Caves of Chaos, early morning, Lunadain, 1 Vatermont 1000 AC
Emily awoke between Maxalla and Helga. The large sable cloak was warm, comfortable and it would have been wonderful to snuggle in with Kart.
He had demurred citing that they had to be quiet in the passage overnight. She was starting to get frustrated. It had been fun to flirt with him to begin with but now he just seemed like a wet blanket.
“Ugh, I can’t believe we’re missing Tax Day.” She noted, although she already carried a note confirming that she was up to date for the quarter.
They ate quietly and donned their armour. Gwydion pulle don the mystery boots before half hooding the lantern. He listened at the secret door to the store room and then opened it out.
Systematically they opened crates, Helga and Emily guarding the passage out of the room.
Helga held her bow knocked but was still curious about the contents of the boxes. “Is there any evil temple stuff here? Red or black candles and the like.”
Kart found stoppered vials of what appeared to be water. “I suspect this isn’t holy water.”
“Can you sense if they are evil, Max?” Prompted Gwydion.
Max shook her head. “I didn’t pray for that spell. I didn’t think that it would be useful when there was such an evil feeling around.”
Dargar grunted and smirked. “The most evil store-room in the world!”
As they all chuckled, Emily let out a shriek of alarm. Despite looking down the passage, she had suddenly been attacked by a near-invisible creature. A large cube of Jelly had tried to whack her and engulf her. Only her lightning reflexes prevented her being paralysed by its toxin.
Arrows sailed over her head an buried themselves in the cube. Gwydion launched his silver dagger at the cube, perhaps hoping that the silver would not be dissolved inside of the creature.
Max called sharply and brought Spot and Rover to heel. She was not sure that their contacting the cube would be safe. She moved forward shield forward to slug the Jelly with her morningstar- it quivered with the impact.
The cube was so large that each of the adventurers could attack it- either marching up to one of its faces or launching a missile above one of their companions.
It attempted to strike Emily again but she avoided its blow, finally retaliating with her adamantium blade.
With a few more wet thuds the jelly melted into a wet pile on the floor.
In the aftermath of battle, Gwydion noted that he did not leave wet footprints after stepping in the ooze. Kart theorised “No footprints: maybe they’re boots of water walking.”
“Someone give me a hand.” Gwydion gestured to one of the barrels of water. Max steadied him as he popped up onto a crate and tried to stand on the surface of the water.
There was a loud splash as he was immediately wait deep in the water. The gypsy pulled himself out, pulled off the boots and his hose and started to wring out the hose.
Dargar lifted one of the boots and poured out the remaining water. “These things are bone dry! At least they won’t get covered in mud.” Gwydion thankfully pulled the boots on, sans the stockings, which he threaded over his pack to dry.
Max finished binding Emily’s wounds, turned to the group and declared: “There’s no point in waiting around here now.”
Emily slipped down the passage and came to a set of stairs leading down to the right. She padded back and brought the team up to that point before slipping down another passage to the left. Minutes passed and Emily slipped back into the lantern light.
“There’s three passages up there- left, right and straight ahead. There’s no movement about otherwise.” She lead them to the junction. When she turned around for direction, Kart and Gwydion both pointed right.
She slipped down the rightward passage and quickly returned, leading them on. They passed an alcove to the left and stopped at a door also on the left hand side of the passage. Facing the door were stairs down into darkness.
Whilst Gwydion listened at the door and Emily checked the handle, Dargar and Kart checked the alcove for a secret door. Neither pair found anything of note, so Emily pushed the door open quietly.
The room was odd. It was clearly opulent, with a luxurious bed, beautiful set of wooden table and chairs surrounded by tapestries on three walls. It wasn’t the artful tapestries either, despite their depictions of strife, undeath and inhuman torture. The bed was unmade, messy. There was a cheap box of cheap clothing on the floor. It seemed that someone had moved in here on short notice.
Emily moved a piece of velvet on the table, revealing a polished silver mirror and quickly moved on to slitting the pillows and mattress. Taking her lead Gwydion poked a sword into the wooden box. “I win.” He teased as the sword clanked against a bag of coins.
Kart lifted the bag out and popped it in his pack. “Are you noting that in your ledger?” Emily snarkily challenged. Kart looked affronted and was surprised by Gwydion making a note on a slip of paper. They returned to the intersection initially forsaking the stairs.
Straight on from where they had originated, Emily found a set of stairs up to a door. After a quick parley, she headed down the last passage, leading to another door.
There was a small hooded window in the door but Gwydion ignored it in lieu of another minute of concentrated listening. “Someone’s sleeping.. but there is something else.” He listened again. His voice came up in a question “Snakes?”.
Kart was on guard. “Step back.” He urged as he prepared to cast his spell. His hands finished their movements and ended up on either side of his forehead, eyes closed in concentration.
