After stopping the cultists who were attempting to summon an unknown horror beneath Candlemere, the party returned their focus to locating the missing citizens of Varnhold. They traveled back to the island that lay just beyond the Valley of the Dead that had long been warded by the Nomen centaurs. Arriving at the island, the party was able to locate a door on the island and sent Aven in to investigate the immediate interior.
He soon located some broken pottery as well as a few bits of jewelry that appeared to have been stored in the pottery. The pottery was clearly very old. Looking around Aven also observed a number of runes on the walls of the corridor which were latered determined to be some sort of a magical ward, though the magic had already been dispersed from the ward.
The party delved deeper into the tunnel and soon located a room wherein resided two dread zombie cyclopes. Although the zombies had the potential to be very deadly, they proved to be little more than an annoyance to the party. Continuing on, an underground lake of sorts was located where it appeared as though a river had breached the surface of the underground tunnel. As they begin to investigate this pond, and discovered a set of stairs leading down, the party was approached by an elasmasaurus which seemed to have no difficulty swimming through the water. Rather than try to fight their way past the dinosaur, Baron Black instead interacted with it, attempting to calm the creature. Vlad used a series of gestures, soothing sounds and some food in order to calm it, and while he could not fully tame the massive beast, he was able to convince it to swim away and leave the party alone.
After the beast swam away, the party learned that the stairs lead to an underwater tunnel. Although there was no air in the tunnel, a reconnaissance mission enabled them to learn that the tunnel itself was not very long and that the party could easily swim to where the water receded and air could be found. Together the party swam through the tunnel and encountered a large, open room that contained lots of ancient pottery, but also two soul eaters. The party attacked the soul eaters as they continued to search for the lost villagers of Varnhold, and while they were ultimately victorious, it came at a high cost as Thom suffered numerous mental attacks and was clearly not quite himself afterward.
After dispatching the soul eaters the party ventured further into the underground ruins and came to another large chamber, this one filled with numerous statues of cyclopes. Upon an initial glance, the room appeared to be a dead end, though Aven did notice a number of disc shaped grooves in the ceiling of the chamber. As he searched further, Aven soon discovered a secret door on the far end of the chamber. As he was preparing to open the secret door, Aven noticed that it was trapped. Taking a moment, Aven was able to disarm the trap and then open the door. He stole a quick peak through the door and saw another stairway that lead up and curved to the left. Aven returned to the chamber and suggested that someone should scout ahead. Thom, who had yet to recover from the fight with the soul eaters and thought it was a great idea and turned himself into an earth elemental and proceeded to scout the tunnels ahead.
The party waited for him in the chamber to return and inform them of what he saw. And waited. And waited. After several minutes had passed, they feared for the safety of their friend and went off to look for him. They followed the stairs and the tunnel they opened up to and soon found a set of double doors. They went through the doors and found a room with two other sets of doors leading out of it, as well as three altars. The altars appeared to be dedicated to the god Charon and two of them contained oil lamps and bowls.
Bernard went over to the altars with the lamps and lit the oil lamps before looking at the door between two of the altars. Looking at the door he could not detect anything amiss and so he reached for the handle to open the door. As he touched the handle of the door, a trap, that he failed to notice, was set off and an explosion ripped through the room, dealing both physical and mental damage to everyone in the room. Bruised and battered by the trap, the party backed out and went back to the chamber at the base of the stairs, leaving hints for Thom as to where they had gone to rest. Thom never returned that night.
After resting up, the party regrouped and went back out in search of Thom. They returned to the room with the altars and this time were able to detect the trap on the door. After disabling the trap, the party went forward and were soon encountered by a demon that appeared out of thin air. This demon had the head of an octopus, the claws of a lobster and the legs of a man. The claws were razor sharp and very strong but the party was able to defeat the demon. It was then that they were able to see a small cell beyond the demon in which the centaur Xamanthe was chained up. The party removed the chains from Xamanthe but found that she was very injured and also completely paralyzed. It took some time, but Joseph was able to cure her paralysis and the centaur agreed to join the party in their exploration of the ruins.
