While preparing for another excursion, Milo, Sophosticles, and Sieglinde are met by some newcomers. Bodkin Van Horn, a druidic forest gnome, has come to the borderlands for reasons of his own. Likewise, Lyrtho the sorcerer is here to test whether he is able to control his powers sufficiently. They make introductions and soon venture forth.
On the way through the box canyon, the newcomers are told about the great bear, Coal, that is said to provide luck in the dungeon to those that leave him an offering. At this, Bodkin is keen to meet, or at least see, this wild guardian. Thinking the best place to begin tracking any of the animals living in the area would be at the soft ground around the warm pool. They find the great beast’s tracks easily and they lead them up the opposite wall of the canyon via some steep switchbacks. Bodkin, not wanting to spook the bear or any other animals decides to loudly whistle a toon as they ascend.
About halfway up the side, the ever sensitive Sieglinde notices an odd sort of echo from the wall on her left, behind a bush. Pressing it aside she sees that there is a small entrance to a cave hidden here. Nobody thinks much of it and they continue up the path. About eighty feet further on, she notices the same thing, but this time there’s a rather larger entrance, this one with a slight breeze bringing the scent of… is that horse manure? Still, Bodkin is intent on finding this bear, if he can, so up they go.
As they reach the top of the canyon, the land levels out and the ground becomes harder. The tracks of the bear are lost in the loose bed of pine needles for now. Deciding to save the encounter for later, they head back down the path, this time stopping at the smaller of the two caves to investigate.
As they sneak inside, they see a small natural cavern with two stools around a table. On the table are some abandoned hands of cards and a lit lamp. Obviously, someone was here very recently! They sneak through the passageway opposite where they came in and find themselves in a larger passage running deeper into darkness to their left, but opening up into a large, lit cavern on their right. They can see shadows and hear whispered voices! “I know they were comin’ back down, ya git. I heard ’em whistling same as you! What do we do about them, though?”
Bodkin, apparently not a Druid prone to beating around the bush, decides to simply yell a “hello!” The voices suddenly stop, dead silent. Soon one of them speaks. “Alright, you, come on out! You’re surrounded and can’t escape, so get out here where we can see you!”
They let the voices know that they don’t actually think they’re surrounded, but are informed by the men sneaking up behind them that, yes, they are in fact surrounded and should get out in to that cavern before their sword arms get twitchy. They’ve obviously been heading out the main entrance and circling around through the small cave to get them in a pincer move. Not wishing to rush into battle, the party walks out into the light.
The cave is a makeshift stable for the few horses tied up here, and they can see barrels, sacks and crates in a cavern just past them. Many of the ruffians surrounding them are wearing makeshift leather armor and carrying crude but still dangerous looking maces and short swords as they stand around nervously. A few, however, are better equipped and hold themselves with a more confident stance. These all have an affectation of a bright yellow and black checkerboard scarf wrapped around their heads. Those that had been inside Stonehell before recognize this garb as the same worn by the two men they saw across the strange whirlwind room!
One of these “uniformed” (if you can call it that) men asks them what they’re doing sneaking around their property. The party tells them they’re wondering what’s further in the cave, to which they’re basically told to piss off because further that way is their own business. Clarifying, the party says they’re just looking to do a bit of dungeon delving and didn’t mean to trespass.
Milo offers to sing them all a song about their exploits so far. The yellow capped thugs laugh and tell him, “sure! We’ll hear your song”. But it’s a ruse as Milo begins to weave a Sleep spell into his music. All of the bandits, for that’s what they obviously are, get drowsy and two of the nervous ones drop down asleep. The others snap out of it, though, and get ready to attack!
Before blood can be shed, Bodkin uses Druidcraft to create the sound of a roaring bear coming from the cave entrance. This spooks the horses and the bandits as well. The party quickly realizes the trick and says they’ll help defend against the bear if their feud can be set aside. A hasty truce is agreed upon and Milo rushes outside, casting an illusion of a bear running down the path before any of the bandits can see. As they join him outside, they all start shooting arrows at it and he commands it to disappear into the bushes along the side of the path.
