The heroes have spent most of the day rummaging through the stacks in the ancient library. The words of Runelord Karzoug echoed in their ears - "So these are the heroes of the age. More like gasping worms to me - worms to be crushed back into the earth when I awaken the armies of Xin-Shalast, when the name Karzoug is again spoken with fear and awe. Know that the deaths of those marked by the Sihedron - the giants you have so conveniently slain for me - hasten my return, just as yours soon will. Fools, all of you. Is this all you could manage in ten thousand years?" The focus of the party’s investigation had centered on Xin-Shalast and Karzoug himself and a great deal has been learned, but many new questions have arisen as well. The only clue you have is a crudely hand-drawn map that you found in Mokmurian’s quarters – that leads back to Sandpoint.
Sandpoint has been through a lot, including a goblin raid, slaughter at the local glassworks, several grisly murders, and most recently a full blown assault by giants and a dragon. It's certainly a testament to the townsfolk's resilience that they have carried on as hardily as they have. Of course, they've had protectors at hand to help them through these times of peril, and when trouble stirs anew in the region, it's to these protectors the good folk of Sandpoint turn.
This new development began after the giants raided Sandpoint and were repulsed by the heroes. Several days after the party had left town to take the fight to Jorgenfist an earth tremor shook the Lost Coast. No stranger to earthquakes the folk of Sandpoint weathered the minor trembler with ease, but then, at the earthquake's climax, a sinkhole suddenly yawned in the middle of Tower Street, just north of the Garrison. A few guards were injured and the sinkhole swallowed a chunk of the Garrison's north wall, but fortunately the cells in the north side of the garrison were all vacant.
It wasn't the sudden sinkhole that alarmed the leaders of Sandpoint, though. What worried them were the sounds that came from the pit's rubble-choked depths every night. After a group of guards sent into the sinkhole's depths vanished, Sheriff Hemlock roped off the pit's perimeter, established sentries, and forbade anyone else from entering the hole. This would have to be a job for folk better equipped to deal with this kind of danger - folk like the heroes. After some consultation it was agreed that Father Zantus would use a Sending spell to request that the heroes return to Sandpoint.
After a full nights rest the next morning the Selinor’s slumber was interrupted by a familiar voice from afar: “Please return to Sandpoint immediately. Your services are needed. Father Zantus.”
Upon their return to Sandpoint the heroes were greeted by throngs of excited hero-worshipers and grateful citizens. The talk of the town was the Tower Street Sinkhole, although the party’s return eclipsed some of that - most of the citizens assumed the heroes had returned to investigate the sinkhole, in any event. Once the initial hubbub of the heroes' welcome wore off the party was approached by a bashful-looking acolyte of Desna who gave them a message: Father Zantus wished to speak to them about the sinkhole as soon as possible at the Sandpoint Cathedral.
Both Sheriff Hemlock and Mayor Deverin were there waiting for the party at the cathedral with Father Zantus. They asked for a quick recounting of the heroes’ adventures in Jorgenfist and listened wide-eyed to tales of giants, dire bears, headless ogres, and horrors from beyond time itself. Soon enough, Father Zantus cleared his throat and spoke upon the matter at hand.
"Of course, we're all very pleased to hear of your successes. Sandpoint owes you a huge debt of thanks for ensuring its safety yet again. And while I'd like nothing better than to let you relax and enjoy a well-earned break from your adventures, you've doubtless heard about our newest problem. A few days ago, the ground collapsed just north of the Garrison, right in the middle of Tower Street. The north wall of the Garrison took some damage, and while fortunately no one was seriously hurt when the sinkhole appeared, that's not the case anymore. The guards Sheriff Hemlock sent into the pit to investigate never returned. That very night, we all heard something horrible down there: dogs howling - like no dogs I've heard before and bloodcurdling screams. The sheriff's roped off the sinkhole, and so far nothing's come up out of it, but those sounds are growing every night. Whatever's trapped in there wants out, and by the sounds of it, whatever it is isn't too keen on emerging friendly."
