Part the First: Tablets & Scrolls
14 Mirtul, Evening(?) – ???
All things considered, it was a pretty productive hour’s rest.
First, there was the Orc cleric’s dagger. As he fiddled with it, Scalrag detected a gentle rattling within. “I know this music,” he muttered, and began working the pommel, which popped open after a moment to reveal a hidden compartment inside the grip – and within, a most mysterious scroll fragment.
“Ah,” Fauss said, taking the scrap of parchment carefully in his hand. “This is a magical formula using an ancient blah blah blabbity blah blah. It appears to describe a yadda yadda yadda.”
At least, that was what Scalrag heard. The key take-away was that the dagger was a life-stealer, and potentially very deadly indeed. Moreover, it might be possible to put other, similar scrolls into the dagger to achieve other effects.
Next, there was the tablet. Initially, Scalrag’s interest in the smashed altar at the center of them temple chamber had been purely curious, but as he dug through the wreckage, he soon realized that the altar had once held an image – and that they could, with some effort, put the pieces back together. With a bit of help, they soon had their result:
Scalrag tapped his foot as he pondered the reassembled tablet, absentmindedly turning a useless bit of stone in his hand.
“Hmm. Alright. I initially thought that, uh … Guy here was sitting atop a, er, Flying … Boat? Chair? Thing? Let’s go with Flying Thing.
“But maybe we should look at it like this …” he said, shifting his position. “So Guy is actually … is he being lowered into something? A vat? Or is that thing at the bottom a demon, maybe? Is Guy going to Hell? Or coming out?
“And what’s that thing on top? A gryphon? A dragon, maybe?”
He wrinkled his nose. “I like these better when it’s just, like, a goat or something,” he mumbled, petulantly throwing away the stone in his hand.
At that moment, Mosely and Matrim seemed suddenly to step through the Wall. “Hi guys,” Mosely said cheerfully. “Fancy seeing you here.” Scalrag was agape.
“How…? It’s not a barrier?”
Mosely arched an eyebrow and turned around, then stood staring at the shimmering Wall . “One way?” he said to no one in particular. “Why would you …?”
“So that people can come in, but not get out,” Bjorn explained. “Fauss was correct: this place is surely a prison of some kind.”
“Well, shit,” Mosely said. Then he cocked his head and approached the pentagram circle on the floor, the Wall of Force temporarily forgotten. “Fauss, did you see this? A Ward of Binding, if I’m not mistaken. For something … beneath this chamber, am I right?”
Fauss looked nonplussed. “My assessment exactly,” he said haughtily, and shot his companions a look that dared them to disagree. No one bothered.
“Ooh,” Mosely cooed excitedly, “look at that!” He hurried over to the tablet and examined it closely. “Well, well – this puts me in the mind of the ancient Netharese myth of the Old King.”
Fauss’ eyes lit up. “Of course! He who was cast down into the Abyss for his many vile deeds!”
“Hang on,” Jandar said. “Are you saying this is a prison for this King?”
“Well, no,” Fauss replied, suddenly unsure. “The legends go back thousands of years. He must be dead by now – if he ever existed.”
Dudley pounded the wall with a mailed fist. “Whatever is in this place, the bad orcs wanted it. So we must find it and ensure they can never have it. And then we must go to Dragonspear Castle to rescue my sister, Matilda.”
Scalrag nodded. “Alright, let’s get on with it.”
Part the Second: Deeper & Darker
14 Mirtul – Moments later
They proceeded carefully down a winding staircase, mindful of traps and wards. At the bottom they found an unadorned stone door, sealed tightly with wax. In a nearby alcove was another set of mithril armor, which thankfully did not animate at their approach.
As he examined the door, Scalrag suddenly paused and sniffed the air. “Do you smell that?” he asked.
“Ned broke wind,” Dudley said apologetically. “I think it was something he ate.”
Scalrag shook his head. “No, not that, it’s …” he turned and peered at the armour. “I think there’s a breeze coming from that alcove.”
