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The Wailing Dwarf
by Bruce R. Cordell

An enormous vertical slab of rock 4,000 feet high in the western portion of the Troll Mountains in Amn is carved to resemble a dwarf. Named after the sound of the wind blowing through its hollow eyes and mouth, it marks the site of an abandoned dwarven city.

At least, that's the common wisdom. The foregoing is all most know about the Wailing Dwarf, if they've heard of it at all. Many assume the site is an abandoned dwarven city, probably haunted by opportunistic monsters and lonely dwarven ghosts. A few have even taken the time to describe away the noise made by the image: Some learned sages in Amn have it that the wailing winds result from temperature differences between air inside the caverns hidden behind the open eyes and mouth, and the air outside. When it's colder inside, air rushes in, and when it's colder outside, air rushes out, wailing and whining through the narrowed apertures of the carved dwarf's face.

The truth is a little stranger.

General Description

Consider the vast size of the vertical slab on which the dwarven image is carved -- the relief sculpture is nearly a mile tall! Dry words on a page do little to convey the surprising awe one feels upon first encountering the Wailing Dwarf in person. The great stone helm of the carven image surmounts the image like a king's crown, thick with forgotten dwarven script and pitted where ancient gemstones may once have glittered.

The empty eyes and mouth are black shadows, but the braided beard reaches a full thousand feet, where its stone tips are tucked into the image's belt. The graven image grips a fantastically large double-bladed axe in both hands, as if ready to break from the mountain, shake the residual rubble from its shoulders and beard, and give battle to another being as titanic as itself.

Next, there is the haunting sound that issues from the relief sculpture's empty lips and vacant orbs. Sometimes as quiet as a lover's whisper at midnight, other times as brash and grating as a shrieking cyclone uprooting a farm house, the wail of the dwarf is nothing if not extraordinary. Upon hearing the dwarf's exhalation, one comes away with the sense that it is hardly likely the noise could have anything other than an unexpected explanation.

Previous Exploration

Noted explorer Bryam Lancameth of Amn financed an expedition to determine the truth behind the unnatural sound of the Wailing Dwarf, though it's likely he also wished to liberate any remaining dwarven treasure yet potentially lingering in the abandoned city inside. Many know or have heard the lay Lancameth's Last Expedition, though few realize that it was within the dark byways behind the Wailing Dwarf's black eyes that Captain Lancameth and his companions, all celebrities in their own right, met their ends. Certainly Last Expedition takes many liberties with the reality of that final adventure; however, the lay does accurately sum up the expedition with the refrain:

. . . lost, past all hope of the return,
they perished, tombless and alone.

What is known for certain is that Lancameth's last expedition numbered five principles.

First was Captain Bryam Lancameth himself, famous for his many long years of notable service in Amn's merchant marine fleet. Lancameth, a human youthful for all his forty years, wielded the storied Clockwork Blade of Venom.

Next was Lady Starthorn, an elf ranger out of the Aglarond's Yuirwood. Lady Starthorn was famous both for her silvery voice and her night-black Bow of Death's Rain.

Nhair Ebendar, a halfling scoundrel from the streets of Athkatla, was never far from Lancameth, cracking wise with quips and stories. Ebendar somehow acquired the Punching Dagger of Quar-Shan, a relic whose mere possession put Ebendar in constant danger of assassins from Calimshan.

No historical account records Dog Wizard's true name. Dog Wizard is the only name he answered to, in any event, when he answered at all. Dog Wizard's greatest claim to fame was his magic implement, the Jagged Staff of Hellgate. Dog Wizard always hid his features in a hood, but some say he was a tiefling.

Though Lancameth led all their expeditions, the touchstone of the group was Matron Iremar, a priestess of Oghma. Knowledgeable in almost every circumstance and ready with healing magic when things turned rough, Matron Iremar was also a doughty warrior, and she wielded the Astral Mace of Blasting, supposedly a gift given by one of Oghma's angels directly into Iremar's pious hands.

For all their bravery, cunning, experience, and luck, all five famous heroes fell within the bleak, wind-washed caverns behind the Wailing Dwarf. Regardless of whether Lancameth's hope concerning dwarven treasures was true or merely optimism, it is certain at the very least that the dangerous ruins behind the graven image contain the powerful magic relics each expeditioneer carried with them to their ends.

