Kernoc led Haerak and Ardel deeper and deeper into the underdark, always following some strange dwarven instinct which seemed to give him direction. The barbarian and the ragged priest were once again hopelessly lost almost immediately. After several days the rough caves gave way to worked stone, which rose far out of sight into a worked staircase. From far above the distant sounds of battle were barely audible.
Haerak moved up the great stair cautiously, worried that whatever battle raged above might be coming down upon them.
When he finally reached the apex of the great staircase, he found that it led to a narrow walkway over a great chasm, with molten lava far below, the walkway led to a bridge, and beyond that, barely illuminated by the firelight of the chasm, lay the source of the now quiet battle sounds, a pack of duergar and bugbear corpses, strewn around a pair of large wagons.
As Haerak and Kernoc approached the bloody scene, Haerak caught a glimpse of a living bugbear hiding behind a toppled wagon. Feigning ignorance to the ambush, the barbarian approached, and, as soon as he was close enough, moved to intercept the hiding goblinoid. As he rushed forward, he noticed one of the bugbear corpses crack an eyelid. The barbarian drove his huge sword into the creature as it struggled to rise, with Kernoc sliding his spear into the creatures back. The rest of the monsters struggled to their feat, and sprung their now ineffective ambush, hoping their size and strength could accomplish what their guile could not.
The battle was quick and brutal, the three bugbears each fell to Haerak’s brutal sword blows, backed up by Kernoc’s jabbing spear, and while their own strikes were powerful, the barbarian shrugged them aside, relying on his armor and speed to keep their blows from landing true. In less than half a minute, it was done, the large goblinoids were all dead, hacked to pieces by the great blade of Haerak Martel.
In the wreckage of the caravan, Haerak and Kernoc found a single survivor, a Duergar, trapped under the weight of the wagon. The pair of them managed to lift the wagon free, and, quickly found the duergar to be far more hospitable than is typical of his brethren, though, in this moment he had little choice. He introduced himself as Pazzark Smoothstone, and offered Haerak a bargain, if the barbarian were to safely transport one of the wagons to a nearby settlement, he would gain the barbarian safe access to the stronghold, and give him half the value of the goods.
Haerak accepted, and, over the next few days, dragged, pushed, pulled and forced the merchant’s damnable wagon through endless miles of dark, dangerous terrian.
The journey was perilous, with Haerak risking his life to save Kernoc from certain death when the dwarf lost his footing on a particularly narrow passage. The barbarian managed to pull the dwarf free of the monsters of the deep which sought his flesh, despite the howls of Ardel to leave the dwarf to die.
Eventually the walls of Dunmudden’s freehold rose out of the darkness, surrounded by a small tent city of humanoids not rich or influential enough to enter the duergar stronghold. True to his word, Pazzark gained entrance for Haerak, with Kernoc and Ardel posing as his slaves. The stronghold had one small inn which accepted non-duergar guests, the Gullet of the Purple Worm, a small, expensive, and simple establishment, run by a strange white skinned dwarf know as Uasrk the Undying.
The relative safety of the freehold was a welcome change for the barbarian and his companions, the food was simple, and expensive, but hot and filling. After a short rest, Haerak began searching the marketplace for those who might have knowledge of how to reach the surface. He quickly found two leads, a small, upstart outfit called Darnbell & Sons, and a larger, wealthier operation run by a duergar named Fegren Blacktooth. Both had access to surface goods, and Darnbell’s price was more than fair, for naught but a bit of labour hauling iron, he would take Haerak and his companions to the surface, though, the trip would be one way, for the Duergar needed to keep his passage secret, or risk losing his business advantage.
Fegren’s price was far steeper, and he would only lead Haerak as far as the city of Fulldrum, for this he demanded ten thousand pieces of silver, and, he refused to take Kernoc even at that price, for he shared strongly in his people’s hatred of the mountain dwarves.
Haerak quickly learned that Darnbell & Son’s offer was indeed too good to be true, that none who hired on with them ever returned, even other duergar, so he resolved to come up with Fegren’s price, as long as he could convince the merchant to bring Kernoc as well. Haerak sold his magic eyepiece, and, with the help of Pazzark’s negociating skills, convinced Fegren to take his entire group, including Kernoc.
The great barbarian’s presence in the town soon attracted other attention as well, the Human Herrance Fain quickly offered to lead Haerak to Mir, where he might find work with the army of the Ressurection, the same army which once called the barbarian slave. Herrance was served by a skulking brute of a bugbear named Ragga, and a duergar named Dilcor. This human served as diplomat for the armies of the ressurection, though, he proved a poor choice for this job, for once he finally managed to secure a meeting with the xenophobic Dunmudden, he quickly found that insulting the duergar was unwise indeed, and he was chained to the walls of the water pit, Dunmudden’s favored form of execution. The duergar Dilcor plead with Haerak to free Herrance before the slowly rising waters drowned him, fearing the retaliation of the Warsoul’s of Mir upon the freehold, but the barbarian was unswayed. While he did make a halfhearted effort to search out the now missing bugbear Ragga, in the end he simply returned to his room, letting the human die rather than risking near certain death freeing someone who was almost certainly his enemy.
The gullet also housed a small company of orcs, led by a powerful and articulate orc named Kalarsh, son of Mogolarsh. Kalarash set his henchman Merkoz upon Haerak in the gullet, fighting hand to hand, the barbarian punished the orc brutally for his attack. This gained Haerak the respect of the orc leader, and, he found Kalarsh to be an amiable sort, at least as far as he was likely to find in the keep of a brutal duergar lord, miles benearth the surface.
When the time came for Fegren’s caravan to leave, Haerak was approached by a hobgoblin warrior, an elite of the army of the ressurection. The creature asked that Haerak speak once more with Dilcor, who awaited him just outside the gates. Thinking little of this, Haerak agreed, and followed the hobgoblin outside, alone.
Ripper’s first blow caught the barbarian almost completely by surprise. The ogre raised his club to finish the job, as the stunned barbarian realized he had stumbled into a trap he could almost certainly not survive. Haerak was not about to give up however, roaring in rage, he brought his sword around, slamming it into the orge with terrible savagry and swiftness, calling for aid as he battled. Hobgoblins moved to cut off the barbarian’s retreat, but they did not yet advance upon him, content to let the sadistic ogre finish his work, as he had done so many times in the past. Ripper’s second blow should have split Haerak’s skull, but amazingly, a loose stone caused the ogre to stumble, and his great club smashed harmlessly to the barbarian’s side. Haerak pressed his attack, and, as luck would have it, he was joined by Kalarsh and his companions, not content to watch from the sidelines, the orc warriors attacked the hobgoblins, and Kalarsh joined Haerak against the great ogre. This proved unwise for the orc, though strong and skilled, a horrific counterblow from Ripper shattered his ribs and left him bleeding on the ground, organs ruptured. This momentary distraction gave Haerak the opportunity he needed however, his next blow struck true, shearing Ripper’s face and skull nearly in two, the ogre was dead on it’s feat, it struggled to raise it’s dreadful club one last time, but death took it before it’s body carried out the cleaved mind’s final, hate filled orders.
Haerak and the orcs brought Kalarsh back to the gullet as quickly as they could, where Haerak forced Ardel to heal the wounded orc leader, pulling him back from the very brink of death. Moments later more hobgoblins burst into the inn, and the battle was joined again. Haerak brought one low, but before he could battle any others, Uarsk brought his terrible flail to bear, smashing the life from the hobgoblins as if they were made of paper.
Haerak gathered up his companions and fled with the orcs, managing to meet with Fegren’s caravan, beginning the journey towards a real change at daylight.