High in the Spine of the World mountains, our heroes have just survived an ambush by several goblins and recovered a mysterious note (“Red stone, sixteen up, two over”) referring to Frostford Pass. Deciding to forge ahead (not wanting to reach the pass after dark), the heroes traveled through the mountain passes and down a slope into a deep valley resting between two towering, frozen peaks. At the end of that valley, they discovered tunnel bored into the mountainside that was blocked by a large, stone slab that seems to descend from the ceiling of the tunnel. After locating the red stone, Malkyr, the drow rogue, urges Theren, the half-elf warlock, to press upon the stone sixteen stones up and two to the right of the red stone. Luckily, Malkyr had chosen correctly (the left stone would have triggered an alarm), and a large boulder slid to one side, revealing a ten-foot wide rough-hewn corridor into the side of the mountain. As Malkyr scouted ahead, the tunnel quickly turned from uneven ground to finely-carved floor tile slabs, and at the end of the tunnel he discovered a large stone entry hall with a bubbling fountain, two large stone pots filled with flames, and a profane series of symbols scrawled on the floor in blood. In this chamber, the heroes confronted several goblins and a suspiciously well-armored kobold. Unfortunately, as the heroes dealt with the goblins, one of the goblin crossbowmen managed to get away and run down the hall, summoning help from the other room.
As the fight spilled down a long set of stairs, more goblins poured forth from the opposite side. A powerful goblin leader gave the heroes a run for their money in the Ceremony Chamber, a room with a large wading pool, a stone throne, and two sarcophagi (one of which had been smashed open). Once the heroes had dispatched the last of the goblins (even stopping the leader from dashing down a side hall to stop more from being summoned), they had a few moments to take stock of the situation and their surroundings. Harold, the human wizard, informed the rest of his companions that he had once read about some of the human settlements in the Spine of the World, and the architecture of this area marked it as a pre-Spellplague human guard post, likely used to stop travelers from getting stuck deep in the Spine during the depths of winter. Unfortunately, as Harold spun his tale of long-gone human settlements in the mountains, he also pulled on a lever set into the side of the stone throne in the room, thinking it to be a way to reveal a secret passage. Unfortunately, Harold was mistaken; the lever rang gongs and bells built deep into the mountains, bells which were once used to herald the arrival of welcome guests (and to let the citadel’s defenders know that strangers in the hall are welcome). With the whole citadel certainly alerted to their presence, the heroes head further into the settlement in hopes of finding a way to open the gate.
Pushing open a single door, the heroes are confronted with a strange scene. A 20’ by 40’ section of stone floor has been carved with runes that glow and pulsate menacingly. Beyond these tiles they see a larger room that boasts a bed, several carpets, a writing desk, a bookcase, and two large cauldrons, one on either side of the room, one filled with blue liquid and one filled with red. Inside the room, a tall human with a black cloak sat poring over parchments, and when the heroes entered he looked up at them, revealing that he was wearing a strange mask that looked like a highly stylized goblin. Additionally, three animated skeletons were performing menial tasks as his servants, and a guard drake snoozed at the foot of his bed. Zereb-Khan, the genasi swordmage, quickly identified the cauldrons as the source of power for the runes, and after quickly consulting Malkyr they came to the conclusion that spilling the liquid in the cauldrons should drain the runes of their power. The other oddity about the room was that, from the door, the heroes could hear no sounds coming from within, even when the human in the room was barking orders at the skeletons. A brief tussle ensued, and both Malkyr and Sardon, the genasi warlord, soon fell under the maddening grasp of the dark speech that invaded their minds; Theren quickly recognized these spells as the sign of a warlock (as he too had learned similar arcane tricks), and despite nearly losing the drow rogue to explosions of frost as he stumbled onto the runes the heroes managed to crack the cauldrons, invade the warlock’s inner sanctum, and defeat the warlock and his minions.
A cursory investigation of the room revealed several interesting facts. First, the warlock was none other than Azard, the warlock that the Blackhands in Grateheim had claimed was the one issuing their orders. Apparently, the mask worn by Azard translated his speech into the goblin language, and in turn made him able to understand it. Moreover, Harold was able to determine that Azard had created the mask in the image of a particularly feared demon from goblin mythology named Graharg. From what Harold could discern, Azard had been using the mask to impersonate Graharg, and had dominated the goblins by intimidating them. Moreover, they found a missive from someone called Lucan, who had charged Azard with holding the Frostford Pass gatehouse and only allowing Blackhands to pass through. According to the letter, the Blackhands had been using Frostford Pass to cut off pursuit when they raid towns to the South of the Spine of the World. They found the notes on the ritual Azard had used to create the mask, and decided to take advantage of the silence spell on the room to take a long rest before forging deeper into the citadel.