PART 1 – NAER DO’EH
After the red crystal is inserted into the machine the sky through the glass dome above them turns a stormy jumble of sooty black and menacingly dark red. There is a familiar door with a yellow rune in the same place, which will still not open and a new door. “Tank” disarms a firetrap on this door, but fails to detect a small wire which sets off an alarm far away, which they do not notice yet.
They walk up a long spiral staircase and out into a world that stands in stark contrast with the Blue World. They are atop a mountain range populated with numerous active volcanoes. Hot air carries embers, ash and smoke from afar, making the atmosphere rather uncomfortable. They are in a small city which is a scaled down model of the city in the Grey World, with one obvious difference; many of the buildings are of a diminutive size. The city also stands abandoned and in ruins. A search of the city indicated that it must have been abandoned long ago, but only destroyed more recently. Where walls have been brought down, with huge gaping holes through them, and roofs collapsed in, the overgrowth is much thinner.
They find a small path, that has almost been completely overgrown, but they manage to follow it down the mountain. During their descent they come across a metal construct that has a humanoid form, but is only the skeletal structure. It is made of all black metal and has only sockets for eyes. There are no obvious mechanical parts, no gears or screws, no seams of any kind. This baffles the engineer Tank, who has never seen an automaton without mechanical parts. He examines it for a while, but due to the considerable weight of the thing, plus the fact that it really creeps out the entire group, they leave it behind and press forward.
They make notice of and head toward a small village in the valley below, opposite the side they are on. Getting closer, they notice it is less of a village and more like a refugee camp. Their homes are tents and the people all look poor and wretched. There are no permanent structures or signs of cultural achievements or any kind. It is a sad sight. They are noticed by stunned residents, all of whom are gnomes.
One very old gnome meets them in the valley before they can reach the encampment. He introduces himself as Krubblemeyer, the oldest resident of the village of Na’er Doeh (which is gnomish for “almost home”). He has a long fu-manchu-type beard and is missing one eye, which has scarred over, as well as many teeth. He looks sickly and coughs a lot. He is overcome by curiously about the group. He wants to know who they are and where they come from and everything else. He knows nothing of an ancient ruined city in the mountains, explaining that his people never leave the valley. There is a nervousness in the way he speaks and acts which makes him a little suspicious, not to mention that he deliberately avoids questions regarding why his people never leave the valley and other things about their situation.
They are escorted into the camp and made guests. They are offered food and they speak with many of the villagers, though it is noticeable that there is uneasiness amongst the gnomes and that no one wants to talk for too long. Pavlik wanders off and comes across a little girl that reminds him of Halldara from the Village of Gamla in the Blue World. This girl is much younger, looking not much older than 3, but she is also curious and jovial and charmed by Pavlik. Oddly enough, here name, Illgama, echoes the other girl’s name. This brings Pavlik to ponder the nature of the multiverse and how world may mirror other worlds in ways while being seemingly opposite in other ways…
An angry father, a gnome named Deondarhinarinanihn, arrives at the scene and badgers Pavlik for bothering his daughter, and only child, and endangering her. In his blind belligerence he slips references which elude to there being a threat to the camp , more specifically to its children. He won’t explain further but he stresses that the group should leave immediately.
After a little pressure Krubblemeyer tells the group a history of the town:
Long ago they lived in peace with the Fire Dwarves, a race that lives below the mountains. But there was a falling out when a prominent gnomish inventor was murdered by the dwarf prince, Ghok. The gnomes demanded justice, but the protective king refused to offer up his son and instead cast the gnome out of their home and forced them above ground with his army. For many years a brutal war was waged, but eventually the gnomes were crushed and a peace deal was made to save their society. Now, as long as they stay in this part of the valley the new king,King Ghok, will not attack them.
