As Jak, Ivello, Aruget, and Kayde made their way up the massive steps of Khaar M’barost, a group of equally imposing bugbears dressed in elaborate armour stood guard, halberds at the ready. Approaching the entrance, no one stood in the party’s way – the guards clearly felt secure in their power. If the party proved troublesome, it would be no effort to deal with them.
While Kayde complained about the unfamiliar smells, earning a dismissive rebuke from Aruget about his overly sensitive nose, the party entered a courtyard which brought them inside the gates of the fortress proper. Before the main gate to the building’s entrance, a huge statue of a hobgoblin warrior stood watch, illuminated by everbright lanterns as assorted hobgoblins and bugbears milled about the yard attending to their duties. Taking in the sights and sounds, but ever on guard, Jak stopped Ivello in his tracks with a gentle hand on his shoulder. Noting that Ivello had given him an edge in the past, using his magic to enhance Jak’s senses, he suggested that it was perhaps time for Ivello to grant such a boon to himself. Ivello nodded, centering himself as he called on his powers to flow through him, restoring and enhancing old memories of the intricacies of Dhakaani culture and tradition and his own time as a diplomat in Lhesh Haruuc’s court a lifetime ago. Gathering his bearings, he informed the group that the envoys of other nations and the dragonmarked Houses would be gathered in the gallery above the throne room, and proposed that would be a good place to look for the seer Huugan, the man to whom Yeraa had intended to deliver the Ashen Crown.
At the main gate that granted access to the halls of Khaar M’barost, a hobgoblin guard held out his hand to stop the party with a gesture and demanded to know their business. Cautious about rival factions within the Dhakaani and unwilling to reveal the party’s true purpose, Ivello replied that he was looking for the Lyrandar envoy, and asked the guard if he would be so kind as to bring him to them. The guard questioned Ivello’s need to see the envoy immediately, as court was in session, to which the clever scholar replied that there had been a scuffle in the city which had caught him off-guard – in fact, Aruget had fended off some of the troublemakers on the way. Grinning through his bloodied and crooked nose, Aruget piped up that he was really enjoying Rhukaan Draal’s taverns, but confirmed Ivello’s story that they had indeed run into trouble on their way to court. Sizing up Aruget, the guard brusquely ordered Ivello to wait, calling a runner over and whispering some instructions. As the runner disappeared inside the gates, Aruget wrenched his nose back into place as Dol Arrah’s light flowed from his fingers, mending the bone and stopping the bleeding while Jak quipped that it wasn’t going to improve his looks.
Undeterred by Jak’s teasing and happy to be in such a marvelous place of goblinoid power and might, Aruget peeled off from the group and strode up to one of the bugbear guards. With a sly grin, he asked if the guard’s armour was real or just for show, earning him a scowl and an observation that he wasn’t from Darguun – was he a chaat’oor? Letting the insult slide, Aruget shrugged and replied that he’d already held his own in a fight in town, and turned the tables to question what the guard had done to deserve his place at court. After some more posturing back and forth, the two quickly developed a mutual admiration for the other’s strength, and compared scars and war stories until Aruget asked if he could take a swing at the guard to see just how much his fancy armour could take. The man enthusiastically agreed, and Aruget got down to business as the rest of the party watched in bemusement.
Twenty minutes later, the runner returned. The hobgoblin who had stopped the party at the gate informed Ivello that the Lyrandar envoy wasn’t expecting anybody. Revealing his dragonmark and old signet ring, Ivello stared the guard down and repeated that he needed to see them. Resigning himself to the whims of the Houses, the guard shook his head in defeat and pointed to another one to lead the party to Arend d’Lyrandar – and to escort them back out if there was any trouble.
