Ninmonth 26 (continued) – Afternoon?
(ninth full day since the expulsion of the dwarves)
The party proceeds down the dark staircase, to a lower level of the shrine to Cretia. The stairs are straight and even, the stonework old but not worn. At their bottom, the stairs open on to a large chamber (66). The room is lined in two rows with a series of statues of an Ethangarian warrior. The statues each traverse the ten feet from floor to ceiling. After a brief examination, Bhelgarn confirms that they do in fact serve as supporting columns, and the plain, unadorned granite was carved as one piece from the same rock that once filled this space (before the chamber was hollowed out). It is considerably cooler and damper here than the level above, and more than one of them is shivering as they adjust. Two corridors leave the chamber – the one to the left turns a corner of worked stone, but the one to the right seems to open on to a natural chamber with rough rock walls. Pooches sniffs the air and whines.
A lower level to the shrine
The party takes the passageway to their right. Around the corner is a long stone hallway, and an open passageway to a chamber on their right. More of them then Pooches are now wrinkling their noses in disgust, for the smell of rotting flesh is coming from the side chamber. Bhelgarn sticks his sword in and has it generate the maximum amount of light. Twenty raised stone platforms line the walls of the chamber (67), ten to either side. Upon each platform lies a moldering corpse, laid out as if in a funery room or mausoleum but only recently dead. None of them care to enter, so they dim their lights and proceed, with some of them speculating that these are sacrifices to the ape-god.
Twenty recently dead bodies, laid out on platforms
At the end of the hallway the corridor splits in a T-intersection, continuing forward to both their left and right, but also opens to their left. The large, irregularly-shaped chamber (71) has three statues in it; one in each of the alcoves at the southern end. The statue in the middle bears the hideous likeness of Cretia, while those to the sides are smaller, and have horns, claws, and wings. Ember believes they are representations of demonic servitors of the ape-god, but others in the party see a resemblance to the living stone statues they once fought in the pyramid. Regardless, they do not enter, but choose the passageway to the right.
A statue of Cretia, with guardians?
The passageway to the right turns again, and enters a long colonnaded hall (72), similar to the entry chamber at the base of the stairs. As before, these statues traverse floor to ceiling and were carved from the living rock of the mountain. Unlike the previous room, where all of the statues were identical, each of these statues seems to depict a different warrior. Some bear scimitars, some spears, some bows, while some have reins in their hands. All are clearly martial figures.
Another hall of statues
The party enters the room cautiously, many of them now remembering the living statues and suspicious that these may yet animate. From behind them a man hisses in Ethengari, and they turn to see a priest casting a spell, flanked by the two stone gargoyles from before. When the priest completes his spell, Poncherius, Pooches, and Thrud all struggle against the feeling that dark iron bands are binding their limbs but eventually free themselves. Ember, however, is held fast in the grip of the magic and cannot move. Eyes open, she remains all too aware of the ensuing fight.
Morgan casts a magic missile at the priest to suppress any further spell-casting until Wolfbane paralyzes him with her scepter. Bhelgarn flashes light from his sword, temporarily blinding both the gargoyles and Thrud. Together, Odleif and Fluffy strike at one gargoyle until it dis-animates, Bhelgarn slays the paralyzed priest, and Morgan brings down the other gargoyle with sword and spell.
It is over in but a moment. By the time they ascertain that Ember is alive, breathing slow and shallow, Pooches is whining pitifully. When he has their attention, and several of them have asked “What is it, boy?” he drops to the floor on his back, legs in the air.
“What the hells?” says Morgan, but Thrud nods.
“He’s playing dead, ya?” says the northman. “The dead are coming!”
Quickly, Wolfbane drops back to defend Ember, first casting invisibility on the priestess to hide her body and then shield on herself. The others drag the huge, stony corpses of the gargoyles across the entryway to the hall, so that anyone who tries to enter, living or dead, will have to climb over them. They then position themselves just beyond the bodies to strike at anyone attempting to cross.
