At the bottom of a long, dark spiral staircase, the group had paused at a door. After a reflective discussion on the Art of War led by the intriguing Tiefling wizard Skamos Redmoon, and Splug’s insistence on the superiority of Tzugrot Moonclaw’s original Goblin text, the adventurers had readied themselves for whatever lay beyond. Splug had been of little help, telling only half-descriptions of slithering sounds and a mysterious “pet” that the dwellers of this level kept. Splug did warn the five of the need for the passphrase to move beyond the guards but swore he did not know this key, even under the intimidating glare and threatening moves of the massive dragonborn Paladin Felsmon. Even Skamos’ offer of more pleasant discussion of the work of Moonclaw could not pry the passphrase from Splug.
At the door, Z’alden Silverflame the cleric used his new training to listen carefully. He could hear guttural shouts and laughs. “Splug, could the hobgoblins be playing some sort of game?” Z’alden asked. Splug had only quivered. “They could be tossing chickens to the pet!”
Skamos, unwavering despite Splug’s nervousness, stealthily opened the door. “Creeakk” Skamos and Splug entered not-so-quietly. Inside the room, two Hobgoblin brutes were tossing a skeleton head into a dump pit. As muck splashed from a successful basket, the nearby gong was sounded in triumph by a third. They leapt to their feat as the Tiefling and the Goblin entered the room. A fourth, the leader, accosted Skamos and Splug, “Who are you? What are you doing here?” One of the brutes said, “Is that Splug? I thought he was being tortured to death.”
Smoothly, the wizard replied, “I have a message for Kalarel. Splug has led me here to deliver it.” “Well, hand it over,” the leader said. “No, the message is memorized. I only deliver it to Kalarel.”
The leader paused. “Are you alone?” The Tiefling lied, “Yes. I am just here with Splug.” The Hobgoblin sent one of the brutes up the steps where the rest of the group was waiting. “Five others up here.” The dwarven warrior Barrick almost smiled, “I must count twice.”
Descending the steps, the group gathered behind Skamos at the edge of the room, tense.
The leader exclaimed, “What’s the passphrase?”
Everyone turned to look at Splug… “Er, um… ‘Life fails in the dark’?”
“Hmmmph,” muttered the leader. “Wasn’t that last week’s passphrase?” whispered one of the guards to another one.
“Very well, come along,” the leader said. Surprised by this fortituous turn of events, all six followed as they were led to a corridor. Keys jangled as a metal door was opened. “Kalarel is down the hall. Turn right. He’ll take the message.” As the group went through, the door closed and locked behind. Noticeably, Splug was absent. Still unaware of the treachery, the adventurers came to a T in the corridor. Believing that Kalarel lay to the right, the group turned to the left. Z’alden went ahead to an alcove to look for hidden doors and traps.
Stepping into the alcove, the half-elf was attacked by a formerly transparent and unnoticed Gelatinous Cube. It quickly enveloped the cleric, rendering him immobile and unable to take action. The rest were almost frozen with astonishment. Z’alden was taken so quickly, how to rescue him without being sucked in themselves? The strong Paladin Felsmon and the mighty dwarven warrior Barrick bravely leapt to pull him out, but were unable. Skamos blasted away with magical energy, directing the power from his staff into the huge Cube. Clearly wounding it, the remaining adventurers were emboldened. The warlock Tira Duskmeadow moved to the far side of the Cube, wounding it further as Eldritch flames leapt from her fingertips. Bits of seared goo slopped off the Cube. In revenge, the Cube moved to her and quickly enveloped her. Felsmon slashed into the Cube with Aecris, the magical sword, sliding the Cube away from the group and back into its lair. Simultaneously, healing light poured from the sword penetrating the Cube, restoring the grievously wounded cleric who remained engulfed.
With the restored vitality, Z’alden said a prayer to Bahamut and was able to escape. Mystical light surrounded Tira as she shimmered and reappeared outside the Cube instantly. Soon after, the magic of the Tiefling and the Half-Elf Warlock, the sword of the Dragonborn, and the mighty battleaxe of the dwarf dispatched the muck.
After a brief respite, the group decided to try the right corridor. Walking into total darkness, scuttling sounds could be heard. With a sunrod and Skamos magic light to illuminate the corridor, a chest at the end could be seen. A trapdoor with a descending ladder was on the right and an ascending ladder on the left. Going up the ladder, Z’alden could see only a small corridor and could hear more scuttling sounds. Advancing to the chest, Felsmon and Z’alden looked inside after carefully checking for traps. Inside were old clothes, dolls, and, digging further, a rich silver bracelet with the name Ceinwein Keegan. Z’alden also found a golden medallion with the name Drystan Keegan on one side and a pair of wings on the other. Both Skamos and Z’alden could sense magical energy from the medallion. Skamos put on the medallion, stood on the chest and leapt into the air. He gently floated down. As the group began to discuss who should hold this treasure, Barrick was attacked by a Giant Centipede spewing fire at him!
