On the third floor of the zargonite fortress, Ember, Pooches, Iris, FluffyKitten, Pandora, the Great Mother, High Priestess, and a number of brothers (some conscious, some not, some held) are squeezed into a narrow hallway that runs almost the length of the floor. To one side is a solid stone wall with three doors. On the other side the hallway gapes open – there is empty space and a pile of rubble – the remains of huge slabs of stone, thick ancient wooden beams, bits and pieces of five floors of building all collapsed. A thick haze of stone dust and powdered plaster hangs in the air, obscuring their vision. The cavern is dark, but a faint golden glow from the street below, and an angry red from across the lake, reflect on all the dust particles in the air, giving the place a surreal and dreamy appearance. The fortress ceiling above them creaks ominously. Across the gulf of space is the other half of the building, obscured. Some parts of the pile of rubble are over their heads, some are even with their feet. Here and there are holes through the floor onto the second level below, which is just as filled with rubble and even more choked with dust.
View from the third floor
After a brief conversation among the Cyndicians, Pandora lays her hand on FluffyKitten’s shoulder and gestures at the pile of rubble. There is no questioning that she is the lightest, and least likely to cause an avalanche, should the building rubble prove unstable. Iris uncoils her rope. One of the brothers opens a door, feeds the rope through the gap between the door and the frame, and ties it off. Fluffy waves happily at all those present, and backs her way out onto the rubble pile.
Loose stones skitter and roll down the face of the pile. A few cobble-sized pieces shift and twist, but the pile appears otherwise intact. Fluffy heads for a hole in the floor and soon disappears from view.
Fluffy backs down the face of the rubble pile on the second floor of the fortress
In the temple below, the air is thick with dust, and everyone is gasping, coughing, and sneezing. Bhelgarn forces his way to the door, opens it, and the dust cloud thins lazily. The back of the temple, where the entrance was to the rest of the fortress, has been completely blocked by fallen stone. However, the vaulted second floor ceiling is intact, as is the balcony. With their infravision, Morgan and Bhelgarn can see that there is open space behind the balcony, though how far back it goes they cannot tell.
Morgan thinks she hears something over the subdued conversation, and she calls to the others to be silent. In the distance, there is still cheering in the city. Closer at hand is the delicate “click-click” of Remmy’s dagger prying gems from the altar. There – she hears it again – the sound of rocks sliding and pebbles bouncing down the face of the rubble. Then, footsteps on the balcony.
“Hidey-hi!” a high-pitched voice calls out. “Who down there?”
“Fluffy?” call back Morgan, Bhelgarn, Wolfbane, Odleif, and Remmy, simultaneously.
“No!” she answers. “FluffyKitten HERE. Who there?”
They laugh and call up their names to her. With no infravision, the temple is very dark to her, with just a dim glow entering through the open door. Morgan is about to ask her if she needs help coming down, when Fluffy hefts a thick coil of rope over the balcony. It falls to the floor of the temple and a second later the halfling is carefully lowering herself, hand-over-hand while squeezing the rope between her legs.
When she is finally on the floor, she dusts off her clothes, holds her hands up, and shouts “Ta-da!”
Morgan is already at her side. “And what of the others?”
“No, no others.” Fluffy says. “Just Fluffy.” Morgan’s heart goes to her throat as her stomach sinks. “Just Fluffy, ’cause Fluffy good climby-climb. Others later,” she adds, to Morgan’s great relief.
The rest of the first level is completely blocked from access through the temple.
Fluffy stands next to Thrud, who is still held.
Bhelgarn and Odlief take the rope, pulling it taught and stable for whomever is next down. Morgan ushers all those mobile under their own power out of the temple and into the courtyard between the wings of the fortress. A wan, tired cheer erupts from the magi and maidens who are still busy processing the dead and wounded in the street. Starting with Ember, then the maidens, the rest of those trapped on the third floor descend, one at a time.
As they descend, the survivors leave the temple, with just Bhelgarn and Odleif belaying.
