Wherein the heroes rest for a few days in town and enter a haunted Dwarven ruin in search of mushrooms.
The next day, Meander goes to check on the armor. He is anxious to go into the mountains to find the mushrooms, but the armor isn’t ready yet. It will be at least another day.
While the group waits, Broken goes off to work on the wagon, while the rest of the group tries to gather information about the mountains. They go to the temple of the Inheritor to visit with Temper. It has been several days since the group left him in the care of Lady Songbird. Since that time, many more people are sick in the care of the priestess. Seven people have died, mostly elderly and children.
Temper is not in a condition to speak with the group, however, Frog spends some time chanting and casting his healing magic. Temper is much revived. The group questions Temper about the mountains and the raids on the Kobolds.
SplitTail was an ambitious Kobold who led the raids against the town ten years ago. Temper was one of the men who led the fight against the Kobolds. He slew SplitTail’s son in hand to hand combat during the battle. After the Kobold’s retreat, the men followed them to the mountains. The mountains are riddled with caves, supposedly built by the Dwarves. The Kobolds went much deeper into the caves than the warriors were willing to delve. They purged each cave up to the Crags, a huge crack in the earth. They returned at that point as it grew too dangerous to continue.
They never went very deep into the caves. They also did not search far into the Crucible. The Crucible is rumored to be haunted Dwarven ruins. There is a road from the Crucible, down the mountain, to the town.
He doesn’t know where the mushrooms might grow, but he tells the group to ask ShadesCough. He lives by the graveyard as the gravekeeper and might know something about them. The graveyard is north of the town, close to the river.
The group bids him good day and heads north outside of town. The cemetery is fairly large, odd for such a small town. Adjacent is a little shack made of marble, with smoke coming from the chimney. The group approaches and knocks, waits, and knocks again. As they almost give up hope and barge in, they hear a gravelly voice call out to them from inside. They are greeted by a young man, ShadesCough’s son, who after a few questions goes to get his father.
ShadesCough is a stick thin old man, wearing simple clothes. He professes to know nothing about the mountains. The group tells him about the cure, and asks him about the mushrooms. He says if the mushrooms have special properties, then he might be able to find them in one of his books. He offers to look and closes the door.
The group waits for awhile. ShadesCough finally comes back with a gigantic tome. There is elaborate scroll work on the thickly bound covers and the inked pages are intricately illustrated. He shows the group a picture of Iron Cap mushrooms, or otherwise known as Dwarfs Cap. They have a metallic sheen. They grow near metal deposits. They are commonly found in Dwarven ruins.
He spoke briefly about what he does know about the mountains. The Crucible is rumored to be Dwarven ruins, populated by monsters and haunted. Prospectors have tried to find ore in the mountains, but have found no deposits in the caves worth the risks. Most likely the Dwarves found all the ore worth finding and moved on hundreds of years ago.
As a parting comment, before going back inside, he tells the group, “I’m only doing this because you are trying to help the town. People dying just means more work for me.”
The group goes back to the town and to the inn. Frog decides he wants to examine the shrunken head more closely. He already learned before that the head was magical, and contained a spirit within. After taking time to rest and study his rituals, he attempts to speak with spirit. He can tell that the spirit is tightly bound, and it is not a friendly binding. The spirit is chained in place and is not struggling. Investigating the bindings, the spirit appears to still have some control over the head, but he is uncertain what the spirit could do with the tiny shrunken head.
To investigate further, Frog performs the ritual to enter the spirit world. The spirit is extremely caged. It can sense Frog’s presence in the spirit world, and begins to struggle against the bonds slightly, but it can’t interact. He can tell that the spirit does not want to be caged. The magic that binds it is ironclad. The spirit will be bound until the head turns to dust. Frog allows his spirit to slip back into the bounds of his body.
The group goes to check on Broken. He is busy working on the wagon. He is writing runes, hammering stuff into the surface and infusing metals around the wagon. He has a fire going, taking strips of copper and zinc, melting and pouring them into lines using metal forms. He takes the lines and attaches them to the surface of the wagon in an intricate pattern of lines and shapes.
Heading back to town, the group stop for lunch at the Sitting Duck. Being nearest to the gates, the inn is the roughest in town. The inn has several groups of toughs eating and drinking in the common room. During their meal, two red robed guys enter the bar. Meander visibly blanches upon their entry. They split up, one going to a group of mercenaries at the bar, the other approaching the groups table. The man’s rust robes were trimmed in blue embroidery in the shape of waves.
