Inside the cave entrance the party walks down a small, carved stone corridor. The frescoes on the walls have long since worn away, leaving little more than uneven bumps on the surface of the stone. After a mere two dozen paces the passageway fractures open, becoming a massive, darkling cave; the naturally formed space is a sudden contrast to worked stone of the entrance way. With stalactites, stalagmites and other forms of rock formation, the cave is a profusion of jumping shadows and it is from these shadows that the first ambush comes. Hobgoblins, archers and swordsmen in the main, leap from the shadows and heap their assault upon the companions.
Adamant’s companions respond with an efficiency grown from their recent battles. Supporting each other’s strengths, they give battle and all too swiftly put the hobgoblins to flight. As the grey skinned warriors flee into the shadows a growling voice can be heard cursing them for cowards. Pressing their advantage, the companions see a furry humanoid figure wearing an elegant salon-coat and a jaunty hat with a burgundy coloured feather stuck in it. The creature’s head is that of a tiger, and its fur is white and orange with black stripes. The strange being berates the fleeing hobgoblins, waving a longsword in the air and warning that the “master” will happily devour them for their cowardice.
Carried on by the momentum of battle, Jaheira and Adamant reach tiger-man swiftly, weapons driving forward. Before either can land a strike however, the figure detonates a magical fire that sweeps out from its body in all directions. The explosive force consumes the retreating hobgoblins and drives Adamant and Jaheira backwards with a blast of scorching air. The tiger-like figure stands defiantly for a moment, then appears ready to strike at the fallen adventurers when it is suddenly transfixed by a volley of arrows from Nalia and Yoshimo’s short bows. The beast staggers to one knee and is swiftly dispatched by Anomen with a hammering blow from the Flail of Ages.
Adamant pushes himself up onto his elbows, his armour smouldering with heat, though the magic of it keeps him from harm. “Well that was unpleasant,” he says.
Jahiera too is alive, though substantially more burned. She suppresses a whimper of pain as she works herself up into a sitting position and begins to heal her own injuries. “Some potent mage craft, I would think,” she says through gritted teeth, in between healing spells.
“An excellent defensive trick,” observes Yoshimo. “As long as you don’t care about your allies’ wellbeing, of course!”
Nalia kneels over the creature’s dead body and then pulls a ring from one of its paw-like fingers. Holding the piece of jewellery up to the light, the bronze band and set red gem glow as thought they are hot from the fire’s blast, though the metal clearly causes Nalia no pain. “This is how it survived, I think,” she says to the others. They look to her to see if she will give any further explanation. She does not, instead putting the ring on her own finger and leaving the body where it is.
Anomen gives the tiger-creature’s sword a desultory kick. “Ruined by the flames,” he concludes, looking at the warped blade and melted hilt.
“What do you suppose it meant when it mentioned being ‘devoured by the master’?” muses Adamant.
“I wondered about that as well,” says Jaheira and Yoshimo nods to show that he too heard the creature’s puzzling words.
“I imagine we’ll soon find out.”
The party comes to an open doorway and looking through they see a square room, the stone floor littered with broken furniture, bones and other debris. At the opposite end, the room is walled off with a heavy, latticed, wooden partition, with a set of double doors. Through the openings in the lattice the companions can see another room beyond, similar to this one. Down the two other sides are more lattice, though to the observant eye the wooden beams of these partitions seem stouter and more closely set. Adamant and Yoshimo poke their heads through the doorway and then duck back quickly.
“What does that look like to you?” asks Adamant.
“Like something beautiful that’s fallen on hard times?” Yoshimo answers with a wink. Adamant shakes his head with a wry smile.
“What do you think?” he asks the others. Each in turn pokes their head through the doorway to have a look. Jaheira has no answer to Adamant’s question and Nalia only shrugs.
“Those holes look a good deal like archer’s slits,” ventures Anomen. Adamant nods.
“A murder gallery,” concludes Adamant. “Archers down each side, victims in the middle. Who’s to wager that those doors are well and truly locked?”
