Chapter 16: The Floodgate

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Session Number: 69
Date: Sunday 10 October 2010
Venue: Fergus'
PCs & Players:

Arrian Rog1/Clr8 (Fergus) (kills: none)
Emily Ftr3/Rog6 (Tammi) (kills: none)
Feren Rog9 (Yeran) (kills: none)
Rowaine Pal9 (Craig) (kills: none)
Troll Wiz9 (Densial) (kills: none)

XP Awarded: TBC

"I've been thinking," Arrian says. "You don't have a dam just to have a dam. You have a dam for a purpose. So what's the dam for? Maybe the whole thing was built to keep these things captive. And about that being… It just doesn't add up. Rowaine, you sensed evil about it, but it's dead? Maybe there are illusions here distracting us. Perhaps we should look again."

Arrian returns to the pulsing runes encircling the motionless creature. As they stand and watch, it starts to move, unfurling massive dark leathery wings. They stop at some unseen barrier and the creature lets out a dull yelp. It weakly turns its large, horned head towards the interruption. Its face is bestial. Its glowing red eyes open and try to focus. With considerable effort it raises its massive head off the floor.

"Help meeeee…" it says in a scratchy, weak voice before its head slumps back to the ground. Its accent is rather odd.

"Rowaine," Arrian says over his shoulder, "come here… The evil that you detect - is it the thing itself, or something on it?"

"Help meee… I beg you!"

Rowaine approaches, concentrating. "It is evil," she confirms.

The being tries to push itself up to its haunches using an arm and a bat wing, but fails.

"So long… So long. My brother. My poor brother…"

"Rowaine," asks Arrian, "what do we do?"

"Well…" Rowaine begins. "I think we're safe for now, if Troll is right about those runes. I will not kill it, cerrtainly not if it's helpless. At least not until we knows what's going on."

The creature has obviously seen better times, although its condition is more from neglect than wounds. It looks desiccated, its shrunken skin clinging to its large form like canvas pulled too taut over a tent frame.

"Free me, please! I beg you!"

"Who imprisoned you here?" asks Arrian.

"Kharzoug! A long time ag… <cough cough>"

"Why?"

"Free me, I will tell you… mortal." Its eyes focus on Arrian. Arrian averts his own eyes.

"Please. Please, it's been so long."

Troll continues investigating the metallic submerged step, wary that it might be the floodgate's trigger. The silvery metal with a slight copper hue seems untarnished.

Emily continues questioning the creature. "What will you do to us if we help you?"

"I am in no state to kill you. I'll go. Back to my … home."

"Where's that?"

"Hades." Its eyes light up. "Oh, it's been so long…"

"So long since what?" asks Emily.

"Since I've been IMPRISONED HERE!" the creature bellows, surprising the mortals before it.

"How long have you been here?" asks Feren.

I don't know… Thousands of years, tens of thousands… I don't know…" The creature gasps. "Please, end my torment! Please…"

"How can we help you?" asks Emily.

"Free me! Free me from these imprisoning runes! They burn!"

"But how do we free you from it?"

"Dispel them! Destroy them!"

"So you're trapped by a spell?" Emily continues.

"YES! Yes! Can you not see? They burn, they torture me!" The creature labours over its breathing, obviously wearied by its recent exertion. It is a husk of its former self. "I promise I will not harm you. I am in no state to harm … anyone."

"I'll be right back," Arrian says, turning and leaving.

The creature's eyes bore into Arrian's back. "You!" it says, turning its attention towards Emily. "Will… Will you help me?"

"Sorry," Emily says in measured words. "I do not know any spells so I am unable to help." Feren then drags Emily out of the corridor.

"No, no, Noooo!" the creatures weakly yells. "Come back! Come baaaack…" Its words give way to rattly, uneven breathing.

Troll has exited the pool and is getting back into his clothes. "Imprisoning something that's evil and torturing it, that's pretty bad!" He enters the corridor that is home to the creature. The being eyes him.

"You bear magic. Help me! Pleeeease!"

"You want release, I assume, from your torment," Troll says.

"Anything!"

"Tell me what your purpose is here."

"Will you release … me?"

"I will end your torment, yes."

The creature pauses for a moment. "They use me… Me and my brother … for this monstrosity. I feel it all around me. They drain my essence to power it. I cannot stand it!" The creature coughs and splutters.

"What does this 'monstrosity' do?" asks Troll.

"I feel movement… I feel movement and water when it happens… And the PAIN, the pain…"

"Do you know the purpose of the machinery?"

"I don't care!"

"But do you know?"

"YES!"

"What is the purpose of the machinery?"

"It lowers the water. It lowers the water. Grand Avaxiel, chained and imprisoned! To lower … water."

"Where is your brother?" asks Emily. Troll indicates the pile of ash in the circle behind them.

