The party curiously inspected the mysterious tunnel that lay before them. Maur, growing bold, bent down and stuck his finger to the surface of the strange oozing black substance beneath the grillwork. It was thick and viscous, like oil, but had a distinctly organic scent, like some type of strange secretion. As he stepped away, he thought he caught a glimpse of movement down the hall, but was uncertain.
The party discussed the tunnel before deciding to proceed. Ian pointed out that the black liquid reminded him a lot of the substance, liquid shadow, the party found in The Darker Well when they fought the Dark Prince several months back. As he was relaying this, Gideon too thought he caught a glimpse of movement down the dark tunnel. Turning to see, like Maur, he was unsure that he saw anything, but believed he caught a glimpse of a pair of narrow goblin-like eyes peering at him from between the grates, but they instantly disappeared.
The party discussed further and then decided on possibly burning their way down the tunnel. Ian retrieved a wooden mug from one of the nearby storerooms, and dipped it down between the grates of the tunnel floor to collect some of the substance. He felt a bit of resistance on the mug, like a slight tug that tried to snatch it from his hands, when he dipped it down, but seeing nothing, he recovered a generous sample.
Maur touched a torch to the substance, causing it to fizzle slightly, but it wouldn’t ignite. It actually had the opposite effect, almost extinguishing his torch. The party thought best at this point to back track and explore the rest of the dungeon, in the hopes of finding Markessa and maybe finding on her an item or the information they needed to safely navigate the shadowy tunnel.
Returning to the Markessa’s bedroom, which they had found early on in their delving of the area, the party was drawn to a large mirror beside her bed. The entire group had a sensation that they were being watched as Maur and Ian looked for a possible secret door the mirror could possible be hiding. Despite seeing a worn spot on the side of the mirror’s frame, they were unsuccessful.
Maur then chose to add a little brute strength, grabbing the mirror, he had to pry it from the wall, destroying it in the process, but sure enough, there was a short narrow tunnel hidden behind it. At the end of this tunnel, some ten feet down, was a door, hanging slightly ajar.
The party entered the room, finding a workout and practice room. A training dummy sat in the center of this room, with several weapons and shields hanging about the walls. A mattress lay in the corner of the room. The party took little time searching the area, instead making their way to a door on the opposite wall.
Beyond this door was a hallway. A door halfway down the hall led to a small bed chamber. It held a cot, table and chair. On the table was some partially eaten food (still fresh) and a glass of wine. Ian checked the area, finding the chair was still slightly warm. The party rushed down the hallway confident that they were back on the trail of the Markessa. Another door greeted them at the end of the hallway.
This door was held fast and locked firm. Maur slammed his stocky body against it, causing the door to splinter and crack in it’s frame, but it refused to give. It was as if some massive object was holding it shut, or bracing it on the opposite side.
Gideon then ran up, slamming into the door, which immediately gave way, swinging open on it’s now broken hinges. He burst into a foul smelling room, littered with bones and offal. A massive minotaur, who had been leaned against the door when Maur had slammed against it, now stood in the middle of the room, ready for battle.
Gideon, Maur and Feruch rushed forward to fight the hulking bull-headed beast, while Ian stayed back in the hallway, looking for an opportune moment to land a telling blow. Although the creature managed to get a few hard hits on Gideon and Maur, he proved no match for their combined efforts and was soon killed by a pair of well-timed slashes of Maur’s bastard sword.
Hastily searching the room, they found a pile of leaves in the far corner, makeshift bedding for the minotaur and an unlocked door leading southwards. The passage beyond this door tuned on a diagonal for a time before leading them to a crossroads. The passage turned south and also continued in another diagonal in the direction opposite from which they had come.
Maur investigated the south tunnel only to find that it went for a long distance before ending abruptly at an unworked stone wall. Returning back to the main party, they decided to take the other passage which led westwards in a diagonal. This passage also ended abruptly, but to one side, they spotted a small iron lever embedded in the wall. Maur activated the lever, causing a large section of the wall to slowly open, revealing a room beyond.
The room was a lavishly appointed bedroom. A fine four-poster bed sat in the middle of one wall, several fine carpets covered the floor and similarly fine tapestries hang warmly from the walls. At the opposite end of the room Markessa glanced towards the party as they emerged from the secret door which was located at the back of a grand fireplace. A warrior dressed in exquisite elven plate mail, brandishing a long sword stood beside her. The elven warrior placed himself between the party and Markessa, as they strode into the room.
“Stay back!” the warrior demanded, as Maur advanced upon him. Markessa stepped back to the corner of the room, keeping her distance from Maur and the others.
