19 Etissa 2787
The party decided that they would head first to the right hand passage before investigating what looked to be a cavern leading deeper down. As they neared the mouth of the tunnel, Pearigren spotted a blue-white light coming from somewhere ahead. The party approached cautiously. Pearigren was in the lead, followed closely by the silent Tamil-Ro. Galen came next and then Fritzmaul. Last was Simba, who spent the majority of his time looking over his shoulder to ensure the group was not being stalked. The tunnel continued to bend to the right with the turn becoming sharper and sharper. All the while, the blue light steadily grew in intensity. As they rounded the corner, they saw that the light was given off by a clump of bulbous fungus that grew along the very edge of the floor of what was clearly a dead end. Pearigren and Galen (who had moved forward to see what could be seen) took a step closer and immediately plunged into quicksand. Pearigren just managed to keep from sinking below the deadly liquid while Galen was able to throw out a grasping hand and catch enough of the firm tunnel floor to hold himself above the surface. Obosh tried to pull Pearigren up, but Tamil-Ro stood awkwardly in his way, preventing him from getting a decent grip. After a few more desperate moments, she and Obosh finally clasped hands and with the dwarf’s help, she managed to get free of the muck and back onto dry land.
Once Pearigren and Galen were clean and dry, they continued to the only other tunnel leaving the large cave. The ceiling height dropped to 6 feet and the tunnel narrowed slightly as it descended and then terminated in a room with a lower ceiling yet. This cave was covered in stalagmites and stalactites and was damp. Pearigren and Galen noticed that the huge, white cave crickets had fled to the very back of this cave and even now they were hopping from shadow to shadow in the back of the place, trying to stay out of the light. There was a debate about killing the crickets as they explored this new area, but Obosh noticed that their current tunnel did not actually terminate, it only bent very sharply back on itself. Given this new path forward, the group pressed against the wall farthest from the crickets and continued onward. This new passage widened enough so that two could walk abreast, leveled out after a brief descent and the ceiling inched upward so the party did not feel as cramped.
Once again, a smaller tunnel opened on the party’s right, this one bending tightly back in the direction they had come. The party detoured into this tunnel, with Pearigren and Galen leading and Simba watching behind as always. The tunnel soon terminated in a small round chamber. On the back wall of the chamber was a man-sized statue that looked remarkably like the web-men Tamil-Ro had fashioned in the webbed caves above in that it was devoid of features and detail and was only vaguely humanoid in appearance. The figure’s arms were extended outward, bent at the elbow, palms upward, perhaps in a sign of greeting or welcome. A pile of clear quartz stones and mica flakes were in the palm of the figure’s right hand. Obosh noted that the statue was etched with magical symbols. Pearigren approached to search it more thoroughly, but when she drew within a few feet of the thing, the palm of the right hand began to glow brightly. The light, traveling through the quartz and reflecting off the mica, filled the chamber with a dazzling, colorful cloud of light. There was no immediate harm however, and the party was able to determine that the light was nothing more than a common cantrip they all learned how to cast at Thridein. Galen used magic to try and read the runes inscribed on the statue but found they made no sense from an arcane perspective. They were certainly runes used in magical formula, but conveyed no meaning when translated. Pearigren proceeded to search the statue and surrounding area, but could find nothing. Meanwhile, Galen examined the pile of glowing stone and the palm of the left hand carefully. He suspected that there was a puzzle to be solved before the statue would reveal whatever secrets it held. He decided that the stones must be balanced between the hands (and it did look like the left hand was cupped in a similar manner to the right), so he attempted to move one of the quartz pieces from the right hand to the left. As soon as he lifted the stone from the pile, he triggered some sort of arcane trap, for he burst into flame. He managed to put out the flames rapidly and was lucky that his clothing did not catch fire, so he was not seriously injured. He did drop the stone in surprise however. It was with some trepidation he retrieved it from the floor, but he suffered no further ill effects. The group spent ten or fifteen minutes further manipulating the stones both magically (via mage hand ) and physically, with no other surprises and no effect. Since a few members of the group had active spells cast, they decided that whatever mystery the statue may hold would have to wait and they retreated back down to the main corridor and resumed their exploration of the cave system.
