A new day
The party woke feeling rested though they still bore serious wounds. With Kernrick in tow they decided to return to the cavern with the pillars in, but found it empty, as was a small cave which lay beyond. Backtracking to an earlier junction the party took a new route which led to a large cave whose rubble-strewn floor was swarming with rats. Drewen's eye caught a metallic glint at the back of the cave and advanced to investigate however the rats drew together as if poised to attack. Drewen struck with his hammer, managing to flatten several with a single blow. The surviving rats fought back however their small teeth could not pierce Drewen's leather boots. Keen to remain at a safe distance, Threy fired stones from his sling but failed to land a hit. Can stepped in and soon the pack of rats was eradicated, clearing the path to the treasure which turned out to be a handful of gemstones - twenty pieces of quartz, two garnets and a large pearl. These were pocketed and the party headed on.
The party returned to a previous Y-junction and peered down the turnoff they had not followed before. The passage led into a cavern where, strangely, Lana's lantern light failed to illuminate the area ahead - it seemed the cave was cloaked in magical darkness. Drewen stepped forward to see whether his infravision would penetrate the dark, but it could not. Disheartened and unwilling to head further into the darkness, Drewen went to rejoin his companions but found himself standing alone, facing a bare rockface. The cave entrance was gone.
Drewen called for assistance and, to his relief, his companions heard his cry. Canerzon and Kernrick stepped forward and, from Lana and Threy's vantage, were swallowed by the darkness. The three stumbled around, unable to see their surroundings and tripped over various objects - the remains of those who had become lost in the dark and been unable to escape. Their skeletons bore pouches and backpacks therefore the trio acquired a large number of coins to add to their growing haul.
The three roamed their dark prison for some time, able to call to one another but impossible to gauge the distance inbetween - somehow the magical enchantment distorted their perception of location. To those three, it was as if they were standing side by side, yet none managed to locate one another physically.
Lana and Threy each took hold of one end of a rope and Lana stepped into the darkness. She wandered around in the darkness until she bumped into one of her companions - Canerzon - and took firm hold of his hand. The pair then walked around until they felt the rope impact against something - the back of Drewen's head! They continued the exercise until all four individuals within the darkness had found one another, then they together gave a tug on the rope and followed it back to Threy, who was thankfully still standing outside the dark area and holding the rope.
The party took a while to inspect the rough map of the complex which Lana had been recording on a sheet of parchment with a piece of charcoal. They realised with dismay that they had followed all the junctions they could and had explored everywhere they could apart from one location - the octagonal room containing the hobgoblin statue. Also it seemed likely that Kernrick's companions were on the other side of the room, which seemed to represent some sort of dividing barrier within the complex. With no other option, the party retraced their steps to the statue room, its door still lying open from Canerzon's assault the previous day. Can stepped forward but felt the familiar sensation take hold of him, and his limbs began to turn stiff. He backed away muttering low curses. Drewen approached but experienced the same sensation and was also forced to retreat. Threy refused to approach at all.
Lana closed her eyes, mustered courage and stepped inside the room. Immediately she felt the statue's aura try to pervade her mind yet something from her magical training enabled her to shrug off the effect. She turned, beaming, to face her companions and demonstrate that she felt fine. The remaining party members called for Lana to retreat yet she did not feel she was in danger, and instead announced that she had a plan. The terrifying effect was clearly being emitted by the statue, therefore she took a rope from her backpack and secured it around the statue's midsection then passed the end to Drewen, who was still standing beyond the doorway. Drewen backed up by Canerzon and Kernrick heaved and succeeded in pulling the statue off its pedestal. It crashed onto the floor, the impact causing its head to detach and roll to one side. To the companions' curiosity they heard a jingling sound as the statue fell - could there be coins inside its base? The prospect of more treasure gave Threy reason to approach - he stepped forward and felt the statue's magic wash over him but was nevertheless able to enter. Canerzon and Kernrick followed, both managing to enter the room and announcing that the statue's power had clearly weakened but could still be felt. Drewen remained unconvinced however and remained outside the room. Gritting his teeth against the horrible sensation he felt radiating from the statue, the dwarf pulled forth his wineskin and set about draining what remained of its contents.
