As the goblin crashed to the floor beneath the catwalk, Markessa, now positioned in the center of the lab below him, angrily waved her hands towards Gideon, sending a volley of magical bolts streaking up towards him. The bolts arced into Gideon, bursting in a shower of singing sparks, sending him reeling back against the wall.
Ian rushed up the stairs to the catwalk opposite of Gideon to distract the many goblin archers on the left side of the room. Maur, drawing his bastard sword, joined Feruch on the floor of the lab’s north end. Together they swatted aside a pair of lowly goblin guards, preparing to face the pair of owlbears that tore into the laboratory from the south, smashing the strange lab equipment and toppling tables.
The owlbears slammed into Feruch and the dwarf like a pair of locomotives. Feruch staggered back under their vicious onslaught, but Maur held firm. The dwarf, despite facing a foe over twice his size held his ground, as their sharp talons and beaks threatened to rend his flesh. Swinging, mightily with his sword, he inspired Feruch who renewed his attack, eventually dropping one of the beasts with a well placed stab of his long sword.
Above on the catwalk, Gideon maneuvered to swing his staff, pummeling the owlbear about it’s head, momentarily dazing the beast. A volley of crossbow bolts shattered about him, causing him to glance across the room at Ian.
Ian found himself nearly overwhelmed by the goblins ahead of him on the catwalk. A pair of goblin swordsmen held him at the top of the stairs. Despite his best efforts to maneuver around them, he was unable to land a killing blow. Four goblin archers stood behind them, eyeing Gideon and preparing another volley.
Maur sliced upwards into the chest of the staggered and stunned owlbear, creating a deep bloody gash. The creature howled out in pain, crashing to the ground. There was no time for celebration, however, for Markessa suddenly loomed into view.
A bolt of lightning slammed into the dwarf, crackling and arcing about his plate armor-clad body. His entire body cinched up as every muscle spasmed from the electricity coursing through him. In an instant, he was laying on the ground, smoking and dazed. A trickle of blood flowing from his mouth and nose.
Markessa looked with growing shock as Maur staggered back to his feet, eyeing her angrily.
Another volley of crossbow bolts, these directed at Feruch and Maur, crashed on the floor and bounced from their armor and shields. A pair found their mark in Feruch, causing him to fall back seeking cover. Gideon raced along the catwalk, closing the distance between himself and the goblin archers.
Ian, managing to get a lucky shot on one of the goblin swordsmen, pressed the remaining goblin swordsman back.
Markessa, no longer feeling confident in her ability to win this encounter, stepped back, away from Maur, positioning herself so that a pair of wide tables were between her and the dwarf. With another wave of her hands, a sphere of inky blackness suddenly swelled out from her body, cloaking half the room in an impenetrable darkness.
Maur, throwing caution to the wind, rushed headlong into the darkness after her, only to slam into a table in the pitch blackness. Deeper in the darkened room, he heard a door slam open as the pale elven wizardress fled.
Feruch, having found cover and managed to heal himself, returned to the fray, charging up the stairs to reinforce Ian on the catwalk. With the last of the goblin swordsmen falling to Feruch and Ian’s attacks, the two of them, joined by Gideon, pinched the remaining goblin archers on the catwalk.
Maur, groping about in the darkness summoned by Markessa to cover her escape, suddenly heard the distinct growls and barks of wolves drawing closer form the south. He rushed towards where he thought the door Markessa had fled through may be, in the hopes of slamming it shut before more goblins and wolves arrived. As the darkness spell faded, Maur found the door, but at that moment, a half dozen goblin wolf-riders tore into the laboratory.
With the last of the goblin archers dead, the party leaped down from the catwalks to confront this new foe.
Everywhere there was sword and staff swinging as goblin blade, claw and fangs tore into the group. After a long struggle, the wolves and their riders lay dead in the now thoroughly smashed and destroyed laboratory. The chase for Markessa was on!
The party charged down the hall which Markessa had fled and from where the wolf-riders has come. They soon found themselves in a large cavern fashioned into a barracks with over two-dozen goblin-sized hammocks and several benches. A cave opening beckoned the party to go south, deeper into the cave complex. To the west a smaller cave opening, with an open iron portcullis. was seen.
Unsure which way Markessa had gone, the party chose to go south. This tunnel turned abruptly to the east, where Maur noted the walls and floors were polished smooth as glass. The party deliberated for a moment, before deciding to carefully move forward. Sure enough, the finely polished stone was slick, slowing them to a snails-pace. As they neared the center of the hallway, a heavy fishing net dropped from the ceiling.
