With Koriah and her father safely ensconced in the lighthouse, the party and their newest
meatshields allies began their foray into the chambers beneath the abbey. The door with the combination lock had slammed shut; apparently it did that and relocked itself after a minute or so of being open. Fortunately, there was a standard latch on the other side, and the party passed through it without worry. Theodora did pause briefly to look over the lock itself, a metal plate fashioned in the shape of a moonlike skull. After a few seconds of consideration, she recalled that the skull moon was the holy symbol of Groetus, God of the End Times, though whether that fact held any significance she could not say.
Scratchy, for his part, had no interest in holy symbols, at least not ones he couldn’t sell, and the lock reeked of arcane magic that probably made it more trouble than it was worth. Leaving the big noisy creatures behind, he crept quietly down the stairs they found on the other side of the door. The room at the bottom was apparently a spirits cellar, for it was filled with crates, barrels, kegs, and racks for wine. Unfortunately, someone with a taste for destruction had also been through here, for many of the containers were broken open and shattered, and the smell of dried-out beer permeated the room. Scratchy hugged a wall and slipped behind a rack near the entrance, hoping the light and noise at the top of the stairs would cause anything hiding here to reveal itself.
Sure enough, when the giants began clumping downward, there was motion behind some of the intact crates. Scratchy made out one, maybe two, maybe more humanlike shapes aiming bows at the entrance, as well as whispering back and forth in a language that sounded vaguely like Undercommon. He could just barely see them, but they hadn’t noticed him. Once again their foes were sneaky, but not goblin sneaky! Scratchy relayed the information to the rest of the party through the Message spell, and Theodora called everyone to a halt. “Surrender to us and you won’t be harmed,” she called down below. There wasn’t any answer, and the party resolved to do things the hard way.
Milacent and Helanda were the first non-goblins to enter the room, and as soon as they did the stillness was broken by the sudden streak of arrows whizzing through the air, their metal heads glimmering in the torchlight. Unfortunately for the ambushers, they were much better at hiding than they were at shooting, and the arrows all clattered harmlessly against the stone walls. Milacent was momentarily surprised than no missile had struck her, then grinned and set about the business of killing her attackers.
Scratchy too took part in the fight, popping out behind cover to take shots at whoever was visible. There were more of these things than he had thought at first, and as the party poured into the room he saw one of them run away down a corridor. He figured it was going to get help, and he didn’t have to wait long. Seconds after it had left it came running back, screeching at the top of its lungs, and behind it was an enormous metal man that whirred and clicked with every step. The scarab Scratchy wore confirmed his suspicion: it was a golem, albeit of a strange clockwork variety. The humanoid was running ahead of it, then suddenly slipped and fell. Over by the stairs, Zelcor smiled contentedly. The floor where the thing had fallen was coated with grease that he had magically conjured just for that purpose, and it was good to see his plan had been effective. Just how effective, he would soon see. The humanoid made increasingly panicked attempts to get up as the golem approached, but try as it might it kept on slipping on the grease. Then the golem was upon it, and everyone realized that it wasn’t actually an ally of the creatures, it was a killing machine that they were hoping to aim at the party. Now, however, it grabbed the fallen humanoid before it and pinned it to the floor with two enormous hands. That seemed painful enough, but then various compartments in its body opened and from them unfolded a multitude of blades and gears and other instruments of pain, turning its fallen prey into a bright red spray that spattered throughout the room.
Milacent and Helanda finished off the last of the ambushers and turned their attention to this new threat. Moving onto the grease, it fell as well, but with its long arms it reached out and grabbed Helanda anyway. She struggled against it, then with a little help from Scratchy’s ranger magic wrenched herself free just before it pulled her into its spinning blades. Milacent, whipping with the spine flail, had a somewhat easier time of it, but everyone knew that the person wearing the Golembane Scarab would be the one to take this thing down. Milacent shot a look at Scratchy, who was already firing. One arrow, then another, then another, went into the golem, until finally it shuddered and exploded in a cloud of metal shards. Helanda and Milacent took the brunt of the blast, and ended up bloodied but still standing. And then everything was still again.
Once the wounded had been healed, Theodora looked over the bodies of the humanoids that had attacked them. They were gangly, hairless humanoids, with skin the same color as the stone they lay upon. “Skulks!” Theodora announced triumphantly, “A race of humanoids with the ability to change their skin color to match their surroundings. A very sneaky bunch, as you can see.”
“But not goblin sneaky!” Scratchy retorted.
The other thing that everyone noticed was the arrows the skulks used: their heads were made of a pale grey metal apparently softer than lead, for they had all been completely deformed when they had struck the stone walls. Why anyone would use such terrible arrows no one could guess.
That was a mystery for another time, however, and the party pressed forward deeper into the tunnels. Scratchy went scouting ahead again, and found a cistern, a door encrusted with ice, and as expected, more skulks waiting in ambush in a room at the end of a long corridor. Figuring that the ice door could wait, the party prepared to attack the skulks. As they were setting up, the ettin’s two heads were having a vicious argument over who was preferred by “The Lady.”
