The soldier’s name is Jacquelyn; the warforged Doberman is called Rusty. Aside from that, she hasn’t said much of anything. Nor, for that matter, has anyone else. The road through Ashblack is long and quiet and awkward. The only noise comes the rasp of warforged feet on the hewn stone of the cavern road and from the tunnels that branch off to left and right, echoing with the clang and bellow of industry. The air gets hotter and thicker as they venture further into the Cogs, oppressive with the burning sulfurous weight of factory, furnace, and forge. And still nobody says much of, well, anything, until the druid sidles up beside Brasshead and nudges him. “There’s, um, well I think there’s someone following us.”
Brasshead looks back. A tall, thin figure in a white cloak is striding calmly down the road behind them. Brasshead halts and the others, hearing his footsteps stop, come to a stop and turn to look. The figure is..shimmering, drifting in and out of view, never completely disappearing but not entirely there, either. Brasshead unshoulders his shotgun and stands, waiting, as the ethereal form approaches. It…he, stops about ten yards away and looks at the gun, then up at Brasshead. “I have never seen a mechanism like that before, but I assume it to be a weapon. You can put it away; there is no need for violence.”
“Khyber’s socks there isn’t. What do you want?”
“Frankly, just your company. You are traveling the same way I must go, a dangerous road indeed, and there is strength in numbers. I hoped to join your party.” The figure holds out his, palms up, a gesture of supplication. “My name is Galair. If it consoles you any, I am pretty good in a fight.”
Jacquelyn is watching the proceedings with a bemused expression on her face. The dog is scratching itself, sparks skittering across the ground. Brasshead opens his mouth to tell the pale stranger to shove off, but the Dwarf intervenes at his elbow. “Come now, my monumental metal man. Surely we can find room among us for one more. Besides, he looks like a decent lad.” He grins beerily up at Galair. “Oryx Shalehammer’s the name. We’re a strange lot, ain’t we? Ah well. Ye’ll get used to it.” With that the Dwarf turns back to the road, and starts walking. Jacquelyn takes the lead once more and whistles, and Rusty falls into step alongside her.
A mile drags by, and another. As the company approaches a small plaza leading onto a long, narrow bridge, Tabitha silently steps to the side and transforms, taking flight in the form of a raven and winging off across the chasm ahead. Her small form is lost in the underground murk, and the others look at each other and shrug. Whatever she wants to do,y’know. They enter the plaza, moving down a wide flight of stairs topped with a statue of an armed Warforged facing back towards the city, and approach the bridge. As they take their first steps out over the chasm there is a cry, and looking up see the panicked form of a raven flapping frantically back towards them. It comes to a frantically feathered halt in front of them and turns back into Tabitha, panting desperately: “Across…the bridge…monsters.”
There isn’t even time to panic. Barely has Tabitha finished her breathless warning than a voice booms from the plaza behind them. “Alright! That’s far enough. Hand over the chest, and we might just let you live.”
There is a burly and unpleasant looking minotaur on the stairs behind them, and he’s in no mood to negotiate. He wants the chest that Brasshead has slung across his back. Unfortunately, Brasshead’s not in a negotiating kind of mood either. Combat is joined! The minotaur, flanked by two bugbears, begins to move down the stairs towards the party. Tabitha drops to all fours…and morphs into a primal bear, ravening and muscle-bound and hurtling back towards the plaza in a flurry of fur and claws. Jacqueline draws her longsword and sprints after her, Rusty at her heels. Oryx shrugs, turns, and saunters after them. Meanwhile Brasshead has wheeled to accost the threat from the other side of the bridge: another Minotaur and a group of hobgoblins with longbows that have ranged themselves around the other end of the bridge and are readying their first salvo. The minotaur is charging up the bridge towards the Warforged and Galair, who appears to be readying some sort of enchantment. Brasshead holsters his shotgun and runs to meet his foe. They are still some twenty feet apart when Brasshead launches himself through the air and tackles the beast, hide and forged steel colliding with a crunch. An arrow whistles through the air overhead; the hobgoblins have started firing, and that first shot is answered by Manekatari’s bow as she glides to the side for a clear shot around the bridge. Another goblin shot, answered by a howl of pain from the plaza as the arrow thuds firmly into the shoulder of a minotaur who, faced with a warforged hound and an angry bear, already had enough to deal with. Rusty sinks his fangs into into the Minotaur’s haunches as the bear slams an anvil-sized paw into the side of its head and sends teeth scattering like dice across the cobbles. He’s having a bad day…and it’s only just begun. Galair finishes his incantations and a pale green smog fills the air on the bridge just behind the minotaur that Brasshead is beating the living snot out of. The mystical haze effectively blocks all sniper fire from across the chasm. The pale wizard turns and, waving a hand, refracts the mind of the minotaur into a thousand psychic mirrors.
