Quest Log and Historical Notes

for What Lurks Beneath

❧ What Lurks Beneath, November 14, 1009:

Adventurers from far and wide gathered in Rhiassa, meeting up in the root cellar of a Rhiassan storehouse, a known link in some sort of underground network that had been exploited by local trolls and goblins. Large excursions arrived from many nations. Chimeron, Eagle's Rook, Arenor, and Grimloch to name but a few. As they were about to be led into the caverns by the Rhiassans that met them, another attack by monsters on the other side of the city called the Rhiassans away. As the remaining heroes entered the underground, tremors sealed shut the entrance that they used. They were cut off.

The heroes fought through a system of cellars, sewers, secret tunnels, and catacombs. Along the way they encountered goblins and trolls wearing matching heraldry and using a clear chain of command. Something organized and sinister was happening beneath the streets of Cold Springs.

As they crept further into the depths, the heroes realized they were being summoned away in small groups to an unknown part of the Rhiassan underground. There they found their way to a strange library, where the trapped denizens had been transformed into puppets and a whimsical child's ghost gave them access to tools they would need to be successful that day. The first few groups of adventurers were to receive oddly magical didgeridoos.

Fighting still further into the dark, the heroes encountered strange turtle-like creatures that were aiding the trolls. They soon came to a cobbled together underground fortress, and had to force their way inside past powerful shaman calling on some strange unknown force. Soon having felled the entrance to the fortress, the heroes closely examined the slain shaman and found they were covered with runes which honored a great, one eyed master of some kind.

Struggling through the interior of the fortress, the heroes soon came to a herculean form. A great troll champion who shrugged off their blows stood between them and the way forward. Nearby, held safe by strange swirling energies of warding, three shaman played haunting music on didgeridoos, no doubt enchanting the champion in some way.

The key to unworking the magic was written on the back of the champion, and the hereos were able to use their own didgeridoos to cancel the protective energies of the shaman. The champion was rendered vulnerable to their blows and was soon struck down. Meanwhile, the library still called to the heroes and then began to give them fragments of a shattered book.

Moving further into the underground, the stamina and the magics of the heroes began to wane. After many grueling fights, they finally found themselves in an underground cavern filled with stone pillars. In the center of this cavern was an old shaman, secure in a powerful circle of protection that no one could penetrate, deep in a trance. As the heroes studied this venerable troll, countless numbers of his kin soon burst forth from the living stone itself. Somehow the magics woven by the shaman gave his protectors the ability to merge in and out of the stone at will.

As many of the heroes fought these waves of trolls, others snuck about the cavern to find some mysterious chests that seemed enchanted by an unknown benevolent force. After placing the shards of the shattered book in the chests, it became whole and could be opened to an ancient, lost spell of great disenchanting power. Powerful spellcasters amongst the heroes followed the direction of the book and surrounded the old shaman's circle of protection. With but a short phrase, the protective energies of the circle, and the conduit through which trolls were entering through stone, were both broken.

As the swords of the heroes bit into the flesh of the shaman, he cried upon his death... "Brother I am Slain!". In that moment, bursting through a wall in the side of the cavern, rushed the Troll Champion, alive again through the enhanced magical abilities of his brother and instantly summoned to his side. In a final, desperate struggle, the heroes subdued him again just as the Rhiassan rescue party were able to close on their location and lead them out of the caverns.

❧ Queen of Hearts XVII, August 14, 1010:

As the Saturday portion of Queen of Hearts Tournaments and War Maneuvers drew to a close, the men and women of Rhiassa turned to a familiar ritual; hiding "The Chest" in the nearby woods so that their guests for the weekend could find a trove of goods to share with one another. When they arrived at the stronghouse where the chest was secured, however, they found the place comprised and all of the goods therein stolen. Some troll weapons carelessly left behind told the tale of what happened.

The clan of trolls was very brazen, attacking a main part of the city while so many heroes gathered nearby. It was deduced that they could not have been gone long, and if quick action was taken, perhaps their escape back towards the city underground could be cut off, and the goods retrieved. The heroes of the realms began their pursuit.

The trolls had made it rather far down the path toward Cold Springs, and, anticipating an attack to reclaim their bounty, had left a large number of warriors in the path of the adventurers. Though their progress was slowed by fighting so many goblins and trolls in their way, the heroes did eventually catch up with the vanguard of the warriors who had secured the chest and dug in to defend their quarry. After an intense battle that lasted for many long minutes, the last of the trolls was put down, the chest was reclaimed, and the bounty was brought back to the site of the tournaments to share with all.

In the aftermath, however, we are left to wonder... what in that stronghouse... in that chest... was of such importance to the trolls that they would make such a bold-hearted move? Far different from their usual tactics of striking where we are least ready to defend, this time the trolls attempted their raid at a time and place that would prove a great disadvantage. Was it a random chance, or was something there really worth the risk to them? What value truly lied in the chest?

❧ KoEF Questing 2010: Shadows, Clocks, and Everything In-Between, September 25, 2010:

The portal opened in a field nearby Cold Spring, and a wave of heroes spilled out of the Nexus onto an awaiting quest. As they stumbled ahead, trying to deduce their surroundings, they quickly realized why the Nexus had brought them forth. Before them stood a small army of trolls, garbed in the same heraldry as those that live under the city.

A troll shaman stepped forward to warn away the heroes, holding in his hands a curious book. Though the questing party attempted a brief parley, they army of trolls marched forward and engaged them in combat. All the while, the shaman made clear the fact that he would not be stopped on his mission. This first battle with the troll force was devastating to the heroes, as they lost many of their number in the ensuing combat. As their resources were worn from this and previous struggles, the Nexus sensed that they would need help, and opened another portal to allow some reinforcements to join them.

