Besilana opened the door to the north, revealing a short hallway with a door to the east. The area was plastered and wainscotted in some (now ruined) wood. It was evidently some form of trophy or museum room, and several broken cases were shoved against the walls. A serviceable but moldy shield hung on the west wall. Two great heaps of old cloth and pillows and like materials were formed to serve as beds. True to herself, the paladin entered the room and approached the shield. Taliesin followed her in while Felicity and Furnok waited near the door.
“This looks serviceable,” said the druid, pulling out a rope from behind an old cloak.
“Can’t say the same for this shield,” Besilana said, crestfallen. “It was a good one, once, but time has ruined it.”
“Who knows how long this stuff has been here.”
“Wow, then this rope must be stern stuff, because if a shield couldn’t hold the test of time, but a rope can,” said Felicity.
“Good point,” said Taliesin. “Though the rope might have been placed here more recently”
Furnok peeked out of the eastern door into the hall beyond. “Anything?” Besilana asked him.
“Lotsa different ways,” said the rogue.
The corridor split in three passages to the north, each about fifty feet in length. Northwest opened up into a larger chamber. At the end of the north hall, there was a door on the west wall. Northeast terminated in a door to the north. The south hall connected to a four-way-intersection the party had already crossed, with another opening to the east.
“I wonder which way the ghoul went,” said Besilana.
“Ew, probably to tell it’s ghoul-friend about us,” said Felicity, beginning to giggle at her own joke. The paladin groaned.
“I hope that was the last of them,” said Taliesin. “But I doubt it.”
“Left, then,” said the half-elf, leading the party to the northwest.
As they neared the end, she realized they were not alone. “Ghouls!” Besilana exclaimed, too late.
A ghoul sprang at the paladin, but she met his grasping claws with her shield and riposted, carving a line in its chest. A ghast closed with the paladin, bringing its stench with it. She had already withstood the stink and so she was able to stand her ground. Again she rebuffed the undead claws, and the ghast cursed vilely.
Trapped in the hall behind Besilana, Taliesin spat poison on the undead, but they proved immune to the toxin. Then the ghoul evaded Felicity’s sacred flame. The ghoul continued to struggle against the paladin’s defenses, but it ducked Furnok’s arrow adroitly. Besilana turned her attention to the ghast, wounding it with a slice down its right side. The ghast hissed from the wound inflicted by the paladin’s blade, but took advantage of the opening in her defenses to slash her arm with a claw.
Taliesin pulled out his sling and chucked a bullet at the ghoul. The missile beaned the ghoul directly in the forehead, snapping its head back forcefully. It gave him the stink eye, which distracted it from the halfling’s follow-up prayer. It paid with its existence, burning to ash. The rogue slipped past his allies and flanked the ghast, realizing too late that its stench was potentially crippling. His eyes teared up, but luck was with him, and his blade found purchase between the ghast’s ribs. The rapier pierced the foul creature’s heart and it fell to the flagstones with a gurgle.
“Maybe don’t let them pin us all in a hallway if we can help it?” Furnok suggested to Besilana.
“I was trying to protect everyone,” she said, but with a bit of shame.
He nodded, and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder for a moment. “That’s a nasty-looking cut,” he said, wincing in sympathy.
She nodded. “I’ll be all right.”
Furnok shrugged glancing down at the corpses and said, “Gods of darkness, what a stench!” He backed away to get some fresher air.
With the threat eliminated, the party got a better look at the large chamber at the end of the northwest hall. The huge place was over a hundred feet long and thirty feet wide in the main portion. The litter of tables, trestles, benches, chairs, and stools scattered and heaped about the place showed that great revelries of Evil were once conducted there. Bits of tapestries and drapes still hung here and there from the walls. Bones and whole skeletons could be seen on the floor and under the heaped broken furniture. A skirmish in the greater battle for the Temple was surely fought in this place!
Finding nothing of note or interest, they approached the exit to the south and found a hallway that doglegged to connect to the western door from the ghoul chamber. Then, Besilana led the others to the northern exit from the banquet hall. A short hallway exited to the east along the north wall of the great hall, opening into a twenty-by-thirty-foot kitchen.