Lana and Can discovered that the broken statue did indeed retain some power - upon tapping its base to try and locate any secret openings, a petrifying sensation spread into their arms. Both had to withdraw, their arms feeling stiff and useless. The sensation passed after a few minutes however neither was willing to pry any further.
Drewen meanwhile remained outside the room, swaying from the effects of his wine and loudly declaring that he refused to cross the threshold. Threy snorted at his indignance, then moments later Kernrick and Canerzon took hold of Drewen and forcibly marched him into the room and past the statue toward the opposite door. As soon as he was past the statue, Drewen broke free and bolted for the open doorway beyond. He raced through the doorway and stopped a short way past it to regain his composure. Slowly the magically induced fear faded away and he returned to being the easy-going dwarf his companions were used to.
The issue of treasure hidden within the statue's base remained, and Threy refused to leave without further prying. Some means of breaking the statue apart was needed - Threy brokered a deal with Drewen whereby the dwarf would receive a half of whatever treasure lay within if he loaned Threy his hammer to try and smash the base. The disgruntled dwarf watched from a distance as Threy raised the hammer and brought it down hard on the pedestal. There was a resounding clang and the shaft of Drewen's hammer splintered apart down its middle. The statue meanwhile remained perfectly intact.
Drewen's eyes widened as he stared at his broken weapon in disbelief. He demanded Threy buy him a new hammer back in Threshold, however Threy stated coolly that the weapon had been poorly made. This enraged Drewen as the hammer had been in his family for generations, and a brawl ensued - Kernrick and Lana were obliged to step in and drag the cleric and dwarf apart. They would simply need to resolve their quarrel at a later date. The party decided to leave the statue and its hidden treasure well alone, and pressed onward.
Arriving at a T-junction a short way ahead, Kernrick announced that he would go in search of his companions now that he was back in familiar territory. No amount of persuasion would convince him to stay with the party therefore Kernrick headed off on his own.
Heading south, the party entered a rectangular area with grilled doors lining one side - presumably this was a prison of some description. All the cells were searched however most contained only rubble, bones and rats. In one cell a prisoner was found - an disfigured old man with matted grey hair, dressed in dirty sackcloths. This individual thanked the party for his rescue and informed them that he had been a master thief, until his capture by Rezgale's hobgoblin minions who had cut off several of his fingers (and other extremities) for sick amusement. The old man was in a bad state and clearly needed healing. At the end of the hall a stairway was located, leading upward into daylight therefore the party decided to return to Threshold for the time being. Once they had escorted the old man back to civilisation, and healed their wounds, they would return…
A brief return home ... the back again
After having returned to Threshold to split treasure, replace Drewen's broken hammer, rest and (in Lana's case) memorise fresh magic, the party of four made the trek back to Rezgale's ruins and entered the subterranean complex via the mossy stairs down into the prison area. Lana lit her lantern to illuminate the surroundings which looked just how they had been left a day or so before. Drewen checked a cell which had been missed on the previous occasion, and found a handful of silver coins which he merrily stashed in his boot.
Returning to a crossroads near the statue room, the party headed along the western passage which led to a door. Curiously, the party's map indicated that there could not be enough space behind the door for a room of any size. Just as Drewen was inspecting the door's handle, the ground at his feet opened and he fell into a pit trap. Lana lowered her rope and Canerzon lifted him out. The party returned to the crossroads (ignoring Threy's requests to examine the door they were leaving behind) and took the way north, which was the direction they had last seen Kernrick heading.
Rounding the corner the party came upon four goblins inspecting the corpses of two dead goblins. Both groups stared at one another, seeming startled, before Lana called out a greeting in the Goblin tongue. She was familiar with their kind from growing up in close proximity to the Dymrak Forest. The humanoids were unwilling to converse however as they noted the presence of a dwarf among the humans and rushed forward with their shortswords drawn to attack.
