Back in the city, the party decided to take a few days to heal, rest up, and take care of sundry errands. Aldeberon got his silver cross fitted to his shield. Cadwalider placed an order for six bottles of fine ink for use in writing spells into his spellbook (this was expensive and would take time, as there were not exactly a lot of wizards in the dwarf city). Aldeberon also had their runner ask around about purchasing a ring of protection. Finally, the party as a group visited the main shrine of Moradin in the city. There, they negotiated for the preparation of a scroll of protection from undead. Also, surreptitiously, Cadwalider negotiated for the same priest to cast remove curse on Aldeberon, thinking that his weird obsession with undead was uncanny. This proved to the the case, and the monomaniacal obsession was lifted. The wizard insisted he did it for the good of the party. To celebrate, Cadwalider caroused that night, further delaying their departure from the city. However, the extra time served to use identify spells on many of the magic items the party recently recovered. Of note, the tapestry that depicted a fearful elf woman on a hazy background, which radiated strong magic, was unreadable by the identify spell. Zhuld Zir was away a good deal of this time, visiting his home and other temples. Also, rumors in the city floated about that strange lights had been seen high in the mountains, far above where any dwarf would go. But, of greater interest, a company of royal soldiers had arrived form the capital to reinforce the city garrison. Many thought this boded poorly for a resumption of trade through the north next year when the spring thaws came (it is currently mid October — the late season trade should be busy, but the Giant King’s conquest had ended that abruptly).
Also during this period, the party had two visitors. The first, Orrin their employer, came by once more to ask about their progress. He seemed somewhat nervous and out of sorts, but remained polite and said he would be back soon for further updates. The other visitor, Floi, was in the opposite spirits – buoyant and ebullient. “Big things” were coming his way, he told them, though without giving any details at all beyond it being a “business” opportunity. He was clearly in the highest spirits they’d seen since meeting him. He even said that his recent “troubles” had likely may him a better dwarf, a rare admission, saying that “as the priests say, anger and pride are good for the spirit.” Iban noted that, given the dwarf’s relative unpopularity amongst his own kind, and connection to the party, he could be vulnerable to being used as a way to get at the party for something. Thus, he cast ESP to try to learn more. He did not learn much more concrete, but did get a sense that whatever was happening would involve some adventuring of some sort, was potentially lucrative, and Floi hoped that it would return him to the good graces of his father (Lord of the city) and perhaps upstage his older brother a bit (Nali, the party’s sometimes patron). When he departed, Iban followed him invisibly to see what he was up to. After a few hours of aimless wandering from tavern to shop, all that seemed of note was that he entered a few shops to look at gear – ropes, climbing gear, traveling rations, and the like (of note, he did not look at any weapons). When he headed towards his home in the citadel, Iban broke off and returned to the party.
After three nights in the city, the party (of four: Cadwalider, Iban, ZZ, Aldeberon) headed out to the dungeon. While on the main thoroughfare of the city, heading to the gate, the party spotted something odd — the same slightly glowing, evil-visage dwarf looking at them from the crowd (the same that Cadwalider had lightning bolted twice). Oddly, none of the many dwarves in this busy place seemed to notice him. The party signaled for him to parley, but he vanished as a crowd of other dwarves passed between the party and him. The rest of the journey to the dungeon was uneventful.
The party entered through the main secret entrance and made their way east to explore a last loose end. Finding nothing of note, they took the staircase they’d previously found that direction to the level 40′ below. Here, the air was very strange, heavy as if one were in the water though without any further deleterious effects. It was also cold and…sterile, with no moisture or dust in the air whatsoever. ZZ noted that the palce “felt wrong” and that his dwarf senses in the underground were much affected by this. The first room the party came to was filled with stone racks holding tablets of closely-written dwarf runes. Iban took one up and began to peruse it — only to become suddenly obsessed and unable to stop reading. He “had to read them all” he told his companions, and brooked no interruption, though ZZ tried a dispel magic on him, without effect. The other three figured this would take him an hour or more to accomplish, so they left the room to look around the immediate vicinity while they waited. A nearby hall led to a vast chamber, far larger than any they’d seen in this complex. A dozen huge columns upheld the roof, each carved to represent a stylized dragon leg with its claws sunk into the stone floor. At the opposite end, atop a low dais, sat a huge statue of a stone dragon, the same stylized dragon they’d seen on the level above but larger. Its eyes glowed purple, showing the weird diamond-shaped pupil they’d noted many times before. Two braziers of glowing purple flanked the thing. While Cadwaldier and Aldeberon waited at the entrance to the room, ZZ slipped forward cautiously. At a point where the room widened, broad stairs went down ten feet to the larger portion of the chamber. When the dwarf reached the bottom of them, the dragon’s head raised up and it spoke: “The cycles are nearly complete, and my time approaches. Fall down now, unbelievers, and worship me.” ZZ did just that. The dragon statue continued, demanding to know why vile humans lurked within its temple (they took that hint and departed to check on Iban). The dragon now instructed its “disciple” on returning to the Dwarves to spread the word that the Earth Dragon would soon return to be among them. ZZ agreed to this and departed, glad to not have suffered worse than a bit of a blot on his religious purity.