Now the hard part begins. Five brothers remain active above, though several are wounded. Five more are either unconscious or held. They will have to descend two by two, each active brother in charge of another. Two men in armor is five hundred pounds, and more than one pair start small slides on their way down. Fortunately these are stopped by the balcony wall, and no rocks fall into the temple. The worst slide results in a large stone hitting a brother in the head and knocking him out – both he and his charge slide unconscious down the rubble face into the balcony and need to be retrieved. Ember treats their wounds when they are brought to the temple floor, but cannot restore them to consciousness. Eventually just Iris and giant Pooches are left on the third floor.
The first pair of brothers (left) made it down, but the second pair fell, both arriving unconscious (right). Ember is treating them.
Iris unties her rope from the door and pulls it up. She wraps it around herself, then carefully climbs onto Pooches’ back, sinking her heels into his flanks and grabbing ahold of his improvised barding/harness. “Okay, boy, it’s all you,” she whispers, gently nudging him to the rubble pile.
Pooches currently weighs more than a horse, but he gingerly steps out on to the rubble, sniffing and finding a path. Rocks shift and slide and he falters often, but does not go down. In less than a minute he is standing on the highest rubble peak like some giant canine king of the mountain. At some point recently, a magi has cast a light on the hole where the tower was, ensuring that all the city can clearly see the fallen fortress. Golden glow fills the air around Iris and Pooches on their summit, the dusty haze making them appear like characters in a golden stained glass window.
Pooches carefully picks his way down the other side, Iris lying as still as she can along his neck. From here she can see how the fourth and fifth floors are still somewhat intact, but divided in two with empty air between them. The floor between them lies exposed. Lacking a fourth wall, exposed in a cut-away section to furnished rooms, they look like some gigantic doll’s house.
As Pooches cautiously makes his way to the level third floor, Iris can hear a man talking excitedly in Cyndician. It is the brother who was set as a guard over the fallen. He still has four men with him, including the unconscious Azerius. There are drag marks through the dust of the floor – the brother must have pulled his comrades out of the way during the collapse itself.
Iris cannot understand him, but she figures he needs to talk so she lets him babble away as she opens a nearby door into a bedchamber. To her relief there are three shuttered windows in the room, the shutters themselves inside deep sills. Iris opens one – it is a good-sized frame, and should accommodate the shoulder-width of a human in armor.
Iris goes back into the hall, and shows the man with gestures that she wants to make a harness of rope. He catches on quickly and helps her. She takes as her first passenger the second-in-command of the brothers, who is held but not badly wounded. Together, they pass the rope around his hips, under his arms and around his chest, looped around his shoulders – trying to distribute his weight over as much of the rope as possible. When it is done she looks about the room – there is a throne-like chair, a wooden bed, many cushions on the floor. She throws the mattress off the bed and loops the rope twice around the frame to act as a capstan, then ties the loose end to Pooches’ harness, with him facing away from the window. Together, she and the brother lift the man to the sill and gently push him out. With the brother straining to keep the rope stable and taught, Iris stands at Pooches’ head and gently guides him to slowly walk backwards. The man is lowered, bit by bit, twenty-five feet down to the cavern floor. By the time he is there a group of maidens have gathered around him, slipping off his harness and carrying him away.
Iris, Pooches, and the brother then lower the next three men down, one at a time. The burden in the man’s face is obvious as they prepare Azerius, the man knowing full well that here and now he will either save or kill his unconscious commander, the leader of the Brotherhood. Once Azerius has been received by the waiting arms of the maidens, the man sways on his feet but does not collapse. He assists as Iris ropes him into the harness, then lowers him. When he reaches the ground he makes as if to dash off to find where Azerius has been taken, but Iris calls out to him to stay. He waits impatiently, shifting from one foot to another, and the rope is pulled up.
During this whole process Iris has had ample opportunity to look around the room. The chair is wooden, but every surface of it is gilt with recently-polished gold. She holds it up to the sill, eases it out the window, gently lowers the rope, this time without Pooches’ help. The man stares up at her incredulously, but stays until the chair touches down. He has hardly slipped her knot off when he turns and runs off, and this time she lets him go.
Iris gathers up six cushions, each one of stout leather but covered in a soft, thick fur. These she tosses from the window one at a time, not even bothering with the rope. At each landing a cloud of stone dust billows into the air. Satisfied, Iris gathers up her rope and walks Pooches back to the open face of the rubble pile.
