A Welcome Back to Hildebrande

Once again, there was a gathering of Hildebrande’s citizens to welcome you upon your return. Mayor Wesley, was, of course, at the forefront.

Several automatons, gnome-created machines with a semblance of life, held up banners with varying messages of adoration to “their heroes.” Mayor Wesley, ever the political opportunist, started to coin the name “The Hildeys,” and it was, unfortunately, catching on with the general populace.

Priestess Itotia was there as well, smile beaming and welcoming each of you with a warm hug. ON behalf of the faith of Makaria, she had one of her acolytes (the one you are familiar with, Jyn) come forward with a silver tray. There was a potion for each of you. (You can each add a Champion-tier healing potion to your inventories). While somewhat less of a political gesture than the mayor’s, it still had the added effect of causing spontaneous (and loud) public prayers to Makaria.

You were soon surrounded by a mob of well-wishers, obvious sycophants…a growing fandom. Some seemed desperate, asking for favours that only “great heroes” could accomplish, and what hero could be greater than one that survived the Stone Thief?! A living dungeon that had been myth for most people in the Empire!

Mayor Wesley soon came to your rescue, dispersing the crowd and inviting you back to the mayoral office. Priestess Itotia accompanied you as well. Once there, in the privacy of his meeting chambers, the Mayor once again thanked you for your service to the empire and wondered aloud if you could do so once again. No, no…nothing too dangerous.
You see, there’s an up-and-coming politician of sorts, by the name of Tarius Rolle. He’s a bit of a rabble-rouser, causing discontent in different cities within the empire. No, never one of The Seven, but still… he seems to enjoy causing unrest. Well, he’s here in Hildebrande, and due to give a speech this afternoon. Mayor Wesley doesn’t want to stop the event (and you wonder if he even has the strength of will to do so, even if he was a mind to do it), but he also doesn’t want a riot on his hands…it’s been known to happen after one of Rolle’s speeches.

So…if you could be there? Just to keep an eye on things? Crowd’s far less likely to riot if The Hildeys are there, right? Now, don’t make yourselves obvious at first; don’t want to cause a conflict if there’s none brewing. But if it looks like the crowd might get into an uproar, well…just make yourselves known. Townsfolk love you after all, and that should calm any negative emotions right down. Itotia agrees; it’s the most peaceful solution to a potential problem. Dinner at his Mayor’s residence after it’s all done!

In exchange, you ask for access to the archives of the elite gnome ruling class, ostensibly to see if there’s any mention of the Stone Thief. The mayor and Itotia exchange a concerned look, and after some sputtering, Mayor Wesley promises to get you access “Limited, you understand. They aren’t known for allowing others to access their records, for ANY reason. Still, I’m sure I can do something…” The way he said it, you weren’t so sure yourselves.

Leaving the office, you decided to get some refreshments at Condon‘s before heading to the public square. By now, you’d think you would have gotten used to the unnatural stare from the sheriff, David…but no. Still as unnerving as ever…
See you at 8:30 tonight!

PUKI: Why is it so hard to find anything about the demon Nuzbok? Sure, you can find mentions of the demon’s name, and it is usually accompanied by a fairly standard warning that his release portends doom, etc. What’s not clear is -why- that would be…just a vague warning. Now, it IS interesting that the warnings also counsel against slaying Nuzbok…so you pursued that lead. Unfortunately, Hildebrande didn’t have as much to work with as, say, Horizon or Santa Cora.

Frustrated, you began to pray; as much to clear your mind as to receive guidance. Just when you were starting to feel the benefits, you were interrupted by a tap on your shoulder. How rude! Wasn’t it obvious you were in prayer? Annoyed, you looked to see who had disturbed your meditations; an aasimar cleric of Cobboc, god of knowledge smiled down at you. “I thought you might be interested in this; the librarian mentioned what you were researching.” The cleric handed you a scroll, smiled and bowed slightly from the waist, and left.

The scroll didn’t mention Nuzbok by name, only “The Fiend in the Prison of Clay and Gold.” Still, that could easily be Nuzbok: captured by the Golden Knights and held by the clay jars placed in a ritual circle. The scroll went on to describe a demon of great cunning and unsurpassed ambition. It was said that, in its lair in the Abyss, it had an artifact that allowed “travel between worlds and times.”

You slumped back to consider this. If true, it made a certain sense why the Golden Knights would want to imprison Nuzbok instead of destroying it. Most times, when a demon is slain on this plain, if powerful enough, it’s merely the physical form that is destroyed; its essence reforms in the Abyss.

Did we just send Nuzbok back to its home plane and give it access to its artifact…?

NIDALRU: 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.”)

MERIAN: 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

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.

LEGION: 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.

IDRIS: 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.

Author: Eric