He introduces himself as a devotee of the elements and asks the group if they’ve had any trouble with the disease. Frog and Red talk to him. Meander stays frozen and quiet as a mouse.
He and his fellows are offering cures to the disease in their tent set up near the northern lumber camp. The innkeeper questions the cures, but the man claims they aren’t responsible for people re-catching the disease once they came back to the filth in the town. He is a devotee of water, and professes the great power of water to both cleanse and destroy. If the group is interested in salvation, they should visit the robes at the tent. After the robed pair leave, the group turns on Meander. He tells them about escaping from the robes a few months back.
He explained that they did something to him, and that he barely escaped with his life. After he ran away, he discovered that he could run very fast, but the process was incredibly painful. When asked if he could do anything else, he admitted to being able to see in the dark as well. They pressed him for more details and he told the group the story about the red robes.
Meander leaves the table and goes to talk to the innkeeper about the red robes.
Those guys have been having big missionary services. The first couple started showing up three weeks ago. However, since the disease started, they really started showing up. The two kids they healed came back well enough. However, they started getting sick again the next day. Doesn’t seem like any cure to me.
There are half a dozen, maybe a dozen red robes out at the tent. They are north of town on the lumber road near Greed’s camp. Greed doesn’t seem to much care for them either. He sent PayDay to deal with them. They must be either pretty scary or paid him off good. Ol PayDay doesn’t scare too easily. The only one in town who could is Baleson. That is why he’s Sheriff after all. Smashed in PayDay’s face with an axe and was Sheriff the next day.
When Meander asked about the armed guards in town, the innkeeper had more to tell.
Those are the Owls, and stay away from em. They come from the Arch, deep in the woods. The Arch are Dwarf ruins too, but you can only get in if you get invited. However, those guards won’t let anyone near them. They’ll skewer you if you get close. They probably were sent from the Arch to make watch over the disease.
They aren’t bad though. The town will be safer for it. One of them could take on 20 men. It was before my time, but I hear they helped when the kobolds invaded ten years ago. There was all kinds of strange things about em. They’re probably magicked too. I heard a story about a group of five of them charging the kobolds at the line. Right before they clashed, they just disappeared. Then someone was heard tearing them kobolds a new one from behind. The kobolds were crushed in the middle as the town folk charged in.
The group is anxious to go, as people are dying from the Black Scour Taint. Meander goes back to talk to the skinner and check on the armor. The armor is not done yet, but should be ready in the morning. Instead of buying some temporary armor and making a late start for the Crucible, the group decides to wait until morning. They find a table at the Sitting Duck for the evening.
Throughout the evening, they overhead bits of rumor, news and gossip. The wolves have gone killer. They have been attacking caravans, even though there is plenty of game. This is quite unnatural behavior. Also, the kobolds have been riled up. There have been other sightings besides the attack on Temper. Also, people are thrilled by the news of the death of Grung Knifetongue. One guy at the bar comes over and buys us a round of beer, albeit the cheapest.
The next morning, the group gets ready to go. Broken goes to ready the horseless wagon. Red is geared up for adventuring. He is wearing smoky black leather armor that doesn’t make a sound when he moves. He holds a three foot rod made of stone covered with runes. Meander heads to the skinner. Meander picks up his armor, a masterfully worked suit of dragon scales. Meander talks with the skinner about a kit for repairs, but the skinner recommends just coming back. However, he will put together a kit for minor repairs that can be picked up later.
Broken, Meander, Frog, Red and ToughBark gather at the wagon and ride out north of town towards the Crucible. They follow along the river until the ferry. The ferry costs a silver each, which they take to cross the river. From the river, the road heads up into the mountains.
As the path rises up into the mountains, the path is clearer. At some point, the group notices this is an ancient cobblestone road covered in grass and weeds. However, the higher they go, the less dirt and grass cover the cobbles. After a few hours of traveling in the mountains, they come across a giant stone post with glyphs carved into it. Broken tells the group this is a signpost. The language is an ancient form of the star language from some of his studies. If this was meant for people, it is at least 1000 years old. He isn’t completely sure of the translation, but he believes it says, “To the Crucible”.