Morgan has been directing the clearing of the temple, the removal of the zargonite bodies. Once everyone, living and dead, is out, the Great Mother tells Bhelgarn to tell Morgan to tell Remmy to lock the door. If there are still priests about, perhaps hiding in town, she does not want them to have easy access to the temple. Worse still would be cityfolk searching for food in the ruins and causing further collapse, or people still under the influence of the drug mushrooms doing who-knows-what. Remmy, still trying to find pockets enough for his gems, easily locks the door behind them. The party moves into the middle of the street, where a campsite of sorts has been set up – a small dung cookfire is going, warming some sort of broth, and stone blocks act as low stools. Magi are carefully stripping the bodies from the temple, and laying the valuable items out before the party and the maidens.
The city’s bronzework trade is recent and active, though Bhelgarn has yet to see a forge. But it appears that anything of wood or iron is hundreds of years old, or more. Thus it is rather obvious which goods are magical, and still look new, and which are mundane, and have the pits and aging of centuries on them.
Once all the items are out, and the bodies have been hauled away, everyone takes a few moments to inspect them. There is a set of plate mail, two shields, and a mace. There is a small but intricately carved iron ring, a thickly-lacquered wand, and a set of leather boots. Through Bhelgarn, the Great Mother notes that there are seven items of value, and fourteen people present with claim to them. Morgan wants to object that the messenger maidens hardly count, and looks into the woman’s firmly-set eyes, staring her down. As their eyes meet, Morgan reflects that they are still missing Iris and Pooches, and that the only one of them not wounded is Thrud, currently propped up like a statue, axe still raised over his head as he was in combat when he was frozen. All around them maidens come and go. Morgan nods grimly, and Bhelgarn translates her words, “There were nine of us strangers in that fight – so should we take four items, or five?”
“Four,” the Great Mother says, “but you should have the first pick.”
“Boots!” says Bhelgarn, then “Delahazia!” before he has even translated the Great Mother’s response.
The Great Mother nods, and continues. “While the value of the shields is obvious, none of us maidens are trained in their use. You should have them. I cede the wand to the magi enchanter who was with us and claim the mace for the maidens. Please choose between the ring and the armor.”
After Bhelgarn translates, there is a brief discussion among the party. It ends when Thrud says “Plate armor…” then collapses onto the cavern floor, finally free of the hold spell.
The items have not even been distributed when Alyria approaches and greets those present. She reports to the Great Mother and Morgan that Azerius is alive and being cared for, that her scouts have not spotted any priests or humanoids since the battle, but that cityfolk are beginning to emerge. The High Priestess excuses herself and leaves to begin organizing relief efforts for the cityfolk.
Alyria says that from the bodies slain in the battle outside, they have recovered four items of interest. A suit of chain armor she has already turned over to a brother; she now presents a mace to the Great Mother. “As for us”, she tells Morgan through Bhelgarn, “there are these,” and holds forth two ancient crystal vials, each with a thick, syrupy potion inside. “You are welcome to whichever one of the two you would like.”
“Do you know what they are?”
“Not yet, and while we are speaking of that…” Alyria smooths down her robes, pulls her hair back from her face, and bows deeply to all the party. “On behalf of the Magi of Usamigares, I wish to recognize that you are indeed the ones long predicted by our astrologers. We thank you for traveling to our world from the light-void, for uniting the three True Gods, and for liberating us. In token of our gratitude, we wish to bestow upon you a gift. For as long as you remain in the city, the Magi will identify any magic items for you, or cast any spells we have access to on you, at the rate of one item or one spell per long sleep.”
The party pauses, unsure if there is any more to her speech. Then Morgan says “We accept. How about we start with your boots, Bhelgarn? We can figure out the potions later.”
“Don’t need my boots identified,” says the dwarf. “I know what they do.”
“Do you?” says the magi enchanter who had accompanied them. He is speaking in Cyndician, but seems to have been following their conversation in Common. “And do you know what the command word is that activates them, then?”
“Ah, well that…I suppose we can start with the boots,” grumbles Bhelgarn, and passes them over to Alyria. She smiles, bows again, and strides away.
The Great Mother turns to Morgan. “The Maidens also have a gift to you,” she says. “But I had better let the High Priestess explain. Will you be here a while?”
