A quick jaunt through the university teleportation network lands the group on the island campus of Parv a Golodh, more commonly referred to as Page & Wisdom when not speaking elvish. Rila asks around for directions to Styx’s office and then guides the party to the mountain where she works. The travel up the winding mountain path is tedious but uneventful until they reach the mouth of the cave serving as her office and rumored lair. The group stops just outside the cave entrance at a booming command, “Bring me bones.”
Inside the cave is a waiting skeleton ambush, including a sneaky zombie disguised as a mummy. Leon and Tormenoth’s attacks quickly smash the skeletons as Rila’s fire magic engulfs the mummy and Ariel’s eldritch blast takes care of a skeletal archer at the back. This leaves Altreyo time to glance around the room, noting the dark statues with an eerie glow, cold mist coming off an underground stream frame, and a stone door to deeper within. The heavy door is stuck closed, but touching it drains life energy out of Altreyo when he touches it, weakening him. Quick use of rope makes this only a minor inconvenience as the party moves on. Beyond the door, tight stonework halls branch in two directions. One path wraps around to an impromptu bedroom or burial chamber with dresser and sarcophagus, guarded by a skeletal dog. The dog is unable to land any bites in before being smashed by Leon’s mace and a blast of Ariel’s magic. They search briefly to find only makeup, soaps, toiletries, and silken sheets in the furniture and sarcophagus before turning around to join the others on the second path.
Down the other branch of the stone brick hall is a menagerie of the occult. Altreyo carefully sneaks around the corner to look and in the alcoves of the room are an empty, runed stone portal currently disengaged, a vat with a twisted fleshy creature inside, and a spiked rack pinning a well dressed, female corpse in place next to a table of medical tools. The macabre sights hold little sway over the group except for Altreyo who examines to corpse to discover she is definitely dead but physically undamaged. A large, crystalline eye opens in the middle of the leathery door at the end of the small lab as he approaches, hearing it whisper in his mind. The price to pass is to think up a novel use for undead. Altreyo is the first to offer an original idea, suggesting undead be used for smuggling valuables or potent magics hidden inside their forms, then he walks through the solid door just as the others walk into the room. Rila is the second to pass through with her idea for an undead animals able to tirelessly manage wild-spaces. Tormenoth recalls his lost comrades and posits that mixing undead foot-soldiers into a regiment would help relieve casualties from among the living while Leon posits an undead workforce capable of doing thankless or dangerous jobs. Ariel is the last to come up with an idea, suggesting the use of infiltrators and spies by turning targets into controlled undead. As each gives their answer, the door turns into a thick mist before their eyes, enabling them to walk through it freely where they find an elven woman lounging at a table with a glass of wine and an armored man at her side. Altreyo, being the first through has already started conversing with the drunk woman in dark, fancy robes.
The wino is sitting in a well lit green space under the shade of a large tree taking up most of this room, with its roots entwined around the base of the table, chairs, and bookcases of the room. A magical light in the domed stone ceiling is as bright as an overcast day. Her wine sloshes as she gestures at the players and sarcastically asks, “You came here not knowing what my usual price is, so that means you’re either new or desperate. Set a bad bone fracture? Talk with a dead relative? No? What are you here for?”. When the players respond asking about leads for the Red Daring, she replies, “Ah, help with this competition, well let’s see… First of all, what did you little misadventure set me back, huh? What did you steal from my lair?”. Leon sheepishly points out some soaps and perfumes when she laughs, “Oh, you aren’t very good adventurers then, there was way more valuable stuff in here to take from some mean old necromancer, but here’s a few coins for those things you took to save Prince a trip to the market, but you really should be taking everything that isn’t nailed down, you know. So, what do you already know about the Red Daring?” Tormenoth and Rila explain some of the information they have found, mentioning Einn Casterly while Altreyo points out that they ‘aquired’ a book about the dungeon he designed six years ago, and Ariel brings up a mysterious bronze key they found in the preliminary dungeon.
Styx sets down here wine glass and gestures for the key. Examining it, she muses, “Oh, god this key? This is so like that self-important windbag and he’s already doing a design again? God, he’s so pretentious, ‘oh look at how clever I am to hide keys and hints in everything’, gag, ‘puzzles within puzzles, oh how big my brain is’. You lot are in for a treat” she smirks as she rolls her eyes, “I guarantee he’ll use mechanical constructs and he’s so creatively bankrupt that he’ll just do his usual ‘puzzle, trap, combat, red-herring, and overarching puzzle’ pattern again. He loves putting one over on clever people, make them think they’ve got the right answer and they stop looking for the better answer underneath it all”. She stops to take a long drink of wine from the glass, which doesn’t seem to noticeably empty, before making a sweeping gesture, spilling more wine on the ground I mean. She continues, “Six years ago, his big dungeon design was that each area had a trap or trick that could be found and disabled, but that only made things harder. You see, to find the big treasure, you had to set off the traps of the various rooms in the right order”. At this point, the group tried to interject with more questions about the specifics, but she barreled past their questions with a slight slur, “All right, you’ve convinced me you’ve got some chops and I’ll be your team advisor, but don’t think I’ll go easy on you lot. You’ll have to shape up if you’re going to compete. Can’t buy good gear if you go around not looting.”
