22 March, 103 CY
The heroes awoke in their rooms at The Griffon’s Nest early in the morning, having returned to Blasingdell after their encounter with the lizardfolk. Azal had thought to return to the Great Ulfe’s chamber to procure evidence that the ogres forces were dead or scattered. Presenting this evidence to Sir Miles Berrick, she collected the reward for ending the threat of orcish raiders. She and Bhavik were enjoying the fruits of their reward by indulging in a big breakfast while Aramis tended to his injuries, frowning at the scars he was likely to have. He joined the others later and quietly munched on the leftover bacon as the warden retold the tale of their conflict with the denizens of the Stone Tooth to a handful of interested locals.
When they’d finished their meal, the cleric begged off for an hour or so to go check in with Iva about her research. His sister-in-law smiled when she saw him and told him that she’d made progress. She and Ashrem had tracked down the family from the rumor and traveled to the farm to speak with the mother and meet her afflicted child. Iva’s smile faded some when she told him that the boy’s symptoms were very like Henri’s. Still, even as her eyes glistened at memories of her son, he could see that her hope had been rekindled. If there were others, perhaps they could discover a cause and from there a cure. She said she and the scholar would be staying in Blasingdell perhaps another day or so and then taking their search to Brindinford.
Rejoining the others, Aramis found them discussing what to do with the adamantine greataxe they’d found with the smith’s mark of Durgeddin the Black. They decided to postpone the decision, and Bhavik lashed the heavy weapon to his pack, hefting the bulk across to his back as the three set off for the Stone Tooth once more. They still hadn’t seen any evidence of the gray dwarves that had supposedly stolen the magical apple that remained their one hope of restoring Talgen Hucrele to his former self. Their search continued.
They made their way all the way back to the low lizardfolk caverns uncontested. They found the damp space abandoned, and Aramis gladly reclaimed his enchanted quarterstaff, which lay next to the bloodstain on the stone floor where he’d fallen just yesterday. The lizardfolk bodies lay where they’d fallen, though they appeared to have been picked over by whatever survivors must have fled. The females, young, and eggs were gone from the nesting chamber and the three riding lizards were no longer in the cave that had served as their “stable.” The adventurers decided to go ahead and explore the opening to the north – where the lizardfolk chieftain must have laired.
A cold hearth rested in the center-most of three smaller caves in the back of the large cavern. The ceiling rose about fifteen feet above the floor, and a collection of skins crudely tacked to the walls marked the place as the abode of a particularly important creature. Another murky pool stood between the heroes and the smaller caves, but this was easily traversed. They found a battered old wooden chest with leather hasps containing some gold coins plus a small square of black silk hiding a glittering diamond. There appeared to be no other items of value or import in the chieftain’s cavern, and so they returned to the massive cavern to consider their next path.
The glittering cavern had lost little of its majesty from the days when Durgeddin had occupied the halls of the Glitterhame. The great cavern extended almost two hundred feet, the ceiling glimmering with faint phosphorescence almost fifty feet overhead, and the light from their sunrod struck dazzling glints from bright flecks and gleaming stone structures in the distance. Patches of strange fungi dotted the floor, including capped stalks standing as tall as a human and glowing puffballs almost a yard wide. High ledges rose fifteen to twenty feet above the floor on the north and the south, and the stairs from the dwarven burial chamber ended at a path that meandered through the center of the chamber toward a small, iron door in the far eastern wall. The entire chamber sighed with a soft, cool breeze rising toward the surface far above.
The three approached the northeast ledge, distracted by the sparkling wonder of the Glitterhame and as the drew near, two squirming horrors lunged at them. The grotesque creatures were the size of ponies, looking like giant worms with scaly segmented bodies. A beak surrounded by four spiked tentacles served as the aberrations’ heads, and the word “grick” flashed through Bhavik’s mind before one of the creatures raked him. The gricks worked in tandem, flanking their prey when they could and opening wide gashes with their taloned tentacles, which bled freely. Still, the adventurers were used to fighting together and in short order they brought the predators down.
