Back into the light

We are back from the dark passages below the ground. Although we are no closer to rescuing Matilda (who is my sister) yet, I think that we will soon set off.

Also,

…Mosely can turn into a tree,

..Matrim is richer than I knew,

…and my friend Scalrag likes dessert too much for his own goode.

But let me start my tale nearer the beginning than its end. It was when we were with the mushroom folkes that Mosely turned into a tree. I do not know why or how he did this, but I had surely never seen such a thinge before! A tree! Ned sniffed him and seemed pleased. The mushroom folks were very excited too, and danced around him until he changed back again.

After this surprise, came another: the King of the Mushrooms directed to us to a underground river, where three of his folk—Stump, Thump and Stoop—offered to guide us to the surface. We went with them in boates that were not really boates at all but floating mushroom caps. I did not get in the mushroom-boate with Mosely because I was worried he would change again, and old Ben Canope always used to say that while two is company, tree is a crowde.

5c9a71696ee244300b2b7e8b631d1a8b.jpgWe travelled down the river and eventually arrived in some twisting passages and caves. Our guides seemed loste. I was loste too, so I understood their confusion.

StirgeIn the first cave we entered there were battes that weren’t battes that swarmed at us and tried to bite us, but with the help of a spell of sleepiness from Fauss we soon foughte them off.

We continued through the passages, as the mushrooms argued as to which way to go. Suddenly a giant black blob appeared before us and struck at Scalrag. The blowe seemed a heavy one, and what was worse the creature seemed to ooze a horrible acide that ate through Scalrag’s very armour!

“It’s a pudding!” cried Scalrag loudly. “Ahh yes, a pudding,” murmered Fauss in agreement. He had been skulking invisibly but now appeared, seemingly anxious to partake of the treat.

I could not see any pudding. I too was hungry, for we had only eaten dry rations and the blessed kibble of Uthgar in recent days. And I like pudding a lot. Matilda makes excellent puddings, using apple and goat milk curds and sugar, However, this did not at all seem to be the time to be thinking of dessert, and I was most puzzled.

Nonetheless, Scalrag launched himself up and over the angry blob in search of sugary sustenance. Pudding! Clearly he liked it a lot!

Iridescent ooze

“Come back!” I cried as I stabbed at the thinge with a javelin. “We can eat later, when chastisement is done!” Duty, after all, is a duty, while gluttony is a sin.

Moments later, Mosely began to strum upon his magical harp and a wall of fearsome flame engulfed and surrounded the blob, blocking our sight.

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“It’s alright,” I heard Scalrag call from somewhere on the other side. “There seem to be TWO puddings on this side…” At least he would be well nourished while we fought the blob.

The fire continued to burn, although to what effect I could not see. Ned, Bjorn, and Fauss grew tired of waiting, and set off downe the corridor back the way we had travelled in the hopes of finding another past. It was then I heard Scalrag shout out in alarm:

“Get back, dammit… good ooze, down boy, go find Mosely… DAMN, that HURT.. uhhh, guys, I could really OUCH use OH MY GOD MY HAND IS MELTING some help here!”

Apparently dessert was not going well.

Fearing the worst, I ran through the flames to find my best friend. “I am coming, Scalrag! Have no fear, good will usually triumph!” I shouted in encouragement. The fyre singed me greatly, and my boots began to smoulder. Fortunately the blob had been reduced to a charred goop, and did not trouble me.

I found myself in a larger cavern, with no sign of Scalrag. Two more of the dark blobs were oozing their way to the north. Could they be chasing him? I threw my javelin at the nearest, and it veered from its slimey path towards me. I drew another.  Moments later, the fyre behind me died down, and Mosely and Jandar joined me in the fyghte. Matrim and Fauss showed up a little later, as did Ned. Bjorn, however, was nowhere to be seen.

As I blocked the creature’s attacks with Ned—my great shield, not my sister’s big black dog—my friends and I had at the blob with spear and arrow, and spell and incantation. It finally quivered for a last time and collapsed upon itself with a putrid, bubbling sigh. For all the talk of dessert, I was even less hungry than before.

 enough“ENOUGH!” shouted a loud voice, and a clap of thunder echoed through the cavern and passages. Somewhere behind us Bjorn had had enough, but I knew not where or of what. Too much dessert, perhaps? If I had time to think I would have regreted that I had found only murderous blobs of black and none of the puddings that seemed so plentiful. However, Scalrag was still in danger, and we must hasten to save him.

We ran onwards to where the last of them had slithered down a rocky corridor. The horrible and vile thing attacked poor Ned, knocking him down! I was filled with a righteous rage and charged at it, using my shield to push it back from my defenceless companion. Behind me, Mosely and Jandar tended to Ned’s wounds, and together with Fauss and Matrim we defeated this blob too. No more would it chase Scalrag or strike at poor Ned! Good had triumphed!

Bjorn arrived a few moments later. He seemed frustrated, perhaps that all the dessert had been eaten—for looking into the cavern ahead, all I could see were wet leathery eggs, and none of the puddings Scalrag had spoken of.

In any case, our trials were not yet at an end. Suddenly a massive hulking creature of umber angrily strode towards us from along a passage, its claws and sharp pincer-jaw clacking at us most threateningly. Scalrag, perhaps feeling nauseous from over-indulging at his sweets, looked woozy and stumbled towards us. I hurriedly quaffed a potion in the hopes of regaining my strength, while Jandar prepared to fight the thing.

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It charged.

It tripped and fell.

It hit its head on a rock, knocking itself unconscious.

Clearly the Gods favoured us this day, rewarding us both with pudding and now miraculous deliverance!

We chopped the creature up, with Fauss taking parts of shell and body for use in spells or armour.

And so we pressed on, finally coming to an underground lake in a large cavern. Light streamed in from above, through a round hole. The surface!

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There was also a body hanging from a rope down the hole. We cut it free. Mosley and Scalrag felt the poor lad had not died from natural causes, or even from hanging. Something darker was afoot.

