:: Dungeons & Dragons - The Threshold Party - The Toppled Temple ::

The Toppled Temple - Part One

Homeward bound

Upon returning to Threshold, the four companions went shopping. Drewen and Lana stopped by the supply store while Threy and Canerzon (an unlikely pairing if ever there was one) visited the blacksmith's forge. Threy's leather armour was in shreds therefore he decided to spend some of his newfound wealth and replace it with more substantial metal armour. Canerzon was keen to have his newly acquired longsword evaluated. The smith turned the weapon reverently in his hands, announcing that the blade was one of the finest he had ever held. While clearly not magical, the sword had been forged by a master craftsman. The smith offered Can twenty gold for the weapon - twice the price of a normal sword - yet Can wasn't even slightly tempted to part with the beautiful blade.

At the equipment store Lana and Drewen replenished the supplies they had used up during their exploration - rope and flasks of oil and the like. Lana bought four new daggers, thinking it would be worth having several handy for missile attacks. On the way out of the store she was stopped by the shopkeeper's young son who offered to sell her a mule. They're certainly persistent, she thought, declining the offer as she pictured her master Valtanivark stepping outside his tower to find a mule laying waste to his garden.

After a mug of tea in Drewen's cottage Lana bid temporary farewell to her friend and raced the mile or so to her master's tower which was situated to the east of town. She could not wait to tell her master about her adventures, and in particular show him the spell scroll she had acquired. She approached the tower's front entrance and extended her wrist, so that a bracelet she wore would deactivate the magical dweomer which kept the door secure against any would-be intruders. The effect waned, allowing her to enter. As she opened the door she heard glass smashing, followed by angry shouting coming from the upper laboratory level. It sounded as though one of the other apprentices (who all lived in Threshold, rather than in the tower as Lana did) had knocked over an experiment and drawn the force of Valtanivark's annoyance. The red-faced youth came tearing down the staircase and bolted past Lana, through the open door and in the direction of town. Lana's decided to postpone approaching her master - she knew better than to speak with him when he was in one of his fits of rage. Instead, she crept up the staircase to her room, quietly closed the door to her room and settled in for some rest.

Upon waking a few hours later Lana unpacked her adventuring gear - neatly stowing her belongings into the large chest beside her bed - then washed her face, put on fresh clothes and headed downstairs. It was beginning to get dark outside, all the other apprentices would no doubt have returned home by now. Lana descended the staircase to find her master seated by the fire in the lounge area of the tower. He was reading from a book with his grey cat curled by his feet; his earlier temper seeming to have passed.

"Good evening master." Lana smiled warmly as she approached.

"Ah!" Valtanivark looked up. "Lana, you've returned. How was your adventure? Are you alright? Are your friends alright? What did you find?"

"I will reveal all," Lana said, feigning an air of mystery which caused her master to smile. "But first I'll make us some supper. Have you eaten?"

"Not yet," her master said. "I was meaning to but there was an incident earlier which rather caused me to lose focus."

Lana descended to the kitchen level of the tower, returning a short while later bearing two bowls of steaming soup. Setting down the bowls she dragged one of her master's comfortable old armchairs closer to the fire and made herself comfortable. Valtanivark's cat came and rubbed against her ankles.

"So," Valtanivark asked, while blowing on his soup. "Tell me about your adventure."

Lana proceeded to recount the party's exploits in full - from their initial foray into the tunnels beneath Rezgale's tower to the moment where they uncovered the nature of the wizard's demise, after he had fled from battle.

"So he was crushed beneath his own tower," Valtanivark mused. "A fitting end."

With slightly trembling hands Lana reached into a pocket of her robes and drew forth the roll of parchment she had taken from the wizard's former study. Her master took the item from her and unravelled it carefully.

"You have done well to uncover such a find," he declared. Lana brimmed with pleasure - her master was not one to offer praise lightly. "Have you been able to decipher the writings?"

Lana shook her head. "My spellcasting is exhausted for today, I cast Magic Missile only a few hours ago."

Valtanivark's attention hadn't left the magical script. "This scroll appears to contain not one, but two spells. See here?" He pointed. "A gap between two separate sets of runes."

Lana nearly leapt out of her seat. "Truly?"

Her master nodded. "If I might be so bold as to determine their meaning?"

