The party returned to the surface bearing the blackened corpse of Malbane, sitting down to recuperate and eat before settling in for a night under the desert stars. As the sun began to slip behind the rocky hills and the dun-colored sands started to cool, Yazil, one of the muleskinners, spotted an armored figure approaching from the northeast atop a tired looking mule.
“Ho!” he cried, not knowing how appropriate that call was. “Someone approaches.” He peered into the gathering twilight. His eyebrows arched in surprise. “It’s a woman!”
As the party rose from their cold meal of trail rations, they could see that beneath the banded mail of the stranger were indeed feminine curves. A whip and scimitar hung from her belt and the symbol of Isis, one of the strange deities from the land of Dis, dangled from her neck. Uneasy silence settled over the band until Mars Marcus (done in an apparently uncanny imitation by yours truly) broke the ice by declaring himself and the rest to the new arrival.
Introductions were exchanged and the cleric, as she indeed turned out to be, identified herself as Velma, recently arrived in Rhuun to undergo her term of devotion before being initiated into the inner mysteries of Isis. With the corpse of Malbane cooling on the ground beside them and lacking the presence of Bannath the snake priest in their ranks, the party invited the priestess to join them for the next morning’s sojourn into the Gut. Velma agreed, eyeing Mars Markus with interest.
Perhaps for that reason, the spider cleric announced that the morrow was a minor holiday in the calendar of Mog and he would be required to attend to various prayers and rites during the day that would leave him unable to participate in the excursion. He would be available if magical healing was required, provided the party members could make it back to the surface. Anwar, too, announced he had certain duties to attend to, popping some unknown morsel into his mouth and crunching it beneath his teeth with a satisfied sigh.
The next morning saw the party reentering the dungeon and returning to the intersection near the chamber where the mage met his doom. Heading down a diagonal corridor to the west, they travelled only a short distance before Thud and Baragkus detected the sound of quiet grunts coming from an open chamber ahead. Unfortunately, with only one lit lamp in the party and a dog-leg in the corridor, there was not enough light to see what lay beyond. After a quick rearrangement, the party advanced towards what they suspected was Low Men.
The chamber at the corridor’s end seemed to have once been a bath. Archways divided the room into cells and each held a shallow basin that was now filled with rubble, debris, and dust. A staircase exited the room to the north. The many pillars in the chamber and the gloom that the single lantern failed to disperse hid most of the area, but the fighting men at the vanguard discerned two heads with squinty eyes and slanted brows staring at them from behind one of the pillars. With no command of the Low Men’s rudimentary language of grunts and hoots, Thud and Baragkus approached carefully but non-threateningly. As they did so, the remainder of the party entered the room with the lantern, casting more light upon the chamber. Now, with adequate illumination, they saw another five of the Low Men watching from behind other pillars.
It was too late to back down, so Thud and Baragkus continued to advance, causing the Low Men to grunt and hoot and wave their spears. Not to be outdone, Baragkus and Thud did likewise…which the Low Men took to be a challenge and a melee broke out. However, despite the almost even numbers between combatants, the party cut down the degenerated cavemen in a measly twenty seconds, taking only slight injuries in the process. Amongst the corpse they discovered yet more “caveman cash” (trinkets, shiny stones, etc.) but the leader carried three tourmalines as well. In addition, on a long spit, was the body of a large beetle which seemed to be destined for the Low Men’s cook fire before the PCs interrupted.
After a toss of the room turned up nothing, the party descended the northern stairs, going down two flights of stairs before entering into a long arrow-shaped room. In the gloom, something large and insect-like scuttled away from their lantern, so the adventurers advanced carefully. As they stepped further into the chamber, they saw that the entire northeastern section of the room was covered in a thick layer of a white-amber substance, similar to dried sap or resin. This plastic material encased two large stone pillars in a depth of up to ten feet and choked a corridor that exited through the eastern wall to a similar depth, leaving but three feet of the corridor near the ceiling clear and passable. A third pillar stood just outside the resin and bore a stone hatch set in one side. To the west, another corridor exited the room.
Most disturbing, however, where the half dozen insect creatures that watched them warily, slipping back into the gloom as the party’s light brightened the room. Standing close to 4’ tall, these strange insect-men resembled hissing cockroaches that stood on two legs (and sometimes four) and carried spears and weird-angled crossbows in their chitonous arms.
Both sides paused, evaluating the opposition. The roach-like men huddled just outside of the party’s light with weapons held but not aimed at these intruders from the surface. The party stared at the bug men, unable to fathom their intentions. At last, the decision to slink out the western corridor was agreed upon, but not before Fanta suggested a cunning plan to demonstrate their lack of aggressive motives towards the roach men.
“We cannot speak their language and they undoubtedly do not know ours. But laugher is the universal language understood by all species. Perhaps if we laughed mirthfully as we left this chamber, they will let us pass unhindered,” the Old Blood posited. Doing just that, the party exited the room, keeping a wary eye upon the bug men, who watched them carefully but did not move from their posts.
