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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Initial Adventures 05
The Final Room

Jump to Achievements

Last time, on the D&D channel, our brave heroes were faced with the task of clearing the final room in an ancient elven ruin. With their strength drained and their stamina exhausted, they may not be up to the task.

Current Party:

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

We rejoin our heroes in the mysteriously meticulous room at the end of the last corridor in the maze-like temple. While Kyata stood guard, everyone else took the opportunity to rest a bit and recover some of their strength. One hour and one bland but nourishing meal later, they returned to the centre of the ruin to check the final door. Samieth checked what he thought was the door for traps, but only managed to find one edge of the cunningly-concealed entrance. Marquis looked for the door also, and managed to find the other edge. Which she promptly lost again. Now with a rough idea of the size and location of the hidden door, the ranger pushed against the middle of it.

Nothing happened.

Kyata stepped forward. The tall fighter wedged her fingers into the indentations of the mortar between the bricks and tried to pull the door outwards.

Nothing happened.

“Before we lose this thing entirely, how ’bout you outline it with some chalk?” Samieth asked Harriet, running a finger along the edge he’d found.

“Good idea. I was to suggest same thing, but with blood,” Kyata added. The top of the door was too far away for the dwarf’s short arms, so Harriet gave the chalk to the fighter and verbally guided it along the highest edge. After they were done, the thief checked for traps and triggers again – this time, all around the edges of the door. He still found nothing, so Quip came forward. He placed his hands on the middle of the door and tried to move them in a circular motion, reasoning that if the door slid open in any direction then, like previous doors, it would do so with a minimum of pressure.

Nothing happened.

After the dark-skinned swashbuckler had moved aside, a little disappointed, Kyata knocked politely on the huge stone slab. “Any one at home in there?” A lengthy pause. “No? Ok.” While Marquis and Rob started to discuss the different types of door and hinge they had encountered so far in the ruin, and how exactly they planned to open this one, the four-foot wizard concentrated on the ambient magical energies in the area. Her eyes glowed incandescent white for a few seconds, then faded back to normal. “It’s not magical, if that helps,” she interjected.

Samieth checked the wall opposite the door, looking for another push-brick trigger. After a couple of minutes he admitted defeat. Reasoning that the laws of humour would apply since they’d been trying to open the door for at least twenty minutes, Kyata sat down in front of the door and leaned against it, hoping it would open and dump her unceremoniously onto the floor behind it.

Nothing happened.

Taking Sam’s idea and extending it, Marquis and Harriet checked the whole corridor encircling the hidden room for triggers or suspicious blocks, finding nothing except ten more minutes wasted. The reclining Kyata took the time to spin a merry tale of her home town’s Mountain Festival to everyone, the echoes carrying around the corners to where the other women searched in vain. Aggravated by the lack of progress, the wizard blasted the door with magical force.

Nothing happened.

By this time, everyone was getting a little irritated. There must be SOME way to open this door, surely! Pushing it hadn’t worked. Pulling it hadn’t worked. It didn’t slide upwards, downwards, left or right, and there were no apparent triggers on any of the surrounding walls. What was left?

Marquis scanned the floor. The limestone squares that covered the earth beneath were a foot on each side – but there was a point where four tiles did not seem to meet as they should. Closer inspection revealed a single tile an inch square between the other four. The curious half-elf retrieved a piton from her pack and tried to prise up the tiny square, with little success. Kyata volunteered a knitting needle, on the condition that if it broke it would be replaced as soon as humanly possible. It was longer than the climbing piton, and so was accepted gladly. It, too, was of limited use, so the ranger pulled out her crowbar and easily levered the small tile out of the floor, revealing little but darkness beneath.

A couple of incautious seconds and many small crunching, grinding noises later, she realized that perhaps sticking a stiff rod into an unknown cavity perhaps wasn’t the best course of action. She called Sam over to apply his, er, expertise with unknown cavities. The thief held his torch above the tiny hole, and peered into it.

“Looks like rather delicate clockwork in there,” he said, tilting his head to try and get a better view. “At least, it used to be. Hang on, maybe this was what’s been skittering around our feet this whole time.” A brief pause disproved this hypothesis, as the chattering at ankle-level continued unabated.

“We should try and uncover more of the mechanism. Perhaps Samieth can make repairs,” Marquis suggested. “All previous evidence aside,” someone muttered.

The ranger picked up her crowbar and set to work on the larger tiles surrounding the inch-square hole. After some determined but ineffectual effort, she called Kyata over to apply her larger muscles to the problem, who did little better. Sam’s lanky frame, ill-suited to such feats of strength, proved equally useless.

The thief looked around at his companions, taking note of their varying lack of strength, height, and masculinity – qualities that, if combined, would yield the best results. “Looks like we need a big, strapping man to help with this.” He puffed up his chest and looked around self-importantly. Everyone stared at him, nonplussed. “I’ll go and get one, then,” he said, deflating a little.

“Do not worry little man. We soon have this up,” the largest, strongest party member responded, as behind her Marquis did just that. Underneath the cool white stone was dark earth, unlike the hole the small tile had covered. More of the intricate gears and springs became visible as the heavy slab was shuffled out of the way.

“Come on, get stuck into it,” Rob said, taking Harriet’s proffered crowbar and heaving up another of the tiles around the hole. Marquis gave her implement to Kyata, who slowly levered a third stone out of the way. “Is quite heavy,” she muttered to herself. The tall fighter wiped the sweat from her brow and handed the crowbar back to Marquis, who strained at the last slab of rock. Rob stuck his lever under the other end of the tile and tried to force it upwards, but the mortar in the ancient floor held firm. “You got to make sure that you put your weight on the end of it, like,” Sam chimed in. He nudged Marquis out of the way and pressed down firmly. The last flagstone rose, accompanied by cracked mortar and some clods of earth.

With the area around the little hole clear of stone floor tiles, the thief knelt down and inspected it again, circling it like some sort of obsessive insect. After a minute or so, he reached for his thieving gear and unrolled the leather case. Selecting a pair of fine-tipped pliers and a long pin with a tiny hook on the end, he started trying to reassemble the crushed contraption. While he worked, the others discussed the tiny hole.

“Why’d you have to go and take the top off it anyhow? It was clearly some sorta button,” the runeblade rumbled discontentedly.

“We would not have known that if I had not,” the ranger replied. “It could have been anything.”

They lapsed back into silence and watched Samieth’s skilled fingers for a time. Eventually the time came for him to place the little stone tile back in its place, and sit back on his heels and announce that he’d finished – and that they probably shouldn’t push it until they were sure of what it actually -

Quip pushed the button.

A terrible grinding noise echoed down the corridors all around them, and it seemed to be coming from the frustratingly locked door. In spite of the sounds of tortured clockwork, it rose majestically into its stone frame a grand total of six inches, and then stopped. The crunching and scraping noises continued for a small while, and then stopped also.

Quip pushed the button.

Nothing happened.

Quip pushed the button again.

Nothing happened.

Quip held the button in.

The grinding started up again, harsher this time, and with a grating accompaniment of snapping, pinging noises.

Something went CRACK.

“Oops.”

The others stared at him, expressions of stunned disbelief and familiar exasperation chasing each other across their faces. “May as well make the most of it, then,” someone said after a lengthy pause. They tried to peer through the thin space, but Sam’s torch flickered madly when brought close to the floor and Marquis’ lantern was too tall to shine through the gap.

“Are there other buttons, maybe?” The party collectively shook their heads. They’d checked the corridors thoroughly.

Harriet sighed. “Should I break out my pick again?”

“Maybe we dig,” Kyata suggested. “Dirt much easier to make tunnel in than stone.”

She set to work on the rich loam previously covered by the flagstones while Harriet sized up the door, looking for weak points. After a brief discussion, the others joined the activity each one thought they could help most at, Marquis pausing to stab the broken clockwork to help blow off some steam. Samieth stood watch, Marquis and Rob set to helping Kyata dig her hole, and Quip lay down in an out-of-the-way corner and fell asleep.

After an uneventful half-hour, the efforts of the diggers and the dwarf came together. A trench just over two feet deep had been dug from the pulled-up tiles to the door, which now had dozens of tiny fracture lines spiderwebbing across its bottom half. The would-be miners dusted themselves off (except Quip, who merely woke up) and stood back from the door. Harriet hefted her axe, measuring the distance carefully, then swung it with calculated slowness into the middle of the cracks.

Nothing happened.

“Maybe hammer more suited?” Kyata suggested. She stepped up to the other side of the door and promptly smashed the bottom of it into rubble.

As the chunks of shattered stone bounced and clattered to rest, the burly fighter and the stout dwarf held up their digging implements and touched them together with an incongruously delicate clink. Marquis was already pushing forwards, clambering up the rubble and into the room beyond. She glared at the remains of the door, muttering under her breath vague imprecations concerning the possible involvement of a medusa and at least one gargoyle, the definite involvement of alcohol, and probably not even in a bed, either.

The room she had climbed into was much the same as those they had already explored – stone walls, stone floor, stone ceiling. The only difference was the dirt and chunks of door sprayed liberally across it. The others scrabbled up the scree-scattered slope behind the ranger, and stared around the obviously empty room.

Harriet sneezed.

“Surely this room cannot be empty! All of this-” Marquis gestured sweepingly to the crumbled door and the corridor beyond it, “-this effort for naught? I will not believe it!” she cried, and set about searching the room for anything that would tell her otherwise. Samieth followed suit, his thief-trained eyes scanning the walls for discoloured mortar, a brick out of place, anything. In one of the corners next to the door, half-covered by dirt and rubble, was a reasonably-sized leather sack. He shook it, just a little bit hopeful, and was equal parts surprised, relieved, and disappointed when it did not jingle. He shook the dust off and showed it to the others. “Can’t find nothing else in here. Looks like this is it, folks.”

A certain melancholy descended at this – somehow, they had all expected something more. It seemed as though the rules of narrative had let them down – a huge hoard of forgotten treasure, a helpless innocent to rescue, a climactic fight against terrible odds – any would have been better than a worn-looking leather sack and an empty room. Then again, real life never ends like a story. For one thing, it usually keeps going after the story would have finished…

Harriet moved closer to the wall opposite the crumbled door. “This doesn’t look quite right,” she said, indicating the mortared stone. “I’m not exactly sure what it is, but…” she trailed off and started tapping on the wall at regular intervals. On her third try, she found what had attracted her eye. “This section’s hollow. Look, it’s just a shell.” The dwarf knocked sharply, cracking what looked like solid stone. Powder drifted out from the imprint, and chunks of the paper-thin rock splintered and fell away to reveal the outline of a rough archway through the foot-thick wall. The corridor on the other side of the arch had dirt and rocks scattered across it, and it was confidently identified as one the party had already traversed. This meant that the tunnel was recent. Very recent.

Marquis examined the organic edges of the archway. Scything claw-marks were very much in evidence all around the rim, and the width of the hole suggested something both taller and wider than a human had dug it. She vaguely recalled hearing about massive subterranean insects that could burrow with surprising speed through the earth – and through anyone unfortunate to get in their way.

When this information was shared with the others, Rob immediately backed away from the hole. “So it’s really big, can chew through walls, and is loose somewhere in here with us? I vote we run. Now.”

“Do not be such big baby,” Kyata replied, looking for tracks on the dust-covered floor. “I am sure we handle little bitty bug.” Marquis and Harriet joined the search, the ranger quickly turning up a large three-clawed footprint further from the main pile of rubble. “The dust may turn out to be a blessing for us – look, the creature has left a trail,” Marquis pointed down a side corridor, where more dirt was scattered across the limestone floor.

“If I haven’t got turned around in all this mess, that leads back to where we were all digging. It can’t have gotten far,” the runeblade said, looking worried. He trailed behind a bit as the rest of the party set off, taking one last look at the hole that had been torn by tooth and claw through solid rock. “This won’t end at all well,” he predicted.

The occasional shuffling footprint led our intrepid heroes back towards the room in which they had found the rusted suit of armour, but stopped abruptly outside the open door to the room with the bony dog. And the deep pit. They looked at each other.

“Who wants to go first this time?” Samieth asked, smacking his rope into the palm of his hand.

Kyata pushed everyone else gently aside, shaking her head. In the silence that followed, she stood against the wall and exhaled mightily. Two great strides and the fighter was airborne, her soaring figure reminiscent of the winged warrior women of legend, and every bit as dangerous.

She landed heavily on the other side, and immediately set to work battering the stone walls with her fists. It became quickly apparent that there were no holes or tunnels through them, so she leapt back across the chasm. Meanwhile, Harriet had caught hold of Quip and was berating him (for the thousandth time, according to her) for his laziness. “If you don’t smarten up soon I’ll give you a good slap!”

“Hah! You couldn’t even reach!”

Marquis and Samieth, rolling their eyes, quickly searched the other side of the corridor and turned up a rather ill-concealed door. Behind it, the dusty clawmarks picked up again, leading the party back up towards the northern passageways. Well, most of them – the wizard and the swashbuckler lagged behind, now engaged in a heated argument. “I’ll show you what I’m the right height for!” Harriet shrieked, blasting a solid beam of magical force directly into Quip’s groin.

The footsteps were further apart now, as if the mysterious creature had increased speed. What was left of the party did the same, the four of them now half-running down the stone passageways. They sped through two corners, their various individual accumulations of fear and frustration urging them on. Turning a third corner revealed a half-expected sight, and they slid and clattered to a stop; one wall had been bored through, leaving a rough-edged hole into the dark unknown. Marquis checked the oil level in her lamp, and motioned for the others to wait as she refilled it. Thus prepared, the party set off into the gloom of the tunnel. As they moved away from the tiled floors of the temple proper, the ever-present skittering faded to nothing. Somewhere ahead, in the shadows, something dripped.

The floor of the tunnel was treacherous – large rocks poked up at inopportune places along its meandering path, and the small stones between them crunched and slid underfoot. Marquis cautiously led the party across the rough ground, testing each footing carefully. The light of her bulls-eye lantern speared through the darkness, illuminating the opening to a smaller side passage. With a whispered command for the men to stay and guard their retreat, she and Kyata gingerly clambered across to the entrance of the side tunnel. It curved back towards the ruin, but only for a short distance – a sharp bend at the end of the passage opened up into a cavern almost fifty feet across.

The cavern was white. Not the pure, blinding white of the mountain frosts of Kyata’s homeland, but the dirty, pallid grey-white of decomposing flesh. Great swathes of it hung in thick strands across the centre of the cavern, twined together in what looked like a huge piece of badly-made fabric. Or a gigantic web.

A thousand eyes turned towards the light. Dozens of dead black eyes that seemed merely holes through the skull, scores of faceted eyes from the size of a pin up to that of a human head, and eight giant red orbs of blind doom.

Back in the main passage, Samieth created his own amusement. “Here, monsty monsty monsty,” he called into the darkness, holding his torch aloft. He whistled as if calling a dog, but certainly not loud enough for anything to actually hear him. No telling what might respond.

Behind the eyes were spiders. Hundreds and hundreds of spiders. The sudden appearance of the two women had frozen them all into stillness, their underground minds unaccustomed to the harsh glare of light.

A pair of terrible mandibles clicked slowly, gently. Marquis nudged her friend’s shoulder, pointing back along the corridor with her other hand, never taking her eyes from the chitinous horde before her. Slowly, gently, the fighter guided the ranger backwards around the corner. They looked at each other, then scrambled for the exit.

