Looking at the pyramid from across the water, they noted that a dock protruded from one side, at the base of a wide staircase. At the top of the stairs were two massive bronze doors, flanked by a statue. The statues were identical: the body of a reclining lion with the head of a man wearing an ornamental headdress. Between each lion’s paws rested a large stone bowl. The bronze doors had been defaced, scrawled over with Thyatian words in red paint: “Stay Away! Trouble Inside!” Who could resist such a warning?
Not having an easy way to cross the dark water, the group decided to test it. They used various methods (dropping in a copper piece, sticking in a 10’ pole, lowering a sling stone tied to rope and eventually even having one of the new Elves, Leif, touch it). They concluded that the water was not too deep nor dangerous but were still undecided if something may lurk in its depths. During their research they heard a far off door close. Unfortunately, with the echoes they were not able to determine which way to proceed. Instead of heading across to the pyramid, the group now decided to find the source of the closing door.
They crossed the canal on a little wooden bridge and headed what they thought might be east. Cyllan and Azriei scouted ahead of the main group and soon heard the sounds of evening: bullfrogs and crickets. The canal is in worse condition here with mud caking the floor and walls and branches and leaves scattered about. Some flooding had also taken place but the pair moved quietly forward.
They soon saw that the passage opened into a marshy area not too far from town. They heard several gruff voices, at least one Human female and several Human males. They moved to hide behind the tall rushes and drooping foliage that concealed the tunnel opening from those outside. They saw a man and a woman talking and two other men loading and unloading a small skiff. Near the skiff are two Human males, blindfolded, bound and gagged.
“I wish those guys would hurry up and get the boat ready” said the woman. “I would prefer to get out of this town as quickly as possible. Specularum might be dirty but at least it is never boring.”
“Yes, Elanna. I don’t mind helping start this operation but it seems to me that having the hostages still in town is a mighty risk. I am glad that Rocko finally convinced Marius to move them.” The man had his thumbs in his belt and was standing jauntily. He stood up straight and looked over at the two men loading and unloading. “Come on, let’s move you Hounds! We don’t have all night.”
The two men grunted and kept the same pace in loading and unloading. Cyllan and Azriei snuck back to the party to strategize.
“We should rush them and quickly overcome them” says Midian. He was eager to punish the evil doers with his mace and free the hostages.
“I suggest we try something a bit more . . . measured,” suggests Cyllan. “I think we can make them believe we are slavers too and pump them for information.” Others nodded agreement.
“Okay then. Azriei and Cyllan will talk to them. Valmont, Teagan and Leif will go with them but stop in the bushes, prepared to use their bows and slings. Alexei, Skrtch and I will bring up the rear, ready to charge them if something goes wrong.” Midian was impatient when he knew he was near the end of a hunt. He was ready to finish this once and for all. “May al-Kalim guide our weapons and confuse our enemy.”
The group moved forward and got in position. Azriei stopped Cyllan and told her he wanted to try something. He made a strange sound which he meant to mimic a bird cry in the swamp but it came out garbled. The woman and man froze and looked in their direction. Not knowing what else to do, Azriei and Cyllan stepped forward out of the rushes bringing confusion to the man and the woman slavers. The man drew his sword and the woman took a step back.
“Hey! What is taking you so long?” challenged Azriei. He walked right up to the woman, stopping just two feet from her.
“Um. . . . These Thresholders are a bit slow. Wait, who are you?” she asked.
“The boss sent us to check on your progress.” Azriei sounded very convincing.
“What boss?” responded the man, his sword still in his hand but pointed toward the ground. He raised it and pointed it at Azriei who stepped back from the woman. The young Traladaran smiled. “The big boss, who do you think?”
Quietly, Leif laid down his bow and begin to chant. Valmont and Teagan recognized a spell forming but neither knew what it would be. Leif stood up and left the cover of the bushes. As he did, the female slaver looked at him and smiled. Done with his spell, Leif called her name, “Elanna. It has been too long since we have seen each other. Tell me what is going on.” He walked towards the group.
The man looked puzzled. “What in the name of Loki is going on? Elanna. Do you know these people?”
“I feel like I do, especially the handsome Elf. He’s my friend. Always has been.”
Leif was next to her now and took her hand in his. “I am glad you are well. However, why are you here?” he asked.
The male slaver turned to Elanna. “You’re acting weird. Almost like you are under his . . .” he leapt between Elanna and Leif, waving his sword, “SPELL!!!”
