Monster rats bolt from open doorways to leap at Leelo, who receives many nasty bites before she can get away. Leelo swings wildly then drops back as Keelo takes her place and casts a wave of thunder, blasting the huge rats back up the passage and killing several. Keelo is in turn bitten several times.
Meanwhile Krag is lost in supplication and unaware of the chaos around him. A vision appears before him: a dark angel with mighty pinions, tusks and blood-red eyes. The being drives a huge black greatsword through Krag’s chest. The half-orc war-priest screams with ecstasy as a rush of new power flows through him. Ignoring the shouts and thunder of nearby combat, Krag again presents his (un)holy symbol to the cold stone portal. The massive slab swings out into a frigid space lit by a tiny flickering candle atop a solid onyx altar. A crystal flask and small crystal object flank the candle. Five stone sarcophagi carved with images of tall nobles in archaic robes and armor line the walls to left and right.
Mesmer, Finch and Ulfmar shoulder the exultant Krag out of the way and peer into the room. Mesmer is the first to be overcome by greed. He rushes into the room to grab the ever-burning candle and small crystal object, which turns out to be a tiny whistle, then sprints back out. Finch passes Mesmer on his way in and grabs the crystal flask. The sarcophagi grind open. Animated skeletons in rotting robes with greened bronze short swords step forth as Finch dashes out with eyes bulging in terror.
Krag finally returns to reality. He steps forward to pacify the skeletons with newfound authority. They begin to ignore the interlopers and shamble around aimlessly. Ulfmar strides forward, thinking his companions will follow to help strike down the skeletons all at once. The dwarf attempts to climb up onto the black altar to get a height advantage on the skeletons, but trips and falls flat on his back. His friends are nowhere insight, and the stone door is swinging closed! Krag puts his burly shoulder to the stone and exerts all his strength, holding it open just long enough for Ulfmar to scramble through. The portal slams shut with a resounding boom of stone on stone. Krag never thought he’d be saving the life of a dwarf, but these are strange times.
Mavriy casts a spear up the hallway, misses her target and slices open Keelo’s thigh. It’s going to be a long day for Keelo. Together they finish off the last giant rats. Krag seals up Keelo’s leg wound and heals Leelo’s bites. Hopefully there is no disease.
In the small trash-filled cells the party finds a few handfuls of scattered coins. Beyond the cells is a large room with another dry fountain and diving dragon sculpture. Ulfmar tries to determine the origin of the stone work but can only tell it must be ‘really old’. Two trapdoors are spiked open at the entrance and before a closed door on the left. The pits are empty. Clearly someone came this way in recent weeks.
A foul reek of corruption emanates from the door. The party dispatches more giant rats in the filth-encrusted chamber beyond, which is also a dead end. Keelo manages to befriend a bloated, diseased ‘mother-rat’ that is bigger than Lodermulch. Among the rotting carcasses and garbage is a bloated rat-chewed body with much equipment still intact. Finch identifies the dead half-elf as ‘Karakas’, the Elohim ranger from the Drunken Mermaid tavern in Nininsnal. Several hundred coins are retrieved from the refuse. What became of ‘Sir Pelor’ and the Hucrele siblings?
Mesmer finds Patrian characters for ‘Let there by death’ inside the fountain and hightails it out of the area. He whispers the phrase to Leelo, who climbs atop the fountain and inspects the stone dragon mouth but finds nothing…no traces of dried liquid or any mechanism similar to the other dragon sculpture. The avaricious elf unwisely speaks the command phrase, thinking to get first dibs on a magic potion from the dragon’s mouth. A metallic clang is followed by a long hiss. Everyone in the room is slightly poisoned, except for Mesmer and Loder who stayed well away. Fortunately the death-gas has become weak with the passing of centuries.
The party blocks the doors to the original entry room and takes a short rest. A few hours later Finch and Lodermulch lead the way. Finch discovers a door trapped to ring a bell when opened. Loder disarms the trap and appropriates the bell, packing it with cloth to make sure it doesn’t ring at an inopportune moment. Beyond is a dim hall filled with bronze caltrops. The red gleam of coals from a charcoal fire illuminate the space.
Finch spots a couple of goblin archers lounging on the other side of a crude masonry wall obviously built by the goblins. The warlock quietly whispers a charm spell and uses his awakened mind to command the nearest goblin over to the door. The second goblin makes an annoyed sound and finally shouts at his oddly behaving friend, then disappears around a corner. Finch hurriedly interrogates the goblin. It seems the ‘Durbuluk’ tribe has been taken over by a hobgoblin chief named ‘Durnn’ and a handful of his cronies. Durnn is getting paid by some weird human that lives in caves below ‘goblin-town’. The interview is cut short when four goblin archers appear at the low wall and kill their charmed comrade with a volley of black arrows, then quickly retreat back out of sight. Mesmer sends his crow-familiar hopping ahead and finds the guard-post is abandoned. With the rest of the party watching through the door, Loder creeps forward and clears a path through the scattered caltrops.
