Dei Penates

Initial Adventures 06

Quip's End

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Last time, on the D&D channel, our brave heroes had almost finished their task of exterminating the undead inside a four-thousand-year-old temple. Battered and bruised, they still have one mysterious creature to track down before they can claim victory.

Current Party:

  • Marquis, half-elf ranger
  • Harriet, dwarven wizard
  • Kyata, human fighter
  • Rob, human runeblade
  • Sam, human rogue
  • Quip, human swashbuckler

We rejoin the action with our bold adventurers peering down a ten-foot-wide hole at the back of their “treasure” room. Marquis detached the lantern from her belt and inspected the blackness below. The darkened hole feebly resisted the light, hundreds of dust motes drifting in and out of the beam. The same huge gouges the party had seen back in the middle room lined the edges of the pit, and continued down the curved walls to the rough floor.

“It would be most imprudent to try jumping down there,” the ranger informed her companions. “It is a forty-foot drop, and would cause serious injury even if one were to avoid the sharper rocks.” She secured a grappling hook in a deep crack in the flagstones, and threw the silk rope over the edge. “Follow me, and be alert for danger,” Marquis warned, rope in hand. “The creature may be waiting for us.”

Halfway down, something caught the half-elf’s boot, and a few frantic seconds of desperate struggling revealed that it was not, in fact, the creature – merely a deeper crack in the fractured rock face. Once at the bottom, she steadied the rope and signaled for the next climber to descend. Rob started down the rope, but his sweaty hands provided little traction on the slippery silk. He slid down a dozen feet before the fabric escaped his frenzied grip, then fell the rest of the way with a resounding crash and clatter.

“Good thing we still have the element of surprise,” Sam muttered sarcastically. “Here, when you’re done checking that lump you can catch this one.” He set up his own grappling hook, and with Kyata’s help tied the rope securely around the unconscious Quip. The slumbering swashbuckler was lowered down with hardly any accidental bumps against the pointy bits of the wall, then quickly followed by the two adventurers still left topside.

Once at the bottom, Samieth detached both grappling hooks with a deft flick, then coiled the ropes and gave one back to Marquis. The party set off into the gloom, torch and lantern held high. From the look of the caverns, the only digging the creature had needed to do was the steep drop they had just rappeled down. The caves stretched beyond the range of even the bull’s-eye lantern, and sickly-looking fungus glistened damply in the flickering light. Thread-like stalactites gathered here and there in ghostly white clusters, their stalagmite partners mere lumpy growths on the floor.

The thief’s torch illuminated only a couple of dozen feet around the wary group, but the ranger’s lantern swept out like a searchlight, revealing the presence of a side cave just off to the left. Marquis, explorer through and through, immediately headed for it. Samieth handed his torch to Rob, then quickly followed the impulsive half-elf. The rocky passage sloped up slightly, and opened out into another cavern full of webs. In this one, the larger spiders seemed to be missing – but this was more than made up for by the number of small ones. They scurried in all directions, the ones nearest the light crawling over each other in their haste to get away from the light. One particularly stupid spider scuttled in a circle near Sam’s boot. A wet squish, and it scurried no more.

“We should go back, tell the others,” Sam offered, his voice low. “This lot looks like it’d burn pretty quick.”

“You shall do no such thing,” Marquis whispered back. “This is their home! We were sent to dispatch the undead – we have no quarrel with spiders.” She led the way back down the sloping passage to the group, who were huddled in the meagre circle of light thrown by Sam’s torch.

“More spiders,” the thief informed them, taking his torch back from the battered runeblade. “Scrawny ones, probably not even fit to eat.”

Kyata’s eyes gleamed. “My uncle, he would not agree. In fact, had to live on tiny spiders for whole month. Boil them for soup, then scrape out little crunchy bits. Was not so bad.”

