The floor of the Temple vestibule consisted of reddish brown slate-like stone squares, each about two-feet square. The walls were plastered and painted with scenes befitting the nature of the Temple – disgusting acts, killing, torture, enslavement, and other unspeakable things. The creeds of the worshippers there were all too evident: Evil was flaunted and lionized. Dim light filtered through the stained glass windows, casting revolting colors upon the greenish stones of the floor to the north.
In that direction they could see the nave of the Temple. The pillars to either hand were of a pinkish mineral, shot through with worm-colored veins. Their arches led to an unremarkable pair of lesser side aisles. The columns supporting the archways, as well as the arches themselves, were worked in bas relief. As with the frescoes in the entryway, the scenes there were ineffable, vile, filthy. It was probable that the area was reserved for the lowliest of worshippers. The area beyond was better lit and more open, though it also had more of the nauseating pinkish pillars supporting the roof high overhead.
“Lady of Forests be with us,” Besilana said as she set one foot inside the Temple.
“Oh, this is horrible,” Felicity whispered.
“It’s so … base,” said Taliesin. “The people that built this were crazy. In nature their own kind would have put them down.”
Proceeding north toward the central altar, they found that the pillars there were white marble, veined with ugly red. The altar block of pinkish white marble was roughly oval, something over seven-feet-long by five-feet-wide. Its top had a hollowed out portion resembling a human form, with legs apart and arms away from the body. The depression was stained a darker color than the rest. Just north of the altar was a circular, marble-lined pit – a well of sorts – twenty feet in diameter. Shards of broken crystal vessels lay about the well, near the altar, and scattered about the floor. A crystal knife with a broken blade lay atop the stone block.
They gave the middle a cursory examination, then Besilana gestured to the southwest. “Over there first?”
“Sure,” said Furnok.
“O-okay,” said Felicity, trepidation in her voice.
The supporting pillars in the southwest wing of the Temple were sandstone, resting on a red slate floor. Bits of broken pottery and sharp bits of rock covered the floor there, making walking about a risky business. The stump of a granite monolith, and chunks of brownish-red rock around its base, indicated that the altar was violently assaulted and destroyed. A few links of bronze chain, a twisted manacle, and a bronzewood maul with a snapped haft added to the impression that the enemies of the Temple who did this must have found the altar very hateful indeed.
The paladin’s lip curled in sheer revulsion as she passed the smashed statue to try the door beyond. The chamber past the door seemed to be a vestry. A broken rhondite bowl and ewer lay in a corner, apparently flung in anger and now shattered and useless. The interior of each was caked with a dry brown substance. Pieces of furniture were also scattered about, as were the torn remains of some brown garments and three stubs of brown candles. A flight of stairs descended to the southeast.
“Well. There’s a down, at least,” said Furnok.
“But what’s downstairs?” asked Felicity.
“Whoever hired the bandits,” said Besilana. “Let’s look in the other rooms before we climb down, though.”
“Why can’t evil temples be built to look nice?” the halfling wondered aloud. “Where in the evil handbook does it say ‘make this look like guts and blood and this out of fleshy-stone’?”
“Page two,” deadpanned the rogue.
Besilana crossed the western altar area to a door on the northwest wall, which opened into another small vestry. Pieces of broken glass and splinters of crystal lay scattered within. Someone had evidently made a fire in the far corner, as bits of charred wood and cloth lay on the floor, and the rafters overhead were blackened with soot. A pile of robes, once ivory-colored, lay in the center of the room. They were soiled and stained with excrement.
Eschewing the filthy vestry, the adventurers continued north into the central section of the temple. A flight of steps, twenty feet wide and each step broad and tall, delved down to the north. The stone was a dull gray, but flecks of color – white, blue, red, green, and black – dotted its surface. To the north of the staircase was a stone railing, with supports of white, brown, and green stone alternating; its upper portion was cinnabar. The floor beyond was paved with three-foot squares of highly polished red granite. The square columns of some type of yellowish stone were carved in bas relief, and painted to show scenes of fire and suffering with demoniac creatures leering on.
