Nick Nichols

Clojure Developer and Dungeon Master

A Miner Problem

A dull thud echoes from the other side of the cart, and the ground trembles. A half-orc in tattered brown pants and a steel helm lumbers towards Sif. His hair is long, black, and unkempt. A vague look of confusion and boredom hides the machinations of a mind too advanced for the uninitiated. He carries a great axe with muscles not born of vanity, but of pure, unbridled power. The sight is too beautiful to behold.

Before Sif stands the true protagonist of our story: Grok.

Aryn, unable to reach six feet into the air, gives Grok a hearty pat on the back of the thigh, and points to Sif, “Grok, this is Sif. He’ll be helping you take the cart to the nice elven man with the mine over where the sun comes up. Is that okay with ya?”

The glorious, green-skinned visionary replies in a voice that would make the angels cry, “Can Grok still lead ox?”

Holding back tears, the cleric answers, “You know it buddy.”

With their introductions complete, Grok and Sif ride off into the sunset together. Grok speaks little, and Sif is content to watch the rolling hills pass by. After camping for the night, the group prepares to set out again, but their path is blocked. A few felled trees stop their cart in its tracked, and the dynamic duo is ambushed by a band of goblin mercenaries.

Over the next few moments, Grok sinks his axe into three of his foes, and Sif handles the remaining Goblin with Sacred Flame. While Grok tends to the terrified Oxen, Sif searches the bodies for treasure. He finds a handful of coins, as well as crude orders from a hobgoblin named Werst ordering his clan to ransack any caravans headed to Phandalin. Sif takes the notes, and decides he can use it to earn a larger reward, and a contract for future work. Satisfied with their hard work, the two continue on.

As they approach Phandalin, they notice that it is nearly abandoned. The local tavern has lights and movement, but most of the homes are empty and cold. Sif knocks on the door of the Bronze Boar, and the lights within extinguish almost immediately. He announces his servitude to Odo, and, after a few moments of hushed whispers, the tenants crack the door open a hair. Recognizing Grok, they let the cleric enter, and explain the recent hardships their town has faced.

In the last few months, an elven business man from The Empire of the First Sun had purchased the mining rights to the hills just north of Phandalin. Initially, it brought a lot of work and attention to the small town; however, this did not last. Eventually, the mine attracted the wrong type of attention, and goblin raids became quite frequent. This drove a lot of people away, and the local economy quickly collapsed. Determined to help, Sif agrees to find the source of the goblins. Grok silently agrees.

After a quick meal and rest, they finish their journey to Gadriel’s Mineral Acquisitions. They are greeted by several weak and tired miners that help Grok unload the cart. Meanwhile, Sif seeks to strike a deal, and find his payment.

He finds a well-kept tent towards the back of the camp, and unable to knock, decides to let himself in. Gadriel, slightly annoyed, is a moderately well-to-do elven man whose office is littered with ancient texts, maps, and strange mineral samples. Sif, who only cares about the mineral gold, hands Gadriel the receipt from Aryn and is summarily given his gold reward. He notices that Gadriel seems to be stressed, and asks about recent events. He is frustrated by the attacks on and kidnappings of his men, which has only been intensified by the lack of progress beneath ground. There are rumors the hill is haunted, and several of his miners are striking until a full investigation is carried out.

Sensing that he is needed, in a way that would be financially beneficial to himself, Sif agrees to look into both problems with the aid of Grok. Curious, Gadriel asks if Sif is employed by Eryn Greyspine. Unable to hear the difference between the names, he nods affirmatively. The elf agrees to pay him through Eryn, and recommends speaking to the dwarf in the neighboring tent.

Sif makes the trek over, and sees a familiar face. Aryn’s identical twin, Eryn, greets the strange man at his tent’s flap. After a thorough explanation of the twins’ joint venture in the supply trade, they eventually come to a full, joint understanding of the situation. Eryn agrees to let Grok help find Gadriel’s missing miners, if Sif is willing to escort a cart of unprocessed ore back to Cirrus. A deal is struck, and Sif hops back in the cart with Grok.