Lana watched in horror as the two sides clashed, pleading for both to set aside their weapons but her pleas fell on deaf ears. So much so, one of the goblins who was remaining at a distance levelled his sling at Lana and launched a stone against the side of her head. Dazed but seeing that fighting was the only practical means of self-defence, Lana seized her dagger and closed to do combat.
Slowly the tide of battle turned in the party's favour and they overcame the goblins. Heading on into a large hall beyond the floor was strewn with more corpses, numbering seven in total - six more goblins in addition to a strapping, muscle-bound barbarian. Lana gave a cry and put a hand to her mouth as she recognised Kernrick's body. Canerzon and Drewen stepped forward to inspect the body with great sadness, noting the many sword slashes it bore. He appeared to have felled the half dozen goblins single-handedly however. Drewen murmured a few words of commemoration, then Canerzon kneeled to take up the fighter's magnificent broadsword, leaving his own in the fallen man's scabbard. The companions recalled Kernrick's words that the blade which had been forged by his people would stay with him until he died.
Drewen was left surveying the hall and announced that something seemed amiss. He examined one wall intently for a while, the prodded a few places and a section slid aside. As his companions congratulated him, they peered inside the gap in the wall and noticed a second body - probably one of Kernrick's companions - being feasted on by five enormous rats, each over two feet long. Lana was revolted at this sight and wished to leave it alone but Threy had noticed a chest beyond the body. He walked forwards and the rats paid him no attention, happy to continue feeding on the human remains. Seeing this, his companions followed. The chest was enormous, and caused the companions to wonder whether it might house all of Rezgale's treasure!
Eagerly Drewen and Threy raised the lid of the chest and gazed inside. There was no gold within, nor anything else of value. The interior reeked of decaying flesh and rotting bones. All that could be seen was a mound of dirty, ragged clothes. Then before the companions' eyes a figure rose - that of a dead body, its limbs animated by dark magic. All four remembered the townsfolk's rumours and Valtanivark's warning as they backed away - Rezgale had commanded corpses that walked!
In an unexpected display of courage, Threy stood before the zombie and produced the symbol of his church which he wore on a leather thong around his neck. He ordered the creature to turn and it did, walking away down the eastern passage. Once it was at a safe distance, both Canerzon and Lana drew forth vials of holy water they had purchased at the shrine of the Church of Karameikos (at considerable expense) and hurled the glass vials at the shambling creature however due to their nerves their aim was poor and they both missed. Fifty gold pieces' worth of holy water covered the floor, going to complete waste. Threy meanwhile had loaded his sling and fired a shot which hit the creature a glancing blow. This was sufficient to cancel the repelling effect, and the zombie turned in its tracks to lurch back towards the party with its arms outstretched. Lana noted with interest that the creature made absolutely no sound as it moved.
Drewen waited with baited breath until the zombie was within hand-to-hand range and then swung with his newly repaired hammer. The weapon connected with astounding force, severing the zombie's legs! Lana covered her eyes in disgust as the creature fell apart, yet it continued to grab for Drewen and Canerzon with its ragged claws. Canerzon stepped forward and hewed off the creature's head, causing it to cease and lie still.
On past the chest was a door which led into a long hall full of rubble and little else apart from a passage leading to a T-junction. The branch of the junction leading south ended in a door which piqued the group's curiosity so they approached to investigate. Canerzon tried the handle which refused to turn, so he booted the door and it swung open. At once, daylight flooded the corridor. Beyond the door was a room in which stood four very well-built men, all clad in leather armour with large sacks slung over their shoulders. Strewn throughout the hall were what presumably remained of a huge spread of silver coins. Drewen's face fell as he realised what the men carried in their bulging sacks. In the ceiling of the room was a large trapdoor through which sunlight was streaming in, illuminating the men's faces. They all had auburn hair and beards, and were dressed in a familiar-looking fashion and bore familiar-looking blades.
