The party made good time at sea from Harlond, aboard the Elphinstone, though during the first day out a large block fell from the rigging and nearly crushed Jimmy (yet again). The party waited until the next day to approach the captain about putting them off at Morlin. he was quite loath to stop there he said, for multiple reasons (out of the way, expensive, Imperial territory, etc). However, a promise of 100 gold coins was more than enough to change his mind, and he agreed. He would land them in Olvarium, the imperial provincial capital and main port of the island (he’d been there once or twice before, he said).
On the third day at sea, there was a further disturbance when the party was accused of chewing and mutilating rats in the hold. This seemed uncanny and the party wondered if it had anything to do with wererats. Lune tried speaking to one of the live ones, but it had nothing useful to tell him. Some poking around the ship, casting detect magic, and the like revealed nothing. Two days later the party was on deck lounging about when a grey figure walked amongst them and vanished. Investigating this apparition revealed nothing, and the party could not find any signs of unknown entities aboard ship.
On the seventh day at sea, just after dawn the captain pointed out the southern headlands of Morlin to the north, and informed the party they’d arrive around midday. However, a short time later, the ship was shaken by a heavy thud. This was repeated a short time alter and the party discovered that a large whale was attacking the vessel. Lune tried speaking to it once more (after the party realized their fish commanding helm would not work on a whale). The whale informed him that the vessel was “carrying evil” and “must be destroyed.” Lune in turn told the whale that they were aware of it and on a mission to destroy the evil. This seemed to satisfy the whale, which then dove deep and vanished.
The ship reached Olvarium without further incident. The town was not overly large, with perhaps a thousand folk dwelling there. It sat at the northern end of a deep cleft bay and rose up sharply from the water. It was walled (though the wall was clearly in need of work) and there was a small fortress on the highest ground away from the sea. The docks were largely empty except for numerous fishing boats and a few small auxiliary craft (though there was room for larger vessels to moor). The ship was greeted by a trio of soldiers of the Sea Empire. Ash cast ESP surreptitiously to see what they were about, while the rest of the party stayed clear. The magic-user learned that the soldiers had general orders to search for four fugitives, one an ugly half-orc, one a gnome or other smaller race, a cleric of Maladominus and a warrior. The four were sought after by the highest levels of the Imperial government, though it was clear the soldiers were just going through the motions with this vessel, as their port was so isolated. Hearing this, Lune took a potion of gaseous form as the soldiers began to search the ship and inspect the crew and passengers. Not seeing who they looked for, they departed and the party was able to go ashore without being noted.
The locals proved to be drab, rather stand-offish, and an unhappy lot. The city, they learned quickly, was rather poor and uninviting. it, like the rest of Morlin, was dry, dusty, and dirty. It was a possession of the Empire, but a poor one, held only because the island was of potential strategic value but otherwise worthless for farming and the like — Olvarium was only able to subsist because of regular supply runs from Afilain to support the garrison, supporting which was in truth the main industry of the town. A few coins given to locals and the party learned of a traveler’s inn (Copper Fish) and three taverns (Aurian’s Rest, Fiery Deeps, Devil’s Thirst). They made their way to the former and obtained room and board for a night (a bit pricey, at that, and the food was mainly fish; from the many copper wares they deduced Morlin had some copper deposits).
An extra gold coin to the innkeeper loosened his tongue, and the party learned a little of the island. The locals were “imperial subjects,” he said, no citizens. The garrison was about a hundred men, plus bureaucrats, all drawn from the Empire proper, who viewed this assignment as punishment of a sort; a few other groups of soldiers could be found in other towns and villages, as well. The island was basically split in two regions, divided by a Spine Ridge of high, dry hills. The western/southern half was dry, dusty, poor quality farmland where little enough grew except scattered, hardy shrubbery. Across the ridge to north and east things were worse, and thus this region was named the Wastes. Ancient rumors said that the land was blighted in ancient times when the gods and devils fought a mighty battle there, shattering and killing the very land itself. Now, nothing lived there, though in truth almost no one lived anywhere inland. The stream that flowed through the town (he called it a river) was the sole major source of fresh water on the entire island; everywhere else relied on cisterns to collect the occasional rain water. The innkeeper knew nothing of what might lie in the Wastes.
The next morning, the party headed out of town, through an open northern gate where a pair of soldiers showed little or no interest in them. They followed a dusty track north, paralleling the stream and arriving midday in the village of Sokol. This tiny place boasted a lone tavern (Green Stone) but, aside from a very poor lunch, the party got nothing from the place and, passing a lone guard tower, they continued along the stream-side track (a branch went off to the northwest towards other settlements, but the party was no interested in visiting the Wastes in accordance with their quest). They passed no other travelers this day.
After a time, the track turned east and crossed the stream, leaving it behind. They were now approaching the southern end of the Spine Ridge of high hills, at last coming to a walled village that lay between the end of the hills and a drop off to a steep-sided bay The people here were a tad friendlier and pointed them to the Highlook Inn, where they procured room and board once more. The innkeeper was more talkative and told them a little more of the Wastes, saying that his town sat at the southernmost tip of that region. He knew of talk of ruins deep in the wastes, though he knew no specifics. The road continued, he told them, along the coast now, but there were only two settlements along it, the little village of Lost Fornim a day’s walk further north and, beyond that, the second town of Morlin, Taficum. The locals here were also friendlier, though that only translated into not glaring at the party and merely glancing at them curiously.
