After speaking to Rynshinn Povalli, the men decide to consult with several other notables in the town, first among them being Father Abstalar Zantus. Zendo says a warm farewell to his paramour, and assures her that he will return to speak with her later, and they leave the half-elven seamstress with her dwarven customer (thanks to Zendo’s generosity).
The Desnan priest greets them warmly and inquires as to their adventures (or misadventures). The heroes tell him of their exploits against the Giants of the Storval Plateau and his eyes widen in amazement. Zantus tells them that they must be truly blessed by Desna to have wandered into such dark places and out again. He questions them about why Mokmurian bore such animosity towards the humans of Varisia, and they confess that they believe the stone giant to have been under the thrall, or at least the influence, of Runelord Karzoug. Father Zantus is aghast that such a legendary (and legendarily cruel) wizard might have survived down through the ages. He asks them if Karzoug has designs on humble Sandpoint, and the men tell him that Karzoug’s rival, Runelord Alaznist once ruled over the lands that now are called Sandpoint, though her rival’s realms were close, as near as Thistletop. Abstalar worries that the recent earthquake and sinkhole may have some connection to the Runelords, and reiterates his own view that the perfidious temple below should have been more than sealed off, but entirely filled in with rubble. Father Zantus agrees that the howling noises emanating from the pit are surely not natural but he does not know if the restless dead, or some evil spirit, is the cause.
He also has grudging praise for Amander Malonial. While Zantus is a firm supporter of the sheriff, he disagrees with Belor’s decision to allow the ruins to remain open and to allow Brodert Quink to do research in them. “No good will ever come out of those inauspicious halls. If Malonial has his workmen walling them off, it is all to the good, whether he does it from caution or possessiveness.”
Father Zantus inquires about the health of the men, and the status of their companion Ragnar, shaking his head in exasperation at the Ulfen’s likely whereabouts. “Though your friend is brave and deadly, I fear he is incorrigible.” Zantus gladly accepts a scroll from Corvus to dispel the lingering aftereffects of the life-sapping exhalations of the Black Monk, which the slight wizard has been unable to fully shake.
Heading from the Cathedral down to the Garrison, the men are greeted by many well-wishers from Sandpoint, eager to greet the Heroes of Sandpoint and ask them what they are going to do about the Haunted Sinkhole. On approaching the Garrison, it is evident that the sinkhole is quite large, if not terribly deep. An entire section of Tower Street has collapsed, dropping about 15 feet, and causing the outer wall of part of the garrison to crumble away. Looking at it closely, there is a slighter slope from the interior of the cells down to the ‘floor’ of the sinkhole, rather than the steep precipice on the outside. Zendo sees a deeper, darker crevice in the wall of the sinkhole, that appears to travel towards the Old Light.
Entering the Garrison, the men are greeted with relief by Sheriff Belor Hemlock. He too, inquires about their travels and adventures, and asks pointed questions about the motivations of Mokmurian and Karzoug. What, precisely, is being sought in Sandpoint? The men are forced to confess their ignorance, but share with Belor their suspicion that the traitor, Xaliasa, had some information or access to Runeforge that Karzoug wanted, and still believes to exist. The sheriff gives them his own account of the earthquake and sinkhole. He admits that the sounds at night are spooky, terrifying even, but that with guards posted and the pit roped off, there appears to be no immediate danger. His preference would be to keep the area cordoned off and, once the risks of aftershocks have diminished, to fill up the sunken area with stones from the rubble of the Old Light. “No matter what is down there, it’s not coming out, and it won’t come out with a few thousand pounds of stone down its gullet.”
Hemlock admits that he could order the town watch to explore the pit, but he is determined not to do so unless his hand is forced. He doesn’t trust Amander Malonial, especially given the suspicious way the merchant was able to reopen the Glassworks so quickly, and particularly given Malonial’s cozy relationship with Jubrayl Vhiski. Malonial hired a bunch of local ne-er-do-wells and troublemakers and has had them doing some sort of heavy lifting down in the tunnels, even to the extent of reopening the passage to the north beach. The merchant has closed off access to the chambers to everyone else, including Brodert Quink, and is doing something suspicious down there, he is sure. Now that there has been a cave-in and some alarming noises, Malonial wants the town to intervene, but still wants to control access to the site through his Glassworks. Hemlock feels that his hands are a bit tied, in that Malonial controls one entrance, and the other, at the north beach, is decidedly outside the walls of Sandpoint and the control of the town. So long as no one in town is in danger, Belor would rather let Malonial stew in his own juices than assist the uncooperative merchant.