They drew away from the stinking corpses to rest and regain their breath, and once they had recovered, they returned to the ledge and climbed up. In this raised cavern, which must have served as the gricks’ lair, they found several pieces of skeletons – the inedible portions of their victims, perhaps. A glint in the light drew Bhavik’s attention to a brooch in one pile of gore, and Azal spotted a gold ring carved to resemble a dragon in another corner. The brooch was enchanted with healing magic, and once the warden had cleaned it off, he presented it to Aramis, who had been whispering prayers for the departed.
They returned to the lower level and moved to the stone door on the east wall, which proved to be locked. Azal tried to open the way with her narrow wire tools, but after a couple of minutes she declared it impassable. The party returned to the long east-west tunnel south of the large cavern and followed the underground river until it terminated in a hole where the water spilled down into darkness. Another tunnel just north of this sinkhole led them to a set of crudely carved stone steps that led below. They followed these down, and the sound of a waterfall became louder the farther they descended. They finally emerged into another cavern, deep below the Glitterhame.
A loud waterfall spilled down the northwest wall of the cavern into a deep pool. The rocky walls glistened with spray, and a weird array of colorful minerals and strange lichens lent an unearthly beauty to the spot. Another stream ran south from the pool at the base of the falls, and a natural passage headed in that direction as well. In addition to the narrow stairs they’d just come down there were also two old wooden doors standing in a wall of dressed stone to the east. Bhavik performed a quick scan of the chamber, seeking threats and further details of the chamber. The pool was populated by an interesting array of blind cavefish and white crayfish, but nothing dangerous appeared to dwell within.
They decided to try the southern path first, and approached it slowly. They discovered another long, narrow cavern half-filled with a powerful underground river, racing along at a breakneck pace. The chamber ended a short distance to the west and ranged from twenty to thirty feet in width. The adventurers stood on a narrow ledge overlooking the north side of the river. A bridge of stone spanned the rushing water, leading to a larger ledge on the south side. It looked as if the southern ledge might follow the course of the river some distance to the east, and so Bhavik led the others across the bridge and farther to the east.
After a short distance, he discovered a short flight of stone steps to the south leading down to another wooden door, which stood half open. Dark, stagnant water stood in the small landing at the base of the steps and in the doorway, presumably filling the room beyond as well. The southern path smelled heavily of rot. The warden bypassed the steps and scouted ahead to the east to where the river appeared to be flowing from beneath the stone wall. Rocky stairs climbed steeply, turn north for about twenty feet, and then descended toward the east. He sensed danger ahead and silently returned to the group, beckoning them to follow him farther west so they could plan. Azal and Aramis followed him back to the bridge, quietly awaiting an explanation.
“We are in the midst of some denizen of the deep,” he said. “It lurks around the bend beyond the river’s start. We could surge forth and surprise the creature or try to circumvent its path.”
“Circumvent?” asked Azal. “Is there another way?”
“Just the door there, as far as I can tell,” commented Aramis.
Bhavik nodded, “We could try the stairs there. It might be our best bet. That, or go back to the main doors.”
“Oh, you mean not go that way,” she said, pointing east.
“I’m up for charging forward, but decisions being what they are, I figured you would appreciate the option,” said Bhavik.
“I say we take the stairs,” Aramis said.
The tiefling nodded in agreement. “We should probably avoid needless battles.”
“Agreed,” Bhavik said. Then he turned and moved cautiously for the stairs. As he stepped down them and into the stagnant, calf-deep water on the landing, he looked back to his companions. “Aramis, death awaits us below. Be prepared.” The cleric nodded and muttered a prayer to his dark queen before joining Bhavik in the water. Azal eyed the murky water askance, deciding to remain on the steps for the time being.
