The Relic of Tur’dar, Part Fifteen: Ancient Machinations

The Relic of Tur’dar, Part Fifteen: Ancient Machinations

Somewhere far beneath the city of Cyopolda, the adventure party has discovered an ancient, dark stone fortress full of strange doorways, dangerous traps, foul creatures, and odd symbols. As they press deeper into the stronghold’s warm hallways, they search for the relic and contemplate the origins of this long-abandoned place. Perhaps the deeper they venture, the more they will learn; but they must tread with caution so there will be someone left to tell the tale of the wonders in these depths.

The following player characters wandered the warm hallways and strange tunnels:

  • Sookta, the Djenndan blacksmith, played by @xsubnuke
  • Hodjai, the Djenndan warrior, played by @evan
  • Bubby, the human forager, played by @Terri
  • Nysteld, the human seer, played by @saelbrin
  • Jamia Copperdrum, the Pulnagá mercenary, played by @katherinehunter77

Crak’s injuries looked awful; he seemed even more weak and his pace slowed considerably. Dyrakos touched the squire’s shoulder and gestured for him to put down the pack. The adventure party had regrouped in the entrance hall to this strange underground fortress; Crak laid the oiled leather pack against the massive slab of blackstone and collapsed to the floor. “Sorry, boss,” the large Djenndan said in a defeated tone. Hodjai and Bikim volunteered to help lead the squire back to the surface where he would be able to rest and seek medical attention. As the two adventurers helped lift the lumbering Crak to his feet, Houndriil began to lose his senses again, muttering about how they all should leave and that they were all doomed to die if they stayed in these cursed corridors. Ens’ye tried to calm her companion, but he continued to act frantically. The group said farewell to Hodjai, Bikim, and Crak, as the three awkwardly navigated the threshold of the northern door and back out into the geode to make their way to the city.

Dyrakos asked who might be willing to carry his pack, and offered ten threnns per day for the service. The rest of the adventure party was hesitant to accept, given the weight of the pack. Smystello thought she might oblige, but then declined because it was too heavy. Bubby might have reluctantly agreed, but then Nysteld had an idea. She approached Houndriil and asked him to carry the pack. She espoused a persuading notion that if he focused on the backpack, and on completing that task, that he would be able to succeed. All he needed to do was worry about the backpack and that would help him overcome his fears and anxiety over the horrors of this dark underground fortress. Luckily, Houndriil found Nysteld’s idea hopeful and decided to take up the task. Ens’ye thanked the seer for her wisdom, and Houndriil traded his mental burdens for the weight of Dyrakos’s pack.

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After resting there in the entrance hall for a time, the group felt a bit more at ease. The strange sounds that echoed in these halls could still be heard, but now that the slamming of the doors and Houndriil’s howls of fear had subsided, they were left with the sound of their lanterns and torches, and the ambient hissing that could faintly be heard through the west-most southern door. Nysteld recalled that when the adventurers had explored beyond the doorway that had injured Crak, they found a strange room and had heard an odd humming sound that made her feel slightly drowsy. The seer asked her scholar specialist, Smystello, about the humming sound and what it possibly might mean.

Smystello thought for a moment and then recalled that there were tales of crystals that have the ability to pulse and resonate in such a way that they could lull people to sleep. The scholar surmised that the crystal humming may be soft on the ears, and likened it to the effect that a grandparent’s lullaby has on a small child. Whatever the cause and outcome, Smystello counseled caution around humming sounds within any area where crystals seemed prominent. Nysteld took the advice seriously and began devising ways to create makeshift earplugs. She worked with Ens’ye to give everyone the tools needed to block their ears should they hear any humming sounds. With their wits gathered and a renewed sense of how to continue searching these wretched depths, the adventurers decided that they should investigate the source of the hissing noises before they follow after the cave-dwelling creatures they had encountered not long ago.

The adventurers approached the west-most southern door, which hissed at them quietly through its inch and a half crack. Bubby and Houndriil both opted to remain in the entrance hall while the others investigated the sound, content to hear about the source of the hissing rather than witness it themselves. Bruten Vaarg volunteered to remain behind as well to guard the two frightened adventurers. Finally, Nysteld used her staff to pry open the stone slab, confident that the function of these doors was predictable enough to trust. The stone operated just as the group suspected, and soon Diatia led the group into the corridor beyond the threshold and down a winding path.

