After rescuing Sumiyah, (the kidnapped illusionist from the necromancer’s chambers), the party made a strategic retreat to the Great Hall to bandage wounds, rest, and prep for further exploration of the Keep.
Sumiyah couldn’t give her friends any information about her kidnappers or the lower levels. The last thing she remembered was prepping a spell to help Wexler (aka Sparkles) and Osiris in their battle against the transformed prisoners. Despite multiple attempts to remove them, ink smudges still cover her face and neck. Luckily, Chiat’s heightened sense of smell helped the party find her before the necromancer had time to turn her into another drooling zombie guard. Regardless, Sumiyah holds to the claim that she doesn’t smell like overripe bananas and dander.
The party began exploring the Keep’s Tower. Separated from the rest of the Keep, they had to cross the Towers’ drawbridge to gain access. Closer inspecting revealed the drawbridge’s chains and winch were rusted into a solid mass. Substantial work will need to be completed before the bridge will ever be raised again.
Further exploring revealed the tower to be vacant. The occupants were either killed by the party or somehow escaped. A kitchen and dining room on the first level of the tower left mute clues of partially empty plates and turned over chairs that the tower bandits were in the middle of a meal when they left. This was the last meal for whoever rushed out last night to be ambushed by the party.
The last room on the first floor held a few clues. The party deduced this sleeping chamber housed the two Sutak they fought with the strange missile weapons. Amidst the rigidly militant organization (and a few tufts of Sutak hair) of the chamber, was a curious cabinet holding a rotting human torso with strange “nibble/sucker” marks on it. Comparing the size of the cabinet to the Sutak missile weapons, this looked to be some sort of “feeding chamber” that might be used to sustain the weapons.
A spiral staircase in the center of the Tower twisted both up and down to further levels. The group choose up, and climbed to the next level, which was entirely taken up by two rooms; a barracks and some sort of recreational area.
The sleeping changer had eight beds spaced around the room. The general disarray of the barracks mirrored their poor fighting skills. Tossing the bandit’s belongings and pilfering what valuables they could find revealed a unique similarity among the bandits. Somewhere hidden in each bandit’s belonging was a small, square ceramic vial about the size of a shot glass. The scuffed white containers had odd runes on one side, and when opened proved to be nearly empty, with only a small residue of a thick blue-tinted mucus substance that smelled faintly of fish or the ocean.
Forever charging forward, Chiat wiped as much as he could out of the vial on his pinkie and tasted the mucus, happily declaring “I eat the goo”. Discovering no more than a fishy taste, he scraped all the remains he could from all the vials and swallowed it. The disgusting taste made him grimace, but no effects could be detected other than the flavor of slowly licking a three day old fish.
The next highest level housed spacious sleeping chambers for a single person, (most likely the bandit leader), an armory, and a well stocked library. A balcony overlooking the drawbridge was obviously another line of defense in case the Keep itself was overrun.
The real treasure was the library, stocked with dozens of books, scroll, manuscripts, and carvings mostly in excellent condition. A desk covered with books and notes showed active research was currently being done somewhere in the Keep. Twin vials of Dragon’s Blood, a rare and expensive ink used in creating scrolls were split among Chiat and Sumiyah. The desk held strange metal discs engraved with curious runes and glyphs that were connected by a metal loop, binding them all together.
The volumes in the library touched on the following topics: Local History, General History, Creature Ecologies and Anatomies, Necromancy, Notes on Nachash Arcane Translation and Etching, Herbology, Astronomy, and Weather. The original texts of most volumes have the margins filled with notes and corrections by multiple later readers. The notes reference other volumes and frequently additional pages of notes are placed into the volumes.
A Herbology book lays open on the desk with fresh notes surrounding the topic of Alambas, a powerful rare herb for treating burns that grows on saltwater coasts. Hand-written notes consider the herb a strong candidate as a material component for creating a cloak to defend against fire attacks, specifically the magical fire of true dragons. The portion of the Herbology text that describes Alambas was contributed by Tanis Haustik, a local expert, and details that Alambas can be found in the area called The Brass Stair along the southeastern coastline. The notes are scattered, but the complete design for the cloak can be pieced together with a few hours of research.
From this floor the staircase lead to the Tower roof, affording an excellent view of the pass and valley.
Circling back down the Tower to the bottom of the spiral staircase, the heroes explored the basement, a dreadful place occupied by torture chamber, small prison cells, and a kennel that housed a hell hound. Osiris hacked up the hell hound before too much damage was done to the party, but Sadie did get her backside bit as she ran back up the stairs.
The tiniest prison cell held Umberto, a local ranger that had been tortured by the bandits nearly to death. Osiris gave him his only healing potion to help restore him. Umberto was extremely grateful, and limped up to the keep level to recover with the guards and female survivors.
