A. Legends from the Vault
i. A Safe Investment
The agents were scheduled to meet with a bank executive at 2:00 PM on 24 Uktar, to discuss the next steps in investigating the issues the bank was experiencing with its “vault security system.” Before they arrived at Lyrabar’s Royal Bank and Trust, they reviewed what they knew of both copper dragons in general, and what confidential information the bank had revealed of their own specimen.
At the appointed time, the agents arrived in Lyrabar’s Royal Bank and Trust to meet “Lord Veu Clearridge,” one of the seven bank executives responsible for the establishment. As soon as they’d entered the bank, the man in question emerged and greeted them. He quickly led them inside to his private office, where they could speak more openly without spooking bank visitors or potential investors.
Lord Clearridge gave the agents a shortened version of the bank’s history and accolades. The institution had a long history, beginning in -74 DR when Inrath Mirandor (the grandson of Impil Mirandor) officially declared Impiltur a sovereign nation. As one of his decrees, he had established a Royal Bank and Trust. While there had been periods of political instability, where incoming monarchs (or the Council of Lords, if there no monarchs existed) lay claim to the bank’s resources, the bank itself boasted no physical breach of its vaults in its history.
Clearridge recounted what the agents had been told regarding the dragon’s unexplained absence. Roughly two months before, the Council of Lords had requested a 150,000 gold piece withdrawal (the largest on record). Crops had not been good this year, and the local Impiltur economy was floundering; the Lords wished to mint new coins at Hlammach, after which they would purchase back bonds from the population, giving a much-needed infusion of cash before the winter.
Additionally, several loans to foreign nations had come to fruition, and these accounts needed to be settled.
The bank executives had commissioned (at a fraction of the cost, of course) pieces of artwork and metalsmithing that were deemed worth at least 150,000 gold pieces. However, four tendays ago, at the appointed time and place for the transaction, the dragon had simply never showed. What’s more, the dragon was no longer responding via the pair of Sending Stones used exactly for this purpose.
Had there been any specific, previous “incidents” involving the dragon? No. “Korvicros the Indulgent” had expressed increasing dissatisfaction with its living arrangement, but Clearridge had (as ambassador and liaison to the dragon) arranged for extra gifts of art and entertainment by skilled musicians. While the gestures had seemed to do little good, Clearridge had not anticipated the dragon simply stonewalling them.
Nor had the bank; truthfully, the executives were in unfamiliar territory as far as their playbook went. They had (secretly) decided to bring in outside help for negotiation before making a more open request to the Council of Lords for aid. They were aware such course would be a final measure, as the Council would gather an armed force to enter, clear, and regain control of the dungeon – to include dispatching the dragon that threatened their national assets.
While Clearridge claimed that none of those returning from the vault (bards, musicians, and the like) had reported anything unusual beyond the dragon’s deteriorating temperament, something about the lord’s story didn’t sit well with Barney. Placing his hands firmly on the lord’s desk and leaning forward to emphasize his point, the dwarf monk explained very succinctly the need for perfect honesty in this matter, if the agents were to appropriately handle this matter.
Clearridge nodded slowly and reluctantly before beginning a new story. It seemed he’d noticed the dragon’s growing resentment towards its living arrangement and had, in addition to new gifts, sought out those more knowledgeable in the ways of adult dragons. Through a mutual acquaintance he’d met at an aristocratic function, he’d made contact with a group of self-avowed “dragon specialists” based out of Sembia.
(Charli was familiar with this country; it sat on the western edge of the Sea of Fallen Stars, immediately north of Westgate, where he was once employed as an investigator).
At the limit of his own expertise, Clearridge had arranged meetings between this group and the bank’s dragon, all completely off the books. None of their interactions were ever put down in writing, as they would not have been sanctioned by the other bank executives.
Clearridge reported that the group had met with the dragon a total of three times, none of which he was present for. The group was also responsible for suggesting the most recent gifts for the dragon…after which the consultants had abruptly ceased all communication as well. Currently, Clearridge could contact neither the dragon nor the “consultants,” and he was at wit’s end.
Barney leaned over to whisper to Alexis. “Do you think this group of consultants were thieves in disguise?”
Alexis replied directly via telepathy. “This definitely has the marks of a heist. Perhaps they were presenting themselves as dragon specialists to gain access to the dungeons, where they could case the vault from there.”
When requested, Clearridge (reluctantly) handed over his of the pair of Sending Stones that connected directly with the dragon. Barney sent a quick communication to the dragon, informing it they were entering the vault with tribute, but there was no reply.
From there, Clearridge led them to the bank vaults themselves. As he did so, he began a tour of the bank’s security systems, giving a speech probably delivered to every prospective investor. The outer bank walls themselves comprised magically-hardened stones (verified by Alexis’s Eldritch Sight) interlaced with adamantine rebars.
This was only the first layer of protection. To pass into the vault itself, Clearridge handed each of the agents a slip of paper with a single word: “DOMAIN.” Speaking this passphrase aloud let them proceed through the second layer, a Guards and Wards spell that hid the actual vault door behind an illusion of a tapestry, among other notable effects. The passphrase was changed once a day, Clearridge explained.
