Arkan, Gyth, and Samiel entered the catacombs, accompanied by the Professor and both guard captains. Magus snuck in behind everyone, carefully remaining unobserved. Meanwhile, Darak and Donavan remained with the camp, acting on some plans of their own…
Near the entrance of the catacombs, a large room full of carvings captivated the Professor’s attention: despite the looming threat of the orc army finding the expedition, he wanted to stop and study the contents of the room carefully before continuing. Frustrated entreaties by everyone else had no success budging him, but he did acknowledge that the rest of the catacombs were likely to be dangerous and probably trapped. After some further discussion, Sam, Arkan, and Gyth decided to move forward and check it out, while Captain Jamus guarded the Professor. Captain Razius returned to the camp for the time being, to help prepare in case the orc army tracked them down before the Professor could be bothered to move. Magus followed his comrades stealthily, staying out of sight for the time being.
The catacombs were full of dust and the dead, coffins and and mummified bodies lining the walls. In one large central chamber, a half-dozen more-ornate-than-usual sarcophagi got the better of curiosity, and Arkan gleefully used his earth sorcery to loudly fling the stone lids off and onto the ground. The party found some treasure this way, but also attracted some unwanted attention… they were soon attacked by a half-dozen frightening creatures, pale humanoids bounding on all fours, their faces entirely occupied by a single, massive, black-toothed mouth. They were dispatched fairly quickly… a few of them, however, found Magus where he was hiding in the hall, and although he was able to dispatch them, he was severely wounded in the process. Stumbling into the large chamber, he weakly greeted the rest of the party. Although surprised to see him, they were happy to toss a healing potion his way.
Moving onward, the party found a locked wooden door at the end of a hallway. The lock had rusted shut, so Arkan decided to use his new “Burrow” power to see what was on the other side. He dived down into the rock, shot forward under the door… and found himself coming out into open air. What was on the far side of the door was an elevator shaft! After an critical fail, he found himself plummeting down the shaft, but fortunately had enough presence of mind to try to burrow again when he hit the bottom. His efforts succeeded well enough that he survived without serious injury, although he was half-buried in a stone crater of his own making. The rest of the party climbed down more conventionally (there was a stone ladder at the back of the elevator shaft) and continued onward.
The next room was fairly large and circular. The far wall contained a single metal door and a handle inset into the wall. A stone basin sat in the center, with a candelabra above it lit with tiny stones glowing a brilliant white. The basin was full of a clear liquid, and looking into it was like looking into the night sky, the candelabra lights reflecting like stars. Looking closely, the party also saw a small golden ring, apparently resting on the bottom of the basin. Suspecting the liquid was acid or something else similarly nasty, they decided to try to fish the ring out with a javelin. After a bit of complicated balancing and poking, they found they couldn’t reach the ring… it never seemed to be there when they poked at it. Samiel suggested searching upward instead, in the candelabra… and there was the ring, hidden in the center of the candelabra, its image reflecting on the water in such a way as to make it appear to be inside the basin.
After some experimenting, it was clear that the ring had some sort of magic-nullifying effect. Guessing that the recessed handle was trapped and that the ring was meant to nullify the trap, Arkan put on the ring, reached in, and turned the handle, while the rest of the party moved to “a safe distance” back by the elevator shaft. The handle turned, the door clicked open, and nothing else happened.
The next room was pitch black: but by the dim torches and using Gyth’s low-light vision, the party was able to see it was completely full of brown, barrel-sized spheres, milling around in the air without touching the walls or floor. Shifting breezes kept the balloon-like plants moving. Gyth recognized them as “corpse balloons,” a rare and dangerous plant normally found in swamps. When touched, they explode in a cloud of poisonous spores, often enough to disable their prey, whose flesh becomes the seeding ground for more corpse balloons. The ones in swamps normally have a leathery tether keeping them rooted to the earth. These had either had their tethers cut or were a different variety. Either way, it was clear that touching any of these was a bad idea.
Next to the entrance to the room was a small alcove. A small round rune written in some sort of silvery metal was placed on a stone shelf. Inside the rune was a curious lack of dust. Magus experimented with this for a while, placing his fingers, his weapons, and various other items inside the rune. The only change he noticed was that after a while, some of the bits of dirt and earth attached to whatever went in the rune had disappeared, melted away somehow.
While Magus experimented with the rune, Samiel and Arkan were trying their own plans. Arkan sent several waves of rising stone through the chamber, trying to hit as many of the balloons as he could: although his blindness prevented him from aiming, there were enough of them that he simply couldn’t miss. Meanwhile, Samiel produced a stiff breeze coming out of the hall and into the chamber, preventing any spores from the exploded balloons from floating into the hallway. Once the number of balloons had been significantly reduced, he created a wall of air currents around the edge of the room to keep balloons away and allow the party to creep by.