"I will free you from your torment," Troll continues, "but first I must talk with my brothers." He takes Rowaine and Arrian aside.

"We try to find some way from him of lowering the water level to relieve pressure on the dam, then we kill him. I don't think we can leave him here, tortured. Even if he's powering this dam and it's doing good for people, it's still not the right thing to do. Does anybody disagree with my assessment of his future?"

"No, not at all," answers Rowaine. "Having a being like that on this plane is asking for trouble."

"I would rather this thing suffer than everyone in Turtleback Ferry die," offers Arrian. Troll begins to disagree but Arrian continues. "But if we can find a way to lower the water then release it, that would be better. However, I think we will need something else in the other circle to make it work."

Taking that as consensus, Troll returns to the corridor. The being eyes him hopefully.

"There's been some damage done to the dam," Troll begins. "We need to lower the water level so it doesn't burst and kill people downstream. You probably don't mind too much, but we do. If we can find some way of lowering the water level, then after that we will set you free."

"Anything…"

"Would you have any idea how to lower the water level?"

"These confinements drain me when it needs to happen, and they drain my brother as well."

"But do you know how the mechanism is activated?"

"There's nobody here… There's never anybody here… It must just happen … by itself."

Arrian clicks his fingers. "It's a switch!"

"We are going to try and find a way to lower the water. Rest assured, we will return."

"You will free me?"

"I will end your torment, yes."

"I have your word?"

"My word. Trust me, it's good."

"I am at your mercy."

"That metal stair is some sort of switch," Arrian repeats.

"If it is, it's supposed to be open now!" Troll says.

"So that bit's not working," Arrian continues. "So again, maybe we don't have enough power."

"Summon something in there!" Feren blurts.

"There are some ethical issues around that," Arrian answers. "Can anyone summon evil things?" he jokes.

Troll looks at the military fork in Arrian's hands. "How about something magical?"

Troll hands his wand of vampiric touch to Arrian to toss into the vacant circle to the east while he, Rowaine and Feren stand guard. Troll mentally prepares a Fiery Burst, aiming at the being in the other circle. Its eyes widen. Arrian puts his hand through the three-inch spacing between the portcullis bars.

"Everyone ready?" he asks. "Right, here we go…"

Arrian means to flick the wand into the centre of the circle but it slips from his fingers, bounces off the bars and clatters to the floor, straddling the glowing runes. Troll nearly has heart failure.

"Stop! Stop now!" he yells. He then uses his telekinetic ability to gently move the wand fully into the circle. Nothing happens. Arrian places the military fork half through the bars and leaves it for Troll to mentally push forwards. The circle now contains two magical items, yet still nothing happens. Arrian moves to the model dam and lowers the central skull's jaw. The runes stutter in response as before.

"Maybe it needs a creature," Arrian says, moving to the remains of 'Wet Papa Grazuul'. He lops off an arm and returns to the corridor. He then opens the east portcullis with the wheel in the neighbouring wall and throws the limb into the circle. Splat - the limb weeps green goo onto the floor. Still nothing. Troll has a play with the skull but cannot make it do any more than it already has.

"I wish we had a live troll right now," muses Arrian.

"These runes would not hold a troll," says Troll.

The creature looks at the party. "What are you doing?" it asks, breathing raggedly. "You need my brother! Or something…"

"Do we need another being similar to you?" asks Feren.

"Or could it be any being?" Emily adds.

"I don't know," the creature replies. "It drains my … life."

"How fast will you regenerate if you come out of it?" asks Emily.

"Ten thousand years have I endured this. Must I take any more?"

"Yes!" Arrian and Troll say in unison. "A little bit more."

"Please… Please… Send me where my brother went…"

"Hades?"

"Yes… Hades…"

"Let's get something in the other circle," Arrian says.

"OK," Feren says. "Summon something. Rowaine, are you OK with that?"

"I wouldn't be OK with that," Arrian says before Rowaine can reply. "If worst comes to worst I'll go in there myself."

"I agree with you," Rowaine says. "I believe it would have to be that person or creature's choice." She pauses. "I'll go."

"I think if anyone's going to go, it's me," Arrian replies.

"Draw straws?" Troll says. "How many can we fit in there?"

"We don't need to do that," Arrian says, taking off his armour.

"Wait," Rowaine interjects. "No no, not more than one. We need not risk more than one."

"Well, the way I see it," says Troll, "four people have more chance of survival than one - and more chance of providing enough power to get the dam working."

"What if the one bad thing then happens not to one person, but four?" Rowaine says. "You're assuming this device is fair."

Arrian sums up the options. "If it is fair, having four inside the circle gives us a better chance. If it isn't fair, it doesn't matter anyway."

"I say we go find another troll, knock it out and put it in!" Emily offers.

