Ginger, Kevorkian, and the Drow finally made their way down the stairs to the third level. The party, reunited, stood staring around at the main piping room. Then Traithe led the way towards the right-hand of the three doors standing on the other side of the room. Finding it neither locked, nor trapped, they barged right in, where they found a stack of barrels, a large vat connected to an inlet coming from the pipe outside and with an outlet pumping the sludge up into a room above. Three lizardmen were chained to the walls--two systematically dumping the contents of the barrels into the vat, and the third working a large bellows-pump to mix the barrel-contents with the black sludge and send it top-side.
Grimnir tried, again, to address the creatures in Draconic. One, at least, seemed to speak the language. They freed the three prisoners and offered them large amounts of fish, and the old-man's corpse, to eat. The draconic-speaker, 'Experiment 321', agreed to accompany the party in exploring the rest of the complex. The other two headed for the exit, but not before one addressed the party in halting Tharian:
"Thankyou for freeing us. Yarasss has Been experimenting on our people, changing them in horrible ways. 'Every night we carry off another with his chest Burst open or his head mangled, Yarasss say he make us like Sa-Hag-An. He always say that he make us stronger, better hunters. 'But all he make us is dead. We were not allowed to speak when Yarasss was around but these marks were passed down to us and remind us of home. They represent the friendword used between our different tribes. If you meet us on the outside, this word may help you."
The party let the two lizards leave and moved on to the next door. This one was protected by a complex lock with a constantly changing series of ten symbols on it, each morphing to a different shape after a few seconds, clearly connected to a complex magical trap of some kind. Mel, Traithe, Ash, and #321 put their heads together trying to disengage the FLUX-lock. At first it seemed like some combination of two of the symbols would work, then Mel, in typical Mel fashion, suggested that Ash should just hit all ten of the symbols at the same time--which, oddly, worked. Behind the door was a small, empty room. A little experimentation revealed that both the left-hand and right-hand walls were teleporters.
Deciding to leave the teleporters alone, the went to the last door and found a small appartment. An old, worn bed, that might have been comfortable at one point, dominated the room, along with a wash-stand filled with blackened water, a wardrobe hung with numerous equally threadbare robes, and a large desk piled with papers. Mel, Ash, and Traithe sifted through the many documents. Amidst various incomprehensible alchemical formulae, they found a few interesting tidbits:
A quick note on an often used piece of paper.
'I must find some hardy allies in case this monster from Phlan sends his troops to attack my island. I need a small, intelligent party who can move through the civilized areas without notice, but who have the skill to traverse the uncivilized areas and the wilderness. I must watch the next groups to come to the lake and see if any would make, proper allies.'
An impressive announcement.
'BOUNTY of 10,000 GOLD!
I will pay 10,000 gold pieces for a live sahuagin! I will pay 1,000 gold pieces for a recently dead sahuagin in good condition. I need a specimen of this man-like salt water aquatic creature for my studies. Bring your specimen to the shore of Lake Kuto and build afire as a signal. Your specimen will be examined. If it is truly a sahuagin you could end up with 10,000 gold pieces. But beware, I will know any forgeries, and I will punish any attempt at deception.
So, capture a live sahuagin, bring him to Lake Kuto, and walk away a rich man!'
Yarash the Sorcerer
An official looking notice
'The time has come for you to add your power to the growing legions of my followers. Come, and supplicate yourself to me and I will reward you as an important officer in my magical forces, you will serve as the advisor to the cohort of soldiers to be based at Sorcerer's Island. Resist and you shall be crushed before, my almighty power. I expect your positive reply within the week.'
And the unsent reply.
To: The Boss
Valjevo Castle, Phlan
I categorically reject your demand that I submit my island and my powers to your control. I am a free man and I will remain free. No petty tyrant can order about a true mage. If you or your troops make any move toward Sorcerer's Island I shall send an army of my unstoppable aquatic creations down the Barren River and sink your precious castle. Until now you have been beneath my notice. If you value your empire, let us keep it that way.
Yarash, the Sorcerer
A preserved parchment covered with gigantic script:
'I am writing to you to describe my further inquiries into the legend of the Pool of Radiance. It seems the pool has moved several times. Long ago, our mutual friend Aumry actually moved the pool into his abode for a period of time to study it. however, the pool seems to return to its original location after every move. I am now watching the dry hole that is the pools natural location.
When it returns I will be ready. I truly believe that the Pool of Radiance is the key to the wisdom that we seek.
Yours in wisdom,
An unsent note written on sturdy parchment and a rough map.