For a while the two groups simply stared at one another in astonishment.
"Do you know Kernrick?" Lana called meekly.
One nodded. "Aye. A strong fighter, he is."
"He's dead," Can said bluntly. Upon hearing this the men looked at one another, shrugged and continued picking up the few remaining coins from the floor.
A fire was raging in Threy's eyes. "That silver could have been ours," he muttered.
Drewen nodded miserably.
"Do you need all that silver?" Lana called. "I mean, it looks like there's more than enough for both our groups to share."
All four of the men appeared to take offence at this, and the leader went so far as to draw his broadsword. "If you want a single coin, you can fight us for it."
Canerzon went to drew his own sword but Lana and Drewen gave him apprehensive looks, keen to avoid bloodshed. Can's hostile gesture appeared to have caught the barbarians' attention however and their eyes widened in visible fear, the colour draining from their faces.
"No!" pleaded the leader as he and the others began backing away, "leave us be!"
Can was utterly baffled, as he returned his blade to its sheath. "What's got them so spooked?"
The barbarians' attention seemed to be focused on something behind the party. The four companions turned but, inexplicably, saw only an empty section of corridor. Puzzled, they turned back to see the last of the barbarians disappearing through the trapdoor with their bulging sacks in tow. Acting in desperation, Can sprang forward and pierced the man's sack with the tip of his sword. The party expected to see shiny silver coins spill forth but to their great surprise, out glooped nothing but thick, brown mud.
Feeling perplexed, Drewen stooped to pick up a single silver piece from the floor, which the barbarians had missed. It too turned to mud between his fingers.
Lana sniffed the air, thinking she detected a vague magical aura. Some sort of enchantment seemed to be waning - clearly the silver coins had not been real and goodness only knew what the barbarians thought they were fleeing from but that too must have been imaginatory. In any event it seemed prudent to leave the area before their own party was subjected to hallucinations of their own. Or worse, as Drewen muttered, before the party's own coins turned into nothing more than mush.
There were no other exits from the room so the party returned to the T-junction from earlier and took the northern passage. The way continued about forty feet before winding to the east then ending in a room where a fearful sight was to be beheld - two ranks of skeletons standing upright, wielding curving scimitars. At once the undead detected the intruders' presence and they advanced with their blades readied.
Brimming with confidence from his success over the zombie a while earlier, Threy stepped forward and channelled the power of his faith in the direction of the skeletons. He managed to repel the first rank of undead, yet the second kept coming. He had no time to invoke a second turning before the skeletons were upon him and he was forced to draw his mace and defend himself. Drewen and Canerzon appeared by his side and combat commenced.
Canerzon's first sword blow glanced off his skeleton, but Drewen's hammer crushed into his foe's hip-bone. It tottered uneasily, then Drewen landed a second blow and it fell to the ground unmoving. Can's sword crashed heavily into his skeleton, snapping its rib-cage apart. Threy swung out with his mace but his blow went totally wild.
Drewen crushed his next skeleton into the ground and Canerzon too finished off a foe. Again Threy swung his mace but missed; seeing him struggle Lana fired off her sole spell for the day, and a missile formed from magic blasted his skeleton into smithereens.
Having felled their first round of opponents, the party pursued the second rank Threy had turned. They had wandered into the next room through an opening in the wall. The party took a moment to catch their breath then followed. The undead stood motionless, until Threy loosed a shot from his sling which hit one of the skeletons' skulls and caused all four to turn and attack. Threy and Drewen's weapons impacted time and time again, crushing the skeletons into shards of bones within no time. Canerzon and Lana's edged weapons didn't seem to be of as much use and Lana was left aghast when the silver weapon she was using shattered in her grasp. Seeing her lose focus, and without a weapon, Can grabbed her and pulled her behind his shield for protection. He had developed a technique of stabbing with his sword then twisting the blade, and soon the four skeletons were dispatched.
