Later on the 15th of Erastus
Once the others were done looting the wyvern lair we set out for the fortress. Jiro scouted ahead a bit and reported back that he’d found three sets of tracks heading in – two human and one centaur with the human tracks being much older. The entrance to the fortress was a spooky dark tunnel, but it didn’t remain so for long as dozens of torches sprang to life as we entered, which Khismia appreciated with her inferior human eyes. We headed into the lair, trying to watch for obvious traps, though none of us is really trained for that.
We came upon an arch with an alcove inscribed with alarm ruins which had been discharged. The remains of an amphora lay on the ground in front of it, and searching the rubble strewn about we found a jade bracelet which could have been the twin of the one we saw inscribed in the scholar’s notes in Varnhold. The two sets of human tracks turned back at this point, showing a pretty damning story of the grave robbing which most likely awoke the lich to wreak havoc on the citizens of Varnhold. The passageway onward appeared to have been sealed once, but had been smashed out from the inside. The centaur tracks continued deeper inside, and so did we.
We continued to explore, finding nothing but dead ends and artwork depicting cyclops oppressing many types of lesser humanoids. Cheery decor if you’re a cyclops, I’m sure. Finding no evidence of a tomb, we suspected there might be a secret door somewhere, so enacted a spell to find such things. While we were hunting for a door, Jiro carefully examined the centaur’s tracks, finding that they stopped in the center of the larger room in the center of the passageway, and disappeared, after what he thinks was some kind of struggle. It looks like she was rendered unconscious (hopefully not dead) as Jiro indicated she’d been dragged off down one of the hallways (hard to hide evidence when you’re dragging a centaur…).
At the end of that same corridor, while facing a masonry wall, we got a positive return on our spell to detect secret doors, though the spell indicated the door was behind the wall somewhere. While Khismia, Breela and I guarded their flank in the larger room, Jiro and Ilona started dismantling the wall with heavy blows. They must have triggered another alarm of some sort though as next thing I knew the ceiling was partially collapsing, showering Khismia and I with heavy rubble and as we dived out of the way, a stone golem dropped from the ceiling to land between us! Oh my, are they annoying! Breela, having encountered such beings in her studies, knew that she couldn’t affect it with her spells, so she backed off down the corridor everyone else was in. I backed away from the golem while channeling healing to Khismia and her eidolon, hoping that Jiro and Ilona would distract it in time for Khismia to crawl away alive. Jiro, earthbreaker already in hand from smashing the wall, roared in to challenge the golem, Ilona only a step behind! Despite it’s immensely hard skin, they were eventually able to damage it enough that it fell to the ground, inert.
With that distraction dealt with, Jiro was able to finish demolishing the wall hiding our secret door. Once opened, the air inside smelled strongly of water. After going in only a short distance, it became obvious why as the path continued down a flight of stairs into the water. The water was quite murky, so rather than all troop down into it with no idea how far we’d have to go or how deep it might be, I cast freedom of movement on Ilona and she quaffed one of the water breathing potions we’d found in Varnhold. We sent her with a rope to secure somewhere on the other side (should she find something suitable) since some of us are atrocious at swimming and we don’t have enough water breathing potions to go around. Very soon after she disappeared under the water our line to her snapped. Having felt none of the pre-arranged tugs we’d set up, we presumed she was in trouble and sent Jiro in after her with freedom of movement as well. He insisted he could hold his breath just fine, so off he went. About a minute later they both splashed back out of the pool claiming to have slain some kind of weird lake monster which neither had seen the likes of before. It had snuck up behind Ilona in the murk and apparently bitten her rope in two! Ilona headed back into the pool to continue her mission to find out where our path continued.
