Given the information Brodert Quink had previously provided them and with the general knowledge of where they were to go the heroes immediately started discussing what preparations they would need to make for a spending an extended period in the severe climate of the Kodar Mountains. Cold weather gear was acquired, weapons and spells were chosen, and plans and tactics were finalized, until one day the party members set out for the town of Janderhoff, the last place the Vekker brothers had been seen.
Janderhoff sat at the base of the Kodar’s, the giant mountain peaks looming over it in the distance. The heroes took efforts to not look too suspicious as to not give away their true intentions. Quink had warned them there were some dwarven families in town that thought the missing brothers were nothing more than thieves, while others were sure the brothers were true to their word but had likely come across some terrible misfortune. The heroes went about their business, managed to not start any riots, and on a chilly morning departed town and headed into the foothills.
From Janderhoff the heroes moved north, with every step taking them upwards. They entered and then passed through the tree line, in and out of a band of tundra, and finally into the mountains themselves. They followed the Kazaron River north as they had been instructed, and while the going was rough they were able to continue on their trek with little interruption. There was some snow on the ground but not enough to hinder travel, the party members were able to travel along the banks of the river, but each step grew slightly more difficult as the air began to thin and no matter which direction the party headed every step appeared to be up, up, up.
After about a week the heroes spotted a structure in the distance, a cabin that appeared to have been built into the side of an embankment. Though the placer mine itself was long ago lost in an avalanche the brothers' cabin had still survived to this day. As the party continued on they could see that anyone who travelled this far up the Kazaron River couldn't miss the cabin. As they drew near they could see the cabin was built of split logs cemented with a rough mortar and a shake shingle roof. The logs and shingles were decades old and a profusion of lichens grew on these walls, which gave it a strangely organic look. Each window was two feet high by two feet wide and had double shutters to aid in keeping out the wind. The cabin itself sat low in a valley at an altitude of around 4,500 feet.
It was decided that the brothers would not have been strangers to the dangers presented by the local fauna. The heroes could see that the brothers had carefully constructed their cabin perched defensively at the edge of a 60-foot-high cliff. The dwarves had constructed a smaller cabin nearer to the base of the cliff, and between the two was a curious looking wooden shaft made of the same mortared logs. After observing the cabins from a distance the party could see no evidence of any current inhabitants, nor really any inhabitants for a long time. As the heroes moved nearer to the cabin a long forlorn howl carried over the region and echoed down the valley, a mournful, drawn-out shriek not unlike the cry of a dying elk. This otherworldly moan spooked the heroes, who decided to approach the cabin carefully and to be ready for surprises.
The ground to the south of the lower structure was a steep embankment, over which a chute protruded from the structure's southern wall. At the base of the embankment was a large pile of fine, black sand that spread out in a deposit striated by years of erosion. The ground surrounding the pile was barren of any plant life, with the exception of a single sagging pine tree. Faint traces of a footpath lead to the workhouse doors, though it was obvious none have come this way in many years.
The party decided to enter the lower cabin, but approached carefully. As before no evidence of any current, or even recent, inhabitants availed itself. Selinor cast a Detect Evil, but could pick up no sense of any evil from the cabin. As they waited Kheo wanted to utilize his new ability to talk to trees so he approached the lone pine tree that stood south of the cabin to see what he could learn.
What he learned was that the undead treant didn’t like trespassers and the horror tree delivered two good wallops (DM Note: And then the tree won the initiative even at a –1 to its initiative) followed by two more good wallops from its mighty branches. Kheo managed to scramble away and avoid any more damage while Selinor and Reynard found their fire-based spells to be most useful in putting an end to the branched menace. A hollow in the undead treant's trunk hid some treasures it had gathered over the years. These consisted of a large black opal worth 2,000 GP, a cracked leather backpack containing a broken rock hammer and 43 GP, 12 +2 Crossbow Bolts of Distance, and a sealed pocket flask holding an Elixir of the Peaks.