They quickly moved the armour aside and discovered several cracks in the ancient wall, through which air was most definitely passing. A secret passage? There seemed to be no mechanism…
Mosely smirked. “Oh, we have a mechanism – Jandar, you’re up!”
The mighty barbarian set about the wall with his trusty maul, tirelessly landing blow after blow until at last he broke through to reveal a sizable cave beyond. Entering carefully, the party ascertained that the cave had been deliberately dug – as evidenced by the large hole in one corner, through which something had burrowed up. Fauss volunteered to be lowered into the inky opening, but soon returned – it was a hundred feet down, and there was no way to know what awaited them down there.
“Let’s tie some rope together and check it out,” Bjorn said grimly.
Scalrag raised his hand. “Um, why would we do that?”
“We need a way out,” the nordling said reasonably.
“So, your plan is to go down into that gods-forsaken hole and wander around in utter darkness until we just happen to pop up where we need to be?” Scalrag sneered.
“I have faith that Uthgar will guide and guard us,” Bjorn said solemnly .
“Okay, sure,” Scalrag replied, “but let’s think about this: we’re here to find out what the orcs were after – and they clearly weren’t after this cave, because it’s not part of the main dungeon-prison-complex thing. Whatever they wanted is obviously beyond that door back there.”
“But Scalrag,” Dudley protested. “The door is sealed – surely we should leave it so. We do not want to free whatever is down here.”
“What if we do?” Scalrag countered. “What if it’s something good and the Orcs were coming to destroy it?”
“Never mind that,” Matrim cut in, “if it’s evil then we oughta destroy it.”
In the end they took a vote, and it was decided to explore beyond the stone door before descending into the horrible blackness. Mosely insisted that they prep a rope, so that they could begin climbing quickly if need be. As he coiled the rope next to the hole, the bard suddenly let out a squeaking gasp and scrambled hurriedly back from the opening. A huge, hairy leg probed its way out, followed by another, and then more as a horse-sized spider clambered into the cave!
It seemed, however, that the beast had not expected company, and as it raised its forelegs menacingly, Jandar rushed in and crushed one of its limbs with his maul. Dudley was right behind, cutting and slashing with his sword, and before the spider could recover, Bjorn delivered a vicious kick that burst one of the spider’s iridescent eyeballs and sent it tumbling back down the hole from whence it had come. After a couple seconds they detected a faint, wet thud as it hit the ground below.
“Drow!” Fauss spar. Scalrag rolled his eyes.
“It was just a spider, man. A colossal, hairy spider.”
As the colour began to return to Mosely’s face, they left the cave and returned to the stone door.
Part the Third: The Old King’s Prison
14 Mirtul – Moments later
The door showed no sign of lock or trap, so they forced it open. Beyond was a wide corridor of gleaming alabaster, with five more stone doors. The door directly opposite them was covered in carved script, and a golden disc sat in its center.
Don’t mind if I do, Scalrag thought, advancing.
There was a sudden snap beneath his foot, like a log on a fire. Son of a –
A thunderclap filled the corridor, hurling Scalrag against the wall. Behind him, Jandar covered his ears and kept his feet, but Dudley and Fauss were knocked to the floor by the blast. The elf pushed himself up and looked around. “WHAT?” he shouted. “I CAN’T HEAR YOU!”
Then the four unmarked doors ground open and from each stepped a fearsome skeletal warrior. As one, the undead raised ancient swords and attacked!
The wights used a combination of savage sword blows and necrotic magic, but the party proved their equal and better. Bjorn bought time by Turning the wights, giving his companions openings to strike.
Though initially wounded, Scalrag counter-attacked and destroyed one wight before falling back to be healed by Mosely. Dudley swiftly cut a second wight down, and Jandar smashed another into shattered bones and broken armour. Bjorn crushed the last with his Spiritual Hammer.
Searching the sarcophagi from which the wights had emerged, the party found a fortune in gems and other precious stones, along with a few oddities, including an iron chime, a pewter choker, a stone urn and a suspiciously well-preserved wooden ring.