Besilana skirted around the grand staircase, leading her companions toward the high altar in the apse. A huge bronze vessel chased with copper stood there. Its six legs held it slightly more than a foot above the floor stones. The basin-like pot was eight feet in diameter. Its bottom was filled with old charcoal, bits of blackened bone, and undefinable lumps. A piece of chain still hung over the altar, and evidently others similar once also hung there, but their bronze links were broken, and short pieces lay on the floor. The altar’s rim was dented and cut, as if it had been struck by many hard blows.
Against her better judgment, the paladin took a closer look at the altar. She was both disappointed and relieved not to find anything of further note. North of the high altar, she saw a throne at the back of a wide, round dais. Glancing back at her companions briefly, she approached the dais with trepidation.
The dais extended south into the Temple, forming a circular area. The floor, steps, and walls were black basalt, highly polished and gleaming. Four steps led to the upper platform, and upon it was a great throne of purplish basalt, with leering demon faces and carved grinning skulls. Above the throne, the following words in the Common tongue were chiseled into the curving wall:
THE POWER OF ELEMENTAL DEATH
BRINGS MORTALS LOW
BUT RAISES THE NAMELESS ONE
The flagstones upon which the throne sets were ten-foot squares of granite, set in a mosaic pattern.
Felicity whispered, “I’m really glad nothing here has made any sudden noises, because if it did I would jump out of my skin.” A chain creaked on cue from somewhere to the south. The halfling squeaked.
Besilana nearly jumped out of her skin. When nothing more became of the random noise, she sighed and said, “This … I don’t know what this means. Four colors for the four elements?”
“Hey, that’s not a bad theory,” said Furnok. “I would expect blue for water, but … maybe green ‘cos it’s corrupt?”
“Should we look at this throne?” Besilana asked. “Or look behind the unopened doors first?”
“Maybe we’ll find hints in the other rooms about this … uh … tile thing?” suggested Felicity.
“If we have other paths, I don’t see the need to disturb the throne,” said Taliesin, looking askance at the fiendish chair. “It is disturbing enough as it is.”
Furnok glanced around at his companions. “Well, I’m not gonna sit in the big evil chair, no matter how purple it is.” Besilana nodded and headed toward the eastern door.
The door was finely carved, but most of the vile and obscene work had been hacked and chopped so as to efface its evil. Beyond was another vestry, a chamber nearly thirty feet wide and sixty feet long. It once must have been the scene of debauched revels, for the remains of great couches, tables, and padded chairs were strewn about. Charcoal and several broken barrels lay nearby. A stack of resinous faggots near the door seemed to be the only things not broken or disarrayed. Amidst the litter were several skeletons, probably human. One wore the tattered remains of a scarlet robe.
Besilana entered the room to investigate the skeleton. She found it to be nothing special, but from that vantage point, she noticed something else. Behind the lengths of stacked wood was a small cupboard, set into the wall. She pointed it out to her friends.
“… Like for dishes?” asked Felicity. Furnok chuckled.
“Anything interesting inside?” asked Taliesin.
“I’ll take a look,” she said, doing so. She made an “ooo” sound and pulled out two silk robes of bright crimson, with skulls embroidered in gold thread on the front and back. Each was cowled and lined with lavender silk.
“That’s the most glamorous death robe I’ve ever seen,” said Furnok.
“It would be pretty if not for the skulls,” said Felicity.
“Must be for the really important rituals,” guessed Taliesin.
“They might be useful as disguises,” Besilana suggested. “The robes in the Moathouse were, or almost were.”
“You are welcome to put them on,” said the druid, his tone indicated that he would not.
“Maybe we’ll just leave them here for now,” the half-elf said uncertainly.
“Couldn’t hurt to stow them in a pack just in case,” said her cousin.
“Disguises and then the material could be valuable, or their historical value, oh a museum may want them! Or someone who specializes in cults… Or we could just take the skulls off later and use them as bathing robes…” babbled Felicity. Besilana nodded and handed one to the halfling, stowing the other in her own pack.
