Varthor has avoided death or capture at the hands of the rune-heroes. In a desperate move, the sorcerer seems to have escaped by feather-falling down the frigid chasm into the white dragon’s lair. His fate is uncertain.
Zaugrum is captured after the failure of his gambit to escape with part of the golem-secrets. The death-cleric is more than willing to tell the rune-heroes all they would know. In fact he is eager to insure the demise of his erstwhile ally, Varthor, in the unlikely event he escapes a frozen death and returns to the orc garrison in the hill above. Zaugrum’s steel breastplate and staff are returned after agreeing to help the rune-heroes as best he can.
Against Zaugrum’s warnings (he wants nothing to do with investigating non-essential parts of the ruins), the party investigates kitchens and larders beyond the southwest door after resting for the night. Even Mavriy and Xar are feeling well enough to participate. Zaugrum warns of magically animated furniture. Finch, Krag and Mavriy identify the smashed remains of cast-iron stove, distorted into strange shapes as if it moved of it’s own accord. Finch is surprised by the thundering notes of a heavy trencher table galloping across the room. The warlock is slammed against the wall with the wind knocked out of him. While Finch crawls from under thrashing hardwood legs, Krag and Mavriy dismantle the ancient trencher. Mavriy is knocked across the room before Krag is able to smash the thing to quivering splinters with his magic warhammer.
During the brief fight, Zaugrum attempts to hang back from the fighting. He appears to be unused to hand-to-hand melee. Leelo and Xar try to force him into the kitchens where the table gallops back and forth. In desperation Zaugrum magically holds Leelo, thinking to escape these insane adventurers while they are distracted. Xar tackles the cleric, slamming him to the floor and breaking his concentration. Leelo and Xar again strip Zaugrum of armor and staff, then bind him securely.
The large kitchens contain only rusted pots, crockery and broken furniture (never looted for firewood). In the expansive larders are desiccated remains of ancient foodstuffs in sufficient quantity for a hundred or more residents. Judging by the remains, this place was abandoned centuries past, well after the end of the age of ice. Perhaps the gnomes who took refuge in this high place never realized the fimbulwinter ended, even long after Mulcarn was banished by the Amurites. Until returning orcs finally rediscovered the valley and tunneled in from below.
After a short rest and healing courtesy of Krag and a somewhat-surly Zaugrum, the party breaks into the small secret portal in a water-closet within the apartments adjacent to the library and drafting room. Zaugrum is left bound and gagged in a closet with Xar on guard. Previously, Mesmer used magic to read crumbling documents found in the library. Those taking refuge here were led by the gnome lord Dur-ge’tin and powerful archmage Arun-da’til. Finch checks the rubbings he made from the iron golem/statue and finds these names are included there as well. Two of the open and empty tombs were also chiseled with the names of this gnome lord and archmage. Apparently the leaders of the enclave never found their intended resting place.
A pair of secret adits are discovered in the narrow tunnel beyond. Leelo finds the south door opens to a natural cave with flagstone-floor, giving access to a rusted bronze chain ladder dropping into the depths of the chasm. The cave and ladder are not visible from waterfall at the east end of the golem-works. The elf closes the door against a blast of frigid air.
The north door opens to a large chamber of finished stonework with a large well or cistern opening in the center. The skeletons of orcs and gnomes lie about the floor. Except for a few broken weapons and split shields, everything was looted hundreds of years ago, presumably by victorious orcs. As the bodies were left where they fell, it seems the orcs abandoned the gnome halls soon after.
Just to the right of the secret portal is a door inscribed with a very old pentagram in gold ink. Mesmer determines the door was magically warded long ago to prevent the escape of some other-worldly entity. Finch tries to reach out with his awakened mind and is successful in contacting another entity trapped beyond the seal. The voice identities itself as Idalla, ‘angel of the host’, trapped here for ages by the mage who summoned her.
Just as Leelo ventures forth to cautiously explore a hall leading west, a wave of cold washes over those within the chamber. A skeleton levitates into the air, still prostate, then half a minute later drops to the floor in a clatter of bones. What restless spirit lurks these halls?
