They each made their way individually to Arcanix from different locations, arriving in the city within about a week. Resting on the shores of Lake Galifar, Arcanix had previously been a relatively sleepy little village with most of the townsfolk work going to support the great Arcanix University.
And great it was both for its continent wide recognition as one of the best places to study the Arcane arts in all of Khorvaire and for its location. Floating above the town on three enormous earthmotes that remained undeterred despite the sometimes harsh lake breezes, the university had originally been three separate schools that eventually consolidated into one institution as times got tough and money ran dry during the Last War. Housed within were some of the most knowledgeable persons in all of the continent on all things Arcane.
As follows most wars, a great migration of people from the ravaged lands flocked to the villages and towns still left standing. Arcanix was one of these and over the past ten years it flourished into a bustling city with broad thoroughfares flanked with magical brightlamps and carriages managed by House Orien. Moving about the streets and in between the pedestrians were one of the newer innovations of the era: magical brooms spouting two hands that were crafted using the same technology as had been used to craft the warforge, though on a much simpler level. These beings kept the city extraordinarily clean with refuse and debris being pushed into what was one of the best sewage systems in all of Eberron. Rumors on the streets abounded that at the end of all these pipes and funnels was an enormous chained fire elemental who perpetually consumed the trash left by the city.
They met Davmorn at a massive stone structure located in the heart of the city and proudly waving the flag of House Deneith. A middle aged dwarf spouting a frayed bright orange beard, Davmorn had been appointed primary manager of the House’s new ventures for Aundair and the surrounding area.
Meeting within a small and rather cramped office, the party listened as Davmorn explained how the House had started up a new corporation to break into the adventuring business, mainly to meet a rising need by “interested clients” in various items that were relics of bygone days located in various ruins and old landmarks that dotted the continent.
The house was interested in contacting with various small adventuring parties to perform these requested tasks and Bren had recommended that the five were the perfect group for meeting these muscle and brainpower needs. After a short investigation of each person’s background with the House, Davmorn decided to contact the party and extend a job offer. In return for their services, the party would receive a portion of the money the House made off the venture and they would be able to retain any additional items found. Also, all room and board during their travels would be comped by the House.
After a short consideration, they came to an agreement: this was too good an offer to pass up. Davmorn indicated their first assignment would be with one of the newer businesses the House had set up to the south within the Blackcap Peaks. Walhand Goblinblade, a dragonborn that Davmorn said was of some renown among his people as well as a House member, had just set up the business this past week and the five would be assigned to work under him to obtain relics and artifacts within a mountain valley.
And with that, they were off. An Orien Caravan made up of five carriages and a guard detail provided by House Deneith saw the party out of Arcanix along the main road leading southeast to Marketplace. After a couple hours the caravan left the main road and took a well used path leading due south: to the great fortress of Vanguard Keep…one of the great military complexes and training centers for Aundair. A brief stop off at the village surrounding the fort and they were off again, this time headed west towards the Blackcap peaks.
Their name became readily apparent as the party looked through the carriages windows and towards the great mountains that were drawing ever closer. Atop the massive granite landmarks were not your typical snow capped peaks glistening white. Instead, jet black mountain tops exposed dark obsidian that made up the highest parts of each mountain. The mountain’s names were drawn from this, but they had other special properties: namely that no snow ever collected on their tops, even in the dead of winter.
Passing between the silent gazes of two such peaks, the caravan passed into a long valley that cut deep into the mountains. Named the Obsidian Valley, this place had long been abandoned due to the kobold and goblin tribes that had held complete authority over the mountains for many years. Aundair finally tired of the frequent raids and, using Vanguard Keep as a base, sent armies into the mountains to clear the valley and establish a settlement. Cryis Bromide was the leader of these operations as the Keep’s commanding officer and it was for him and a recognition of the safety he brought that the colony which established itself within the valley was named.
The caravan arrived in the village square in the late afternoon, parking in front of an ornate looking wooden inn bearing the name The Lucky Dragon. A banner beneath the logo identified the establishment as an inn under the management of House Gallanda; a name that in Eberron means comfort. The Mark of Hospitality provided through Gallanda’s Dragonmark gave its members an uncanny ability at providing people with just the right service to make their stay relaxing.
Getting out of the caravan, the party was approached by one of the men who drove the carriages to Bromide with a small locked box. “I was told to give this box to you guys once we arrived. It’s for some guy named Walhand?”
Erdan accepted the box and with that the group strode into the Lucky Dragon. Its interior was as lavish as the ornate exterior. A tavern graced on side of the room with an enormous oaken bar running the length of one wall. Spirits rested on shelves all the way up to the wall.
A gnome with bright purple hair approached them and introduced himself as Zell.
