Arcanearth

Session 16: Zaugrum and Varthor

AE-session16-Xeloid_20180729.jpgThe rune heroes begin a cautious exploration of the great starry vault before them. Xar is able to confirm the twilight garden of fungus may once have been cultivated, but has since gone wild for perhaps centuries. Most of the varieties look similar to what deep-dwelling mountain gnomes grow in their delves beneath the Dragonspines. Mesmer’s snow-owl familiar flies a short circuit around the cave to determine it’s basic dimensions.

The corpses of several huge worm-like insects are discovered a short distance from the entry-tunnel. The nine-foot long segmented worms feature large green eyes and clusters of yard-long tentacles around their chitinous mouth-parts. They were stabbed with spears, hacked with swords and shot with arrows. Strange black pustules are also in evidence. Krag determines these are poisoned wounds, but they appear to have started from inside the creature rather than inflicted from the outside.

The tracks of a dozen or more man-sized humanoids crash back and forth through the patches of fungus. A wild melee took place here, but no other corpses are found. The tracks least west to east where they end at a pair of locked bronze doors. The lock is heavy, designed for a massive key or cranking tool. Leelo determines the door has been opened with the key recently, then locked again from the other side.

Mavriy and Krag explore west a short distance while Leelo tinkers with the bronze portal. A high ledge comes into view at the far end of the cavern. Suddenly Mavriy falls to her knees, head split by a blinding white pain. The paladin stands and staggers forward to seek out her assailant. Krag follows close behind. Finch and Mesmer briefly linger behind a stalagmite near the entrance to see what transpires.

AE-session16-cavern_20180729.jpgMavriy glimpses a shadowy form floating high in the great cavern. The brain-like creature trails long barbed tentacles. Her vision is blotted out by another savage psychic attack. Krag thinks better of proceeding and begins backing away. Mavriy staggers back down the path, stunned and unable to see any target for a spear-cast.

Finch and Mesmer flee to the bronze portal. There Mesmer happens upon broken shards of a crystal sphere the size of two fists. While in Galveholm Mesmer saw these spheres used to imprison summoned creatures for later use, but the Sheaim conjurers guard their secrets carefully. The methods of construction and the activating spells for these ‘summoning spheres’ are not generally known.

A terrifying game of monster-and-mouse begins. Krag and Finch are both stunned by powerful psychic attacks before the party regroups at the narrow constricted east end of the cavern. Mavriy reaches her friends in time for Finch to pour a healing potion down her throat. This returns Mavriy to her senses. She quickly heals Krag. In turn Krag heals Finch, who has collapsed head-first into a bank of man-high mushrooms. Just then the monstrous lurker comes into view, spotted first by Mesmer and Xar. The gnome ranger uses Maseach magic to mark the creature as hunted. Fire, lightning and magic arrows strike into the floating horror. The creature proves immune to lightning, but is quickly scorched and blackened with magical fire. The monster retreats back into the darkness after Finch responds with a dose of it’s own medicine.

After an hour the rune-heroes finally track the beast to it’s lair. Leelo directs Xar to climb the wall up to the ledge where a trail of ichor leads. The beast ambushes Xar as he pulls Leelo up with silken rope. Both tumble down the wall. Xar lies stricken upon the stone floor. While Krag revives the gnome henchman, Mesmer casts spider climb on Finch, who scuttles up to the hidden cave. Finch sends the beast reeling back into it’s lair with another blast of psychic power. Mesmer, Leelo and Mavriy are soon on hand. A minute later the bizarre creature lies in a heap of gristle and ropy tentacles within what appears to be the lair of the worm-creatures found dead in the cavern below.

Mesmer inspects the corpse and determines it is a Xeloid, one of the horrors summoned from far realms by the Sheaim conjurers in Galveholm and a few other cities featuring the permanent planar gates of bronze, glass and marble. These giant clockwork engines are driven by magic, worked day and night by Sheaim wizards, sorcerers, warlocks and clerics to conjure assistance from across the multiverse.

A good deal of treasure has accumulated in the worm-creatures lair including three magic potions carried in by gnome explorers decades past. Xar recognizes frost resistance and climbing potions created by mountain gnome enchanters. Leelo takes possession of a mithril-and-bone short bow of Svartalfar origin. Mesmer determines the bow is highly enchanted.

After a rest the rune-heroes explore the mushroom-forest top to bottom over a period of five hours. Mesmer finally homes in on a magic ring of protection worn by a skeleton mired deep in the fungus beds. Finding this rare item would have been impossible without the ability to detect magical energies from afar. After lengthy discussion, the ring finally ends up with Krag. The party retires to the carrion crawler’s lair for a much-needed rest.

