“Life is hard, and then you die.” That is what is carved into the wall of your cell. For days, you think, you have been here all by yourself. Where your companions are, if they are even alive, is a mystery. All you know is that you have received the constant and brutal attention of the Ennin slave lords. Each day it seems one of them stops to gloat over you. You have come to know them well – bloodthirsty Eanwulf, vixenish Ketta the slippery, impassive Brother Millerjoi, frivolous Lamonstein and the brutish Theg Narlot. They almost seem like family – your in-laws. But the don’t compare to the two most prominent Lords of the Council – the newly appointed and sadistic Edralve and the cold-blooded old priest Stallman Klim.
Having finally received all the information they can gain from you, you are all reunited in a cell together, cast off, forgotten about, left to rot. During this time, each of you made desperate and clever attempts to escape from the dungeon. Unfortunately, all attempts were failures, though you did succeed in giving the jailers a very hard time. The only reward gained is that some days your rations never come, or when they do, they are barely edible.
You have been kept in your tiny cell for an unknown period of time. The only clue as to how long is that all your wounds have healed and your beards have grown. During this time, you have been brought before the Ennin Lords for questioning many times. Their methods are varied – sometimes kind and friendly while on other occasions vicious and inhuman – but the questions have always been the same – who helped you? How did you get here? Gideon remained stoic, answering only with the barest of information – no details. Spitting at his interrogators. On one day, early on, he even managed to get close enough to head butt Eanwulf himself, bloodying his nose. The thrashing he received for his efforts still scar his back. Maur, likewise, answered only with hissing and spitting, if he responded at all – resolute as stone. Ian, finally weakened by lack of sleep and a barrage of pain, no longer was able to resist. Through him the party’s story unfolded – what little he knew.
Something finally happens to break the monotony of imprisonment: a stone shudders and the earth growls as a large tremor rocks the dungeons. Dust filters down from the ceilings of the cells, and you can hear shouting and commotion among your captors. After a short period, the doors to the dungeon clang open, and in walks in Stalman Klim, the evil high priest, surrounded by guardsmen. Entering your cell, he locks his eyes on yours.
“Weakling fools,” he says almost cheerfully, “You sought to reveal my purposes, my true face, but it will do you no good. The Council all serve me now. All but one, who alone considers herself my equal. If only you had done as I had hoped and served me as intended. I would have controlled the council by now. So many clues left, so many ignored. I should have found a more adept group than yourselves. All these letters left behind, designed to implicate Edralve as working against the Ennin. You have none of them with you. NOT A ONE!” If not for the halfling,” he eyes Ian as a slight smile etches across his face, “it all would have been for naught. But with no proof, his testimony will turn little profit.”
He raises his hand, making a fist. The bone ring of the Quaan apparent. “It is no matter,” he says. “The pact will be broken and the Council shall be mine.” He turns to the guards and announces, “The Earth Dragon has spoken! He is hungry and the time has come to feed the weak to him, as is our sacred custom. Oh miscreants,” he hisses, spinning about to eye you angrily, “now you shall pay for the havoc you’ve wrought.” And in an undertone he adds, “Since now your part is done.”
He stares at you contemptuously for a moment before striding out of the cell. “Guards, subdue them with the Smoke of the Little Death.”
He leaves and the guards go with him. Shortly, however, there is a click as a small aperture in opened in the dungeon door. Through it comes the end of a tube, which spews out the green sleep smoke you remember so well.
The party awakens in a place where there is no light and no sounds but their own. Maur can ascertain that all the party memebers are present. The place you are in looks and feels like a natural cave, about 30 feet in diameter. There are four 10 ft. high exit tunnels somewhat evenly spaced around the perimeter. The ceiling, is too high to even see with Maur’s nightvision. The floor is covered with sand.
Each of you are dressed in a dirty loincloth. You have no weapons, no food, nothing: only your wits, and a small closed cloth tube which rests on the floor in the center of the room. It is about 18” long, about the size of a wand or scroll tube. A wooden ring secures and seals each end.
Gideon, Ian, Maur and Feruch were present. In the darkness, Maur also could see a fifth individual. After a few moments, they learned it was [Ji-Geoman], the traveler they had met at the Docks earlier, who had come to investigate the Ennin. He explained that he had been actively investigating the slavers for the past few weeks and had managed to sneak aboard one of their slave ships. It had brought him here, but it was while he was investigating the Hidden City, he had run afoul of some of the locals and been captured by the guards. Like the rest of the party, he had been tortured, interrogated, and finally cast into this dungeon.
Taking some moments to judge their predicament, Gideon gathered several stones (suitable for throwing) from the floor, while Ian and Maur fashioned blackjacks from their loincloths packed with sand from the floor. The party glimpsed a light down one of the tunnels. Following it, the light seemed to always stay a steady distance away, drawing them farther and farther down the passage.
By this light, Maur was able to finally take a moment to read the scroll. A note, hastily written, read:
We have all been deceived. This is the best I could do to help. May your gods be with you. If you escape, seek your revenge on the one who once aided you and then lured you here. Seek out the Water Dragon, at the Hidden City Docks.
Along with this letter were several scrolls inscribed with spells that Maur soon realized were Soul Magic. The spells permeated his mind, filling his thoughts, yearning to be cast.
They were eventually drawn into a narrow confine, where the sand covering the floor was much deeper. At that moment, the glimmering mote of light paused for a moment, almost enchantingly. The sand shifted in the midst of the party, at that moment, and a massive creature formed of shifting animated sand lunged from beneath them. The party savagely fought the sandling, suffering many serious wounds before Feruch charged forward, slaying the beast with two massive swings from his thick, muscled arms.
