I left off my letter when we had just finished staining ourselves blue (or in my case, a purplish-blue), as preparation for helping the yak-man Gung-Dah on his sacred quest. He explained to us that he was to travel into the caves uphill of the coloured pool, and perform some ritual - I think involving crystals to be found there - and that the nature of the quest forbade us from using healing magic.
Eager to help, we made our way into the caves. There was a strong and not entirely pleasant smell - if you remember what Scruffy smells like when he's fallen in the sea, it was much like that. The yak-man warned us that the caves were infested by kobolds, and that there might be booby-traps.
I volunteered to scout the way - after all, I was lighter on my feet than the yak-man or my armoured companions - and proceeded a little way ahead, examining the floor carefully as I went. The caves were very hot, and periodically a gust of scorching air blew through from ahead of us, but we were better able to withstand this than I would have expected; it seems the blue stain bore some enchantment with it.
Before long I found a series of booby-traps - loose stones on the floor, with a sticky substance under them designed to spray out and impede us. I poked at them with my staff and managed to set off the first few without harm to us, when I heard an angry bellow. Turning around, we saw that Gung-Dah had been shot in the back, through a small hole in the ceiling - I had been carefully studying the floor, and paying less attention than I might have to what was above us.
We returned fire, and by great good fortune I managed to get a crossbow bolt through the hole; I think Norton managed to hit some of the kobolds with his magic. They retaliated by pouring flaming oil through the hole; we were caught between the oil and the tanglefoot traps - not all yet disarmed - and the slower members of the party, taking up the rear, were in some danger.
Osh picked up Bimp and threw her past the first of the traps; she landed in a clear spot, and I regret to say that Gung-Dah walked over her (causing some nasty bruises) as he escaped the flames.
One way and another we managed to scramble past the traps and escape the flaming oil, reaching a fork in the corridor. The hot air seemed to be coming from the left-hand fork, and a kobold smell to the right; we decided to neutralise the kobold threat first and investigate the hot air later.
As we went, we trod on a flagstone that shifted under our weight; there were no obvious consequences, but we suspected it might have set another trap in motion, and Bimp (or was it Norton?) summoned a celestial hound to lead the way. Just around a corner, the hound fell silent; following it I saw two dead kobolds on the floor, and noticed that my torch-flame was burning a peculiar greenish colour. We decided to retreat until the noxious gas had dissipated, and that seemed like a good opportunity to investigate the hot air.
We found a small chamber, outlet to a number of steam vents; Thonk was severely scalded while standing in front of one of these, and very nearly died from her injuries. Near the back of the chamber was a niche that led to a lava fall far below. But we paid more attention to the floor, which held a great number of beautiful crystals in several different shapes and colours, apparently the 'ka stones' Gung-Dah sought; we collected enough of those for his ritual, and more besides.
As we did so, some small fiery creatures came flying out from the lava fall and attacked us. We killed them quickly enough, but Ilde was badly singed, and considering Thonk's injuries we felt it appropriate for some of us to retreat - apparently the healing prohibition only applied while we were in the caves, so we restored Thonk to health and then returned.
Gung-Dah had grown increasingly impatient with the slow pace of our exploration, and forged on ahead; we followed behind, but during a kobold ambush we lost track of him. (By the way, should you ever have occasion to search a fallen kobold, beware - they are not above booby-trapping their own dead!) The fight was rather chaotic, and by the time the kobolds were driven off Ilde had also gone missing.
Eventually Bimp found her; she had been caught in a narrow space beside the corridor by one of the kobolds' traps. Further into the caves we found levers that operated these cells. We freed Ilde, and then... this is a little embarrassing.
Gung-Dah, it seems, had also fallen into one of these cells. Eventually we found the right lever to open it - but before doing so, we had managed to pull another lever that opened the bottom of his cell and dropped him into a river of lava far below, burning him to cinders.
We were relieved, if that is the right word, to realise that he was already dead before we pulled that lever; his cell had been studded with nasty spikes, and from the amount of blood he could not have survived his injuries. But the most curious thing we found in that cell, hanging off one of the spikes, was a bloodstained amulet he had been wearing around his neck.
Bimp and Norton examined it, and declared it to be a charm that conceals the innate good - or evil - of the wearer. It seems Gung-Dah had been playing us for fools all along; no doubt the prohibition against healing magic was a fiction, intended to leave us weak so we could be easily killed or enslaved once we had done his dirty work.
I am a touch alarmed at how close we came to disaster, trusting in one who didn't deserve us... but in the end, the gods must have smiled on us, for we survived and his own greed and impatience led him to his death, evil destroyed by evil. I do not know how much of his story to believe - quite possibly he was telling the truth about trying to perform the ritual and become leader of his tribe - but with him slain, we decided there was no reason to tempt fate by venturing further into the caves. We retreated to our campsite down at the coloured pool and prepared to rest.
