Entry 4. 11th & 12th day of Tarsakh, 1492 DR.
The general consensus amongst the Company is that they have an opportunity to ensure they are fully rested in a defensible position, one that may not arise after they head down below. They discuss the possibility of orc patrols returning and agree that the kitchen is the best place to make camp. The underground entrance is easily guarded and the chimney provides an exit route. They make their way back through the complex to the store room to indulge in some light looting before lunch.
Balkris lifts a loose flag stone to reveal a metal strongbox containing a not inconsiderable sum of gold pieces and a leather flask of water. With no magical properties discernible to their arcane experts the Company decide, based on its inclusion in the strongbox, that the water must be Holy. Lamb returns from a sojourn to skin the two dire wolves and, with a slight shake of his head, determinedly begins to search for some ale.
This idea is met with enthusiasm and before long a veritable party is in full swing in the kitchen. Whilst there are bear steaks enough for all, a slightly worse for wear Veth and Homte opt instead for rat, a homely reminder for both of them, like rickets and stabbings, of happy a childhood growing up in the big city.
Overcome by the air of camaraderie, the normally terse Balkris is inspired to regale the Company with a draconic folktale, but is disappointed by the cool reception it receives. Lamb, for one, prefers his stories about maidens to have an entirely different moral. Or, preferably, a lack of them.
Unperturbed, Balkris whips out his pan flute to play a composition of his own devising. Dragonborn music, it transpires, loses more in translation than their stories. Thanatos, ever the diplomat, consoles a crestfallen Balkris with the encouraging, “the notes were played perfectly, they were just in the wrong order”. None of the party, however, have ever seen a panther howling in pain before, so the event it at least educational on one level.
As evening draws in the Company falls into their normal watch routine. The night passes uneventfully, except for the intermittent screeching, audible via the chimney, of what Balkris confirms is a dragon hunting the mountain side above.
The previous night’s cacophonic entertainment, or possibly the ale, results in a number of headaches in the morning as the group prepares to descend. Whilst there may be no connection between the dragon’s lair and the caves below, it is reasoned, it is best to be alert to the possibility.
The buzzing of stirges is heard as the Company approach the stairs and Homte suggests the lighting of torches, asserting this is the best way to remove beasts that attach themselves. Whilst Lamb has a suspicion this advice applies to leeches, rather than stirges, in the absence of any real knowledge it is followed nonetheless.
The narrow winding stairwell descends hundreds of feet down, steps carved into the floor of a natural split in the rock. Some way down a stream crosses their path, gushing from their right into a narrow worked tunnel on the opposite side. After a cursory inspection by Homte reveals little of interest, the Company continues down the steps. Eventually the crevasse opens into a large natural cavern, the stairs descending to the floor down a ledge along the north wall. Homte’s superior darkvision is able to discern another stream crossing the cave in the distance, likely the lower outfall of the one above from its direction of flow, as well as two exits on the other side. His experience of the Underdark leads him to suspect stirges may be roosting amongst the stalactites and, warning his companions, he proceeds cautiously.
As the Company clusters to cross the swift flowing channel, Homte’s instinct is proved correct as a swarm of the bat like parasites envelope them. Thanatos and Balkris are singled out but in contrast to the previous encounter, the co-ordinated actions of the party quickly crush, swat and skewer the entire swarm without serious damage. In traditional Company fashion the plan to use the torches is utterly ignored.
Feeling confident, the Company move off. As they jump the swift flowing water one by one, Homte and Lamb scout ahead down the south-east corridor. Thanatos crosses the stream last and is surprised by a reeking reptilian form that suddenly surges from beneath where it has been lying in wait, perfectly camouflaged. Failing in its attempt to drag the burly tiefling into the water, Thanatos is subjected to a veritable flurry of claws as a second emerges. Barring one crushing bite, however, the orcish plate once again saves him. Vicious sword work and firebolts from a fast acting Veth rapidly overwhelm the troglodytes and the party observe additional dark shapes swimming rapidly away, ambush curtailed by the furious response.
