he party continue their journey through the ruins of Etimar. After fighting their way through Chuul infested cisterns they discovers the Halls of Amath Grall. There the Horns slay countless minotaur, uncover long undisturbed tombs and confront Heelorox, the Lord of the Minotaur. Within the vault’s of the great Hall the party discovers the Rune axe Gulgoloth, one of the two items that they had been sent to retrieve. The other item sought was a silver key thought to unlock the last of the Northern Gateways leading to Eritanis. The key was lost over a millennium ago within the fount of Orna, a subterranean lake guarded by a fell Chuul Queen. Having completed the first part of their quest, the Horns next descended into the lower levels of the city to seek out the warden of the water. A fearsome battle was fought in the caverns surrounding Orna but in the end the party smote their aquatic foe and seized from her grasp the key that would unlock their future.
“Thelend look out!” shouted Mara as a pair of giant crab-like claws came crashing down into the water where Thelend had just been wading. The Four Horns were filed closely together into a narrow waterway within the ruins of Etimar. They had found the entrance to the cisterns earlier that day and had decided to follow the channel in the hopes that it might lead to the Halls of Amath Grall. Part of their mission to Etimar included finding a valuable Dwarven heirloom. The rune axe Gulgoloth had belonged to the Dwarf Kings of Etimar prior to the coming of the Minotaurs, and there were those who believed that it might yet remain within the kingly Halls of Amath Grall. Yet after weeks of searching the labyrinthine ruins of Etimar the Horns appeared no closer to their goal. At every turn they were confronted with dead ends or caved in walls. So the discovery of the cisterns had breathed new life into the quest. Unfortunately, as the party came to discover, the ancient waterways were home to a nasty brood of Chuul who didn’t look favorably upon their intrusion.
“I’m coming up beside you,” said Phadran to Thelend as he scaled the narrow ledge along the walls of the cistern. Mara followed suit on the opposite wall while Romen began reciting the ancient language that bound all of creation together.
“Aurgh,” grunted Thelend as one of the Chuul’s green-grey pincers tore through his armor and into his flesh. Another claw lashed out at Mara who, perched along the cisterns ledge, offered the beast an easy target. Phadran disappeared into a shadow, reappeared behind the creature and plunged one of his goblin blades into the beast’s carapace. Thelend tore free from the crustacean and swung his mighty rune-sword Ergolan into the claw that had held him. A hail of stones fell from the ceiling into the beast in obedience to Romen’s arcane command. Then Mara unleashed a flourish of slashing blades upon the Chuul.
Within moments the party had slain the chitinous creature. They then turned to Father Fethraden, the newest member of their party, to receive divine healing.
“I’m beginning to grow weary of these glorified lobsters,” said Phadran, “and for that matter, this cistern. Look at us, we’re completely soaked! I feel like giant raisin.”
“Yeah well, man up,” said Thelend. “These channels are the best lead we’ve had in weeks.” Fortunately for the party, their trek through the damp cisterns was coming to a close. As they rounded the corner the Horns beheld a massive stone archway just ahead through which the flowing channel opened into a shallow pool. Steps led up the side of the pool and into a spacious chamber. Ornate Dwarven carvings decorated the sides of the pool and the archway over head. The channel leading up to the archway was ribbed with pillars, and at the far end of the channel stood a solitary stone statue, a silent sentinel standing guard over the cisterns all these long years.
“I think, friends, that we may just have arrived at the halls of Amath Grall,” said Romen with a triumphant grin.
After an hour or so of wandering the halls surrounding the pool the Party became quite certain of two things. First, they had indeed discovered the Halls of Amath Grall. While the Dwarves skill in stonework was present throughout the ruins of Etimar, these hallways were exquisitely ornate, and were ribbed with dark obsidian columns. Second, they had also arrived at the very heart of the Minotaur den. Almost every room that they had passed contained bipedal bovine occupants. Some of these the party managed to elude, but their journey so far had not been without incident. One of the first rooms the party had passed contained a towering albino minotaur wielding a greatsword the size of a grown man. He and two other of his kin had set upon the party and torn Mara’s bear companion to shreds. The bereaved wood-elf now strode the ancient halls in silence, hatred for the horned creatures filling her heart.
