On their way to the monastery, our heroes were surprised by a small earthquake. As the ground broke up, a group of ankhegs emerged. These horse sized bugs proved only an annoyance however, and soon our heroes were back on their way. Within half a day, they discovered a small trail that led into an ever-narrowing defile between bluffs of wind-sculpted sandstone. Eventually the narrow space opened to a hidden canyon in the heart of the hills. There, they found a sprawling monastery with dark, narrow windows and red tiles rooftops inside the natural amphitheater.
Nundro and Affadil decided to do some reconnaissance and ended up in a small enclosed garden near the back of the monastery. There, they were surprised by a pair of gargoyles that sprang to life in response to their intrusion. These animates chased them out and back to their companions where the four overcame the creatures. Rather than attempt further espionage, the heroes decided to try the front door. Samera, thinking himself clever, decided to put on the gargoyle mask he had found earlier. This got them an invitation inside, but the warm welcome would be short lived.
When Samera declared that the others with him were his “followers”, the monks inside saw through the ruse. Our heroes would discover later that these monks lived a life of self denial and that claiming to have followers was a dead giveaway that they were not who they claimed to be. When they managed to take down a pair of minotaurs sent to greet them, a man by the name of Qarbo beckoned them to come and talk. He led them to a grand room and showed them a set of stairs, which he claimed led to the quarters of their Abbess and that she would parley with them. Though they suspected something was amiss, our heroes were still caught by surprise when the stairs gave way and became a steep slope, plunging them to the depths below.
When they hit the ground, a massive umber hulk was there to greet them. The creature had been tortured and neglected, however, and was in a weakened state. It did not take much for our experienced heroes to down the beast. After it fell, Qarbo’s voice came from a hole in ceiling above. He beckoned them to pledge themselves to the Black Earth. They would have to begin their life anew, with no worldly possessions and nothing to hold them back. He commanded them to leave all of their belongings on the ground, clothes and all, and the Black Earth would accept them with open arms. When asked why our heroes would do such a thing, Qarbo claimed a grand being named Ogremoch would soon awaken in their realm, that the moving mountain would overtake all else. Those that pledged themselves to him would be granted unending power. The heroes, of course, would have none of it.
But, escaping the Sacred Stone Monastary would prove more difficult than they would have liked. They managed to escape their confines and began to explore around them. The most notable finding was a large, ominous door. The single, unadorned door had a single keyhole at its center, but its workings were too complex for Lavinia to even begin to work. They kept it in the back of their minds as they continued on.
Soon, they began to twist and turn in ancient dwarven mining tunnels. Nundro did his best to try to make some sense of their progress, but whatever clan had made these tunnels had done so for so long and so extensively, that they were incomprehensible. Instead, the group became lost after taking to many steps in an unknowable direction. When their feet and minds became weary, they were forced to stop for the night.
To their surprise, someone came upon them as they rested. A priest and some monks were searching the tunnels and using their tremorsense, were able to surround the heroes. The priest was killed and the monks were taken captive. With hopes of learning something useful, the monks were interrogated, but their training left them unbreakable. As our heroes tried to get more rest, the monks began to act strangely, making the ground around them vibrate for some unknowing reason. Soon after, a torch appeared far down one tunnel, but it remained still for the remainder of their rest. In the morning (or so they assumed, having lost track of all time), our heroes decided to leave the monks and head in the direction of the mysterious torch. The flickering flame highlighted a door and once inside the room, they discovered a vicious trap had been set. The earth in the room rumbled, spikes shot out of the ground, and our heroes took a beating. Before the dust could settle, three orogs and an ogre burst from fake walls and they nearly killed Affadil and Nundro. Fortunately, Samera and Lavinia were able to down the last of the beasts before the encounter turned fatal.
Now that they had found themselves back beneath the monastery, our heroes had some direction to go by. First, they figured they should search the last tunnel that was open to them. At the very end was a prison. After some trouble getting the bars open, they managed to free the three prisoners held captive there. The first was a shield dwarf that introduced himself as Bruldenthar, companion to Rhundorth, one of the important delegates. Though he was not quite whom our heroes was looking for, he did have important information.
Bruldenthar had in fact been taken alongside both Rundorth, Teresial and Deseyna. They were being escorted by the Black Earth cult on their way here when they’d been ambushed by knights riding giant vultures. These knights managed to grab a hold of Deseyna but were unable to hold their ground any longer and escaped before they could grab the others. Bruldenthar was put to work in the monastery, but Rhundorth and Teresial were taken below to an unknown fate.
There were two other prisoners. The first was a woman, wearing nothing but a dirty cloth dress, and the other was a small child with a hood over her head. They were defenseless, so along with Bruldenthar, our heroes thought it best to get these prisoners out of the monastery.
Bruldenthar led the heroes to a set of stairs that went back up to the main monastery area. Here, all was silent save the hissing and bubbling of some unknown contraptions heard somewhere down the hall. They could see natural light from beneath a doorway and thought it best to attempt that way, in hopes it would lead to an exit. However, when they opened the door they saw several monks and a woman with a bandana over her face sitting cross legged in what appeared to be a dojo. Before they could escape unseen, the monks were upon them. The mysterious woman called out to them and only Lavinia presented herself, thinking perhaps this was a situation her sharp tongue could weasel them out of. Unfortunately, the woman was short tempered and ultimately demanded a trial by combat. Lavinia would have to fight for her freedom.
Luckily for Lavinia, her companions would not site idly by while she fought for her life. As soon as the duel began, the rest of her team launched themselves into battle. The challenge would be the team’s greatest yet as a flurry of fists and magic shook the monastery. The monks were fast and fierce, nearly overcoming them at every turn. To their dismay, they discovered that even the best heroes can’t always mount such overwhelming odds. Affadil fell in the heat of combat and while her friends fought for their lives, she sacrificed her own.
Darkness almost overcame their hearts. But, at a pivotal moment, they managed to down this mysterious woman, whom the Black Earth priests declared their Abbess as they fled to alert the rest of their brethren. With only a moment to spare, those left standing gathered up those that could not, smashed through the nearest window and hightailed it as fast as they could. They hurried through the narrow passageway leading away from the monastery and found refuge in a small wooded area. There, you licked their wounds and mourned the loss of their dear friend.
Before the final shred of light could slip away, our heroes sat around a campfire with the rescued prisoners. The woman had very little to say, still in shock from her time as a captive. Bruldenthar told his tale again of the other delegates, but had little else to offer. The final prisoner however, proved to be quite a shock. She was the not child or helpless being they thought she was, rather when her hood came off, it was a tiefling they found before them. This tiefling introduced herself as Tanwyn. She had infiltrated the Black Earth cult some time ago searching for answers, though to what end she kept to herself. Tanwny told the heroes of a secret compartment in the Abbess’s quarters, where not only was her own belongings kept, but some coin that the heroes could keep if they helped her get to it.
Though they were hesitant, Lavinia finally agreed to accompany her back to the monastery. This was when Tanwyn introduced them to Fuss, her familiar. The small sprite was able to infiltrate the monastery and get a better look at it then any of them could have hoped for. Strangely, they found the monastery empty. Though the sprite kept to the outside rooms, it seem there was no one around. After gathering Samera and Nundro, the four break in and are able to make it to the Abbess’s quarters unnoticed. Tanwyn reacquired her things and kept her word, allowing the heroes to take the remainder of what was in the chest. Among the items found was a large, intricate key. Lavinia, the most knowledable of such things, recognize the style-work from the large unmovable door they’d found below. However, the last few days had left them short on rations, supplies, and otherwise suffering from low morale. It was time to return to town.