“I’ve got an idea. Get the hellhound corpse.”
“The one that’s just been lying in the hallway for a day?”
“We’ve been killing things this all this time, and now you’re squeamish?”
The party was standing in front of the pool they’d seen humanoid creatures swimming around in. They’d explored the other passages, rested up a bit, and now it was time to see what was on the other side. Trouble was, they weren’t sure they were up for fighting whatever was in there as they swam across. So Scratchy had a plan.
“Here it is,” said Milacent, carrying the dead hellhound. The stench was not quite as unbearable as they had expected.
“Good. Let me show you a cave fishing trick,” and with that Scratchy cut off a piece of the carcass, tied it to a rope, and threw it into the pool. The creatures swarmed toward it greedily, and as they did Scratchy pulled it back toward the water’s edge.
“Now!” he said, “Kill them with your bows!”
And they did.
With the creatures dead the party made it safely across the pool to the other side, emerging with only a little extra blood and gore on their clothing (which had hardly been pristine to begin with). After drying off as best they could, they drew themselves up again in marching order and made their way down the dark passageway beyond the pool.
The first thing they found was a room dominated by a large cistern at its center. Water from this cistern extended out into three troughs heading east, south and west. As the party had entered the room from the north, they figured they’d have to cross the troughs at some point. Luckily, there were wooden planks laid across the troughs to serve as makeshift bridges.
“Hey Scratchy, you know caves,” began Theodore, “are these planks safe to …”
“No. Absolutely not.” answered Scratchy, “They’ll break the moment anyone steps on one. But they’re easy to jump across. Look!” And with that Scratchy leaped across the trough to the east.
Milacent looked down at the metal armor she was wearing and replied, “No, not so easy.”
Presently, however, they did make it across, with Milacent taking off her armor and tossing it across before making the jump herself. That done, they made their way to the east. They chose this way because there was a faint sound coming from that direction. As they drew closer, they realized it was someone singing. It was in a language none of them could understand, but Theodore, with a little trepidation, realized it was Necril, the language of the dead. They readied what magic weapons they had and crept closer.
The singing was coming from a circular room whose floor was entirely taken up by a pool of water. A stone bridge allowed passage over the water to a corridor on the far side, and as soon as the party’s light reached into the room, the singing stopped. Scratchy stooped low and scanned the room before pointing at the walls, “Look at that,” he said.
Low on the walls, just above the water, there was some kind of mural. Upon closer inspection, they saw it was a landscape portrait of Magnimar, painted in such a way that the water in the room formed the waters of the Varisian Gulf in the mural. Whoever painted it had definite talent, albeit accompanied by a predilection for reds and browns. Whether this was the result of artistic choice or lack of sufficient painting materials was yet unknown. What was known was that the paint was still wet.
“Zelcor,” Milacent said, “cast a light spell on this rock.” Zelcor did so immediately, for had an idea what Milacent was up to. Sure enough, she immediately tossed the rock into the waters below. There was a flash, and a flicker of something moving beneath the surface, away from the light. “Everyone, draw your bows,” she commanded. Milacent had never encountered singing, painting undead before, but artistic, musical undead were still undead, and they invariably had a tendency to want to gnaw on the flesh of the living. Whatever their mysterious serenader was, it was probably hiding underneath the bridge. The party was just coming up with a plan to draw it out when they heard a raspy voice calling out in Common.
“Stop,” the voice said, “No fight, no kill.”
All eyes turned to Theodore. “Who are you?” the priest called out.
“Lockerbie Brast, Captain. Captain I was. Captain of the Liza Jane.”
“The Liza Jane? Is that a ship? Where is it?”
“A ship, and a woman. The ship struck the Crow and sank. The woman lives still in Magnimar. A favor for me do, and I will tell you of the dangers.”
“Wait, what dangers?” demanded Scratchy.
“First promise. Promise to go to the ship, get the brooch, bring it to the woman. Go to Liza Jane, bring to Liza Jane. Promise and I will tell you.”
Scratchy figured the ship in question was the wreck he had seen on the sea floor earlier. He’d planned to go back to it eventually anyway, and maybe they could make a detour to find this Liza Jane woman too. “We promise. Absolutely.” he replied.
The captain was true to his word. To the south of where they were, he said there were giant eels living in the water. To the south of the first chamber, the one with the cistern and the wooden planks, was a chamber filled with gas that was both poisonous and flammable, and off to the west was a room filled with deadly green slime. The party thanked the captain for his knowledge, repeated their promise, and then crossed the bridge. As they walked away they all looked at Scratchy. “Well yes, we’ll go to the ship.” he said in response. “Eventually.”
Given that every path contained danger, the party chose to head towards the eels, both because that way was the closest and because they figured it was the easiest to handle. Along the way they found some (non-animated) skeletons with some gold, a pearl, and a torch which sprang to bright light the moment they picked it up.
“Ooh, an everburning torch,” said Milacent, “I’ll be taking that.”