Soon, the initial waves of trolls had been dispatched. The strange book was recovered off of the shaman's body and a note therein was read. From a troll general named Rigaz, to the shaman, the note stated that it was their mission was to obliterate the creature that was described in the book. The book contained research notes; information about an hourglass that held within it a greater being in stasis. This mystic hourglass, the quarry of the archeologist who wrote the book, had the ability to release what was trapped inside or to destroy it, depending onto which side the sand was allowed to fall. The trolls had stumbled upon this book and it seemed that they wished to destroy this captive creature. Did that mean it was in the best interests of the adventurers, and Rhiassa, to release it?

Reinforcements for the troll army soon arrived, and the adventures proceeded down a forest path, fighting them along the way. The creatures were strong, and numerous, and the battle took a high toll on the heroes who had a slow, but steady advance. After a lengthy struggle, the heroes glimpsed an altar and ritual circle in the distance. Crouched at that altar, holding the very same hourglass described in the book, was the shaman. What was his aim?

If there was a chance to ask him and deduce the shaman's purpose, the heroes would never get it. In a daring flanking maneuver by the adventurers, the ritual circle was reached and the shaman quickly dispatched. Though the hourglass was left behind, there was no real indication of the troll's true purpose. Only these clues remained; most of the sand was on the 'obliterate' side of the hourglass and the note in the book indicated that the creature must be destroyed. What should be done?

While troll warriors continued to assault the ritual circle and impede the heroes, the adventurers debated how to react to these strange circumstances. Every indication was given that the trolls wanted this greater being destroyed. Did that mean it would be to the benefit of all Rhiassa should an enemy of the monsters be released? Would it upset the balance of power in some way? Would it do more harm then good? These questions weighed heavily on the minds of the adventurers. Little did they suspect, they were all trapped in a ruse.

A vision and other divination magics were cast to determine the right course of action, but these actions had been anticipated by the malevolent force that was pulling the strings. The divinations were skewed or subtly manipulated with devilish ambiguity, and the heroes were pressured into a hasty decision as the onslaught of troll warriors began to wear them down. Praying they were making the right call, the heroes chose to release the greater being and turned the hourglass to that end.

The sand trickled down the glass as the heroes summoned what little strength they had left to protect the ritual circle. After an eternity of seconds, the final grain of sand bounced into the bottom of the timer. In that moment, the nefarious scheme of the now-deceased troll shaman came to fruition. All along he had set the stage to make the heroes believe that his people needed the creature destroyed, while in reality, he needed the help of humans to complete the evil ritual. The ancient people who had trapped the greater being centuries ago had put a ward on the hourglass to prevent trolls and their kin from operating the device at all.

Through devious planning; a fake note placed in his journal, the subtle positioning of the hourglass when the heroes first found it, and some clever adaptations of his ability to skew divination; the shaman had sewed enough doubt into the minds of the adventurers to make them ignore their own instincts. The ritual, now complete according to the will of the shaman, brought forth a monstrously powerful demon. Springing from the hourglass, the beast lashed out with blades of pure fire, prepared to wipe out the entire questing party while the trolls cheered with joy. In that very moment, the Nexus hurled the heroes back to its center, and away from their fatal error in judgment.

What new dangers will this creature bring to the war under the streets of Rhiassa?

❧ What Lurks Beneath II: The Soul of the Stone, October 30, 1010:

Once more at the request of Lord Sir Aeston, adventurers from the Realms-over gathered in Rhiassa to re-enter the tunnels, sewers, and catacombs under the city in order to further investigate the source of the mysterious and increasingly concerning raids upon Cold Springs. Gathering in the basement of a manor-house where last year’s expedition ended, Sir Aeston explained to those in attendance that the mysterious quakes the city had been feeling have been increasing, and that further investigation into the underground tunnel network was indeed necessary. Aeston and Squire Kyntela saw off the adventures as they ventured once more into the darkness.

At first the sights were familiar, trolls and goblins in their specific, mysterious heraldry, showing a strange, single eyed entity. The heroes fought their way past these monsters for a short while until they began to see something strange.

Scattered about were stone tiles, as if hewn from a rocky floor, upon them, glowing with magic, strange lines and colors. Soon after encountering these enigmas, the questing party came upon a sealed door, beside it a platform with other colored lines that seemed to meld into the nearby wall. Quick thinking on behalf of a couple heroes revealed that one of the tiles fit perfectly into the platform. This arrangement caused the pattern to surge with energy… the more people nearby it, the greater the energy became. Surely the energy of life and the patterns around them were in some way connected. When enough heroes got close enough to the pattern, the door ahead of them flung open.

Soon after the door opened, a quake shook the room. Through the wall exploded a mammoth form, a huge creature made of stone, its eyes glowing blue with the magic of being animated. While, at first, the heroes were cautious, they soon realized there was no way to damage the beast and no way to reason with it. They learned they had little recourse but to flee the unstoppable killing machine, even though it wore a piece of the pattern around its neck.

The heroes continued in this way for some time, battling trolls and goblins, gathering pieces of some odd, huge, magical puzzle, unlocking the way ahead of them using the patterns, fleeing from the rock golem when it appeared. Meanwhile, a strange and powerful being known as Baba Yaga whisked away some heroes in small groups, summoning them to her strange magical hut. Amongst the great number of oddities the witch stored therein, each group of heroes found a vial of alchemical ingredients. Though they perhaps did not fully understand why these potions were needed, each group, in turn, gathered the bottles.

