A week after the spate of ominous events, the city of Serenity was beginning to calm down. Fat Tiger had been assisting in the reconstruction of the town wall, Poly had resumed her routine of feeding her ‘pet’ mimic, and Raven Mourner slept late each morning. Thorial had spent some of the time gathering news, and this particular morning was no different.
Apparently the prior attacks from the gruesome nighttime creatures happened all throughout the city; the casualties were relatively light, as most people fled in terror from the horrible things. Luckily, all of the creatures were completely gone by the following morning. No new sinkholes had formed in the Northeast grazing fields, but the sinkholes that already had formed have not been filled in, making those roads and fields still quite dangerous.
As a final piece of news, Telnik Stoneaxe was finally recovering. This was further evidenced by the fact that Thorial received a note from the dwarf, requesting the group’s presence for another mission.
After Thorial rounded up the group, he, Fat Tiger, Poly and Raven Mourner went to visit Telnik. Upon arriving at the city councilman’s chambers, the group was greeted by a tall, beautiful woman with long dark hair. Expecting her smitten friend Juliot, Poly was surprised to learn that this woman was Telnik’s new assistant Isabella. The new assistant recognized the four, and escorted them to the melancholy dwarf immediately. Without waiting to hear the new assignment, Poly first inquired about the previous assistant Juliot. Unfortunately, the aspiring young healer was stricken with some sort of blinding sickness, and was in the care of the temple of Pelor. Sensing something amiss, the group changed the subject to the next mission.
Now that the herbalist was revealed as not only the thieves’ mysterious sponsor, but also as a disguised fiend, the party’s next assignment was to investigate the herbalist’s home. After the group inquired as to exactly what they were looking for, Telnik had an aside with Isabella before replying that something important was located beneath the herbalist’s home. With their new task at hand, the group left the city councilman’s chambers.
Before breaking into the herbalist’s home, the quartet decided to visit Juliot at the Temple of Pelor. They found him in the care of the temple clergy, who could not heal the strange blinding sickness. In an effort of goodwill, Fat Tiger and Thorial put their own healing skills to use, but to no avail. Juliot was glad to see Poly again (figuratively speaking), but was upset by the news that he had been replaced in the council chambers. Not wanting to further upset their charge, the clergy ushered the party out of the temple. With no other tasks at hand, the party moved on to their mission.
At the herbalist’s home, the group found the front door to be locked. After Fat Tiger failed to break down the door, Raven Mourner decided to avoid using his sword’s magical abilities and break down the door himself. Just inside was a darkened room filled with dried herbs, and another locked door that went further in. After breaking down that door and a third, the quartet found themselves in a walled garden behind the house.
At the rear of the yard was a large tree, but between the house and the tree were four large topiary bushes: one in the shape of a lion, and three in the shape of boars. Not surprisingly, the enchanted shrubs quickly moved to attack the intruders. Fat Tiger and Thorial destroyed one of the boar topiaries with repeated blows, while Raven charged another and dispatched it with a powerful follow-up blow. Poly used her boots of stomping to cause the third boar topiary to fall to the ground, and hit the massive lion shrub with a whelm spell. Thorial and Raven finished off the last boar shrub, while Poly continued weakening the lion creature with repeated whelm spells. Eventually, the lion’s branches were bent and twisted, incapacitating the topiary creature. Raven finished it off with a final blow.
After clearing off the remains of the plants, the group found a hidden passage amidst the roots of the large tree. Lighting a torch, the quartet followed a narrow stone staircase down into the darkness. After a sizeable descent, the stairs ended at a small underground chamber. Near the staircase was yet another locked door, but it was Poly that succeeded in breaking it down. The small room inside appeared to be a workshop, and the gnome found some rare herbs, enchanted baubles, and an enchanted staff for Fat Tiger. Back in the main chamber, three passages went further underground. Each passage had a word carved in the stone above the door: “Danger”, “Peril”, and “Dread”. Raven and Thorial heard the sounds of something making eating noises from the “Peril” and “Dread” passages, so the group ventured into the passage marked “Danger.”
After twisting and turning, the passage opened up into a small cave filled with large fungi. Three passages led out of the chamber (not counting the entrance passage), and the group chose the tunnel on the right. After that passage winded onward, it opened up to the darkened shore of a small underground lake before continuing on. Fat Tiger swam underwater a ways, only to find darkness, so the group continued down the passage. Eventually, this passage opened up into a “X”-shaped room filled with stalactites, stalagmites, and flowstone, with each leg of the “X” leading down a different tunnel. Towards the middle of the room, a decayed skeleton rested against a stalagmite. As Fat Tiger approached the skeleton, three large bipeds entered the chamber; each creature appeared to be entirely composed of animal teeth and sharp fangs.
Anticipating a difficult battle, Poly cast a haste spell on her allies, who immediately moved in to attack. After Fat Tiger struck the nearest fang-creature, Raven charged it and dealt a series of devastating blows, eventually reducing it to rubble. Fat Tiger joined Thorial in dispatching the second fang-creature; but when Thorial landed the killing blow, the creature exploded in a burst of sharp teeth, injuring both of them. The quartet then focused on the third creature, and dispatched it efficiently with their unearthly speed, before it exploded as well.
