In which the heroes learn a lesson of betrayal and lay downeth the smack.
Tira scrupulously searched the bodies of the dead hobgoblins, finding only a few silver coins in pouches attached to their belts. The party then moved into the ruined tower and discovers a stairway leading down, with torches spaced every 20 feet, casting shadowy reflections on the wall.
Descending into the earth, they travel down a level passageway from the stairs, which opens up about 100 feet later into a large room, with a 10 foot high ledge to the north. However, what most attracts the party’s attention is the hobgoblins in the room, who are taking active steps to assault the party members. The warcaster, having knocked a ladder to the ground, assaults the party from the vantage point of being on the ledge, while the soldier and archer hold them off from below.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on whether one is cheering for our protagonists or secretly wishing their demise, the hobgoblins are no match for the group’s well coordinated tactics, and are quickly dispatched.
Another “corpse search” by Tira gathers some more silver, but more importantly she is able to liberate a few shiny gold coins from the dead hobgoblin mage. The rest of the ledge is also searched, but other than a few loose rocks that glint promisingly in the torchlight, but turned out to be ordinary stones, there is not even the presence of a rat to disturb the underground gloom.
The party continues to follow the caverns deeper into the earth. All around them they find the supplies and refuse of the hobgoblins, but no further signs of the first party of adventurer’s. Soon they come upon a pair of large stone doors, worn smooth with age. However, the curious part is that the doors are closed and barred from their side, as if preventing access to the outside world; but to whom or what?
Some discussion takes place at this point and Kerig is closely questioned for insight into what this means, but he is unable to shed any light on the subject, as his tribe never went past this door. In fact, he seems visibly nervous at the party’s intention to continue further, but Skamos sternly enforces his cooperation and offer him a smoke to help mellow his nerves.
As the bar is lifted and cast aside with the joint grunting of Erais and Kathra, is it possible that more than the hobgoblin has misgivings about continuing past an obviously ominous sign? Where is the party’s shortest member, he who normally has no problems filling any room with the sound of his firm opinions; what has happened to Snúgel?
At the moment, though, no one is thinking to ask or perhaps noticing his absence as Kathra insists on following the hobgoblin down the stairs, who is protesting this course of action, but finds no relief from the dwarf’s strength, who forces him ahead of her.
Skamos takes a brief moment to intone a cantrip and Erais’ helm shines forth, once more, with a bright light, to replace the empty wall scones that line either side of the hallway.
The ornately carved steps lead into a rectangular chamber with walls so finely carved and barely touched by the passage of time, that Kathra lets out a low whistle of appreciation.
Her attention is further gravitated towards the large pool of sapphire water, that commands the middle of the room. Under other circumstances, its waters might be inviting for a refreshing drink, were it not for the sudden chill that strikes each party member as a simultaneous shiver running down their spines.
Allowing no time to misunderstand this sensation, three skeletons rise to life. Two flank either side of the pool and wield rusty, but nonetheless dangerous looking longswords and the third, standing at the head of the pool, bursts into purple flames.
Kerig confirms his suspicions that his tribe was wise not to enter into this forbidden chamber, but nonetheless supports the party with arrow fire from the middle of the stairs.
The more stalwart souls of the party confront the evil directly and this time, unlike their previous, near fatal battle with the undead, is an easy victory.
Having never heard of the idiom about cats and curiosity, Erais boldly plunges his right hand deep into the calm pool. He just as, if not more quickly withdraws it, as electricity arcs up his arm, sending a dangerous volt into his body and momentarily stopping his heart.
There may or may not be chuckling at this point, as a side passageway, leading further into the complex is entered, and the party departs the room with the pool, now littered with bones and fragments of bones.
Continuing down the forgotten halls, tablets scrawled with hieroglyphics from long forsaken religions, line the walls, creating a sense of unwanted intrusion. After an interminable time, the silence broken only by the steady rhythm of Kathra’s mailed feet against the stone floor, another set of stairs trails down into an expansive room.
Dominating the far side, three large stone statues of gargoyles leer from across a huge crack – a gaping wound in the earth that resemble the maw of a hungry giant, at least to Kerig’s overactive imagination.
Stepping cautiously into the room, Erais is the first to investigate the fearsome statues for any signs of animating magic. However, while the statues seem safe enough, as the cleric begins to call out that all is clear, he notices a wispy cloud created from his breath, as if outside on a brittle winter’s day.