Slipping and scrabbling on the scree, they slid back out into the main tunnel. “What? What’s in there?” Rob quavered, ready to run back to the ruin.

“Spiders,” Kyata gasped, slightly out of breath. “Many, many spiders. We must go!”

She pointed further down the main tunnel, then suited action to words by clambering along the rocky corridor. Marquis and Sam followed, and Rob gave a last wistful look back towards safety before grudgingly bringing up the rear.

“Spiders, eh?” Samieth remarked, nimbly perched atop a particularly precarious stone.

“Hundreds of them,” the ranger replied.

“Do you think they might be what was skittering around under our feet back where there was some actual floor?”

“They cannot be – I have not been able to hear it since we entered this tunnel. Even in their own cavern I could not hear it.”

A second fork was upon them almost before they noticed, and this time Rob didn’t want to be left behind. Weak light reflected dully along the right fork, so Marquis led the rattled runeblade down the left passage, on the assumption that a burrowing creature would not be too fond of light.

The left passage sloped downwards, curving gently through the bedrock. A long, thin cave boasted limestone stalagmites and stalactites, like the fangs of some huge prehistoric beast. Water dripped slowly down each one, depositing miniscule amounts of sediment on to the millenia-old stone. At the other end, the angle of the tunnel increased dramatically. The two companions kicked up little showers of pebbles as they went down the slope, their feet turned sideways for as much traction as possible. A vast underground lake greeted them at the bottom of the tunnel, completely flat and shining wetly.

“It cannot have come this way. Even if it were able to swim, the water would be disturbed from its passage,” Marquis reasoned.

“So we should head back up to the others?”

The half-elf did not appear to hear his question, her lantern weaving slow patterns of light across the mirrored surface. “Pardon? Oh! Yes. We should leave. They will be waiting.”

The climb back up was tedious and, at one point, dangerous – Rob’s ill-placed foot dislodged a sharp rock, which narrowly missed the ranger’s head. They hurried back through the upthrust stalagmites, ducking and weaving around the columns of stone, then out to Kyata and Samieth.

“Nothing down there, we’d better keep going,” the runeblade responded to the unasked question.

The right fork led to a lopsided cave with a wide opening. Through it, the brilliant colours of the forest overflowed, covering the rocks with vibrant green moss and multi-hued lichens. Small branches and dead leaves littered the boundary of the cave itself, and thick hardy grasses grew in the half-shade of the rocks. Their eyes gradually adjusting to the brighter light, the party emerged from the cave. The creature’s path was plain to even the least nature-sensitive among them – grass had been crushed by huge clawed feet, branches had been kicked aside or broken, and large rocks shoved out of their centuries-old indentations. The trail of destruction led off into the deeper forest to the north.

Marquis took point, her tracking and nature skills making her the obvious leader. At first, the trail was easy to follow – snapped saplings, staved-in fallen logs, and great gouges in the bark of nearby trees pointed the way clearly. But as they progressed into the forest, the signs grew less and less obvious, until finally the half-elf was left looking puzzled and frustrated in the middle of a small clearing with a single massive footprint leading in and no other sign for thirty feet in all directions.

She set off out of the clearing in the direction of the last footprint, but got only a dozen feet before a wolf slunk out from behind a copse of trees slightly to the left of her intended path. It locked eyes with the intruder, bared its teeth for a moment, then loped easily away, apparently having decided that the half-elf was no threat.

“I cannot find the trail,” she admitted to the others upon returning to the clearing. “It stretches belief that such a beast would be able to conceal itself so well, but I have no other explanation. I am sorry.”

“Is not your fault. But do not worry, we have more terrible thing to deal with – spiders.” The fighter considered this carefully. “Actually, spiders not so bad. We kill some, I make tasty supper.”

“Really,” responded Samieth, interested despite himself. “What sort of things can you do with spiders?”

“Very much! Legs of spider best with sweet and sour sauce. Meat is good in stew. In fact, is old family recipe…” Kyata began to recount another of her infamous tales as the party trekked back to the cave.

Back in the ruins, the argument had played out to its inevitable conclusion. Quip had said something he shouldn’t have, and Harriet had stormed off to find the others. The swashbuckler, his light source removed, made himself comfortable on the floor and went to sleep again.

The wizard clomped back up along the hallway the others had taken, muttering to herself under her breath. She found the tunnel with the help of her conjured light, and climbed across the hardscrabble floor with little trouble. She investigated the two side passages and had just entered the final cave when the rest of her party turned up, the fighter finishing her story “-only week later, wolves stole whole thing. Harry! Good to see you not also eaten by wolf. My cousin was half eaten by wolf. It was end of winter, no food left, so he start eating it right back.” And with this short yet bewildering tale, they began to discuss what to do about the cavern full of spiders.

Not too many were in favour of even trying to light the webs on fire, since there were hundreds of spiders, and a statistically significant number of those would likely escape death by flames. Leaving them free to swarm away from the fire. As in, towards us. No thank you. Killing them individually was completely out of the question, and would only have been given more notice if Quip were present. The best option seemed to be just to leave them entirely alone. “After all, we were only contracted to clear the ruins of undead. Technically we’ve already done more than we had to, since we killed that fungus thing as well.”

Having decided on a course of action that would leave as many of everything alive as possible, the party clambered back through the rock-strewn tunnel towards the ruined temple. “We’d, uh, better go collect Quip,” Harriet suggested. “I mean, if we all really want to.”

They tracked dirt back through the ruin to the room where they’d left the swashbuckler. He was still there, lying on the floor. However, the last time any of them had looked, he hadn’t had serious lacerations on his face, and much more blood was on the inside of him. He also didn’t have two large menacing figures leaning down towards him, rotting arms outstretched. Kyata leapt forward, followed quickly by Harriet. The fighter drew her huge sword and scored it across one zombie’s back, peeling the rotten skin from its ribs. Electricity sparked along the length of the blade, filling the room with the scent of ozone and burnt skin. The corpse’s muscles contracted spasmodically as Harriet levelled a heavy axe blow at the stomach of the other walking dead, which looked as if it had been set on fire recently. “Nobody hits Quip but me!”

Samieth was next through the door, and a hasty overhand blow connected with the flayed zombie. His blade bit deep into its shoulder, and more lightning arced along the short sword and grounded itself through the decaying flesh. Kyata had spun gracefully away from the first contact with the fetid undead, and now reversed direction and came slashing back, a whirling dance of death. Her heavy blade crashed through one side of the ribcage of the first zombie, then curved back up to casually lop off the head of the second.

Satisfied that the immediate threat had been taken care of, Marquis quickly stowed her bow and began to search through her overstuffed pack. Moments later, she straightened up, triumphantly holding a healer’s kit aloft. The basic medical training her parents had insisted on would finally come in handy. The half-elf quickly staunched the blood flow and bandaged the wound, discarding the no-longer-amusing crotchplate helmet.

Had they been to blame for this? Partly. But the elves have a saying, ‘the past has already taken care of itself’ – so there was no sense in dwelling upon it.

Satisfied that her patient was stable enough to move, the ranger looked askance at the others. They had noticed the deliberate removal of the makeshift helmet, and most had the decency to look suitably chastised. “I will carry. He not weigh much,” Kyata offered. The others collected up those of Quip’s belongings that had fallen from his pack, and stowed them safely in their own bags. Strangely enough, most of the stuff that had fallen just happened to be all those coins they’d been heaping on top of him.

The map was now complete, so the party decided to go back and retrieve their “treasure” from the room where they’d stored the bones and carved stones and suchlike. Unfortunately, the spiders had taken offense to the repeated intrusions, and had started to spread up the tunnel. The first wave were just regular-sized ones, up to about hand-sized. You know, nothing serious. All three women had seen the size of the ancient beast slumbering in the middle of the nest, though, and there were half a dozen more that were almost as big, even if the biggest one was likely to stay put. They pushed themselves and the clueless men forward with various mixtures of fear, desperation, and a dash of mad excitement. After all, this was what adventuring was all about!

They raced down the corridors, haring around corners at speeds that were nowhere near safe, and exploded into the treasure room, scattering dirt and small spiders everywhere. “Don’t stop to shake ’em off!” Sam yelled. “There’s no time, the big ones are coming! Help me with the door!” The heavy stone door swung easily back into place, sealing them in with a resounding boom. As they slid down to rest against the door or stepped away to lean against a wall, it dawned on them that the room was not as they’d left it. A ten-foot-wide hole yawned in the back corner, and rubble was strewn around the edge. They approached it cautiously, weapons and torches at the ready.

What awaits our heroes down the hole? Will they ever see the mysterious creature? And have they really truly cleared the ruin of undead yet?

Tune in next week to find out!
Same D&D time, same D&D channel!


Achievement-Style Bonus XP

Achievement Character Type
Quick Rest (guard duty) Kyata G
On Edge (one each) Marquis, Samieth X
Calcium Carbonate (door outline) Samieth I
Orange You Glad I Didn’t Say Banana? (knock knock) Kyata X
No Magic ’Ere, Boss (nothing there) Harriet I
Trigger, Trigger, On The Wall (nope) Samieth, Marquis, Harriet I
Push-Butt Trigger (also nope) Kyata X
Did They Move For You, Too? (festive story) Kyata C
Force Push (not enough) Harriet X
Gears Of War (minus the war) Marquis X
Physics 101: Simple Machines (levers) Everyone X
Street Fighter (button mashing) Quip X
Snap, Crackle, Door (fracture lines) Harriet I
Trench Warfare (minus the warfare) Kyata I
Workers, Unite! (trench labour) Marquis, Rob X
Quarry Foreman (guard duty) Samieth G
House Breaks You (soviet russia) Kyata, Harriet X
Dwarven Aptitude (stonecunning) Harriet I
Unnatural Knowledge (burrowing insect) Marquis I
Fear Factor (oh god run) Rob X
Prints Charming (tracking) Marquis, Kyata I
Low Blow (ouch) Harriet X
My God, It’s Full of Eyes (spider hall) Marquis, Kyata X
Good Dog (no response) Sam X
Deductive Reasoning (no skittering) Marquis I
Left 4 Lake (wait for me) Rob C
Forest of the Lost (trail ends here) Marquis, Kyata, Rob, Sam X
Bloodied Slumber (good effort) Quip X
Jealousy, Perhaps? (ooh, drama) Harriet X
Double Trouble (greatsword) Kyata K
Playing Doctor (healer’s kit) Marquis I
Dead Weight (only sleeping) Kyata X
Arachnid Avalanche (run!) Everyone X
Bonus Achievement – FOURTEEN WEEK WRITEUP (for shame) Zedric P
Bonus Achievement – Augmented Anecdote (5000 words) Zedric
Type Meaning Bonus XP
P Penalty Varies
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
View
Initial Adventures 00
Interlude

Jump to Achievements

Last time, on the D&D channel, our brave heroes had cleared out almost all of the undead infesting a decrepit elven shrine. A single room still awaits them, and we shall leave them to gather their strength for whatever may lie within.

Current Party:

  • Harriet, dwarven wizard
  • Kyata, human fighter
  • Rob, human runeblade
  • Sam, human thief
  • Quip, human swashbuckler

Absent:

  • Marquis, half-elf ranger

Some time before the adventures outlined in previous weeks, we join the action with a wide-angle shot of the party trudging with varying degrees of cheerfulness along a meandering path through dense woods. The keeper of the inn they had stayed at the night before had told them that his cousins were missing. They were the bouncers for the tavern, and had left in pursuit of a man who had racked up rather a large tab – and neither he nor they had been seen for several days. Never ones to pass up the opportunity for free lodging (or a monetary reward), the adventurers had volunteered to go and search for the missing gnomes. Marquis stayed behind as both a gesture of goodwill and also because she had rolled her ankle the day before.

After a good day-and-a-bit of walking, the path led the party into a clearing. On the other side of it was a large rocky outcropping, with a natural doorway in the middle of it. A simple wooden door, little more than a handful of simple planks, stood in the opening. Quip, who was gazing in fascination at something completely irrelevant, missed what everyone else noticed – signs of hasty entry. The door was askew in its frame, and scuffed bootprints were evident in the dirt in front of it.

Samieth led the way into the cave system, lighting a torch to ward away the darkness. Stout wooden beams supported the walls, and hefty planks kept the roof from collapsing on top of them. A broken lantern hung forlorn on a hook next to the creaking door, and an empty rack for mining tools was propped against the other wall. The floor was made of dust, and the surrounding earth cooled the party as they went deeper into the tunnel, Sam and Quip discussing the finer points of being shorter than average humans.

Around a couple of corners, another primitive wooden door completely failed to block the smell of vermin and excrement. Using six planks to block a three-foot-wide passage leaves a lot of space between them, and Quip and Sam gave the gaps a sound eyeballing. The room behind the flimsy door was filthy, and the reason for the muck was all too apparent. A nest of huge rats snarled and snapped at each other in the corner, looking vile and smelling worse. The scent of human reached their nostrils, so they stopped fighting and turned their evil glares towards the door.

The party took a moment to debate whether they should just leave the rats to their squalid squabble, but quickly decided that they’d much rather kill them in cold blood. Pausing only to let Quip ready an arrow, Sam opened the door and went in swinging. The canny rats were ready for him though, and jumped out of the way of his rapier. Rob hustled into the room, casually lopping off a rat’s head as he passed it. Quip shook his head and let fly with his arrow, but since his view was partially blocked by his companion’s bulk, it only caught one of the giant rats a glancing blow. The head of the arrow lodged in the grimy creature’s hindquarters and, enraged, it lunged forward and bit Rob on the leg. Two more swarmed towards Sam, one trying to push his legs so he would fall over.

Stuck way back out in the corridor, Kyata could do little to aid her friends. Her sword would be a danger to everybody in such tight quarters, and she had no bow. A little closer in, Harriet aimed carefully and blasted solid force at the rat swarming over the thief, stunning it for a split second. Sam took the opportunity to stab it in the shoulder. Meanwhile, the runeblade sliced off the head off a second rat, this time decapitating the one that had bitten him earlier. Beside him, Quip stabbed another rat right in the spine; it jerked and twitched until he kicked it off the end of the blade. The last rat sprang towards Rob, biting and clawing desperately. It sank its filthy teeth into his thigh just before Kyata finally pushed her way into the room and sliced its legs off, leaving it to thrash weakly on the floor.

Ignoring the dead and dying vermin, the party cleaned their weapons carefully and went on to search the disgusting chamber. The wooden wall supports were caked with muck, and some had rotted halfway through. In the corner where the filth was thickest, Samieth turned up a thick glass vial full of a pale liquid.

“It’s dragon’s milk!” Quip yelled hastily.

Harriet snatched it from the rogue’s hand and stared at it intently, her eyes briefly smouldering with pale fire. “It is not dragon milk. It’s too thick. This here is a vial of Sovereign Glue.”

Sovereign Glue, as all good adventurers know, is the strongest binding agent in the world. The creation of a slightly mad wizard, Kivan “the Bald” Sovereign, it binds together any two solid surfaces in less than ten seconds. Originally nicknamed Kivan Longhair, the infamous mage had stumbled upon the recipe for the Glue in his lifelong search for a better shampoo. He died ancient and bitter more than a century later, grimly hanging on to life until he was sure that there was no way to regrow his flowing golden locks.