The door on the far side of the room was locked, and nearby was a large metal wheel. Turning the wheel resulted in a lot of creaking sounds, then the nearby door popped open. The next room was fairly small, roughly cubical in shape. The far wall had another metal door in the center… the rest of the wall was covered with recessed handles, numbering in the dozens. Above each recess was a small rune or symbol of some kind. Clearly one would open the door, and the others would cause something nasty to happen.
The party decided that their best bet was to get the professor and see if he could tell them anything about the runes. They made their way back to the initial chamber where he still was, explained what they had seen, and persuaded him to come take a look. Jamus insisted on coming as well.
Once back in the small room, the Professor narrowed it down to two symbols: the Sun and the Moons. “The Late Amnorians worshiped the God of the Light,” he explained, “in the form of the sun, moons, and stars. I believe we’ve already seen a representation of the stars… I don’t know if the next step is the moons or if we’ve already seen that and need to go straight to the sun.”
Once again, Arkan decided to take a chance, selecting the handle marked with the sun. Everyone else crowded against the back wall of the small chamber. Once again, the handle turned, and the door clicked open without incident. About this time, someone noticed the metal spike plate tucked into the back of the ceiling, and determined that it was designed to swing down into the far wall, each spike lining up with one of the recesses.
The next chamber, also a fairly large circular room, was well-lit: a large, flat, white-glowing stone took up most of the ceiling, illuminating the room as if with sunlight. In the center of the room, a large figure stood, in the shape of a man, like a statue formed out of steel. It remained motionless. The far door was open, for once. Gyth started to inch around the edge of the room, towards the door. Just as he passed the halfway point, the door slammed shut and the steel statue turned towards him, its eyes lighting up with a green glow, and spoke: “Who seeks the shame of the cast-down god?” Gyth fumbled for an answer, but didn’t produce anything that satisfied the steel figure. It began to run towards him to attack.
Jamus grabbed the Professor, pulling him to “safety” going back down the hall. The rest of the party rushed to Gyth’s defense, and quickly incapacitated the steel figure. The green light went out, and the door at the back of the chamber opened once more. Magus, sensing something interesting, pried open the back of the steel figure’s head. Inside, he found a flat surface marked with the same silvery rune that he had seen earlier near the corpse balloons and before that in Narak-Nalun, in the chamber above the city containing the enormous stone sphere. Inside the silvery rune, held in place with a thin metal bracket, was an egg-sized emerald. Magus grabbed it, then experimentally, replaced it in its bracket. The eyes of the figure lit up and it started to move, but before it could get far, Magus yanked the emerald back out. Very interesting indeed, he thought as he pocketed the massive gem.
Jamus and the Professor returned, the Professor thanking Jamus for his quick action. The whole group moved onward, into the final chamber… the last room was clearly the inside of an ancient temple or cathedral of some kind. Stone benches lined the floor, and elaborate carvings covered the walls. As the party moved into the room and added some illumination, a massive figure became visible in the back of the hall, behind the benches and a stone pulpit. An massive idol, as tall as the roof forty feet above, stood proudly, carved from the stone in the back of the enormous room. Light gleamed from the metal carved to represent its eyes: all four of them, mounted in two heads. The party had seen this image before: the same statue, in smaller scale, had been found in Norgrug’s lair, before knocking it down and prying out its ruby eyes. Ornak, the two-headed god of the Orcs. The metallic eyes gleamed with a strong white light, as did a large tome made from the same metal that sat on the pulpit.
The Professor was speechless. The implications were clear: Old Amnor wasn’t elven or dwarven: it was orcish! The elves and dwarves had allied and formed a new Amnor on the ruins of the old, obliterating it almost utterly. The Professor reverently picked up the shining book, muttering to himself that this changes everything, completely upsetting known history. “We have what we came here for,” he said in a muted, yet triumphant, voice.
Just as he said that, the professor staggered forward, dropping the book onto the stone floor with a crash. His face went white, and he fell forward, a dagger protruding from his back. There was a slight shimmer in the air that vaguely resembled a man crouching near the book, then it disappeared. Magus leaped forward, swiping at the where the figure had been with his daggers. He missed, but as he swung, a face briefly appeared near the hand wearing the golden anti-magic ring, then immediately disappeared. Captain Jamus walked forward to the pulpit swiftly, coldly saying “I think we’re done here.”
The idol’s eyes and the book shine with the same kind of light that Thormin Starshield’s shield shone when it was first found in Narak-Nalun. The shield had dimmed to “normal” since then, but during the course of the latest adventure, had gradually gotten a bit brighter…