Chapter 7: The Gate is a Lie
Moving east in the caves, the path seemed to wind back and forth until they reached a junction. Using his skills as a tracker, Kerry was able to determine that while there seemed to be more more creatures moving to the south, the tracks were very old and didn’t seem to include any humans. The tracks to the north, however, were much newer and contained traces of human travel. Resolving that the rescue of the villagers would be the highest priority, the party headed north. Coming around a corner to the north, Rex and Snicker-snack located an offshoot of the tunnel which contained a torch and a chest. Quickly picking the lock, Snicker-snack peered inside. What he found was what seemed to be belongings of many of the captives: a great deal of gold, a strange belt with dwarven runes etched into it, some of the basic rations, a longsword and shield (possibly Nina’s), a strange dagger of some kind, and a blood-soaked journal.
Excited at the belt, Rex immediately claimed it as his own and put it on, discovering that it was a belt of dwarvenkind – a magical belt that would make one more dwarf-like. Greyson more closely examined the dagger. It was a bright silver blade with arcane etchings into the sides and seemed like it would be a fine weapon… if only it had a handle. Instead of a handle, the dagger ended in a thin metal rod. Considering the possible application of such an item, Greyson determined that it would be suitable as a modification to his thunder cannon, given some time to allow the attachment. He then took the manaforged bayonet and picked up the journal. The journal was barely legible due to the massive amount of blood that had soaked through the pages but from what he was able to gather, it seemed to be some theoretical assumptions about the application of magic.
While going through the chest, the party heard noises coming from the tunnel from the north. Excited, perhaps at the prospect of becoming an honorary dwarf, Rex charged ahead and ran directly into a group of orcs and hobgoblins. The rest of the party followed and quickly ganged up on the patrol. Distracted by his new bayonet, Sergeant Greyson missed every one of his shots against the patrol but the rest of the party was able to defeat them. After the brief battle, the party moved further into the cavern and encountered some snickering goblins and began to attack. Snicker-snack, ready to not just defeat but also humiliate the goblins, managed to steal some of their gold – a surprising amount for one of the goblins given that the others tended to be rather poor. After watching greyson instantly kill one of his allies, one of the goblins fled from the battle to attempt to warn his allies. The goblin quickly got away from the party and around a corner. As the party caught up, they encountered the goblin as well as a large group of Red Skull orcs charging at them from the darkness. As the orcs bore down upon them, Rex made his way to the front and made significant gains holding the orcs off while the rest of the party picked them off at range or snuck up on them to stab at vital areas. While the party was holding their own, it seemed that more and more orcs kept appearing to attack. The turning point was when a group of orcs were together and Frazious managed to hurl a deadly fireball at them. The pitched battle ended shortly after.
Exhausted from the fight, the party decided to take a few minutes to drink one of the volatile healing potions that Glurk had prepared so that they would be ready to face the mage at the end of the cavern. While they were using the potion, they heard the voices of two men:
First Voice: We’ve acquired a new supply so we won’t need to plunder the local village anymore. In fact, the good Captain has a very special sacrifice for us. A cleric of Pelor, as I understand it.
Second Voice: Unreliable but he can be of use on occasion. We’re still looking for that doppleganger…
First Voice: Get the red skulls out, then activate the runes and return to me. The yokels will believe it was another earthquake and we’ll produce rumors that the “backdoor” is gone, swallowed by the mountain – not exactly a lie. Our efforts in the temple are coming along quite well – I’ll debrief you on your return.
Second Voice: Yes, Master Blackstone. Understood. All these years of work are finally going to pay off.
As the party finished restoring themselves, they came out of the corner they had rested in and crossed over a bridge which covered a narrow underground stream. Moving in further, they passed two large piles of rubble and, even further in, saw a mage at the top of a ridge. The mage spoke to them: “So, you must be the ones making all the noise in here. No matter.” He then raised his arms and the piles of rubble coalesced into giant creatures of stone and began moving towards the party to attack. Ready to attack the mage, Rex, Snicker-snack, and Harambe began running towards the ridge and started attacking one of the golems on the way. Greyson and Kerry, meanwhile, began firing at him. The mage, angry at the adventurers that would challenge him, hurled a massive fireball at the group which struck Greyson, Frazious, Kerry, and Snicker-snack. Afterwards the golems moved closer to the party and began slamming them with incredible strength, causing the group to refocus their efforts. Kerry, taking another shot at the mage, managed to wound him and the mage disappeared entirely.
