On day five of the dig, three adventurers left Ishizaka's shop to deal with some unfinished business on the upper floors of the dungeon.
- Al-Hafiz, Level 3 Fedayeen
- Ivaqirax Obus, Level 1 Mage
- Protesilaus Poliorcetes, Level 3 Acolyte
They brought Eric the Barbarian with them. Their first task was to shut off the smoke vent in the Vivisectionist Library that they opened on the first day of the excavation. This would enable Irene to re-establish smoke production in the Library, ensuring a steady supply of the drug. Protesilaus also wanted Irene to cultivate a yellow mold sample he took, for use as a biological weapon.
The group tried to use the secret hatch they discovered on the first day to get into the Library. It was visibly bulging and smoke was seeping out of the seams around it. Opening the hatch almost took Protesilaus' head off. A jet of superheated smoke came shooting out of the hatch, where it had been accumulating for four days. The beam cut the limb off a nearby tree and the group decided to find another way down. Like the stairs.
In the ruins of the Gaol on level 1, Al-Hafiz pulled on the environmental suit he got from Irene and went into the entrance to the Library the Berserkers smashed open. The smoke was a little thinner with the ceiling hatch open but the suit was still essential for survival. Thankfully nothing stopped him from entering the control room, closing the smog hatch and activating the vents. The lab was full of toxic soot, but it now be safely cleaned up and reactivated. With the lab secure, it was time to go down to the next level of the dungeon and pick up where they left off.
The Barbarian from the Berserker Horde came up the stairs from the Necropolis. He had an arrow in one eye, going through into his brain. The other flickered like an ember bouncing around inside the skull. The Disenchanter he had on a leash was very much alive, but he himself was obviously dead.
The Revenant Barbarian pounced on Protesilaus, strangling him. The Disenchanter took the chance to slurp the magic out of his plate armor of comfort, reducing it to a normal suit of armor. The undead being smashed his ribcage and critically wounded him before the rest of the gang could chop it to pieces. The Disenchanter was immune to everyone's weapons, but they got a rope around its legs and subdued it when it tried to stand guard over its master's corpse. Eric hefted the Disenchanter and the others lifted Protesilaus, and they went back to the surface to recover.
At the camp, Irene offered a solution to the permanent injury. She could take Protesilaus into the lab and expose him to a mix of draconic smog and experimental mutagens. This would restore the damaged tissue but would have the side effect of turning his head into a random animal, along with scrambling his stats. Protesilaus decided against the transformation. Ishizaka the Genie demanded that the adventurers keep the Disenchanter far away from his shop, or it would slurp all the magic out of his discount spellbooks. The players brought it over to Gowonry and Grit the mutoids, and asked if they were interested in training it. The mutoids agreed, but warned that since Gowonry could only speak in bear sounds, any commands the beast was trained to recognize would be bear sounds rather than words. The group gave him some magic potions to feed the beast.
That evening, a pair of pteranodons were spotted circling over the ruined keep. There were people riding them, and one carried a big wicker cage filled with prisoners. The pair of pterosaurs landed in the ruins. Gowonry and Grit confirmed that these were the Elves who originally kidnapped them. Irene further elaborated that their group was called the Rose Hips, and they originally supplied prisoners to the Vivisection project in exchange for dragon drugs. Ivaqirax and Al-Hafiz went to see what the score was.
American Museum of Natural History
There were two pteranodons, five Elves, and three captives in a big wicker bird cage. The pteranodons perched on the ruins of the castle walls. The boss Elf was a druid, one leg made out of living wood. She asked if Al-Hafiz was holding. She had slaves to sell and she couldn't find anyone to pay smoke for them. The players explained that the lab was out of commission, and went to get Protesilaus and Irene to discuss the matter further. Gowonry wanted to come too, the others made him promise he wouldn't start fights with the people who kidnapped him in the first place.
Protesilaus offered the two doses of smoke he had left, and promised he'd have more ready soon when the lab was back in operation. That wasn't good enough for Peg Leg the druid. She offered him one slave. He was choosing which one he wanted when Gowonry used his Mutoid mastery of pickpocketing to steal an amulet from around the Elf lady's neck. Nobody realized the importance of this until one of the Pteranodons leaned over and bit her head off with a single peck of its enormous beak. The druid had lost control of the animals, along with her life. Al-Hafiz attacked one of the flying beasts, but was swept aside by a stroke of its powerful head. The monsters promptly flew away once they each had an Elf in their jaws, and the remaining slavers tried to flee into the dungeon. Al-Hafiz ran them down and cast Sleep from a scroll, knocking them out.
The adventurers put the three Elves in the wicker cage, freeing the three slaves inside in the process:
- Ann, Halfling sheep farmer from an experimental colony in the Salt Flats on the other side of the mountains.
- Barlowe, Half-Elf pioneer and hunter/trapper. Descended from a line of mountain men stretching back to the old colony. Snatched while setting snares in the hills.
- Crumb, Dwarven engineer and land surveyor. Charmed and captured while working on a new road through the mountains.
