Roster (Party Level 6th)Following the fight with the lurking horror in the pillared room, the party naturally begins to explore, and discovers what appears to be a fake lath and plaster panel, expertly decorated to look like just another section of sandstone wall. Ripping it aside, they discover a crypt, the last resting place of several mummified minotaurs, all standing to attention in individual niches.
Berend - Dwarven Fighter
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard
Finial - Half-elf Paladin
Jonas - Human Rogue/Ranger
Finial, whose knowledge of these undead creatures and the diseases they can inflict surpasses the others, is uncompromising and demands that the creatures are destroyed before they can animate and do anyone any harm. He also points out that what little he knows of minotaur culture also suggests to him that it's extremely strange for the glory-seeking race to inter their dead in this way. Only Jonas hesitates, pointing out his belief that until they actually do animate, it would be nothing less than a desecration of holy ground.
However, showing less of the inflexibility which has marked his earlier altercations with the party, he withdraws to the bell chamber to test himself against the obstacles therein, turning his back on the proceedings and allowing Elumai to douse the mummies in oil and incinerate them with her magic. Luckily for them all, the boiling smoke from the conflagration exhausts down the well in the corner of the room, prompting interest from Berend.
Tying the dwarf off, he carefully descends into the cloying atmosphere of the well, a full 150 feet or more, before emerging into what by the sounds of it is a large underground cavern. A few dozen feet below, a pile of bones of all shapes and sizes suggests that more than a few unfortunates have been tossed down from above, and the chorus of inhuman groans from the darkness all around persuades him that he should retreat immediately. Above, Finial tightens the grip on his flail at the prospect of cleansing a nest of ghouls from the world, but he is talked out of the action by the others.
Jonas returns, dragging behind him the huge bronze clapper from the bell, trophy of his dizzying victory against gravity and physics, which the party ultimately decides to keep. To the east, they find a couple of smaller chambers, one a makeshift barracks of sorts, the other a kennel. Both rooms are scenes of carnage, with eviscerated gnoll and hyena remains painting the walls with blood. Undead remains, and two adjoining crypts from which the mummified creatures obviously burst forth, tell the story of the fight.
The company destroys what's left of the mummies, including four creatures which, although having clearly been responsible for the bloodshed next door, make no move to defend themselves as they are coup-de-graced by the adventurers. This prompts the party to consider what the gnolls were up to that could have set the undead upon them... and the only clue to this mystery are heavy fragments of plaster, strewn amongst the chaos of the barracks and clearly ripped from a wall elsewhere in the complex.
Motifs, glyphs, and imagery on the plaster depict the trials of a minotaur prince called Vorth, and the prostration of the minotaurs not before Baphomet, as common knowledge would suggest, but before other minotaurs, worshiped in His place.
Further in, the party discovers a bunk room, innocuous except for the three tall, glassy-black urns which are being kept inside. These containers, as tall as a man and about 18 inches across, have strange, fractal runes etches onto the reflective black surface, of no discernible language and which seem to changes inexplicably when the observer turns away, or even blinks. Inside each of the urns is a shallow layer of black, oily liquid.
Elumai, called upon to examine the containers, is almost knocked off her feet by the sheer punch of the necromantic auras being generated; so palpable are they that she can practically see the energies belching from the open ends of the vessels. Nevertheless she grits her teeth against the onslaught long enough to scrawl a copy of the runic inscriptions from one of the urns into the sand at her feet and, and with Jonas's help, re-seal them using the leathery flaps stapled near the rim.
They push deeper into the complex, and enter at the apex of a triangular room. The walls, floor, and ceiling are covered in glyphs and imagery depicting the history of the minotaurs of Saruun Khel... and it appears as if a more recent story has been plastered over the stone carvings of the old. The room itself is dominated by a huge statue standing more than a hundred feet over their heads: a giant, coiled worm, its maw a ring of tentacles and teeth, and its flesh, upon closer examination, composed of thousands upon thousands of smaller annelids. The statue is old and crumbling.