Back in the mine, the party had given up their search. Disturbing the rats’ nest had aggravated the stink, and it finally grew bad enough to force the adventurers out or begin to choke on the noxious fumes. They continued up the passage that had led them past this room. A few feet past the corner lay another flimsy wooden door, and through the cracks in it Samieth and Quip could see that the room was empty, save for a pool of stagnant water in one corner.

After a quick check inside the room, the others left Quip the budding alchemist to scrape a sample of moss from the scum at the top of the puddle. It was difficult to collect the stuff, since any contact with it pushed it further away, but after a few tries the swashbuckler got the hang of it and scooped a generous glob into a small vial. The others, meanwhile, had turned another corner and found two more doors at the end of the corridor. Both were more solidly-constructed than the previous ones, and the doorframes were actually fitted wood instead of the dusty rock of the cave walls.

Samieth opened one, revealing a room more strongly reinforced than the rest of the mine. The buttresses were made of thicker wood and placed closer together. Along one wall was propped a broken pick and a bedroll was unfurled next to it. Other than that, the room was empty.

Kyata opened the other door, and peered inside. A lantern sat on a table in the middle of the room, throwing enough light to illuminate the particularly sturdy beams holding up the roof. One was cracked, and a small amount of dust drifted down and settled onto a small pile next to the table. Behind it, two more large rats flattened their feral ears and hissed.

The tall fighter had no tolerance for that sort of naughty behaviour, and strode briskly up to one rat and mashed it into a bloody pulp on the floor. Samieth stole forwards and tried to stab the other one in the face, but it dodged aside, greasy whiskers twitching madly.

In the other room Quip straightened up, pleased with his green squishy prize, and promptly had his head and shoulders engulfed by some thing that wrapped muscular tentacles around his torso and started squeezing. His muffled cries went unheard, and as he tried to draw his dagger a ropy tendril twined down his arm and pulled his hand away from his belt. He clenched his other hand into a fist and tried to punch the thing off his head, but being unaware of one’s attacker’s general size and shape tends to throw off one’s aim slightly.

In the tunnel with the two doors, the dwarven wizard flicked a hand casually. A blast of white energy slammed the second rat in the flank, spinning it halfway around as it leapt towards the rogue. In front of her, the runeblade ran forward, leapt onto the table, and slashed down through the confused rodent’s back, splitting it into two foul-smelling and bloody halves. Content with the now ratless room, Kyata marched back up the corridor to see what was taking Quip so long. A strange sight greeted her as she drew level with the door. The dark-skinned swashbuckler had a large leathery mass on his head, and it appeared to be squeezing it like a ripe melon.

“That thing, it is eating your head, yes?”

The ever-impractical Quip, always conscious of his audience, turned to where he thought the door was. He flipped the tentacles in a nonchalant manner and struck a fashionable pose. Kyata, by now used to her companion’s over-the-top theatrics, decided that it was either a deadly danger or some weird kind of hat. Either one would be entertaining.

The hat continued to strangle its wearer.

Samieth followed Kyata back to the pool room, and then also stood and watched Quip prance about with his new headwear. The now-breathless swashbuckler reached for his dagger with his other arm, but that hand too was twisted away before it reached its destination. Aggravated, he grabbed the tentacles twisting down his shoulders and gave an ineffectual yank. Meanwhile, Harriet and Rob searched the room with the table for anything other than dead rat.

Kyata, deciding that perhaps her compatriot’s new bonnet was not altogether friendly, chopped at it with her enormous sword. Luckily for the hapless Quip, her caution made her miss the creature and, more importantly, him. Samieth circled around behind it and carefully skewered it straight through the middle. The thing shuddered and then hung limp, its tentacles slowly uncurling. The thief flicked it casually aside. “You want to get yourself a fashion sense, mate.”

The darker man cleared his throat a few times, sounding as if he was re-inflating his lungs. He was. “Can we rest here for a bit? That thing almost choked me to death.”

The others had sustained some minor injuries on the way to the mine, so they readily agreed. After two hours, in which Sam checked all of the rooms more thoroughly, they all felt recovered enough to move on. Quip stood in the room for a couple of seconds after the others had left, weighing up the potential benefits of the dead creature as an actual non-living hat. He eventually decided against it, and ran after the others. Back down near the entrance was an unexplored tunnel, and they still hadn’t found the gnomes that they were looking for.

The end of the tunnel was once the active shaft of the mine. It looked unfinished, and the shoring-up seemed hasty but sound. A cart lay on its side, half-full of stones and dirt; a single lonely shovel leaned against it. Slightly confused, the party conferred for a moment, then Sam and Harriet went up close to the rock wall and searched it carefully.

No hidden doors. No secret push-brick triggers. The only thing either of them found was a tiny nugget of copper, scarcely the size of a fingernail.

The map was consulted. “There’s a big gap here. Looks a little fishy to me,” Rob volunteered, pointing to a spot halfway back up the corridor. They tracked back through the dirt, raising clouds of it around their boots.

“About here. There should be something in this wall.”

The wizard and rogue set to searching again, from opposite ends of the small stretch of corridor. Harriet quickly found something – her hand sank straight through the rock wall in front of her after only five feet. Cautiously, she waved her hand through the illusory wall a couple of times and, when nothing bad happened, stuck her head in. A handful of gnomes were sitting in one corner, all but one with their hands behind their backs and rope around their ankles. The last gnome was free, and was sawing through the bonds of one of the others with an especially small dagger. In the corner opposite the illusory wall lay an unconscious man, his arms and legs tied with thick rope.

The dwarf quickly (and more importantly, quietly) pulled her head back out of the room. She motioned her companions to silence, then waved at Samieth.

“What?” he replied.

Furious shushing and neck-slitting motions were his only response, but it was too late. A high-pitched voice that was trying to sound deep and booming shouted “who’s out there?”

A chorus of idiocy sounded. The two women could only shake their heads in disbelief as Rob replied with “well who’s in there?”, Sam with “not you”, and Quip with “Quip McGee, The Brave Adventurer!” A moment of silence greeted these jumbled proclamations, during which a dull thump could be distinctly heard from inside the hidden room. “What do you want?” the deep voice asked.

The swashbuckler started to list things, but was shouted down by Sam and Harriet. “Zeefor the innkeep sent us to look for and possibly lend assistance to his missing cousins. You wouldn’t happen to be them, would you?”

“We would indeed,” the voice replied, now making no pretence to being larger than it was. The four gnomes emerged from the illusory wall, carrying the unconscious and still-tied-up man by a limb each. “We were chasing this lug here. He owed almost four gold pieces on his bar tab,” one of them said, shaking his head in the disapproving manner common to all bouncers everywhere, the one that suggests violence is due to someone in the vicinity in a very short period. “We’ll take him back to town now, if that’s alright with you lot,” he continued in a carefully not-quite menacing voice. “Thanks for the help and all that.”

“Er, sure,” Harriet replied, a little confused at being intimidated by someone even shorter than herself. “Glad to be of service.”

The small procession continued down the hallway and vanished around the corner that led to the outside world, calling small glowing orbs into being as they passed beyond the range of Sam’s torch.

With the inhabitants out of the way, the party examined the room. Hewn from solid rock rather than the sandy loam of the rest of the mine, the room seemed to have taken a great deal of effort to make. The ceiling was still supported by heavy wooden beams, but these were made from tougher stuff than the ones in the corridors and were four inches thick. The floor was paved with flat flagstones, likely chipped from the stone quarried from the very chamber they were now a part of. In their haste, the gnomes had overlooked a small pouch under the man’s discarded cloak. It jingled heavily.

Finding nothing else to satisfy their curiosity (and having completed their objective), the party left the mine and headed back to civilization. Zeefor would be pleased to get his cousins back, and they had managed to make a tidy profit already. This had turned out quite well, all things considered.

Stay tuned – our regular programme resumes on the 16th of July!

Back in the mysterious ruined temple, will our heroes brave the hidden door? How many of them will injure body parts trying to open it? And what dastardly secret lies beyond it?

Find out in two weeks!
Same D&D time, same D&D channel!


Achievement-Style Bonus XP

Achievement Character Type
Home Alone (guard duty) Marquis G
Functioning Eyeballs (hasty entry) Not Quip X
Got Wood? (door cracks) Sam I
Guillotine (falchion) Rob K
Spineless Weasel (rapier) Quip K
Legless Wonder (greatsword) Kyata K
You Milked A WHAT? (not really) Quip X
Detect Milk (wait a minute) Harriet I
Amateur Alchemist (attempted) Quip I
Om Nom Nom (delicious head) Quip X
Smitten (greatsword) Kyata K
Death From Above (falchion + table) Rob K
#1 War-Themed Hat Simulator (having fun) Kyata X
Too Sexy For My Lungs (poseur extraordinaire) Quip X
Poker Face (rapier) Sam K
Invisible Wall (hands first) Harriet I
Silence Is Golden (and broken) Sam X
Choir of the Dumbed (derp derp) Rob, Sam, Quip X
Voices of Reason (thank you) Harriet, Sam X
In Limbo (you started it) Quip P
In Limbo (didn’t finish it) Sam, Rob P
Silent Cartographer Harriet M
Gnomes Found (adventure completed) Everyone A
Bonus Achievement – Half-Hearted Herald (2600 words) Zedric I
Type Meaning Bonus XP
P Penalty Varies
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
View
Initial Adventures 04
Suddenly, Darkness

Jump to Achievements

Last time, on the D&D channel, our brave heroes had been contracted to remove the vile undead from an abandoned temple, thousands of years old. After fighting numerous foes and rescuing a baby dragon from a cave-in, they are nearing the completion of their task.

Current Party:

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

We rejoin the adventure with Marquis and Samieth clamped like limpets onto a thirty-foot pillar in the middle of a draughty stone chamber. The ranger had just thrown a bag full of coins directly onto Quip’s bruised noggin, and now the sissy swashbuckler collapsed to the floor, unconscious. Scampering back down like the brachiating mammals they are, the rogue and the ranger joined the others in staring down at the insensate man.

“We should leave him here – he will only slow us down, and it is as safe here as anywhere else,” the half-elf said, anxious to finish clearing the ruin while daylight still lit the forest above. “When he wakes he should not have trouble finding us again.”

Pausing only to retrieve the bags of money that had been left in the slumbering swashbuckler’s concussed care, the party set off again, five-strong once more. Well, two-okay and three-sort-of-banged-up-a-bit, anyway. The north-west corner of the temple was the first stop of the afternoon, and after a cursory trap-test by the thief a hasty ear was pressed to the cold stone. An odd scraping sounded intermittently from the other side of the door, and wet pulpy sounds like meat being hit with a hammer occasionally joined in.

Believing that another fungus creature may be in the room beyond, Marquis wrapped an arrow in a oil-soaked rag and lit it. She nodded to Kyata, who swung open the door. A pile of rubbish lay in one corner, along with what looked like humanoid body parts. Two zombies were sifting through it, fighting over a disembodied head, and two complete skeletons lay in another corner. Vindicated, though slightly misled on the exact details, the ranger let fly with her flame-wreathed flight, striking one of the struggling zombies in the back. Swiftly drawing another arrow from her quiver, she sighted along the shaft and released it just as the rotting corpse straightened up and turned to face the party. It moaned an unearthly, sepulchral cry, and the other dropped the head it had been snuffling at and sniffed the air in the direction of the fresh meat, its eyes milky orbs of grave-rot and blindness.

Samieth appeared inside the cavernous chamber, sword at the ready. A swift thrust towards one of the skeletons was foiled as it rolled partly to one side and raised itself to its knees. Startled, the rogue only just dodged out of the way as the animated remains swung a bony claw towards him. The other fleshless shell had also risen from the floor, and it too clawed at the man. Sam dodged this one more easily than the last, settling back into the rhythm of battle. Behind him, the towering fighter exploded into action, throwing herself forwards and slashing into the un-arrowed zombie’s torso. Though everyone crowded into the small room, the next minute was spent in a furious dance of blades, bony claws, rotten arms and blasts of magical force in which nobody was even scratched.

Eventually though, the tireless undead began to wear down their living foes, with a straight-arm punch delivered right into Marquis’ face. Her lip split and her mouth filled with blood, the half-elf fought back with renewed passion. A wayward blast from Harriet’s stubby fingers disrupted the staggering cadaver for long enough for the ranger’s longsword to slice a terrible gash across its middle. The cut gaped open, the rancid flesh flapping loosely above what once was a man’s waist. A second burst from the dwarf hurled the animate carcass into the wall beside it, cracking its skull and jellying its limbs, just as Marquis swung forwards with what would have been the finishing blow.

Meanwhile, the skeletons had focused their attention onto Sam. After a few quick feints, a claw to the ribcage, and a brief backhanded swipe from Kyata, the rogue hammered the pommel of his borrowed shortsword into the skull of one of the skeletons. The skull cracked under the force of the blow, splintering inwards and catching itself around the flared end of the handle. The rest of the bones clattered to the floor, and the thief took advantage of the distraction to quickly roll past the second skeleton to try and distract the second zombie, which was faring little better. Forced into a one-on-one with Kyata, the best it could do was to flail ineffectually at the steel plates that encased her while being slowly hacked to pieces by the huge sword she wielded. A well-timed blast from Harriet impacted this walking cadaver also, momentarily stunning it. A moment was all the fearsome fighter needed, and she swung her greatsword in an impressive U-shape that neatly severed all of her adversary’s rotting limbs, leaving the head and torso to bounce with a squelch off the stone floor.

“Hey, watch where you swing that thing! Someone could get hurt,” the thief protested from the other side of the dismembered corpse.

“Not to worry little man, I very careful.”

As Samieth vacated the space in front of him, Rob stepped calmly forward and brought his falchion sweeping down, crackling through the air in an great overhand blow. The etched sigil on the blade sparked to life as it bit into the last skeleton’s shoulder, sending thousands of volts searing through the magic that animated the calcified corpse. Massively overloaded, the arcane framework shattered, hurling chunks of cartilage and bits of bone across the room to bounce off ceilings and walls.

Surveying the room and finding nothing of interest, the party moved to the door in the north wall. Another circular corridor awaited them, and a brief search turned up only tiny fragments of bone. A quick examination brought up two competing theories as to their origins – either a rat or a small fish could have died in here. Considering that the only source of water was the long-dry fountain, it was more likely to once have been a rat.

Quip was dreaming pleasant dreams. All of a sudden, they turned slightly strange. A thousand fleshless rats swarmed up his legs and covered his body. They didn’t bite or scratch, just covered him from head to toe. Then one of them did bite him. The rest swarmed down his body and started chewing on his feet, each one vanishing as soon as it took a mousy mouthful. When they were all gone, his dream continued as if nothing had ever happened.

Back in the other room, Kyata stood carefully to the side of the other door and stretched out a hand to touch the handle. As expected, the square of floor in front of the false door sprouted a gaping hole. The fighter peered down into it, then shrugged and followed the others back out the door they had entered through.

Rob checked his map. “By the looks of it, there should be rooms here and here – so we should check along all of this passageway,” he said, pointing to a long looping passage in the northwest of the ruin. “We didn’t find any doors the last time we were there, so this time we should go over every inch.”

