Thursday, January 9, 2014

K21 - The standing ovation

Over a month ran its course since the Emerald-Unit left Sarn Goriwig in the capable hands of Dwar Ogreaxe. Mirkwood was a mess to traverse, but the old road had been improved by the Ardacer. The transit occurred without significant delays. Under the leadership of Bain, Viceroy of Khazad-dum, and his son Gror, millitary leader of the Emerald, the dwarf army arrived in the foothills of the Misty Mountains by the 4th of Ceveth (July). 

Staring at it in the eyes

As the emerald was heading down the Anduin, their elf ambassador went ahead to make contact with Lothlorien. She came back empty-handed, with the bad news that no contact were made and that something was wrong with the Silverlode river. Bain sent her back to seek Celebrant, the elf King, and report when this was done. 

The Ardacer-attack arrived about a week ago. They secured the Dale and blockaded the East Gate through which there was evidence of orc traffic. They bid farewell to the tail elements of Battlegroup-West as they crossed the Redhorn pass. The silver attack (best unit of the four) arrived next and were ordered to stand down in preparation D-day.  The Bronze attack was deployed to the mountains around the Dale to provide area defense. The Bronze-Attack was understrenght because two of the Lot were left behind to guard the gates of the underdeep in Sarn Goriwig. Finally, the Mithril-Attack was sent to rest along the Silverlode river. The morale in this unit was low, discipline problems were common. Thordar suggested to send Mithril first as they were the most eager to go underground. 

Something strange was going on with the watershed in the Dale. The Mirrormere, a sacred pool that is said to reflect no one but Durin himself, was completely lifeless. No one looked into the mere, but rather inferred by the similar state of the Silverlode river. There was no fish, no algae, no insects nearby. Gesdrek suggested that this may be treachery from underground. 

The Viceroy sent Khazek's rangers to comb the Dale. The ranger did relatively well and identified the dynamic of the area with a good perceived level of accuracy. Khazek discovered that the tracks converged to the East Gate and consisted in small orcs hunting parties supported by wargs. The latest sorties dated to just prior the arrival of the Ardacer. 

The Viceroy also sent his right-hand dwarf Thordar, to discreetly get the pulse of the mood in the Ardacer. Thordar concealed his identity with a hood and journeyed through the camp. The mood there was distinct from the ambiance in the other units of the Emerald. The leader, of the unit, Drolf, was a self-made dwarf who had bankrolled the entire units from the Iron Hills until King Thorin III integrated the unit into the Emerald. Thordar found out that the attitude in the Ardacer was that of a mercenary company: there must be good spoils or else there would be a lot of grumbling. Thordar also found that Drolf had a wild streak and profusely promised riches to his soldiers. Thordar left the camp, largely ignored, and reported to the Viceroy. 

Slammer-Lot is slammed

By the end of the 5th, a messenger from the Ardacer reported to the Viceroy that orcs had sortied in force from the East Gate and pushed the axedwarves of the Slammer-Lot. The reported count was about 200 orcs, supported by Wargs. Khazek was sent to the Gate and scouted the area with his rangers. They discovered that the count of 200 was about right, and that a few hunting parties had escaped beyond the Dale while the bulk of the raiders retreated back in the mountain. 

Khazek looked up at the ominous East eyes: four towers built on the sheer cliff face and connecting to the 2nd and probably the 4th level of the old city. Was there orcs, or worst, peering down back to him?

Operational orders

On the morning of the 6th, Bain knew that there was some level of impatience shaking the camp. Kiro Rockdigger, Attack-Lord of Mithril was the most insistent in getting underground. Bain announced that Mithril was to enter first and secure the location of Durin's Bridge in the Hall of Trees (1st Deep). Silver was to follow directly behind as a reserve. Orders were issued and Mithril moved up from the lower Dale. A wind of excitement was blowing: everyone paying attention could hear its whistle against the mountain for the morrow was to be a great day to return home. 


It didn't take too much for the dwarves of the Mithril and the Silver-Attack to get up before the first lights on the 7th. It began with the drums, then the clinking of armors, the grinding of blades on the portable stone mills and the drone of the roll calls. They began walking up in small groups up the hills to the assembly point where the 700 dwarves arrayed into a tight column about 1000yds long. 