Not long after, the heroes stumbled upon one of the homes of the troll turtle-handlers, who had found a way to make their pets invulnerable when tethered to a chanting shaman. The heroes were defenseless against the cave turtle attack unless they could kill the shaman or break the leash, both of which they struggled to do as they moved forwards. After beating down several of these monsters, they made their way to what must have been a turtle breeding ground, for in there was a large clutch of turtle eggs, and an odd collection of turtle foods and other… products. Most of the eggs were taken home to be cared for by the adventurers.

Still later in their journey, the heroes came upon an opening into the sepulchers where heroes of the Lion Militia were entombed. Somehow, there, the life energy had been corrupted, and the normal cycle of life and death eroded into a constant pulse of undeath. The militia members walked, aimlessly attacking anyone they saw. Though a strike would bring them down, it was but a few short seconds before the ambient undeath magic would cause them to rise again. All the while, the rock golem continued to pursue them, always entering the area with the force and fury of an earthquake.

To make matters worse, a shamanistic voice boomed through the air, granting the skeletons greater and greater powers. After moving through the burial vaults for some time, the questing party came upon a platform where they could see how the pattern had been perverted. Using their own pattern pieces they were able to set the flow of life and death to right again, and the undead ceased their animation as soon as the pattern was empowered with enough of the heroes nearby.

The heroes pressed onward, again fighting off the trolls and goblins that came at them from all directions. In the meantime, from Baba Yaga’s hut, all of the potions, as well as the instructions on how to mix them, were obtained. The heroes learned that the recipe and ritual once belonged to an ancient people called the Balanche. Their warriors were avatars and guardians of the Earth Spirit and they were granted the boon of being strong enough to slice through stone in single combat with the Spirit’s enemies. In trade for this ability, they gave up a part of their souls to the Earth Spirit, herself. Willing members of the tribe were anointed with a holy oil, mixed from the very ingredients that had been taken from Baba Yaga.

When the heroes finally found a chance to pause their journey, and a convenient hearthfire to provide the needed heat for the alchemy, they mixed the ingredients, chanted the ritual, and anointed many of their own who knew it would be their job to take down the golem when they next saw him. The anointed faces glowed with holy power.

Immediately afterwards, the adventurers entered an odd room. Carved from the rock, it was clearly a throne room and an arena in one. In the center of the arena stood the rock golem. At the head of the room, a grand shaman on a raised dais, and above him, a demon, clad in armor, wearing the same heraldry as the trolls.

The demon ridiculed the heroes, belittling their ability to defeat his golem pet in single combat, disparaging their attempt at reassembling the pattern that he had gained control of; especially since they had to do so in easy range of the grand shaman’s magic, and in easy range of the demon’s mind-control abilities.

Yet, despite many setbacks and hardships, the heroes battled their way forward. After several attempts, one of the anointed heroes was able to strike down the golem alone. Many others labored to keep away the endless barrage of trolls and goblins from all angles.

Shielding each other with their very bodies, the heroes allowed those in charge of the pattern to reassemble it in the correct place, even stealing the last of the pieces right from the demon’s unwary hands. In a final press, the pattern of life assembled again, the magic circle protecting the demon and shaman dispelled, the heroes struck down the demon (which vanished in a puff of sulfur), found the closest exit back to the surface, and emerged victorious.

❧ Feast of the Leviathan XIII: A Brilliant Dawn, January 8, 1011:

As the heroes gathered to celebrate at this annual feast, a pall fell over the proceedings. It was the case that as the heroes of Rhiassa traveled south to the Tavern in Vinehaeven, they noticed that they were being shadowed by members of the same troll clan that had been plaguing the city of Cold Springs for the past year.

Though the trolls never ventured close enough to the Rhiassans to risk engagement, it was clear that they were spying... tracking... no doubt to some nefarious end. The heroes, in a hurry to get to the feast and unwilling to risk a lengthy pursuit of their enemies, moved ever onward.

Once arriving in Vinehaeven, however, Lord Aeston began to grow concerned that the trolls might pose a threat to his guests. He sent out some of the more experienced members of Rhiassa to scout out the area near the tavern and make sure no one came to harm.

As Aeston was welcoming his guests to his hall, disaster befell the celebration. Kyntela and Areni, who were canvassing the area with Symir, ran in and proclaimed that Symir had gotten separated from the scouting party and was abducted by the trolls. The feast hall emptied as the gathered heroes rushed outdoors to halt the trolls from absconding with the squire.

A lengthy battle ensued. It was clear that the trolls had brought nothing less than a small army to lay siege to the area. After a long struggle, the shaman commanding the group was felled and a strange scroll was searched off of him, containing the images of a troll and human along with strange magical writings.

After some time was spent deciphering the paper, it became clear that it was some sort of instruction for combining the traits of a troll with that of a human. Greater worries began to mount about the fate of Squire Symir.

It was decided that questing parties should scout all around the tavern and surrounding woods, looking for signs of where Symir might have been taken. Squire Areni, Squire Kyntela, and Taelia each headed up one of the groups, and they spread out in each direction.

No matter where the questing parties went, there were trolls to fight. This was, no doubt, a mass invasion of the area. Each group met a heavily armed group of trolls, each led by an uncommonly powerful shaman. There was a shaman of magic, a shaman of strength, and a shaman of deception, each of which gave the heroes pause as they figured out how to overcome them. Upon defeating each shaman, the heroes searched from them a strange necklace made of large stones and gold runes.

After a round of searching was complete with no real clues, the heroes decided it would be worth searching one more time before giving up hope. Again, three questing parties set out. Again, they encountered trolls led by a shaman. The shaman of necromancy and the shaman of totem each directed their minions to give the heroes a fight for their lives. For their troubles, the heroes searched off of each of them another strange necklace of stones.