After the “battle” the brigand leaders give grudging respect to the party. “You’ve earned the favor of the Ghost Beggars today, so long as you stay out of our way and our business, you’ll not get any trouble from us”. They agree upon a code phrase – hammer down – that should be spoken so that they know they’re, if not friends, not enemies. Bodkin asks again if they know of any good adventuring sites other than the main part of the old prison. One man suggests they could root around in the ruins of the old wizard tower on top of the plateau. Apparently, a crazy old wizard used to perform experiments up there about a hundred years ago, but something went wrong and the entire tower was demolished. But some say there’s still some interesting things to be found if you look hard enough.
They decide to go check it out, so back up the hill they go. As they continue through the forest, they begin to see old rotted trees, all lying down and pointing in the same direction, as if a great wind came through and blew them down like matchsticks. Following this damage back to its source is easy enough and they soon find themselves at the eye of the destruction. A few stones are all that is left of the old tower that stood here and the flagstones of the ground floor are almost entirely covered with encroaching grass. They find a solid steel door in the floor and are able to pry it open, revealing a metal spiral staircase leading down into the darkness.
They find themselves in a square room with long passageways leading off from the walls on each side. Sharp-eyed Sieglinde notices a slight glow coming from down one of them, so they go to investigate. As they head down the empty hallway, they notice a humanoid form at the end. Edging up to it, they see that it’s a statue of a rotund man in a toga, one arm on his hip, the other outstretched, hand in a strange grip. His face has been carved into a slightly too large grin with large eyes. In all, it’s a rather disturbing image. The glow is coming from a large moonstone embedded in the statue’s chest.
They realize that the stone is emanating a form of evocation magic, but they don’t know what it does. Lyrtho decides he’s going to try to use his wild magic to see if he can figure it out. He lets everyone know that he’s not really sure what this will do, so they might want to be careful. Milo steps aside, thinking that something may beam out of the stone, but stays close. Everyone else walks back down to the staircase to watch, a good eighty or so feet away.
Lyrtho puts his had on the glowing stone, looking deep inside of himself for the well of power he possesses. Grabbing hold of that at the same time he reaches his mind out towards the stone, the two forces connect and he has a flash of insight: this is a wand recharging station! You simply place a wand in the statue’s outstretched hand and the power of the stone will charge it.
But this knowledge is short lived, as his own power and that of the stone short circuit each other, causing his entire body to erupt in a massive, fiery explosion as if he had cast a third level Fireball spell! This completely drains the stone of all magical power and leaves it a simple, if not valuable, moonstone. As the smoke clears, those that had gone down the hall see both Lyrtho and Milo lying on the ground, dying. They all rush forward to patch them up, preventing them from slipping into that greater dark. Bodkin also creates some Goodberries that helps to heal them. After dusting off the soot, Lyrtho decides it’s best for him to head back to the keep and think about how he wants to proceed in the world with this sort of dangerous power so seemingly out of his control…
Heading down the opposite corridor, they walk about eighty feet again then stop and take a closer look at the “T” section up ahead. It’s sort of shimmering… And there’s, is that a knife just sort of floating in the air? And next to it are some… Coins? Suddenly, the shimmering and the floating things start forward and their perception shifts. It’s a gelatinous cube! And it’s headed straight for them. Luckily, the thing is slow and they have a straight and safe path back to the main entrance room. They simply “kite” it back down the hallway while dodging in for quick attacks, help substantially by Bodkin’s Thunderwave spell which forces gibbering chunks off of the thing. As it melts, they are able to pick up some coin and other treasure.
And with that, the party decides to head back to the keep and regroup for another foray into the dungeon proper at a later date. On the way back down the path, Bodkin stops at the Ghost Beggars’ cave and offers them the rest of the Goodberries, telling them what they are and that they will disappear in24 hours if not used. The guards at the cave mouth seem to take this gift very well, indeed, so this seems to have been a good diplomatic move for the party.