Eventually the runeblade’s suspicions were confirmed, and a door discovered. Marking the edges with chalk, Samieth checked it carefully for any traps of either the hidden blade or falling floor types. “I can’t find anything, do you think you could-”

Marquis kicked in the door, holding her sword high. Once a place of silent prayer, the room now gathered dust and cobwebs. A single miniscule spider ran up the wall next to the door. The wizard extended a hand and casually blasted it into a greenish smear.

“Was that really necessary?” the ranger asked, frowning.

“We were told to clear the whole ruin, weren’t we?” Harriet replied innocently.

Sifting through the cobwebbed corners revealed no hidden treasure, so the party left to check the corresponding room on the other side of the ruin. They backtracked through the southern corridors, carefully avoiding the room with the low ceiling. A determined search revealed the door on this side of the maze, and it opened to reveal a heaped pile of gold, gems, and odd-looking weapons. His eyes wide, Rob started towards it. As he stepped forward, the treasure faded away to almost complete transparency, then back to almost-solidity again. It continued on like this as the party watched, never quite becoming solid enough to touch – though irritated hands and swords were swung through it with some regularity.

Harriet concentrated for a moment, and her eyes glowed briefly with white fire. “This whole room reeks of illusion magic. Right powerful it is, too – this was the work of no novice.” Everyone else busied themselves with searching the room, looking for clues as to the illusion’s source or just for miscellaneous items that may have been left behind; they found neither.

Long after the others had abandoned their search, Marquis was still scouring the walls with a fiery glare from mere inches away. “Something is not right here. Illusions are tools of distraction, of misdirection – there must be something that we have missed.” A stone block with a single chipped corner drew her attention, and her ire. With nothing else to explain the empty room, she retrieved her crowbar from her pack and set about removing the block from the wall. “Is there anything unusual about this block?” she asked the wizard, handing over the large brick. “Anything at all?”

Harriet checked the heavy stone as carefully as she could, but could find nothing amiss. The ranger was peering into the earthy hollow left by the block when the dwarf nudged her. “There’s nothing wrong with it – it’s healthy limestone with remarkably little weathering, considering how long it’s been down here.” Hearing this, Kyata turned from the room and started wandering slowly away, trusting that the others would follow soon enough.

“And nothing lies behind it but the earth itself,” the half-elf replied dispiritedly. “It seems as though this room has no purpose after all.” She shook her head. “Come, the centre of the maze awaits us still.”

As they were near the room with the low ceiling, Samieth decided to check that his rope-work was still good. He had the others wait, and crawled into the middle of the room to see to the iron rod. It still held firm against the immeasurable weight of the stone ceiling, so he called to the others and motioned them through.

In the middle of the ruin two unexplored corridors led southwards, away from the flickering light of their torches. Marquis was limping slightly and nursing several wounds, so Samieth took point. He led them down the east passage, and at the second corner a door awaited them. The rogue checked the door for traps and, finding none, opened it. Or at least, that was the plan. He pushed and pulled, but neither yielded results. His attention was drawn to the horizontal hand-slot in the middle of the door, and he mumbled something under his breath. Placing both hands into the crack, he planted his feet firmly against the floor and tried to lift. When this drew no response from the giant slab, he braced himself again and heaved upwards with all of his strength. Still nothing.

Kyata coughed delicately. The rogue turned a sweating face in her direction, and after a while his stony expression brightened. He took back the torch he had handed to Rob, and with nary a word he turned back to the huge stone, a half-smile twitching on his lips. A single finger pressed lightly downwards, and the door rumbled quietly into the floor. He turned to grin at the tall fighter. As he did, an enormous gust of wind blew from inside the room, extinguishing both the rogue’s torch and the ranger’s lantern in a quavering instant.

Pure darkness softly ensnared their eyes in velvety nothingness.

Nameless primordial dread clawed up through their chests. The instinctive fear of the night, passed down through countless generations, sprung fully-fledged into the minds of human and elf alike. This was not the mere absence of light – the temple had lain empty for thousands of years, the bitter blackness roiling and stretching its time-forged hatred into every corner and crevice. Held back no longer by the flighty flicker of flame, it flowed silently forward to swallow the pitiful specks that had disturbed its baleful vigil.

Adrenalin coursed through the veins of those pitiful specks, and though their vision was gone (gone, gone forever, a silent primal voice whispered inside their heads), their other senses ran at fever pitch. Every sound they had dismissed before seemed to magnify a hundredfold – the expression “as quiet as the grave” was a lie. Their breathing thundered in their ears, as loud as the shouts and cries of pitched battle. The skittering at their feet had changed, and now slavered and chomped as though a thousand hounds from the very pits of hell snapped at their heels. Malice edged the dripping noise they had ignored since entering the ruin; the blood of demons could not make sounds more foul and filled with dark promise. It splashed into a shallow pool of bile, the only remnant of the ignorant invaders who last dared breathe here.

Now deathly still, the air began to smell ever so faintly. It was not so much a scent as the absence of all odour – the kind of atmosphere that existed at the beginning of the world. Ancient and bone-dry, it wreathed through their lungs, leeching moisture and life from their bodies. The crushing weight of four thousand empty years descended. What use was it all, really? Plunder the dungeon, receive a pittance instead of a reward, repeat. What is the use? their racial memories whispered.

A tiny glimmer of white heat flared for an instant. The shadows rushed in to smother it.

Many others, more worthy than you, have tried and failed. Why do you think you are special?

Another flash fizzled and died, consumed by the malignant murk.

Why continue on? Why not save the time and end it all? It’s better than you deserve…

This time, the oil caught the fading spark and burst into glorious flame. It speared through the tenebrous gloom, its orange radiance shining bright and strong and clean.

With trembling fingers, Marquis returned the flint to the pocket of her pack. Samieth relit his smoking brand and avoided everyone’s eyes. Kyata shook herself mentally, loosening her death-grip on the handle of her sword. Rob traced the runes on his falchion with a nervous fingertip, seeming to draw strength from the geometric patterns. Harriet blinked rapidly, readjusting her dwarven eyes to work in the light again, completely oblivious to the insidious terrors her companions had just entertained.

Quip rolled over in blissful unconsciousness.

Saying nothing, not even looking at each other, the adventurers searched the room quickly. Sam stared at the ceiling for a while, but there were no gaps or cracks through which the mighty wind could have blown, and it was the same height as those in many of the other rooms in the maze. Harriet concentrated, and her eyes blazed white again. Sensing no magical emanations, she shrugged and went back to searching manually.

When they were finished checking the empty room, the party stopped outside for a quick breather to try and recover some of their normal good humour. The terrors of the deepest dark were not easily shaken off, though, so after only a minute they moved on, hoping that time and distance would do what rest could not. The next door was cast from solid iron, and felt colder than the stone around it. That was just because it was metal, though – which conducts heat better than stone does. Nothing supernatural about it. No sir.

Sam checked the door thoroughly for traps. Rob reminded him of the other iron doors, and how the traps were in the wall behind the door. Sam checked the wall behind him thoroughly for traps. Finding none either time, he opened the door. What looked like the crumpled skeleton of a dog lay broken in one corner. A glint of metal shone from underneath it.

Recalling the thief’s propensity for missing dangerous traps hidden near doors, everyone stood carefully out of the line of fire as Samieth strode into the room. Their suspicions were well-founded, as the rogue’s first step crumbled beneath him. Overbalanced, he fell forwards and dropped his torch. The malice of the darkness had dulled his reflexes, so his desperate grab for the bottom of the doorframe was too late. Rob dived forward to try and catch his companion, but the speed of the situation bested him, too.

A second’s pause, then a bone-jolting crunch.

A long and well-informed string of expletives rose from the ragged hole, displaying an impressive grasp of comparative anatomy.

This broke the tension that was still knotted tightly around and through the others, and they set about retrieving the swearing thief with renewed vigour.

“Are you okay, little man?” Kyata enquired of the cursing chasm.

“I could do with a massage,” Sam replied through clenched teeth.

“That not such a good idea. Last person I give massage, end up with broken back.”

A knotted rope uncoiled down the rough wall of the pit, Marquis holding the top end. Samieth, battered and bruised, grabbed the end of it and bent his strength to climbing up it. Everyone else hauled back on the other end, stopped intermittently by the knots catching on the lip of the hole, and pulled the hapless thief up out of the dirty pit.

“Well, that was fun. Who wants to go next?”

The runeblade stepped forward into the doorway and, clinging tightly to the frame, carefully straddled the stone to gauge the strength of the floor on the side of the pit. A tentative toe tested the torn cobblestones, and when they did not immediately fall away he pushed with more of his weight. The floor crunched downwards alarmingly, then after a brief pause the flagstone broke free of its mortar and bounced down into the pit. He swung back to the safety of the passage. “The floor’s not safe ‘round the edge. I wouldn’t trust the other side much neither.”

Marquis stepped forward, injured though she was. After a brief tussle with the knots, the rope was tied firmly around her waist. She stepped back, pressing against the wall of the corridor. Two swift strides and she leapt, landing with easy grace on the other side of the pit. The others tightened their grip on the rope, ready to pull her back if needed.

She advanced cautiously toward the pathetic-looking heap of bones, and carefully shifted them out of the way to grasp the shiny metal underneath it. Her hand closed around its sharp edges, and she extracted it slowly from its osseous prison. She held it in the light of her lantern, and found to her dismay that it was simply a twisted fragment of iron. Out of nowhere, the bony skull sitting near the top of the pile jumped up and fastened sharp teeth around the hand holding the scrap. The other bones sprang to attention, scrambling into place behind the head. It let go of the ranger’s hand and rattled threateningly, managing to make it sound almost like a growl.

Trying to staunch the wound with her other hand, Marquis backed away a few steps, then suddenly turned and ran for the edge of the pit. She launched herself towards the other side, but her injury made her less precise. Her desperate leap was too shallow, and it looked as if she wasn’t going to make it. Their senses heightened by the tension (well, except Quip), the other adventurers yanked the rope taut. The extra tension propelled her forward to sprawl across the front ranks, toppling her rescuers like poorly-constructed trilithons.

After they had picked themselves up and dusted themselves off, the party stared across the gap at the pacing skeletal hound. It stared back with empty sockets, then rattled another growl in their general direction. A grappling hook soared through the air to clatter behind the dog, then bounced and skittered into the skeleton’s hindquarters as Samieth gave a sharp yank. The hook had tangled around its legs and spine, and as the other adventurers gathered up the slack in the rope, a voice came from behind them.

“Hey guys, what happened to that bag of-”

CRUNCH

Silence.

The rope had snapped taut as the others jerked in surprise, and the back half of the dog was forcefully separated from the front. It flew through the air and hit Quip full in the face – for that was who the voice belonged to. He sagged against the wall, sliding gently down it; the pelvis had struck him right between the eyes and knocked him out cold again. The other bones clattered as he fell onto them.

The front half of the canine skeleton, meanwhile, was having troubles of its own. The force of the removal of its hindquarters had pulled it forwards, and with only two legs it was having trouble co-ordinating its movements. It slid towards the hole, teetering on the edge for a second before toppling in.

“All of this for a twisted scrap of metal,” Marquis said, battered and weary. “I feel we are being cheated. The finish cannot come soon enough.”

Seeing how tired and wounded the ranger was, Rob offered to enhance the protection of her armour to prevent further injury. An intricate pattern of geometric lines and shapes grew as he chalked, an invisible force gently repelling his hand as he finished. “This is not just a mark of protection – it’s a symbol of trust. I’ll take point.” The runeblade led his wounded companions towards the third and final door at the end of the passage.

The thief checked the door for traps, now more wary than ever. One more injury and he wouldn’t be getting back up in a hurry. His nimble fingers finding nothing, he nodded to Rob, who opened the door. The room on the other side was the largest they had yet seen, which meant only that it contained even more emptiness than the others. The runeblade’s shoulders sagged disappointedly, and as he turned to tell the rest of the party, something leapt onto him from the side, clawing and biting.

Razor-edged teeth sank deep into his shoulder, tearing at muscle and scraping bone. The vile creature leapt off again, and bared its bloodied fangs in a feral snarl. Its gaunt frame supported sickly purplish flesh, and it reeked of foul necromancy and carrion. Its arms ended in wicked-looking claws, and its eyes burned like hot coals in their sunken sockets. Hunched over, it shifted restlessly and looked for another opportunity to tear at exposed flesh.

The runeblade leant into the vile creature’s next lunge with his curved sword, letting its own momentum impale it on the keen edge. The thing howled in impotent rage as the arcane marks on the falchion burst into lightning sparks again, sending crackling electricity arcing into the deep gash in its chest. Panting, the ghoulish figure retreated a step.

Behind it, Kyata swept her greatsword low, aiming for the legs. The creature hissed and spun, dodging the slash and leering terribly at the tall fighter. It jumped at Rob again, flailing with both claws. He blocked them, one with his blade and the other with a forearm, but the monster was more concerned with where it could sink its teeth. Ducking under the bearded runeblade’s guard, it wrenched a mouthful of flesh from his leg with its needle-sharp fangs. Its vile poison raced through his blood, pumped by his own treacherous heart. Completely paralyzed, he could only watch as the creature leaned in to tear out his throat, the burning eyes dancing with malicious glee.

A bloody metal shape suddenly protruded from the middle of its forehead. The horrible expression still fixed on its face, the monster continued its lunge. It fell full-length on the frozen Rob, but did not attack. Inches from his own, the feral eyes slowly lost their otherworldly gleam. The end of a feathered shaft stuck out of the back of its skull. Marquis lowered her bow.

After the runeblade had recovered, the room was quickly relieved of its material possessions. A hefty bag of coins was slid back up the hallway to slam into poor Quip’s abused cranium, and a suit of banded mail lay in one corner, missing its helmet. Inside was mouldy padding and a discorporated skeleton, missing its head. Sam gathered up most of the suit and dragged it up the corridor to drop on Quip for safekeeping. Seeing the potential for comedic relief, the party spent a few minutes twisting the pelvis of the doggy skeleton into place around the swashbuckler’s own hips, and pounding the groin plate of the banded armour into a new helmet for him. While it was on his head.

When that was done, they trailed up the corridor and back down the other one. As she rounded the corner, Harriet caught the outline of a door in the wall between the two passages. She pointed this out to the others, but since at the front of the line Sam was already checking another door for traps they decided to go back for that after they had finished this passage. No mechanical death-devices were discovered, so Rob swung open the door to reveal a room that looked as if it once served as living quarters. A row of stone benches were built into the west wall, and the far wall had a small niche in it, similar to those in many present-day dwellings used for images of the resident’s patron spirit.

After a quick search the party tromped back out, Marquis muttering about empty rooms, and Harriet pausing to scrape up a few ancient wooden slivers from the niche. The next door was iron, and after listening carefully to its chilly solidness the rogue held up a cautioning finger. Muffled footsteps were audible on the other side of the metal. He thrust it open with a resounding CLANG, and the sight that greeted him was a zombie shambling towards him. Behind it, the room looked as if it were once a chapel of some kind, with rows of stone benches and a bare altar at the other end of the room.

Recalling the crumbling floor in the room opposite this one, Sam simply stood there and watched as the undead shuffled closer to the door. With a great cracking and grinding noise, the floor gave way beneath the slow-moving corpse. It fell into the pit below, and two more zombies poked heads up from behind the altar.

