So a shadowkin and a lizardman walk into Gelaham. The problem with this is that situations like this don’t have punch lines. Or happy endings. Lizardmen portend an invasion, and shadowkin are an abomination of the Light.
Skirting the foot of Holy Mount Gela for some way to ascend without being seen leads you to a small, hidden camp in the shadows of the eternal noon that bathes the mountain. Home to those not welcome in the temple – thieves, wizards, unbelievers – you find a human messenger willing to convey word of your arrival to the High Temple. You browse through the eclectic array of goods in the local black market while waiting for your messenger to return. By nightfall – irrelevant on the mountain itself, of course – you have your reply: the High Priest is expecting you.
The next morning, you’re met at the base of the terraced front of the mountain by a small squad of paladins and a cleric. The paladins all look at Chance more intently than seems healthy. The cleric ignores him, focusing instead on Fuerte as he hands the lizardman a softly gleaming silver orb on a heavy chain. “Wear this while you’re in the settlement. The people may not trust you, but they will not kill you. The sooner you can conclude whatever business it is you have and move on the better.” At that, he turns to look at Chance. “I wouldn’t bother waiting for your friend.”
The cleric turns away, and the paladins move into formation around Chance. “Come, fallen one,” the cleric says, leading the way up the mountain. “The day of your judgment has waited too long already.” With a gesture to Fuerte that is both a goodbye and an admonition against attacking the humans, Chance bows his head as he is led up the mountain to the High Temple, leaving his friend standing alone, clutching a shiny ball on a chain.
It takes a few days staying at the Journeyman’s Rest on the lowest terrace of the city before the current dwarven caravan is ready to leave town and head back to Kognar. The caravan leader, a halfling by the name of Marty, takes one long, penetrating look at you before signing you on as a guard for the caravan. He goes over your duties with you: you’ll get paid a silver piece a day plus meals, and you’ll protect the caravan – goods, people, wagons, and animals, in that order – from any dangers along the way.
The few days through the mountains is relatively uneventful. There’s a large presence of wyrmkin, and you have to scare off more than a few basilisks and bronze wyrmlings. Marty knows the way well enough to avoid the main stomping grounds of the hill giants, so you don’t have to worry about those. The hardest part is the walking: the constant ups-and-downs of the mountains and foothills and the thinness of the air so close to the Void. But in less than a week, you reach the wide entrance to the Dwarven Tunnel.
At that point in the journey, you lose track of time completely. Marty calls rests and marches according to some inner clock which you have no ability to track. In the caves, there is no day, no night. The only light comes from your torches, lanterns, and campfires. The caverns twist and fork, and though no sign marks the correct way, Marty pushes on without pause, saying only that you’re still moving south. At one point, he mentions you’re below the ocean finally, and the water trickling down the walls or dripping from the ceiling suddenly becomes one of the most terrifying things you’ve ever encountered.
Weeks pass. Perhaps months. You lost track when trying to count how many times you slept in the caves. Most days pass without anything to break the silent monotony of the walk through the darkness. Repulsing random bands of grimlocks quickly loses its appeal, though the one group of ettins gave you a run for your money. Finally, a glimmer in the distance reminds you of what sunlight looks like, though by the time you’re above ground again, the sun has set. A few more days through the mountains leaves you at the carved mountainface that marks the entrance to Kognar, and the caravan heads back underground.
You collect your payment from Marty, and one of the dwarven guards you befriended takes you to the headquarters of the Miner’s Guild. He introduces you to the guard captain, who looks you up and up and sniffs. He says something in dwarven, which you can’t understand. He sighs. “You do speak kobold, yes? Good. Now, you have helped our caravan, and for that I am thankful. But tell me. What do you want, and why should the Miner’s Guild give it to you?”
I am a freed lizardman who works to help my people and any others that wants to be free of draconic tyrrany. I briefly outline my history of betrayal and my exodus from my home and family as much as I recall, charismaticly. I have lost most of my closest friends, some I would even call family, but I never want to experience that loss again (being as diplomatic and persuasive as possible). I have joined with a new group that are fast becoming like a new family to me. I want to do my best to protect and defend them. I want to lead them into battle like an Iron Vanguard, tough and sturdy, pushing my way to the front, wading through a host to defend those I hold dear. I have been told that it is best to learn these skills under the tutelage of the dwarves. The orcs will never trust me and the humans don’t seem interested in me or treating others that are not like them with any respect. I have come to disdain their human ways. I am a loyal ally, my nerve never fails. My skills were put to good use under Midge’s capable direction when I protected the caravan as it travellled here to Kognar. I am a boon to my friends (benevolent and charismatic), and a bain to my enemies (being as fericious as possible) – the dragons and my friends’ enemies. I want to be your friend, and I know I can learn much from you and what I can give you I will.
The guard captain scowls through your stumbling but heartfelt response. He lets you ramble on for what seems like forever until you finally run out of things to say and begin to repeat yourself. He raises a hand, and you stop. “There is something about you,” he says, “that I like. You have a destiny calling that is more than protecting family or helping dwarves, no?” He laughs at your confused expression. “You do not know. This is excellent. We will train you. It is good for the Miner’s Guild to be owed favors by one such as yourself, yes?”
And as simple as that, you’re a dwarf in all but form. Your training begins immediately with the Guild outfitting you with a training shield, a massive, stonewrought shield even you have difficulty managing. You’re sent down into the mines every day with a group of miners. Your task is to protect them from the attacks of the ore beasts – hulking stone golems forever trying to retake their caves from the dwarves – with just your shield. You keep the beasts’ attention while the miners use their picks and hammers to take them apart and extract the valuable metals that give them life.
You befriend the dwarves, who find you cheerful and very likable. They teach you the dwarven language (slow going, given how quickly you learn things anymore) and share massive amounts of dwarven lore with you. They find great humor in your recounting of the endless journey through the caves under the ocean, and even more humor in your flat disbelief that the entire ordeal lasted barely ten days.
As the weeks wear on, the shield grows lighter and lighter, and you become more and more proficient at managing the ore beasts. Eventually, you can push them around and knock them down as easily as the dwarves back on Grbok knocked you around. And just as suddenly as your training started, it is over.
The ceremony is simple, though well-attended, as you have made many friends. The guard captain recognizes you as an official member of the Dwarven Defenders, assigning you as part of their Iron Vanguard. The paperwork is signed, the credentials certified, and your induction complete. But before you can turn to face the cheering crowd, the guard captain raises a hand, and the grand hall falls silent. He looks out at the assembled dwarves, then at you, and makes a beckons someone from the side of the stage.
A collective gasp rushes through the hall as a robed dwarf bears a shield into the light of the torches. At first, you think it’s your training shield again, but you quickly recognize it as crafted from the same adamantium you’ve been helping the dwarves mine over the past weeks. It is the finest work of shieldcraft you have ever seen, draconic or dwarven or otherwise. Engraved along the top, in the angular runes of the dwarves, it reads, “Adamantine Bulwark of Arboles.”
“It is a kingly gift, no?” the guard captain asks. “It is not something we give lightly. But there is something about you that we cannot quite our fingers on. Take it. It is yours.” The shield seems to thrum slightly under your claws as you lift it. There is a life to it that approaches sentience. You remember stories the miners told you of living metal, but the guard captain just smiles. “Now,” he says, leading you out into the crowd. “We must see about reuniting you with these friends of yours, no?”