This was a mystery we would have to solve later, however. For now, we were all happy to climb up and out from the darkness below. Matrim told us that the land we were now gazing upon was his, having been won by him days before in a game of cardes. Looking upon the fallow, weed-strewn fields and bare, dying trees it was clear that luck had indeed smiled upon my friend. The barn alone was more magnificent than any shed I had slept in as a child at my father’s home.

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And so it is that we returned to Gillian’s Hill. We will rest, and gather supplies. I will study the Big Picture Book of Fighting Scalrag gave me, in hopes of learning more of the martial arts. And when we have prepared and sharpened our blades and collected our provisions we will march on Dragonspear Castle and free Matilda and the others held there.

Or die trying.

dragonspear_castle_by_uncannyknack-d6fv5kp

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Episode 14: Journey to the Surface

Part the First: Fir What It’s Worth
by Mosely

15 Mirtul, ???, The Mushroom Cave

The strange little mushroom creature’s arms were outstretched, stumpy little fingers aflutter at their ends.

Mosely knelt down and the creature drew nearer. Suddenly a small, wispy cloud erupted from the creature’s hands. Before the bard could pull away, his eyes, nose and mouth were covered in tiny spores.

I always knew it would end like this…

As the spores inevitably entered his system, Mosely’s senses of smell, taste and sound became overwhelmed by a combination of sensations that he never thought possible. His mouth felt like it was full of loamy earth, while his nose visibly recoiled at the smell of a hundred years of rot. A dull ringing in his ears slowly coalesced into an unfamiliar voice…

LET ME SING YOU THE SONG OF MY PEOPLE.

The mushroom creature before him, which he now – somehow – knew was King Phylozope of the Myconidae, was joined by dozens of others of his kin in a song that reminded Mosely of walking through knee-deep piles of fallen leaves in the autumn.

SAVIOURS! YOU HAVE FREED US FROM THE EVIL SPIDER-ELVES!

Ah.

“Why…yes. Yes we did!” Mosely thoughts drifted to the odd turn of events that had led them here. Fauss’ communion with…something, the tense stand-off with that dwarf and her companions, the descent into the dark pit from whence the –shudder- spiders had emerged, the stumbling about through the dark that led them to this place and the darkly dark ultra-dark that the driders employed to devastating effect. It was a testament to their skills and resourcefulness that they hadn’t been killed.

And now the mushroom folk were singing their praises.

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After resting, King Phylozope explained the current situation of the myconid people, and how they were stuck between the driders and drow. There was some concern as to whether or not the myconidae would be safe after the party left, but the recently revivified drider zombies seemed to confirm it.

As they made preparations to leave, Scalrag began packing some of their recently-acquired treasure when he made the kind of sound that people make when they find something unexpected.

Mosely peered over his shoulder. “What is it Scalrag?”

“Hmm? Oh…I just realized we found these a while ago and never really studied them. Here hold this.” The rogue tossed a small wooden ring to the bard and then returned to his packing.

After a moment, he heard a sound behind him. It was the kind of sound that people make when something unexpected happens to them.

“What is it Mosely?” He glanced over his shoulder, but Mosely couldn’t answer because Mosely wasn’t there.

“Uh … guys?”

What was there was a very tall tree.

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First there was darkness.

No, darkness is something.

First there was nothing.

Then there was darkness. Mosely couldn’t see. Or rather, seeing was not something that Mosely did anymore. But he could feel.

He could feel the pulse of the earth below him as his roots drank of the ground’s nourishment. Slowly he became aware of presences other than himself. Close, but fleeting like a dream after waking up.

Waking up? What is sleep? There is just time.

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No…there is more. There is something…somewhere. But what?

Mosely felt stretched, and yet solid. Rooted to the ground and the present. Slowly he became aware of his surroundings. There were things nearby. People. Yes, people were things. And he knew people. His friends were people…

He had friends!

MMMMMPH MMMMMMPH MPHH MPHHH MMMMMPHHH!!

What was that?

MMMPHH MPPHH MMMPHHH MMPHHH.

Scalrag!

HEY GUYS, I CAN SEE HIS FACE! SORT OF.

Scalrag’s voice was muffled, and yet strangely clear. It wasn’t that he heard him, but he felt the vibrations of his words.

Suddenly his awareness snapped sharply into focus.

I am a tree … Huh. Go figure.

Mosely was a tree but he was still Mosely. He could feel the small tremors in the ground as his friends gathered around him. He could sense the presence of the myconidae throughout the cavern.

Well this is kind of neat.

WHAT IS NEAT?

What? Phylozope?

YES. WHAT IS NEAT?

You can hear me?

YES. WHAT IS NEAT?

Oh…well I’ve never been a tree before. It feels neat.

WHAT DOES NEAT MEAN?

Oh. It just means interesting.

I SEE. YOU ARE LIKE US NOW. NEAT.

As the moments passed and his friends voiced their confusion, Mosely became aware that it was the ring that had transformed him into a tree. He also became aware of some other things.

But first…

Great King Phylozope!

YES, SAVIOUR?

Before we take our leave of your generous hospitality, I have a small favor to ask of you and your people…

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Scalrag sighed. “Mosely is SO lucky…”

Bjorn looked at Scalrag like he was crazy. “Scalrag what are you talking about? This is serious!”

“They’re worshipping him like a god, Bjorn.” Scalrag scowled. ”This is exactly what he wanted and it’s infuriating.”

Fauss scratched his chin and tilted his head while the myconidae watered Mosely’s roots. “I wonder if it is some kind of curse…”

Scalrag rolled his eyes. “I could only be so lucky. Seriously, Mose – quit screwing around. De-tree and let’s get moving.”

After a moment the duskwood-tree-that-was-Mosely suddenly began to shrink and wither. The branches drooped and folded into the trunk, and the iron-like bark faded and coalesced into the familiar form of the erstwhile and now current bard.