“Welcome to the Lucky Dragon! What can I do for you?” the spunky gnome piped in a high pitched voice.
“I believe we have rooms contracted here for the night with House Daneith?” replied Dane. It took Zell a moment, but he remembered.
Meanwhile Bastion looked about. This was far and away the nicest place he’d ever stayed. “Hrm…seems like a waste on my behalf.”
“You can sleep in the stable if it makes you feel guilty”, quipped the monk as he unloaded his belongings onto the floor.
“House Daneith has a contract with us to provide you with services. As long as you guys don’t scare off my customers you can stay here as long as you like.” Zell explained as he began to list off the various amenities their establishment offered. In particular he mentioned size specific rooms for a variety of clientele…even Minotaurs.
This raised Cordus’ interest. “I don’t know about you guys, but I’m looking forward to actually being able to sleep on a bed while we’re out here.”
The group went upstairs where Zell showed each of them to their individual rooms. After a short while Dane walked over to Malanimus’ room and banged on the door.
“Let’s head over to the bar and order a pint.”
Erdan sought out Zell and asked where he could find Walhand. The gnome told him that the dragonborn had just recently moved into a short framed house a couple blocks west of the Lucky Dragon. Zell had seem him around the tavern part of the inn before, though he only came around in the evenings and tended to keep to himself.
The rest of the group eventually made their way over to Dane and Malanimus and after a short while Erdan announced his intention to seek out their manager. Mal drained her pint and decided to join the half elf along with Cordus.
The three left the inn and proceeded down a short dusty street. As promised, they noticed a small building with the words “Adventurer’s Inc.” painted crudely on a wooden panel above the door. On the side of the wall was the logo of House Daneith. Leaning against the building near the open door was a tall broad shouldered dragonborn sucking on a long stemmed pipe.
Bastion looked at the building and grumbled. “Hardly subtle…no “Thrill seekers with an eye for glitter!” here or anything.”
Mal looked back up at companion and grinned, “Hard to be subtle when one is so large, tinman.”
The dragonborn noticed them walk up, stared at the three and growled, “And you are?”
The half elf stepped forward. “My name is Erdan. We just arrived and I was told I should deliver this chest to you. We are a party for House Daneith.”
“Ah…you guys! The fresh blood…I mean new recruits. Good.”. The dragonborn was obviously the man they sought: Walhand Goblinblade. He nodded towards the door, “Come in and I’ll show you around.”
They walked into a small one room building that had a tiny desk near the front door and a large chair behind it.
“They didn’t happen to give you a chest while you were in Arcanix did they? I left some of my personal belongings there because I thought I’d be going back sooner, but it seems we might be out here awhile so I requested they be transferred here.”
Erdan produced the small box and Walhand’s eyes lit up. Using a key that was attached to a chain he kept around his neck, the dragonborn opened the box and rummaged through the contents. He took out a small portrait painting and hung it up behind the desk. It was a depiction of a green skinned dragonborn decked out in some very impressive looking plate armor and carrying a massive two-handed bastard sword that was glowing red. Scribbled in ink and barely recognizable was a small signature in the bottom right hand corner.
“Gragos Bathor. He was a champion of my people. A renowned fighter that I looked up to as a youth and had the opportunity to meet once. He gave me this autographed portrait.” Walhand paused for a moment and then turned to the three, “I’m assumed you’ve already been filled in on the details of why you are here. We’ll be getting started tomorrow. Meet me at sun rise in the town square and be sure to get some rest. You’re going to need it.”
“We look forward to working with you”, Cordus said with a short nod and then he turned and ducked out of the door. Stretching after feeling so cramped in such a small building, the Minotaur raised his arms above his head. “Well, I think it’s about time we made up for some lost time at the bar.”
Dane was on round five back at the Lucky Dragon’s bar and was chatting with Zell. Malanimus got up to head back to her room with Dane whistling as she walked by. Zell stared at the sleek dark elf “That one sure is a looker.” giving a slight pause to admire the view then he looked back at Dane who was reaching into his pouch to pluck out some coins for the ale.
Zell dismissed the monk with a casual wave of his tiny hand. “Don’t worry about it. It’s on the house. House Daneith members are good customers and the House always pays its bills on time.”
Dane cracked a smile and motioned for the bartender to fill up another mug. “Thank you my friend.” receiving a full mug to replace his previous empty one, he raised it slightly and nodded at the gnome. “To your inn and fine beverages. Cheers!”
Cordus arrived a short time later minus his two comrades. They had decided to check out another tavern looking building located on the other side of the village square.
Zell looked at the Minotaur as he walked up. “Watch it with those horns that you don’t knock anything down.”
Cordus looked down at the gnome, “It’s on the “House” right? Well then…your finest drink!”