"Please!" Lana looked on as the wizard murmured a low enchantment, his bushy eyebrows rising slightly as the runes became legible. "The first spell," he murmured, "is one I had considered bestowing upon you when you reached your next milestone of magical ability." He gestured to a glowing glass sphere in one corner of the room, the only light source apart from the fire. "Light."

"Wonderful!" Lana clapped her hands excitedly. "And the other?"

Her master read on before pronouncing the name of the second spell. "Floating Disc."

Hearing this, Lana didn't know how to react. "Sorry?"

"Floating Disc. It's a spell of the first rank, similar in power terms to Light. Useful in many respects certainly, highly utilitarian, I can't say it's a spell I'd have taught you before others but it's worth having nevertheless. The limited duration is a drawback, I'll say that much, I daresay you could have a go at improving it…"

"Master," Lana interrupted as respectfully as she could, as she could no longer contain her curiosity. "What does it do?"

The wizard looked at her strangely, then a faint smile crept into the corners of his lips. "Allow me to demonstrate." He raised his hands in spellcasting, but stopped when he noticed Lana's panicked expression. She hadn't yet transferred the spell into her spellbook…

"I'm not going to cast the spell from your scroll," her master reassured her, as if reading her thoughts. "I happen to have it memorised today."

"Oh…" Comprehension dawned and Lana watched her master's hands move through the motions of the spell. Then, moments later the very chair she was seated on rose a short way into the air. Not sure how to react Lana made a peculiar sound - something between a laugh and a shriek. Her master rose from his chair and walked around the perimeter of the lounge - Lana's chair followed, bobbing along and staying within no more than a few feet at all times.

Lana clapped her hands with approval. "Wonderful!" she announced. "No longer will I need to haul your groceries all the way back from town." As her armchair set back down beside the fire, she and her master laughed heartily.

Threy's mission

The next morning there came a knocking at the door of Valtanivark's tower and Lana went to answer. There in the doorway stood Threy, clearly out of breath. With barely a word he grabbed hold of Lana's wrist and pulled her out through the door, and in the direction of Threshold. Not long after, the pair arrived at Drewen's cottage and Threy hammered on the door. Drewen came to answer, clearly irked by the disruption at such an early hour. Threy pushed past him, gesturing for Lana to follow him into the dwarf's living room. The cleric pulled three chairs together before announcing that his church had bestowed a mission upon him that very morning. Exchanging dubious glances while seating themselves, Drewen and Lana listened to their friend's tale. Apparently, only the previous night while their party had been away exploring Rezgale's ruins there had been a massive earthquake. Tremors had been felt throughout Threshold yet when they subsided only a single building was found to have sustained any damage - the shrine of a group of mysterious, black-robed clerics who had come to town a few months before. The clerics founded a shrine in the north-east end of town and largely kept to themselves which was considered peculiar practice when compared to most other clerics in town who made a point of preaching their faith to others. The black-robed clerics quickly engendered suspicion and dislike in the eyes of the populace. Local folk steered clear and left them well alone. More recently however a number of individuals had gone missing and rumours abounded that they had been kidnapped by the clerics who were suspected to practise dark rituals in the basement of their temple. In particular the name of the Immortal of Death had been mentioned - Thanatos, the Grim Reaper whose worship was outlawed in every civilised nation of the Known World.

The unexpected earthquake had reduced the clerics' temple to rubble - killing most of their clergy and causing the surviving few to scatter into the outlying region and the mountains to the north. When the townsfolk had approached the toppled temple to search through the debris, a number of openings were located amid the rubble - clearly there were subterranean passages to be explored. Drewen and Lana looked at one another excitedly - another dungeon, right here in Threshold!

Threy explained how this mission was particularly relevant to his own faith. For some time the Elders of his Church had been wary of the other clerics. While Threy's own philosophy promoted free will and anarchy and risked undermining public order, they were staunch opponents of the black-robed clerics with their unwholesome rituals and worship of a clearly evil Immortal. Threy's superiors were as keen as everyone else to know what had caused the earthquake, therefore they instructed their acolyte to investigate. There was even a chance that their faith's holy statuette, which had been stolen around a fortnight ago, might be waiting in the dungeon beneath the toppled Temple.

Threy awkwardly asked whether Drewen and Lana might consider accompanying him. For her part, Lana was eager to acquire another magical spell scroll and was happy to agree. Drewen was tempted by the possibility the clerics might have amassed some wealth and moreover he remained keen to protect Lana so he too lent his support to the mission.