"We'd just be perpetuating the same evil that has kept this place going," Arrian responds.

"Alright," says Rowaine, "four of us then."

Jakardros and Vale exchange glances. "We would like to volunteer," Jakardros says.

"Hang on," says Troll. "We should probably investigate all other options first, before going ahead with a martyr mission! You two are fairly local… Do either of you know how this floodgate opens?"

Although Jakardros has been here before, he has never heard of a floodgate. Vale has no experience of this dam, but knows that they generally have some mechanism to cope with excess water. How this particular dam deals with it, he has no idea - although he suspects that whatever the mechanism, it isn't working.

Fergus: The only thing I can think of is power. I think we should draw straws.

Densial: We need to think about it more.

Fergus: I've already done that :-)

Feren addresses the being, who watches the group intently. "How long has your brother been dead?"

"A few score years, maybe."

Feren suggests that someone investigate what they believe to be the floodgate's exit point - the large skull in the centre of the dam.

"OK," says Rowaine. "Stand by. I'll be back. Troll, fancy a ride?"

Troll and Rowaine mount up and Earth Glide through the dam's northern face. Troll's Disc cannot follow and winks out of existence. Outside, the rain still pelts down. They swoop past all five skulls. Each well-polished stone feature has water trickling out of its jaws, discolouring the dam below. Troll thinks the amount of water coming out of the large skull could easily be the amount draining out of the central pool. They return inside.

Arrian throws one of the myriad of actual skulls into the circle of runes, adding it to the pile of items already present. It clunks on the stone surface and rolls about before coming to a stop within the circle's bounds. Nothing further occurs. Troll inspects the model once again, paying close attention to the block of stone that drops down when the jaw opens. Arrian joins him.

"If the stair is the switch, why does this jaw move? For that matter, why is there a model at all?"

"The skull may be an override," posits Troll, "or maybe something's jammed. Is the water in the pools rising or falling?" The pool is still, not even rippling; the level of algae has not changed. Troll wanders back to the confined creature.

"I suspect that the water hasn't moved and you haven't been drained since your brother passed on..?"

"No."

Troll turns back to the others. "I think that the normal water level is a lot lower than it is now, maybe even right down to the level of the skulls. You rangers, do you know of any stories of where the Storval Deep was much lower than this?"

Jakardros doesn't know of any such stories. Vale remembers something that his father once told him, something about the Skull River flooding fifty or sixty years ago. The river raised two or three feet, many farmers lost crops.

"What about the step?" asks Troll. "Maybe we're using it wrong. Should we apply pressure? Or dry it out?"

Arrian wades in. His armour weighs him down and he descends to the metallic step. Treading on it doesn't seem to do anything. He jumps up & down a bit with similar lack of effect. He surfaces before his breath of air runs out.

Feren asks the being about the skulls.

"What?"

"Do you know anything about the pile of skulls outside this door?"

"You mean on the dam? Or the ones above, on the building? No…"

Both Troll and Arrian conclude that whatever the dam's floodgate trigger mechanism is, it is probably already tripped. It just isn't working due to a lack of power. They start planning who should enter the vacant circle.

"It should be elves," Arrian says. If the circles age creatures, elves will miss those years the least."

"Arrian," Rowaine says, "there is no way I will not be part of the four."

"So you think you have some special right or privilege to give your life before others?"

"Yes," Rowaine replies with certainty. "It's my duty."

"No more than anyone else here. And it's more likely to kill you than anyone else. You also have a duty to serve your god, do you not?"

"I may be more protected than anyone else. Have you considered that?"

"It seems unlikely to me. You're the most vulnerable person here."

"How do you figure that, elf? I am protected by the power of Moradin! His blessing encircles me. No disease may touch me. I fear nothing."

"Yeah, that's been working well so far for you, hasn't it? Rowaine, I almost killed you once… It just makes more sense that elves do this."

"What if it drains health? Then by your argument, elves are the least likely to survive."

"So let's go with the most healthy elves."

Rowaine's face is as stony as her heritage. "I am prepared to concede that three others go with me, but I am going."

"OK, we draw straws for the other three."

Rowaine prepares 'straws' from lengths of silk rope. The three shortest lengths are drawn by Jakardros, Vale and Arrian. Three humans and an elf. Troll ties them together with more silk rope and holds the end as the four simultaneously jump into the eastern circle of runes.

All hit the ground together. The runes flash solid orange as the devil and Jakardros simultaneously scream. Jakardros falls to the floor as the orange light intensifies. An almost subsonic rumbling starts shaking the flagstones beneath their feet, soon overtaken by a very audible rush of water. The rumbling stops, the torrential sound of flowing water continues. Arrian checks Jakardros, looking for wounds, but he bears no physical injury. Opposite, the devil thrashes and screams, then stops. A brief smile graces its horrible visage before its entire form crumbles to crimson ash.