Examining the fifth and final door, Scalrag found that the golden disc set into it bore an emblem:
He also found that amidst the ancient scripts that adorned the door was a line in old elvish: In the name of Amaunator, the Dawn Shall Arise.
“Amaunator,” Fauss breathed. “One of the old gods. It is said that at some point he … split, and one aspect of him became Lathander.”
“So whatever’s behind that door was imprisoned in His name?” Matrim asked.
Scalrag examined the disc and found that it popped out easily. He looked at it, then called Bjorn over. “Hey, do you think this will fit in that warhammer we pulled off that orc in the fire-trap room?”
Bjorn – a nordling through and through – made it fit.
When he was done, he admired the weapon. “I believe that the holy symbol of Amaunator has given this hammer magical properties,” he explained. “It is now a Hammer of Disruption – a destroyer of the undead.” He sighed. “But I cannot wield a weapon consecrated to another god.”
Dudley stepped forward and volunteered to carry the hammer, offering his magic sword to Fauss. They then turned their attention to the door they had entered through – it seemed more spiders had crawled up from the pit and were trying to force their way in. With Jandar, Dudley and Bjorn providing most of the muscle, they managed to use the sarcophagus lids to bar the door.
But what of the fifth door?
“I think whatever’s inside is good,” Scalrag said. “I mean, it was guarded by undead, and they’re evil, right?”
Bjorn shook his head. “Not necessarily. The undead are frequently evil – but not always. In life, those wights might have been noble warriors of pure intent who willingly gave their bodies to protect this place from intruders.”
Scalrag considered this. “Well, I still think we need to see what’s inside. I mean, we’ve already tripped every trap and defeated every guardian – there’s nothing left between this door and anyone else who finds their way down here. If we don’t go in, someone else will.”
“Some of us didn’t want to come this way,” Mosely reminded him testily.
“And some of us didn’t want to climb down a dreadful pit and get eaten by spiders,” Scalrag retorted.
“What are we doing about the door?” Matrim asked by way of getting them back on track.
“We’re opening it,” Scalrag said with conviction – and to his surprise, the others agreed.
Beyond the door was a large chamber. Four more sarcophagi were lined up, and hanging in the air in front of the door was a blazing sword whose very blade was made of crackling energy. The tip of the blade was pointed at the opposite wall.
Or rather, at a man chained to the wall.
His face was locked in a grimace of pain, but he gave no sign of being aware of the group. Some kind of stasis? Scalrag wondered. Bjorn confirmed that while the sword had a powerful aura of good, the chained man radiated the darkest evil.
They had no idea what to do next.
Fearing what might happen if they interfered, they agreed that no one should touch anything in the chamber, and soon retreated to the corridor outside, closing the door behind them. Mosely summoned a Tiny Hut for them to shelter inside, and Bjorn created food to sustain them. While they ate and rested, Mosely knelt by himself and closed his eyes, Sending messages to his old master and to the demi-lich Tasha, asking for advice.
The master proved little help, but Tasha’s answer was more interesting: She referred to the sword as “the Ancient Sun Blade of Amaunator, an artifact of power,” and implied that it kept “The Old King” bound. But she had no advice for how they should proceed.
They debated their course for some time, but could not agree on a course of action. As the debate dragged on, Scalrag grew bored and turned to examine some of the treasures they’d claimed from the wights. He picked up the iron chime, nonchalantly struck it against the alabaster floor – and was promptly is amazed by its basso tone.
Even more remarkable was the tremendous vibration: lasting far longer than was reasonable, it built and built until Scalrag could feel it in his lungs; his teeth chattered and sandy waves formed in the stone-dust on the floor. In the corner, Ned howled and buried his furry head beneath his paws.
Flakes of oxidized metal shook off the chime, revealing a polished surface under the patina, delicately engraved with arcane sigils and a single word, written in a language Scalrag did not understand.
“Huh,” Mosely said.
“Quite so,” Scalrag replied and set the chime down carefully. Then he picked up the stone urn. “Let’s see what’s in here!”
After a moment’s struggle, he was able to scrape through the strange adhesive holding the cover in place; it popped free with a hiss of escaping air.