It seemed the party would only consist of three members however. When Lana went to call on Can he listened to Threy's proposal but declined on a number of grounds. Firstly he still bore a number of injuries inflicted by the undead in Rezgale's ruins - his wounds had yet to fully heal. In addition his duties to the Town Guard would keep him occupied for the next day or so as he was due to start a shift that very night. And lastly, Can announced openly that he had spent enough time with Threy during the last few days, and he had no wish to rejoin the surly cleric's company so soon.

That evening the trio made their way to the north-east end of town to the site which had housed the dark clerics' shrine. Local laws (which were stringently enforced by the ruler, Sherlane Halaran) meant no buildings could be constructed within fifty feet of one another and the clerics had been obliged to comply. Their once-resplendent temple had been reduced to a spread of rocks and shattered marble columns, set apart from the other nearby buildings which the quake hadn't affected. Townsfolk lingered unhappily at the edge of the devastation, many making superstitious signs to ward away evil while a few bolder individuals picked through the ruins in hopes of uncovering some shred of information or something of value. In one corner of the site, a number of black-robed, battered corpses were lying with their faces covered. There was talk that Baron Halaran was intending to consult with the spirits of the departed to glean information.

"Over here!" Drewen called to his companions after doing some poking of his own. "Give me a hand with this." Knowledgeable about the ways of construction and building design, the dwarf hadn't taken long to assess the desolation and work out where hidden things might lie. He and Threy took hold of a large marble slab and just about managed to lift it, revealing a set of cracked marble steps leading into the earth. Threy was excited and immediately started down the steps. Drewen and Lana exchanged wary glances and followed, Lana pausing to ignite her lantern before they descended.

At the bottom of the steps was a tunnel which was barely four feet high, requiring Threy and Lana to crawl on their hands and knees. However, the passageway sloped downward and after around forty feet the ceiling rose to a more comfortable height before widening into a small cave with three passageways branching off. In the middle of the cave stood three figures - goblins! The humanoids growled, making aggressive gestures with the shortswords they held.

"Intruders!" they snarled. Lana attempted to reason with the creatures in their native tongue, however on seeing a dwarf in the party's midst they charged forward with their weapons drawn. Drewen was happy to heft his hammer and wade into the melee, yet he remained weary from his exertions in Rezgale's Ruins and found himself disorientated amid the combat. The goblins seemed a great deal more hardy than those the party had encountered in their previous adventure, and their shortswords cut deep wounds into each of Drewen, Threy and Lana. The trio found themselves with no option but to make a fighting withdrawal, then ended up turning and fleeing for their very lives! To their immense relief only the goblins' sneers followed them as they crawled back up the tunnel and into the open air beyond.

Threy collapsed against the base of a shattered column as Drewen helped Lana up out of the tunnel. "We can't go back in there," he heaved. "Not in this state."

"I could drink my potion?" Drewen volunteered, referring to the healing draught he had obtained in Rezgale's study.

Lana shook her head. "That'll only benefit you, not the rest of us. You should save it for a proper emergency." She paused to think for a moment. "What about your order, Threy, would they heal us?"

The cleric looked doubtful. "Healing doesn't really fit with our ethos. We're not the Church of Karameikos you know. The Elders would need to have good reason to ask our patrons for healing."

Drewen looked offended. "We offered to lend you our support to explore whatever's within that dungeon - you said yourself that your Elders thought your church's statue could be down there."

"Statuette," Threy corrected. He seemed to mull over what Drewen had said. "I suppose it's worth asking."

And so the three picked themselves up and hobbled toward the building which served as the base of Threy's order on the opposite side of town - it resembled a two-storey barn moreso than a church, but was home to the Elders and their followers nevertheless.

Threy took a deep breath and bid his companions wait outside while he went to speak with the Elders. He returned red-faced and sweating only minutes later.

"Well?" Drewen asked.

"Like I expected it's a no to the request for healing."

Lana was puzzled. "Did you explain that we're helping you?"

Threy nodded. "They said our wounds aren't really that bad, they've seen worse."

Lana was shocked. "But Threy look at your side, where the goblin blade cut you!" Lana whose mother had been a healer in the Church of Traladara had handed down some healing talent to her daughter, and Lana had bandaged her companions' wounds as best she could yet there was still more could be done.

