Roster (Party Level 6th)The party is weakened and in dire need of recuperation from the fight with the demonic warband, and resolves to take a rest in the Hall of the Red Vein, sealing the door against intruders and ruthlessly dispatching any remaining duergar who might be clinging to life.
Berend - Dwarven Fighter
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard
Finial - Half-elf Paladin
Jonas - Human Rogue/Ranger
Thus secured, they take the time to search the room, and Jonas discovers a secret retreat hidden above the Hall's smoldering fireplace. Bolstering himself against the heat and climbing up the chimney breast to reach it, he discovers a stash of food, water, and more interestingly, a suit of exquisite chain armour wrapped in paper as if a present for someone. A bottle of insalubrious-looking liquid in a wicker tote also catches his eye as standing out, and he retrieves both items.
Elumai identifies the mail as Chain Armor of Sacrifice +2, but she's uncharacteristically unsure of the bottle. She discoveres through experimentation that it can slowly generate potions seemingly out of thin air, but the nature of these concoctions, and whether or not their effects can be controlled, is outside of her realm of expertise. Perhaps an experienced alchemist might be able to help, but they haven't made the acquaintance of such a person as yet. In any case, she decants the contents of the bottle into a small water barrel, thereby emptying the bottle in order to let it re-fill.
The baking hot room is not the most pleasant place to catch some rest, but the company is left mercifully undisturbed for the duration.
Thus refreshed, they turn their attention to the portal to the Well of Demons. The device is completely inert, an obsidian triangle held aloft by two exquisitely carved -- and meticulously unearthed -- minotaur statues. Through investigation, the adventurers decipher the remaining text, revealing the three inscriptions in their entirety, one per side:
"In Kvorn's name, demonstrate your quality"The final inscription is curious, having been engraved onto the portal over the top of earlier writings. Carefully concealed, but spotted by the attentive eyes of the party, the earlier inscription read: "In Baphomet's name, serve Him!"
"Only the honor-bound may tread within"
"In Baphomet's name, exceed Him!"
Much trial-and-error ensues. Jonas discovers a dried patch of goo near one corner of the device, somewhat similar to the patch of liquid that Elumai used to keep the flames at bay back in Krand's chamber. Although the implication is clear, the company is unwilling to simply smash the glass vial and hope for the best. Secondarily to this, Jonas even volunteers to try on the Necrotech glove, but loses his nerve when, as expected, the tubules begin crawling over his skin, probing for somewhere to attach themselves.
In the end, the simplest of methods proves effective: three of the company (Elumai, Finial, and Berend) spill a few drops of their blood upon the portal, and it activates. A glassy sheen, like looking through a thick window, springs into force between the three facets of the portal, and the adventurers, with barely a hint of hesitation, step through. There is a moment of darkness, a cacophany like a thousand screaming voices suddenly cut off, a sensation of falling... and then a rude impact on a hard floor.
They find themselves in a hot, humid room built of sandy bricks. A distant, mechanical churning sound can be heard in the background. In the center of the room is a stone plinth on which sits a blood-stained bowl; a chain rises to the ceiling, attached to the wheel of an ornate and massive bell which hangs fifty feet over their heads. Shockingly, there is no sign of either Xavier or Azurami. It seems the Well of Demons has other plans for them.
Dusting themselves down, they decide that the more prudent course of action is to leave these artifacts alone for now, and scout ahead, down a sandy corridor (rife with evidence of many booted feet having recently come this way) until they come upon another, similar room, its shadowed ceiling held aloft by pillars on which are carved grotesquely exaggerrated minotaur faces.
Jonas creeps in, and two of the faces in the center of the room immediately animate, booming a salutation so loud it hurts his ears:
"Greetings, seekers of Baphomet's boundless glory!
Those who prove unworthy of his attention
Shall be claimed forever as his slaves.
Those who prove worthy
Shall be granted power beyond mortal reckoning.
Mask, bell, blade and tome!"
At this point Jonas spies a diminutive, shadowy figure lurking behind one of the pillars... and another, across the room. The black-skinned humanoids are searching to and fro, desperately trying to find whoever activated the speaking columns, but Jonas will not be spotted so easily, and takes the creatures entirely by surprise with his attack.
As the others arrive to support their friend, the situation seems straightforward enough. Even as the creatures kick up the sands to translocate from one side of the room to the other, the company is more than a match for them. Then, from the well on the far side of the room, a decrepid, moaning figure emerges -- another one of the foul undead to deal with! -- and, suddenly, the ground beneath their feet heaves up, splits open, and a clutch of bony tentacles whips up to attack them from below!
This complicates matters, but the lurkers and the ghoul are swiftly dealt with, and the burrowing creature is battered into retreat to be finished off by a battle-fevered Berend.
So victorious, the party looks to other exits from the room, and weighs up its next move...