Resting in the antechamber after the gauntlet, the Stars reunited with the Oaken Shields as they waited for the others. The Fiery Inferno came through a minute or two later, looking mostly unscathed and complimenting Sandeev’s expertise with the crystal controls. Sandeev himself had to remain behind, but seemed unconcerned (and excited to spend more time with the control room), sure that the Silverwatch mages would be along to collect stragglers later on that day.
After collecting themselves, the remaining Axe House teams pressed on through the tunnels, following the dwarven architecture as it twisted and turned, heading gradually downwards, they realized. Before long they came to a long hallway with a familiar sight: a Silverwatch portal, similar to the one used to arrive in the Crystal Halls, lay at the end of the tunnel. However, as they approached it, they realized it was no longer active – its runes were cracked and dulled.
Nearby, Corvus noticed a pedestal which had been tipped over, with a large golden axe next it. The axe itself was simply a cosmetic item, although heavy, engraved with “The First Games of Thorne” on its handle. The Stars then noticed a banner on the floor, though ripped and covered with a single bloody footprint (of an elf or human, it seemed), which read “Axe House” in elaborate calligraphy.
The portal itself seemed to have been placed directly in front of a similarly shaped circular door, which had been broken open (and recently, the Oaken Shields surmised), which led to a long hallway lined with what appeared to be vault doors of some dwarven construction. Quinn, Janos, and Armere were able to determine that these vaults had been magically sealed but recently broken, though the magic itself lingered still.
Some of the vaults were open already, one with the heavy stone door completely removed, broken in two. Inside one were five dusty pedestals, one knocked over, with empty sconces in the corner of the room, burning low on oil. In the corner of the room was an old dig site, a few tools and trinkets still left, but the site itself seemed to have collapsed. Another open vault contained one large runic pedestal, with a magical barrier still active, though the pedestal itself was bare. The Stars theorized that someone, likely the Forever Endeavor Trading Company, had pillaged what items they could, but it was obvious someone had been here recently.
Outside the hallway, in the dirt and debris left behind, Elchanar noticed a small trail of blood, with a couple bloody footprints within it, leading further down the hall.
Exploring further, the Axe House teams came to another strange door, a giant and elaborately marked vault door with glowing runes, which was wide open, leading to an enormous domed room. Holding the door open, Quinn realized, was a large and elaborate magical staff with a crystal orb at its head. Removing it closed the door, so, with nowhere else to go, the Stars returned it to the pedestal and moved ahead with the other teams.
As soon as they crossed the threshold to the domed room, the omniculi started to malfunction, shorting out and sputtering around. Inside the room was an enormous vault door flanked by two huge dwarven golems, immobile and facing the vault door. The sides of the room each had a smaller vault door, which were open, and in the center was a strange brightly colored plaftorm with glowing runic circles blinking all over the platform – in the center, floating in mid air and turning slowly, was a golden orb of some kind with brightly colored runes, flashing erratically.
The room itself was covered in dust and cobwebs, except for a barely visible bloody trail which led to the platform and then through the golems and into the enormous closed vault door. Lying in the center of the floor was the discarded robe of a Silverwatch mage, bloody and ripped.
Quinn, Armere, and Janos approached the platform, warning the others to keep their distance as they investigated the magical energy. They quickly discovered that the platform had a detection ward of some sort surrounding it, and that touching it would likely engage some sort of trap or alarm. Without many other options, the Stars and Oaken Shields agreed upon splitting up the remaining Axe House members and each taking one of the side tunnels, with the goal of returning here once they find anything of note.
Breaking the Fiery Inferno team into their own teams, the Falling Stars and Oaken Shields headed off in opposite directions. The Stars found that the hallway led into another domed room, identical to the previous but the runes, orb, and platform, were all inactive and unresponsive. The golems in these rooms were also in different positions, sitting in the corners of the room near the Vault door, instead of facing it.
In one of the tunnels, they saw a strange painting of a crosslegged skeleton scrawled into the stone wall, which they took note of.
After traveling through six of these hallways (and dispatching some curious gricks who hoped for an easy meal), the Stars heard a loud commotion up ahead and investigated, finding one of the domed rooms busy with activity. Led by Nimmonin the gnome, the Forever Endeavor Trading Company seemed mid-excavation, digging in and around the walls near a closed vault door, with dozens of works and guards moving between large excavation machines. Sitting among a few crates were the Oaken Shields, surrounded by FETC guards and looking bored.
Looking exasperated, Nimmonin called over a handful of guards and surrounded the Falling Stars, demanding to know what they were doing there. Wyverna explained that they were simply lost during their event, to which Nimmonin scoffed, looking annoyed. He pressed them further, and it was revealed that one of the other rooms had been activated somehow. The Stars then tried to excuse themselves, hoping to return to the chamber themselves, but Nimmonim quickly called over more guards to “escort” them back to the games, then hurriedly sent a handful of workers through the hallway.
Nimmonim deflected questions from Janos and Corvus about the doings there, saying it was a private matter, but invited them to call upon him at the FETC headquarters in Silverwatch Fort the following day.
The Axe House teams were then ushered to Sir Master Meebles VonWeebleton the III, of Archarkanopticon fame, who (after a couple of tries), activated a much larger portal in the chamber and sent the teams through.
As they exited the portal to loud cheers, they realized that they were now in the arena of Silverwatch Fort, and had exited a portal onto the Dagger House stage. Twill Tweed looked confused, but introduced the teams as they hopped to the Axe House stage and mounted the golden axe above them as other teams had done. Looking around, the Stars realized that they were the 8th of the 10 houses to finish:
- Wand House
- Sword House
- Spear House
- Halberd House
- Arrow House
- Fist House
- Dagger House
- Axe House
- Hammer House
- Shield House
However, the other houses all seemed to be fewer than before. As the audience and other teams drank and celebrated the close of the event, the Stars made small talk with the other houses, realizing that every house had lost a team during the event, as they had lost the Storm of Swords. Whichever team had entered the Shadow door had not returned, they soon found out.