IN THE SHADOW OF THE SPIRE
PRELUDE 1B: THE LOST VAULTS CONTINUED
DAY THREE, CONTINUED
• Agnarr reached the top of the rope. Tee scrambled up into the wide-but-short tunnel up there, only to see two of the reptilian creatures laying on their stomachs pointing crossbows at her. As the bolts narrowly whizzed past her she tried to turn around and get back down the rope. “Go back! Back!”
• In the confusion that followed, both Agnarr and Tee lost their grips on the rope. They fell into the shallow lake below and Tee broke several ribs and slipped into unconsciousness. Agnarr dragged her into a nearby tunnel just in time: The reptilians stuck their heads out from the hole, using the rope to steady themselves as they slowly scanned the cavern below.
• Agnarr healed Tee using his healing totem and then, after peeking out to get a quick overview of the situation, ran out into the chamber, grabbed the rope, and pulled it taut. The reptilians clinging to it above couldn’t keep their grip, slipped, and broke their necks in the fall.
• Agnarr and Tee scrambled up the rope and down the passage. As the passage widened they found it opening into a cavern with a river rushing through it. Two more of the reptilians and their monstrous centipede pets waited for them there, but they were quickly dispatched.
• Tee had some difficulty crossing the river and was nearly swept away, but Agnarr waded in and pulled her back out. On the other side they found a couple of passages, taking one of them they surprised two more reptilians who were acting as rat-keepers of a sort. They overcame them easily and then slaughtered the rats they were keeping in captivity.
• Returning to the river they headed up the other tunnel. Agnarr surprised one of the reptilians relieving himself against a rock and slew him before he had a chance to raise a warning. But another of the reptilians walked in and started squawking: Tee drove an arrow through his eye, pinioning him to the rock, and Agnarr followed through with a devastating decapitation.
• A small force led by a spellcaster rushed out of a passage to the south, but Tee and Agnarr struck from hiding again and capitalized on the chaos and confusion of their disjointed rush to save companions already dead.
• Scouting around they discovered the spellcaster’s relatively sumptuous lair and another cavern intersecting the river. This cavern had a primitive dock and a couple of rafts.
DAY THREE – DOWN THE RIVER
• Gathering up the loot they’d acquired so far and bundling it up, they boarded one of the rafts and set off downstream – assuming that the reptilians were staging further operations somewhere below.
• Along the river they were ambushed by a giant spider who almost capsized their raft, but Agnarr’s uncanny natural instincts kept the raft upright, even as he gutted the spider with his greatsword.
• The river eventually emptied into a large cavern where it formed a wide pool. Pulling themselves along the wall, they came to rest on a shallow ledge off to the east. An old, rotting rowboat was overturned nearby and a search of the ledge turned up a half-sunken dock.
• A passage to the south had been blocked in some sort of cave-in, but a narrow crawlspace had been cleared through it. Getting down on hands-and-knees, Agnarr crawled through and Tee followed after.
• While still trapped in the narrow tunnel, they were ambushed by ghouls: One from the end of the tunnel and another who dropped down from a concealed niche as Tee passed beneath it. The latter bit and clawed at Tee’s vulnerable legs, while the former tried to tear open Agnarr’s face. But eventually Agnarr managed to maneuver his greatsword around and force his way out of the tunnel, allowing Tee to scramble after him. As the ghoul behind them pursued Tee out of the tunnel, Agnarr brought his greatsword down like an executioner’s axe and finished the morbid mockery of flesh-craving life.
• Turning to inspect the small chamber they’d emerged into, the pair were met with a grisly sight: Five shallow graves were spaced randomly around the chamber. In each lay an old skeleton browned with age. It seemed as if these skeletons had been recently excavated in situ. Over one of them, near the far side of the chamber, another ghoul was… lavishing… one of the skeletons with attention. It fondled its femurs and licked it and groped it… Agnarr ended the creature’s miserable existence.
• Through another door they discovered a strangely disturbing chamber – the air was cloying and chilled, but what captivated the eye was the dull, reddish-brown of dried blood which covered the walls and the ceiling and the floor. In the far end of this chamber a dessicated corpse dressed in the shredded remains of silken fineries lay in repose upon the floor.