The warden could hear nothing from beyond the door, so he pushed it open to reveal that the room beyond was indeed filled with the same stagnant water. He prodded the path ahead with his blade, an discovered that another few steps led down into the room, making the water perhaps waist deep in the room itself. The chamber was divided into three parts, with openings in the center of the dividing walls but water appeared to fill all three. There were no other exits visible, although they could not see the entirety of the north or south walls for the second or third sections of the long chamber because of the walls that served as dividers.
Bhavik frowned. “I see no reason to enter the depths of an empty, dead-end room.”
“Agreed,” intoned Aramis. “We’ll come back this way if we have to.”
“I think we address the dangers beyond the winding path,” the warden suggested.
“Right,” replied the cleric. “You were talking about charging?”
Bhavik only nodded in response, then doused the light as he moved forward leaving all three in complete darkness. Azal and Aramis stumbled forward through the black as best they could, one hand firmly on the southern wall of the path. The warden made his way up the steps to the north and found the opening to the east before suddenly revealing the light and quickly scanning the room. He found it to be a cavern very much like the one he’d just left, if a bit smaller. A ledge along the north side of the river continued east about sixty feet, leading to a door on the north wall. The river rushed to his right, separating him from a ledge on the southern side. The ceiling was riddled with stalactites, and it was among these that he saw the threat. Three creatures with long, vine-like appendages blended well with the dark stone, but perhaps the sudden presence of the light had given them away.
One of the creature loped along the ceiling, charging Bhavik and lashing out with its ropey arm. The warden narrowly avoided getting caught by its grasp, but he could clearly see the three fingered appendage was a mass of sharp spikes. The warden used an evocation to wrench the unwary creature off of the ceiling, and it fell with a thud to the floor. The other cavern chokers advanced, and one of them did get its clawed hand around the shifter’s neck. His companions joined the fight and despite the cavern predators using the adventurers for body shields a time or two, the adventurers were able to defeat them in short order.
After they’d recovered from the fight, they searched the small cavern and discovered nothing of interest other than the door in the north wall. It was a sturdy dwarven door of iron plate, but it stood open, not impeding their path. Inside they saw a short passageway with three small, iron doors on the west wall. The first two also stood open, but the door at the end of the hall was closed. A casual search around the small gaol revealed an old jailer’s key lying in the grime of the floor nearby. The first two cells were empty, and after fighting with it for a few seconds the rusted key unlocked the door to the northern cell. Inside were the skeletal remains of a dwarf in rusted old half-plate armor. The armor was too corroded to be of any value, but beneath the breastplate, the corpse wore an enchanted cloak riddled with pockets. Rifling through the pockets, Azal discovered another key made of heavy black iron. Aramis whispered another prayer for the fallen dwarf, then the adventurers made their way back to the waterfall cavern.
They decided to explore what lay beyond the doors on the east wall there, and when listening at the doors gave no indication as to what that might be, Bhavik tried the north door. It gave way grudgingly, revealing a low-vaulted chamber of dressed stone roughly thirty feet square. Two open archways in the far wall showed a similar room beyond, and the adventurers could barely make out two more archways beyond that. This chamber was filled with what appear to be rotten foodstuffs – barrels of salted meat gone bad, sacks of flour or grain covered in russet-colored mold, tuns of cider that reeked of vinegar. The room stank of rot, and the floor beneath the first archway gleamed wetly in the light.
The adventurers moved into the chamber for a more thorough search, and as they neared the center of the second chamber, a wet spot on the floor gained liquid mass and whipped out to slam at Aramis. The gray ooze was easily dispatched, but of greater concern was the large cube of semi-sentient gelatinous substance that snuck up on Bhavik from the third chamber. The shifter narrowly avoided its initial attack, but it did manage to envelop him a few seconds later. Fortunately, he was able to call upon his primal powers to teleport outside of the cube and the three were able to dispatch the weird creature shortly thereafter – Aramis and Azal striking from a safe distance. They found a small chest containing quite a bit of gold in a forgotten corner of the storage room, and after bagging the loot, they returned to the stairs leading back to the Glitterhame. It was time to test the key.