After tending their wounds, the group finally examined the aged skeleton in the room. Whoever it was had apparently used his last bit of strength to carve a message in the stone, “Go straight through danger….” Remembering that they had turned off of the straight path, the group backtracked to the cave filled with fungus, and took the passage directly in line from the entrance passage. Following this passage, the group soon heard the same eating noises again. The winding tunnel opened into a spherical room lined with crystals, and the crystals were being eaten by a trio of xorn. Fat Tiger immediately charged one of the creatures, and Poly hit another with a color spray spell, stunning it. Thorial and Fat Tiger finished off the incapacitated creature, while Raven Mourner dispatched another one with two successive blows. The third xorn fled the room, diving into the nearest stone surface to get away. Finished dealing with that threat, the group took the next passage straight ahead. Twisting and turning, the group went past the underground lake again, and eventually came upon the “X”-shaped chamber, but from a different entrance. Taking the passage directly ahead one final time, the quartet eventually reached a lit chamber ahead of them.
Although this chamber was composed of the same rock, it was very different. The roughly circular chamber was lit by a group of everburning flames, and the chamber entrance contained a stone wheel encircling the passage, fitted with handholds. The floors of the chamber were of smooth worked stone as opposed to natural cavern formations, as were some of the walls. Scattered around the room were large stone pillars, each a different geometric shape: flat, triangle, hexagon, and octagon stones were spaced around the room, with a square pillar in the very center. Inscribed in a circle in the stone floor was a cryptic message:
THE TOTAL IS MORE THAN THE HEAVIEST ROCK, AND THEIR WEIGHTS ARE EASY TO SEE – ONLY ONE COMBINATION CAN OPEN THE LOCK, TOO MVCH AND IN ERROR THOV BE – IF THE COUNTERWEIGHTS JAM, THOV BVT TVRNEST THE WHEEL, AND THE STONES SHALL RETVRN TO THEIR PLACE – BVT STAY HEARE TOO LONG IN THY PRIDE AND THY ZEAL, AND GRAET DANGER MAYEST THOV FACE -
Lastly, just within the inscribed text were apparent stone stairs, currently inset in the floor. On the chamber’s ceiling, an inset stone panel mirrored the outline of the floor panels. The party surmised that the geometric stones were counterweights that would raise the stairs when somehow released. Furthermore, they assumed that the weight of each stone was proportional to the number of sides, and that only the correct combination of weights would successfully raise the stairs. Looking closely at the geometric stones, each had a hand-shaped depression on its surface.
Without hesitating, Fat Tiger, Raven, and Poly put touched their hands to the triangle, square, and octagon pillars, respectively. The massive stones lowered into the floor, raising the stairs partway to the ceiling, but also revealing stone pedestals within. Each stone pedestal had a different animal skull carved onto its top, and each was set with brilliant gemstone eyes. Unexpectedly, the gemstone eyes on the exposed pedestals (each pair belonging to a vulture, ram, and lizard skull) flared with light, just before firing off spells and projectiles at the party.
Poly was immediately hit with metal darts from the stone lizard skull trap, as Fat Tiger and Raven resisted the spells from the vulture and ram skulls, respectively. Raven moved to release the six-sided stone, and in doing so heard the staircase jam in place. Thinking quickly, Thorial moved to the stone wheel in the hallway, just before the traps (now with a leering rat skull from within the hexagon-shaped stone) fired again. As Poly got hit with another dart, a massive wall of fire sprung into existence, apparently from the ram’s skull trap. While Raven and Poly moved away from the worst of the heat, Fat Tiger joined Thorial in turning the great stone wheel. Eventually, the exposed pedestals were covered once again, and the four waited in safe areas until the wall of fire dissipated. Now that the counterweight mechanism was fully reset, it was time to try again.
Before releasing another counterweight, Raven suggested combining the stones to total 10. After brooding over the inscription, the group decided that TWO combinations of counterweights could make 10, so the party continued deliberating. Soon, they determined that the flat slab (one sided), the triangle, square and the octagon stones yielded a sum that could not be duplicated. So each person moved into position, and pressed their hands on the stones. Unfortunately, the staircase rose only partway to the ceiling. Then, as before, the now-exposed traps flared to life and began targeting the four.
As Poly was adjacent to the flat slab, she was hit with in the eyes with a tar-like mass from the snake-shaped turret behind it. Thorial resisted an unknown spell from the ram’s skull trap, but Raven succumbed to a searing exposure spell from the vulture skull. Fat Tiger swiped away darts from the lizard skull trap, just in time for a salamander and three fire elementals were summoned into the room. As Raven charged into one of the elementals, Poly reached into her pack, splashed water on her face from her everful mug, and tried to disable the snake-shaped trap in one deft motion. While Fat Tiger and Thorial were busy defeating the other summoned creatures, Raven ran to the stone wheel and reset the mechanisms.
Ready for another attempt, the group chose to release the triangle, hexagon, and octagon counterweights. Even though Raven suggested the group wait and prepare more, Fat Tiger, Poly and Thorial moved to press their hands on the stones without hesitation. This time, the exposed trap turrets did start firing, and the stone staircase rose smoothly to meet the ceiling. The panel in the ceiling opened to accommodate, and then the mechanisms grew quiet. Relieved at their success, the party ascended the staircase.
The chamber above was cylindrical, and the staircase from below aligned with another spiral staircase that snaked around the inside face of the wall. Thick green vines covered the walls and stairs, and their leafy tendrils collected in the center of the shaft. Held aloft by the vines, suspended in the darkness, was yet another reddish-brown stone column. Like the previous one, there was a strange inscription on the top of the stone. After copying the faded inscription, the group descended out of the shaft, pried the gleaming gemstones from the skull-traps’ eyes, and made their way out of the underground maze.
Once back in daylight, the group informed Telnik of their findings, and began deciphering the inscription. This newest inscription seemed to match the previously discovered one, so the group was able to decipher a few more symbols. However, large portions of the message still appeared to be missing, so the group was only a little closer to decoding the full message. So Fat Tiger, Poly, Raven Mourner and Thorial rested for the day, awaiting their next mission.