“Come and get me, big boys,” the rogue called, striking a provocative pose in the doorway. The other adventurers looked at him oddly and edged away slightly, but the undead were attracted by his sheer animal magnetism. Well, it really worked on anything with minimal cognitive capacity, but animal magnetism is a better name than things-with-low-intelligence magnetism. Anyway, the walking dead shambled towards him, an eager gleam in their gormless eyes. Their low groans somehow became edged with sensuality, and their aimless grasping at the air started to look more like purposeful groping. A little unnerved, Sam backed away from the pit. The zombies shuffled forwards, moaning excitedly, and those watching could have sworn that they did not simply fall into the hole, but actually jumped.

Trying not to think of the symbolism of what he’d just unwittingly instigated, the thief peered down into the gaping chasm. The sound of heavy breathing echoed up the jagged walls, along with the occasional muffled groan. Shuddering from the implications, Sam jogged back to the suit of armour they’d left lying on top of Quip. Dragging it back to the pit, he found the others staring into the darkness, trying to make out what was happening in the gloom. “Clear the way, zombie crusher coming through!”

He rolled it over the lip and into the pit. The moaning stopped. The heavy breathing continued. “Someone give me some light, please?” the rogue asked.

Marquis detached the lantern from her belt and, standing as far as possible from the pit, handed it to the thief. He pointed it into the dimness at the bottom of the hole, took careful aim with the spear he’d found a few rooms back, and threw it downwards. A wet squelching noise ended the heavy breathing. He swung the door closed.

“Could we, uh, never speak of this again?” he queried. “If at all possible?”

The remainder of the corridor was traversed slowly, with everyone trying different things to try and forget what they had almost seen. The door at the end of it was completely clean, untouched by the centuries of dust and dirt. It swung open easily, and the room beyond was as clean as the door. Brilliant white limestone gleamed in the flickering light, each block pristine and untarnished. No scuff marks or scratches marred the floor, and the walls were as smooth as polished glass. The skittering at their feet, long since ignored, did not follow them into the room, and the ankle-high blue mist swirled unenthusiastically in the doorframe, hesitant about intruding upon the dazzling perfection. The party’s boots left no footprints – the immaculate stone seemed to absorb the dirt.

The whole room seemed to echo of age. Not the millennia-spanning spite of the dark places, but age all the same. The walls seemed to bear down upon the party, the weight of thousands of years behind them, crushing them into insignificance. However long the rest of the ruin had stood before they arrived, this room was immeasurably older. The taste of time dancing on their tongues, the party left the room in silence.

How old is the mysterious white room? What lies behind the secret door in the middle of the ruin? And how many more times can Quip be hit on the head before he dies or goes insane?

Tune in next week to find out!
Same D&D time, same D&D channel!


Achievement-Style Bonus XP

Achievement Character Type
Dead Weight (bag of coins) Marquis X
Flaming Fletching (fire arrow) Marquis I
Comedy of Errors (hit nothing) Everyone X
I Cast Magic Missile (force blast) Harriet K
Headbanger (shortsword pommel) Sam K
Quadriplegia (greatsword) Kyata K
Shocking Burst (electric-runed falchion) Rob K
Delicious Toes (slept through it) Quip X
The Admiral’s Revenge (found it) Kyata I
Analytical Cartography (map holes) Rob I
Arachnicide (so tiny) Harriet X
Faded Beauty (booby prize) Everyone X
Magic Senses Tingling! (illusion) Harriet I
Fishing For Chips (nothing there) Marquis X
Some Go Down (told you) Kyata X
Some Go Down (this one does) Sam X
Alone In The Dark (together) Everyone X
Nerves of Flint (and steel) Marquis X
They Came From Behind (dart trap) Rob I
Finder’s Fee (pit trap) Sam X
Dive Well (missed) Rob X
Skeletal Rearrangement (massage) Kyata X
Rope Trick (knot really) Marquis I
Edge-Finding Algorithm (pit trap) Rob I
Om Nom Nom (delicious hand) Marquis X
Long-Range Grapple (hooked) Sam I
Leap of Faith (almost failed) Marquis X
Woof Woof Werf? Yipe Yipe Yip Yip Yip (grappling hook) Everyone K
Teabagged (dog pelvis) Quip X
Graffiti Artist (protection rune) Rob I
Frozen Stiff (paralysis) Rob X
Trepanning (longbow) Marquis K
Dress-up Time! (new helmet) Quip X
Dwarven Aptitude (secret door) Harriet I
Disturbing Imagery (pit trap) Sam K
Silent Cartographer Rob M
Bonus Achievement – Summary Much? (5000 words) Zedric I
Type Meaning Bonus XP
P Penalty Varies
K Impressive Kill 5
I Good Idea 10
G Guard Duty 10
M Mapping Duty 10
C Character Development 20
X Misc Varies
View
Initial Adventures 03
Finally, Some Actual Combat!

Jump to Achievements

Last time, on the D&D channel, our brave heroes were clearing reanimated corpses from a centuries-old subterranean structure. Although they have checked at least half of the rooms, all they have to show for it is a few bagfuls of coins, some smooth pebbles and two zombies’ worth of bones.

Current Party:
  • Marquis, half-elf ranger
  • Harriet, dwarven wizard
  • Kyata, human fighter
  • Rob, human runeblade
  • Sam, human thief
Introducing:
  • Quip McGee, human swashbuckler

We rejoin our heroes just in time to see them settling down to an uncomfortable night’s sleep. The iciness of stone that has not known the light of the sun for untold years seeped through their bedrolls as they slept, and pale blue fog wreathed their prone forms, dancing and swirling in the unseen eddies of their breath. After two hours of seeing nothing but mist and hearing nothing but the ever-present scuttling, Rob woke Marquis to take the second watch. Shivering from the lack of even the dubious warmth of her blankets, the half-elf took the runeblade’s place near the door and settled down to another uneventful vigil. When she judged that two more hours had passed, she prodded Sam awake with her boot and then sank gratefully back into dreamless oblivion. The thief grumbled awake, then sat in brooding silence with a well-worn book until his time, too, was up. A single touch was enough to rouse the next watch – Kyata slept lightly, with one hand on her weapon. Yawning hugely in the faint azure glow, the tall nordic woman took up her greatsword, then sat facing the door and laid the five-foot blade across her knees. After a couple more hours, when she judged that her companions had slumbered long enough, she nudged them awake.

While the others stretched cramped limbs and tried with varying amounts of success to shake off the chill of the ancient stone, Samieth rummaged around in his pack and came up with the bags of coins that he’d pilfered the day before. He threw them to the floor in front of his bleary-eyed companions, remarking that it had been more than three days, and that now it didn’t matter anymore. Puzzled looks prompted him to explain further.

“The Thieves’ Guild requires its members to report in at least every three days. If you don’t you’re presumed missing. Missing thieves are presumed dead. Even if they’re not actually dead, they may as well be – to the Guild, that is. The businesses that front for the Guild won’t deal with a missing thief, and other shops follow their example. So all of this is useless to me now,” he said, indicating the coins that had spilled from the bags.

“We have been here but two days,” Marquis replied. “Might not we be finished before nightfall?”

“I didn’t check in before we left. This would be the fourth day since I last stopped at the Guild. So go ahead, divvy it all up – my only condition is that if I need anything one of you will buy it for me.”

As the others counted up the gold and divided it amongst themselves, Kyata moved to check the door and found a “bit of problem – door is locked.” Samieth, wise to the door’s tricks, checked it carefully for suspicious vertical slits before unrolling his toolkit. For a couple of minutes, the skittering at their feet was accompanied by the quiet clicking of a thin needle and hook, as well as the sounds of multiple humanoids stamping and rubbing warmth back into chilly limbs. When he was satisfied with the lock, the thief stood well to the side of the door and pulled it inwards. No blades swung from either side of the door, so the party tromped out into the hallway in search of the missing undead. The mist followed them, coiling around their ankles and spreading gently outwards into the ruin.

As they headed towards the cracked section of passageway, Marquis paused and looked carefully at the rubble. She knew that earthquakes sometimes damaged subterranean structures like this one, but this looked too focused, too neat. Nevertheless, that was the best cause she could think of, so she shrugged mentally and followed the others through the fallen stone. She recalled that there had been a drawn-out series of minor tremors in this area a hundred years ago, and reasoned that the walls had probably crumbled from those. As they went, the party checked the rubble carefully for signs of recent tremors.

A careless glance into a rock-strewn corner would reveal nothing to humans, and even the keen eyes of elves would not have noticed. But to a dwarf who has spent more than thirty years at home beneath the earth, a single glimpse from the corner of one eye was all that was needed to reveal the shape of a doorway hidden amongst the cracks spidering across the stone walls. With a single utterance from the wizard, the attention of the party immediately turned to this concealed doorway. Clearing the rubble from the front of the door, the shape became more apparent to the rest of the party, and the suggestion was put forward that they try to force it open. Quick exploratory pushing and pulling were met with stiff resistance, but pushing seemed to work a little better. Everyone gathered around the door and braced themselves against it, each other, and whatever else they could reach – and on the count of three, shoved as hard as they could. The multi-ton block gave ground slowly, and scraped to a stop after half an inch.

“Are there hinges? If we could remove them our task would be far simpler,” Marquis suggested. As she said it, she remembered the shape of the other doors that were similar to this – none had visible hinges.

“These slab-type doors don’t come with regular hinges,” Rob replied. “The stone’d be too heavy for ‘em and the door’d break right off. What you usually get with this style o’ door is a pivot – the top an’ bottom have these round half-knobs that sit into the frame. They spin on that when you push ‘em, and these ones seem in really good nick, considering how long they been here.”

Unsatisfied, the ranger crouched down to try and look through the thin gap beneath the stuck door. Finding it completely blocked, she pulled a piton out of her well-stocked pack and tried to scrape it clear. A minute was enough to determine that the blockage was on the other side, and no amount of gouging from here would remove it. Meanwhile, half of the party clomped up the hallway to a similar door, to try and see if there was any way that they could get at the pivots. It did not appear that there was, so they wandered back to the rockfall.

The entrance to the ruin lay some distance into the forest, and that in turn was some distance from the nearest town. Nevertheless, someone had trekked all the way to the vine-covered doorway and now stood staring down the stairs into the gloom. Pulling a torch from his pack and lighting it, he descended the stone steps and entered the ancient structure.

Back at the stuck door, interesting things were happening. Marquis and Harriet both had crowbars out of their packs, and were trying to wedge the ends of them between the door and its frame. The amazing craftsmanship of the ruin was working against them, though, because even though the earthquake had shaken the walls down it had done nothing to the seams around the door. There just wasn’t enough space to fit the crowbar heads into.

“Right, I know what this needs,” the wizard said. She pulled a pickaxe from her backpack, and was immediately overwhelmed with suggestions of “go as high as you can reach!” “No, try and destroy the pivots!” “Make a hole for the crowbars!” “No, start at the bottom!” Eventually, a consensus was reached and the dwarf started hacking at the door just above the handle.

The mysterious stranger, meanwhile, had been momentarily disconcerted by the skittering and chattering in the dim light around his feet, but quickly dismissed the noises and moved confidently onwards. His confidence slowly eroded, however, as he wandered through the ruin. Branching corridors were the order of the day, and after the third intersection he wasn’t entirely sure where he was anymore. In spite of this, he continued on, peering into open doorways as he passed. In one room, he found mould and spores spread over most of the ceiling and walls, and through the door on the other side he could hear voices and a rhythmic hammering. The stranger crept stealthily along the passageway towards the voices, and stopped when he saw the flickering light from the party’s torch and lantern. Peering around the corner, he noticed that nobody was looking in his direction. He took this as a sign, and jumped out into full view shouting “BOO!”

Startled out of their wits and fumbling for their weapons, the adventurers spun round. Fortunately, they knew the stranger – he was the missing member of their team. “Quip! What the hell are you doing? We might have killed you!”

Accusations were flung back and forth, largely to do with a certain someone oversleeping and other people leaving without waking said sleeper. After everyone had had a go at everyone else, they went back to watching Harriet hack methodically at the door. After a quick break for breakfast, several complaints from Quip about why were they wasting time with this damn door anyway, and a solid half-hour of dwarf-encouraged monotonous chanting to keep the rhythm, a hole big enough for a hand was knocked through the twelve-inch stone slab. Marquis peered through the hole, but there wasn’t enough light to see anything on the other side. Samieth grabbed a torch, held it next to his face, and tried to peer through the hole into the room beyond, singeing his eyebrow in the process. Unfortunately, he held it too close to his eye and light-blinded himself. “How about we let Harriet look? Dwarves can see in the dark, you know.”

While the others had to bend over to see through the hole, the wizard simply walked up to it and stared imperiously through. As she expected, the other side of the door had fallen stone piled against it. Unexpectedly, the rest of the room looked as if something had been living in it for a couple of days. After Harriet had loosed a few blasts of force from her fingertips, trying to break the rest of the door down, this information was relayed to the rest of the party.

“Hello?” Kyata volunteered.

A small, meek voice responded. “Hello?”

“You not echo, are you?”

“No, I’m stuck in here. Please let me out!”

“How you get stuck?”

“I was exploring and the roof caved in,” the voice said, sounding as if it was holding back tears. “It almost fell on top of me!”

“Is okay now, we get you out,” the fighter reassured the hidden presence. “You are person?”

“Well, I think I am,” the voice replied, a little bashfully. It had taken a while, but by now most of the listeners had realized that the voice was female.

“You not human?”

“No,” she admitted in the same timid tone.

“Are you animal?”

“I don’t think so,” she said, a little bit offended.

“Do you have hands?”

“Not really.”

“Do you have feet?”

“Not really.”

“What you have instead of feet, then?”

“Well, I… they’re a little bit like claws, but I guess they are feet.”

“How many feet?”

“Four. I have four feet. Are you going to make the hole bigger?” the trembling voice queried. “My mother will be worried about me.”

Spurred into action by the piteous pleas, the party gathered around the door again. “Ready everyone? HEAVE!” They pushed with all their might, but only managed to squeeze out another inch of grinding, grudging movement – and seeing as how the door was about a foot thick, this wasn’t a great improvement. As the others rested from their exertions, Harriet borrowed Marquis’ lantern and scanned the door intently, nose inches from the cool stone. “I think I can break this door down. See these fault lines?” she said, tracing her fingers in irregular jagged patterns down the door. The others nodded obediently, seeing nothing special about those particular lines but trusting the dwarven sixth sense for stonework. “I can chip into them and weaken the slab. Then we just push in the middle and the whole thing crumbles. It should take no more than an hour.” Kyata relayed this through the hole into the dark room. “You hear that, little one? We get you out soon. Do not be worrying.”

As the dwarf started chipping at the grain of the stone, Quip became restless. “If I’d known that today was just gonna be us sitting around watching Beardo here chisel rocks, I’d’ve slept in again. Let’s go find some zombies!” A quick discussion split the party in half, with Kyata and Rob staying to make sure no harm befell the wizard while she worked, and Marquis and Sam going with the impatient swashbuckler. Rob grunted, and waved the thief over. A single stern warning about not losing one or letting go of the other and several carefully etched geometric lines later, Sam walked back to the other two with the map of the dungeon and a small crimson rune pulsing faintly on the blade of his sword. With a cheery wave from Quip, the three adventurers set off up the corridor.