The next day Leelo picks the lock on the bronze portal. Marble and stone stairs climb to a small dark chamber high above. Leaving this for later, the adventurers return to explore the west end of the great cavern. Here they find steps leading up to a broad ledge encompassing the western fifth of the cave. The trail of recent explorers leads down from the steps, undoubtedly the Sheaim party who bribed Yarrack and Ulfe weeks ago to gain entry into the undermountain ruins. But for what purpose beyond mere treasure hunting? Mesmer first has his familiar fly up to have a quick look.

23 tombs of carven marble stand around the periphery of the ledge. Only three are sealed. The remaining 20 are empty, the heavy lids slid back uniformly two feet from each end, as if in readiness for the arrival of their future occupants. All bear Luchuirp names and symbols from antiquity. Xar notes the names of mythical warriors, engineers and mages who were known to be present at the final battle below the walls of the Illian capitol at the end of the Age of Magic.

The southwest corner of the ledge is frigid in the extreme. A plug of translucent ice blocks a narrow tunnel. The ice seems solid, probably very thick. Could ‘Frostbite’ the white dragon be the source of the intense cold emanating from this area of the undermountain?

At the north end stands a huge iron statue 12’ high, of a stylized gnome warrior in archaic armor bearing a giant hammer, all strangely un-rusted. Close inspection reveals that the statue is complex, with articulating parts and internal mechanisms, toothed wheels, spindles and camshafts. Mesmer determines the iron warrior radiates very faint enchantment, abjuration and evocation magics. An iron golem? Enough to make the strongest adventurers pause to consider. In the end the rune-heroes determine that the golem may well still be functional. The three sealed tombs are left untouched.

The party cautiously ascends the steps behind the bronze portal. Tracks of the Sheaim interlopers precede them and give away the location of a secret door within a blue and gray marble octagon at the top of the stairs. Beyond the not-so-secret door is a short flight of polished marble stairs climbing to a single door of bronze and stone. Two obvious doors in the octagon-chamber prove to be triggers for traps: three stone statues slam bronze axes down upon the floor when the first door is opened (from a safe distance using Mesmer’s mage-hand). Beyond the false doors are blank faces of stone. More of the quirky Luchuirp love of craft, machines and traps for their own sake.

Unfortunately this makes a colossal noise that reverberates through the floor and walls. Leelo hears scurrying and hushed whispers beyond the door at the top of the steps. The elf is able to detect light from a space beyond, possibly torchlight. Also, a thin wire attached to pots, pans and cans. She is able to disarm the noise-maker, though it likely doesn’t matter at this point.

AE-session16-Zaugrum_20180729.jpgAfter debating various stratagems including sending a tiny spider familiar under the door (such creatures have a very limited range of vision, usually measured in a few yards), Mesmer cracks the door open. Beyond is a columned hall of dressed stone and marble, like a feast hall or royal audience hall with a dais and gnome-sized throne at the far end. Then someone shoves at the door from the other side, but Mavriy holds it open. At this point Mesmer hears a voice inside his head, a magical message: “How many are you? This is our domain and our claim, we can flank you at any time, so beware!”. A series of magical communications follow, finally leading to an impasse when both sides prove unwilling to give any substantive information about their motive for coming to this remote place high atop the Dragonfangs.

Finally Finch steps out in full view. He recognizes Zaugrum, the Veil cleric from Nininsnal and Kuldevind. Zaugrum in turn recognizes Finch, who has intentionally adopted the disguise he wore at the time of their first association. The two exchange pleasantries and mutual lies about their purposes for being here.

AE-session16-Varthor_20180729.jpgAn unknown Sheaim sorcerer hides behind a half-orc champion atop the dais. Other soldiers, apprentices and Veil cultists hide around the hall ready to ambush intruders. The sorcerer, naming himself ‘Varthor’, uses another message cantrip to whisper a traitorous offer into Finch’s mind:

“Help me destroy this foolish tool of Os-Gabella and we will return in triumph to Galveholm together, to enjoy wealth and honor from our lord and emperor Tebryn Arbandi!”

Clearly things are not all roses within the Sheaim expedition. In a classic double-cross, Finch uses his awakened mind to send a message to Zaugrum warning him of Varthor’s immanent betrayal. Zaugrum does not seem at all surprised. He decides to leverage the possible help of these new arrivals to finally be rid of Varthor. The Veil death-cleric thunders, “Varthor has betrayed us! In the name of Agares, slay the traitor!”

AE-session16-3waymelee_20180729.jpg

Mavriy bursts through the door, knocking down the soldier who was attempting to hold it closed. A nearby Veil cultists draws a poisoned blade and advances on her previous comrade. Chaos erupts in the ancient hall as screaming cultists charge with poisoned blades, soldiers attack erstwhile allies, and sorcerers sling spells in every direction.

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