The few party members still standing quickly turned to their fallen comrades and bound their wounds. Most were wounded but none were dead. Valmont knew that Roderick would thank Petra for that lucky circumstance. “These superstitious Karameikans trusted too much to the Immortals,” thought the Glantrian as he turned to loot the chief’s body. He found a ring of keys, a silver necklace with small gems and a few coins. The other Orcs also yielded a collection of varied coins and a gold bracelet with ivory inlays and the ceremonial dagger of the Orc spell caster. It was definitely more well-made than was normal for an Orc weapon.
Three doors led out of this room other than the one they found. All had stout wooden doors but one of them had a small barred window. Peering inside, they found the object of their quest: Aralic the Cleric from Stallanford. The priest was badly beaten and could barely stand to greet the adventurers.
“Thank the Immortals! Please hurry. There are many more Orcs and I must return to Stallanford as quickly as possible. Also, I feel as if these walls are pressing upon my very soul. It is so very dank and small within this cell.” Aralic’s voice shook with strain. It was obvious that small spaces bothered him.
Valmont unlocked the door and caught the cleric as he stumbled. “We shall leave soon, as soon as we open these two doors. Rest, good Father.” He guided Aralic to rest, propped on a wall and sitting on the floor. The priest nodded and relaxed a bit. “A little water if you have any?” Valmont handed over his wineskin then moved toward another door, where the rest of the party stood waiting. He used the keys and quickly found the right one.
This was clearly the chief’s bedchamber. Two large pallet beds, draped with furs, stood in the far corners of the room, and on a table beside each stood a bronze urn and an enamel bowl. Some tattered clothing hung on pegs, and a copper plate with scraps of food had been carelessly thrown on the floor. But what caught their eyes at once was the treasure chest that stood at the foot of one of the beds. The group fanned out and searched. They found hundreds of coins of various types, several pieces of jewelry, a vial of green liquid which smelled of roses and a leather bound book. This last piece was clearly the spell book of the Orc shaman. They gathered everything and returned to the previous chamber. One more door to open.
The smell from beyond this door was clearly of Orc and they could hear slight whimpering. Cautiously opening it, they discovered a group of Orc females and children; cowering in fear and blinking in the light of the torches. The room itself was large and contained bedding from wall to wall. Searching the room discovered nothing of value but they were unsure what to do with the occupants. They could kill them all or take them back to town or leave them here. They ultimately decided to leave them where they were and closed then locked the door.
The group gathered all its treasures including the Orc chief’s axe, helped Aralic to his feet and began to evacuate the cavern. Right before leaving the main room, however, Aralic paused. “You must promise me something.”
The group looked at him expectantly.
“You must return here and find out what lies beyond that obscured door. But we must return to Stallanford first so that you may heal and I may heal you. I must also ensure progress has been made on the festival. It will not go on without me and that would be disastrous for the town. We count on having it each year.”
Teagan looked at the priest. “What door? How did I miss a secret door?”
The party looked and surely they found the outline of a door on an unexamined wall. However, they knew that Aralic was right about needing healing. Some had just been brought back from the brink of death. They could not stand up to another fight like the one they just had. They swore to Aralic that they would return and they journeyed back to town. Thankfully, they ran into no enemies but instead an old friend.
Abu the Gnoll found them as they were leaving. He had been scouting the forest and confirmed that there were Orcs in the surrounding woods. He had been tracking them and providing cover for the adventurers, picking off Orcs who attempted to enter the caverns. He had also been avoiding the old man who had originally guided them here. He was waiting up ahead and could lead them back to Stallanford. Abu agreed to scout the woods until the party could return then the group continued their walk to the city, taking Janner with them.
Their return to Stallanford was joyous and the townspeople were extremely grateful for Aralic’s return. Many a round of drinks was given in the adventurers’ honor. They were given the best rooms for free at the Hungry Halfling and treated to a grand meal. Aralic returned to his temple but said he would send a messenger for them in the morning. He took the unconscious members of the party with him to be healed. He said that between him and the local wise woman, they should be awake by morning.
The night passed uneventfully and in the morning they were met by a young villager. He said that Aralic was awaiting them and that he was serving breakfast at the temple. They quickly went across town to the shrine. Along the way, townspeople waved and smiled. A few approached to shake their hands and personally give thanks. Children waved and giggled, some pretending to be the heroes and proudly walking down the street with stick swords and fake slings.
The Stallanford temple was small and plain but was backed by a small orchard, a garden and a tidy cemetery. It was clearly Traladaran but villagers of Thyatian and Traladaran descent came to the doors and prayed outside. It was across the street from a small shrine for the three greatest Immortals of Traladara: Halav, Petra and Zirchev. The party sat in the garden under a large apple tree and ate a simple but delicious meal. The party members who had been unconscious for the trip home looked well rested and seemed to be recovering well. Aralic was smiling yet he seemed tired. He prayed and healed the other party members before he began his tale.
“I cannot thank you enough for saving my life and aiding my humble village. I fear that while I see myself as insignificant in the eyes of the great Immortals, my fellow townspeople hold me dear. Without knowing I was safe, they most likely would have cancelled the festival. The festival is the life’s blood of our town. As you can tell, nobles, clergy, merchants, farmers and others from near and far come for this event. If it is not held, the townspeople will not earn enough to buy supplies to maintain our town for the year.
“I believe that the Orcs must have awakened some ancient evil beyond that secret door. Why else would they be so organized and desperate to attack this town and really only kidnap me. They did demand that I heal their wounded but I refused saying my Immortals had not granted me spells to heal Orcs. Even after they beat me, I refused.” He shuttered thinking of his confinement in the tiny cell.
“You must return to the cave and find out what is beyond the secret door. If you do not, I fear it will escape and destroy Stallanford and the surrounding countryside.