From around the corner come low moans, and then the dead begin to shuffle into sight, almost certainly the ones they saw before laid out on pedestals. With their shambling gait they are indeed having a hard time walking over the gargoyles, and many of them fall and begin crawling forward. The party is set to receive them when Fluffy grows impatient and bounds over the nearest gargoyle and into the scrum. Blades flashing, she is making short work of the dead when Morgan curses and goes in after her.
With their attention focussed on the frontal assault, no one in the open chamber sees a second priest, leading another cohort of zombies, coming in the far entrance until it is too late. His initial spell is cast on Bhelgarn, Poncherius, Odleif, and Wolfbane, and this time it is Wolfbane, standing next to Ember, who is paralyzed. Even as Odleif and Poncherius turn and begin firing at him, a second spell from the priest sends Bhelgarn fleeing in terror, then cowering and whimpering behind one of the columns.
The second wave of zombies enters the room, splitting up to attack the party. Two in particular grab and bite at Wolfbane. Inwardly she screams but still cannot move. She is being being devoured alive, a fitting punishment for having herself killed the priest she paralyzed before. She is at the point of losing consciousness when Thrud barrels his way past the other dead to strike down the ones ripping into her flesh. Then she does black out, but the barbarian binds her wounds while the battle rages around them. Morgan and Fluffy finish off the first wave of zombies, struggle over the bodies of the gargoyles, then join their comrades facing the second wave. Morgan kills the priest, and one by one the dead are struck down until the only sound in the cold stone hall is the party gasping for breath.
The battle had been loud enough for anyone on this level to hear. After several moments go by and no reinforcements arrive, Morgan says that the party will camp here until Ember and Wolfbane recover. She directs the others in barricading both entrances with the stacked bodies of the dead, then completely blocks the way by means of one web spell each, anchored in the piles of bodies. Meanwhile, Thrud opens Wolfbane’s bindings one at a time, rinses her wounds with the wine from his cask (hoping the alcohol is strong enough to kill whatever diseases might have been carried within the rotting mouths of the dead), and then rebinds them carefully with fresh linens. Every so often he returns to Ember’s location just to verify that she is still there, albeit invisible. The others bring out bedrolls and make camp on the stone floor, while Fluffy takes out the pots and wistfully fills them with the last of their supplies.
[Note: after this evening meal, the party is without food, and Pooches was given only a half ration for the day. They have 20 skins of water remaining]
It is perhaps an hour and a half later when Ember gasps deeply and finally finds that she can move. Soon after that Wolfbane stirs as well, groaning and twitching, but remains unconscious. Morgan’s webs are still intact, and those on watch have not heard anything, nor has Pooches warned them of anything approaching, so Ember agrees that they should keep their campsite here until she can pray for spells.
By Bhelgarn’s internal count it is early evening when Ember rises and kneels in prayer, and another hour or so later when she finishes and then moves among the party, healing. Glöð’s Remedy restores Wolfbane to consciousness, and Ember distributes four heartmendings among the others.
Morgan, meanwhile, has restored her complement of offensive spells, but has taken read languages as well. By the flicker of candlelight she now examines the scroll she recovered from under the mattress of one of the priests. Her spell reveals it to be speak with animals. Her initial excitement fades when experimentation reveals that she cannot use it, since it is a clerical scroll, and Ember cannot use it, since it is written in Ethengari (and Morgan’s spell for reading languages affects herself, only). Nonetheless, she packs it carefully away, with an eye toward selling it later.
Despite Ember’s ministrations, many in the party are still battered or bloody, and most had already begun to sleep anyway. Ember and Morgan agree to maintain camp for another watch. Perhaps an hour later the webs sag, fade, and disappear, but Morgan does not bother to renew them – they have been resting some six hours by now with no signs of hostiles about.
(tenth full day since the expulsion of the dwarves)
Ember rises early in the new day and begins another round of prayers. She may not be able to hear the wisdom of Glöð, but even here in the bowels of this accursed shrine, her goddess has not forsaken her. When she has cast two Remedies and eight Orisons, she and Morgan agree that the party is ready to press on.
Yawning and stretching, the party clears a path out the western entrance, and proceeds deeper into the shrine.