Threy shrugged. "They'll only heal us if we make a donation."

Lana checked the coin pouch hanging on her belt. "I've got five gold, three silver."

"I've only silver," Drewen said.

Threy laughed aloud. "They're talking hundreds, not spare change!"

Drewen fumed. "Well what can they do for us that doesn't cost? It's in their blinking interests for us to get our strength back if they want that Temple explored any time soon."

Threy accepted this. "I made the same point, and the Elders say they'll provide us with quarters within the Temple, to rest and meditate until we are fully healed. Naturally healed, they mean."

"I suppose that's better than nothing," Lana said. Threy led his companions into the shrine where they met one of the Elders - a tall, white-haired individual who looked the three companions up and down with evident disdain and had a generally intimidating air about him. All in all however the man was unfailingly polite and courteous and wished the three a speedy recovery from their injuries. They were shown to guest quarters which were sparse and basic but clean, where their wounds were washed and tended by novices and fresh bandages were applied. Then the three settled in to rest.

By the following morning the novelty of their surroundings had worn off for Lana who found herself feeling bored. While Threy and Drewen lay resting she snuck off home to Valtanivark's tower to raid some more provisions then called to see Canerzon, who was in the middle of his guard shift. She then returned to the Temple and spent a peaceful night there.

Return to the ruins

Two similar days passed - all three were left feeling refreshed as their wounds seemed to have healed well. They decided they had mustered sufficient strength to return to the catacombs beneath the toppled temple. Returning to the ruined site it looked identical to how it had appeared previously except there were far fewer townsfolk milling about - their curiosity had evidently subsided - and the bodies of the dead priests had been removed, presumably to Tarnskeep. Again the party descended the steps, crawling on hands and knees (except Drewen, who only needed to stoop slightly) until the ceiling sloped and began to rise. An eerie green light could be seen emanating from the end of the tunnel, which had not been there before. Curious, the companions pressed on through the cave where the goblins had attacked, now empty, and reached a rectangular cave beyond where five large beetles were crawling about the floor. They each measured over two feet long. Fascinated, Lana drew close to inspect one of the creatures, and noted that the area beneath its carapace seemed to be filled with some sort of phosphorescent liquid. Warily she extended one hand and the beetle inspected her fingers with an antenna, which tickled, before losing interest and plodding away from her.

Seeing that the beetles weren't hostile, the party entered the room and crossed to a door in the north wall. It opened onto an L-shaped passage heading either north or east.

"Which way?" Drewen asked.

"I say east," Threy announced, hasty as ever as he stepped in that direction. Before either of his companions could say a word, the cleric's feet left the ground and he hovered in mid-air.

"By my beard," Drewen chortled.

Lana sniggered, noticing that Threy was completely unable to move. "If Can were here he'd laugh his head off." She turned to Threy. "It serves you right for stalking off without asking us."

Threy gritted his teeth together and after a few moments of visible concentration managed to break through the effect. Suddenly he lurched forwards, as though spat out from the magical barrier and free to move again.

"Come on through," he called, rubbing his limbs. Drewen's face fell on hearing this proposal.

"Is it safe?" Lana asked.

"Is it Hell!" Drewen muttered before Threy could respond.

"Come on Drewen," Lana soothed. "Threy made it through fine, we're all here to help one another. Just think - this barrier might be protecting something the clerics don't want us to find. Like treasure!"

Lana turned and stepped into the barrier, grimacing as the magical effect took hold of her body and caused her limbs to seize. She concentrated hard, forcing herself to clear her mind and focusing on becoming free. Try as she might though, she could not get free and found herself stuck - powerless and suspended in mid-air.

That was, until Threy took hold of her arm and yanked her forcibly free. She shot forwards to land in a heap and shot Threy an accusing look.

"That really hurt! You practically pulled my shoulder out of its socket!"

Threy rolled his eyes. "What else was I to do? Would you rather I had left you where you were?"

"No," Lana muttered. "Come on Drewen, your turn."

On the other side of the barrier the dwarf backed away, making refusal gestures with his hands. "Oh no, that's not going to happen."

"Come on!" Lana encouraged. "You'll probably be fine, I had a tough time but Threy was alright, maybe it goes by physical strength? And anyway - we can't stay on opposite sides like we are now."

