Once, the dungeon had Eyes. It could see where it was going; it could pick its targets from far away. It was much more powerful and much more dangerous.
The Prince of Shadows, it’s said, stole the dungeon’s Eyes. (If he didn’t, he’s certainly blamed for it.) One Eye he kept; the other he gave to a fellow rogue. That Eye got traded and sold a dozen times, changing hands for a king’s ransom in one place or handed over to cover a bar tab in another. Not all those who had the Eye knew what a treasure they held.
Blind, the dungeon was forced to rely on other means. It began to hunt using other senses, to act on instinct instead of looking ahead to the future. It never stopped searching for its Eyes, but as the years went by and there was no sign or scent of them, the Stone Thief went mad and feral. Did the Prince mean for this to happen…?
In their original form, the Eyes looked like stone tablets, each the span of a man’s forearm, carved to resemble a human eye.
The pupil of the Eye was a glittering sapphire the size of a fist. The magic of the Eyes is held within the gemstones, so the stone tablets may have been removed by the Eyes’ new owners.
You also get the sense that the Prince has agents (yes, plural) within the Stone Thief. It’s always been said that the Prince’s network extended everywhere, but this is beyond the pale.
It’s still not clear why the Prince of Shadows stole the Eyes in the first place (people have long stopped asking how the Prince steals things; the answer is always “Because he’s the Prince of Shadows.”)
When consulting Imperial histories about the Stone Thief, you learn that, while the living dungeon itself is a great threat, there are others as well. Foes both within and without threaten the Dragon Empire. There are obvious, overwhelming threats like the Orc Lord or the Lich King, and then there are more subtle dangers, like the Cult of the Devourer.
This secret society has agents in many places, hiding their occult beliefs, conspiring in secret, all preparing for the day when the Stone Thief rises as a Living God-Dungeon to devour all civilization.
Membership in the cult is hereditary for the most part. According to cult traditions, their ancestors were exiled (unjustly) from the Empire many ages ago, and they swore to bring down civilization and have their revenge. In the intervening centuries, the descendants of the exiles crept back into society, but the oaths of vengeance are still passed down, parent to child. The cult also recruits or blackmails useful minions. Others seek out and join the cult to get access to the cult’s arcane secrets.
These days, the cult worships the Stone Thief as a god. Some cultists believe their ancestors were exiled for this veneration of the living dungeon, but it’s more likely that the cult adopted the dungeon as a doomsday weapon long after they were exiled. At this point, who’s using who as a weapon is unclear—that’s the problem with pinning your hopes on sentient dungeons. They just don’t bring about the end of civilization when you want them to.
But that doesn’t mean the Cult hasn’t found a way to prime certain targets for the Stone Thief…you remember what Idris told you about their encounter with the tiefling right before the Stone Thief attacked Harrowdale.
There is mention of Secret Masters (whatever they are) and Dream Communication (useful considering typical methods of correspondence would be impossible) but not much else…though you’re sure there’s more information out there.
It was odd…you knew your compatriots were also looking into the Stone Thief, but you also knew it was for different reasons. Altruistic ones, you supposed. What did that feel like, you wondered?
Your concern was more…personal.
Fortunately, as fate (or something else?) would have it, Moz “the Magnificient” was in Hildebrande. Mostly with bad news. While very careful not to disparage the Archmage in any way, the gnome did mention how the wards the Archmage has set around the empire to prevent interdimensional incursions have…decayed. He makes mention of an incident up north in Starport, where agents of the Archmage had to fight off an invasion of…things. Things that the gnome didn’t feel comfortable discussing.
So, he was very happy to discuss another living dungeon entirely, even if it was the Stone Thief of legend. From what the two of you were able to determine, the Stone Thief mostly seemed attracted to targets that had magical architecture of some kind, or contained a valuable artifact, or even several. Not always though…not that there was a complete record of everything that the Stone Thief had taken (to your knowledge anyway), but some targets were decidedly non-magical.