Sheriff Hemlock further explained that the strange and disturbing sounds that emanated from the sinkhole generally started an hour before midnight and persisted for several hours before they abated. The sounds consisted primarily of eerie dog-like howls that seem to echo a bit more than expected, but mixed in with these howls were periodic shrieks of a much more humanoid feel.
The three looked at the heroes with hope and expectation and a sincere hope that the heroes would immediately volunteer to explore the sinkhole and deal with whatever had awakened in its depths. To sweeten the pot Mayor Deverin came right out and asked them to and offered a reward of 2,000 GP if they can quiet the howls and screams - a relatively paltry sum for high-level characters, but a fortune for the town of Sandpoint. The heroes agreed to the deal, and then followed the town leaders to the sinkhole.
The sinkhole itself had stabilized at a width of 30 feet, reaching the diameter of the street and consuming a portion of the Garrison wall to the south - several basement jail cells hung open in the sloping southern wall of the sinkhole. The sinkhole was 15 feet deep, and access into the sinkhole was slightly easier from the garrison side, so the heroes cautiously clambered into the depths of the curious sinkhole.
Exploration of the tunnel accessed from the sinkhole's depths revealed a short flight of stairs down and a 5-foot wide passageway beyond. Several weeks previous the heroes had discovered the Catacombs of Wrath (link), but the stairs led down past a caved in area where the Catacombs resided. Thick webs clogged these stairs. Visible here and there through gaps in the unusually thick webbing were deep scratches along the walls and floors - this, along with the absence of any mold or mildew, suggested the stairway has recently been cleared. The stairs appeared to end at a dead end, but a successful (and difficult) Perception check of the western wall here revealed a secret door. The passageway beyond the door has collapsed, but a narrow tunnel has been cleared through into a room which lay beyond.
The first thing the heroes saw in this room was that the walls, floor, and even the arched ceiling of this place were covered with writing, the words spiraling and trailing in the ancient language of Thassilon. Some of the phrases were immense, with words nearly three feet high, while others were written in tiny, spidery script. The medium for the writing varied as well - sometimes dark ink, sometimes blood, sometimes carved into the stone itself. Passageways to the north and west lead into fog-filled tunnels, and a pair of stone doors, their faces carved with an immense image of a three-eyed jackal's head, stood to the south. Further to the west a mysterious red light glowed through the fog giving the ominous hint of a much larger room.
Reynard studied the scribbling’s on the walls and determined that they were prayers to Lamashtu, and given that the three eyed jackal depicted on the southern doors was the symbol of Lamashtu, the party members decided to exercise extreme caution as they started to move forward. The one odd thing Reynard noticed among the random scribbling’s was what appeared to be a stanza from a poem:
If Magic bright is your desire,
to old Runeforge you must retire!
For only there does wizards’ art
receive its due and proper start.
The party knew they were to learn more about the secrets of Runeforge and that Xaliasa, who Mokmurian had labeled “The Traitor” kept those secrets here. Just then a voice spoke to them from the fog to north. “Please be aware your magic will have no affect on me here. I only wish to know about the world above me. My name is Xaliasa. This is a solemn place of worship and I have been resurrected here to make it holy.”
And thus began a back and forth with both sides asking questions. Among the questions asked by the disembodied voice were:
"What happened to Thassilon?"
"What nation has replaced it?"
"Who rules the lands above today?"
"Where is the seat of their power?"
"What became of Runelord Karzoug and Runelord Alaznist?"
"Who wields powerful magic today?"
While Xaliasa was seemingly more interested in what was going on in the world above him, he was also quite willing to trade questions and answers with the party. It was a bit disconcerting to the party, but the voice would appear in one place, ask and answer several questions, and then disappear for several rounds, only to reappear at a different location.
When asked about the dog-like howling, the voice answered, “Those sounds are from my companions. Pray that no harm should befall me – I am protecting you from them.”
