Knowing a long journey lay before them, the heroes returned to Tangkou to acquire moas and provisions. Setting out north along the slope of the crater, they journeyed well beyond the known lands of Hope’s End. After a week of travel, the party descended into lower lands which local legend portrayed as deadly to all mortal men. There were increased signs of animal life, but nothing threatened them.
Finally, they arrived at the Fist—apparently, a worked stone hand, part of some much more massive statue, now buried beneath the earth. It indeed “wept,” as the Learned Master had described, as some unknown water source dripped down from it, and beyond lay a monstrous cavern, also just as described. Thus began a long trek into the darkness, lit occasionally by torchlight or the gift of darkvision through Mazil’s magic.
The road was an eerie one – apparently all of ancient worked stone, buckled by unknown forces, yet a full twenty feet wide and thirty-five feet tall at some points. Even the Fengzhi rogue stood in awe of this mysterious craftsmanship. On the third “day”—for indeed, the heroes had lost all real sense of the accurate passage of time – blissful daylight was seen as some fissure in the roof above offered egress to the surface above. Ili flew up to reconnoiter and found a lush valley. Recalling that the Learned Master had warned them of something called the Empty Valley, and seeking the advice of the gods, the group decided to press on, leaving the beautiful daylight behind.
After several more “days,” the road descended into water which seemed to be lit from above, somewhere slightly ahead. Olca entered the cold waters and scouted ahead – he surfaced in a massive cavern, lit periodically by a mysterious, glowing lichen. Seeing a beach ahead, he returned to his companions and reported what he saw, his companions soon following him into the dark waters.
Soon after surfacing, the heroes attracted the unwanted attentions of a hungry sea scorpion. It managed to get two claws on Olca, but soon succumbed to acid summoned by Mazil’s magic. Wading ashore, the group was confronted by a mysterious subterranean city—worked “stone,” orange and slightly translucent, streets and alleyways worked much in the same way as the road here, and “forests” of massive fungi.
Some of the buildings were ruined, others remarkably intact, leaving the explorers confused as to whether the city was built beneath the earth or perhaps was sent here by the same wrath of the gods that created the crater to the south. Other than a few more permanent fixtures or random scraps of wood or metal, they found remarkably little, and certainly no bodies or artifacts, although Darnos did suspect someone or something had moved through the area. Still, exploring a few buildings, they were left baffled as to their nature and purpose.
A lone tower on an outcropping caught their attention, and as the heroes made their way across the plaza before it, they felt they were being watched, and then heard something clatter behind them. An empty cage was discovered where none had been before, and they warily turned again to the tower. Shortly thereafter, they were beset by a swarm of some sort of rat-like creatures, which were very agile and frustratingly hard to hit. The creatures nipped them repeatedly, but fortunately, the heroes’ armor proved more than enough to protect them from any harm from the creatures’ bites…or did it?