Meanwhile, Marquis had wandered off a little way to the south. A tall, narrow opening led to another cave, this one seemingly free of spiders. The floor was completely covered in a layer of squelchy mush, and the stench of bat guano intensified where the ranger’s boots had sunk to the ankles. She quietly squeezed back through to the main cavern, scraping her boots on outcroppings of rock in a futile effort to clean them.

Stomping surreptitiously to get rid of the goop, she backtracked to the others. “We should look for more tracks. They may be more difficult to find in here, as there is little to mark.” Nobody moved. The half-elf sighed and began the search herself.

“Is dark in here – I am reminded of mountain festival. In winter, mountain passes get blocked by early snows. Very few traders get through after. But every spring, sun melts snow and we wait for first visit of tanner. When he arrives, there is much drinking and dancing…” the story spun off on it’s Kyata-powered track, pausing only briefly to answer bewildered and bemused questions from the rest of the group, and to extend invitations to all those present to attend next year’s festival.

They followed Marquis down a long passage to the northeast, Quip still unconscious and now carried along by Harriet and Kyata. As the party drew closer to the end of the tunnel, it turned to the north and widened out, revealing a wooden door set firmly into a natural gap in the stone. Samieth motioned for silence, and waited until the echoes of the tales of mountain-based debauchery finished reverberating faintly from the rough stone walls.

With only the slow dripping of the stalactites and the occasional ruffle of bat wings to disturb the utter stillness of the cave, he crept forward and inspected the door carefully. Unlike the mere collections of rotted boards they had found in the abandoned mines weeks ago, this one was a slab of solid oak with thick metal hinges. A pitted metal keyhole and handle adorned the otherwise plain wood. Finding no obvious dangers attached to or concealed in the door, the thief drew his sword and motioned to the others. Marquis nocked an arrow and aimed it squarely at the middle of the door, Kyata shouldered all of Quip’s weight to free Harriet’s hands for casting spells, and Rob stood a little straighter and raised his falchion slightly off the floor. Seeing that they were all ready, Sam pushed carefully on the handle, then when no response was forthcoming pulled it instead.

Nothing happened.

With an almost-audible sigh, he turned and informed the others that the door was, in fact, locked, and that it might be a good idea to rest for a bit before trying to get through. With varying signs of relief, the rest of the party relaxed. Rob slumped to the floor in a corner, tired and dispirited. Kyata gave Quip’s unconscious body to Harriet for safekeeping, and went around offering to cook spider legs – “full of crunchy goodness!” – to pep everyone up.

Marquis politely refused. “I have eaten many things in the interest of staying alive, but I have no need for spider legs with good trail rations right here to sustain me.”

“I was to make sweet and sour sauce with them,” Kyata replied, a little crestfallen.

“Well, I suppose. If you cook them, I shall eat them,” Marquis relented. “But only if you stop making puppy eyes at me.”

The fighter took off her pack and dug around in it, eventually fetching up a pineapple and a couple of lemons. She bustled around the temporary campsite that had been set up, pestering the others to start a fire and set some water to boil. The preparations complete, she saluted them smartly and took Sam’s torch back up to the main cavern. After only a couple of minutes, she returned, her greatsword gleaming wetly on her back and her arms full of spider legs of varying sizes.

In spite of their varying initial amounts of personal revulsion, by the time Kyata had finished simmering the sauce, the rest of the party were all salivating in anticipation. Including Quip, who was still unconscious – but drooling anyway. The tall woman ladled out five steaming bowls and passed them around, then another one for Harriet to spoonfeed Quip from.

Samieth refused the bowl proffered him. “Not five minutes ago I stepped on one of those. I dunno about you lot, but I’m not in the habit of eatin’ my own boot polish.” And so saying, took up his bow and went a way down the tunnel to keep watch.

