Rivers Running, Deep and Dark...
The following day the PC's decide to spend money on gear, do research on the gold plate and level up to 2nd. It is determined that nothing about the gold plate they now possess rings any bells with any of the PC's, so they set out around town to look for someone who might know something. They begin at the local temple where Cloven shows the plate to the town priest, her mentor.
He recognizes the glyphs on the plate as an ancient language that was used by most locals inhabitants of the time. This, however, was many centuries ago and the inhabitants in question were the evil undead rulers of the land who were overthrown and destroyed by barbarian invaders. The PC's ask about this empire and are treated to only a short overview as the priest admits he doesn't really know much detail, only what he was required to learn in the seminary. Sitting back and thinking hard he relates that an empire led by some undead cult or other once ruled over the lands now known as Middlond, with a reputation of evil and extreme decadence. The barbarian horde coming out of the north and northeast, the nomadic descendents of which still roam there today, rose up and overthrew the empire in response to repeated incursions (not the mention the lure of gold and powerful magic said to litter the very streets of the cities) and practically razed every city in the entire land. Details aren't clear about this time but the fact is well established that the cities and towns of modern Middlond are all built on the bones of that old empire. In fact, the people of Middlond themselves are predominantly the direct descendants of the barbarians who settled the land.
Unfortunately the priest isn't able to translate the glyphs and assures the team that it isn't likely anyone else in the area could either. Probably the only experts who could would be found in the library of Suthgeard, barring some individual sage being found. After a moment of reflection the priest relates that such an old sage, wise and knowledgeable in many different things, is said to reside outside of Condeltun. But that isn't really any closer than the city itself.
Thanking him for his time the team then departs.
Looking over their current wealth the team decides stocking up on healing potions should be their first purchase and visit the local apothecary, purchasing healing potions well as a few impulse purchases of alchemist's fire and acid. Having spent most of their meager wealth they decide they're rounded out their gear as well as they can afford.
After serious consideration the team decides to travel downriver to Condeltun to seek the sage the priest spoke of. Barring that they'll still be fairly near Suthgeard and have the option of simply continuing on to the library there. Stopping by the docks before going their separate ways the team finds the average rate for passage on a keelboat downriver to be about three silver, easily affordable with their remaining wealth. As the boat docked there presently is already leaving for Condeltun tomorrow morning, Ashheart speaks with the captain and arranges for passage ahead of time.
The PC's go their separate ways to get their affairs in order and prepare for the journey.
The following morning they meet again at the docks, prepared for their voyage. As they wait for the crew of the keelboat to finish their own preparations they notice something of a disturbance occurring up the street. Ashheart runs off to see what's the matter.
At the small crowd gathering near the constable's office, Ashheart finds the constable in the process of trying to gather together a few volunteers. Apparently a couple of the folks from the salvage team the town sent to survey the kobold lair the previous evening have disappeared. After spending most of the night searching the place, the remaining surveyors happened upon a well hidden passageway leading deeper into the hill. At present none of the salvage team are willing to explore the dark tunnel in search of the missing men and the constable seems to be having a hard time finding volunteers to accompany him as well. Further, the two heroes who are credited for supposedly clearing the lair in the first place left town yesterday.
Already a bit frustrated the constable spies Ashheart, recognizing her as part of the team of locals that hired on to raid the lair. He quickly approaches her to determine her interest in revisiting the old ruin. After a bit of impromptu negotiation, she easily wrangles a even share of any booty for her and for any volunteers she can muster. Happy with her success she skips back to the docks to give the others the good news. After discussing the matter for a bit (and finding the keelboat captain unwilling to refund their passage fee) they finally decide to take the job.
With the constable eager to get the rescue operation underway (every wasted moment, after all, likely putting the missing men in greater peril) and the team already well equipped for adventure, they set off immediately for the kobold lair before the sun has even risen.
Arriving in short order the constable meets up with the remaining survey team who quickly usher them to the revolving panel set into the far western hallway of the complex. Pointing out the dropped torch and small splattering of dried blood to the constable, it is clear that at least one of the two missing surveyors met with foul play here. After advising the remaining survey team to vacate the complex until it can be pronounced safe again, the constable readies his gear and shoves open the revolving section of wall to lead the team within.