The hallway twisted strangely beyond the door, and not long afterward the path turned south and the typically flat, blackstone floors and walls became jagged and uncut, like a natural cavern. The cave meandered, twisting downward as the sound of hissing became more and more intense. Finally the adventurers arrived in a small opening that bordered a crudely carved stair pathway that led down into the darkness. Diatia, who was at the head of the group, quickly lost her sense of curiosity as the ominous hole in the earth stared at the adventurers and hissed mockingly. Nysteld called up and asked Diatia to continue downward; it was in that moment that the seer caught her first complete glimpse of Diatia’s face as the cloaked marksman turned back toward her, lifted the lantern upward, and stared in utter disbelief. Diatia had greyish skin with dark hair, and her features looked vaguely kahlnissáan but also resembled human. Her face looked strangely young, and her eyes were dark purple with flecks of obsidian surrounding her pupils. Her eyes, which seemed far too old and knowing to belong to such a young face, cut through Nysteld as if to say “You can’t be serious.” She waited a full two minutes before finally continuing down the sloppily-carved stone steps.

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At the bottom of the unfinished stairwell was an oddly-shaped room that had a familiar-looking door on the western wall. As Diatia drew her lantern close the hissing seemed to be coming from the inch and a half crack in the doorway, but it also seemed to be rushing deep in the walls. The adventurers pressed the stone slab open revealing a long hallway. “We’ve come this far,” thought Diatia, before continuing beyond the threshold into the corridor. Other than the intensely loud hissing noise that droned on constantly, the walls and floor in this space seemed much like where they had investigated in the stronghold above. Ahead, however, the party noticed something they had not noticed since leaving behind the brown grasses north of Cyopolda–a light source other than their lanterns and torches. The orange light glowed dimly at the corner of the hallway before them. As they rounded the edge of the corner, they saw the source of the light far ahead in an expansive cavern. Several hundred feet ahead, a massive moat of molten blackstone bubbled and flowed anti-clockwise around a giant slabbed altar. The room extended hundreds of feet out in every direction, even upward beyond the sight of the lava’s glow.

As they approached the surging, hot moat they saw the source of the hissing and perhaps even the humid air in this stronghold. A large gap and crack in the cavern wall funneled an enormous underground stream directly into the center of the lava moat. As the water rushed into the lava it cooled the flow into large boulders nearly thirty feet in diameter, which then continued down the fiery current toward the center of the cavern where they finally returned to their molten state. The water hissed as it turned to steam while cooling the large flowing rocks. Atop the large, blackstone altar the group saw a giant crystal resting in a circular metal ring. The crystal was dark purple at its edges and translucent grey at the center where it touched its weathered metal stand. It seemed to be roughly the size of a melon, but taller and longer at its purple, crystalline edges. The adventurers stood in the hot, humid, glowing orange cavern for several minutes, their thoughts drowned in a sea of hissing steam and rushing white rapids. The crystal atop the altar was just beyond the lava moat. Was this the relic? And how would they reach it? There were too many uncertainties, and no one wanted to proceed without first regrouping with their comrades above, so Diatia anxiously led the group back toward the crude stairwell and they returned to the entrance hall of the stronghold.

The adventure party returned to the main hall drenched in sweat and riddled with questions. They discussed the best course of action with their comrades. Primarily, the worth or purpose of the crystal remained a mystery, as did how they might retrieve it from its sequestered altar. Sookta suggested that the group explore beyond the western door, where the cave-dwelling creatures had devoured their fallen comrades. The group agreed, remembering that there were three other doors in that room that might reveal more clues as to the strange molten moat and the crystal’s importance. Ens’ye was at a loss for words; her sense was that the large crystal might not actually be the Relic at all, but some kind of device designed to contain it. But perhaps they would find more answers beyond the doors to the west.

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Sliding open the western door was no problem, and the adventure party stepped into the room where just over an hour ago there were troglodytes devouring their dead comrades. The remnants of the grisly scene told their gory tale as the lantern light uncovered them, but no trace of the hungry cannibals could be seen within the room. Around them the adventurers got their first real look at this space. This area may have been a trophy room at some point, but the furniture that lined the outer walls had long ago decayed to dust and mold. The humidity in the air served to encourage lichen and green mold growth over most of the surfaces. Only the stone of the doors seemed immune, a grey granite with flecks of red and blackstone. There were two doors on the northern wall, and the group decided to investigate the eastern door first. Beyond the door they found three large ticks that skittered toward them as they pressed the stone door into its track.

