Cauldron: The Shackled City

Zenith Trajectory

21st March, 1370

The weeks following their adventures during the flood season are fairly uneventful, though a few things are worth noting:

  • The PCs were confronted by the Stormblades, a group of egotistical young nobles playing at being adventures. All parties walked away with no one harmed, but this feud is likely not over.
  • Alenia decided that “adventurer” was more of a hobby than a career, and returned to her job as a detective for the city watch.
  • Shensen keeps “coincidentally” running into Corym around town, and the two have been having progressively longer conversations.
  • Another shopping spree took place as well, increasing the overall equipment value of the party.

As they travel along Magma Avenue one afternoon, they see a small crowd gathered in front of Garlock’s Auction House and decide to see what is up for sale. When they are still about 20 feet from their destination, a small rumble is both felt and heard by a couple of the PCs. Seconds later, the front of a warehouse on the far side of the auction crowd splinters apart. A huge creature that looks like a strange cross between an ape and an insect lumbers out into the street amidst terrified screams.

Umberhulk.jpg As the crowds begin to scatter, Corym looses an arrow at the monster, while a stranger emerges from a nearby building and launches a ball of energy at the beast. Angered by the attack, the hulking creature turns to face his aggressors. By the time it closes to melee with the party, the majority of the crowd has fled to safety. Most of the PCs attack their enemy normally, but one falls victim to the monster’s confusing gaze and begins to run away. As combat continues, the creature’s gaze affects some of the nearby citizens as well. As the battle draws to a close, the traveler who has been fighting at the party’s side notices just in time that a woman one floor above unknowingly placed her baby on the windowsill. Fortunately, the infant is caught safely as it fell, and returned to its mother unharmed.

When the dust settles and the city’s Investigators have taken their statements, the PCs speak to the stranger that had fought with them. He says his name is Phillip Gunderson. He tells them that he is from Redgorge and he is looking for adventure (well, that’s more or less what he said).

That night at the Tipped Tankard, as the PCs accepted drinks from many grateful townsfolk, a woman enters the tavern and approaches the party. She is dressed far too richly for a place like this, and seems somewhat afraid to touch anything. Before she reaches their table, Kursk and Scrump rise to greet her. She introduces herself as Celeste, and presents the half-orcs with an invitation for the following evening to the Cusp of Sunrise; a fancy, members-only establishment up on Obsidian Ave. She tells them that her friend has a business proposition for them, and reminds them to dress appropriately. The PCs have more questions, but choose not to push for too many details because Celeste is clearly uncomfortable being surrounded by dirty commoners.

The next morning the party sets off for the tailor to purchase “appropriate” attire for that evening. They pay a hefty price for the finery, plus a little extra to rush the alterations for later that day. They spend the rest of the day trying to learn proper etiquette for such a high-class establishment. …which they seem to forget entirely when they arrive that evening. They are greeted at the door by a portly fellow who compliments them on their clothing. They are given brief instructions as to where they are permitted to wander, and tells them that Celeste will be with them shortly.

As they walk through the Cusp’s large central room, they take note of a dice game being played at a couple of tables. They head over to the “gold” table and sit down to learn about the game. After picking up on the simple rules, Corym, Scrump, and Phillip sit down to play while Kursk and Nerull take naps and Jerim peruses the library. After two rounds of play, Garrett Kursk wakes up to help his friends take rich people’s money. As the 3rd game draws to a close, Celeste appears, and beckons them into a small sitting room.

Seated in the room when they arrive is the most decrepit looking dwarf they have ever seen. The old man (Davked) and Celeste take turns telling the PCs a story about his curse-inflicted condition, and his son, Zenith Splintershield. Zenith led a force into the Underdark about 10 years ago on a righteous crusade to rid the endless caves and caverns of evil. Through divination magic, Davked knows that his son still lives, and is in a Koa-toan enclave called Bhal-Hamatugn. He asks … (please don’t make me say it) … Jungle Trouble … (we really need a new name) … if they will seek out his son and bring him home. Once a hefty reward is promised, the PCs accept greedily.

