Where Ashdown is eaten by a landshark.
At daybreak, the party finished a quick meal before resuming their journey westward. They traveled quickly over increasingly open countryside. Homesteads became less and less frequent until by midday they were replaced by the crumbling foundations of long abandoned structures. Rolling hills began to break up the open prairie. The wind whispered through the hills, and birds called to one another. The ride was peaceful, and the troop settled into a comfortable pace. As afternoon waned, an infrequent low rumbling and crunching began to interrupt the pastoral setting. The frequency and proximity quickly increased until Morat made a terrifying connection. The sound was an exact match for reports of Bulette attacks. Bulettes are terrifying creatures that grow to be massive, rivaling dragons in their capability for destruction. Ravenous and relentless hunters, Bulettes cruise just below the surface until they erupt from the earth to devour their prey. They are commonly called landsharks and lose nothing to their aquatic namesakes in ferociousness or efficiency. Morat quickly called to the rest of the band to find some rocky terrain and make ready. A landshark was clearly approaching now, it would be upon them in seconds. Crashing out of the ground a bear-sized terror of tooth and claw savaged Ryu, leaving him a bloody mess. Gnashing teeth and swiping claws assaulted the party. They could land only a couple blows before it dove back into the earth and burrowed away. Ashdown and Ryu intercepted it as it burrowed but their blind stabs into the earth were ineffective. The young bulette repeated it’s attack a couple more times but it could not repeat the devastation of it’s initial assault. The party managed to slay it after it’s third pass. Bloodied, they looked at one another in shock as several more landsharks approached. Turning to flee, they found their horses had bolted and were forced to make their escape on foot. Marc picked up the trail of one of the horses heading southward and led the party in that direction. The Bulettes didn’t give them the time however and were quickly upon them. One of the monsters launched itself from beneath Ashdown’s feet and nearly swallowed him whole as it rose. Ashdown was torn apart by the beast’s powerful jaws, and he fell unconscious from the creatures mouth. The party recoiled in horror from the savagery of the attack. Ashdown had been perfectly healthy one moment, and a torn hunk of bloody flesh in the next. The party just barely managed to find more sound footing before the next landshark could attack. They were now faced with two landsharks. These circled them, leaping from the ground to attack, only to return to the earth to strike again. Morat managed to pour a healing potion down Ashdown’s throat and return him to the fight. Again and again the landsharks savaged the party causing horrible wounds before finally being subdued. The companions renewed their flight, looking for the horses or a safe place to hide. Marc located more signs of their mounts’ flight and guided everyone along this path. Ashdown noticed that the hills had become more regular and Ryu identified them as burial mounds. Morat spotted the horses on one of themand shepherded his companions to it’s top. The landsharks pealed away from the area as if afraid to enter. This provided an opportunity to hobble the horses and find a more secure location to hide. That proved close at hand as Morat had noticed a door of some kind buried in the side of their hill. The party decided to inspect what was surely a crypt, much to the dismay of Morat, who was intent on sticking to the original plan. He maintained his objections as Ashdown and Ryu sought a way to open the door.
The crypt of Cadric Ghaston
Ryu, Ashdown and Marc examined the crypt’s door while Morat remained on the hill top, resolute in his desire to move on. The door was stone, solidly built, and engraved with various musical motifs. Sheet music scrolled through scenes of performers and abstract images of instruments. An inscription at the top was missing the initial letters but read _adric _haston _iplomat, _rtist, _ntertainer, _eloved _riend. Casting about the ground near the door the missing letters were located. They were small tiles about 2 inches square that seemed to fit into two places on the door. The inscription, and into 7 square depressions in a circle at the door’s center. Examinations of this feature revealed that it was likely a magical puzzle. Ryu and Ashdown started brainstorming possible solutions. Ashdown realized it was likely a circle of fifths, a basic musical rule. Ryu validated it by recognizing that the order of the words in the inscription supported Ashdown’s theory. Arranging the letters accordingly Ashdown managed to activate the mechanism, unlocking the door. A dark 15×15 room was revealed. A voice sounded, “Cadric was an artist, music was his first love”. The walls of the chamber repeated the musical motif but nothing else of interest was found. A cursory examination is all they were afforded, though, as the sound of what had to be a huge landshark began rushing right at them. Morat could see the massive furrow the creature left in its wake and rushed down the hill with the horses to join the party below. The group all crowded into the room with the animals and hoped to wait out the horror descending upon them. As the door to the room shut, a massive Bulette tore itself from the ground and with a frustrated roar descended into the earth once more. With the door’s closing, the floor of the room dropped leaving the horses and the party in a heap.
