24 Planting, 595 CY
Liberty and Xan had little trouble finding the off-duty dwarven guards employed by Ragnolin Dourstone. A few drinks and a sizeable bribe later, they convinced the men to look the other way while the adventurers made a night-time incursion.
The mines were crude passages and tunnels hacked into the ground. Torches were set into the wall every fifty feet, but half of them were burnt out and useless. Liberty evoked her own light to help the party navigate the tunnels. “So, we’re looking for this secret elevator,” she said.
Xan pointed out some signs warning the miners to keep out. “Secret,” rumbled Drake.
Forty feet from the main entrance, the passage to the elevator cut down and to the left from the main tunnel. Timbers and planks nailed to the wooden frame of the passage’s entrance blocked access to the area beyond. Mom offered up his crowbar and Sam pried the crude barricade open.
The tunnel to the elevator stretched to the west and had a sharp, downward slope. After four hundred feet, they came to a chamber in containing a large wooden platform with a five-foot wall built around its edges. Struts rose ten feet from each of the platform’s corners, joining in an X above the platform. A thick iron chain ran through the X’s midpoint to a large wooden spool set in the middle of the platform. The chain was wrapped around the spool, and it appeared that as the car descended, the spool would spin and the chain would play out above it.
Drake pointed at the apparatus. “Brakes, wheel. Release the brake. Turn the wheel.”
“Sounds easy enough,” said Liberty.
“Shall we?” asked Mom, stepping onto the platform.
“Let’s,” said the sorcerer. She and the others stepped aboard.
The elevator creaked, but held their combined weight. Drake released the brake and the car lurched, but the alchemist’s strong arms took control of the wheel and they began their descent.
* * *
Three short passages led from the large chamber at the bottom of the elevator, one each to the north, east, and west. Each ended in a sturdy wooden door framed by a marble doorway. The northern door was marked with the symbol of a hand grasping an eye. A pair of crimson banners flanked the door to the east, each marked with the symbol of a gauntleted fist clutching six arrows. The door to the west was free of all markings.
To the south, the chamber opened into a vast domed hall. In stark contrast to the rough mine passages above, this place bears the mark of an expert artisan. The black marble tile floor glistened in the light of several glowing torches, while elaborate, carefully worked marble pillars and arches swept overhead. Toward the back of the chamber, opposite the elevator’s door, was a large pool of dark liquid. A stairway carved into the curved wall around the pool ascended to a platform thirty feed above the pool. The chamber’s domed ceiling arched to a height of sixty feet over the pool’s surface.
“So… Hextor to the east, Vecna to the north, Erythnul to the west,” said Liberty as the elevator came to rest.
The adventurers exited the car and noticed two humanoid guards with ridged horns curving up over their heads stood near the hallway leading to the eastern door. The each wore chainmail, masks, and tabards marked with a holy symbol of Hextor. Their arms were covered with elaborate tattoos bearing the liturgies of the Scourge of Battle as well as images of various devils. They looked at the group in some puzzlement.
“Er… Who are you?” asked one.
“Your new alchemist and his entourage,” Liberty said at once, pointing at Drake with a smile. “Surely Theldrick told you to expect us.”
The guards looked to the big man and his permanent scowl dubiously, then exchanged a glance. “Ah…hah…” said the speaker. “We had not received word of your coming.”
“Isn’t that always the way,” said the sorcerer. “So much red tape…”
“I’ll check it out,” said the other guard, taking a step toward the hall.
Xan leapt forward to intercept him, drawing his sword on the move and embedding it in the devil-man’s back. The guard cried out in surprise and pain, but he spun around to face the rogue. The others were just as fast on the attack, and it was over before the guards could even ready their greataxes. Drake grunted and lit up a celebratory cigar. Sam wiped the blood from her sword with a cloth and threw a toothy grin at Mom, who grinned.
“Nicely done,” said Xan. “Let’s keep that up.”
They looted healing and protective potions from the guards’ bodies, but let the weapons and armor lay. Liberty led the approach to the stairs after Sam pointed out something atop the platform above the pool. At the top they found a small wicker basket filled with an offering of one hundred gold in a leather pouch, and a silver idol depicting Erythnul. The sorcerer detected no magic from the holy symbol, but Xan said it was monetarily the larger part of the offering by a factor of three.
The rogue smiled. “I like this place so far. Let’s find more.”
They returned to the sturdy wooden doors flanked by Hextor’s holy symbol. Xan inspected them briefly, then used the key he’d found on one of the guards to unlock the way to that part of the complex.
Within, a dozen suits of armor, ranging from battered leathers to rusted plate, lined the chamber’s walls. The bleached white bones of human, dwarf, and orc skeletons contrasted with the dark, bloodstained armor. The suits were carefully arranged, as if the dead were preparing to march for war. Each had a mace hooked to its belt, while bells of varying shapes and sizes hung from the armor on long, leather strips.
