The slayers gain audience with Countess Vainharte. The Countess holds the meeting in a war room, studying a map of the city and giving orders to subordinates. Among those present, surprisingly, is Brisery, formerly of Harrowglen. She explains that her brother is still in the field, but with the lifting of the quarantine it’s now safe for her to be here.
Vainharte greets the slayers warmly. She explains that she’s dispatching her soldiers to clean out the remaining warrens, and continuing their search for the rat queen’s accomplices. They’ve had several deaths reported of rat-hearts, the vermin in their chests having apparently died with Gwenverin. One even fell from the Tower of Judgment, where apparently it was clambering up the exterior wall. The Countess extends congratulations, and promises a more formal thanks when the time is appropriate. The group replies that there’s still work to be done — they have to stop the Stoic Man before the spring storms come.
There the Countess is able to provide more information. The Lanthorn forces seized one of the surgeons associating with the Stoic Man. The doctor apparently emerged from below to purchase more corpses from the Sevenstrong Brotherhood. Unfortunately, the man seems to have been reliant on his guides to navigate the tunnels, and has no ability to find his way on his own.
The group goes to the Tower of Judgment to speak with the imprisoned surgeon. A Lieutenant Olweth serves as their guide there. The surgeon, a scraggly and nervous man, is cooperative to the best of his ability, but unfortunately not good with some of the information that would be most useful. He has a bad head for landmarks, and can’t tell the dwarves of the Sevenstrong Brotherhood apart. But he does mention that he commonly works with three other surgeons, and there are probably the same number of troll-grafted in the complex.
The interview terminated, Olweth then leads the slayers down to the basement level. At their request, he supplies them with a dozen flasks of oil requisitioned from the Tower of Duty, in case of troll or troll-grafted.
The search begins. With some careful attention, the group is able to find the enclosed gutters containing the chains and cables attached to the lightning forge. They also discover a series of alchemical signs, apparently left by the Stoic Man or his scouts as some form of markers. The path leads back to a portion of the underground, much deeper than normal. There they find what can only be the lightning forge complex.
The forge complex has a moat around three of its exterior sides, with a bridge leading to the main entrance. A pair of shrines, one to Skeorn and Skalda and another to Thangron and Thossa, sit roughly where Bralta had anticipated in accordance to the Falkniir tradition. The group carefully looks for another way in. In the rear, they find it — a secret door leading into what appears to be a priest’s quarters. The room is attached to a shrine to Graemagir, the dwarven god of magic and secrets. And the shrine looks down into the main room.
The lightning forge is an immense structure dominating the center of the even larger room, something like a ziggurat. The room itself has some tables and signs of surgery — and a single figure works there. The man is immense, almost enough to be patched together from ogres, but his features and musculature are like a fine sculpture’s. At least a head larger than the other golems they’ve met, this is clearly the Stoic Man.
The group slips down from the shrine, taking up positions behind the forge structure. From there, they see the Stoic Man set out for another exit — a fire-lit archway, likely leading into one of the secondary forges.
Baden audibly coughs.
The Stoic Man looks down in their direction, but rather than advancing, steps into the opening to the secondary forge. A voice like deep thunder says “Absath. Your father has need of you.” Then the huge golem returns, flanked by another of his ilk — the last of the three “sons.” Baden and Honora charge, and the fight begins in earnest.
Even the Beast of Grinthorn seems weak next to the Stoic Man. The golem picks up Honora with ease, hurling her massive armored form into Abbron. The first volley of blows that lands on him seems almost like falling leaves. But he can’t ignore it when Honora takes the knife picked up from Kravoss’ office, and jams it into his clavicle. The Stoic Man bleeds, slow but certain.
But that doesn’t turn the tide of battle. Bralta falls under the powerful fists of Absath the Dutiful, and recovers only when Baden channels a portion of Amaelin’s power to heal her. Bralta’s power is quickly spent trying to keep Honora and Baden up in turn. Abbron retreats atop the lightning forge itself, and whisks up Bralta with a wind to keep her safe.
From there, the two of them see Baden and Honora fall. When wounded, the golems’ fury becomes too much to bear. Bralta asks Abbron if he’s willing to run while she stands her ground. The sorceror refuses, and insists the two of them flee together. The Stoic Man regards the two as they fall back to the shrine, and bids his son follow.
Absath pursues Abbron and Bralta into the tunnels for blocks until the two decide to retaliate. Abbron fires furious bolts of lightning into the pursuing golem, stripping away more flesh until blackened ribs protrude from its torso. It charges madly at the sorcerer, but doesn’t notice Bralta by a nearby corner. Her hammer catches the golem in the kneecap, and it stumbles and fall. Abbron brings down the storm on the prone Absath the Dutiful, blasting it until there’s nothing salvageable left to its corpse.
The two stop to catch their breaths, then plot a way back in to see if their friends still live. They choose to move around to the entryways into the western living quarters. A pair of lit lanterns frame the main entrance, where another of the troll-grafted stands watch. But at Abbron’s suggestion, Bralta begins searching for another hidden way in. She finds it — a second-story entrance running above the ceiling of the road, some minor convenience from back in the day. The two slip back into the forge complex.
They make their way through the disused upper story to find a window looking down on the secondary forge. The forge has been largely converted into a butcher shop, laden with corpses (many of which seem fresh enough to be victims of the recent sickness) and hung about with various surgical tools. On two of the workbenches lie Honora and Baden, wrapped to their faces in sheets, their axes laid on their chests. A pair of surgeons assist the Stoic Man as he repairs the damage caused by those axes.
Gradually the subject of their conversation becomes clearer. The Stoic Man informs the surgeons that he is required to send the captives on, though he will request to keep Honora. Her body would make a fine basis for a “daughter”. This seems to stir thoughts of his lost sons, and he asks if Absath has returned yet. The surgeons affirm that the Dutiful Son is still missing. The Stoic Man, content with the repair work, announces that he will go join the hunt. The massive golem then leaves, and a surgeon moves back into the living quarters.
With only one physician still in the room. Abbron and Bralta make their move. Abbron can’t navigate the climb without falling, but before the surgeon can react to the sudden arrival, the sorcerer catches him in a wave of frost. The surgeon clutches at his heart and falls to the ground.
With haste, Bralta moves to the workbenches. She calls on the runes of healing, and with a shimmer of low magic, Honora and Baden come awake.