Mosely pouted mockingly at the rogue and said “You’re just jealous because they’re not carving your likeness into the walls.”

He shouldered his pack and headed down the tunnel before stopping and turning around to face the glares of his companions.

“What? Come on guys. You heard Scalrag. We’re wasting time!”

Scalrag stared at Mosely, deep in thought. After a long moment, he nodded.

“Alright,” he said. “That was pretty cool.” Then he picked up his pack and fell in behind Mosely. “You win this round, Bark-Face. Lead the way.”

Part the Second: Underdark Safari

15 Mirtul, ???, The Underdark

At King Phylozope’s command, the party were loaded onto a large mushroom-cap boat, paddled by three sporelings: Stump, Thump and Stoop. These would guide the adventurers along an underground river and back to the surface.

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As the fungus barge floated down the darkened, the group took some time to relax their weary limbs. Mosely, still riding high on his tree-stunt, finally noticed that Scalrag was wearing the pewter choker that they’d found in the Vault of Amaunator. “You figure out what that thing does?” he asked conversationally.

Scalrag nodded. “Partly, I think. It makes me feel good. Really good, you know? Like, healthy. Tough. I feel like I could jump out of the boat and tread water for an hour.”

Mosely nodded appreciatively. “Neat. Anything else?”

“Um, I feel like I’m going to live a really long time.”

Beside them, Bjorn laughed.

Several hours later, the mushroom porters guided their spongy craft to a rocky shore illuminated by glowing fungus and bade the group disembark. While Stoop remained in the boat, Stump and Thump argued about the correct way to proceed.

Scalrag clapped his hands over his ears, unable to get the shrill voices out of his head.

“Argh! A curse on Phylozope and his wretched spores! Just shut up, you two!”

Finally, Fauss took the initiative and went to scout ahead, cloaking himself in an Invisibility spell. Down one corridor he found a large flock of stirges, down the other, a pair of huge centipedes. Choosing the latter, the party scared off the huge insects and continued further into the cave complex. Somewhere in the dark, something immense growled.

As they passed a pool, Mosely and Matrim spotted some white crystals sitting in the mud beneath the clear water. Using their magic, they retrieved several handfuls of heavy, salt-like crystals.

A little further on, they stumbled into a small swarm of stirges – but the vile creatures were no match for the heroes. Whilst Jandar swatted two out of the sky with his maul, Fauss quickly cast a Sleep spell that sent the rest of the swarm flopping to the floor of the cave, where they were quickly dispatched.

Emboldened by this quick success, Fauss and Scalrag picked up the pace at the head of the line. As they approached a high-ceilinged cavern, something heavy and dark suddenly dropped from the roof of the cave directly in front of Scalrag and lashed out with a glistening pseudopod!

Iridescent ooze
The black slime slammed Scalrag against the wall of the cave, where he began to twitch and yelp, pulling at his leather breastplate, which sizzled and melted where the monster’s acid was dissolving it. Shaking the now-useless armor from his back, Scalrag used rocky outcroppings along the wall to scamper past the slime and get behind it, then plunged his sword into it. As he withdrew his blade, his arms were stung by a spray of acid, and noted with dismay that his trusty blade was flaking along the edge.

“So, it’s acid all the way down,” Scalrag called to his friends.

Mosely pulled out the lyre he’d received from the sporelings and began plucking on the strings. “I fell into a burning ring of fire,” he sang. “I fell down, down, down and the flames went higher.” An instant later, a Wall of Fire sprang up all around the slime, trapping it in place – but cutting off Scalrag from the rest of the group.

“Just wait for us there, Scalrag,” Dudley called. “The monster will soon be burned up, I am sure.”

Scalrag looked around at the large cavern he now found himself in. Two large pools bubbled and hissed in its center, and glowing mushrooms lined its walls. As he watched in horror, the pools burbled and popped and disgorged not one, but two more black slimes.

Son of a bitch!

“Hey, take your time guys,” Scalrag shouted over his shoulder. “I’ll just take care of these two other slimes myself, okay?”

As the monsters closed in, Scalrag bolted, leaping over another pool (which thankfully did not vomit forth anything bad) and rushed toward the mouth of a tunnel. As he reached it, however, something dark lurched up and slammed into him from behind, tossing him against the rocks once more. Scalrag rolled painfully away from the slime and managed to dig out the potion he’d bought from Rama Dan back in Bowshot. He quaffed it quickly, choking back the awful-tasting brew. He felt the choker around his neck give off a gentle warmth, and felt considerably better – but the slime was still behind him.

“Okay, I officially need help!” he yelled.

“Do not give up, Scalrag – I am coming to save you!” Dudley shouted back. The thought heartened Scalrag – but he kept running.

He soon emerged into another cave. To one side, a huge pile of oozing, slimy eggs sat radiating moisture. Yeah – no way. Keeping his distance, he climbed up a low rise and glanced over his shoulder. The slime was still pursuing him, so Scalrag positioned himself such that the eggs were between him and the slime. With any luck, it would destroy the eggs and draw out whatever had laid them, and Scalrag could escape while the monsters killed each other.

But then there was a light and shouting behind the slime, and it turned back the way it had come. Scalrag loosed a couple of arrows at it, and as he moved to a better firing position saw the slime suddenly inflate like a bellows before popping like a zit. Standing over its remains was Mosely, dusting some of the salt crystals off his hands. Jandar and Bjorn were beside him, with Fauss and Matrim further back – apparently they had managed to destroy the other two slimes.

“Where’s Bjorn?” Scalrag asked.

From somewhere else in the cave network they heard the nordling bellow, “ENOUGH!”, followed by an immense crash of thunder that reverberated through the tunnels.

“Making friends, I guess,” Scalrag joked.

Then something behind him roared.

Without thinking, Scalrag dove into a stand of glowing mushrooms, bow in hand, as a lumbering, beetle-faced hulk emerged from a nearby cave.