'An active dragon has made its home in the Dragonspine Mountains to the northwest. Keep search parties away from the area so as not to catch the dragon's attention.'
Beneath all the papers they also found Yarash's Spellbook, which both Ash and Grimnir seemed quite happy to abscond with, and an official proclamation from the Council declaring Grimnir and company to be outlaws, apparently signed that morning.
The party headed back to the center room and, of course, linked hands and jumped through the right-hand teleporter. They appeared in a huge cavern, standing ankle-deep in black water on the edge of a massive underground lake. A huge pipe, clearly the same one from the room above descended from the ceiling down into the water, sucking up the black liquid and carrying it up above. The same impossibly old-seeming, tattered-robed man floated over the lake, examining the pipes and muttering to himself.
Grminir and Ash tried to engage the old man in a conversation. Meanwhile, Kevorkian leaned down and took a drink of the black water and immediately began gasping, his lungs suddenly unable to process oxygen. Kevorkian dove into the lake and found that not only could he breathe under the polluted water, but he could see--a massive, glittering city rested on the bottom of the lake. He surfaced and tried to yell to the others, but only managed to blurt out "There's a city!" before something yanked him down beneath the surface again.
#321 rushed in and stabbed the thing, only to get tail-smacked, flying, out of the water. She (apparently it was a she) was seized in mid-air by a spell from Ash, then grabbed by Megri the dark elf who ran back through the portal, dragging the levitating lizard behind her.
Grimnir snagged Kevorkian with his thorn whip yanking the struggling priest out of the aboleth's grasp and up out of the water, dislocating Kevorkian's knee in the process. Mel grabbed Kevorkian and also sprinted through the portal, Grimnir, Traithe, and Ginger close on her heels.
Ash unleashed a bolt of fire at the foul-smelling water, hoping that it might be flammable, which sadly it was not, and bolted after the others. As he skidded back into the room with the two teleporters, he pulled the black-water filled bracers they had taken from the old man they killed and slapped them onto Kevorkian's wrists, restoring his ability to breathe normally.
As they discussed what to do next, most of which involved running away, the old man from the cavern below appeared in the room with them. Mel showed him the notice from the desk about needing a small, intelligent party, and Yarash agreed that they had proven themselves sufficiently resourceful. They discussed, at length, his need for better test subjects in his research to 'improve' the lizard men--ranging from any scaled beasts to thri-kreen, but ruling out most 'soft-skinned' humanoids.
Kevorkian asked the old wizard if he could do anything along the lines of giving him a new hand. Yarash's eyes lit up and he and Kevorkian vanished. The others sprinted up the stairs and through the teleporter, which led outside, and then backtracked to the labratory-cum-torture-chamber that they had seen before.
Inside Kevorkian was strapped to a table. Again, he found himself somehow able to see, though he soon realized he was looking at himself in the third person--apparently seeing out of Yarash's eyes. Yarash scurried happily about the room, rotating walls of shelves to reveal even more shelves behind them, lined with all manner of body parts preserved in glass jars. Kevorkian shouted suggestions as he mused over a wall of arms, and eventually Yarash picked a large, pincer-clawed monstrosity.
As Yarash began sawing the remains of Kevorkian's left arm off, Kevorkian suddenly asked through gritted teeth, "Can you fix my eyes too?" Yarash smiled broadly, left the hacksaw half-embedded in Kevorkian's shoulder and ran to open a wall, revealing a supply of preserved eyes. Just then the rest of the party walked in.
Ash saw the eyes and apparently saw a kindred spirit. He pulled out the basilisk eyes and showed them to Yarash, who immediately dropped the big jar of eyes he was carrying and rushed over to look. "Those will be perfect!" he said. Yarash took the eyes, quickly measured Kavorkian's sockets with calipers, determined that his skull was too small, and proceeded to begin expanding Kavorkian's eye sockets with some spreaders, inserting carefully cut slivers of other creature's skulls as necessary, until there was room to install the basilisk eyes. Kavorkian, thankfully, passed out shortly into the eye operation...
Kavorkian woke up nine hours later to find the party casually resting around the operating room, wearing blindfolds or hiding their faces behind books. He was seeing out of his own, newly installed eyes, and looking into the smiling face of "Yarash the Vivisectionist". His arm still hurt horribly from where the hacksaw was still half-embedded, forgotten in his shoulder. Yarash shook his head, "Something's wrong..." he muttered. He then made a slit in Kavorkian's temple, inserted some gruesome spiraling piece of hooked metal, made a few very painful tweaks, and promptly turned to stone.
