The rattling bones provide sufficient lead time for the companions to structure themselves in a defensive arrangement. Before the undead ghouls can attack, Freight channels energy, causing both to fall to the ground inert. In the distance, obscured by mist, two plinths stand about waste high, a light glinting from the top of each.
Anton, ever curious, approaches the closest statue. The mists part to reveal some sort of ceremonial artefact – ancient bones, respectfully placed, have cemented themselves to the structure to create a burial shrine. However, more recently, newer flesh has been heaped around the plinth, likely as part of a ritual. The light atop the structure originates from a gemstone that is held in place by a beveled setting. The gemstone focuses the light upward through a telescopic device in the ceiling. A small sign in a foreign script hangs from the ceiling.
Unsure of what the device does, the companions decide some investigation is in order. Freight uses magical means to divine that the sign denotes “Barracks” in an ancient Varisian dialect. The other plinth, similar in appearance to the first, has a label that reads “Library”. Curiosity getting the better of the halfling, Anton picks up a large bone and waves it through the light, breaking the stream destined for the barracks for a brief moment. The companions feel an instant wave of laziness that lifts as suddenly as it descends. A similar experiment at the other plinth, which corresponds to the library, results in a sudden but temporary loss of focus.
Water cascading into the chamber from several sources, the companions decide it best to keep moving. Before they can do so, however, ghouls rise again from the water to attack. The orc contingent break off from the group and engage the undead. Freight notes that the bones of the ghouls appear to be altered in a ritual binding, meaning they are likely to continue to harangue the orcs for some time.
Back at the Iron Tower, Lando is summoned again to the dinner hall where he is asked to provide a report to Gauntwood and an attending aristocratic retinue. The gnome provides a glowing review, remarking that is due to the city’s strong leadership that Everstand not only survive but thrives in the face of the Belkzen threat. Gauntwood is pleased with the report and provides Lando with free reign of the city before departing to attend other matters.
Freedom to explore the city granted, Lando summons his companion Ken, the elven scholar, before venturing back to the Better Business Bureau in the Workshop District. Their investigation of the Bureau, however, is hampered by Kurt Bangalore, who requests a favor. It seems that his daughter is intent on dating a chap from Squiretown, which reflects badly on Kurt. He asks that Lando to attempt to rectify the situation, and in return, Kurt will allow access to the back rooms of the archives. Further, Kurt provides Lando with a contact for the Underground Alliance.
Both roads lead to The Cupped Hands, the same tavern the companions spent the night prior. With a few minutes to spare, Lando and Ken explore the publicly accessed portion of the Bureau. The foreign script glimpsed in his prior visit turns out to be an ancient Varisian dialect, with the letters identified on the stacks corresponding linguistically with their common counterpart. Lando notes the conversion for future reference. As they are about to leave, Lando spots a book of interest that he receives permission to take with him. With Ken leading the way, the gnome is able to leaf through the book, which coincidentally concerns the fourth relic, the only one presently missing. Lando learns that the relic has the ability to focus healing powers across great distance without impediment. To do so, however, special artefacts known as hope stones must be consumed.
The hallway ends in an intersection, with the group choosing to explore the passage to the left first. The corridor leads to a medium sized chamber, the interior of which houses mostly empty manacles and nasty torture devices. A ghostly figure appears in the centre of the room to regale the companions with a tragic story. The apparition’s beloved wife was killed by orcs on patrol, the loss of which he was unable to bear. His suicide, however, did not relieve him of his burden, as the aristocrats of Everstand failed to intern her ashes. He has been banished to these hallways ever since, until such time as her ashes are honoured with an appropriate burial. Sympathizing with the still mourning ghost, the companions agree to look for her ashes and the haunt, appeased for the time being, disappears.
A noise originating from the corner of the room draws the group’s attention. An emaciated ranger, still manacled, rises to his feet. The half-deluded man, introduced as Ranger Perry Ledue, demands his freedom. The companions are disgusted at the scenario and happily provide him his freedom, along with rations and water. He is grateful for the assistance and relates to the group that he was a ranger with Gauntwood’s own guard, an elite force within the city. With the city taking a turn for the worse, he attempted to broker his way out of the city. Through contact with Kurt Bangalore, he was directed to contact Gradiant Hempf, who he describes as a dangerous man, to obtain his freedom. However, he was a few hundred gold coins short on payment and was double crossed, ultimately ending up imprisoned in this dungeon. He has been experimented on by Palomina, wife of Gauntwood, although he is unsure of what she was trying to do, as the exploitation was primarily magical in nature. He does recall that her crown, a circlet that glowed with a deep purple emanation, pulsed as she experimented on him. He was left for dead many months ago and has been sustained by the ghost for reasons unclear to him. This information is relayed to Lando magically.