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Scalrag sprang from his hiding place and took aim – but as he gazed at the creature’s immense eyes, he suddenly felt his head begin to swim. He shook off the confusion and let fly, but his arrow bounced harmlessly off the monstrosity’s armoured flank. Scalrag fell back towards his friends, feeling the wave of nausea subsiding as he broke eye contact.

“Stay back,” he said to his comrades. “It’s eyes are … not right.”

Jandar snorted and hefted his maul. “We’ll see about that! Come get some!” he taunted.

The monster roared in response and hurled itself in a huge, arcing leap across the room, its huge arms raised and vast mandibles snapping.

But as it reached the peak of its jump, it smashed its head into a rocky outcropping on the ceiling and dropped unceremoniously to the ground, where it lay twitching, face-down on the cavern floor.

The heroes looked at one another, nodded – and charged in. Under a flurry of daggers, swords, spells and finished by Jandar’s maul, the fearsome umber hulk died without a fight.

“Did that just happen?” Scalrag asked. Jandar cackled.

Bjorn rejoined them, having blundered alone into a large stirge nest while trying to circumvent Mosely’s Wall of Fire. After killing most of the parasites, he’d finally managed to find his way back. They paused for a short time whilst Fauss butchered the umber hulk, insisting that its chitinous plates could be fashioned into armour. When his gory work was complete, the party followed Stump and Thump deeper into the caves.

Part the Third: Daylight

16 Mirtul, Midday, Near Gillian’s Hill

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After another long trek, they at last reached their destination: daylight filled a large cave where fast-moving water flowed. From a hole overhead dangled a rope – and at the end of the rope, dangled the body of a young man.

“We gotta get him down,” Scalrag said quietly.

“We have to get ourselves out,” Fauss said. He cast a Fly spell on himself, and Mosely used his lyre to do the same to Scalrag. The rogue pursed his lips as he drifted into the air.

“Yeah,” he said. “This is alright.” He held out a hand to Mosely and flew the two of them towards the opening high above. The closer they got, the more warmly the sun shone on their faces, the cleaner and fresher the air became, and the lighter their spirits. Scalrag looked down at Mosely, who looked up to meet his eyes as they emerged from the old well into a broad field where a cool breeze danced over bright green grass. Scalrag stopped in mid-air, gazing at Mosely as they hung in the wind.

“I’m still mad about the fire wall,” Scalrag said, and dropped Mosely to the ground. He turned and dove back down the well to get Matrim. Mosely stood, coughed and dusted himself off.

A few minutes later, they were all back on the surface and had pulled up the dead boy. Looking around, Matrim made the kind of sound that people make when they find something they’ve been looking forward to. “Hey guys – I think this is my land!” He pointed off into the distance. “Gillian’s Hill is about a half-mile thataway.”

“Wait, your land?” Fauss asked. “I didn’t know you were from these parts.”

Mat smiled lopsidedly. “Oh, I’m not. I’m just lucky.” He rattled the dice in his pocket.

“Now that I think about it,” the gambler mused as he lit his pipe, “if this is my land, then technically anything on it is also mine. So whatever you make from those monster parts will actually belong to me, Fauss.”

“Do property rights extend underground?” Scalrag wondered.

Fauss shrugged. “I’m not familiar with such laws ,” he said cunningly, “but it seems to me that if you are entitled to anything on this land, then you are also responsible for whatever happens on it. Thus, I believe you would be liable for the damages we have suffered recently.”

Matrim chewed the end of his pipe for moment. “You know what, Fauss? Keep the monster bits – they’re a gift.”

Carrying the body with them, they made their way back to town to discover what had happened during their absence, and to plan their next move …

Episode 13: Into the Underdark

Part the First: Butting Heads with the Black Ram

15 Mirtul, Morning – The Vault of Amaunator (Old King’s Prison)

Scalrag rushed over to Fauss, Bjorn right on his heels. “Fauss,” the rogue hissed. “What the hell are you doing? Fauss?”

Fauss

The elf gave no immediate reply; his eyes seemed locked on some point beyond the walls of the dungeon. Fearing foul play, Bjorn cast about for magical interference or control, hammer in hand. But after a moment Fauss’ eyes refocused and he took a deep breath.

“Remarkable,” he said.

“What happened?” Bjorn demanded.

“It was incredible,” Fauss explained. “I prayed to Amaunator for guidance – and the Sun Lord answered!”

Scalrag arched an eyebrow. “Say what now?”

“I heard his voice, and felt the warmth of the noonday sun upon my face,” Fauss continued. Child of Corellon, descendant of the Seldarine, stand fast before the revealing light of the Sun. Reveal your true nature to me. Speak to the Lord of Morning, and explain your presence here.

“How did you answer?” Bjorn asked.

Fauss sighed. “I told him the truth. About the temple of Chauntea and the orcs … and him,” he said, pointing to the chained man. “And in turn, the Voice gave me some answers.”

Fauss led Bjorn and Scalrag back to the Tiny Hut and gathered the rest of the party. “This is what I heard,” he said, composing himself and repeating the words of his vision:

The Unclean Uruk are but pawns in a game; the game between the world above and that which lies below. You tread on the precipice between heaven and the abyss.

Dormin the Undying, scion of Orogoth, the once-great King who commanded the lands beneath the enchanted ones, did strike a bargain with that Below which is Unclean, who is known by many names: Prince of Undeath; Blood Lord; Orcus, Lord of Thanatos. So did the Undying become the hand of the Unclean on the land between that which lies above and that which lies below.

Now Dormin and his progeny are herein bound, by the will and power of Great Ioulaum and the Holy Order of the Sun. The power of Dawnstar the Sun Blade maintains the spells of binding and weakens the Unclean Ones.

Beware! The Undying yearns to be free, to unleash his hunger upon the world. Within he remains bound, without only great power can keep him.

The path of the Created is meant to be free, so then shall the Mortals make their peace and live with it.

“Gods above,” Jandar breathed. “What did you do?”

“Tried not to cry, mostly,” Fauss said simply. “It was rather amazing.” His face darkened. “But I shudder to think that Risi could be aligned with Orcus himself.”

