The Mournland – East of Olkhaan
25 Barrakas, 998 YK
Wir, 11:10 AM
Failin was pinned under the elemental land cart, and only Rocky’s metal body and strength seemed to keep it from crushing him. “Dammit, Rock, hold on!” Arturo cried as he staggered to his feet. “Keep cover and keep Failin safe!” Bex took a more aggressive approach, kipping up with the magic of her boots and sprinting across the field at the giant crab monster. As she flung her blade, it snapped at her reactively, cutting through leather armor and flesh cleanly. The changeling looked down in dismay at the line of blood along her ribs. She took some small grim satisfaction when her knife returned to her hand stained with ichor from where it had impaled the beast.
While the spellcasters regained their feet and moved to get a better angle on the creature, Bex narrowly avoided its grasping pincer. The crab squealed in frustration, and the Cyrans could see cracks along its ridged shell. Strangely colored fluids had congealed from these older injuries. When Arturo got a better look at the beast, he recognized the threat it presented more clearly. “Aye, it’s poisonous!” he shouted to the others. “Steer clear of its claws an’ the damnable spines!”
Rickard muttered a curse and a hand of shadow reached out from under the overturned wagon to take hold of the crab. It struggled against the umbral appendage, but with a snarl of will, the warlock overcame the behemoth’s resistance. The spell added another crack to its shell and momentarily prevented it from advancing upon him. So inhibited, the crab turned its hideous eyestalks to the south, scuttling toward Bex and Arturo and reaching out a claw for each of them.
Bex ducked the creature’s grasp, but the artificer was not quick enough. “Shite!” he shouted as the claw closed around him, cracking a couple of ribs and dragging him towards the beast’s mandibles. Arturo reflexively exploded in hellfire, which licked across the crab’s shell, but failed to cause it to drop him. Instead, it vomited a goopy mess over the tiefling, and he gritted his teeth as the venom wracked his body with pain.
Relic’s eyes flashed as he calculated the best way to help his companions, and his decision came in the form of an enchantment that stunned the aberration. The pincer holding Arturo fell open and he dropped to the ground, staggering. He trilled a song of healing and danced back out of reach, then lashed out with a more aggressive bardic song, calling into question the creature’s parentage. The psychic assault did little more than break the stun.
The changeling’s luck ebbed as she moved away and the claw caught her across the side. She snarled and flung her dagger once and once again when it returned to her hand, each throw taking out one of its four eyestalks. “What’s it take to kill this damned thing?!” she demanded rhetorically.
The shadows around Rickard formed into a solid shard that he sent flying at the crab. As the cold shard impaled the beast, barbs and spines exploded outward from its shell, raining across everyone but Relic. The jagged shrapnel was poisoned, as well, and each of the victims felt more sluggish. The warlock coughed and complained, “Now it explodes, too?”
“Ach, I didn’t mention?” Arturo said with a wry smirk.
In rage and pain, the crab once more advanced upon the ‘lings, and pulled the artificer into its crushing grip once again before spewing poison all over him. Arturo coughed up blood and said weakly, “That all ya got?” Seeing Bex roll away from the beast’s wildly snapping other claw he added, “Get outta here girly. I…” he coughed again, “got this…”
“Yea, Art… You got this,” Rickard said.
Bex said, “Rel, for the love of Cyre, I hope you’ve got somethin’!”
Relic evoked a shock sphere, striking the crab precisely and somehow avoiding injuring the tiefling further in the process. “Sorry, Bex. I haven’t fought just one person for so long. I’ve been specializing in groups, battling gangs for local charities – that kind of thing.” She smiled grimly without knowing why.
Arturo grimaced and said, “Ain’t gonna go down that easy.” He chanted a healing rhyme, then took advantage of the twitching caused by Relic’s lightning to wriggle free of the claw. With his arms free, he infused himself with a restorative option and called out to the others, “Y’all stay back! Let me keep ‘im occupied.” Turning back to the crab he shouted, “Come at me, ya beasty!”