Scalrag’s nose was immediately assaulted by the aroma of fresh garlic. Across the Tiny Hut, Ned sneezed and growled, glaring at Scalrag through a furrowed brow. The rogue ignored him and looked into the urn.
His eyes went wide and he swallowed hard. The urn trembled slightly as he gazed into it. “Oh my gods, you guys,” he squeaked. “Teeth! They’re teeth!”
Fauss cocked his head. “What are you on about?”
Scalrag set the urn down and took a step back. “It’s full of teeth!” he hissed.
Fauss stepped forward and peered into the urn. Nestled amongst improbably well-preserved cloves of garlic lay dozens, perhaps hundreds, of long, sharp, serrated teeth. Upon closer examination, the teeth appeared to have narrow channels running through their centers.
The elf blinked in confusion. “But … the urn must be thousands of years old. This should all be naught but dust by now!”
Scalrag was pacing. “Oh man, this reminds me of a nightmare I used to have. I’m walking around South Gate, right, and I see Felicia the Flower Girl, so of course I go to say hi, but when I open my mouth to speak, one of my teeth falls out! So I bend over to pick it up and Felicia asks what’s happening, and I try to tell her, but every time I open my mouth, more of my teeth pop out.” He was squatting now, moving his hands over the floor, pantomiming his remembered dream. “So my teeth keep falling out, and I keep picking them up until finally I’ve got them all gathered and I look down and they’re smiling at me.” He looked at his companions. “Is that messed up? That’s messed up, right?”
There was silence for a moment, and then Bjorn strode over and crouched next to Scalrag, placing a broad hand on his shoulder. “Scalrag,” the cleric said gently, “no one cares about your stupid dream.”
Scalrag ignored him and, crawling on all fours, approached the urn and peeked inside again. “Guys,” he whispered. “Look at these teeth. They’re hollow … and packed in garlic!” His eyes went wide. “Nine Hells, guys – these are vampire teeth!”
Mosely regarded him, arms crossed. “You know a lot about vampires?”
Scalrag sat back on his haunches and wrinkled his nose. “Well, no … but I did date a girl once who was into biting.”
The bard arched an eyebrow.
“No, really,” Scalrag said earnestly. “Her name was Surrey – Surrey … Rainer, I think. Long black hair, piercing eyes, body like Wow!, you know?” He stood up and gazed at a point just behind Mosely, reminiscing. “She’d do this thing, right, where she’d bite me – hard – on the lip. Like, until I bled! And then she’d lick off the blood and get, uh … really excited, and – well, it was pretty hot, let me tell you …” he trailed off, suddenly deep in thought.
His right eye twitched and he looked directly at Mosely. “Holy shit, dude – was I banging a vampire?”
Mosely sighed inwardly and gave a tight smile. “Sounds like it,” he said patronizingly. “You’re lucky to have escaped with your life, Scalrag.”
The rogue nodded emphatically, the sarcasm going over his head. “Yeah. Yeah! I am lucky. She probably kept me alive because my blood tastes like a winner’s, you know? Terrific blood, the best blood!” he turned away, talking mostly to himself now.
Bjorn rolled his eyes. “Stop encouraging him,” he whispered to Mosely, who could only shake his head.
With mysteries piling one upon the other, they agreed that the best course of action was for everyone to get some rest. Perhaps the morrow, with its promise of rested minds and filled bellies, would bring answers.
15 Mirtul, Early Morning(?) – ???
Scalrag was sat up and gripping his dagger even before his eyes popped open; in his line of work, it paid to be ready for a fight before you awoke.
His eyes darted around the Tiny Hut. Something was wrong, he knew – but what? The others seemed to be sleeping soundly.
Mostly – Fauss’ spot was empty. Jandar and Dudley’s, too.
Shit. Scalrag rose, quickly donned on his armor, and buckled on his sword. Then he picked his way carefully to the Hut‘s exit and poked his head out into the corridor.
The door to the Old King’s Prison was open – and standing in the doorway, framed by the blazing light of the magic sword, Fauss stood alone.
Son of a bitch!