A quick check of the map showed that the closest room they had not already checked was the mirror of the one in which a single zombie sat eating coins. Presumably this one would not contain such an entertaining spectacle, but there was the possibility that it would have something to fight, which was what they were hoping for. Wending their way through the convoluted corridors, they made their way to the centre of the maze with much help from the map and the chalk markings left on doors. Eventually, they stood before the door they were after. Sam’s quick check revealed no dangers, so Marquis drew her bow and stood ready to menace the room beyond. As the door opened, a set of bony fingers wrapped around the edge and held it fast. The tiny crack was not enough to see through, but the fleshless fingers were all too visible.

“Wait here, we’ll do the other door.” The thief jogged quickly to the other entrance, the dark-skinned swashbuckler following him. “On three, push your door!” Marquis put away her bow and retrieved her sword, and stood ready with her foot against the huge slab. Samieth readied his sword also, and braced his left shoulder against the second door. “One, two, THREE,” he shouted, and both adventurers reared back and slammed into their respective doors. The thief’s door swung violently inwards, almost dropping him onto the floor and revealing a battered skeleton staring at him blankly with eyeless sockets. The ranger’s door gave an ankle-jolting crunch but didn’t move anywhere – but the fingers vanished rather hastily. Samieth stepped into the room, and three more bony foes became apparent, one of them with only half a hand.

Grimacing from the fresh bruise that would probably turn up on her ankle tomorrow, Marquis hauled back and kicked her door again, smashing it into the half-handed skeleton behind it and sending him flying across the room to shatter against the far wall. She leapt forward, swinging with the flat of her blade. It crashed through the ribcage of yet another of their fleshless foes, scattering bones all over Quip, who ended up with one more tooth in his mouth than he’d had before. He spat it out and pulled out his hammer, hefting it menacingly. He swung at one of the ones that were still standing, but it dodged his weapon with fleshless ease. His foe chattered its teeth at him, almost as if it were laughing, then swung a rib that it was holding in its bony claw towards the swashbuckler, hitting him squarely in the jaw and leaving him with one less tooth in his mouth than he’d had before.

The other skeleton was in possession of a sword and a shield, and it stepped forward to challenge Samieth. As he swung, it raised the wooden shield to block and slashed at the rogue’s legs. Instead of the dull thunk that normally accompanies sharp metal bouncing off hard wood, there was a crackling roar as the rogue’s blade ignited, splitting the decayed wood and cleaving straight through the bones behind it. Flaming bone fragments bounced across the room, and the bottom half of the skeleton collapsed to the floor. Marquis cornered the fourth and last of their osseous opponents and swung upwards, turning her blade at the last second to rattle this one’s bones as well. Rattle they did, all over the ceiling and walls – many once again hitting Quip in the process, and in the case of a skull, landing at a jaunty angle on top of his head.

With all of their skeletal enemies incapacitated with extreme prejudice, Sam and Marquis searched the room for valuables. The lazy swashbuckler, on the other hand, lay down in the corridor and tried to catch up on his sleep. Apart from the destroyed shield and the chipped and rusted sword that the third skeleton was wielding, the rogue found a small bag containing hundreds of copper coins. A little miffed at not only finding nothing that he could keep, but Quip’s attitude as well, he dropped the bag of coins onto the reclining man’s upturned face as he passed him stretched out in the corridor.

Satisfied with clearing one room, the three went back to check on the progress of the blocked door, Quip’s cheeks a little more dimpled then they were before. Harriet was only about halfway through strategically weakening the four-ton block, so they settled down to wait with the others, Kyata still chatting merrily to the little girl-creature on the other side of the door. Quip took this opportunity to catch up on his slumber as well – he carefully curled his body around the fallen rocks on the floor and quickly fell asleep to the metronome sounds of chisel hitting stone.

After another half hour, the dwarf stood back and wiped the sweat from her heavy brow. “It’s done,” she announced. “Everyone get up here and push. Yes, even you.” This last statement was addressed to Quip, who had languidly opened one eye to see what was going on. They clustered around the door, and set their shoulders against it and each other. “Ready? PUSH!” Strained grunts filled the air. “Okay, let’s try this again. Ready? PUSH!” A muted groan joined the grunting. “Third time’s the charm, right? Ready?! PUSH!

With a terrible grinding and cracking, the door slowly gave way under their combined assault. “Careful of the top sections!” The stones above the front line crashed downwards, narrowly missing the ranger and runeblade. As the dust settled gently out of the air, the silence became deafening – the scrabbling around their feet had retreated. Marquis stepped forward gingerly onto the pile of rocky rubble and peered into the room. A makeshift bed for something the size of a large dog nestled in one corner, well-used and glinting in a couple of places. As the beam of her lantern swept towards the brighter metallic glitter in the far corner, the half-elf was almost bowled over as a medium-sized quadruped jumped up to put clawed feet on her shoulders and started licking her face.

“Thankyou thankyou thankyou,” the baby dragon chirped ecstatically. “Thankyou thankyou thankyou thankyou! I’ve been in there for days and it was cold and dark and smelly and, and, and…” She paused, beaming up at them all. “My mother’s always saying to be polite, so I should thank you for rescuing me. Again. Thankyou thankyou thankyou,” she cried, leaping up to lick Kyata’s face as well.

“Slow down, little one! You have name, yes?”

“My name is Immersa,” the little wyrmling replied, visibly quivering with happiness and relief. “I’m glad you found me when you did, I didn’t have much food left,” she bashfully explained. “My mother always said to make sure that I have… oh no! Mother must be worried sick!” The little bronze dragon tucked her wings tight to her body and wriggled through the assorted legs blocking the way out of the cramped room.

“You remember way out, little one?” Kyata called after the rapidly retreating dragon.

“I do! Thank you all! Thankyou thankyou thankyou!” The calls gradually faded away as Immersa raced towards sunlight, freedom, and a worried mother. Suffused with the warm glow that comes from a good deed, the party sauntered into the room they’d spent two hours trying to break into, and casually looted the young dragon’s proto-hoard. The nest yielded a surprising number of gold coins, and a single soiled scroll. Attempts to read it were foiled by the layers of grime and filth that had been ground into the vellum, but it was possible to determine that whatever message it carried was written in Elvish. As the resident elven expert, Marquis rolled it back up and put it in her pack to peruse at a later date. The coins were divided up between the adventurers (except Sam), and when that was done they set off to do more good for the world, the skittering following their ankles once more.

The map showed many promising empty spaces, but the party decided to go with the sure thing and check out the mirror image of their storeroom, which they passed on the way and checked in on. A cursory check of the door revealed no dangers, and an ear pressed against the cool stone revealed no alarming sounds. Drawing her bow once more, Marquis nodded to Sam, who opened the door. The room’s ceiling stretched away above them, vanishing into the darkness beyond the range of their flaming brands. A heap of mouldering flesh with tattered clothing lay in the corner next to the door, and another in the far corner. The stench was abominable, and maggots crawled over the closer pile, feasting on the rotting skin and entrails. Wrinkling their collective noses, the party crammed into the room to threaten the squishy lumps lying on the floor. The squishy lumps were quite content to just sit there and fester quietly, so most of the adventurers filed back out again. Samieth stayed to poke through the heaps of decaying meat with his sword, turfing out a couple of coins and a shortspear.

Disappointed by yet another uninhabited room, the party tromped on down the passage towards the room that mirrored the one in which they had fought the fungus creature. Once again the door was given a casual check, and Marquis, tired of threatening empty rooms, drew her sword and opened the door herself. A grim sight greeted her on the other side. An ancient torture device hung on one wall, still apparently in good condition. A small rivulet of an unknown blackish fluid flowed across the floor away from it. The door to the device opened, and a pile of shambling undead flesh stumbled across the room towards her.

Harriet pushed her way to the front and stepped around the lumbering advance of the zombie, revealing three more standing in the corner behind the open door. Spreading her fingers wide, she barked a short, sharp syllable of magic. A coruscating sheet of flame burst from her outstretched hands, singeing the unaware undead. Striding forward to protect her friend’s flank, Marquis sliced at the advancing zombie, scoring a shallow line across its decaying body – which promptly opened, spilling dark fluid down its legs and onto the floor. The other adventurers quickly jumped into the fray, hacking and whacking and smacking with varying degrees of success. Quip ended up with his rapier stuck fast in one rotting ribcage, and was forced to kick the offending undead off his blade as it stretched mindlessly forward, groping towards him with filth-encrusted claws. “Stabbing these things doesn’t seem to do much, does it?”

“You have to slice at them – pieces fall off easily,” Marquis threw over her shoulder, then provided a handy demonstration by smashing another zombie in the jaw, knocking its head clean off. The swashbuckler, having nothing that would slice properly, pulled a tiny round bottle from his pack and lofted it towards the middle of the confused corpses. It hit one square in the chest and erupted into a gout of flame, setting its victim on fire and crisping the edges of the others standing near it. Mindlessly, the burning zombie smashed one of its flaming arms into Rob’s chest, knocking him back a step. The others, blocked by their blazing brethren, turned their deadly focus towards Quip; they shambled towards him and struck out with slow-moving but powerful limbs. One caught him a ringing clout on the side of the head, but he managed to dodge the rest.

Sam moved to flank the undead, cleaving through one festering torso and splattering blood and bile everywhere. The remaining cadaver was sliced apart piecemeal by just about everyone, and the flaming zombie collapsed into a charred heap of putrescence, aided by the runeblade’s etched falchion. With their mouldering foes dispatched, the adventurers checked the room over more carefully, starting with the torture device. It stood only four feet tall, but was deep enough to accommodate a crouching figure. Great iron spikes protruded liberally from all of the inside surfaces, so that anyone placed inside would have to either be very flexible or very full of holes. The iron outer shell of the device had slits in it, evidently for the insertion of yet more pointy objects into the hapless inhabitant’s internals. From its base dripped a viscous fluid, shining darkly in the torchlight. It pooled beneath the iron horror, and ran along the channels between the stone slabs that made up the floor.

Trying to avoid stepping in the mystery liquid, the party checked the rest of the room for anything valuable. Another bag of coins was turned up, as were a loaf of bread and a hunk of cheese. Strangely enough, the food was still edible – it couldn’t have been there for more than a couple of days. Eyeing it with no small amount of suspicion, the party filed out of the room and on down another dim corridor.

The next door swung open to reveal signs of a previous fight in the room, and it looked as if whatever wasn’t undead lost. Scraps of fur and leather were strewn haphazardly across the floor, and a slick trail of blood glistened blackly in the dim blue light of the mist. A quick examination turned up another stone block with an elven face in it, and the crowbars were broken out again. While she was levering the stone out of the wall, Marquis thought back to the history lessons her parents had insisted she attend. It took a minute for her to remember the legends of the ancient temples of the elves, abandoned thousands of years ago when the Age of Dragons began. Surely this was not one of them; those old stories were just that – stories. Weren’t they?

Leaving the carving just outside the room to pick up on the way back, the adventurers pressed on, to the room that mirrored the one in which they had slept. Samieth checked the door as carefully as he could without actually touching it, and found a vertical slit – much like the one that had housed a scything blade on the matching door. Wedging it with something a little more sturdy than stone slivers this time, he set to work on the lock. After a couple of minutes of tense silence (broken only by the insistent scrabbling at their feet), he wiped his brow and sat back.

“I think it’s done,” he said uncertainly. He leaned forward and pushed at the handle. Nothing happened. “Okay, maybe not,” he mumbled to himself. The tools came back out and he got back to work. After few more minutes, he leaned forward and tried it again. A noisy clatter was all the protection the jammed slit offered, as the crescent blade slashed through it and down onto the thief’s arm, biting deep and drawing blood.

“Well, at least we know it’s unlocked now. Open it quick, before the damn thing goes back up!”

On the other side, a thirty-foot pillar rose into the swirling cold air in the middle of the room. It looked as if it had been built to elevate a small object, so the nimbler adventurers immediately tried to race each other up it. Sam got off to a good start, but was quickly surpassed by Marquis. At the top rested a small pouch of gold, underneath an intricate steel frame. The frame had a depression in the top, similar to a ring’s setting for a precious stone – except much, much larger. Trying to guess how big a gem would fit into it, Marquis absent-mindedly dropped the bag of coins over the side for someone to catch. Unfortunately, it caught Quip square on top of the head again. A quick estimate put the missing gem at ten inches across – it would be worth a fortune!

Have they finally cleared the ruin of undead? Are the ancient legends true? And where might this vanished jewel be?

Tune in next week to find out! Same D&D time, same D&D channel!


Achievement-Style Bonus XP

Achievement Character Type
Nightwatch (2 hours) Rob, Marquis, Sam, Kyata G
The Fourth Day (background) Sam C
Good Vibrations (knowledge) Marquis X
Dwarven Aptitude (stonecunning) Harriet I
One… (push) Everyone X
Climber’s Kit (rock wall) Marquis I
A Free Man (crowbars) Marquis, Harriet X
Hi Ho, Hi Ho (mining tools) Harriet I
Dynamic Entry (startling) Quip X
What Light Through Yonder Doorframe Breaks? (eyeballs) Sam X
Jedi Knight (force push) Harriet I
More Feats Than You (maybe not) Kyata X
...Two… (push harder) Everyone X
Stress Test (fracture lines) Harriet I
Runed Blade (goodwill gesture) Rob I
Super Happy Fun Time (party split) Everyone X
Guard Duty (no fun) Rob, Kyata G
A-Door-Able (stone slab) Marquis K
Sideswipe (longsword) Marquis K
Shields Down (fire-runed shortsword) Sam K
Boneshatter (longsword) Marquis K
Slumberous Swashbuckler (personality) Quip C
Rude Awakening (coins) Quip X
...THREE! (success) Everyone X
Adorable (baby dragon hug) Marquis X
Candy From a Baby (dragon hoard) Everyone P
Zombieque (alchemist’s fire) Quip I
Gobstopper (longsword) Marquis K
Internal Examination (shortsword) Sam K
Legendary Memory (history) Marquis I
Race to the Top (win) Marquis X
Race to the Top (loss) Sam X
Silent Cartographer Rob M
Bonus Achievement – Free Hug Everyone X
Bonus Achievement – Embellished Expostulation (4900 words) Zedric I
Type Meaning Bonus XP
P Penalty Varies
K Impressive Kill 5
I Good Idea 10
G Guard Duty 10
M Mapping Duty 10
C Character Development 20
X Misc Varies
View
Initial Adventures 02
The Empty Ruins

Jump to Achievements

Last time, on the D&D channel, our brave heroes set out to rid an ancient ruin of its undead inhabitants. Two zombies, a dart trap and an invisible fungus later, they are only slightly closer to their goal.

Current Party:
  • Marquis, half-elf ranger
  • Harriet, dwarven wizard
  • Kyata, human fighter
  • Rob, human runeblade
  • Sam, human rogue

We rejoin the action after the death of the mould creature, to find Samieth prodding through its remains with his sword. An incautious poke at a protruding nodule sends a resounding PAF throughout the ruin, and an enormous cloud of greenish-grey spores throughout the room. Marquis and Rob consulted briefly, and came to the conclusion that the deceased plant was most likely not safe to eat, what with the exploding and all. Trying not to inhale the tiny seeds, they and Harriet readied weapons in case some other dungeon inhabitant had heard the noise.