Back together, the party waited for Iban to finish reading his tablets. When done, he seemed to be himself again. The tablets, he reported, described detailed cultic rituals for a dwarven cult of the Earth Dragon, some sort of obscure evil deity or power that was fixated on wealth, greed, and vengeance on others for every perceived slight, no matter how minor. The cult hated humans and elves with a great intensity; they also hated other dwarves, who they viewed as thieves and usurpers. ZZ was interested in all of this and made the mistake of glancing at a tablet — only to be sucked in like Iban had been. The party decided to wait this out, as Iban seemed none the worse for wear. ZZ was particularly interested in any names in the tablets, but only found one obscure reference to a “Zulghan Clan,” which seemed to be influential in the cult in some way, perhaps as leaders. This finally settled, the party continued on, avoiding the chamber of the great stone dragon. Some ways to the south, down long corridors heavily carved with designs, the party came to a door made of steel with an obvious keyhole. They found a second some distance away and debated what this meant. Iban tried bashing one open, and managed to just get it open — and to be attacked by sixteen maddened dwarf skeletons that seemed to retain some shred of intelligence. ZZ managed to turn ten of them, while Cadwalider webbed up at the back of the room. Meanwhile, Iban and Aldeberon held the breach. The skeletons seemed pretty strong, so Iban blew his horn of Valhalla, bringing in nine berserkers to fight the skeletons. This quickly turned the tide and those not trapped in the web were destroyed. Seeing nothing else in the room, Iban ordered the berserkers to destroy the remaining skeletons after they lit the web afire. The party then left and shut the steel door once more. They tried the second door then, but it would not budge.
There was but one unexplored tunnel now, and the party took it to the west. They came to an oddly sawtoothed corridor, with large carvings of the Eye of the Earth Dragon to either side, and huge teeth carved along the sawtoothed walls. The air here also grew warm and moist, unlike everywhere else on this level. The aprty passed through this boldly and without incident. At a four-way intersection they continued west, through a door into a oddly angular hall, the walls covered with carvings of Dwarves in a variety of poses and activities, including smithing, mining, counting coins, thievery, warfare (against men, Elves and other Dwarves), religious ceremonies, and others. All were stylized and the emblem of the Eye of the Earth Dragon appears here and there, usually in conjunction with religious rituals. Some scenes also depicted Dwarves approaching a distant, stylized mountain (Iban noted that it appeared to be the same one they’d seen through the portal on the level above).
Beyond this hall the party came to a three-leveled room, descending in tiers to the north. A dwarf statue, hooded such that its face was not visible, stood both on the center and lowest tiers. Al;deberon stepped downwards to look for secret doors. As he reached the middle tier, the statue there spoke, saying “Who comes unto the Oracle of the Earth Dragon? What seek ye and what price would ye pay?” He said “100 gold pieces” and that sum vanished from his person. The stayue motioned him on and he came to the bottom tier, where the other statue looked up, revealing a (stone) face that is a sickening mix of Dwarvish and reptilian features, made all the more hideous by its clear evil. A cold voice from it said, “Speak, supplicant, and ask me thy question that I may give thee yea or nay.” Aldeberon immediately asked if there was a secret door here and the answer was “yes.” He found it quickly thereafter and the rest of the party and he passed through it. A long hall led them to a weird room made entirely obsidian or black glass; a ring of light seemed to encircle the place, but Aldeberon strode forward without ill effect and the others followed. Here, they found another secret door. Iban opened it — and the party was blasted with a terrible coldness. Perhaps worse, Iban noted a weird feeling coming over him and noted that the hand that had touched the door had grown cold and scaly (he would later further note that the area affected seemed to be slowly growing)
This door led to amore normal appearing room. Sitting in the center of it was what appears to be a Dwarf, heavily hooded such that his face was not visible. He sat at a stone table carved with many Dwarf runes without seeming pattern, arranged in a grid, upon which he moved colored stones around the table, seemingly at random. There was a chair opposite him. Cadwalider sat down and the dwarf spoke: “So, you would test your fate and destiny? Well, then, let us see.” He then took up the stones and cast them onto the table, saying coldly “see now your fate!” And a bag of 20 gems appeared in the wizard’s hands. Much pleased, Cadwalider got up and Iban repeated the process — only to be afflicted with a loss of intelligence. However destiny gave him another chance — and he lost a lot MORE intelligence! Much displeased by his poor fortune, he stood for one more toss of the stones, and this time was faced with the avatar of a minor death that he was forced to fight. Though his ill luck was manifest for all to see, the minor death proved to be more minor than death — it dropped its scythe on the first swing it took at Iban and, by the time it recovered it, Iban slew it with a triple volley of magic missiles. Iban now took stock of all his woes (he’d lost six points of intelligence!). This was too much to be borne, as it dramatically impacted his wizardry skills. So, he used the sole remaining wish on his luck blade to reverse the worse of the two intelligence losses by wishing it had not happened. But the wish, being of only so much power, only undid the result of the reading and he had to repeat it. But, his luck had finally turned and he instead received a magic item (broach of shielding) and gained great experience (50k XP to be precise). ZZ followed this long spectacle with a bout of good luck for 14 days, while Aldeberon became psychic (clairvoyance once per day).