The party lunged out of the way, avoiding the net, but Maur had lunged forward, while the rest of the party jumped back. As the dwarf rose to his feet, three goblin wolf-riders rode into view at the end of the tunnel. Armed with short bows, they fired a volley at Maur.
Goblin arrows are rarely a threat to a well armored dwarf. Although they bounced harmlessly off his armor, the slick floor hindered the party’s efforts to close the distance with the goblin archers. Ian and Gideon stayed in the back, throwing volleys of darts and daggers, in the hopes to distract the goblins long enough for Maur and Feruch to inch forward.
The plan worked, as the dwarf and paladin closed the distance, the goblins were forced to change weapons and engage them. Gideon and Ian then slowly moved forward to reinforce them. As they drew close, however, Ian suddenly sensed something was wrong. He spun about as another volley of arrows came from behind! A lone goblin, perhaps a chieftain or leader of some sort, due to the metal armor plates he wore, had emerged from a concealed space behind them.
As the last goblin and dire wolf fell, Maur spun about to see the goblin at the opposite end of the tunnel from where they came. “How could a dwarf have missed a concealed door in a cave,” he wondered, as the goblin fell to a volley of Ian’s darts. Impaled, the goblin dropped to the ground, dying instantly.
The party pressed onward. The next room was another hollowed out cavernous room, this one filled with many barrels, some open and empty, others sealed. A rack held several goblin-sized bodysuits made of dingy white cheesecloth. The passage continued onward from this room, ending at a door. Not seeing Markessa, the party took little time to ponder the purpose of this room and proceeded to the door.
The door was wedged shut, as if swollen in it’s hinges, or somehow blocked. Maur put his shoulder to it, forcing the door open. It opened with a crash as the dwarf charged through, knocking over a large barrel of honey in the process. A loud buzzing emanated from all parts of this room, flooded with a magical light. Maur quickly glanced about for the source of the sound, spotting another door on the opposite side of the room. It was then that he noticed a pair of massive beehives, which suddenly ejected their hosts as a great swarm buzzed towards them. Maur staggered back through the door, as Gideon slammed it shut, escaping with only a few stings.
“Maybe we should use those cheesecloth suits back there to protect us from these bees,” Gideon reasoned, motioning towards the previous room.
“That might be fine for Ian and Maur,” said Feruch, holding up the goblin-sized suits, “But we won’t fit in them.”
“We will just wrap them around us and do the best we can,” Gideon sighed, “But you’re right,” he said to Feruch.
After a few moments the party was wrapped in the cheesecloth suits. As predicted Ian’s fit nicely, but Maur’s was far too tight. Gideon and Feruch had managed to fashion a makeshift suit from the rest of the bodysuits, but there were still several areas of exposed skin.
“Ian, Maur…” Gideon motioned towards the door, “it might be best if you two go first.”
The party entered the beehive room again, and as expected, the bees swarmed about the first to enter, who had to trek through the honey to get in. The bees, drawn by the honey swarmed about them, allowing Feruch and Gideon to enter safely. The door on the opposite side of the room was unlocked. The party entered the passage beyond, closing the door behind them, shedding their cheesecloth bodysuits in a heap.
The next room was a cheese processing room. Many wheels of cheese aged on racks and shelves. A bolt of cheesecloth lay on another table. Again, no Markessa. The tunnel continued on and the party followed.
The passage ended abruptly at a ledge overlooking a dark, deep chasm. Stalagmites pointed upwards like daggers from the gloom below. Five natural stone pillars rose form the floor of the cavern, like giant stepping stones across a sea of darkness. They led to a similar ledge on the opposite side of the chasm, some thirty feet away. A steam-like mist hung in the air of this dank, humid cavern, coating the surfaces with a slick sheen. beyond the far ledge, the passage continued.
“You think Markessa went this way?” Feruch asked.
“I don’t know, but she’s probably long gone by now,” Gideon said, staring about the cavern. He noticed that the stone pillars were mostly flat, but slightly rounded at the top and appeared quite slick. Regardless, they were spaced about five feet apart, allowing one to possibly jump from one to one and eventually cross over to the other side, if they were careful.
“We still have to find the slaves, though,” he finally said, “and far all we know, they may be on the other side of this chasm.”
