It was in hindsight, Scrooge thought absently, probably not the greatest idea to drop a bright light down into the dark hole. In his defence there was no way of knowing there would be creatures to be attracted to that light. That being said, what else did he expect to find down a dark, creepy hole?
The broos stared upwards. The gang scrambled to prepare for combat. Stern began the incantation for his defensive spells. Just as the party began to take their first tentative steps towards the impending fray, the broos raced back out of sight down a passage that was, apparently, directly under the party’s feet.
The party cautiously peered over the edge (except for Calvin, who stayed far away given the heightened risk he faced from losing his balance supported only by a single leg and a flimsy spear) and discovered that the passage below led inwards to a space untouched by the thick, black chaos ooze directly below them.
Everyone had a suggestion.
“Can someone climb down?” Verrater suggested.
Calvin chimed in. “I have a grapple.”
“What would we connect it to?” Uzume asked pointedly. Then, to Verrater and even more pointedly, “Why don’t you just jump down?”
Verrater peered down at the ten metre drop and proffered an alternative suggestion: “Couldn’t someone hold it while we go down?”
Everyone turned to look at Grogar, who cocked his head.
“You trust him to keep us up?” Stern snorted. The others scowled at him.
“I don’t see you offering any alternative. Why don’t you just magic us down?”
It was Stern’s turn to scowl, but he could not bring himself to admit that he lacked the power to levitate the party down the relatively short drop.
It was around this moment that the broos returned. For a moment the arguing party didn’t notice the group below, now increased to four, appear below them until their slings began to fire sharp stones up towards them. With the missiles whistling by their ears, the party stepped back away from the lip of the drop.
Uzume’s fingers itched for her bow, and suddenly the group were a team again. Except, perhaps, for Stern, who had decided to cast damage resistance on himself. Grogar and Verrater stepped forward, taking their place directly on the edge of the drop, Grogar crouched in a protective position, while Verrater prepared his shield to deflect any stones. Uzume sheltered behind the hulking form of Grogar, popping out to fire her arrows. It took her a moment to get used to the arrangement, and the first arrow missed. The broos took the opportunity to fire a few half-hearted shots which bounced off Grogar’s thick hide.
By this time, Scrooge had prepared his firearrow spell, and Uzume’s shot flared with the contained power. It struck one of the broos hard in the abdomen, exploding in flame and leaving his guts smouldering from the charred tissue. He shrieked and fell unconscious to the floor.
The remaining three broos appeared to panic, racing out of sight below the edge of the pit. Verrater quickly took charge.
“Calvin, hand your grapple to Grogar. Grogar, take the rope and support me as I climb down. Before they arrive with more reinforcements.”
Grogar grunted and took hold of the grapple. Verrater made his way to the lip and began to clamber carefully down. It was here, dangling almost ten metres above a pit of mysterious black chaos ooze, held only by the inhuman strength of his troll companion, that he realised the broos had not run away for reinforcements.
The first stone missed, but the second found its mark, ripping a gash in Verrater’s right arm that caused it to hang uselessly by his side before he was able to complete a full warning to his companions above. Fortunately they had heard enough. Unfortunately, Verrater was now hanging helplessly by his left arm from a rope around seven metres from the ground, and had been set swinging slightly from the momentum of the hit.
Uzume edged around the narrow lip of the pit, but her dextrous form quickly reached the other side, from which she could see the remaining broos. Verrater, recognising the awkwardness of his current position, flung caution to the wind and leapt from rope, aiming towards the broos. He landed in an awkward heap and was instantly surrounded by two broos wielding clubs, while the remaining one tried to pick off Uzume.
Verrater felt the clubs connect with his shield, but his resolve held. Uzume, meanwhile, overcoming her initial selfish aim to take out the one firing at her, took a shot, one that had been magically enhanced by Scrooge in the manner that had worked oh-so-well previously, and burned the left leg of one of the clubbing broos to a charred cinder. It collapsed in shrieks of agony. The other clubbing broo recognised that Uzume potentially served a greater threat than the pitiful, one-armed form before him, and turned to begin sending rocks her way. The pitiful one-armed form rose and drew his sword with his remaining arm.
Meanwhile, Scrooge had attempted (after assuring Calvin that it was probably best that the one-legged thief go after rather than before him) to climb down the grapple, which Grogar still held. I say ‘attempted’ because, despite his best efforts, Scrooge was not the most nimble of figures. He was, after all, a duck. His plummet into the ooze below was brief and uncomfortable. Despite the surprise, he managed to avoid ingesting any of the ooze. The liquid was uncomfortable and seemed to tingle against his skin, but he pulled himself out without any immediately apparent effects.
Calvin was already down by the time Scrooge pulled himself out. He winked cheekily at the duck, proud of his one-legged climb.
With so many now in a good position to do some harm, it was not long before another broo lay unconscious and dying in front of them. The final broo took one look at the grim-faced adventurers now dramatically outnumbering him and fled down the path. Verrater gave chase, ignoring the pitch black of the tunnel before him. He was surprised briefly by a magical light that shone suddenly from his shield, cast by Scrooge, but it did not slow him down and as he caught up with the broo he took a few swings with his sword. Unfortunately his right arm was still useless, and his left arm was not his dominant one, so the swings did not connect. The broo raced into a twisted maze of passages and Verrater decided not to follow, figuring that it was best not to lose his companions.