After their first spoonfuls, the rest of the party simply sat in stunned amazement. Under Kyata’s watchful gaze and the judicious use of a wooden spoon the length of Harriet’s arm, the incongruous ingredients had combined to create a strangely compelling meal. The dispirited Rob sat up straighter and straighter as his bowl emptied, and by the end of it he was almost back to his usual laconic self. The others (except Sam) showed similar vigour in polishing off their own servings – even Quip who, while still asleep, managed to down about half a bowl.

Their hunger sated by the unexpectedly delicious meal, our adventurers settled down to the serious business of getting some rest. Sam took first watch with the aid of the half-elf’s bullseye lantern, uniquely suited to his vantage point at the corner of a long narrow tunnel.

For a long time, the only sounds in the cave (other than the occasional bat chirp and the constant slow drip of silt-filled water) were quiet snores and the inevitable shuffling that occurs when otherwise sensible folk try to sleep on hard, uneven ground.

A quiet series of dull thumps startled Samieth out of the torpor induced by three hours of watching stalagmites form. The lantern revealed nothing in the passage ahead, and a quick check of his sleeping companions showed nothing amiss. As he swung the light back towards the tunnel again, dust motes caught the edge of the beam. The floor was stone, uneven but solid, and spattered with bat droppings. The walls were more of the same – in other words, nothing that could raise dust… nothing except where the wooden doorframe had been chiselled into the rock!

The wiry thief scrambled towards the others, meaning to shake them awake, when a sudden explosion shook the cavern. Startled bats fell from the roof and flapped, chittering, around the cave. Ears ringing, Sam shouted for the others to wake up and ready themselves. The more combat-hardened adventurers were up almost immediately, weapons quick to hand. Harriet sat up, eyes bleary. Quip slumbered on.

The cavern reverberated with the sound of another explosion. This time, Sam was watching the door – the explosion was actually something slamming against it, trying to force its way through. The second hit had buckled the whole door, bent it outwards at the top and deformed the metal hinges.

“Ready yourselves!” he cried, drawing back his bow.

Another enormous blast echoed through the caves, and the stressed wood gave way. The mighty oak door crashed open on its bottom hinge, the top having given out entirely, and fell to the uneven floor. Silhouetted in the doorframe was a hulking brute of a creature – massive arms with wickedly curved claws, serrated mandibles longer than a man’s leg, and armour plates completely covering its nine-foot frame.

Sam loosed his bow, and while the arrow flew true it was less than nothing to the monster’s hard shell. Kyata’s greatsword slid free from its resting-place, and the fighter bore it aloft valiantly. Rob rolled to his feet, snatching up his falchion.

As it lumbered forward into the light of the campfire and arm’s reach of the front line of the party, the creature’s true nature was revealed. Multifaceted eyes glared balefully at the party, glimmering faintly with the blue-black light of necromancy. Its partially caved-in head sprouted listlessly drooping antennae and serrated mandibles longer than a man’s leg. Cracks in the monster’s exoskeleton revealed rotting flesh beneath, and a trio of gashes in its abdomen oozed a viscous fluid. One arm was missing beneath the elbow joint, giving it a strange, lopsided gait. Clearly, this was a creature of undeath – and as such, was subject to the cleansing they had been contracted to perform.

They would have to fight.

Marquis stepped back, trained never to get within arm’s length of her opponents, and let fly with an arrow. It sunk into the huge forearm of the monster, who reflexively back-handed the ranger. The half-elf fell back, cursing herself for not accounting for it’s much longer reach, while Harriet tried to distract the creature by blasting it with a cone of flame. One antenna caught alight, but still the rotted insect lumbered forwards. Sam fired again, with no better outcome than before.

Rob leapt forward, his falchion swinging swiftly upwards to deflect the crushing blow aimed at the wizard’s head. The ranger’s anger and pain made poor her aim, and her next arrow shattered against the stone wall behind the monster. Swung in haste, Harriet’s axe bit nothing but air. The thief wasted another good shaft against the insect’s thick plates as Kyata joined the fray, having paused to quickly don her armour. She and the runeblade swung at a leg each, aiming to topple the creature like a tree. Neither blade was suited to the task, though, and the fetid monster swung unsettlingly quickly to hammer a clawed fist against the fighter’s ribcage.