Mosely raised a finger. “Did you say, ‘Orogoth’?” Fauss nodded, and the bard chewed his lip. “That’s … bad. The Orogoths were a Netherese family of legendary cruelty and arrogance,” he explained. “Apparently, they learned to tame dragons – even turn into them – but eventually their greed and hubris turned them against one another and their line was all but destroyed. To this day, they say the ruins of their ancestral home, somewhere in the High Moor, is guarded by a dracolich.”

“Holy shit,” Scalrag said.

“Quite so,” Mosely replied.

“Well, that settles it,” Mat said, adjusting his hat. “No way we can mess with a fellow like this. We gotta close this place up best we can for now, and figure out some way to make it permanent.”

There came a sudden hammering against the outer door. “That does not sound like spiders,” Dudley observed.

Mosely went over and stood on the sarcophagus lids that held the door closed. “We already gave at the office,” he called through the door.

A gruff voice answered him. “Oy, quit faffing about. What’re you lot up to in there?”

“Up to?” Mosely said innocently. “Nothing! Everything’s fine here. We’re all fine. How are you?”

Who are you?” Scalrag piped up.

“I am Ugmar Battlehammer,” the voice replied. “Leader of the Company of the Ebony Ram. We met up in the temple – when you poached my contract.”

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“Ah yes,” Mosely said. “Too bad about that. But I assume you found that suit of mithral armour upstairs?”

“Aye,” Ugmar replied. “Kinda hard to believe you just left it there.” Fauss facepalmed.

“Well, it’s clearly a good day for you,” Mosely said quickly. “Why don’t you take it and be off. This is still our delve.”

“And off we will be,” Ugmar said reasonably. “But first we’d like to know what you plan to do about that shiny sword.”

“How do you know about that?” Scalrag called.

“Projection on the ceiling upstairs showed us everything. The sword, the fellow chained to the wall, you lot arguing for hours an’ hours.”

“Shit,” Scalrag muttered.

“Listen Ugmar, no one is doing anything with anything in here,” Mosely said. “It’s far too dangerous.” And he laid out what they knew about Dormin.

There was a moment of silence before Ugmar answered. “Could I send in one of my people to have a look around?”

“Hell no,” Scalrag snarled. “You do not need any of your people in here, we – ow!” he cried as Jandar cuffed him.

“Stop interrupting,” the barbarian scolded. “Let Mosely work.”

As Mosely chewed Ugmar’s request over, Bjorn stepped up. “Allow me,” he said. Then he spoke to Ugmar, calling out in the dwarven tongue.

<Ugmar of the Clan Battlehammer, do you swear upon the name of your father, and your father’s fathers, that you mean us no harm? That your companion will enter and leave here peacefully, disturbing nothing beyond this door?>

<Will you guarantee his safe passage?> Ugmar called back.

<I am Bjorn Lothbrook, priest of Uthgar. I swear upon my honour that no harm will come to your man.>

<Then I do agree to your terms, and swear to honour our covenant. May my name be stricken from the Great Archive of Gauntlgrym if I lie,> Ugmar intoned.

Bjorn nodded to Mosely. “We have a deal,” he said. “Let them in.”

Presently the door was opened and a halfling arcanist entered. “Oh, hello Matrim!” he called pleasantly to the gambler, who smiled and tipped his hat. “Nice to see you again, Alam. Working hard?”

“Hardly working,” Alam joked as he cast about with his magics; Fauss followed behind, watching him closely.

Back at the door, Ugmar regarded the rest of the party with mild disinterest – until her gaze fell upon Dudley. “Where did you get that?” she said quietly, indicating his new Hammer of Disruption with a quivering finger.

“I took it from a dead orc in one of the upper chambers,” Dudley replied truthfully. For some reason, he felt compelled to hide his weapon behind his shield. “Why do you ask?”

“Because,” Ugmar said, an edge creeping into her voice, “that is my father’s hammer, stolen from his dying hand by the wretched orc Krkuluk during the defense of Gauntlgrym. For ten years have I searched for it, that my beloved father might know peace – and now I find my hated enemy fallen, and the hammer in your possession.” Her hand tightened around the haft of a well-used battleaxe.

Scalrag scoffed. “Yeah, well, finders keepers, losers wee- ow!”

Stop interrupting,” Jandar said firmly.

Dudley gave Ugmar an appraising look, then spoke. “Can you describe the hammer?” Ugmar did – in excruciating detail. Dudley shrugged and walked over to her. “Well then, I am happy to return it to you,” he said, holding out the weapon. “I am sorry that your father is dead. My father is still alive, and I wonder if I will be sad when he is gone.”

Ugmar stared for a moment, the slowly reached out and closed her hand around the hammer’s grip. She exhaled, as if a tremendous weight had been lifted from her shoulders, and fixed Dudley with an unreadable look. “Thank you,” she said simply.

Alam returned. “Could be they’re telling the truth,” the halfling said. “Certainly the whole place is ablaze with magic.”

“Well now that’s settled, we’ll be closing shop,” Mosely said only somewhat testily. “If you’d like to discuss things further we’d be happy to meet you upstairs in a few minutes.”

Ugmar and her company withdrew, and Fauss used his magics to temporarily reduce the stack of sarcophagus lids. The group scrambled over the diminished pile and closed the door behind them. As Mosely mended the wax seal upon the door, they heard a heavy crunching as the sarcophagus lids returned to their normal size and jammed the door shut.

                                                              Part the Second: A Way Out

15 Mirtul, Morning – The Vault of Amaunator (Altar Room)

Rejoining the Company of the Ebony Ram, the party saw that the ceiling was indeed now projecting a real-time image of the happenings in the Prison below. “Must have been triggered by one of the traps downstairs,” Fauss mused. Bjorn dispelled the image with  wave of his hammer.