He was rejoined and the group explored a doorway nearby. This led to a small room that was apparently used by the chaotic denizens of this domain as an armoury. Filthy chaotic weaponry that no order-loving being would dream of possessing filled the space. Yet, the group decided, there were potentially items of use down here. Verrater spied a suit of armour hanging from a mannequin in a corner. It was a perfect size for him. The armour clearly had powerful magical and physical protections and was so light and thin that he was able to wear it under his much thicker, harder Cuirbouilli armour. Unfortunately it appeared to be made of dragonewt skin. The potential problems this might introduce came only briefly to Verrater’s mind as he donned the new armour.
A thorough search of the room uncovered a couple of other useful and untainted items. Calvin claimed a replacement kukri that was enchanted with knowledge of the fireblade spell, while Scrooge was lucky enough, given the location he was searching, to find a live healing crystal, which augmented his healing spell.
This space seemed as good a place as any to take a moment’s rest, and all the magic users suggested the wisdom of this idea. Uzume, impatient as ever, was the only one to vote against the motion, and after spending close to a day resting, with no disturbance, the group was ready to get back into it.
They followed the passage that Verrater had seen the broo take before losing sight of it. This soon opened up into an enormous cavern, so large that it would have simply ebbed into darkness if not for the light show occurring far against the opposite wall, where two figures were deep in spirit combat. One, Verrater could see, was the troll bones they had been tracking, while the other was a vile broo shaman.
The party’s attention was soon distracted by three other figures approaching: two scorpionmen and the surviving broo from their earlier encounter.
Grogar, Verrater and Calvin made short work of the first scorpionman, while Uzume attempted to pick off the broo. Leaving Calvin, Scrooge and Uzume to the remaining scorpionman and broo, Grogar and Verrater both raced for the spiritual battle occurring before them. Stern had begun to mumble something under his breath.
The battle was short and brutal. Verrater and Grogar desiccated the shaman, despite his fetch’s best efforts to protect him, while the scorpionman and broo fell to Uzume’s incessant hail of arrows, Scrooge’s optimistic spear jabs, and Calvin’s newfound flaming sword.
As the last figure dropped to the ground, Stern’s spell went off. He grinned as it overpowered the troll bones spirit, bringing it under his power. He ordered the spirit into his enchanted dagger, and, with it trapped, he began to gloat.
“Ha! It seems none of you suspected I might have ulterior motives!”
The others glanced at one another and rolled their eyes. As if anyone on this damned trip didn’t have ulterior motives.
Stern cocked his head slightly. “OK, the spirit is telling me that there is a great power hidden in the upper levels. We should go get it,” he crowed.
“Why would we do that?” Verrater asked. “We’ve got what we came here for. Let’s go.”
“Wait, that’s what we’re here for?” Calvin and Uzume exclaimed together. “That’s it?”
Stern’s frown deepened when his authority was questioned. His tone took on a wheedling aspect.
“But this power… it is so much greater than what this spirit might offer. It is a sorcerer from long ago, and I can assure you that the Red Emperor would be extremely pleased if we were to get this power.”
“Does this mean we’re free now?” Calving interrupted. “I mean, if you got what you came for. Can we just… go?”
“No, shut up for a second,” Verrater snapped. “Stern, you’re going to need to hand over the dagger before this gets messy.”
“I don’t think I will,” Stern snapped. “Only I can use it anyway.”
“Well, technically anyone holding it will have contact with the spirit,” Scrooge offered. “And we can all release it and use its power to some extent.”
Verrater’s fingers itched for his blade. “The dagger. Now.”
It was at this moment that Grogar made his contribution to the discussion. Being less than verbose, he had decided to allow his actions to speak for him, and they certainly did so. Gripping Stern by the throat, he wrested the dagger from him.
Stern scowled. “Well, you can’t release it, anyhow.”
Grogar found that this was true. The dagger had been enchanted in such a way as to prevent any other than Stern from the use of its enchantment. Yet he could now communicate with the spirit.
Verrater eyed his troll companion warily. “You… were attached to this party by the Red Emperor, correct?” Grogar grunted his agreement.
“Why don’t you just give the dagger to me?” Uzume asked. “I’m a neutral party here.”
Everyone ignored this offer. Neutrality was at an end.
Grogar frowned, and his mind seemed to tick over, considering something. There was a silence as everyone held their breath, waiting for the unpredictable troll’s next act.
“The sorcerer speaks truth,” Grogar stated simply. “The spirit speaks of power in the upper floors.”
Almost immediately he took off, apparently in pursuit of the power in the upper levels. Verrater and the other companions (if they could still be considered companions) trotted to keep up, not keen to be lost down in the depths of this dungeon.
Their path, apparently directed by the spirit of the dagger, twisted and turned until it reached a stairway up to the levels above. Uzume, Calvin and Scrooge followed a few steps behind the others, sharing their ignorance at the recent turn of events. Trawling through the familiar passages of ancient corpses, they were soon in an area familiar to them. The area was where they had previously seen a party of dragonewts peering at a wall. The dragonewts had since vanished, and Grogar indicated the wall, after a moment of silence and thought.
“The spirit speaks of a hidden doorway within this wall.”
A quick search uncovered the door, and Grogar pushed it open. The others followed him in.
They discovered a large room, around twelve by fifteen metres with columns rising about three metres from each corner. However, their attention was distracted by the figure guarding a door to their left.
The ancient dragonewt warrior rose to its full height, towering over the companions. Its eyes burned red as it looked down upon them, its thick, scaly skin bristling, the dust of centuries eking from its shoulders.
As it rose, so to did its talons, each clutching a large, vicious-looking stone dagger.
TO BE CONTINUED.