During the night, some of the remaining kobolds attacked us. We slew them quickly enough, but Thonk was poisoned; fortunately Bimp was able to heal him. As day dawned, we heard a deep barking from downhill; a great furry dog came bounding up to us, licking Ilde's face affectionately. I am not sure how he came to be in the area, but Ilde has adopted him as a companion and named him 'Holderhek', which is no doubt Dwarvish for something.
We decided to continue on our way around the mountain. After a few hours' walk we came to a ravine, perhaps sixty feet wide and about as deep. Some of us might have climbed down the sides and up again, but I think our heavily-armoured friends would have had trouble - and Alice the mule, as surefooted as she is, cannot climb sheer walls. We decided to head uphill and see whether the ravine became easier to cross.
At nightfall we made camp; it began to rain soon after, and we stood a very wet watch indeed. Day dawned without incident, cold and misty, and we made our way uphill cautiously; eventually, when the ravine had narrowed to about thirty feet, we found a natural bridge of sorts. It looked as if the ravine had once been a large tunnel; the roof had fallen in, except for a small piece that now stood before us.
Ilde and I examined it, and we declared it sound... ish. I crossed first, taking one end of a rope with me; safely on the other side, I braced it around a rock and the others crossed once by once. There was some suggestion that Thonk - not the most sure-footed of us - should ride Alice across, but we ruled this out; just as well, for as it turned out, Alice's weight was enough to crack the bridge, and she barely made it across before it collapsed into the ravine behind us.
We traipsed downhill until we were more or less level with the place where we had first encountered the ravine, and then struck out to the west. As I mentioned, it had become misty and wet, and this part of the mountain was quite different to the wasteland we had crossed before; instead of bare volcanic rock we had grasslands. Perhaps the climate in this area is more favourable, or perhaps the eruption was gentler on this section than that we had just crossed.
Our old map had shown an area with standing stones, and soon enough we came to it - a few standing stones surrounding some middle point, and around them a ring of old earthen mounds. Thonk sensed strong evil in the area, especially in the middle of the stones, and our spellcasters found a magical ring surrounding both the stones and the mounds - some sort of warding, hundreds of years old, designed to contain something evil.
Bimp immediately declared that we were obviously going to go inside the circle and investigate things, so there was no point in arguing about whether we should - instead we should just decide which mound to investigate first. I was, I confess, a little surprised at this idea, but she seemed adamant, and so we agreed in order to keep her out of trouble (?)
Crossing the boundary, we discovered a curious illusion - while those outside could see in, those inside could not see out - except for Ilde, who seemed impervious to whatever this magic was.
We decided to investigate the largest of the barrows first. Behind a large stone door was a dark staircase leading down, and as we approached it...
Brother, you have heard tales of the sirens that lure sailors to their deaths? I believe the thing in the doorway of the mound was a siren, or cousin to them. We heard wondrous singing, beautiful and entrancing, and it was all I could do to keep my head and look beyond the music to the foul creature that was singing, a withered-looking winged creature with wicked claws and a foul stench. My companions, entranced, walked slowly towards her; only Thonk and I kept our wits about us, and we realised there was no time to lose.
I charged the creature and tried to slip behind her, grabbing at her; Thonk struck at her but in the chaos, he hit me instead. Fortunately, by Bahamut's grace, he turned the sword at the last moment, so I suffered nothing worse than a bit of a bruise and some hurt feelings. I managed to get behind the creature and squeeze my arm around her throat, cutting off the singing; as our companions began to come to their senses, Thonk took advantage of the situation and drove his sword into her heart, silencing her for good.
Deeper inside the mound, I saw a flash of something metallic, and heard an odd noise, something like a ticking clock. I fired a bolt into the darkness, and something peculiar came out of the mound: a sort of metallic spider, about the size of a dog, with a wicked-looking sawblade on it. It seemed determined to attack us, but I grabbed it and managed to hold it off while Ilde and Holderhek walloped it, tearing the legs off until it was no longer a threat.
While we took care of the little spider-thing, Osh went downstairs into the barrow and had a nasty surprise. Something that looked like no more than a puddle of water on the floor lashed out at him, hitting with a corrosive pseudopod that nearly floored him; Osh started to fall back, and Norton came in to direct magical fire at it, but misjudged its reach and also took a nasty blow. I myself struck at it with my staff - not my fists - and found that it was corrosive enough to destroy the wood. By then, however, our attacks must have considerably weakened it; Holderhek lunged at it and it soon fell motionless, either from his bite or diluted by his drool.
Inside the barrow we found an ancient skeleton, wearing a crown and an amulet that both radiated evil and magic; our mages tell us they have something to do with the summoning and control of demons.
And now we are back outside in the sunshine, considering what to do next; I'll write more soon!
Your loving sister,
Osh: "He's a yak. He knows these things."
Bimp: "So we were going to help an evil dude take over."
Osh: "Thank god we're incompetent!"
Bimp: "We could finish the quest ourselves, and go become leaders of the yak people."
[somebody] "But they're evil."
Bimp: "We could change them..."
Ilde: "That's like girlfriends. People go into a relationship, expecting to change someone, and it just doesn't work."
Bimp: "Yes, but girlfriends can't be slaughtered for food and leather."