At the other end of the room, the arcanist Alam attempted to dispel the Wall of Force that blocked their way out. He failed in spectacular fashion, as the safeguards blew him off his feet. He stood and shrugged, dusting himself off. “Not getting out that way,” he said to no one in particular. Ugmar nodded to him, and the halfling produced a scroll which he read aloud to his gathered companions. In a flash, they vanished, spirited away by a Teleport spell.

“Didn’t even say goodbye,” Jandar snorted.

Scalrag peered at the walls on either end of the barrier. “There’s no panel or access,” he said.

“What about this?” Bjorn asked, pointing to the center of the large pentagram on the floor. “I believe the center can be removed.”

Scalrag carefully inspected the tile. “You’re right,” he said after a moment. “But this thing’s rigged. Same glyph as the one that blew me up yesterday.”

With Fauss’ advice, Mosely’s encouragement and even a rare Blessing from Bjorn, Scalrag managed to scrape away the arcane sigils that protected the tile. Jandar pulled it free, revealing a compartment beneath, and a glowing crystal within.

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“Ah,” Fauss said appreciatively. “A mythallar – an arcane energy source. The secrets of their creation have been lost, as far as I know.” He gazed more closely at the vessel, then looked up with pursed lips. “It is definitely powering the Wall of Force,” he said, “But if we remove it, I believe that it will also disrupt the wards below.”

“So Dormin will be released?” Dudley asked.

“No, he’ll remain bound,” Fauss said. “The Sun Blade holds him there. But … he is shielded from magical detection right now. If we disable the mythallar, that shielding will fail.”

“So … spider hole?” Matrim asked.

Part the Third: Spider Hole

15 Mirtul, Morning – The Spider Hole

The descended the rope-line they’d prepared the day before, once again lighting their way with Dudley’s shield and Scalrag’s Medicine Bag. With Fauss leading, they followed a narrow tunnel to an intersection, where the elf spotted peculiar creatures in a side-chamber.

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“Myconids,” he whispered to his companions. “Mushroom-people, if you will. Usually peaceful. I will parley with them.” He marched over to the nearest spore-man, open hands raised in front of him. “Greetings,” he said. “We come in peace.”

He was answered by a burst of pungent spores.

The myconids fled away from the party, and Jandar went to check on his friend, whom he found stupefied, staring at the wall. Shaking his head at Fauss’ spectacularly bad luck, the barbarian hoisted the elf over his shoulder and hurried after his companions, who were following the retreating myconids.

They soon came to a vast cave, illuminated by glowing fungus. There the fleeing myconids had joined many others around a larger being who sat atop a great lizard. The fungus-people seemed fearful of the party, but took no direct action against them.

Matrim smiled from under his hat and spoke. “HELLO, WE ARE FRIENDS,” he said in the loud, deliberate tone of a Waterdeep tourist in Calimshan. “WE MEAN NO HARM. WHICH WAY IS OUT?” He pointed to a passage to the south. “LIKE THIS?”

The myconids became deeply agitated, so Matrim moved to peek down the passage – and staggered back with a black arrow protruding from his shoulder. Then he disappeared from sight, as a cloud of magical darkness enveloped him.

“Drow!” Fauss cried, half-warning and half-triumphant. “I told you they were down here!”

“Shut up and fall back,” Scalrag shouted. The myconids fled.

Suspecting that the drow were able to see through their own darkness, Fauss summoned a Fog Cloud in the same area to force the enemy into the open. He was soon rewarded as two dreadful driders skittered into view along the ceiling of the cave, cruel bows in-hand.

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The party’s javelins and arrows clattered off their armoured flanks, and the enemy summoned further darkness to blind and confuse the heroes. Matrim followed Fauss’ lead and used a scroll to create another Fog Cloud, further frustrating the abominations. One of them leaped to the floor of the cavern after Mosely – and walked into a trap. Scalrag blinded the drider with his Gem of Brightness and then rushed in, sword and dagger cutting deep. Jandar followed him, battering the beast to the ground with his maul, and Dudley plunged his sword through its foul heart.

The second drider was forced to the cavern floor by Bjorn, Fauss and Matrim, then intercepted by Dudley and his faithful hound, Ned. With a boost from Jandar, Scalrag vaulted over the front-line fighters and landed behind the drider, his sword gleaming in the fungus-glow. Alas, he failed to defeat the foe’s chitin, and the monster turned upon him, raising its sword – only to explode spectacularly, showering Scalrag in viscera. As its scorched remains quivered to the ground, he saw Matrim standing behind it, grinning as smoke rose from his ridiculous gloves.

With the driders dead, the myconids returned, and their leader blessed Mosely with a whiff of spores that enabled the bard to communicate with the mushroom-people. The leader, King Phylozope, expressed profound gratitude for the elimination of the “spider-elves”, who had held his people as slaves for some time. Pledging their eternal friendship, the joyful myconids showered the group in riches. Perhaps this hadn’t been such a terrible idea  after all …

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Among the mushroom people

I did not know that mushrooms could walke and talke. I did not know this at all. And yet here I am, in a cave of wonders, surrounded by friendly mushrooms!

I wish Matilda could see all that I have seen today. It is even better than the stories she used to tell me.

We did not start here, in a mushroom cave. Instead, we started in the tomb of the Undying King, surrounded by shattered bones and stone, very confused as to what to do next. Fauss—whose heart is better than he knowes—resolved to speak to the glowing sworde of Amaunator that stood guard over the Chained Man. I did not understand muche of what was being said, but it was clear that the Chained Man was very badde.

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Just then there was a knock at the door of the tombe, and a dwarven voice called out to us. I was concerned the spiders had become back but Bjorn said it was more likely a dwarf. Indeed, it was Ugmar, the bearded lady whome we had met earlier with the Priest of Chauntea.

There was much discussion, and we let some of them in to look around. I do not understand why everyone was so distrustful, for distrust is  a devil’s dandruff.

dwarfThere was a lot more talking, and suspicion, and quite a bit of pride. Suddenly, Ugmar pointed at me and shouted. “By moradins holy beard, ye hae th’ hammer! th’ hammer ay mah ancestors, th’ heirloom ay mah clan! hain it ower thes instance ye oaf, ur thaur will be bluid spilled haur thes day ay reckonin’.”

