Chapter 1

Welcome to Faerun: a land of magic, monsters, and mystery. Evil lingers in every shadow and good can be found resting in its shade.

Centered in the Shaar Desolation, the Underchasm is a vast tear on the face of the world. Once savanna, desert, and woods the Shaar dried into a sandy waste encircling the Underchasm. This abyss swallowed the Great Rift and is another reminder of the Spellplague. Prior to it, for eleven millennia the Gold Dwarves ruled the rift and everything within a day's ride. No one challenged their rule. Their many enemies plotted and schemed but the Great Rift weathered them all. The Spellplague ended that supremacy and the Underchasm swallowed much of the Shaar and the Great Rift. Underhome, the majestic capital of their realm was decimated.

Still reeling from the destruction, the Dwarves were ripe for invasion. The Dark Elves had lost much to the Spellplague and intended to rebuild through conquest. Level by level, floor by floor the Dwarves were pushed back. Until a surprise strike allowed them to retake the Gates, enchanted gold doors leading to the Underdark. Their lower levels recaptured and secured, the doors remained locked for a century.

Formerly the religious core of their kingdom, Eartheart was a city of temples before inheriting the title of capital. Carved into the cliffs of what has become the East Rift, Eartheart is a masterpiece of engineering. The city was built directly into the walls of the Rift with defensively designed switchback stairways. After the fall of Underhome, the Gold Dwarves were forced to swallow their pride and flee to the surface. The Deep Lords declared their ancestral home tainted beyond redemption. Yet every day Dwarves stare longingly at the golden doors. Enormous, enchanted, and reinforced the road to Underhome remains shut and all travel below is outlawed. Unfortunately, the Gates are not the only way to the Underdark and evil bubbles up from below. This threat is ever present in their minds.

"Good people of Eartheart. You elect your leaders on the council, great elders raised in privilege and power. Once chosen, those leaders remain masked and hidden…out of fear! Every Deep Lord arrives with guards, while you walk the very same streets without them. In our home, the capital of our nation, we fear assassins! I am the patriarch of a great clan! I am a member of our ruling council, a Deep Lord, and I am supposed to hide while you face the same threat?!"

His speeches have grown popular, the masses waiting in anticipation. Opponents watch the Deep Lord with growing frustration while supporters nod their agreement. Armored in elegant yet functional platemail, Hamezaar Wyrmforge is as comfortable as if he wore heavy clothes. His armor is polished to a brilliant sheen, dazzling with jewels and brass fittings. At the center of his chest is his clan emblem, a red dragon chasing its tail encircling a black anvil. The cloak upon his shoulders is ruby red with an identical black emblem on his back, lined with fur. A Morningstar hangs at his belt and a shield is slung over his shoulder.

"My lord, we cannot let you pass," the citadel guard rushes the words. Armored from head to toe with an ax and a massive shield, the Dwarf looks like a cornered animal. "You can only enter wearing the cloak and mask of a Deep Lord."

With mahogany skin and black hair, his gleaming armor offsets both. Hamezaar's beard is neatly trimmed with a pair of braids falling from his mustache and a third from his chin. Gold and silver rings cap the braids in his beard. His golden mask swings about his neck. Hame feels a moment of pity for the guards but remains resolute. He turns to the crowd gathering at the foot of the Citadel, where the Council presides over their people.

"That you or me should be afraid to walk our streets, is a disgrace! For eleven thousand years our ancestors protected the Rift and its people. Once we threw looks of contempt upon the surface, where we live in exile! We look upon our Gold Gates with dread! Our ancestors would be ashamed. We should be ashamed, and I say…NO MORE!"

"AYE!" The crowd roars excitedly, Dwarves stamp their feet and pound their fists on any flat surface nearby. Many of his people chant, "Wyrmforge!" Or they call out to the Soulforger, "Moradin!"

"The people are terrified," the guard snarls. "How dare you use their fear to advance yourself! They may not recognize it but we do!"

"Moradin calls upon us to found new kingdoms and clan lands, to defend existing ones from all threats. Yet we have done nothing to take back our city, nothing to free our kin. It is the duty of every lord and clan patriarch to protect his people. We're no bloody Halflings! We don't hide and hope the danger will pass. The council's duty is to protect our people. The council elected by the people, the council you voted for, that is supposed to serve YOU! YOUR council dithers, while our enemies undermine Eartheart. THIS MUST END!"

The cheering is deafening, the crowd swells with more Dwarves joining it by the second. Dark brown skin and black hair is most common among the citizens of Eartheart. A few grey skinned, white bearded, and bald Duergar pepper the crowd. Even rarer, a towering Human and a small group of light skinned Shield Dwarves create a pocket in the crowd. Near the back, Dwarves fight for position while others lean out of windows that overlook the street. The streets are clogged with them. Constables try to disperse the crowd and accept it's hopeless.

The grinding noise of the switchback, the clanking of gears controlling the stairs ends the cheering. Surprised citizens gasp but the guards are too disciplined to reveal their shock. Tense with disapproval, they open the gates leading to the steps. Cheering erupts from the crowd, thunderous roars and banging quickly joins the clamor.

