The party burst into the watchtower like a frantic storm, spotted a fungus-ant in the corner, stabbed it to death (still screaming) and then looked around. They also spotted a familiar figure dangling from the ceiling, wrapped in a crude spit-and-rope bundle.
"Swainson?" Slugsworth exlaimed in confusion. "What are you doing here?" The last time the party had seen the hawkling wizard, she'd been traveling directly away from them to report the disaster to Baron Ellimure.
"And I did," the hawkling exclaimed, once she'd been freed from her resinous prison. "And the Baron said, 'Good job doing a wizard thing, now here's another one' and sent me to sort out some trouble in the hills. And then these ant people kidnapped me! And now I am here."
The party, reunited, now consisted of:
Cazael the spiderling fighter. Not very bright but very faithful and very good at fighting.
The Paladin, a beetle-ling hermit, wanderer, and servant of the Authority.
Wonderwood Strongbow the Elf thief. Keeps finding bits of dead creatures and putting them into a jar "for later".
Slugsworth, a former... slug-of-negotiable-virtue. Slugsworth isn't so much a thief as a quartermaster at this point.
Bill the Orthodox Wizard on the run. Bill is a wormling and a fairly terrible wizard, but a life of danger and tomb-robbing appeals more than the War.
Swainson, the hawkling Garden Wizard. Swainson is particularly timid.
The party decided to wait for dawn in the watchtower (9). They fortified the thin wooden walls as best they could, tossed the fungus-ant corpse into the cold, and huddled in a corner. At first light the party shuffled back across the basalt wall (8) towards the ruined bathhouse.
Side Note: At this point, readers may wish to refresh their memory of the first time a group attempted to explore Steam Hill. It didn't go well.They scrambled up the slope and began searching the ruins of the bathhouse, hoping to discover the object of their quest - the renegade knight of the Order of the Speckled Hen believed to dwell near Steam Hill. At least that was why Slugsworth and Cazael were here; the only two survivors of the Baron's mission. The others were here for gold, fate, or fame.
The wooden ruins were soaked by the rain and escaping steam. The party found a few scattered coins. The Paladin and Slugsworth bravely took a bath in the hot pool (3). Wonderwood discovered a mysterious pit or shaft in one of the ruined, roofless rooms (6).
It looked like a complex elevator, operated by a set of chains. The party carefully lowered themselves down into a strange stone hall. They roamed steam-filled hallways coated in pipes - some ancient, some newly repaired - and listened to the heartbeat-thrum of some vast machine in the darkness. Scald-zombies, burnt-pink undead creatures somehow altered by the steam, assaulted them and were cut into writhing fragments.
After detecting and evading a gelatinous ooze creature, as clear as glass, that was masquerading as a pool, the party reached a huge hall. Their lanterns illuminated four huge cylinders half-buried in the floor. The cylinders were covered - or perhaps made from - spinning rings of stone. Some moved in a blur, some moved very slowly.
The party climbed a set of stairs into a gantry and began creeping along, cautious but noisy. They were ambushed from above by a strange and terrible creature. It wore leather armour, but puffed, as though designed to encase rather than protect its contents. It wore a metal dome helmet, a silver sphere instead of a head, but with a huge cut through one side. The face inside, barely glimpsed, was a withered nightmare of grey flesh and sharp fangs. It fell onto the Paladin, stabbing with its needle-tipped fingers, and drawing blood up the tubes that coated its arms.
The fight went about as well as could be expected.
1. Bill, lacking any useful spells, threw his lantern oil at the creature. He splashed it all over the place, including the Paladin and the Paladin's torch. Fire began to spread rapidly.
2. Swainson cast whirling staff and threw her spinning quarterstaff at the creature. It bonked off its head and vanished into the darkness. Dejected, Swainson retreated. Slugsworth followed.
3. The Paladin, now quite injured, passed out while staring angrily at Bill.
4. Cazael once again drew his dubiously enchanted sword. The blade instantly froze the air itself, sending freezing steam and drops of liquid air in every direction. Cazael swung at the vampire (who was, if you'll recall, on fire).
