The Companions ducked back from the balcony, barely avoiding the blast of fire coming from beneath. Before them here was the large square room without a floor that drops down forty feet, where the giant metal hydra was waiting.
The Companions were in Skullcap, the ruined fortress destroyed during the Dwarfgate Wars almost three centuries earlier. They had found rough directions to the Northgate entrance of the dwarven kingdom of Thorbardin but lacked the “key” that would gain them entrance.
The hydra’s twelve heads swayed from side to side but only two track the hero’s movement, twin mouths trickling from a fire raging within. On their floor and halfway down were four balconies leading into chambers, possibly leading from level to level. Uncertain if they should proceed, they looked around the floor, spotting a single intact room. Wilder Spirit investigated the room and found a black robed apprentice wizard holding a large ring of keys.
Arthur (who was still in the form of a fire elemental) and Tictok set out at making a bridge from their floor to one of the other balconies on that level. Tictok also sent down his homunculus, Bit, to attack and distract the hydra. Surprisingly, the gnome’s device was ineffective, as its attack was reflected off something the group could not see. As Arthur stoneshapped a wall into a thin bridge, Tictok sent down a glittery dusting of powder that covered the hydra and revealed several invisible walls on the lower floor, and hinted at an invisible bridge (ironically right below the one Arthur magically created). Arthur and Wilder Spirit headed down the bridge, Wisp jumping down the forty feet for a quick descent while Arthur investigated the chamber behind the other balcony and discovered a staircase down. Through luck, Wilder Spirit rushes through a doorway and discovered the staircase down. Elsebeth and Guaraux followed behind Arthur’s descent, slowly feeling their way across the invisible bridges that stretched about each level. Arthur jumped down from the middle layer to the bottom as Gauraux moved along a bridge, only to be attacked by an invisible creature attempting to knock him down into the hydra’s lair. Arthur ran straight into an invisible creature while trying to join Wisp.
There was a flurry of violence as Gauraux and Elsebeth assaulted one invisible creature while Arthur is brutalized by the other. Meanwhile, the hydra destroyed Tictok’s device and moved on to the knight and minotaur on the invisible bridge. Fire and fangs lash out, striking home. Thankfully, Arthur had magically warded Elsebeth against fire so only Gauraux is hurt by the pyrohydra’s breath. Tictok rushed forward to aid the fallen Arthur, attempting to resuscitate the fallen oracle. However, the gnome quickly discovered it was hard to heal someone polymorphed into an elemental. A very injured Gauraux left Else to fight the stalker alone, and quickly escaped to join Wilder Spirit at the stair to the next level. Elsebeth defeated the invisible stalker as the hydra stuned itself with a failed attack. The remaining stalker turned on Tictok, who was trying to “heal” the oracle by pouring oil onto him. In a panic, the gnome dropped the entire barrel of oil, flooding the floor with fire. The stalker fled as, miraculously, Arthur awoke. Barely conscious, the irda priest healed himself and fled downstairs. Elsebeth, still protected from fire, tarried to decapitate the hydra’s two fire-breathing heads then joined her friends below.
Below, Wilder Spirit had discovered two identical rooms with dwarven statues, one singled by fire. They ventured to the right, only to have Wilder Spirit fly up to the ceiling in a space of reversed gravity. Then, the statue surged to life! Moving forward, Wisp suddenly fell back down. The anti-gravity field seemed to only be five feet before the door. The golem pounded Wilder Spirit where she lay on the ground. Badly injured, Wisp withdrew, cleverly falling up to avoid an attack and right herself. Elsebeth stepped forward, using Tictok’s magic to enlarge herself. The golem struck again. Arthur suddenly had an idea and slipped forward, and cast stone shap, warping the golem and pinning one hand to its body. Moments later he tried again, disarming the golem. Their opponent unarmed, the Companions quickly destroyed the golem.
Moving forward, the group discovered a long hallway. At one end was a statue of one of the seven aspects of Nuitari, the god of dark magic. Down the hallway the other six aspects are arranged in pairs, with a magical effect centered between each pair of statues. Moving between the first statue, Wisp and Else find all their metal has been transformed into wood! Moving back their gear returned to normal. But, as their answer lay ahead, they returned through the statues and advanced with their wooden equipment. Between the next pair they felt nothing, unbeknownst to them active magic on them had been dispelled. Through the final pair of statues a magical compulsion fell on them, but Wilder Spirit fought it off. Elsebeth failed her attempts and the suggestion took hole, but the Companions never discovered its nature.
Moving into the large chamber beyond, Wisp and Else spy a circle in the middle of the room. Inside are three golden circlets and a blackened skull. Hearing of something golden, Tictok and Arthur moved forward. Tictok passed through the aura of magical dispelling and his fast-moving boots fail, as does his bag of shrinking items. The entire corridor is flooded with shrunken goods and assorted items. The Companions slowly dug their way back out to reunite with Gauraux, careful to clean the items that have been soaked with oil.
As they continued, they found the final room of the keep, a large three-part chamber with the middle section flanked by two treasure hoards. The treasure is protected by a magical teleporter that the heroes quickly deciphered. They found a wealth of steel and gems as well as a dwarven helm covered in gems. The helm contains the spirit of a dwarven prince, Grallen, so he could retell his last moments to kin. The dwarf quickly thanked the heroes and assured them he could show them the way into Thorbardin.
Slowly making their way out of Skullcap, the heroes took the circlets to destroy, freeing the souls of the skeletal warriors as promised. Unsurprisingly, the blackened skull nearby rose up, the last remnant of the black-robe wizard Fistandantilus. Wilder Spirit watched as the spirit raised an arm but did not move to attack. Arthur debated an assault to release the spirit, by Elsebeth advised against it, saying it was better to leave the evil wizard entombed forever on the mortal world rather than releasing him to his afterlife. Returning to the surface, the Companions were reunited with the brass dragon Blaize. The dragon amiably asked what had happened and offered some advice: the dwarves might be hesitant to welcome the refugees into their cities if they force their way in, so it would be better to ask first. He offered to lead the way to a respite where the refugees might have shelter.
After ensuring the refuges were safe, the heroes ventured into the dwarven city. They found Northgate, the large village-sized complex designed to defend against invaders, mostly abandoned. There were still signs of violence and remains from the Dwarfgate wars. Moving through the dark, lifeless streets they found themselves facing a group of armed dwarves. The leader announced himself as Arman Kharas, descended of the famed Kharas that fought during the Dwarfgate Wars. Of the clan Hylar, he warned the Companions that Northgate was under the control of the Theiwar dwarves due to its proximity to their cities. Upon hearing of the Helm of Grallen, Arman agreed to take the Companions to the Council of Thanes.