“Madness,” Bex sighed, before sinking her dagger deeply into the crab’s shell another time, a moment before Rickard shared his pain with the monster. The shrilling of the dying abomination railed against the Cyrans’ senses, and after its legs flailed around aimlessly for a second or so, it fell heavily to the ground dead.
“Traveler be praised,” the changeling breathed. Though not faring much better herself, Bex moved to help Art. The tiefling chuckled from the ground where he lay on his back, spitting blood from time to time. Rickard poked the crab to make sure it wasn’t going to get back up. Relic ran over to help Rocky with Failin and the cart.
They managed to free Rocky and the excoriate, waking the latter from his stupor. He took control of the earth elemental, which promptly righted the cart with a shrug of its stony shoulders. Relic suggested that everyone hurry into the cart, but a battlefield of unlooted bodies stretched out in all directions, and the others were keener to remedy that.
“I thought I was gonna have to climb up on its back,” Bex said while they searched for treasures.
“Aye, woulda been a sight,” Arturo said companionably.
“Hopefully, that is the worst this dead land has to offer,” Rickard intoned.
They found a number of enchanted gear and potions, as well as a scattering of coin and a letter of credit with the Kundarak Banking Guild for additional money. After several minutes of violating the dead, the Cyrans were ready to move on again, and the cart rolled through the battlefield and out the other side. While the loot was being divided, Bex looked back and up at the sky. “You fellows see that?”
“See what?” Relic wanted to know. Whatever she had seen vanished into the mist above before the wizard could track it.
“Might have been a spy for the Claw,” Bex suggested.
“Damn bird’s been followin’ us. I saw it back in Olkhaan,” Arturo said.
“Wow,” Relic said. “Fresh corpses as far as the eye can see, and one carrion bird. This place must be like heaven for it.”
“Yea, that’s one lucky bird,” Rickard said.
“If it’s following us because of that creep at the foundry, then he’s the lucky one,” Bex said.
“Well, if it is, there isn’t much to be done other than to stay ahead of them,” Relic said. “We don’t know this place well enough to lose a bird.”
A short while later, the cart exited the blighted plains for pockmarked hills with a patchwork of scrub grass, thorny vines, and more jagged glass and stone spikes reaching out of the earth at random. At the base of a low hill, a timbered opening led into a dark tunnel. At first glance, it looked like any other abandoned mineshaft. A closer inspection of the opening revealed the House Cannith seal emblazoned on the center crossbeam. Failin pulled the cart to a stop near the open mineshaft – presumably the Whitehearth facility.
They exited the cart and Rickard said, “Is this really the entrance to some legendary Cannith facility? It looks pretty dumpy to me.”
Relic’s eyes glowed brighter as he stared at the Cannith seal. “The things we could learn here…”
“Looks like the place,” Arturo commented. “Should probably make haste inside ta get what we’re after an then git out o’ here.”
“Look out!” Bex cried from behind them and before they could react she’d thrown her knife skyward. The Cyrans watched as the carrion bird fluttered gracelessly to slam into the rocky terrain nearby. Only then did its undead nature become apparent.
The changeling’s nostrils flared. “Gross. Come on, let’s get moving.”
Arturo broke down laughing, and after several moments, when he’d regained his breath, he managed, “Well! You showed ‘im, girly!” She shrugged it off, only grinning once she had turned away. “C’mon, folks! We got knowledge to save, mineshafts to fight, an’ artifacts to learn!”
“I swear to the Host, Art, if we actually have to fight a mineshaft, I’m blaming it on you,” Rickard said.
Relic headed back to the elemental land cart with the undead bird in hand, and had a brief conversation with the excoriate before returning to the group. The elemental began to pull the vehicle away, and at their curious expressions, the wizard explained. “In case the Emerald Claw tries to magically track their scout, I’d rather it not lead them directly here. I’ve convinced Failin to move it to mislead our pursuers a bit and then come back and hide with the cart nearby so that we have a ride waiting.” Everyone agreed that was very shrewd thinking.