“I have a spell that can open locked doors, even if they’re barred,” offers Nalia.
“Perhaps the ambush isn’t set,” says Yoshimo, optimistically.
“Let’s see, shall we,” suggests Adamant and he sprints straight out to the partition doorway, his armour clattering loudly. He almost reaches the door when the sound of a bowstring is heard for the first time. The arrow passes behind his body, thudding into the side of the gallery. Adamant strikes the door at full pelt. The partition shakes, but the door holds and he rebounds to sprint back the way he came. By the time he reaches safety with his companions, arrows are flying behind him like an angry swarm, though he manages to avoid being struck. “I’d say the trap is well and truly set!”
Jaheira scowls. From behind the gallery walls the sound of gruff laughter and course words can be heard.
“Orcish?” says Yoshimo, with one ear cocked to listen. “We might have known.”
“I also have a spell that renders people impervious to arrows, but…” Nalia says. “It only works on me.”
“Of only limited use then,” concludes Jaheira.
“One less person to worry about, though,” says Adamant cheerily. He seems almost light-hearted, as though contemplating a picnic rather than an ambush. “Let’s make this a straight charge. Nalia protects herself and gets the doors open, the rest of us look after ourselves and make the best time we can.”
The party prepares themselves for combat. Nalia, Anomen and Jaheira cloak themselves in magical protections of many kinds. Yoshimo tucks his shortbow in behind his quiver and draws his long, curved katana. Adamant reaches within himself to the place where his heritage is locked away behind bars of will and self control. Touching the darkness he awakens some of its power, but leaves it locked within. His body trembles as spiritual power floods his limbs; he is ready.
With a cry to Helm from Anomen and an oath to the forces of nature from Jaheira, the companions surge into the murder gallery and the symphony of the bows begins again earnest. Nalia walks as calmly as she can to the doors, trying not to flinch as her protection from arrows deflects shaft after shaft. Standing at the locked portal, she begins her spell of opening.
About the dire space, the other four adventurers dance and weave, desperate to keep away the brutal orc shafts. Anomen and Jaheira use their shields to block the arrows and Yoshimo’s deft skill allows him to cut many of the fletched yards from the air with his katana’s blade. Adamant trusts to speed and power as best he can, even thrusting the Chaos Blade through the murder holes once, in the hope of claiming an orc archer, but fruitlessly.
Quite suddenly, Nalia ceased her arcane chanting and, reaching forth her right hand, knocked once sharply upon the doors. There was a loud thunking noise, like that of a wooden door beam sliding back and then the doors swung wide. With desperate cries, the companions thrust themselves through the doorway. The room beyond was a twin of the one that they had left and the murder galleries down each side were connected to those of the first. The orc archers merely moved across and recommenced their deadly hail.
Looking down to the next set of doors, Adamant turns to Nalia with a hopeful look on his face. To his dismay she only shrugs. “I’ve only prepared one knock today,” she says.
Ducking arrows, Adamant looks to the others.
“Retreat?” asks Yoshimo. Adamant shakes his head. He taps Anomen on the shoulder.
“The time for cleverness is past, I think,” he says nodding at the still closed doors. “Are you up for some direct action.” A shaft passes Anomen and Jaheira’s face and nearly strikes Adamant on the shoulder, before impacting on the door lintel. As if persuaded by this lucky escape, Anomen smiles and nods. With roaring cries, he and Adamant charge headlong at the second set of doors, throwing themselves bodily into the wooden planks. Their combined, armoured masses crash through the door into the corridor beyond. The other three follow without hesitation, diving through; Yoshimo slams the doors behind himself and the sound of arrows striking home can be heard from beyond. The party is about to breath a sigh of relief when the ground about them shakes suddenly. Two mighty statues of clay – golems – are rumbling down the corridor to where they are.
“Loviatar’s vinegar teats,” swears Nalia, surprising her companions almost as much as the golems’ presence. “Are we ever to get a break?”
Unwilling to Acquiesce – Part 34
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