The party did not have to go far when they reached what must be Ghan’s Refuge. The tunnel they were traveling bent sharply to the right and ended in a featureless though very rusted iron door. While Pearigren tried to open the door or find a mechanism to do so, Obosh examined a recess in the cave wall on the side of the wall nearest the door. This recess was no more than a foot wide and half that tall and was blocked by an equally rusted and pitted access door. Fritzmaul suggested that based upon the door’s position and size, it may be an arrow slit or murder hole of some kind. Pearigren checked it for traps and in doing so found that the access door’s latching mechanism was just as rusted as the rest of the door. The small plate fell open at her touch, revealing a dark room beyond. Obosh’s darkvision allowed him to spot a rotting wooden crate on a rock shelf nearby, filled with a number of vials or flasks. While Pearigren resumed her efforts to open the main door, Obosh recovered each of the vials by using mage hand to float the vials through the small door one at a time. When he had finished, he had four vials filled with a light blue liquid and four filled with a clear liquid. All were stoppered with wood stoppers and sealed with wax. Pearigren suspected these flasks were volatile, and a quick test of each revealed that the clear liquid was a strong acid and the light blue liquid was alchemist’s fire. Since the party had no other means of opening the iron door, they poured the remaining three flasks of acid on the door and then battered the weakened door down with Fritzmaul’s flail. The rusted iron fell away in sheets and chunks and the party peered inside to the room beyond.
The large chamber they saw was littered with what appeared to be human bones, swept together in piles and small heaps. Beyond the piles of bones were three passages that headed off in different directions. The entire room was lit with a soft, white, watery glow that emanated from somewhere on the party’s right. Tamil-Ro pushed forward eagerly and called out for Ghan in the peculiar hoarse whisper he had for a voice but there was no reply. What did happen was that the piles of bones swarmed upward and formed themselves into skeletons. Each was wielding a rusty dagger. Pearigren found herself nearly surrounded but was able to get her back to a wall and drop into a defensive stance. Other skeletons slashed madly at Tamil-Ro and their blades found their mark several times. Fritzmaul immolated one with a hurled flask of alchemist’s fire and Obosh smashed another with his axe. Tamil-Ro suffered another deep cut and staggered slightly. Simba saw this and rushed forward, placing a healing spell on their companion. Unfortunately, Tamil-Ro was an undead creature, something that the party suspected but had forgotten in the heat of battle. The healing spell flooded the already damaged creature with positive energy and turned his skeletal body to ash. Pieces of his ribcage and the spiders that lived inside him clattered to the floor. There was no time to grieve this mistake as the skeletons pressed the attack immediately. However, the party was able to move deeper into the room and bring all of their power to bear and the battle was soon over.
There was some concern over the death of Tamil-Ro, but the party felt that he had come far enough to learn Ghan’s fate and that while his death was an accident that could have been prevented, they hoped his spirit would find peace. Fritzmaul and Obosh investigated the shimmering light, which rose from a deep clear pool of water on the right side of the large room while Galen searched carefully through Tamil-Ro’s personal possessions to see if they could learn anything further about Ghan’s Refuge. The others stood watch to ensure the party was not ambushed by other undead.
Fritzmaul and Obosh discovered that the light was coming from a flaming torch lying on the bottom of the pool, partially hidden by a rock overhang. Fritzmaul swam into the deep, clear water and retrieved the thing, confirming that it was a common torch, now waterlogged, with a continual flame spell on it. Galen sorted through the items in Tamil-Ro’s backpack and discovered that in addition to his spellbook and diary, he carried two jars filled with an off-white paste ( cure disease, four doses) a fine dagger ( dagger +1 ) and a sturdy oak wand with inlaid brass ( wand of knock, CL 3, 2 charges). Finding the wand was an almost comical moment in that the party had asked Tamil if he had any magic that would help them bypass the iron door. He had been unable to answer coherently at the time, something the party had come to expect from him, and so they forced their way into this large chamber without the use of the wand. Finding the wand now, after all the effort expended to batter down the door, was indeed ironic. Obosh used one of the curatives in hope that it would help eliminate the crushing pain he was in because of the infected fly bite. He felt better immediately, and resolved to hold on to the the rest of the curatives should the party need them.