Styx offered up wine for the group, but they decided to decline and instead return home to rest and gather information. A short jaunt over to SSM was made to meet Einn casterly in his office. He played coy about the questions the group asked about who was doing the dungeon design for the Red Daring this year, but instead offered a quid pro quo. If the players would test a puzzle box he’s been working on, he’ll answer some questions about what he’s heard of the dungeon designer for this year. What he hands them is a rough set of interlocking wooden blocks with partial runes and letters scattered across their surfaces. This will take some doing, but Altreyo is happy for the lazy distraction. The group is fumbling with assembling the puzzle as they head back to their respective dorms to heal up.
Having toyed with it over the lazy day of relaxing, Altreyo rejoins the group having assembled the puzzle to reveal the word: SPIDER. But thinking on the words of Styx, the group decides that they need better gear, and will need to seek out a place to find some. Rumor has it that the Steinreich School of Mining, SSM, has a nexus of sorts for dungeons. The residual magic of centuries of dungeon designers and professors building and scrapping dungeons in the old tunnels and mines of this dwarven city have created a distortion effect. Lost and abandoned dungeons the world over occasionally connect to the hallways and tunnels here. This serves as a dangerous but lucrative training grounds for SSM students that the university takes a mostly hands-off approach to. Outside of the main hallway of the dungeon nexus, the secretary at his solid stone desk explains the basics of the dungeon marking system, using glyphs and signs, while forewarning the group that not every dungeon that shows up here has been attempted yet. Some may be in the process of being explored or even killed all who have entered so unlabeled dungeon entrances should be approached with caution. As the group moves past the double layer of thick iron doors, he shouts, “If you explore anything new, take a preliminary look then report back with a rough estimate of its danger level. Often dungeons will latch on to other dungeons as well, so do you duty if the theme suddenly changes and report or leave a glyph”. On the inner wall is a chalkboard with a current list of the known active connections to the SSM nexus right now and the group chooses a low difficulty place referred to as the Grime Dungeon that isn’t marked as being fully looted yet.
A quick walk down the corridor sees them pass different styles of staircases and doors marked with glyphs and signs indicating difficulty, themes, remaining estimated loot, and even claims of priority for various delving teams. They find a stairway marked with a newer sign for the Grime Dungeon and head in. Clambering down the stone steps, they find a marble entrance hall with two planter beds of dried out, dead roses and an l-shaped room lined with faded tapestries. A door to the north and a sliding curtain to the west call their attention. A quick walk past the curtains triggers plate that launches Leon and Tormenoth into the ceiling, and the group revises their choice to try the north door. Beyond is a room with two more doors, one continuing north and the second to the east. Two corpses are dead on the floor, their features indistinct and blurred, as if made of clay that had suffered weathered many rains. A chill ripples through them, but they quickly continue north, not wanting to be the last in the room. Beyond is a small labyrinth of hallways, but just beyond the next turns in either direction are clear signs of traps, one a field of tiny metal pins and the other a field of scratched marble tiles. After tossing something past the pins, electricity arcs from the ceiling to the floor and the group takes their chances with the other path, tossing the smaller members of the group past the trapped area then having Leon and Tormenoth jump past. A quick turn finds them in an earthy, damp chamber where a number of hooded, bent creatures look up from the shallow pits they are hunched in. Raspy voices whisper in alarm and uncertainty before a figure clothed in ragged robes hobbles forward to express a greeting in broken common, his words stumbling over “s” and “t” sounds, struggling against the words coming from his long, snout-like face. His beady eyes and whiskers twitch as he recognizes the group as adventurers and introduces himself and his fellow ratfolk, offering knowledge and mushrooms if the adventurers would clear out the devil in the room on the other side of the small labyrinth. They have learned that the devil’s true name may be used to banish it, but they know not what that is, and they are leery of its offers in exchange for breaking its summoning circle. When Ariel presses the ratfolk for more information about the dungeon, they mention that there are other dangerous ratfolk that like to eat people.