“Why would an elf be working for slavers?,” Maur asked, as Gideon walked up beside him. “Throw down your weapon and let’s work this out,” Gideon added.
“We all are as we are made,” the elf said. He paused briefly before adding, “I do not wish to harm any of you, but no harm shall come to my lady love,” the elf said, firmly. “I must warn you that I’m a practiced swordsman. Throw down your weapons and I shall sheathe mine!”
At this, the Markessa activated a secret door in the corner of the room, quickly disappearing through it. With a flick of Gideon’s wrist, a throwing dagger unsheathed and landed in his hand. He threw it at the elf, wounding him. Gideon then was upon him, with Maur and Feruch joining in. Ian leaped upon the bed, rushing to the side of the elf, in the hopes of flanking him.
The elf was a true master of the blade, deftly parrying the many attacks from Maur and Gideon. Feruch landed a well placed blow, which the elf quickly countered. Ian rushed up to the elf’s exposed flank, stabbing with all his might at the elf’s hip, only to have the blade turned by his elven plate. The elf turned to return the attack, only to leave an opening that Feruch could exploit. Feruch slashed across the elf’s shoulder, weakening his sword arm for a moment, allowing Maur an opportunity to land a fierce slash across the elf’s chest, sending him falling backwards. He landed with a crash, jarring his helmet visor open. As his life drained away from his mortal wound, he looked towards the open secret door, mumbling his final word, “Markessa…”
With no time for sentiment, Gideon ran after the fleeing Markessa. Beyond the secret door was a room lined with shelves filled with alchemical and laboratory equipment. A pentagram was painted in red on the floor, with white candles at each of it’s five points. A golden amulet lay on the floor in the center of the pentagram. Glancing about, Gideon saw no sign of Markessa. He went looking for the secret door that he was certain she must have fled through.
Ian and Maur soon joined him. Gideon had not managed to find the door he was looking for, but still searched in earnest. Ian noticed a magical rune carved into one the the bricks on a far wall. Drawing attention to it, Maur recognized the rune as being in the ancient Draconic language – the arcane language of magic, but could not recall it’s meaning.
Removing his gauntlet, Maur reached out to touch the rune. It instantly pulsed a cold, pale blue, burning his fingertips as frost etched across the flesh of his hand, arm and shoulder. Maur flung himself back from the rune, howling in pain; his breath visible on the chill air surrounding him. “R’uts!” he cried, “The damned rune means r’uts!”
Feruch rushed up to lend aid to the stricken dwarf, “Frost! R’uts is draconic for frost!” Maur exclaimed to Feruch as he began bandaging him.
As Feruch finished bandaging Maur’s frost burned hand and arm, Ian was finally able to locate the secret door. It led back to the room where they had killed the minotaur. Searching about, the party found themselves back at the crossroads they had encountered earlier. This time, down the south passage, they saw Markessa. She stood alone, near the midpoint of the passage.Her eyes now reddened. A tear slid down her cheek.
“Since you are here, I am certain that Quintan, my bodyguard, must now be dead,” she said quietly. The party was silent, unsure of what to say or how to proceed.
Markessa then turned and began slowly walking down the passage, away from the group.
Determined that she would not escape again, Maur rushed towards her. As soon as he took his first hasty step forwards, he realized something was amiss. The floor didn’t seem quite right. This was confirmed when his foot slid through the illusionary stone floor causing him to pitch forward. Had it not been for Ian’s quick reflexes reaching out for him, the dwarf would have fallen headlong into a deep pit that was now spanned across the hallway. “Eh, that wasn’t there before,” Maur mumbled as he clawed his way past Ian back to the safety of the passage floor.
The illusionary floor now dispelled, the party could hear rushing water coursing deep at the bottom of the pit, which was so deep that even dwarven sight could not fathom it’s depths.
“She’s not getting away this time,” Ian said resolutely, “Throw me across!” he demanded of Maur. Maur was happy to oblige, sending the halfling sailing across the pit. Ian landed on the far side with a graceful acrobatic roll, breaking instantly into a run to catch up with the fleeing elven wizardress.
Markessa arrived at the end of the passage. Pressing a section of the unworked stone, a secret door slid open allowing her access to the main tunnel and final escape from the dungeon. Ian raced towards her. As she entered the main tunnel, she heard him approaching, causing her to turn slightly and raise her arms defensively. Ian knocked her unconscious with a single swipe of the blunt of his short sword’s blade.