Finally, upon entering the vault proper, Alexis noticed his eldritch sight ceased to function; no longer visible were the subtle glows of his friends’ magical equipment. The entire inside of this portion of the bank was under the effects of an Antimagic Field, Clearridge explained, shunting out out all methods of divination and teleportation that could be cast by mortal creatures. The warlock was suitably impressed by these precautions.
In the corner, the agents noted a collection of objects of fine art; these would have been part of the trade with the dragon, had that actually occurred. Perusing the oil paintings, Alexis noticed both that they were very recent (as some of the paint had only recently dried) and that they had been crafted by some very well-known artists of Faerûn. Clearridge explained they’d been commissioned just for this purpose, and that they would fetch a high price if buyers were ever found on the open market.
From there, the agents entered a weighted elevator that lowered them through an 800-foot shaft towards the dungeon itself. As they descended, Clearridge detailed the history of the shield dwarves of the region, noting that they predated the human settlers who arrived sixteen centuries in the past. Originally, the dwarves had entire cities and mining operations in this area, taking advantage of the deep cuts and natural chasms. However, these mines had been mostly exhausted and abandoned by the time Impil Mirandor founded the settlement that would become Lyrabar, in -135 DR.
Barney listened quietly and commended the bank executive for an almost-perfectly accurate depiction of his ancestor’s operations in the area. His direct lineage had, after all, been directly involved in these matters, centuries before.
The elevator eventually arrived at the ground floor, settling on a fort-like dwarvish structure. Before them, a massive stone bridge crossed a bottomless ravine, disappearing into the darkness ahead. Neither the terminus of the chasm nor the other end of the bridge were visible.
The antimagic field that had dampened Alexis’s sight was no longer present. Clearridge reminded them that the bank-laid protections ended after this point. From here on, all traps and defenses were the direct responsibility of the dragon itself. Any prior bullion exchanges had occurred at this point, at this end of the bridge, and no one ventured safely into the darkness without the dragon’s express approval.
This made it more dangerous for any would-be bank robbers, as only the dragon knew the safe route from here to its lair. Unfortunately, it also made the agents’ job that much more complicated.
Lord Clearridge returned to the bank above (leaving the elevator on the agents’ level, should they need it). He promised to seek out the mutual contact that had introduced him to the dragon “specialists,” so the agents could interview him when they returned. Felkar too stayed in the bank above, his own Sending Stone in hand, should the agents need a direct line of contact with the outside world.
ii. Die Your Luck
The agents regarded the wide dwarvish bridge that stretched off hundreds of feet into the dark. According to the instructions they were given by Clearridge, it should be a fairly straight-forward path to the dragon and its lair, but no one outside of Korvicros knew exactly what traps had been laid along the way.
The agents discussed the likelihood of the dragon “consultants” having set up their own bank heist, possibly even killing the dragon at the center of the lair and making off with its loot. After all, the greatest portion of the bank’s security rode on the fact that very few had ever seen or visited this level, and therefore none could use teleportation spells with any degree of success. However, it was now apparent that more than just bank executives had gained access to the dungeon, and so incursions by third parties were now a real possibility.
As the party began across the mammoth stone bridge, the light from their torch illuminated a purple-clad corpse in the center of the pathway. As they watched, the corpse abruptly sat up from its prone position and hissed a greeting.
“Greetings, dungeon delvers, and welcome to my TOMB with a view! I’m normally not one for uninvited PESTS, but you know what they say…the MORGUE, the merrier! *cackle* Today we’ll be seeing if your little group of foolhardy adventurers has the CHOPS to go DEAD-TO-DEAD with Korvicros, the Gilded. I like to call today’s little morbid MESScapade… ‘DIE YOUR LUCK!'”
Barney approached to inspect the talking corpse. As he did so, his foot brushed a tile that seemed (to all outward appearances) identical to the ones around it. A magical glyph briefly flared into life, creating a tremendous blast of force that threw him a full twenty-five feet backward.
The talking corpse, also caught in the effect, was launched into the abyss. As it fell, it cackled with insane glee. They did not hear it hit bottom.
As Barney brushed himself off, Alexis called into the darkness ahead. “I am aware that we were not formally invited, but we are here to peaceably meet with you. Would you consider letting us through?”
Much like the message Barney had sent on the Sending Stone, however, this one was also left unanswered.
Having some experience with mundane traps, Charli moved to inspect the spot where the glyph had activated. As he did so, he traveled across a different line of dusty tiles than Barney. This time, Charli’s foot triggered a Wall of Fire that shot across the bridge’s width, cutting him off frim his friends. Luckily, the rogue’s quick reflexes helped him dodge through it, leaving him only somewhat singed.
“What, your magical vision didn’t help you with that one?” Barney chided Alexis. This time, the warlock had been well within range of the sigil, yet he’d called no warning.