Taliesin said, “I think there is one more room to check out.” He led the way back across the length of the table toward the southeast.
The thick stone columns surrounding the altar there were deep green, with blood-red striations. The paving blocks were mossy green, with a circular dais-like area about twenty feet in diameter in the center part of the wing. The dais was two-tiered; each rose about eighteen inches, the inner being fourteen feet in diameter, thus forming a three feet wide step along the rim of the lower tier. The lower disc was greenish black stone; the upper, blackish green. The center of the altar was a depression about eight feet across, filled with scummed-over black liquid. Several pieces of smashed shells were scattered around the area, along with a broken bronze knife.
Taliesin used his quarterstaff to check the water’s depth, but it proved to be deeper than the length of the weapon. Glancing briefly at the discarded ritual blade, he shrugged and continued to the final door. There they found yet another vestry. Bits of broken altar service were present there, with a broken trident and pieces of torn, scorched robes of a moss-green hue. Other rubble included several smashed benches, a small broken table, and a thrown-down wardrobe with one side kicked in and the doors torn off. Another flight of stairs descended to the southwest, mirroring the stairs in the southwest vestry.
“Ok. Looks like the top floor is quiet. Which way down?” asked the druid.
“I don’t like any of these,” Besilana said. “Let’s just descend.”
“We need light.”
“I’ve got one,” said Furnok, muttering some arcane syllables while making a simple gesture. His belt buckle began to glow. Taliesin nodded then strapped the staff to his pack and pulled out a torch of his own, setting it ablaze. Thus set for light, the party descended the stairs, which ended at a long, dark corridor. Thirty feet from the base of the steps, the heroes came to a four-way intersection.
“Lets head toward the front of the temple,” said Taliesin, indicating the southern branch of the intersection. “I’m curious to see if it follows the same dimensions or if were just in a maze.”
“All right,” said Besilana, assuming point beside the druid with Felicity close behind.
A short distance to the south, they found another hallway parallel to the east-west corridor connected to the stairs. Each direction opened up into a small room after forty feet or so. Taliesin began to make his way toward the eastern room. He found a plain chamber filled with wooden racks for various spears, pole arms, and smaller weapons. The walls had many pegs indicating where other weapons and shields once hung. All that remained were broken weapons, sundered shields, and ruined coats of mail. Several skeletons, both human and gnoll, lay scattered here and there, as well as odd skulls and bones. Cobwebs hung in places; if any creatures had been there recently, visits were not frequent.
Searching the chamber, Taliesin returned with a quiver, which he handed to Furnok. “Need some arrows?” he asked the rogue.
Furnok nodded his thanks. “Yeah, I can’t reclaim them all. Gonna run out at some point.”
“Is anyone else curious as to why this place still seems to be undisturbed from the assault years ago?”
“Maybe because it’s still being used?” suggested Felicity.
“Hopefully, it means there’s not enough cultists these days to properly clean up every corner of the place,” said the rogue.
Taliesin nodded. “One can hope. But something is causing the taint to the surrounding lands.”
To the west they found another abandoned armory very similar to the first. Besilana searched this one, lifting one of the bones. “Teeth marks,” she said. “Something cracked this one and chewed out the marrow.”
“Well then, that’s just about terrible,” said Felicity.
“Gods below,” swore Furnok. “More ghouls, do you think?”
The half-elf nodded. “Stands to reason.”
“Let’s hope they are long gone from here,” said Taliesin.
Returning to the first hallway, the party continued to the west. After a hundred feet or so, a passage opened to the north, with a gentle downward slope. It was plastered and painted with the evil scenes typical of the Temple.
“Looks like something important,” said the druid.
“Agreed. Shall we?” asked Besilana.
“Creepy hallway? Going the right way,” said Felicity.
“Let’s see where it leads,” agreed Taliesin.
