Alert: Contains spoilers for the adventure “Scourge of the Slave Lords”
Ezekiel opened the secret door, and there was some thumping and clanging. Agnar rushed in to help him, and by the time the rest of us caught up, they had a dead minotaur. The minotaur’s room was littered with old bones and debris, with a pile of straw in one corner. The north wall and south wall each had a door in it – and each door had a short board leaned against it, such that it would fall and clatter if someone opened the door. Both boards were in place…but if Marquessa did escape through there, the minotaur could have set up the boards again. Not exactly solid evidence.
The north door led into the hallway behind the weapons room – leading to the suite where we killed the two elves (as Ezekiel says, the “maybe-elves”). While I was updating the map, Ezekiel borrowed one of Mikael’s sticks to poke at the chimney in the fancy bedroom because he was convinced there was something funny going on there. In the time it takes to turn around, he found the hidden lever or whatever it was, and opened up the secret door in the fireplace (sure we aren’t overdoing it here, lady?!).
I guess we must have been bored, or overcome with excitement, or something…because we forgot something very, very important the universe taught us way back in Explictika’s lair (and again in the Temple of Elemental Earth).
The passage slants south away from the fireplace, and joins up with the passage on the south end of the minotaur room…so that was neat and tidy and nice. But there’s another passage, leading even further south…and that’s the one that got us into trouble.
Agnar led the way – since he likes to be right in on the action, and he’s so resilient against most things – and Ezekiel was right on his heels. Next thing we knew, there was a crack or a snick sound, and the floor gave way under Agnar (folding against the wall like a very smug little trap) and we heard a splash.
Raven ran up to the front. The hinged panel of floor extended twenty feet beyond Ezekiel’s arrested boot, and twice that distance below us, an underground stream rushed on. Raven has gotten really good at wall-jumping over our heads – but by the time he got up next to Ezekiel, Agnar was already being washed into a tunnel under the floor beyond the gap.
With no one than a quick word to the rest of us, Raven leapt down into the river and followed Agnar. Even if he could swim (which we didn’t know), his plate-armor would mess up all of that. The only one of us who would have a hope of helping him stay above water was Raven – and with Agnar’s shield lit up with Continual Light, he should be able to find him.
The only question that left was what the rest of us could do. I jammed some of my iron spikes between the flagstones and anchored a rope on them, to help Raven climb up should he succeed in swimming against the current. Mikael tied his light marble to the end of the rope and let it fall into the pit, where we watched the light glint off the swiftly moving water.
Ezekiel had another idea. He pulled out a scroll, chanted for a good while, and then stared down in the pit expectantly. As we watched, the water seemed to back up against an invisible wall – and as the downstream water fell away from us, the bottom of the channel appeared. Now, Raven and Agnar could simply walk back to where we were, instead of fighting the power of the stream…always assuming they hadn’t already drowned, of course.
If they had drowned, or lost consciousness, then they might be lying somewhere on the floor of the channel. I decided that, since the channel was temporarily dry, it was worth it to go look for them. Ezekiel told me the spell on the water would last a couple hours, so I would have that long to explore. Handing over my bags so I wouldn’t be so bulky, I took Heiron with me and we climbed down the rope.
Once we climbed under the floor and into the tunnel proper, the floor and walls got much rougher. They were probably carved by the water itself as it sought its way out of the hill, and the builders of the fort just took advantage of its presence for their own uses. I couldn’t see any signs that Raven and Agnar had passed that way…the stream (or river) must have been so strong it carried them farther than an hour’s walk could take us. We had to turn back without them.
Once Heiron and I climbed back to floor level, Lydia sprinkled some powder and cast a wall of force across the gap. Ezekiel led the way this time, but he took it slow – feeling the floor with his foot before he put his weight on it. On the far side, we found a short flagged passage with what seemed to be a dead end. None of us are convinced – why put such an exotic trap, and multiple secret doors, to hide a dead end? We couldn’t figure out the door mechanism for the life of us, though, so we returned to the north side before the wall of force wore off. I’m brainstorming ways of constructing a ladder or something to extend so we can cross the gap less expensively.
I could tell it was getting on in the evening, and most of us were worn out – so we finally agreed to barricade in Marquessa’s bedroom for the night. Before retiring, Lydia went around checking for magic – the red pentagram and the amulet in its center are magical; the trapped bin in the alchemy room; the creepy metal box Raven found in the wall safe; and the mirror in the dresser (Lydia couldn’t tell what it was supposed to do, or anything else about it). She also told us that the puff from Marquessa’s powder box was missing (not sure how she noticed that; she’s good at small details), but so far we can’t guess what importance it’ll have.