Having run out of options this direction, the party returned to the oracle room and passed on through a great hall of images mirroring the one they’d taken previously. At one point they found the other stairs between levels (Aldeberon verified it quickly). Also in a landing room, ZZ noted during a search for secret doors that there seemed to be a passageway here to the west that was blocked up and made to appear as if nothing had ever been there. ZZ’s best guess from tapping was that this was a very thick blockage and would require significant engineering to remove. Moving northwards now, they came to a bare room with many carvings, the most notable of which was runes describing a prophecy in archaic Dwarvish as follows:
The folk of the Earth Dragon will flourish in secret, building unto their god a temple and shrine of his. But, after 66 cycles, they will be betrayed and destroyed by the unbelievers, the False Dwarves, those who would take what is not rightly theirs. And the temple shall remain hidden from the False Dwarves, and forgotten by all save the Last Believer.
After unnumbered cycles, the Temple shall once more be opened. And by the works of the Old Enemy shall this be accomplished, though it profit them not. And the folk of the Earth Dragon will be reborn, and flock unto the banner of the Last Believer. And Dark Miracles will be witnessed by believers and False Dwarves alike. And the Earth Dragon will come amongst his people with the cold fires of war, and all of his enemies shall be thrown down. And his people shall be victorious, and reign as Kings under Mountain, forever.
After ZZ copied this down, the party searched and found a secret door. Beyond, they first found a section of passage wall broken into by a roughly hewn, narrow tunnel which led a short distance to a lower level of the same crevasse they’d seen above (it had the same sulfur and rottenness smell, and they could see the passage above they’d taken. They also found now a series of nine octagonal rooms, in a grid pattern. In the first they entered t the northeast corner they found a carved serpent on the floor, its head in this place and its body sinuously carved in an S-pattern connecting all nine rooms. The southern six rooms each had a strange ball of stone inset in the floor,, carved randomly with runes representing the full Dwarven alphabet. ZZ tried to detect magic but was overwhelmed from readings in every direction. Aldeberon theorized that this was a combination lock of some sort. The first word they considered (all in Dwarven, of course) was “open” but it did not have six letters. ZZ then suggested dragon, and indeed that could be spelled with six letters. Iban suggested they start the spelling at the tail and follow it to the head to see what happened. This they did, spelling foothlûg in runes (F-OO-Th-L-û-G) in the room by turning the stone balls such that the right letter was facing up. When the last one was turned, the balls and serpent began to glow and the balls spun to reveal new runes, spelling A-B-A-Th-O-R. Also, the northern wall near the serpent head began to glow with Dwarf runes reading “Speak thou my true name.” They said Abbathor (Dwarven god of greed) and a secret door opened in the wall revealing another octagonal room. Inside, on the wall, more glowing runes read “What is the source of a true believer’s pride, wealth or skill? ” The party debated but a moment as the runes began to fade before saying (in Dwarvish) “wealth.” The runes vanished as they heard a loud click outside. Moving to the center-north room, they found new glowing runes on the wall, reading “What is of greater worth, endless treasure or loyalty to one’s clan?” This the party debated — ZZ favored clan, being a true Dwarf, but Cadwalider pointed out that these Dwarves were not like other Dwarves — that caused ZZ to remember that he’d read on a tablet almost nothing of clans with this cult. He answered “endless wealth” and a secret door opened to another bare, octagonal room. IN this one, glowing runes read “Who does the Earth Dragon serve?” Aldeberon quickly said “no one” and everyone agreed, so this answer was given, and another loud click occurred. On the wall of the northwest octagonal room appeared runes: “I am an empty void. Throw all the gold in the world and not a single inch of me will be filled. I resound in everything, everyone.” Having gotten the merits of these Dwarves, the answer “greed’ was quite clear.
The final secret door opened now to another octagonal room. In this one, atop a pedestal of stone, lay a simple gold ring. Cadwalider picked it up and placed it on his finer, and suddenly seemed to grow in stature and grandeur; ZZ, in particular, was almost in awe of him now. He quickly claimed the ring for himself and it was clear he had no desire to release it. The party tried a few spells in this room, but all failed, and it was clear that there was some sort of general anti-magic field in effect here. But, pleased with the results of their explorations, the party decided to exit the dungeon and return to the city, which they achieved without further incident…
– Experience: 450 XP (495 XP for those that get bonus) — Iban, Cadwallider, ZZ, Aldeberon