Morgan is glad that Thrud is now mobile, but everyone else is still wounded. “Perhaps we could move back to the Enclave? I do believe we need to rest.”
The Great Mother smiles. “Your tents are waiting for you.”
On the third floor of the temple, Iris and Pooches repeat their crossing, coming down again on the hallway ledge. Iris tries the middle door, the one that had previously been used to hold the rope. Inside is a modestly furnished bedchamber. After a quick inspection, Iris believes that the only item of value is a small wall tapestry. The geometric design has silver and gold threads in it which catch the light coming from the open doorway. Iris removes it from the wall, rolls it up, and tucks it into Pooches’ harness, along his back.
As she exits the room, Iris turns to her right and tries that door. It leads to a similar bedchamber, though this one holds nothing of interest to her. She returns to the final door, and finds a third bedchamber, the only difference being that the bed frame is of polished brass rather than ancient wood. Iris is stripping the mattress from the bed, just to make sure there is nothing hidden beneath, when she sees the vague outline on the stone wall – the thin, barely perceptible cuts through the stone blocks. She drags the whole bed frame into the center of the room and inspects the wall with her hands. One of the stones is loose to her touch. When she presses it, an entire door-sized panel opens in the stone wall.
There is just enough light coming from the hallway that she can see a few feet into the room. Her infravision penetrates much farther, but tells her only the rough dimensions, with no details. Just inside the doorway is a thick, green carpet. Its loose fibers look like they come up at least an inch if not more. Resting on the carpet are two large wooden chests, then, father back, dark shapes which could easily be another pair. Secret treasure room? Yes! Iris makes to enter the room, but Pooches whines. She turns to look at him and finds his neck hairs bristling, his nose scrunched up. He whines again. “Okay, okay,” she calms him, patting his flank. “We’ll come back later. We can’t carry much by ourselves, anyway.”
Iris carefully closes the secret door, but does not bother to move the bed. As she crosses the room to the hallway, Pooches begins whining again. She turns to look at him, and sees him rapidly diminishing in size, until he is down to his normal self, but uncomfortable with the roll of tapestry stuffed in his now-too-small barding harness. She tries to pull it out, but it is too tight and he is whimpering in discomfort, so she ends up undoing all the straps and letting him out. Once undone, she really has no idea how to fasten it all again, so she turns it instead into a kind of hanging basket with the rope and eventually convinces him to get in. This room has one of the shuttered windows, so she lowers him to the ground outside, then drags the bed over to the window and loops her rope twice around the brass head. She ascends to the sill, then lowers herself out slowly, playing out two ends of the rope, one wrapped around each forearm. Her fifty-foot rope is almost long enough to reach the ground in two twenty-foot sections, with another ten feet through the window and wrapped around the bed. For the last five feet to the ground she lets go of one rope and jumps, pulling down on the other as if she were ringing a church bell. Once on the ground, with Pooches nuzzling her, she pulls the rope through and coils it up again.
Iris is on the “far” side of the fortress, near the barred storeroom window but away from the Enclave. She can see people, many people, walking from the tents and tenement buildings of the city, up the road and toward the Enclave. Avoiding them, she goes around the “back” of the fortress, giving her an unobstructed view of the lake and, across it, the volcano. Its huge caldera glows red, and down one side a river of lava flows, creeping toward the cliffs overhanging the lake.
Iris walks the length of the back of the fortress, Pooches at her side, until she rounds the corner. Her throne and cushions are still there. The cushions are bulky but light – Pooches suffers her to strap them to him like a pack mule with a huge load of cotton, even while he sniffs and snuffs at the fur. She sets the chair upside down, taking its weight on her head and shoulders, and the two of them set out for the Enclave, having to navigate between the hulking corpses of ogres.
The portcullis of the Enclave is raised. All about the courtyard, men, women, and children are active – laughing, singing, weeping with joy. Scores of people from the city have set up in the street outside. Some are wounded, some are hungry, some are delirious with mushrooms. Still tired from the battle, Madaruan priestesses administer medical aid and draughts of the magic water, while common maidens see to mundane food and drink. Though the people are suffering, the mood is festive and celebratory.
The High Priestess is in the courtyard, directing the relief operations. When she sees the party shambling back to their tents she shushes the people around her, hustles them outside to the street.