Taking their leave of the frustrated sheriff, Corvus and Gellius go to the town hall, in hopes of speaking to MayorKendra Deverin, while Hikage detours to the nearby House of Blue Stones to confer with his former mentor, Sabyl Sorn. At his friend’s suggestion, Zendo strolls through town to the Fatman’s Feedbag to call on his childhood friend, Jubrayl Vhiski, in the hopes that the Sczarni rogue can shed some light on matters.
Mayor Deverin is glad to see the heroes, and inquires as to their recent adventures. After recovering from the shock and astonishment of hearing about the potential Giant invasion of Varisia, the mayor shares her own concerns with Corvus and Gellius. She is glad that the situation on the distant Storval Plateau seems to have been averted, but the sinkhole in town has her concerned. While she normally has a great deal of trust in Sheriff Hemlock and affords him a good amount of leeway in his enforcement of the law, the situation with Amander Malonial has her concerned. She confesses that she is not an admirer of the Magnimarian merchant, but the alarming noises emerging from the sinkhole are, to her mind, a clear public disturbance. Thus, while she understand’s Belor’s frustration, she feels the sheriff needs to ‘make nice’ to Amander and quickly investigate this situation. When pressed by Gellius and Corvus, Mayor Deverin admits that she regrets that Ameiko sold the Glassworks to Malonial in the first place. The Glassworks are a pillar of the local economy, and they had remained in the hands of one of the town’s founding families since the town was established. She is not lamenting the break with tradition, so much as the fact that Malonial isn’t a Sandpointer and doesn’t have any ties to the community. Despite his obvious business acumen (as he was able to get business up and going almost immediately after the sale to Ameiko), he made decisions that no native Sandpointer would have considered. Closing off access to the catacombs, while understandable from a safety perspective, meant alienating a valued elder, Brodert Quink, and inhibiting research that was poised to bring attention and coin to the local community. While there was no direct financial benefit for Ameiko to allow the old sage access to the ruins, it kept him (and thus, his circle of friends) happy, and gave Sandpoint another local attraction.
Greeting Sabyl at her home, Hikage bows deeply and waits calmly until invited in. Sabyl inquires as to his well-being, and Hikage modestly recounts his recent exploits, but he does share with Sabyl the discovery of a vast trove of ancient works in the Therassic monastery. Sabyl suggests that they might be brought to Sandpoint, but Hikage sadly tells her that, in the best estimation of Corvus, the magical wards which preserved the works would fail to protect them in that case. Sabyl suggests that the heroes might employ scribes from the nearby cities to trek to the Valley and copy the works within, to disseminate them more widely. The young monk notes the danger and distance of the journey, and admits that the men are most likely to contact the Pathfinder Society, who will have access to legions of adventurous scribes willing to risk the travel. Sorn regards the Society as glory-seeking treasure hunters more concerned with securing prestige and acclaim than honest inquiry, but does agree with Hikage that there would be few other groups with the necessary resources. In response to his questioning, Sabyl admits that she heard the unnerving howls last night, but did not find them as alarming as some nearby residents. To her disciplined mind, actual menaces, like the goblins, giants, and dragons were far more alarming than discomfiting noises in the night. However, she does intend on listening to the sounds more carefully tonight, to attempt to identify them, and determine how much threat they indicate. Being jarred awake last night left her unprepared to think about them in a disciplined way.
