Grebdal Themp leads his companions down the long catacomb passageway, between stack upon stack of the mouldering bones of Ângu's long-forgotten dead. The corridor finally ends in a great circular chamber [Room 9]. There is a stone staircase leading downwards in the room's centre. It is otherwise empty save for a series of iron hooks ringing the entire chamber. Most are empty, but dirty robes hang from a few.
"This is evidently the cult's vestry," says Fhenteskeer with undisguised contempt.
"You know," surmises Grebdal Themp, "these would make excellent disguises..."
"Out of the question," retorts the fire-priest. "I should never so debase myself!"
"I don't relish the feel of this unwashed sackcloth against my skin either," says Ksandajja, "but any small advantage against these fiends--"
"Very well, I'm convinced," says Fhenteskeer.
"That was fast," says Orhhuta.
"I am a priest of one of the great gods of Good. I had to at least be seen to protest. For the sake of form, you understand."
Grebdal Themp is chuckling to himself as he selects a robe from the wall. But as his fingers touch the dirty fabric, it comes to life and wraps tightly about him, crushing and smothering the hapless rogue, for this is no robe, but a terrible WRAPPER!
[As this was the final room of the level, the stairs down were automatically here, and I rolled a guardian on the Level 3 list in the main AFF rulebook. The Wrapper result made it obvious that this was a vestry.
1d4=Grebdal Themp gets attacked. He had to test his LUCK to notice the creature amongst the robes; 2d6=9, failure. He takes 2 damage, dropping him to 2 Stamina.]
Grebdal Themp's companions raise their weapons, but are unsure where to strike the creature, lest they also harm their friend struggling beneath. After a moment's deliberation Fhenteskeer strides forward and intones the Sacred Melody of the Lambent Flame. The wrapper catches alight, and with a high-pitched squeal it relinquishes its hold upon its prey and falls twitching to the floor, where it is a simple matter for Orhhuta to dispatch it with her sword.
[Fhenteskeer cast the Flame spell. I thought it might do extra damage, but upon looking at the entry in Out of the Pit, I found that any fire will cause it to let go and fall, whereupon it can be killed in one hit. So that was lucky.]
The other cult robes, as evinced by a good deal of prodding with sword points, are inanimate. Everyone finds the least filthy robe that will fit, and dons it as a disguise. "Let's go!" says Orhhuta, "we must strike now, whilst we have the upper hand!"
"Not... not yet," groans Grebdal Themp. "The rest of us haven't quite your stamina, dear Orhhuta."
"Allow me," says Fhenteskeer, and begins to chant an entreaty to Filash to rekindle the vigour in the souls of his comrades and cauterise their wounds with his sacred healing fire. And sure enough, Grebdal Themp and Ksandajja find their spirits lifted and wounds erased. For his own part, Fhenteskeer eats a bit of bread from his pack, and burns the other half of the loaf with an obliging torch as an offering to his god.
[Fhenteskeer ate his 2nd PROVISION of the day, restoring 2 Stamina (up to 7). He cast Heal on Ksandajja, restoring her to full Stamina, then spent a Luck point in order to cast it a second time in one day, healing Grebdal Themp to full Stamina as well.]
Orhhuta's yawns of impatience do not go unmarked; soon enough they are marching deeper into the bowels of Titan. They descend for an impossibly long time, and the stairs spiral ever downward. More than once they must stop to let the dizziness subside. At last the interminable steps give way to a small, but blessedly flat, room [Room 10]. One wall is decorated with cult mosaics, rudely narrating the works and deeds of their vile lord, Decay. The other is bare stone. A cracked and cobweb-choked skeleton lies against it; whether it be the remains of an intruder or a broken guardian of the cultist's lair, none can say. But it offers no resistance nor danger, so the disguised companions file past it in silence.
[The 2nd level of the dungeon contains 1d6+2=6 rooms.]