As the party followed their escort through Khaar M’barost’s halls, they climbed a large stairwell and emerged onto the gallery two stories above the throne room. The lighting below created deep, dramatic shadows, carefully placed to accentuate the statues of goblinoid warriors lining the way to the throne. With guards standing at regular intervals, and the gallery occupied by an assortment of races from the Five Nations, Aruget began to feel a little out of place – but all eyes were on the lhesh. On a dais at the head of the grand hall, Lhesh Haruuc sat on his throne. Large even for a hobgoblin, decked out in full plate armour adorned with spikes, with a sword built to match his size leaning against his throne as the light reflected off the blood-red tint on its bare blade, the lhesh was clearly no one to be trifled with. Focused on his goal and scanning the room for any sign of Arend d’Lyrandar – a man Ivello had never met, and couldn’t identify on sight – Ivello whispered to his friends that the assorted keches weren’t necessarily aligned with the lhesh’s goals, and to be careful of what they said. Recalling their defeat of the Kech Sharaat on the road to Graywall, Ivello worried that they might be recognized and confronted. Jak shrugged and replied that they’d cross that bridge when they came to it – he was more concerned about what kind of welcome Arend might have for Ivello.
Making his way through the gallery, their bugbear escort led the party to a small group of Khorovar, addressing one of them directly and pointing to Ivello. A middle-aged man with long blond hair and a calm expression turned to look at Ivello and wondered who he was. As Ivello introduced himself to Arend, one of the envoy’s companions looked on silently with an eyebrow raised in surprise, and Ivello recognized the man as one he and the disgraced envoy Enzo had worked with. Summoning his confidence, Ivello established the relationship between himself, Enzo, and Arend – who was Enzo’s successor – and asked what had become of his former superior, curious to hear the official story. Arend replied that Enzo had been summarily dismissed to the Lhazaar Principalities some time ago, and that he’d heard Ivello might have had a hand in that. Why had he returned to Darguun? Ivello declared that he had come on his own business, and hoped that Arend might do him a small favour by pointing out Huugan.
While Ivello and Arend talked, Aruget leaned on the gallery rail and looked down into the throne room, taking in an intense debate between the representatives of two rival clans as they made their cases to Lhesh Haruuc. While Haruuc was hearing their grievances and seemed to be doing his best to mediate, he looked tired by their pettiness. As Arend considered Ivello’s request, he decided that he’d be willing to help…but would want to hear Ivello’s story in exchange. He found it very interesting that a wayward son of House Lyrandar had returned after all this time, and after disappearing under questionable circumstances. Ivello agreed to the deal, but insisted that it was a story that would take time to tell, and that his own time was of the essence. Arend nodded and pointed down towards the great hall, to a hobgoblin dressed in elaborate robes and standing on the dais behind Lhesh Haruuc as he asked Ivello to join him for dinner at the Lyrandar enclave later that evening. Suspicious of Arend’s motives after all he had been through with Tik and the Citadel, Jak wondered if the man was leading Ivello into a trap, but ultimately decided that as curious and overeager as Arend was, he posed no threat to his friend.
Returning to the group, Ivello filled them in, and suggested that their best bet was to catch Huugan on his way out after the lhesh dismissed the court. Scrawling a quick note, he called a runner over to deliver it. As they waited for a reply, Jak took note of a few groups of hobgoblins on the opposite gallery – an unexpected sight in an area typically reserved for representatives of the Five Nations. Able to identify their dress as Dhakaani, but unable to identify who belonged to which kech in the dim light, Ivello enlisted Aruget to take a seat among them and see if he could overhear anything useful. Gambling on which group to spy on, Aruget chose one, and their conversation proved interesting if not particularly fruitful. Uninterested in the proceedings in the throne room, the Dhakaani were discussing the vagaries of training tiger cavalry, and Aruget listened in eagerly before returning to the others.
Meanwhile, Kayde caught sight of a small group of elves down in the hall. Making his way down to them, he established that they were fellow members of House Phiarlan, and Kayde always liked to hedge his bets. Although Ivello was still waiting on the runner he’d sent to Huugan, Kayde parlayed his status as a House Scion into the Phiarlan envoy’s additional assistance in gaining an audience with the seer. Hanging back on the balcony with Ivello, Jak scanned the hall to try to determine which exit Huugan might take after court ended, and together they came up with a plan to head him off.