Bex hauled the everburning torch out of her bag of holding and led the way into Whitehearth. The steep sloping tunnel into the mine led to a large, rough-hewn stone chamber. An opening in the far wall led to narrow, snaking tunnels. A circular, four foot adamantine hatch was set into the floor in the entry chamber. There was a simple locking mechanism at the center of the hatch, and a small socket just to the left of the locking mechanism, coated in blue enamel.
“Who has the keycharm?” the changeling asked. Arturo fished through his pockets, pulling out different items until he found the blue keycharm given to them by Lady Elaydren. He handed it to Bex, who took some time to examine the hatch for any nasty surprises. A moment later, she was glad she did.
“Everyone hang back. This thing’s trapped,” she said, kneeling down for a closer look, while the others took a few steps farther away. “Yep. Even if you use the key, it’ll go off.”
“Good catch,” Rickard said.
“Let me see if I can disable it.” She worked for a few more moments and then inserted the keycharm into the lock and turned it with a loud clicking noise. She turned the wheel on the hatch, and the hinges groaned as the hatch lifted up to reveal…a solid steel plug. Strange runes snapped and fizzled inertly.
“What the?” Bex said, startled. “A false entrance? Paranoid much, House Cannith?”
“Does it look like it was designed this way?” Relic asked. “Or was this entrance sealed from the inside, maybe?”
“No seams,” Bex said after taking a closer look. “This is an old fashioned double-trapped false entrance.”
“Ha!” Arturo crowed. “It’ll zap ya fer sure if’n ya grab hold o’ that plug unawares.”
Bex eased over to the east and reported, “It looks like there’re steps leading down back here. Do you think the Claw has a keycharm, too?”
“Hopin’ not,” said the tiefling, following along with the others.
She descended and saw another hatch occupying the right-hand tunnel. “Dragon Below, how many hatches to you think there are?” she groused, crouching down for a look at it. “This one looks the same,” she said, sounding almost bored. She disarmed the traps, inserted the keycharm, and turned the wheel, and found…another steel plug. “Truthfully, I’d be disappointed if they made it easy,” she said.
“Is there a way you can relock those and set the traps back in case we are followed in?” Relic asked.
“I can lock ‘em back up, anyway. That might keep ‘em busy. But I’d like to find the real one first.” She turned down another tunnel and muttered, “There’s gotta be a real one…”
The third hatch she found didn’t appear to be trapped at all. When she turned the wheel, the hatch opened onto a circular metal shaft with a metal ladder running down one wall. It terminated thirty feet below in utter blackness that even the light of her magical torch couldn’t seem to penetrate. “Oh, boys? I think I’ve got something here.”
“Excellent work,” Relic said as she began climbing down the ladder. The others followed her down, but as she vanished into the blackness at the bottom of the pit, they were left in utter darkness. They had no choice but to keep climbing down.
At the bottom, they found themselves in a strange, perfectly spherical metal chamber, perhaps twenty feet in diameter. The only exit from the room appeared to be the shaft in the ceiling from which they had descended. An octagonal metal plate was set into a pedestal at the center of the room. The metal plate measured one foot across and contained nine sockets enameled in different colors – five blue, two green, and two brown.
Relic examined the pedestal intently, and Bex confirmed that the color of their keycharm matched the blue of the sockets. “Okay, so it matches, but does the key fit?” the wizard wanted to know. The changeling tried the middle socket, and the keycharm fit and turned, but there was no apparent effect. She then tried the socket in the center-left.
A powerful vibration shook the walls of the chamber as the ladder ascended into the shaft above, and then slowly, the entire room began to rotate. The Cyrans had to keep stepping to avoid falling over as the floor became the wall, but the grooved surface helped them stay upright. In less than a minute, the chamber had rotated, and now the entryway appeared as a door into a corridor instead of a hatch in the ceiling.
“Fascinating,” Relic deadpanned.