Blackbird stood and put a hand to his swelling wound. "That smarts... Oooh! Oww!" He lowered his hand and wondered if anyone in the party had a salve, or herbs that might help.
The entire party chuckles at Blackbird's misfortune, including the wounded himself. As the tapestry on the western wall catches his attention, Piker begins to move into the room toward the table with the engraved map.
Ptolmek Skarab moves to the tapestry illustrating (quite sensually infact) the Goddess of Law on the western wall. The irony of his actions is not lost on Ptolmek, as he yanks at the ancient tapestry in an attempt to steal the very image of the Goddess of Law. The threads of the aged ornament give easily and soon the dust soaked cloth lay at his feet.
(OOC: The tapestry may be added to your inventory Ptolmek, no additional action required.)
Piker's fascination with maps began as a young gnome. He inquired of the Widow Summerfall, and dreamt silently of all the places his father might have adventured. Perhaps, in time, he would retrace his father's storied steps.
As he studied the old map, Blackbird also moves closer and begins to examine the craftsmanship. With one eye closed, he bent closer to the ancient etched leather battle map for a closer look.
(OOC: Piker and Blackbird, together you compare known landmarks, a few towns that still exist, and more that now stand in ruins scattered across the map. The ancient Dwarven runes used on the huge map are well beyond either of your linguistics skills. Based on known locations and similar runes still used by Dwarves today, you do manage to decipher a few phrases. You agree upon four named locations.)
Resting a moment to take stock of this discovery, the two of you compare stories from your childhood, various folklore you've heard, and whispers picked up in noisy taverns. From the fractured pieces the party agrees that the following locations are on the map.
The First Dwarven rune deciphered most likely points to The Labyrinth of Agoch
Oestharg e'Plurag the Minotaur, commonly addressed as Oes, was the head regent in the massive Kenjarii province. His administration of the province was trustworthy and just. Never was he questioned over his dealings or decisions. To that end, as with many rewards given by the kingdom early in the Third Age, Oes was awarded a sprawling estate. The estate drew the admiration of many would be brides, but his heart settled on one fine woman quite quickly. It was said her beauty could put the Queen's own radiance to shame. Soon their love bore fruit and she was burdened with a child.
However, the joy of the province quickly turned to sadness when the birth of the child killed it's mother. Not only that, but legend states, the boy child entered this world with wings. Enraged, Oes turned to his trusted adviser, a Karuras bearing the matching plumage of the bastard son. Oes quite literally ripped the birdman apart - leaving appendages, feathers, and blood strewn throughout the birth chamber. Attendants covered the winged boy with thick cloth and held him tightly in fear of their normally calm and caring master. Without ever looking on his wife's living deceit, Oes ordered the boy to be cared for, but kept secret from the eyes of all in the province. He would report that both died in delivery.
Over the next twelve years the boy grew, and Oestharg e'Plurag the Minotaur worked through his anger and betrayal as only a minotaur could. He channelled his swirling anger and confusion into order through laborious construction. His soul was in shambles, his province was in decline, his legacy was in ruins. But as the estate fell down around him, the project he poured himself into neared completion. On the boy's thirteenth birthday Oes met him for the first time, face to face, at the chamber doors to the same room where the boy first arrived.
Oes dismissed the servants and explained to the boy how his mother's shameful decisions led to this day. He then opened the massive doors, threw the boy into the darkened corridor, and locked the massive doors tightly - never to be opened again. The child was simply known as Agoch, and he lived at one time in the Estate of Terotucsis. It is certain, through the passage of time, that the entire family line was ushered into oblivion, but Terotucsis remains - or The Labyrinth of Agoch, as it is known today.
The Second Dwarven rune deciphered is most certainly The Tomb of Ninebi the Elemental
It is known throughout historical record that a young Mios boy ascended to the throne of King when his family was mysteriously and brutally murdered. Every branch of the lineage shorn, the child king took the mantle of ruler without a single argument. However, his rule was lonely, and his direction often swayed by ill intentioned advisers. Without the firm discipline of a loving father, or the loving embrace of a fearless mother, nor the playful kinship of siblings, cousins, or distant relations - the boy grew up cold, heartless, and stoic.