Finding Jubrayl ensconced, as is his custom, in the back booth of the Feedbag, Zendo greets his childhood friend, though both remain a bit on guard, as their paths have diverged considerably. Jubrayl evinces little interest in Zendo’s exploits, but seems more concerned with what has brought the bard back to Sandpoint. As to his own business, Vhiski admits that the recent unpleasantry had been bad for business, especially given Zendo’s own uncooperative attidude. Grayst Sevilla remains healthy as a horse and mad as a wet cat, but the recent Giant raids and the sinkhole have thankfully distracted the sheriff from visiting him overmuch, and Belor’s own intransigence about investigating the nighttime howls have weakened the popular sheriff’s appeal. Zendo asks his cagey associate about Malonial, and Vhiski seems quite fond of the merchant, or at least, appreciative. He admits that Malonial has hired a good deal of ‘his men’ for odd jobs in the Glassworks, but professes ignorance as to their work. “None of my business is good for business.” Jubrayl doesn’t know of anything unpleasant that happened during the quake or around the sinkhole, but ’I’m not a mother hen counting chicks, am I?" Vhiski cautions Zendo to keep his nose clean, and suggests that giant-slaying and adventuring is a better choice for the bard and his friends than street repair.
At the Rusty Dragon, the men meet back up with Ragnar, whose whereabouts in town were unknown, and, perhaps, best unremarked upon. Hikage speaks to Ameiko, and asks her about the Glassworks. The Tien bard vents her frustration to him and his friends, confessing that she feels ‘played’ by Malonial and irritated at her own gullibility. While Malonial seems to be doing a professional job running the Glassworks, from the word of the glassblowers and other workers in the factory, it is clear that his interest in the the Glassworks lies elsewhere. The scuttlebutt she has gathered from her former workers is that Malonial has laborers working somewhere in the catacombs. No supplies go in through the Glassworks, but Malonial has reopened her grandfather’s smuggling tunnels and small boats are rowing ashore from ships moored deeper in the gulf. Nothing is coming up out of the Glassworks either, though the workmen spend most of the day down there.
Ameiko isn’t too offended about the prospect of Malonial doing something extra-legal down there, but she feels that his high-pressure offers should have indicated to her that something was up. While she didn’t have the careful control over the business that her meticulous father did, it was mystifying to her how her suppliers and buyers in Magnimar dried up. She blamed her own incompetence at the task, which was one of the reasons she was finally willing to sell, but when Malonial assumed ownership, suddenly there were contracts ready and suppliers with shipments. In retrospect, though she got a fair price for the Glassworks, she thinks that Malonial manipulated the situation, and her, to get what he really wanted. She feels bad for Quink, as she had always allowed him access through the Glassworks, but didn’t think to specify something like that in the terms of sale, but she is just as upset about being hoodwinked by someone from the ‘big city’ like Amander Malonial.
Late that night, most of the men gather at the Garrison to witness the strange sounds from the sinkhole. Gellius does not join them, as he wishes to meet with Boudra Fullona and her family. The druid earnestly tells Boudra about his recent adventures, but explains to her his sobering realization. Gellius had hoped that the journey to Jorgenfist would avert the threat of a Giant invasion, and put the end to the villain masterminding the whole affair, Mokmurian. Dealing with Mokmurian was intended to protect Sandpoint and deal retribution for his wide array of offenses, from the murder of Katrine Vinder and Banny Harker, to the cult activity in Magnimar and Turtleback Ferry. He had hoped that, in dealing with the evil stone giant, the conspiracy would be destroyed and he could return to Sandpoint and put down roots. Instead, Gellius has discovered that the evil runs much older, and deeper. Ancient lords from the depths of time are involved, and the threat is much graver. Not only Sandpoint, or Varisia, but Avistan itself is at risk, and he cannot turn away from the danger. Boudra asks him why he cannot go to the Lord-Mayor of Magnimar with this grave news and let Haldmeer Grobaras find men to deal with it, but Gellius explains that this challenge has fallen to him and his companions, and he feels it is their fate to confront it. “Gozreh has given me this path, and I cannot deny it.”, he replies. The revelation is a bit of a mood-killer, and the remainder of dinner passes more somberly, though Boudra does inquire as to Gellius’s immediate plans. He is forced to admit that even those remain uncertain, as the ominous sinkhole in town must be explored. Boudra says that she has heard that there are monsters inside from within the earth, and they will come out if there is another earthquake, though she admits that is only talk among the townsfolk.
