Taking a closer look, Syl identified the woad magic as connected to the runes; nothing good would come from them, he also found.
The group proceeded toward the origin Kaven had witnessed, the halfling leading the way. They dipped down into a valley and up the other side, wading through brush, winding through forest until they reached a clearing. Ahead, a lake lapped upon a shore. Beyond, the forest curled around before hills above. There appeared to be a boulder upon the shore of the lake.
From a distance, they could tell the boulder was not naturally formed, though covered with ivy. Foradjinn and Alston approached, managing not to disturb the deer drinking at the lake. Upon closer inspection, they discovered a door frame set in the rough-hewn rock. Beside it, set in the stone, was an indented circle. Next to it, written in common, were words:
“A bond, an oath, a pact
Giving life leads to death
Raising an eyebrow at the sneaking bard and rogue, Kiethri looked up at Kaven. “Why are you guys so paranoid?”
With a smirk, Kaven leaned down out of the saddle to catch up a rock. Winding up, he hurled towards Foradjinn and Alston, startling them out of their furtive study. Syl strode up and aided in their research, pushing at the circle with his staff – it depressed an inch or so, but nothing happened. He mused over the words and came to the conclusion the same time as Alston.
The gnome cut his own palm and pressed the bloody wound to the circle. With a strange sucking sensation against the slash, the door swung open with a grating noise. Inside, stonework formed steps down and to the left.
They all descended the steps, Kiethri bandaging Alston’s hand. The stonework of the interior gave way to more masterful craft, providing acoustics for distant organ music and the faint tink-tink of slow pickaxe noises. As they advanced, they spotted gossamer strands hanging from the doorway of a room to the left; Foradjinn shivered, remembering his ordeal with the teleporting spider not more than a fortnight previous.
Clutching his holy symbol, Kaven sent out his divine sense and affirmed the presence of undead towards the pickaxe sounds. Syl and Alston charged and soon discovered two zombies mining the wall with a deep pit beyond. While the wizard and rogue finished their exercise, Foradjinn studied the wall and found no ore or metal surrounding the holes the zombies had carved thus far.
Moving on toward the organ music, they all arrived at another door. Alston oiled the hinges and eased it open. A beautiful stonework floor stretched out, interrupted by carved ornate columns twenty feet high. To the right and up a few steps, a pair of decorated doors glowed a soft, strange azure.
Alston skirted the door and stealthed down the column hall, passing a gorgeous mural of a forest scene with nymphs and dryads. At the end of the column hall, he found two sets of tall steps bisected by another column, the organ music louder than ever and issuing from beyond them. Above the steps, a glass ceiling allowed faint blue light in to bathe the interior – the sun glowing through the lake and the glass beneath.
Creeping up the steps, Alston spotted two ogres sitting next to a massive organ. Next to them was another decorated door. After Alston’s whispered report, Syl sent his pixie to check the organ and found the player to be invisible. Upon prodding the space before it, the pixie found the unseen player to also be…squishy? “It must be an unseen servant, then,” Syl nodded.
Kaven tried the other door they had passed while Foradjinn and Alston set up traps of ball bearings and spears upon and near the steps. The paladin encountered strong resistance and was unable to force the door. He then discovered another side passage near the steps and cast his divine sense up the stairs beyond the threshold – a few more undead lurked up there as well.
Before Kaven could warn the rest, Alston and Igneel ambushed the ogres and attempted to lead them toward the trapped steps. The latter met with mixed success, stumbling and crashing into the organ, almost cornered by one of the ogres.
Still, thanks to Syl’s fireball wand and one of the ogres not seeing a trap, they were easily dealt with. Complications arose when two dogs bounded down the stairs near Kaven, the paladin only just managing to warn Foradjinn in time. Four gaunt undead archers materialized in place of the ogres near the organ and half the party turned to fight them while more zombies descended the steps into the vengeful swings of a Yondollan paladin warhammer and the blazing white light of the old sword of Haré.
Upon the conclusion of the fight, silence fell for a brief moment. Then, the door near the organ scraped open and a raspy voice yelled out, “Well? Are you coming?” The unknown person slammed the door shut again.
Tense, the party approached, Alston taking point to swing the giant oak doors wide. Within, rich stonework decorated a smaller room around a shimmering void. Before it, more undead awaited them, led by a white-scaled half-dragon creature, similar to the one they encountered in Trokan Keep. From his mouth he exhaled a freezing foggy cloud of ice. “They must not be allowed to leave here alive,” he roared. “Brothers, bring them to their death!”
Whipped into a frenzy, the undead screamed to the attack. Alston ducked between them and attempted to enter the shimmering void, correctly guessing it was a portal. It resisted him, but he did spot an orange gem at the base of it – a power source?
After a frantic first few strikes, the party discovered a critical combination of spells and attacks to turn the room into a kill box. The half-dragon fell with a scream of fury and the others held off the constant supply of fresh undead troops from the portal while Syl put his new crowbar to use.
Levering the orange gem from its setting, he held it up in triumph as the portal shimmered, wavered, and then collapsed. Syl’s grin froze upon his face and the cheers of Foradjinn, Alston, and Kaven fell silent as the dispellation revealed, upon the wall behind the portal, the familiar sign of the Crestin rebellion…