Alexis was momentarily dumbfounded. While he maintained concentration on his Eldritch Sight, all magical items and creatures would reveal themselves to him. Yet the sigil Charli had triggered had been hidden till the last moment.
The agents put their heads together. They recalled that, during their visit to Songhal, they had researched different methods for masking their magical items. While a different method had been used, Nystul’s Magic Aura was one way to completely cover the magical aura of a Glyph of Warding. However, it would have had to been cast over every glyph on the bridge’s surface.
“Then who set up all these glyphs?” Rock wondered aloud.
“According to Clearridge,” mused Alexis, “the dragon is responsible for all traps and defenses from this bridge onwards. It would follow then that the dragon placed these itself.”
Barney chimed in as well. “With copper dragons’ known love of tricks and games, and considering the way the corpse addressed us, I can’t help but wonder if Korvicros set up this entire dungeon less for security, and more for his own entertainment.”
The agents agreed this idea was unsettling, at best. However, Alexis didn’t answer. One small detail impressed itself on his consciousness. The animated corpse hadn’t referred to the dragon as “Korvicros the Indulgent,” the name given by Clearridge. Instead, it had referred to a “Korvicros the Gilded.” What significance did this change of moniker have, and why had the dragon adopted the change?
Luckily, the agents knew the Wall of Fire was a spell of only one minute duration, and they waited for it to expire before regrouping. While they paused, Rock drew notes and maps in a notebook she always kept at her side. Then they continued as close to the center of the bridge as possible, not wishing to join the corpse in the darkened depths below.
Other mundane attempts to activate the hidden trap glyphs failed, whether it was tapping on tiles with a quarterstaff, using a Mage Hand to strike them with an unlit torch, or even using Mold Earth to craft a stone ball and push it ahead of them. When created, Glyph of Warding were crafted with a specific set of triggering events, and these seemed to respond only to living creatures.
This theory seemed confirmed when Charli drew a rat from his Hat of Vermin and spooked it ahead of them. It disappeared in a fiery explosion on a tile that the Mage Hand and ball of stone had both traversed.
Charli reached again into his hat for another rat; he could repeat this process twice more before the trick was depleted for the day.
However, this tactic was not without its own dangers. The second rat tripped a Lighting Bolt, which coursed not only through its tiny body but through 100 feet of air directly behind it. While Charli nimbly stepped out of the way (avoiding the shock entirely), Rock and Asura were not so lucky. A moment for quick clerical healing was required.
It should be noted that the rat had only cleared the tiles over which it had physically traveled. Alexis was reminded of this fact a little too late when he walked alongside the cleared route, instead of directly over it. His foot brushed another dusty trapped tile, this time activating an Ice Storm. He was pounded mercilessly by hail; Barney and Charli both dodged back out of the area of effect.
Alexis spent a minute examining the black scorch patterns from the activated glyphs. He noted first that all spells cast had been from the school of evocation. Second, he realized that more powerful versions of each spell were being stored than their most basic forms. In other words, while it was possible for him to Counterspell the spell effects once the glyphs had been activated, success was not assured.
Charli’s third and final rat triggered a recognizable Sickening Radiance. Fortunately, it affected nothing other than the rat, and they were able to wait the ten minutes until the spell dissipated naturally.
Thanks to several Light-enchanted crossbow bolts that Asura shot into the darkness, the agents could ascertain they were nearing the end of the bridge. Trusting in his agility to keep safe, Charli simply sprinted the remainder of the bridge’s length. No new traps were revealed, and his friends carefully followed in his footsteps.
Here they rested for an hour and mended their wounds. As they did so, Rock continued with her doodling, and Barney even reviewed a book of his own. He’d borrowed a primer on successful banking and investments from a local library, and he decided to make best use of his time.
iii. Jump Scare
Before they ventured on, Alexis reminded them of their actual mission. Theirs was a task simply of investigation; they were there to discover what had caused the change in the dragon’s behavior, not to correct it. This fact might prove crucial in the future.
On the other side of the bridge, the path meandered into long-abandoned dwarvish mines. Barney, with his extensive background in stonecutting, could readily tell this run had been delved for excavating raw iron ore. There were still nearby rusty “pools” where the run-off had collected and dried, hundreds of years ago.
A disembodied skull sat atop a wooden crate. As they neared it, it shivered into life, or at least a foul mimicry of it.
“Ah, I see you made it past our little BOOM voyage; what a BLAST that was! It’s nice to see your party isn’t just a little FLESH in the pan; but as I’ve always said, it’s better to go OUT WITH A BANG! *cackle* But it REMAINS to be seen if you can HACK this dungeon. This next severing segment I like to call… ‘JUMP SCARE!’“
Barney picked up the now-lifeless skull and noted its dwarvish shape. He tossed it to Rock, who contemplated adding it to her accessories. Unfortunately, Rock’s mimic quarterstaff (which was, at times, ill-behaved) had intentions of its own. It snatched the skull up and ate it.
“Fine,” grumbled Rock, “if you’re going to be like that, at least use make yourself useful. Use that sticky tongue on the next thing that attacks me.”
