Bloody and beaten but victorious, the rune-heroes quickly strip the goblinoid corpses of arms, armor and a few paltry coins. They carry no provisions. Perhaps they came from close by? Mavriy and Krag are too weak to carry anything but their own equipment. Those without serious injuries shoulder the heavy burden. These penniless adventurers are determined to squeeze every coin out of their victory. At least they aren’t yet reduced to eating goblin flesh. The party trudges north up the Low Road for several hours before finding a decent campsite off the trail.
A few hours after midnight the next morning Leelo and Ulfmar are alerted by the arrival of a large troop of silent blue-faced monkeys. The fanged monkeys edge closer and closer, surrounding the camp from the ground and in the tree canopy. Keelo attempts to lure them away with food, but this only incites their lust. The horde of monkeys begin to rummage through the party’s store of rations. Keelo successfully charms one, but doesn’t identify the troop leader and ends up with a low-ranked female monkey companion. At this point the monkeys are shrieking and jumping about. One by one they begin to carry away all the rations. Keelo shouts for everyone to clear the area. A thunderous blast shakes the jungle. Monkeys fly through the trees along with most of the equipment and remaining rations. The few surviving monkeys (Keelo’s new friend is not among them) flee screaming. For thirty seconds the jungle is silent. Everyone hurriedly recovers the scattered gear, along with as many dead mandrills as they can carry, and staggers off through the pitch-black jungle. A cacophony of approaching beasts sounds from all around.
Four hours later the exhausted adventurers reach a high flat stone below an opening in the canopy. The next day is spent resting and recuperating. Keelo and Lodermulch clean and cook the monkeys, not nearly making up for the lost rations. Unfortunately the delicious smells attract a pair of humongous constrictor snakes that attempt to drop down on the sleeping forms of Mavriy and Krag. Mesmer and Finch spot them in time. Finch kills one with whispers of death. Lodermulch and Mesmer cripple the second. Mavriy staggers upright to finish the constrictor with her spear. The rest of the day is spent skinning 15 foot long snakes and cooking the plentiful meat.
That night a dozen jungle jackals are attracted by the smells. They ring the camp with a cordon of red-gleaming eyes. The yelping beasts are held at bay until morning with fire and torches. The rune-cursed beat a hasty retreat back to the Low Road as the jackals gorge on snake and monkey carcasses left too close to the campsite. The jungle off the road is proving to be an alien and deadly realm, even for a druid such as Keelo.
Five days later the filth-encrusted group straggles out of the jungle where the Low Road meets up with the newer High Road. A few miles further provides a vista of farmland to the north, fens to the east, and the beginnings of a river to the northeast. Simple accommodations are found at the first hamlet. A merchant caravan is about to depart for the high road. This gives the group an opportunity to unload all their heavy loot at a decent price. The resulting coins are split up. A decent profit remains after purchasing fresh rations. By morning Mavriy and Krag are back in fighting shape.
The party weighs whether to proceed north three more days to the city of Kuldevind, or head back into the jungle in search of the rumored sinkhole and exposed ruins. Luckily the caravan is heading back south along the High Road to Nininsnal. Even better, a Sheaim patrol arrives and will accompany the caravan south. The troop now consists of four ox-drawn carts, two elephants, 16 merchants and their guards, 20 armored skeletons and 6 mounted warriors (a few are likely priests of the veil or lesser necromancers). The party decides to take advantage of this and adds their strength to the caravan. The caravan is slow but makes good time along the wide and well-engineered High Road: approximately 20 miles per day. On the morning of the fourth day the rune-cursed bid farewell to the caravan and head off into the jungle in a direction that must surely intercept the nearby Low Road. Three hours later they find the pitted trail without incident, and only a few miles from the goblin ambush.
Approaching cautiously, the scouts Leelo and Lodermulch find all the corpses are gone. Scavenged or removed, they can’t say. The old goblin trail leading southeast quickly wanes and finally trickles away into numerous random traces. The goblins have taken care that no one is able to track them straight to their lair. Soon afterward a pair of small lizard-like humanoids is sighted quietly observing the party from the nearby jungle. No one has ever seen humanoids of this type. They disappear almost instantly. Keelo, Leelo and Lodermulch are unable to find their trail.
