I awoke well after daybreak, in another camp. We had not all been slaughtered by Nergal's demons. In fact, we were all here, with various stages of injuries. I was exhausted, but I rested a bit, ate a little, and Carmella filled me in on what I had missed. Not only had demons sent from Nergal appeared, but also some sort of fire demon. She was evasive, and seemed a bit ashamed. I gather that she called the demons somehow, I imagine with the damned rock. I didn't press her on it, though.

To my amazement, she told me quietly she had given up the Crystal of Fire. Ashe is now holding it for her. He offers it to her once in a while, but she continues to ignore him. He gazes upon her with a disquieting look in his eye, as though she were a high priest. She seems to be considering things carefully, and I suspect that in the next few days or weeks, we'll discuss the details of today again.

Walls were high upon a cliff. This is the general area where the map shows the city could be. There is nothing else for many, many miles, and the likelihood that this is another city, not shown on the map, is slim. I spent the morning healing everyone and resting. After lunch, around noon, we started for the trail up the mountain.

The path we walked on had not been trodden by other feet in a very long time. It wound around to the top of the cliff, ending at a large flat spot with a wall around a city. The 20-foot-high wall itself stretched in a semi-circle, with its endpoints against the continuation of the cliffwall. A large, double gate stood open.

Goldrim read the blocky dwarven runes carved above the gate: "Karak Ostohar". He paused a moment and said, "It means roughly City of the East." We had found the rumoured city. The wind rustled through trees, birds chirped. No guards, no signs of any people of any kind. Goldrim, the two Nipponese warriors, and Prestley led the way. Prestley looked for traps, such as triggered portcullises we had fallen afoul of in the past. Goldrim and Miara had their weapons drawn and ready. Sun led Sean, and Carmella and I walked with them. Ashe and Bark followed us, weapons drawn as our rear guard.

All was quiet and deserted. Stone buildings, obviously built by dwarves, were sized for humans. Although the buildings were yet strong and in good shape and the stone paths were still smooth, there were trees and bushes and grass growing where they certainly were never meant to be. Another, inner wall separated the old town further in from the new town, and again the gate stood open. Someone asked Goldrim where the dwarves would be, if they were here, and he pointed straight ahead, through the gate.

We walked straight through the gate, and found much the same on the other side. Larger and grander buildings. It looked like a neglected monument. The path continued straight into the cliffside where another gate opened into the mountain itself. If anywhere, that's where the dwarves would be.

Two buildings on either side of the path were especially large, and there was a reflecting pool between them. I tested the water, and it was quite clean besides the stray leaves floating on top. At least we had plenty of drinkable water. Goldrim read the signs on the two large buildings — Bankers Guild and Merchants Guild.

We discussed for a few minutes our plans: we would need to make camp out here for a day or two and collect provisions enough for four days before entering the cliff. Two days in and two back should give us enough information so we'll know what we're dealing with.

We started looking around us for a good building to camp in. Goldrim pointed at the Bankers Guild and started walking to it, and the rest of us followed him. He had to put some effort into opening the door, as it stuck. The door opened to a huge hall which stretched across the entire building in the front. He walked straight ahead, to the mostly blank wall, and pointed to an empty alcove. He said, "This is the alcove." Miara was visibly disappointed that it was empty. The right alcove, but her statue was not in it.

As we looked through this building and some of the others, it was clear the occupants moved out deliberately. They had left nothing behind. The buildings were clean and empty.

The Bankers Building, though, had signs of much more recent habitation. It was cleaner, with less dust, the fireplaces had been used, and there were cots in many of the rooms. There were even some personal belongings left behind, and they looked just a little like some of the stuff Miara and Kyuskay carry, but not the same. Ashe looked around carefully and determined they've been gone only about 10-15 years; much more recent than the rest of the city. Suddenly Miara said, "They were Chin." Maybe 30-40 of them seem to have established a monastery here. This seemed very odd. It was also clear they had not left on the same terms as the previous occupants: they had intended to return and hadn't.

Ashe, Bark, and Kyuskay went hunting, and I foraging to collect enough food for the trip into the mountain.

When I got back, Miara was laying down in an empty and dark room with one of her headaches. I've not been able to concoct anything to alleviate the pain she feels, and I guiltily stayed away, letting her rest in peace.

The kitchen in the Bankers Guild -- Why was there a kitchen in this building? -- still contained all the pots and pans and utensils. Goldrim and Sun gathered wood and Bark and Ashe started smoking the rabbits they had caught. I cleaned and prepared the vegetables and herbs I had gathered. José cooked us a fine dinner.

We hadn't gathered as much as we wanted, so we took another day to hunt, gather, and prepare food. At the end of the second day, we had enough for four days for all of us. The others spent their time exploring the city. They found little, although Miara and Kyuskay discovered some scroll with the Chin stuff that Kyuskay kept.

The following day, we gathered everything together and started the trek into the mountain. The third gate opened to a 50-foot long tunnel which in turn opened into an incredibly long, wide, and tall hallway lined with doors and other hallway entrances. Dust covered the floor and there were no tracks. Deserted, yet we heard something that sounded, perhaps, like a voice. We walked down the hall and the voice grew louder. Goldrim and José both recognized and understood it -- the voice was reciting a religious chant to the dwarven god.