Returning rapidly down the corridor at the sound of fighting, Homte and Lamb are made aware of the troglodytes and in turn lead the party to their discovery in the next cavern.
The corridor opens into a huge natural chamber, more than 70 feet wide and its end beyond the range of Homte’s vision. Lit by naturally phosphorescent crystals glimmering amongst the stone, the vault was clearly considered sacred by the former inhabitants of the fortress, furnished as it is with dozens of carved dwarven sepulchres. The Company moves forward to inspect the images of long dead dwarves and see that the cavern is bisected by a bluff like feature, separating the upper chamber of tombs from a lower section carpeted in giant fungi.
Whilst Alwin’s stares in saprophytic fascination, Homte’s interest is in other areas. Moving to the most ornate tomb he can identify, the gnome grasps one end of the capstone and calls to Lamb for assistance. Frowning as he imputes Homte’s intentions, the Northman vehemently argues against looting the resting places of the dwarven fallen and refuses to help. Homte, unable to see the problem with robbing a dead dwarf’s tomb when you are already planning to loot his vault, is surprised when Balkris, Thanatos and Alwin side with Lamb. Veth is more accommodating and the pair soon have the lid off. After a short rummage around in the contents, Homte emerges from a cloud of musty dust holding a gold ring, carved in the shape of a dragon holding its tail in its mouth.
Balkris’ moral fortitude withers in the face of draconic themed jewellery and he excitedly joins in prising open tomb lids. An ornate warhammer inset with garnets is found next but nothing else. Disheartened by the paltry return and unsettled by Lamb’s scowling refusal to carry any of the “cursed” loot, Veth suggests checking the other exit from the ambush cave before pressing deeper into the tunnel network.
Warily backtracking in case of troglodyte ambush the Company enter a chamber of similar size to the sepulchre. Taking in the entrance to a worked passage leading from the north wall closest to them, the Company spot a troglodyte releasing the deadbolt of a crude wooden door further along the same wall. With a roar, a truly gigantic reptilian head emerges.
Without hesitation, Veth moves to get a clear line of sight and unleashes an arcing torrent of wild magic at the emerging behemoth. Aware that Veth must focus all his concentration to maintain the witchbolt, the rest of the company move to screen and flank him. A swath of entangling vines that erupt from the cavern floor at Alwin’s command is unable to halt the monster completely but slows its advance into the storm of missile fire from the warriors.
With a bellow the lizard tears itself free of the last vine and crosses the cavern floor at frightening speed toward Veth. Thanatos barely rolls to one side to avoid the looming maw that tries to swallow him whole and is unable to interpose himself between the sorceror and the thrashing tail that crashes down from overhead. Reflexively summoning a barrier of magical energy, the half-elf is unable to fully control the flow of wild energy channelling through him and visibly ages in the magical backlash.
The missile volleys have done their job though, and the beast is despatched in a welter of axe, claw and rapier blows before it can strike again. The troglodyte slips away in the confusion; Veth deadpans, “that fight has taken years off my life.”
Even Homte recoils from the stench emanating from the lizard’s “stable” and a draught of fresh air strikes the party from the worked tunnel closest. Following the crudely worked passage for several hundred yards the group emerge on the mountain side into the rays of the setting sun. Buoyed by the discovery of an alternate escape route they retrace their steps and follow the path of the escaping troglodyte to the south.
A clear path through a profusion of fungus in the small chamber beyond the battle field leads to a pool of water in the far corner. Thanatos’ eye, however, is drawn to the skeletal remains of a mail clad dwarf slumped on the other side of the room, a gleaming longsword, untouched by the passage of time, still clutched in its hands and the mark of Durgeddin visible on the blade.
As Thanatos hungrily snatches up the weapon a cloud of fungal spores explode from within the skeleton and he collapses to the floor, convulsing and cursing, “fucking troglodytes”. Alwin rushes to assist and seeing that the insidious spoors are beyond the scope mundane medicine begins to intone an incantation against poison inscribed on a scroll. With perfect annunciation Alwin counteracts the fungus and saves Thanatos. The charitable donation of a healing potion by Veth, thanks for standing between him and a giant lizard, revives the tielfing to consciousness.
