” of it, either. His face was lost beneath a thick beard that started just below his eyes and tumbled in a tangled mass clear down to his belly. The party was shocked as such a depiction of a dwarf.
“Come along! I didn’t bring you hear to mock my ancestors.”
The other murals in the hallway portrayed grossly bearded dwarves as well. The paintings usually depicted dwarves standing in the somber halls of dimly lit keeps or in the dark chambers of some vast cave. The last mural in line depicted the guardian of the city, King Rkard. Like the figure that met them at the city gate, the dwarf in the painting had golden-yellow eyes and wore black plate mail trimmed in silver and gold. His helm was crowned by a jewel-studded crown of strange white metal. In his hands, the picture king even held a battle-axe identical to the one carried by the gate-guardian. Behind Rkard, the ground sloped down a gentle hill blanketed by the green stalks and red blossoms of some broad-leafed plant. At the bottom of the slope, a wide ribbon of blue water meandered through a series of lush meadows. In the fields grew food crops of every imaginable color and shape. In the far background of the painting, the river finally disappeared into a forest of billowing trees ranging in color from amber to russet to maroon. Behind this timberland rose a mountain range, its peaks and high slopes strangely covered with white.
“Dwarven artists painted only what they saw.”
Finally the group reached a pair of massive wooden doors so infested with dry rot that it was surprising they still hung on their hinges. Despite the deterioration of the doors, the strange animals carved into each one remained handsome and distinct. The snarling beasts resembled bears, save that, instead of the articulated shells armoring the creatures, these were covered with nothing more protective than a thick mat of long fur.
“Beyond these doors lie the crypts of Kemalok. Here the spirits of our ancestors are unquiet. Go forth and put their souls at ease. If you convince them, then you shall have earned our help against the forces of Urik, and proven that you are heroes.”