Neither Pearigren nor Simba heard anything stirring within the Refuge; it was clear that whatever help Tamil-Ro had intended to bring, he was too late. The skeletons put everyone on edge and they crept down the right hand tunnel as cautiously as they could. This short tunnel ended in a filthy piece of canvas curtain that blocked progress. Pearigren used her bow to move the canvas aside. What they saw astounded them. A man waring tattered wizards robes stood atop a jumbled, decaying pile of tents, furs, blankets and canvas on the far side of the room. His skin was tinged green and he had an abnormally large jaw filled with sharp teeth. The figure issued a prediction that no one would leave the Refuge alive. Pearigren immediately dropped the curtain and a the party broke out into an argument about how they should proceed. Without warning, the curtain flew open and the man-creature burst through. He slashed at Pearigren with his dagger and bit Obosh on the shoulder. Obosh felt a wave of magic wash over him that he could not resist; his muscles locked and he was unable to move. Pearigren retreated back into the large room while Galen raced forward to grab the paralyzed Obosh. Simba hurled magic missiles at the thing but it was protected by a shield that prevented the missiles from striking it. The creature clearly was magical in its own right, for it struck Galen with a dark gray ray that sapped his strength. The group began an unorganized retreat down the hallway and into the larger room. This blocked Pearigren’s line of fire and greatly endangered Obosh. The dwarf was dead weight and Galen was struggling to move him swiftly. The creature rushed up to Obosh and opened its jaws wide with the intent of tearing out his throat when Pearigren finally had a clear shot and struck it solidly with an arrow from her gravity bow. Obosh recovered and managed to stumble back into the arms of his friends. Most of their magic was either spent or useless against the creature and it seemed to sense this as it plowed into the group with wild, snarling abandon, slashing with its dagger and biting anyone that it could. Simba drew off from battle long enough to apply one of the potions he claimed from Rahim’s lab in Thridein ( oil of magic weapon +4 ) to his quarterstaff while Fritzmaul drank a potion he recovered from the same place ( potion of displacement ). The creature used this break in the battle to retreat and empower his free hand with a spell that caused his hand to glow with a pale, sick light. It also called forth two other skeletons from alcoves in the room it came from. One attacked Fritzmaul, the other never made it into the fray as Galen was able to destroy it with magic missiles.
The battle moved from one based on furious action to one based on maneuvering. While Fritzmaul sparred with the skeleton attacking him, the others tried to corner the creature and kill it. The creature was cunning and swift, however, and continually moved so as to prevent Pearigren from getting a clean shot. It managed to strike Galen savagely with its dagger and then again with its glowing hand, which was terribly cold and sapped his already lowered strength even further. The battle was not going completely the thing’s way, however, as Fritzmaul was able to destroy the skeleton attacking him and Pearigren was able to sneak an arrow passed her friends and into the creature. At last they had the creature surrounded and even though it fended off most of the attacks, Simba was able to land a terrible blow with his magically-imbued quarterstaff that split the creature’s skull.
The creature wore several pieces of expensive jewelry and wielded a dagger +1 . The party returned to the room where they found the creature and searched it thoroughly. In the pile of bedding, they uncovered a spellbook which Galen determined to be focused on necromantic magic and a carved, bone wand ( lesser animate dead , CL5, 4 charges). There was no diary or other information to explain what befell the wizards of Ghan’s Refuge. The rest of the Refuge was unguarded and the party explored it rapidly. Down the central tunnel they found a storeroom for food and other essentials. The stores had been deliberately destroyed and the food ruined. The final tunnel led to an alchemical lab and library, though it too looked like it had been deliberately destroyed. The library shelves had been pulled down and all the books burned in a large pile. A cold heap of ash was all that remained of spellbooks, scrolls and many tomes useful to arcane casters. Galen sifted through these ashes, saddened by the loss of so many books. Luckily he thought to search the pile magically as well and found that a scroll tube escaped the conflagration. Inside was a single scroll ( mage armor , shield , CL1) The others managed to recover some useful alchemical equipment, about 25% of the lab.
With the Refuge clear, the party made their way back toward the Finhold. They investigated the pool and fungus in the large room with the waterfall and found it to be safe enough now that the ceiling beasts were slain. They also investigated a side passage they bypassed earlier in the day when they were racing to catch up with Tamil-Ro. This passage seemed to carry the bulk of whatever water used to flow through these caves. It sloped steeply downward and finally ended in a 10’ wide hole that plunged downward into darkness some 80 feet below. The party decided that they had to fully explore the caves before naming the Finhold truly safe. They resolved to return to this sinkhole and explore it once they had a chance to drop off the alchemical equipment they found and take a well-earned rest in the Finhold.