A moment later, the wizard shook off the effect and cried out gleefully, "THEY WORK!" He then proceeded to saw Kavorkian's arm the rest of the way off. Just as he was about to attach the new one, Melastasya asked if he could replace her damaged arm as well...
Late in the day, the party reassembled in the room next to Yarash's apartment with the pair of teleporters: both Kevorkian and Mel sported new arms (and Mel also had some strange stitches in her lower abdomen), and Kevorkian had a pair of dark glasses covering his eyes. They stepped through the left-hand portal and found themselves...
...standing in the middle of the Council chambers in New Phlan.
Luckily the Council was not in session. Traithe quickly disguised the lot of them as best he could given the situation and they casually strode out. Mumbled something about being lost to some confused-looking guards, and were escorted to the Council Clerk's offices. Grimnir asked the Clerk about the bounty that had been placed on "The Squire's" head. The Clerk informed him that two parties had sought the commission, but that she could not give them any more information.
They left, and asked around town about the accusations, eventually stopping by the Bitter Blade, where the barkeep informed them of a conversation he had overheard between Councilwoman Bivant and a group of lady adventurers she regularly employed, offering them control of Kryptgarten Keep in exchange for 'The Squire's' head.
They took their leave and went to check out Kryptgarten. They found the place relatively peaceful and operational. Grinkle informed them that some women from Phlan had been by asking about them, but had not caused any kind of ruckus. Grimnir decided that Kryptgarten could certainly do worse than having the Amazons in charge, so they simply left (making sure to take Grinkle along with them). On their way out, they found [[:grimnir-s-eidolon | 'Pokey's']] burned-out corpse, which they decided to pack up and haul with them back to Yarash--figuring the massive crocodilian demon would please their new employer. If that's what the crazy old wizard was.
As they walked back, they discussed some of the magics they had seen in Yarash's spellbook, specifically the Clone spell, and how it might be useful for faking their deaths. They agreed to hole up with Yarash and help him with his 'altruistic' research into 'improving' the lizardfolk, then send Clones of themselves back to Kryptgarten in a few months to be killed publicly.
When they reached the shores of the lake, a glowing door was waiting for them, leading directly into the main pumping chamber of Yarash's maze. Yarash was ecstatic on seeing Pokey. He praised the party, clapped like a giddy school-girl, and showed them that he already had clones of Mel and Kevorkian growing in vats in a newly carved out room (for spare parts).
Grimnir mentioned something about Pokey having been his own personal 'Great Old One' and asked if Yarash could craft something for him to remember Pokey by. Yarash was once again enraptured. He asked if Grimnir also served 'The Great Master' and the two of them were whisked off. They reappeared standing on the edge of the underground lake, where Yarash introduced Grimnir to the aboleth and gave him a staff made from one of pokey's spines.
Literally. He waved and they were away. Far away. In an icy-cold cavern near the top of one of the highest peaks in the Dragonspines. Sitting contemplatively beside a dry, empty basin was a very old looking, blue-skinned man, nearly thirty feet in height.
The giant, Sorrassar, seemed confused to see them, but otherwise fairly relaxed about their sudden appearance. When they explained they were from Yarash, he complained about the old vivisectionist not returning his mail. After some coaxing, and explaining the date, they learned that he had sent that letter to Yarash over six years ago, and, not only had he not received a response, but he had been sitting beside the empty pool all that time.
Sorrassar was very concerned to learn that his 'friend' was under the influence of the Aboleth, explaining that the aboleth had once been a shared experiment of he and Yarash. He explained about some brief experiments that a third of their group, a mage by the name of Aumry of Umbar, had done on the Pool of Radiance, but that Aumry's ability to hold the pool in place had only lasted about fifteen minutes. Given the power expended for them to do that, he was very concerned that six years had passed without the Pool returning to its base location here in the cave.
Convinced that they were unlikely to get any more useful information out of Sorrassar, the party decided to take their leave. Looking out the mouth of the cave, they could see the ice-choked lake that formed the headwaters of the Stojanow river, two-thousand feet strait below. They had a marvelous view of the river stretching away to the south--they could see sorcerer's island, the dark line of the Moonsea coast, and, closer, a lush, green valley through which the headwaters flowed before leaving the mountains. Sorrassar informed them that this was the Valley of Thorns.
Rather than figure out how to scale the two-thousand foot drop to the valley, they climbed up and over the mountain, hoping to find a gentler slope on the other side. Instead they found the ruins of an ancient city carved into the mountain's peak. Grimnir recognized enough of the symbols carved into the structures to identify them as being of Noga origin.
Next time, the Ruins