Two dark corridors lead out. Following the eastern passage, they eventually come to an oaken door with heavy iron fittings set into the stone wall [Room 11 - locked room]. It doesn't budge when pushed. "I'm sure I can get us inside with a minimum of effort," whispers Grebdal Themp with cool bravado, and he sets to work on the lock with the point of his long dagger. [He may be the thief type, but he doesn't actually possess the Locks special skill, so this is a straight roll against SKILL: 2d6=7, just succeeding.] After a few false starts, he finally gets the mechanisms to click into place, and the lock to click open. And not a moment too soon; he was on the cusp of having to admit he didn't really know what he was doing!
The door creaks open and the odour of cramped and filthy confinement wafts into the corridor, briefly overpowering the omnipresent smell of hoary death. Three shapes stir in the darkness, recoiling from the sudden lamplight. Weapons are readied for the barest moment, then lowered as the wretched prisoners are revealed: an aging peasant in rags, a large foreign man in tattered hides, and a small woman in a soiled black cloak. "Please... don't hurt us again," says an unsteady voice.
[The 1d6=3 prisoners are (via Age of Fable): farmer, berserker, thief; d6=mmf]
"Hurt you?" exclaims Fhenteskeer. "Fear not, gentle souls, for we are your deliverers from this awful place!"
"Keep your voice down," scolds Grebdal Themp. "Do you want the whole cult to come running?"
"That voice...," says the woman. "Grebdal Themp, is that really you?"
"Lanktra Snard! Word was you fled the city after the Trundici job, and didn't even pay the Shadow Guild its due. They're looking for you, you know..."
"Fled the city! As if I'd be so foolhardy. Trundici is no mere merchant -- he is a vile worshipper of Decay! Had I known, I'd never have agreed to rob his strongbox. His undead guards overpowered me and locked me up in here."
"As touching, truly, as this reunion is," says Ksandajja, "I think it were best you two... legitimate businesspersons talk over old times later."
"Agreed," says Orhhuta. "We've got some Decay worshippers who still need their heads caved in."
"We're too weak to fight," says Lanktra Snard. "The 'food' they served us..."
"Say no more," says Grebdal Themp. "Can you find your way back to the surface?"
"Can I? How long have you known me?"
"Just follow the trail of fresh corpses," says Ksandajja, "and you can't go wrong."
They walk back to the staircase [in Room 10], where two groups part ways. Grebdal Themp allows himself a single, wistful look back over his shoulder as Lanktra Snard departs, then focuses his attention once more on exploring the dusty catacombs. And well that he does, too, for as the passage ends in an abrupt dead end [Area 12], some flash of intuition [a successful Awareness roll] tells him that he has led his comrades directly into a trap. He bids his fellows wait as he scouts back the way they came, and finds the cunningly hidden spear trap in the wall. Examining it, he finds the pressure plates in the floor which armed the mechanism on their first passage over them, and which will spring the trap when traversed a second time [Trap Knowledge roll succeeds]. It is then a simple matter for him to leap over to the first plate, and disengage the mechanism.
As they retrace their steps, a small gap is noticed in the wall. Peering inside reveals another passageway, so one by one they squeeze through and continue. The passage branches off into a Y; something glimmers in the darkness down the left branch, so they naturally proceed towards it.
The corridor ends in a low circular room [Room 14], with a pedestal of smooth, red-veined marble in the centre. A glass phial rests atop the pedestal, the glowing liquid within causing the green faceted glass to sparkle. As the four explorers marvel at the obvious magic, something stirs in the shadows. Out step [1d3=]two skeletal figures clad in tattered black robes. The sparkling red eyes of the DEMONIC SERVANTS glow with infernal malice as they fly with terrible claws to slay the interlopers.
DEMONIC SERVANT SKILL 8 STAMINA 7
The battle is fierce, but brief. The abyssal magic animating these wretched servants of darkness is no match for the heroes' steel, and they are summarily reduced to piles of crumbling bone.
[Demonic Servants are destroyed if hit twice in succession without scoring a hit of their own. Grebdal Themp took 2 damage, but the outnumbered monsters really didn't stand a chance. The roll for treasure indicated that they were guarding a Special Item: a healing potion (restores STAMINA to full)]
Ksandajja turns her attention once again to the phial. She is at first reticent to touch it, but leans in so close that the green glow plays over her face, and sparks glint in her flashing eyes. She can feel the magic reaching out from the glass, invigorating her with its merest presence.
