After an almost four month recess, the players gathered around the table to explore the depths of Stonehell Dungeon once again, but first there was some old business to attend to.
Aieglos and Anwar had completed their training and were looking to occupy the time until the rest of the party returned from their trip upriver to destroy the last vestiges of the Hobgoblin armies. Having been gone just over a week, their absence was not yet cause for alarm. However, Templeton Naz, the proprietor of the Mad Manor was beginning to hint rather strongly that someone needed to take care of the putrefying corpse of Rondo Fleagle that remained in the boarding house’s cold storage space. As the party had sworn to return the dead dwarf to his former home of Dro-baan Khaz, Aieglos and Anwar arranged to join a caravan heading towards the heart of the dwarven kingdom. After three days of travel and a few minor encounters (boulder-hurling apes in the mountain passes and a giant gar that ate one of the caravan’s mounts as they crossed a river), the duo arrived in the subterranean mountain city of Dro-baan Khaz.
Upon their arrival, they sought assistance in what to do with Rondo’s body and were put into contact with one of the dwarven heralds to ascertain what Vein the slain mercenary belonged to. That’s when difficulties arose. Fleagle is not a dwarven name and there was no record of lineage existing for him. It was only when the coffin was open and the herald glimpsed the rotting face within that the reality of the situation became apparent. A look of shock burst upon the herald’s face and Aieglos and Anwar found themselves ushered into an out of the way chamber while a great commotion occurred outside. Several hours passed and there was still no sign of the clamor dying down. Finally, the two were sent for and a quartet of dour-faced dwarven soldiers escorted them out of the room and deep into the inner halls of the dwarven city. As they traveled, they noticed the same sad faces and black mourning bands strapped across shields. It was only when they found themselves escorted before King Tobben of the Underhalls that they learned the truth of what had occurred.
“Rondo Fleagle” was actually Randle Flowstone, the king’s second son. Years ago, an argument between the two led to Randle being declared a “mortdwerg” which effectively made him dead in the eyes of his father. Randle left the city, assumed another name, and sought to prove to his stubborn father that the surface races were worthy of the trust of the dwarves and that without dealings with them, the dwarves of the Kinan-M’Nath would continue to stagnate and die. Randle was a well-liked prince and his ostracism was a great travesty to most of the residents of the city. With his body returned and now no hope of reconciliation with his father, the entire city of Dro-baan Khaz was in mourning.
Once appraised of the situation, Anwar and Aieglos had a quick pow-wow and produced the resurrection ruby they had claimed weeks ago. Informing the king of its power, the duo summoned the great dwarven clerics and proceeded to place the gem upon Randle’s dead chest. Moments later, the magic of the gem came to life, the stone shattered, and Randle Flowstone was once again amongst the living.
Rejoicing at the return of their prince, the two found themselves honored guests of Dro-baan Khaz and feted for several days. They had earned a place of respect amongst the dwarves and were welcome to return at any time. Randle announced he would remain with his people to try and open their eyes as to what their role in the future of the Kinan-M’Nath would be and to reacquaint himself with his position and with his father. As a gesture of thanks for returning his son to a stubborn old king, the two were gifted the Ring of the Hastanes, a magical ring entrusted to the dwarves when the Hastane line vanished 500 years ago. Its powers were unknown since no wizards existed amongst the dwarves, but clerical magic had determined that it bore a powerful magical aura. Taking the ring, the two returned to Blackpool to see if their comrades had returned from their mission upriver.
Back in Blackpool, they were dismayed to learn their friends were overdue. Reports from the Warden Rangers confirmed that the hobgoblin and goblin forces had been routed and were slinking back to their caves. Kaldar had returned and told of the rest of the party entering a crumbling monastery on the western bank of the river while he kept watch on a prisoner outside. When two days had passed and the river boat, the Otter, was due back at Fort Wolf’s Head, Kaldar returned to the river and caught the ship back to Blackpool to report. Anwar and Aieglos decided that if no word was heard in the next week, a rescue mission would be arranged and they would head upriver to discover what happened to their allies.
In the meantime, their coffers would need replenishing and they turned their sights back on Stonehell. With many of their numbers training or missing, the two decided to recruit some fresh members and hire on more mercenaries. Two new candidates for membership were found in the Mad Manor: a dwarf named Helgsvar Dragonsbane and a human cleric with the unlikely name of Chuck of Amencia. With stalwarts Dirk Sodbuster and Rolf Sheepminder once again on the payroll, the group headed back to Stonehell intent on exploring the southeastern portion of the uppermost level. It was not to be.
Entering the dungeon without incident, they unrolled their map and ventured off towards the route that would take them around the pit trap that had annoyed them for so many weeks. Almost immediately they discovered that changes had occurred to the dungeon in their absence. The “voice room”—the chamber where a ghostly voice and a rush of wind calls out strange portents—had acquired a short flight of stairs that ended in a pillar of fire. The flames seemed real, cooking rations thrown into it, and leaving the party uncertain as to what this mysterious new addition meant. Deciding to leave it alone for the time being, they headed to the west, passing the fountain room and the catacombs that lead to the skull shrine.
Arriving in a room where they once battled centipedes, they discovered a door in the west wall where none had stood before. Also, the southern corridor out of the chamber had acquired a mysterious western turn. Deciding against venturing into new territory before they got their bearings, the band headed north.