While Gellius spends the evening with Boudra, the others gather back at the Sinkhole as the light fades in the west. Well-wishers and hangers-on gather at Tower Street to chat with the men and hear tales of their latest conquests, but as the darkness deepens, the gregarious townsfolk find excuses to leave, citing the chill air and the lateness of the hour. As midnight draws near, the heroes find themselves alone in the lee of the Garrison. A mournful howling soon begins to emanate from the deepest crevice of the pit, and it billows into a chorus of overlapping wails. The heroes find the sounds eerie and disturbing, and poor Corvus suddenly snaps. “It comes for us!”, he cries, and rushes down the street in panic. Hikage quickly pursues his terrified ally, as Ragnar curses and spits into the sinkhole and Zendo listens carefully. Underneath the chilling howls, the sharp-eared bard can faintly discern screams of frustration or anger. Though he cannot discern the words, Zendo is sure that the words are shaped by a human (or humanoid) tongue, and not the yelps of some beast. Nothing emerges from the darkness, and the sounds, while unsettling, grow no louder, though they persist for several hours before fading away.
In the morning, Gellius and Corvus prepare their spells, and the men go out to seek Amander Malonial, to request his assistance in entering the tunnels beneath Sandpoint. Though they are granted a quick audience with the merchant, Malonial proves to be aloof and a bit condescending. He declines to allow the Saviors of Sandpoint access to his basement, explaining that he runs a business here, and allowing well-regarded local tomb robbers to tramp around in his storage space is not professional. When Zendo protests, pointing out their service to the town, Malonial parries, unimpressed. While the men are certainly rugged warriors, seeing off a goblin horde, and giantish raiders, they show no particular aptitude for careful investigation. Amander points out that the last time they investigated something suspicious, they burned down Foxglove Manor. When Gellius protests that the manor was infested with evil, the merchant points out that they would claim that, of course.
Zendo tries to appeal to Malonial, referencing the merchant’s own requests that Belor Hemlock investigate, but Amander shrewdly asks whether the heroes are actually deputized by the sheriff. When Hikage admits that they are not, the merchant replies that his intention in shutting off the access beneath his Glassworks was to stop well-meaning bumbling in the area, not allow it. The men, incensed, point out that they defeated an evil menace lurking under the town, but Amander points out that if, indeed, they believe there is something dangerous underground, then they were the ones who failed to find it, or stop it, the first time. He insinuates that they only wish to go into the catacombs to loot it further of valuables, as is their normal procedure. Hikage, in particular, is insulted, and Corvus, for himself, thinks that the merchant perhaps protests too much.
When Zendo warns Amander that the men will simply explore via the sinkhole, Amander replies, “Oh, so if I refuse you entry to the basement, where there has been no disruption, you will simply investigate the actual area where there has been some commotion? Say this is not so!”. Taking a curt leave of the mocking merchant, the men angrily march up Main Street. Though the slope down to the floor of the sinkhole is steep, Zendo leaps down lightly, trusting to his ring, and Hikage follows. Corvus, a bit petulantly, asks Ragnar to secure a rope and the towering Ulfen does so with exasperation, hammering a piton into the stone wall of the Garrison and tying off his rope securely.
Investigating the narrow crevice in the depths of the sinkhole, Zendo’s dancing lights reveal a slim passageway which seems secure. Though Ragnar has to squeeze tightly to fit through the crevice, he is able to pass through and the men follow him until the walls widen and the floor opens onto worked stone. The heroes find themselves in the collapsed remains of the Cathedral of Wrath, though most of the large chamber has collapsed, leaving only a narrow path down the stairs from the raised dais where they first found the glowing well. The doors to the cathedral have been sundered from their frames by the collapse, allowing easy access to the halls beyond.
