Mesmer and Leelo climb down the two rope ladders first. In the purple-lit grotto beneath the well they face two skeleton ‘gardeners’, now hostile, and a trio of savage jungle-hyenas. Leelo retreats to a corner and spits one with an arrow from her longbow (recently acquired from the dead half-elven ranger Karakas). Krag and Ulfmar climb down next. Krag fails to diminish the skeleton’s evil fervor. Ulfmar and Mesmer destroy the first with battleaxe and obsidian maul.
After several failed attempts, Finch finally succeeds in charming the recovering bugbear. ‘Ball-sack’ hears the sounds of a fight outside his cave and shouts a command to his jackals. Finch runs close behind in a vain attempt to distract the enraged bugbear. Ball-sack calls ‘Durnn’ to his aid without bothering to look back.
Krag, Mesmer, Leelo and Ulfmar make quick work of the jackals and skeletons. Mavriy and Lodermulch arrive from the rope ladders. Loder races across the fungus-laden turf and hides near the cave opening. Mesmer tries to hide opposite Loder. Mavriy is slowed by her new heavy armor and doesn’t get far before Ball-sack charges into the chamber looking for a fight. He stops to survey his enemies and command his remaining jackals to the fray. The shaggy bugbear fails to notice Loder, but quickly spots Mesmer who has unwisely boxed himself into a corner. Fortunately for the wizard, Ball-sack strikes the nearby wall. The iron morningstar cartwheels up and over the bemused bugbear to land right at the feet of Finch. Ball-sack attacks with a dagger, but Mesmer shields himself with magic. Finch, Ulfmar and Lodermulch quickly bring down the enraged bugbear after he is blinded by a spray of prismatic light from Mesmer’s hand. Leelo, Krag and Mavriy finish off the few jackals that fail to turn tail back up the cave and out into the jungle. A sizable number of gold and silver coins are discovered in the filth of Ball-sack’s lair.
Grenl guides the party through a long hall with chambers occupied by fellow goblins, workers earning coin and food from Belak in exchange for assisting with his ‘gardens’ and experiments. Within the various chambers are all manner of herbs, dried plants, poisons and tools. Belak seems intent on twisting nature to his evil purposes. Evidence of partially-grown ‘twig blights’ are found. Giant rats lie dead or barely alive, mutilated by bizarre experiments causing their hide to harden and erupt in woody boles. According to Grenl, Belak will be engaged in solitary study or worship of the ‘Gulthias Tree’ so soon after transacting sale of a magical fruit with the hobgoblins and bandits (perhaps ‘Syzimondo the great’?), so there is little danger of the human happening upon the recent scene of carnage. She commands her goblins to carry on as normal.
Behind a barricaded stone door, Lodermulch discovers a narrow crack in the stonework leading to a long natural rift in the earth. A shadowy form moves slowly in the dim space. Light reveals a small pulsating blob of black jelly. The freakish pudding seems to detect Loder’s presence and picks up speed. Loder is just able to outdistance the beast.
Leelo manages to singe the dog-sized specimen with burning oil and attract it into Belak’s experiment chambers. Her companions quickly stab and burn it to death. The blobs seem to have internal organs subject to injury from piercing weapons.
Mesmer and Loder investigate the other stone door in the purple-glowing ‘garden’ chamber below the well. Grenl volunteers that Belak sends skeletons through this door to dump unwanted corpses and other garbage, but the goblins were warned never to venture here. Beyond the narrow stone door is a long passage ending in a 10’ drop to a natural chasm that looks to have been created by ancient floodwaters. It obviously connects to the crevice in the barricaded chamber 80’ to the northeast. Thrown torches reveal the presence of more black puddings. At least two are almost 5’ high and 7’ in diameter…true monstrosities of the underdark.
Mesmer sends his crow-familiar flying into the torchlit hall and crevasse. Mesmer sees that the other end of the brick hallway has been shifted a full forty feet southwest, or perhaps the floods that tunneled through this area obliterated the ancient connecting passage. Another bronze-bound stone door, this one somewhat larger, is glimpsed at the end of the far hallway. On the way back, the crow is hit by something and tumbles out of control. Mesmer attempts to recover the familiar only to discover it no longer exists. Loder peers around the corner to glimpse a weird bat-like creature flit away into the darkness.
Mesmer and Loder beat a hasty retreat behind the stone door. A horde of jellies large and small crowd the hallway behind them when the door is slammed shut. The bar creaks as something heavy pulses against the trembling stone.
Ulfmar devises a fateful plan: he and Krag will let one of the puddings through the door, then shut it, allowing the entire party to destroy them one at a time. Before everyone is quite prepared, Krag lifts the bar. The stone door flies open with enough force to slam a surprised Krag against the corner wall. A huge blob forces through the narrow opening and immediately strikes at the half-orc with a black pseudopod. The massive blob smacks the wall as Krag slides away. Stone smokes and sizzles with burning acid. The desperate half-orc puts his shoulder to the door and shoves with all his might, but another massive jelly already blocks the opening. Rather than flee and leave Krag to his doom, Ulfmar tries to help shut the door.