On their way back to Cirrus, they encounter a small path leading into a secluded grove. Sif assumes it would make a good hideout, so he asks Grok to tie the oxen up. They creep forward, until they hear a few voices bickering back and forth in the goblin language. Two goblins are “guarding” the entrance to a cave. With the element of surprise on their side, the two leap out and quickly dispatch their foes.

Charging forward, they clear out the cavern until the party eventually finds themselves toe to toe with Werst. A flurry of slashes nearly sends Sif to his god Odo, but, thankfully, Grok saves the day. The unparalleled barbarian flies into a rage and crushes the hobgoblin’s skull against a cavern wall. Sif watches on with a look of horror and astonishment. After tending to their injuries with Cure Wounds, Sif searches for information, treasure, and the missing miners.

His curiosity is rewarded with a contract between Werst and a man named Casfar Felvos. Casfar pontificates about the dire importance of his research, before diving into the actual details of the work. Werst is allowed to take whatever spoils he and his clan desire using the weapons and armor Casfar has purchased for them. In return, the goblin band must ransack all caravans headed to Gadriel’s Mineral Acquisitions. At the very end of the document, Sif finds Werst’s “signature” next to Casfar’s, as well as a strange symbol of a large spider. Unable to recognize the significance, he pockets the information and a key the hobgoblin had tied to his belt.

Following the echoes of a few whimpers, Sif and Grok are led into a dimly lit chamber full of cages. Two dwarven men and a human woman are being held prisoner, and look sickly and starving. The cleric quickly rushes to their aid, frees them of their cells, and learns they were kidnapped after fleeing Phandalin. He tends to their wounds and offers them some of his rations. Grateful, they ask for a ride to anywhere but their present location.

Grok helps the weary souls into the cart back outside, and they complete their journey back to Cirrus. Aryn, proud to see his two star employees returning, welcomes everyone to a round of drinks at the Red Rooster Inn. Sif begins to ask about the clues he discovered earlier, “Yo, Aryn. My buddy. My guy. Does Gadriel have any enemies?”

“Not that I would know about. I mean, he’s a little stuck up, but I don’t think anybody would hate him.”

“Are you sure about that? There’s someone that wanted his whole operation gone. He was connected to a spider symbol and there’s a name: Casfar Felvos.”

Aryn looks at the floor and sighs heavily. He tells Sif about some of the troubles in his homeland in the Kingdom of the Red Lion. In particular, he remembers a village near the mountain his family used to live beneath. Kythorn, as it was known, had almost entirely cut itself off from the rest of the nation, and most people avoided it entirely. There had always been rumors of disappearances, but, things have recently gotten much worse.

Over the last few years, a string of murders haunted the southern reaches of the kingdom. While most believed it was the handiwork of a serial killer, the people of Kythorn had become convinced the Empire of the First Sun had infiltrated their lands with spies and assassins. Witch hunts spread out into the neighboring communities with religious zeal. It took months to settle the violence, and the organization behind the mania, the Web of the Black Spider slipped away into the shadows. Aryn believes it is possible an arm of the group could exist this far into contested territory, and, given Gadriel’s nation of origin, he would be a prime target.

Sif contemplates the situation, and is bothered by the news of Kythorn. His brief formal education over the last year had entirely skipped that region of the realm, and Sif believed that it was an intentional decision by the acolytes of his faith. Hungering for more information, he decides to head back to Phandalin to investigate further.

Before leaving, Sif asks if Grok can continue travelling with him. Unfortunately, Grok is needed to help sort and resell the ore, but, after that, Aryn will be sending Grok to Phandalin once more. They agree to reunite at Gadriel’s camp, and come up with further plans there. Sif signs the contract, and the crew shares in another round of ale.

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