The final searching party, however, discovered something odd. A group of trolls not being led by a shaman, but instead torturing and brutalizing him. As the questing party snuck around the aggressive trolls and rescued the shaman, they were slowed in their pace by his grievous wounds which were beyond normal healing.

Through gritted teeth the shaman thanked the heroes, and then he began to speak of his experiences as part of the troll clan. He said that he had come on this away mission to Vinehaeven in order to seek an opportunity to escape the caves under Cold Spring and the growing corruption and madness that had seized his people. He spoke of the Great Eye... a godlike being, old and ancient, who had touched the minds of the troll shamans and directed them to unify their kin into one great clan. He spoke of being unwitting pawns of the great, unfathomable power that the Great Eye wielded. That his brethren had become willing slaves to a force that cared naught for them. He spoke of their growing armies, their pooling magics and artifacts, and their preparation for the time when the Great Eye would wake and walk the Realms once again.

Finally, he spoke of what had brought them all to this place today. A plan to track down the heroes of Rhiassa, capture one, and unleash a new magical ritual to create a Dire Troll, an unnatural combination of human and troll that would be more powerful than either one individually. He pointed to the stones that some of the heroes were carrying... explained how they were part of the ritual... suggested that they might have some role in undoing it. Then, with some healing aid by the assembled heroes, he shuffled off into the woods to find a local tribe of trolls to take him in.

It was now clear what had become of Symir, and why he had not yet been located. The heroes returned to the tavern to try and piece together what they had heard, and create a plan by which Symir might be saved... from whatever fate had befallen him.

There was little time to rest, however. Shortly after regrouping their forces, the tavern came under attack. Wave after wave of trolls had begun to pour out of the woods surrounding the hall. There seemed to be no end to their numbers, for each troll killed was quickly replaced by another from the back line. Then, after the fighting had become its most furious, an earth-shattering roar bellowed over the melee. A great hulk of brown emerged from the woods. As it got closer, it was clear that there was a Rhiassa tabard slung crudely over its misshapen shoulder. In one hand, the familiar red heater that all Rhiassan shieldmen bear. In the other, the Northern Lights Blade, Lion's Pride. Symir had returned... as expected, a hideous amalgamation of himself and a troll.

Blows to Symir's thickened hide seemed to have no real effect. The heroes found that they could cause minor wounds to his limbs, but they would heal quickly. Without the ability to do much more than temporarily subdue him, the line of heroes slowly gave way to the advancing troll horde.

Meanwhile, the odd stones assembled, other questers had deduced the basic workings of this strange circle of stones. They knew they could trap Symir inside of it. They knew that they could use some kind of spells to break the enchantment on him. The rest they were going to learn by doing.

As Symir again became temporarily subdued, a rallying cry pushed the line of adventurers forward, allowing others to grab the Rhiassan and pull him back to where he might be saved. The ring of stones went around him. Squire Symir was now trapped, but raged against the invisible prison he was in. In desperation, the heroes tried several methods that might sunder the enchantment he was under, and in the end found that several applications of Enfeeble Being stripped the troll spirit from his body.

In seeing their champion defeated and unmade, the remaining troll army slipped away in the woods. Symir, gasping and confused on the ground, slowly sorted through his fuzzy memories and began to realize what had happened. Ever the stalwart warrior, however, he picked himself up and resigned that no Rhiassan would ever suffer such a fate again.

For now the trolls were again defeated, no doubt scurrying back to their kin under Cold Spring. Will this strange new ability of theirs prove a challenge as the war against them continues? Time will tell.

❧ What Lurks Beneath III: The Will of the Wind, December 3, 1011:

Heeding the call of Squire Symir for yet another expedition into the Rhiassan underground, the heroes of the Realms gathered together in Cold Springs to again beat back the menace of trolls and goblins and investigate the disturbing rumors of some great plan that these monsters had begun to implement. Gathering in the basement of a storehouse, very near where the last expedition left off, the adventurers set off through the sewers in the direction of the town hall, the origin of the rumored threat.

It was clear upon their entrance into the underground that the heroes' arrival was expected. A standing army was lined up to impede their progress, and the adventurers were only able to press forward very slowly. As the minutes dragged on, and the heroes rounded a final corner, a sudden, horrible sight met their eyes. In the midst of a large cavern, centered right beneath the basement of the town hall, sat a large wooden barrel, the letters TNT inscribed conspicuously on its side, a lighted fuse crawling closer and closer towards an opening in the top.

Though the heroes made a last desperate push to reach the barrel before it unleashed armageddon, they found their efforts to be not quick enough. Just as they came upon it with the hope of extinguishing the fuse, the fire reached its mark, and a great explosion tore outwards, striking dead the great majority of the heroes who had no magical protection from such a force. Weakened by the great blast, the floor, strewn with the dead bodies of so many adventurers, began to gave way and crumbled underneath them. The heroes, both the dead and the very few who were alive, began to fall.

As the bodies of the adventurers descended into the abyss, those who were alive beheld a disturbing sight. Creatures materialized out of the very air that surrounded them, reaching out with translucent hands to grasp at the heroes as they fell. But it was not aid that these elementals were offering. With deft movements and malicious will, the creatures began to strip the members of the questing party of all of their equipment. Weapons, armor, even the foci that the spell casters required to wield their magics. Throughout the long minutes of the descent, the elementals whisked away the great majority of the heroes’ equipment and disappeared into the darkness. Moments later, mysteriously aided by some benevolent, unseen force, the heroes drifted gently onto the ground, many, many miles below the sewers where they first began.

Enough healers of considerable power were left alive that returning the questing party back to its full manpower took little effort, but the reassembled heroes were woefully short on weaponry, armor, and magic; many without any arms at all. They scrapped together what they could of the few bucklers and short swords that remained and prepared to forge onward, knowing that they must, above all else, climb their way back to the surface world. A heavy stone door sat in their path, and a single word on a scrap of paper lay at its base. Speaking the word aloud opened the door, and in the darkness beyond, feral, glowing, eyes stared back at them.