A silvery twilight illuminates the dark chamber outside the study. Leelo witnesses a ghostly apparition emerge from the adjacent wall. A hollow moaning fills the room, “I will defend my murdered lord and family until the end of time…the debt incurred by my cowardice will be repaid!” Leelo, Krag and Finch attempt with some success to converse with the ghost. All suspect this is the ghost of Arun-da’til. It seems he fled during the orc assault, returning only to find his kinfolk dead. After that he kept a lonely vigil, slowly losing his mind. Eventually he died, but his tortured spirit could not depart the mountain.
Krag knows the closure of the Well of Souls by Ceridwen and Tebryn Arbandi prevents any souls from escaping the ethereal purgatory between creation and the vaults of the gods, even if Arun could be freed of his curse and laid to rest. Nevertheless, Leelo and Krag manage to convince the restless spirit they are here on a quest ordained by the king of the present-day Luchuirp empire. Arun-da’til agrees to let the rune heroes pass on the condition they depart the ruins immediately. The spectral form of the ancient mage fades away. This is not happy news for adventurers intent on looting! Despite the warning, Leelo, Mavriy and Mesmer begin investigating various adjacent rooms. All are empty save for a few skeletons. It appears everything was looted centuries ago, even furniture for firewood.
Finch abruptly breaks the golden seal and opens the door to reveal a study lined with books and scrolls. A dim light illuminates the chamber. At mention of scrolls and books, Mesmer overcomes his fear and peeks inside. He and Finch see a pale-skinned angel looking up from many open books and scrolls spread out across a table: “Thank you for breaking the seal. I have read the entire library of Arun-da’Til many times over.” The angel strides toward the door in haste.
Meanwhile, Krag is watching from the secret passage. He hears a rasp behind and turns to see a wet and freezing Varthor attempting to sneak past. Krag gives chase with a roar. The desperate Varthor casts spells, first a green ray embalming Krag with poisonous energy, then a second causing multiple images of the sorcerer to float before Krag’s eyes.
Just then, the ghost of Arun-da’til appears over the dark cistern, this time warped and bloated with rage. “You have freed the she-demon! My curse falls upon you with full force!” Leelo and Marviy feel the cold embrace of Arun-da’til. Mesmer is frozen in horror at the secret door. His face ages before the eyes of Finch. Streaks of silver appear in his long black locks. Leelo strikes with her silvered rapiers but they have little effect. Mesmer gibbers a spell of freezing cold, but this has no effect on the ghost.
A horrible scream fills the hall as Idalla transforms into a terrible demon. It rushes past Finch into the chamber where Arun is intent on leeching life from Leelo. The ghost and succubus both disappear from the realm of the living. The echoes of wails and screams reach the chamber for a moment longer, finally fading.
Krag has chased the sorcerer into the water closet. Xar hears the commotion and runs to block the door, leaving Varthor trapped with Krag. Even after a freezing sleepless night above the chasm, Varthor proves difficult to take down. He must have climbed back up via the bronze ladder and crouched in the freezing cave all night. Finally he surrenders to be bound and gagged, then tossed into the closet with Zaugrum.
Most of the day is spent searching the mostly-empty halls
- 1. In a looted armory, Krag’s greed gets the better of him. The half-orc is surprised by an ancient automaton constructed long ago by the gnomes. Truly an amazing artifact of steel, brass and myriad interlocking parts, animated by some elemental force summoned from far realms. Unfortunately the machine must be pummeled to bits, though even the assorted gears, springs, spindles, pulleys and camshafts probably have substantial value to the gnomes of today.
- 2. Mesmer is surprised by a half-dozen gnome skeletons animated by Arun-da’Til long ago, but escapes by a hairs-breadth using his spells of shield and misty-step. The skeletons are blocked in and left to rattle around in the bunk-room.