The other problem was that the Dragon Empire had no shortage of places with magical architecture and artifacts. The potential ‘hit list’ for the Stone Thief was in the dozens.
Frustrated, you slammed the table in a fit of anger. Moz was startled and had a worried look on his face…did he think you were going to kill him. In another time, you might have…
Eager to assuage your anger, the gnome proffered a dangerous idea: The Inverse Observatory
The Inverse Observatory looks down at the land below. It even looks through the land, to spy on the twisting caves and elemental energies of the dark underworld. The observatory moves slowly through the overworld, making a lazy circle around the Midland Sea. In the west, it floats over the Giantwalk Mountains, roughly following the Koru behemoth migration route once it leaves the highlands.
Sagely giants of great power and wisdom built the observatory, and they still operate it. The ultimate purpose of their observations is to cross-check their astrological findings. Since the movements of the stars affect events, then by watching those events and correlating those observations with the matching astrological conditions, the giants hope to one day create a perfectly accurate, scientifically falsifiable model of fate.
The giants do not welcome intruders. At best, the intruders might be supplicants or nosy seekers, hoping for a glimpse of the future. They might be thieves, here to steal the giant’s valuable instruments, or religious fanatics clinging to outdated notions of divinity.
Worse, the intruders might be heroes.
Heroes, you see, are thick with destiny. Potential fates and the possibility-matrices of cataclysmic events cling to them.
Heroes must be observed at all times, and their every movement correlated with the stars. A hero on the observatory cannot be observed, which throws all the giants’ calculations out of whack. The only way to correct such a discrepancy is to kill the hero and record the precise time of death, then cross-check that with the stars. Fate is a tricky quarry to hunt down, and heroes meddling in the instrumentation makes it all the harder.
From the observatory, Moz believes that you might be able to detect the Stone Thief as it moves, and predict where it will next emerge.
While the others went to libraries, record halls, or underworld hangouts, you went to bed.
Lighting an incense you kept for such things, you laid your head down and tried to open your mind to the tuggings of the Great Gold Wyrm…tugging you to the Dreamscape.
A familiar haze settled over you. You were back in the Gauntlet, having discovered a secret lair near the Minotaur’s hunting ground.
The dwarven master-smith Grommar died in the bowels of the Stone Thief, but before he went mad, he scrawled the instructions for making a weapon that he believed could kill the dungeon. In the dream, you can see the feverish writing on the wall…Grommar’s formula calls for:
- The ichor of a Koru behemoth
- Meteoric iron from the overworld and ever-burning coal from the underworld
- The soul of a hero
- The blessing of the Dwarf King.
- There is something referred to as “a sixth component” but it’s not your memory that is faulty, but rather Grommar’s writing; it is illegible.
The dream continues. It seems there is more than one way to catch a thief…you see mysterious figures, cloaked in deep purple. They are reading from ancient scrolls, chanting. Two carry an orb of immense magical power. Two more are carrying a huge heavy chain made from a metal you don’t recognize. You see shells from some great monster…a behemoth again?
Awake. Groggy and disoriented, you allow yourself a few moments to recover from your journey in the Dreamscape. An hour later, you are sipping cool water from a tall glass when the meaning of the dream becomes clear to you.
There exists a Rite of Binding.
What Cypriac mentioned about the Stone Thief:
- The Secret Masters, whoever they are, live in the lower levels.
- These lower levels are apparently accessed through something called The Maddening Stair
- Access to The Maddening Stair is apparently only through some area of something called “Deep Keep” which is, according to the old man, the stronghold of the orcs
- The orc leader is apparently called Fangrot
- The Secret Masters lead the Cult of the Devourer, people who worship the Stone Thief as a god. (Don’t call it a thief in their presence)
- There is a test of the Alabastar Sentinel, and a Chamber of Transcendence…whatever they are.
- Cypriac mentioned that the Secret Masters are involved in dreams, but didn’t say how.