Erdan walked into the open door of what he assumed was a tavern, though the only person he saw in the large wooden building was a balding old man sitting bored behind the bar. The selection looked pretty poor with a few dusty bottles containing something resembling a liquid behind him. The man looked up as the half elf walked in. “Well well well…haven’t had a customer at this hour in some time. Not interested in the beverages those flee bitten shorties across the way have?
“It is impressive, but too much for my tastes. I’ve never been much for all the enchantments they use.” Erdan replied while he sat down to order a beer. Pulling out a lyre from a small backpack he carried, Erdan asked the barkeep if he could play for a bit. It had been a long time since he’d played in such a venue.
The barkeep looked at the half elf with a broad smile on his face. “Well…sure! That’s great! The name’s Cerik” The half elf looked back and introduced himself.
Bastion had wandered in during the conversation and Erdan introduced the warforged. Sitting down carefully sat on a rickety barstool, the warforged turned to Cerik “This town seems almost ghostly.” Bastion observed as he looked about the deserted tavern.
“It’s not that bad…I get a few regulars. Locals mostly…folks who’ve lived in this place since Aundair came in and cleaned it up.” Ceirk grinned, “We just take some time to get used to outsiders. That being said, most of my business was taken up when House Gallanda moved in.”
“Are they really the center of attention? Their luxury seems distinctly out of touch” Bastion replied.
“They have the best ale in the valley…my ale!”
Erdan paused from his lyre playing. “You sell to them?”
Cerik’s eyes took on a distant look as he remembered the time when the Lucky Dragon was built and Zell moved in. “There are some herbs that grow only in this valley. Folks around here call them Cryis…named after a local hero around here. It’s a small yellow flower with a blue center. The stuff used to grow all over the hillsides on the southern slopes, but then those damn shorties came in. Since then I haven’t been able to get near the stuff since the House has sent out some outsiders to “guard” the flowers while they harvest them and what’s generally left behind isn’t fit to brew.”, Cerik signed, “But there’s not much I can do. They have the House name and that carries a lot of weight. Well I best be getting back to work. Good day.”
With that Cerik turned to attend to a couple locals who had come in after a long day’s work in the field.
The next morning dawned bright and clear with the sun’s rays reflecting sharply off the black peaks. Walhand sat alone in the village square at a small fountain waiting for the party.
“Good morning sunshines. You ready to work?” Walhand said as the groggy eyed, half hung over heroes walked up. It had been a long night at the bar and morning had come swiftly.
Dane looked at the dragonborn. “What’s the job?” The dragonborn looked back and chuckled.
They arrived a short time later at a small homestead just outside of town. They were greeted by an old, leathery man named Johnson who lead them to the back of his farm where a large barn had been built on a gently sloping hillside. Across the bar the doors were nailed with many wooden planks. Farmer Johnson explained how a few days ago he opened the barn door to a rancid odor. Walking in he noticed a few of his cows dead on the ground with large chunks bitten out of them. He grew concerned after hearing some loud skittering noises, ran out of the barn and boarded it up. He hadn’t been back since.
Walhand looked back at the party walking behind him. “Looks to me like we’ve got a rat infestation. Think you guys can handle it?”
Mal looked at the farmer and then at Walhand. “Must’ve been some rat…”
Walhand turned his attention back to Johnson. “Sure, we’ll do this.” Grasping the planks, the dragonborn ripped them off and threw open the doors. A wave of tan dust rolled out of the barn. Motioning the party forward, he collectively herded them into the barn and shut the door.
Bastion looked about the barn. The dust that had been kicked up when Walhand opened the doors was slowly settling back to the ground, but still made the shafts of morning light that stabbed through cracks in the roof even more pronounced. A few feet from him were the skeletal remains of a cow with another one nearby. Something “else” was clearly in here.
Malanimus was the first to spot them, her eyes naturally adjusting to the dimmer light much quicker than her comrades. With a short flick of the wrist two arrows were striking dead two giant rats that had been hiding in the shadows behind one of the far stalls.
Two other rats, each the size of a dog, flew out of the rightmost stalls and made a beeline for Bastion who only narrowly avoided getting bitten. Erdan reacted quicly and with a stunning strike knocked the life out of one of them. Cordus witnessed the attack and was inspired…gaining greater confidence that these foes would be no match for him and his friends.
A loud skittering noise indicated more rats as a few more came from the shadows, landing bites full of razor sharp teeth on Mal’s legs. Dane tried to react with a series of quick and well placed jabs, but the rats were too fast even for the monk’s speed and nimbly dodged.