The monster reels. His consciousnesses is no longer cohesive, but a blinding kaleidoscope of psychic fragments. Through the pain he sees the bear loom up in front of him. He raises an arm in vain as the ursine behemoth rends a horn from his head and, daggerlike, plunges it into his chest. Pain and confusion cloud his senses. On the sidelines the dwarf makes a small but decisive gesture….and the minotaur feels his heart melt. Nothing matters but the realization that his entire existence has been for this moment, this closeness, that he would give the entirety of his being to be with the bear looming before him. He feels love. The dwarf’s hand moves again, imperceptibly. Romance gives way to devastation. All is lost. Ragged and bleeding he collapses, victim to a broken heart. Oryx grunts, and turns his attention back to healing.
Jacquelyn is in the process of subduing one of the bugbears in the center of the plaza; the other has fallen prey to Tabitha and Brasshead, returned from his skirmish on the bridge. There is choking, gagging sound from the center of the great span; the cloud of smog dissipates to reveal the asphyxiated corpses of the unfortunate goblins caught in air too toxic to breathe. Arrows resume their buzzing flight across the chasm, back and forth between Manekatari and the remaining hobgoblin sharpshooters. One by one they drop, until with a final soft thrum Manekatari sends a long dark shaft through the chest of the last of them, staggering him and pinning him to the wall. The battle is over. Our heroes have persevered.
Closer inspection of the monstrous corpses reveal necklaces and cloaks bearing round brass emblems, ornamented with a single D…"Daask". Wonderful. Their cargo secure and having ascertained that the raiders were carrying nothing else of consequence, our party and their guide move on. They cross the bridge, coming to a pair of plain iron doors set into the stone wall, and passing through them. They find themselves in an entry hall of sorts, a chamber created by the convergence of three roads. The one directly ahead of them is a thoroughfare, or was, once upon a time. Well-carved from the stone of the earth, carefully shored, and rutted with ancient cart tracks, the tunnel curves gently away to the right, disappearing into the gloom. To the party’s right is a black tunnel; there is no other description to do it justice. It looks as though someone built a subterranean road along a seam of coal, for the walls of this tunnel are smudged and blackened, and the tunnel itself is so dark as to appear impenetrable. It is narrow, roughly hewn from the earth and low-ceiling’d. It is not the least hospitable of the three. To the left the road drops away into a shallow gully and a narrow path, barely a foot wide, branches off from the main road and turns into a thin set of stairs carved into the side of the slope. Where the main road is dry and dusty with disuse the gully at the bottom is damp and slimy, and at one end of it is a dark and dripping gash in the rock. These, Jacquelyn says, are the three roads, and this is where she must leave you. At this there is much protest. She imparts some words of wisdom before she goes, though: all of these paths lead to the place you are trying to get to, and one is safer than the others. The party presses her aggressively for less cryptic guidance, and she eventually points to the stagnating gully to the left. “That road is the one I know best”, she says, “and it has not yet failed me.” Then she turns and walks back towards The Cogs, Rusty trudging methodically at her heels.
The party grumbles amongst themselves for a long time. Finally, they opt to travel the middle road, “the lesser of two evils” as it were. They set off between smoothly carved walls, their feet making tracks in the dust of an age and then some. Somewhere ahead of them lies the person who wants their cargo. Somewhere under Sharn lie answers.
Fade to black.