Muttering something indecipherable in the Dwarven tongue, Drewen took a deep breath and stepped forward. As expected, his short form was instantly caught up by the magical field and his body rose around an inch off the ground. He stiffened, even his beard appearing to straighten and stand on end. Threy collapsed into belly-aching laughter until Lana's elbow connected with his ribs. Without further ado, Lana and Threy stepped forward and laid their hands on their companion - each taking one of his arms and heaving for all they were worth. After a long struggle the companions succeeded in wrenching the dwarf free, and all three tumbled forward.

Lana took a moment to shake off the horrible sensation from her own limbs, feeling utterly drained, then looked to Drewen with concern. The dwarf was very silent, not bothering to voice the complaint she had been expecting.

"Are you okay?"

Drewen did not respond but stared past her with his teeth clenched together.

"Shall we head on?" Having shrugged off any ill effect, Threy seemed unimpressed by the dwarf's inability to do likewise and began tapping one foot impatiently.

Drewen took a further moment to come to his senses, before responding in unusually unenthusiastic tones. "Let's go." As he rose to his feet and dusted himself off, Lana said nothing but watched her friend with concern - she had never before seen him so drained. Evidently his dislike of magic was inborn in his race. She found herself feeling guilty for wanting to pursue study of something her friend had such a natural aversion and mistrust toward.

The trio headed onward in the direction away from the invisible field, and arrived at a T-junction. To the north an opening could be made out, while to the south the passage simply headed onward beyond the lantern's light. The party decided to head north. The corridor led into a large hall whose stone walls were chiselled to depict ceremonies involving strange creatured, and were surrounded by hundreds of runes written in black and red inks. Skull motifs were everywhere. Noticing the room's main feature Lana put a hand to her mouth to keep from gagging, and even Threy was heard to give a gasp of horror. At the centre of the room was a large altar which was caked in dried blood. The whole area around the altar was drenched in the same ruddy, brown colour. Threy was about to approach the altar when noises came from behind the party - they had been followed by five angry goblins, their weapons drawn in readiness for combat. Acting on instinct, Lana grabbed a dagger from her belt and hurled it to strike the lead goblin in the chest. Drewen gave a roar and charged forward with his hammer at the ready. The two groups clashed, Threy sustaining a nasty wound in the opening round of combat which caused his subsequent attacks to miss wildly. The three companions perservered and soon overcame their foes, mainly thanks to Drewen's hammer.

While Lana and Drewen caught their breath, Threy went to inspect something the party hadn't noticed before. Flies were buzzing noisily around a shadowy alcove in the far wall. Threy approached the darkness, peered inside then beckoned for Lana to bring the lantern closer. She did as she was bid. The smell from the shadows was sickly and disgusting. There in the alcove was a large chute, the ground around was smeared in more dried blood which appeared to lead from the altar.

"Shall we go down it?" Threy asked.

Drewen's eyes grew wide. "Whatever for? Surely you jest!"

"Have you forgotten Rezgale's Ruins?" the cleric mocked. "The lower level of a complex is bound to contain greater treasures than the first."

Lana held up her hands in protest. "You can't expect us to… I mean, it looks like those clerics dumped dead bodies down there! I absolutely refuse, we agreed to come on this adventure as your friends Threy, you shouldn't -"

"Oh relax!" The cleric rolled his eyes. "I was joking. Do you think I want bodily fluids all over my armour? I mean some of that stuff still looks fresh." He glanced around worriedly. "Let's get out of here before more goblins turn up."

"Agreed," Drewen muttered, and the three returned to the T-junction as quickly as they could. Taking the passage which did not lead back to the magical barrier, they headed south where after thirty feet the corridor turned west and led back into the familiar chamber which still contained the five beetles. Lana took another moment to stare at the creatures' glowing abdomens, considering them very beautiful. Passing through the room's door for a second time the party headed north at the subsequent junction (being careful to avoid the magical barrier to the immediate east).

Gnomeguts

The passage continued forty feet before turning west. As the companions rounded the corner they practically collided with a lone individual coming the other way - a goblin! The creature eyed Drewen with contempt but controlled itself and didn't make an immediate move to attack. Instead, it seemed prepared to converse and uttered a few words in the Goblin tongue.

Threy, standing at the fore of the party, was unable to comprehend. "Pardon? Can't you speak in the Common tongue?"