• Tee searched the room, but as she drew near the dessicated corpse it began to twitch and writhe. With lightning reflexes she drew her sword and plunged it down through the stirring corpse’s chest. But at this action, the corpse’s eyes were suddenly flung open and it hissed a guttural and sibilant cry. A noxious vapor burst from the freshly opened wound, and then the creature – with some unholy strength of will and sinew – literally pulled itself up the elf’s sword and clawed at her throat.
• Tee stumbled back, her hand flying to the bloody gouges torn in the side of her neck, and fumbled for her bow. The undead thing ripped itself off the floor and plunged after her, ignoring Agnarr as he came racing up and swung his greatsword into its back. It leaped at her throat and tore at it again. It continued to gnaw at the open wound, even as Agnarr chopped at it again and again from behind. He finally succeeded in hacking the undead life from its limbs and then fell to Tee’s side to revive the grievously wounded elf.
• Tee, shaken by the experience but left with nothing more than a slight numbness after the magical healing, searched the chamber. They uncovered a cache of gems and a beautiful longsword which proved to be magical: Crafted from an unidentifiable black metal, the sword’s pommel was an elaborate sculpture of a black dragon. The wyrm’s tail extended from the pommel’s lower end, while its head extended above the handguard.
• On the ghastly corpse itself, they discovered a loose sheaf of papers. Perusing it, they discovered it to be a journal of sorts:
THE LOGBOOK OF THE UNDEAD
These rough pages, written in a single hand and signed frequently with the name of Captain Benita, appears to be a logbook of sorts. It contains daily entries describing the exploration of this cavern complex.
The early entries describe finding the river and sailing down it to the lower caverns. Apparently at this time there was gold in the river, which they followed. She describes four caverns on the other side of the river and pool and four caverns on this side of the river and pool, focusing particular detail on the strange mutations of the cave fauna.
Then there’s a catastrophe: An earthquake collapsed the river tunnel and they couldn’t escape. Over the course of several weeks Benita describes their supplies running low… the entries become fewer and farther apart… more chaotic and nonsensical…
Eventually you piece together that the group had fallen to cannibalism. And then the entries simply stop.
• Exploring the rest of this small cave complex, Tee and Agnarr found a handful of ancient skeletons guarding a primitive armory of badly damaged weapons.
DAY THREE – ACROSS THE POOL
• Tee and Agnarr decided to cross to the other side of the pool. Using battleaxes as paddles they started to make their way across the relatively still waters, but while the far bank was still out of sight they suddenly came under fire from two directions – out of the darkness ahead of them and from a high ledge off to the south. They were forced to retreat.
• After tending to their minor wounds, they decided to use the raft as cover – swimming underneath it and hugging the northside of the cavern pool. In this fashion they easily crossed the pool while the reptilians on the high ledge fired futilely into the water around them.
• Arriving at a ledge-like beach on the other side of the cavern, they carefully landed where the reptilians on the ledge could no longer fire on them. Agnarr burst out of the water and intercepted four reptilians who charged in ambush from a corridor to the south. He and Tee stood their ground even as the reptilians from the ledge raced down and around – one of their number running deeper into the complex, presumably to warn his comrades. Eventually, Agnarr fell, but Tee managed to duck below the swinging blades of the reptilians, grab the healing totem he carried, and restore breath to his body. He surged to his feet and finished the remaining reptilians.
• Working their way deeper into the complex, Tee peeked around a corner to see two reptilians standing ready and on guard in a long corridor sloping up. They had clearly seen the pair’s torchlight, but were waiting for them to stick their heads out so that they could shoot. Tee ducked back, explained the situation to Agnarr, and suggested that they light a second torch and leave it here to keep these two would-be guards occupied.
• This was done. Turning back and quickly exploring the tunnels behind them, the pair discovered a barracks of nest-like rags and refuse. To the south of this barracks, however, was another chamber: The short passage to this chamber was coated in a sickly green slime. And inside the chamber more of the reptilians – these strangely mutated – hung comatose in organic “pods”.
• Agnarr took oil from Tee and carefully began spreading it around the “pod room”. But as soon as the oil touched one of the pods, all of them began to quiver and shake and the eyes of their occupants shot open. Agnarr liberally sprayed the rest of the oil and then ran from the room, shouting for Tee to “throw the torch in! now! now!”
• The pods burst into flame, but several of the creatures managed to stagger out – still in flames – and attack the pair. Agnarr managed to chop them down as Tee retreated.