Fourty-five minutes later, the wait was over as Lhesh Haruuc dismissed his court. Regrouping, the party made their way down a back passage, which they followed quite far until they were eventually stopped by a guard – who stood between them and Huugan, who was deep in conversation with Lhesh Haruuc himself as they made their way down the hall. As the seer and the lhesh passed by, Ivello made sure Yeraa’s sword on his hip was visible. Pausing and speaking a quick word to Haruuc, Huugan excused himself and approached Ivello, asking him to identify himself. He commented that Ivello had been quite insistent to see him, to which the scholar replied that it was a matter of some import. Huugan questioned whether his business was good or ill, seeing as how Ivello was wearing Yeraa’s sword and the dirgesinger was nowhere in sight. Stepping forward, Aruget broke the news that Yeraa had died pursuing her goal, and that he and his friends had been working towards that goal alongside her, and had come to Rhuukan Draal to honour her memory and return her possessions to Huugan. Leaning against the wall, trying to look casual, Jak interjected that it would not be wise to return all of Yeraa’s possessions in a public place – was there somewhere private they could talk?
Leading the party a short way down the passage into a sparse, functional room, Huugan gestured at them to sit and explain themselves. Kayde immediately fell into his element as a storyteller. He explained how the party (as a group of perfectly innocent Morgrave researchers) had come across Yeraa and decided to join forces with her, and how she had been betrayed by one of her own – who had in fact been working for an enemy group that had been pursuing her the whole time. He told Huugan that he and his friends wanted the Ashen Crown to be in the hands of those who could use it for good, and even revealed that they knew the location of the shrine needed to perform the re-forging ritual. Huugan listened intently, occasionally interjecting with questions, and asked to see Yeraa’s journal. As Ivello handed over the book, Aruget began placing the pieces of the Crown on the table. Huugan’s eyes went wide as he compared the artifacts to Yeraa’s drawings, and he bluntly wondered why the party had returned them. Jak replied that the Ashen Crown belonged to the people Huugan represented…to which Huugan replied that he represented Lhesh Haruuc.
The party sat in stunned silence, trying to process this new information. Had they been deliberately misled? The Citadel had wanted the Crown to go to the Kech Volaar, not Haruuc. Huugan grinned at their discomfort and chuckled that Yeraa had apparently “forgotten” to mention a few details. He explained that he had been the delegate of the Kech Volaar in Rhuukan Draal for a long time, and had determined that it was in their mutual interest to ally with Haruuc, who would take the Crown in order to give it to the Kech Volaar himself in order to establish trust and respect between his people and the kech. Still rattled, Kayde questioned Haruuc’s intent to give the Crown away and not keep it for himself, and Huugan swore by his atcha that he would make sure it made its way into the right hands. Though satisfied with Huugan’s honesty, Jak questioned what Haruuc would gain from giving his crown to the Kech Volaar. Huugan replied that the lhesh had his own crown already, and that this one would unite the keches for the good of all dar. Turning to the others, Ivello affirmed his own confidence in Lhesh Haruuc as Aruget noted that they had come to Darguun for one reason, and that it seemed they had fulfilled their purpose. He asked to be present when the Crown was delivered to the Kech Volaar, while Ivello asked if he could meet with their delegate and Jak quietly but firmly insisted that where his friends went, he went. Huugan scowled and replied that that would take some work, as the Kech Volaar had their own prejudices regarding outsiders, but he would try to grant their request. Satisfied with the seer’s promises, the party took leave of Khaar M’barost.