The rest of us made another sweep of the room – partly for valuables worth hauling out, partly for things that looked like creepy listening devices (none so far). Mikael gathered his animals into the corner for a bedtime song.
Hope Raven’s all right…and Agnar, too. Not sure what our duties are to an Evil dwarf…I mean, he’s a member of the party…but he’s also Evil. And Raven’s not the type to abandon him to save his own life, so whether they’re alive or dead, they’re probably close to each other. Um…unless they’re dead, and then they themselves are in different places (does Agnar even have a god to gather his soul when it’s time? And what happens to a worshiper of the God of gods? Like, does Merikka take his soul for safe-keeping – like an intermediary? Or does it wash to a higher plane?). Point being, I bet if we find one we find the other. And then Ezekiel will want to raise them.
First thing this morning (after a breakfast of Ezekiel’s rations, multiplied from the barrel in the portable hole), Ezekiel headed off to examine the red star on the floor of the alchemy room. He thought the amulet at the center had something to do with charming, but he couldn’t see very clearly from outside the circle. He put one foot forward to grab the amulet – the candles at the points of the star flared to life! – and Ezekiel promptly flopped to the ground, asleep!
The rest of us were watching from the doorway, and Mikael whipped out his rope of entanglement and grabbed Ezekiel, pulling him out. As soon as Ezekiel was clear of the magic circle, he woke up.
We elected Heiron to poke the amulet with his bow and see if he could knock it out of the circle. That worked without a hitch, and as soon as the amulet slid out of the circle, the candles extinguished themselves.
I for one didn’t want anything to do with an amulet that had self-lighting candles involved, but Ezekiel knows you never find out anything without asking, so he picked it up. It didn’t immediately kill him, or even turn him into a frog or anything, so eventually we all gathered around and watched him play with it. He said it was something to do with “anti-good,” but that’s all he could figure out.
Lydia took it, and turned it over, and hung it around her neck…she said there was a command word that could be used once per day, but she wasn’t sure what the command would do. She thought at least part of the amulet’s purpose was “protection from Good”…but it didn’t keep her from wearing it, or keep us from looking over her shoulder while she was working – so either we’re not “Good” in that way, or there’s more to the puzzle. Maybe both. I think Ezekiel is holding on to it for now, so it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.
Ezekiel cast Dispel Magic on the explosive rune in the desk, and opened the drawer. After digging through a pile of spell reagents, Lydia showed him where he could lift out a false bottom – and we discovered a spellbook.
Lydia showed us where the trap-rune used to be written on the book (disabled by Ezekiel) – but once she opened it she seemed confused. She said all that was written in their was lightening bolt. Apparently magic users like to keep their spells sorted out by how much effort and mental drain they take to cast, and Lydia was hoping for more spells on the level of lightening bolt…but that’s all Marquessa had written down. She also explained that you can’t just jump to high-level stuff without growing your arcane muscles with the easier stuff, so there must be at least two lower-level spellbooks around.
We searched the rest of the drawers for false bottoms, without success, and then Usin re-checked the wall safe that Raven left open. Sure enough, there was a false back to that – and there we found two more spellbooks. Lydia seemed happier then, and started flipping through them…but I’m still confused. We gave Marquessa loads of time to pack her things before leaving…why leave her supposedly most valuable possessions behind? Even if she didn’t realize we would take several hours emptying the treasure room and getting the slaves to safety – a magic user’s spellbook is her lifeline. As Lydia says, if she doesn’t have a spellbook to brush up on her spells every morning, she can’t cast anything! And surely anyone as powerful and wily as Marquessa wouldn’t leave herself vulnerable like that.
I bet she had back-up spellbooks somewhere. There’s got to be more to this mystery.
Anyway, there’s still another passage to explore – the one leading south past the slave cells and the room where we killed the “maybe-elves,” so we’ll head there…right after I leave a note for Raven in Lawful Good stuck to one of my crampons. In the remote possibility that he forces his way against the current and climbs the rope while we’re gone (though he hasn’t done that all the time we were resting and sniffing magic), he can know where we’ve gone.
Non-stop excitement around here. The first door we tried was a kitchen – but Ezekiel wouldn’t let me know any more than that. The second room had bizarre decorations – black curtains covered the walls, a brazier burned some kind of incense in the middle of the room, and a cot and table-and-chair stood against the wall. Ezekiel took some of the incense, but the cot and chair seemed very strange to me. They were small – even I wouldn’t fit well on that bed. I think even Bornthene would feel a bit cramped. The table was covered with herbs that Lydia thought she recognized from her days in Greyhawk…apparently they’re used for scrying by people who don’t know any better.
