Grenl gives the rune-warriors a grand tour of ‘goblin-town’. She’ll soon find a new push-over goblin chieftain she can control from behind the scenes. In the meantime, the grotesque little shamaness uses her new liberators as muscle to reassert authority over the tribe. Grenl is overawed by Finch’s strange connection to otherworldly powers and soon agrees to serve him as a henchmen in exchange for magical secrets in the future. She helps the party avoid a number of traps and break into Durnn’s poison-trapped treasure chest.
The druid was sorely wounded and will require days of rest and recuperation before he’s again able to move and fight with competence. Mavriy will stay behind to watch over Keelo. After food and a night’s sleep everyone else is ready to continue exploring.
The adventurers find a goblin prison holding three emaciated kobolds hanging from manacles. Grenl ‘forgot’ to include this location on the ‘grand tour’ yesterday. A broken chain trails from a bronze rod driven into the stone floor, formerly attached to Calcryx, who escaped a few days ago and rampaged among the Durbuluk tribe before being corralled in the trophy room. In the corner a gnome is crammed into a tiny bronze cage. The party doesn’t immediately free the gnome, interrogating him first. The prisoner turns out to be an escaped Sheaim slave. ‘Tir-na’don’ goes by the nickname Erki to non-Luchuirp. He was carted away to a future of servitude along with thousands of others after the conquest of the Luchuirp city of Tia-na’dom by the Sheaim a decade past. The war continues to this day despite various short-lived truces and cease-fires. The Luchuirp empire has not fared well. The Sheaim now control the mighty Dragonfang fortress overlooking Luchuirp lands east of the Dragonspires.
Erki worked 8 years as an engineer in the Sheaim slave-legions. Finally he and five others saw their chance. They escaped from their road-crew working the High Road between Nininsnal and Kuldevind. The fugitives were unaware that home was over 900 miles distant on the other side of the Sheaim empire. Not two days later, all six were captured by the Durbuluk tribe. All but Erki ended up in goblin cookfires. The goblins still hold Erki in the far-fetched hope of a ransom sometimes paid for escaped high-caste slaves. Erki pleads that he is an acolyte of Kilmorph and can help the party survive. For now the desperate gnome is left in his cage. The feeble cries of the kobolds are ignored.
Though Grenl is terrified by the trapped dragon Calcryx, she agrees to the adventurer’s plan to bust in to the trophy room and kill or capture the beast. Two goblins directed by Grenl wait nearby with chains ready. Finch unbars the heavy door and peeks into the dark space beyond. Ancient furniture, pots, vases, trophies and other brick-a-brak are piled up toward the back of the room. A broken bronze chain lies nearby. The black dragon wyrmling peeks out from behind an overturned table. Calcryx has grown on his diet of goblins, kobolds and other corpses, and is now almost the size of a horse. The wyrmling also appears to be molting. Its scaly hide is a blotchy pattern of black, purple and gray.
Finch tries to communicate using his secret voice, but the barely-articulate dragonling only hisses and demands food in response. Finch begins to whisper a spell of hideous laughter. The dragon knows enough to recognize magic, probably from seeing Yusdrayl and Grenl cast spells, and charges the door. Finch is faster and Calcryx stumbles, rolls over and begins heaving and trembling. A staccato series of choking roars burst from the dragon’s fanged mouth. A dragon incapacitated by gales of laughter, perhaps a sight never to be witnessed again!
Warriors flood into the trophy-hall. Finch and the goblins begin to throw chains over the thrashing dragon. Leelo, Ulfmar, Krag and Mesmer pound on the writhing monster with the flat of their weapons. Before the dragon can be fully subdued it recovers and launches a random blast of acid from it’s snapping maw. Leelo suffers only light burns as she deftly tumbles away. Finally Calcryx is beaten into submission.
The victors take possession of the few paltry valuables instinctively scraped together by Calcryx. Among the meager loot is a yellowed bone scroll case inscribed with Luchuirp (gnome) characters. Inside is a decayed scroll written in Luchuirp. A barely legible map depicts a location somewhere high in the northern arm of the Dragonspire mountains. Mesmer remembers Erki and returns to free the gnome. Erki experiences a glimmer of hope that he might one day make it back to his distant homeland. He agrees to translate the Luchuirp scroll if he is allowed to accompany the party on their travels. The scroll chronicles an expedition to a long-lost Luchuirp fortress and golem-foundry thought destroyed during the Age of Ice. The expedition turned back with losses after repeated attacks by mountain ogres and orcs in the high passes. The ancient Luchuirp empire during the Age of Magic created mighty golems of all types. Much of this knowledge is lost to the gnomes of today, who can manufacture only simpler golems from primitive materials such as wood or clay. Erki says there are sages in the Luchuirp capitol of Ithralia who will likely be able to glean more information from the tattered scroll…
The party quickly drags and coaxes the hissing, spitting wyrmling back to the Kobold halls. Yusdrayl is thrilled to have ‘her’ dragon back. Meepo is reprieved from his pending exile. The witch-doctor/prophet rewards the party with a number of artifacts her people recovered from the ruins. Among them is a heavy mithril ‘dragon key’ which Yusdrayl says opens a vault or treasure room at the other end of the ruins, a place she fears to tread as it seems holy to the long-gone dragon-cultists who built this place.
The party immediately heads to the other end of the ruins to explore mysterious chambers south of their original entry point. The dragon-cultists may be long gone, but their magic still lingers. A dragon-carved stone door accepts the mithril key and opens to a series of rooms and halls still in quite good condition despite the passage of centuries.