Shortly after telling this story the king is privately interrupted by a rather distressed looking gnome. They speak quietly to each other and then Krubblemeyer excuses himself for a while. Pavlik decides to quietly follow to see what is happening. He discovers that the oldest member of each family has been called to a secret meeting. A unit of Fire Dwarves has been spotted approaching the camp, apparently a couple weeks before they were “expected”. It is decided that they must all draw straws quickly before their arrival. Deondarhinarinanihn explodes, making a point that he should not have to draw a straw. He is told that it is their way and that he is not exempt from the rules, however he continues to press them about it.
Pavlik gathers the group together to listen outside the meeting tent. They hear Deondarhinarinanihn explain that he has lost all of his children save Illgama to King Ghok and will disobey the “Tallahaar” (gnomish for communal decision) at the price of exile if that is what it will take to save his daughter. Voices get raised and somehow a fight breaks out. The party steps in, meaning to intervene. Put on the spot, Krubblemeyer explains that the dwarves come every so often to take a small number of very young children and infants. The young are chosen randomly, in order to preserve the safety of their society and to make things fair, and they are never seen again. They are not proud of what they do, but they are greatly outnumbered. He explains that the dwarves have these man-sized machines which could destroy their whole camp and its inhabitants easily.
Suddenly, they are interrupted by screams coming from the other side of the camp. Everyone rushes out to find that the dwarves have arrived quicker than thought and they have begun grabbing any children they come across. About forty dwarves are escorted by a dozen human-sized machines. There are two types; one type has a giant hammer at the end of an arm and the other type has two drills where hands should be.
The group attempts to diplomatically intervene, but with no success. Availin, all out of patience, charges the commander, but is taken down in a single hit. Seeing that they are surrounded and out-matched, the remaining conscious members of the group throw their hands up. A Fire Dwarf cleric comes to Availin’s aid before he bleeds to death, then speaks to the commander, in the dwarven tongue. It is decided that he will disarm the group and escort them far away from the camp and then give them their equipment and tell them not to return if they value their lives. On their way out an enraged Deondarhinarinanihn sees that his daughter has been grabbed by a [Fire Dwarves | dwarf]] and he waylays the soldiers with a makeshift weapon. Seeing that the situation could get very ugly, Gruk, the same cleric who healed Availin, uses a spell to command Deondarhinarinanihn to disarm, de-escalating a potentially explosive situation. However the rest of the dwarves, who are used to gnomish obedience, pure and simple, use this opportunity to make an example out of him and they beat him to a bloody pulp. The group is forced to walk away as Deondarhinarinanihn gets the beating of a life time. They are left on the far side of the valley with a stern warning.
PART 2 – KEZZLEBIT
A while later, while still in the middle of nowhere, they are approached by a strange looking gnome coming from the opposite direction as the camp. He looks to be at least as old as Krubblemeyer. He has a gnarled braided beard and strange goggles on his head reminiscent of the pair that Tank wears. He introduces himself as Kezzlebit , the only outcast of the gnomish society. He was kicked out long ago, and gladly left, after challenging the Tallahaar which agreed to the peace terms of King Ghok . Since then he has been trying to understand the machines that the Fire Dwarves make. Over the years he has dedicated his time to understanding how they move, but cannot find any central decision making or processing area. He explains that he watched their unfriendly escort by the fire dwarves and wants to find out whom they are and where they are from and if they may be interested in an alliance against the Fire Dwarves. He brings them to his little home which is a few hours walk away from where they already are.
As they get closer to his home they notice a flag or piece of cloth dangling from the trees every so often, each one of a different color or pattern. Kezzlebit explains that he has used these are markers to indicate the range of the machines. For some reason the machines completely cease to function beyond a certain range. The good news is that the range has been decreasing over time. He believes that in just a couple generations that they will not be able to come above ground at all.
His home is a little cottage in the middle of the woods surround by piles of dismembered and disassembled machines. When the machines were more active above ground, even hunting him for a while, he would lure them out of their range and then drag them back here for inspection. Decades of studying them still hasn’t revealed their secret, but he thinks it may have something to do with whatever it is that makes them cease after a certain point.