It was then that they heard a new sound…like the pitter patter of a thousand tiny feet, a mass of tiny glowing eyes came at them from the back of the barn. It was a swarm of tiny rats with glowing red eyes and tiny teeth as sharp as their larger cousins. They swarmed around Cordus and began to viciously attack the openings in his armor. He was able to withstand the attack, but the bites were painful and the pain lingered. Erdan noticed his friend’s trouble and struck out again with his flail and allowed his emotions to seep into the Minotaur. It worked and the Runepriest felt he could tolerate a little more pain than usual.
Meanwhile Mal had nimbly maneuvered away, kicking his aggressor with enough force to both push him away and giving the ranger critical space in which to fire an arrow. The shot flew into the Rat’s right eye and sent it slamming against the barn wall…the arrow exiting the rat’s skull and impaling it against the wall.
The Rat Swarms continued their relentless assault on the poor Minotaur who staggered again and again against the blows. It seemed like nothing could get near the tiny beasts without coming away without at least a few pieces of flesh missing. A few of the rats managed to crawl in between Cordus’ armor and landed a series of bites along the Runepriests chest. He was able to knock them off, but saw streaks of blood begin to drip out of his armor. The attack had hit its mark and he was hurt badly. He looked up in dismay as yet another rat began to slink their way…this one much different from the others. About the fur protruded gruesome bones and its eyes glowed red…a Dire Rat…most likely the one that lead the rest of the pack here. It came at the party and quickly sensrf the Minotaur’s weakness. It snapped its jaws, just barely missing Cordus’ hindquarters.
When Cordus had initially seen the rats he thought this whole job was a joke…I mean they were rats..come on. How hard can it be? No longer, the Runepriest got serious. Calling upon the divine power that was his magical source, the Minotaur cried out in rage as his warhammer began to glow golden in response. The attack slammed into a rat and the powerful attack pulsed out from the strike, bathing Cordus’ friend in a golden light that gave strength to their blows.
Bastion looked over at his stricken friend and noticed the Minotaur’s grave injury. This fight had to end…and it had to end quickly. The Warden considered his options and decided it couldn’t wait. Raising his weapon, the Warforged cried out in a loud metallic voice and swung wide hitting both Rat Swarms and the Dire Rat. As his weapon rotated about him ice crystals began to form on the floor and when he was done the Warforged was completely surrounded by a thin layer of ice on the floor that made movement difficult for the smaller creatures.
Malanimus noticed her opportunity and took it. Raising her deadly bow she fired off two arrows into the swarm, impaling seven of them onto an 2 arrows that sank deep into the floor and partially burying the tiny rats stuck on them. The few remaining rats from the swarm dispersed and were gone. In short order the remaining Giant Rats and the other swarm were stomped into the ground through a combined assault from Bastion, Erdan and Cordus.
That left the Dire Rat. It sensed its peril, but had no room to maneuver. Falling into meditation, Dane reached inside himself and opened up powerful inner doors that drew out great strength, but which had to be controlled least the monk overdo himself to the point of permanent injury.
The Gate of Battle opened and in one terrific kick the Dire Rat was sent airborne. In a whirl the monk’s fist squarely connected with the rapidly rising rat. The force of the blow sent the rat flying in a new direction…this time away from the monk, but this was not its final trajectory. In midflight a single powerful shot from the ranger pierced the Dire Rat and sent it flying along on its final destination…both spiritually and temporally. With that yet another rat lay impaled and dead against the barn wall.
Cordus opened the door and the five walked out. With a nod from Bastion, Walhand looked at the farmer. “Pleasure doing business with you Johnson. Hope they didn’t leave too much of a mess.”
The farmer looked in the barn as he handed Walhand a bag of coins. “At least those blasted rats are dead. Thanks again.”
Walhand distributed out the five’s share as they made their way back to town.
“Now I’m sure that wasn’t the most glamorous of tasks you’ve ever done, but I wanted to make sure you guys could handle the little stuff before I gave you something harder. Plus it’ll only help our business if we can ensure these people that we’re here to help them as well as ourselves.
With that out of the way I’ll let you in on the real work for today…Last night I received a message from Davmorn that one of our guys found some interesting information about the swamp located just southeast of here. Folks around here call it the “Croaking Swamp” and they don’t go near it…say its haunted with all sorts of weird creatures.
It’s a good ways from here…you actually passed it on the way here, but our guys found an ancient scroll in the Arcanix library talking about how this valley used to be home to a druidic grove located on the southern portions of the valley. I have a hunch that there’s something interesting in there stirring up all the native wildlife and I’d like you to go check it out and see what you can find. I need you back here by tomorrow evening though so don’t spend a whole lot of time. Go in, see if you can find anything and get back here by tomorrow.”
Bastion gave the dragonborn a dead panned look. “That sounded like a plan far before we headed out this morning.” Walhand grinned and nodded slightly before he went back to counting the coins within the bag.