The enemy vanquished, the tiny wisp of light suddenly disappeared, plunging the group into darkness. In the darkness, Maur located a rusty dagger and a human skull, missing it’s jaw bone. Taking the dagger for himself, he passed the skull to Ian (to use as a club if need be).
Finding the tunnel to be a dead end, Maur led the rest of the party, blind in the darkness, back to the chamber where they had first found themselves.
Wandering down another passage, Maur guided the group quietly and slowly in absolute darkness. After an indeterminate amount of time, the quiet was broken by a low rumbling from deep within the earth. The ground began shaking violently, sending rocks and dirt cascading atop them. fearing a cave -in, the party pressed themselves against the walls until the shaking subsided.
Coughing, the party waiting there for some time, confident the quake was over before proceeding. In time, they could hear water flowing ahead of them. The air grew moist and cool, They emerged in a chamber where a stream flowed loudly into a large clear lake. Tunnels exited from their left and right, one of which having obviously been cut from the virgin stone by this steady flow of water.
With Maur’s guidance, the party took a moment to refresh themselves, washing the grit and dust from their faces. From the bottom of the lake, they retrieved a number of large mollusk shells, which Gideon quickly sharpened into a makeshift knife.
After taking some time to rest, the party walked up the tunnel cut by the fastly flowing stream. With the water always rushing beside them, it was a slow and dangerous trek, with the passage being smooth and slippery.
Soon, the party arrived in a feintly illuminated room. Here the flowing water spilled out from the wall, cascading down into a pool before flowing headlong into the passageway they had just emerged from. Molds and fungus coated the floor, with several large toadstools (some of which were the source of the reddish glow) growing about the room. Maur identified several types of toadstools, here. Some were poisonous, some hallucinatory and others safely edible.
Several members of the group broke off chunks of the mushrooms to provide light, while all took a moment to eat some of the safe ones – it was the most wholesome meal they had had in a long time. Lastly, Maur broke the stem from a particularly large mushroom, hollowed it out and filled the cavity with a large supply of the edible toadstools. “Don’t know how long we will be down here…I’m packing these for later,” Maur said matter of factly.
The party continued to wander about the caverns, crossing over a chamber where piercers dropped from the ceiling, another chamber where a large roper, disguised as a stalagmite attacked them as they passed (upon defeating this creature, they chopped the many rope-like strands from the creature, carrying it with them to use as rope, should they need it), and having to backtrack due to numerous dead-ends. All the while, the occasional tremors came with growing frequency and severity.
The party soon found themselves at a tunnel blocked by a wide precipice. Across this roughly twenty feet wide chasm, the passage continued off into the darkness. Ian carefully climbed across, secured by the roper strands, should he fall. Exploring the area beyond, alone, the passage ended in a roundish chamber with a domed ceiling. A slimy much of fungus and mold covered the clammy walls. In the center of the ceiling, a four feet wide chimney-like hole led straight up, disappearing into the darkness.
Reporting back to the group that he might have found a way back to the surface, the party collectively decided not to chance it, having no certainty that this would actually be a way out. They opted to explore the caverns further.
After traversing about a mile of winding tunnels, ducking for cover at the rapidly strengthening quakes (which now came every fifteen minutes or so, accompanied by the sounds of distant cave-ins and collapses), the party began to feel the cool breeze of fresh air. The passage they were in widened to a giant chamber. The ceiling was literally covered with bats, perched among the many stalagtites. At the sound of their approach, many flew through a large maw of an opening on the far side of the room. Maur indicated that this was a certain sign that the surface had to be only a short distance down the far tunnel. The only problem was that another large precipice blocked the party from entering the room. Distantly, the sound of swiftly rushing water echoed up from the seemingly bottomless chasm.
AS the party considered the means for each of them to safely cross the thirty-five feet wide chasm, Ian and Gideon noticed tiny web-like strands hanging from the ceiling above. The strands swayed slightly in the breeze. Maur, having lived over a century before first seeing the open sky, instantly recognized them for what they were. “There be cavefishers above us,” he grunted.
“Cavefishers?” the rest of the party asked almost at once.
“They look like large crabs, as big as a man,” Maur explained. “They cling to ledges above chasms, such as this.” He motioned to the edge of the precipice, glancing up, craning his neck trying to see where the strands extended from. “They drop these webs down and wait, much like you do when you are fishing. When something gets entangled in the strand, the cavefisher draws them up to feed.”
Gideon glanced about, seeing an area of the chasm where none of the cavefisher strands were visible, “Then we will cross over there,” he said. “We didn’t come this far just to become lunch for some giant cave crab!”
The party took some care to traverse the chasm, safely making it across. Quickly crossing the large chamber, accompanied by a flurry of frightened bats, they soon emerged from the caverns.
The party emerges from a hole in the ground in the midst of a mushroom forest. From the familiar luminescent glow above, you realize you are back in the massive chamber which holds the Hidden City. About half of the mushrooms seem to have been knocked down or damaged. The toadstools seem to be burning to the south and west, and a huge pall of black smoke rises beyond the flames, blocking out all visibility in that direction. A continuous low growl comes from the direction of the smoke, and the ground rocks beneath your feet.
Northwest, a few hundred feet away, there is some sort of great commotion, with a loud animal-like roaring and snapping of branches. The cause of the trouble can not be seen at this point. About 300 feet north, the mushroom forest ends, with a road running east to west at its edge. Far to the north, towards the Hidden City, you hear a great deal of shouting and screaming. Eastward you can only see more tangled mushroom forest, with the land beginning to slope upward.