“We cannot defeat this beast; but it is not swift and we can outpace it if we run, NOW!” Marquis shouted to the others, slinging her bow across her back and suiting her actions to her words.

“Are we leaving the packs?” Samieth yelled after the fleeing ranger, but she was too far down the passage to hear him.

Harriet hacked at the monster’s arm as it came back towards her, but the tough plates deflected her axe. “What about Quip? How is he going to run?”

“We will distract, you get Quip and go!” Kyata slammed her greatsword against the side of the creature, and it turned again to retaliate. Rob jumped forward and hammered at its other side, then leapt back to avoid the meaty forearm swung back towards him. At the last second, the foul monster extended its claws and gouged deep into the runeblade’s chest.

“We’re leaving the packs,” Sam shouted as he ran off after Marquis, who was in the main cavern and heading for the tunnel back up into the ruins.

Harriet hefted a bolt of magical force overarm, and it curved down and slammed into the monster’s damaged head. Taking advantage of its momentary confusion, Kyata carefully lined up her sword and drove it through one of the weeping wounds in the corpse’s abdomen, swirling it around a bit before pulling it back out with a disgusting squelching noise and plenty of vile ichor. On the other side of the monster, Rob battled valiantly to prevent the enormous mandibles from crushing him to death.

The half-elf had reached the hole down which they had come, and swung a grappling hook up into the darkness above. It clattered on stone, then drew taut. Exit secured, Marquis ran back to check on the others, nearly toppling Sam as he sped past, shouting back towards the others. “What’s wrong with you lot? It’ll kill us all! RUN!”

Another missile of energy speared through the air to detonate brilliantly against the creature’s side. Kyata, shielding her eyes, made a clumsy swing that bounced and skittered across the decaying exoskeleton, but Rob’s runed blade caught the seam between two plates and bit deep. Silent as the grave, the undead insect turned and clamped its massive jaws on the fighter’s armoured midsection.

“Exit! To the south!” Samieth’s disembodied voice came echoing back up the tunnels, oddly distorted by the jutting spires. Marquis ran back to her rope and tried to dislodge it from the cobblestones above. No such luck – it was firmly embedded.

A fresh bolt of magic shattered against the monster’s head, forcing it to release its hold on the fighter. Kyata backed away, severely wounded, and when beyond its reach turned to run, calling back over her shoulder for someone to bring Quip along. An overhand slam just barely missed the runeblade, who also broke and ran. “I’m sorry, it’s not worth my life! Good gods, run while you can!”

It chased after him a few lumbering steps, then turned its attention to Quip, who was closer than the wizard and an easier target anyway. Harriet pulled a wheel of cheese from her pack, then deftly switched it for the swashbuckler’s prone body, lumping him onto her back and making ready to flee. Not even slightly fooled, the huge zombie slashed the dwarf with a fearsome claw as she ran. She stumbled on, trying her best to outpace the vicious beast.

Sam’s mad dash had brought him back to where the ranger was still trying to get her grappling hook back. “Need some help?” he enquired. “I should be fine if I can just – get – this – rope – down!” The hook was still firmly wedged in the cobbles, but on the last yank the crack spread, pulling free a few chunks of stone and releasing the grapple. It bounced back down the hole, rubble clattering with it; Marquis grabbed it and ran.

Kyata and Rob had made it to the exit, a tall split in the rock face that led out to the forest. Bats wheeled around the entrance, confused by the daylight. Sam and Marquis joined the other two soon after, and they all exchanged significant looks. Even though the creature had hit him only once, Rob looked half dead. Kyata had suffered both a mighty blow and the monster’s vice-like jaws, and looked even worse than the runeblade. This did not bode well for the stout wizard or the unfortunate swashbuckler.