Diatia was the first to act again; she smoothly threw two daggers down toward the closest approaching insect. The daggers popped through the creature’s exoskeleton with shattering crunch but it still continued its advance. The group fanned out into the room and proceeded to launch an assault on the beasts with arrows, knives, and melee weapons. One by one, the ticks were defeated with prejudice, only Bubby decided that he wanted to step forward and wrestle one of the ticks into a calm, docile state. The forager learned a painful lesson about the difficulty of soothing a hostile, blood-sucking insect. When he placed his hands on the outer thorax of the creature, it skittered around and leapt onto his arms, surrounding his right forearm with its mandibles. The tick bit down and began sucking Bubby’s blood; Ens’ye’s brother, Rioldny, swung his axe downward at the tick and hit it so hard that it burst and the axe cut right through to Bubby’s arm. Within moments the survivalist fell to the ground, paralyzed from the insect’s venom.

Bruten Vaarg lifted Bubby to his shoulder while the rest of the party searched around the room. Twelve chests lined the floor in a “U” shape. They were clearly of a newer make than the destroyed remnants of former furniture and decorations that surrounded the blackstone fortress. Ens’ye did not recognize the design of the chests, but Smystello posited that they were of early Empire history, perhaps post-Rendalia, and seemed to be of noble Djenndan origin. The scholar noted that nobles of the early protectorate often buried their dead in crypts and caverns, which was a far different practice from the usual Djenndan burial which was outside, in high places, usually suspended on scaffolding. Early Djenndan nobles likely adopted this practice as a way to participate in elements of human culture. The twelve chests represented the twelve parts of the Djenndan soul, which are housed in different parts of the physical form. The parts are separated after death, and stored in elaborate chests. Sookta opened the closest chest to check inside, and found two desiccated Djenndan feet. The adventurers decided to leave the dead noble where he was buried and proceeded to search the next doorway.

Beyond the next northern door they found what must have been a large meeting hall, perhaps dining hall, where old and decayed tables and chairs claimed the central portions of the room. Luckily no insects were lurking in these shadows, but the rotted wood furniture in the humid air made the space feel cramped. Bubby, who was still paralyzed from the tick venom, lost control over his bodily functions, making Bruten Vaarg furious. The Djenndan marksman set his paralyzed forager on the edge of an ancient table and tried to clean himself up. That was when Nysteld noticed strange cracks in one of the blackstone slabs on the wall. It appeared as if someone had replaced an original doorway with a fashioned piece of blackstone in order to make it appear as if there was only wall, but peering at the space with a lantern revealed there was indeed a secret space behind the stone. Nysteld and Sookta worked with a crowbar to open the door, which ground aside like a millstone. Cool, dry air emerged momentarily, suggesting this had been sealed well for quite some time. Beyond was a small space, an area that might have been a larder or a kitchen at some point, but now served to hide a footlocker-sized chest that rested in the center of the room. The adventurers all looked at each other, expectantly, and finally Sookta and Dyrakos stepped forward. The blacksmith opened the chest and Dyrakos shined lantern light inside.

“It’s a funeral cache,” noted Smystello. The chest must have had upwards of 4,000 gold threnns inside, as well as hundreds of varied jewels, rings, necklaces, and odd trinkets. For a moment the group contemplated the ethical implications of taking this wealth from the obvious resting place of this former noble, but quickly agreed that it was going to waste here in these depths. Dyrakos volunteered to help get this out of the caverns and back up to the city for safe keeping. Usthon and Dyrakos lugged the chest back toward the entrance hall of the fortress where they met with Hodjai and Bikim who had just now returned from bringing Crak back outside. Bikim said that a healer who was at Boar’s Breath owed Dyrakos a favor, and so he was treating the injured squire. Dyrakos wasted no time, and enlisted Bikim to help him get the chest topside. The adventure party laughed–perhaps somewhat skeptically–at Dyrakos’s enterprising nature, but no one objected to his course of action. Diatia took note of the group’s trust in Dyrakos, and so when he asked her to stay with the other adventurers she bowed in agreement.

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The adventurers said their goodbyes to Dyrakos and Bikim, and then told Hodjai what they had found in the halls beneath them. The warrior suggested following the trail of yellowed blood that led into the western door of the central room. It was a risky venture, but he believed that it was best to face the threat head on. His boldness changed as they crossed the threshold of the door and walked down the corridor, though. They arrived at another doorway toward the end of the hall; beyond the crack they heard the growling, gnashing, and slinking of troglodytes. Hodjai changed his tactics and suggested they open the door, throw in a torch, and then rush back to the central room and close the door of the corridor behind them. There was little time for discussion, as the ominous sounds of the creatures became frightening and it was more and more likely that they would hear the adventurers lingering in the hallway outside their room. With a shove, Hodjai forced open the stone slab and Diatia tossed her torch some thirty feet toward the center of the room. It landed near a dank, crude stairwell that descended into the floor. Around the torch they saw eight of the cave-dwelling creatures. One of the beasts dropped the carcass of a tick from its mouth and howled angrily toward the door. The whole group of troglodytes bounded toward the adventurers, to which Diatia resounded, “Shit!” All they could do at that point was run back toward the central room.