Starsong at the ready, Besilana led the way down the corridor. The slope increased after a time before leveling out again. Then the adventurers’ light fell upon a familiar surface. The passage was barred by a huge sheet of bronze, the surface of which was covered with bas relief faces of evil leering creatures. The portal was too massive to even attempt to raise by brute strength. It was evidently placed to bar further progress north, though ten-foot-wide corridors led east and west.
Approaching the door, the party saw a round room to the east, and a more triangular room to the west. They glanced around cursorily then proceeded to the west. They found a forty-foot-diameter area with an arched ceiling some thirty feet high. Its polished stones indicated that it was once meant for some special purpose, lost now under a litter of refuse, bones, and dung. A huge metal ring was cemented into the center of the floor, and a heavy iron chain of about eight feet length is fastened to the ring. Much to their surprise, the adventurers saw a five-headed hydra resting in the middle of the chamber, its leg shackled to the chain connected to the metal ring. One of the beast’s heads blinked at them then cough-barked, rousing the remaining four!
Seeing this, the party rightly fled back the way they’d come, the roars of the monster echoing after them. Once they’d made it back to the starting corridor, Felicity stopped to catch her breath. “WHAT WAS THAT!?!” she demanded in a shout-whisper.
“No idea,” gasped Furnok. “Too big by half. And the heads!”
“Well that thing had enough mouths to eat all of us and still be hungry!”
“That’s some guard dog,” agreed Besilana. “I’m sure they heard it barking. We should be more careful going forward.”
Taliesin had transformed into a bear at the beginning of their headlong flight, so he could only chuff in response. “Why did you turn into a bear?” Furnok asked. “Were you seriously going to attack that thing?”
Felicity’s jaw dropped. “You were going to fight it?”
The druid shook his shaggy head, and Furnok chuckled. “Well, I guess we just have to do without your color commentary for a bit.” He glanced down the hallway. “To the west?”
Besilana nodded at the rogue and, after taking a moment to compose herself, headed in that direction. Another hundred feet or so past the passage down to the lower level, the adventurers found another four-way intersection. Steps led up to the west, likely connecting with the other vestry room in the Temple. To the south was another corridor parallel to the stair hallway, and to the north was another four-way intersection after about fifty feet.
The western end of the southern corridor terminated in another small and long abandoned armory. A single usable mace remained, but the adventurers left it lying on the floor. The eastern chamber looked much like the other three decrepit armories with one exception. It had been thoroughly vandalized.
While searching the fourth armory for anything of use or interest, Furnok glanced upward at the supporting arches and blinked once. He climbed up the wall and came back down with a single black crossbow bolt. “This thing is practically vibrating with magic,” he said, smiling.
The party returned to the stairway corridor, then continued to the northern four-way-intersection.
The western passage ended in a wooden door, with another such portal ten feet from the end on the southern wall. The hall continues to the north, with a branch to the east after about thirty feet. To the east, there was another wooden door on the north wall, and a branch to the south after about forty feet.
The paladin led her companions to the end of the western hallway and the door there. Starsong at the ready, she opened the door. The south wall of the large, oddly-shaped chamber bore a bas relief of a hideous head – a humanlike face with squashed features, the face low upon a mushroom-shaped cranium. Various humanoids, monsters, and demoniac creatures pranced and japed in the background. The remains of a sandstone altar lay in fragments before the sculpture. All furnishings were gone, but six heaps of old clothing, rags and whatnot remained, indicating that something yet dwells herein. A wooden box sat near the east door. Across the southern portion of the chamber, a west door had a peep hole, usable from inside the room.
Before they could take in the details of the farther sections of the room, a trio of ghouls spring at the opened door! The paladin stood her ground, waiting for the undead to come. Furnok tactically retreated and readied his bow. When the ghouls reached the door, the first’s claws scraped against the Besilana’s shield as she slashed it in return with her mother’s blade. The rogue’s arrow didn’t quite finish off the wounded ghoul as Felicity’s turn undead washed over the monsters. Before even the second ghoul could attack the paladin, the ghouls turned to flee.