The corridor headed straight as far as even infravision could see, but at least two doors and a side passage were visible along its length. Venturing down it, the party bypassed the side corridor (but noticed a door on its north wall), and pressed on towards where Helgsvar’s infravision had detected a series of niches in the wall just past a door on the eastern wall. Helgsvar forged ahead to investigate the cavities, and after finding them empty, called the rest of the party forward.
As they did so, a secret passage opened in the eastern wall and three of Stonehell’s berserk deviants poured at to attack the party. Two charged poor Dirk and Rolf while the third advanced on Chuck. Simultaneously, another seven emerged from the door in the side passage to attack the party from the rear. Chuck and his pet dog were slain moments after the ambush began, but Rolf and Dirk held their ground long enough for Aieglos’ arrows and Anwar’s sleep spell to cripple the berserkers and allow the party to carry the day.
The threat neutralized, they party entered the secret chamber to the east and found a guard room and pantry. Several fresh humanoid corpses hung from the ceiling, and one was found to be extremely fresh—still alive! They cut down the meal-to-be and met Felix Fartouch, a human archer that had been destined for the stewpot until the adventurers came along. They welcomed Felix to their ranks and scooped up a dozen copper trinkets they discovered under a pile of cleaned skulls.
Deciding that south might prove better than the north did, the party stopped to see what the room the rest of the berserkers had emerged from contained and found it to be a general quarters. A chest inside the room contained several hundred silver coins, but also a needle trap that Helgsvar barely avoided.
Back in the southern chamber, they entered the mysterious new door to discover a room filled with empty old barrels. Helgsvar entered and began pounding on barrels, stirring up a quartet of centipedes as he did so. He fled from the room, but Anwar smelled treasure and the party cautiously reentered some minutes later. They searched the room, defeated the centipedes, and Aieglos’ elven eyes discovered a loose flagstone that held three ruined leather sacks holding one hundred gold coins apiece! A mighty haul, indeed.
Feeling better about the changes to the dungeon, the party took the southern passage and found it almost immediately debouched into a bare room. Only a layer of purple powder covered the floor, and this was highly suspect. Sure enough, Helgsvar prodded the dust with a 10’ pole and it erupted into a gaseous cloud that he barely avoided. Poison was the likeliest result from breathing it. Anwar decided to try and burn the dust with torches, but his attempts to throw them around the bend in the corridor produced laughable results. The party was just about to attempt to wet the powder down when Aieglos noticed a glow coming down the hall from the fountain room.
A wandering fire beetle was out scavenging for food and with memories of the carnage the beasts had caused them in the Quiet Halls, the party wasted no time in attacking. Unfortunately, their assault did little to penetrate the carapace of the beetle and it was soon upon them. Helgsvar took a grievous wound and Rolf and Dirk exhibited great battle acumen before the beetle was finally slain.
The party decided that enough was enough and they’d go back across the damned pit again to get south. When they reached the corridor on the far side of the pit, however, they discovered that the corridor no longer ran south. Frustrated, they speculated that the catacombs and skull shrine might now contain a southern route, but headed to the Wheel of Fortune first. The door to the Wheel room was unusually stubborn, and when Helgsvar yanked hard on the door, a pit opened beneath them, dropping Felix and Helgsvar (Aieglos played an avoid taps card to escape the pit) into a 10’ shaft. Injured, but not slain, the party recovered their own and took a wine break.
With their wounds bandaged and their spirits restored, the party returned to the catacombs and stood before the massive stone double doors…and found them locked. Suddenly recalling that they had picked the lock the last time they explored this section of the dungeon, Anwar produced a magical scroll. Reading it aloud, the words ignited a blue fire that limned the portals. With a groan, they swung open and the party entered cautiously. All the crypt doors along the corridor were closed, so the band moved swiftly to the door at the far end that would lead them to the skull chapel. Passing through, they found the shrine empty and left Rolf and Dirk to watch the doors as they began searching for secret egresses.
Their hard work discovered a secret panel in the eastern wall, but it unfortunately did not lead deeper into the dungeon and instead concealed a small cavity that held old clerical robes and a large coffer. The party hemmed and hawed over the coffer until Felix lost his patience and opened the container with a flick of the wrist—and promptly died from the poison needle that protected it. The rest of the party found several thousand silver, some small pieces of jewelry, and two potions.
As they began to pack the treasure, a light appeared behind them and they turned to meet a human dressed in leather armor. Introducing himself as Gustaf Bickers, he claimed to be a “procurement specialist” that had been planning on breaking into these catacombs for weeks, only to find them open after he bought a skeleton key from a shifty character to bypass the lock. The party apologized and offered him a position with them since they now had an opening. Gustaf accepted.
Still unable to head south, the band decided to check every crypt along the entrance to see if a new door had appeared in them or if they held a secret portal they had missed. One by one, the party threw open the doors to find many of the crypts empty. One held four skeletons that the party quickly dispatched, finding a potion of flying for their troubles; another held a swarm of giant rats that almost overwhelmed the party. In the end, the rats were slain and a scroll of magic missiles was found in their nest, but not before poor Gustav was bitten and contracted the Sumatran Flu. Taking this as an omen, the party left Stonehell to return another day.