About 200 feet in, we reached an open hallway that was the source of the voice. Goldrim said it seemed to be some sort of shrine, and we asked if we should all go in, or just send him in and wait, or all stand around outside and wait. He thought for a moment and said we could all enter, but all weapons must be put away.

The hall opened up almost immediately into a large room at an angle from the hall itself. An elderly dwarf knelt at a small altar, his back to us. The room was lined with altars to all sorts of gods. José found one to Varena and I found one to Bianca. It was old-fashioned, such as I'd seen in books in the monastery. The style is different now. José quietly stood before Varena's altar with his head bowed for a moment. I marked the position of Bianca's altar, which was on another wall, to return to later.

We waited quietly, unwilling to interrupt the man's devotions. Suddenly, he stopped, looked around, and saw us. Obviously surprised, he leapt up and pulled out his axe. Goldrim and José stepped forward and bowed to him, and José introduced himself and apologized for the interruption.

Suspiciously, he asked what we were doing there. José answered that Goldrim was leading us on a quest, and Goldrim stammered out something in dwarven. I realized that José was using his spell to speak to everyone all at once again.

The other dwarf said something that sounded sarcastic, but he put his axe down. Perhaps realizing most of us had no idea what he was saying, he said in Old Worlder, "I guess as long as you're here, I may as well be hospitable", and he walked towards the door.

We followed him out of the shrine, across the large hall, and into a doorway that opened into a small apartment he was apparently living in. He bade us welcome and gestured us in. Bark sat down just outside the door. The nameless dwarf scurried around, trying to find us all places to sit, but we mostly ended up on the floor. He offered us drinks -- wine, beer, or water, then realized he didn't have enough glasses in his kitchen for everyone. He disappeared out the door, then reappeared with Bark helping him, their arms full of dusty glasses.

Bark handed his off to Son and sat back down just outside the door. Son deftly helped the old dwarf pour and serve everyone. I took my chances with the wine, and it turned out to be quite good. Ancient, in fact, and well-aged instead of vinegar.

José and the dwarf conversed and we learned that he lived there alone, save for a group of orcs further down the caverns who call themselves the Grey Mountain clan. He's fighting them himself, little by little. He had not seen the beastmen we fought earlier. José told him about the orc army we fought at Eryie, and a little about Yazerin. He had never heard of any of it. Finally, Goldrim related the prophecy:

Karak Ostohar has lost its way.
Help them find their way again.
If you do you, will know what to do.

The dwarf said with derision, "I am what's left. I have lost my way? And you're going to help me find it?" He said he had been fighting the orcs for ten years and didn't need our help. Of course, he'd been fighting them for ten years, and he had no idea how many were left...

He said he believed the orcs had come to Karak Ostohar when he did. He told us, "I'm the last dwarf of Karak Ostohar, and I will defend Karak Ostohar for as long as I can. In fact, since I am the last Lord of Ostohar, you can just call me Ostohar." He had travelled here from another dwarven city whose name none of us recognized. He said he "wasn't needed there any longer".

He knew nothing about the buildings outside, had never been in the Banker's Guild, knew nothing about the missing dragon statue or the Chin. He was adamant that he did not need our help. He asked what we were good for, and José quickly summarized what each person's strong points are. Until he admitted being a decent cook and that Sean was a bard, he was unimpressed. He was happy at the thought of story-telling and good food, though.

Sean had been composing a lovely ballad of the Battle of Eyrie every night around the campfire, and certainly the rest of us have stories to share. Perhaps his own stories will tell us how we may help him.


Carmella worries me, why I don't know. She seems to have given up the Crystal of Fire, but for how long? I'm torn about what I should do now. I truly believe these terrible Doomstones should be collected and destroyed. They can't be left out for orcs, beastmen, or anyone else to find and use. I cannot just walk away from the Crystal of Air that I must carry, but I do not want Carmella to be near the Crystal of Fire, in case she should change her mind. We attract chaos, whether simply because of who we are or because of the Doomstones I don't know. But I do know that as we continue on, carrying those we have and adding to our collection, we will be forced to use them. And I fear that Carmella will feel the responsibility to use it and take it back again.

Stay or go? Continue the quest to find and destroy these terrible things, or abandon my companions with them? Is my greatest duty to them, or to my precious twin sister? I also feel, although she hasn't said anything, that she would happily release me from my promise to carry the Crystal of Air if it meant we could both remove ourselves far from them. Truly, I find myself yearning to settle down, as monks of my order are wont to do, at some crossroads and establish a new hospice and monastery. I think Carmella would be happy to remain at such a place, helping as she could.

For now, though, we cannot leave. Here is nothing but an orc-infested and deserted, ancient dwarven city.

Ravenna, A Monk of the Biancan Order

Part the First:
Blood and Mud

Part the Second:
Murder and Mayhem

Part the Third:
Puzzles and Crystals

Part the Fourth:
Dwarves and Rocks

Part the Fifth:
Diplomacy and Daggers

Part the Sixth:
Crystal and Chaos

Part the Seventh:
Sheer Insanity

~ The End ~