In the rooms that followed, horde after horde of rat-like kobolds leapt at the assembled heroes. Though the adventurers were under geared and underpowered, through superior tactics they were able to work their way forward, taking the rusty blades from fallen enemies. Every so often they would come upon a piece of their stolen equipment, clearly scattered about as they air elementals tried to secret them away. As the heroes pressed on, the kobold clans gave way to tribes of goblins, but by then the group was well armed enough to stand their ground as the battles became harder. Room after room they continued to gather scraps of paper, and room after room they had to chain them together into a growing phrase in order to open they way.

Then, as they neared the top of one steep ascent a locked iron door barred their way. Beside it, the heroes noticed a strange puzzle, geometric pieces scattered on the ground and on a ledge above it, directions to assemble them in the form of a pattern. As they did so through the combined effort of those both above on the ledge and below on the ground, a nearby chest creaked open and a key was revealed. That very key unlocked the way forwards and beyond the heavy iron door, in the middle of a narrow passageway, stood a strange stone monolith with a keyhole on its top.

Inserting they key into the stone began the playback of a recording, echoing from within the structure. The orator revealed that he was a member of a group of archeologists known as the Bronze Explorers, and that they had not long ago delved into the dungeons under Rhiassa to unlock the secrets of an ancient civilization that once existed there. They had journeyed in the caverns, mostly unharassed by the creatures of the darkness, looking for signs that the civilization existed and what caused its downfall. And indeed they had found the latter. Soon after they had ventured into the deepest parts of the labyrinth, they felt some great force awaken in their minds. Even as they climbed their way out of the tunnels, they felt it calling them and all other manner of beasts to its side. The monuments, and the recording, were left as a testament to their findings and as a warning, for the orator suspected they would not survive the trip home.

The heroes continued on their journey. Along the way they recovered more and more of their missing equipment, eventually achieving the fullness of strength they entered the cavern with. As they winded further and further upwards towards the surface, the kobolds and goblins gave way to entire troll armies that blocked their path. In each room they found another word to unlock the next door, and as they chained the phrases together they realized they were reciting the words to some grim ritual. They found along the way scraps of spell books and other texts from the ancient civilization the Bronze Explorers set out in search of, and signs that that civilization had ended in a clash to seal away some massive threat. Other puzzles regarding color and coordination stood in their path and as they solved then more keys revealed themselves that unlocked the path forward.

From further obelisks left by the Bronze explorers, the adventurers learned some important facts. That once a civilization of troll clans, adept in the ways of benevolent, elemental magic, had occupied the lands now belonging to Rhiassa. They learned that some form of ancient demon they called 'The Great Eye' had attacked that civilization and that they had exhausted themselves as a people to lock it away deep underground. That the presence of the explorers investigating deep within the earth had awoken the beast and that it was calling to the ancestors of that civilization, now little more than savages, to serve its will as part of a great troll and goblin army. That the puzzles, keys, and locked doors were implemented by the Bronze Explorers as a away of holding back the evil they had awoken, for the trolls that inhabited the place were colorblind and would not be able to see the solutions to the challenges. As the heroes read and understood the spell books left behind by the ancient trolls, however, they also learned of some tools they might use against the great evil they once fought. They found that the demonic incantations were rendered powerless by the same incantations said in reverse. They learned some small mastery over the element of air as well, and realized they had the ability to stop the progress of the air elementals that had been impeding their progress throughout the day.

Finally, after a long journey filled with danger and discovery, the heroes made their way back to the area near where they started, the caverns right underneath the town hall. Apparently their previous intervention had some effect, as the area had not been completely destroyed, and another attempt to cause the explosion was underway. Air elementals carried huge sticks of dynamite into a gigantic pile surrounding another barrel of TNT. Nearby, in a protective circle, a demon stood, much like the demonic master of Earth magic from the last expedition, commanding the spirits of the air. With him in the circle was another venerable shaman of the type the heroes had battled before, no doubt keeping the protective circle intact. Nearby, endless trolls poured from the tunnels in order to impede the heroes.

In a multifaceted engagement the adventurers did many things to confront that dangerous situation. The strongest among them held back the advancing troll army so that they could provide cover to their allies. Using their newfound mastery of the air, the wisest summoned blocks of wind to place in the path of the air elementals and slow their accumulation of the explosives. The bravest confronted the demon in the circle and distracted his rain of fireballs. In the end, the very incantation the heroes recited to unlock the way forward, said in reverse, dispelled the great magic circle that kept the demon safe. The heroes rushed forward and destroyed the beast, and the remnants of the troll army that were left behind fled into the darkness. Rhiassa was safe, for now.

❧ KOEF Questing 2012: When You Stare Into the Nexus, September 15, 1012:

The Nexus portal opened into a dark, dank area deep under the streets of Cold Springs. A group of mismatched heroes stumbled out of the gate and were not surprised to find themselves beset by a small force of trolls, guarding a passage against intrusion. Steel soon met flesh and the adventurers pressed forward down the only obvious avenue through the tunnel, felling wave after wave of trolls all wearing the unmistakable heraldry of The Great Eye.

After a short time, the tunnel opened up into a large chamber. There, a troll shaman sat in a trance, reading out of an ancient spellbook adorned with shells. Though the heroes struck him, the magicks of his spell held him fast as the ritual continued. Perhaps he would have completed it, too, to some nefarious end, but as the heroes watched, his eyes opened wide in surprise, exclaiming that pages of the ritual were missing and that the magic was going out of control. The spell no longer in effect, the shaman was quickly destroyed, but as he fell, a wall of the room broke open and seawater began to fill the caverns. Along with the deluge were a pair of strange creatures, green skinned, bald, and with rows of long tentacles set around their mouths. The abominations sped through the new opening and, enraged, attacked the adventurers.

