With a clear course of action in front of them, the party, at the urging of Saurabh and Raúguey, elect to spend a day exploring the area around the current camp to see if they can find a better site for the mules and guards. The old fire pit and trails in the ruins have made folk cautious. Leaving the camp in place and guarded by the usual suspects, the main party heads out to explore, using the old road as a guide, but diverting off the rough path to investigate anything interesting.
They discover the road turns almost directly W a mile or so NW of their camp, winding through lowland woods that are broken here and there by creek-cut ravines filled with fallen trees and brambles. After a few miles travel west, Rawon calls a halt, saying, "We're getting further from the ruins than I like. Maybe we should turn north and try to spot the lake again." The others agree, and the party leaves the road heading north.
This proves to be a good choice. A few miles later the trees thin out, and Mordikarr hears water tumbling over rocks. The group heads toward the sound and finds themselves looking off the edge of a sharp drop, a ten- or fifteen-foot high rock face running NW to SE. A small stream gathers itself into a small pool, then flows over the stony lip into boggy ground below. "This isn't a bad spot," says Maro. "Between the wet ground below and the rock face, there's cover on one side, and the stream provides water."
Rawon clambers his way up a tree and scans the area northward. "It looks more open that way. I can see grass among the trees." He drops to the ground and continues, "We should spread out and look around. We haven't seen anything better than this, so let's split up and follow the edge, half in each direction.
"How about lunch first?" says Locky. The others agree with this sentiment, and after a hasty meal of hardtack and dried beef, the two groups head out NW and SE. Almost immediately the NW group runs into dense stands of locust and wild rose, a thorny mess that slows, then stops forward progress. They circle back around to the south and end up back at the new camp well before the others. With time on their hands they start to gather downed wood and build a small fire pit in a little alcove between two big boulders.
The other half of the party returns an hour later. "Nothing much to see that way. Just more woods and trees," says Ohwatoo.
Durego nods. "I think this is the place then. Let's head back and break the news." The others agree, and after an uneventful hike end up back at the old camp (which now seems rather muddy and gloomy) in the early evening. The guards have been busy. Anticipating a move, they've packed away the non-essential gear and dried out all the damp tarps and such. They've also bundled up several armloads of firewood and the improvised tent poles they were using. Everyone is tired, but after a quiet night's rest everyone is up early, ready to see the new, better campsite.
It's a quick morning hike to reach the new site, and there's no sign that anyone or anything has disturbed the fire pit or wood pile left by the scouts. The group busies themselves with setting up the new campsite, gathering wood, cutting thorny locust branches for a loose fence, and clearing away stones from sleeping areas. By nightfall, the place is well-ordered and as secure as a day's work can make it. As the group settles in for another night, Mordikarr asks Ava to fly a large circuit around the camp to see if she spots any intruders or potential threats.
The night passes quietly, and Ava reports seeing nothing threatening, just a few deer to the north. Heartened by this news, the main party sets out for the ruins once again, happy to leave the guards and mules in a better situation than the last time. They head east from the new camp, and after an hour or so of hiking find themselves in swampy ground within sight of the lake. It takes two more hours of slogging to reach the ruin, and after Rawon, Dagmarten, and Mordikarr scout the exterior, the group goes in, headed for the NW stair.
They descend to the small chamber below, and Raúguey takes the lead down the narrow south corridor (only five feet wide) as the others descend in file behind him. By the time everyone is down he has already passed the W door, iron-banded planks of water-soaked oak, and is into the chamber beyond. The space proves to be a hall or vault 15 feet or so N-S running at least 30 feet to the E. Square pillars cast long shadows on the black, rippling water, and even the magical illumination provided by the glowing stones cannot light all the side alcoves leading off this main passage.
"At least the floor seems firm. Feels like stone," says Durego from well back in the hall.
"Stone covered in icky mud!" squeaks Locky, who finds the water uncomfortably deep.
"Raúguey, keep watch on the chamber out there. Let's see what's behind this door," says Maro. Durego, carefully probes the floor around the doorway while Ingvild checks it over for traps, then gives the all clear. The thief takes a few steps back, leaving Maro and Mordikarr to shove at the water logged door. They give it a hard shove, and it shifts, then splits into rotten shards and fragments and the pair stumbles forward into the chamber beyond!
Luckily the room, a rectangular space 20 by 10 feet, is empty, save for a few floating pieces of waterlogged wood. A stone-topped table rises above the water at the S end of the chamber, a split and warped wooden goblet and several simple clay platters stuck to its top by spreading mats of mold. "Well, no one's been in here for quite a while," says Maro. "I doubt these rooms are much used."
"Guys! Down here!" Raúguey's call draws everyone's attention. Leaving the empty room behind the group moves forward into the larger space, where Raúguey is holding something on the end of his pole.
"What... is that a skeleton?" asks Ohwatoo, still in the hallway.
"It is! It's small too, like a kobold. I wonder what killed it?" answers Raúguey.
"Let's not find out!" says Durego, edging along the N wall to peer cautiously into the nearest alcove. "Hey, there's an open doorway here. Let's take a quick loo... ACK!" The cleric sloshes back away from the door and stumbles into the pillar behind him.
"What!?" asks Mordikarr, wading forward.
"Somethi - something in the water. I felt it with my pole. I think it moved!"
The wild man steps into the alcove, poking the water with his heavy two-handed blade. It grates against something hard, and he stabs, then lifts with a grunt. Another skeleton rises from the water. This one is bigger. Much bigger. "Bones too big for dog faces. Too big for man." He lets the bones slide off his blade and steps through the gap left by the long-rotted away door. "Another room. Wood things in water. And metal things."
Durego edges past the spot where the skeleton vanished and looks past Mordikarr's shoulder. "It may have been an armory. Those are weapon racks and all that's left of swords and shields." He and Mordikarr move in, followed by Raúguey, while the others remain in the hall. Aside from rusted blades, rotted shield frames, and fragments of chain armor, there's nothing of interest here.
"How long do you think this stuff has been here," wonders Maro.
"With standing water, it wouldn't take long to destroy this stuff, so it's hard to say," answers Ohwatoo.
"There's another open doorway down here," says Rawon gesturing S of the entry hall. He nods to Ingvild and Ohwatoo. "Let's take a look." Rawon leads the way, and the trio find themselves in a small room, no more than 10 by 10. "WOAH!" cries the elf as his pole disappears down a sudden hole. Probing carefully he finds a squarish pit in the SW corner of the small room, a low wall surrounds part of the opening. He can feel no bottom to the thing.
"Maybe an old well from before the place was flooded," says Ingvild, and Ohwatoo agrees.
"Let's keep moving. Check any open chambers, leave any closed doors for now," suggests Dagmarten.
The others nod along, and the group continues, eventually exploring the length of the pillar-lined hall. They examine two more rooms, one some kind of storage area filled with rotted crates and barrels, the other sleeping quarters for at least a dozen men or some similar-sized creature judging by the size of the decaying bunks.
"I think this must have been a barracks," says Locky, who has been staying well back from the action, clutching his sword and shield. The water too deep for him to use his sling.
"I think you're right," agrees Raúguey. "With all this water though, everything's ruined. Where next?"
"Shhh, hold still!" hisses Ingvild, standing near the door at the E end of the big hall. Most of the untouched doors are made of wood, but this door is an open grill-work of iron bars, still sound despite years of accumulated rust. The others halt in place and fall silent while the thief listens to the dark void beyond the bars. "I hear a scraping sound, very faint. And there are stairs here, going up."