The explorers mount up, joined by newfound Fighter buddy Jacob Hardknock and a pair of hirelings (McNieman and Amquipt). They set off into the wilds to find what they can find (and map the holy frack out of it).
It’s not a fast process. The group finds mostly empty grasslands tucked in between hills. Neither treasure, nor monsters, nor ruins can be found. Until…
After nine days of careful mapping, the group discovers signs of goblins, to include the decaying, beheaded, punctured body of a traveler. Though pilfered of most things of value, the body’s left boot does contain a map in a secret pocket. The map provides the group with the location of two points of interest — a series of passages called Atar’s Cave (in the general direction of the goblin tracks). Farther north, ancient dwarven mines.
The party sets out eastward, eventually locating a party of goblins who have hijacked and set fire to a pair of Gnomish miner wagons, killing off the owners and stealing everything of value. After tracking down and corralling four Gnomish draft horses, the party decides to follow the goblins to the caverns.
Following the stealthy Hoit’s lead, the party enters the caverns and heads into the darkness. Among their initial discoveries is an invisible chest left behind years ago. Later, they discover a shimmering pool containing luminous skimmer insects. Jacob’s superb recall (nature lore) reveals these creatures are dangerous, so the party bypasses them, heading deeper into the caves. Eventually, they hear the mutterings of a goblin party, which Hoit easily interprets. Seems the green “demonic” ones (as Hoit calls them), are waiting on “the Boss.”
Having the drop on their argumentative adversary, the party conducts a quick scouting mission for numbers, then concocts a one-man assault, making use of Morgan’s dark Enxian powers to slay the living. The Cleric rushes into the goblin room, conjures spiritual energy from the umbra, and immediately slays 8 of the 10 goblins. As the vile creatures drop to the floor, the remaining two throw down their arms and surrender.
Interrogation by half-goblin Hoit reveals the “demon goblins” are waiting to investigate “the pyramid,” which, as our group finds out, is a ziggurat built inside a huge cavern further up the passageway from where they are presently. They also discover that “the boss” will arrive in a day (or so they’re captured quarry tells them). Naturally, the party’s interest in the ziggurat is piqued, but before they investigate the object itself, they discover a metal door along the passageway to the zig chamber. A bit of trap finding and lock picking ensue, and the door is opened, revealing a small, octagonal chamber with shining, gold walls that have the consistency of glass but the hardness of steel. A dais, inscribed with arcane runes, sits in the center of the chamber. Phineas puzzles out the symbolism, discovering that this chamber must have been built by the “Nezzeks,” an ancient death cult similar to Morgan’s Enxian religion (but much darker, as they were active “soul harvesters”). The group also discovers that the dais is built on a seam, and can be pushed down if enough weight is placed on it.
Before long, a pair of party members is standing on the dais, and it depresses into the ground. Far away, the sound of stone-grating-on-stone is heard. Sure enough, a great door, some 20’ across, has opened in the ziggurat. The group has gained entrance!
The chamber beyond the great opening is over 100’ square, and features two lines of five columns supporting the roof on either side. A great circle, filled with arcane, Nezzekian symbols, is in the center of the floor. Statues flank the left and right walls, each of a robed woman wearing the ornaments of justice – a blindfold over the eyes, and a set of scales in the left hand. In the right hand, a jagged sword is held. At the far end of the chamber, a blank dais, flanked by a pair of inert braziers. Magical sconces flare to life, illuminating the scene.
At first, the chamber appears to be a dead end. The party soon discovers, though, that each column has in invisible hole in the center, extending into the column’s middle. Phineas reaches in one of them to discover a lever. Surmising that, perhaps levers need to be pulled simultaneously, he places his arm through a column and right, while Vorga reaches into one at left. Of course, right and left is relative, and, at one point, Hoit proposes that the statues flanking the hall indicate that one side (left=justice) might be better than the other (right=jagged sword). There’s no way of entirely knowing, though, so Phineas and Vorga each pull a lever.
Success! (?) The sound of stone grating on stone echoes throughout the chamber. Vorga has tripped some sort of secret mechanism.
Failure! (and OUCH). The hole closes around Phineas’ arm before he can pull it away, and begins crushing him to death.
As Morgan shouts, “Time for an Amputation!” Vorga quickly whips out her broad battle axe and cleaves into the stones surface. It is most likely a fruitless move, as the thing is made of stone. Yet, somehow, the barbarian manages it, sending chunks out of the pillar, freeing Phineas before he loses his arm, and most probably, his life. The losses are relatively minor – Phineas’ arm will need to heal, and Vorga’s axe is shattered with the blow. But everyone is alive and (somewhat) well.
Five flipped levers later (all in the LEFT columns), and a great staircase corkscrews down from the ceiling. The party warily makes its way up, leaving McNieman on watch.
The second level of the structure contains the tantalizing sight of 3 chests seated on raised platforms, spaced against the rear wall. A pair of Justice-Sword statues is between each. To the left and right, sarcophagi with obsidian lids that appear to be fused to the body. In the center of the room, on the floor, the ever-present Nezzekian circle, which seems to adorn all their structures. Naturally, the party suspects that something is up.
The chests present little problem to the party. Though each is trapped – failure to remove it causes the statues’ blades to spin around at decapitation level – Hoit is too small to be hit. The swords whiz right over his head. In short order, the chests are emptied of their contents – 3 scrolls, each linked to the other to explain an arcane ritual of some kind. Though Phineas is the most logical member to complete the ritual, his useless arm makes performing some of the movements difficult. He’ll have to train someone to perform the ritual. Vorga is selected. She stands in the center circle, spouts the gibberish of the
Nezzekian scroll, and adds in the movements with a flourish.
Too much flourish, as it turns out. A minor error in execution conjures a pair of wraiths from the sarcophagi. The party is caught flat-footed, as the creatures extend their icy tendrils toward Morgan and Phineas. The cleric manages to avoid the attack. The cartographer is not so lucky. Soon, a pitched battle ensues, between the ghost-like figures, who are semi-impervious to physical harm, and the stolid party, whose cleric has already expended his greater power against the goblins.
It does not go entirely well, at first. Hoit astutely realizes the power of holy water on the fiends, and tosses a vial on one, burning it with holy fire. This, of course, enrages the beast, and it takes the little rogue down with its sapping, necrotic poison touch. With both Phineas and Hoit down, the party’s hopes rest with the Enxian cleric, the Barbarian, and the two fighters, Jacob and Amquipt. Between the slashing blades of the warriors, and Morgan’s use of radiant magic, the wraiths are overcome. Hoit and Phineas are brought back to the world (though completely drained of health for the time). Again, the party has dodged a bullet.
The reward for their pains and struggles seems meager to them – a hidden cache containing a suit of enchanted Ring Mail, an ornate dagger, some silver, and thousands of copper, is found behind the chests. The party leaves the copper behind, takes everything else, then they beat feet back to the entrance, making sure to grab the permanently invisible chest on the way. They rapidly make their way back to the Keep, where they divvy up treasure and sell a couple of their Gnomish draft horses. It has been a successful journey, for the most part.
Unfortunately, they have little time to celebrate. In the two weeks they have been gone, the “rat problem” of the merchant’s quarter has returned. The second day they are in town recuperating, Keep Peekle approaches them, demanding to know why they did not take care of ALL the rats.