Morgan and Ember watch the party climb wearily into their tents. Thrud sits outside Ember’s tent, preparing to take first watch while she rests. Morgan removes her helmet, sets it upright outside her tent, shakes her long red hair. “Have you got it from here?” she asks Ember.
“Ya, I tink der fighting is offer,” smiles the priestess, “but whar are you going?”
Morgan looks out the gate of the Enclave to the street. Here and there amongst the maidens and cityfolk a blue-clad brother strides, surely all as weary as she is but still on alert for threats to the crowd. She turns back to Ember. “Me? Oh, I have to see a man about a horse. I won’t be gone long.”
Ember grins wholeheartedly and wishes Morgan well. It is not long after she is through the gate and out among the crowd that Pooches and Iris return.
The street is as bizarre a scene as Morgan has ever seen. Men, women, and children dance, sing, and eat. Most of their gestures are hauntingly familiar, others strangely alien. Some are clad in brightly-colored robes, others in drab, some in little more than rags. The piercingly white faces of the children stand out, contrasted with their huge dark eyes. All of the adults are masked – in bronze or copper faces of bats, snakes, rabbits, foxes, camels, demons, and some creatures Morgan does not even recognize. Morgan finds herself wondering what the face of the brother who walks beside her is like, under his stern mask of Gorm.
As they pass the front of the Magi Complex, Morgan hears a keening wail. At the edge of the magic light, a lone woman kneels on the ground, weeping. There is no one around her. In her hands, she cradles the head of a man who is sprawled on the cavern floor. His skin is ashen from his recent animation, but his features are still recognizable as someone she loved. Her choking sobs fill the air until Morgan is not sure whether they are coming from the woman, or herself, or both. She cannot feel the touch of the skin of the stranger who walks beside her through her gauntlet, but she can feel the squeeze of his hand, and it may be that pressure alone that allows her to pass the woman, to leave the painful light behind and be enveloped by comforting darkness.
Ember lounges in her tent. Not sleeping really – the revelry in the street prevents that, though she repeatedly nods off and wakes. But resting at least. Some four hours later she rises, prays, and then moves among the tents, healing the most wounded. She is relieved to find Morgan in her tent, hair disheveled but sleeping peacefully. Before entering her own tent, Ember tells Thrud to get some sleep himself – or rather, to lie down, since he is mostly sleeping while sitting, hunched over, outside her tent.
Another two hours have gone by when Bhelgarn is woken respectfully by a man of the maidens. Emerging from his tent he encounters some sort of maiden officer – perhaps one of the squad leaders? She tells him that magi scouts have reported a zargonite priest entering the cavern from the tunnel to the pyramid. With him were several hobgoblins. Bhelgarn notices a squad of maidens assembling in the courtyard. The officer continues. A combined group of maidens and brothers are being formed to intercept them, hopefully before they can reach the cliffs on the other side of the cavern – does anyone in the party wish to go?
Given the time constraint, Bhelgarn sees no way of waking the party politely. “Hey people!” he calls gruffly. “They found that priest we passed in the tunnels. Anyone want to fight?”
“Ja, ja!” calls back Thrud, his tent shaking. “I’m oop, ya!”
No one else answers. “Anyone?” shouts Bhelgarn, louder.
A tumble of complaints and requests to “shut up” come from the tents. “…solve their own problems!” finishes Morgan from hers.
Thrud stumbles out from his, half dressed, looks about and sees no one else readying. Indecisively, he continues to arm himself until Morgan sticks her head out from her tent. Mumbling, “…by yourself!”, only the last part of her sentence intelligible, her finger points accusingly at the barbarian, then she disappears again. Thrud hangs his head sheepishly and crawls back into his tent. Bhelgarn smiles apologetically at the maiden leader. She has turned and is barking orders at her squad before the dwarf is inside.
After another two hours, and every four hours thereafter, Ember rises, prays, and makes her rounds again. She heals those she can with her divine power. For everyone she checks dressings, changes bandages, cleans wounds. They are fortunate to be at the maidens, and she has but to ask to receive clean water and fabric. Really, except for Thrud they are in a sorry shape.