Barney, Charli, and Alexis followed the main minecart track towards the east; the setup of the shaft (and, indeed, some fairly recent footprints in the dust on the tracks) indicated this the most forward route towards the dragon’s lair.
Rock, on the other hand, diverged slightly towards the south, poking her way through a room of empty barrels set atop wooden slats. While she was in the darkness, a large eight-legged monstrosity shed its invisibility and swung fangs and claws at her.
Rock’s mimic, strapped to her back, followed Rock’s most recent instructions and fearlessly swung at the foe. Its tongue latched onto the Chelicerae’s leg, holding the monster in place.
Rock’s friends immediately pivoted to help, with Barney going toe-to-toe with the foul creature, and Charli and Alexis assisting from range. What they did not expect were two additional spiders, working in tandem with the first. While the first had snared their attentions, the others had maneuvered into better positions to attack their weakest party members.
Charli’s back was suddenly pierced by large venomous fangs that dropped from above. Caught off-guard, he received two critical injuries and quickly found himself hoisted into the air. Luckily, his natural immunity to poison kept him from dropping unconscious. (At the same time, the monsters were also impervious to his poisons, putting the two at a mild impasse.)
Still, this left Charlie at the mercy of a giant spider that held him in its clutches. Arching himself backward, he shot a Switching Arrow at the spider threatening Rock. In an instant (and with a faint popping sound), Charli landed on the ground next to Rock, while Rock’s spider appeared next to the first. The battlefield was now a little more orderly.
Barney, who had repositioned himself on the battlefield to assist Charli, parried a series of blows from one of the spiders. He deflected one of the more vicious attacks into the second spider adjacent, piercing its chitin and killing it. Then he counter-attacked, returning the creature’s critical strikes with one of his own. Thanks to the controlled ki within his strikes, Barney’s palm dazed his remaining opponent.
This gave Charli and Alexis the opening needed to finish it. A coordination of bolts from Charli and Eldritch Blasts from Alexis (both critically-aimed), repaid the monster in kind.
The party then converged on the final spider-like monster. Rock wild-shaped into a Steeder (whose form she’d learned in the Underdark) and used her sticky legs to hold it in place. Her friends assailed it until it ceased movement. Finally, they stood alone again in the vacant dwarvish mines.
The agents took another hour to rest, using both the passage of time and Restorative Ointments to mend their wounds. These encounters were proving surprisingly taxing.
The party continued on downwards. The mine rails traveled traveled for a time through the stone tunnels before ending in front of an intricately-carved stone room. Frescoes adorned the walls around them, detailing some of the history of the dwarves in this region. Barney Irontoe even recognized an image depicting Impil Mirandor’s fateful meeting with the first shield dwarves of the area; it would seem not all of the tunnels had been abandoned by that time.
From this room there appeared to be two stone door exits: one to the left of a giant dwarvish stone statue, and one to its right. In front of each closed stone door, however, a skeleton had been deposited in a suspicious heap. As the team studied them, the skeletons sprang to life, much like tiny puppets.
“This next puzzle might prove to be a real PAIN-tickler! Before you stand two doors, guarded by two corpses I’ve named Punch and GHOULY. Be warned! One of them never tells the truth, and the other always lies! How will you choose the door that isn’t a DEAD END? I like to call this brain-boggling befuddlement… ‘WHAT’S BEHIND DOOR NUMBER GORE?'”
Charli shook his head as he turned to the others. “Well, this is it,” he joked. “We’ve reached…rock bottom.”
It impressed itself upon the agents that only one skeleton moved and spoke at a time. It was as if there were only a single puppeteer’s hand to share between the two of them.
B. Puns to Die For
i. What’s Behind Door Number Gore?
Barney Irontoe approached the polished crystal in the center of the room and studied the dwarven runes inscribed about it. “Welcome to Marnheim,” he read aloud to the others. Stories and legends his mother had told him began bubbling in his brain. Marnheim had been one of the cities held by the shield dwarves before the advent of humans in this part of the world; it had eventually been abandoned when the iron and copper veins ran dry, but its citizens had been notable crafters. This was supported by even a cursory inspection of the quartz that seized the center of the room; it had been cut and polished to an incredible precision.
This also suggested to Barney that the main entrance into old Marnheim was hidden somewhere in this room.
The agents were of several minds on how to solve this puzzle. They had heard riddles involving doors protected by two guards, but the specific set-up here matched none of them. For one, the tales involved at least one of the guards always telling the truth, but both here claimed to speak only lies.
(But, then again, were they being truthful about speaking only lies? And if they were, that would mean they were telling lies about never telling the truth. Which created its own sort of paradox.)
Whatever the solution, if one existed, the room was an excellent illustration of Korvicros’s delight in toying with his guests.
Charli inspected the long-dead corpses, much as he would have inspected a crime scene. Judging by the state of decay of the leather armor, the two bodies had reposed here far longer than the most-recent troubles with the bank, but not long enough to have seen Marnheim in its glory. There were no obvious guild marks or sigils on their shields, and Charli surmised they were adventurers lured here by tales of ancient dwarvish riches.