"You riled up the rabble but only cause they don't know better," a guard curses.

"They cheer because I say what they feel, what they know is true," he replies. Respect for their leaders is deeply ingrained in every Gold Dwarf from birth. The reverence and respect is reinforced at every stage of their lives. Although bordering on subservient, the Gold Dwarves are no fools. Hamezaar's words echo what many feel and fear. They might not say it but that did not mean they were blind to it.

"Nice speech," Captain Yerdan sneers. His Druegar friend is also the captain of his guard. With skin so dark it appears black; Yerdan Ironcast will never be mistaken for a Gold Dwarf. Rejecting standard Dwarven practice, his only armor is a chain shirt beneath a black vest completed by matching trousers. His hands rest upon the hand axes in his belt.

"Thanks," Hamezaar ignores his dripping sarcasm. "…and yes I drank my potion."

"About bloody time, you think the rest of the council isn't bloated with them?"

"Beware the council," his other companion warns. Berund Oozesmasher has spent his life in service to his people, the gods, and Wyrmforge. The scars he bears proudly and the lines of worry on his face are a testament to his honor. With skin far lighter than his liege and hair faded white with age, he's earned the retirement he refuses to take. His armor is strictly traditionalist and etched with scripture. "I don't like what you are doing my lord, even if it is the only way. Still, there are a lot of clans making fortunes on this stalemate. They'll do anything to keep it that way."

"If we don't act now, we'll lose the night. Then we'll lose Eartheart." He hesitates as he passes the guards. "Sorry about the trouble."

"Nay, you ain't."

Far in the distance, well concealed by the crowd, is a young Duergar woman. By any standards Kiira Ironcast is beautiful, lacking the harsh glare of her people or the steely gaze of the embattled Gold Dwarves. She stands in contrast from her kin with expressive features and a welcoming smile. Even now her fear for Hame is clearly written on her face but the mood of the crowd lifts her. She feels them pulling together when he speaks, their joy soothes her and their righteous anger warms her. They hang on his every word, eager as children listening to stories of their ancestors. When the stairs turn their celebration embraces her.

She gasps when she senses the threat, ripping her from her musing. She can't pinpoint it but she knows she's surrounded. They'll kill her and anyone that interferes. Kiira can sense the cold intensity of their focus. She realizes she has to escape the crowd or they'll suffer too. She pretends calm before she turns and flees through the masses. Then suddenly she sees a Dwarf staring at her. He bears no markings, no clan emblems, they are cloaked and hooded. She meets his cold eyes and he smiles. He plots her death with the same detached and matter-of-fact way most would face heating metal or chipping stone. It's a job to be done.

She turns away even as she realizes he is not alone. Behind her, they're closing. She heads for a narrow alley; busy looking over her shoulder. She's two steps in before she realizes it has no exit. The assassins are utterly silent and skilled professionals, but unaware that Kiira senses their presence. When she spins, they raise their blades and charge.

Kiira suppresses her feelings and imagines one attacker choking as he's rises off the ground. Gagging, his feet kick as his boots leave the surface. The second attacker spares his companion a quick look but continues without hesitation. She imagines him smashing into the wall with bone shattering force. His head strikes so hard it splashes with red.

She senses her third attacker too late. She turns just as the blade erupts from her chest. She sighs and recites a prayer to Moradin. Finally, she smiles thinking about Hamezaar.

"Ahh should 'ave listened to 'im, 'e tol' me to stay 'ome," she told her murder as peace settles over her. "Ahh 'ope ye realize, ye won't stop him, ahh doubt ye will even slow 'im. 'e is…remarkable."

The first room to greet those who enter the citadel is a towering hall lined by stone columns. Awe-inspiring pillars sculpted and designed to remind those who walk through it of their legacy of stonework and the lifelong dedication it requires. Its sheer size withers any fantasies of grandeur from all save the most arrogant. Along the great walls, beyond the pillars is a vast mosaic of Dwarven history, beginning with their creation by Moradin. The images stretch down the hall to the gate at the far end, before continuing on the right side of the hall. To provide light, a dozen paces off the ground are windows. The eight windows are evenly spaced and paired on both sides. Too small for any but the thinnest Dwarves to squeeze through; most consider them impossible to reach. Just to squeeze through, they'd be forced to scale the sheer walls outside of the building, without being detected and executed by the guard towers.

Day or night the chamber is brightly lit, mirrors upon the ceilings and tops of the pillars reflect light throughout the room. Chandeliers and candelabrum brighten the already lustrous walls and pillars augmented by the angled mirrors to eliminate every shadow.

Hamezaar swells with pride as he enters. Normally he arrives early to council meetings to study the mosaic, while considering the correct course of action. Today he doesn't have such luxury. Still, he feels pleased all the same, the distinct honor of being a Gold Dwarf.