Turning into the next hall, the party saw a flight of stairs that had been artfully inlaid with geometrical patterns of darker stone. An archway stood at the top of the stairs between which was framed a massive set of double stone doors. Each of the stones doors bore a metallic inlay that, when both doors are joined, formed the image of a giant Dwarven shield. The archway likewise inlaid with Dwarven glyphs.
“It says, ‘Here Lie the Kings of Old’”, said Thelend, reading the glyphs.
“Etilwin Vass said we’d find Gulgoloth within Amath Grall,” said Romen, “where better to store such a treasure than in the venerated Mausoleum of Etimar’s kings?”
“That makes a certain amount of sense,” said Thelend, “but I should also think that the Dwarves would have wanted to display such a treasure among the living, rather than to bury it with their dead.”
“Well there is one way to find out,” said Father Fethraden, moving towards the doorway.
“Wait!” said Phadran quickly, “better let me handle this.”
Everyone moved out of the way, allowing the rogue space to search out any defenses the doors might have. Somewhat surprisingly, Phadran did not find any traps, just a standard mechanical lock which he was able to pick fairly easily. As Phadran opened the door he inadvertently kicked up a thick cloud of dust. It was obvious that the room beyond had lain undisturbed for a very long time. Once the dust cleared the party was able to see a high vaulted chamber with three wings. Steps led from the room’s entrance down into all three wings. Aback of each of the chamber’s wings stood a life sized statue baring the visage of a stately looking Dwarf. Each of these stood plated in luminiad atop a pedestal. The most impressive of these statues lay directly ahead of the party at the West wing of the chamber. Two massive pillars stood on either side of this figure, and a mosaic tiled floor lay before it like a royal carpet.
“Well then, I’d say we found something,” said Phadran, “let me scout out the room before the rest of you enter though. Chances are the Dwarves left around a few nasty toys to discourage others from dig…Ahhwrahh!”
The rogue was cut off as a blinding electric current shot up from the floor through his body and laced the other Horns with burning electric tendrils.
“What in the flames of Soraddadun was that?!” yelled Romen.
After cautiously exploring the mosaic Phadran said, “Yep, that’s what I thought. Well the good news is I seem to have found something… looks like a Glyph of Warding.” After a few minutes of careful inspection he said, “We’ve got a problem here. There aren’t any more Glyphs that I can find, but this entire mosaic floor appears to be pressure plated. I’m not sure what happens when you step on it, but I’ll see what I can do to disarm the plates.”
After several minutes of work the rogues seemed satisfied. OK, you all might want to try backing up. The rogue stepped on the first set of tiles directly in front of him without incident, and then began working on the second set. Minutes later he again advanced to tackle the third set. However, as he did so two beams of electricity shot forth at Phadran from a pair of panels on either side of western statue.
“Ahrrgh!” groaned the rogue, “OK this isn’t going well. Father I think I might need your assistance.” Fethraden rose and went to Phadran to restore the rogue’s health. “New plan,” said Phadran as he stepped into a shadow. He immediately appeared on the pedestal of the western statue and then proceeded to disable the lightning spell turrets set within the panels. “Ah, that’s more like it,” he said after jumping down onto the mosaic panels without injury. “Now let’s see just what the Dwarves were trying to protect.”
Several minutes later the Horns discovered that beyond each of the statues lay a secret entrance leading to an additional chamber. Beyond the western statue lay the mausoleum of King Ongalith, guarded by a celestial dire lion. Beyond the southern statue lay the mausoleum of King Thangren, and beyond the northern statue, that of King Hulgar. Each of these rooms was likewise equipped with traps intended to keep out unwanted visitors. After defusing these and searching the tombs of the kings, the party discovered many wondrous items, none of of which was the rune axe for which they sought.