After bringing down the golem which rose behind them, Greyson and Rex began moving towards the other golem and the last location of the invisible mage. Kerry took the opportunity to join Harambe and run up the ridge. Arriving at the top of the ridge, he spotted burned out runes on the ground in some kind of magic circle. Coming up behind Kerry was Frazious who, upon quick inspection, was able to determine that the magic circle was most likely used for the purposes of teleportation but would likely not be able to be reactivated. Seeing his chance at the adventurers in front of him from his invisible state, the mage suddenly appeared and cast another fireball aimed at the three. While the adventurers mostly avoided the attack, the magical fire seemed to activate the red runes on the cave ceiling which began to glow and pulse as the red lines connecting the circle to others began to glow further into the cavern. Realizing his mistake, the mage attempted to flee down a nearby side tunnel which led to the bottom of the ridge. Unwilling to let the mage escape so easily, Snicker-snack ran in from the bottom in an attempt to surround the mage and Frazious and Kerry came in from the top. As they ran in, part of the ceiling, which had become glowing hot from around the runes, collapsed around the top of the ridge. When they reached the mage, he seemed to realize that he was surrounded by powerful adventurers and in a collapsing deathtrap. With an insane, fanatical yell, the mage shouted “For Lord Blackstone!” and immediately cast a final fireball – on himself. The explosion destroyed the mage entirely and sent the blast both ways through the tunnel, injuring Harambe, Frazious, and Snicker-snack.
Realizing that the cave was collapsing, Frazious and Kerry ran back out the top and jumped down the ridge to make their way out. On the way moving further into the cave, however, Frazious gets pinned under a boulder. Fortunately, Harambe was able to come to the rescue and get him out from under the rocks. Meanwhile, Rex and Greyson had been fighting the rear golem and decided to run since the cavern was apparently collapsing. Greyson was able to give Rex a brief ride on the back of mailbot after Rex had finished off the Golem. Rex stopped for a moment to double back and check on his allies while Greyson scouted ahead on the way out as the party had been hearing voices above the rumble of the cavern.
While checking ahead, Greyson ran into a group of other adventurers – the same group that Eogan, Kerry, and Frazous had encountered on the ship to Planks! Their leader, the barbarian Krell, accused Greyson of stealing all the treasure and commanded his group to attack. Charging ahead with his companion Helmund, Krell began to attack Greyson. As he engaged Greyson, Helmund shouted,”Now you face Helmund, of the Ten Fists!” Kerry could be heard in the distance noting that this was a lot of fists. Krell’s other companions seemed less enthused about fighting in a cavern that was apparently collapsing upon itself. Edris and Bruna warned Krell that they should instead escape. Meanwhile, Julius bade his friends(?) goodbye and immediately fled the cavern, earning a curse of cowardice from Krell. While the rest of the group managed to catch up and try to hold off the misguided group of apparent psychopaths, Greyson had been fending them off himself but had been trapped underneath some of the rubble from within the cavern.
Seeing the folly of continuing combat is such a dangerous place, the party immediately ignored their adversaries after Snicker-snack managed to free Greyson. As they fled, more of the cave began to collapse. Looking back it seemed that Krell had a massive rock fall on him and Bruna was knelt down beside him holding him close while Edris and Julius were nowhere to be found. They were able to hear Helmund shout “Revenge!” but his voice was suddenly cut off. Making their way out of the cave, they found Nina sitting outside on the ground, clutching her side. Kerry and Snicker-snack tended to her wounds and she was able to tell them that her and the villagers made it out but that she couldn’t make it further and paused to rest. They then offered to bring her back to town in safety.
