I spent the off season profitably poisoning farmers who had mistreated their wives. Bern said he had a lead to possible profit, so I tagged along with him after we decided there was no emergency requiring us to look into acquaintances missing behind a mysterious door in the library. We hired a naive fighter named Bran for the trip. He got off on the wrong foot with me by insisting on 3 gold a day as his fee, just because he didn’t like the look of us.
The trip to the grotto was uneventful, but once there, Bern unloaded a bunch of details he neglected to bring up before. Like crystals we can’t look at, and talking skeletons. We followed him down inside regardless. We came across a few kobolds scrabbling in the dirt. They fled, and Bern chased them to see where they went. Since we were there looking for emperox proof, I didn’t know why he was chasing kobolds. The kobolds passed through the chamber with two skeletons, and vanished. Very creepy walking and talking sacks of bones encased in glowing ectoplasm. Bran wanted to attack the pink one. Bern got a rubbing of the medallion the skeletons wore. While Bern talked to the skeletons, I found a hidden door in one wall, but there was no way I was going to stick anything in the hole to open the door. Bran refused to help. Bern stuck a bolt in the hole and opened the door. The door led to a small room with a skull in ectoplasm and two kobold skulls in piles of ashes. The skull rose up and attacked Bern, making his armor sizzle. Bran refused to attack the skull thing at first, the coward. I shot it with my crossbow, and finished it off. Bern found silver in kobold backpacks in the ashes. We found another hidden door.
That door led to a temple with a black altar decorated with screaming faces. On the altar were two gold chalices studded with gems on either side of a pile of dirt. The altar was guarded by two huge skeleton statues. Bern was sure that stepping foot into the temple would awaken the statues, without some aid. He ate some purple moss he found in the kobold backpacks, even though it had tiny hands. Disgusting. Then he glowed purple. He went to the altar, planning to switch the chalices for the skulls. Turned out the pile of dirt wasn’t a pile of dirt. It did something to stun Bern, and it had eyes and mouths. Two of the mouths latched onto Bern. Bran and I shot at the dirt creature, and distracted it enough that it lost its hold on Bern. He tried pulling the thing off him, but it didn’t work. At his urging, Bran and I ran in to grab a chalice each, while Bern struggled. We were supposed to run back after that. He looked like he was dying though, so I tried to help, but one of the mouths latched onto me. We drew weapons, but nothing worked, and it was looking like that temple would be our grave. Then, the thing let go and started making gurgling noises. Bern and I grabbed a chalice each and we all ran for the door. I ran through, then Bern made it through as if possessed, and I shut the door while Bran stood there on the other side, in a daze from the creature’s power. We heard a terrible scream and crunching noises. The pink skeleton approved, and I gave it a little bow. I didn’t want to pay for the whiny brat another day anyway.
Bern and I made it safely back to town. The moneylender offered a boatload of money for the chalices. We got them looked at the antiquities place, and they’re old. We brought them to the magician, and one of them is magical. We sold the normal one. Bern wants to test the other one to find out its magic. He wants to start with water and wine, but its going to take blood, given that we found it in a temple of screaming faces and animated bones. I wonder who we’ll have to kill to get that much blood. I don’t know if we got what we went for, but the journey was certainly profitable.
So I went out not long ago in the company of a dwarf named Grunty. Well ok I named him that because he did nothing but grunt. We found the glowing hole in the woods easily, after a quick detour to track a pair of panthers to their den. Went down into it and looked around. There were these crystals… I looked at one and the next thing I knew Grunty had run off. Damn flighty dwarves. So I wasn’t going to go into a cave filled with bandits and who knows what else all by my lonesome. Forests, fine, I spend most of my time there anyway, but I do that by knowing what not to tangle with. This place I knew not to tangle with alone. So I headed back to town hoping to find Grunty’s tracks on the way. No luck with that.