The only resident that responded, however, was Kyata. Reasoning that an admittedly weak-sounding explosion was more likely to need her immediate attention than guarding a roomful of bones, she hurried back through the maze. Thinking the others sufficiently distracted by the spores, Sam quickly tried to pocket a small bag of gold he’d found inside another part of the fungus monster. Unfortunately for him, Rob’s sharp eyes caught the furtive movement, and he strode over to take the small pouch from his thieving compatriot. A quick scuffle ensued, with the runeblade attempting to reach into Sam’s pocket.

Red-faced from trying to keep up with the smaller man’s quick movements, Rob eventually gave up, throwing out an angry comment about sharing and how some people’s mothers never taught them nothin’ proper. A fleeting expression of grief chased itself across the rogue’s face – he hadn’t even known his mother. Seeing the scuffle over what seemed to be a small piece of the fungus, Kyata offered her own opinion on the matter – “I hope you not plan to be eating that thing. Is not good for you.”

Satisfied that they had retrieved all items of value from the room, the party set off through the winding corridors once more. Two corners later, another stone door stood before them. An ear quickly pressed to it revealed nothing but the ever-present scrabbling, so the slab was quickly swung inwards. The room beyond it looked as if it once suffered a terrible fire. Scorch marks and soot covered the walls, the floor, the backs of both of the other doors, and even much of the ceiling. Cautiously, unsure of where this fire might have sprung from, the adventurers gathered around the door in the north wall.

Still glancing apprehensively at the scorched walls around them, Kyata and Marquis tried to figure out how to open the strangely-notched door. After a couple of abortive attempts at pushing it in various ways, the half-elf stood aside and let the fighter take her place. Kyata’s muscles strained as she pushed downwards against the ten-foot tall block of stone, but nothing happened. “You know, some goes down, some goes up,” she said, before gently pressing the four-ton slab upwards. With a smooth grinding noise, the foot-thick stone door slid effortlessly upwards into the lintel.

Again brandishing her trusty mirror, Marquis set forth into the corridor beyond the door to ascertain the distance to the next room. After only ten feet, her lantern light hit a wall – and around that corner, the next wall was only ten feet away again. By the time she had checked the corner beyond that one, the rest of the party had stepped through the archway. Seeing that the passageway led in a circle, the ranger put away her mirror, a little puzzled. Intrigued by the huge square column taking up the entire middle of what could have been another room, Harriet and Sam began to inspect it closely. It rapidly became apparent, however, that the column was made out of the same material as the walls, and was similarly uninteresting. Losing interest rather quickly, the adventurers tromped back into the burned room to try the other door. Irked that all her caution seemed to be going to waste, Marquis rashly decided to forgo it this time and simply pushed open the door.

Or at least, she would have, if the floor beneath her hadn’t collapsed the instant her hand touched the cool stone. Though she was left hanging from the protruding handle, the half-elf managed to keep her wits about her. Ignoring the outstretched hand of the runeblade behind her, she swung herself sideways towards the lip of the pit and caught one foot on the edge. From this precarious perch, the nimble ranger secured a second foothold and then levered herself upright – and none too soon, since the weight of her well-stuffed pack was beginning to make itself felt. Waving aside expressions of concern, she turned back to the door to try to hide her embarrassment. Further attempts by her and Samieth to open the booby-trapped door were in vain, and they were eventually forced to admit that it was probably a fake, put there to deter unwelcome guests. Much like themselves.

Retracing their steps through the room where they found the bloodstained leather bag, the party wended their way through circuitous corridors before Harriet stopped them near a corner. She pointed to a single brick in the wall that looked no different to any other, and Sam – knowing the dwarven talent for noticing unusual stonework – proceeded to investigate the block rather closely. After almost a minute of careful inspection, he declared that he could find nothing out of the ordinary. The wizard, exasperated, pointed to the seams between the block and the ones beside it; the mortar around this one was an almost imperceptibly different shade.

While all of this was going on, Rob took a torch and went down to the end of the corridor to see if he could find anything. Quickly discovering that the chittering noises were much more eerie when nobody was around to back him up, he gave the end of the passage only a single glance before hurrying back to the comfort of the lantern-light and humanoid company.

As the runeblade returned from his solo jaunt, Samieth gingerly pressed the brick. With a grinding noise that was only just louder than the scrabbling at their feet, the stone slid slowly into the wall and back out again. At the same time, and with only slightly more noise, the section of wall next to the block slid downwards. Kyata became quite smug at this new development. “There, you see? Some goes up, and some goes down!”

At first, the quietly rasping door showed nothing but more stone behind it. As it passed waist height, though, empty space finally became visible. Crouching down to see into the room beyond, a single metal rod was revealed standing upright in the centre of the room, apparently holding the ceiling at its current meagre distance. A quick conference was held on the questionable merits of being crushed to death versus the utility of an easily collapsible escape route, with mixed results.

Eventually, Sam the Thief crawled into the room for a closer look at the whole setup, his torch held awkwardly off the floor to avoid smothering it. Directly opposite the door he entered was another, this time of the more standard push-to-open variety. Luckily, it opened outwards, and after canvassing the rest of the room the rogue slithered out of this other door, motioning the others to follow him. They did so, with Rob pausing only to pull out some chalk and mark both doors.

When they had gathered on the other side, all of them having carefully avoided the rod on the way through the room, another hasty discussion occurred, this time about whether the rod and its associated escape route was worth wasting a perfectly good grappling hook on. It was eventually decided that it was not worth it, and besides, a rope’s easier to attach to a rod, what with being able to tie it to vertical-type things, and anyway, having to rely on some stupid hook arrangement that you’d never know if it’s going to give way on you after you get to the other side of that damned room while havin’ the hounds of hell nippin’ at your heels isn’t my idea of a good time, no sir it is not. So Sam crawled back in and carefully knotted a rope around the iron bar, then dragged the tail end of the rope back out of the room with him.

Having successfully set up a defensible escape route, the party decided it was time for a bit of a break, and they all sat down for a quick rest and a bite to eat. As they ate, they discussed how strange it was that they had been sent to empty this ruin of its undead inhabitants when it seemed like something had beat them to it.

As each adventurer finished their meal, they started to investigate the ends of the corridor they were camping in. Both ends led west, although the south passage had two more branching off it. A quick vote favoured the simpler path, so they set off along the northern passage with Marquis in the lead.

Heartened by the meal and perhaps a little overconfident due to the general lack of trouble they had so far experienced in this ancient dungeon, the ranger drew her bow, pointed it at the next door they came to, and brashly kicked the door open, bruising her foot somewhat. The stone slab slammed against the wall with a crash that echoed through the whole ruined structure, and a sharp curse in a foul-sounding tongue answered it from the shadows across the room. A pair of glowing animalistic eyes shone briefly from the darkness, but quickly disappeared. Straining in the dim light, Marquis saw for a moment a darker shadow hiding amongst those dancing on the far wall, but then she blinked and it was gone.

A hasty search of the room revealed nothing except another push-brick trigger which, after some deliberation about symmetry and who wanted to be squashed when the ceiling started coming down, was eventually pressed by the thief, who had the best chance of making it back out the door if anything went amiss. The panel next to it silently slid into the floor, revealing a little bit more nothing, this time in corridor form. In an attempt to give chase to the mysterious figure, Marquis ran down the southern branch of the passage, leaving the others behind. Even with her half-elven eyesight, she was almost at the end of the passage before she saw it approaching. Throwing herself desperately into a sideways roll, the ranger managed to not hurtle painfully into the wall and instead tumbled half onto her uncomfortably lumpy backpack, interrupting her somersault and dumping her unceremoniously onto the floor. Trying to save face, she jumped to her feet immediately and made out as if that had been what she planned to do all along. The effort was wasted, however, since the rest of the group was still too far away to see either the pathetic backflop or the hasty recovery – except for Sam, who had followed her and now asked if she had planned to do that, and if so would she mind waiting for the rest of the group before she tried the next one since they could all do with a laugh. Ignoring him, Marquis continued around the bend and almost ran straight into another wall. This one had a door in it.

As the party made it to the end of the corridor (all at different speeds, with Kyata ambling amiably at the rear), the ranger was pressed against the cold stone door, listening intently. With a shrug, she indicated the relative absence of sound, and for Sam to open the door. A single bewildered corpse sat in the middle of the room, trying to eat the pile of gold coins in front of it. As one coin was swallowed, it fell out of the zombie’s gaping stomach wound and clattered back onto the pile. It picked up another and started again, either not noticing the presence of the adventurers or simply not caring. A single overhand swipe from Kyata’s greatsword and the mouldering body fell in half, revealing a handful of gold buried in the creature’s festering intestines.

A little miffed at this gratuitous waste of bones, Harriet bent over the scattered remains to scrounge the few gore-covered gold pieces that the zombie had managed to swallow before its digestive tract rotted away. Samieth quickly scooped up the pile of coins from between the corpse’s still-crossed legs, funnelling them into a small pouch which was quickly tucked back into his pack. Sick of her companion’s constant greed, the wizard swung the handle of her axe at the back of the kneeling thief’s head.

“Hey, watch where you swing that! Someone could get hurt!”

Back up the passageway, around five different corners, another doorway awaited the adventurers. Sam gave the slab a quick once-over, finding nothing but smooth stone, and motioned for the others to open it. The room beyond was perhaps once a meeting place, but now stood as cold and dark as the rest of the thousand-year-old mausoleum. An elaborate stone fountain, long since dried up, sat in pride of place in the centre of the room, and the ceiling stretched to apparent infinity overhead, with not even a glimpse of sky. Deciding to test this, Samieth pulled out a sling bullet and threw it as hard as he could straight up. It whistled upwards through the air, quickly passing beyond the range of the flickering torches, and after an interminable pause came hurtling back down to land with a clatter a few feet in front of the thief.

Occasionally peering into the blackness above them, the party gathered around the fountain in the middle of the room. The more knowledgeable adventurers examined it closely, trying to ascertain the mechanism by which it operated – Rob using his dungeoneering experience and Harriet using her extensive magical knowledge. Combining their findings, they came to the conclusion that the fountain was operated by a simple low-power teleportation spell to draw the water from the bottom pool and send it cascading down from the spout at the top. “My brother would be fascinated by this fountain – it is a pity that we cannot remove it from this ruin,” Marquis said wistfully.

The topic turned to the symmetry of the ruin, and the lack of a second fountain in the room in the other wing, which they had visited previously. “What need they have for two fountains? One is surely enough,” the fighter remarked. “Even one fountain too much for some – we have none in my village.”

The half-elf disagreed. “It is not too unusual – my family’s home has two fountains. They are quite wealthy, though. Perhaps the builders of this ruin could not afford another?”

While they were distracted by talk of fountains, Sam the Thief was more interested in what his skilled fingers had revealed in the stone base of this one. A small section of the pedestal slid aside to reveal a small indentation, in which lay another leather bag heavy with the tell-tale weight of gold coins. This time, he managed to secret the purse into his pack without anyone else noticing; even so, he winced at the close call he’d had in the previous room. The handle of the dwarf’s axe was made from sturdy wood with metal bands for strength, and the thought of something like that hitting the back of his skull made the rogue particularly glad that he had such good reflexes.

Apart from the one they had entered from, two doors led from this room. With a final glance up at the mysterious ceiling, the party moved towards the door in the south wall. At the front of the party, Marquis and Kyata could see another door directly across the hallway from where they stood, so the ranger once again readied an arrow and stood aside to let the fighter open it. The door was solid iron, with a single vertical slot – Kyata placed her hand in the slot, and as she started to slide it sideways the runeblade yelled from the previous doorway to “wait! The other metal door was a trap!”

His warning came too late. As the lightly pitted iron slid aside, tiny holes in the wall opposite – all but invisible in the flickering torchlight – discharged their pressurized pinpricks into the fighter’s armoured aft section. Many bounced off, thwarted by the solid metal plates, but two found chinks in the armour and lodged firmly and painfully into the flesh beneath. Understandably distracted by the sharp spikes scraping at her spine, Kyata let the door swing open, chasing herself in little circles trying to get one dart out of that hard-to-reach spot right in the middle of her back. An overpowering stench filled the room beyond, and with the heavy door no longer blocking its escape it drifted happily out into the corridor, seeking to share itself with as much of the rest of the ruin as it could.

With watering eyes, the ranger menaced the empty room with her bow. Seeing nothing to threaten, she relaxed her arms with an irritated sigh – then immediately regretted it as the terrible smell wafted into her open mouth. The seemingly endless string of empty rooms needled at her, making her feel almost as if they were being somehow cheated, or that they had been sent to the ruin under false pretences. When the odious scent swirled into the room with the fountain, where Sam and Harriet were waiting, the thief showed an as-yet undemonstrated alacrity. He pushed through his three companions who were just standing there with their hands over their noses and slammed shut the door so that no more of the nauseating odour could spread through the dungeon and potentially poison them all.

Releasing the breaths they had been holding, Kyata, Marquis and Rob quickly discovered that the reek had not dissipated, but probably wasn’t dangerous. Screwing up his face and courage, the runeblade took in a lungful of the miasma to try and identify it. Before he broke out in a coughing fit, he informed the others that the strongest smell was the unique perfume produced by decaying organic matter, specifically humanoid corpses. Armed with this knowledge, Marquis also took a quick sniff and managed to identify the damp mossy smell of the invisible fungus they had slain earlier. The strange thing was that the room was empty, containing neither rotten bodies nor the fungus creature – which was invisible, of course, so they wouldn’t be able to see it even if it was there, would they?

Moving quickly away from the source of the stench and possibly a second unseen mould creature, the adventurers found themselves in another corridor that stretched past the paltry extent of the light from their torches. Consulting the map that Harriet and Rob had drawn between them – and remembering that the ruin seemed to be symmetrical – it was found that continuing south from here, then taking a left, a right, two lefts and a right would take them back to the room in which Harriet had left her stone face. They set off into the darkness, accompanied as always by the now-familiar skittering.

One ignored doorway later, they arrived in the storeroom. As far as they could tell, nothing was missing – the stone face was still in the corner where Kyata had put it, and the bones didn’t show any tendency towards reanimating themselves into a macabre rage-filled undead terror bent on exacting its terrible revenge upon its tormentors. Yet.

A quick check of the map revealed that there were some promising locations still unexplored, and seeing how they were already quite close to one they set off to take a look. As they approached the end of the corridor, they began to notice cracks in the walls. At the front of the group, Sam and Marquis rounded the corner and discovered that all down the next passage the fractures in the stone had spread along the entire south wall, in many cases splitting entire sections from where they rested and tumbling them to the floor. The floor was littered with broken chunks of cool white stone in sizes ranging from tiny irregularly-shaped pebbles all the way up to entire wall blocks with chipped and cracked faces that had broken from their carefully-mortared positions. The ceiling was similarly criss-crossed with a spiderweb of fractures, although fewer of the pieces had fallen free.

Cautiously, the adventurers picked their way through the rubble-strewn corridor in single file, Kyata pausing to pick up a couple of rocks of varying sizes. As the passageway turned back towards the north, the walls began to show less cracks, and the stone debris lessened. With suspicious glances over their shoulders, the party rounded one more corner and discovered a single door at the end of it. After a quick once-over to see if the door was warded against intruders, Sam the Thief stepped to one side to let Marquis point a threatening arrow at the room beyond, as was the custom. However, attempts to push and pull the door open were met with failure, and no other markings revealed another method of opening. Releasing the tension on her longbow, Marquis lifted the lantern from her belt and pointed it at a small hole just underneath the stone handle. A little put out that he’d missed something as obvious as a keyhole, the rogue unrolled his leather-wrapped thief’s kit and after a quick scan of the contents retrieved a tiny hook and what looked like a long needle.