The party breaks camp
They have not gone far into the hall when Pooches scents something. This time his reaction is not to whine, but to growl, low and menacing. They proceed cautiously, to where the corridor splits, but both branches end in doors. The doors are of stout wood, thicker and more imposing than the other doors they have seen so far. They open out, with the hinges on this side, and a thick bar of wood as well – as if they were keeping something in.
Morgan approaches and listens, hearing deep, guttural grunts and heavy bodies moving about. While listening, she cannot help but smell as well – there is a strong animal-like musky smell clinging to the doors. Pooches’ hackles are raised, and no one in the party believes that whatever is beyond the doors should be freed, so they continue down the open hall.
Halls with iron doors
The corridor splits again, but down each way are identical iron doors. These are even more strongly reinforced than the previous doors, having two iron rods each preventing them from opening out. After a bit of exploration, the party finds that flanking hallways contain another two identical doors.
FOUR iron doors in all
The party hatches a complicated plan wherein they will bang on one of the doors, and then open the opposite one, catching whatever is inside off guard. After arranging and rearranging themselves, the entry team carefully and silently removes the bars from their door. When the distraction team bangs on the iron, it echoes throughout the lower level and the entry team goes to throw open their door – only to find it locked!
After a few moments of hurried conversation, Wolfbane’s key ring is found to have a key to these locks. The distraction team then sets up a loud banging, which covers the clicks of her turning the key and opening the door – on what turns out to be a single, empty room (74).
The room finally revealed
Inside, the large, square room has a metal door set into the middle of each of its sides. A circular hole about 30 feet in diameter leads upward from the middle of the ceiling into the darkness above. The visible ceiling is 15 feet above the floor. Carefully searching the room, they find nothing, except some old and dried stains on the floor. Odlief wagers that these are blood, and notes that they are all on the part of the floor where the ceiling is not visible. The party is at first perplexed by the curious room and why it is so heavily fortified from without. Then Bhelgarn asks to see the maps. Looking at them both in turn, the upper and lower levels of the shrine, he says that this room is directly beneath the second statue of Cretia (the gold one).
Which means, they realize, that if the multicolored silk carpet was covering not floor, but this gaping hole, anyone who approached the statue would surely have fallen thirty feet or more onto this stone floor. And, once here, would have had no means of escape without help from above. A chill goes through them and they decide to leave – but they make sure that they leave one of the metal doors unlocked behind them.
The party proceeds around one of the corners, which turns again and ends in a door. As Morgan approaches it, a serpentine horror slithers out of a cave mouth to her left. The creature is red and green striped, and nearly twenty feet long from its snout to the wicked spine on the tip of its tail. She draws her sword and takes a step back, while the snake rears up, bringing its huge head level with her own. The snake’s eyes whirl with all the colors of the rainbow, and Morgan feels herself getting drowsy. Her sword tip droops for a second before she shakes her head to clear it. The snake hisses in frustration, and its tail darts forward, the spine knocking into Morgan’s armor.
Trussst in me!
A door…and a hypnosnake!
Morgan grimaces, then sinks her sword into the snake’s neck. From behind her, Thrud charges forward, burying his axe deep into the snake’s back. Fluffy darts past Morgan, dashing to the side of the snake and opening up a pair of vicious slits along its belly. From over Morgan’s shoulder, Ember hurls a ball of flame, striking the creature in its face. The bright flame mixes with the rainbow color of its huge eyes and it lashes about violently. Finally, it is still.
As Morgan cleans her blade, Thrud feels something stir in his backpack. Bemused, he calls for a halt as he takes it off and begins unpacking things. When he reaches the horn of Zargon he gasps and drops back. The horn now has six tiny tentacles at its base, each no thicker than a man’s finger and perhaps twice as long. As the party watches in horror, the horn uses its tentacles to pull itself forward, struggle free of the pack, and begin laboriously dragging itself across the stone floor. Thrud shudders and empties a sack, then uses the sack to pick up the horn without touching it. The tentacles writhe ineffectually in the air. Turning it over, he discovers a tiny mouth with six miniature teeth in the center of the tentacles. Thrud asks Odleif for a flask of lantern oil, then pours it slowly over the base of the horn, dowsing the tentacles and mouth. When a torch flame is set to it, the tentacles jerk, burst in a spray of ichor, then harden and shrivel. Thrud continues to apply the flame until all trace of the tentacles and mouth are burnt away, and only the horn remains. Ember notes with concern that the horn does not seem in the least affected by the flame – it is not cracked, charred, or even discolored – but remains its deeply polished black.