Side Note: Liquid oxygen is... like a car. If you know how to use it, and you know the dangers, it's perfectly fine. If you don't, or you suddenly find a car in your living room, something is probably going to go wrong.5. The resulting explosion bent the catwalk, threw Cazael backwards, threw the creature in the pressure suit backwards, and sent a massive fireball into the air.
6. Completely confused, utterly deaf, and properly murderous, Cazael charged the vampire and hacked it to shreds while screaming incoherently.
7. The rest of the party applauded politely.
After carefully putting the Paladin's blood back inside him using the finest medieval medical techniques (praying and prodding), the party was pleased to discover that their beetle-ling friend was still alive. While Cazael sheathed his sword and tried to thaw his fingers, the rest of the party cut off the creature's desiccated head and tried to burn it. Wonderwood looted the creature's silver helmet and, discreetly, dribbled some of its blood (and the Paladin's blood) into the now brimming "jar of extra parts" the elf was accumulating.
The blood, it should be noted, tempted both Bill and Slugsworth. They had both been bitten by the vampire children in the previous session. Both resisted, shared a meaningful glance, and pretended not to notice.
The party carefully explored the rest of the catwalk and upper level of the enormous buried hall. They discovered two monolithic slabs of stone built into the walls of the enormous chamber (25, 27). The slabs had dozens of gems embedded in them, faintly lit by a magical light. They also both had large, bright red wheels attached to their fronts. Bill recognized the writing on the wheels as ancient snake-man script, but nobody could translate it.
In the centre of the room, below the party on the ground floor, they spotted an enormous pool of water. Two orange-red lights, like buried coals, illuminated the water. Above the tank, floating impossible next to the catwalk, was a third monolithic block. (26). Instead of a wheel, this one had two opal orbs half-sunk into the smooth black stone. Finally, directly above the tank, they noticed a metal and stone contraption with dangling chains and scoops.
Bill raced between the panels excitedly, checking gem colours and magical tints. Meanwhile, the rest of the party made an alarming discovery about the spinning cylinders (24). Anything thrown at them - rocks, daggers, scald zombies - was spun up like thread being wound onto a spindle. The cylinders... spread anything they touched, turning it into a thin ring before it vanished utterly. The party decided not to touch them.
They also examined the pool of water and discovered, to their surprise, that it was ice cold. They discovered two large pipes and several dozen smaller ones. The small pipes were wrapped around two metal spheres sunk 15' in the water. They were coiled like snakes or like a tangle of string. They also noticed a chasm, a break in the perfect basalt walls of the tank that started a few feet down, widened, and then disappeared into the darkness.
"I think," Bill announced after an hour of carefully examining - but not touching, never touching - the panels, "I think I have a plan."
The rest of the party experienced a variety of conflicting emotions.
1. The party split into three teams. The Paladin and Wonderwood waited by the south monolith (25). Bill and Slugsworth took the middle, floating monolith (26). Cazael and Swainson took the north monolith (27).
2. The two groups at the north and south monoliths gave their red wheels a 1/2 turn. The water level in the pool below began to drop slowly.
3. After turning the wheels back and letting the water level rise, they then, at Bill's direction, gave them one full turn. The water level began to drop much more quickly. As it reached the top of the sunken red-hot orbs, it began to flash-boil and steam. The water valves seemed to control the water input from the two giant pipes on either side of the pool. The party hastily turned them back.
4. Very carefully, the party turned the valves slowly and adjusted the water level so it was just above the chasm. The Paladin volunteered to descend and look in. Slugsworth and Cazael assisted and lowed him into the pool on a rope.
5. The Paladin discovered that the chasm was full of air; the water streaming out of the tank and into the chasm created a waterfall. He spluttered and swung in and out of the ice-cold spray. When they hauled him out he was unconscious and full of water, but some good traditional medieval techniques (poking him) soon revived him.