A decidedly more cautious examination of the room reveals a second skeleton and a fine steel helmet, chased in silver and only slightly tarnished, is gingerly recovered. Lamb, examining the pool, discovers the underwater tunnel that undoubtedly served the escaping troglodyte.
Returning to the sepulchre room, the Company descend to the lower level and discover three exits. An iron door in the east wall is mentally marked as “vault” and will be checked once the approach is secure. Two tunnels, north and south, are set some distance above the cavern floor, one accessible by a slope of scree, the other via a short climb.
Lamb ascends easily enough but his scouting partner Homte, a recalcitrant mountaineer at best, is entreated by Balkris to accept a lift from Shadow. Natural climbers panthers may be, but not, it turns out, up sheer rock faces, especially when being ridden by gnomic tomb raiders. As the big cat struggles, alone, over the lip to join Lamb, a dull thud and vehement curses are heard from below.
As Lamb moves off to explore the tunnel further and the rest look on smirking, a bruised Homte berates Balkris, “you’re a shit entertainer and you’ve got a shit animal too.”
Exploring further on Lamb comes to another steep drop that opens into a narrow cavern. A stream emerges from a makeshift dam at the east end, running across his view the length of the cavern to disappear in a in foaming waterfall into a chasm below. Lamb spies a spiral staircase leading down next to the waterfall and returns to report.
Joining the Company on the floor of the fungal forest Lamb moves towards the scree slope to check the other opening. A petulant Homte remains where he is and instead Veth joins the barbarian. As with every entrance related endeavour that Veth partakes in, the pair are predictably ambushed as they reach the top of the escarpment. Both are caught flat footed as two serpentine creatures, each as long as a man, rear up from concealment. As four tentacles peel open like an obscene flower to reveal a razor sharp beak within, the gricks lunge forward.
Lamb turns to attack the grick striking at the unarmoured Veth and the second creature displays its inhuman intelligence by moving to attack his exposed flank. Grimly indicating that Veth should withdraw whilst he holds the creatures off, Lamb quickly suffers a profusion of injuries from barbed tentacles and wicked beaks as the wily creatures exploit their advantage against him.
Homte is horrified to see an isolated Lamb wounded more grievously than even the ogre managed and is quite unable, later, to explain the uncharacteristic madness that overcomes him. Using his superior mobility over underground terrain to sprint up the scree that is confining his companions to ranged attacks, Homte rushes into the fray. He succeeds in splitting the gricks’ attention, but without the iron hard constitution and lightning fast reflexes of Lamb, he is sorely wounded himself within seconds.
The pair buy enough time for volleys of magic missiles from Veth to explode one of the horrors and the rest of the Company to close to melee range. As a vicious tentacle strike almost floors a reeling Lamb, a burst of fire incinerates the last creature.
As the rest of the group recover a meagre hoard of coins from the grick lair, Alwin uses his magic to treat the wounded Lamb and Homte. The gnome returns to his normal self, curmudgeonly bickering with the grimacing Northman over triage priority.
Injuries acceptably healed, Homte opens the lock to the final iron plated door with a flourish. Noting Durgeddin’s mark engraved in silver in the door and the undisturbed dust in the hallway revealed, Alwin excitedly concludes that this must be the undisturbed vault they have been seeking.
The stairs up open into an octagonal chamber rising to a domed ceiling 30’ overhead. Opulently floored with blue tile, walls inlaid with marble and three imposing bronze statues of armed dwarves lining the north wall, an encouraging layer of dust envelopes all. The Company pause on the threshold of their goal.
Alwin bends his powers of perception to detect the traps he is certain must be present.
Balkris can accept that Homte is a philistine, but insulting Shadow is really beyond the pale.
Homte doesn’t know quite what came over him there.
Lamb is ruminating on the Company’s battle tactics.
Thanatos really, really, wants to introduce the troglodytes to his new sword.
Veth is mentally counting the loot and planning a modest retreat in the country.