Mesmer unleashes fiery magic, Leelo drives arrows home one after the other, Loder casts his dagger, and Mavriy attempts magic to compel the next pudding toward her, all to no avail. Finch retrieves the corpse of a hyena and rushes forward thinking to lure the second pudding away. Grenl gibbers in terror. Erki is frozen in fear and shock.
A glistening mountain of black goo envelops Ulfmar, crushing him to the moldy turf. Only the dwarf’s arms and head are exposed. Lodermulch darts forward and pulls him free, but too late, far too late. Nothing remains of the brave dwarf but burning flesh and corroded bones. Mavriy steps forward and casts her spear with accuracy. The first pudding is now a smoking, quivering wreck. The second senses Krag and unleashes a flurry of blows. By sheer chance Krag escapes death though his armor smokes with burning acid. With nowhere to run, Krag exerts himself to the utmost and manages to close and bar the door against a third somewhat smaller pudding.
Mavriy strikes the remaining pudding with her pole-scythe. The huge mound is neatly split into two smaller but still active specimens! Her precious iron scythe is corroded by acid. The plan finally comes together, though too late for Ulfmar. The remaining smaller puddings are dispatched one after the other as they squeeze through the doorway controlled by Krag.
After the last jelly is burned, Krag gathers up the sad remains of his friend: a few corroded bones, a silver scroll-case, and a gold clan-symbol carried over 700 leagues from his birthplace in Mazark at the foot of the Pristinus Mountains. The silver case protects a scroll wherein Ulfmar chronicled his experiences since leaving Mazark, presumably including his final adventure with the rune-cursed. Perhaps one day Krag can somehow return these artifacts to the dwarf’s people. But will the Khazad be able to overcome their ancient prejudice against half-orcs, as did their wayward son? Perhaps Ulfmar’s chronicle will sway them, though it is written in Khazad script unreadable to the surviving rune-warriors.
The party investigates the crevasse and far stone door. A few stirges dive bomb the explorers but they are quickly dispatched with arrows. Krag and Mavriy force open the ancient stone door, which is twisted and jammed in it’s stone frame by tectonic forces. Beyond is a square chamber covered with scattered tiles that once adorned the cracked and broken walls. Magic is the only explanation for the continued existence of this chamber. In the center is a man-sized bronze sculpture of a three-headed bronze dragon sitting upright and holding an empty tray. Two red ruby eyes of exceptional size gleam from the central head. The eye-sockets of the other two heads are bare, though it is clear they once held large gemstones as well. Lodermulch creeps around the circumference of the room. After almost a full hour of checking for traps and hidden portals, Loder dares to pry the fabulous gems from the dragon’s greenish sockets.
Erki the gnome is able to identify the sculpture as originating from the Age of Magic, when the open-sky dwarves were a mighty empire of engineers and enchanters able to manufacture powerful golems of all types. This sculpture is in fact an ancient magical robot. Fortunately for these treasure-hunters it’s magic has died with the passing of untold centuries. Only gnomes with skills unknown in this callow age could hope to disassemble, transport and repair such a fantastic machine.
Leelo leads the party back through goblin-town to the other end of the ruins. In the ‘room of blue spheres’ eerie music still reverberates. Several rune-cursed are overcome by the dirge and begin to wander back out of the ruins toward the sinkhole. All regain their senses without revealing anything new about the ruins, except for Finch. The warlock’s connection with voices from the outer darkness leads him back into the ruined entry-tower. He awakens staring at a wall.
Lodermulch checks the wall again and finds a very well-concealed brick lever. The still-recovering Keelo is called forth from goblin town. He detects magic originating a short distance beyond the curved stones. Everyone prepares weapons and spells as the halfling triggers the lever. A small 3×4 stone portal swings out and away to reveal a dark cramped space beyond. Arrow slits packed with rubble line the far walls. A trio of ancient skeletons in corroded brass armor lie along the walls. Evocation magic radiates from arrows in brass quivers, though the ancient bows have collapsed into dust.
Finch is overcome by greed and acts quickly, before his avaricious companions can interfere. The reckless half-elf darts into the dusty tomb to snatch at the arrows. He fails to notice as red points of fire illuminate the eyesockets of long-dead Patrian archers. Krag and Lodermulch scream a warning, but too late. In unison the evil spirits stand, draw corroded green blades, and stab the screaming warlock repeatedly. Krag uses his authority to placate two of the undead, but the third ignores him and continues stabbing. STAB STAB STAB!
Krag and Loder grab Finch’s feet and drag the dying half-elf out into the tower. Erki the gnome ex-slave saves Finch with the divine magic of Kilmorph (spare the dying). Leelo screams as the third skeleton crawls from the opening. Mesmer smashes the last evil dead into a fountain of splinters with a single tremendous blow from his antique obsidian maul.
Finch was lucky. His wounds were flesh rather than mortal and his friends got to him before he could bleed out. After a day of rest and healing the warlock should be back on his feet. Tonight in the camp of the rune-cursed there will be much discussion of tactics, planning and the wages of uncontrolled avarice.