For the rest of the day the party traveled east along The Old Mirabar Trail, finally reaching the border between the Neverwinter Woods and the rocky hill country known as the Crags. With a couple of hours of daylight left they pressed on into the Crags, eventually stopping in a small clearing next to the River Mirar.
As the party made camp Red wandered off to the south. An enigmatic pile of stones lay not too far away and the bladesinger wanted to investigate them.
The pile of mossy stones was easy to locate— it was thirty feet tall and nearly twice that in diameter. As Red stood at its base she felt a strange presence pulling at the edges of her senses. The bladesinger sat down and concentrated for ten minutes in order to ritual cast Detect Magic, but when the spell went off no magical energy revealed itself to her. What was she sensing then?
With her curiosity piqued she circled the mound. On the other side she discovered a large hole. The depression was thirty feet wide and twenty feet deep at the far end. A cold chill emanated from the hole.
Inexplicably drawn to the cold, Red climbed into the pit and made her way to the deep end. With every step the chill increased, until finally she reached the back wall.
Then suddenly, without warning, she stepped “through”.
One moment she was standing in the stone-strewn pit beneath a black and starry sky, and the next she was in a subterranean vault of worked stone. Six cracked marble pillars lined the walls on either side, leading to a ten-foot-tall statue of a dwarf sitting on a throne. A campsite occupied the middle of the room, with a half a dozen bedrolls neatly arranged around a cold fire pit. A table stacked with maps and parchments stood off to the side against one of the walls. The room was ice cold.
Across the dwarven statue’s lap lay a mighty stone warhammer. Much of the weapon was smashed to rubble, and something silver glinted among the broken chunks of stone there.
Red approached the dwarven statue cautiously, her eyes fixed on the silver object as she ascended the dais. It was a platinum egg, perhaps eight inches in diameter, and covered in curious hieroglyphs. The cold chill seemed to flow outward from it.
Instinctively the bladesinger reached out and placed her hand upon the platinum egg. She was surprised to find it warm to the touch, soothing even. And there was something else. From deep within the egg came a faint, rhythmic beating…
At that very moment Red awoke, drenched in sweat. She was laying on her bedroll under the stars. A campfire crackled next to her. Her comrades sat around her, concerned expressions on their faces.
“She’s awake!” gasped Glasha.
“Get her some water,” said Mezan.
Red sat up, realizing quickly that she was back at their campsite next to the murmuring River Mirar. Once she had regained her bearings, Red relayed her strange experience to the rest of the party.
They were as dumbfounded as she. Apparently she had been gone thirty minutes when they went looking for her. They found her unconscious at the bottom of a pit next to the tall pile of stones. Thinking that she had fallen in they took her back to camp. That was nearly three hours ago.
Red shook her head in amazement. To her it seemed as if only minutes had gone by. Furthermore, she was positive that she hadn’t fallen and hit her head. Unable to make sense of the experience, Red and the others decided leave it for the next day.
The following morning they broke camp and continued on. By midday they arrived at a small side road that lead south into the Crags. They traveled this road for about eight miles until finally they arrived in Phandalin itself.
Built upon the site of a much older town, whose ivy-covered stone walls and foundations were visible throughout, the town of Phandalin seemed strangely pleasant. They expected a scrappy, lawless town— a miniature version of Lusken. Instead they were treated to a quaint country village.
Townsfolk went about their daily errands as the party drove their wagon into the village proper. Around them birds sang and children played in the streets. The people seemed remarkably at ease considering Phandalin’s location in the middle of the orc-infested Crags.
The party’s first stop was Barthen’s Provisions, a two-story warehouse near the northern entrance into town. There they met the proprietor, Elmar Barthen, and delivered the wagon load of goods. Barthen was quite pleased to receive the delivery, but his mood quickly darkened as the party relayed the news of Gundren’s disappearance.
“Gundren is a good dwarf, and a loyal friend. For such a fate to befall him, especially so close to his crowning moment…” He simply shook his head.
When asked about this “crowning moment” Elmar explained that Gundren and his two brothers, Nundro and Tharden, were on the verge of a great discovery. They had apparently learned the location of a legendary cavern system thought lost to the ages.
Elmar went on to explain that centuries ago a group of dwarves, gnomes, and men discovered a cavern deep in the Crags that hummed with ancient, powerful magic. The dwarves channeled this magic into a great forge with which they were able to craft incredible weapons and armor. The three races decided to share the forge, an agreement that came to be known as the Pact of Phandelver, and the region prospered greatly.
Unfortunately like all good things it came to an end. Not long after the Pact was formed an orc raid descended upon Wave Echo Cave, as it was called, and the orcs slaughtered the good races that lived and worked there. Over time the location of the cave was lost, forming a legend that has drawn hundreds of prospectors, adventurers, and treasure hunters to Phandalin in search of its lost wealth.
The party thanked Elmar for the info dump and asked if there was anything else they needed to know about Phandalin. The only piece of advice Elmar offered was to steer clear of a tavern on the east side of town called The Sleeping Giant. A local band of ruffians known as the Redbrand Gang liked to hang out there. They had a reputation for starting trouble, especially with outsiders.
The party thanked him again and left, agreeing unanimously to head straight to The Sleeping Giant. Treem took his leave to secure lodgings for them at the Stonehill Inn, but promised to catch up.
As they headed east they passed another trading post called Lionshield Coster. Above the door was a familiar sigil— a blue lion on a white background. Red recognized the symbol immediately as the same one stamped on the stolen goods back at Cragmaw Hideout. Intrigued, they went inside.
