Comes the dawn, and while the bulk of the party are sorting out the mess on the estate, Kowalski, Pascal and Soreth investigate the hill where the giant figure was standing last night, using its astrolabe and taking notes. Examining the footprints leads Kowalski and Pascal to the conclusions that the giant was 30 feet tall, and took a running jump into the air. Squinting along the path he would have taken by doing this, Pascal's detect arcana shows him a magical cloud some miles away. Pascal is keen to get up there and talk to the studious and erudite cloud giants, but in the absence of a way to do that, they decide to return to the dungeon, which has surfaced again and is now sunning itself in the sinkhole where Marblehall used to be, snoring.
It's the work of moments to retrace their steps, and with no monsters this time they have time for sightseeing. Translating runes from the dwarven forge chamber reveals it is part of the city of Shasto, devoured by a sentient dungeon called the Stone Thief some centuries ago. Kowalski explains:
There are living dungeons, chaotic spasms of hate-filled architecture that swim up from the depths and erupt onto the surface, their corridors and chambers spreading out like a cancer beneath the ground. Most living dungeons rise up and become permanent features of the world, or are killed by adventurers before they can establish themselves. Until the end of the 12th Age, the dwarves dealt with most of them before they could surface, but the days of dwarven glory are long since gone.
But there’s one living dungeon out there that’s different, one that’s unique. It doesn’t claw its way blindly to the surface, to survive or perish as fate dictates. This dungeon is awake, aware, and cunning like some wild beast made of stone and iron. The Empire calls it the Stone Thief.
Stone Thief? Feh! Call her by her true name, Makh Miz Adaor, She Who Undermines. Call her Makh Adaz Akor, The Howling Pit. Call her Khazar Vuk Varag, Oldest of Hatreds. Long, long before the Stone Thief broke through the underworld to the surface, she was a bane of the dwarves in the deep. (The dwarves always refer to the dungeon as ‘she’.)
Proceeding to the room of the Doorkeeper, the group renews its acquaintance and trades it tales of life on the surface for information about the itself and its brothers. They also learn that there are refuges in the dungeon where one can survive if it submerges; the largest of these is called Dungeon Town; the Doorkeeper doesn't know why people don't just walk out when the dungeon is on the surface. Pascal draws a picture of a wood and pins it on the wall opposite, to give the Doorkeeper something new to look at.
THE DOORKEEPER'S TALE
The Custodians are a gaggle of elemental earth-spirits from the underworld that the Stone Thief half-devoured some time ago. After the Prince of Shadows blinded the dungeon, they were promoted to ad hoc managers of the various sub-levels. The Custodians are all terrified of the Stone Thief, since it can finish its consumption of them and destroy them utterly whenever it wants. The longer the dungeon stays blind and broken, the longer they get to keep their temporary custody of the various levels. They are supposed to kill any adventurers they meet, but adventurers are resourceful and can be helpful in various ways.
The one thing all the Custodians agree on is that their survival depends on keeping the Stone Thief dependent on them. There are seven of them left – there used to be eight, but one died.
The Doorkeeper is the runt of the pack. It’s stuck guarding the Front Door in the Maw, and is mostly harmless. (The party has befriended the Doorkeeper by playing on its curiosity and boredom.)
The Mad Butcher runs the Gauntlet. It carefully cultivates a reputation as a giggling maniac, but it can connive with the best of them when it has to.
The Architect in the Gizzard considers itself the leader of the Custodians, and is the only one who’s really loyal to the Stone Thief.
The Gravekeeper and the Pearlkeeper both stay in their respective domains of the Ossuary and the Sunken Sea — one because it’s imprisoned, the other because it just doesn’t care. The Gravekeeper was once a close ally of the Vizier.
The Curator lives in the Pit of Undigested Ages. It’s the most erudite of the Custodians, and the most powerful.
The Vizier monitors Deep Keep, and is the most ambitious of the group. It quarrels with the Architect.
An eighth Custodian once ran the Grove, but was destroyed.
The Doorkeeper considers the party friends now, so the riddle to get past it and onto the stairway down becomes quite simple: "What is it that looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck?" After a couple of failed attempts, the party realises that the answer is "A duck", and gains access to the stairs down to the second level, which the Doorkeeper advises is called the Gauntlet.
Partway down the stairs is a landing, leading to a corridor. Pascal steps off to investigate, and X7-09 (tagging along as a porter and light source) naturally follows. At once, the stairs rotate, transforming the stairway into a slide, and Soreth and Kowalski hurtle downwards. Seconds later, the corridor collapses, and Pascal and X7-09 also fall, pursued by several dozen tons of rubble. Shortly, everyone slides into a cavern, where their fall is broken by a huge pool of sewage, water, gnawed body parts of several species, and so forth.
Pascal quickly walks up the wall and fades into the background, while X7-09 clambers around the cavern wall just below the surface and reaches a ledge on the side of the cavern. Meanwhile, a serpentine head emerges from the water as Kowalski and Soreth flounder, being dragged down by the weight of their armour. This proves to be attached to a regenerating, fire-breathing hydra, and a short duel of breath weapons ensues between Soreth and the hydra, while numerous hydra heads and melee weapons exchange futile blows underwater. At length a fear spell drives the hydra off, and assisted by X7-09, the party hauls itself onto the ledge.
Meanwhile, Pascal has found a shaft some 20 feet wide and over 100 feet tall, leading up from the ledge. At the top is a glowing crystal that sends pearly white light down to the party below. The walls are sheer in most places, but there are some sections of carved stonework (a winding and partially broken bas-relief depicting dwarven miners tunneling in the depths of the underworld) where the group can make out footholds and handholds. Long straight grooves or slots run along the inner walls of the well. These slots never cross each other, but seem to be arranged randomly. One cannot easily climb the well without crossing one or more of these slots.
Pascal discovers that the slots contain huge circular saw blades when one slides out to bisect him, but manages to dodge them and emerges at the top of the shaft, below the crystal. To his left a short, curving corridor stump leads towards the stair/chute, but that now has a large hole in it where the bulk of the corridor fell into the pool of sewage below. To his right, a short corridor leads into a chamber where seven big, faceless statues sit on thrones , each atop a large dais with a door in it. Each carries a tool of some sort. In the center of the room, equidistant from the statues, is an engraved plinth – too distant and too poorly lit to read.
An icon is invoked to jam the saw blades in their slots, and the others clamber carefully up to join Pascal.
It is at this point that they notice a swarm of undead spiders descending on them from around the crystal above… they are currently drawing breath, dripping with sewage, and awaiting the onslaught of the spider swarm.