Lana stepped in, having understood the creature's greeting. "Ignore him."

"What you doing here?" the goblin demanded.

"What are we doing here…" Lana echoed. She tried to think on her feet, realising that to tell the truth would achieve little. "We're friends of the clerics," she announced brightly, attempting to sound convincing. "You see, three nights ago there was a massive earthquake, and -"

"Yes!" the goblin exclaimed. "Lots of shaking. Shake, shake, shake - we felt it!"

"Quite," Lana went on. "Anyhow the clerics are rebuilding their temple in another part of town and they asked us -" she gestured at her companions "- to come and retrieve some things they left down here. Because they had to leave in a hurry."

The goblin looked blank.

"Do you understand?" Lana asked.

It nodded slowly.

"Good! So anyway, tell us about you. How come you're on your own?"

"Me waiting behind," the creature replied. "Adventurers come, they kill one of my friends. We send group of our own to find them and kill."

Lana's smile faded. "Adventurers?"

"Dwarf," the goblin said. "Plus tall lady and tall man in armour. Gnomeguts offer to check tunnels in east."

Lana beamed. "Is that your name?" she asked. "Gnomeguts?"

The goblin nodded proudly.

"Well, Gnomeguts," Lana said warmly. "How about those things the clerics wanted us to fetch for us. Do you have any idea where they might be kept? We don't know our way round you see."

"Oh yes," it nodded, "level below!"

Lana relayed this to her companions, and Threy gave a whooping cheer. "You see? I told you there'd be treasure on the lower level."

"There's a level below?" Lana asked.

Gnomeguts gave another nod. "Many things there - giant things, lots of spiders."

Lana shuddered, remembering Rezgale's Ruins and the enormous spider her master had informed her was called a "tarantella". "How do we get there?"

"Gnomeguts take you."

"You'll take us?"

"Yes," the goblin said, "on one condition. You turn off light. Light hurt Gnomeguts' eyes."

"But…" Lana surveyed her lantern. "We can't see without our light."

"You no need light, you have Gnomeguts to guide you. Gnomeguts can see in dark."

Lana touched the catch of her lantern which caused the shutters to narrow and then close completely. Darkness descended.

"What in the Nine Hells are you doing?" Threy demanded.

"He said the light was hurting his eyes."

"You fell for that?"

Lana gave an exasperated sigh. "Do you want to help your church or not, Threy? A little trust goes a long way you know."

"And you're so quick to trust, aren't you."

"I'm not going to dignify that with a response." Lana reverted to speaking in the Goblin tongue. "We're ready, lead the way Gnomeguts!"

There came a quiet snickering. Lana instantly felt uneasy. "Gnomeguts?"

The snickering continued. "Me trick you! Gnomeguts not as stupid as you think. Me know you have dwarf in your party, he going to try and kill me."

"No he's not," Lana began, but then -

"Yes he bloody is!" Drewen roared, barging past his companions in the darkness. The goblin gave a shriek and moments later there came the sound of hammer clashing against blade. Lana threw open the shutters of her lantern, bathing the combatants in light and causing the goblin to howl with displeasure. He lunged for Drewen with his shortsword; the dwarf dodged with ease before swinging his hammer and crushing the goblin's skull. The creature fell to the ground, clearly dead.

"That showed him," Drewen muttered, "the treacherous little runt."

Stepping over the goblin's body, the trio pressed on. The passageway led around a corner then widened into a small room, around twenty feet by twenty feet which seemed empty apart from an opening in the opposite wall and a door in the centre of the north wall. Proceeding cautiously through the room, a voice sounded out of nowhere:-

"You shall go no further!" it boomed powerfully. "Your journey ends here, prepare to meet your doom!"

"Where's that coming from?" Threy demanded, as the voice fell into slow, menacing laughter which chilled Lana's bones in particular.

"More damn magic, I'll bet," Drewen said, swinging his hammer around himself though it failed to impact against anything.

"Bwah ha ha, bwah ha HA!"

"Show yourself!" Lana called though the laughter would not abate. In the back of her mind she remembered her master mentioning a spell called Ventriloquism. Perhaps they had triggered some sort of magical effect when they had stepped inside the room. Even so, Lana could not help but feel unnerved and Drewen too was far from happy - as distrustful as ever of magic.