Crouching in front of the keyhole, he set to work. After only two minutes of work (with its attendant muttering about old locks and how they just don’t make them like they used to, which is probably a good thing since then I’d be out of a job they’re so darned easy to crack), he stood back up and announced that the door was now unlocked. Taking her position in front of the door again, Marquis drew back on the bowstring and nodded to the thief. He leaned forward and pushed against the square handle.

As soon as he touched the cool stone, a great scything blade swung downwards out of an unnoticed slit in the middle of the door, biting deep into the ranger’s shoulder and making her cry out in pain. The shock of the cut made her release the bowstring, and the arrow flew straight into the door, raising a shower of sparks as its metal head struck stone with great force. Stunned into immobility, the rest of the party could only watch as the huge crescent blade swept slowly back up into its niche. White-faced, the half-elf picked up her errant arrow with shaking fingers, the slow seep of blood staining her leather armour a darker shade of brown. Six inches closer and the trap would have sliced straight into her head, leaving nothing for her family to recognize at the funeral. Newly aware of her own mortality, she retreated beyond the range of the blade, glaring angrily at Samieth as she pushed past.

Sheepishly, the thief slunk back to the door and wedged a number of stone slivers into the hidden crack in an attempt to prevent the trap from springing again. Making sure that he was well clear of the shining scythe, the inept rogue pushed at the door again. Again, the blade slashed down in a great arc, this time swinging almost down to the floor – and smashing Sam’s slivers into small stone splinters. Now considerably embarrassed by his repeated failures, the thief pushed at the cold stone before the polished blade had finished retracting, and the door swung gently open.

As it did, a glowing blue vapour swirled around it and then gently seeped past the startled adventurers and on down the corridor. A quick check revealed that the room ahead was completely full of the ghostly haze. Unsure of how safe this strange sapphire smoke was, the more learned minds scoured their respective fields of knowledge for anything that might be related to their current situation.

Harriet came up blank – the luminous mist did not set off her innate sense for magical auras, and dredging her arcane knowledge brought up only spells that caused blue glows as secondary effects, and none of those were permanent. Rob racked his brain for anything in his extensive dungeon-crawling career that was even remotely similar to this spectral fog, but also could not recall anything save for will-o-wisps, which normally dwell in swamps but have been seen underground occasionally – and those never grew to this size. Marquis recalled that some species of moss and fungus generate a faint, eerie light as part of their metabolism, but the room was cold, blank stone with nary a spore in sight.

Samieth, trying not to draw attention to himself, crept surreptitiously into the room and gave it a quick check for other dangers to avoid and more coins to misappropriate. Finding neither, he tried to make himself as inconspicuous as possible to try and avoid the explanation of his constant ineptitude his compatriots would eventually come looking for. Fortunately for him, the hard work of the day’s searching and the mental strain caused by wondering about the lack of undead had made the others tired, hungry and uninterested for the moment. After a quick meal, Rob closed the booby-trapped door and sat up to take first watch – everyone else unfurled bedrolls and tried to get some sleep on the cold stone floor, even though the unearthly fog was still knee-high and intangibly glowing. The stench of the undead clung to their clothing, and the skittering noises were much harder to ignore when they seemed to be coming from mere inches away, but eventually everyone drifted into an uneasy slumber.

Is their makeshift shelter secure? How poor a thief can Sam really be? And what happened to that feral-sounding voice with the glowing eyes?

Tune in next week to find out! Same D&D time, same D&D channel!


Achievement-Style Bonus XP

Achievement Character Type
Attempted Robbery (deep pockets) Rob X
Bork Bork Bork (delicious mould) Kyata X
Skydiving (nice catch) Marquis X
Dwarven Aptitude (stonecunning) Harriet I
Premonition (some go down) Kyata I
In Rod We Trust (rope is better) Everyone X
Starfox 64 (nice recovery) Marquis X
Half’n’Half (greatsword) Kyata K
All For One (greed) Sam C
One For All (extreme selfishness) Sam P
And My Axe (handle only) Harriet X
Old Money (background) Marquis C
Icy Heritage (background) Kyata C
I Love the Smell of Zombies in the Morning (1 lungful) Rob I
One of These Things Is Just Like the Other (symmetry) Rob I
Fallen Rocks, Nobody Dies (yet) Everyone X
Return of the Admiral (scything blade) Sam X
Uncommon Knowledge (blue mist) Harriet, Rob, Marquis X
Silent Cartographer Harriet, Rob, Sam M
Bonus Achievement – Grandiloquent Exposition (4300 words) Zedric I
Type Meaning Bonus XP
P Penalty -10
K Impressive Kill 5
I Good Idea 10
M Mapping Duty 10
C Character Development 20
X Misc Varies
View
Initial Adventures 01
In Medias Res

Jump to Achievements

Current Party:

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

The ruins were cold, damp, and rather eerie. Weak shafts of dappled sunlight shone through the ponderous stone door at the top of the stairs behind our bold adventurers, doing little to dispel the gloom. Small rustling, scrabbling noises came from the blank stone floor at their feet, and the steady drip of some unknown liquid was heard from further inside. An odd compulsion to kneel bent the knees of the party for a split second and then slowly faded, while ominous creaking groans echoed down the stone halls. Directly ahead, a choice: the corridor at the foot of the stairs led away in both directions.

After a brief discussion, the party set off down the right-hand passage. At the first corner, the well-prepared Marquis pulled out a small mirror and carefully checked for danger. Seeing none, she silently motioned the others forward. Significantly less silently, the rest of the party tromped in the general direction indicated. At the first door, the canny ranger motioned her companions to be silent, then listened carefully at the tiny crack between the floor and the large stone slab. Above the skittering noises that had accompanied them from their first footsteps into the ruin, a strange shuffling noise could be heard – heavy, and with a staccato rhythm. Indicating danger, the half-elf nocked an arrow and had Harriet open the door. A ghastly comedy greeted them on the other side of it – a headless animated corpse shambled after its disembodied head, unwittingly kicking it away from its slowly grasping fingers every time it got near. A pile of mortified flesh quivered in the centre of the room, then rose up into a lurching humanoid figure.

The foul-smelling undead quickly found a feathered shaft sprouting from its mouldering ribcage, followed immediately by Rob’s rune-etched falchion. Mindlessly bewildered by this sudden turn of events, it lashed out with a corpulent and slow-moving arm. Ducking quickly underneath the decayed appendage, Harriet smashed at the zombie’s other arm with her axe, severing it just below the shoulder. Kyata had quietly entered the room behind the runeblade and wizard, and with a single sideways swipe of her huge sword returned the fetid undead to its final rest. The corpse’s torso split almost in half from the blow, spattering the room with tiny gobs of rotten flesh and sodden entrails. Most of it managed to end up on Rob.

Still shuffling around after its discorporated head, the other zombie was quickly de-animated as well, finally being felled by a throwing knife hurled straight through its rolling skull and into its disused brain. When she leant over to extract the dagger from its squalid sheath, Marquis noticed a small glint inside the zombie’s sole remaining eye socket. Some deft knifework revealed a small dark gem with an orange band across the middle, which was promptly cleaned and pocketed.

The wizard, seeing the necromantic potential inherent in the freshly re-dead, retrieved the arm she had earlier severed. A quick flesh-stripping appraisal showed that the forearm bones were in surprisingly good condition, considering the violence dealt to their neighbours. As the party made ready to leave the room, she resolved to come back after they had finished clearing the rest of the dungeon and salvage as many bones as possible.

Another corner was subjected to the watchful mirror of Marquis, and after taking the right-hand fork another door came into the flickering light of the ranger’s lantern. They listened at this one as well, this time hearing nothing but the mysterious scrabbling. Again an arrow was readied and the door opened, revealing what was once a giant rat and now simply a patchy fur-covered skeleton in an advanced state of decay. The floor in the middle of the room was worn smooth in a wide passage where thousands of feet must once have walked. Sam the Thief gave the room a quick once-over, paying particular attention to the rat corpse. Aside from a few handfuls of mouldy fur, the desiccated remains appeared to be housing a wooden winch. A few broken rat-ribs later the winch came free, trailing a couple of feet of decaying rope. Meanwhile, Harriet had discovered a relief carving of an elfin face set into one of the stone blocks in the west wall of the room. Ever prepared, Marquis drew from her pack a crowbar and proceeded to prise the stone in question from its place in the wall. Remembering the room full of bones that she wanted to eventually revisit, the dwarf suggested the stone block be taken there to avoid having to lug it around the rest of the ruin. Sensing a pattern, Kyata volunteered to stand guard over this proto-hoard, and trudged off carrying the block. To keep track of where they had already been in the maze, the half-elf pulled a piece of chalk from her well-stocked backpack and marked both sides of the doors that they had passed through.

Finding nothing else of interest, the party followed the footsteps of the long-vanished inhabitants to one of the other doors leading out of the room. Unlike the rest of the ruin, this door was constructed from thick iron. A tall slot near one edge suggested a hand-hold, and after some well-intentioned confusion from Rob and Harriet trying to swing it open like the other doors they had so far encountered, Marquis placed the side of her hand into the groove in the metal and slid it easily to one side. Inset into the wall behind the newly opened portal were a number of quarter-inch holes, almost invisible in the torchlight. They promptly fired a volley of darts into the room, straight into the half-elf’s leather armour – and in two cases, with enough force to pierce through to the flesh underneath. With a sharp hiss of breath, she carefully prised each one free and let them clatter to the floor, two glistening wetly in the light of the lantern at her belt. Simultaneously spurning offers of aid and cursing under her breath, the ranger led the band of adventurers further into the catacombs.

Shamefacedly, Sam the Thief carefully checked the next door for traps and, finding none, motioned the others forward. The room behind it contained only a small leather bag, surrounded by bloodstains and scraps of clothing. After a brief pause to contemplate the fate of the bag’s previous owner, Samieth picked it up and began searching through it. It was filled with silver coins and smooth, round stones; the slightly puzzled look on his face prompted the others to reach in over his shoulder (or under his arm, in Harriet’s case) and grab a handful of assorted round items. As they did so, he realized that the stones were the perfect size for sling bullets, and in very little time everyone else was telling him this as well. A little irked by their impatience, he closed the bag again and shoved it into his own backpack. After marking both sides of the door they came in, they left the room and went back down the previous corridor.

A small alcove they had not yet investigated turned out to house another stone door. An ear pressed to the door gave not only a cursory re-acquaintance with the chittering noises that seems to be following them through the ruin, but also the sound of wet squelching, sucking footsteps. The door was flung open, the breeze making the lantern hanging from the ranger’s belt stutter for a moment. It recovered almost immediately, but in that half-seen instant a sensation of movement flickered in the middle of the room. The runeblade pulled a handful of sawdust from his pack and flung it hard in a wide arc – which gently drifted to the cold stone floor, covering most of the room. Seeing no effect, the dwarf stepped forth, muttering about sawdust fires. Forming her hands into a careful w-shape, the wizard intoned a single sharp arcane syllable and thrust her arms forward. A crimson inferno roiled forth from her palms, blazing into the middle of the room, scorching the ceiling and igniting the sawdust-covered floor. In the middle of the room, where the blinding flash was brightest, a strange four-legged shape was momentarily outlined in ruby incandescence.

Sam the Thief slunk quietly into the room and waited, sharp-edged and dangerous, for his chance to shine. Marquis, ever resourceful, quickly doused a rag in pitch and wound it around an arrowhead, setting it ablaze with a single spark from her lantern. Harriet brought her dwarven skullsplitter to bear and, stepping forward, swung deliberately at where she thought she saw the strange outline. The axe sliced menacingly through thin air, meeting no resistance. Stepping through the stone archway, Rob held his falchion at the ready. Smoothly, he came up alongside the wizard and slashed through the air in front of her. The finely-honed edge of his rune-carved blade cut so cleanly that the vibrations of its passing set teeth on edge, but it too met nothing but centuries-old dust that drifted by unseen.

The squelching, sucking footsteps that could be heard from behind the door started up again, and the wet plops and slurps seemed to recede farther into the room. A mouldering stench of wet fungus warned the rogue just in time – he took a quick step back, smelling more than hearing the crunch of suddenly empty jaws just in front of his face. Recovering quickly, he thrust his rapier towards the space he had just vacated, expecting the invisible presence to still be there. Alas, his haste made poor his aim, and he too ended up attacking the air. Alerted to the beast’s location, Marquis let fly with the flaming arrow – which extinguished itself in mid-flight, sunk halfway to the fletching in an invisible something. The creature, punctured and singed, began to smell nauseatingly of wet mould and burned fungus. Encouraged by this makeshift indicator, the wizard and the runeblade surrounded the hovering arrow, keeping prudently back from the dangerous-sounding and still-invisible teeth. With less hesitation than before, they swung at where they presumed the creature to be – and both blades whistled through different sections of vacant space.

Even with the arrow marking its movements, Samieth had nowhere to dodge to this time – he was backed up against the wall. As the arrow quivered and then jerked forward, he experienced the unique sensation of watching a wound be inflicted upon him by an invisible creature. No less dangerous for their being transparent, dozens of needle-sharp teeth sank into the tender meat of his left forearm; then tore themselves free, taking a few small chunks of skin and flesh with them. Fearing for the rest of his arm, the rogue stabbed forward with the point of his blade. Again, his sword met nothing, jabbing ineffectually at blankness. Taking careful aim, Marquis let fly with another feathered messenger of death. Its trajectory came to an abrupt halt in a plume of sickly greenish-yellow spores, which continued to puff from the seemingly empty air at regular intervals, accompanied by wheezing, squeaking noises which faded to nothing as the spores slowly settled to the floor.

A four-legged outline faded into view, topped by thick clusters of strange nodules. One arrow was buried in a node on the side of the creature, just above one of its front legs. The other had pierced through three across the top, and it was from one of these that the occasional spore still drifted. With a violent shudder, the strange plant-creature took a single wavering, squelching step and collapsed.

Is the creature dead? Will Sam and Marquis be alright? What other dangers lurk in this ancient ruin?

Tune in next week to find out! Same D&D time, same D&D channel!


Achievement-Style Bonus XP

Achievement Character Type
Kitchen Sink (everything but) Marquis I
Corpslosion (greatsword) Kyata K
Rolling Target (dagger) Marquis K
Creative Looting (bones) Harriet I
Facelift (stone) Harriet I
Guard Duty (player exit) Kyata I
Refused Aid (stubborn/independent) Marquis C
Admiral Ackbar (too late) Sam I
Common Knowledge (sling bullets) Everyone X
Ear to the Ground (or door) Marquis I
Woodchipper (one handful) Rob I
Goodness Gracious (lightly singed) Harriet I
Barbeque Skewer (medium-rare) Marquis I
Best Thing Since Sliced Breeze (critical miss) Rob X
Ranged Antifungal (longbow) Marquis K
Silent Cartographer Harriet M
Type Meaning Bonus XP
K Impressive Kill 5
I Good Idea 10
M Mapping Duty 10
C Character Development 20
X Misc Varies
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