Down a very short, rough tunnel the team finds a simple hole in the floor hiding a rusty iron ladder leading straight down into darkness. Taking Ashheart's everburning torch and tossing it down the hole they can see it leads to a large chamber with a cut stone floor some thirty feet below. Taking the lead Bearwatcher scales quickly down the ladder (barely fitting in the cramped tunnel), with the others following behind.
The large chamber  they find is littered with small bits of trash but nothing readily identifiable or interesting. An iron grate is spotted laying flush in the middle of the floor as well as two pairs of stairs leading north and south from each of the room's four corners. Taking a look through the grating to the room below the team can barely make out some vague sign of movement. Taking a look himself the constable claims he can see fist-sized spiders scurrying around down there. After taking a quick look around and finding nothing of note, the team decides to proceed through the northern stairs on the right.
Down the short ten feet of stairs they come to a simple oak door. Bearwatcher and Ashheart both listen at the door but hear nothing. The door itself, though unlocked, proves difficult to push open and Bearwatcher steps forward to give it a good shove. Within they find a large room , similar in dimensions to the one they just left, dominated primarily by a huge stone table with six chairs, now rotted and collapsed. Off to the left they can spy another door, likely leading upstairs to the previous room and another stairway leading down near it. Four rotting wood beams support the roof and the entire room is covered from top to bottom with a thick layer of gossamer webbing.
Fearing the room may be the lair of some spider-ish creature, the team immediately draw weapons but are nevertheless caught somewhat off guard when a gigantic spider drops down directly on Bearwatcher's head.
As the spider's attempts to sink it's fangs into the goliath's thick skin are foiled, Ashheart reacts more quickly than anyone. Finding her field of fire blocked by annoyingly large humans and tieflings, she sends a Magic Missile flying over their heads to assure a solid strike.
Assuming the stinging blow came from the constable, who's more closely to hand than any other target, the spider immediately leaps to him, having much more luck in sinking it's fangs into something. Cloven already has her chain singing, though, and draws a harsh slash across the spider's flank even as it's perched on the constable's shoulder. Knocked awkwardly to the floor, Bearwatcher is able to cleave it nearly in two with one mighty blow.
As the spider curls and dies, the constable suddenly stumbles and grips his shoulder with one hand. It's readily apparent that he's been bitten. Before the team can respond to his injury, however, Cloven yells out and points to the stairway to the levels below. There a veritable swarm of fist-sized spiders is welling up from below, coming for them.
Again Ashheart reacts with alacrity and snatches a vial of alchemist's fire from her satchel. Tossing it underhand at the advancing swarm. She misses badly...landing the vial right at Cloven's feet. Fortunately for Cloven, Ashheart's Luck of Chaos comes to bear and the team (Cloven and Bearwatcher anyway) watch with surprise as the vial not only fails to shatter, but bounces into the air to burst directly upon the swarm. Now burning, but still advancing, Cloven is able to shatter the swarm with a single skillfully stroke across the floor before her.
The swarm disperses, still smoldering, from the viscous beating laid to them.
Searching the room the team finds nothing of interest other than a few scattered pieces of rotting vellum on the table. Interestingly, the writings on the sheets seems to utilize the same script as that on the gold plate they possess. Unfortunately, they soon give up on attempts to gather up the sheets for later study as they fall apart at the slightest touch. The door parallel to the one they entered does indeed prove to lead back up to the first room, however, leaving the stairs from which the spider swarm attacked the only remaining exit.
They proceed down the stairs which lead into a dark hallway  below. Just as Bearwatcher is about to continue forward Cloven spots a cleverly spun veil of webbing crossing the path before he can stumble into it. Deciding they've had quite enough of spiders already, Cloven retrieves a standard torch from her gear and soon has it lit. Using it to ignite the webbing in the hallway, the team retreats back up the stairs to wait for the area to burn out. In moments, however, the fire begins to spread to the mass of webbing in that room as well. Initial attempts to beat back the flames show that it may be possible to do so but will probably prove a bit dangerous, so the team retreats again up to the first room. In the process the entire team is choked up a good bit from the smoke and soot but manages to avoid any real injury.
By this time the party notices the constable is looking especially ill and they have forgotten he had been bitten prior to the swarm attack. While checking him over he insists he's fine but it's obvious he's merely trying to put on a brave face and is really quite weak. After a moment's deliberation the team insists on escorting him out of the lair and back to town.
Within hours the team arrives back in Tilwen and escorts the now visibly ill constable to the local apothecary to secure some manner of treatment. Fortunately the alchemist there has poison treatments readily available and the team spends the next couple of hours treating and watching over the constable.
