Seris, Rickben, Renza, and Bahram agreed to ascend the foothills of the Hook Mountains to uncover the reasons behind the dam breaking.
Krac and Lor remained behind to help the townsfolk recover from the recent flooding, promising to come at the first sign of distress.
Atop the mountains, spanning the great breadth of the gorge was Skull’s Crossing. The massive wall of stone held back the waters of the Storval Deep. Thousands of skulls were carved into the dam’s face, with five larger ones decorating the middle length. The easternmost of the skulls was obscured by a steady flow of cascading water pouring through what appeared to be a recent break in the dam. At the moment, the ancient dam seemed to be holding its own against the Storval Deep, but unless the rains ended soon, the recent flood would be a minor event in comparison to what awaited Turtleback Ferry.
They spied several dark shapes moving upon the dam as they ascended the mountainous climb up a set of stairs sized for creatures far larger than they. At the apex of the stairs awaited a darkened cave with a fifteen foot sheer wall up to the darkened cave beyond.
Seris turned to Bahram, “Give me a boost up so I can get a better look.”
He acquiesced, and heaved her up so she could scan the room. Seris spied a lumbering gigantic creature with two heads that seemed to be talking to itself in Giant. Seris turned to the others and formulated a plan. She uttered a simple spell and disappeared from sight and did the same to Rickben. The two of them stepped into Bahram’s arms one after the other and then crept into advantageous positions.
Seris suddened appeared in view behind the creature, her scimitar drawing a deep red line of blood across the backs of his calves.
It bellowed, “YOU NO BRIBE ME! I SMASH YOU FOR SKULLTAKERS!”
Rickben snuck around further down the cavern and aimed his bow. Renza vaulted up as well, leaving Bahram and Timber below.
Seris tumbled beneath the Ettin and attacked again. Renza launched a bolt of searing light at the creature and it howled in agony, clearly maimed. Rickben suddenly appeared in a flurry of archery, and the ambushed giant dropped dead to the floor.
In the giant’s chambers, they managed to find:
A velvet pouch containing six 100 gp pearls
A phylactery of positive channeling
An ivory scroll tube inset with strips of jade worth 300 gp and containing:
scroll of Cone of Cold
scroll of Hold Monster
scroll of Telekinesis
They continued above, which led to the rain-slick span of the Skull Crossing dam. As they forged on, flashes of lightning illuminated ogres standing upon the precipice. A battle erupted, and they made short work of the exhausted ogres.
Ahead, a large skull-shaped structure perched atop the dam concealed a passage further beyond. Without the strength to force open the jammed stone doors, they climbed through the eyes of the skulls, which led to a darkened chamber within. Bahram stepped forward and opened a door beyond.
Inside, piles of rubble dominated the large room, along with bits of flesh, broken weapons, splashes of blood, and a few dead ogres that’d been torn from limb to limb. Thick sheets of ropy green fungus grew along the walls here, but more immediately concerning were the four trolls who turned their attentions upon the interlopers, hissing in rage and leaping to attack.
As they fought the creatures, the heroes noticed the trolls’ wounds healing before their eyes. Seris realized after a drawn-out battle that acid or fire would be necessary to halt their regeneration.
After Seris, Bahram, and Rickben collectively made short work of them with some well-placed blows, they dragged the trolls into the center of the room, and Rickben lobbed a flask of acid into the lot of the them. Their labored breathing ceased simultaneously, and they continued on.
To the west, a den contained a cache of finds, likely hidden by one of the trolls. In it, they found:
a cracked emerald worth 400 gp
a bent comb that looked like a behir (with its legs comprising the comb’s teeth) with tiny pearls for eyes worth 850 gp
a pair of lacy pink gloves of swimming and climbing that smells faintly of lilacs
A room to the south featured double doors covered with graffiti. In messy hand and in dried blood, the message in Giant read: “BELOW DWELLS WET PAPA GRAZUUL! ALL HAIL WET PAPA GRAZUUL!” Bahram and Rickben pushed open the double doors.
Stairs descended into darkness switching back and forth to doors one hundred and fifty feet below.
The cold, damp room featured a large pool in the floor, the edges of which were caked with pale yellow slime and fungus. The surface of the pool bore a similar film. The south of the room featured an impressive mound of humanoid skulls heaped against the wall.
As they filed into the room, a hulking aquatic troll with yellowed eyes, webbed hands, and finned extremities leaped from the waters and stabbed a massive trident into Bahram. Filmy water splashed about the room.
Renza reacted with a blast of searing light that squarely slammed into the troll’s chest. They scattered about the room to engage the troll, which remained in the relative safety of the waters and engaged the heroes. Grazuul, as they reasoned he was called, unleashed a flurry of stabs at Seris, who succumbed from the strikes and collapsed from her wounds. Bahram and Rickben ensured that the troll didn’t harm anyone else as grievously and the troll languished in the fetid waters, mingling with his own blood. Bahram dragged the creature from the water while Renza healed Seris back to consciousness. They lit Seris’ bedroll on fire and tossed the flaming thing upon the troll, which filled the room with the acrid smell of burning flesh.
Bahram hefted the troll’s Large +1 vicious adamantine trident off of his body.
In the adjacent room, they found a small replica of the dam guarded by a scorpion-like creature bearing the skulls of countless humanoids. Rickben entered the room first, and the huge clanging construct roared to life, the sounds of its legs clicking against the stone echoing throughout the otherwise silent chamber. It lunged at the intruder with a massive claw—entrapping Rickben within its grasp and lifting him off of Timber.