With that excitement over the heroes moved carefully into the lower cabin. The first room appeared to be some sort of storage room. This room had a steeply sloping roof. Within the dusty room were the remains of a once-thriving mining enterprise: rotten remnants of wheelbarrows, shovels, picks, ore sacks, plates for panning, and sluices for separating placer deposits were stacked in a jumble. These were all covered in a thick layer of frost and had deteriorated to the point of uselessness.
This next room had a bare plank floor. A set of wide double doors stood to the east, and next to it a shabby curtain closed off another opening. The room's dry boards still appeared to be stout, having successfully remained sealed from the elements over the years. Beyond the curtain was a small, barren chamber. A wood-frame cot rested against the far wall with a rough, straw-tick mattress and a threadbare blanket. A pair of old work boots, crusted with the dried remains of old mud, still sat under the cot. The party inspected the belongings there and found a +3 Punching Dagger that had been hidden in the left boot. The deathblade poison that once coated the blade has long since dried and flaked away, leaving behind only a slight (and harmless) discoloration on it.
Beyond the double doors was a larger room, but the air in this long-sealed chamber was putrid. The back wall was the solid rock of the cliff face. A ramp rose from the western door to a height of five feet, which was the elevation of the rest of the plank floor. Mounds of dust and rocky debris cluttered the floor, while rusty mechanical equipment, large copper tanks, and several rock-crushing and chipping tools sat upon sagging wooden tables. The handle of a shovel stuck up from a debris pile immediately below this aperture. Two pairs of elbow-length, thick leather gloves, stained from long use, hung from hooks beside the north doors.
As the Heroes first entered this room a shadowy form shifted and moved in the room's corner. As the haunt manifested, the shadows faded and a dwarf appeared to be squatting in the southeast corner of the room, his back to the doors as he scooped up handfuls of gold dust from the ground near the chute. As the unknown dwarf turned around, gold dust thick in his beard and dripping in slobbery strings from his lips, he said, "You! You have to try this! It's so ... delicious!" As he said that, he stuffed another handful of gold dust into his mouth and greedily swallowed.
The words functioned as a Mass Suggestion spell, but the party members resisted the urge to do likewise. The curious apparition soon faded from site, only to reappear after a few minutes and making the same request. It took a while for the party to figure out what was going on, but it was soon determined that this must have been the room where the brothers brought in their newly mined ore and then used an arsenic solution to chemically separate the minerals. The raw gold was likely stored elsewhere in the cabins while the leftover debris was shoveled through a grating in the wall that opened into a chute that deposited waste in the area south of the cabin. The “gold dust” the ghostly dwarf had been eating was the arsenic tainted dust that covered on the floor of this room. The black sand that covered the ground to the south of the cabin was the same arsenic-laden waste, and likely somewhat responsible what had killed and/or corrupted the unfortunate treant that had attacked Kheo.
The heroes tread carefully as they exited the arsenic-laden room and into the next area. As they did they noticed that outside a sudden storm had blown up. They had been fortunate to have avoided any such storms like this on their way north, but it was quickly apparent this storm was growing a full blown blizzard. The shuttered windows and thick walls held out the worst of the wind and snow but the heroes could feel the house creek and sway from the fierce winds.
In the next room the wooden walls of this musty shaft abutted the natural stone of the cliff face to the east. A sturdy looking wooden stair and rail started at the bottom of this shaft: and circled up into the heights, running clockwise. Above, its passage was lost in the gloom, like the musty interior of an ancient silo. A thick length of chain hung down the shaft in loops, its links swayed and clanked softly to the periodic gusts of wind that penetrated the walls. A great ore bucket was hung on the chain, which could be raised and lowered with a winch to load the gold gleaned from the separation chamber. No windows pierced the wooden walls. Propped against the east wall near the door was an upended wheelbarrow.
The brothers had apparently built this enclosed stair to create a secure way to access their cabin above from the work area below. The heroes carefully tested the stairs and the railing and found them both to be well built and in good condition. Reynard cast a Light spell into the darkness at the top of the shaft which allowed them to confirm the stairway did continue all the way to the top of the shaft. They could also see the pulley attached to the ceiling at the top of the shaft where the chain was attached.