Lurching from around the sides of the two end statues, a pair of gaunt humanoids shamble forward, each with tendrils of wintry smoke floating from their frames. The party sets into motion at this new menace.
They quickly realize these beings, obviously some form of undead, are mostly immune to the sting of their weapons and the proximity of their presence burns the skin with an arctic chill.
Tira, thinking quickly, calls upon the unseen forces she cavorts with in her dreams and one of the foul creatures is pulled into the gaping crack and swallowed from sight, no evidence of its existence escapes, not even a slight sound of the body hitting the bottom of the pit.
Kathra hews mightily at the remaining creature, but soon feels increasing frustration, as her mighty bone-shattering blows seem to have little effect on the foul enemy. Riardon, perhaps aided by his connection to the Fey Realm, strikes home with successive arrows that pierce the creature so deeply, even its unnatural resistance is forced to yield.
The combined might of the five adventurer’s and hobgoblin soon rob the corpse of its foul, animating energies and it lies motionless on the cool stone floor. Rubbing his hands together, Erais seeks to restore some warmth to his body, as he peers down the hallway that leads further into the unknown.
As the group heads down the northern exit, they find another desolate hallway, but not more than thirty feet down, Tira’s sharp eyes spy a pair of repeating crossbows, cleverly connected with a thin network of cables and lines, attached to various stones and plates on the floor. Pinned to the West wall, by several crossbow bolts, is the body of one of the zombie creatures. The half-elf sets to work and quickly has the trap disarmed.
The passageway eventually dead-ends into another pair of stone doors, but these appear to be barred from the opposite side. In a combined effort of stout, dwarven strength and human muscle, the doors are rushed and broken down, sending Kathra and Erais stumbling into the chamber beyond.
From a shadowy recess in the room a crossbow bolt flies over Kathra’s head and strikes the stone wall in a futile effort to damage it. Erais gasps as he spots a figure sitting in one corner of the room, shaking with the effort to hold the crossbow crooked in his arms. Skin hangs off of his gaunt form and his left foot is missing below the ankle, but his eyes light up when he gets a clear view of Erais’ holy symbol.
The man quickly introduces himself as Dallik Marzden, Kellin’s older brother. He relates a grim tail of heroism and betrayal. He explains how he came to the ruins countless days ago to rid it of the evil, only to find that the place itself was vile, saturating the walls like a black blood.
Verk turned on him, sticking a dagger into his back and throwing him inside, while barring the doors and leaving him to the horrors within. He goes on to explain, in a faltering tone, with frequent rests to gather his strength, that he cut his way down to his current position. However, it was not without great cost; a wound in his foot begin to fester and he had to cut it off. In addition, what meager rations he had were soon consumed and he believed a painful death from starvation welcomed him from the world.
“You have saved me, my friends.”
Erais administers what aid he can to the hobbled man and soon the party seeks egress from the foul place.
As the party comes back upon the room with the sapphire pool, a figure steps down the stairs. Cloaked in black and flanked by two grim and brawny men in mail coats, Verk looks up and down at the emaciated figure who accompanies the group.
“I have slain many men more worthy to breathe air than you, Dallik,” Verk spits out. “I foreswore you would not leave this crypt and now you shall know the truth of my word. My next appointment shall be with young Anette, she is in need of a true experience with pleasure.” The way Verk smirks with this last statement implies that the comely young barmaid will experience anything but pleasure at his hands.
Throwing off his cloak reveals a body of pale skin tattooed in swirling, black ink. Unwrapping a wicked spiked chain from around his waist, he begins to spin it with amazing dexterity. With a single word the two men with him rush to the attack!
Verk’s dances in and around the party, balancing effortlessly on the edge of the pool, lashing out with the long reach of his vicious weapon. His companions lay about with their maces. It appears to be a deadly encounter that will call upon the each adventurer’s deepest reserves of strength and will. Dallik slumps against the wall and lets out a sigh of acquiescence to his fate.
And yet, the group has faced more than a few horrors at this point and remains unimpressed by the speech or the melee capability of their foes. Kathra breaks bones, Riardon shoots two arrows as one, Erais calls forth a burst of divine radiance to sear his foes, Skamos sends magically conjured acidic arrows to eat away at his enemy’s flesh. But perhaps most terrifying of all is the dark dream Tira conjures in Verk’s mind, a figment so real he staggers about, losing all semblance of grace; what could possibly cause such intense fear in one so grim as him?
