15 March, 103 CY
Having begrudgingly spent one more night recovering from their encounters with the bugbear gardeners, the three adventurers made their way back through the quiet galleries. The destruction of the goblinoids apparently went unnoticed during the rest of the previous day and night. Making their way back to the northernmost arboretum where the flail-wielding goblin’s body still lay, Bhavik and Azal examined the wooden door there that appeared to provide the only path forward.
“Certainly there are greater dangers yet ahead,” said the warden. “We should proceed with caution.”
The priest nodded, “Agreed. Azal, would you check it for traps, please?”
“Sure,” replied the tiefling, setting about the task.
After a few moments she reported it clear, and Aramis sparked a sunrod that he’d found in Sir Braford’s backpack. Bhavik opened the door to reveal a short, narrow hallway to leading south, the western wall of which opened into a larger chamber after about twenty feet. All was still and quiet.
Bhavik looked back over his shoulder and said, “Aramis, let’s just run the room and deal with the fallout as we go.”
“Fate wills what it will,” intoned the cleric.
The three moved forward into the chamber. Dragon-carved granite blocks tiled the walls and ceiling, though many were crumbled and broken, creating stony debris on the floor. A single wooden door stood in the middle of the north wall, and a huge marble statue of a rearing dragon stood in the curve of the western wall. They eye sockets of the dragon were empty, but a red glow still lingered there, emanating a sinister crimson light across the chamber. The effulgence cast an inky shadow behind the statue’s wide wings. A crumbling 5-foot-diameter circular redstone tile was inset in the floor just in front of the rearing dragon carving. Runes were carved around the circular tile’s inner edge.
Aramis moved forward to examine the sigils which looked similar to the Iokharic runes they’d seen elsewhere in the citadel. “Bhavik, I don’t suppose you can read Draconic?” he asked.
The warden approached the statue, but shook his head. “I’m ashamed to admit that the intellectual pursuits were never easy for me.
Azal had been scanning the area for threats and shrugged. “It doesn’t look trapped,” she said uncertainly.
Bhavik blinked as he caught sight of something lurking in the shadow of the statue, and his sword was out in an instant. “My guess would be that we’re supposed to place something – GAH!” said Aramis, as the warden suddenly lashed out at the statue with a pair of sword thrusts.
Glowing red eyes reeled backwards and a wispy, vaguely humanoid form was revealed. The icy blade cut a swathe of the darkness from the wraith, but the shadowstuff seemed to knit itself back together before the adventurers’ eyes.
“Focus your attacks on this one!” Bhavik bellowed in a furious tone. The shadow spirit raked the shifter with insubstantial claws and sapped his life force while a second wraith peeled off from the other side of the statue and flew through the surprised adventurers to flank the alert warden.
Recovering his wits, Aramis took a stepped up next to the nearer wraith, trying to avoid stepping on the red circle. He stamped his crook down onto the stone floor and turned undead, sending a radiant burst outward. The light burned the wraiths’ shadowy bodies and sent one of them flying across the chamber to the east, and divine fetters held them both in place. Bhavik shook off the weakness wrought of the incorporeal claws and slashed the nearer wraith again, before stepping back out of its reach. Azal send her dagger spinning into it next, her magic dagger tearing a bit of the shadowstuff from the wraith before reappearing in her hand. The far shadow spirit writhed impotently, but the wounded wraith raked Aramis furiously, weakening the priest with its necrotic touch before being shove away by the warden’s grasp.
Aramis took a step back and calmly said, “Burn, you bastard.” Then he blasted the offending spirit with a lance of faith, and the undead shadow dissipated into howling nothingness. The remaining wraith stirred, shaking off the immobilizing prayer as Bhavik crossed the chamber and launched a thorn strike, pulling the newly liberated shadow closer…and into a position for Azal to flank it. The tiefling seized the opportunity and swung her dagger flamboyantly, tearing out more shadowstuff before taking a step back. The spirit recovered a bit of its essence and streaked across the chamber to dive back into the statue’s shadow. From this haven, its claws slashed Aramis again; the chill of the grave washed over him a second time.
The cleric of the Raven Queen had had enough. He took a step back and pounded the wraith with a prayer of daunting light. Even in his weakened state the holy wrath he unleashed was up to the task of sending the undead spirit screaming back into the darkness. Aramis dropped to one knee and offered a thankful prayer to his goddess. “Let’s catch our breath,” said Bhavik. “I’ll secure the door.” The others nodded and the adventurers rested for a few moments.
When they’d recovered, Azal searched the chamber more thoroughly. The tiefling found a loose stone in the wall behind the statue containing a small hoard, including some gold coins and a pair of flasks stoppered with ornate dragon heads – alchemist’s fire.
“Is that where you left those?” teased the cleric. “No wonder you couldn’t find them.”
The tiefling rolled her eyes. “Ha, ha.”