"I am your darkest nightmare!" the voice continued. "I will slay you all one by one, I will come to you in the middle of night -"

"Oh come on," said Threy, sounding unimpressed. "If all it can do is issue threats then we're in no danger."

"Agreed," said Drewen, although he sounded unconvinced. "Let's get going."

Stepping up to the door in the north wall, the handle turned smoothly and without a sound. The three stepped through into a large hall beyond. The floor of the room was, to the party's amazement, covered in shiny silver pieces! The coins appeared to be guarded however - by a dozen giant rats.

"Look at all that silver!" Drewen breathed.

"But look at all the rats," Threy said unhappily. "I've never seen so many."

"Maybe they're not hostile?" Lana volunteered.

Threy scoffed. "Look how scrawny they are, they'll be ravenous."

"Well let's be cautious," Lana said. "Maybe if we tip-toe around the outside of the room we can get past them."

Drewen shook his head. "We're not leaving without all that silver. I've endured that blooming magical forcefield, then conversation with a goblin - we deserve this reward and I'm prepared to fight a few rats if necessary."

"But there are so many," Lana murmured. "Threy, do you think…" She glanced over. Threy wasn't where he had been standing. To her horror he had crept into the room and was starting to pick up coins. "What do you think you're doing?!"

The cleric had amassed more coins than he could hold in his hands, and was rummaging in his pack for a sack which he drew forth and proceeded to unfold. While doing so, he accidentally trod on one of the rats' tails. The creature gave an angry squeak and turned on Threy, causing several of its fellows to do likewise.

Drewen shook his head tiredly. "The fool," he sighed before going to help the acolyte.

Lana decided she would do the same, drawing her dagger and stepping into the room, however as she did so the door slammed shut behind her. Struggle as she might with the handle, it refused to turn - the party's retreat had been blocked off! Spying two rats clustered a short way off, Lana hurled a vial of oil then lit a torch and threw it as well. The pair burst into flames and burned to a crisp. As she hurled a dagger at another nearby rat she felt a sharp pain in her ankle, and grabbed another dagger to do battle with the creature that had attacked her.

After a while the party managed to overcome their foes, and were relieved to have escaped with their lives. Threy decided to investigate an opening in the western wall, and stepped through without consulting his companions. The other two had no option but to follow, stepping into another room where an awful sight met their eyes - Threy was slumped on the floor only a few feet inside, not moving. Beyond were six skeletons, all grasping rusted swords and advancing in perfect, deathly silence.

"He fainted," Drewen said in disbelief. "Threy actually fainted!"

As the dwarf stood defiantly with his hammer at the ready, Lana stooped to shake Threy by the shoulders. After some vigorous shaking he came round and looked around himself in disorientation. There remained no time however - the skeletons were upon them. Lana gave a cry of alarm as one skeleton loomed over her. It raised its sword but then careered backwards as a crossbow bolt whistled past its skull. There in the opening of the room stood Canerzon, loading a fresh bolt into his new crossbow! The skeleton's attention was diverted from Lana and Threy and it lumbered to attack the armour-plated fighter instead.

Three become four ... a welcome return

"Are you okay Threy?" Lana asked. The cleric nodded weakly, rising to his feet and readying his mace in time to engage another advancing skeleton. Lana jabbed at the creature with her dagger but realised the edged weapon was incapable of inflicting much damage against an adversary who had no flesh. The skeleton's blade almost found its way into Lana's own flesh but caught on her robe instead. Glancing around Lana saw that her companions were having little success with their own foes - Drewen was holding off two, while Canerzon was engaging three. Suddenly there came a thud, as Threy dropped his mace and produced his holy symbol from beneath his armour.

"Turn!" he shouted, and three of the skeletons responded, ceasing their attacks and striding toward the end of the room. Threy took a moment to close his eyes and focus on the reverence he bore for his anonymous Immortal patrons, while his companions continued their attacks, then he opened his eyes and invoked a second turning. To his satisfaction, the three remaining skeletons stalked after their fellows.

"Nice effort," said Drewen.

"Don't let them get away!" Canerzon yelled. He fired a bolt from his crossbow and Lana hurled a dagger; the two attacks were enough to sever the creature's skull from its body. It collapsed in a heap while the other two skeletons disappeared through the gap in the wall.