As they landed a voice echoed from the hall “Cadric was an adventurer, he was fleet of foot”. Everyone managed to extricate themselves from the horses and stand just as the sound of an ancient machine ground to life. Morat summoned an arcane light, revealing a hall about 50 ft long and 15 ft wide, and then felt something slam into his legs and knock him down. The entire hall was filled with knee-high blocks that were whipping from side to side all along it’s length. The party was forced to leap over the unpredictably slinging blocks. Those too slow were bludgeoned and knocked over. The horses began to scream in panic as they struggled to their feet only to be knocked down. Ryu resolved to make for a door he spied at the end of the hall, but found the going difficult as each step required an acrobatic leap to advance. Ashdown decided to attack the problem locally. Noticing the blocks were mechanically driven, pulled by a chain and some hidden machinery. Wrenching one of the dragon talons free of the cord he wore at his neck, he drove the improvised spike into the crack where a block emerged. This stopped the assault at his portion of the hall. He and Marc repeated this act along the back of the hall, saving the horses… and Morat from further assault. Ryu continued up the hall, while Morat recovered from his initial disgust at the temerity of the trap’s designer to so encumber him. As Ryu struggled and the other two spiked the blocks Morat realized that his mage hand might be able to depress what appeared to be a button near the far door. He summoned the hand and guided it down the hall, managing to steal Ryu’s thunder and activate the switch… turning off the offending trap. The trap was deactivated, leaving the horses banged up and the party shaken. Only the door at the end of the hall offered any exit.
The door was locked but proved no challenge for Marc. The party paused before the open door, leery of walking into what was sure to be another trap. Eventually they convinced Ashdown to enter. Ashdown nervously scanned the room. Six statues, all female, stood in the room’s center. The walls were covered with images of chess games though each only included queens in various configurations. The floor echoed the chess board pattern, but only to a six by six grid. The now familiar voice called out “Cadric was a lady’s man, Women were his greatest love”. However this time, nothing followed the voice. Eventually the party noticed scratches along the floor as if something heavy had been dragged across it. Resolving that this was likely the statues, they postulated that some special configuration was required. They nominated Ryu as the designation statue manipulator. Ryu entered the room as the rest scurried to the safety of the hall. Ryu moved a statue a few feet away, cringed in expectation… but found himself unmolested. Encouraged he tried again with a second statue but was zapped by an electrical jolt that arced between the two newly placed figures. The party deliberated and in a few moments Morat developed a theory. Taking the chess theme as a clue he offered that perhaps the ‘queens’ needed to be arranged such that they threatened every ‘square’ but not each other. Ryu maneuvered the statues into position, receiving another jolt as he was forced to temporarily violate the propsed pattern. When the last statue was wrestled into place they all dissolved into sand which flowed through newly revealed holes in the floor. A quick glance showed these new holes to be an entrance to a large darkened chamber 20 feet below. Some rope was collected and the party resolved to descend.
Marc was first down the rope with guidance from Morat’s light. He found a large chamber with a platform running along two sides. A crazy twist of his body provided the momentum to swing over to one of these platforms. Holding the rope he helped the rest of the party down, and over to his position. All except Morat that is, who lost hold of the rope and unceremoniously plummeted to the floor of the main chamber. Morat’s arrival on the floor awoke something at the end of the hall. A Crypt Wight, a vile undead created by performing rights on the recently dead, recalling it’s departed soul in a horrid bastardization of the resurrection ritual. Instead of returning to life, the soul is bound into the hideous form and twisted by malevolent magics. The Wight rushed Morat and croaked “Cadric was a fool, and a failure was his final act.” As his words echoed 4 tiny demonic creatures called “Grue” popped into each corner of the platforms. The wight’s assault left Morat a bloody mess, and it looked bleak for him until Ryu saved him. Acting quickly, Ryu summoned arcane energies and disappeared in a clap of thunder. A split second later Morat followed, both reappearing in each others previous location. With a grin, Ryu drove his sword into the wight with a crack of lightning and teleported to the platform to repeat the attack on the creepy demon near the rest of the party. The adventurers focused on the Wight below, unleashing the most powerful of their attacks. Meanwhile the horrid little demons pounded the party with terrifying psychic attacks that devastated them. Before the wight would fall, each party member was bloodied. The wight’s fall hardly lessened the danger as the true horror was the mental assaults from the demons across the room. Morat was the focus of the creature’s assault and went down until their relentless attacks. Ashdown helped Morat up and charged after the demon at the other end of their platform. Ryu launched himself at a demon on the other platform. The monsters had to go down quickly, the party couldn’t last much longer. Ryu held down his demon while the rest focused on Ashdown’s. Ashdown was battered but still standing as the demon before him was felled. With that one down focus turned to Ryu’s enemy. Ryu had challenged both of the remaining demons forcing them to attack him. This bought time for the party to attack unimpeded and allowed them to finish the demons off. The demons were vanquished but the party was exhausted, they all knew they couldn’t have held out much longer. They took some time to regroup before searching for the loot that had damned well better be there! They were not disappointed as in a chest that was quickly unlocked they found several items ostensibly belonging to the tormented bard. These were identified as Burning Gauntlets, Bracers of Mental Might, a quiver of 20 magic arrows, and a fantastic songblade which made Ashdown downright giddy. Their loot hard won, the party considered the problem of their exit from this crypt.