As the party continued to explore they eventually located a large pool of acid with a door on the far side. As they began to look for a way across, they were attacked by an undead mage flying overhead. This mage bore the robes that had been worn by Cephal Lorentus, the magister of Varnhold, and was the first sign they had come across of any of the missing villagers. Aven flew up to confront the corrupted mage and with a little help from the party was able to kill him without much trouble. Unfortunately, as the mage began to fall Aven tried to catch him but missed. As Cephal plunged beneath the surface of the acid, Aven dove down to try to reach him, not realizing how strong the pool of acid was. By the time Bernard was able to use his own healing abilities to retrieve Aven, the monk was dead. The party took Aven's body, and retreated so that they could rest for the night and so that Joseph could resurrect Aven shortly after midnight.
With Aven returned from the dead, the party was mostly whole again, though Thom had still not been found, either alive or dead. The group continued to venture deeper into the ruins and soon found a large, grisly banquet hall. The hall was dominated by a massive dining table, capable of seating dozens of people. Unfortunately, although the seats were mostly full, the occupants of those seats were former citizens of Varnhold, including Maegar Varn who was seated at the head of the table. All of the Varnholders at the table though were dead, their skulls torn open and their brains removed. Also in the room were four dread zombies.
As the party fought the zombies a fifth creature joined, a spectre. From what the party could tell, the spectre appeared to take the form of a former Varnholder named Willas Gundersen who had previously told a tale of finding an ancient bracelet along the shore of a river. Familiar by now with fighting the undead creatures, the party had very little trouble dispatching these creatures and were soon moving further into the ruins. After a little further travel they came to a room with a large pool of water in it. As the party approached the pool a massive water elemental emerged and attacked them. The party's combined effort were enough to momentarily dispatch it as it splashed to puddles all around them. A moment later though it reformed into an even larger elemental. This elemental was very powerful but stood little chance against the combined might of the party.
The party then approached a final door and carefully opened it. As they opened it they were greeted by the sight of their lost party member, Thom, hanging by his wrists at the far end of a throne room, his body stripped bare. Of more immediate concern was the large figure with a massive axe that stood in the center of the room. As Bernard and Vlad stepped in, the creature charged at Bernard with a vicious snarl and brought the axe down hard. The blade cut through the paladin's armor as if it were little more than cloth. Bernard's torso was torn open from his right shoulder to his left hip as the paladin fell limply to the ground, blood and entrails spilling out. Shocked by the sight of their friend falling in a heap, the party had little time to mourn as just then another figure, and undead cyclops appeared from where it had been hiding invisible and cast a spell at Cice.
Shaken from their shock, the party moved to retaliate. Vlad and Aven squared off with the armored figure, a graveknight, while the rest of the party focused on the undead spellcaster. The graveknight was soon slain and the party turned its full attention to Vordakai, the cyclopean lich. Aven moved in to hammer blows at the creature, but soon found that he himself was paralyzed by Vordakai's touch. Joseph was able to remove that paralysis though and Vlad, after finding his initial attacks ineffective then invoked the power of Erastil and began to smite the lich. As Vlad rained blows down upon the lich, Aven used his newfound freedom of movement to pepper the cyclops with punches. At last, Aven was able to grab the lich's head and his fists erupted in flame, burning the flesh off the skull of the lich and dropping the body to the ground.
The party was quick to free their friend Thom and found him similarly paralyzed, as was Cice by the fight with Vordakai. They also began to search the room and found a shelf filled with dozens of soul jars, as well an alcove filled with treasure. Also of note though was the gem that occupied the lone eye socket of Vordakai. The gem radiated an overwhelming aura of conjuration and divination magic as it pulsed with a red flame in its center. As the party was looking at it, Aven reached down to grab it so he could examine it more closely. As he grabbed the gem, he felt its warmth and his eyes flashed briefly before he reached up and plucked his own eye out of its socket before slamming the gem into the now empty socket, a stream of blood flowing down his cheek, but seeming to clot almost instantly.