Arriving back in Planks, Bernard immediately had one of the Barmaids bring Nina up to a room to tend to her injuries and thanked the party. He then asked what had happened and the party explained the tale of how they had arrived in the cavern, discovered the prisoners, and the strange conversation they overheard. Bernard thanked them again and then asked if they would join him in the basement when they were ready, then left. Surveying the Thirsty Pig, most of the patrons were gone, the Delrak brothers having left, and Bianca and Captain Position missing as well. However, in the back of the tavern they noticed a new face at one of the booths – a giant of a man wielding a massive sword and drinking a heroic amount of ale. The party joined the man who introduced himself as Rughdar and explained that he was on the hunt for monsters. The party relayed some of their events and Rughdar seemed interested in joining after some brief conversation and a few more drinks, the group headed down to the basement to meet Bernard.
Heading downstairs they found the familiar sight of the Thirsty Pig’s gambling room. Bernard had the bouncers in the room dismiss all of the gamblers and then one of them stepped aside once the gamblers had all exited. Bernard then put his hand under the table against the wall and the entire wall shifted, revealing a secret office. The office had a large table at the center for conducting meetings and some scattered papers and books around the desk and smaller tables lining the walls. He then addressed the party:
“I appreciate you meeting with me. My friends and I could use your help. As you’ve discovered, what is going on here isn’t simply some goblins abducting and murdering folks. We believe that there is a group behind these activities – a group which has potentially unlocked the secrets of the temple. I don’t know what they would be taking and transporting people for but it can’t be good. And it sounds like they may have now taken that nice girl. If you’re willing, my friends and I would like to ask for your aid. They can provide more details, however, I can give you an advance as a show of good faith – 1000 GP each. My friends will be able to fill you in on the rest if you’re up for it. If you refuse, I understand. I just don’t know who we’ll be able to turn to. Please, help us?”
The group briefly considered what Bernard could possibly have in store but seemed interested if only due to financial motivation. Snicker-snack, however, was less interested than the rest. He explained that he had fled a life of slavery and that it seemed unwise to get mixed up in any high profile activities that might put the collar back around his neck. Bernard noted that he understood and appreciated Snicker-snack’s cooperation and discretion, then offered the Kenku 1000 gold in gratitude and wished him well. Snicker-snack accepted and went on his way. The rest of the group looked at each other and asked Bernard about his friends. He explained that they are a group of people trying to do what’s right for Crescent Island. He added that they would do anything they could to protect the island but that they were not an army. Empathetic to his request, the party agreed to help Bernard, who was ecstatic to hear. He went on:
“Excellent! You wonderful people! There is a ferry that leaves from Planks for Respite in the morning. I should tell you that while Planks is a pirate town and we generally go by, well, whatever we feel at the time, Respite is a city ruled by law. You’ll likely want a cover story of some kind when entering the city – the town guard is not likely to be kind to some adventurers snooping around town. I could forge you some documents that may help but I can’t be sure they’ll work. After you get off the docks, you should be fine as long as you don’t rouse too much suspicion. Once you arrive in town, head for the Gilded Rose Inn. Look for my friend, Hank. He should be able to give you additional information on what’s going on and bring you to the rest of our group. Hank is a tall man with a pale complexion, shoulder-length brown hair, and a distinctive scar going down his lip. You can’t miss him.”
The party then began discussing options for their cover into the island. Perhaps they could pose as traveling entertainers. No, that might be too suspicious. Bernard offered to forge them some documents that would give them a mining permit on the island which should pass inspection. Hesitant, the party explored other options. Eventually, it was decided that they would claim that they are mercenaries seeking work on the island. Bernard warned that the people of Respite might not take kindly to the suggestion but that it was fairly close to what they had intended so it would be good enough. Settled on their choice, Bernard then offered his finest room and to make sure that they would have an excellent meal the morning of so that they were fully rested and recovered.
The morning after, the party boarded the ferry headed for Respite. The journey was generally uneventful, however, halfway across the bay there was a loud rumbling sound which seemed to come from the island and created a massive wave which nearly capsized their modest vessel. Confused but undeterred, their journey continued across the bay of Crescent Island, to the city of Respite where Hank awaited…