"I'm keeping this," she says, and it disappears into the folds of her garment.
[Ksandajja has Magic Lore 1, Magic 5; 2d6=5, she identified the potion. I also ruled she'd receive 1 LUCK for find, putting her back up to 8.]
Unwilling to second-guess the opinion of the sorceress, the other three merely shrug, and Grebdal Themp leads the band out another long narrow passage. At its end is a chamber of dressed stone [Room 15], swept cleaner than the surrounding catacombs. In one corner is an ornamental doorway surmounted with leering demons carved in bas-relief. On either side of it, a DORAGAR stands guard. Both of the warlike creatures are clad in baroque spiky armour and bear serrated swords after the manner of their kind.
The doragar pause a moment, as if awaiting a watchword, then silently brandish their weapons and move to attack the intruders.
DORAGAR SKILL 9 STAMINA 10
sword, medium armour
Grebdal Themp runs ahead of Ksandajja too fast, and instead of a flanking manoeuvre leaves himself open to the doragar's attack. The sword rips through his armour and tears a jagged rent in his side [3 damage drops him to 5 Stamina]. Ksandajja arrive in time to strike, but her blade merely crashes against that of her foe, dislodging flecks of rust -- no, not rust, but the dried blood of the doragar's last opponent!
Orhhuta lands a solid blow against her enemy, but the spiky protrusions on its armour keep the blade from biting deeper [3-1= 2 damage, leaving it with 8 Stamina]. Fhenteskeer is too timid to get close in with his hand axe [miss].
Grebdal Themp is following Ksandajja's lead now, and lands a heavy blow atop the creature's horned helmet [4-2=2 damage]. His follow through only swishes through empty air [miss]. Ksandajja whirls in with a combination strike. The first hit draws a line across the doragar's face [3-0=3 damage], but the down stroke gets caught on a spiky pauldron [3-1=1 damage; it has 5 Stamina left].
Orhhuta makes a terrible mistake [fumbles] and exposes her flank. The doragar's sword tears a bloody strip from her side [+2 damage roll; 3 damage puts her at 10 Stamina]. Fhenteskeer cannot lands a single blow.
The first doragar finally falls under the swords of sorceress and thief. The other fights to the end, but surrounded by four stalwart warriors, the death knell soon sounds.
Orhhuta binds her wound, but Grebdal Themp is overcome by curiosity, and decides to open the heavy door. Light streams in from beyond, but as his eyes adjust his hopes of finding the cult treasure are suddenly dashed. As the others peer in past him, a robed figure walks into the room from the other side. As soon as [d6=]she notices the slain doragar, the CULTIST begins to scream and flees back the way she came.
Ksandajja sprints after her, and not a second too soon. The sorceress cuts down the cultist mere paces from an enormous bronze signal gong.
[Grebdal Themp went towards the last room on the level (13), so I asked the Oracle--
Q: Is this the final room of the dungeon? 50/50 (4+): O3 C3 - No, but...
+EVENT: NPC Action - Attract / Rumour (cultist comes into room, tries to raise alarm)
I gave the cultist 1d3=2 rounds before she could raise an alarm; Ksandajja could only attack if she beat the cultist in a Test of SKILL each round; she succeeded twice, and killed her just in time.]
"We've had no luck with these reeking disguises," says Fhenteskeer, throwing off the stained cult robes. "I'm not wearing them a moment longer!" The others are only too eager to do likewise.
The room beyond the door [Room 13] is carved with stone arches and low colonnades, radiating in three concentric circles round a gaping pit in the centre. Braziers spaced between each pair of columns make the room almost as bright as day, though the smoke and cloying incense prevent the light from offering any comfort. Closer examination of the central pit shews it to be a spiral staircase leading ever downward.
"We've come this far, I guess," sighs Grebdal Themp.
"Our fate awaits below," says Ksandajja.
Next post: The Inner Sanctum!