Valley of the Lost Fortress
100 LA, Arc of Shareel, 23
Stone Deep – Domhain in the elder tongue. The heroes rested a day and spoke little – the name of this ancient place never far from mind. Having heard tell of the moldering fortress’ entrance from the Arunath Giant, the Heroes took a day to steel themselves then headed off along the twisting paths of the mountainside.
Coming to a small clearing in the jungle, the Heroes were at last confronted with huge, pitted statues more than a hundred feet high flanking a brooding threshold, the top of which came only to the figures’ knees. Their forms were badly worn by millennia of wind and rain. Yet even now, the features of the armored warriors were clearly not human or elven, but neither are they dwarven. The style of their amour and weapons is antique and of a design similar to that used by the dwarves in the First Age.
The brooding valley leading to the fortress was strangely quiet and empty of life. While standing by the collapsed entrance, the Heroes noticed movement in the jungle nearby. The rippling coils of a huge snake wound around a great cypress; the serpent’s pale green and white scales blending almost perfectly with the moss-stained bark of the tree.
The snake’s broad, flat head tapered to a blunt nose and was crested with two bony ridges above the red eyes – eyes that glittered with reptilian intelligence. The monster lazily swayed in the tree’s branches, its open mouth revealing long, sharp fangs. It spoke in a sibiliant hiss, recognizable as speech, (High Elven no less) and addressed the gathered adventurers.
“It is rare to see anyone approach the Domhain of their own free will, save the servants of the Shadow. What brings you to this abysmal tomb? I am Ahilissa, wanderer and defender of these mountain bogs.”
Treating with the Dire Snake, it became evident that Ahilissa knew the fastest way into Stone Deep. She slithered along the wet, moss-covered stone of the mountainside. Gliding diagonally up the rough stone, she did not wait for the Heroes, some struggling under the weight of their packs, to keep up. Soon, all were gathered on a narrow stone shelf jutting from the mountain. Only then, high above the trees, did the Heroes realize how far they’d climbed in the past few days since they left the Hamlet of Druid’s Swamp. The Aruun lay spread before them like a emerald mantle shot in silvery-white cobwebs of foothills and low, bald mountains. Ahilissa watched, her red eyes darting from Hero to Hero until at least she spoke, “Here, at your knees is a window. It was once a watchtower from within the mountain. The view you are enjoying was a similar one to those elder fey who built this fortress in the First Age. Crawl through the window and you’ll be within the Domhain. I can lead you no further.”
Within the Western Hold
A crumbling stair spiraled along the side of the circular guardroom. Large, metallic pipes clung to one side of the room and disappeared into the ceiling and the floor. The only clue to their purpose was a strange mouth piece. It was from this that the Heroes concluded that this room was once a citadel used to warn of invasion.
The warmth and humidity of the Aruun Jungle disappeared within the walls of the Domhain. The silence of the jungle was replaced with a distant cry of wind. A wind which bellowed from somewhere far below.
Though there were many battles in the rooms ahead, the Heroes persevered, finally clearing the fortress’s Western Hold. Many mysteries lingered for them. For there was a room, tall and perfectly domed, that had not been disturbed for ages. The dust was thick on the floor. In the room’s centre stood a stone pedestal marked with Dwarf-like runes, yet none could make them out. In another room, three dry pools stood and above them, three shafts of moonlight. The Heroes wondered at what ancient wonders had once been observed in such rooms as these.
It would be sometime before they learned the ways of the Domhain. After rest, they made their way toward a room they’d not seen before. Unlike the howling, cold abyss around them, this room glowed a dreadful red. Flame burned here and a natural crystal formation was left untouched. The strange shape curled and pulsated from one corner of the room to the other and for a moment, the Heroes felt as if they looked at the beating veins of the corrupted mountain. This was not the only horror that awaited them in this pocket of Hell. A being, muscular and terrifying lunged from the dancing shadows, his face familiar to them all – Aelgar. It looked like Aelgar himself who had so recently died, was now there before them. He spoke, cursing them for leaving him to die only to be damned! The devil attacked and so too did his invisible servants. Lion like creatures that shimmered in the shadows. It was no small task, but the heroes prevailed. The face of Alegar vanished from the dead thing, but his words did not leave their minds. A strange treasure awaited the heroes. a steel barrel stood in the corner – its origins and purpose unknown.
Shadows, blacker than night!
With each step the Heroes descended lower into the Domhain. With each step, the sound of the distant wind rose. Making their way into a new section Stone Deep the Heroes found themselves in a large room. Rubble from stone tables and benches littered the floor, making travel across the room difficult. In the far end of the room, a statue of an Alethar warrior stood, overlooking his ruined domain. Sparrow searched the room while the rest of the party explored other routes below. From the statue lunged two shadowy figures. Demons of pure darkness that flew with a terrifying agility. Such enemies on difficult terrain were dreadful indeed. Even while this horror unfolded, Kreel and the others were engaging a dreadful, spiny demon – with it came a pack of Hell Hounds. The party was forced back to the large room where Sparrow stood against the Shadow Demons alone. The battle was fierce, Kendra was gravely injured but battled on, taking refuge behind her powerful sister Helka. Through sheer dint of will (aided by tremendous tactics) the Heroes were able to defeat the Demonic foes. Nearby, they found a well – a deep, massive well and a strongly constructed lift that had stood the test of time. In the well room, the Heroes saw two more strange metallic barrels. It was not till much later that the Heroes realized the secret of the Western Deep.