When they returned, Sookta slammed the door shut behind them to keep the troglodytes back. Seconds later, the loud sounds of slamming stone filled their space as the troglodytes slapped and clawed at the door. Amid the noise, Nysteld and the rest of the adventure party devised a plan to draw in the creatures, surprise them, and defeat them. Bubby began to regain the use of his limbs and after he cleaned himself he contributed to the battle plan as well. For nearly twenty minutes of constant banging, the group devised their strategy. When it was time to go, everyone took their places, and then Kishsahat stepped forward and pressed her foot against the door in an interval between the slamming motion, shoving it open with impressive force. On the opposite side of the door a troglodyte with clouded, crossed eyes lunged forward. Kishsahat cracked the beast in the head with her club, bursting its skull into a shower of puss-yellow goo.

One by one the party members landed their attacks on the troglodytes who were forced to climb over each other to make their way into the central room where the adventurers had the advantage. It was a slaughter; the entrance was awash with the yellowed and congealed blood of the cave-dwelling beasts. The smell was foul and the battle became frazzled toward the end. Jamia cleaved one of the few remaining troglodytes in half with a dazzling display of power. The burst of guts caused the group to recoil while another creature leapt forward and began to devour the left half of its comrade’s body. Only one creature remained, and so Ens’ye’s brother, Rioldny, stepped forward to end it with his great axe. But sadly, the stone banded guard misstepped, and landed his axe into a crack of the blackstone floor. It was enough of a fumble for the troglodyte to scramble up his arms onto his shoulders like a squirrel atop a boulder. Rioldny was still trying to free his weapon when the puss-fanged creature tore off the warrior’s helm and then bit down hard onto the black-haired neck. Dark red blood flowed and Rioldny howled in pain. Usthon stepped forward while the rest of the nearby adventurers scrambled and screamed. Rioldny’s cries mingled with the sounds of the creature’s growling bite and the other troglodyte’s gross smacking mastication.

Usthon could not get a grip on the creature as Rioldny flailed around in pain and fear. But with his considerable height advantage, Hodjai managed to grab the troglodyte around the midsection and throw it off. The problem was that the creature had its fangs firmly fixed in the side of Rioldny’s neck. When the Djenndan wrenched the creature loose, it pulled away with a large portion of Rioldny’s neck still in its mouth. The warrior made a gurgled cry as he clutched the side of his neck and shoulder, but by then he was succumbing to the venom in his veins. He fell to his knees, and then forward to his face where a pool of dark red swirled in the bubbled yellow slime.

The adventurers, all breathing heavily, stepped back from the slaughter and dispatched the remaining two troglodytes. For a long pause, all they could hear was the panting in their ringing ears and their hearts pounding in the core of their aching bodies. Hodjai reached out to check on Rioldny, but the warrior stared blankly out into the darkness. He was dead. Nysteld closed the man’s eyes and placed her hand on his forehead in reverence for his sacrifice. Ens’ye remained silent, but her eyes ran wet. She never imagined that her many expeditions to find the fabled Relic would have lead her here into some forsaken underground stronghold to watch her brother’s life end. In the flicker of their lanterns and torches, the adventurers dragged Rioldny’s body back toward the east side of the central room.

For the moment, it seemed, the group had cleansed these halls of the troglodyte menace, but at great personal cost, especially to the ais’lun noble. Kishsahat relieved Houndriil of the backpack for the moment in order to retrieve cleaning bandages and some food. The group needed to rest for a spell before determining their next course of action. The torch that Hodjai and Diatia had thrown into the far room revealed a descending staircase of some kind, and it made sense to investigate that area before returning to the strange room with the symbols on the floor and ceiling. It was clear that there was something powerful here in this fortress, perhaps tied to the crystal beyond the lava below. Now the adventurers must decide how they will proceed when we meet in our next session. Join us then!

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Fractalform is the gaming handle of Bret Woods--ethnomediologist, author, and lead developer of Augur's Lore RPGs. Bret is Thing 1 at http://descrypt-studios.com.

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