When I did get back I bumped into one of the other members of the Butchers or Helix, an aging whore known as Stria. She was looking for a career change I guess. We had worked together earlier in the Tomb of the Serpent King and that had gone well. We decided to give the same plan I had with Grunty another try. We’d go out to the grotto, talk to the talking skeletons, and see if we could link them to Imperax like the Yggfolk wanted. I bought some parchment and ink in case we got any useful information from the skeletons. Asked ms. Tuesday at the library about some of the junior members of the Butchers who said they were looking into a mysterious doorway in the library. She remembered them after a second or two but said they had only gone in an hour or two ago, so I figured it wasn’t time to worry about them yet. Besides, there wasn’t anything unusual at the library anyway.
We both figured it would be better to bring some help, but pickings were slim and Stria outright refused to talk to hirelings. I’m not great at handling people but if I growl orders they usually obey, so I hired this guy named Bran. He had a sword. Just a sword. Stupid. I bought him a shield and leather armor, told him those things were just on loan, so if he ran off he better leave them behind. They weren’t cheap, the shit. And gave him a crossbow we had lying around, with a quiver and a few bolts. The idea was he would fire once and then rush to melee. That didn’t work out well either.
We made it to the Grotto easily. After all I knew the way now. Went down the stairs and looked around. I pointed out the sites like a good tour guide. Stria seemed flustered I hadn’t mentioned them before. Silly bint. I’m a guide not a bard. I did warn them about the crystals. About not looking into them.
Looking through the small porthole in the wall I remembered the other Butchers mentioning, I saw kobolds digging up something from the floor. I could see two, but there could be more. At first I thought they were gnolls, but then I realized that gnolls would be a lot taller and not have any scales.
Anyways. The other Butchers, particularly this pragmatic merc called Feverborne ‘cause he’s always sweating and shivering like he’s sick, had actually made friends with a kobold tribe out near Archaya. I had spent the a month or two trying to learn kobold in case I ever went out that way. Wasn’t easy without anyone to practice on. But I figured I had a few of their nasty words down.
So we snuck around the corner and I leapt at them, sword and torch out, screaming in my best and worst kobold, demanding that they throw down their weapons and surrender. They ran instead, which I was fine with. I chased them, didn’t bother catching them, just keeping them running. They ran off to the east, right where we were going anyway, and I had a hunch…
I was right!
They led us right to the cave with the two talking skeletons and there ain’t no kobolds. The room has two skeletons, three doors, no kobolds. I ask the skeletons where the kobolds went. To the north. No door to the north! Aha!
Confirmed that with tracks. They went north through a blank wall. Aha again!
Stria looked for the mechanism to open the door while I chatted up green skellie. Got a close look at his medallion. It has an eight sided figure on it. Not Imperax. Damn. Took a rubbing of the design so I can get someone else to look it up later. Someone else who likes libraries.
Stria found a hole in the wall that she figured might open the door. She refused to stick a finger in it to try to open it. Can’t really blame her. Bran refused too. See, this is what comes of paying more for mercenaries who think they are smart. They start refusing to do the stupid shit that you hire mercenaries to do.
I grabbed a bolt from MY quiver that Bran was carrying and jammed it into the hole. Success; the wall slid aside and opened. Beyond was a human skull in some kind of green jelly substance, two kobold skulls on top of a pile of ash, and … Wait, the human skull was standing up? To arms!
I smacked the skull hard with my sword. Bran missed. Stria hit it with her crossbow. It smacked me just a little. Same thing next time around, except it smacked Bran and he screamed like a baby. But he did hit it harder after that. Stria killed it with her crossbow shot.
I scraped the corrosive gunk off everything and stuck the skull in my backpack. Might be worth something to a wizard, or maybe the church for a bounty. Searching the ash piles turned up 24sp and some kobold sized backpacks filled with purple moss with little hands. That went into my backpack. Hmm.
Turns out there was another secret door right after that one. We opened it. Beyond was a much larger room, with an altar, two huge skeleton statues, and a strange pattern on the floor made from bricks, like lightning. Everything was facing away from us, like we slipped in the back of a church facing the congregation. But it was too dark to see the whole room. Stria took a moment to listen. Nothing.