Though the squid-creatures were dispatched easily enough, they possessed supernatural powers of regeneration and could not be halted for very long. The assembled heroes realized that it was their duty to forge ahead an investigate the source of the seawater even as they had to fight off repeated assaults from both these new creatures and waves of trolls that seemed to want to aid the new creatures, but had to still remain wary should they be attacked instead.

As the heroes pressed forward and felled their enemies, curious bounties were revealed to them. The missing pages of the spellbook were in the possession of the squid creatures, possibly secreted away by them as they knew the completed ritual would be their bane. Strange, luminescent, silver shells were scattered about the cavern as well, and the ritual pages spoke of their importance and their utility as the foundation of a legendary weapon.

After a long journey descending into the caverns, slogging through stagnant seawater and fighting past waves of foes, the heroes emerged into a gigantic cavern that was clearly carved out by the waters of some ancient ocean. Before them was evidently an ancient trap, or a puzzle, meant to guard a strange, nautically decorated altar at the far end of the giant room. Bands of magical, colorful seaweed separated the cave into sections. Ancient, decrepit, colored vessels were littered about the floor. Near the altar, a giant cauldron, poised to mix and hold a potion described in the spellbook, stood waiting for its bounty.

The seaweed barriers prevented the vessels from passing by them, and so to gather the chief ingredient for the potion, the seawater that sat in pools around the periphery of the cavern, the heroes were pressed into cooperation, passing the water from zone to zone even as it spilled out the cracked and shattered bottoms of the ancient pottery. But after many long minutes of continued effort, the cauldron was filled with water and the final ingredients of the tincture were added. The potion aspects of the ritual were complete.

Upon the altar, then, the heroes arranged the silver shells in the pattern described in the spellbook. A pattern that would yield a potent weapon against the squidhead creatures. As the ritual was read aloud from the pages of the tome, an appeal to the shamanistic forces of the ancient world, the potion from the cauldron was poured over the assembled shells and a miraculous transformation took place as they melded and transformed into a great and mighty trident.

Their purpose completed, the adventurers set out to where the Nexus would take them home. Though the trolls and the squidheads both redoubled their efforts to stop them and recover the treasure, the trolls were no match for the combined strength of those there, and the squidheads were obliterated by the merest touch of the trident. In short order, the heroes worked their way out of the caverns and were swept up again by the portal that would take them to their next journey.

❧ What Lurks Beneath IV: The Want of the Water, October 27, 1012:

At the request of Sir Aeston and Sir Symir, the heroes of the Realms once again gathered in Cold Springs, Rhiassa in order to make their next foray underground and to delve into the secrets of the troll clans and their mysterious master, The Great Eye. Initial scouting attempts had revealed that the next leg of their journey would be to an area of the underground containing ancient waterways and a vast, subterranean ocean. Aeston was able to hand over to the questing party two copies of a songbook that his scouts had come across; a relic of those ancient times, the song seemed to indicate some of the wonders that might await them on their journey.

As the heroes once again breached the dark chambers beneath Rhiassa, they were met again by their old foes, the trolls and goblins wearing the heraldry of The Great Eye. As they had so many times before, the questing party battled their way past these beasts, this time finding on each of them necklaces made of shells, magic items that would allow the creatures to breathe underwater; a necessity for the trip ahead.

Also among the trolls was an odd creature with a tentacled maw and long tentacles for arms. This creature, called a squidhead, seemed to be bent on carnage, but obeyed the commands of a troll shaman who was garbed in a strange red frock and who shook a red rainstick. The heroes could kill this odd new creature but it would quickly spring to life again, revived by the power of the nearby waters. They were soon able to kill the shaman, however, and retrieve the frock and rainstick. When the heroes gained possession of those items they realized that they, too, could command the red-garbed squidhead and in doing so, could open the way forward, for the doors ahead were locked with combinations that only this odd creature could dismantle.

After making their way past more hordes of the troll army, the heroes came upon a tranquil cavern and a fortress embedded into the coral and rocks. Within the fortress they found a mermaid princess upon her throne; beautiful beyond compare, haughty, and in need of their help. She was the last of their dying race, though could lay a clutch of eggs and begin her civilization anew, but needed a specially tended coral garden to do so. Her last coral garden had been destroyed by the malevolent naga queen and the alchemical components needed to create a new one were stolen by the queen's clay soldiers.

The heroes accepted this task, and made their way to the naga queen's domain. They found her there, surrounded by living statues of warriors, with a mane of writhing golden snakes upon her head. The adventurers knew that, in order to strip away the wards that made her invincible, they would have to rip off the snakes on her head while battling past her stone guardians. In the attempt to do so, many heroes were killed or turned to stone by her magic but they eventually succeeded in their task and slew the vicious snake-woman. Retrieving the potions, they returned to the mermaid fortress and mixed them together, watching a new coral garden grow before their eyes. For their efforts, the mermaid princess awarded them another rainstick, this one yellow, much like the red one they had already found. No doubt it would be needed soon.

Soon afterwards, the heroes came upon a room where at the exit sat a mammoth, ancient, machine attached to a giant door. They realized that in order to open the way forward that they would need to activate the machine by filling its awaiting vessel with water. At the other end of the cavern was a tiny spring, leaking water onto the floor below, and next to it, a pile of aqueduct pieces that had obviously once created a channel across the room. The heroes lined up, end-to-end, holding the pieces and directing the water to its destination. Each drop that fell into the machine seemed to increase in volume many times and soon they had triggered the mechanism to lift the way forward and proceed on their quest.