As Lana was expressing her thanks to Canerzon for once again prioritising her personal safety, five giant rats emerged from a shadowy corner of the room. Thankfully combat was averted as the rats seemed content to gnaw on the remains of the fallen skeletons, and the party made a hasty retreat through a hole in the south wall and along the passageway beyond.
After thirty feet the corridor led to a T-junction. To the west was a set of stairs leading down. Or, to the south the corridor simply continued onward into darkness.
"Which way?" Threy asked.
"There could be monsters in either direction," Can said. "I've heard more dangerous creatures tend to live deeper down in dungeons. If we go down those stairs, we'll be facing tougher foes than rats and skeletons."
Drewen was listening intently to the southern corridor. "I hear voices." Threy too cocked an ear and nodded after a while. "Goblins," the dwarf continued in hushed tones. "Lots of them. Drinking and shouting by the sounds of it. They could be guarding Rezgale's treasure!"
Canerzon and Threy's eyes lit up but Lana wasn't so sure. "Are we ready to face a whole group of goblins? Something is tempting me to explore the stairs instead."
Threy nodded after thinking for a while. "I'd rather avoid another fight. If there's nothing down the stairs or if things seem too tough we can always come back up. Let's go."
Before any of the others could object, the cleric began descending the stairs. Lana followed with her lantern held aloft to light the way, with Canerzon and Drewen in tow. There were around thirty steps in all, appearing to be carved from some sort of black stone. The stairs ended at a doorway whose lintel had collapsed and the door itself lay off its hinges, splintered and broken on the floor.
The room beyond was perfectly circular, measuring around thirty feet across. The ceiling had caved in some time ago, quite recently by Drewen's judgment, wrecking what appeared to have been a study before. Elegant pieces of furniture lay broken under fallen stones and broken beams. There too on the floor lay the partially buried figure of a man - his body broken and battered, his dark robes dishevelled and torn and his long grey hair matted by dried blood. A cadaverous hand reached out from the rubble in death.
"Rezgale," Drewen breathed.
"So he truly did meet his end," Threy remarked. "Not a pleasant way to go."
Lana shook her head to indicate that she agreed.
"Look!" Canerzon pointed to one side of where the ceiling had caved in. "A chest!"
True enough, a medium-sized coffer stood in darkness only a few feet from Rezgale's corpse. During the cave-in a large stone had fallen from the ceiling, smashing the chest apart and strewing its contents across the floor - creating a carpet of gold and silver coins which gleamed in the light of Lana's lantern.
Drewen's eyes lit up as he and Lana went to lift the lid of the chest, while Canerzon and Threy began scooping coins into sacks they carried. After the lid of the chest was removed something else came to light - a small glass vial which had miraculously survived the impact which had destroyed the chest. Drewen took a sip of the liquid and felt a warm sensation spread through his body - this was a potion of healing. As the chest was emptied of the rest of its contents a single item was left at its bottom - a length of rolled parchment, tied with golden ribbon. Lana's heart skipped a beat as she unfurled the scroll with trembling hands and surveyed the runes it bore. This was a spell scroll which would enable her to scribe new magic into her spellbook back at home. She could not wait to get home and show her master her newest acquisition.
The party was delighted with their finds, but felt weary and could not face the prospect of engaging the band of goblins and so returned to the room where they had encountered the "mad" barbarians and made their exit through the trapdoor in the ceiling. They had survived the perils of Rezgales' ruins! They had escaped not only with their lives but with some treasure also. The four sat in the afternoon sunshine, enjoying some light refreshments and congratulating one another on a successful venture. They then set about dividing the treasure they had acquired. Canerzon received the ring of invisibility which was arguably the most valuable item in the haul and therefore forewent any of the remaining loot. Drewen received the healing potion and Lana took the spell scroll, while Threy was happy to receive only gold and silver to fund his upcoming mission for his church. Everyone was satisfied with the division, then the four companions dusted themselves down and started the three mile trek back to Threshold.
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