21 March (Continued)
Bhavik led the party through the eastern passage, peering inside the chamber beyond. Several passages branched away from the large, high-ceilinged cavern. To the north, a ten-foot wide, square-mouthed tunnel showed signs that someone or something had been at work in the caves. A strong gate of rough-hew timber blocked a small passage to the northeast, and three other passageways wound off towards the south. A heavy, animal smell lingered in the air. The warden noticed a pair of figures crouched in the shadows along the chamber walls, and alerted the others to the threat.
Aramis illuminated the room with a sunrod then struck the green-scaled lizardfolk lurking along the south wall with a brilliant lance of faith. Bhavik moved up to the target of Aramis’s assault and tricked the creature into giving up its guard, striking it in the head with a devastating attack of his own. Azal moved to engage the other lurking lizardfolk, just missing it with a toss of her enchanted dagger. The startled creatures attempted an ineffectual counterattack before the tiefling’s target rushed over and shoved the wooden gate open and cried out in Draconic. A bulky, black-scaled lizardfolk lumbered out the gate and slammed into Azal with a greatclub so large that might once have been the trunk of a tree. She staggered back a couple of steps from the impact of the bruiser’s blow.
In response to the new threat, Aramis pounded the blackscale with a prayer of daunting light. Seeing the thick of the battle moving his direction, Bhavik stepped into the onslaught and tried to draw all of the creatures’ attention, blade flashing. Azal gritted her teeth, eyes wrathful after the powerful hit from the larger lizardfolk, and sent her blade across its chest with a flamboyant slash. The green-scaled hunters shifted to escape the flank with Azal, but could find no openings in Bhavik’s defenses. The warden drew the brute’s attention back to himself when it tried to crush Azal again, throwing off its aim and causing it to recoil back a couple of steps.
More prayers and bladework followed, which proved sufficient to the task of defeating the lizardfolk sentries. They searched the bodies and the small cave from which the black-scaled hulk had emerged but found nothing of value or interest. The well-carved northern shaft eventually opened up on the side of the Stone Tooth – a forgotten mine passage that the lizardfolk might have used to access the surface. Returning to the cavern with the fallen lizardfolk, the adventurers moved to examine the southwest tunnel, which opened up into an irregular cavern.
A trickle of water seeping down from the hillside above reached the cramped space, nourishing a profusion of fungus, weird puffballs, tall caps, and patches of fuzzy mold in a variety of colors. A golden-brown carpet of mold covered an old skeleton in rusted mail in the western part of the small chamber, and a narrow tunnel led to another small room farther south. As they considered the moldy chamber, Bhavik noticed a dark black greataxe glistening in the skeleton’s bony grasp.
Aramis covered his mouth with his sleeve and the warden asked, “Those spores, they are very deadly, correct?”
The priest nodded, “I’ve heard as much in stories, yes.”
Inclining his head, Bhavik said, “We should probably leave well enough alone and mov- is that adamantine?!”
Aramis cocked an eyebrow and took a step back as the warden eyed the skeleton’s weapon keenly. “I will wait here for you.”
“Azal, how do we get at that thing without succumbing to the spores?” Bhavik wanted to know. “You are versed in these things, yes?”
Azal shrugged, “I was about to ask you the same thing. I can con a goblin, but plants and fungus I’m not so good with.”
Undeterred, Bhavik produced a length of rope from his backpack and made a loop large enough to hook the head of the greataxe. Aramis, squinting, turned to Azal and asked, “What is he doing?”
Incredulous, the tiefling said, “I think the fool is trying to pull the skeleton out.”
“I am indeed!” crowed the shifter with a glint in his eyes. “Step back, I think I can get this.”
“I hope you know what you are doing,” Azal muttered.
“I do not,” he answered.
She turned back to Aramis and whispered, “Maybe we should stand back.”
Bhavik looped the body and axe, stirring up a furious burst of spores in the small chamber. Having anticipated such a reaction from the yellow mold, he’d left himself twenty or so feet of line. Then he dragged the whole mess out of the small chamber and back through the western passage to the waiting stream. Azal and Aramis followed at a safe distance until he dunked skeleton, axe, and all into the stream to rinse the spores away. Azal moved forward once the dust had settled and dragged the weapon free, handing it over to the smug shifter. The blade was marked with the same symbol they had seen on the handbill in Blasingdell – that of Durgeddin the Black. They acquired a glittering silver helm in much the same way from a second skeleton south of where the first had been. Bodies desecrated and loot acquired, they made their way south of the chamber formerly guarded by the lizardfolk.