But there were two chalices on the altar. Big ones. Gold, jewels. Worth more money than I have ever seen in my life, I bet. We were going to get those chalices and run back to town right afterwards, no risks. But laying out the way they were, obviously they were guarded. Not just by the jellyton we killed in the secret room. If that was all the kobolds would have taken them. There was also a pile of dirt on the altar, between the chalices. It seemed… Odd.
I remembered the floor markings, a pattern like lightning. And the lightning bolt that zapped a poor torchbearer in the Tomb of the Serpent King. And the kobolds with their backpacks stuffed full of purple moss…
The plan was simple. I’d eat some of the moss and be immune from the floor zap trap just like the kobolds. Sure it was thin, but I knew from prior experience that the stuff wasn’t poisonous. So ok. Then, Stria and Bran would get their crossbows ready, while standing next to the secret door. I’d approach the altar with my backpack ready, sweep both chalices into my backpack with my free hand, and run for the secret door. The skeletons would probably animate, but I would be through the door before they could get more than one or two swings. Then the door would close and we would all run like hell. I asked green skellie to point the pursuit down the middle door.
Things did not go according to plan.
I was about to sweep the chalices when the pile of dirt opened it’s eyes and it’s mouths and gurgled at me.
What can I tell you about the mad gurgling of a pile of dirt? Very little. I don’t remember much. Stria tells me I froze in place for nearly a minute. Then it stopped gurgling and latched on to me with all three mouths. They were attached to tentacles, and not in a good way. I grabbed at the things and tried to tear them loose even as I could feel the teeth chewing and swallowing. I roared at the other two to grab the goblets and run while I distracted it.
Normally I am pretty confident about my strength. My muscles have muscles. It’s a product of good clean outdoor living and my pappy having a touch of the lyncanthropy. I could tell I was stronger than this thing, but not by much, and it had one more mouth than I had hands and my hands lacked mouths. It was a losing contest, but if I could distract it long enough to get the chalices away… Well then I would die rich, and that helped no one. I drew my sword and started hacking at the thing. So did Bran. Stria pulled a dagger after an ineffective crossbow shot. None of it actually hit the thing hard enough to do any damage, but I guess with three of us nearby it felt a little threatened and let go of me to start gurgling again.
I won’t lie. I ran. But I didn’t run for a failure of courage. The truth is I don’t even remember running. I blinked my eyes and then I was back in the room with the friendly skellies, smack up against the south wall and still trying to run.
The secret door was shut behind me, Stria standing next to it. Bran… Bran’s screams from the other side of the door were barely audible with it closed. It was too late to help him.
I didn’t realize till later that he had my leather armor, crossbow, shield, bolts, and quiver still on him when he died. Damnit.
Well, I didn’t actually see him die. Maybe he lived. Maybe he ran in the other direction and lived like I did. If so he owes me for the armor and weapons, the little useless shit.
We went back to town and talked to the folks at the Golden Crown to get their estimate on the chalices. I won’t say here how much. It was a good score. We made a profit even with the money spent outfitting Bran. Was it worth Bran’s life? I dunno. He was too smart for his own good and too much of a damn fool where it mattered. I don’t think his life was worth much. And he screamed like a baby when the jellyton laid just a little bit on him.
Oh. We only sold one of the chalices. I remembered a juicy tidbit and bribed the butler at Muirrion’s to let me talk to the wizard. And split the cost of a detect magic with Stria. (This was before we sold the chalice, I was low on funds).
Turns out the second chalice was magic. We kept that one and will try filling it with various liquids to see what it does.
All in all a good run. I feel sorry for Bran, but not very. He knew the risks and I invested a lot of coin in trying to keep him alive. Not my fault he didn’t make it. Stria, on the other hand .. well, if she has a conscience that troubles her, I haven’t seen any sign of it yet.