Charli also deduced that they had died to some ancient violence, but the bodies were too decayed for him to decipher what. When Asura moved one to see if it hid any clue, it perked up long enough to laugh at him. “Of CORPSE there’s nothing here!” it cried. “I’m DEAD serious!”
(However, when Alexis addressed the skeleton directly and asked its name, the puppet remained unresponsive. This apparent inconsistency in its actions bothered Alexis for far longer than he cared to admit.)
Berkin approached the western-most skeleton and asked it if it could speak. In response, it cried, “No, I can’t speak at all!” and settled back into lifelessness. Berkin then tried to Suggest that it be more helpful by telling the truth, but his spell fizzled for lack of a target. The skeleton was neither living nor undead; it only moved as a puppet when the dragon Korvicros willed it to.
Berkin soon suggested a Speak with Dead spell to call back the skeleton’s spirit and prompt it to answer up to five questions directly (and truthfully). However, Alexis pointed out a potential flaw in the plan. Berkin’s spell would – if successful – allow him to speak with the original soul of the body, not the puppet master that had designed the puzzle. And the original soul of the long-dead adventurer might not know the answer to a puzzle it had failed.
Alston turned his attention to the well-fitted cobblestone floor. If either of these doors hid the true entrance to Marnheim, the tiles before it should be more worn from years of use.
He did not find indications of the passage of hundreds of feet over hundreds of years. Instead, he noted large, cow-like hoofprints imprinted in the stones. The creature had turned and pivoted easily, as if standing on two feet instead of four. Additionally, the marks exited and entered equally from both doors on either side.
“Satyrs?” he mused to himself. “Minotaurs?” He was certainly in no hurry to find out for himself.
After confirming there was nothing magical or hidden about the quartz crystal in the center of the room, Alexis joined Barney at the stone statue at the far end of the room.
“King Ironstriker,” Barney explained, referencing the ancient figure. “First king of Marnheim. Helped oversee its establishment and initial growth.”
Alexis nodded and began his own inspection of the statue, using his spectacles as aid. He noted the tiles on the left side of the monument were much smoother than those on the right. The statue itself served as a hidden door; and with a little help from able-bodied friends, the warlock was able to shift it along its perfectly-balanced rollers.
“Everyone step away from the two side doors,” Alexis commanded. “They’re purely bait. The real entrance to Marnheim is here.”
Rock-in-Water, who had been silent this whole time, drew her ritual to a close. Initially, she had begun casting Augury to ask a single question of her patron the Raven Queen: the favorability of entering through a specific door.
However, now that Alexis had deduced the actual entrance to Marnheim, Rock changed her question to her deity:
“Is fortune in our favor, should we approach the dragon with the intent to befriend and aid, rather than as an enemy?”
The answer was a very clear woe.
Berkin argued that since the spell could only gauge success for plans within the next thirty minutes, Rock might have received a false negative. Still, the agents proceeded through the door into the old dwarven city with an added measure of caution.
ii. Always a Bigger Flesh in the Sea
The mine rails began again, showing where carts full of ore had once carried loads of ore directly to Marnheim’s doorstep. Pockets of excavated stone illustrated where the dwarves had pursued each vein of metal to its last.
Berkin was still regaling his friends with his own personal theories – this time that the dragon Korvicros perhaps had not called himself “the Gilded” but instead “the Guilded,” having formed his own thieves’ and merchant’s guild. While his friends mostly humored him, they had to admit that nothing about the dragon had been straightforward thus far.
The party paused at the start of a particularly-straight stretch of railway.
“I’m getting bad flashbacks of some very recent experiences involving traps,” Alexis admitted.
“Impossible, ha ha ha!” Barney laughed in response, speaking more into the darkness than his friend. “Certainly Korvicros is far too clever of a dragon to pull the same trick twice!”
There was no answer from the black, and the agents retrieved their separate familiars and minions. Berkin sent his skeletal friend “Milo” ahead to trigger any traps and report any monsters, while Rock’s bat sat on her shoulder and used its echolocation to check for invisible foes.
The course of the railway took them over a second deep chasm, near the city proper. The bridge was old but still in good repair; the agents spaced themselves out in intervals just the same.
Milo paused at a shrouded form lying atop the railway. As Berkin neared, he recognized another purple-clad corpse, much like the one on the wide dwarvish bridge. And, much like that deceased, this one too had a message straight from the dragon.
Greetings, adventurers, what’s SINEW. I see you’ve made it to the old city of Marnheim, where the dwarves always seemed to come up a little SHORT. Oh…I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you had one with you. I didn’t mean to beLITTLE him…or make him think any LESS of himself. That wouldn’t have been very BIG of me, now would it? *cackle* But don’t worry; you’re all deliciously FRIGHT-sized to me! This next section will help remind you that there’s always ‘A BIGGER FLESH IN THE SEA!’
They did not have to wait long to learn what the warning meant. As the party gathered at the body, a glimmer of light against the cave walls indicated something moving up ahead.