The party discusses what this portends in low tones as Thrud repacks. When he is ready, Morgan re-orders them and heads to the door. She opens it, sword drawn, but finds only a short corridor ending in another door.
An empty hall
Looking at the floor, Morgan notes that it is considerably more dusty than every floor they have seen before. The priests and warriors apparently kept the rest of the shrine swept and tended, but have not come here in quite some time. At first she is discouraged – this cannot be where the real Xanathon is holed up. But then again, why have that magic snake guard this door if there is not something important beyond? She resolves to keep going.
Morgan proceeds to the next door and tries to open it, but it does not budge. She checks it – there is no lock, but it appears swollen and stuck from disuse. Sheathing her sword, she takes the handle in both hands, braces one foot on the wall, and heaves.
As the door is forced open, the party is immediately assailed by a terrible wailing, as if a thousand souls were crying in eternal torment. All of the party is affected, but Morgan, Pooches, and Poncherius most of all. They immediately retreat while the rest of the party braces themselves for attack from some unholy horror.
No attack comes, though, and the party sees only an empty room beyond. Morgan has forced herself to halt by the body of the snake – Pooches and Poncherius are by now around the far corner.
The party retreats and confers with Morgan. By now, she seems more sullen than scared. “Nay, nay, I’m alright,” she tells them. “I’m just not going into that accursed room.”
“Well, where should we go?”
“Oh, you all can keep going – with a guard and now a ward, what is beyond must be important – you’ll just have to do it without me.”
The rest of the party gathers up Pooches and Poncherius, and leads them back to Morgan, by which time she tells them that the three of them will keep guard of the party’s rear while they proceed. Odleif shrugs, then stoops to enter the cave mouth from whence the snake came, seeking a safe place for them to rest. Ember follows after him.
The cave (75) opens up into a large space, but the floor is littered with bones and shed skin. Odleif carefully shines his lantern over every surface of floor, concerned that there might be eggs or young about, and Ember notices a glint from the corner. Investigating, she finds a black iron mace inlaid with symbols of silver. It feels light in her hand, and perfectly balanced. Coming out of the cave, she passes her own mace to Thrud while she carries the new one.
Morgan, Pooches, and Poncherius enter the cave, and clear a place to sit. Pooches worries at a bone.
The smaller party reassembles in the hall, led by Ember. She takes them to the threshold of the wailing room (76), but has them wait while she enters. It is cold in the room, and she shivers but proceeds. Closing her eyes, she tries to open her mind’s eye, sense whether there is still an evil presence here, but feels nothing. Perhaps it was just a magical trap. She chants and calls upon Glöð to bless this place, and release any souls that are trapped here in undeath. Finally she calls for the party to enter.
The lair of the snake, and the wailing room
Ember opens the next door, to a corridor that is colder still. Dust swirls in eddies on the floor at the opening of the door.
Another empty hall
By this point, Morgan’s heart has stopped pounding in her chest, and she can actually see beyond the pinpricks her pupils had been. She sighs and stands. “Poncherius, you ready?” she asks. The man doesn’t answer, but his ferret-mask nods slowly. “Pooches?” The dog continues to work at his bone. “Pooches!” she commands. He yelps as if he has been kicked, and pivots to turn his back to her. Morgan supposes she can’t blame the dog for not doing something she was unwilling to herself a few minutes ago. “Fine, mutt,” she says. “But you have to guard our backs.” The dog barks his agreement.
Morgan and Poncherius proceed gingerly through the wailing room, then join the rest of the party who are standing in front of the next door. They give way to allow Morgan to the front but she waves them off. “No, no,” she says, “It’s good practice for you. Let’s see how you do.”
Thrud opens the door. The room is dark, and empty except for a single figure that lurches forward. At first they take it for another zombie, due to its obvious wounds, but it is moving far too fast and as it approaches they realize it is emanating an aura of icy cold.
