Dulron watched the figure as it disappeared into the undergrowth surrounding the ruined fortress. As he did so, he felt his lip curl with distaste and a low growl made his barrel-like chest rumble. Looking around, he saw Kang staring at him in his usual inscrutable manner. With a grimace, Dulronpointedly turned back to the ruin, ignoring Kang’s soft chuckle as he did so.
The Dwarven race was often mocked by the other races of Faerun for their lack of imagination. To be sure, none could dispute their superb craftsmanship but most thought them dull and, well, boring. But to the long-lived Dwarves saw things differently; where humans and the rest valued spontaneity and apparent quick-wittedness, the Dwarves valued stability and tradition. Change was to be welcomed, but not for its own sake. Simply the act of revising the type of decoration to be found on Dwarven cooking pots required the approval of a whole clan; over the countless long lives of their Blessed Ancestors, the Dwarves had perfected a way of living in the world that gave them purpose, resilience and stability. Every element of their existence had been honed to perfection, and so would be changed only in the direst of circumstances.
Therefore, when Honest Abba had been struck down by Twig Blights in the ruined village of Thundertree, Dulron had mourned his passing. Although their races had very approaches to life, they had shared a common ancestor in the distant past and dwarves were nothing if not respectful of ancestry. However, when the druid Reidoth had offered to raise Abba from the dead Dulron had been in two minds. He was dead now, with the ancestors; to bring him back to life seemed to be almost an act of heresy. However, his companions had argued strongly for the druid to do his work, even at the cost of a geas being placed on them to rid Thundertree of a dragon that had taken up residence. But the greatest shock for Dulron was yet to come; when Reidoth had done his work, the being that stood before them wasn’t the familiar gnomish figure. No; Abba was now a tall, Elven woman with long flowing hair. As the others marvelled at Reidoth’s magic and made predictable crude jests, Dulron was appalled. Abba spoke in the same way as before, using the same words and with the same broad gnomish accent, but now with a voice like bird-song. This new being even walked and moved like Abba. For Dulron, it was almost too much. Change beyond belief, but yet the same.
As the companions took their leave of Reidoth and Thundertree, the old druid’s words rang in their ears. ‘Don’t forget; you rid the town of that cursed dragon within the month, or it’ll be the worse for you!’; so saying, Reidoth took the form of a squirrel and disappeared into the trees. Hefting their packs, the party headed northwards towards the town of Helm’s Hold; the druid had also given them the location of Cragmaw Keep and they needed to make sure they were fully equipped before taking on that challenge. Besides which, Abba needed a new set of armour and weapons, one more suited to her new stature and, erm, physique…
After a short stay in Helm’s Hold, the companions headed southwards into the depths of Neverwinter Wood. As they rode, Abba had entertained them with one of his filthy ‘gnome and the centaur’ drinking songs, which had the rest roaring with laughter as usual. Dulron didn’t usually join in the laughter, but this time it was for a different reason. If he closed his eyes, he could hear Abba as he used to be, although with a higher-pitched voice. But opening his eyes, instead of the craggy gnomish face he expected, it was an elven maiden singing the last line of the song ‘…and that’s why the centaur walks with a limp!’. Shaking his head, Dulron once more felt gloom settle on him like a shroud.
Despite a night-time attack by ghouls, the companions reached Cragmaw Keep in good time. Arriving as the sun rose over its ruined towers, Abba had immediately headed off to scout the area; if anything, his scouting ability had been improved by his transition into an elf and he soon disappeared into the undergrowth. As Dulron, Kang, Og and Grax waited patiently, Dulron considered what he’d do if Abba managed to get himself killed again. However, his thoughts were interrupted by the sight of a small group of goblins leaving what appeared to be the ruined main keep and heading northwards. Seeing this, Grax hefted his longsword and moved silently forward, moving from shadow to shadow; goblins were usually creatures of the darkness, and so Grax felt confident he could avoid any inquisitive eyes. Og thought to follow suit, but as he moved forward he stepped on a large, brightly coloured snake warming itself in the spring sunshine. Jumping backwards to avoid its venomous bite, Og forgot himself and swore loudly in the barbarian tongue of his people. Immediately, a cry of alarm went up from within the keep and arrows began to fly from two arrow slits. Deciding that offense was the best form of defence, the heroes charged into the keep…straight into a horde of goblins and hobgoblins! Thinking quickly, Grax secured two doors with his rope, cutting down the flow of enemies before turning to hew them down with his longsword. This was the sort of blade-work that he’d trained for, and it showed with every slash of his weapon. As goblin blood flew across the room in great arcs, Kang quickly summoned a ball of fire that he deftly used to further channel foes into Grax’s reach whilst Og held the door shut against what seemed like a huge number of enemies. Stepping backwards to make room for his spellcasting, however, Kang found himself the victim of a deadfall trap; although he jumped quickly to one side and avoided the greater part of the falling rocks, he was in no doubt that all of the keep would now be alerted to their presence. For his part, Dulron found himself in a side chamber with a lone goblin. Thinking it an easy kill, Dulron found himself in a grim fight for life, his hammer blows deftly turned to one side by the goblin’s shield whilst the foul creature inflicted countless small wounds on the priest.
Finally, however, the tide of enemies slowed and stopped for the time being at least. Whilst the heroes took stock of their wounds and received a healing blessing from Dulron, a watchful stillness fell over the keep. Whoever or whatever was out there would be waiting for them, that’s for sure. Taking a deep breath, the party unlocked the door and stepped out to face their fate…