After their third night of dwarvish hospitality, Hepalonia and Tric Manu meet Glammur in the main courtyard of Untdunben. The dwarf shows up clad in a short-sleeved green tunic and brown hiking leathers, their braided graying brown hair partially contained by a red bandana. Their bagpipes are worn across the front of their chest, an insufficient counterweight, surely, for the enormous backpack they have. Two axes hang in loops along the rucksack’s sides, and a bedroll is secured across the top, visible above Glammur’s head.
Tric, with his tiny knapsack, and Heppa, with her crossbody courier bag, appreciate the get-up. Clearly this is a dwarf who lives on the road, well accustomed to hiking and travel. “I didn’t realize you got to bring the apartment with you,” Tric jokes, earning a laugh from Glammur in response.
The dwarf allows the elves to lead the way through the tunnels, since Tric and Heppa know the destination, but does hand out sturdy torches to everyone. They are to light their way through the cave system but also to keep any bats at bay. At the first sound of squeaking or wings fluttering along the way, Glammur produces a second torch for themself, just in case.
As they travel, Tric forages for food to supplement the elves’ dwindling supplies. He finds some mushrooms that make a good mid-morning snack, but one red and white fungus he samples turns out to be a toadstool. It numbs his tongue so badly that when Heppa asks for stories along the way, Tric has to defer to Glammur. While his cousin and the dwarf chat, Tric gets lost in his own thoughts about how to describe the dwarvish fortress to everyone back home. Great spires cut out of the stone itself… Burning forges…
Hepalonia begins with polite conversation, asking about Glammur’s place of origin. The dwarf is originally from Knalga but has seen a fair bit of the continent in their travels. Heppa is impressed at the distances Glammur must have traveled. She has seen that name, Knalga, marked far to the north of the Great River on one of her father’s maps. As far as she can recall, the name applies to some sort of larger political organization than just a single settlement of dwarves. “So what was your favorite place?” Heppa asks.
“Ah…. I prefer nae tae pick favorites. I prefer the mindset that wherever I am, that is mah favorite place at that moment. There are certainly places that have yielded better tales than others, but there are always interesting people wherever ye go.” Heppa asks after the farthest location, then, and Glammur continues, “I have been tae the edges of the Wesmere Forest, but I have nae been inside. Nae a good place fer dwarves tae go.” Given that Wesmere is the seat of one of the most important elvish councils, Heppa is not surprised that a dwarf would feel that way. “And I’ve certainly been tae a few of the human settlements along the coast of the Great Ocean. That was quite a while ago, though. It’s a lot of land tae travel by foot, and mah legs are nae as long as yers.”
“Well, when you get lost as much as we have,” Heppa comments with a laugh, “it takes a little bit longer anyway.”
It is dusk by the time they reach the outskirts of the Foul Fen, as Tric has started calling the swamp. They make their way towards Kachen’s ruined keep, though Tric thinks maybe dilapidated estate sounds more impressive. As the party gets closer, the cousins tell Glammur a bit about their destination. Their human friend lives in the remains of some sort of castle or fort because the swamp itself is not very safe. Tric talks about how defensible the site is, mentioning, “I added a door to it so that it can keep out critters, undead, tax collectors… You know, things like that.”
“Wild boars,” adds Heppa. Then, desperate for a story from him, she encourages her cousin to tell Glammur about how he caught the hog.
“There I was during my watch at night…” Tric begins, quickly pulling elements together to attempt a riveting tale. “Kachen was still recovering, so we wanted him to take it easy. The fellow doesn’t eat well. He’s only got basic biscuits and some really stale ale… or stale biscuits and basic ale… one of those two. Anyway! On my watch, I am getting kind of bored, but then I hear some snort off in the distance with my excellent elvish hearing. So I look about to see what kind of tools I have to catch this critter. Well, I’ve got a knife, some vines, and this old raft that we found and recommissioned for exploring the swamp.” That sounds more impressive than that they just bound a bunch of sticks together. “I took some of the drippings from dinner, realizing that my cooking for the night was probably what had attracted the boar to the general area. I figured, if I could get him to come even closer, he would take a chomp out of that raft, where I left him a nice little prize. And when he does that—chomp!—it cuts the vine, hoists him right up! There was a horrible squealing but also breakfast, lunch, and dinner for us and our saurian friend for the next several days.”
While Tric Manu has related this curated version of events, night has fallen properly, though the cloudless sky still permits some moonlight to reach the ground. No orange light plays through the crumpled walls of the keep, but movement catches Hepalonia’s eyes. She sees what looks like a darkly-robed figure near one of the lower stretches of rubble. Certainly she and Tric Manu would keep a fire going, but Kachen did not strike Heppa as terribly outdoorsy. “I hope that’s Kachen,” she says quietly to her cousin. Though there are no threats around, the sounds of the swamp are enough to make her a little nervous.
“Oh, he’s up?” Tric asks, squinting his eyes a bit and trying to pierce the darkness. “No fire. Probably skipped dinner. That guy should be sleeping, anyway.”
“And we’re creeping up on the castle…” Heppa observes. “We shouldn’t sneak up on him. We might scare him.”
“We can let him know we’re coming,” Tric says. He strides forward and pounds on the rickety raft-door as his cousin calls out the human’s name. There is no response. “You saw him in there, though?” he asks Heppa. She nods. “Maybe he’s focused on something else, like playing with the staff,” Tric suggests. Then he pulls back the improvised door and steps into the ruins. He feels a slight breeze as he does so, which sends a shiver down his spine. The campsite is generally drafty from lack of roof, but for a moment, something felt off. It remains too dark for him to determine if Kachen is sleeping in his normal spot, so Tric kneels down by the firepit to start working on some light. He turns back to the doorway and calls out to his cousin, “I don’t see him around. You said he was in here?”
“I saw somebody.”
Tric tries to think who else it could have been. “Was it Hezzis? Is she poking around?”
“Somebody with robes on,” Heppa clarifies.
“I hope she didn’t come in here!” Tric says. “That would be messy… She doesn’t wear robes, anyway.” He wonders, though, how an augur would dress. Then he turns his attention back to stacking tinder and trying to light it with sparks from his flint and steel.
Hepalonia steps into the keep herself, shouting, “Kachen! Hello?” That any other robed figure would be in the keep is unimaginable to her.
Behind Heppa, Glammur steps into the keep, and with a wail, a fluttering cloak swoops toward the dwarf.