“Well, I guess the search continues,” said Romen. “We should rest here for the night though.”
The party spent the next morning, and all through the afternoon, delving ever deeper into the vast reaches of Amath Grall’s interlinking hallways. There seemed no end to this monument of a bygone age. Yet as the hours slipped into evening, the Horns emerged from a hallway displaying crumbling frescos of ancient battles and triumphs that had long since faded into obscurity, into the antechamber of an immense stately Hall. The odors of animal-sweat and offal hang thickly about the air.
Stepping further into the main chamber the party beheld, towering to either side of them, row upon row of large obsidian columns which stretched ever upward until they were swallowed by darkness. Dozens of grim looking Minotaur gathered beside the columns, snuffling and snorting heavily. At the sight of the party a few raised their maws high in the air to low, yet no beast approached. Directly ahead on a raised dais sat a stone throne guarded on either side by a pair of copper dragon statues. Upon the throne sat an ebony minotaur crowned by a dark spiked helm, and robed in flowing crimson. He bore a great double edged battle axe with a long flowing shaft the color of midnight. There remained no doubt as to the identity of this creature, for he was, quite simply, the most fearsome minotaur the party had ever laid eyes upon.
The minotaur Lord rose to his feet, and, pointing the blade of his axe in the party’s direction addressed them in a rough, mocking voice:
“Look what foolish little sheep have wandered into my den? Why have you come little sheep? Do you despise even your own lives? For I say to you that while there is yet breath in your lungs I shall grind your bones with my teeth, and tear off your limbs so that you may watch as the life ebbs from your broken body. I shall feast upon your flesh and drink the hot wine of your blood. You will beg for death yet I shall not ease your passing. For never before have any dared to trespass upon the Hall of Heelorox, Lord of the Minotaurs!”
“Awe, cuddly lil guy isn’t he?” said Phadran nonchalantly.
“Sure, why don’t you try giving him a hug,” came Thelend’s dry response.
At that moment Heelorox raised his maw high and bellowed forth a thunderous low that resounded throughout the Hall, then he descended the stares to meet the party in melee combat. Not since the fall of Etimar had the Halls of Amath Grall echoed with the sound of such a fierce battle. The Lord of the Minotaur was a paragon of his race, and he swung his great double-bladed axe with the force of a dozen men. Against any one of the Horns Heelorox would no doubt have emerged the victor, for none among the party could rival his primal power. Yet against all five of the Horns not even this champion could stand. The sanguine battle raged for an untold period until Heelorox’s tattered body finally collapsed. It hit the floor with a dull thud. There followed a moment of confusion and disbelief, as the Minotaurs witnessed the death of their champion. Then the lowing began and the Halls reverberated with the clatter of dozens of bovine hooves as the Minotaur fled in terror.
After the party had recovered from the battle that had very nearly claimed all of their lives, Phadran kicked at the lifeless body of Heelorox, saying “well, guess we know what’s on tonight’s menu, aye girls and boys?” Encouraged by the disgusted looks in his comrades eyes he continued, “Oh come one now, there’s still some of that half eaten Chull left back there somewhere, you can’t tell me that a bit of surf and turf doesn’t sound good right about now?”
“Honestly Phadran, shut up!” Said Fethraden, who was accompanied by a chorus of agreements.
“Well I think it’s a safe bet that this is the King’s Hall,” said Romen, taking in his surroundings, “If Gulgoloth is anywhere to be found in this endless labyrinth I imagine it’s here.”
“Hey looks like there’s a doorway behind this throne,” said Phadran, who had already begun to sleuth about.