Soon afterward she came upon another set of stairs leading out of the pool into a room filled with ancient pottery jars where she was able to secure the rope and we could rejoin her. The jars were all crumbling with age and didn’t seem to contain anything of interest, so we continued on. The path continued on to a set of impressive bronze doors flanked by alcoves containing cyclops statues. Being suspicious adventurers, we smashed one to be sure it was really a statue and not something like a stone golem lying in wait. Since it didn’t animate while being smashed we headed onward through the passageway until we came to a portcullis in the ceiling. Assuming it would eventually close behind us when we inevitably set off the trap trigger associated with it, we all stuck together and made sure we’d be on the same side when it closed. The room after the portcullis appeared to be a dead end, but having seen no other side passageways, we were pretty sure there was a secret door. Careful searching bore fruit as we found it and opened it to reveal a passageway with another portcullis descending from the trap trigger we’d activated. Behind us we heard the one we’d passed crash into place and the holes we’d noticed earlier in the room behind us started firing arrows while vents opened up to allow water to start flooding the room. Fortunately, we’re not without magical resources, and I called upon Abadar to give us safe passage while we linked hands and teleported to the other side of the new portcullis, neatly slipping out of the lich’s trap.
We came to another set of huge bronze doors which lead into a room with murals depicting a sinister boat and ferryman and a shrine with burning lamps. I wrack my brains to remember my Evil Religions 101 class and come up with the answer. It’s a shrine to Charon, the horseman of death and the lamps have something to do with sealing the doors, but I can’t recall what exactly. The doors currently aren’t locked, so we leave the lamps alone, but when we open one, the lamp flame turns blue and we’re dealt both physical and wisdom damage (to the more weak-willed among us that is).
Not wanting to remain longer, we head through the open door only to be confronted with a piscodemon. It challenged us civilly enough, but Ilona was disinclined to converse with such an evil being and instead stated our intention to destroy it utterly. Before she could make good on her threat though, it vanished. A spell to purge invisibility failed to reveal it’s whereabouts, so it must have innate teleportation spells. Those who’d already charged into the demons room felt like they were being watched, so Ilona let loose a burst of daylight, revealing one of the soul-sucker creatures we’d encountered awhile back that had given Breela such a hard time. At last, something to attack! Unfortunately, it didn’t really want to be attacked, and being in a room with a high ceiling it took advantage by flying out of reach of melee weapons, leaving Breela with her spells and the occasional crossbow bolt or arrow to damage it. Meanwhile, the demon reappeared in the rear to cast a stinking cloud in the middle of those of us still in the hallway. Not wanting to remain in the cloud, we crowded into the shade’s room where the demon cast another cloud. sigh With nowhere else to go, and the demon ahead of us in the hallway out of the room, Jiro charged off after it with the rest of us following (the soul-sucker seemed stymied by the cover the cloud provided us, and ceased attacking, or left, couldn’t tell which with the cloud blocking our sight of it). Jiro got a few swings on the demon while it apparently waited for us to group up again and cast a third cloud! Then it disappeared again! Eran and I pushed onward into the little room at the end of the hallway to discover our missing centaur lass, somewhat the worse for wear, but at least chained outside of the new stinking cloud. We healed her up, released her bonds, dispelled the newest cloud to give ourselves some space and then set about explaining who we were.
She’d come in exploring, set off some alarm spells and been beaten up by the golem (as we’d suspected). She said a teleporting cyclops with a glowing gem for an eye had brought her to this room and confined her with nothing but subsistence food and occasional taunts. She didn’t know why he was keeping her alive. Having exhausted this set of passageways, we set off back the way we’d come with spells to detect secret doors active again, assuming we must have missed some other way to go. We’ve made our way back to the Charon shrine room where we hit a positive return on the spell. We’re taking a short break to eat and repair some damage. For the time being, we’ll keep Xamanthe with us, though in case we run into trouble before we find another way out we’ve equipped her and Khismia with rings of featherfall and our contingency is that Khismia will grab her and dimension door her straight up out of the fortress to float to safety and we’ll meet up later. Xamanthe seems less than thrilled with this plan…