Ahead lies a wide clearing in the jungle. The explorers peer down into a huge sinkhole over 100’ across. Far below huge tree trunks lie in a tumbled heap like so many sticks. A stream of water trickles among the huge trunks. A rope tied to a nearby tree drops 20’ down to the top of an exposed masonry wall on the near side of the sinkhole. The rope is still new and of a kind manufactured in Nininsnal. One by one the party climbs down and reaches the base of the wall by means of ancient switchback steps. At the bottom is a tumbled courtyard of shaped stones and masonry in all shapes and sizes. A high wall and rounded half-tower, one side of some large citadel, has been exposed by floodwaters and the collapse of the nearby subterranean stream. A huge stone double-door is visible at the base of the tower. Any goblin or human tracks have been washed away by rain and floodwaters
The party manages to shove open the heavy stone portal which is secured only by a drift of water-borne silt. Beyond is the ruined interior of a tower containing three fairly fresh and looted goblin corpses. One is pinned to the wall with a spear. Finch detaches the crucified goblin to reveal crudely and recently-chiseled characters in ancient Patrian spelling out the word “Ashardolon”. In a stroke of luck, Ulfmar is able to recall that Ashardolon is an ancient dragon-god worshiped by semi-secret dragon cults popular in the middle period of the Age of Magic (perhaps 1200 years ago).
Over the course of the morning the party discovers various passages and chambers still intact and accessible. A more-or-less friendly tribe of small scaly humanoids, like lizardfolk but smaller and red-orange in coloration, struggles with a band of goblins for control of the ruins. They call themselves ‘kobolds’ in their own strange language, but also speak a goblinized dialect of the common trade-tongue. The kobolds are not at all surprised or hostile. The shaman ‘Yusdrayl’, a highly intelligent winged kobold wearing a loose gown of white linen, led her tribe here from jungles far south of known civilization. It seems she received a vision of an ancient warrior or king in archaic bronze dragon-sculpted armor. The vision bade Yusdrayl lead her tribe here to serve the priests of Ashardolon, and would not abate until she followed the ghostly warrior. She has not seen the vision again since arriving at the sinkhole. Mavriy carefully questions Yusdrayl to discover that the being in the vision was indistinct, with only a black smear and points of white light for a face, but the dragon-armor was bright and clear.
Even stranger, if that were possible, the ‘kobolds’ subdued and captured a black dragon wyrmling, now sadly escaped and departed during a recent goblin raid (the kobolds named it ‘Calcryx’). Dragons are rare and legendary creatures, but black dragons are not unknown in the wild jungles, swamps and mountains of south Sheaim lands. Yusdrayl seems sure the goblins have the dragon in their control. Calcryx is new to the world and still unable to speak or reason. The pathetic ex-dragon-keeper named Meepo is available to lead the rune-warriors to the goblin’s part of the ruins. Yusdrayl is desperate to get this dragon back for some reason, even though it’s eaten at least six of her tribe. She offers a rich prize to the party should they return the dragon. Part of the prize is a large dragon-headed metal key. According to Yusdrayl this key gives access to crypts or treasure-vaults in another part of the ruins (which Yusdrayl notes on the party’s map). She is willing to sell the key outright for 50 gold. After a lengthy debate, the party finally declines to buy. They’ll take their chances recovering the dragon.
It seems that the party of adventurers Finch met at the Drunken Mermaid in Nininsnal passed this way several weeks ago, prior to the kobold’s loss of Calcryx. Yusdrayl offered a reward if the newcomers could wipe out the goblins, consisting of the aforementioned key and other treasures her people liberated from their part of the ruins in recent months. She never heard back from them and assumes they met their end or escaped the ruins by some other means.
Meepo leads the party through a barricaded door and series of passages ending in a long hall with a dry stone fountain and carved stone door at the near end. Goblins have not come this way in a week or more judging by the tracks. The explorers manage to activate ancient magic still latent in the dry dragon-sculpted fountain. Mesmer retrieves a pint of sparking, smoking red liquid that briefly issues from the dragon’s stone mouth when a carved command-word is spoken. The heavy stone door carved with skeletal dragons is a tougher nut to crack. Patrian characters spell out “Rebuke the dead, open the way” upon the door, which is icy cold to the touch, as is the very air within 5’. Finch rashly pushes on the door. A scything blade loops out from above. Fortunately it only nicks his cheek as he jerks away in alarm. He uses a bronze goblin sword to jam the narrow slot in the ceiling. Krag correctly guesses that an attempt to turn or control undead is required to open the obviously-magical door, but as yet he lacks the gift from Xrarog necessary to perform such a feat. Krag falls to his knees and beseeches Xrarog to recognize him as worthy.
Meanwhile, Leelo explores the hall farther north, where a trio of doors are propped open along either side. The air carries a taint of corruption. Just as the elf thinks better of proceeding alone any further, a crescendo of squeals and squeaks echo along the narrow hall…