The questing party again engaged the army of trolls and goblins this time finding amongst them another squidhead, garbed in yellow. The rainstick given to them by the mermaid was sufficient to control this new creature and again, they had to use it and its red-garbed brother to unlock they way forward as they went from cavern to cavern.

The heroes then came upon an odd sight. a large cavern where two groups of trolls and goblins seemed to be engaged in a game. On each side of the room there seemed to be a puffer fish with its mouth agape, holding within a large number of colored eggs. Apparently the goal of the sport was to take the eggs from one team's fish and move them all to the mouth of the other fish. The trolls seemed to pay the adventurers no mind as they engaged one another in this contest. The heroes noticed that the troll in charge of the game seemed to have another rainstick in his possession, this one blue, and they asked to play the game and wager one of their rainsticks for this new one. The trolls agreed. After a hard-fought engagement the heroes bested their troll adversaries, collected their prize, and were on their way.

In the next room, another giant, venerable machine sat blocking the way forward, again with a vessel awaiting water to activate it. On the opposite side of the room sat a pool of water. The room was divided into small areas, separated by colored bands of seaweed stretching its width. The colored canisters that were scattered about the room were there to hold and move the water, but could only be moved within the area they started in. So the adventurers had to pass the water from canister to canister, across the room to fill the machine. This was accomplished in short order, the ancient gears on the machine turned, and the way forward was opened.

More trolls and goblins awaited the questing party as they moved forward, and among them a blue-garbed squidhead that they could then command thanks to the rainstick they got from the puffer fish sport. They fought their way through endless waves of minions of The Great Eye, knowing that they were drawing closer and closer to a final confrontation.

After a while, another strange site met the heroes' eyes. They stumbled upon a racetrack where trolls were betting upon cave turtle races. The creatures were lined up at a starting line, and as the heroes watched, the shelled beasts waddled around the track while the trolls and goblins cheered and jeered relentlessly. In the center of the stands was a betting table, and the grand prize that sat under frosted glass was another rainstick; this one green. The troll pit-boss said the heroes could only bet for it if they proved to be high rollers, and so the heroes scraped together gold and shells to use as currency and tried their hands at betting. Some seer magic made predicting the winners of each race quite easy, and before long, the questing party had won the rainstick, and were on to their next challenge.

Soon afterwards, they came into contact with yet another ancient door device. This one was behind a short wall, and they could only get water to it by throwing it in the form of water balloons. While dodging a horde of enemy archers, the heroes had to fill these balloons and throw them onto a target connected by hose to the machine. After a short while the heroes' relentless assault bore fruit, and the machine opened the way forward.

As the questing party made progress into the next room, they found a foreboding and familiar sight. In a greater circle of protection stood a demon protected by an ancient troll shaman. There they stood to face down the heroes, secure in their knowledge that no magic that the heroes possessed could breech their protective area. But the demon did not count on the mighty squidheads being on the side of the heroes, the other three joined by a green-garbed companion.

Using mystical filaments formed by the waters, the squidheads struggled against the demon, trying to pull it out of its protective circle. They did so amidst a hail of fireballs and magic missiles, finally beating down the elder shaman before they could finish their task. As they pulled the demon, struggling, from his circle, the assembled heroes destroyed him and prepared to celebrate their victory. It was then that the massive doorway in front of them opened.

A wall of green hide faced the adventurers, and as they struggled to comprehend what they were seeing a slit in the hide opened up to reveal a giant, angry, red eye. The heroes found themselves unable to move as a thundering voice echoed around the cavern. The voice of The Great Eye chided them for their persistence and hastening their deaths, but admitted that the time was not yet right for their confrontation, for it had not yet revived enough from its slumber. It claimed that in a year's time they would again clash, and that it would end their struggles and heroics much as it had done to the civilization which once opposed it long ago. Then, before they could even take another breath, the heroes found themselves in the Great Hall in Cold Springs, surrounded by Aeston and his countrymen. The Great Eye had banished them for now, but the time of reckoning with it would come soon enough.

❧ What Lurks Beneath V: The Fury of the Flame, November 2, 1013:

The call to battle sounded, and one final time the heroes of the Realms made their way to Cold Springs, the capital city of Rhiassa, to begin their final assault on The Great Eye, the eldritch horror that stirred from its slumber far beneath the streets. Lord Aeston's scouts had found that the way forward led through magma filled caverns that wound deep into the earth.

As the adventurers breached the smoldering depths, an all-too-familiar sight met their eyes. Wave after wave of goblins and trolls threw themselves forward to arrest the progress of the heroes. The Great Eye anticipated this showdown, after all, and knew that it must bring to bear the full might of its armies if it was to have a chance at survival. The armies of monsters were at their most fierce on that day, with giant turtle shields and impossibly large pikes the creatures, all garbed in the heraldry of their evil army, did all they could to slow the progress of the heroes, but to no avail.

After fighting through the hordes of green and brown skinned monsters, the players found their way halted by a gigantic lake of magma. There seemed to be no path around it or above it, but cracks in the ceiling of the cavern made it seem as if rocks could be dropped into it from above to make a path. Fortunately, the shore of the lake was filled with magical implements capable of gathering and shooting fireballs, and as the lake of magma spit them out, the heroes were able to fire them at the stone columns that kept the ceiling up. After the columns were shattered, the adventurers were able to cross over a haphazard bridge made of fallen stone.