Luckily, Azriei grabbed the man’s arm and spun him around. He lost his footing and stumbled into the marsh. Azriei’s timely pull saved Leif but also the man as an arrow from Teagan’s bow whizzed through the space that had just been occupied by the man’s head.
Valmont stood and began chanting. He saw the other slavers realize what was going on and drop their loading and unloading. They pulled out short swords and charged. But, Valmont’s spell was already unleashed. With a last word that sounded like someone hushing a baby, there was a flash of light around his hands then the three male slavers all fell where they had once stood. Asleep.
“Nice work,” said Alexei.
“Thanks,” said Valmont.
“Merchant my foot! More like evil Glantrian sorcerer. Al-Kalim protect me,” grumbled Midian. His mace had not been needed. They tied up the three men and searched them (a variety of gold and copper Karameikan coins) while Leif questioned Elanna. She was a low level member of the Iron Ring. She was mostly a thief and muscle but had agreed to come from Specularum to Threshold to help establish the operation in the town. She agreed to lead the adventurers back to the room where the bosses were gathered and gave them a quick overview of who might be there: Marius, whose face she had never seen (he always wore a black mask); Rocko, a heavily scarred and muscled Thyatian and Falana, a Thyatian mage with a very big mean streak.
Midian and Cyllan untied the two hostages. While they were missing merchants from town, neither was Juster Dainworth. This made Midian furious. He knew his mission was not yet accomplished.
The two adventurers tried to quiet the two merchants’ cries of gratitude and relief while the party thought of what to do next. It was clear that they could not take the merchants back into the canal but they would need to go and quickly to save Juster. In the end, they decided that Skrtch and Alexei should escort the merchants back to town (there was a clear path leading up the hill that topped the obscured canal opening). Alexei would summon the town guard and they would come back through the canal. Surely, Ruben had summoned the guard and would be coming via the entrance in the alley near the Juggling Ogre.
While the party said their goodbyes to Alexei and Skrtch, Azriei swiftly and silently slit the throats of the three captured Iron Ring members and slid their bodies into the marsh. No one seemed to notice and the party moved back into the canal.
The party followed Elanna back to the crossroads where the pyramid stood then around it and to the north. The passageway continued to a cave-in but Elanna stopped short and began searching along the western wall. “It is here, somewhere. Oh. Here it is.” She found a loose stone and tugged it outwards. There was a muffled grinding then a door appeared. “Through here,” she motioned.
They journeyed down a smoothly worked hallway of stone. Torches in wall sconces lit the way and also let them know that someone had been here recently. Eventually, they reached a solid wooden door which Elanna opened without a second thought. “They will be upstairs.” The room was apparently someone’s basement. Many boxes, crates and barrels filled the room, neatly stacked as high as the ceiling. On the opposite side of the room was a set of stairs and a banistered landing. A door was on the wall at the landing and was framed by lit torches.
The party continued through the room towards the stairs. As Elanna got to the center of the room, she turned to make sure Leif was still right behind her. She saw that the entire party was not yet inside, Teagan and Azriei were pulling up the rear. But she gasped as she saw Falana slamming the door in Teagan’s face and casting a spell.
“What are you doing, Falana? These are my friends,” yelled Elanna.
Falana did not stop to talk but dove away from the door behind several crates. As that happened, chaos descended upon the room. A loud alarm sounded from where Elanna was standing and she looked down, puzzled. It was clearly an Alarm spell, thought Valmont. The door on the landing opened and Elanna saw Brenna step out and fire an arrow at Leif. It stuck in his shoulder and he stumbled back. Marius, wearing his black mask stepped out behind her and was chanting. He held aloft a holy symbol (which both she and Cyllan recognized as the symbol of the Church of Thyatis – Elanna had never seen him with that before tonight). Meanwhile, there was a loud bark and Rocko and his scruffy war dog, Mongrel, leapt from behind the boxes and charged the party. Rocko was a short, stocky man of Thyatian descent. His face was crisscrossed with scars, he was missing most of his teeth and he looked like he had had a very hard life filled with drinking cheap alcohol. However, he moved like a well trained soldier and his eyes glared with deathly intent.
Leif had his bow out which he thought was lucky. He recovered from the shock of the arrow in his shoulder and sent one back towards Elanna. Instead, he hit Marius whose spell was lost. Before he could celebrate, Rocko was on him, swinging his sword but missing.
Cyllan planted her staff and pole vaulted the dog, confusing it. She lifted then snapped the staff down on its back and it yelped, turning towards her and snarling. Valmont attempted to drive his dagger into the swirling dog but missed.
