Fresh from dispatching the ankheg queen, our heroes discussed possible uses for their heads. Boomah suggested that they were delicious, but in the end they decided to leave the carapaces behind and look for treasure elsewhere.
Then they turned on their dwarven guide Corbel. They demanded to know why she did not aid in the combat, and if this was how she was going to continue to act. She told them that she had been ordered to ‘observe’ the party, to gauge their strength and determine whether or not there was any credence to the wild claims they had made before the Hallitae-rihm. She added that she thought the group handled themselves admirably, and perhaps were ‘heroes’ after all. Celeste told her that may not all be heroes, but the job held a better life expectancy than her career with the Wychtport Serachle.
They retold their tale, and she told them that the Faelit Vale has always been known for ancient magic, and strange creatures not seen elsewhere. This may indeed be where the wizard they were chasing has gone.
They widened their search for treasure, and the goblin alchemist even extracted acid from the beasts themselves. Peering into the gap left by the appearance of the ankheg queen, they saw something shine in the chamber beyond. Corbel launched her chain across, anchored by a tiny beetle-shaped earth elemental. The beetle dug in, as did the dwarf, to create a way across the water than ran along the passage. Luix, Saerin, Celeste and Boomah shimmied across, and Boomah looked into a chamber beyond with his torch. He saw that that far wall was covered with ankheg eggs — a goblin delicacy — secured by some sticky goo.
He lobbed a flask of oil at the clutch, and it dribbled down the wall of eggs, sending their contents into motion. Celeste followed with oil of her own, and when it shattered against the egg clutch, the securing mucus gave way. This sent hundreds of eggs down the wall and into the small chamber, bursting open and sending small ankheg larvae at the party.
They tried to back away from the writhing swarm, as its tiny teeth and acidic ooze burned about their feet. Celeste lit the oil, and Boomah followed with a fiery bomb, but the mass kept moving toward them. As they scurried across the chain, Corbel exploded the rock wall of the chamber, but it still did not stop the advance.
It toured out of the chamber and across the body of its queen as the group continued to pull back. Kallius stepped up and sent more fire at it, and even Dremahl tried to crush the larvae with his mace. When Kallius cast burning hands a second time, the swarm abated, with the remaining larvae dropping into the waters below. Only a few were scooped by the goblin for later use.
Searching about, the decided that this was simply a birthing chamber for the ankhegs and not the creatures’ nest. So they continued on.
After hours more of marching, they came to a magnificent entry hall of the dwarves. it was flanked by statues and dominated by a large double door wide enough enough for the largest caravan cart. The door itself was barred, and runes warned of danger to anyone who forced the passage without permission of the dwarves.
They asked Corbel if she could get them past, and she said no. The rulers of the dwarves had not given her the words of passage, as he never really expected them to get this for. Nor was he that interested in their success. She tried the passwords she did know, to no avail.
She warned them that the doorway was certainly trapped in both magical and mechanical means. To test this, Dremahl summoned a celestial pony to charge the door. When it made contact, a huge guts of air came up and sent the pony to the ceiling, and dropped it the floor. As if that were not enough, the floor opened into a huge pit filled with a noxious gas.
Two minutes later the floor reset, and Celeste sent more summoned ponies toward it. They were electrocuted by magical runes, before being dropped into the pits. Again, they waited and summoned two more ponies. These were merely magically put to sleep before being dropped into the pits.
Noting a lessening in lethality, this time they summoned a giant ant, boosted it with bulls’ strength, and sent it toward the door. No runes exploded, and it managed to climb itself out of the pits quickly. It did not take long for the creature to lift the bar, but it still could not force the door open before it vanished.
Investigating, Dremahl determined that the door was arcane locked, and successfully dispelled it. From there, the ranger could disable the physical locking method and the gigantic doors sighed, ready to open smoothly.
Before exiting, they asked the dwarf what she knew about what was beyond and what happened. She explained that the Gilt Hall dwarves were very supportive of the humans at the beginning of the lats war. And when the invaders turned on them and marched up the Faelit Vale, the humans came to their aid. There was a pitched battle in the valley below the dam, and it did not go well for the defenders. When it became obvious that the invader would overrun the humans and dwarves and take the dam, Meera (wife of Hallita Jotahj and niece of Stonelord Vanha) commanded that the dam be blown up and the water released. This wiped out all the troops in the field —human, dwarf, and invader alike — and wreaked havoc on the forests below. Jotahj was so upset by the loss of his wife that he sealed the south gate and it has not been opened until now.
They sent the goblin out into the opening to explore. Twilight was descending on the mountain valley, but he could see that this was a walled platform directly above the broken dam. The empty bowl of Loch Nura sprawled off to the east, with rivulets of summer runoff meandering through. To the west lay a series of narrow valleys filled with broken vegetation and strange evening mists.
Directly across the dam, past two gaps and one roughly-built bridge, stood a red banner flaked by two curved posts. He could not make out details, but the lens of seeing showed him that some large living creatures were in a rubble lean-to beyond.
They held the dwarven gate open slightly with the bar, and decided to stay put until morning. They were keeping double watches and weapons handy, hoping for rest but preparing for the worst.