“I know we cannot offer much. But, you will always have our gratitude. I also know that you recovered some items of value from the Orcs. None of them appear to be from the villagers and I would not ask they be returned in any case. You earned that treasure. However, there are few who could give you coin for those items. I offer to sell them to the visiting merchants who have come for the festival. They know me and will give me the best possible price.
The priest handed a small bone tube to Roderick. “We are of the same church. May the blessings inside aid you in your time of need. On the scrolls are written two copies of a curing spell. It may be cast directly from the parchment.”
“Also, I want you to have this gem. It is from my adventuring days which are many years past.” He handed a small leather bag to Valmont. “The gem inside is not worth much but it is enchanted. It shines as bright as a lantern for up to twenty feet yet gives off no heat or smoke. It never goes out so it must be stored in this bag when you don’t want light.”
The adventurers accepted the challenge and promised to get to the root of the problem. Having made final arrangements for Aralic to help sell the jewelry and keep other items safe, the party returned to the Hungry Halfling to rest until the next morning. It was decided that only Valmont, Cyllan, Teagan and Roderick would return to the caves. Leif and Azriei would remain behind to protect the town and lend Aralic a hand getting ready for the festival. Of course, since Leif was staying, so did Elanna. No one was sure if she was still charmed or had just developed real feelings for Leif. It was clear she remembered her days as part of the Iron Ring but seemed ashamed to talk about them.
At dawn, the adventurers walked quickly back to the cave and encountered no Orcs or other creatures besides birds. The cave mouth was quiet as were the halls inside. Everything and everyone was gone as if the Orcs had evacuated right after the party left. They ran into no resistance and quickly reached the Orc chieftain’s chambers. The secret door was still obvious to them. No sound came from the other side so they opened it and peered inside.
Carved stone steps led down quite some distance to the east. The air was damp and dank and the passage was unlit. Valmont held Aralic’s gem up high and Zyass had a lit torch. As they descended, they heard faint scrabblings, scurrying and a low moan in the distance. While there was no wind, they shivered in apprehension of the evil Aralic had felt!
They eventually reached the bottom of the stairs which ended in a roughly hewn cavern whose other side they could not see. The floor itself was dirt, more loosely packed then they expected. To the left, just barely visible in the dim light, they could make out an open doorway. Before venturing out onto the floor of this chamber, Cyllan checked for traps and while she did not find any, she did notice that the dirt looked almost tilled. Then, without warning, the ground beneath their feet rumbled. A ripple rolled through the dirt room like a wave then disappeared.
“It’s like the shrieking eels,” murmured Teagan. Everyone looked at her. “The shrieking eels but under the dirt like an ankheg.”
“How do we get past?” asked Roderick.
“Run!” The Elf set out quickly across the room to the left. The others paused for a beat then also ran across the dirt. Two shrieks erupted from the dirt and the ground shook again. Two rows furrowed towards the group but all were too quick. They sped to the open doorway that emerged out of the dim light and the group dove for it. They were off the loosely packed dirt and on more solid rock. There was still screeching behind them but they did not turn around.
They followed the pathway, feeling lucky to have avoided whatever that had been but nervous that they may have to face it again in order to get out of the caverns. After a twist to the right and about 10 minutes of slow walking and searching, the hallway widened into a full sized chamber.
The chamber looked like an ancient burial room. There were depressions carved into the stone floor, which had stone slabs laid atop them. Any marks or carvings that might have identified this place have been obscured with age. There were six tombs here, three each along the east, north and west walls.
A ledge ran around the room, about ten to twelve feet above the floor. Even angling their torchlight, they could not tell if anything lay up there so the Mystic and Priest decided to vault Cyllan to the ledge and then throw a torch to her (or perhaps the gem). Cyllan backed up to get a running start and Roderick crouched down with his shield at the ready. She began to run and as she stepped next to him, the unthinkable happened: he moved. She slammed in to him at full speed and sent him tumbling. She luckily executed a cartwheel out of her head over heels fall and landed in a graceful crouch. The others stifled laughs but Zyass helped the Cleric to his feet.
“What was that?” asked Zyass. “I’m sorry, I moved,” said Roderick. Zyass was turning away from the Priest and looking in the direction of the door through which they had come. “No that sound and . . . by Ilsundal’s eyes, what is that thing?!”
The group all turned to the door. Some had heard the “plop” when the creature had fallen from the ledge above but now all saw it as it sped towards them. It was a green and yellow centipede like beast, at least eight feet long. Even more distressing was the eight long tentacles that ringed and writhed about its small mouth.
Teagan, who was closest, gave a war cry, drew her sword and charged. Unfortunately, the thing was faster and several of its tentacles grabbed the Elf. She instantly went rigid, unable to move and the tentacles threw her body to the side. There was no time for sadness as it was now plowing into the center of the group. Cyllan, Roderick and Valmont all stepped back in unison and let fly with stones from their slings. Only Valmont’s did not find purchase (and he let out a mild curse under his breath).
Zyass now charged the worm and pierced its side with his sword but his blade was stuck for just a second too long. The tentacles whipped around his waist and knocked him off his feet. He too went rigid then lay still.
The remaining adventurers knew to stay away from those tentacles and jockeyed for position. All fired sling stones and again Valmont missed. However the stones from Cyllan and Roderick were true and they dispatched the vile monster. Roderick immediately rushed to check on their fallen companions. They were all alive but unable to move or speak. He and the Mystic dragged them to the side of the room, away from the doors and tried to make them comfortable while the paralysis lasted. Roderick then returned to the Mage who was trying to pry up the tomb lids.
They searched them all. There were no bodies, skeletons or treasure of any sort in the caskets! Investigating further, they discovered scratch marks on the slabs and little marks in the tombs which indicated that they had been opened recently. . . .