Locked out of the room and unable to overcome the Hold Portal spell upon it, Teagan and Azriei began hacking at the wooden door, sending splinters flying.
Inside the room, Marius pulled out the arrow then stepped back through the door. “Finish them,” he grunted to Brenna. Cyllan focused, trying to memorize that voice. She was shocked that a member of her Church was in league with the Iron Ring. But her concentration was disturbed as the dog sunk its teeth into her thigh. She struggled to keep standing but the lunging weight of the dog was too much and she fell backwards.
Leif had dropped his bow and unsheathed his sword. He and Rocko were now locked in a vicious sword battle, neither able to gain advantage. They circled each other, clashing their blades and sending sparks flying. Elanna screamed, “Stop fighting! These are my friends!” No one seemed to pay her any mind.
Midian ran towards the stairs, intent on stopping the woman with the bow. She had other plans for him. An arrow from Brenna’s bow sunk deep into Midian’s chest. He stopped his run, grunted and took a step forward, mace held high. He mumbled something in his native tongue then crumpled, lying still in a growing pool of blood.
Valmont turned, trying to figure out where the mage Falana was. His question was answered when she stepped out from behind some crates. But instead of one of her, there were four mirror images. She grinned grimly at the young Glantrian and stepped towards him, dagger drawn. She was a haute looking woman, thin with a large nose and of average height. Her billowing and stylish robes could mark her for a Thyatian merchant or merchant’s wife but the gleam in her eye told Valmont that she was a murderous witch. The Glantrian turned and saw that Leif and Azriei were making progress on the door but he hoped it would be quick enough. He was out of spells and was not sure how well he would fare against four adversarial witches.
Cyllan managed to kick the dog in the snout and scramble to her feet, barely avoiding one of Brenna’s arrows. She turned to face Leif and Rocko and yelled at Elanna, “help Leif or Rocko will kill him.”
Elanna still looked confused, turning her head from Rocko to Leif. “This can’t be happening. Everyone, put down your weapons!” Again, no one listened to her protestations.
Valmont and Falana stabbed at each other but neither was well trained in knife fighting. However, Valmont got in a lucky blow and immediately, one of the images of Falana disappeared in a wisp of gray smoke. But then she stabbed him in the gut, three images closing together to drive a single point into his belly. He stumbled back and saw the blood stain spreading on his robes. “That’s going to be a big pain to get out, isn’t it,” he gasped as he crumpled to the floor.
Out of the corner of her eye, Cyllan saw Valmont fall but she knew she had to focus on Rocko. She also saw the dog leaping at her and she swung her staff, catching the beast in mid-air and sending it sprawling across the floor. What she did not see was the man, all in black, step from behind a crate and swing the flat of his sword onto her uncovered head. It rang dully and she saw and explosion of flashes before stumbling forward and slipping into unconsciousness.
“Surrender and you can yet live!” screamed Falana at the Elf fighting Rocko. Leif quickly looked around and saw that his comrades had all fallen except Teagan and Azriei who were still hacking away at the door.
“Promise not to kill us and save those who are bleeding out?” He paused and held his sword defensively but not threateningly towards Rocko.
“Yes, but you must also convince those on the other side to surrender too.” The three images of Falana approached the Elf.
“Okay.” Leif dropped his sword and bent to one knee. Just as that happened, the door shattered into a thousand splinters and Teagan came barreling in, shouting an Elven war cry. She stopped short when she saw Leif on one knee and shook her head. Leif looked up at her and nodded. He said in Elven, softly, “It’s the only way. Put down your weapon.” She shook her head and hefted her sword glaring at the three images of Falana. But then she realized it was hopeless. Valmont, Cyllan and Midian all lay dead or dying and the group was outnumbered. She dropped her sword and knelt.
Seeing all this, Azriei did the one thing he could think of at this moment. He ran. He ran at full stride away from the room, back down the hallway; his only thought was of escape. Surely the town guard would be close at hand. He passed through the door and down the canal. He rounded the pyramid and continued then looked back. When he did, he came to a sudden stop. It felt like he had run into a brick wall. But then the wall grabbed him and he yelled. It was not a wall but a man in the town guards’ livery. Azriei stopped struggling, breathing a sigh of relief. “I am glad you are finally here,” he said. But then he noticed it was more than one man. It was three: two dressed as town guards and one clearly not. All hope drained from him as he realized the town guards were in league with the slavers. They wrestled him then bound him and took him back to the room with the others. The last thing he heard before being knocked unconscious was that they were destined to be shipped down river and sold as slaves. . . .