Thrud steps into the room and knocks it back with a massive blow of his axe. It stumbles, then falls on its back. As it struggles to rise, Odleif runs forward and buries his sword in its chest – its struggles cease.
Tomb of the barrow-wight
Ember stands over the corpse. Even now, she can feel the presence of the evil spirit, seeking to re-enter the body – any body. She says a prayer to Glöð and forces the spirit to move on, then shudders. It was powerful – as powerful as any undead they have faced, equivalent to the spirit that had inhabited the body of Queen Zenobia – a barrow-wight. This wight, though, did not have a queen’s burial chamber to haunt – just an empty room of stone.
“Well done,” says Morgan, entering the room. She looks about. “No treasure, but another door – that thing was another guard. Whatever is behind that door, Xanathon does not want us to find, that much is certain.” She throws open the far door, but finds only a small hall or antechamber, barely ten feet square.
She makes for the next door, but as she approaches it, gives pause. It is not cold – that effect seemed to be generated by the wight. But she feels a very real sense of dread, a foreboding about this last door. She turns to order the party into position, but finds that her throat has gone dry. She struggles to swallow, then arranges people in their positions, and finally opens the door.
The room of the gem
This chamber is lit with a pulsating, eerie light that seems to be emanating from a giant gem. The gem is on a chain looped over a huge stone throne, and seated in this throne is a shadowy image of pure evil. It rises with with menacing slowness…
The chamber is filled with riches. Many coins lie along the sides of the vault, and several leather items and bottles are also visible. Ignoring these, the first rank of the party (Thrud and Odleif) enters the room, giving way for the second rank (Morgan and Ember). When Ember sees the figure she gives a wheeze as if the air had been knocked from her. With shaking hands she holds aloft her symbol of Glöð and tries to banish to foul being.
A soundless, mocking laugh hangs heavily in the air. Wordlessly, and yet heard in every mind, the spectre intones, “Fine, priestess, you will be the first to fall…” The form drifts from the throne toward them, its feet not touching the floor.
“Aldri!” bellows Thrud, and he runs forward to interpose himself between the spectre and Ember. It strikes at him but he dodges, then returns to his position guarding the priestess.
Morgan shoots a magic missile at the gem, knocking it back, so that it clatters against the stone throne, still tethered by its golden chain. Odleif leaps forward with his boots, swings his sword at the spectre but misses, then leaps back away out of its reach before it can turn on him.
“Du vil aldri skade henne, sjofel skapning! Ikke mens det er pust i kroppen min!” shouts Thrud, and slices through the form of the spectre with his axe. He meets little more resistance than cutting through smoke, but there is a sound like the tearing of paper.
“Well, then we will just have to remedy that,” says the spectre wordlessly. It lunges suddenly at Thrud, and it is only just in time that he brings his axe up between them.
Morgan shoots another magic missile, this one at the spectre, and sees its form waver as the bolt impacts. While it faces off against Thrud, Bhelgarn and Odleif flank it, and Odleif lands a hit with his sword.
“Mrrraaaagggh!” it curses soundlessly, and reaches forward, grabbing Thrud by his throat with an insubstantial hand. The barbarian’s body goes taut, and all color drains from his face. Forcing his limbs to work by sheer will, Thrud brings his axe up and cleaves down through the form of the spectre, dissipating it into thin air. A second later his axe clatters to the stone floor, and he collapses.
[Note: Thrud has been drained of 17,121 xp and has gone from Level 5 to Level 3].
Ember rushes to Thrud’s side, trying to minister to him, but aside from black, necrotic frostbite on his throat, his wounds seem more spiritual than physical. Bhelgarn approaches the throne and lifts the gem by its chain, being careful not to touch the gemstone itself. It is the largest diamond he has ever seen. As he peers into its faceted depths, he feels dizzy and his knees go weak. Just before he collapses, he spots an image – there is a body floating in the depths of the gem – an old but powerful bald man – Xanathon! He closes his eyes, sets the gem down, and swoons.