The tunnel deposited them in a great cavern extending almost two hundred feet in length. The ceiling glimmered with a faint phosphorescence almost fifty feed overhead, and the light from Aramis’s sunrod struck dazzling glints from bright flecks and gleaming stone structures in the distance. Patches of strange fungi dotted the floor, including capped stalks standing as tall as a the priest and glowing puffballs almost a yard wide. High ledges rose fifteen to twenty feet above the floor on the north, south, and western walls. A narrow passageway exited the chamber to the south, and a flight of carved stone stairs descended from the south edge of the western ledge to a path that meandered through the center of the chamber toward a small iron door in the eastern wall. The entire chamber sighed with a soft, cool breeze rising toward the surface far above.
Crossing to the stairwell, expecting to circle back around to the entrance of this level of the ruins, they came up into what appeared to be a massive burial chamber. Bright crystals glimmered softly in the eerie light of the phosphorescent fungus. Weird, beautiful flows and structures of delicate stone graced the chamber. The western portion of the great cave – at the top of the stone steps – was divided from the rest of the chamber by a steep bluff some twenty feet high. The ceiling there was about half the height of the rest of the great chamber. A couple dozen large stone sepulchers lined the cavern walls, each painstakingly carved with intricate reliefs and designs. Dwarven runes marked each one.
Aramis bowed his head and praised the Queen before entering. Each of the sepulchers consisted of a stone vault of marble six feet long, four feet high, and three feet wide. The lids were carved in the likeness of grim dwarves in armor; the dwarf-runes proclaimed the occupant’s name and the names of his ancestors on the front of the tomb. Empty space below the name was reserved to record the dwarf’s deeds and manner of death, which appeared to have been left blank on most of the tombs. Finally, dire dwarf curses threatened doom and retribution on any who dare to defile the honorable dead. Three of the sepulchers had entries in the empty stone space: the tombs of Borgol the Old, Gharin Orc-Doom, and Numik the Unlucky. Each of these three listed a date of death and described the dwarf’s fate. Borgol died of old age, Gharin died in battle, and Numik was killed by molten iron in a foundry accident.
Only Azal looked across the tombs with avarice in her mind, but one glance at the reverence in Aramis’s face told her they would not be taking dwarven treasures that day. Sighing wistfully, she confirmed that the exit to the north did indeed connect with the entry cavern where they’d battled the stirges, and the adventurers considered the narrow streambed exiting to the south of that chamber. The stream exited the high cavern through a passage only three feet tall, half filled by the swiftly flowing water. They searched the area and discovered numerous reptilian tracks – more lizardfolk, the assumed – and slighter marks around the banks of the stream. Clearly, something crawled in and out of the stream in this chamber regularly.
Crouching in the stream, Bhavik led the party through the narrow stream tunnel and came out on the other side, Aramis and Azal following behind. When they emerged on the other side of the cavern wall, he came under attack by more lizardfolk wielding strange narrow tubes, from which they fired poisoned darts. The warden moved to engaged the nearest lizardfolk, wrenching him from his hiding spot with his vine-like sword attack. More darts flew past Bhavik who was clubbed soundly by his melee opponent. Aramis and Azal struggled with the slippery streambed as they entered the chamber, and failed to aid their shifter companion.
Evading Bhavik’s next stab, the club-wielding lizardfolk drubbed him again, as he and Azal were hit by poison darts. Aramis struck the first lizardfolk with daunting light and shook off the immobilizing poison. Azal managed to slash hard at the creature, penetrating its tough scales and drawing blood. The warden took a step back, drawing the club-happy lizardfolk with him, and the creature continued to wail on him with the club while darts continued to fly around Bhavik’s head. Aramis finished the creature off with a lance of faith, while Azal moved forward swiftly and jumped across the stream to face off with the second lizardfolk. Bhavik leapt wildly across the running stream, moving to support Azal. The flanked lizardman clubbed Bhavik, while the remaining darter finally stuck him with a poisoned needle.
Aramis crossed the room, but the third lizardfolk evaded his radiant lance. Azal took advantage of the flank and cut deep into her foes scaly hide again. The fight began to turn against the lizardfolk, and before too much longer they all lay dead on the cavern floor. The heroes paused to catch their breath and take a look around the chamber. The grisly trophies decorating the room must have represented two or three weeks of carnivorous feasts for the lizardfolk tribe. Apparently, the creatures liked to let their meat age a bit before eating, and most of the carcasses here (animal and orc) were appallingly decayed. Narrowly keeping down their gorge, the adventurers regained their feet and considered a muddy door to the south.