Gideon rushed up, having also been thrown across the pit by Maur. Together, they bound and gagged Markessa, while Maur and Feruch backtracked through the dungeon to join them.
Gideon splashed some water from his canteen on the Markessa’s face. “Tell us where the slaves are and how to get past that tunnel with the black ooze,” he demanded as she sputtered back to consciousness.
“The slaves…they are in a room just down the hall from my bedroom,” she said. “The other thing…the ooze, I don’t know what you are talking about. Do you mean the lab?”
“No!” demanded Gideon, “Past the lab, and past the torture chamber!”
“I’ve never been there before,” she answered.
This response surprised them.
“What?” Gideon asked.
“I don’t think I am who you think I am,” Markessa said.
She went on to explain that she was a clone of the real Markessa. She explained that she had been made to be a perfect copy of the original. She was tasked with leading anyone who attacked the dungeon astray, buying time for the real Markessa to escape. She explained that Markessa had made Quintan to be her lover. Instead, though, the elf had fallen in love with the clone. They had made plans to try to flee, but Markessa had cast several spells upon the clone that would not allow her to leave until she fulfilled her purpose.
Markessa’s clone explained that she was heartbroken over the death of Quintan, but did not blame the party. Instead she blamed Markessa, describing this series of events as the “hell that she had wrought.”
She went on, adding that when the party first attacked, she was in her bedroom. As the party fought the goblins in the hall, Quintan had come for her, through the secret door behind the mirror. They had fled and hid in Markessa’s room. A while later, Markessa joined them, out of breath and clearly having been in a fight. She took several items from a safe she had hidden in her room and ordered them to remain and cover her escape. She then fled and left them there until the party encountered her and Quintan a few moments ago.
She then agreed to lead the party to where the slaves were kept. As she led the party down the familiar hall where the bodies of dozens of dead goblins still lay, Markessa’s clone explained that there were usually a few hobgoblins and a pair of gnolls who served as the overseers of the slave pens. Only she, Quintan and the real Markessa were aware that she had cloned herself, so the humanoids would have no reason to suspect that she wasn’t the real Markessa. She also mentioned that several shipments of slaves had arrived over the past few weeks, and as a result, the pens were nearly full at this time. The slaves were brought here from outside the city. Some were led to the Dark Market to be sold at auction, while others were sold directly to various groups and individuals in and below the city.
Entering the slave pens, the party was nearly overwhelmed at the horror that confronted them. Blood pooled thickly on the floor. A score cages filled with over a hundred slaves – men, women, children, human, elf, dwarf, halfling and half-orc
lay slaughtered. They were mercilessly slashed to death, helpless and unarmed. Markessa’s clone was in utter shock and disbelief of what she was seeing. She struggled to make sense of it as blood wicked up the hem of her white robes.
One cage, it’s door still hanging open, was empty. A gnoll and a pair of hobgoblins lay dead nearby, apparently having been beaten to death by some blunt object. Among the cages on the far side of the room, three more hobgoblins and a second gnoll prowled among the cages, admiring their handiwork. Their blood soaked swords still dripping with the carnage they had wrought.
Gideon and Maur rushed them, exacting a heavy toll of vengeance on the foul beasts, chopping them down after a brief struggle.
In one corner of the room was a huge slave pen that appeared to hold only a statue surrounded by a white circle etched into the stone floor. The statue, a life-sized rendition of Markessa, was positioned to look towards the rear wall of the cell, where a hole had been knocked into the wall to allow entry into an adjoining cavern. Markessa’s clone explained that this was the cell where Markessa’s failed creations were sent. These “cavelings” had erected this statue and treated Markessa as their god, their creator and benefactor.
Gideon described Yara Etherin, asking if Markessa’s clone had seen her. “Markessa required that I be familiar with all the slaves that came and went from this place,” she said, “It made it easier for me to pose as her, when necessary.” She had, indeed, seen the girl. She had arrived just a few days ago, in fact. Markessa pointed to a cage beside the one holding Markessa’s statue.
The party searched among the many dead of that cage. They found the bodies of half a dozen women, ten men, three halfings (one female) and a half-orc, but no Yara. Relieved that she wasn’t among the dead, they were still puzzled as to her whereabouts.
“Are you sure that you saw her here?” Gideon asked Markessa’s clone. The clone cocked her head to one side, growing unsure of herself, but still visibly shaken by the death and carnage of the room.
“Look!” Ian called out at that moment. In the back of the cell, one of the bars was bent slightly – just enough to allow a small person, like a child to slide between the bars and enter the cell holding Markessa’s statue, the cell that allowed entry into the caves.