Runeport was build according to the exact specifications of a mad alchemist, who designed the stronghold as their personal transmutation circle. The circle, when activated, would drain the life force out of anyone inside its walls as a means of preforming the most horrific and most powerful form of transmutation. That's why the Alchemist's home, the Alchemist Tower, is located right outside of the octagonal border of the stronghold's walls.
Once word had spread of these crimes against nature, heroes were called to action. Having gathered a small army, these heroes were able to lay siege to the stronghold and take down the big bad evil. The people of Runeport were freed and although a large portion of its infrastructure was still left standing after the siege, most of the inhabitants choose to abandon the city to escape the horrors that took place there.
For years, no one dared enter the ghost town of Runeport, until one day a group of Zootheistic free folk were on the lookout for a place away from society and found the abandoned stronghold to be just the spot.
They called it Zoolatra, a haven for all people who worshiped their animal companions.
Slowly but surely the commune of Zoolatra started to grow in numbers. They shared livings spaces at first, slowly rebuilding the ruins and patching up its walls. Dividing the town up in districts for each class of worshiper. Dogs, cats, birds, reptiles, all types of animal lovers were welcome.
And once they had discovered a hidden entrance to the keep, whose original entrance had been destroyed in the siege, the one fish person in the commune had also found their new home.
Exploring the keep, eventually turned into exploring the alchemist's tower. Wanting to be as close to the ocean as possible, it didn't take long for them to find their way inside.
With just a touch of magic and their fishbowl by their side they had managed to gain entry to an area that held the stronghold's darkest secrets. Tomes and tomes of notes on the art of transmutation, including spells that made it possible for the alchemist to awaken any beast or plant.
This fascinated the tower's new inhabitant to no end, and although their arcane abilities were rather limited, they decided to dedicate their life to unlocking its powers. Giving the people of Zoolatra all they had ever desired.
The first experiments were mainly focused on an effort to improve the intelligence of their own companion, a goldfish, to figure out the basics.
After a lot of trial, and mainly error, the self-taught alchemist decided to speed things up a notch and utilize the full power of the stronghold's sigil. They gathered all the Zoolatrans at the center of town, for what was hailed as the most celebrated of occasions, without any real clue as what they were about to unleash.
What was supposed to be just a mass awakening of all their dear animal companions, turned out to be much more powerful than they could have ever dreamed as all of the animals grew into a humanoid form of their former selves. The only issue being that the toll for this transaction was the bodies and minds of the humanoids who were involved in the ritual.