That evening, Ivello went to the Lyrandar enclave for dinner with Arend as promised. While Kayde joined him, Jak and Aruget elected to stay outside and keep watch in case Jak’s gut had failed him regarding Arend’s intentions. Inside, over the best meal Ivello had enjoyed in months, Arend listened to his story intently. As Ivello spoke, he watched the reactions of Arend’s companions, and it soon became clear that they hadn’t held Enzo in high regard even before his disgrace and resented having to clean up his mess. He also soon got the impression that Arend seemed eager to bring Ivello back into House Lyrandar, a move that would likely boost his own status for having returned a wayward heir.
Ivello indulged all of Arend’s questions, but as the evening came to a close, he asked for a word in private and revealed the attempt Enzo had made on his life by hiring a Thuranni assassin – evidence that, even in exile, Enzo continued to have significant resources at his disposal. Receiving the news with a grim look on his face, Arend asked Ivello to make his deposition to a Sivis scribe in the morning, as evidence for House Lyrandar to deal with. Ivello agreed, but declined Arend’s offer of accommodations for the night, feeling that everything was happening too soon and still unsure of his future in the House.
Two days later, the party was summoned to an audience in Lhesh Haruuc’s private chambers. They arrived to find Huugan with him, who told them that this was the meeting the Lhesh had called with the Kech Volaar in order to hand over the Ashen Crown. Having sat in silence while Huugan spoke with the party, to everyone’s surprise Haruuc rose from his seat and walked over to greet Ivello. He remembered the starstruck Lyrandar from his time at court – in his twenty years of service, he’d made an impression. Composing himself, Ivello thanked the lhesh for following through on the information he’d given him regarding Enzo’s treachery, and Haruuc returned to his seat to prepare for the ceremony.
The chamber doors opened. A tall hobgoblin woman entered, announcing herself in an otherworldly, captivating voice – she was a duur’kala, a dirgesinger, as Yeraa had been. Two guards followed her, along with a small goblin dressed in black clothing over light leather armour. Both Huugan and Lhesh Haruuc showed her great deference as they made their introductions. With a gesture from the lhesh, a door opened behind him and five servants entered the chamber, each bearing a pillow on which sat a small chest that held a piece of the Ashen Crown. As the dirgesinger Senan and Haruuc made their formalities and conveyed their mutual respect for each other, the solemn but functional ceremony was quickly completed. The Ashen Crown had been returned to the Kech Volaar as the party had promised Yeraa it would be, and as Huugan had promised them in turn.
Exiting the lhesh’s chambers, Senan confronted Ivello about Yeraa’s sword. He replied that he’d intended to return it to someone who would see her memory carried on, and Senan replied in turn that as a daughter of the dirge, Yeraa’s song would be carried on forever. As Aruget and Jak conveyed their own respect for Yeraa’s memory, Senan asked Ivello to give her the sword. He complied, and she declared that the party had muut and atcha – the highest compliment an outsider could receive.
Before they parted ways, Ivello had one last question for Senan – now that the Kech Volaar had revealed themselves to the world at large, even coming as envoys to foreign courts, would they consider accepting an outsider among them to see and behold all the Kech Volaar was?
Senan paused for a long time, looking deep into Ivello’s eyes, and repeated that he had honour. She would take his request back to her people. He might be welcome in time, but they would have to discuss it, as it had never happened before – and the invitation might not extend to his friends, but that was for the High Daughter of the dirge to decide.
Shortly thereafter, the party boarded the Kordenga and returned to Sharn. Returning to the Citadel with his head held high, his skills and loyalty respected once again, Jak delivered his final report on the Ashen Crown to Captain Kalaes. As the four unlikely friends found themselves no longer bound together by their quest, they considered their next steps in journeys that a few short weeks had changed forever. Some sought to return to their old lives, some sought to begin new ones, but one thing they knew for sure…
Raat shan gath’kal dor. The story stops, but never ends.
Join me next week for epilogues, a retrospective of the campaign’s most memorable moments, and a sneak peak at the next campaign to come! Thank you so much for joining me on this journey. It’s been a heck of a ride.