Seris and Timber both fled back up the stairs in terror at the sight of the creature. Rickben squirmed to try and free himself, suddenly concerned for his life.
The creature released him and clacked its claws together menacingly. Bahram moved into the room to engage with his new trident, and the creature responded with a lunge of its piercing, segmented tail.
Bahram could feel the poison quickly invading his veins with a burning fire, but he shrugged it off. The creature quickly grabbed Rickben again, constricting even harder this time. Rickben could feel his life slowly ebbing away as a few of his ribs cracked under the pressure. Renza darted in, calling upon her mastery of time to age the construct. Cracks appeared along the creature’s claw and snaked their way up to its torso.
It’s grip didn’t let up. Seris and Timber ran back to join in the battle. Timber desperately bit at the claw holding his master to the ground.
The creature pinned Rickben to the floor, squeezing even harder. It moved its other claw around his neck. Bahram hacked faster and harder, easily piercing the creature’s tough shell with his newfound weapon. Renza gripped the creature and held on, desperately trying to free Rickben from the creature’s grasp by corroding it.
It began to grow brittle, and Bahram lunged again. The fearsome scorpion crashed to the floor with a metallic clang and they took a moment to regain their senses.
An examination of the scale model revealed it radiated immensely powerful transmutation magic. The device was used to control the dam’s floodgates, but the source of its power seemed to have waned to the point where it no longer functioned.
Wedged inside a crack of the model, Seris spied a pale lavender ellipsoid ioun stone capable of absorbing six more spell levels.
Across the chamber, they entered another room filled with a small pool. Bahram activated a sunrod and dropped it into the pool. Rickben squinted and noted the framework of a hidden passage. Renza jumped down to explore and activated the panel. The door swung open to reveal another small chamber below, and when she swam into it to investigate she found another small button. It opened, revealing another small chamber. The door behind her swung close. Not interested in getting stuck underwater, she returned back through the door to the surface.
They returned to the pile of skulls and set about unearthing the door beyond. The narrow chamber within featured two curved alcoves enclosed by a dull iron portcullis. A winch next to each provided a way to raise or lower the gates, and beyond each portcullis a circle of runes glowed with a faint orange light on the floor. Inside the circle to the west was a pile of crimson ash, but inside the circle to the east was curled what appeared to be a long-dead devil, its flesh taught and dry on its bones.
When they entered, the devil reached out and feebly reached at Seris.
“Please, release me from this prison,” it rasped.
“Why would I want to do that? You’re a devil.”
They turned to one another, puzzled.
“I’ve been trapped here for thousands of years—these gates sap my strength to power this structure.”
“Then why would we want to let you go?” Seris asked, shrugging. “We’ll just power the dam with your energy again.”
The devil rasped, “You cannot power it with me alone—a creature must offer energy within both circles. Let me free, and find two creatures to place in the circles. I am no longer needed here. Even a summoned creature will do.”
Seris still wasn’t convinced. Rickben voiced his opposition to the idea of letting the creature free.
Renza chimed in, “I will not play a part in this decision, as I do not want to free the creature. I won’t stop you though.”
“My name is Avaxial.” It stated plainly.
Seris looked at the pitiable creature. “We have no reason to free you at all,” she paused. “Avaxial.”
“If you do not activate the structure, this dam will break, and the village below will be utterly destroyed.”
Seris shrugged, “We have no way to power the dam anyway.”
The devil grumbled feebly. “Fine. Free me, and I’ll owe you a favor.”
Seris pondered this, nodding suddenly and grinning wickedly, and then stepped forward to attack the bindings that held the creature.
“What are you doing?” Rickben asked.
Convinced, Seris looked back at Rickben, “Freeing it.”
The devil grinned. “Very good.”
Rickben pulled the winch to open the other portcullis, stepped into the circle, and the structure grumbled suddenly.
The creature shrieked, and was instantly reduced to ash. Rickben felt some of his life force drained away, but was still able to stand in the circle. They could feel the rush of water and heard the roar of water beneath them.
Rickben looked at Seris, “We didn’t want to let that thing free.”
She sighed and rolled her eyes. “Fine.”
They returned to the pool of water in the room before and Rickben cast a spell that allowed him to swim faster through the water. His fingers and toes suddenly grew webbing. He continued down through the passage, swimming continuously until he had passed several compartments that closed behind him and opened before him. He felt like he was swimming forever, and his lungs ached with the need for air.
Suddenly he was free of the structure, and he swam for the surface, concerned he may drown here.
He popped up behind the dam in the Storval Deep, and swam for safety at the shore, somewhat disappointed that he hadn’t found anything more significant.
Back down in the chambers below, Rickben didn’t surface after several minutes. Timber whined desperately and paced around the pool. Renza glanced at Bahram and Seris—all of them wore a look of concern upon their face.
“Well, I doubt he’s coming back up through here. Maybe he found what he was looking for.” Renza called for Timber, and they all ascended the steps.
When they reached the top of the dam, they were able to pick out a small shape swimming for shore in the pouring rain and were suddenly relieved.
They called out to him through the peals of thunder, and Rickben swam for shore. A few minutes of climbing later, the group was reunited, and Timber licked Rickben’s face affectionately.
With the pressure behind the dam from all the rain released, they returned to Turtleback Ferry to share the good news with Krac, Lor, and Maelin Shreed.
He thanked them profusely and awarded each of the group 1,000 gold pieces for averting certain disaster.
“You’ll have to stop doing us favors soon enough,” Maelin joked, “or this town is going to be bankrupt.”