More guards stand watch within the towering steel doors and portcullis that make up the entrance. Another pair stand watch at the far end of the hall, well beyond a hundred paces. He's passed the guards hundreds of times in service to Eartheart. They stand still as statues, just a pace away from the wall, near the pair of cranks for the doors. Both are four feet tall and stout with layered plate, mail, and padded leather. A full helm conceals their faces and protects all save their eyes from danger. Curved swords hang at their hips. Hamezaar greets both respectfully, as he always does, but the guards are trained to remain still.

Consumed by his fears for Eartheart, the Drow threat, and politics he almost misses the Dwarves' curved swords. Missing such a little fact is almost forgivable; after all, as a Deep Lord his burden is far greater than even other Dwarf lords. While the Deep Lords often have a 'hand's off' policy towards individual clans, they still determine the direction of Eartheart.

…and some Dwarves carry swords, great Dwarves from distinguished clans.

His gut clenches but he remains calm. His boots thumps with each step, echoing off the walls in the deathly silent room. Hame searches for anything else out of place. Suddenly the guards turn towards the cranks and begin closing the doors. The trap closes about him. Light flickers as a shadow darts through a window. It could've been a cloud. Maybe his mind is playing tricks on him, fabricating a threat from his fears. He knows better.

The doors boom closed and he sprints to his right for cover. He throws off his cloak and readies his shield. His Morningstar comes to his hand as it has a hundred times. He hears chanting and places one of the great pillars between himself and the sound. Guardsmen charge down the hallway and one shots a quarrel that deflects off his armor. Worse, he knows there are four plus the one that came through the window. The last one concerns him most because he knows where the rest were.

Hamezaar turns away from the spellcaster, towards the entrance, and intercepts the guard. His opponent moves far swifter than any Dwarf in layered armor. Thoroughly ruined, the illusion used to disguise him dispels into nothing. Tall, thin, and black cloaked there is little question about who Hamezaar fights. From a dozen paces away the Drow assassin lunges. Hame immediately raises his shield and leans into it. With a flash the assassin teleports across the distance and strikes the shield with tremendous force. Shoved back half a step, Hame recovers in a defensive stance crouched behind his shield. His opponent mixes duelist sword styles with magic. Hamezaar recognizes the tricks of a swordmage.

The assassin never stops moving, darting one way and then another. First to Hame's left and then to his right, his moves are flashy and fast. He laughs at the Dwarf, the tone light and musical. Hame knows this assassin is a distraction. The assassin intends to draw out the fight so his fellow Drow could stab Hamezaar in the back. He strikes Hame's shield again and again, his reach and his weapon provides him safety from Hame's own. So Hame opens his guard. Surprised by the move, the assassin's blade scrapes against Hame's breastplate harmlessly. Hame swings his shield back shattering the assassin's wrist. Off-balanced and injured, the Drow can't retreat before a morningstar crushes his skull.

The next assassin is on Hamezaar in a second, giving him only a heartbeat to turn and face the Drow. The attacker thrusts and slashes with a pair of longswords while the Dwarf Lord keeps his shield up protectively. Fast and strong, the assassin alternates between dual thrusts and defensive and offensive use of his swords. His attacks become ferocious, viciously rapping on Hame's shield with the rare thrust reaching Hamezaar's armor.

Unbeknownst to him an archer edges around a pillar and draws back her bowstring. She releases her breath and shoots an arrow toward Hame's back. It strikes just beneath the steel collar around his neck, and should have punctured his spine. Only the layered armor of mail and padded cloth in addition to his natural Dwarven constitution keeps him alive. Even then pain burns its way through his neck and into him with every move.

Wincing, Hame ducks a vicious cut that should have taken off his head. He places a pillar between himself and the archer. The assassin keeps close, sensing weakness and circling Hame. The swordsman presses while Hame centers the pillar behind him and charges. The Drow tries to roll away, only to be caught by the Dwarf's shield and smashed into the massive stone column. The wind driven from his lungs, he can barely stand. Hamezaar snaps his knee with a single strike and then tears a chunk from his skull with another.

He hears the arrow whistling through the air and raises his shield protectively. The archer maneuvered to another pillar not even a dozen paces away. The arrow punches through his shield, stopping only a hair from Hamezaar's eye. Then magical purple fire lights his silhouette. The fairy fire doesn't burn but make Hame a much easier target.

Focused on her now, he easily blocks her next arrow with his shield. Instead of producing a third, she shakes her head, dropping the hood free. Then she signals her wizard.

Hame almost misses the fireball. The roar of it and the bright light racing towards him is his only warning. The sphere of orange, yellow, and red hits the ground nearby. Unable to get a line on him, the magic user uses its explosive proximity. Hamezaar seizes the recently killed Drow and uses him as a shield. Even protected, the blast smashes him against a column. Fortunately the arrow in his neck isn't driven any further in. Fire flickers around the edges of the Drow's piwafwi, his cloak.

Hamezaar throws the smoldering Drow aside, startling the archer and mage.

"Who is it you thought you faced?" Hamezaar roared. "I am a Deep Lord!"