“The best way to get to ’im, eh?” Barram says. “It’s a good question, worth considering.”
Before he can say more, there’s a kerfuffle in the bazaar, clanking armor of moving soldiers, and sudden chatter of alarmed/interested shoppers.
“What did you do, Nova?” Canter says.
Before too long, the news makes its way to the little cafe. Gate guards murdered! Surface-dwellers having pierced the outer defenses! Scandal!
“That,” the oracle says.
“Well, so did I…” the familiar says.
Barram glances around at the various patrons eyeing the two tanner members of the party curiously. “Might do well to lean into your cover story. Spend some money. Rent lodgings. Oh. And it would not hurt your cause to find a way to take in a little local religion.” He holds a stubby finger up beside his bulbous nose.
Nasti nods. “I think that would be best, yes.”
“Where do we get lodgings?” Nova asks.
Barram considers. “I recommend following the lead of your companions since they seem to know some of the languages. There are signs.”
“We could wait a minute to see if things settle down, but I bet they won’t,” Nasti says.
However, things do settle down after about half an hour as the gossip shifts to searches of the northern tunnels. After they secure a room, Nasti turns to her cousins and says, “I was gonna tell you, but there was nothing to tell because I haven’t asked Chen yet. I was trying to before we came down here, but it was never the right time.” They nod and smile as if it is of no consequence.
The cousins spend a few hours spending coin in the bazaar and cementing their cover story as Darklands traders in town to shop. In the evening, they make their way to what appears to be a chapel of Droskar off the south of the grand promenade.
Ornate double doors of glass open into a large chamber of worship, a counterpoint to the altar of obsidian on the opposite side of the room in a semicircular alcove. Stone doors pierce both the eastern and western walls. Columns of native stone line an inlaid path of red marble from the doors to the altar. Each of the four corners of the temple holds a 15-foot-tall red marble statue of a handsome but evil-looking dark dwarf in various poses of dignified contemplation. A large fire burns in a sunken fire pit directly before the altar, its flames tinged with blackness. The chamber seems to be overly warm but otherwise comfortable.
A pair of duergar under priests inquire to the cousins’ needs and Nasti provides an offering. They exchange pleasantries about the ‘virtues’ of Droskar and organized religion in general before the dark dwarves ask if they can be of further assistance to such generous visitors. Nasti mentions the crystal that is supposed to be in Wellfast’s keeping, and the priests clam up. They cannot help secure an audience with Wellfast, who is clearly not well-liked by the church.
From the rear of the chapel, a door opens and an older, more dignified duergar steps forth. He dismisses the other dwarves and introduces himself as Naentoth. He claims to have overheard some of their conversation with his underlings and wants to know the true reason for their visit.
Nasti admits they have come from the surface to close the Vast Gate and believe that Wellfast has one of the items needed to accomplish this task – a red crystal. Naentoth claims ignorance of the Vast Gate and poses problems the cousins will likely encounter attempting to secure it from him. He says that while he is no fan of the surface dwarf, he is unable to help directly. However, he suggests that if the cousins coordinate whatever plan they come up with to take place on a holy day, many duergar will be at the church and fewer soldiers will be out and about.
They thank him and exit the chapel to plan. First, they explore the sections of the citadel that visitors are allowed entrance to. North of the bazaar, they find a large area that will likely serve well. This chamber resounds with the clanging of hammers, the shouts of hoarse voices, and the hiss of vented steam. The sources of these varied noises are not directly apparent but seem to emanate from the many arches giving off this hall into smaller subchambers. The main chamber is lit by a glowing lampstone suspended from the ceiling by a glassy chain. The light competes with the occasional sharp flashes of red flame that strobe now and again from the subchambers. Dark silhouettes are visible within the smaller chambers, moving with terse purpose.
They decide to try luring Wellfast out to the great forge hall because it is secluded, has easily manageable exits, and is likely to be the least inhabited. With this step of the plan in place, they begin sowing rumors and dissent. The surface dwellers are in the very citadel, they hear. Wellfast cannot find them or stop the chaos they are likely to cause, some say. Droskar is finally moving to rid the duergar of the interloping surface dweller with fell otherworldly ties, the story goes. In short order, their propaganda bears fruit.