After eight hours most of the party is fully slept or rested. The celebrations in the street have died down, but there is still much coming and going. Members of the party leave the Enclave to eat in the street, for that is where the maidens are serving food, even to their own people. Morgan has Bhelgarn practice translating the bits of conversation they pick up, especially among the leaders of the factions. The most obvious detail is that the factions are mixing now – certainly not freely, as they still travel in groups, but there is interaction, formal and informal, between them – talking and eating together. Azerius, weak but conscious, makes an appearance. A rough plan for moving forward is developing. The Brotherhood will take charge of the security of the undercity, which at this point means establishing guard posts at the entrance to the tunnel, and across from the humanoid cliffs. The Maidens will concern themselves with the city’s resources – reestablishing the fungus fields and the animal pens, which are in a sorry shape, and seeing that all the cityfolk are decently fed, clothed, and housed, as well as weaning people off of the drug mushrooms. The Magi have the longest-term goals: they will concern themselves with overall plans for the city, and the education (and re-education) of the cityfolk: eliminating the zargonite ideology, promoting the factions, teaching some to read the Cyndician script, teaching others trades.
All three of the faction leaders tell Morgan that now that the prophecy / astrological prediction / ancient scripts have been fulfilled, they have no further use for the upper pyramid. They will remove their things and seal off their temples above, but they grant the party use of any of the common areas and dorms. Morgan thanks them, but notices that no mention was made of crazy Auriga and his followers.
At some point the High Priestess tells Morgan and Ember that the Maidens, as well, have a gift for the party. They wish to cast remove curse and cure disease on Thrud, even though they have never asked the Mother for such a favor on a non-maiden (and a man, at that). The High Priestess says that she will need to consecrate a special outdoor altar for the ceremony, as she is still insistent that a man not be allowed in their sacred tower.
It has been nearly a day after the fall of the fortress when everyone in the party, with the exception of Remmy, feels rested, healed, and ready to set out as soon as Thrud’s ceremony is completed.
After Thrud’s ceremony, Iris leads the party to the window she came out of. With a bit of work, Remmy manages to lodge a grappling hook in the window sill and pull himself up, then secure the rope so that others can climb or be pulled up.
Once everyone is inside, Iris shows them the secret door and Remmy and Bhelgarn search it for traps.
They open the door. By the light of Bhelgarn’s sword, they see a long room, more like a hall, going down fifty feet, the entire length of the fortress wing. A thick green carpet covers the floor except for a narrow strip on the right. On the carpet are five rows of brass-bound wooden chests, ten in all.
“So Pooches didn’t want to go inside, huh?” Asks Remmy, then tosses his grapple to hook the nearest chest on the left. He and Bhelgarn haul it out, in the process releasing a cloud of green gas as the chest drags across the carpet. Both men are enveloped. Bhelgarn manages to hold his breath – Remmy gets a lungful of the stuff and is seriously injured, gasping and wheezing afterward.
“That doesn’t make sense,” says Morgan. “There must be a safe way in and out – how do they move treasure around?”
“Undead aren’t affected by poison,” says Ember flatly.
Remmy examines the chest that was removed. There is no lock on it, and he finds no traps. Opening it, he reveals thousands of copper coins. The party consensus is that the more valuable chests will be in the back.
While it might be possible to move from chest-top to chest-top, it seems safer to walk along the narrow strip that is not carpeted. Fluffy, as the smallest of them, has the best chance of staying off the carpet, so she walks down to the end. She would have to climb on the near chest to open the far one, but decides to start with the near chest. She easily opens the lid. The chest is empty, but before she can even register that, a spring-loaded blade shoots out of the front of it and sinks into her shins, just above the ankle where she has no armor and the only protection is her cloth leggings. Fluffy screams and drops to the ground in a quickly-growing pool of blood.
Thrud shoves Remmy aside and runs down the hall, leading with one shoulder so as not to hit the wall, putting one foot in front of the other on the narrow strip that is not carpeted. When he reaches the end, he scoops Fluffy up with one hand and drapes her across his shoulders. With his other hand he braces himself against the wall, keeping his balance. He turns and repeats his run. Occasional footfalls land on the carpet, but the clouds that arise behind him can’t keep up.
As the party watches down the hall…
…Thrud hauls FluffyKitten from the secret treasure room.