They are told that the Underdark entrance nearest to Bhal-Hamatugn is about a day and a half’s ride to the east. They are given directions to a man named “Crazy Jared” who lives near their destination and can give the party more detailed directions to the entrance. The party spends the next day making preparations before setting out.

Near dusk on their 2nd day out of Cauldron, they reach a small hut with a low, crude wall around it. A strange thumping sound can be heard nearby, just as an old man comes running out of the hut toward the PCs. The thumping sound turns out to be the flapping wings of a red dragon, who crests a ridge and flies straight at the party. The battle is disappointingly uneventful, except for the almost incoherent encouragements from the old man.

After the battle, the man introduces himself as Jared, King of Anduria. He creates an illusion over the barren mountain landscape, transforming it temporarily into a verdant land filled with gently rolling hills. When asked about an entrance to the Underdark, Jared says the place is called the Pit of the Seven Jaws, and he had just sent “500 of Anduria’s finest” to guard it. When asked about Zenith Splintershield, Jared says he remembers him from 10 years ago, and that he sent “500 of Anduria’s finest” to accompany him. Jared shows them the Pit on a map of the area, then encourages them to rest for the night in his hut that gives other huts a bad name castle. Scrump is the only one who agrees, and the other all camp outside.

They head off for the Pit of the Seven Jaws early the next morning. Jared’s directions prove to be accurate, and they find it with no problem. Before they reach the bottom of the stairs descending into the Pit, they learn how it got its name. A seven-headed hydra greets them with a blast of cold from each of the heads. The battle is long and difficult, and made no easier by Scrump, who decides to chop off a head of the beast only to see two more return in its place moments later. When the creature is finally brought down, the party notices a crevice in the rock wall that grants access to a tunnel.

They follow the tunnel for about 10 miles before it finally opens into a large cavern with an underground lake. A few yards out from the shore is a boat with a strange-looking frogman inside staring at them. When the party and the koa-toan finally find a common language, he asks them where they are trying to go. When they tell him they want to go to Bhal-Hamatugn, he lets them into the boat, then asks them a whole bunch of questions on the ride across the lake. In the end, it seemed he didn’t care why the PCs were there or honestly believed they weren’t going to hurt anyone, because he left them on the doorstep of his home where he knew they wouldn’t be able to enter peacefully.

Bhal-Hamatugn.jpg

As the party starts up the steps, they are confronted by eight Kuo-toans who demand to know why they have come. The PCs try to explain that they have only come to speak with Zenith Splintershield, but the frogmen refuse to allow the surface-dwellers to enter. After determining that these creatures are evil (and therefore it would be ok to kill them), the party charges up the stairs to attack.

Kuo-toa.jpg

Four kuo-toans meet the party at the top of the stairs, while four more shoot arrows at them from inside the empty eyes of the giant stone fish head. Kursk, Scrump and Nerull handle the melee opponents while Phillip and Corym take on the archers (and Jerim stands around feeling useless). When the battle is over, the PCs take a look at the inside of Bhal-Hamatugn for the first time. They choose to head toward what looks like a prison off to their right.

They find two prisoners here, each in their own cell. One is a dirty, squinting human; the other is a halfling in dingy robes. The human says he was caught three weeks ago trying to steal from the Kuo-toans. He claims that the halfling can use magic and is in league with the frogmen. The halfling says he’s from Cauldron and was caught trying to find Zenith. He claims that the human talks to rats, who deliver messages to other denizens of the Underdark. The PCs immediately believe the halfling and ignore the human.

They learn that the halfling’s name is Cherrit. He says he was looking for Zenith because they fought together years ago and had become friends. When the party asks him about Bhal-Hamatugn, he says that all he has seen is the entrance and this cell. They try to convince Cherrit to accompany them as they search for Zenith, but he refuses, saying that he has no way to defend himself. They ask about his supposed arcane abilities and he says he’d be happy to help, but he doesn’t have any material components for his spells, so he’d better just leave. Phillip offers to give the halfling the components he needs, but he still adamantly refuses. The party finally convinces Cherrit to come along by telling him that they will lock him back up until they are ready to leave if he doesn’t help them.