In another abandoned chamber, the Heroes found a symbol that had the appearance of Dwarven Guidemarks – Goral Fen. Valana discovered that by speaking the meaning of the glyph (Armoury) aloud, would cause the door swing open. Here, a strange treasure waited. A simple figure-eight loop of Mithril, similar in style to the design on the outer wall that had swung open for them upon speaking the word. Puzzled, the Heroes continued on, deeper into the dungeon below.
The winds of Stone Deep howled loudly in the depths. The Heroes, barely able to hear one another searched the hallways around them. A massive room opened up before them and to the East, an archway decorated with the same marks as the secret room above. The party moved toward the door, all except for Helka. She ventured alone into the massive room to the West. There, beasts cut from the mind of a madman throbbed and slobbered, their formless bodies belching and lolling mindlessly. Engaging the fiends, Helka was stricken. Her form began to melt away before her eyes, in moments, she was nearly the consistency of a pudding – her skin falling away from the now formless bone. The party did not hesitate but turned wildly, seeking the enemy that felled their comrade – yet the Heroes kept their distance, striking with bow and arrow rather than blade and fist.
Desperate for a cure, Kendra ran off into the depths, seeking anything that might save her sister. Sparrow, seeing the other beasts being destroyed steadily by his able friends, ran along with the furious and terrified sister deeper into the dungeon. Their torchlight attracted the attention of yet another demon, this one a wall of muscle known as a Herzou. Though the demon was powerful, he was no match for the wit and guile of the two rogues, fist tripping then flanking, again and again, making all of the Abyssal muscle next to useless. Not knowing that the other Heroes led by Kreel had brought Helka back to the mysterious yet comforting Valut of the Heavens, hoping that its would have some healing properties to bring to bear. The elf’s gamble paid off, and the sister began to stabilize, slowly regaining her form.
In the meanwhile, Kendra and Sparrow retrieved a book printed with mithril pages. The other Heroes who’d stayed behind to slay the chaos beasts used the mithril whorl as a key, revealing a trove of ancient armour, much needed by the forces of Aradil in their battle for survival.
Sharing their news, the Heroes regrouped in the Vault of the Heavens. To their surprise, the mithril book had similar symbols as the stone pedestal. Placing the book on the stone and closing the iron doors, a spectacle unfolded. Stars appeared on the huge, vaulted roof and the pages of the book flipped forward – the stars moved in a blur as though passing through time – and the book spoke, calling itself “The Tome of Shandring’s Gambit”. Three wandering stars glowed in the constellations, “The Crown”, “The Banner” and “The Storm”. Then, the book fell silent.
Realizing that Stone Deep held many riddles, the Heroes began recounting their adventure thus far. Their minds wandered back to the mysterious, empty pools upstairs. Gathering all three barrels, the Heroes filled them with water from the Well and filled the moonlit pools. A secret door opened and a trove of weapons and a book known as the Tome of Champions was made known to them. Placing the Tome of Champions on the stone lectern, the Heroes listened in awe to the powers of their new weapons, read aloud by an ancient Alethar writer who’d left this very weapons for those worthy enough to take up the mantle of this ancient and noble race.
At last, the Heroes were united, armed and armoured for the fight that remained…
Filling the barrels with water from the shaft…filling the basins. The Chamber of Champions). reading the “Tome of Shandring’s Gambit” inside the vault of the heavens.
A huge scar tears across the stone floor in this chamber, and from it issues the chilling and preternaturally loud wind that fills Stone Deep. Your torches flicker in the eldritch winds. Crouched atop a toppled throne, a gray mass of muscle, feathers and talons stares pitilessly across the chasm at you. Spreading its wings, this huge, humanoid figure with the head and wings of a vulture preens its body, peering at what appear to be puss filled, open sores on its sides. It steps from the throne and glides a few paces. Its gaze fixed upon the intruders. The creature croaks out what you guess to be a mocking laugh. Gliding across the massive fissure in the centre of the room, the monster used spells to confuse and disorient the Heroes. It appeared as though there were not one, but three vulture-headed demons to contend with. Fearlessly the heroes pressed on, despite the ever growing power of the winds.
In the midst of this battle, another front opened. Crawling from the scar, a spider-like demon known as a Beblith emerged. This powerful hunter attacked the heroes relentlessly. Great harm was caused by its claws and poison. The heroes prevailed but needed to retreat to the Vault of the Heavens to heal.
After three days, the heroes emerged and continued their investigation. The found a huge, circular design on the floor of a chamber. Upon exmining it, a guardian spirit appeared.
“Greetings outlanders. I see by your strange dress and foreign looks that you come from afar, yet…I sense some good in you. What brings you to the mouth of the Abyss that was once known as the Domhain? I am King Valtarian Dor. The Key to the seal is in the palace of Ibon-Sul.”
He explained that this seal was created to keep the demons below from rising. It seems they are bound to Stone Deep – Domhain so long as the seal is in tact. Valtherin revealed that the key to this seal is held as a secret in the Palace of Ibon-Sul. Sadly, the king had been slain long before the city of Ibon-Sul had fallen and was unaware of its fate when the heroes spoke with him. Upon hearing of the city’s fall, he was dismayed. The Heroes left Stone Deep and emerged back into the Aruun.