Outside the Cathedral, the men are dismayed to find that the foul altar to Lamashtu has been removed. The black stone and its shallow basin of poisonous liquid are gone entirely. Exploring beyond, the halls show signs of recent passage, both of booted feet, and of dragged sledges. Moving to the entryway, the men see that the statue of Alaznist has been carefully chiseled away from the stone plinth and removed. Undoubtedly, Malonial’s own men have been looting the catacombs. Checking on the nearby passage towards the surface, the heroes find that the skull-encrusted pool where they encountered the vargouille has been removed as well. The blocked and collapsed spiral stairs towards the surface, however, remain sealed, though now, a fresh mortared wall, rather than just rubble, blocks the stairs.
Their irritation with (and suspicion of) Amander Malonial growing, the men find that the ‘prison cells’ remain undisturbed, but the nearby torture chamber is bereft of the ancient devices it once held. Even the cells which held the grossly disfigured skeletons of Lamashtu’s ‘chosen’ are empty, and the men realize that even these sad artifacts have been looted. The pits of the dead are silent and still, but a frame of wood blocks off the strange ‘levitation’ chamber that mystified the heroes on their first exploration. It appears that even Malonial was wary of disturbing the strange black energies that danced across the surfaces of that room. The passage downward appears to be blocked, but not by rubble. Instead, thick, ropy strands of webbing fill the spiral stair, and Gellius can tell that they were spun by no natural spider.
Corvus unleashes a jet of flame and burns away the webs, revealing the stairs to be clear, though the walls are marked by large, clawlike gashes. The men explore further, though Gellius must first burn away more webs as they descent. Arriving at a deeper landing, Ragnar announces he has found a dead end. Dubious, Corvus, Hikage, and Zendo all search the tiny chamber, seeking an illusion or cleverly placed secret door, all to no avail. In frustration, Hikage strikes the wall, but only succeeds in confirming that it is, indeed, stone. Rubbing his bruised knuckles, the monk gestures for Ragnar to follow suit, and the Ulfen’s adamantine sword slices deeply into the curving stone wall. Another such swing and the stone falls away! Ragnar has sliced not through a wall, but through a stout stone door, cleverly concealing a partially collapsed passage beyond.
The passage beyond is filled with thick mist, and Corvus finds that it is magical in nature. Not a simple spell of fog, nor a deadly cloud of poison, but part of a complex web of spells designed to guard and ward an area. The powerful spell cloaks doors with illusions, chokes passages with mist, and blocks stairs with thick webs. Magical alarms can alert the caster to intrustions, and various magical effects can be placed within the warded region. Clearly, someone was expecting intruders.
Gellius dons his Fog-cutting lenses and announces that he can see a wider chamber beyond the mists. The men file through the choked passage and enter a larger room. This room shows some evidence of collapse, though fog billows through a narrow crevice to the north. Zendo’s dancing lights reveal that the room continues further to the east, through a narrower hallway, also supported by pillars. Most unsettlingly, spiky Thassilonian runes cover the walls, ceiling, and floors. Most appear to be scribed or splashed with ink, though others appear to be drawn in blood, or scratched into the stone. Corvus and Zendo can see that most of the spiraling lines of script are prayers and scriptures to Lamashtu, but a short passage seems to have nothing to do with the Mother of Monsters:
If magic bright is your desire, to old Runeforge must you retire;
for only there does wizard’s art receive its due and proper start
Startled to find mention of the long-unknown Runeforge scrawled upon the walls, the men look around suspiciously and Zendo cautiously sends his lights down the length of the dark chamber. A soft, strangely accented voice, whispers in Thassilonian out of the darkness. “Who are the guests to the temple?”
Though they cannot see the speaker, Corvus and Zendo reply. The voice identifies himself as ‘The Scribbler’, though, in conversation, he admits that once he was the man named Xalisa. The Scribbler asks what has become of Thassilon, and what nation has replaced it. Zendo replies to him cagily, telling him only that Deverin rules the lands above from ‘water to water’. The Scribbler appears quite curious about the world above, and Corvus and Zendo resolve to tell him a little information in hopes of learning more of what he knows in return. Through experimentation, Zendo finds that Xaliasa cannot speak Taldan, nor does he understand Elvish, though he recognizes the tongue. This allows him to speak to his comrades while he banters with the sibiliant voice in the darkness.