They head to back of the cell block where they find a tunnel that slopes slightly downward. Following the tunnel, they come to a room submerged in waist-deep water (which would be above the head of the halfling who protests at needing to be carried across). As they get about halfway through the room, a mummified kuo-toan attacks. Fortunately, all avoid mummy rot, and they exit the encounter with only minor wounds. The tunnel makes a couple of turns, then ends at a well hidden door. When they open the door, an invisible barrier holds back everyone but Nerull and Jerim. These two (who are obviously cooler than everyone else) look around the large room beyond the doorway. The floor slopes gradually up to double doors on the far side of the room, and a large statue that looks like a giant, naked lobster-woman rises 70 feet into the air.

They don’t have much time to take in the view though, since they get attacked almost immediately by a handful of frogmen. The two PCs flee back to their friends (wishing now that they too were unable to enter the room in spite of their awesomeness). The party is chased back down the tunnel by two of the kuo-toans. They don’t pose much of a threat, but still prove to be an annoyance. They are able to deal with their pursuers and take a moment to rest near the prison. Seeing no other alternative, the party chooses a different route out of Bhal-Hamatugn’s main enterance.

Heading through a curtain, they find a large room that is obviously used as a barracks of sorts. There is nothing of interest in this room, but a stairway leads up to the area high inside the stone fish’s head where the archers were attacking from earlier. They collect some arrows and a throwing axe from the bodies that they struck. Another door up in this area grants access to the koa-toan armory, which holds basic items like wooden shields and shortspears.

Returning back to the main entry, they decide to go through the last possible set of doors. They enter to find themselves in the large room with statue of the lobster-lady. About a dozen kuo-toans stand ready for battle, along with a frighteningly beautiful woman with pale skin, red hair, red eyes, red feathered wings, and a fiery bow.

Erinyes.jpg Everyone enters the room, but Corym and Phillip are unable to pass more than 10 feet in. They run around a balcony on this level to attack their enemies from the sides, while their party members charge down the sloping floor to engage their foes down below. The devil woman flies up and begins to rain arrows down on the group, while a small group of kuo-toans collectively send a powerful lightning bolt through their midst. The rest of the enemy warriors engage in melee. The battle that ensues is bloody, with serious damage dealt by both sides. The nightmarish angel turns her attention the the men on the balcony, and every few seconds a lightning bolt tears through the melee combatants. Phillip and Corym each fall to a hail of arrows, and Scrump drops unconscious from his many wounds. Just as all seems lost, the flying woman lets out an angry scream before vanishing into thin air. The kuo-toans’ strength falters and the tide turns quickly.

Phillip, Corym, and Scrump are stabilized just in time, and miraculously the party avoids any casualties. However, the entire group is bloodied and exhausted, and rest is necessary. Deciding that traveling 10 miles back to the surface isn’t an option, and making camp in an Underdark passage would be unwise, it is decided that they should find a place within Bhal-Hamatugn to sleep. They decide that the armory in the upper level above the entrance would be the quietest and most easily defensible place to recuperate. As they make their way back to the doors, they realize the Cherrit is nowhere to be found.

The night passes uneventfully, and the PCs awake rested and ready to go. They decide to return to the large room where they got the snot beat out of them to see if they missed anything. As it turns out, they did. They find a door set beneath the ramp they charged down the previous day, as well as another door upstairs on the highest level. Their poking around does not go unnoticed however, as their friendly neighborhood scary-archer-chick reappears. The battle is still fairly tough, but nowhere near as difficult as the day before when the room was full of frogs. Corym claims the devil’s bow, then the party proceeds through the door on the upper level.