A little further on, they found another room with a stone bridge crossing over water. According to the captain, this was where the eels were. Scratchy slipped quietly into the chamber while his comrades waited behind, weapons drawn. As they’d been warned, two long, snakelike heads came shooting out of the water. The eels crawled up onto the bridge, and much to Scratchy’s chagrin chased after him as he fled back towards Milacent and the others. Soon enough, though, they were dead, but not before taking a bite out of the goblin.
“Well, it appears our undead guide was telling the truth,” Scratchy said, and they continued on. Creeping through the passages that led out of the room with the eels, the party climbed up a flight of spiral stairs, and then again crept towards a sound: not singing this time, but arguing. Scratchy snuck forward to a balcony, and peeking over it saw a room lit by glowing fungus. In the center, 3 small, blue-skinned creatures stood arguing in a language no one could understand. And since they couldn’t understand them, the party decided to kill them.
Scratchy motioned everyone to join him with their bows on the balcony. As they crept closer, he grimaced at the tremendous amount of noise Milacent in her metal armor was making. Fortunately, the creatures were too distracted by their argument to take note of the ambush being prepared. When all was ready, the party let fly with their missile weapons. And then they got a nasty surprise.
The various sling stones, arrows, and crossbow bolts they used struck but did not slay the three arguing creatures (Theodore would later use his powers to determine that they were called derros). Now alerted, the derros evaded the next volley and gesticulated wildly towards their attackers. Wild as their motions were, they were not without purpose. As soon as they were finished, a cacophany of sound erupted around Theodore, Scratchy, Zelcor, and Milacent, who unfortunately were all close enough together and a single spell would affect them all. The sound caused pain to shoot through their bodies, but more importantly caused them to drop their weapons and be unable to act. As each of the three creatures cast their spells, a new explosion of sound enveloped their attackers, and as Scratchy stood hunched over in pain, a single thought ran through his head: if they can do that again, we’re dead.
Fortunately, the derros could only summon up a sound burst once a day, and now their fate was sealed. Milacent drew her sword and leaped over the balcony railing, charging towards her enemies. They tried to conceal themselves with magical darkness, but the everburning torch canceled it out. Zelcor summoned up a cloud of glittering dust, blinding two of the derros, who all ran off in different directions. Milacent immediately chased one down and killed it, then ran after its blinded friend. That one rubbed the dust out of its eyes just in time to see Milacent’s sword slash down and end its life. The third one retreated behind a stone door, only to return with some bizarre magical creature that appeared to be stitched together from the corpses of several different types of creatures. The stench it emitted was horrific, but the party was ready. Theodore, Milacent, and Scratchy took it down, and Zelcor eliminated its derro master. Soon, it was once again just the party surrounded by the bodies of their enemies.
As they did after every battle, the party searched the fallen for any kind of salvageable treasure. As they were doing so, however, a sudden compulsion came over Scratchy to look at a nearby wall. He walked up to it, and then realized he had reached into his pack and put his hand around the shard without even realizing it. There was something in this wall, that was certain, but he was a goblin, and it was too bright to search properly.
“Hey, put that torch away,” he shouted at Milacent, and when it was comfortably dark again, he ran his hands over the wall, finding the switch he somehow had already known was there. There was a soft click, and the wall slid open, revealing a passage beyond. The party gathered around to peer into the darkness; they saw a cobweb-choked corridor leading to a flight of stairs going down, and in the corner was the giant dessicated corpse of something that was like a spider, but different in disturbing ways. The party looked at each other, and decided they should save this route for later.
Going back to the derros, they checked out the rooms they’d been attempting to run to. There they found drugs, surgical instruments, and notes: pile upon pile of notes written in a wild, illegible style. Theodore gathered them together and cast his comprehend languages spell in order to read them, but it wasn’t much better. They all went along more or less the same lines:
“… bodies decay, but when together not! Whywhywhywhywhywhywhywhy? Try to learn the secret, try to bring the rot, but nothing! Portioque is laughing at me! I can hear him in my sleep! Back to bodies, make them change, bring the light! Know the secret!”
Another one in a different hand read:
“Bile. Black. Extracted. Useful. Spore. Brown. Injected. Death. Answer is near. Know it is true. Others block my research. Claim too many die. Draw attention. Fools. I am the genius. Soon they will see. Forced to acknowledge. I will smile.”
That one was accompanied by a strange device that resembled a common physician’s bloodletting tool, but which radiated magic. Theodore took it and decided to keep it for further study. They continued their search, and soon found yet another room, with yet more notes and tools. This time, however, there was a human male standing in the corner, staring blankly at a wall. Scratchy could have snuck past him, but he was curious and walked past him in the open. The man’s gaze followed him, but he made no other motion. That was fascinating enough, but there was something else about this man, something familiar. As the rest of the party filed into the room, Scratchy realized what it was.
“Look!” he said, “It’s Keiran the Magnificent!”