Thrud spills out into the main room and dumps Fluffy into Ember’s arms. She lays the halfling on the floor, half-unconscious with shock. The skin of her shins is open to the bone and bleeding profusely, but as far as she can tell no nerves or tendons have been severed. She holds bandages on one leg and recruits Wolfbane into pressing a bandage on the other.
Once Fluffy seems in good hands, Morgan looks about the rest of the party. “So…we hadn’t considered the chests themselves would be trapped. That means Remmy or Bhelgarn – and I think Bhelgarn is too wide.”
The dwarf grunts and Remmy shrugs. “Seems awfully dangerous for someone who just took a lungful of poison gas.” He jerks a thumb at Ember. “She heals me and I get a bigger cut of the treasure.”
“Done,” says Morgan without batting an eye. After Remmy turns, she mumbles under her breath, “Probably more there than we can carry, anyway.”
Remmy sidles carefully along the uncarpeted floor to the last row of chests. Seeing that the open one is empty, he checks it for secret compartments, then detaches the scythe blade from the front before closing the lid. Balancing on its lid, he checks the second chest for traps, then opens it. He calls back to the party that it is full of fine, black robes, each set with gems – nice bloodstone gems to match the ones on the altar downstairs. He holds one up for the party to see.
“No way,” says Ember. “Those look lak religious, ya?”
Ember calls back to Remmy that he is welcome to the robes as his extra cut.
Remmy takes his time, sitting cross-legged on the first chest while fishing robes from the second. He rips the gems free from their stitching and pockets them, laying the robes back down in the chest. When he is finally finished, after a dozen robes, he moves back to the wall and checks the next chest for traps, then opens it.
He holds a fist-sized golden symbol on a neck chain up to the party – it is an eye surrounded by tentacles. “Whole buncha these,” he calls, “coupla’ dozen.”
“Holy symbols?” asks Morgan incredulously, and Ember shudders.
Reaching over to the next chest Remmy calls out that it has a “few hundred gold coins,” and Morgan deems that worth taking. Since Remmy hasn’t set off any other traps, she organizes the party into a line, leaning against the wall and away from the carpet, just far enough apart that they can pass a sack between them.
A sack is passed to Remmy, he fills it with coins, and it is passed out to the room and dumped.
Remmy checks and opens the next chest, announces it is filled with bows and arrows, and these too are fire-lined out. Morgan rushes to take a bow – and finds that the string is rotted and useless, the bow dry and cracked. All of them are thus. Most of the arrows, on the other hand, look usable, even if the fletching is separating from the shafts. Sixty-some arrows are recovered.
The far box of the middle row holds several dozen platinum coins and a platinum sword, and these are removed.
In the second row from the entrance, the near chest holds wooden carvings, mostly of animal figures. Many in the party speculate that they are magical – with water, or the right words, perhaps, they could grow and become real. Several people shout to Remmy to look for camels or other beasts of burden. Remmy shrugs. “Honestly, people – with as scarce as wood is down here, and as few animals as they have seen – I think these are normal wood carvings which they think are important. They might be valuable here, but I couldn’t sell them for a copper in a surface city.”
The far chest holds thousands of silver coins, but these are left in place.
Finally, the last chest is opened. It contains dozens of religious plaques. Bhelgarn is less accomplished at the Cyndician script than he is at the spoken language, but after sounding a few things out he thinks that these are prayer-plaques, to be read by the faithful. They are left in place as well.
Fluffy is weak but recovering. Ember leaves her side and stands in the entrance of the treasure room. She asks all the party members with magic items to step back, clears her mind, and tries to sense magic. She picks up the platinum sword, but feels nothing. She tries to reach out into the room. The box of plaques feels…no, the plaques themselves. Magical? No…it is the residue of belief. Not inherently magical, but with a bit of divine power from having been used in rituals or prayed over many times. She gets the same feeling from the holy symbols, and the black robes.
While the party pack up the sword, and the gold and platinum coins, and the arrows, they discuss exploring any rooms remaining on this level that Iris has not been in, any that are not buried in rubble. Talk turns to roping themselves together and crossing the rubble pile. Odlief shakes his head dubiously.
“Ahl the rooms up heya gots winders?” The party agrees. “Ann we climbed inter this room through d’ winder?” They agree again. He spits. “Them I’m not climbin’ that rock pile. Let’s jess take ’em one winder at a time.”