Taliesin the bear squeezed past his companions and entered the room beside the heavily wounded ghoul. A moment later, Besilana cut the undead monster down and pursued its fleeing counterparts into the stench-filled northern part of the chamber, spotting a purple-fleshed ghast near a door there. Furnok followed the paladin into the room, and fired an arrow at the other wounded ghoul, which sank into its back. Felicity’s prayer brought holy fire lancing down upon the wounded ghoul, setting it alight as it tried to flee. It stumbled and fell, its ashes scattering from its torched limbs.
Seeing this, the ghast hissed and fled through the northern door, with the surviving ghoul trundling after. “You sniveling cowards!” cried a booming voice from beyond the door, as Taliesin took up the chase. Besilana dashed through the room toward the sound of the voice, but held her ground just past a table. Furnok took cover behind the table and readied to shoot anything engaging with the half-elf. Felicity moved between the bear and the maiden fair.
The sound of the fleeing ghast’s flapping feet disappeared to the north, but a second, beefier ghast stalked out of the northern door and came after Besilana. It raked at her, but its claws found only her shield and armor. It juked aside nimbly, dodging the rogue’s arrow as Taliesin lumbered up. The bear recoiled at the ghast’s stench but powered through the unpleasant odor, swatting the undead with a heavy paw and tearing the flesh down its right side.
Besilana smote the ghast, radiant energy exploding from the wound she inflicted with Starsong. This blow staggered it, and Furnok’s next arrow smashed through the ghast’s skull, damn near taking its head off. The heroes took a collective breath as they examined their surroundings.
A stench lay heavily toward the northern part of the chamber. Parts of rotting tapestries still adorned the east and west walls. A battered table and three stools occupied the center of the room. Mounds of cloth lined the walls, apparently beds for the occupants. A water barrel was in the middle-southeast corner, and a full sack rested near the west door.
The northern walls had once been plastered and painted, but where the covering still remained, some sort of mold or similar growth had discolored it sufficiently to make the colors and subject matter undistinguishable. Bones were heaped in a pile in the northeast corner, and a disgusting odor lingered about the place. Torn cloth and old cushions were piled to form two tangled nests of bedding along the northwest wall. A large iron-bound chest with a heavy padlock stood in the upper-southeast corner.
Besilana closed the northern door and the adventurers set about looting the chamber. Furnok whistled appreciatively as he lifted the lid of the chest. “Hundreds of silver pieces in here. And check out this brooch.” He lifted it up, displaying a carnelian stone with a cameo coat of arms. “I think this is from Veluna. Knights of the Hart, maybe.”
“Ve-who-na?” asked Besilana.
“It’s a country. Knights of the Hart are like a gang. An honorable gang?”
“Would they be far from here?”
“Quite a trek. This was probably scavenged from someone who fell in battle with the cult. A bunch of different nations fought against them, right?”
Besilana nodded. “I think I prefer my current brooch,” she said to no one in particular.
Next, the rogue lifted up a silver cylinder. “Oh, hey. This tube is hollow.” He opened it and pulled out a scroll. “I think this has a spell.” He handed it to Felicity, who confirmed that the magic on the scroll was designed to protect against the undead.
Felicity made a face as she looked at all the coins in the chest. “So, I know this treasure is a perk of being an adventurer … but how do we take this treasure back to the town? That silver is going to weigh a lot.”
“About twelve pounds, yeah,” said Furnok at a glance. “Several sacks, distributed among us, perhaps?” he suggested.
Taliesin nodded, drawing the rogue’s attention. He smirked and added, “We could get a bandolier for the bear… Saddlebags of a sort. A towing harness.” Clearly, he was warming to his jokes.
Besilana giggled at the visual, and the druid scoffed – a very strange sound from a bear. Lots of slobber, too.
“Oh Bear-isin,” Felicity said fondly.
Taliesin lumbered over to a wall and sat down on his rump before shifting back to his elven form. The party finished collecting the loot, including a golden chain set with three small rubies worn by the ghast that had stood and fought. After they’d rested for a few minutes, they made ready to continue their exploration of the Temple Dungeons.