“Oh no. Just as I thought. There’s only one creature in there.” He took his time. I think that it’s standing up.
“A snakey person who is asleep standing up?” Gwydion’s brow furrowed. “I’m worried it’s a medusa but no-one sleeps standing up if they don’t have to. Maybe it’s a prisoner.”
Helga pulled a small mirror from her pack, Gwydion removed the velvet covered mirror. Kart lifted the hat off his head and placed not one but two sacks over his head. Even more cautiously he pulled his hat down as well.
Emiy checked the door, unlocking it and stepped back. The door was pushed open by Kart who stepped into the room, using his ESP to guide him. In the mirror, Gwydion saw the shapely legs of a woman chained to the wall, shadows hiding her face.
Dargar took Helgas mirror in his left hand and followed them in awkwardly.
Kart approached, he was just over a sword’s length from the woman.
Gwydions voice woke the medusa. The snakes came to life, whipping into a frenzy.
“Free me!” She screamed in fury.
“That sounds a bit dangerous to me.” Gwydion mused. “Why do they have you prisoner?”
She looked up directly into his face. Gwydion kept his eyes on the mirror. “They will kill me. They plan to sacrifice me to the demon-lord of undeath!”
Kart subtly nodded to Gwydion, confirming the truth of her statement.
“You must let me go! The gaoler promised to put out my eyes, cut off my hair and rape me before the ceremony. Please!”
Kart’s nod confirmed this.
“I promise to leave you safe if you free me. I have something to trade… They didn’t find a small salve I have to bring people back from being turned to stone.”
Kart finally spoke. “I don’t know how they missed it but she has the salve. The rest is a lie.”
“She’s dangerous and evil. She has to die here.” Determined Dargar.
She wailed in fury, trying to meet their gazes in turn. They each tried to attack, clumsily, getting in each other’s way but eventually brutally killed the monstorus woman.
“Should we destroy her heart?” Suggested Kart, fumbling whilst he averted his gaze but eventually finding the ointment tucked in the medusa’s belt.
Max’s brow furrowed. “I don’t know much about demonic sacrifices.” She waited until she found the right way to say the next few words. “I am pretty sure that with such a dangerous creature, they would have killed her if the sacrifice could have gone ahead with her corpse.”
Kart put one of the sacks over the medusa’s head and leaving, the room returned the other to Emily. After they had all left, Emily closed and locked the door.
They returned to the messed bedroom, preparing for battle with the presumed Jailer. Emily disappeared stealthily down the stairs opposite. The room below was large and well lit, Emily shifted her position in the stairwell to be in the shadows cast by the torches. The room was an odd mix: opulent couches what seemed to be torture equpiment, some of which had been moved to become an impromptu workshop.
At the bench was an energetic gnome, chained to the bench, puttering about on a project of some sort with the energy only a gnome could muster. To her left an ugly man moved into view. It was a half orc, clearly massive, brutal and bored. Emily imagined him less as a gaoler and more a frustrated torturer. She remembered the stories about the Black Eagle’s gaols
She shifted her position but just when she reached the last step, Emily slipped and banged her pack against a wall. The brute’s head snapped to the stairwell, eyes seekign and finding Emily in the half light there. “Oh, guys! I’m coming back in a hurry!” Emily warned as she turned to run. She had seen the Gaoler grasp a great two handed axe, twice her height.
Upstairs, Helga and Gwydion had opened the bedroom door and launched daggers and arrows over Emily and the dwarves at the half orc. Brushing off the inconvenient arrows, the Gaoler struck a ringing blow across Gareth’s hammer and shoulder, almost dropping the weapon from the grouchy dwarf’s grasp.
Kart leapt in from the Half-orc’s left side and slashed at his foe’s thigh, leaving a red slash through the thug’s leathers. Emily squeezed past Kart and caught her breath in the alcove before drawing her shortsword. She shivered. It had been a close call, out there on her own. She hoped that her friends would remain between herself and the axe.
Standing on the sturdy table in the guest’s bedroom, Helga took aim and launched a final arrow just above the gaoler’s studded armour and through his unguarded neck. The brute stumbled, dropping his axe and was brutally decapitated by Dargar, who immediately looked sheepish.
Sheathing her adamantium shortsword, Emily halted Kart’s cursory looting by notifying them of the prisoner downstairs.
" A gnome?" asked Gareth. Gwydion studied the slender dwarf he had not noted any curiosity in Gareth before this, only hatred tempered by discipline. Heading down stairs, they surprised the gnome at work. His workbench was indeed two torture devices pulled together, partly dismantled and covered in crude tools, tubes, springs, cogs and oilpots.
A wary smile found its way onto the prisoner’s middle aged face. With a clank he held out his chained hand and introduced himself as “Otto but everyone calls me ‘Red’”, whilst simultaneously rubbing his bald scalp.