The group tells them a brief version of their story so far. Kezzlebit is fascinated by the idea of the Ilumnos Machine and wants to see it. There doesn’t seem to be any reason why someone else who is mechanically inclined shouldn’t look at it, maybe he can figure a way for them to get home. Tank explains how the color crystals are used to navigate to new worlds and how they found a blue crystal in the Grey World and a red crystal in the Blue World. Tank also mentions noticing that there are three slots for crystals, but only one has power right now, which means that only one crystal can be used at a time, so there is no combining colors yet.
“Tank” describes the power source as well to Kezzlebit, hoping that maybe he has seen either it or a color crystal. Kezzlebit gets really excited and runs off to fetch something. He returns with his uncle’s journal. He explains that his uncle was the prominent engineer who was killed by [[:King Ghok | Ghok]]. The journal reveals that they were working on a weapon, a machine construct, they call it, to keep the Fire Dwarves and gnomes safe from the raids of the denizens of the Underdark, the Derro, the Dueregar, the Drow, the Yuan-ti and many more evil races who live deep in the land’s core. The last entry of the journal reveals that his uncle believes that they were going to finish the project that night, which was the night that he was killed by [[:King Ghok | Ghok]]. More significantly for the group, it has an illustration of what his uncle refers to as a “Fire Sphere”, which matches the description of the missing power source from the Ilumnos Machine. It is most likely that King Ghok has or knows the whereabouts of the power source, which could be used to combine the blue and red crystals to get them to another world.
Kezzlebit reveals that he has been into the tunnels below, and knows a “back way” into the dwarf city, Lavarus, that the dwarves don’t even know about. It is decided that Kezzlebit should be shown the Ilumnos Machine and that either Pavlik alone or the whole party should sneak into Lavarus to get the Fire Sphere. First though is a much needed night’s rest.
The next morning it is decided that the group should stick together, so Kezzlebit wil show them the entrance to the “back way” on their way back to the Ilumnos Machine, and after he has looked at it they will all head down to Lavarus together. This “back entrance” is a long hike away, but eventually they approach a formation of large rocks. If one were to wedge himself between the rocks he could get inside the formation to where there is a tight hole leading down. As they are leaving this area they hear the sound of someone trying to climb up. Kezzlebit is shocked because he thought he was the only one who knew of this way.
A humanoid male with green scaly snake skin climbs out of the hole. He has two swords strapped to his back and is wearing leather armor, but he is not hostile. He introduces himself as Glycon. To his luck, he claims to be looking for the “outsiders”, the ones who have opposed the Fire Dwarves. He says those who have hired him are interested in meeting them and forging an alliance with their enemy’s enemies. They seem interested in having allies against the Fire Dwarves, who greatly outnumber and out-power them and the gnomes combined. Their first priority however is to show Kezzlebit the machine to see if he can figure something out that they haven’t. Glycon follows them up the mountain path back past the strange skeletal black metal man and through the ruined city.
The wondrous Ilumnos Machine spellbinds Kezzlebit . He is lost in fascination with its many moving parts and especially the control panel and light tube which brings its users to a completely new world. It is so big and complicated that he suggests that they follow Glycon underground and leave him here to study the machine, which sounds like a good idea considering that they don’t have any idea what the Fire Dwarves might be doing to those children by now.