6. Once revived, the Paladin tried to report what he'd seen but his chalk had been dissolved. He retrieved a pen and ink and wrote a long and blotchy testament on Slugsworth's bedroll. Cazael, who treated writing as some sort of magic art, applauded politely. The Paladin said he'd seen winding paths, a "eyeless thing that stared at him with curiosity", and "giant, valuable crystals." The party was intrigued.
7. While shutting the valves at the south monolith (25), the Paladin discovered that the wheel kept turning backwards to a fully closed position, as if the valve inside was failing. The mute Paladin tried to call for help by kicking things but gave up. Instead, he tied the wheel closed and lashed it to the railing. The rope strained and creaked but did not break.
8. On the north side, Cazael was having trouble of his own. His red wheel had snapped off completely. Everyone panicked. Cazael shoved his regular, slightly rusted sword into the hole and it seemed to work. He cranked it around, got the valve open, and then tied it in place. It wiggled ominously and seemed to be warping under the strain.
9. Once the panic subsided and the water level seemed to be stable, Bill cautiously touched the two opal spheres. They seemed to control the vast array of rusty chains and gears above the pool. Bill could send it rolling from side to side, lower chains and scroops, and raise them again.
"Guys, I have a plan," Bill announced. "We can use these scoops to remove the two red-hot orb things in the water. Then, we can..."
"Rub them on our heads?"
"Use them to cook food?"
"Uh, I'm not exactly sure what, we'll do with them," Bill said, "but removing them seems like a good idea."
"Why?" everyone asked, in varying tones of bewilderment.
"Because we can," Bill said.
As this was a good enough reason, everyone but Bill stood at a safe distance while the wizard began to play with the orbs. He carefully centered the device, then began to lower the chains and scoops. Unfortunately for everyone, the device's rusted gears and wheels failed utterly. The entire contraption - a huge block of stone and metal - fell of its railings and plunged 40' down.
Bill turned to see the rest of the party running. He scrunched up his wormling body and scooted away as fast as he could. The crane-engine plunged into the water, sunk, shattered pipes, crunched stone, and generally demolished everything it encountered. It sounded awful, like a thousand red-hot stoves falling into a bath of ice cubes and springs. A rolling wave of steam followed the party, along with what sounded like anguished bird calls.
"Flee at once!" Cazael shouted, as if anyone was considering waiting. "We have angered the steam by doing wizard business!"
And so, the party ran. They ran past the gelatinous goop pool (21) which luckily rose to follow them and blocked the rushing steam. They ran all the way up to the surface via the stairs (18), then scrambled up the hill. Just before they reached the top, a colossal explosion tore the courtyard apart, sending steam, stone, and mud flying in every direction.
Two giant birds made of fire rose from the explosion, flapping their blue-white wings and shedding embers. They broke through the sound barrier about 2,000' up and vanished in the distance. The party stared in blind incomprehension.
"Phoenixes!" Bill said, "they must have been in those metal sphere! The people who built this place must have used their heat to make all this steam for... for..."
"For wizard business!" Cazael hollered, holding his hands over his ears, "Keep running!"
The party regrouped at their original camp in the hills overlooking Steam Hill. The found Wonderwood's surviving hireling loading the horses for a quick getaway. He awkwardly helped them set up camp again. The party spent the rest of the day relaxing, eating, and trying to calm down. The remains of Steam Hill were no longer steaming. The major structures - the wall, the basalt block, and the wooden temple on top of it had survived with a few dents and cracks.
The party slept uneasily. At just past midnight they were interrupted by three ashen spirits. They looked like grey scarves made of cold embers with a single red light at the end. One coalesced into a child-shape, a thing of wisps and crawling fingers, and began to creep through the camp. While Slugsworth tried to rouse the others, she discovered one of the ash-spirits attached to the Paladin's neck. She threw a rock at it.
The Paladin spotted two of the spirits and, perhaps unwisely, shouted "MERGE" at them with his divine command. They fused together into one hideous, screaming mass of ashen limbs and flickering red light. The Paladin winced, hauled out his holy symbol, and furiously banished it at the spirits, sending them hissing into the darkness.