Within was a spacious shop that dealt primarily in weapons and armor. A shrewd woman by the name of Linene Greywind approached them and offered her services. Glasha sold the woman her old leather armor and light crossbow, and then asked to see a heavy crossbow that was hanging on the wall. Linene brought the crossbow down for her to inspect, but the price she was asking was outrageous. After several rounds of aggressive negotiations Glasha finally talked the price down. The half-orc paid Linene and the party left the shop.
Riding an adrenaline high after their successful haggle session, the party stomped off towards The Sleeping Giant. They were itching for a fight and it sounded like these Redbrands were just the ones to scratch that itch.
They found the tavern easily enough on the eastern edge of town at the base of a thickly wooded hill. An old, decrepit mansion crouched on top of the hill and seemed to leer down at them.
Ignoring the threatening structure, the party marched up to the front doors of The Sleeping Giant. Sure enough four Redbrand ruffians were lounging around on the front porch. Each wore a grimy red cloak.
“Well, well,” snarled one of the thugs. “Here’s a whole pack of little puppies.” His mates snickered as he spat on the floor. “What do you want puppies? Come here to bark at us?“
Without so much as a word Shadamehr threw a straight punch into the face of the nearest Redbrand. The ruffian's nose exploded and he was thrown back onto the wooden floor. The other Redbrands jumped up and drew short swords, and a melee erupted in front of the tavern.
During the furious battle Red was grievously injured, stabbed in the gut by one of the Redbrands. She swooned and fell to the floor, barely hanging on to consciousness. Drawing upon a well of inner strength the bladesinger wrenched herself from the brink of death just in time to raise her sword, deflecting a second killing blow from the same snarling Redbrand. That parry stole the last of her strength and her arm went limp. The thug stepped in for another attack, a murderous glitter in his eyes, but cried out in pain as Shadamehr's blade bit deep into his collarbone. The Redbrand dropped to the floor and the barbarian helped Red to her feet. The battle was won.
As the rest of the party congratulated each other Red calmly drew a scroll from her traveling bag. The image of her assassin's grinning face hung clearly in her mind as she unrolled the scroll, and in a low, hissing growl of pure rage the bladesinger recited the incantation that was upon it. At its completion three scorching rays burst from the crumbling scroll and cut through the air towards The Sleeping Giant.
The magical rays exploded against the structure. The thatch and timber construction caught fire easily, and flames soon coursed up the walls towards the roof. Red stood before the growing blaze, her eyes glittering and a wide smile on her face.
The rest of the party stopped celebrating and gazed at the growing fire with confusion. They then looked from the fire to Red, and their expressions changed to horror. Only Shadamehr smiled, nodding his head in quiet approval.
Mezan was the first to act. “There could be people trapped inside!” The sorcerer quickly summoned a large, ethereal hand in the air before him. He willed the hand to fly towards the inn, and used it to open the front door.
Unfortunately, by opening the door he created a backdraft and the air that rushed in only caused the fire to grow in heat and intensity. In seconds the windows blew out and smoke began to pour from underneath the thatched roof.
It was then that they heard screams from inside. A female dwarf in an apron stumbled out through the front door, her arm covering her face and her clothes trailing smoke. She fell to the ground in front of the party as two more figures emerged from the tavern, a pair of Redbrands wearing their trademark red cloaks. Both were on fire and made it only a few steps before collapsing on the front porch. They were both quickly engulfed.
Townsfolk started to gather around the growing blaze, quickly forming a bucket brigade to draw water from a well at the center of town. Treem showed up shortly thereafter, shaking his head. “What have you done?” asked the stunned halfling.
As the townsfolk attempted to douse the fire, Khelgar stepped forward. He was determined to fix this the only way he knew how. Calling upon his god Valkur, the dwarven cleric summoned a stiff sea breeze and sent it blowing towards the burning tavern. He recalled from his early days at the Temple of Valkur that this spell was useful for dousing flames.
Unfortunately Khelgar forgot one small detail about the spell— it was only effective on very small fires. On large fires, the magical breeze had the opposite effect.
As Khelgar’s magical wind blew across the burning tavern, the flames grew higher and burned hotter. Not only that, but the gust carried great billowing clouds of burning embers with it. The glowing embers drifted down over the rest of the town, starting small blazes on the thatched roofs of at least a dozen buildings.
“It’s spreading to the Inn!”
“By Tymora, the town is on fire!”
“Gram-Gram? Has anyone seen Gram-Gram?”
As the party stood transfixed by the chaos and destruction around them a horse thundered by, fully engulfed in flames and screaming like a demon from the nine hells.
On the hill above them two dozen onlookers in red cloaks emerged from the old mansion. They stood in a long line in front of the mansion’s sagging porch, leaning against the railing and watching impassively as the carnage unfolded.
Feeling deeply responsible for his part in literally fanning the flames, Khelgar called upon Valkur to cast another spell— Fog. In moments he and his companions were shrouded in a bank of thick, magical mist.
“Save yerselves,” said the dwarf. He began to tie himself up with rope from his backpack. “Twas me who stoked the flames. I’ll take the blame.”
His friends protested, arguing that if anyone was to blame it was Red. Speaking of which, where was the bladesinger? The party looked around but she was already gone, a swirling eddy of fog the only sign of her departure.
Shadamehr cursed quietly. He couldn’t leave Khelgar behind to take the fall. With a sigh Shadamehr scooped up the miserable dwarf.
“No, leave me,” Khelgar muttered.
”We’re not leaving anyone behind, you hairy fool." And with that Shadamehr threw Khelgar over his shoulder and sprinted after Red.
Mezen and Glasha paused indecisively. By all accounts they were innocent, but they weren’t sure the people of Phandalin would see it that way. And so the frustrated pair followed the other three out of town and into the Crags.
They were fugitives now. Things would never be the same.