On their way out of the ruined city a black man-sized object breaches the canopy top about half-way down the mountain, and then suddenly crashes back to the ground a moment later. All of this takes place around where the strange black skeletal machine was seen. There is speculation as to whether this is the same machine or another one entirely. Pavlik is sent ahead as a scout. He finds three Fire Dwarf soldiers making their way up the path. He rushes back and warns the group who falls back to the ruined city and gets ready to waylay the dwarves. A short battle ensues during which everyone is surprised to see Pavlik spit a stream of acid. The dwarves are quickly taken down and one is kept alive so that they can get information from him. He reveals that he was part of a party led by the cleric Gruk who had healed Availin earlier. The party of twelve was quickly reduced to five when they moved the machine in a failed attempt to recover it. After moving it a few yards it reactivated suddenly and within moments had killed more than half of the party. It then flew up into the sky and headed toward the ruined city before just coming crashing down a second later. Gruk was displeased and went to inform his commander while these three were sent to check out the city. It was believed that the party might be up here because of the footprints on the path. The group wants more information but the dwarf is difficult and ends up insulting Glycon too many times. Glycon kills the disrespectful dwarf who taunted him with the fact that the dwarves have killed most of his people and have entirely wiped out Yuan-ti society. The few survivors had joined with the Drow and Derro as mercenaries to fight the dwarves.
Kezzlebit comes out from the Ilumnos room hoping to catch up with the group, to find that they hadn’t even left yet. He remembered that he knows of a secret spy hole through which once can see into the Fire Dwarf temple. The hole is very small and twists, but he has a bendable rod which he set up mirrors on so that you can see into the temple through the narrow windy hole. The party of six departs for Lavarus.
PART 3 – LAVARUS
Descending into the world below ground through the secret tunnel the party makes their way to Lavarus. The descent is long, all the while the sound of a mechanical hum is ever present and getting louder the deeper they go. Kezzlebit tries preparing the party for what lies ahead by telling them what little he knows of the dwarves and describing the city itself, though he warns, nothing will compare to the actual sight.
Lavarus sits in an enormous open cavern. It actually rests on a huge ledge which overlooks a massive drop into a lake of flowing magma, which gives the city an eerie ambient red glow. A naturally occurring stone bridge that connects to the bottom of the cavern bridges the ledge that the city rests on to the tunnel the dwarves use to get above ground. The ledge is where the daily life of Lavarus happens. Fire Dwarf homes are holes in the far wall of the cavern, caves within a cave. These cave holes are stacked on top of each other with ramps connecting each layer; it is a real dwarven feat of stone work engineering to see. The stone around the main entrance to the temple, palace, and barracks has been impressed so that it appears that a large skull is coming out of the far wall. The open mouth of the skull is the main entrance.
The creepiest thing is the silence, other than the ever-present hum; not a single dwarf can be seen anywhere. All they can think of is that whatever is going on, it must be important. They continue back into tunnels that go around and then below the city until finally they pass an area which Kezzlebit says is right above their temple. There is a small crevice in the tunnel that twists down into the ceiling of the large cathedral like structure. It is too windy to see, but luckily Kezzlebit has fashioned a bendable rod attached to a collection of mirrors, making a perfect periscope.
The temple below them is filled with at least hundreds of Fire Dwarves. At one end is a set of long stairs that lead up to an altar about ten feet higher than the rest of the temple. The altar is adorned with hundreds of candles and symbols of their god. Against the back wall of the altar is a row of machines. They do not move at all. Suddenly dwarven drums pound out a slow steady rhythm and a line of guards begin to enter the temple, followed by priests holding or escorting the babies and young gnome children. The children are naked and painted black and red. Many are screaming or crying. The children are brought to the bottom of the stairs and with a sudden anti-crescendo everyone and everything breaks out into pure silence. The Fire Dwarf king, King Ghok , begins to speak and chant. He leads the ritual this way for a short time before one of the priests carries a small infant up the stairs and places it on the ceremonial altar. King Ghok then begins to chant while pouring ceremonial oils on the baby. After the baby has been doused in all the oils he says a few last words and then using a candle lights the child on fire. The crowd watches silently as the baby quickly turns into black ash.
The King then turns toward one of the machines and fans the thick acrid smoke toward it, chanting again. Within moments it begins to twitch, as if having bursts of spasms. King Ghok then commands it to come toward him. It looks like the machine is moving for the first time as it finally steps stiffly and awkwardly toward him. When it does the entire crowd erupts, cheering and praising.