As we followed the corridor further south, presently the flagstones disappeared, and it turned into a rough tunnel of rock and dirt. We came to a portcullis that Lydia unlocked, but I hung back, smelling a familiar wild canine scent. Fortunately, we didn’t need our silver weapons…it was just regular wolves – that Ezekiel wisely left alone. We still didn’t have our animal-whisperer back.
At long last, the tunnel fed out into a huge cavern – and as we entered, we could just catch sight of some elves (only dark-skinned) with a couple slaves at the far end of the cavern. Ezekiel gave chase – and the elves ran across a rope bridge that crossed a chasm. The last one turned and set the bridge on fire with a few words…and we could do nothing but stand and stare into the darkness beyond the cliff’s edge.
Lydia thought they were probably running to the Underdark – which fit in with the Cloaker upstairs…and we started to feel morose. Ezekiel swore up and down that we weren’t ready to face those dangers – but what if the river washed Raven and Agnar down there? I wasn’t too worried yet (Lydia could always try to find them via mirror, if all else failed), but we were all discouraged to have our enemies constantly ahead of us and out of reach.
The cavern had one more outlet – a passage that led, at long last, to a cave mouth, screened by foliage. I smelled it before I saw it – and then we stepped out into the light of an honest-to-goodness above-ground day. Still a bit chillier outside than inside, but the sunshine was delicious. It seems a group hung around here in the not-too-distant past…but the ashes of their fire were cold, and it’s hard to say how long ago that was. They could have been guards protecting the fort from a rear assault (that would be right up our alley!) or they could have waited to escort Marquessa to wherever she bugged out to…which would mean she’s long gone by now, even if she didn’t flee to the Underdark. It’s also possible they were merchants or suppliers for slaves, and just camped here because it was convenient, but it’s a little late to tell now.
A hundred yards or so across the hillside, a stream gushed out of the ground. And what should we find when we investigated the banks of the stream but a disheveled monk and a waterlogged dwarf! Raven says (and Agnar begrudgingly admits) that he kept Agnar’s head above water enough that they were still alive to crawl out onto the bank here. They noticed the stream drying up for a few hours – but naturally by that time they were so far down the channel it wasn’t worth risking a hike back up the stream. And, says Raven, they figured we would find where they were eventually…and we did! So no one has to debate the ethics of raising Evil people or the mechanics of how dwarves’ souls interact with the afterlife. (Lydia even made Raven a replacement trinket of Continual Light, to replace the one he gave to the caveling Inner-Markessa…so obviously she expected us to find them, too.)
We headed back whence we came, examining the cliff where the dark elves fled on the way. Still looks like the useless remains of a burned rope bridge, and a gaping chasm so deep even Raven decided not to jump in to see how deep it was.
Now that Raven was back with us, we opened the grate for the wolf family and told them how to get to the outdoors. Ezekiel said Raven would enjoy meeting the cook (they didn’t invite me), but when we got back to the kitchen, he was gone. I guess he took Ezekiel seriously when he said we had killed all the garrison, and he should get while the getting was good.
I went to recover my rope, crampons, and note…and when I got back to the others, Raven had removed the trap from the creepy metal box and opened it. Just some jewelry – although there’s a disturbing-looking pin decorated with a gargoyle that has rubies for eyes. Maybe Marquessa wore it for parties and special occasions.
Ezekiel says we should go check on the alchemist now, since we locked him in his room yesterday (or the day before…I forget).
For as much as I complain about never being right, I hate it when I am right. One of the parchments we got from Ichar the blind fighter referenced a “secret passage” from the “alchemist’s room”…but we were too busy to think about it at the time.
(Speaking of having time to think…whoever built the hinged floor for dropping people in the river probably didn’t intend to drop into the river themselves. So there’s probably a catch or something to keep the floor from dropping away. Unless it’s a one-use trap, perhaps there’s a way to replace the floor and wedge it so we can cross safely. Dwarf and Monk probably my best advisors about that…)
Anyway, we returned to the long hallway of bedrooms, removed the crampons, un-jammed the door, and opened it to reveal an empty room! (He left the sticky box of fake emeralds, though.) Heiron poked around and found the secret door (Agnar feels a bit nervous about being out front today).
Behind the secret door, a long, narrow hall led to a workshop of some sort…though I sure wouldn’t want to work in it. It was lit with a reddish glow from the corner, so not the best light for seeing things…and it reeked of rotting bodies.
As soon as Ezekiel entered the room, he spotted the head of a hobgoblin watching him from over a tabletop. But as he tip-toed farther into the room, he realized it was the disconnected head of a hobgoblin – and it couldn’t watch anything because it had no eyes. I’m quickly losing faith in alchemy as a profession.