As a Mios military leader he appeared ideal - moving into region after region with unbridled ferocity - he conquered more territory than any in his line combined ever claimed. As a leader and ruler of the Mios people - he lacked a sense of charisma and charm that goes far in the political arena. At such a young age, to have accomplished so much, and expanded so vast an empire - the boy thought himself untouchable. More than that, his unscrupulous advisors began to whisper to his majesty that he might very well be the promised incarnation of their god or war Arpa.
As stories of his magnificents grew, the young lionman wanted to do something significant to enshrine himself in the hearts and minds of his subjects for eternity. An elder advisor told of a ritual that would forever bind one's soul to his own control, never allowing it to pass into eternity or damnation. And thus never allowing the gods a sway over his decisions. The idea was put to the passionate young ruler in such a way that he felt certain he was securing his own immortality.
As the ritual progressed, and as the hours wore on, the boy began to doubt his decision to head down this path. But the final moments sped past him so swiftly that he never had a chance to voice his regret. In the final utterances of the incantation the king's small young body tossed and writhed in agony as the very fibre of his being tore apart only to be replaced by the surrounding stone, mortar, dirt, clay, and mud that was used to construct the chamber. With a final explosion of fear filled agony, the body of what was merely a mios child, lay still on the cold ground, lifeless. Those in attendance scooped up the boy king and carried him to the tomb of his ancestors.
The kingdom fell into the hands of the beguiling ilk once trusted as cup bearers to the king, and was soon conquered by invading armies. Much of the wealth of that family line was buried deep within the tombs with them. It was believe that on the day the royal line did rise in the afterlife to rule once again they would be ranked by the gods based on the wealth accumulated in this life.
At this stage legend takes over, and the story of the boy king merely begins. For centuries following the ill-fated ritual - and decline of the empire he built - farmers, villagers, and common people say they still see the king walking among them. Only his form is that of stone and clay now. He stalks, with vengeance, the family line of those that usurped the throne. He guards against any who would abscond with the wealth intended for the day of resurrection. He lives on immortally as an earth elemental and now many in the realms simply refer to the place as The Tomb of Ninebi the Elemental.
The Third Dwarven rune deciphered gives a good indication of where to find The Halls of the Gargoyle Empress
A fortress palace perched high atop a mountain peak overlooks a valley filled with vibrant life and abundant bounty. The riches of the valley are protected by the might of fortress military, at the command of the Emperor and Empress living therein. All was right and good in the world until a terrible state of affairs brought maddness to the ruler, and death to the valley. In time, as does occur naturally, the Empress aged. However, she did not yield her beauty gracefully but instead sought many forms of natural and supernatural remedies to the ailment of age. After exhausting the knowledge, talents, tinctures, and potions of the region she sent forth a decree that anyone who could find her a solution to her aging would be granted all the rights to her ageless body that her own husband - the Emperor - now enjoyed. At first, quite understandably, the Emperor was quite shocked and appalled. But the Empress assured him he would soon tire of her ageless body when he too enjoyed the gift of everlasting life. She promised him the pick of any woman in the valley as his trophy, so long as she too enjoyed the same clemency. He begrudgingly agreed.
With time the scouts returned with many strange brews, rituals, and scrolls all promising eternal beauty to the Empress. In the end, only one method proved effective. A medicine woman from a distant land had returned with a scout with the claim that she could produce an ageless beauty that would know no rivals. The Empress jumped at the opportunity without considering the price or the consequences. As the small witch intoned through an ancient unknown tongue, the Empress felt within her womb a burning and searing pain. She fell to the floor, writhing and screaming in agony. The Emperor rushed to her side and ordered the witch silenced. But when the guards approached the old woman a simple wave of her hand froze them in place - and another gesture sent them hurtling backward into the courtroom's marbled walls. The powerful little woman continued until her curse was finished. Then she turned, and slowly hobbled from the chamber echoing with the Empresses cries of pain.
Before the pain subsided the Empress began to vomit streams of blood. Flowing from her body a stream of blood issued forth that covered the ornate tiles surrounding the throne. And soon the blood coming from her mouth changed entirely into a dark and sticky black sludge. The Emperor was appalled and ordered the witch hunted and executed for the murder of his beloved queen. But she was not dead yet - and in time, with attendance and care she recovered her agonizing pain. In the weeks and months that followed, the Empress was recovering well - but refused to eat. Nothing prepared was ever eaten and yet she remained beautiful and exhibited all the vigor of life. Eventually she insisted the meals stop coming feeling it was a waste and a drain on the valley.