Gideon volunteered to go first, but not until Maur had tied a rope tightly about his waist. “’ll go across first, and find a place to secure the rope, then everyone else can follow.”
Gideon leaped over to the first pillar. Just as they looked, they were slick with moisture. He then leaped to the second, Maur adding slack to the rope each time. Leaping to the third, Gideon almost slid off, had Maur not quickly jerked the rope at the last instant to right him. With a gulp, he landed firmly on the fourth. Growing confident at this point, he leaped easily over to the fifth and final pillar. Just one more jump and he would be safely on the opposite ledge. Confidence got the better of him though, it would seem, for as he leaped towards the ledge his foot landed on a spot of loose rock, immediately giving way, sending him crashing down into the chasm below.
It was sheer luck he didn’t impale himself on one of the many stone stalagmites stabbing upwards from the chasm floor. He landed hard, though, knocking the breath from him. Feruch called down to him as Maur tugged at the rope, Finally, Gideon was able to speak, “I’m alive,” he gasped, “help me up!”
After a time, Gideon climbed up the rope to the ledge with the rest of the party. “I’m going again,” he said, ignoring the many cuts and bruises he had suffered in the fall.
“If you say so,” Ian shrugged.
As before, Gideon leaped cautiously from pillar to pillar. When he was half way across the chasm, again he slipped. Despite Maur’s efforts of tightening the rope, Gideon was unable to right himself and again fell headlong into the chasm. Maur struggled frantically to pull back the rope. Gideon, dangling from Maur’s rope, swung like a pendulum back across the cavern, smashing into several stalagmites, before slamming hard against the stone wall below the ledge bearing the party members.
Slightly dazed from his second failed attempt to cross the ledge, Maur slowly reined him up the chasm wall, “Third times a charm, they say,” he said with a wink, as he helped Gideon back up.
Unperturbed, Gideon tried a third time. Despite being bloodied and bruised, scratched and cut by the sharp rocks from his two falls, he was committed to making it across the chasm. Again he leaped from pillar to pillar, this time, making it look easy. “There! I did it,” he cried out, standing firmly on the opposite ledge. Sure enough the passage continued.
He tied the rope off, and each party member, in turn, crossed over the chasm.
The passage trailing off from the ledge ended abruptly at a odd “door”. It was roughly man-shaped, concave, and covered in spikes. Ian moved forward to inspect it for traps and upon finding none, he saw a small latch on it’s side. He also noted a set of hinges along one side, indicating that it swung inward. He carefully opened the strange door a few inches.
Light streamed in from the chamber beyond, flickering, dancing light, from numerous braziers. A man’s scream was heard from beyond, followed by a groan of agony. Shadows darted about as several creatures moved about the room.
Calling upon the powers of Feruch’s staff of healing, the party rapidly prepared for their next encounter. Weapons drawn, the party burst the door open, charging in to the uncertainty that awaited them.
They rushed into a large, high-ceilinged chamber. Two rows of columns rose high to support the ceiling thirty feet above. Several large braziers cast the room in a hellish light. A large iron chandelier swung back and forth from a thick rope on the ceiling above, shedding a disorienting and confusing display of light and shadows across a room of torture. A goblin stood over a man, the source of the screams, who was laying on a wooden table. Alcoves were along the east and west walls, several appearing to have recently been bricked up. Numerous goblins stood about the room, clearly enjoying the spectacle of the torture. On the east side of the room, the numerous alcoves were being used as stalls for several wolves. A goblin stood beside a column, swinging on a rope tied off to it, causing the chandelier above to move violently side to side. The strange door the party emerged from turned out to be a secret door cleverly disguised as an iron maiden.
Gideon and Maur rushed out, immediately followed by Feruch and Ian. They moved into position forming a line spanning across one of the alcoves, slashing and bashing the goblins nearest them. For a moment, the rest of the goblins in the room were surprised at the party’s sudden appearance, but quickly spurred into action.
The goblin standing beside the man on the table looked up at them, then without a thought, he stabbed his knife down into the throat of his victim, silencing his groans of tortured agony. He then moved towards the party, along with eight of his kin, swords barred and a sadistic glean of madness in their eyes. Three wolves lunged towards Feruch and Maur. On the far end of the room, four goblins hastily formed a line in front of a stairway, preparing to pepper the invaders with arrows. The stairway, flanked by a narrow balcony, led to a door on the opposite side of the room.