The Viceroy and his retinue placed themselves between the tail of Mithril and the head of Silver. They armored up and formed a line like all other dwarves. Gror kept on walking up and down the column, shouting words of encouragement while Bain seemed more pre-occupied by logistical issues.  

The drumming and singing rose as the light turned to gold. There was an halo of sunbeams cresting Mount Silvertine as the first elements of Mithril began to march. The sound of two attacks singing and drumming a common song as a thing to hear: it could have moved anyone's heart. 

The advance was brief. Once that the first three Lots had entered the opened gate, the procession suddenly stopped. Minutes passed until the rumor from the front started to propagate down the column. Kiro, the Attack-Lord of Mithril, sent a messenger that prompted Bain to move forward on the side of the column. They could catch the wildest rumors as they approached the gate, then they entered in a carved room leading to a large metal gate. 

The standing ovation

The gate had been forced by Mithril and light from their torches could penetrate the East gate hall. Bain moved up to meet with Kiro. The commander pointed at the gap in the gate. "I need some guidance here. We weren't ready for this.", he exclaimed.

Khazek approached the breach to find the dessicated body of an elderly female dwarf, standing on her own but motionless while holding a meat cleaver in her hand. Much squinting was needed to find out that there were rows of other dwarven bodies arrayed behind the old lady. 

Bain summoned Gesdrek to the front and asked the Loremaster to comment. Gesdrek was apparently more interested in the architectural details than the countless bodies standing in the hall. "We'll have to knock them over. This looks like a curse.". The insight that he provided slightly underwhelmed his colleagues. Khazek ventured into the hall to discover than 7 rows of 7 standing dwarves was present. They were dressed in the fashion of the last century of Khazad-dum, held hand weapons. There were women, children and men in the formation. Khazek felt despair and anger. Disturbingly, it appeared that the old lady with the meat cleaver had walked at some point to this position.  

There was much discussion about the next step. Bain had a hard time containing Kiro from progressing deeper underground. Orders were issues to proceed ahead to the bridge and leave one herd behind to respectfully dispose of the bodies. 

First blood

Trapeze and Galley, two herds from the Mithril-Attack, breached a small door in the North wall and poured out of the hall. They left behind a number of other herds attempting to make their way to the Hall of Trees. Khazek took leave of the Viceroy and slipped in between Trapeze and Galley. The walked passed a number of hallways connecting to dwellings, ancient guard rooms and latrines until the forward elements found the tunnel leading to the Marzabul stairs. They proceeded for about 10 minutes when the sudden roar of battle competed with the music of the drums.

Thordar drew is sword and bounded forward to meet the orcs. The dwarves were recoiling, there were shouts of anger as the name of Nor Granitequarry was uttered. It seemed that the spear had been blunted by a surprise wave of orcs and wargs. When Thordar saw them, the axedwarves were still on the retreat. Thordar could see beyond the advancing orcs the lying bodies of a few dwarves. Without missing a single beat, he lept forward and skewered a good size orcs, yelling at the retreating axdwarves to "man-up" (It kindof worked). 

Khazek dispatched one of his fastest ranger to link back with the Viceroy while the 6 others followed him to the front. In the chaos, it took a bit of time to snake through the recoiling troop and get in sight of the orcs. By then, Thordar had shamed the dwarves into fighting back. A serious clash was about to renew in a dark dark road of Khazad-dum. 

The old lady with a meat cleaver

Bain was left largely on his own with Goldo and Gesdrek in the East Gate hall while the the Sinner-Lot of Mithril remained behind to deal with the standing ancestors. Gesdrek drew Bain's attention to the statue of Durin over the next gate to the 1st Deep.

"Look, Durin's arm is no longer motioning to stop. This means that Durin's heir has entered Khazad-dum as we speak." This left Bain thinking about the implications of this statement. His eyes caught the silhouette of a toddler standing nearby, holding a dagger in its hands as if it was a sword. Bain's heart sank deeper.

When the battle-guard of Sinner began to gently lift the body of the first dwarves, a wail rose and stunted the war-chant. The ancestors were walking again, and heading to the nearest breathing dwarf in the room. Bain found himself cut from the exit and pushed against the West door leading to the 1st Deep. There dried bodies were proving to be particularly nimble once awoken.

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