Behind the Face

The presumption that opportunistic monsters lair within the cavities behind the sculpted slab are accurate. Lightless shafts shelter spiders, fungi, oozing slimes, and even the spirits of mourning dwarves.

However, in more recent times, an unusually clever tribe of trolls partly colonized the hollow mountain. They did so only in part because they found the access into the heart of the ruined city beyond the First Antechamber contested by immortal guardians set there to keep secret the Wailing Dwarf's windy heart.

After a running conflict that lasted decades, the trolls were mostly wiped out, though pockets still persist in hidden corners of the ruined city past the First Antechamber. Also, the immortal guardians captured a few alive and set them up in the First Antechamber as a warning to the future.

Created expressly by secret makers, the immortal guardians in the Wailing Dwarf take the form of guardian nagas. All nagas are fascinated by knowledge, and most eventually assemble a formidable understanding of rituals and arcane spells, as well as collect powerful magic items. The guardians in the Wailing Dwarf (whose total number is not known) are obsessed with the continued acquisition of magical knowledge and the final resting place (or current wielders) of storied magic items, legacy items, and relics.

Though the guardian nagas in the Wailing Dwarf devote themselves fiercely to their appointed task, they also thirst for new knowledge and are not quick to attack intruders. In fact, they may offer to spare intruders' lives if the intruders can teach them a new ritual or spell, or if they give up a magic item. A naga is compelled by its very nature to guard its appointed secret or object with its life, and thus it never negotiates away access to the windy heart of the abandoned dwarven city. Still, one might be willing to allow intruders to turn back with their lives -- especially if they can offer something worthwhile for its mercy.

Gaining Entry

At first glance, those seeking entry are faced with a vertical climb up the flatiron slab upon which the Wailing Dwarf is carved. However, investigation higher up the mountainous shoulder behind the east-looking side of the dwarf reveals rough but navigable terrain, including a natural rock shelf 5 feet in width that curls around across the slab's front, through the stony braids of the Wailing Dwarf's beard, to the open cavity of its vacuous mouth.

Here explorers face their first potential danger. Sometimes, an erratic howling wind bursts from the mouth (and both eyes) of the stony façade. When this happens, all objects and creatures not staked into the stone are either sucked in or blown out. Those sucked in tumble roughly into the First Antechamber, where they fall prone and are dazed. Those blown out are flung off the carved slab face into open air, where they face a fall of nearly 4,000 feet to the rocky gorge floor below.

Those lucky enough to avoid a wind surge or who take precautions against the howling winds find a wide circular tunnel beyond that leads, after a hundred feet or so, to the First Antechamber.

First Antechamber

Behind the façade of the Wailing Dwarf and past the long throat is the wide and high First Antechamber. Here the shackled bodies of four regenerating trolls are strapped across walls and ceilings. Completely insane from their years-long captivity, they now serve both as a warning to would-be interlopers, as well as self-renewing hors d'oeuvres for the guardian naga that has taken up her position here.

The guardian naga in the First Antechamber deals newcomers who enter the chamber, whether troll, adventurer, or dwarf claiming to be a long-lost heir of the city that lies beyond, as described above under Behind the Face.

Abandoned Dwarven City

Beyond the First Antechamber is another tunnel, which opens onto a great rift at the mountain's heart, from which the winds emerge or sometimes plunge. The ruined dwarven city is carved into the stone of both sides of a great rift, cliff-dwelling style. Countless bridges, suspended roads, and other stone paths provide access back and forth between the two sides, though most of these stone spans are untrustworthy at best in their neglected antiquity.

Thousands of empty chambers lie within the abandoned city, whose name is one more secret hoarded by the guardian nagas who patrol the city's upper edges. Mournful dwarven ghosts, lurking trolls, patrolling guardian nagas, the powerful items once wielded by Lancameth and his fallen band, and other secrets are here kept, not least of which is the reason for the near constant inhalation and outrush of air from somewhere deeper. . . .

About the Author

Bruce Cordell is a D&D designer, but during his twelve years in the game industry, he has dabbled in miniatures, board games, collectible card games, d20 games, and more. Bruce has over a sixty listed credits to his name, including the Expanded Psionics Handbook, Libris Mortis, and Expedition to Castle Ravenloft. His body of work also includes three published Forgotten Realms novels (Lady of Poison, Darkvision, and Stardeep), with more on the way.

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