Stike led the way as the heroes began their ascent. About half-way up the stairs the chain that hung in the shaft that the stairs surrounded suddenly sprung to life, much like a sixty foot long metallic snake, as it swung the ore bucket at the party members in an attempt to knock them from the stairs. Its attacks were mostly ineffective though, and soon the party members defeated the haunt that had powered the chain, the chain itself returning to its normal dormant self, occasionally swaying and clinking as the storm raged outside. Now safely past the haunt the party moved to the top of the stairs, only slowed when three of the steps suddenly twisted under Stike’s feet and dumped him off the stairs and into the open shaft and fifty feet down to the floor below. Kheo was able to disable the trap, but could tell the trap could be locked and unlocked from somewhere inside the upper cabin.
From the top of the stairs there were no windows that opened into this dark, plummeting shaft. A heavy winch bolted to the balcony supported a rusty chain that ran up through a pulley mounted in the roof of the shaft and from which hung a heavy iron bucket. Heavy wooden chocks had been nailed to the floor at the edge of the balcony, and the front wheel of a wheel barrow rested against them.
Here, the former residents had hauled up the gold from their mine for safe storage. The winch was still functional, though extremely rusty, and could be used to raise or lower the ore bucket between here and the floor of the lower cabin. Lying nearby was a 10-foot pole with an iron hook at the tip that was used by the dwarves both to open and close the shuttered windows and to drag the ore bucket over to the balcony, where its contents could be dumped into a wheelbarrow. The windows, unlike most of those in the rest of the cabin, were shuttered from the inside.
From the tower loft the party moved into the cabin itself. The entry room was a simple chamber had a worn hide rug covered with muddy stains before the door, next to a rickety chair. A thick blanket covered the opening to the south. The door could be locked and had brackets for a bar, though no bar was present.
The room also contained a small coat room. This tiny chamber was stuffy and lightless. Heavy blankets hung as curtains across two archways. A wooden bench rested against the south wall under which was arrayed an assortment of shabby foot gear. Above it was a row of hooks, a number of which held dusty garments.
The dwarven miners would remove their dirty clothing here to create some modicum of cleanliness in their cabin. Beneath the bench were six pairs of dried and cracked leather boots of various types, all sized for dwarves. They included everything from rough-soled climbing boots to hip-high waders for panning cold mountain streams. The various garments included oiled leather raincoats, fur-lined winter coats, and mud-stained dungarees and coveralls. These were likewise all proportioned for a dwarf and were largely ruined from moths and dry rot. Found beneath the raincoats was a +2 construct Bane Earth Breaker that leaned against the wall, purchased from the Shoanti long ago.
From the entry room the heroes moved through a door into an inner hallway. A door to the right led in to what appeared to have been a bunkroom. A large, worn elk hide was spread across the floor of the bunkroom. Another old, moth-eaten hide covered the entry in to a small closet. A window looked out to the south. A crack ran through the thick panes of the southern window. A set of rough-made bunk beds stood against the north wall next to the door, an old coat with holes in its elbows hung from one post. The bunks themselves had flat straw mattresses and layers of heavy blankets piled at their feet. An old metal coal box rested on one for use as a foot warmer. A rack on the west wall held a cross bow, two axes, and a light wooden shield. Beneath it was a large leather chest. A hooded lantern hung unlit from a rafter.
The Vekker brothers shared this bunkroom. Nothing in it was of any value, and the weapons and shield were warped and useless. The leather trunk held only mundane articles of rough clothing, a few grooming items, and various small trinkets of Shoanti manufacture. As the heroes inspected the contents of the room they discovered a peg hook in the wall that controlled the trap on the stairs.
The curtained closet was actually a privy with a wooden bench and an old rusty bucket. Hanging from a small hook were a number of torn papers. When examined these turned out to be broadsheets from Korvosa, dated some seventy years hence. The Vekker brothers were not avid readers, but they obviously saved every scrap of paper they could find to serve other purposes.