Lana retrieved her dagger then ran over to Canerzon and flung her arms around him, overjoyed to see him. Drewen too was pleased to see that their companion had joined them. Threy stood to one side, annoyed not to have received greater praise for his efforts against the skeletons, and flatly refused to acknowledge Canerzon's presence.

"What are you doing here?" Lana laughed. "We thought you were still injured?"

"I healed more quickly than I was expecting," Can muttered, making a special effort to ignore Threy who was staring at the ceiling sullenly.

"Well how did you find us?" Drewen asked.

"Your trail wasn't hard to follow," Can said. "Dead goblins and rats! There was some sort of nasty magical barrier though, I had really difficulty getting through…"

"Tell me about it," Drewen said darkly.

Threy cleared his throat loudly. "Shall we press on?"

Without further ado, the party walked through the doorway in the south wall. Arriving at a crossroads they turned to the east and entered a small empty room. A passageway led south, which they followed, and after a short distance the lantern's light illuminated a group of four goblins. The group looked battered and beaten.

For a long time the two groups stood staring at each other, neither willing to make the first move. Then -

"Greetings," Lana said in the goblins' language. "We mean you no harm…"

"Oh yes we do," growled Drewen, to her side, understanding her words but speaking in Common Thyatian.

"Sshh!" Lana hushed the dwarf, before returning her attention to the goblins. "You look rather the worse for wear. Were you involved in some sort of a fight?"

The lead goblin nodded. "Big spiders."

Lana shuddered on hearing mention of the creatures she feared the most. "You didn’t happen to come up stairs to get here, did you?"

"Yes."

Lana turned to her companions. "A lower level!" she whispered excitedly, then returned her attention to the goblins. "Where exactly were the -"

"You ask too many questions," the leader grunted. "You answer our questions now. What you strangers doing down here?"

Lana attempted to think on the spot. "Well… you know those clerics? Yes? Well there was a great earthquake, what, three nights ago and their temple collapsed so they've had to relocate to a new base, and em… we're friends of theirs! We offered to retrieve things they left behind like potions and scrolls and the like. We don't know our way around though so it would be extra helpful if you could maybe show us where the treasures are being kept?"

Despite her cheerful tone, the goblins stared at her blankly.

Canerzon gave her a nudge. "Can we not just fight them?" he whispered tiredly. "They're not in a great state of health, they'll be easy enough to take out."

"You're right," Lana responded, "we could attack them and I daresay even I could take one out without much effort but -"

The goblins started making a commotion, while Canerzon stared at Lana in confusion. "I don't understand what you're saying," he said quietly.

"You planning to attack us!" the lead goblin snarled, as it and its fellows lunged forward with their weapons readied.

The colour drained from Lana's face. She realised she had been addressing Canerzon in the Goblin tongue. "Oh heavens," she exclaimed.

"I'll handle this," Drewen announced as he strode forward to intercept the lead goblin's attack, swinging his hammer and crushing his foe's chest in one blow. It dropped at his feet. Canerzon too slashed out with his sword, opening a gash on one of the other goblin's necks. Blood spurted out and it too collapsed. Lana flung a dagger which caught a third goblin a glancing blow but was enough to fell it. The sole remaining goblin backed out of the lantern light and fled.

Canerzon saw Threy standing doing nothing. "Fire your sling!" he roared.

The cleric turned to Drewen. "Would you inform your lame-brained companion that I don't answer to orders from the likes of him." He stooped and began searching the dead goblins' bodies.

Drewen appeared unimpressed. "Come on Threy, you could have at least tried to take one out. Even Lana managed to fell one."

"Yeah Threy," Canerzon sneered. "That one that got away could come back with more of its kind. You're not exactly brimming with common sense, are you? Or loyalty, for that matter. Or -"

"Guys!" Lana interjected. "Leave Threy be." Undeterred, the cleric went back to looting the goblin corpses and pocketed a number of silver coins.

Drewen had turned his attention to the end of the tunnel, and peered into its dark depths. "Look what we have here!"

The four approached the end of the tunnel, the lantern illuminating a flight of carved stone steps leading down.

"The lower level!" Lana whispered excitedly. "Just think what's down there."

"Spiders, I'd imagine." Threy spoke coldly. "Huge, giant spiders, with enormous furry legs and fangs…"

Lana shuddered. "Give over. I'm prepared to face them, I have my spell memorised so I'm not totally defenceless."

"Let's head down," said Drewen and the four progressed down the steps.


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