I did not understand her entirely, but she seemed to want the hammer we had found earlier. Was it hers?

My friends grew angry, and seemed ready to defend me with force if need be. Scalrag in particular kept talking about the knee-goats Eyyii shuns, but I do not know goats like that or Eyyii or why she shuns goats or what it had to do with talking to the others. I quite like goats, actually. My mother could even talk to them!

And so I asked Ugmar to describe the warhammer. She did this perfectly, even when it was hidden behind my shield! Obviously it was hers, so I gave it to her. This made me feele good.

She turned to me, with a strange look on her face, both angry and grateful. “Ah hate ye, ye oaf.. yit Ah cannae hate ye. Ah vowed revenge, an’ yit ye dae thes hin’. yoo’re an divit, but guid ay heart.”

I was still not sure what she was saying, but Bjorn nodded in approval. Fauss put his hand on my shoulder, and handed me back the other Ned (the sword, not my sister’s big black dog.” “You’ll make better use than I will, Dudley,” he said with a smile.

After this, there followed much more talking. Ugmar’s party seemed inclined to loot this place, and my friends were anxious that the remaining wardes against the Chained Man remain intact. Finally we convinced them to leave. We left last of all, and Fauss used his majicks to seal the door behind us with the stone lids of the coffins. We all then headed upstairs to the shattered temple where we had fought the suits of armour.

The way past this was still barred by the blue energy shield. Fauss and Scalrag and Mosely discussed this, together with the mage in Ugmar’s party. I did not really understand much of what they were saying, so played with Ned instead. He is a big black dog!

flashing-ice-cubes-12.jpgEventually Bjorn and Scalrag found a glowing blue crystal in a secret place in the floor that seemed to power the defences of this place. We dare not remove it, however, in case it release the prisoner below.

Suddenly, the other party pulled out a scroll, read its enchantments, and vanished—leaving us behind. This did not seem very nice.

All that was left was to go back the way we had come, and into the cavern from whence the spiders had come.

And so we did. After lowering ourselves on a rope we navigated the twisting dark passages. Matilda—my shield, and not my sister who is being held prisoner in Dragonspear Castle—helped light the way.

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Eventually we encountered strange mushroom folk, both big and small. They seemed quite frightened of us, and ran hither and thither throwing spores in the air that made Fauss sleep. We tried to show them that we meant no harm. Eventually we found our way into a wondrous caverne that had more mushroom folk, many glowing mushrooms, and their mushroom king.

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No sooner that we had arrived, however, than Matrim was struck by arrows from the darkness. Two hideous spider creatures—Fauss would later call them Driders—attacked us! There was a huge firey explosion too. I’m not sure what caused this, but I thought I heard Matrim murmur “oops” in the darkness.

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I did not like the Driders. They were very cunning and tricky, casting foul enchantments of darkness upon us and climbing the walls and caverne roofe to stay out of reach. Bjorn and Fauss were able to beat them at their own foul spidery game though by creating magical fogges that obscured their vision too, thus forcing them to fight where we could see them.

I threw my javelins and Ned leapt up and bit them, and eventually both were forced to the ground where they could be suitably chastised with sword and maul and still more spells.

King Phylozope.jpgWith this, the mushroom people cheered! Their King spoke to Mosely using special spores, and thanked us for freeing them from their evil masters. This made me very happy, and showed once more that good will usually triumph!

They also brought us much treasure to thank us, for it seems they have little need of coins and items from our world above. We promised that we would put it all to very good use. I cannot wait to help the refugees and orphans who need so much aid in the village above us…

Dead and not dead thinges

chakra+and+energy+field.jpgOne moment they were not there, and another moment they were: Matrim and Mosely. I was happy to see them bothe, and Ned wagged his taile. He does that when he is happy.

I do not know they managed to pass through the big wall of glowing blue light, but they said they did not see it and were just suddenly among us. It is almost as if we are not in this place or time. I do not understand it though, and I will leave it to Fauss and Scalrag and the others to work it out, for they are much smarter than me.

After we rested for a while in the room with the broken altar, we decided to press onwards. The exploding door we had opened earlier led to a passage winding deeper into the depthes of this place. I could not see what was happening most of the time because the passage was narrow and I was at the back, but eventually when I got to the bottome I found that Jandar had smashed his way into a cavern which had a big hole in it, and that also there was a sealed door that led in another direction.

35In the cavern there were scratch-markes in the wall, as if something had been scratching here. We soon discovered what: scratching spiders! One crawled up the hole but Jandar and Bjorn and I hit it and it curled up and died and fell back down the hole.

Next we decided to open the sealed door, although not before leaving a rope in place in case we needed to flee down the hole in a hurry. The sealed door led into a gleaming white stone room with many doors and a strange gold disk in a big door at the other end. However, no sooner did Scalrag step in than there was a big

BOOM!!!

It was very very loud, and I fell over and could not hear for a while.

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When I stood up, I could see that Scalrag was surrounded by horrible creatures with swords that seemed dead but not dead—horrible undead things! As Bjorn beseeched Uthgar to turn these creatures of evil back, I rushed in to help, swinging left and right and cutting first one then another down with much righteous chastisement. Good will usually triumph! Jandar rushed in to, swinging is maul with fearsome rage. Mosely healed Scalrag, who had been hurte. Matrim was at the back and I do not think he could see much of what was going on. Even Ned joined us in the battle, his white fangs flashing like the flashing white fangs of a big black dog.

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Finally, the last of the guardians were destroyed.