Kart shook the gnome’s hand. It was true that Otto’s pate was surrounded by a rim of long wild red hair with long similarly coloured sideburns. He also had a longish chin-beard, also ruddy.
Despite his chains the gnome looked like he was in his enviroment. He was still dressed in a leather jerkin with a front flap, displaying two parallel rows of bright brass buttons running down each side. There was a pair of goggles framing his forehead, on a strap, almost his functional version of a crown. He had a large gnomish adjustable wrench on the bench, which he quickly brought up and used it like a pointer.
“You seem familiar.” Red pointed to Gareth with the wrench. “You’re from Highforge? Training as a smith, yes?”
Gareth nodded. “I’m a master now.” Gwydion noted Gareth’s neutral expression. Gareth would be good at card games.
Absently Otto noted Gareth’s forge hammer. “I’ve got a use for that!” He suddenly beamed, wrapping the manacle chains around the small anvil on his bench. To get into position, gareth dragged over a step and climbed onto the bench. With a flick the large hammerhead struck the chains with a clang and deformed the links, breaking Otto free from the bench.
Kart was taken aback by their alacrity “I, ah, got a key form the gaoler’s body.” He ventured.
Otto looked down to his still shackled wrists and the lengths of chain dangling from them. He patted Gareth absentmindedly on the back and declared “I like the symbolism of the hammer, but you are right, the key is still required.”
After he was released he introduced himself to each of them in turn.
“Do you need to collect anything?” asked Helga.
“The wrench is the only thing here I need. I left a chest buried near the Castellan Keep when I started into the humanoid tribes’ lands. If you have a spare crossbow, or if we find one, I wouldn’t refuse it.”
They headed up stairs to the intersection. Emily left down the remaining passage which lead to a rising set of stairs. Gwydion was summoned by to the landing above and he listened intently. There was a shuffling march leading away: the door opened onto a passage. Heading back they decided to make sure that they wouldn’t be attacked form the rear, backtracking to the stairs near the storeroom.
These lead down to a door barred from their side. The stillness, cobwebs and eerie groans from inside the room persuaded them to spike the door closed and head back to the ‘shuffling’ landing.
Gwydion listened again. There were no sounds and Emily opened the door a crack. The corridor turned a corner just outside, and in the passage ahead. “About fifteen, twenty zombies. Standing facing us.”
They returned to their companions, quickly running Otto through their standard tactics, varying the plan for their precarious position on the stair’s landing and getting themselves into their allotted places.
As planned, Emily opened the door and Kart, standing next to her, quickly chanted and released a web spell encompassing the zombies. Helga lead the way out, Gwydion, Dargar and Gareth streaming out to the left of the doorway and lobbing bottles of oil to be caught in the sticky webbing. Max held the dogs at bay and threw a burning brand into the flammable mess they had just created, setting the zombies aflame, culling all but a handful. Helga then released her first arrows, dropping another of the smoking corpses.
Next to where they had emerged, another door was flung open. Four black robed acolytes emerged, cursing and brandishing flails. One died with one of Gwysion’s daggers in his chest, and another ran to strike at Dargar. The third eyed the group at the top of the stairs. He hissed a dark curse, pointing to Otto and uttered a word imbued with entropic power “Stumble!”.
Emily watched as, perched at the top of the stairs, Otto overbalanced, tangled his feet and fell down the stairs into darkness.
Max released Rover and Spot, and the dogs growled and bit at the cultist’s robes, revealing sturdy armour underneath. The remaining zombies ambled forwards and bludgeoned at the heroes, their cracked blackened smouldering skin and smell of decay wrenching at Helga’s stomach. As they closed she drew a sword and hacked another back to oblivion.
Next to Helga, Gwydion stepped into the dying zombie’s slippery ichor. Steeling himself, he was surprised when his foot did not slide out from under him. Filled with confidence, he stabbed his ruby dagger at another of the undead.
Our heroes, in a numerical advantage, methodically decimated their foes. The last enemy, a zombie smashed to awful shreds by Gareth. The zombies’ robes had been burned off but evil looking amulets graced each of their forms. Similar necklaces adorned each of the acolytes, but their robes were essentially intact, the blood barely noticable as darker patches against black of the robes.
Emily brought the battered and bruised gnome up the stairs. He limped and had a crack in his goggles, wincing at every step.
In turn, they each looked at the grim scene about them.
“We need to decide which way to go.” announced Dargar. “We’re a bit below where we started, deeper into the end of the valley but I don’t know where an exit might be.”
Gwydion cleared a space on the floor and hunkered down. He reached into a pouch and drew out some small animal bones, casting them on the ground.
He looked up at his companions, the feel of evil still pervading their senses. “The bones tell us what we want to know. All paths away from here lead to great danger, but going down the rightward passage increases our chances of great rewards.”
He glanced at Emily. She was looping amulets over her sword, unconsciously, slowly, walking in the direction the bones suggested.