During the course of this, Ashheart becomes bored and is soon distracted with examining the various potions and herbal components about the shop. Eventually the alchemist tires of chasing her away from this and that particularly fragile bit of herbalism and threatens to toss the lot of them out if they don't keep her in hand. Unwilling to fatigue the constable further by shuffling him hither and yon Cloven consoles the alchemist while Bearwatcher tosses Ashheart outside to go cause trouble elsewhere.
Once confident that the worst is over and the still very weak law officer will eventually recover, Bearwatcher helps him back to his office to rest while Cloven tracks down Ashheart, eventually finding her skipping stones down by the river. Proceeding back to the lair they arrive quite late at night, nearly twelve hours from whence they last departed.
Picking up where they left off the team makes their through the soot and ash to the hallway they originally set fire. There they find that Cloven's bit of pyromania may indeed have born fruit as two disturbingly large spiders lay curled up among the ashes. Realizing they are still alive but too horribly burned to fight the team makes short work of them. As they continue forward around the corner Cloven spots a small silver bracelet lying casually in the bend of the hall as if dropped by some passerby. Examining it and finding nothing unusual, she stows it away.
The hallway opens immediately into a large room  with several doors in all directions. Choked with ash and soot from the webs that burned here as well the team can see dozens of dead spiders similar in size and shape to those that swarmed them earlier. Looking up they spot the iron grate they spied when they first entered this section of the lair . After a moment's consideration the team decides to try the first door to their left and proceed from there.
Within the long room  beyond they find a bed, desk and small chest suggesting it once served as someone's living quarters. On the bed itself, however, they come upon something of a mystery. Lying there they find a very old and decayed corpse, hewn into six separate pieces. After a bit of examination Ashheart realizes that, though the scores in the dry-rotted bedding match those that sundered the man, there don't appear to be any bloodstains. After puzzling over this for a while and taking note that the state of the room suggests that it was ransacked in conjunction with the slaying long ago, the team eventually vacates the room.
Proceeding through the northern door they find another large room , again filled with webs and decorated with the various bones of men and animals. Across the room, hanging from the northern wall, the team can see two humanoid shaped bundles encased in webbing. Dozens of small spiders scurry about the webbings all throughout the room. The party is excited to notice slight shuddering and shaking can be seen from the two bundles.
Moving cautiously forward in case the spiders may prove a threat they set about uncovering the faces of the men hanging from the wall. To their surprise they find not the missing surveyors but two shriveled and rotted orc faces, clearly zombies. Spitting on the floor in disgust, Bearwatcher performs a coup de grace on both of them where they hang. Searching the room (and cautiously chasing spiders away from them in the process) they find nothing of interest. They do, however, find a large, dangly gold earring and an amethyst necklace on the two zombies, which they help themselves to.
Moving on to the next room  to the east the team enters and finds, to their surprise, a room practically devoid of spider webbing. Though there is some to be found in the corners and a couple of smaller spiders scurry about here and there, it's practically tidy by comparison. A bed, stripped to the bare bottom board and heaped with rags and old blankets, sits in the northeast corner. Three separate bunk beds line the walls but beyond being swept clean of most of the webbings that previously covered them they seem to have been left undisturbed. The team also spies a large wooden shield, bearing the emblem of a skull with spiders crawling from it's eye sockets, and a large stone spear resting in the nearby corner. Of most interest to the team, however, are the two long bones cast casually on the floor near the bed. Both are obviously fresh, still bearing raw bits of flesh upon them, and have been recently gnawed upon. From the size and shape it is very likely that they are humanoid, possibly even belonging to one of the missing surveyors.
After a thorough search of the room the team is frustrated to find nothing of interest nor any further clue to the whereabouts of the missing men. They exit and turn their attentions to the neighboring room. In the this room [9a] and the one opposite it [9b] they find only spider filled rooms, containing nothing but broken, rotted furnishings from which scores of large spiders skitter for cover.
Through the southern set of double doors the team is surprised to find someone actually alive down here. Kneeling on the floor of the large room  is a large half-orc, festooned with crude leather and bits of raw flesh. All around him runes are scrawled on the floor in dried blood and before him a large circle of runes lay, toward which he appears to be chanting. Thick layers of spider webs coat the walls all around the chamber. Before they can react the half-orc spies them and reaches beside him to snatch up a large club. With an evil grin from his blood-stained face he stands and steps menacingly forward.