Milo trudged on to scout further. As the skeletal ghost rounded the corner up ahead of them, there was a sound much like that of a cannon firing. Milo exploded in a cacophonous blast, its spectral bones scattering across the ground and quickly dissipating.
None of the agents had seen whatever had dispatched Milo with a single blow. They ran to take shelter along the rocky walls.
Alston reached into his sleeve and extracted his newest friend, a quasit familiar. Listening to the wizard’s hurried instructions, the fiend leaped onto the ground and disappeared via Invisibility. Quasits made excellent scouts, and Alston planned to take full advantage of that.
The quasit scampered ahead, and the gnome saw through its eyes. What he beheld was not encouraging. A hulking metal monstrosity stood blocking the entrance to the dwarvish forges. It roiled with heat and flame. Apparently satisfied that it had dispatched all threats, the construct turned and withdrew in the opposite direction from the agents.
Alston reported what he’d seen to his friends. Several of the agents ran ahead to engage the mechanism in a preemptive strike, but they had little success. Berkin felt his Polymorph spell settle on the construct successfully, but its magic had no effect. Rock too sent a Heat Metal, recalling her earlier successes with the waiters in the restaurant, but realized too late that a creature emitting visible flames was likely unaffected.
Sensing itself being attacked in the same way an elephant might sense a fly alighting, the sentinel spun back. Unfortunately, the tunnels curved and obscured its view, and only Berkin and Asura were currently in its sights.
The construct pointed its arm at the kobold, and a mechanism extended from its arm. Then, a fierce bolt of lightning coursed through the tiny bard’s chest, terminated in the cleric’s body. Asura grabbed the cave walls to steady himself, but Berkin nearly collapsed where he stood. The tiny kobold would not survive another such attack.
Charli and Alston ducked out from behind cover and used their own ranged attacks; both were surprised with how hardy the sentinel’s armor was, and how little injury it felt even when struck fairly.
Having heard Alston’s description of the foe, and listening the explosions of the monstrosity’s weapons, Barney began to recollect what he knew of old Marnheim. His mother had told him tales of the dwarvish city when he was a boy – some fanciful, but perhaps no less real.
He remembered stories of the “Marnheim Sentinels,” who had been forged by skilled smiths and wizards, whose role it had been to patrol the streets and borders of the city against outsiders. He remembered too that so well-crafted were these constructs, that when the shield dwarves finally left the city for other lands, it had been simply easier to leave the Sentinels to their own devices, rather than attempt to deactivate them.
“I am Barney Irontoe, of the Irontoe clan!” he spoke loudly, stepping forward to where the Sentinel could see him. “My ancestors walked these halls centuries ago, and by their sweat these foundations were raised! I have the right to set foot on these stones, and I command you to let my comrades past!”
The Sentinel did not reply, but it seemed to pause. The mechanisms on its arms withdrew and extended several times, as it seemed to process Barney’s words.
But it did not seem to be turning away. Barney had given the construct a momentary dilemma…and his group just enough time, perhaps, to act.
“Is there a reason we are attempting to go at this thing head-on?” Alston yelled. He attempted to place the Sentinel in a ball of slowed time. Even inactive, the construct easily brushed off the spell.
Acting on Alston’s suggestion, Alexis used a Dimension Door to jaunt past the construct. To the east, more of Marnheim opened up. Alexis could make out long-cooled smelting furnaces and vats where quicksilver once pooled. There was, also, perhaps room to hide. Having created a psychic link with Charli, he relayed his findings to the other through his friend.
Following Alexis, Barney pivoted around the construct. More of his mother’s bedtime tales were returning to him. It had been said the dwarves created the Sentinels by fusing a fire elemental into a suit of armor. It had also been said they were designed to stop an invading army dead in its tracks.
Barney also knew that his group of agents hardly qualified as an army. “This thing is much too strong for us to take down!” he yelled. “Just dodge around it and run!”
Most of the agents were able to follow the instructions. Rock-in-Water shifted into a Crag Cat, and Asura grabbed the fur on her back; the two rode quickly around the Sentinel to where Alexis beckoned. Charli’s natural speed helped him move easily past the foe.
But Alston was not so lucky. He had never been much of a sprinter, and his gnome legs had not carried him far by the time the Sentinel recollected its senses. With the tiny wizard the only target in its sights, the construct extended a third weapon and ejected a spray of burning fuel.
Alston’s unfortunate quasit, still invisible but unfortunately in the line of fire, popped instantly. The wizard himself only had just enough time to realize he was covered in sizzling napalm before the construct was barreling at him, attempting to crush him underfoot. He dodged out of the way – but only barely.
Seeing his friend in deadly peril, Charli positioned himself behind a stone corner on the far side of the battle. Then, using one of his Switching Arrows, he traded places with his imperiled cohort. Finally, again taking advantage of his own physical agility, he put distance between himself and the attacker.
Luckily for the group, the construct was large, powerful, and generally impervious to damage…but not especially smart. With line-of-sight broken with its targets, it began wandering the halls aimlessly. As its heavy footfalls carried it away from their location, the agents allowed themselves a brief sigh of relief.