• But even as the thick, oily, black smoke began to pour out of the burning pod room, Agnarr heard the sounds of reptilians talking down by where they had left the decoy torch. The pair quickly raced back out into the corridor – Tee fired a shot to draw them out and Agnarr charged…
• … straight into seven of the reptilians. Apparently reinforcements had arrived.
• After landing a couple of solid blows, Agnarr retreated back up to a narrow section of the corridor – drawing the reptilians to him and forcing them to come at him one at a time. The strategy worked, and Agnarr stood his ground before the charge and slew them all.
• The pair headed up the long passage the reptilians had been guarding. Near the top of the long, sloping passageway the walls suddenly changed to a smooth, black rock and then spilled out into a larger chamber of finished stonework: The walls were covered in frescoes depicting a bald human male in blue robes calling down bolts of lightning upon a castle; binding a scorpion demon into a pentagram; blotting out the sun with a monstrous, black hand in the sky; sundering the temple of some unknown god with a blast of scarlet energy. Eight pillars arranged in two rows of four ran from the ceiling to the floor, with each carved to resemble a human in robes holding the ceiling with their outstretched hands. Two doors led out of the chamber.
• In the center of the chamber two mounds of living flesh shuffled towards them: “Enter not this place. It is a doom for you,” they moaned.
• Tee drew them into the narrow chamber with her longbow and Agnarr buried a throwing axe between the bulbous eyes of one of them. Blood-tinted mucus spewed from their wounds, but they seemed largely unaffected as they surged towards Agnarr and beat at him with fleshy claws.
• After dispatching the strange, demonic entities, the pair moved into the room. Tee searched one of the doors and discovered that the walls of this place were stranger than they had thought: The black material was cool to the touch and seemed much like granite, but shadows cast along the wall seemed to move of their own accord ever so slightly, and they bunched around living creatures, covering them in strange darkness.
• Opening the door they discovered a torture chamber – the instruments badly damaged by the passing of time, but apparently now being repaired by the reptilians.
• They returned to the room of columns, convinced now that the remaining reptilians were prepared for them and waiting to ambush them somewhere nearby. But they joked, before opening the other door that, perhaps, the reptilians were all dead and all that awaited them were kittens. But, of course, demonic kittens would be the worst.
• “If it’s cute, kill it first.”
• They opened the door. Beyond it they found the reptilians awaiting them as they had expected: Ten of their finest soldiers. And, behind them a wizard who pronounced their doom: “Behold Serrek Tarn, the Acolyte of the Master! He who shall be your doom!”
• “Only an acolyte? Hah!” Agnarr shouted over his shoulder as he raced back to a chokepoint where the reptilians would once more be forced to come at him one at a time.
• The strategy didn’t work as well as it had the first time, with the reptilian wizard blasting Agnarr with spells even as his warriors worked to pierce his defenses. But Tee coaxed the last ebbing power from Agnarr’s healing totem, pressing it firmly into the warrior’s back and keeping him alive.
• “Kill the wizard, save the world!”
• In the end, the wizard fell to Tee’s bows: She nicked both his ears, like a surgeon piercing them for a ring, and then finished him with an arrow straight through the eye as Agnarr chopped down the last of the reptilian warriors.
• In Serrek Tarn’s quarters they discovered a library of ancient tomes, which they did not have time to peruse. But on Tarn’s own body they found a notebook:
SERREK TARN’S NOTEBOOK
This notebook is written in a chaotic and scrawling hand. It’s difficult to make out any sort of sense from it, but it appears to be annotations taken from some other source. You make out several fragments amidst a mad scramble of mathematical notations and geometric enigmas:
“Lessons from the tainted dreaming” (written in a large bold hand near the top of the notes)
“Sessural is the depth and the circumference”
“The bastion of purity is not untouched. If it could be destroyed—then victory.”
“The shard has not been found.”
“The inner eye sees all, but all there is it does not see.”
“To see the blackness, one most look into their own soul. The blackness is of the body and the bone and the blood.”
“The dreaming must be made one with reality. The key is the sanctuary; the sanctuary is the key; and the apprentice of the One Who Speaks In Dreams shall be the master’s voice within the world. When he is made whole, the endtimes of the beginning shall renew.”
• There was only a single door beyond the hall in which the reptilians had lurked. Opening this door revealed a magnificent chamber: It was made all of gold, its surfaces embossed and etched in bas relief. Directly opposite them a door of giant proportions – literally large enough for a giant to traverse it – made entirely of ebony stood…
• … and that was the last thing either of them remembered.