The Second Generation

Nargabuz Spires

or: "What Came Before, part 6"

The team, over the following weeks, became thoroughly lost in the Nargabuz Spires, a mountain range to the east. In all their wanderings, none of them had heard much about these mountains or the history surrounding them; they only knew there was a lush valley at the heart of the mountain range. Now, in addition to being lost, their luck continued to get worse: one evening, a violent thunderstorm broke overhead. In their search for shelter, however, they noticed something odd: the storm itself seemed to be growing quieter and quieter, although it was certainly not letting up.

They encountered a lone dwarf on the run who, after noticing Baernabas, motioned silently for them to go with her. Desperate to get out of the strangely quiet storm, they followed along, thankfully taking shelter in a tunnel that had clearly been dug by dwarves. When she indicated that they should keep following her, Baernabas began to speak a word of thanks in dwarven, but was stunned to discover that his words were nearly whisper quiet. The others didn’t notice that he’d spoken at all, and continued forward until he tapped them. Only when they stopped and tried to ask him what the matter was did they understand: some kind of unnatural silence was being imposed upon them! They whirled on the dwarf, but she seemed not to have heard them either (only then did Jeysen notice that their scuffling in the tunnel seemed also to have been muted), and was still advancing down the tunnel. Baernabas didn’t detect any magical effects in the tunnels, and neither did Benjin sense any evil intentions nearby. With no other choice, and craving an explanation, they followed down into the dwarven city.

An engraved sign over the archway leading into the city proper read, in dwarvish, Berdiskali. Looking downward, they saw that the city was, like many large dwarven cities, dug down into the earth, with multiple tiers. Most of the buildings were constructed from massive stone blocks, expertly masoned. The edges of the city, made of compacted dirt, were lined along roughly a third of the city, on each tier, with what the team took to be tree roots. Benjin thought this odd, as the mountain outside had been very rocky and nearly barren…

Though people milled about everywhere, the team noticed that there seemed to be nearly no sound at all. Businesses appeared to be open, but the proprietors seemed to be, on the whole, not attending their shops. Unthinking, Jeysen began to ask the dwarf who had led them there what was bothering everyone, but again, the strange silence kept his words to a near whisper. Benjin, also briefly forgetting, asked about the strange roots – and gave up when even he could barely hear his own words.

They spotted a few older-looking dwarves seeming to get worked up. They wore black scarves – apparently a symbol of rank here, as other dwarves scuttled out of their way. These scarfed dwarves pulled knives on the vines, hacking away at them, pulling them out barehanded from the dirt walls, gritting their teeth against the dirt they knocked loose with the roots. When they’d cleared a patch roughly fifteen feet across, they seemed to sigh with relief… and they spotted the newcomers. Glancing at each other briefly, and seeming to light up slightly, they turned and waved to Baernabas, Jeysen, and Benjin. They approached slowly.

One of the dwarves, who wore priestly robes along with her black scarf, surprised them by speaking audibly (yet still somewhat faintly): “By your look, you must be the champions our neighbor gnomes send word of. Answer quickly and true: are ye?”

Baernabas, a fellow dwarf, told her that yes, he supposed they were. “Why is everything so quiet? … and how can the gnomes send word in this magical silence?”

But the dwarf was already rushing to answer him. As she speaks, she begins to grow more frantic, and eerily, her voice is already fading: “They send letters, don’t be a fool. I must speak quickly, as these roots grow back in a blink. There is a great tree on Tower Mountain, and it strangles Erond’s Tower. Its roots have spread here through the valley floor and into these mountains over the last thousand years. It feeds on sound, do you understand? These roots suck the very sound out of us, it’s driving us all mad, it’s killing our will to live, please, if you’re the heroes you say you are, you must help us! You… you must…” Realizing that even she can no longer hear herself speak, her shoulders dropped, her head lowered in utter defeat. Her legs went out from under her and she began shaking. After a moment, the team realized she would have been sobbing loudly, had the roots in the walls not already grown back into place.

Although it was too late to share the information, Benjin was able to place the name “Erond’s Tower.” Though he had had no knowledge of these mountains, the name Erond the Cowardly had come up in his studies once. Erond was a king of legend, dating back over a thousand years, to before the Unity Wars, who built the tower so he could survey his domain from on high. In time, though, he began to fear that being so close to the heavens might leave him vulnerable to incursions from beings of the heavenly planes… and sure enough, some kind of planar breach happened, quite by accident. At the first sign of something emerging – stories differ as to what it was, but Benjin had heard it was a strange green rain – Erond abandoned his tower, calling on his people to flee for their lives, leaving his small kingdom a silent ghost of its former self.

Now, Benjin reasoned, there was some answer to what had come through the breach: some kind of seed from another plane was surely planted there that day a millennium ago. Perhaps it was due to this origin that Jeysen was unable to burn away the roots with his torch, as he had tried to do once they had grown back. Resolving to assist these dwarves, Benjin produced paper and pen and sketched a few mountains on it, then handed it to one of the older dwarves. He understood what was being requested, and hastily sketched out a map to Tower Mountain, at the heart of the valley at the center of the Nargabuz Spires. He, Baernabas, and Jeysen looked at each other, resolving to help these people; surely it must be torturous to have to live this way.