10 Calistril (II), 4721
A few days later, Wellfast takes the bait.
The cousins approach the forge hall to find a dwarf – not a duergar – standing in the north of the chamber reading some poor wretch the riot act about hidden saboteurs. When the dwarf turns his head mid-rant, it is obvious that he is afflicted with some malady. The left side of his head is horribly swollen and his hair there is matted with dark beslimed scales. More disturbing is the way that his flesh visibly moves as small creatures skitter beneath his skin.
“Wellfast!” Nasti calls out loudly. “Your reign ends now!”
The dwarf turns fully to face the invaders. Slowly. His eyes, full of anger, lock on the three women. And then he pauses. “S-Selvala? Selene? What are you doing here? Who is this demon?” After a confused pause, he says, “No… It cannot be… You are too young. Too young.” He tears out a hunk of hair.
Nova says, “Not Selene, Wellfast. Jenova, her daughter. It’s time to come back home and stop all this.”
“Jenova? Calamity … from the sky…” he mutters distractedly. Then he seizes on another word. “Daughter? Ahhhhhh. Yes. Yessss. That is it. Daughter of Darkness. Sent us on that fool quest. Nigel … CURSE YOU!!! Traitor… Traaaaiiiiitoooooorrrrr….”
“Where IS Nigel?” Nasti asks. “What happened to him?” She nearly asks “What did you do to him?” but doesn’t.
“What happened to HIM?!” Wellfast rages. “WHAT HAPPENED TO ME??!!!”
“Yes, we’ve come to put a stop to all that. You can help us,” Nasti says.
His laugh is pitch-black. “No. There is not much I CAN do. Not anymore. There is only what I MUST do. Because of HIM. That traitor. Niiiigeeeelllll.”
Then he lifts his axe…
“Can’t say we didn’t try…” Canter says.
Nasti nods and throws lightning. It hits Wellfast dead in the chest and arcs to a pair of duergar soldiers with the stricken dwarf. They enlarge and move into action as Amaya dashes forward next and strikes Wellfast with his former companion’s magic sword. As if in response, something expels itself from the deformed dwarf’s face that resembles a bloated leech, the pulsing pink color of just-born hairless mice, complete with a nasty maw ideal for penetrating skin or soft tissue. It latches onto Amaya, who immediately slaps it off, though it tears a bit of flesh as it goes. She is sorely pressed to defend herself against Wellfast’s furious onslaught. However, she is well-trained and only one of his attacks draws blood.
Nova positions herself and levels a ray of enervation through the giant duergar, dodging a clumsy swing by the nearer of the two guards. Next, Nasti dashes past the oracle and unleashes a cone of cold against the dark dwarves. Amaya lays one of the bespelled duergar out, but cannot follow her momentum into a meaningful strike on Wellfast. She tries to hook his axe, but only manages to loosen his grip, not tear the weapon from it. She ducks another worm as Wellfast charges past her, homing in on Nasti, but the tiefling evades the mad dwarf’s flashing blade.
Nova takes a deep breath and says, “This is really a bad idea…” Then she makes eye contact with Wellfast from across the hall and casts the spell that projects all her worst fears into his mind, wondering if she will even scratch the horrors of what he has seen. In turn, she is subjected to the certain knowledge that he has actually experienced his worst fears firsthand.
She feels the anguish of having your best friend lead you on a doomed excursion only to betray you, in the end, to bend the knee to a psychotic warlock. And then, when you try to stop your friend – your best friend – from taking this step, the alien warlock feeds your brain to its pets and leashes you to its own will, making you nothing more than a puppet – a damned soul unable to even will yourself to take your own life. This and worse she experiences from Wellfast’s tormented mind.
When she snaps out of the spell, holding her head in pain, she sees a single tear drip from Wellfast’s eye. “Thank you,” he mouths, as he crumples, dead. Blessedly dead.