The athletic dwarf was quick to react, leaping as only a surprised dwarf can leap, just evading the creature’s strike, and tucking into a somersault. Rolling to his feet filled with rage, he grimaced and turned his momentum into a mighty sidewinder spin of his axe, which cleaved back into the footed Worm, “I hate bugs.” Flames and magical energy from the others ripped into the Centipede. The Fire Centipede sprayed Felsmon with unearthly flames. Barrick’s battleaxe torn into it, ripping open a flaming interior. Immediately the entire Centipede was glowing, hot, and no longer moving. Felsmon grabbed it and tried to shove it down the trapdoor shaft, but a leg caught on the edge. It was getting hotter. Barrick gave it a massive shove, and it fell just as it burst into massive flames, singing the dwarf’s beard!
Safe, the group explored the trapdoor ladder, once the flames had been extinguished. A series of crawl-space tunnels in which Barrick felt perfectly comfortable, but which made Felsmon most stooped, led to a chimney opening with a roaring fire pit below. Searching another corridor, they found a small opening, several feet above the room with the Hobgoblins playing more pitball with skulls. They could hear the brutes, “Do you think they are dead, yet?” “Nah, let’s give the crawlies a little more time.” Hidden, and believed dead, the nearly exhausted adventurers rested, keeping careful watch.
Rejuvenated, the group went to explore the crawl spaces further. Finding the firepit down to glowing coals, Skamos, with a wave of his hand, created a small rainshower that doused the embers. Felsmon lowered Skamos head-first down the chimney. Skamos saw 5 sleeping Hobgoblin guards. The adventurers had found the barracks of the brutes at a most opportune time. Realizing that their powers combined might be able to destroy these monsters before they woke, Skamos, Felsmon, and Z’alden quietly descended the chimney, with Tira and Barrick close behind.
A powerful burst of magic flames erupted from Skamos’ staff, spreading out to scorch each of the sleeping Hobgoblins. Lightning burst forth from the mouth of the Dragonborn Paladin. 4 of the Hobgoblins were already vanquished! A dragonheaded light roared forth from Z’alden hands, ripping into the last one. The group entered the barracks and found some gold on the guards for their work.
At both ends of the barracks, curtains covered doorways. Skamos peered into the right curtain, only to see the face of the Hobgoblin leader just a few feet away and staring at him! “They are alive!” he shouted, “ Release the pet!” The leader’s words were met by crossbow bolts from Z’alden. Tossing the beds into a barricade, the group readied for battle.
A huge, black, furry spider leapt over the barricade, its nasty fangs glistening with blood. The leader and two other Hobgoblins were right behind. Magical energy erupted from Skamos’ staff, searing the leader, the spider, the Hobgoblins, and Barrick! “I hate magic” the dwarf roared. Z’alden stepped forward, opening his arms. Divine silver and purple flames erupted from the symbol of Bahamut in the center of his chest. The silver flames surrounded each of the foes, burning them severely. The purple flames enveloped Barrick, empowering him. As the divine flames struck, their intensity increased, as the symbol itself would tolerate this evil no longer. When the flames had ceased, only the spider and the leader remained. Barrick’s battleaxe tore into the spider. Felsmon’s sword cleaved the head off of the leader, who would lead no more adventurers into deadly traps.
The giant spider leapt across the room to Skamos, biting into him with a horrible poison. Mystical energy leapt from Tira’s eyes to the arachnid’s, causing it to squeal in pain. Felsmon readied a blow, but the spider leapt into the air. Barrick’s axe split the abdomen of the beast, blood and guts poured onto the dwarf, and the spider was no more. “I hate spiders,” the dwarf scowled.
With 8 Hobgoblins and 1 “pet” fallen, and the leader’s keys to the keep in hand, the group went through the west curtain of the barricks. Past a door, a large room with 2 huge opposing statues and 2 smaller statues past them awaited. Z’alden could sense no traps. Felsmon walked forward. The left statue came to life, swinging a 12 foot sword into the Dragonborn. The Paladin nearly dodged it, only having his elbow nicked. The statue continued to swing his sword in a wide circle, around and around. Skamos quickly noticed a pattern. All agreed that the sword swing could be timed and passed. Felsmon bravely went first, passed the sword-swinging statue, and moved to get to the doors at the far end of the room. Moving between the smaller statues, lightning blasts immediately filled the area between them, burning into the lightning-breather himself! Helpless, the group watched as Felsmon moved past the lightning to the doors. Saying a prayer, Felsmon was able to heal himself, but what was the rest of the group to do?
As soon as one passed the swinging statue, the lightning would roast the adventurer. Tira looked at the swinging pace, eyed the smaller statue and ran. Just past before the statue sliced the half-elf into two pieces, the warlock shimmered and was gone, only to reappear behind the lightning generating stature unharmed. With all of her strength, she pushed the small statue, sending it to the ground shattering. The lightning wall disappeared, and the rest of the group, also carefully timing the swings, could pass unharmed.
Listening at the door, a female voice chanting some unknown language could be heard. Skamos quietly opened the door. To the group’s surprise, the chanting female voice was coming from Ninaran! Across a massive hewn chamber, with rivers of blood running towards a central pit, Ninaran stood, some 140 feet away from the group, continuing to chant oblivious to their presence. Undead skeletons and zombies and other evil humanoids lined the walls. Unbelievably, could Ninaran be the big K – Kalarel? Had they found the Rift and the center of the Cult of Evil? The destruction of the Cult, the saving of Winterhaven, and Marla the Cleric of Pelor’s reward of 250 crowns each might not be far away. Quietly, the group backed into the statue room to pause and consider the next course of action.