The next morning they continued on, getting a good view of the widening Wastes to their right as they went on (and as the range of hills veered north while they went northeast). The place was truly bleak, and they saw nothing growing beyond an occasional tuft of hardy weeds along the road. There was no hint of water anywhere; an though the weather was cold and dreary, the ever-present alkaline dust made them exceptionally thirsty. But, they passed without incident and by late afternoon came to the small, unwalled village of Lost Fornim. A rather hostile local of this decrepit place, after some harsh words, directed them to the town’s lone, small inn, the Horned Man (they learned of two taverns, as well, the Deep Nine and the Black Wing).
The locals were unfriendly though not overtly hostile, and the party’s meal was perhaps the worst fish dish they’d ever experienced. Even the ale was terrible and the small inn was terribly uncomfortable and unpleasant. They wheedled a little information here, including that the village was named after an ancient town somewhere inland, destroyed long ago and now largely forgotten. Nobody when in the wastes, they learned, except copper miners (and they only went a few miles in and only during daylight). The Wastes were haunted and dangerous, though the party did hear that the occasional religious zealot or ascetic would periodically wander out of the place. Later that night, they were accosted by an old man who’d overheard their questioning. he implored them to not go into the Wastes and to go north to Taficum instead (the party had been debating this point amongst themselves). The old man seemed addled and practically incoherent, but emphatic. When he departed, Jimmy trailed him back to a ramshackle hut that seemed to be his home; sneaking about he found the old man praying vociferously for protection from devils and evil spirits.
This galvanized the party who, next morning, set out into the Wastes; some locals watched them with interest, but none sought to dissuade them. The previous day they’d noticed a dry stream bed that lead to the northwest, and this they followed for lack of any better trail or path. After several hours of walking through the dead land, they spotted a line of stone on a low ridge to the north of the stream bed. Moving up to it they found a ring of 18 rough stones placed at regular intervals around a round, bowl-like depression of hard stone, perhaps 250 feet across. There was no sign of what this might be, but to the northwest, the party could see something black sticking up above the ridge in that direction (everything else here about was drab colored and the black was quite stark). Moving towards it, they came over a rise and could see the remnants of an ancient town, now little more than tumbled stones, foundations, and a bit of ancient wall here and there. But, in the middle of this there rose a strange building of stark black basalt in apparently perfect condition some 30′ high, of irregular shape. It was most incongruous.
The party approached and circled the building and found it to have nine side, with no windows or other openings except at the westernmost side, which had two huge bronze doors standing shut. The doors were covered in reliefs of various devils or demons, monsters, and foul scenes of evil rites. Perudo (?) took a chance now, and tried a door, and it swung open silently and without effort. The party was careful to check for traps here and there and entered when they felt safe. The doors opened into a great chamber of the same black stone, utterly clean and devoid of dust (a miracle considering the region outside). At the far end was a dais of three steps (each 2′ high, with unknown runes carved the length of the risers). Behind the dais on the back was a nine-sided figure with runes near each side in a rough circle; all glowed with a fiery red.
Lune now began a search for traps along the north wall, followed by Jimmy looking for secret doors. They made their way all along it, over the dais and the eastern walls, and then, as they started back along the south wall, found a secret door. Opening it, they found a passage with numerous doors along it. In turn, they opened these doors to find stark, bare rooms around the circumference of the place. However, each of the seven irregular-shaped rooms they explored had an image of some diabolical figure on the outside wall, all of them different. The party speculated on this for a time and seemed to come to the conclusion that this might be some sort of prison, with the seven figures the inmates. But nothing happened while they were observing the very life-like figures.
The last door that faced in towards the main room they saved for last. Opening it, they found it steep stairs widening and descending steeply into the darkness below. Going down, they passed from the black stone to more natural stone, coming to a great hall heading east some 40′ below. The hall was carved with mages of strange figures fighting the gods in ancient times, with the figures seen above depicted quite often (but not the only ones); pillars along the hall were carved as stylized flames, but with tormented faces writhing in them. The hall eventually opened up into a larger space of similar design. However, in the center atop a low dais, was a great bone, like the thigh of an immense giant. From it protruded a great spear of dark metal. The party approached cautiously, and at times Lune could see small figures lurking in shadows to north and south along side passages (they made no move to approach, though).
The party now agonized over what they should do. Lune feared drawing the spear might release the devils they saw above, if this were a prison. Jimmy favored trying, hoping that maybe this aspect of their quest would turn out as neatly as the last. At last, he gave it a try and was shocked or somehow blasted when he touched it, and had a momentary vision of the spear being used in some strange and incomprehensible battle of the ancient world; the spear did not move in the slightest. The party considered that perhaps only certain types of people or of certain dispositions (i.e. alignments) could draw it, so Perudo tried next, only to be blasted like Jimmy. Clearly the spear would not so easily be taken.
The party now decided to try the northern side passage from this place. But, as they moved forward, Jimmy and Perudo fell into a pit that suddenly opened at their feet. Moments later, four small figures rushed forward with small flames which two hurled into the pit — they were clay pots of oil thrown Molotov cocktail style. The burning oil splashed up the two in the pit as they recovered fro their fall. Lune made ready to help his two comrades while Ash now threw a fireball at the attackers. The blast obliterated the four attackers; unfortunately, in the confined space of the corridors, the blast also caught the party, including those in the pit. Perudo was knocked unconscious while Jimmy’s defense gear (bracers of defense and ring of protection) were destroyed (he was saved by his ring of fire protection, though).
Much shaken, Perudo and Jimmy were drawn up from the pit and the party retreated without further incident. Back in the large, main chamber of the surface edifice, they tended to Perudo and collected stones from outside to pile up against the secret door, seeking to block it so they could use this chamber to rest…
– Experience: carried over