But during the fight, the third spirit had possessed Wonderwood's hireling. He waved jauntily to the party, made a few unlikely excuses, and sprinted off into the darkness, grinning like a lunatic. The party elect not to pursue a possible vampire-ash-ghost-thing in the dark over uncharted terrain. They put the Paladin's holy symbol on a pole in the middle of the camp and fell asleep.
In the morning, the party returned to Steam Hill to search for more treasure.They had found a few bits of gold jewelry in their hasty escape. The jewel-encrusted panels also held a certain appeal. The gems alone would be worth a king's ransom, and since the machinery they once controlled was scattered a dozen acres, removing them would probably be perfectly safe.
The party crept down, skirted the edge of the crater, and investigated the wooden temple (11) on top of the hill. They found a giant gold and silver throne inside, but most of the rest of the structure was poorly and hastily built. Fungus ants, comatose or dead, filled some of the rooms. The party tried to avoid inhaling the spores.
They located three child-sized coffins in one of the rooms. One contained a single grey ashen silhouette of a child. The second was empty. The third contained a hideous tangle of ashen limbs and body parts. The party hauled all three coffins into the sun and watched as the ash burst into flames.
After knocking through a few walls, the party located a secret workshop in the centre of the temple. It contained several delicate glass and gold instruments (which were stuffed into a sack) as well as two large glass cylinders full of "shiny bread dough", as Bill described it. The sealed cylinders were also carted off to the party's growing pile of loot.
Side Note: A fourth coffin, one for a pressure-suit-wearing vampire, was not found in the temple. The players haven't realized this yet.Leaving Wonderwood and Swainson to guard the loot, Bill, the Paladin, Slugsworth, and Cazael descended by rope into the broken-open basalt vault. The spinning cylinders had torn themselves to pieces. Chunks of stone covered the floor, some sizzling with raw magic, others just sizzling with residual heat. Water covered the floor.
Cazael noticed a very strange object floating or rolling across the surface of the water. It looked like a ring from one of the cylinders, but it was only 4" wide and spinning very, very quickly. Any water it touched seemed to be drawn around it like thread being wound onto a spool. The spinning stone ring was calmly, slowly, rolling towards the wall.
Testing (throwing pebbles at it from a safe distance) confirmed that the small ring had all the "winding" powers of the larger cylinders. Anything it touched stretched, spun, and vanished in a blur. As the cores of the now-broken giant cylinders were made of glass, Bill found a glass shard in the wreckage and very carefully inserted it into the centre of the spinning ring. It did not disintegrate. The wizard cautiously lifted the ring out of the water and held it upright.
"Guys," he said, "I have a plan..."
Ten minutes later, the wormling was cautiously hoisted to the surface via a crude rope harness. He held the spinning ring of doom at arm's length. To his credit, despite many wobbles and swings, he made it to the surface. The party wedged the glass shard and ring upright in a pile of stones and stood back.
"We're going to be rich," Bill said eagerly.
"Wait, we are going to sell this thing?" Slugsworth asked.
"The highest bidder," Bill said, utterly unperturbed.
"That seems like a bad idea," Cazael said.
"Think about it. It's safer than any other option. We just need to get it back to civilization..." Bill trailed off, looking at the ring. "I'll come up with a plan."
The second venture into the basalt vault yielded handfuls of gems, pried from the control panels on the north and south walls. Cazael retrieved his sword, which had been bent into a full corkscrew shape. He stowed it anyway. "In case we have to fight crooked enemies," Slugsworth joked.
But the lift control panel (26) was still intact and, mysteriously, floating. It seemed to disregard gravity, although it could be pushed or pulled with great effort. The party spent several hours hauling it towards the wall, then slowing it, then pulling it up to the surface. It seemed to ignore any weight placed on it. Finally, after many trials, the massive stone block, 10' long, 5' wide, and 1' deep, hung in the air in exactly the way normal rocks don't.
The party sat down to a late lunch and a serious discussion. Should they leave now and return to civilization with their wild tale and enormous pile of loot, or should they try and explore and loot the remains of the legendary Steam Hill?