3/8/1472 – 04:20 – 06:00: The group make their way back to the first altar room, where they discover a pile of mangled bodies, and Skull, drenched in gore and bearing a number of wounds, stood amongst them. All but one of the corpses are cultists that have come to worship, and instead found the enraged Clay Golem. One however, impossibly, belongs to one of the Aurymites imprisoned by Shumeth near the lava pit. Clearly, they had made their way to this place, only to be unrecognised and then killed by the construct.
Varracuda is not happy.
The group are soon at the Ravager, where they are greeted by their crew. Tales are exchanged about the adventure the group have had, and a meeting is quickly set up in order to discuss the business of moving on.
Speaking for the entire crew is a scarred Aurymite named Caleph. Caleph raises a number of immediate concerns for the party – namely that the ship must have a recognised chain of commandto function efficiently (especially in battle), and that although they have enough crew (24 in total) to make it sail, it is not enough crew to see it move at full speed, to man it 24-hours, and definitely not enough to command the ship in a battle.
The group begin to try and decide who will be recognised as Captain of the vessel, and at once Shnecke suggests that he is the natural choice, citing his people's mastery of the longboat, and his own service on such raiding vessels. The rest of the party smile warmly, whilst shooting each other alarmed glances that suggest that there is no way in hell they are going to allow the undead barbarian to captain the vessel.
“If Shnecke is going to be Captain,” pipes up Jaeger suddenly, “Then I shall be First Mate. You know, so you can [hard meaningful stare at the group and Caleph] run things by me to double check for problems”
Everyone gets his meaning, and soon it is agreed – Shencke will be given the impression that he is Captain of the ship, whilst the real decisions are made by the rest of the party, with Jaeger as the mouthpiece.
Next begins a long discussion on how to proceed. Caleph points out that simply taking the ship to a standard port is entirely out of the question, as the Ravager is a well known pirate vessel, which will be attacked on sight by most. The group decide firstly that the ship must be renamed. Various monikers are thrown about, with the Sea Wolf almost being adopted. However, Thatari makes a crude comment, and the group settle on a less urbane name – the Sea C**t,☨
They next discuss finding a way to the surface, in order to get the ingots to Takeshi. It is decided that they shall then invite him to assist them in hunting down the Drowned Bell and the Squall, leaving the SC here in the smuggler's port, with a view to using Santhiel's chest, and the amulets on the cultists slain by Skull, to return them safely. However, this the leads to an argument about the safety of leaving their new vessel in a place frequented by the worst class of people, and they decide to try and sail it out of here, with a view to hiding it somewhere off the coast of the Auric Isles whilst a new crew is found.
This then leads to discussion about the nature of the chambers they are in. Caleph states that it is almost certainly an ancient smuggler's den, probably used for thousands of years before Shumeth and his ilk moved in. He surmises that, being underground, it is almost certainly warded over by a lock, which, if not operated by Dohr'Khustan's is probably run by an independent group. This leads to even more discussion and argument over how to proceed. Eventually, it is decided that the party will take a lifeboat up the channel that leads from the port in order to see what lies ahead, leaving Lia on board the SC to oversee the crew, aided by Caleph.
06:01 – 07:30 – Yawning and wincing as their aching muscles complain, shivering in the chill subterranean air, the group get into the lifeboat. Shnecke and Varracuda take charge of rowing, and soon they are sliding along the glassy waters of the channel. For a good half hour there is nothing to see other than the high stone walls, small patches of phosphorescent mould, and the occasional scurrying rat or snorting osquip. After a while however, a slight breeze begins to pick up, carrying the distant sounds of high-pitched squeaks and the booming roar of falling water.
In the distance, the deep gloom of the tunnel can be seen to be lifting, and the group realise that there is a vast illuminated space far ahead. At this time, they also spot a number of bare, muddy shores, thinly plastered with grey, slippery mud, which run parallel to the channel. Hopping about on these are small, wiry humanoids; scaled and reptilian, with narrow crocodilian heads, and sharp, white horns.
“Kydraxi!” Snarls Shnecke under his breath, his hands tightening around the handle of his axe.
“Ssshh. Don't draw attention to us.” Growls the assassin darkly.
The boat slips by the snapping humanoids, coming close to several who are fishing in the channel's murky waters. The tiny humanoids clearly see the group, but show no concern or fear, simply continuing to talk to each other in their yapping, snarling tongue.