Sure enough, behind the throne of Amath Grall was a set of triple archways that appeared, even upon close inspection, to have been inset within the wall. Yet Phadran’s trained eye was able to detect a nearly imperceptible groove between the central archway and the wall set within it, which usually indicates that there’s a passageway beyond. However, there did not appear to be any latch, or mechanical lever that might serve to open the doorway. Yet archway itself was adorned with runic symbols which read:
The party spent a long fruitless hour or so mulling over the runes. Before Phadran finally spoke up, “I think I’ve figured it out!”
The party looked at Phadran with a mixture of reluctance and hope. “Well, what is it?” asked Mara.
“Thelened, when we first began this delve what did you say the treasure of Etimar was?” asked Phadran.
Understanding crept into Thelend’s eyes, “Luminiad!” He fairly nearly shouted.
Phadran smiled and then gestured expansively at the archways.
A moment passes without incident. Then, slowly, the Dwarven Glyphs begin to glow with a luminous white-silver light and the party heard the unmistakable sound of stone sliding upon stone. The wall behind the archway gradually descended into the floor finally coming to a stop when its uppermost ledge was level with the dais upon which the party stood. Through the gap where the wall had been the Horns saw a long set of elaborately carved stairs leading down to a lower level.
“That was Brilliant Phadran, how did you figure it out?” asked Romen.
“I just happened to be looking down and caught a glimpse of the luminiad chain shirt I lifted from that dead elf a few weeks ago.” Said Phadran, “I was admiring how well it fit; you know half the time I don’t even remember I’m wearing it, it’s so soft and light beneath my cloak. But every now and then I’ll see it sparkle and… well anyway I guess it just clicked.”
The party descended the stairway, disarmed a deadly mechanical trap and then entered into the stone doorway beyond. The doorway opened into a small narrow room divided by three wings whose overall layout was not altogether dissimilar to that of Amath Grall’s Crypt. A set of stairs descends downward, leading into either of the three wings of the room. The wing just in front of the party was flanked by two massive obsidian pillars, and the floor leading to the far end of the room contains a decorative obsidian mosaic. At the Far end of the front wing of the room standing upon a pedestal was a large bronze statue of what appeared to be a Minotaur. The Bronze Minotaur stood erect with his arms extended in front of him, palms flat and raised upwards. Resting upon the palms of the statue was an exquisite battle axe, forged with a blacksteel shaft and a radiant Luminiad blade. Above the statue was another set of Dwarven glyphs carved into the wall, which read:
“Flaming Dwarves and there riddles,” said Phardan, “why couldn’t there just be a lock to pick, is that so much to ask? I mean really!”
As the party approached the bronze statue, the door leading into the chamber quickly began to rise back into place, revealing an hourglass encased in thick glass inlaid within the doorway. The hourglass had been upended when the door slid back into place and now sand was rapidly displacing into the base of the glass.
Everyone drew weapons, “OK guys, time to think quick,” said Thelend, “what in the flames is that riddle about?”
Unfortunately no answer presented itself and as the last grain of sand empties into the base of the hourglass, the eyelids of the bronze minotaur slid open. The brass construct firmly griped the shaft of the battleaxe and stepped thunderously off his platform to engage the party.
“Here we go again,” said Romen as the beast charged forward. Yet midway through the combat Father Fethraden shouted out, “Of course! It’s Arnulad, the riddle is speaking of Arnulad!” And having deciphered the riddle, Fethraden commanded the construct, in the name of Arnulad, to cease fighting and hand over the axe. This the Bronze Minotaur did, and then returned to its pedestal once more.
After searching the two remaining wings of the vault, and disarming its traps, the party discovered a wealth of luminiad coins and bars. “Well,” said Romen, “I guess there’s just one task left for us to complete.”