Ember helps Thrud to the edge of the room, so that he can sit with his back supported by the wall. His face is pale and he is trembling. She remembers when Remmy was drained of his life force by the wight in the pyramid. This seems similar, but even stronger. Remmy’s loss was due to his greed, and she did not shed a tear for him, but Thrud’s downfall was caused by his bravery and loyalty and Ember finds herself openly weeping. She knows what has happened to him is beyond her power to cure.
Once Bhelgarn recovers his balance, he sets the gem carefully in a crook of the stone throne and draws his magic sword. He brings the blade of his sword down with all his might on the gem. Sparks fly, his blade is turned, and it cuts a deep nick into the stone – but the gem is untouched.
Odleif turns his lantern up to a full wick and sets it on the floor as he looks about the room. There is a large leather sack amidst the piles of coins and this strikes him as odd. Even more striking, the bag is as supple as if freshly tanned, without a hint of mold or dry-rot, despite lying in the dark for who knows how many years. He shakes it, but nothing falls out. He sticks his hand in…and cannot find the bottom. He gets Bhelgarn to hold his lantern up while he opens the neck of the sack with both hands. Peering inside, it looks like the bag goes down ten feet or so, and is some fifteen or twenty times larger on inside than it is on the outside! Odleif and Bhelgarn grin foolishly at one another in the lantern light. Morgan comes over to the pair and, when she realizes what is going on, tells everyone to start sorting the treasure.
Ember leaves Thrud reclining against the wall, but ignores Morgan’s command. She approaches the throne and squares off against the gem. She had prayed for a new spell earlier, Gutter, Flicker, and Flare, assuming that they would be facing Xanathon or at least other evil priests, but perhaps she can use it against the gem. She casts the spell at the gem…and it is as unaffected as it was previously by Bhelgarn’s sword and Morgan’s magic missile. Ember sighs ruefully. Whatever magic it has, it is a permanent effect, and beyond the power of her spell.
In ten minutes, the party has sorted all of the treasure. There are hundreds of platinum pieces, thousands of gold, tens of thousands of silver coins, and they have been heaped into neat piles. There are more than a score of gems, large and small. There is a pair of boots, their leather in as fine a state as that of the bag, a ring, and two flasks of brightly colored liquid.
Morgan takes the two potion flasks.
Wolfbane tries on the ring. After concentrating on it, she is sure that it is a ring of spell turning – any spells cast at her will automatically be reflected back at the caster! The party agrees that she should keep it, though Ember cautions her to remove it before she asks for healing.
Bhelgarn tries on the boots, which fit him very well. He tries running, jumping, lifting things, all to no effect. The party notes that anything he does, however, is nearly soundless. Since he is more than content with his own boots of speed, the party decides that these boots should go to Thrud. The barbarian waves his acquiescence disinterestedly.
The gems are given to Ember to hold as party treasure.
At that point, the party begins filling the bag with coins – first the platinum, then the gold, then the silver. The bag seems not only larger on the inside, but to be affected only minimally by the weight of what is put inside as well. Far more than half the silver has been put in when it is finally full, but there are still several thousand silver coins left over.
After this, the party falls to debating. Morgan was sure that they would find the real Xanathon in the shrine, and be able to slay him. She had been quite looking forward to carrying his head back to Rhoona. Now, she is not so sure. What is the meaning of the image of him in the gem, and why was it protected so fiercely? Does his real body perhaps lie entombed in the shrine somewhere they have not been? They have recovered the gem, which is of obvious importance, but what do they do with it, and what do they do now?
Wolfbane says that while the gem may appear indestructible, nothing is truly indestructible – at least nothing made by mortals. Magic always comes at a price, and the more protected an item is, the more vulnerable it must be to a certain thing – the toll of a bell, the laughter of a child, the eyelash of a giant. The trick is figuring out to what the gem is vulnerable without a clue in a world of possibilities.
The conversation has gone around a few times, but still nothing has been resolved. Ember asks for time to rest and pray. She will call on Glöð for guidance. Up till now she has not received anything other than spells, but perhaps with the spectre dispelled and the gem in her possession, she will be able to make contact with her goddess. Morgan agrees to the rest, but none of them wish to remain in this room, and then they remember that Pooches is still in the snake cave.