AmaunatorWe paused for a while as the smarter people decided what to do. Scalrag pried the gold disk from the next door, which was marked with the symbol of the sun. Bjorn carefully place it in the hollow space of the war hammer we had found earlier, there was a sudden surge of divine energies, and I could feel the room suffused with the glowing radiance of good. “This hammer is magical, now that the symbol has been placed within it.” said Bjorn thoughtfully. “But it is consecrated to another god—Amaunator, the ancient Netherese sun-gun. I cannot in good faith weird this weapons in Uthgar’s holy name.”

I felt sorry for him, for it seemed a very nice hammer and I like hammers and I missed my hammer I had lost in the swamp.

79c7467ae7fb062b77101ae7c495669c.jpgBjorn saw this, and gave the hammer to me. I named it “Ned,” which is the same name as Ned, who is my sister’s big black dog, and seems a good name for a weapon. I gave my other Ned—the sword called Ned, which we had found in the music box and I had carried ever since, not the dog Ned, whi is big and black—to Fauss, so that he could use a real sword and not a toy one in future.

We decided to open the next door, although I think we were all worried that this place was a tomb or prison for some great evil force. What if our actions might free it? Or by error or poor judgment aid the orcs and gnolls and others to free it?

Before we could do so, however, we heard scratching at the door behind us, and the door began to push open. More spiders! I quickly pushed it shut, and we blocked the door from open again with the lid of a stone sarcophagus.

When we entered the next chamber it contained a sight I had not seen before: a man held in chains of black, in apparent torment and seemingly unremarking of our presence. Several stone tombs filled the chamber too. And there was a glowing sword of fiyre and magicks and energies floated in the air as if guarding the man in chains.

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The man, Bjorn said, radiated pure evile. Even I could feel it, and Ned seem most disturbed by his presence.

But what were we to do? …

Episode 12: The Vault of Amaunator

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.

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“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:

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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!

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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!

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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:

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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.

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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.

He froze.

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!

Mosely’s Tale: Gillian and her Son

-by Aaron Brennan

14 Mirtul, Afternoon – Gillian’s Hill

From a shadowed hallway, Mosely watched Shiana tuck the petrified rose into her robe as Scalrag slipped out the door. For a moment, a childish grin flickered across his face but it was quickly masked as he stepped out into the light.

Mosely

“Shiana,” he called out, “Where do you want these?”

“Oh, there you are. Over this way please. Lysette was asking for them earlier.” The cleric waved him over and they made their way towards the far side of the makeshift clinic, weaving between the beds of sick and wounded.

“That’s a pretty rose.” The bard remarked.

Shiana was unable to hide her smile. “Yes. Scalrag gave it to me.”

Mosely nodded and offered only a pensive “Mmm” in response as he set down the box of bandages next to Lysette.

“Here you two,” the Apothecary said, “Can you take a look at this one?”

A man in his early 30s lay on thrushes atop a stone counter that served as a makeshift bed. His ribs were wrapped in linen that was once clean, but now dark with dried blood.

“These need to be changed.” Shiana prodded them gently and the man winced in pain.

“Hang in there, buddy. This won’t take long.” Mosely wiped the man’s brow with a dampened cloth and helped Shiana remove the soiled bandages.

Shiana’s brow furrowed as she watched the bard dress the man’s wounds. “You have a healer’s hands.”

Shiana

Again the bard was uncharacteristically silent, offering only a nod in response.

“You know,” Shiana said. “Scalrag is actually a very nice person.”

“Yes,” Mosely smiled bemusedly but remained concentrated on his work. “I know. Hold this please.”

“You know? Then why did you say those things about him. It seems like you two are always fighting.”

The bard finished the linen wrap and pinned the ends to keep them in place. “Sibling rivalry.”

“What?” Shiana looked confused. ”You guys are…?”

“No, not literally. But yes, we are like brothers. ” The bard disposed of the old bandages and began washing his hands in a large stone basin.

Shiana followed him. “So…you care about him?”

“Very much. Though I’ll deny it if you ever repeat a word of this to anyone. And believe me, I can be quite convincing.”

“But…why the animosity? He truly seems to dislike you.”

Mosely turned on her suddenly. “Listen, Shiana. Scalrag walks a dangerous line in life. He has so much potential, but he is easily tempted. Not by greed, or rather, not only by greed, but he is tempted by fate.”

“What do you mean ‘tempted by fate’?”

The bard sighed in resignation, as a parent would when they realize they must explain the truth behind the story of Yule Father to their child.

“Scalrag is the kind of man who can make enemies easily. He is drawn towards danger… or maybe it is more accurate to say that danger is drawn towards him. What I mean is that he needs a foil. A nemesis. It is better to be me than someone who would make it their mission to destroy him …although lately I wonder if I have failed.”

“Failed? Failed what…? Are you trying to… to protect him?” She asked incredulously.

“I prefer the term ‘distraction’, but yes, the idea is the same. Shiana… there are forces in this world that could squash him like a bug, and he is just the kind of person to run up to them and spit in their eye and… I can’t allow that to happen. This world needs people like him.”

Shiana thought for a moment before giving Mosely a hard stare. “And you… You’re so serious right now…”

The bard smirked and raised an eyebrow, prompting her to continue.

“…So…all that…bravado is…?”

Mosely smiled and offered a mock bow. “The greatest show on Abeir-Toril.”

“I see,” Shiana seemed unconvinced, but her expression softened. “So. What about me?”

“That depends.” The grin faded and the bard was once again all-business. “What are your intentions towards Scalrag?”

“I… to be honest I don’t know yet. He’s nice. I like him… But it’s still early…so I guess I’m just waiting to see what happens next.”

Mosely studied her for an uncomfortable half-minute. “Very well. We’ll see what happens next. But if you hurt him in any way, I won’t hesitate to ruin you.”

Shiana stiffened haughtily. “Ruin me?? Are you threatening me?”

“Just a warning. A man – or woman – is only as good as their reputation. Like I said, I can be very convincing.”

A scowl darkened the priestess’ face but before she could respond, Mosely lifted his pack and turned towards the door. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go catch up with my friends.” The bard glanced down at the petrified rose. ”But first I need to make a small stop…”