It was not going well for the wizard. She could not run fast enough while carrying Quip, not with the gash in her side. Still, she made the best effort she could, making it almost to the middle cavern before the monster caught up again. With blinding speed, it swung a massive arm towards the dwarf, putrid claws extended. Far from resigned to her fate, Harriet managed another step before the vicious talons bit deep; there was no pain.

The weight on her back lessened. She could still run – she could run faster.

As her stumpy legs pumped madly, increasing the lead she had on the beast, a realization almost made her stumble.

The claws had torn something.

Her load was much lighter.

Her load was Quip.

She risked a quick glance behind her. In the darkness of the cave, the monster hunched over a fallen figure – no, half a figure. The dwarf slowed to a stop, and slung Quip off her back. What remained of his torso was gouged straight through to the bone. Everything below the waist was gone. A trail of unravelled intestines led back the way she had run.

Quip was dead.

Her quiet apology was cut short by the vile creature lumbering closer. Harriet fled the cave.

She burst forth from the rock, accompanied by a fresh flock of bats. The others had been resting a short distance from the cave, ready to run again – they were all on their feet in an instant.

“Where’s Quip?” Marquis asked, knowing the answer already.

“He’s dead,” Sam responded. “His unconscious body gave its life for the dwarf.”

“He liked his sleep,” Rob added. “I hope he enjoys his final slumber.”

Harriet was almost in tears. “I failed him.”

“Alright alright, we’ll pour out a sip for him later,” the anxious Samieth replied. “Let’s go before that thing follows you out here.”

“There is nothing we can do for him now,” Marquis agreed. “Let us leave this place.”

The party set off into the forest, heading back towards civilization. Their mission was unfulfilled and they had lost one of their own. Had they failed? They certainly couldn’t count it a success.

A week later, they returned to retrieve the body and give it a proper burial, but found only bloodstains where the swashbuckler had fallen. The monster was nowhere to be found.

The undead had been eliminated, but not the source. A month later, the farmers that had originally complained were killed, and the soil of their farms salted so nothing would ever grow there again. This time, there was no-one left to complain. The devious machinations of the commander of the undead remain unknown.

Next season, on the D&D channel, our heroes return.

Same party. Different reality.

Tune in next time to unravel the mystery…


Achievement-Style Bonus XP

Achievement Character Type
Sheer Lunacy (don’t jump) Marquis I
Rune of Slippery Hands (fell anyway) Rob X
Cave Explorer (for real) Marquis, Sam X
Squish (boot polish) Sam X
Homewrecker (not this time) Marquis X
Squelch (bat polish) Marquis X
Many Winter Babies (mountain festival) Kyata C
No Admiral Here, Boss (wooden door) Sam I
Spider-Leg Soup (sauce, actually) Kyata I
Om Nom Nom (delicious sauce) not Sam X
More Fun Than Watching Stalagmites Form (guard duty) Sam G
Long-Range Fists (ouch) Marquis X
Battered and Bruised (punched) Kyata X
Sub-Surface Grappling (way out) Marquis I
Rending Blow (clawed) Rob X
Om Nom Nom (delicious fighter) Kyata X
Tactical Retreat and Recon (exit located) Sam I
Fool Me Once, I Claw You in the Side (ouch) Harriet X
Flee to the Forest (relative safety) Sam, Marquis, Kyata, Rob X
Dwarves Aren’t Built For Speed (good try) Harriet X
Desino Vita (rest in peace) Quip D
A Moment’s Reflection (in memoriam) Everyone C
Ruins Cleared (adventure completed) Everyone A
Bonus Achievement – Lag IRL (months and months) Zedric P
Bonus Achievement – Convoluted Chronicle (3500 words) Zedric
Type Meaning Bonus XP
P Penalty Varies
D Character Death -1 level
K Impressive Kill 5
I Good Idea 10
G Guard Duty 10
M Mapping Duty 10
C Character Development 20
A Adventure Completed Varies
X Misc Varies

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