Attempts to communicate with the half-orc are ignored as the hulking figure seems to be focused on examining Bearwatcher and licking his blood stained lips. Without warning the gory brute reaches to his bone-encrusted belt and produces a feather, which he tosses into the air before beginning a chant apparently directed at Bearwatcher. With a snap a black leather whip appears where the feather floated.
Immediately the whip snaps at Bearwatcher, leaving a thin welt and wrapping about his arm securely. As the half-orc concludes his chanting with a loud huff, a large serpent wiggles from hiding among the webs and launches for the goliath. Unable the attack with his arm engaged with the whip, he is helpless to deflect the advance of the serpent.
Cloven leaps forward quickly, avoiding range of the snake and lashes out at the half-orc...but her chain catches on something in the webs and she can't follow through. Ashheart springs forward as well to quickly bestow a Protection from Evil spell on Bearwatcher.
With a mighty wrench Bearwatcher breaks free of the whip while the half-orc gestures wildly about chanting again in his direction. The whip again attempts to ensnare him, failing but flaying his flesh while the snake about his feet joins in the fun by attempting to wrap about his feet. Bearwatcher manages to kick free before it can secure itself, fortunately. In the midst of this chaotic struggle a swarm of spiders like that which threatened earlier suddenly flows without warning from the webbed wall behind the goliath to skitter up his boots.
As the half-orc completes his dark chanting and burst of flame springs to life in the palm of his hand, Cloven finally snatches her chain free and swings wildly at the brute who seems to be the source of all Bearwatcher's ills. She misses badly and swings wide. Ashheart, meanwhile, shuffles back with a squeal from the swarm of spiders flowing up the goliath’s legs yet manages to keep her wits enough to sink a Magic Missile into the half-orc's hide.
Bearwatcher decides to reset his priorities and ignores both the whip and the spiders, focusing his wrath on the snake. With a mighty roar he swings...and misses, losing his grip on his blade and watching it clang to a rest beneath the serpent. Again the whip latches onto his arm, drawing blood, while the snake surges forward to wrap about his feet again, but both are quickly shaken off. As the half-orc turns to toss his flame at Cloven, striking and burning her, she ignores the attack and brings her singing chain around to strike hard at the floating, black whip. With a snap, the whip is sundered on the chain's sharp spikes and dispelled. Ashheart joins in, sinking a Magic Missile into the snake, wounding it only slightly.
Having had his fill of wrestling whips and snakes, Bearwatcher surges forward to shove the snake from off his blade with one leg. As it slides to a rest several feet away, Bearwatcher snatches up his sword. The half-orc turns his attention back to him, tossing another flame in his direction which the goliath easily dodges. Now literally teeming with spiders and suffering innumerable venomous bites, Bearwatcher nevertheless secures his grip on his sword and continues fighting. Cloven takes advantage of the half-orc's distraction to bring her chain about again and slash him soundly across the face, knocking him prone and unconscious. Ashheart again sends a Magic Missile singing into the snake's scaly hide.
With one might blow Bearwatcher decapitates the snake at his feet even as the half-orc draws his last breath. Cloven and Ashheart, seeing the goliath stagger from the unrelenting attack of the spider swarm, hurry to sweep about his feet to disperse it.
Finally overcome by the venomous stings he swoons and falls, still covered head to toe in spiders. As his two teammates continue desperately sweeping the horde of insect from him, more and more bites sink into his flesh. Finally, just before the goliath would succumb, they succeed in chasing away enough of the vermin that the rest are compelled to flee. Ashheart immediately snatches a healing potion from her satchel and forces it's contents down his throat. After several anxious moments they heave a sigh of relief as it becomes clear that he's stabilized.
Ashheart gives Bearwatcher two more potions to rouse him and heal the worst of his wounds and bites. He is unsteady on his feet still, though, and clearly badly poisoned. But with a shake of his head he appears eager to continue.
Once assured their teammate won't fall over on his own the team searches the large room, taking care to avoid spiders hiding in the webs. They find nothing of note on the strange half-orc but a chest along the eastern wall proves a literal treasure trove. Within they find a couple hundred silver coins and twice as much gold in a leather pouch, a couple of scrolls containing spells (which Ashheart quickly identifies as "Gust of wind" and "Neutralize poison"). She immediately snatches up the scroll to neutralize the spider venom that's turning Bearwatcher so many interesting shades of green. They also find a very expensive looking cloak wrapping the lot of it up and take it as well.