No further leads, the companions double back to explore the remaining passage, which ends in an octagonal room of shoddy craftsmanship. The walls have begun to crumble, allowing vermin to populate the room. Bodies are piled haphazardly in the center of the room, the flesh apparently serving as a feeding ground for swarms of beetles that take form and attack the group. Quick to react, Magus Mike sends a fireball into the room while ducking out of the blast radius. The room erupts in a shower of light before all is silent again.
The deadly swarm vanquished, the companions are free to explore the room. Freight investigates the pile of bodies, which appear to be split into three different stages of decomposition. The first set is fairly recent, as the clothing is still mostly intact; the second set is in the beginning stages of decomposition, with bodies that showcase the type of wounds that one would identify with torture; the third set is tough to tell, as the bodies appear as empty husks, as if the bodies essence has been drained, similar to what was viewed at the plinths.
While this occurs, Magus Mike speaks with Perry Ledue in case there is any further information that can be gleaned. While they speak, Perry recognizes one of the bodies as Wall Lieutenant Sylix, one of the most senior members of the City’s Guard. Within his cloak, the companions locate a journal in a secret compartment. The journal is written in Varisian, which Freight is still able to understand. A cursory read reveals increasing paranoia, as Sylix felt that he was being undermined by people more senior in the chain of command. In fact, he was concerned he would deposed any minute. Interestingly, the only person he felt he could trust was a man named Hercluf.
This episode reignites Perry’s fear, and the ranger attempts to bolt. The companions, understanding his value in this scenario, warn him of the dangers in the adjoining chamber and plea with him to stay. Not only will his help be welcomed in freeing the prisoners in this dungeon, but they would be grateful for his assistance in bringing Gradiant Hempf, and others like him, to justice. Perry takes a moment to consider his options.
Back at The Cupped Hands, Lando and Ken take a seat at the bar and motion over the owner, Vin Vasquez, to get a lay of the land. Lando comes clean with Vin – the gnome is here to speak with Bazril Bangalore at the behest of her father. Vin takes a moment to compose himself before advising that it is he who is dating Bazril. Kurt has it in for Vin, believing him beneath his daughter’s station, and will not let them marry. In fact Kurt has personally stood in the way of Vin being able to get a permit to move his business within the walls. Perhaps it has to do with Vin employing Lodmar, the deposed Priest of Imodae. Kurt was formerly a labour organizer that was bought off by Gauntwood. He has continually propped himself up by pushing others down. Lando thanks Vin for the information and sympathizes with him regarding his situation. The gnome will attempt to assuage things when next he speaks with Kurt.
Regarding the other person he is to meet tonight, Lando asks Vin if he is aware of any contacts in the Underground that frequent his establishment. Vin recommends that Lando speak with Father Lodmar, who is more attuned to that scene. Lando is happy to oblige and waves Lodmar over. The barkeep does indeed have contacts in the Underground, but will require a favour in return. The father wishes to assist a group of displaced citizens in escaping Everstand. Lando advises that he has the means, with a crewed ship moored at the trade docks. In recompense for transporting 50 passengers down river, Lodmar will provide a contact to the Underground Resistance as well as a hope stone. Lando eagerly agrees, and advises that he would like to assist others in escaping the city as well. Lodmar thanks the gnome effusively as he passes over a milky white stone that radiates a pale light. When asked about the stones, the father advises he is unsure of how many there are. There used to be more, they were granted to devoted disciples of the various gods in Everstand. As the number of gods that were worshiped dwindled, so too did the occurrence of hope stones. Further, the father has not seen the relic that the stones correspond to in years, and has heard rumours that it has been dismantled. Each of the four artefacts is linked to a certain district, the healing portal corresponding with the Hope District. Lastly, the Father advises that his contact is Gradiant Hempf, and he points to a table in the back of the tavern. He has dealt with Hempf on various occasions in getting nobles out of the city. As long as he is paid, he is true to his word.
Lando thanks Father Lodmar for the information and instructs Ken to work with him to arrange passage for the fleeing citizens on the Bloody Vengeance. Attempting to formulate a plan in his head, the gnome strides toward the back of the pub to speak with Gradiant Hempf.