Soon afterwards we approach some ruins. The path widens close to the ruins, with weeds and wild thorn plants growing rampant up to the ruins. It appears to have been a stone keep, built half into the mountain. The mountain rises to the left of the path with a giant building emerging from it. A single tower rises above the building to the right.
In front of the ruins are statues covered in plants and ivy. They are worn down by wind and weather to be almost featureless, however they resemble the shapes of men and bears. In town, the group had heard rumors that the Crucible was a temple, and they worshipped a bear god, because of the bear statues. Broken and Meander hide the wagon outside the Crucible off the path in the brush.
As the group approaches closer, they see two statues in front of a giant gateway, the doors on the ground broken. The two statues are of brawny looking, fully armored knights wielding strange axes. They are wider and sturdier than they are tall. Perhaps they a giant sized statues of dwarf shaped creatures.
Through the gateway appears to be a courtyard, with rubble of the right side, which appeared to have been a second tower. There are no other entrances to the keep or the tower from this side.
The construction of the keep looks incredibly solid for being so ancient. The walls look very difficult to climb. The stones are regular shaped and very well cut and mortared, with cracks thinner than a nail.
The group arranges themselves with Red, Stone and Meander in the front, followed by Broken and Frog, with ToughBark taking the tail end. As the group approaches the courtyard, through the gateway they can see that it is open to the sky. The doors lay rotting between the doorway and the statues. The wall behind the left statue is crumbling.
This close to the statues, the armor on the knights is fully articulated plate of an advanced design. Red tells the group that the statues definitely look Dwarven.
Entering the courtyard, tall grasses have all but overtaken the yard. To the right, on the east side, the wall has collapsed into a giant mound of rocks. The fallen tower is adjacent to the rubble and might be passable over the rubble. A single door is straight across the courtyard and a small door leads into the standing tower. A pair of doors stand partially open on the west wall. Just to the left of the entryway is a pile of rotting wood. This appears to be the remains of the stables. In the northeast corner of the courtyard is a well. There are paths through the courtyard that remain clear of grass. It appears the ruins have received visitors regular enough to keep the paths clear.
Broken tells the Stone Man to wait in the courtyard until called. ToughBark indicates with a nod to Broken that he is remaining in the courtyard also. Broken amends his instructions to Stone Man, including a provision if ToughBark starts to get in trouble, help him also. ToughBark keeps watch on the other doorways as the group investigates the tower.
Meander pulls of the door a few times, but it seems firmly wedged shut. Broken calls over Stone Man, who jerks the door open. Afterwards Stone Man takes his watchful place back in the center of the courtyard.
Meander peers inside. Thick webs are draped through the tower. Barrels and crates line the walls. On the west side is a rickety set of stairs leading to an open trap door above. The group begins to moves inside the tower.
Meander walks over to check out a barrel. The group watches in horror as a giant spider drops down on him from the webs above. The spider is enormous, easily the size of a man. Meander is taken by surprise as gigantic mandibles suddenly scrape across his chest, but the new scale armor holds.
Frog lashes out with spiritual energy, causing the spider some pain. Broken calls out to the Stone Man, rushes up to the spider and lunges with his rapier, but misses the quick beast. Red steps to the bottom of the stairs and smites the spider in the legs with his rod. The spider is left reeling, but still manages to spin and bite Red’s throat.
Frog lashes at the spider again, causing more pain. Meander finally reacts, takes his spear and stabs the spider in the thorax. Broken lunges again, but the spider dodges again. Red readies his stout rod again and slams the spider, causing it to collapse in a heap.
The spider starts to lift itself up again. Frog tries to spirit lash the spider, but is unable to channel the energy. Meander stabs it again with the spear and it collapses again. The group pummels the spider into goo.
The group looks through the crates. One of the crates holds a heavy stout short sword wrapped carefully in an oil cloth. Nothing else of note is found.
Broken casts a spell to animate the stairs to help climb. The stairs begin to come loose and the boards start shaking. The group proceeds up the stairs. As the ancient wood breaks, more stairs swoop down to help take the place. The webs and vines in the tower also start to move, gasping people and pulling them along. Meander climbs through the trap door onto the slate roof to get a better view.
While Meander is up top, Red starts feeling weak. Frog examines him, determining that the spider injected some venom during the attack. After a few minutes, Frog says the poison has already done it’s damage and it won’t get worse, but Red is too weak to wield his weapon.