When asked about the soldiers that had come down several days ago he replied, “The soldiers that were sent down here previously chose to speak with their swords. Will you do likewise?”
When the party asked about runeforge, in an almost boasting fashion he declared, “Ah, you wish to know about Lord Karzoug and the runeforge. And I shall tell you. What can it hurt? You shall never enter there. You shall never learn its hidden secrets. You shall undoubtedly perish before you ever reach its hidden gates.”
“The runeforge was a place of great learning. The seven runelords created place a place for learning and exploration into their individual schools of magic. They themselves could not enter as to ensure the influence of their personal desires could taint its outcomes. It is likely that one of the runelords may have already entered runeforge and the inevitable has already begun.”
“But when the time is right I shall go there. I shall acquire the knowledge that is hidden there. I shall defeat the undying lords. My goddess shall rule this land and with me by her side her retribution will be fierce and eternal.”
When asked about the location of the runeforge Xaliasa grew coy. “The secrets of the location of runeforge are hidden all about you. It will take you years to piece together the puzzle, but I, and I alone, know the secret location. Its true location is not of this world, so you shall never be worthy to travel there.”
When asked about the earthquake that had unearthed this shrine to Lamashtu he replied, “The earthquake was but an omen of a coming time of troubles for the residents of this land. The runelords are not dead, although they may not yet be alive. The magic the runeforge produced in its day has enabled them to rest, someday to return. The magic the runeforge has produced in its day has also enabled a weapon to be built to defeat them.”
After several minutes of questioning back and forth the voice grew silent again, but this time did not return. Not knowing if their host had decided to leave them for good, the party decided to move on and stepped warily through the fog into the large room to the west.
Although portions of this cathedral had collapsed, leaving mounds of rubble on the floor and crumbling walls, the chamber retained its sense of menacing awe. Four black stone pillars support the arched roof forty feet above, and on the floor between them the image of a three-eyed jackal seemed to glower from striations in the stone itself. This image glowed with a soft rusty light that illuminated the entire room from below. Alcoves to the north and south contained statues of a jackal-headed pregnant woman. Each clutched a pair of kukris crossed over their chests and a reptilian tail wound down around their taloned feet.
This room too was covered with scribbles, and here to another stanza could be found:
On frozen mountain Xin awaits,
his regal voice the yawning gates
Keys turn twice in Sihedron –
occulted Runeforge waits within.
Of more immediate concern was the creature that appeared in front of them. At well over 18 feet tall and weighing three tons, the four armed behemoth was certainly an attention grabber. From beside the beast, as he fired a spell at the party, the owner of the formerly disembodied voice appeared, this time saying “The time for talk has come to an end, my sucklings!” There was little doubt Xaliasa, aka The Scribbler, had extracted the knowledge he wanted from the heroes and was determined to not let them take advantage of the secrets he had revealed.
The huge Glabrezu began to mumble a spell in an unfamiliar language, but Selinor quickly threw a coin with a Silence spell placed on it to hinder the monsters magical tactics. Enraged, the monster came forward, swinging all four arms and employing a vicious bite. The Scribbler, his spells cast, disappeared again, just as he had before, certainly confident his monster could take care of the intruders,
It was a tough battle. The demon appeared to have some inherent resistance to good-aligned creatures and diminished their many attacks. Reynard’s healing spells kept Stike and Kheo on the front lines and soon the huge breast crashed dead to the floor. It was at this time, from behind, that The Scribbler reappeared, this time with two Babau’s with him. As before The Scribbler cast his spells and did his damage and then disappeared, leaving the two Babau to finish his dirty business.
As before the party quickly regrouped their attack and began to fight back. Stike quickly found out that the acidic ichor that dripped from the demon’s was harmful to his weapon, and also like before the demons had some inherent level of resistance to good-aligned characters. The battle was fought intensely on both sides, but soon the two demons lay dead.