And so they lay downeth the smack and soon it is Verk and his cohorts who lie motionless on the floor. Dallik’s eyes light up at the carnage and he regards his new friends with an even greater degree of respect. Even Kerig seems to tremble slightly as he holsters his bow across his back.
Finally, emerging from the ruins, into the welcoming light of the sun, the adventurers find four men standing outside the decrepit tower. One of them in a large fur cloak turns. It is Kellin Marzden, looking very surprised to see everyone, but one in particular.
“My brother! You are alive!” gasps Kellin in astonishment.
“Pelor’s blessings to my new friends,” Dallik croaks out. “Your man Verk lies dead below.”
A distraught countenance briefly flickers over Kellin’s face.
“He was my greatest weapon.”
“You betrayed me, brother,” Dallik retorts weakly. “I loved you and you left me in there to die.”
“You should have died. It was a hero’s death and your shadow would have left me. I could have become the man I was suppose to be. Now I will have to cut you open like one of our father’s pigs in front of the whole world to see.”
Kellin’s words are bold and he summons mighty strikes of lightning. The two heavily armored men with him wield halberds, using them to trip up their foes, while the last man flies into a berserk rage, wildly swinging his greataxe in deadly arcs.
The surprised heroes leap back into action, bereft of their mightiest powers; this could be a costly battle indeed. However, perhaps through the grace of destiny, or perhaps just because they have learned the art of how to lay downeth the smack, they carry through to another victory.
In the end, tears glisten in Dallik’s eyes as he holds his brother’s lifeless head in his lap. He looks up at the heroes.
“He tried to have me killed, but he was still my brother. I loved him. He was weak and foolish and full of vanity but he was my younger brother. I thank you for my life, my friends. You have done me great service and I shall never forget it. I do not know what will become of us or the mine but I will do my best to ensure you can always find a warm bed and a mug of fine ale.”
“Now I have a woman to see. I don’t know if she’ll have me, but it is time I asked that barwench, Anette, to marry me. It was her smile that kept me alive in that dark place and your sword arms that brought me from it.”
“My deepest gratitude, I am beholden to you all.”
Is there a subtle glimmer in Kathra’s eye as she hears Dallik speak of his true love? Could she be remembering her night of merriment with the burly dwarf, Baragas Guildhammer? Or maybe simple dwarven sense causes her to speak next.
“I’ve seen your mine and while you humans have done the best you could, it is clear to me that you are in need of some fine dwarven expertise to gild the mine’s true value.”
With Kathra’s decision to stay and help restart the mine, it is Riardon, normally content to speak only in combat, and then not with words but a deadly rain of arrows, who speaks next.
“I can stomach no longer this repugnant creature you would walk with and call friend.” He casts a stern glance in Skamos’ direction, who even now is reaching into his backpack for some hemp rope, with Kerig eagerly at his side. “Perhaps our paths will cross again and wisdom will have found you. For now, I have been too long from my home.”
In the blink of an eye Riardon disappears, stepping into a doorway, most likely to the Fey Realm, that only he can see.
The party now finds itself at half measure. Gone are Corrin (Snúgel to those who know him well) the fallen paladin, Kathra the epitome of dwarven femininity and Riardon, the otherworldly Eladrin. Remaining are Erais of the shining faith, Tira, whose dreams perhaps conflict with her pleasant features and Skamos, the follower of the Ways of the Pa, whose has for good or ill, converted the hobgoblin Kerig into an advent follower.
Resting overnight in town, Dallik approaches them next morning, eagerly assuring them they are always welcome in the hamlet, but some of the folks are beginning to speak up about the hobgoblin. Irrespective of their status as heroes, Kerig makes the population universally uneasy and it is hoped that one way or another; he will soon vacate the area.
Talking at some length amongst themselves, Erais, Skamos and Tira soon decide to continue the trail to find the original party that first entered the mines. Whether it is to glean possible wealth or rescue potentially living hostages or less fathomable reasons, they are soon off through the wilderness, with Kerig promising to lead them to his tribe’s main lair.
“Just follow the Pa, man,” Skamos directs him. “It will always take you where you need to be.”