When Finch disturbs a glowing blue sphere of crystal, dark chanting music fills the nearby chambers. Mesmer is overcome by the ancient magic latent in the music. The rest of the party follows the ‘mesmerized’ wizard in hopes he will reveal some secret location, but Mesmer regains his senses when he reaches the nearby ruined entry-tower. The glowing sphere dims when taken outside the sealed areas. The intact sphere and three other broken examples are taken as loot.
Lodermulch finds a trap in the next corridor, a wide pit or pressure plate. Unfortunately the trap is triggered before it can be disarmed. A swarm of darts fly from scores of holes on the opposite wall, striking the halfling multiple times. The ancient poison coating the darts has lots it’s efficacy and Loder survives. The party skirts around the trigger-plate to reach the far door.
Beyond the trapped corridor is a wide and long hall. Against all reason, the white and blue marble masonry is in near-perfect condition. In the curved nave at one end stands a large dragon sculpture of blue and red marble almost eight feet high. The sculpture has only dark gaps for eyes. Mesmer boosts Loder up to inspect the eye-sockets. Clearly these once held large faceted gemstones, but there is no evidence of damage from prying tools. The entire chamber is searched top to bottom, but no secret doors, buttons, levers or traps are found. A detect magic spell reveals an aura of illusion magic on the dragon statue, but Mesmer can’t find any obvious illusion. The dragon seems real enough. A spot on the wall opposite the entrance glows with faint abjuration magic. Detailed inspection reveals an extremely faint seam delineating a four by eight foot rectangle of stone, very much the shape of a door. Another hour of noodling, poking and prodding provides no indication of how the door might be opened. The somewhat-deflated explorers head back to goblin-town.
After a short rest, the party plans to descend the wide and deep well leading to a deeper area in the ruins. Grenl warns this is the beginning of Belak’s domain. Goblin’s from the Durbuluk tribe work here in Belak’s various fungus gardens and chambers where the weird human conducts experiments with herbs, monstrous plants and unfortunate captives. The Durbuluks delivered the captured Hucrele siblings to Belak. Their subsequent fate is unknown. Grenl doesn’t really understand Belak’s ultimate motivations, but she covets his control of a monstrous tree growing in his domain, referred to as the ‘Gulthias Tree’ by Belak. He and the tree were here when the goblins arrived six months ago. Belak paid the goblins, then their hobgoblin masters, for various services including an important once-per-season transaction: transporting and selling the powerful fruit of the Gulthias Tree to human bandits. At this time of year, so soon after the spring fruit, Belak is certainly holed up in a huge cavern with the tree. There he spends days, sometimes weeks, studying and perhaps worshiping the magical tree.
Grenl agrees to guide the explorers through the areas she knows and provide safe passage past her goblins and a few skeletons controlled by Belak. Unfortunately a pair of bugbears working for Belak may be less than cooperative. The male, named Balsag but quickly re-christened ‘Ball-sack’ by the party, controls a pack of savage jackals at the mouth of a cave leading to the surface (where the goblins originally entered the ruins). The female could be anywhere in the ruins below.
Finch uses his creepy powers to take on the appearance of the recently-demised chief Durnn. The warlock has been practicing the hobgoblin’s harsh voice and mannerisms. He smears himself with goblin blood and wears a smelly cloak retrieved from Durnn’s corpse.
Mesmer sends his crow familiar flapping down into the purple-lit space to perform a reconnaissance. The wizard can see and hear through the crow’s senses. Below the well is a large room covered with soil, filth and fungi of various types, much of it glowing lavender and purple to provide a dim illumination. Two skeletons in rotting robes turn the soil with wooden trowels. These are servants Belak found in the ruins and somehow learned to command. Two jackals, more like hyenas or wolves, begin howling and barking at the mouth of a wide tunnel broken through one wall.
Ballsack, a huge shaggy bugbear armed with a massive iron morningstar, rushes from the tunnel and casts a javelin at the crow. The monstrous humanoid shouts up the well, “Drunn, what in the Seven Hells are you and your little shaman up to? You know Belak doesn’t like you down here between deliveries!” Finch shouts down in his best Durnn-voice, “Just seeing how you are holding up down there fleabag!”. Ballsack invites ‘Durnn’ down for a drink, on the condition that Durnn’s buying. Grenl sends a goblin to fetch beer.
It is questionable if the illusion will fool Ballsack for long. Nonetheless, Finch climbs down the rope ladder armed with a keg of goblin-beer. Everyone else stands ready to descend the two rope ladders when needed. The two skeletons ignore ‘Durnn’, but the jackals set up a chorus of howls and run around in mad circles. Ballsack whacks them until they shut up. Inside the bugbear’s lair Finch is forced to endure an unexpected challenge: apparently Durnn and Ballsack have an ongoing drinking game, of which this is the next round. Finch must quaff a full half-gallon horn of sour goblin beer.
Using slight of hand, Finch simulates drinking but pours most of the foul swill out over his own head, concealed by Durnn’s massive illusory chest. In a stroke of incredible luck, Ballsack chokes on a dead mouse floating in his beer and doubles over gagging. Warned by Mesmer’s crow-vision, reinforcements begin to descend the rope ladders. Will Finch subdue Ballsack before he manages to cough up the beer-soaked mouse? If not, he may be in need of rescue very soon indeed.