The trek to the sinkholes, known locally as the Hellpits, took just over two hours by horse, bison, and ibex. The pits were three circular sinkholes, of such great age that trees were growing out of their sides. Looking down into them, water could clearly be seen at the bottom of each of them, with the largest having a significant pool big enough to encompass a small island, on which appeared to be a sign of artificial construction of some sort. After scouting around, the party found a fissure, evidently a dried-up creek, that provided a pathway down.
The party made its way carefully down, with Grom in the lead, Allicus behind him with longspear readied to help strike anything Grom encountered. Okalla followed, axe in hand, while Xaraya was using her magic to look ahead. Then came Redcrow, with Skye backing up, ready for anything that should attempt to jump them from behind.
The first and smallest sinkhole was some 40 meters deep and about 15 meters in diameter. It had a bowl-shaped depression filled with stagnant water. Xaraya had seen some evidence of snakes in the water, and her magic also told them they bore the taint of chaos. The party, forewarned, was able to dispatch the snakes with ease.
The party followed another fissure into the largest sinkhole, some 50 meters down, the one that contained the pool, island, and trees. Xaraya’s magic had warned the party that there were large creatures living in the pool, and so they all cast their charms and spells before moving in. Three huge Dragon Snails emerged from the water, one with two heads. Allicus moved to confront the smallest, while Okalla, her magic glowing as she entered her Axe Trance, charged the second. Grom prepared to face the two-headed beast. Okalla proved to be remarkably powerful, decapitating her opponent in one blow before moving to help Grom dispatch the second (and whenever they fought side-by-side there was a clear spark of electricity between them). Allicus was able to do away with the beats facing him with the help of missile fire from Skye, Redcrow (who proved remarkably accurate despite his blindness), and Xaraya. Three mighty Dragon Snails fell in the span of less than a minute.
The party took a look at the island, which appeared to have a statue on it. There also appeared to be signs of human construction in a cave on the other side of the pool. Making a note to check this out later, the party decided to check out first what appeared to be a large cave to the west.
This cave was a large hall covered in stalagmites and stalactites. A small pool glistened at the north end of the room in front of a rock formation. As the party moved into the room, a ghost pounced on them. Luckily for the party, it chose Redcrow as its victim, and after a struggle he was able to dissipate the evil spirit, but not before it had summoned a host of skeletons from a passage to the south. Grom, Allicus and Okalla were able to dispatch them with ease, but the party realized that the noise they made in doing so was bound to have alerted whatever creatures existed in the rest of the caves.
Ignoring the pool for the moment, the party entered a passage to the northeast, which emerged in an oval-shaped cave that looked like a ghastly parody of a lord’s trophy room. Skins and rugs were strewn about, and arms, armor and other trophies adorned the walls. More importantly, a pack of wolves snarled as the party entered, and in their midst was a homely female vampire clad in a simple peasant dress, but Xaraya’s magic told her she was imbued with supernatural power.
This fight was much harder than the previous ones, but thanks to the magical protections Xaraya had cast on the party the wolves were unable to do much damage to them even when they successfully bit or jumped. Eventually, Grom was able to make his way through to face the vampire, and he avoided her bite to land a crippling blow that sent her to the ground. Despite his status as an Acolyte of Humakt, Grom was unable to remember what to do to finally end a vampire’s rotten existence, and so they left the unresponsive vampire girl on the ground as they examined the rest of the room, finding some magical items and a pile of treasure guarded by a nest of snakes, which once again they dealt with easily.
As Xaraya stepped forward to examine something in the north end of the room, which Grom had initially offered to check, she was surprised by an elderly figure clad in ancient bronze plate armor that moved out of the shadows of a fissure to the west. It cast a mighty spell, and Xaraya realized she was lucky not to have been killed outright. Instead, spectral blades slashed her all over, one of them severing her left leg, and she fell to the ground, dying.
Skye took one look at the creature and what it had done to her friend and hurled her javelin with all her might and magic. It pierced the vampire’s armor and impaled itself in his chest. The vampire cursed her and said that one Humakti priest was enough for the night before dissolving into smoke. The armor fell to the ground with a clang.
Okalla ran over to Xaraya and cast her mightiest healing magic, drawing on all the life giving power of the earth around them. This saved Xaraya’s life and returned her to consciousness, but the princess was left heavily scarred and without a leg. Grom remembered that vampires required resting places and searched the caves around for them, finding two stone burial biers in an adjoining cave, which he smashed and performed Humakti rites over. In the time that he and the rest of the party were searching for them, a helpless Xaraya saw the vampire girl turn to smoke and drift away up a crack in the ceiling.
Realizing that Xaraya’s needs overwhelmed all other considerations, the party forewent any further exploration and carried the helpless girl back to Garhound. They took her to the healers, who told her that regrowing a limb was beyond them – it needed Earth or Fertility magic. As it happened, Grom remembered the favor he was owed by the cult of Ernalda for returning the holy bowl he had found in the Blind King’s Palace, and petitioned the Garhound priestess Cara Goodhound for aid. She agreed, thanks to the tale Grom told her about all the aid they had given to the sisters of Horn Gate, and cast the magic to begin the process of regrowing Xaraya’s leg. For the next few days, Xaraya was laid up in bed healing, but she was still able to play a part in the ongoing adventures.
As morning broke, two pieces of terrible news reached the town. The first was that another girl had been discovered, a local this time, murdered in similar fashion. The second was that a lone survivor of the Humakti party staggered into town. They had been ambushed almost as soon as they entered the woods, he claimed, the victims of a trap set by a homely girl who claimed to have hurt her leg but turned out to be a vampire, and a powerful, ancient-looking vampire magician who slaughtered Willem and the survivor’s companions, drinking their blood and stealing their magic. The source of that terrible spell became apparent. The vampire had used Humakti death magic against them!