Past the next door is a hall opening to what looks like a goblin target-practice range. Finch and Loder peek around the corner to see a large number of goblins crouching behind another low wall with arrows nocked. A pair of their hobgoblin masters stand behind cover. Finch jerks back as they loose a volley. A stalemate ensues for the next half-hour. Finally the rune-heroes come up with a plan.
Mavriy and Mesmer cooperate to produce a terrifying spectacle that will hopefully send goblins and hobgoblins running. Mesmer creates the illusion of a huge imaginary demon down the hallway. Mavriy uses tricks she learned in Despero to shout Infernal speech in a huge booming voice and cause the ground to tremble. As Mesmer manipulates the illusory demon to stride out toward the goblins, Mavriy adds sounds of roaring flame and cloven hooves. Shouts of panic can be heard. Finch speaks into goblin minds to urge revolt. Sure enough, the goblins have fled the room, but their hobgoblin masters remain unconvinced. Mesmer, Finch, Ulfmar, Krag and Mavriy charge forward through the fading demon to quickly dispatch the two hobgoblins.
Meanwhile back in the first guardroom, Leelo, Lodermulch and Keelo see a goblin appear in the doorway to the caltrop-hall. Somehow the goblins managed to find a way behind the party! Three goblins race through the door in quick succession along the path where caltrops were cleared. The first is dropped by Leelo with an arrow to the chest. The 2nd takes Loder’s dagger in the eye. The 3rd is hit by a blowgun needle from Keelo but resists the sleep poison. The goblin attempts to stab Leelo, but his bronze short sword goes flying when it strikes the masonry barrier. Keelo’s giant mother-rat begins to feed on dying goblins.
A burly hobgoblin guard and huge chieftain in bronze splint mail charge through the door. They are backed up by a goblin shamaness behind the doorway. The little crone strikes Keelo with a black bolt of necromantic energy. He is thrown back against the wall. The charging hobgoblin sees his chance and stabs Keelo in the side with a spear. The druid slides to the floor unconscious. Leelo quickly slays the disarmed goblin at the guard-wall.
Finch and Mavriy spot a goblin tentatively peeking into the target-practice chamber. Finch chases the shrieking humanoid into a hallway and cuts him down, then keeps watch for more. Three closed doors give access to the hall, but no more goblins appear.
Krag, Mavriy, Ulfmar and Mesmer arrive from the target range. Krag, Mavriy and Mesmer triple-team the hobgoblin guard and take him down quickly. Ulfmar and Leelo save Keelo, who was bleeding out from the spear wound. The gesticulating goblin shamaness casts a bane or hex on Lodermulch and Leelo. Leelo ignores the magic, vaults the guard-wall and parkours past the hobgoblin chief. She loses her footing on the bloody caltrop-strewn floor and slides into the jabbering shamaness dagger-point first. The goblin drops to the floor with a leg spurting blood. Leelo bounces to her feet and cuts apart a twig-blight that was lurking near the doorway.
The hobgoblin chieftain is now surrounded and alone. Mesmer attempts to put him to sleep, but the chieftain is too tough for such minor magic. ‘Durnn’ of the Durbuluk tribe lowers his weapon and approaches Krag to parley. The party learns that the hobgoblins and their captive goblin-tribe are providing muscle for an eerie human named ‘Belak’ who performs mysterious rituals in caverns beneath the ruins. Durnn helps Belak sell some kind of magical fruit to the bandit-chieftain Syzimondo, a name first heard during the intrigues at Nininsnal. The fruit comes from an evil ‘Gulthias Tree’ nurtured by Belak.
Durnn gives the party much information, but hopes to look strong in front of his tribe, which still number around 40. Durnn is wearing armor Finch recognizes as belonging to ‘Sir Pelor of Braford’. The chief admits to capturing three of the invaders. He became annoyed with Sir Pelor and killed him, but delivered Talgen and Sharwyn to Belak in exchange for coins. Why the crazy human wants them he doesn’t know. When asked about the dragon Calcryx, Durnn tells the party it went out of control a few days ago and has made a nearby trophy hall into it’s lair.
Krag is growing angry and has no love for hobgoblins. Durnn sees which way the wind is blowing. With a roar he tries to cleave Krag’s head with a battleaxe. The huge hobgoblin is put down before he can claim any lives. Mavriy claims the absurdly heavy bronze splint mail.
Leelo saves the goblin shamaness ‘Grenl’ who was only wounded. Grenl hated the hobgoblins and was preparing to stab Durnn in the back just before Leelo got to her. Grenl agrees to lead the party through the ruins, but is terrified of the wyrmling, which has mauled six of her people in the last week.