Bhavik broke the mood with a question. “Have we found anything in the place that would serve as eyes for a dragon statue? Something that came in a pair possibly?” Azal started to shake her head no, but Aramis looked thoughtful for a moment as he felt around in his pack for something. He retrieved a pair of bright red gems found in another part of the temple and handed them to Bhavik. The warden fitted the gems into the glowing eye sockets. They were a perfect fit, but nothing interesting happened apart from the crimson light being refracted through the multitude of facets.
Bhavik shrugged and recovered the gems, passing them back to the priest. “We should move along,” he said. “We can come back to this when there are no more lives in potentially imminent danger. Azal nodded emphatically.
The wooden door opened to reveal another small chamber. Leaning and completely fallen stone bookshelves filled the space, though a clear path connected the entrance with another wooden door on the far wall. The litter of torn and burnt pages, bindings, and scrolls formed disordered piles in the corners of the room. They searched the room, discovering a ritual book, a small amount of sanctified incense, and a mostly unscathed tome written in Draconic that appeared to be quite valuable. Securing these new treasures in their packs, the party moved forward.
Past the next door and around a corner to the east, damp and crumbled steps descended sharply. Aramis held the sunrod out to provide ample light for the group to see, which was good since the ubiquitous glowing moss was missing from the narrow passageway. The stairs led to a damp and narrow hallway in a state of disrepair that ended in another set of steps heading back up.
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” said Bhavik.
“I share it,” responded Aramis. “Let’s see what’s up there, then.”
The warden nodded, “Plow through, see where it gets us.”
Ascending the stairs revealed another short hall that turned abruptly south after a couple dozen feet. An extremely long hallway was revealed around the corner with a pair of doors resting on the east wall at the far end. The adventurers crept down the hall as best they could, alert for danger which did not reveal itself. When Bhavik came to the first door, he found it to be locked. He stopped, somewhat puzzled by this development.
“It’s stuck,” he said simply.
The tiefling blinked in surprise. “Really?”
“Seems to be,” the warden said. “I’ll try the other door.”
“Azal?” prompted Aramis, and Bhavik stopped. She nodded and retrieved her dusty tools, setting to work on the lock.
“You can unlock a door without a key?” asked the shifter.
“In theory,” Azal complained, as the lock thwarted her efforts. “Bah!” she sighed after several seconds of fruitless work. “I can’t seem to get it. I hope the other one isn’t locked.”
Bhavik led the others to the other door, and he opened it up without hesitation. Four goblins sorted twig and root piles on the floor of the sagging chamber beyond. The collapsed southern wall opened on a vast cavern. Pustules of luminescent fungus on the rough walls and high roof loom over a twilight grove of sickly briars, bushes, saplings, and other woody plants. Ruined walls and hollow towers protruded from the briars like islands in the sea. The goblins turned as the door opened and eagerly tossed their work aside.
“Vermin, my friends! Vermin ahead!” called out Bhavik.
“I thought I smelled something,” said Aramis.
The warden rushed the goblins laying about him wildly with his sword, and scoring a deep wound in one of the creatures. “Attack this one!” he directed, as he stomped the floor and drew the villains’ attention with his wrath. Azal’s dagger flew harmlessly over the injured goblin’s head as it slumped and clutched at its stomach wound. Aramis achieved similar results with his lance of faith. The three goblins next to Bhavik moved to flank him and then attacked with their spears. The fourth maneuvered farther south and lobbed a javelin back at the shifter. The missile grazed Bhavik and the unbloodied flanker stabbed him in the thigh.
Bhavik shouted, “You two take out the injured one! I’m going to weaken another link in the chain!”
“What if that one’s going to get help?” asked Aramis, concerned.
“Then chase it down and let me handle these guys!” returned the shifter.
After this pronouncement, Bhavik cut down the injured goblin, sliding his blade behind the distracted creature’s shoulder and in through the side of its spine. It crumpled to the ground as he turned away and took a step back from the other two. With no flanking opportunities, Azal closed with the nearest goblin and flamboyantly knifed it in the side. She took a step back to avoid the gout of blood from the screaming creatures fresh wound. The priest’s radiant lance further injured the goblin, and then he entered the chamber to stand beside Azal. The nearer goblins closed with Bhavik, and one drew blood. The javelineer advanced and lobbed his missile over Aramis’s head. In the wake of the goblins’ attack, a small horde of twig blights emerged from the undergrowth and slashed the adventurers with their poisoned claws.
Distracted by the new threat, Bhavik’s slash missed the injured goblin and allowed it to step away from him. He pursued the creature and Azal took advantage of the incidental flank on one of the twig blights to cut the plant-man down. Following up on this success, she deftly rushed the wounded goblin and cut him down as well. She spun around to face the other nearby twig blight as Aramis sent a pair of radiant lances at it. The latter flew truly and destroyed the miniature abomination. Momentarily free of the warden’s wrath, both goblins pulled javelins and maneuvered to greater positions, launching the missiles deep into Aramis. The twig blights followed suit, moving in tandem to flank the bloodied cleric and digging in with their poisoned claws.
