Roster (Party Level 7th)
Berend - Dwarven Fighter
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard
Finial - Half-elf Paladin
Matorna-Reevash (Human Kingsblade warrior, Finial's Companion)
Jonas - Human Rogue/Ranger
Back on the upper landing outside the shrine, two doors remain unopened. Sneaking a peak inside the second wooden door, Jonas spies what looks a laboratory, and the words are barely out of his mouth before Elumai surges past. Luckily for her, the room doesn't make her pay for such recklessness!
The room is indeed a laboratory, but one from which the decorative inner skin of polished wooden paneling has been completely stripped, revealing the curved steel of the outer shell. A square of inch-thick iron, which has been bolted to the floor, bulges dramatically inward at the center, a hasty repair that obviously once kept something dangerous at bay, and around the room, the outer wall also shows signs of attack from the outside. Another wooden door provides egress from the other side of the room. What catches Elumai's eye, however, are the bookshelves lining the wall, the massive oak desk strewn with papers, and a huge map, several feet long, pinned opposite.
The room turns out to be a treasure trove of information. The bookshelves are an arcanist's dream, harbouring the details of several rituals Elumai has never seen before, and these are removed and stored for safe-keeping. The map seems to be a rubbing of some kind, etched in black on thick, greasy paper, describing what looks like an intricate network of roads, towns, and cities. Upon closer examination, however, they're not roads but portal networks; not cities, but other dimensions. If it is to be believed, it is nothing less than a map of the planes themselves, a find of incalcuable value. With Jonas' delicate touch, they are able to remove it, roll it up, and store it in their Bag of Holding with only minimal damage.
The desk isn't dangerous and provides rich pickings:
- A sheaf of accounts, detailing the tithes paid over the last year by many dozens of different people in the Hall.
- Three envelopes, all addressed to "Paldemar of the Mages of Saruun", and each stamped with slightly different gold-leaf seals bearing a coat of arms ringed by unfamiliar runes (the party identifies the heraldry as harking back to one of the first merchant houses of the Court of Coin, the mercantile arm of the King's power-base). Within each is the same letter, signed variously by both Paldemar on behalf of the mages, and one of three others (Drenko Parfoot, Jemma Ravenwood, and Thomas Shaw). The letter reads:
"We the undersigned, Hereby swear to provide all necessary aid and succour to the glorious and hallowed journey of the WALKER ANTECEDENT as He treads the land returning His gifts to the blameless children."
Who this "Walker" might be, or what gifts he is returning, remain a mystery at this time.
- A whole slew of notes, indexes, references, quotes, and diagrams which, taken together, describe the intellectual journey travelled by the mages to discover a way into Tumerex. There's too much information to parse without a more thorough reading, but one name in relation to the vessel -- or whatever it is -- that they're in hints at its origin: it was captained by one Reverend Tarq Frushante, who judging by his title and other clues, hailed from the lost kingdom of Nerath.
- What look like engineering plans, describing a spherical vessel with three nodes attached to the inside. Circles radiating from these nodes suggest they're being deliberately concentrated, but none of the adventurers is sufficiently versed in the methods of planar engineering to discern much more than that.
The door opposite, which judging by the small square of unfaded varnish in its midst must have once had a plaque of some kind screwed to it, leads to what looks like a berth. The large round room has an iron four-poster with dusty mattress and bed-clothes (old but impeccably made) and a writing desk, and more faded squares around the walls suggest that several pictures or other decorations which once hung in here havd been removed.
The desk drawers are open and empty, long-since ransacked, and only two things of interest are to be found: some kind of strange airlock mechanism which seems designed to let something small safely out of the vessel (or in), and a portrait, pain-stakingly notched into the wall by the headboard, of a beautiful halfling woman, her hair piled high on her head and a necklace of diamonds around her neck. Clearly, she was important to the artist.
Moving on, only the strong bulkhead door from the upper landing remains. Spinning the wheel-lock, the steel bolts snap back and the door swings open to reveal a short corridor, ribbed with metal. Lying to one side, his lower-half metamorphosed into a stubby worm-like appendage, its flattened end flocked with blood and bone, is the corpse of what looks like a mage, although it isn't Passeract or anyone else they recognise. His dead face is contorted in agony, and the shadow of insanity has fallen over his eyes.
At the end of the corridor, they heave open another similar door and a slightly disconcerting sight greets them on the other side. There is another short section of corridor, but it abruptly disappears into a slithering, squelching wall of worms, sliding slowly past and completely blocking the way forward. However, it appears that this problem has faced others before them, because a thick rope is tied to an iron ring bolted to one side; the other end disappears into the worms, pulled off to one side and buffeted by the inexorable current. Nearby, several leather straps like belts are hanging invitingly from the ceiling.
It seems clear what must be done, but not one of the adventurers is happy about it. Jonas seems certain he'll be able to move much more quickly through the worms than anyone else, and volunteers to go first, strapping himself into one of the belts and notching the other end to the rope. Taking a deep breath, he plunges in.
The feel of the raw worm-stuff against his flesh is vile. Some latch on to his flesh as they slide by, nibbling at his skin and releasing blood which encourages more of the creatures to follow-suit. Struggling to maintain his composure, he kicks his legs against the thick medium and pulls himself along the rope, slipping through Tumerex as if it were nothing more than a difficult swim. After just a few seconds of this, he tumbles out the other side in an oozing heap to find the other end of the corridor, another wheel-locked door blocking the way.
Behind him, his friends start to make their own way through the obstacle, most with much less success. Buffeted by the current of worms, and repulsed by the feel of the creatures swarming over their skin and through their clothes and armour, it's all too easy to panic and lose grip on the rope. Berend, however, is unphazed, making up with stone-willed fortitude what he lacks in speed. When it becomes clear that those behind him are struggling to make headway, he turns around to help them, essentially pulling many of the party in his wake using the various ropes they had tied between them. Eventually all of them collapse, alive but gasping for breath and coughing worms from their throats, on the other side.
Once they've collected themselves, they spin the lock and open what turns out to be the final door in their journey. Within is a huge spherical chamber, entirely of grey metal, with a walkway along the inner circumference and two platforms stretching out over the center. Chains have been strung from the upper dome, dozens of them, and many of these chains have injured and barely conscious mages hanging from them. Attached to the upper dome are three separate Necrotech Node arrays, arranged in circular patterns, and down below, deep in conversation around a reclined metallic chair bolted to the very bottom of the sphere, are Paldemar and Passeract.
The two mages look much as they did the last time the party saw them. Paldemar, the architect of the ambitious plan to bring the great Rockworms back into the World, is an unassuming mage, with a mop of greying hair and a goatee streaked with silver; he still wears the silver cloak slung over one soldier, and his midriff is still entwined in the variously-coloured strips of ribbon and leather. Passeract has changed only insofar as his head is now shrouded in very similar wrappings, many of them stained with dirty-looking liquids.
The adventurers cannot risk Paldemar's plan coming to fruition before their very eyes. They waste time with neither stealth nor parlay, and leap to the attack...