Avoiding the spinning blade trap again in the same manner, the group finds itself back at the electricity trap. Baiting the trap by tossing objects first seems to discharge its energy, giving someone a short window to cross before it builds up to a dangerous level again. A short search beyond shows the way is blocked by a portcullis, but the lever is just around the corner, worrying the group as they discuss aloud how they might open and close the door from the otherside if needed. Their conversation is interrupted by a slick-suited devil who rises from a lounging position in the middle of this octagonal room. The light of the twelve candles around the room gives it a warm glow and making the large circle of engraved runes on the floor easy to spot. A few patches of runes on the outermost rings have been caked over or damaged. Zyminalixasix introduces himself as a long-trapped devil who is desperate enough to make a simple deal with the adventurers, rather than the useless and superstitious ratfolk. His deal is the offering of favors that he can safely provide at any point in the future, that he will make his best effort at a good faith of performing, if only they will break the circle to free him. The group does not seem keen on his opening offer, so he quickly revises it, he will offer the favors if they simply use his name to banish him using the circle’s magic. At least that way, he reasons, he can go back to hell to try and salvage what is left of his dealings. A joint analysis of the magic circle by Ariel and Rila shows that the clawed out sections of the circle have released some of the original bindings, meaning that if dispelled with the circle’s magic, Zym would not be forced back to hell, but would only be banished from the surrounding area. The favors are too good an opportunity to pass up but the group is leery of setting loose a devil, so they offer up restrictions on returning to the material plane for a time and against harming them or their associates through action or by inaction allowing them to come to harm. Secretly, Rila communicates with the devil of an offer to use that banishing loophole to not kick him from the material plane, in exchange for future aid and answers with her tribe’s grove. The deal struck, the devil offers to fulfill a favor immediately by giving them information about this dungeon and its threats, but the group declines to use one so quickly; instead, banishing the demon. Their small quest complete, the group returns to the ratfolk who are happy for the extra living quarters and begin planning how to utilize the new space as soon as they finish telling the group about the general layout of the dungeon, its various traps, and giving a dire warning not to disturb the great beast. They do not know what the great slime filled with bones is but only that they have hidden from its approach when it has been disturbed in the past.
Taking a different exit from the ratfolk’s mushroom chamber, the group winds south through the dungeon, avoiding traps, until their careful sneaking allows them to overhear whispered bickering. They listen at a stuck wooden door to hear more ratfolk voices. Readying weapons they rip open the door to find a room filled with offal, broken furniture, and straw up to thigh height as a half-dozen ratfolk glare hungrily back. The biggest of the ratfolk charges forward while the others join on his flank or dive into the straw, slinking through the debris like sharks. Leon calls upon his deity’s light, sending a jet of flame into the room as he, Tormenoth, and Altreyo hold the doorway as burning ratfolk charge at them. The leader and one minion are able to scurry past them to try to flank but are quickly put down by blasts of eldritch magic and whips of conjured thorn while Tormenoth and Leon shove the broken door back into its frame, leaving the predatory ratfolk inside to roast. Heading back through the corridors, the group finds an ancient training room with arrows, targets, and takes the bundles of iron spikes used to pin the woven straw targets to different points on the wall. Shoving open a warped door, a dusty room with arched ceilings and numerous alcoves hold a trove of faded and moth-eaten paintings and tapestries. A faint chanting can be heard coming from the north, although none of the group speaks drow. The paintings depict prestigious figures, dragons, and landscapes, from what can still be seen on their worn and decayed canvases. Searching the north walls of the room while the others appraise the artwork, Altreyo finds a hidden corridor to the north that ends at a moveable section of wall and a lever. The chanters can be clearly heard on the other side of the wall, but Altreyo declines to pull the lever and the group heads further south from the gallery into a room filled with magical equipment. What hasn’t been ruined by decay or smashed shows the remains of past magical experimentation, which Leon deduces were once the components to a lich creation ritual. Before they can loot the room too thoroughly, a clattering of stone and metal can be heard coming from the east. When Tormenoth opens the door, sheild at the ready, a rust-colored beetle the size of a dog leaps at him, swiping its bushy antennae across his shield. Rust flakes off his shield as he backs away from the beast and its three friends now scuttling over from the room beyond. They walk over piles of rusted metal, crumbled stone, and junk littering the rough cavern. Spells are readied and weapons drawn before Leon realizes what the corrosion beasts are after and he plucks a fresh iron spike from his pack, dangling it front of the creatures like a dog bone, then tosses it back into the cavern for them to chase. At the same time, Tormenoth sheaths his sword, grumbling about the damage done to his shield, but staying at the back of the party for fear or his metal armor or weapon being next.