Everyone moves out of the short corridor into the central pool room. The displaced pile of skulls is rolling around the floor, some falling into the pool. Arrian looks at the water's surface. It is rippling, but the level remains constant. He turns his attention to Jakardros. The ranger is still dazed, his face screwed up in pain. Troll runs upstairs, yelling for Rowaine and Harley to follow. They exit the building and look over the dam's north face. The central skull's mouth is open and a wide jet of water spurts out many tens of feet.

Arrian leads the others outside. He joins Rowaine and Troll looking over the edge.

"What if the floodgate needs power to close?" he asks.

"If it does, it's probably best to leave it open. The water will only drop to the level of the floodgate in any event. If it closes, the water might just rise again. I'm hoping it doesn't close automatically because we may end up having to get two people to sacrifice something to open it again."

Ten minutes later the floodgate is still spewing tons of water into the Skull River. Happily, at present it seems to be taking all the dam can give.

"We should warn people downstream that the lake and river levels may rise," Troll says. "Rowaine, you will be fastest on Harley. Someone should go with you."

"Someone of standing," Rowaine replies. "Shalélu. Turtleback Ferry's scout. She was taken in by the town, and she is esteemed by the mayor. Can you do without her for a while, Troll? Come, Shalélu, get into whatever wet weather gear you have!" Rowaine and Shalélu depart. The others will wait at the dam, keeping an eye on it and the water levels.

Arrian and Troll return to the dam's lower chamber. Arrian continues to tend to Jakardros, keeping the ranger warm and preparing him something to eat. Despite the monotonous drone of great volumes of water beneath, there is no change in the chamber's three pools.

Figuring that Rowaine's task will take at least a couple of days, the party consider where to set camp. Troll spies metal brackets on the central chamber's southern double doors, and a large ironwood beam lying nearby. The domed roof has no chimney. Together they climb the twelve flights of stairs, Jakardros requiring several rests upon the way. They set up camp in the skull building atop the dam. Feren takes note of the water levels upstream and downstream of the dam.

The night passes. Arrian checks on Jakardros the next morning. The ranger has not recovered per se, it is more like he is adjusting to whatever has happened. Physically the ranger looks fine, but he speaks of general weakness and lethargy. It's almost like his confidence has been shaken.

Two more nights pass at the dam without incident, besides the relentless rain. The skull floodgate remains open, water still pouring out of its open jaws. On the third morning, Harley, Rowaine and Shalélu return. It is not raining in Turtleback Ferry, and no one has remarked about unusual water levels in either the Skull River or Claybottom Lake. Rowaine and Shalélu have spoken with the mayor. She has raised the alert in the town. The militia, the combined cathedral and the merchant's guild are all working together getting sandbags ready.

Feren compares this morning's water level readings to the ones he originally took. The water level at top of dam has dropped by nearly six inches. The Skull River has risen by two or three inches.

Rowaine and Harley descend to the dam's lower chamber. Rowaine bars the door then the two Earth Glide out. All set out on foot for Fort Rannick. After a miserable seven hour journey, wet and cold from the rain, they arrive in the vicinity of the fort as dusk approaches. The party near the waterfall entrance and see large humanoids atop the fort's outer curtain. They quickly duck out of view before being seen. Harley ferries everyone into the underground ravine passage where Elondel's wing resides. They transport to Elondel tower and change into dry clothes. Arrian asks Elondel to look at Jakardros.

"What happened to him?" Elondel asks.

"He was drained by something," Arrian responds.

"He bears the taint of it. I'm afraid this is beyond my ability to repair."

The party eat, bathe and spend the night at the tower. The next morning they stock up on food and sunrods before returning to the wing beneath Fort Rannick. They quietly make their way to Lucrecia's secret door, being careful not to disturb the shocker lizards. It is quiet beyond. Feren opens the door, checks that the way is clear and they enter. The door opposite is open. Lucrecia's body is not where they left it, in the adjoining cell room. The party head upstairs.

The wide corridor is still covered with gore. Emily checks with Blink to see if he can sense anything. The little dragon cannot. They cautiously head south. Blink's voice enters Emily's head as they pass the stairway to the right - "Up dere!" Emily stops the group. Rowaine cannot sense any evil. They continue southward and investigate the uncharted corridor to the southeast. It ends in a door on an angled wall. Arrian opens it. Beyond is another fifteen foot wide circular tower with a ladder to the left, similar to the two others they have found. Arrian closes the door and the party retrace their steps to the stairway leading up.

Rowaine and Arrian take the lead. Before heading upstairs, Emily suggests sending Blink ahead. Arrian discourages the idea, noting that the little dragon is not overly sturdy.

The party head upstairs. At the top is a ten foot wide corridor heading to the left.

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