Also catching the party's attention are over a dozen flat black plates, of various uniform shapes, which appear to be attached to the stone walls and ceiling of the room with small claws or hooks. The surface of these plates shimmers with the now familiar colours of Necrotech. Two corridors lead out of the room, and one door to the south, a circular bronze portal seemingly held shut by two metallic minotaur statues. Interestingly, they have slits or sockets in their chests which suggest something should be inserted there.
The adventurers decide to spend some time deciphering the pictographs around the room. Between the four of them, they start to piece together something of the history of this place, a time of great change for the minotaurs when they turned their back on Baphomet, and the trials and pursuit of glory which He had laid before them, and instead began to worship the Worm.
Kvorn, emperor of the new kingdom of Saruun Khel, is depicted straddling the huge creature, cutting slivers of meat from its body, and feeding it to his followers. Three other names are also mentioned, other princes of the old kingdom -- Kallek, Durmo, and Vorth -- the latter of which seemingly refused to turn away from Baphomet, but whose ultimate fate is not described.
While contemplating this turn of events, and how it fits together with the other fragmentary evidence of Saruun Khel they've discovered on their travels, the company notices that the black plates around them are slowly moving, shifting their positions. Berend decides that they are not to be trusted, and striding up to the nearest one, he hefts at it with his axe. The effect is obvious and immediate... the plates are anything but inert, as multi-jointed legs spring out from underneath the creature and it jumps down to attack the dwarf. At the sound its high, insectoid screech, the other creatures around the room drop from their perches onto the floor and begin skittering with frightening speed towards him.
Dispersed around the room, the company turns its attention to the new threat. The creatures are resilient, and although the party's attacks draw red, fleshy wounds across their backs and legs, they press their advantage against Berend, surrounding him and hacking at his flesh. It soon becomes obvious that it's not actually him they're interested in, however, but his backpack, and within seconds they have ripped through the material, reached in with their claws and pulled out the flurock he has been carrying these many days. Thus secured, they coalesce around the rock, forming a perfect dodecahedral prison for it, which then drops to the floor.
Crackling Necrotech energies begin to build around the device, and the party, suspecting an imminent explosion, backs off. Instead, there is a muffled thump as critical mass is reached within the chamber, and the plates break apart, collapsing inert to the floor to reveal... a tiny worm.
The flurock has been transformed into a writhing, coiling, miniature version of the statue in whose shadow they're all standing. As they watch, it begins to bloat and enlarge at incredible speed. The creature's skin is vaguely transluscent, shot-through with veins of purple-black, and beneath, its flesh is formed from a writhing mass of other worms, snaking and sinuating into complex patterns which dazzle the eye. Almost immediately, the creature is as big as a man, and the company seens no alternative but to attack.
Ducking the hideous, fleshy mouth, Berend brings his axe to bear. It's a fine strike, scoring a wound across the flank of the beast, but he is disgusted to see the thing bleed a slimy throng of wriggling, toothy worms at his feet... worms which immediately swarm up his body and begin to attack. All the while, the patterns of the worm-flesh dissolve and coalesce, confounding his senses and forcing him to concentrate hard to even bring his axe down.
Elsewhere, the other Necrotech plates are swarming towards the fight, seemingly drawn to the presence of the worm. Elumai, thinking quickly, conjures the image of a piece of flurock off to one side of the battle... and the illusion is convincing enough to get the attention of several of the creatures, who crowd the image and give the wizard ample opportunity to explode the air about them into freezing pain.
Meanwhile the worm brings its other attacks to bear on Finial, Jonas, and Berend. Acidic spit from the creature's ever-expanding maw seems to send the flesh-worms into a frenzy, while it also has the ability to engorge fetid pustules on its body, which explode biting worms in all directions. Disgusted, wounded, and hypnotised by the creature all at the same time, it takes every ability at their disposal to dispatch the loathsome beast and the Necrotech devices which spawned it, but the company is, at last, victorious.
As calm descends over the slime-and-worm-covered chamber, the party pauses to consider the implications of what they've seen...