Leaving the empty throne and the extra silver coins behind them, the party retreats back to the hallway and a relieved Pooches. The snake cave is a bit cramped for all of them, but there is still a hallway down which they have not been.
A natural cavern
The hallway opens into a large, apparently empty cave (69). Much moisture is present here, dripping down the walls and collecting in shallow pools on the floor. To the right, a narrow passageway ends in a large stone door, without a handle or hinges, as if it was made to block the way rather than provide access. To the left, twin tunnels disappear into the darkness. There is enough space on the cavern floor, near the hallway where it is still dry, for the party to spread out, and Ember nods her agreement that she can rest and pray here. No one seems interested in investigating the tunnels, and Morgan does not force the issue. The party takes out their bedrolls and a watch is set.
Several hours into a fitful dozing, frequently disturbed by Thrud moaning in his sleep, Morgan finds herself shaken fully awake. Fluffy is tugging at her elbow. “What is it?” she asks suspiciously, looking about at the quietly resting party.
“I iz hungary,” complains Fluffy.
“We all are, but we are out of supplies. You know that. We’ll get food when we return to the first level. Be quiet and let Ember rest.”
“Snicky-snake?” asks the halfling brightly. “I can make snicky-snake snacks?”
Morgan considers. She has eaten snake a few times, herself – generally timber rattler, and has no objection to it. But the snake they killed was obviously magical, and more than likely cursed. She doesn’t need the party all tucking in to it and then being hypnotized by the end of the meal. She mentally goes over what they have killed in the shrine besides the snake – people (no), the dead (shudder), living statues (probably inedible). “No Fluffy, no snake snacks. Have something to drink, fill your stomach with water, and go back to sleep. We’ll eat when we get upstairs.”
As the halfling turns away petulantly and drinks from a waterskin, Morgan looks at the small pile of skins in the center of their camp. By the time they break camp, she estimates, they will be down to nine skins, more or less – not a half-day’s worth for a group their size. She remembers the barrel in the kitchen above, but doubts that will be enough to get them the day and a half out of the mountains to the last stream they crossed on their way here. She keeps that thought to herself.
It is dawn, more or less, by Bhelgarn’s estimate, when Ember rises from her rest. Her eyes are sunken and she looks more tired than before. Glumly, she reports to the party that she tried for hours to reach her goddess – but that every time she got close, the words of Glöð were drowned out by the thunderous hoofbeats of hundreds of horses and the savage cries of apes. She has no guidance for them – not what to do next, nor what to do with the gem.
“But I do,” says Thrud resolutely. Everyone turns to him. He is still pale, but no longer trembling or distant. “I have dreamed a powerful dream. That abomination we destroyed was the spirit of a great Ethangari Khan, held in servitude to Xanathon. He was forced to guard the gem, for the gem contains Xanathon’s soul. If we bring the gem to Xanathon, we will be able to harm him.”
“That may be, valiant Thrud,” Ember says. “But when one is contacted by spirits, one must never trust them. We are in an evil shrine, surrounded by evil dead. It may be that your dream was true, but we cannot know for sure.”
“True or not,” says Morgan, “It is our only lead. And whether it makes him vulnerable or not, we know Xanathon is going to want his gem back. We have something he wants, and he has something we want. It’s high time we headed back to Rhoona.”
The party remains in the cavern just long enough for Ember, Wolfbane, and Morgan to recover a full complement of spells, and then breaks camp. Before they head back to the stairs, however, Morgan insists they first investigate at least one of the tunnels. They proceed to the closer of the two, which opens on a small cave (69a) with a strange wooden frame mounted in it.
Cautious of magic, they approach carefully, but find it is just twin supports holding an axle, about which a rope is wound. There is a hand crank on one end of the axle, and a hole in the ground goes down twenty feet to where a bucket, tied to the rope, hangs just below the surface of water.
A natural well
They bring up the first bucket, and find the water to be cold, clear, and refreshing. Morgan calls for a watch while they take their time filling all of their water skins, and drinking, and filling them again.
More relieved than she lets on, Morgan then leads them back to the stairs.