They come to an intersection with a short hallway leading to doors on the left and right. Kursk and Corym decide to take the door on the right, while Scrump, Philip and Nerull head to the door on the left. The right door opens into a room filled with purple mushrooms. The elf and half-orc get about halfway into the room before they are attacked by four of the largest fungi in the room. Poison tentacles reach out from underneath the large umbrella-like head and swipe at the intruders. No fungus is a match for two adventurers however, and they are quickly defeated. There are no other doors leading from this chamber.

The room to the left proves to be (only slightly) more interesting. A kuo-toa monk-assassin lies in wait for the party. He attempts to hide in a shadowy corner of the room, but the three heroes’ darkvision reveals him clearly. The frogman only gets one chance to attack before he is slain. Double doors can be seen at the back of this room.

Entering the room behind the double doors they find a horrifying sight. Hanging upside-down from the high ceiling of this large room are dozens of kuo-toan corpses, each missing the top of their empty skull. What makes the scene more unnerving is the occasional muttering and twitching of the bodies as they hang suspended above the party. Sitting on a throne atop a slightly raised dais is a tired-looking dwarf, armed and armored. Between the dwarf and the PCs is a 5’ diameter circle on the floor that glows slightly.

As the party draws closer to the dais, the dwarf rises to his feet, and in a harsh voice whispers, “I prophesy your doom!” The adventurers seem to take this as a threat and attack the dwarf they correctly identified as Zenith Splintershield. Surviving blow after blow in a way that only a Dwarven Defender can, Zenith extends the battle much longer than expected. Throughout the fight, he continues to spout “prophecies” of death and destruction, each confirming further the extent dwarf’s insanity.

At the end of the battle, wounds are healed, the dwarf is stripped and looted, … and Scrump steps into the glowing circle on the floor. Instantly he vanishes, and his brother starts to worry. Just when Kursk can no longer be convinced to not jump in himself, Scrump come running in the door, shouting almost incoherently about a lobster, then disappears into the circle again. Kursk doesn’t hesitate at all this time and charges after his brother. After a minute or so, both barbarians run back into the room, heading straight for the circle. Scrump runs right in again, despite the protest of his companions, but Kursk stops to explain what is happening. When they step into the circle they are teleported to the large central chamber, directly in front of the giant lobster-goddess statue.

Convinced that it is safe, the rest of the party follows Kursk into the circle, and arrive just where they were told they would. However, instead of heading back upstairs to try again (as the half-orcs insisted they should), they head to the doors beneath the large ramp on the other side of the room. After passing through the doors they come to a 4-way intersection. They all choose to go to the left… except for Nerull who goes right. He finds a room with a lot of murky water, which turns out to be a great place for a kuo-toa to hid. Two of them shoot at Nerull then duck underwater. Nerull runs back to the room that the rest of the party went to.

Half of this room is divided into small, curtained off areas. Pulling back the first curtain reveals a small armorer’s workshop. The second is a painter’s workshop. Exploration of the third section is interrupted by a short spear flying in their direction from the back end of the room. The throw misses, but when the spear hits the wall it flies straight back to the large (for a kuo-toan) frogman that threw it. Determined to take the spear for himself, Kursk charges into melee with Scrump right behind him. The spearman is no match for the greedy rage of two barbarians, and he is slain quickly. At the same time, the two kuo-toans from the other room catch up with Nerull, and meet the same quick end.

The three remaining areas in this room are as boring as the first two, and the party returns to the room Nerull fled (after grabbing the spear for Kursk, of course). Murky water covers about 2/3 of the floor of this room. To their left as they enter is a closed portcullis with strong netting intertwined in the partially submerged bottom half, and a set of stairs leads up into the far right-hand corner with the bottom steps hidden in the water. Unsure of how to proceed, Scrump takes a cautious step into the water and waits to see what happens. Dozens of dragon-tadpoles (you read that correctly) swarm his leg and start chewing away. Scrump tries to take a swing at the ravenous swarm, but can’t make solid contact with anything. Nerull blasts the whole group of them (and Scrump’s leg along with them) in an attempt to force them back into the water. Even though it doesn’t have the desired effect, Scrump is still able to extricate himself and retreat to safety.