With The Scribbler still very much alive, and with the knowledge that whatever caused the noisy barking was still lurking ahead of them, the party decided to move ahead. As they moved into the room south of the cathedral they quickly saw that blood was this cavern's decor; swaths of it lay spattered on the wall, and pools had congealed and begun to rot on the ground. Bits of flesh lay scattered as well - whatever happened here, it ended poorly for many. Several party members had trouble leaving the room as they reached the intersection out of the room with the intention of moving on only to find themselves moving in a different direction.
Those that were able to leave the room followed the hallway to the east and found three once separate chambers had become one, joined by collapsed walls and the erosion of ages. Bloodstained fragments of chain shirts, shields, swords, and clothing lay strewn about this room haphazardly. The walls were decorated with countless scribbling’s written sloppily in blood. Reynard found yet another stanza written on the wall:
Each stone the grace of seven lords,
one part of key each ruler hoards;
If offered spells and proper prayer,
take seven keys and climb the stair
The Scribbler reappeared, again casting his spells, the baying of some extraplanar beasts echoing from behind him. It appeared that The Scribbler was going to use his usual tactic of drawing the ever wearying heroes into a fight and then disappear to allow his minions to do his killing for him. Just as several Hounds of Lamashtu rounded the corner Reynard hit The Scribbler with a Disintegrate spell (DM Note: I missed the save) and struck him dead (DM Note: he had several resistances, but he couldn’t overcome 97 points of damage). The party soon vanquished the hounds, and silence once again returned to the cavern.
Among the loot found on The Scribbler was: +1 Breastplate, Fanged Falchion, +1 Cold Iron Returning Dagger, Headband of Inspired Wisdom +2, and 750 GP in diamond dust.
Beyond this room the hallway curled back to the east, and then to the north. A small room appeared in front of the heroes, with the hallway appearing to extend further north. The walls, ceiling, and floor of this otherwise empty room were densely packed with writing, in many cases overlapping and tangled to near the point of illegibility. Four short lines stand out on the northern door, carved into the stone but otherwise alone on its face:
And now you’ve come and joined the forge
upon rare lore your mind can gorge –
When you slough the mortal way in Runeforge
long your work shall stay.
The hallway to the north led to a smaller room. The walls of this room were decorated with flowing script and runes. To the north slumped a bloody human body, its limbs apparently broken in a dozen places. A low table against the east wall was covered with vials of colored liquid, and sitting in an inkwell was a quill made from a peacock's feather. There were 17 vials of ink in all, each worth 8 GP, but the real treasure here was the Scribbler's most valued possession: a Revelation Quill.
With nothing more to investigate at this end of the cavern the heroes moved back to the antechamber from where they had originally entered the cavern. They investigated the passage that led north out of the antechamber and found a room with a low stone rim surrounded a shallow pool of water that seemed to glow with a soft radiance. The walls around the room were carved with large runes and the ceiling rose to a dome above the pool.
Through the doors to the south of the antechamber they found two small rooms. The first of these two appeared to be some sort of meditation chamber. It had small dunes of rubble and dust that lay on the floor of this room, disturbed as if by the passage of pacing feet. The walls and ceiling were densely crowded with scribbling’s and markings. An image of a three-eyed jackal glared from the wall to the east. From the scribblings on the wall another stanza could be found:
On Eastern shores of steaming mirror,
at end of day when dusk is nearer,
Where seven faces silent wait
encircled guards at Runeforge gate.
The second room appeared to be a meditation chamber as well, although this room had partially collapsed. Cracks radiated along the walls and ceiling here. An image of a three-eyed jackal glared from the eastern wall as one of the cracks ran right across its snout.
And we will pick it up there next time. What of these mysterious stanza’s? What secrets did The Scribbler reveal? What steps will be needed to determine where to go next? What about that body found in the back of the cavern?
For tonight’s effort the party earned 18,625 XP, giving them (400,000 + 18,625) 418,625 XP earned so far, with 445,000 XP required to reach Level 14 (Level 15: 635,000 XP).