As light is brought to fill this large cavern, the group can see a number of stone statues in its alcoves as well as rough passages to a deeper cavern to the east. Rila, Altreyo, and Leon kick about through the junk while keeping the corrosion beasts distracted with fresh spikes, finding an unbroken rust wand with hibernating corrosion larva among a few broken rust wands. Tabitha, Jared, Larry, and Garid happily corrode the iron spikes tossed their way while Ariel and Tormenoth inch forward to read the statues and see the next cavern. One statue’s placard is carved instead of corroded metal of the others, a statue of a female in a long windswept cape holding a sword aloft, “Klithmnora, I will wait for you.” As they move into the next cavern, they find a central pit of large bones and see a second pit of junk at the back that appears to lead under the cavern wall. Approaching that central pit causes green slime to bubble up around the bones, dragging them and a huge draconic skull up with it as the slime oozes forward, lashing out with pseudopods.
Ariel and Tormenoth back away from the slowly advancing slime, attacking and blasting it with spells as they raise alarm with the rest of the group. A retreating fight is begun, but Ariel and Tormenoth stay too close to the slime and a surprise forward lunge catches both of them in its mass, its digestive acids burning their skin. Greedy, the slime lurches forward towards more prey while Ariel and Tormenoth blast and cut their way through to the other side. One corrosion beast and Leon become captured by the slime, but the thrashing of the beast gives Leon the idea to draw the others into the slime fight with more iron spikes as bait. On his way through, Tormenoth spots the dragon skull floating in the center of the slime but his attack isn’t enough to break the skull and he makes a break for freedom rather than risk dying to the acid. Rila and Altreyo’s attacks break off chunks of slime that lose cohesiveness when they hit the floor, but just as Ariel is nearly free of the ooze, the burning acid on her skin triggers the protective wards of her patron and she calls down a hellish rebuke. The blast of fire from inside the slime is too much for its weakened cohesion and the remaining slime splatters off onto the cavern walls, leaving behind a pile of bones that quickly rise into a cascading mass.
Quicker this time, the bone mass slashes and smashes Leon and the corrosion beasts still in its grip and the increased speed even allows it to envelop Altreyo for a brief time, but the adventurers simply adjust their distances and keep fighting. With all but one corrosion beast dead and Leon now on the eastern side of the mass with Ariel and Tormenoth, the bone mass changes direction to engulf the most living creatures. Before long, the bone pile is exhausted as its biggest bones have been broken or knocked away from the mass and the rest clatter to the floor, revealing a huge draconic skull with eyes getting brighter. A confused voice creaks out from the skull, asking what is going on as the lights in its eyes gain brightness. The flickering candlelights in its eyes shift about taking in its surroundings as it beseeches the group what they are doing in her lair. Her voice is unsteady, but seems to gain strength along with her short term memory as the eyes grow brighter. As pieces of memory return, she finds her name, Klithmnora, but only fragments of what happened after she began the lich ritual. Excited about bringing their new advisor some interesting bones, the group offers to take Klithmnora to an expert on necromancy that they know. The ancient dragon laughs at needing help before her damaged mind finally realizes that she is only a floating skull, then she demands to know what mortal would possibly know enough to help her. Upon hearing the name Styx, she mentions that she briefly taught the young necromantic elf before personal differences saw them go separate ways. The surprised look at hearing Styx called young had the group ask Klithmnora what year she last remembered, revealing that she had been lost in this state for hundreds of years. In exchange for this aid, she decides to allow the group to take five items from her hoard, three now, and two after delivering her to Styx, before she apologizes that she is still weak and will need to be carried out. Her eyes lose all but a flicker of light and her skull sinks back to the floor.
Ariel is the first to dive through the pit of junk at the back of the cave and she finds a way through to a hidden cavern in a sorry state. Chests, boxes, and piles have been opened, looted, and scattered around the room. There are some minor treasures still left, but nothing of the caliber the group had been hoping to find. A secret tunnel in the north of this chamber leading back to the entrance room of this dungeon had once been lined with protective runes ensuring treasure only traveled one direction, in, but they had been scratched out and dispelled. Tired and nearly out of spells, the group took hold of the table-sized skull, hoisting it and their loot out of the dungeon.
Seeing them bruised and burned while carrying a huge something hidden beneath bedrolls, the dungeon secretary asks them about any updates to the dungeon they entered. They shared a glance, but told him there was nothing to report, hoping this would leave the place free of other adventurers until they got a chance to loot it properly. Not wanting to go back to Styx’s cavern unable to fight, the group decided to take a day to rest up and bind their wounds. Ophelia, a member of the Huntresses stops Rila on the way to her dorm, thanking her for the tip about the Blind Manticore Challenge, “It allowed us to double down and take on a second challenge after the first, but I don’t like owing favors. That Einn Casterly Puzzle you got has a second solution.” When Rila is confused over how Ophelia knows about them meeting Professor Casterly, Ophelia grins and says, “I could tell you our methods, but then you’d owe me a favor.” Meeting for a meal, Rila shares the hint with her team and not long after Leon finds the hidden solution by lining up the pieces instead of assembling them: LIGHT.