The party then moved down the hallway and into a room that obviously doubled as the main living quarters and kitchen for the inhabitants of the cabin. A stone hearth and chimney occupied the southeast corner, with an iron hook holding a cauldron above the grate. The rest of the room was in a horrific state - firewood, cooking utensils, pots and pans, and even the furniture lay in scattered heaps. A painting of two dour-looking dwarves stood in front of an enormous elk hung askew on the northern wall. Ancient bloodstains marred the walls and floor and bits of overturned furniture here and there, but there were no bodies.
This is where the Vekker brothers had clearly taken their meals and spent most of what little leisure time they had. The painting depicted two dwarves with a family resemblance; Silas and Karivek Vekker. The two brothers stared sternly from the worn elk hide, their faces set in grim determination.
As the heroes investigated this room they began to experience subtle twinges of hunger. Without much more warning the twinges erupted into full-blown pangs of painful starvation and unholy urges to feast on their companions. These severe hunger pangs passed quickly with no further damage, but it did cause the party to wonder what fate had befallen the long lost brothers.
Outside of the living area was a porch that faced the faraway mountain peaks. The rough porch with crudely crafted handrails extended from the front of this cabin. A short stair descended to the ground at its north end. The eaves of the overhanging roof were festooned with dozens of animal skulls, including those of bears, deer, aurochs, and various other animals. The posts that supported the overhang and the outside edge of the handrail itself were hung with racks of antlers. A stone chimney rose next to a door on the porch, and a couple of split logs had been set on the raised porch as furniture.
The Vekker brothers obviously supplemented their carefully hoarded supplies with whatever game they could hunt. There was nothing of note among the many trophies here anymore though. A signboard was mounted above the front door and bore faded but still legible print that identified the cabin as the "Vekker Mining Co. Headquarters."
As the party members stared out into the fiercely blowing snow a shape could be seen moving toward the cabin. As they watched the shape took form, and a familiar face staggered out of the blizzard. A dwarven man, recognizable now as Silas Vekker, staggered out of the snow. His eyes were wild with fear, his clothes in tatters, and blood dripped from several cuts on his exposed flesh. When he saw the heroes, he cried out, "Run! Run for your lives! They're going to eat you!" With that, the dwarf fled into the snow. The party members resisted the urge to wander off into the gloaming after the mysterious dwarf, but further questions were raised as to what had really taken place here so many years before.
Across the living area was a door to another room. In this bare-floored room had a series of iron hooks suspended from the rafters. The window in the far wall or the larder looked out over the edge of the cliff and, unlike others in the cabin, has no glass or shutters – only a tight lattice of iron bars. Against the far wall sat a four-foot-tall mound of bones.
The dwarves used this room for their cold storage. In all but high summer it had remained cooler than the rest of the cabin and allowed their meats and foodstuffs to last a little while without spoilage. The close-set bars on the windows likewise kept out vermin, except for flies and mosquitoes in the warmest months, and the toughened dwarves were not overly picky about the condition of their meals.
A gleam of something at the bottom of the pile of bones caught Reynard’s eye. Upon a second look he saw what appeared to be a ring still attached to a bony finger. As he reached into the pile of bones and touched the ring and he immediately became surrounded by a whirling storm of shadowy forms as the ghosts of the cannibalized dead attempted to add another to their number.
To the other party members Reynard just suddenly began thrashing about wildly, as if dozens of invisible hands were tugging and pushing him about the room. At the same time bloody wounds from invisible teeth appeared across his body. And as quickly as it had begun it was over, but the series of wounds the mage now had were quite real (DM Note: It is usually Kheo that finds himself in these predicaments. The DM was pleased that somebody else took the bait this time).
As the haunt passed the heroes took a moment to help Reynard bind some of his wounds. As they did they heard a far off knock, a pounding at a door really, coming from the lower level of the cabin. The pounding continued, and then suddenly stopped, and silence returned to the cabin.
A loud crack followed by a mighty hammering sound suddenly filled the cabin as its walls began to shake and groan, almost as if the structure were giving up its purchase on the cliff edge and sliding off into the ravine below. Each party member managed to keep their feet, but as the severe shaking continued Reynard took to flight and drifted towards the porch. Selinor and Stike staggered behind him, looking to get out of the house, afraid it was going to shortly going to slide off its foundation and crash against the rocks far, far below.