Bhavik rapidly killed both of the offending plant-monsters, then closed with the goblins, intent on pinning them into the corner of the room. Aramis gasped his thanks as the warden blasted past him. Azal alos advanced to protect the priest, driving the nearer goblin farther back into the corner. Aramis took the moment’s respite to take a steadying breath and then whispered a healing word for himself. The Raven Queen answered her good and faithful servant. The goblins worked together, one distracting Bhavik while the other drove its spear deep into his side, before both sidled along the western wall maneuvering free of the corner.
The bloodied warden missed his next slash as the shifty goblin warrior ducked the blow and moved away from the wall. Bhavik moved into the space it had vacated, and Azal flanked the creature, stabbing deep into its side. Aramis uttered another healing word for the warden and struck out with another lance of faith, which flew wide. Again the goblins double-teamed Bhavik and another deep spear-wound appeared in his flesh. The creatures then criss-crossed, leaving the injured goblinoid farther from the threat of Azal.
Unfortunately for it, Bhavik launched another thorn strike and dragged the bloodied corpse to fall at his feet. The remaining goblin proved a little tougher than his companions had been. It stabbed the warden deeply again and avoided the adventurers’ attacks for several seconds. Bhavik let his instincts take over, gaining the affectations of his breed along with the fervor for battle, but the blood loss still affected his aim.
“I know your tricks, wolf man!” the goblin cried out in taunting Common. “I do not fear you!” Azal tried to capitalize on the gloating creature’s distraction, but it ducked her blade. “You, too! Stupid devil woman!” cackled the goblin, causing Azal’s eyes to blaze. Aramis tended to Bhavik’s wounds the mundane way, and the goblin shifted targets to the tiefling, but her furious parry knocked aside his spear thrust.
The distraction proved sufficient and Bhavik landed another blow, eliciting a hiss of pain from the goblin. Its smile disappeared moments before Azal drove her blade through the creature’s left eye. She pulled her blade free and growled, “Not so stupid now.” Then she slumped against the wall and breathed heavily.
“I could use the Queen’s blessing,” said Bhavik, wincing in pain.
Aramis nodded, “I shall have to catch my breath first.” He doused the light, and the adventurers spent a few moments recovering from the exertion of fighting supergoblin.
After seeing to the shifter’s wounds he asked, “Azal, are you alright?”
She waved him off. “Just a scratch from the twiggy things…thanks to Bhavik.” She offered the warden a weak smile.
The warden shrugged. “We’re lucky to be this far into things today. Best to keep that luck going with sound tactics.”
“Just so,” intoned Aramis. “You have a gift for it, I think.”
Azal nodded and said, “I’m just following your lead.”
Bhavik smiled grimly, “The elements favor me, and I do try to live up to their greatness.”
After they rested, Azal stood and examined the wooden door on the north wall, opposite the gaping hole that led to the twilight grove. “I wonder if it’s locked,” she said.
“And if it leads into the same room,” added Aramis.
The door was locked. Azal grunted and pulled out her tools again. “Let’s see,” she said.
“Don’t worry,” said the priest. “You can do it.” A few seconds of fruitless effort later he asked, “Can I help?”
The tiefling sighed. “I dunno. Bring the light closer maybe? I can’t see too well. The cleric moved to comply.
“I could try to burst the door,” suggested Bhavik.
She nodded. “If this doesn’t work, I’ll be happy to let you.”
Seconds later, the tumblers moved into the correct sequence and the lock clicked open. Azal blinked.
“Ah, that seems to have done it,” Bhavik said as she stepped back and Aramis doused the light. “But what are we in for now?” His voice sounded gleeful.
A layer of soil covered the floor of the office beyond the door. Rough wooden shelves, filled with a scattering of tomes and scrolls, lined the north and east walls. A rough-hewn desk stood in the center of the chamber, and fungus on the ceiling provided pale light, apparently in sufficient quantity to nourish several small bushes and pale saplings that grow in the soil. The three entered the uninhabited chamber and began their search.
Bhavik found a finely carved quarterstaff resting in one corner of the room and a green gem sitting on one of the shelves.
“Look, a stick,” he said. “Odd to be in here. It looks well cared for.”
Searching the desk, Aramis found a healing draught and a sack of gold coins. He passed the potion to Bhavik and inspected the staff. After several moments, his eyes widened and he said, “I hope you two don’t mind if I keep this?”
Azal shook her head distractedly. She had found a well-kept book with a title in language she couldn’t read. She held it up and asked, “You guys have any idea what this says?”
Bhavik recognized the words on the cover of the book as Primordial, and Azal handed the tome over to him. “This says ‘Treasures of the Fire Lords,’” he announced.
“Who are they? Can you give us a brief rundown?” requested Aramis, drawing nearer and sparing an uneasy glance at the cavern to the south.
“Sure,” Bhavik said, pulling the tome open.
“Fuck!” shouted the shifter, as sparks and ash fell to the soil, leaving nothing behind. He had escaped the explosion unscathed, but Aramis had not been so lucky and nursed fresh burns. “Damnable traps.”
“The ‘Fire Lords’ are bastards,” Azal said.