On top of the tower, Meander tries to find safe footing. The slates covering the roof are loose and might slide. Across the courtyard, he sees the ruined tower. The building between the tower and the courtyard also collapsed, revealing a hallway, ending in a statue. Also visible is a cave in to the west, in the main building. He carefully navigates back inside and the group climbs down the stairs.
The group goes back to search the courtyard. No one finds any mushrooms. Frog searches the area around the ruined stables. He finds some strange bones lying in the stable, but little else. After studying the bones, he feels they were probably from a small horse or a pony.
Red finds some tracks in the dirt. ToughBark looks them over and identifies them as wolf tracks.
Meander spots a dead body of an explorer by the well. Frog looks at the explorer, and determines from the decay that he has been dead for about a year. Parts of him have been gnawed on by animals. He was left unsearched.
The well has a ten foot length of rope attached to it. Meander peers for a long time into the well staring into the pitch blackness. He eventually manages to see down to the bottom. Bright shining water with scum floating on the surface. The side of the well has rocks pocking out the sides at regular intervals, most likely so the well can be climbed.
Broken searches the large pile of rocks to no avail.
The group decides to move on through the double doors to the west. Stone Man walks over to the door to the left and opens it wide. The building is dark inside. Broken readies a torch. Red decides to hang back, as he is still feeling very weak.
The doors opens into a small dark hallway. A narrow path winds through the debris. There are two doors in the hallway. Both look ancient, but incredibly stout, with metal bands reinforcing them.
The group enters the hallway. The hallway crosses another hallway just past the doors on either side, and then opens into a larger chamber.
Meander activates his dark sight, and then quietly walks up to the chamber to get a better view. The chamber is fairly large, with some sort of altar on the far side. Pews of dark wood lay tipped on the floor. The large ceremonial altar is defaced, dented and scratched. It appears to be a gigantic slab of metal. Dirt is caked upon it. Meander proceeds to the far side of the altar. As he gets closer, he can see five regular depressions, little geometric shapes, on top of the altar.
Everyone enters the altar room. The whole room goes black as night, even for Meander. Something flutters over his head. Frog feels something small, warm and leathery grab his face and wrap around his head, trying to suffocate him. He struggles against the thing, but it holds on tight.
Meander crouches down and waves his arms about, ready to grab the thing out of the air. Broken can still feel the warmth of the fire from the torch. He attempts to animate the fire to attack, but fails the spell.
Red does something mysterious, while ToughBark backs out of the altar room. Stone Man stands ready between the fallen pews. Meander feels something fly past him again. He doesn’t hear it, but jumps out, grabbing the small creature and smashes it against the metal altar.
Frog is quickly being suffocated. He tries to scream, but it comes out muffled. He can’t cast any of his rituals without speaking. He starts to freak out and tries to smacks himself in the head, but misses the small creature.
Meander bashes the creature against the altar again. Broken moves over to where he thinks Frog is located, but he isn’t there anymore. However, it sounds like he is close.
Red moves over to Frog and attempts to punch him in the face. He smashes the small creature, leaving Frog relatively unharmed. Frog attempts to hurt the creature again. It screams and squeals in horror as he swallows the creature.
Meander puts all his strength and more into this last smash. The creature crunches against the altar, and the darkness disappears. The small creature was bat-like, small and leathery, but its wings were large and could wrap completely around someone’s head. Meander lets the creature fall limp to the floor, as a giant snake stands where Frog once stood.
Broken backs away from the snake. Red gets ready to pound the snake, but sees the edge of a wing sticking out of the snake’s mouth. The Stone Man whirls on the snake, readying to decapitate it. The snake quickly slitters over to the other creature and eats it. Meander points his spear at the snake and waits.
Everyone is waiting on the snake. ToughBark comes in with an arrow nocked and questions the group. Everyone watches in horror as the snake starts to writhe.The abdomen starts to expand. Two tendrils burst out of its ribs. The snake slowly transforms back to a naked Frog. His clothes lay back where he originally transformed. Once back to Frog, he goes to get dressed.
Red brushes off his hands, and giant rocky crusts fall to the floor. Also, as the sound goes away, the group realizes that a deep resonating rumble was coming from Red. Frog takes some time after the fight to heal the damage Red took from the spider. He also doctors the wound better, helping him recover some of his lost strength. While Frog is doctoring Red, the others search the room. The creatures nest he discovered hidden in the rafters.