Only Anne wanted to stay with the adventurers. Barlowe had a dog to take care of, and Crumb had a job and family to get back to. As gratitude, Crumb did some engineering work for the players, setting up a block and tackle system at the sinkhole so that it was easier to get in and out of the hole using the pulley system. Irene the former Vivisectionist recruited Anne to work in the drug lab.
On the way back to the shop, they found a wrecked howdah in the woods. One of the pteranodons must have shrugged it off, and it fell to earth and broke. Ivaqirax recovered a cup of Creme de Goodberry from a broken keg in the back, and also discovered that the fogwood frame of the howdah was enchanted with Endure Elements to protect the occupants from hypothermia and hypoxia at high altitudes. The team carried it back to camp with them.
The next day, the Mutoids mentioned they saw Cortez the Orc leaving the camp before sunrise, headed for the dungeon. The players went straight to the sinkhole, eager to test out their new pulley system for safer and more convenient dungeon access. They heard a gunshot from the pit and hurried down to see what was going on. Thelema the Gravewarden was crouched behind a grave, while a group of undead chased someone out of the room. She explained that Cortez the Orc had accused her of stealing his money, then got violent with her. Al-Hafiz raced after the undead, following them up to the stairs that led to Level 1.
Al-Hafiz narrowly avoided being shot by Cortez, who explained that Thelema had robbed him on a previous visit to her abode. He tried to collect what he was owed, she called on the undead to attack him, and he tried to kill her the same way you'd kill any summoner or controller who had sicced monsters on you. Al-Hafiz realized that it was Wakefield who stole Cortez' silver pouch, but didn't want to inform on another adventurer. He promised that he would find out who robbed the mercenary, and convinced Cortez to leave without further violence.
With Cortez taken care of, it was time to explore the Dragon Cult stronghold. The players had a hunch Thelema's sister Endura might be there. The entryway was empty, but Ivaqirax used his periscope to mirror under the barred door that had stymied the previous group to explore the area. There were a pair of Cultists behind it, alert to the adventurers' presence. Ivaqirax and Protesilaus watched the door while Al-Hafiz explored ahead. This time there were four lizards in the sacrifice room, lounging atop the shallow dome of black stone poking up through the floor. They didn't notice him when he went to investigate a collapsed tunnel, through which mist and accordion music drifted. The next door was sealed with a caked layer of black soot, and scribed with warnings.
The door to the Cult hideout opened. The adventurers waited to clobber the first Cultist who came out. The cult leader used his breath attack to shoot a cone of flame into the room, scorching Protesilaus. The Cultists threw flasks of oil through the door, blocking the players' line of retreat with a wall of flame. A choir of voices took up an ominous draconic chant. The lizard-headed cult leader stepped forward to challenge the intruders.
Protesilaus beheaded the cult leader. Al-Hafiz rushed to join the fight, and was pursued by the four Lizardmen from the sacrificial room. The Cultists tossed more oil flasks into the room, turning the whole thing into a deadly furnace. The Cult Cantors in the back row got off a Sleep spell that knocked everyone unconscious, but chip damage from convection immediately woke them up. The players forced their way through the door out of the fires and attacked the cultists. The Lizards followed them in, and stabbed Ivaqirax through the lung before the other two adventures could hack them to pieces. The surviving Cultists tossed their last oil flasks in a line to block pursuit and fled.
The adventurers scooped up what little loot the Cultists dropped, along with their fallen comrade, and escaped back the way they came, braving the flaming entryway to get back to the Necropolis. It was a good thing they didn't wait for the flames to die down. The dungeon shook as something exploded in the Cult Stronghold, and a jet of flame shot out the tomb that served as an entrance. The gang went back to the surface to regroup. While the players were in the dungeon, the three caged Elves had tried to ensorcel Eric the Barbarian using Charm Person, but the Mutoids were immune to any spell with the "person" tag, and stopped Eric from unlocking the cage.
The next day, Ivaqirax was feeling a little better. The explorers descended into the sinkhole yet again, where Thelema was directing a group of undead carrying water and other items into the makeshift inn she had set up in the mausoleum. She explained that she found her sister Endura badly burned at the back-exit to the cult stronghold, along with three Dragon Cultists who her undead servitors quickly disposed of. Endura was in critical condition, but the explorers brought her back to Thelema, and she gave them their promised reward: a Helmet of Clarity and a bunch of money. There would be more where that came from if they found a way to cure serious burns.
The adventurers investigated the wreckage of the Cult Stronghold. A big explosion from some kind of storage room had blown out most of the doors and wrecked the contents. Someone had been through and looted what was left, there were lizard shaped footprints in the ashes and even the mostly-intact rooms had been tossed for treasure. The explorers did find some money and a Scroll of Fireball in a locked chest, which they opened with a key from one of the dead Cultists.
After three days, the adventurers had not recovered much wealth, but had made some new friends, acquired a new pet, and got a quest objective knocked out. This came at the cost of time and two permanent injuries. Protesilaus decided to take Irene up on her offer and submit to mutation in the refurbished laboratory. His mangled bones were knit, his stats were shuffled, and his head was replaced with a pig's head.
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