Kheo took off the other direction and moved back toward the direction of the spiral staircase. As he did he couldn’t resist the urge, and opened the door to hall closet. This storage closet contained heavy shelving and still holds the detritus and debris accumulated over decades of habitation. All manner of odds and ends for the maintenance and upkeep of the cabin and the mining venture could be found herein under a thick layer of dust and ancient rodent droppings. There was nothing of particular value here, a pair of warped pair of wooden snowshoes notwithstanding.
The pounding and shaking continued, but was now joined with voices that could now be heard. In most cases the voices were wordless cries of pain, but now and then snatches of sentences like "eating us ... " or "don't let him ... " or "so hungry ... " could be heard. The hammering continued, but now ghostly looking dwarves began to appear around the heroes.
But just as the noise seemed to reach its crescendo, with a sudden lurch the haunting stopped. A single spirit stood before them, the ghost of Silas Vekker. Silas Vekker was the same spirit the heroes had already encountered twice elsewhere in the cabin - a balding dwarf with a dark brown beard. His facial features were curiously indistinct - he had no eyes, for example, and when he spoke, his lips barely even moved. As he spoke, bite-sized bits and pieces of him tore loose and faded, which left him a growing patchwork of red, until finally, not enough of him remained and the entire thing faded away.
"You ... you are alive? You do not hunger? Ah ... that is what I sense in your blood. Greed. You seek the City of Greed. You should abandon your quest, lest you end up like me. Cold. Dead. Eaten. But I suspect you cannot be swayed. Know then that I know the way to Xin-Shalast. I can show you the way, but only if you bring me my brother. He died on a ledge in the mountains a mile's walk north from this cabin. I can feel his soul out there, still hungry, still insane. Bring his bones to me so that I might reconcile with him. Once he is at rest, I will show you the way so that I might rest as well ... "
Silas's spirit didn't have enough energy to maintain rational discourse for long - certainly not long enough to speak much more than his tale above. After he delivered his message to the heroes the ghostly dwarf was gone – eaten away to nothing.
If this was the only way to retrieve the secret path to Xin-Shalast then the heroes knew what they must do next. Selinor was still curious as to where the actual mine was, plus it felt odd to him that no records or maps had been found. After some further investigation a secret door was found.
Kheo was able to open the door to the Brothers strong room. The walls and door of this chamber were reinforced with double thickness and the secret door had been securely locked and had required special skill to open. Within the heroes found seven large burlap sacks that sat against the northern wall of this small room, while to the west sat a small desk and chair. A leather-bound ledger lay atop the desk.
The ledger on the desk contained several detailed maps of the regions the brothers were mining, and located all of their assay points and mines. Notes on the payout of each mine were listed - it appeared that all of them have played out without imparting any particularly rich lodes. Several pages near the end of the ledger had been torn out - these once contained the brothers' notes on the location of Xin-Shalast. Silas had torn them out when he realized how important the discovery was, committed them to memory, and then burned the pages.
Here the Vekkers stored the gold from their various mines after the ore had been separated in the work area below and then hauled up through the shaft. Five of the burlap sacks were stuffed with gold dust and were worth 1,000 GP each. The last two actually held gold nuggets and were worth 2,500 GP each. Each sack weighed 40 pounds. Hidden behind one of the sacks was a small coffer that held 14 uncut gems the brothers had found, each worth 50 GP.
With Selinor’s question about the location of the mine (or mines) now answered, and with clear directions to the mine that Silas had told them to visit now in hand, the heroes decided to take their rest, and hoped the storm outside would settle itself down by morning. The haunting's at the cabin still weighed heavy upon their minds, and on the following morning each party member reported they had experienced nightmares of becoming a cannibal.
And we’ll pick it up there next time. For tonight’s effort the party earned 36,000 XP, giving them (731,550 + 36,000) 767,550,X00 XP earned so far, with 890,000 XP required to reach Level 16.