Shortly afterward, the heroes found themselves in another giant chamber. There, imprisoned behind a magical wall of water, was a young woman alight with flames, a fire elemental. The adventurers could spare her little mind, however, as their attention was directed to another part of the cave where a small force of goblins and trolls held captive a giant fire dragon with similar magic walls. The monsters released the mammoth beast at the heroes, and at first, they could do little but scatter from its path, as their weapons bounced off its thick hide. Soon, however, they learned they could gather up the water walls and direct the dragon's path. They aimed it towards the fire elemental. Seeing its companion imprisoned, the dragon tore through the elemental's magical cage, freeing it, before flying off to parts unknown.

The fire elemental, no longer captive, explained to the heroes that The Great Eye, for the past few years, had been absorbing the elemental, shamanistic magic that was once so benevolently used by the ancient civilization of trolls. Elementals, like herself, were slowly disappearing as their power became absorbed. She had little power left, but would use what remained to enchant a sword wither her fiery wrath. A sword that could pierce the visage of The Great Eye.

Onward the adventurers traveled. They came upon an area of the cave that seemed strangely dark, and found that some of their chests glowed with a colored inner fire. Soon afterwards, members of the troll and goblin army glowed as well, and the heroes found they could only damage a monster if they had the same colored fire upon their breast. To make matters even more challenging, the same fires had to be used to open the way forward by being placed in the doors barring the way. The going was slow and the fighting was hard, but in time, the adventures found their way through the darkness and the inner fires disappeared.

Coming around one final set of caverns, the lust for battle welling up in their hearts, the heroes pushed open a door and saw their opponent. The Great Eye sat, blocking an entire chamber, giant tentacles reaching from its sides. Around it stood countless small demons, imps, that sat ready to protect their master with their very lives. In front of it, sat several layers of impenetrable barriers, which blocked attack and advancement from the adventurers. Yet as the heroes fought their way past the tentacles, they found that they could deactivate the barriers that stood in their way. As the last barrier was removed, the fire elemental used the remainder of its strength to alight a magic sword, and handed it to one of the heroes. The sword, flaming with righteous fury, was brought down upon The Great Eye, and it's earthly form exploded before the sight of the heroes. Yet they would soon learn that their task had but begun.

From beyond where the eye stood, the heroes heard a voice beckoning them to come quickly and find an area of refuge. As the adventurers rushed forward, they saw the ghostly form of a troll shaman. As they entered the dark caverns where he stood, the heroes were attacked by more of the same imps that had surrounded The Great Eye. Having to carve their way through the horde, the heroes followed the ghost troll and found a place to rest where the enemies stayed at bay.

The shaman explained to the heroes that he was the last spirit belonging to the civilization that had once stood in opposition to The Great Eye. When that ancient culture had finally learned how the great demon could be defeated, they sent the most powerful of their shamanistic warriors to do battle with the eldritch horror and end its life. Just as the heroes had managed to do, these ancient warriors had destroyed the mortal form of The Great Eye, and just as the heroes now found themselves, the shaman warriors were transported to a demonic demi-plane that was the true body of the great monster.

In order to finally defeat The Great Eye, the shaman carried with them some potent tools. Patterns of power, which would give them the strength to hurt the monster in its own realm. And mighty javelins that contained the essence of each of the four elements, that could be used to pierce the heart of the ancient demon. Yet, even as they progressed closer and closer to The Great Eye's heart, they found they were unequal to the task before them. One by one they fell, their spirits trapped with their enemy. Yet they found some semblance of victory, as even in death, they were able to use their power to put The Great Eye into a deep sleep.

Yet over the countless ages, the power of their spirits faded away, until there was but one remaining. This final shaman, the one that stood before the heroes, bade them to finish the work that he and his companions had once begun. To find the pieces of the patterns. To recover and recharge the elemental javelins. And to strike at the heart of The Great Eye and end its evil for all time.

The heroes, renewed in their sense of purpose pushed their way forward through the blood-soaked caverns that were The Great Eye's body. They ended the lives of countless imps that threw themselves forward to bar the adventurer's path. As they went, they found tiles that once belonged to the patterns of power. One at a time, they recovered the elemental javelins, giant weapons that sat ready to accept the power they needed to once again gain their former strength. The combat was fierce, and the heroes were exhausted, both in stamina and in their magical strength as well, but their efforts were worthwhile as they busted through one final door.

The sound of a tremendous, monstrous heartbeat echoed through the dark cavern. In the center, a three-chambered heart pulsated, surrounded by magical barriers, guarded by thrashing tentacles. Imps poured out from within in, rushing forward to expend the last of the heroes' resources, to leave them impotent and vulnerable as were the shaman who last sought to end the life of their host. As each imp was cut down, its body exploded with elemental energy, which the heroes could use to fill the waiting javelins until they possessed the fullness of their power.

The patterns were assembled and put in place. The javelins roared with strength. The heroes used the last of their energy to push back the endless waves of imps and clear the way forward for the final attack. Holding aloft the projectiles, each of four heroes stood in the patterns, and with a coordinated assault, they let loose the elemental javelin's and pierced the heart of The Great Eye. and yet, even as they celebrated their victory, they were forced to watch in horror. The spirit of the last great shaman, who had fought so long against this demonic enemy, was subsumed by the ancient horror and took on the visage of a newly born eyeball demon, lashing out at the surrounding adventurers. But to little avail, for the infantile demon had little of its own strength. The heroes quickly ended this newborn threat with sword and spear, and the ancient shaman's spirit could finally rest.

It had been a long fight. First began in a time of antiquity by an ancient race. Continued years before, when the armies of trolls and goblins began raiding the stores of Rhiassa for their own nefarious ends. No part of the battle was easy. The minions of The Great Eye were fearsomely strong and countless in number. Yet before the dedication and might of the heroes of The Realms, no evil could stand for long. Rhiassa was safe.