- 3. An untouched chamber is discovered with floor covered by a great 25-foot rug woven with gnome symbols. Mesmer determines the run is magic. Carefully avoiding the rug, Mesmer loots a goodly amount of silver and a pair of gems from a heavy chest beneath a small pallet next to a writing desk: the only other furnishings. Krag tries to burn the rug, but the burning oil only makes a single black spot. Varthor and Zaugrum are carried from their prison. Krag and Mavriy then throw the hog-tied sorcerer out into the center of the carpet as Zaugrum looks on with obvious satisfaction. The magical rug wraps the sorcerer like a sausage in a skin. A minute later the struggles finally cease. The rug relaxes to reveal the broken body of Varthor, eyes and tongue bulging from his head. No one wants to venture out onto the rug to retrieve his corpse, so this becomes Varthor’s resting place.
- 4. While listening at various doors, Finch sometimes hears very faint wails, hisses and howls. Nothing is found beyond most of the doors in the ruins. The sounds of a ghost and succubus grappling in the ether close by?
- 5. The two wells are found to open into large cisterns. Light from Zaugrum’s ever-burning torches reveal the cisterns are filled with the bones of scores of skeletons, both gnome and orc. Even those dying of thirst might think twice about drinking from these cursed wells.
- 6. Leelo finds secret doors leading to a chapel. Two piles of large bones sit in the far corners. Atop the altar is laid the skeleton of a gnome in rusty full-plate armor with a broken battleaxe upon his breast. The gnome lord Dur-ge’tin?
Before the party can investigate the chapel in more detail, a silvery light shines behind Mavriy. She makes the mistake of turning to look into the hideous countenance of Arun-da’til, now reduced to a barely recognizable blot of malice and rage. The half-demon sentinel of Esus drops to her knees as the decades fly past. Now a horned hag with prune face and frightful wig of iron gray crouches upon the slimy flagstones next to the cistern. The aged Mavriy attemps a wild swing with her heavy pole arm. The weapon flies from her grasp to clatter against the flagstones. Mavriy stumbles away blinded by terror and crushed with age.
Mesmer, Leelo and Finch use all the magic at their disposal to finally destroy the spirit-form of Arun-da’til. The unbound demon Idalla watches from the ethereal border. Seeing Arun finally destroyed, the fiend reappears over the cistern and commands the rune-heroes to drop their weapons and surrender. In a final extreme effort using all their remaining magic, the party manages to force the shrieking fiend to retreat back into the spirit-realm. This is bad news, as Idalla is now unbound and can travel between the material and spirit-realms at will. Will it choose to stalk the rune heroes? Hopefully Idalla is not owed any services by other fiends. If so, it may be able to call on their aid.
Speaking of demons, who now resides in the crystal prison of Nightcaller? The unnamed shadow-demon originally bound in the whistle, or the succubus Azariel? The rune-heroes seem to be collecting an assortment of fiendish acquaintances.
The still-bound Zaugrum confirms that the help of a powerful cleric will be needed to restore the lost youth of Mesmer and Mavriy, and this must be accomplished by sunset of the next day (around 30 hours from now). Zaugrum urges the party to return to Sheaim with the next mercenary supply train that should arrive at the valley in the next 1-2 weeks: ”Commit yourselves now to the Ashen Veil, become catechumens in the legion of Agares. I see now that you are great heroes destined to bring about the renewal of creation. Join with us and your friends will be returned their stolen decades. We will all share in wealth and honors from Os-Gabella and the Emperor!"
Leelo still possesses the feather given her by the Ljosalfar Archmage Thessa. The feather can summon a mighty roc from the holy mountains above Evermore. Such a giant of the godswar could transport the rune-heroes anywhere they wish. The mountain base-camp is only 30 miles distant, castle Larchspur only 60 miles. Presumably High Runekeeper Tor Kra’hom waits there for the party’s successful return. Undoubtedly this mighty cleric of Kilmorph could banish any curse or wound, perhaps even death itself. Ithralia and King Gyr lie perhaps 120 miles to the south. A good deal of time remains before the final curse of Arun-Da’til becomes permanent.