The agents hopped and jumped across inactive furnaces to reach a room overlooking the empty slag pit. Making sure to keep at least one wall between them and the Sentinel at all times, they inspected the long-dead foundry.
Discarded tools lay across tables and anvils, left behind for their poor shape of repair. Another faint flickering of light against the walls of the room south of them indicated a second Sentinel, somewhere in the complex. They would need to be careful and alert to stay alive.
A decomposing body lay in the center of the room to the south, next to a stocked backpack. Ensuring he was in no immediate danger, Alexis dragged both into the central room, where even now the agents were preparing for a short rest (and trading Healing Potions). This newest body resembled the other two purple-clad corpses they’d seen – except in this situation, they had both time and means to examine it.
The backpack was replete with equipment. Though they could not yet Identify the more magical items, they nevertheless discovered:
- Chain Mail
- Coral Flute (faintly magical)
- Heavy Crossbow (magical)
- Bottled Dust (magical)
- Goggles (magical)
- Gold Ring Set with Bloodstones
- Staff (magical)
- 80 gold pieces, 270 silver pieces
Charli pointed to the lapel of the purple robes: visible was a sigil of a dragon’s head, positioned over a five-taloned claw mark. The image reminded Alexis of books he’d perused at Candlekeep, and of one in particular concerning secretive organizations in Faerûn. The “Cult of the Dragon,” as it was called, revered dragons as the ultimate form of life on Toril. While there were different sects that often exhibited strained relations, members of the Cult took vows towards honoring dragons as the penultimate rung on the ladder of the natural order.
What’s more, not only did the Cult seek to establish draconic dominance as the final authority in Toril, but they sought to extend such sovereignty after death. The Cult was responsible for more than a handful of the creation of dracoliches – particularly-potent incarnations whose heightened greed matched their new endless lifespan.
Some of the cult’s rationale (and even, perhaps, its sectarianism) was illustrated when the agents discovered a scrap of paper in the cultist’s robes. It appeared to be a portion of a prophecy:
“To be expected,” Alexis commented, “for a cultist devoted to the idea of dragons as superior beings.”
“Living dragons?” Rock questioned, “or dead dragons?” She illustrated that, without punctuation, the words on the paper could be interpreted a number of ways: either “…with no rulers but the dead. Dragons shall rule…” or “…with no rulers. But the dead dragons shall rule…”
“I suppose that explains why Dragon Cultists so often seek to turn dragons to liches,” Charli added. He’d heard some about the cult in his time at Westgate; the Zhentarim and the Cult were notorious enemies, as each group often preyed upon the other’s shipments.
The adventurers reviewed what they knew of the situation, and how this new information might play in. It seemed that Clearridge had (unwittingly or otherwise) allowed Dragon Cultists direct and unfettered access to the bank’s dragon, on a several occasions. The dragon had also changed its sobriquet at some point; was this to commemorate its rebirth as a dracolich?
“And if the cultists now have sway over this dragon,” Barney wondered, “then why would it kill them now?”
It was possible the dead cultists had fallen to the dangers of the labyrinth before they’d reached the dragon. It was also possible there was a piece of the puzzle they’d not yet discovered.
C. Not Today, Thank You
i. Hide And Shriek
The party was spent and injured. They retreated to the northern-most area nearby in search of a safe place to rest. This new room seemed to be where the old smiths assembled the last pieces of their tools and weapons, before transporting them to greater Marnheim.
Understandably troubled by their most recent battles, Charli studied a few iron statues along one wall. Luckily, there seemed to be no threats here. Perhaps the statues had been intended for decoration, perhaps they would eventually have been golems of their own. In either case, they were lifeless and dead.
Rock used her careful tracker’s sense to study the tiles of the adjacent rooms. The Sentinels walked in predictable patterns; and while their pathways would let them peer into the room the party rested in, none of the constructs ever actually set foot in it.
- Coral Flute (a small coral flute that blows bubbles when played)
- Heavy Crossbow +1
- Dust of Sneezing and Choking
- Goggles of Night
- Staff of the Python
Later, the party exited their safe spot and decided to press onward. There was a passageway to the east that they had not yet scouted, but it led in the general correct direction.
However, as they carefully slunk their way along the stone walls, the liquifying cultist corpse they’d left in the center room reared its ugly head. A cackling, jeering voice jeered at them.
“Hello, kiddies! Let’s play a little MAIM together. I like to call this devious diversion…Hide and SHRIEK!”
As soon as the ear-splitting call of the corpse echoed down the halls, thunderous footsteps came quickly and heavy. Rounding the corner where it had first fought the party, the original construct spied the agents. Though it could not immediately reach their room on the far side of the empty slag pits, it still possessed several deadly options.
An arm was raised, and a black mortar round zipped through the air towards them. It was the same attack that had instantly downed Milo earlier.
Confined to a small room, the adventurers could not seek shelter in time. Alston was only able to avoid death through para-natural senses, and Berkin was left hobbling on his last leg. What’s worse, more heavy sounds reverberated from the passageway near the southern room. Soon, the agents would have two Sentinels to deal with.