“Lady! Tell him I am your favorite!” one said.
“No! You are stupid! Lady says I am favorite!” cried the other.
“Tell you what,” Theodora responded, “Why don’t you walk that hall and tell me what you see. The one who tells me the best is my favorite.”
“I go!” the heads responded in unison. They clomped down the hall, followed by the hill giant that Theodora had likewise encouraged to accompany them. When they were about halfway down the skulks opened fire with a rain of their terrible arrows, and the now-enraged ettin and giant charged into their midst, weapons swinging.
“Don’t all follow them,” Scratchy warned, pointing to a corridor branching off from the main one. “There’s more skulks that way. They’ll probably try to spring a second ambush once the fight’s in full swing.”
Helanda and Zelcor agreed to stay behind and watch for the second ambush, while Milacent and Theodora went off to join the charmed giant and ettin. That fight went about as well for the skulks as you would expect. The ettin and giant absorbed their first volley of arrows and charged undaunted into their midst, clearing the way for Milacent to come in behind it and start knocking down anyone who tried to flee, or even just back out of the ettin’s long reach. It very quickly became apparent that they were not going to stop this whirlwind of death they’d encountered, nor be able to run away. Out of six initial skulks, soon only three were left standing, all bleeding profusely. They looked at each other, then one after the other screamed in Undercommon, “I die for Yamasoth!” As each one did, a wave of negative energy swept out from him, draining the life force of everyone nearby. Theodora felt the cold darkness of the wave sweep over her, then looked at the other skulks. Surely their attack wouldn’t harm their comrades, she thought, but no: every time the negative energy was released, they flinched in pain. These things were killing each other in order to inflict some damage on the party before they died.
“They’re crazed suicidal cultists!” she shouted, “Finish them off now!”
In the meantime, the second ambush had sprung, and Helanda and Zelcor were dealing with another group of skulks. Two tried to come forward and flank Helanda, but another of Zelcor’s Grease spells put them on the ground. Two more fired arrows at the former Grey Maiden, who ducked confidently behind her shield. Much to her surprise, an arrow passed directly through the shield and her armor to nick her in the side. “What is this?” she exclaimed, for there wasn’t even a hole in the shield where the arrow had passed. It had simply gone through the heavy steel shield and armor as if they weren’t there. Perturbed as Helanda was, she began to understand why the skulks used such (otherwise) terrible arrows.
In the other fight, the skulks were all dead, and Theodora was doing some initial healing. “Well,” she said, “they succeeded in irritating us. And all so they could die for their false god.” She was preparing to heal everyone some more when Milacent went off to join Helanda and Zelcor in their fight, followed by the giant and ettin. They arrived to find Helanda slicing away at the skulks on the ground, while a Glitterdust spell illuminated the ones still trying, with much less success, to shoot arrows at her.
“Zelcor, dismiss the Grease spell,” Scratchy requested, and when the gnome complied Scratchy jumped on Fleabait’s back and rode past the remaining skulks, firing arrows all the way. “Ha ha! You’re no match for a goblin!” He exclaimed, and as he rode into the room they were in his confidence only grew. Then he saw something emerging from the shadows: the largest giant he had ever seen, wielding a similarly massive spear.
“Ack!” Scratchy shouted, and directed Fleabait away from the new combatant. Theodora, arriving on the scene, had a much different reaction. “You will make an excellent servant,” she said, and put forth her hand to cast another Charm Monster spell.
Much to her dismay, the creature did not immediately become her friend. “Witch!” it shouted in Giant, “Your trickery will not work on me!” In one tremendous step it moved to the center of the room, then with its massive reach lashed out to strike Theodora.
The priestess staggered backward, badly hurt but still standing. “You hurt the Lady! I kill you!” the charmed ettin screamed, and rushed forward at the new threat. He struck at it, but it shrugged off his blow and returned one its own: a spear thrust straight through its chest.
“Weak-minded fool!” it proclaimed as the ettin fell to the ground, “You have let this little creature control you!”
Milacent stepped into the room and surveyed the damage: the ettin down and Theodora heavily injured. Hoisting the spine flail, she lashed out at the new giant’s legs. It would be tough to bring down, but there was no screwing around with this thing. The flail struck it in the ankle, and it stepped toward Milacent, ready to strike. As soon as it put its weight on the injured ankle it winced in pain and came crashing to the ground.
With the monster down, the rest of the party filed into the room to do their thing. Zelcor blinded it with a Glitterdust spell, and the party’s charmed giant beat it mercilessly. Soon it too was dead on the floor.
Theodora limped up to touch the corpse of the new giant, trying not to bleed too much as she did. “Taiga Giant,” she announced when she had ascertained its nature, “immune to enchantment and illusion spells. That’s why I couldn’t charm it.”
The giant she had charmed had other things on his mind, however. “So,” he said, “I am your favorite.”
Looking over at the ettin bleeding to death on the ground, Theodora decided just to nod.