The trek back to the lower levels of Etimar was relatively uneventful, given the amount of run-ins with minotaur and worse the party was used to encountering. Within a day the party made it back to the Fount of Orna to search out the Silver Key that had been the primary object of their quest. The key was believed to be located somewhere within the depths of the Fount of Orna, and weeks earlier the Horns had learned that the Fount was guarded by a massive Chuul Queen who didn’t take kindly to visitors. The party had barely escaped with their lives then, but now they returned to face off against the Chuul Queen once more and claim the true prize of Etimar; or die trying anyway.
The cavern that gave rise to the fount seemed impossibly high. Massive pillars, collapsed cisterns and other vestiges of Dwarven habitation lay strune about the caverns in molding heaps. The roar of the subterranean waterfall spilling into the cavern basin made any communication amongst the party a difficult venture.
“Even if we manage to defeat the abominable crustacean how are we ever going to find the key in all of this?!” Thelend yelled over the din of flowing water.
“Well it may take some time,” said Romen, “but with the gear that Etilwin Vass outfitted us with, we should be able to both locate and retrieve the key, no matter how much sediment has built up over it over all the long years.”
“We might want to concentrate on the first obstacle at the moment,” said Mara pointing to a large shadow looming beneath the waterfall. No sooner had the party turned in that direction then a huge crab-like beast emerged and slid into the lake below. It swam with incredible speed for such an unwieldy looking creature.
“Gird your loins everybody,” said Phadran, pulling out his twin Goblin blades. Romen muttered an ancient incantation of protection over the party as Thelend and Mara both drew their blades. Father Fethraden offered up a quick prayer to Eridial beseeching divine blessing just as the beast emerged from the water. It lunged at Thelend quicker than the party could react, plunging its massive claws into his side and crushing the life from him.
Phadran stepped into a shadow and emerged on the other side of the Chuul. Taking advantage of her flanking position, Mara stepped forward and began slicing at the beast. Romen called forth a hail of stones to pelt the Chull, allowing Thelend the needed distraction to break free from his captors claws.
A horrid high pitched screech escaped the Queen as the stones tore through her pulsating abdominal egg sack, pelting the chuul larvae within. Hundreds of lobster sized larvae began oozing out the side of the sack and assailing the party in a wretched clawing swarm. Then the mother ripped into the party with such force that Mara was nearly cleave in twain. Father Fethraden came to her aid, delivering the divine touch of healing while Pjhadran and Thelend slashed at the large beast from opposing sides. Romen then directed another hail of stone upon the larvae swarm which provoked another outraged screech from the Chuul Queen. The battle raged on for several minutes, as the Chuul Queen continued to impale and crush the party with her great claws. However the party had learned much in the time since their last encounter with the beast, and they used this knowledge to allude the worst of the Chuul’s attacks. Phadran found and exploited weaknesses in the beast’s chitin armor. Romen cast an enchantment that allowed the party to slide free of the claws of the great crustacean while Mara and Thelend continued to barrage the creature on either side with their slashing blades, and Fethraden managed to keep the party alive with his prayers for divine healing long enough for the Horns to finish off the great Chuul and her filthy ilk.
When the fighting had ended and the party stood over the hulking carnage of their former adversary Phadran pointed at fallen beast apprehensively. “Hey, um, why is that thing’s abdomen still pulsating? It’s not supposed to do that, right?”
“Yeah, no that’s more than a little odd,” said Romen.
“Odd? Try oh man I think I’m going to crap myself scary!” said Phadran.
“Relax Phadran this isn’t the specter of Genocron,” said Mara, eluding to a previous adventure, “I seriously doubt we’re dealing with a Lich-Chuul here.”
A closer investigation revealed that the source of the light emanating from within the abdomen was a slime coated orb that radiated a soft white light.
“Well, either Chuul produce pearls or I’d say we just found our prize!” said Romen as a grin began to spread across his face. Indeed, after the object had been thoroughly rinsed and scrubbed with a bristle brush a bright silver orb emerged.
“Praise be to the One,” said Father Fethraden quietly.
“Yeah,” said Romen, “He has brought us one step closer to Eritanis.