As soon as Xan stepped into the room, eight of the armored skeletons turned their heads and reached for their maces, sending the bells to ringing. “Eep!” he cried in alarm as Liberty’s magic missile flew past him to smash one of the skeletons to powder. The others converged on the rogue, but he managed to evade their attacks and retreated to the outer hall. Mom pulled his sword as he stepped up and channeled Kord’s strength into a holy wave that washed over the undead.
Drake was a bit more direct, lobbing a firebomb into the skeletons’ midst. Most of them exploded and fell to burning heaps on the floor. “Hrmph,” muttered the alchemist as Sam stepped over the fallen skeletons and crushed one of the remaining ones to the floor.
“Don’t waste your spells on these,” said Mom, but Liberty paid him little mind as she sent a ray of flame to finish off the last skeleton. Xan could hear something stirring behind the doors to the north and south, so he took up a position next to the former. Two tiefling guards emerged from the south and one blanketed the room in shadows that absorbed Liberty’s cantrip.
The half-orc was undeterred by the darkness, and advanced on the nearer devilman, wounding him deeply with a greatsword slash. Sam rushed in after him and swung her enchanted blade around the corner into the darkened hall. Blood sprayed onto Mom’s tabard, and he grunted in satisfaction as the body fell with a heavy thump to the floor. “You’re welcome,” said Sam.
The alchemist moved into the room and kept an eye open for opportunities to put another bomb to good use. He hadn’t long to wait, as the door to the north opened and a half dozen spear-wielding cultists spilled out into the entry chamber. Xan waited until the first emerged from around the wall then jabbed his short sword into the man’s side. He was staggered by the wound and stopped advancing while his fellows flowed past him out of the room. The rogue injured a second cultist as the man rushed Drake, stabbing him deep in the leg.
Clustered in the north part of the chamber had to have been the worst idea the cultists had ever had. Then Liberty and Drake made it their last with waves of magical and alchemical flame. The other guard charged Mom, but the half-orc blocked his axe and riposted with the business end of his own weapon. The end of the combat came moments later, with the adventurers as the undisputed victors.
“Everybody all right?” asked Liberty.
“Never better,” said Sam with a grin. Mom grunted affirmatively.
Drake took a pull off his flask. “No wonder no one dares come in. Waves of damn guards.” He followed the first pull with another, then switched to a potion bottle and quaffed a healing infusion to repair the damage that the cultist’s spear had done to his leg.
“So. Looking around?” suggested Liberty. They set to work looting the corpses of the guards (the cultists had nothing of value) and explored the rooms from which the Hextorites had emerged.
Mom entered the southern chamber alone. It held two beds against the east wall, a long wooden table along the south wall, two stools, and a weapons rack along the west wall. A suit of leather armor lay on the table with a variety of tools spread out around it.
“Someone needs to keep a leash on Mom,” said Sam, following the half-orc.
He grunted. “Bite me, Sam.” She made a biting face at him and growled, eliciting a grin. Drake muttered something under his breath about getting a room.
Aside from the artisan’s tools, Mom spotted a small velvet bag under one of the beds. It contained twenty platinum pieces and a golden necklace. The half-orc grunted in surprise, then returned to the entry chamber, tossing the bag to Xan for appraisal.
“Well, crud,” said Liberty. I just bought a gold necklace.”
Liberty entered the northern chamber, finding the floor covered with blankets surrounding a wooden crate, atop which stood a small, crude statue of a six-armed humanoid figure. A few battered weapons – spears, clubs, and flails leaned against the far wall. Two stone spikes carved from the wall and imbued with continual flames illuminated the area.
“That thing is creepy,” she said when the others joined her.
Drake handed her one of his infusion vials on his way into the chamber. “Shield,” he said.
Mom searched the wooden crate in the center of the room and found a loose flagstone that hid a small trove. The treasure consisted of a golden holy symbol of Hextor and the broken blade of a silver ceremonial dagger. “Found something,” he grunted.
“Hmm? What is it?” asked Sam, moving up beside him. Mom presented the items to the group. “Shiny,” she said.
“Those have got to be worth something,” said Liberty.
“Melt it down,” said Mom.
The others joined Xan in the eastern hallway leading from the entry chamber. A thick chain was wrapped around the handles of some double doors to the north. A crude padlock held the chain in place, keeping the door locked from their side. The faint, musky smell of a large creature kept in a small area filled the hallway.
“So…They are keeping something down here…locked behind these doors,” said Xan. “Want to open it?”
Drake nodded and lit another cigar. Sam made a face and whispered, “How can you stand that smell?”
You get used to it,” he said past the stogie.
“No, you don’t,” said Liberty. Mom grunted.
“We should open it,” said Xan of the chained doors. “It might be another new pet for Drake behind here.” He grinned as he opened the padlock with a key he’d found on a defeated cultist and removed the chain.
“What happened to…Devil?” asked Mom, readying his sword.
Drake scowled at Xan, then turned to Mom with a sad expression. “Got taken. Sold by tha bastar’ that I got that map from.” He cracked his knuckles as Xan threw open the doors.