The corridor T-ed not far from the resin-filled chamber, with both arms heading off into darkness. Choosing the northern arm, the party moved deeper into the Black Gut, only to discover that the passageway wound to the west, and then north, then east before ending in an archway filled with motes of blue light. On the left column of the arch was a slight indentation that depicted two horizontal lines with a diagonal one beneath them. Stones tossed at the glowing barrier revealed it was quite solid and that the glow of the party’s lantern failed to pierce the mystic blockade.
As the point men of the party contemplated this glowing archway, those in the rear were keeping a close eye on the passageway they had just traversed, fearful of an ambuscade from the bug men. Knowing them to avoid light, a torch was placed on the ground at the point where the passage turned from the west back towards the north. All seemed safe until the torch suddenly went out, extinguished by a large glop of sticky, phlegm-like matter which shot out of the darkness behind the intrepid party.
This had to be a prelude to an attack, and the party quickly shuffled ranks to best meet the threat. Sure enough, there was a strange mechanical ratcheting from the darkness and a circular, serrated blade shot towards Morg only to rebound off his hastily raised shield. Thud and Baragkus charged into the darkness in the direction of the attack and the rest of the party followed suit. As the party approached the corridor’s turn to the south, they found four of the roach men crouched with spears and their strange crossbows at the ready.
In the battle, two were taken down by the missiles of Lyrax and Kyrinn, which was enough to break the morale of the two remaining insectoids, who fled back the way they came with the party in close pursuit. As the roaches turned the corner, the party paused, anticipating a trap.
Tactics were hurriedly discussed and the party decided to break both to the east and west as they reentered the hall that led back to the resin room. They anticipated roach men to try and catch them in a pincer move, but when they burst into the corridor, they found that their adversaries where not as adept as they suspected. Although two more of those serrated discs were launched at the party, the front men took the blows and pressed the fight back into the resin room. Once there, the weapons of Thud and Baragkus took down two of the insect men while Lyrax and Kyrinn thinned the rest with their arrows. Moments later, the room was cleared but at the cost of a serious wound to Morg.
The party began policing up the strange crossbows that the roach men had carried, finding them to be complex devices compared to the simple spears the rest of their kind carried. In addition to the crossbows (which Baragkus and Thud commandeered), numerous copper coins were found affixed to the insect men’s abdomens with a sticky spittle. These were pried loose with knives and added to the party’s collected loot.
With the room to themselves, the party set about prying open the stone hatch on the only pillar not embedded in resin. Inside, they found naught but human bones and more of that coral-like substance clinging to the inside walls. What was this stuff?
Since no answers were forthcoming, the party decided to head back west and explore the other arm of the T-intersection. But first, Morg wanted to bind his wounds and raise his spirits with some wine. Unwisely, the party chose the resin room to do this and found themselves again in battle with more of the roach men who emerged from the eastern corridor. Although the battle was quick, it became obvious that they couldn’t stay there.
So of course, they split up, sending one group down the unexplored dark hallway in search of a room with a door they could close to rest behind, while the other members of the party kept the roach men in check. Not the wisest of plans, but who am I to tell them so?
The scouting party learned that the corridor extended quite some distance from the resin room—almost a hundred feet before splitting again. A stairway rose to the west and an open area loomed in the darkness to the north. As they were exploring the passageway, another force of roach men appeared to threaten the other half of the party and was again rebuffed. It was obvious that the roach men had a lair to the east and would continue to emerge unless the party ventured in to clear it out or left the area. Once the scouting party returned with their report, the party chose to return to the surface to heal and plan their next course of action.
As they headed back towards the entrance of the dungeon, they were surprised to discover an ajar secret door in the bath chamber where they had fought the Low Men. Someone or something had ventured this way after they had left. Peering down the corridor that lay behind the door, they saw a Y-shaped intersection with an iron-bound door located in the crotch of the diverging passageways. Although this piqued their interest, they chose to exit the dungeon to heal before coming back to tackle this new portal.
After a cold lunch and some wine to revive their flagging spirits, the party stood before the recently revealed doorway. Both arms of the Y-intersection revealed only more corridor heading off into the gloom so they turned their attentions to the valve. Unlocked and untrapped, the door opened to reveal a long chamber which held nine 5’ square stone plinths set in rows of threes and a mottled red and black glass casket at the far end of the room. A crystal glyph lay set into the top of each plinth and lit up whenever something or someone passed over it. Tests revealed that only three would light at a time, a fact which had the party suspecting this might be a cipher system that kept the glass casket sealed since their efforts to pry open that container had failed. Anticipating disaster, most of the party fled the room while three brave souls remained behind to try and solve the cipher of the plinths.
Surprisingly, it was Domdull who chanced upon the proper pattern of glyphs and the casket unlatched with a “click” (I’ll go into deeper detail about the glyph puzzle in another post because it’s an interesting one and deserves more time than I can devote to it now). The three stalwarts approached the casket and opened its lid. Inside, they delighted to see thousands of copper and silver coins and a vial of some sort contained within.
This seemed to be a nice way to end a game session, so that’s where we left it. We’ll pick it up again the Sunday after Independence Day.