While Maur and Feruch fought off the wolves and mob of goblins, Gideon moved about one of the rows of columns, jabbing and swinging his staff in narrow arcs, batting at the many goblins facing him. Ian followed behind, using the flickering shadows cast by the braziers to his advantage, stabbing several of the goblins in the back.
At that moment, the rope holding the erratically swinging chandelier snapped, sending it crashing in the midst of Feruch and Maur. Flaming oil splashed out behind them, quickly igniting the iron maiden at the rear of the alcove, sealing off the party’s means of escape. Gideon, surprised by this unexpected turn of events, glanced towards the flames just an instant, causing him to slam headlong into one of the columns, dazing himself for a moment and knocking his staff from his hands.
A pair of goblins rushed forward, hoping to kill him in that instant, but a volley of the last of Ian’s darts killed one and sent the other scrambling for cover. Drawing his short sword, Ian rushed up to protect Gideon.
Nearly overwhelmed by the assailing goblins and wolves, Feruch and Maur swung their swords mightily, slaying many of the creatures. One of the wolves broke off, turning towards Gideon. Gideon, quickly regained his senses, retrieving his quarterstaff and turning to face the wolf just as it lunged at him.
The battle surged back and forth, Ian throwing volleys of darts into the goblins, while Gideon parried and jabbed with his staff at the wolf. Feruch and Maur defeated the pair of goblins facing them, as well as a large number of goblins only to be assailed by a massive volley of arrows from the goblin archers on the far side of the room. Three of these arrows managed to penetrate Maur’s plate armor, sending both him and the paladin ducking behind a column for cover.
Gideon managed to kill the wolf confronting him, while Ian finished off the last of the goblins. As Gideon advanced on the flank of the archers, using the few columns separating them as cover, Ian frantically retrieved his many darts from the goblin’s corpses.
With half the group pinned down by the hail of bow fire, a pair of bugbears emerged from a hidden door at the top of the stairs behind the goblin archers. With shields and wickedly spiked maces, they charged down the stairs, passing easily between the archers and rushed towards the party.
Maur quickly changed to his bow, felling one of the humanoids with a volley of his own. Ian threw a volley of darts ,wounding the other, as Feruch emerged form his cover, rushing the creature and making short work of it. By this time, Gideon had managed to make his way to the flank of the archers, and emerged from his cover, pouncing upon them.
As two of the archers fell to Gideon’s attack, and the pair of bugbears fell, one of the goblins bolted up the stairs, disappearing through the secret door the bugbears had charged from. Gideon killed the remaining goblin with a wide sweep of his staff then rushed to give chase.
Beyond the secret door was a room with a pair of narrow windows that opened to the torture chamber. From the benches positioned about this room, it was clearly intended as a viewing room, so that someone, perhaps the bugbear overseers could keep an eye on the goblin torturers, discreetly. A narrow passage led off from this room, which the goblin quickly scampered down, intent upon escape.
Gideon burst into this room, turning quickly down the narrow corridor and leaped upon the goblin, grappling him. As Maur caught up with him, he and the goblin were rolling about on the floor. The little creature trying frantically to escape. “Kill it!” Gideon cried out to Maur.
Maur kicked the goblin in it’s chest, stunning it and allowing Gideon to roll clear. The dwarf chopped down with his bastard sword, ending the creatures struggles.
The battle ended, the party returned to the torture chamber, finding a pair of human victims, perhaps slaves that had been tortured for amusement – the man they witnessed killed by the goblin at the beginning of the fight, as well as another, his throat slashed recently, lay dead in one of the alcoves.
The door at the top of the stairs was unlocked. A wide hallway, lit by torches, greeted them beyond. Along this hallway were doors that led to several storage rooms. One was filled with burlap covered furniture, while the other four were filled with massive stores of food and drink. One of the room had a place cleared in the center, where several barrels and boxes had been fashioned into a table. A deck of worn cards lay on the table, along with a small tin candle holder. An unlit torch hung form a sconce in the center of the far wall. “This place is massive,” Gideon observed, returned to the hallway.
At the opposite end of the hall, the passage turned again southward. Here everything got strange. The walls, floor and ceiling of the hallway changed to a rusty iron grating. Through this grating was only inky blackness, A black, inky substance dripped from the walls and ceiling. The passage continued in this manner southwards, disappearing into the darkness.
“I’ll ask again,” Feruch said, coming up behind Gideon and Maur, who were staring slack-jawed at this new obstacle, “Do we think Markessa went this way?”