The revelation of the mystery of the power source of these machines leaves much more than an uneasy feeling in the group as they decide to hurry into Lavarus while it appears that most of the inhabitants are preoccupied. Hope that they can take the “fire sphere” and undermine this dark ritual fuels their haste.
The tunnel brings them around to the exit of Lavarus into the Underdark. The city is guarded by two Machine Constructs, which they must destroy to get past. After a brief successful battle with the machines they are surprised when they are cautiously approached by the Fire Dwarf cleric, Gruk. He wants to know what they are doing here. He reveals that he doesn’t approve of the ways of his people and was spoken to by his god to find a new way to find glory for his god, but things get even more interesting when he reveals that the birth mark on Availin’s left shoulder blade, which was revealed by a hit from one of the machines which tore his armor, is the special sign from his god. The mark looks like a flame with some strange linguistic symbols on it.
Most of the party, weary of the Fire Dwarf and in a hurry to save the children, cuts through the pleasantries and makes it clear that they are heading into the city to find the fire sphere and the dwarf can either guide them or get out of the way. He chooses to bring them to the palace, where the King’s special machine he uses to control the Machine Constructs is located.
The entrance to the palace is guarded by six Machine Constructs, three of each type. They fight their way through them, surprisingly with the help of Gruk. The first level of the palace holds a dining hall for special events with guests and the sleeping quarters of the members of the royal family and their servants. Here they find a new type of machine. This machine looks similar to the hammerer but has a dwarven Urgrosh instead of a hammer hand. These machines are built solider and with more metal armor covering vital spots. While more difficult to battle they greatly outnumber the machines they come across and make their way to the second level of the palace. Here is the King’s throne room, where important citizens and military officials can get an audience with him. There is also a room which shows the many wondrous gifts given to the King, as is custom of important families who are looking for a favor from the King to give to him before an audience with him. They find lots of exotic treasures, mostly magical weapons gained as spoils of war with the other races of the Underdark. Everything is taken save a Drow vicious scimitar, which appeals to no one.
The third level is the Hall of Kings, which has giant stone statues of greak Fire Dwarf Kings of the past. In this room is also the guard of the King’s machine – the Original Machine Construct. It is a giant metal and stone cat, five feet wide and ten feet long. With the help of a maximized Scorching Ray spell from Baran, made possible by the stolen Drow Rod of Maximize from the King’s gift room, the group attacks and takes down the behemouth. It crashes on the ground and is left staring at Kezzlebit , with a strange non-mechanical look in its eyes. At first all are confused but after a moment Kezzlebit understands and explains that it is his uncle! The one who was killed by [[:King Ghok | Ghok]], the one whose murder created the rift and the war between their people. Kezzlebit and Tank help repair him back to operability and then the party moves on into the King’s machine room. It houses a giant device which the King climbs into. A helm goes on his head and his hands go into slots, there is a device which allows him to see through the eyes of a particular machine if he so chooses. In the middle toward the bottom is the Fire Sphere, spinning like made and energizing the whole thing. Tank quickly shuts it down and Baran removes the power source with a mage hand spell.
Now it is time to get the children, if possible, and escape. Kezzlebit’s uncle goes on a rampage, unleashing his fury on every Fire Dwarf he comes across, slaughtering many. Most of the dwarves flee in terror of the chaos which has broken out, starting with the interruption of their sacred ceremony with a problem of all the machine ceasing to function, and then the realization of something odd missing, the ever-present hum of the King’s machine they have all grown accustomed to, and finally the presence of the most ferocious Machine Construct ever seen going on a killing spree.
The group slips into the temple and grabs the surviving children and escapes to the surface in a hurry. At Na’er Doeh the villagers are overcome with emotion, there is happiness and crying for the returned children, as well as bereavement for those they have lost. The group has become heroes to the villagers.