In time however, her true appetite began to show. Nearly a year after the episode with the tiny witch, the Empress rose one morning from the bed of her lover, the scout who bestowed everlasting beauty and agelessness upon her. Going to the balcony above the sheer drop off which overlooked the valley she glanced down and saw a young girl tending sheep. Something stirred deep in her womb again that morning that changed her forever - and more dramatically than her encounter with the magic woman.
The aching doubled the beautiful lady over in pain. Holding herself against the balcony railing she fixed her eyes on the young girl and admired her youthful charms and virtuous beauty. As the mere thoughts passed through her mind, the pain in her body exploded, sending her to the floor. Looking through the rungs of the balcony now, she focused all her attention on the girl with rage and anger. Screaming at the scout, she sent him down to retrieve the girl and return her to their shared chamber. When he returned with the frightened girl, his lady was upright and well again. Her beauty and composure restored. The girl walked into the room, and the Empress dismissed her lover. The girl walked closer at the ruler's beckoning, in fear of being called to the palace in such haste. And the Ageless Beauty mustered every ounce of her will to hide the pain coursing through her veins. She invited the young innocent to sit at her feet, and enjoy a the soothing caress of one of her finest hairbrushes.
The girl sat, and the lady began to draw the bristles through her long golden hair. Barely able to hold it back, the Empress caught a wretching cough in the palm of her hand. Looking inside she once again saw the black sludge that had replaced her rich red blood a year ago. Anger welled deep inside her and she reached for a small knife hidden in the folds of her dress. Without hesitation she slit the girls throat and allowed the blood to cover her fingers. Overcome by the moment she bent at the waist and kissed the wound deeply, drawing in the warm blood and finally easing the pain in her aching womb. Had this been the penalty for desiring eternal beauty, was this the price she had to pay?
Her husband walked into the private chamber, the scout burst in close behind having alerted the ruler to the strange behaviors that morning. Looking up from the limp dead girl's body, the Empress looked to be sated, but merely uttered a single word... "Another!"
Drawing upon the youthful blood of the valley kept the Empress younger than the day she succumbed to the dark magic. But the shadow of death throughout the castle drove the Emperor mad, and the people into a state of fear. Soon they rose up in anger and protest at the loss of so many of their young. They drew together wise men of magic and aged holy men of god to confront the darkness emanating from the mountaintop citadel. Arriving at the now dark and bloodstained palace the quorum conferred and decided to banish the she devil to a form befitting her crimes. Having finally cornered her in a small chamber of the castle, they began their enchantment.
The intention was to turn the once beautiful and kind Empress into a horrid and demonic stone gargoyle statue. But something went horribly wrong with the application of the spell. Instead of banishing her to eternity in stone form, the results were much more dire. The Empress was transformed into a living breathing gargoyle twice her original size with a hunger for blood ten times greater than before. Now winged and nearly unstoppable, she fled the chamber through a balcony overlooking the once peaceful valley. The castle was burned to the ground, and the valley abandoned to darkness. Now the once regal palace, reduced to ashen rubble, is feared as The Halls of the Gargoyle Empress.
The Fourth and Final Dwarven rune deciphered indicates the location of The Cavern of Black Souls
Along the southern coast of the Cathomand province jagged rocky cliffs devour ships of every size and sailing vessels of every nation. Legends dating back to the earliest explorers of the First Age are clear about one thing - the Cliffs of Cathomand exact a high toll on those who skirt her shores.
"As the earth thirsts for blood, so too does the sea thirst for souls." The ancient proverb carries more weight in a region beset by more hauntings and spirited activity than any other region of the realms. And it is all said to emanate from the bowels of the deepest sea cavern hidden in the darkest corner of those treacherous crags. This map gives credence to all the nightmarish stories about The Cavern of Black Souls.
Although each of these landmarks are known to you as mere folklore, the discovery of this battle map amid the dwelling of another legendary icon can only lead to one conclusion. Each of these fabled destinations must exist - and surely the bounty therein as well...