Thinking that perhaps the room through the portcullis is the key to bypassing these nasty little creatures, the PCs inspect it further. Now that they know what is in the water, the netting at the bottom makes more sense. They see no other way into the room, so they retrace their steps to the 4-way intersection where they first entered the area three paragraphs ago. The only option they haven’t explored is the set of double-doors that was directly in front of them when they arrived here initially. The doors open into a large room with an altar on the far side. Scrump is erroneously convinced that the room is not trapped and he steps forward.

The 10-foot section of floor immediately beyond the doors falls out from under the barbarian and he plummets 40 feet down to the waiting spikes below. As Scrump gingerly pulls himself off of the spikes and the party calls down to him encouragingly, a spectre emerges from the pit wall to attack the isolated half-orc. Phillip and Nerull push their way forward and begin hurling magic at their ghostly enemy. Feeling incredibly fortunate to be wearing his spider-climbing shoes, Scrump climbs away from his attacker as quickly as possible. The spectre rises to engage the magic-users and begins leaching the life out of Phillip. Jerim finally remembers that he can turn undead and trades places with the weakened warlock. Brandishing his holy symbol, Jerim destroys the spectre completely.

Avoiding the large pit near the entrance, the party enters the room to find a strange and gruesome sight. Kuo-toan corpses are staked to the wall; 6 on the left and 6 on the right. The bodies on the left all have spears and shields, as well as nasty looking wounds that were clearly fatal. Each body on the right has a large gaping hole in its stomach, as though their stomach was ripped open …or something tore its way out from inside. At the far end of the room is an altar to Blibdoolpoolp, but no path to another room as they had hoped. With no options left to them, the PCs return to the flooded room where Scrump got his leg eaten.

They toss one of the kuo-toans they killed earlier into the water, just to see what would happen. The dragon-tadpoles devour the body within a matter of seconds, then return near the edge of the water, waiting for another snack. They toss the other two bodies in, and they are devoured just as quickly. As they debate how they can get across to the stairs without turning into a meal, they realize that they don’t have to continue. They have what they came for; the unconscious, barely breathing dwarf draped over Kursk’s shoulder. The only things driving them on at this point are curiosity and greed (remember that as you read on).

Eventually they decide that they can use Scrump’s spider-climbing shoes to walk high on the wall, out of jumping range of the creatures in the water. As each person reaches the safety of the stairs, they remove the slippers and throw them back across the water to their waiting companions. Then the next person puts on the shoes and repeats the process. When everyone is finally across, the party climbs to the door at the top of the stairs. Scrump opens the door without checking for traps and immediately regrets it.

A bolt of lightning flashes down the stairwell, catching the entire party in its path. The powerful bolt leaves a faint crackling in the air, and the smell of burnt flesh is overwhelming. Still very weakened from his encounter with the spectre, Phillip is not strong enough to survive the shock (pun intended) and falls lifelessly down the stairs into the waiting jaws of the… Ok, fine! He just falls dead ON the stairs. They haven’t know this man for long, but they still mourn his passing as they rescue his possessions. Kursk realizes that instead of an “unconscious, barely breathing dwarf”, he now holds an extra crispy dwarf whose beard is smoldering.

The PCs enter the small room beyond the door… and set off yet another trap. This one is lame compared to the previous two, and the spears that fly out of the wall miss their marks completely. Another door leads out of this room and into the next. Here they find the father of the evil little tadpoles; a black dragon. Bolstered by the fact that experience for this battle will be split 5 ways instead of 6, the PCs charge in and make quick work of the dragon. Gathering up its small hoard, and the charred remains of Phillip and Zenith, the party leaves Bhal-Hamatugn and makes the trek back to Cauldron.

Zenith’s father is grieved at his son’s death, but holds to his agreement to pay the party nonetheless. Celeste handles the details of making sure the payment is received (in coin or dwarven-worked arms and armor), then tells them that she’ll “keep in touch”. With no other pressing matters to attend to, the PCs head to the Laughing Horse to tell tales of their adventures amidst copious of alcohol.

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