We figured we were heading into potential-trap-areas, so I concentrated and let Ehlonna tell me what around us was magical. A long leather tube lit up my senses — we all figured it probably had a scroll inside, but when Ezekiel investigated, it was just a metal rod – enchanted with Continual Light. There’s a lid or cover on one end of the tube, so you can un-stopper it to let out the light, or cap it to travel in secrecy. It’s just the sort of thing Raven would love if he weren’t carrying too many magical items already.
One of the flasks on the counter glowed magically, as did a basket…except it wasn’t the basket, nor the beef in the basket, but the two flasks under the beef.
The red glow seemed to be coming from a candelabra made from a wild boar skull. Each tusk had a candle – floating in some kind of red liquid…but it didn’t show up as magical. Maybe the liquid made the candles give off red light, or maybe there was some non-magical alchemy funny business going on. Lydia didn’t explain it to us – but she did say all the books in the room had the word “Fyndax” written on the flyleaf. Apparently our fancy man labeled his possessions.
Agnar found the back side of a secret door, but we couldn’t open it until Lydia came over and cancelled the wizard lock on it. Some people make extra certain sure to lock their doors, not trusting to just secrecy. What we found on the other side…changed the mood considerably.
First thing we saw was a desiccated body in a cell. A latch to the east opened a door into a much larger room…littered with corpses.
I think there were seven bodies, but I admit I had trouble keeping track. One was strapped in a chair, one was on a rack, one was strung up in manacles…it took an effort to keep it together, even for us. I rounded the room, checking for magic – but nothing showed up. Then Ezekiel had me double-check the bodies, and I think they’d all been killed in the last day or so. It visibly grated on Ezekiel to be so close, and lose these people under our very noses, as it were…but from the state their bodies are in, their souls are probably happier now. Probably.
Ezekiel, however, never gives up easily. He had Raven hold a scroll open for him, and spent a good twenty minutes chanting and praying over one of the prisoners (the man on the rack, as it turns out).
While he was busy, I circled the room. Steps lead up to a big door in the north wall, but that’s all I saw…except that in a couple places, the walls seemed to be made of a different stone. One corner in particular seemed recently bricked up. Mikael agreed with me, and we called Agnar over to help us knock a brick out and see what was on the other side.
Meanwhile, Ezekiel revived the man on the rack (he remembered to untie him first). The man panicked at first (understandable reaction), but did seem relieved afterwards. He referenced someone named Fyndax, so it seems reasonable that Fyndax is the alchemist. He says goblins were torturing them – all the people here – but Fyndax came in and said something to them, and the goblins killed all the prisoners. Ezekiel was quick to point out we don’t know Fyndax ordered the execution…but my feeling is, anyone who can look on at the agony of another creature and willingly work with their tormentors, that’s Evil. I’m sure Ezekiel would have his own take, but Fyndax just better be long gone by now.
Agnar got one of the bricks out of the wall, and peeking through he could tell us it was alcove (like several others along the wall), and there seemed to be a wolf chained up inside (wearing a collar with bells). It snarled and snapped at us, and even Mikael couldn’t make friends with it – he said it had rabies. He seemed so sad about that, Raven offered to knock out the bricks at the top of the wall, climb into the alcove, and dose the wolf with Keoghtim’s ointment (it cures so much else, maybe it would work on rabies).
While he worked on that, I tried to get more specifics from our revived prisoner…but the view isn’t great while strapped to a rack, and I’m sure the memories were jumbled and painful to recall. He did say that sometimes goblins came from an entrance in the south (not just the door in the north), but that’s all he could tell.
Ezekiel and I just finished arranging the bodies in an empty alcove when a yipping and whining broke out in the opposite corner. Presently, Raven appeared – bleeding from the hand – and the three of them cleared away the wall enough that Mikael’s new wolf friend could join us. Raven says it wasn’t quite clear on who it was allowed to eat or not eat, but the beef from the alchemy workshop helped settle it down. I had to chase Lulu away from the dead prisoners twice.
We poked around the south end of the room quite a bit, but none of us could figure out the secret door (if there was one). Ezekiel decided to head through the door to the north, and leave that for later – keeping our rescued man in the middle of the group with Lydia and Usin (just hope we don’t encounter any more lightening bolts soon). We shut the doors to the alchemist’s quarters, so the other wolves can’t find their way down here and munch on dead prisoner, and that’s the best we can do. I think Ezekiel still hasn’t figured out how he can raise such mangled bodies. The man he did bring back has macho scars all over that are just on the edge of being too much.
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