As Rock tossed a Keoghtom’s Ointment to Berkin, Charli reached into his pack for an expensive vial he’d reserved for just such an emergency. Bidding his friends to huddle closely, he spread it contents high into the air to cover them. The party abruptly vanished from view.
The first Sentinel, beholding no enemies once the explosion’s dust had settled, returned to its previous patrol. The second remained only long enough to break down a makeshift barrier Rock had erected and crush the skeleton’s screaming skull under foot.
The eastern passage, now the only safe route forward, quickly led them to the edge of a gaping maw – likely the same they had crossed earlier via bridge. However, whatever structure that had once connected the gulf had eroded away years ago. There was no sure way of knowing which distant ledge or opening would guide them in the right direction; they only knew that they were to continue forward, and that they would eventually find their destination. And this avenue directly across the chasm seemed as good a place as any to start.
To cross the deep abyss, Alston cast Fly in his most potent manner possible, giving himself, Charli, and Berkin the means to sail across the gap on their own. They waited for the nearby patrolling Sentinel to move out of sight before making their move. (While the others were still invisible, Alston had regained visibility when casting his spell.)
Rock had to find her own means of crossing the gap; luckily, she had her own bag of tricks. After transforming into a tiny spider, she had her bat familiar physically carry her over the chasm.
On the other side sat a closed dwarvish door, flanked by two stone statues. After a careful inspection confirmed no traps waiting, Charli simply pushed the door open. A pathway sloping down into the dark awaited them, and the adventurers exited out of Marnheim.
ii. Down to Earth
The adventurers had, in truth, only passed through the smallest portion of Marnheim. Much of the city still lay hidden in the dark caverns above and around them, but their path lay outside its limits. Beyond the city, the pathway angled downwards into the dark. The agents were perhaps a mile underground – or roughly halfway to their target, if Lord Clearridge’s estimates were to be believed.
They skirted the left side of another great giant chasm in the ground, possibly created by a massive earthquake in prehistoric times. The ceiling, invisible high overhead, was sealed off. (They knew uninterrupted Impiltur foothills lay above them, covered in farmlands that helped feed the masses of Lyrabar.) Below the agents, the floor of the cavern was further than even Charli’s darkvision could penetrate – although, judging from the sporadic stalagmites that rose into view, it was likely no more than eighty to one hundred feet down.
As they stood assessing their situation, a rumbling wind swirled down the subterranean canyon. Deep melodious words reverberated off the stone walls. The deep timbre and the languid pacing were quite at odds with the shrill, cackling speeches they’d heard earlier, but the sardonic tone was identical.
They now heard the voice of the dragon itself, booming from a massive physical throat, deep in the ravines ahead.
“I guess you have to give the dwarves a LITTLE credit, considering they got the SHORT end of the stick! But before you decide to CHOP on by, take the time to appreciate the GRAVE-ITY of your new situation. This next attraction is sure to keep you on the LEDGE of your seats! I like to call this dastardly danger…’DOWN TO EARTH!’”
Alston leaned over to Charli. “How safe are you feeling about this ledge we’re standing on?”
“I don’t feel safe anywhere in this place,” Charli answered flatly. His suspicions only seemed confirmed when he heard the faintest of dry movement from a ledge forty feet overhead.
Rock decided they would not be so easily ambushed as in Marnheim. She cast Pass Without Trace on herself and her companions before wild-shaping into a Giant Spider for a backup climbing ability. The agents’ outlines dimmed, and their footfalls deadened.
Up until this point, the dragon had crafted strings of puns based on whatever trick lay wait for them. Its most recent words had suggested a trap involving the ledge, and falling into the dark. Fortunately, Alston still had an estimated two minutes left on his group Fly spell, and he intended to make best use of it.
With the extra magical camouflaged helping mask his approach, Alston drifted carefully up to the lip of the ledge Charli had indicated. He peered over the edge carefully, making sure not to give himself away.
The creature reclining atop was like nothing he’d ever seen before. It resembled at first a gryphon or a hippogriff, but there was something incredibly wrong about its face. It surveyed the canyon below with far too many eyes.
Alston signaled quietly to Charli, who was within darkvision range. While he couldn’t be very detailed with his motions, the gnome was still able to convey a clear and present danger.
Luckily, there was no specific need to engage the threat, and the agents still had two points in their favor: the maintained spells of Fly and Pass Without Trace. Together, they were able to quickly and carefully skirt along the edge of the canyon, staying out of sight of the predator overhead. At the far end, an overhang lead into a rock cave and hid them from view.
As they cast a final glance backwards, they saw not one, but three of the creatures reposing alertly on edges overlooking their recent journey. Additionally, two of the monstrosities held boulders in their sharp talons, no doubt to thrown down upon hapless passerby’s. Perhaps the creatures would then finish off their prey by scooping them up in their cruel claws and then tossing them into the dark, where gravity would finish the job.
The heroes were glad to have completely sidestepped the danger, and they continued on their way.