They find nothing else noteworthy while searching the room.
Once everyone has recovered and caught their breath, the team continues on through the southern doors. There they find another large chamber , supported by thick wooden beams, filled nearly to overflowing with various sized crates and woven baskets. All have long since collapsed from rot and the team can see a clear path has been forced through the rubble to a trapdoor in the corner floor. After listening and watching carefully for any sign of nasty surprises waiting in the trash, they move for the trapdoor and open it to peer within.
After spying nothing in the darkness below, Bearwatcher takes the everburning torch from Ashheart and proceeds below. Following him the team finds the chamber here  identical to the one above but filled rather with sand and bits of stone that seem to have leaked in over the centuries through huge cracks in the stone walls. The double doors to the north stand ajar revealing a stone wall blocking the hallway there. Near the wall lay two worn pickaxes which have clearly been used to dig a hole through the wall to the space beyond.
Approaching the wall and peering through the team finds that no less than three such walls stand parallel to one another, each having had a hole chipped through wide enough to accommodate a standard humanoid. Examination of the walls reveals that, while relatively smooth on the surface, they are rough and haphazard as if conjured into being rather than having been formed and shaped by hand.
Through the walls the team moves on to enter a vast cavern  down a short set of carved steps. Giving the group pause are the thousands of human skulls that decorate seemingly every available inch of the cavern walls, even extending from the roof of the cave where just as many skulls hang from thin, rusted chains.
Beyond an initial half ring of cave columns, likewise decorated with row upon row of human skulls lashed around them, lies a gaping pit ringed by three medium-sized carved onyx statues. The mouth of the pit is lined with skulls as well, though these are apparently carved from black marble. On the northeast side of the pit the mouth is left open where it connects to a worn channel in the stone floor leading up to the one clean surface in the entire place. Here embedded in the wall amongst the skulls hangs a large hemisphere of stone, similar in texture and form to the broken walls down the hallway. On it are line upon line of runes written in dried blood and similar to those upstairs where the half-orc fell. Toward the bottom of the stone hemisphere are signs that another pickaxe, lying nearby, was used to breach a hole in the stone seal. A steady trickle of thick black liquid now flows through the ragged hole and runs down the channel, drizzling into the pit in the center of the cavern.
In the northwest section of the cavern an unimaginably huge pile of bones have been piled, likely all or mostly human or humanoid. Interestingly, the statues surrounding the pit depict a bat-winged, cloven-hoofed and ram-horned demon clutching a skull-capped wand in different meaningless poses. The PC's immediately recognize it as the image of Orcus. In addition to the three statues of Orcus ringing the pit, three long and thick walls of solid onyx rise up within just a few inches of the twenty feet high ceiling. Each is carved with long strings of runes and images on either side that are difficult to make out.
Most shocking of all to the team is the alcove directly east of the pit. Here a low stone dais, again composed of onyx stone, rises up to support a black alter draped in fresh black velvet. On the altar rests what appears to be a savaged human corpse. A closer look at the remains reveals that the body seems to have been devoured, in many places clear to the bone, as it rested on the altar. Even the skull has been cracked open and the brain consumed.
Before the team can begin an exploration of the cavern in earnest they are startled by the three statues of Orcus...as they begin to chant in unison. Slowly the chanting becomes louder and louder, rising in pitch, until the PC's become nearly shaken with fright. As the huge pile of bones in the northwest corner of the cave suddenly begin to shift and crackle from the force of some powerful thing stirring deep within, they each fail their Will saves and flee in terror. Through the broken stone walls and into the cracked stone chamber beyond the PC's come to huddle against the far wall, too overwhelmed with fear to control themselves. From within the dark cave they've fled they can hear the pile of bones give way with a crash, followed by the long, slow shuffling sound of some unimaginable behemoth moving across the cave. Finally, a short series of deep thuds and sharp cracks that shake even the stones they cling to in fear.
In moments the unmistakable sound of the black liquid bursting free of the stone seal that held it in check whips into the room. From the roaring sound beyond and the waft of frigid air that flows over them it's clear the skull-encrusted cavern is flooding with the horrid substance. Far too quickly their suspicions are confirmed as a wave upon wave of the vile fluid crashes against the holes in the stone walls before them...crashes and overflows into the chamber where they stand.
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