A different spiral staircase wound its way down further into the towers foundation, opening up in the Keeps ancient Stark family crypt. Most of the sarcophagi were broken open. They expected a fight and weren’t disappointed when zombies in glowing armor rose up from the debris and attacked. Their armor was stronger here, with weapons passing through them multiple times rather than just once, as with the bandits.
After a few rounds of fighting, the combat awakened another, much older guardian. Dressed in armor emblazed with the Stark Fist and wielding a huge battle axe, a skeletal guardian emerged from the last sarcophagus and battled the heroes.
After the battle ended, both the guardian’s axe and breastplate detected as magic, and Osiris traded his own for the magical ones. From a hidden stash, Sumiyah found a curious bag of miniature humanoid skulls dipped in platinum.
The crypt level turned out to be much more ancient than the Keep above and was built more than a millennium ago by the Nachash. The construction was unusual black stones that were fit together so tightly without mortar that a knife blade could not be inserted between the stones. The floors were built with a wavy ripple pattern most likely to help the snake bodied Nachash more easily move along them. The walls were also constructed to accommodate the Nachash physiology. They were wide at the floor, but tapered together as they rose to the ten foot ceilings, forming a trapezoidal cross section.
The lower levels were divided by the current occupants. A few rooms were converted to workshops or living spaces, but the majority was untouched, remaining the same as they have been for centuries.
The converted rooms included a fully stocked and functioning workshop/research facility (where more research notes and engraved discs were found), a connected living space, and a separate larger living space that contained a large shrine and statue to the Mother Hydra.
Chiat took a serpentine necklace he found hanging on the statue and, of course, put it around his neck without a thought. Nothing bad happened (yet).
The remaining rooms were secured behind an animated door guardian. What at first seemed like an ornately carved snake head, came alive and began asking questions when the PCs neared the door. Chiat suggested the rest of the party take cover in case his idea went badly, and then he strode up to the door and began answering the questions. The exchange went something like this:
Carved snake head, “Who are you are and why do you seek to pass?”
Chiat, “We are worshipers of the Mother Hydra.”
Carved snake head, “Why do you wish to pass?”
Chiat, “So we can worship the Mother Hydra.”
Carved snake head, “How will you worship the Mother Hydra?”
At the last response, the door opened, allowing the party to pass. The corridors beyond were ancient, many of them were untouched for centuries, but there were a few things that showed recent intrusion.
The first feature they encountered a seven-foot tall statue of a lizard-like humanoid with the lower half of a snake, a Nachash warrior. The statue had an inscription in a strange language, which the party couldn’t read. There was a modern notebook and pen lying near the statue with notes showing that someone had been working on translating the inscription.
The translation was only partially complete. “Life is for service, and death is the blessed reward we bestow. Be humbled…”
Using the serpent medallion taken from the Mother Hydra statue, Chiat opened a set of locked double doors that were covered with more Nachash writing. The notebook held the translation: “Only those who follow the humble serpent’s path may enter. Those who trespass will be slain, those who steal will be cursed, and those who imagine themselves more than slaves of the gods will he damned.”
Inside was a circular room with a ten foot stone snake that slowly worked its way around the circumference of the room. Golden chains hung from the ceiling in the center of the room. Crushed skeletons in broken armor littered the floor. The thief had a glint in her eye at the sight of the gold, but they chose to close the doors and move on.
Another room held a strange glowing orb surrounded by a strange device. Each hero received a message communicated directly to their minds asking them why were they in the room.
Chiat responded “To worship the Mother Hydra”. The word “Oh” echoed in their heads, then there was no further communication, and they left the room.
Exploring the last corridor triggered a pit trap which in turn disturbed a colony of gray mold, releasing a cloud of spores into the air. Osiris and Wexler (formerly known as Sparkles) fell into the trap itself. Wexler got the worst of it. Osiris’ height and ability to hold his breath made climbing out of the trap and not breathing the spores easy, but Wexler had inhaled the spores and has been wracked by coughing spells ever since.
Further exploration revealed three additional rooms. A crypt room holding a broken sarcophagus that had the Stark fist carved into it, a sand pit fills with broken eggshells, and a dome shaped chamber with the walls and ceiling painted with unfamiliar constellations in a night sky.
Further study in this room revealed that although the constellations were unfamiliar, the stars themselves are mostly the same stars found in the night sky, with a few notable exceptions. There were more stars painted on the ceiling than there are in the actual sky. Other than these extra stars, the painting in the chamber is amazing accurate. It seems odd that so much care would be taken to make such an exact replica of the night sky, but include additional stars.
As the heroes explored deeper into the caverns a slightly nauseous feeling tinged in the pits of their stomachs, and grew into a feeling of sickness and sense that something is wrong the further they explored. The last unexplored space is a wide stone staircase that leads down into a thick darkness. The feeling in the pits of their stomachs has grown and seems to emanate from this darkness.
Whatever lies on the other side of the darkness, it is the source of the evil that has gripped this keep.