Returning to the cavern floor, the party walks around the front of the fortress, then climbs up to the third floor of the center wing. This is actually the room that Remmy and FluffyKitten entered during the assault.
The party continues to explore the third level
Now, in the absence of the patriarchs, they find an iron bed frame covered with furs, and a locked chest full of platinum and gold coins. All of these (sans the bed frame) are taken. There is a doorway to the interior part of the fortress but it is blocked by rubble.
Down, around, and up: the next bedchamber is sparsely furnished with a simple iron bed and a few personal effects – nothing of value. It does have an interior door that accesses the hall where Azerius and the other brothers were trapped. Iris has already removed the contents of one room, but two others are also bedchambers. One has no treasure, but looks lived in. The other has furnishings, but looks spare – there are no personal effects around. There is a small altar on which is a burned out candle and a plaque inscribed with a single word. Bhelgarn puzzles it out as the name Darius, which sends shivers down the spine of Wolfbane.
With this, the party thinks they have searched all the rooms reachable on the third floor, so they let themselves down again to the cavern and ponder the second floor. There, the windows are only a few inches wide – too small for any of them, except perhaps Fluffy.
Fluffy is healed, and she and Remmy ascend back up to the third floor. From there, he lowers her down to the second floor, where she barely manages to turn sideways and slip through a window slit. In one room she finds a locked iron chest – playing in the lock with her dagger, she breaks off a poison needle but can’t get the chest open. The hallway outside the room leads to the training hall, so she gathers a few war-hammers and returns to bash open the chest, finding it filled with gold coins. She drags it to the window and throws out the coins, a handful at a time, until hundreds are on the ground all around the party’s feet. As she digs through the chest she also finds five gems, but these she pockets and turns over to Ember later.
She goes back to the training room and takes several daggers. The one other room she can reach lies just below the treasure room on the third floor. It is a long, narrow gallery with several arrow slits that look down on the temple wing. She doesn’t find anything there, so she lowers herself down to the cavern floor and Remmy soon follows. By the time they are both down, the party has gathered up the rain of gold coins.
This leaves only the first floor. One at a time, each of them is boosted into the window of the storeroom, tries and fails to pry open the iron bars. When it is Odlief’s turn, he asks for one of the metal warhammers that Fluffy took from the training room. “All y’alls goin’ about this all wrong!” he says. “Yer jess need some lev-er-age.” With a knot, he ties the hammer to two bars, forming a windlass, then proceeds to spin the hammer around, tightening the rope on each spin. Eventually the ancient iron bars give way, bend, and one snaps in half. He works the broken one back and forth, breaking mortar until he can pull the rod from the stone, then sets to work on the others until he has the whole window clear. Tired and sweaty, he drops to the ground outside and tells someone else to go check the storeroom.
Remmy reports that the storeroom is filled with woven hammocks and baskets and a few bronze hampers and cribs. There are large amounts of preserved food, clothes and linens, and a bit of incense. There is some bronze cutlery. Nothing is of great value, but there certainly is a lot of it. Morgan sends a few more people in to expedite the process, and tells them to take out about two weeks’ worth of food for the party, wrapping everything in the linens. The rest is left there.
With all their treasure stowed, the party returns to the Enclave. Morgan has Bhelgarn tell the Great Mother about the storeroom. She is very appreciative, as the stores of the Maidens are severely depleted after tending to the cityfolk, many of whom were starving. It will be some time before the mushroom fields are in good condition for a harvest, and it sounds to her like this cache of food will help them reach that time. She says that once again the party has served the people of Cyndicia, and tells them that they are welcome to stay as guests of the Maidens for as long as they like. They will be brought fresh food and water and, if they desire, oil. Now that the maidens have access to the animal fields, they can render the pig fat into a useable lamp oil. So long as the party does not require a great amount at once, the Maidens will be happy to provide them with that, as well.
Remmy – gems from altar, gems from robes
Iris (not clear if this treasure will be shared) – gilt chair, six fur-covered cushions, tapestry with silver and gold threads
Magic boots (to be identified)
2 magic shields (to be identified)
Magic plate armor (to be identified)
One of two potions (to be identified)
bed furs (room Z22)
5 gems (room Z15)
140 person-days of preserved food