…Already in Progress
The team has been back in town for a couple of days after the fall of Fort Rannick. After an uneventful pacification of a house full of inbred half-ogres and an even less eventful strategy session, they’ve decided to leave the Fort for now and try to rid the dam of ogres, seeing that as the bigger threat. Kaven, despite having been freed of his charm to the mistress of the casino boat, is still troublesomely untrustworthy to both the Saviors of Sandpoint and the Remaining Rangers of Rannick. He’s left behind to guard the town while Shayliss rejoins the party, happier to risk the weather and ogres than too much more hero worship in Turtleback Ferry.
It takes much less time to reach the dam without a torrential downpour, though the rain has continued on and off at a lighter pace throughout the trip. In a moment of calm, diffuse light gives them a good view of the dam: ancient, pitted by the shallow hole in the right side left by Black Magga’s fall, and obviously groaning under the pressure of the entire Storval Deeps built up behind it. If it were to fail, it would fail catastrophically, and, in Balekh and Veshenga’s estimation, turn Fort Rannick into beachfront property on a new inland sea potentially reaching all the way to Magnimar. Aside from the cataclysmic loss of life along the lake and river from the flood, the fall of the dam would soon result in ogres being able to sail right up Sandpoint’s front door.
Not willing to let that happen, four humans, a half-orc, a half-elf, a gnome, and a bear begin struggling their way up crudely carved stairs obviously made for bigger folk than they. Skulls of every shape and variety, though many of them humanoid, are carefully placed along the path, with Giantish glyphs that Taeva and Haggor make out as warnings to keep away from the Skulltakers… whatever those might be. Slowly hoisting themselves up the stairs, the group enters a cave with a steep rise and Haggor pulls himself up to take a look as the rest of the party struggles to climb up behind.
Within the cave is a strange two-headed giant eating from a disgusting pile of meat. He screams at the group about not being bribed again, then hurries to attack. Though he hits hard, and the party is at a disadvantage due to their low average training in climbing, short work is made of the ettin. Haggor helps the rest of the group up, gets healed by Balekh, and then leads the way up another ledge.
A short path leads out onto the top of the dam proper, where the party has time to form up in the face of a half dozen ogres busily attempting to pry away the stones of the dam, weakening it to speed its seemingly inevitable collapse. They notice the party quickly, and the two groups collide, splashing through several inches of pooled rainwater to trade blows. As with most clashes with brutish opponents, the party’s front line takes heavy damage, a few other get clipped by a stray blow, but victory is all but assured. Haggor does manage to shove one ogre off the steep edge of the dam, watching him pulp at terminal velocity in the river below, and then knocks out a fleeing ogre with a thrown greatclub, ensuring its drowning death in the deep side of the dam. It’s at this point the party really appreciates just how dire the situation is: even if the dam doesn’t collapse, the Storval Deeps have so little distance left to rise before they simply overwhelm Skull’s Crossing that it’s not even a drop into the water from the walkway.
Determined to get the floodgates open, they walk to the middle of the dam, where a skull-encrusted building rests… the skulls of the architecture turn out to be made of even smaller skull carvings as the group gets closer, causing them to reflect on the psychotic decorator of the place. After considering various strategies of getting in, Haggor and Veshenga simply shove through the left hand double doors, pushing through what feels like a smashed mechanism, and everyone hustles into a vine-draped antechamber. Most of the group is in the room before everyone nearly simultaneously notices that patches of vines bulge from the walls in a threatening manner. Balekh is, however, pontificating to whoever will listen about the architecture as a quartet of trolls emerge from hiding and attempt to savage the party.
The trolls, like most unprepared foes the party faces, make the mistake of assuming Haggor’s lack of armor makes him a target of opportunity. He calls upon his monk training to dodge and weave, and the monsters barely touch him before realizing that they should concentrate on the other targets savaging them. Two fall to focused fire in short order, and Shayliss hurries up to spray them with a cone of flame and keep them down. The other two are down almost before they realize that the party has brought a fire mage, and they, too, get burned to charcoal by the young Chelish woman. Haggor, confident enough in his evasive abilities to not ask her to wait for him to move, is also singed.
Clearing the rest of the ancient building of goods and hiding places, the party troops downstairs to find a strange pool of water, illuminated by magical lighting, interposed between them and a door piled high with skulls. The party spreads out to check the other doors in the room and the pile of skulls, none noticing movement in the pool until a singularly immense troll surges effortlessly onto the top of the water and stabs at Haggor and Veshenga with a wickedly barbed polearm, dropping the monk before the he can get close enough to fight. Taeva lets out a wild cry and flings herself onto the creature’s back, stabbing at its neck and back. The rangers do what they can, filling it full of arrows and taking wild swings, as the casters burn it with magic. Moments before it is able to understand its predicament and sink with the gnome into the depths, it falls over and Taeva leaps free of the troll… leader?
Balekh patches up Haggor as Veshenga goes back to work on removing the skulls blocking access to the far door. Haggor swims through the pool and into the side rooms, eventually finding a scale model of the dam that Balekh believes is some kind of control center. By his calculations, the dam should automatically release a safe amount of water before it gets nearly this high, but even if the automatic systems were broken, the override switches on the device should be having more effect than they are. His conclusion is that somehow the device is simply not getting whatever power it needs to open the floodgates. Just as he is coming to this conclusion, the rest of the party clears the far room and enters what appears to be a two-cell prison, each gated room containing a glowing mystic circle. One circle contains a large pile of crimson ash, and the other contains a seemingly mummified creature, all wings and horns.
Balekh is called in to investigate, and realizes that the creature is an ancient devil of the highest order—a dessicated Pit Fiend—just as the creature reaches feebly towards him and groans, “Free me!” Balekh asks the rest of the party to get out of line of sight while he assesses the threat from the creature, and as the gravely wounded devil begins to promise him anything within its power to set it free, Balekh concludes that the dam must power itself by soul energy from the circles: two trapped Pit Fiends drained over the eons until what should be immortal is rendered extinct, and a power supply meant to be unending is no longer able to open the dam.
Sharing his information with the rest of the group, they start to consider their options as the fiend whispers promises for anyone setting it free: power, knowledge, even a solution to Shayliss’ bloodline contract. Worried that the devil’s wheedling might soon have an effect on the rest of the party, Balekh wheels up the portcullis to the empty cell, planning to risk himself. Haggor beats him to this plan, shoving the theurge out of the way in an imminently practical gesture of making sure the party’s healer/scholar isn’t the one first into unknown danger. As soon as he steps into the circle, Haggor immediately feels a portion of his life energy stripped away as the devil across from him begins to scream. As the eldritch beast splits apart in lines of crimson fire, it wails a single, unidentifiable word of hatred over and over—Karzoug!—before itself flickering into steaming crimson ash.
As the party helps Haggor free of the mystic circle, they feel the rumbling of millennia-old machinery struggling to life, and the sudden rush of a torrent of water as the Storval Deeps spill out safely onto the river below. Satisfied with a job well done, the party stops to recover… and plan for an assault on Fort Rannick.