After three days of traveling in silence – an unspeakably mind-wrenching task, they learned to their sorrow – they came upon the Whispering Valley (they wouldn’t learn this name until later, at which time they would also learn that, ironically, the name predated both the great tree and the Tower that gave Tower Mountain its name). It was indeed a lush valley, and here the great tree’s roots were much larger, bursting up from the ground in places. Tower Mountain itself stood alone at the center, with both Erond’s Tower at its peak, and the massive tree the dwarf had spoken of growing tall, twisting itself in, through, and around the tower itself.

Crossing the valley they were accosted by a variety of local fauna which seemed to have grown from the roots of the great tree, which Baernabas decided would qualify them as flora, as well. Fortunately, they were mostly unintelligent, and the plant creatures were easily slain when they could not be avoided outright. By nightfall on the fourth day after leaving Berdiskali, they had reached the path at the base of Tower Mountain, where they made camp.

In the night, while Baernabas kept watch – updating the star chart he’d been keeping while traveling – a large, winged shadow passed over the moon and, apparently, landing atop Erond’s Tower… it appeared, alarmingly, to be a dragon! In a panic, he roused the others, shaking them from their sleep, but of course, unable to communicate what he’d seen. He had to resort to pantomime to suggest a large flying monster overhead, which at least got the attention of his comrades. They waited for the break of dawn, only a few hours away, before setting out up the path and toward the tower.

As they drew close, the dragon, who had been watching their ascent, swooped down upon them. Its green hide thick and heavy, this dragon seemed old indeed. It did not attempt to speak, but instead grinned down at them, then looked over at the tree. Jeysen couldn’t quite credit what he was seeing, but… it seemed as though the dragon were proud of the tree? Could it be tending to it? Jeysen made a tentative step forward, hand on his blade, but the dragon blocked his path. When Baernabas produced a torch and lit it, the dragon seemed to understand why they’d come, and lashed out at them!

Terrified and outmatched, the team fled for cover in the tower itself. The dragon would, of course, never fit inside… but the floor and walls shook beneath them – it was going to try, anyway! Benjin motioned toward a staircase, and they did the only thing they could: fled upward! The dragon, undeterred, struck the walls, hoping to strike into the tower and claw at the little apes that had come for its tree.The sound-sucking properties of the tree finally worked to the team’s advantage here: in their haste, they would have been making a great ruckus, but the dragon could not hear them at all, and was forced to guess at their positions.

On the tower’s roof, however, the odds were evened once again, and the dragon, now furious, confronted them with its acid breath. While Baernabas and Benjin took the brunt of the assault, Jeysen spotted a massive scarlet-and-yellow fruit dangling in the tree’s topmost branches, which reached a mere ten feet above the tower. The fruit was larger by far than Jeysen himself, but suspecting the dragon’s pride was at stake, he began climbing the tree as the others fought a losing battle against the green dragon. He quickly cut the fruit loose, dropping with it from the branches and onto the tower below.

It struck and squashed itself on the stone, unleashing an incredibly loud note, the sound of a thousand voices singing a joyous chord into the heavens, overwhelming the senses of not just the heroes, but the dragon as well. The dragon, so disoriented and surprised by the sudden note, clutched at its ears and began to fall from the sky. Meanwhile, with the destruction of the fruit – what they’d later call a Songberry – the tree seemed to lose vitality, and with a loud groan it began to wither. This was bad news for the heroes: the tree seemed to be the only thing that had been holding up the tower over the last few hundred years, and with the new damage freshly inflicted on it by the green dragon, it would only be a matter of minutes before the whole thing collapsed!

Regretting that they couldn’t collect much from the dragon’s tower-top gold hoard, they were forced to retreat. Luck was on their side, as the now recovered dragon, furiously shouting that they’d ruined his masterpiece of gardening, had gone into a frenzy, and heedless of the collapsing tower, tried again to strike them through the walls. Somehow it got itself entangled in the falling rubble, and though the heroes were able to escape outside, the dragon was not. Crushed under the collapsing stone and withering wood, only its head protruded from the rubble at the end, breathing sickly and heavily, even then trying to struggle out from beneath the destruction. Benjin drove his lance into its head, slaying it, but not before its horrible, ragged breathing was embedded in their minds. As a final touch, the team heard the sound of coins sliding along stone nearby… some of the dragon’s hoard of gold coins had survived the destruction, and was pouring down the side of the rubble onto the ground.

In the following weeks they stayed with the dwarves of Berdiskali, who hailed them as heroes. Limil, the leader of the elders of Black House who governed there, thanked them profusely. She explained that they’d lost many teams that had been sent to investigate the tree, but the dragon had turned the entire valley into its personal garden, and dealt harshly with intruders. Now, though, the dragon’s death and the destruction of the Songberry Tree quickly became the subject of songs and tales told in taverns over tankards of ale. It transpired that Berdiskali was a major exporter of gold, and as such were rich here in the east… meaning hefty rewards and gifts for the heroes. Jeysen found himself with a number of well-crafted goods and treasures to add to his collection of wares, while Baernabas was met with multiple contracts, establishing fruitful trade with his parents’ business back at Bastion’s Ridge. Benjin, meanwhile, was gifted with a treasure map by a group of retired adventuring dwarves who regretted they’d grown too old to seek the treasure themselves. And, naturally, they were paid handsomely for their services – at the dwarves’ insistence.

The dwarves bid the heroes good luck and, after providing directions back out of the mountains they’d been lost in from the start, sent their heroes on their way to their next adventure…

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