Soon, the details of the chamber ahead begin to crystallise, and all are slightly awed by what they see. The channel enters a vast cavern, some ¼ mile across, illuminated by thousands of lanterns, strung about from wooden walkways, ropes and other structures built in a seemingly random tangle within the inner curve of the caverns walls. Opposite the channel rises an incredible lock gate, at least 300' across and almost half again as high. From either side of this fall twin waterfalls, which smash in spectacular mounds of spray into the grotto beneath, raising ghostly rainbows in the flickering light of the massed lanterns.
From the gates rise colossal chains, which rise over their surface to wind into vast slots near their tops. Each link must weight many tons, and no one in the boat can fathom how anything could move such a massive, weighty mechanism.
The cavern is not unoccupied. Hundreds of kydraxi run hither and thither on various tasks, overseen, it appears by hooded figures dressed in tattered rags of leather and cloth, who stand unmoving at various points on the tangled walkways.
“Those things reek of undeath.” Whispers Grigori.
“So, who runs this place do you think?” Asks Varracuda, looking across at his companions pale faces, “Do we run in any attack, or do we try and bargain our way through?”
Another argument, which sees no agreement being made.
The ship is stopped, and it is decided that Grigori, using a ritual to allow him to speak their language, shall interrogate some of the Kydraxi in the hopes that they may be able to shine more light on who or what operates the lock, and as a result, how the group should proceed...
07:31 – 07:45 – At first the Kydraxi are a little surprised to see a half-vampire bearing a potent artifice sword emerge from the gloom (they are unaware that Jaeger lurks nearby, wearing the darkness like a shroud, his eyes able to see every move the treacherous little fiends make, his fingers resting ready on the trigger of his favourite crossbow), and they snarl and spit (whilst backing off). However, with a few kind and soothing words, Grigori is able to calm them, and soon they are talking brightly about the lock and its master.
The first thing they reveal is that the kydraxi willingly work there (the priest had hoped, had they been slaves, to orchestrate some kind of mass revolt against the lock keeper, thus enabling the party to kill him and take control – no such luck), in return for the protection of the lock keeper and his potent allies. They learn that the lock keeper is an unusual human, who's flesh, muscles and bones have been rendered invisible, leaving only his active internal organs visible. Named Skarzal, he is a representative of the group that finances the mighty lock that leads to the “Light World”.
It appears that Skarzal is watched over constantly by some kind of Taurag – possibly a Talakasian Taurgaryn from the description the little monsters give - and is allied with a human who by the sound of it worships the ancient fiend Orcus – an arch-daemon associated with undeath. This dark priest it seems has used their power to raise a number of gargantuan skeletons, who's unnatural strength is used to operate the hoary, dundiir mechanisms that operate the vast sea lock.
It is at this point that several kydraxi make the foolish decision to try and ambush Grigori. They die in a suffocating cloud of shadowy energy, which suddenly engulfs them from behind, courtesy of the assassin, their screams choked off as the air within their lungs curdles and rots in the darkness' embrace. This only makes the interrogated kydraxi more eager to tell Grigori everything they know, and soon they are talking about the “Scaled Ones” that haunt the natural caverns that burrow away from the locks periphery, of the caves behind the lock in which Skarzal keeps prisoners – and one of the tiny monsters lets it slip that one prisoner is an Eshurian diplomat (Thatari later identified that Eshur is a province of Draxia, that long ago turned its back on the worship of daemonkind, and embraced agriculture and the use of primal energies in its day to day way of life. Hated by those within the decaying empire of chaos, especially the cthonic powers in control of Pentas Daemonica, the City of Stained Stones, it flourishes somehow in spite of the constant attacks made by its foul neighbours).
With their usefulness as sources of information at an end, the tiny monsters' realise that they may soon be removed from existence by this frightening creature, and so it is with great relief that they agree to guide him to meet with Skarzal – though they fear betrayal when the rest of the group arrive, briefly snarling and bearing their dark fangs at them, before realising that they are hopelessly outmatched, and adopting a submissive, whimpering posture...
☨ I'm at a bit of a loss how to document this in future, and so shall refer to the ship as the SC....I think it will be easier to read that way. Still, a striking name no?