21 March (Continued)
The ceiling must have been thirty feet overhead, and the far end of the cave was lost in darkness. A musty scent permeated the area – someone or something lived there. The remnants of butchered game animals hung from crude wooden stakes along the cavern walls, and the adventurers spotted a pair of orc corpses treated in the same fashion. In the shadows to the southwest, they saw a mud wattle that seemed to be plugging a hole in the wall – some sort of crude, heavy door. Once they’d recovered from their latest encounter, they approached the door-plug and listened for threats.
The sounds of dripping water and the occasional splash were the only noises to come from beyond the makeshift portal. Expecting trouble, Bhavik motioned to the others before grabbing hold of the door and attempting to pull it open. He was surprised when the heavy mud door did not budge. Aramis stepped up and between the two of them, they were able to clear the way.
The passage opened into a long, low cavern that quickly broke up into narrow, twisting passages leading off into darkness. The ceiling was only about five feet in height, so low that they all had to stoop to proceed. A number of rock columns met the stone overhead, and the air was thick with lizardfolk stench. The floor of the cavern was littered with refuse from the creatures’ meals and gnawed bones of dubious origin. Pools of murky water had collected in the low caves, making the way forward difficult and soggy. Something splashed and hissed in the darkness, and they heard the soft padding of scaly feet on rock from another direction.
Bhavik and Azal moved into the low caves for a closer look, with Azal stepping in to the doorway, and Aramis bringing up the rear. Suddenly, a dagger-wielding lizardfolk warrior charged out of the murky water to the west, narrowly missing Bhavik who managed to pivot out of the blade’s path at the last second. Nearly surprised, the warden managed to continue his spin and use the momentum to strike his opponent with a staggering blow. His sword struck the creature with a sound like crashing thunder, and the force of it clearly disoriented the scaly foe. While he was focused on the blade, another lizardfolk with mottled brown scales charged him from the darkness, smacking the shifter with a heavy club. Azal then flung her dagger at the dazed lizardfolk, her blade slicing deeply across its chest before reappearing in her hand.
The bloodied creature slashed wildly at Bhavik, then slunk back into the water as another dagger wielder emerged from the darkness. The warden managed to fend off the crude weapon, then angled forward to draw the attention from any more potential threats from his allies. He attempted to end the life of the injured foe, but it evaded his blade. Two more mottled savages joined the first but the shifter avoided each brutal swing of their clubs. The tiefling moved forward to try to pull some of the creatures’ attention off Bhavik, slicing into the nearest scaly hide. Aramis muttered a quick prayer and pasted a savage with daunting light, dazzling it with the brilliant beam of holy energy.
More blades flashed, and Bhavik felt poison trying to course through his veins. Calling upon the primal force that sustained him, his body immediately neutralized the venom, and he lashed out around him in an effort to even the odds. He laid the bloodied foe low, and with a look of anguish, slipped below the murky water among its brethren. The enraged savages failed to impale the warden with their poisoned tails, and the injured one took a step away from the melee. “Azal! Make for the door to better our position!” Bhavik barked, realizing they held no advantage in the low caves. Noticing the faltering of the lizardfolk beside her, the tiefling drove her dagger into its neck and pushed it down into the black water near its fallen fellow. Aramis’s lance of faith flew just over its mark, striking harmlessly into one of the rough pillars.
The remaining blade wielder moved up on Azal, but she leaned outside of its reach. Seeing the subject of his attention moving to attack Azal, Bhavik took the opportunity to lash out with the will of his ancestors and dragged it back. Then he stepped back and impaled the offender with his sword, pulling it farther away from the tiefling. The remaining savages moved up, but the warden had already picked up on their crude fighting technique and handily blocked or dodged each blow. Azal focused on the nearest foe, and sliced more scales from its chest, drawing blood. Aramis’s prayers apparently continued to fall on deaf ears.
The dagger-wielding lizardfolk fled into the darkened water, apparently recognizing it was outmatched. Bhavik, caught up in the heat of battle, positioned poorly and Azal exchanged blows with one of the savages, which jabbed her with its barbed tail. Several more long moments of combat pass before all of the lizardfolk lie slain on the stone floor or in the water.
“Let’s look these guys over, see what else is in this room,” said Bhavik. Without resting, the three pressed farther into the low caverns, discovering a clutch of eggs and young lizardfolk guarded by what might be the females of the tribe. They were unarmed, but hissed bravely at the sight of the invaders. Azal frowned at the sight and reluctantly followed the men away from the small cave. Leaving the apparently helpless lizardfolk at their backs, the adventurers headed south down another narrow tunnel.
It opened up into a larder or dining room containing more corpses, one a recently gnawed deer carcass. Another tunnel led back to the north and terminated in a cave some forty feet wide and twenty feet deep. The uneven ceiling was perhaps ten feet high, and large creatures dwelled within. Three white-scaled lizards hissed and snapped, but the adventurers could see that apparently sturdy chains on their hind legs tethered them in place against the far wall. The agitated creatures twisted in frustration at their bonds. Leather harnesses – apparently some strange adaptation of saddles – hung on pegs hammered into the wall. The party contemplated this for a moment before returning to the southeast corner of the main lizardfolk cave. There, they decided to rest from their exertions.
The lizardfolk did not give them that kind of time.
The creature that had fled into the darkness had apparently alerted others, and these came in force while the party tried to recover their strength. Javelins flew at Bhavik, who was impaled by one and once more felt poison coursing through his nigh-exhausted body. He took a deep breath and moved up to try to make the creatures’ lives more difficult. He hoped it would be enough to prevent them from killing the entire party. Joining the new breed of warriors from the northernmost part of the lizardfolk caves was some sort of mystic armored by a breastplate made of bone. It bore a spear and conjured foul mists to poison and muddle the heroes’ minds.
They fought back as best they could, calling upon their most potent abilities just to gain the slightest advantage in the low caves and water that impeded their escape. Bhavik called out to the primal powers that be and they granted his request to take the fight directly to the lizardfolk chieftain. The warden vanished from his position amidst the lesser warriors and flowed up from the stone beside the mystic, striking it with his blade. Azal managed to break free of the mess, too and joined Bhavik in his fight near the mud-wattle door-plug, leaving Aramis to fend for himself. It was a desperate melee, and though the shifter and tiefling had left the warriors’ numbers diminished, the cleric had trouble breaking free of his foes without sustaining life-threatening injuries. Still, he used every last healing prayer at his disposal and managed to win free, joining his companions near the door.
Then he was drubbed unconscious by a savage’s vicious overhand club strike.
More desperate now, Bhavik and Azal fought a retreating battle, trying to win free of the low tunnels and drag Aramis with them at the same time. The mystic conjured a different type of mist – thick and cloying, it was as though the air had become as dense as water, and as difficult to traverse. Even killing the creature did not disperse the mist, but despite all this, they managed to bring the fight out into the entry chamber. With Aramis pulled away from the melee, Bhavik and Azal worked together to fend off the last of the lizardfolk warriors. Their foes, enraged by the slaughter of their people, were not interested in showing the invaders any mercy. At the end of it all the adventures proved the superior combatants. Azal sliced the throat of the last remaining lizardfolk, and its blood sprayed across her feet as he fell and finally lay still. She was too weary to care.
Tending Aramis’s wounds as best they could to make sure he wouldn’t die in the next few minutes at least, they hauled the senseless cleric back up the stairs to the relative safety of the Mountain Door. Once he regained consciousness, they would decide how to proceed.