A single stone spike flickering with magical flame lit the area. Filthy hay, mixed with a generous amount of animal dung, covered the floor of the crude, cave-like chamber. Liberty covered her mouth and narrowly prevented herself from puking at the pungency. A deep snort echoed from the chamber, and a hairy snouted face peered angrily toward the door. The Beast was an old, grizzled dire boar. Scars covered its hide, and its tusks had been capped with iron.
“Huh,” said Drake.
“I’m going to seriously need a bath after this,” said Sam.
“You and me both,” said Xan. He smiled widely and charged the great boar! His short sword stuck deep into the beast’s thick hide, and it grunted, swinging its head wildly. The rogue avoided the slashing tusks and crowed smugly.
“Big pig,” said Drake, downing a potion. He stalked down the hallway, growing larger with each step. The others likewise moved in to engage the boar. So beset, the beast seemed bewildered, and the adventurers evaded its iron-capped tusks as they methodically put it down.
When it was over, Xan looked up at Drake. “Um… That’s new, Cornelius.”
“Nice trick, Drake,” said Liberty.
Sam quirked an eyebrow. “Does…everything…grow?” The sorcerer snorted with laughter.
Mom facepalmed. “I wish I hadn’t gotten that joke.”
“It was an honest question!” said Sam.
“How long do you plan to stay like that?” asked Xan.
Drake chewed his cigar and gazed down at the rogue. “Long enough.”
“Well, okay… But if it lasts more than four hours you should probably see a physician.”
“Give it a minute. It’ll wear off soon.”
Xan searched the boar chamber perfunctorily but didn’t find anything of interest. Then he exited the room and considered the large double doors to the east and the smaller one to the south. He chose the latter, and carefully searched it for traps. He found none, and it appeared to be unlocked. Once everyone was ready to proceed, he opened the door to reveal another narrow hallway with a door on the east wall at the end. He looked back at Giant-Drake and advised waiting for his enlargement to end. They waited.
Behind the door at the end of the hall, Xan could hear someone or something not too far away from the other side. He signaled to the others, warning them of what he’d heard, then opened the door as quietly as he could. Three more devil man guards sat quietly in a chamber past an ascending stairway to the north. They didn’t seem to notice that the door had opened.
Xan waved Drake forward, making an explosion gesture with one hand. The alchemist nodded and moved forward past Sam as quietly as he could. Unfortunately, one of the guards heard him anyway. The devil man’s eyes widened and he pointed at the open door, crying out in alarm!
He reached for the door to the east, flung it open, and started down the hall beyond, shouting “Intruders!” Xan gave chase, rushing past the other two surprised guards, who stood in front of a tapestry depicting a six-armed fiendish beast carrying a bewildering variety of weapons. Drake moved up to engage these two, slugging one in the face.
Sam moved up to the other and cut it in half. She looked at Drake and smiled. “Thought you might need some help.”
The guard was covered in his companion’s blood, but he growled in determination and swung his greataxe at Drake, opening a large gash in the alchemist. Drake coughed, glancing at Sam with blood on his teeth. “Had worse hangovers,” he said. She let out a throaty laugh.
Mom rushed after Xan, and as he passed the devil man engaged with Drake and Sam, he took a deep slash himself. Liberty struck the fleeing guard with a magic missile, who then whirled around and tried to strike the rogue. The hallway was too cramped for him to use the greataxe effectively. Xan somersaulted over the guard, then spun and stabbed him. Drake dropped the guard he was fighting, and Sam advanced on the guard in the hallway.
Over his shoulder, Xan noticed two more people in the chamber at the end of the hall. They were human, a man and a woman, and both wore half-plate armor. The man seated at a table in the corner was a hulking brute whose large gut and bulging muscles strained against his armor’s straps and buckles. He was shaved bald and had a holy symbol of Hextor branded on his face. The woman was slender and pale with long, dark hair pulled back in a tail. She wore a pair of steel earrings shaped into a holy symbol of Hextor, and her face was covered with several scars that marred her otherwise appealing features.
The branded man stood casually and tossed back a potion that made his form blurry and indistinct. “Come, Kendra. We have guests,” he said.
“Of course, Garras,” she replied, opening the door. “Get in here!” she called through it before charging Xan, who just managed to dodge her swinging flail.
The rogue swiftly dispatched the remaining guard then turned to face off with the priestess. Drake quaffed another infusion then moved up behind the others. Sam was tired of being bottled up in the hallway and moved past Xan, shoving Kendra to the floor and entering the chamber boldly. When the woman tried to get up, she met her end from a pair of greatswords. Liberty scorched Garras with a ray from the hallway. A pair of troglodyte zombies emerged from the door Kendra had opened, and one of them took a swing at Sam, but she batted it away.
Mom shouted “BLOOD MAKES NOISE!” and rushed forward at Garras, whose armor and blur potion were not enough to protect him from the half-orc’s wild rage. He was staggered by the wound, and a moment later, Drake’s firebomb overwhelmed him, scorching the zombies as well. Sam ended the fight with a mighty blow that cleaved through one zombie and buried itself deep in the others chest. Then all was silent but for the adventurers’ labored breathing.