Three doors sat in the southern portion – east, south in the west corner, and west. A high, broad fireplace with numerous side ovens dominated the north wall. The fireplace was large enough to roast a whole ox. The room was littered with broken containers and dishes, trash of an unidentifiable sort, and pieces of wooden tables, counter tops, and the like. Several skeletons were visible, including one which appeared to be that of an ogre.
Watching the skeletons carefully, Besilana moves to the middle of the room. Fortunately, the bones did not stir. Somewhat relieved, she opened the western door. A ten-foot-square room had once been used for crockery storage and food storage, respectively for the south and west areas. Their contents were broken and smashed, and the foodstuffs were spoiled.
Furnok kneeled down to inspect the ogre skeleton, tilting his head to one side curiously. He reached down and produced a leather sack that clinked with the tell-tale sound of coin. He opened it up and grinned. “More gold for the treasure hunter…s.”
“An excellent find,” said Besilana.
“I’m starting to think this level is deserted just like the main floor,” said Taliesin. “Disregarding the undead, of course.”
“Hard to say how much of it we’ve actually seen, though,” said Furnok.
Besilana nodded. “Good point.”
“Right. We could be down here for weeks,” said the druid. “Or the rest of our lives…”
“Oh that’s dark…” said Felicity with a frown.
“We’re very aggressive scouts, yeah,” agreed Furnok. “I wonder if those two goons in the tower have managed to free themselves yet.”
The eastern door of the kitchen opened up at the end of the north branch of the forked hall. Besilana led her companions to the northeast branch and strode boldly down it. Just before the door, she fell through the floor into a ten-foot pit!
“Are you okay? Where is that fancy rope?” said Felicity.
“I’m okay, I think,” she called back up.
“Crap. I think we have company!” said Furnok, pointing at the door.
Taliesin was in the process of readying a rope when the door opened to reveal four armed men in garb adorned with a brown and black triangle! Furnok’s first arrow flew wide of its target, and the scale-armored fellow strafed around the edge of the pit to close with him. Fortunately, the rogue managed to fend him off. Besilana quickly climbed out of the pit and entered the cultists’ room, facing off with another man there, who easily deflected her first strike. Another guard, who’d been reaching for the north door of the chamber, changed his mind and rushed the paladin, but her shield caught his sword.
Taliesin shifted into wolf form and took a bite at the nearby cultist, who jerked his arm back out of reach. The man in plate advanced, barking tactical orders at his subordinates and readying his greatsword, which he wielded against Besilana with two arcing swipes. She blocked the first, but the second caught her across the shoulder.
Felicity summoned a sword above the pit, which sliced into the man threatening Furnok and Taliesin. He was was so distracted by the floating sword stabbing him in the back that he completely missed the radiant beam descending on his head. As he fell, the cleric said, “May your spirit find peace.” The cultist near the door cried out in alarm then tried to shove Besilana back into the pit. She held her ground, and the effort distracted him from Furnok’s next arrow, which took him through the throat.
The paladin rounded on the leader and attempted to smite him, but at the last second he parried with his heavier blade. The man tilted his head in acknowledgement of Besilana’s skill. The remaining footman, not wanting to get nearer the floating sword, stood his ground and took advantage of the half-elf’s distraction to strike her leg. Taliesin advanced on the man, but couldn’t seem to sink his teeth into enemy flesh.
The knight continued his duel with Besilana, but she had found her footing and defended against the greatsword with skill. Felicity’s magic sword floated behind the other guard and cut him across the back. He grunted in pain but managed to avoid her follow-up attack prayer. Furnok’s next arrow shattered harmlessly against the knight’s pauldron, but Besilana took advantage of the man’s distraction to bring her sword in hard and low, glowing with holy energy as she bellowed, “EHLONNA!” He grunted at the force of her holy smite.
The guard attempted to kill the wolf that was all up in his business, but Taliesin side-stepped him and tore into his leg, severing the femoral artery. The mortally wounded man sank to the stone with a whimper.
The knight spared a glance for the druid-wolf moving to flank position then struck Besilana another cut across her torso. Feeling confident that one more blow would fell this worthy opponent, he pressed the attack! In desperation, she got her shield between herself and the killing stroke.
“Sorry to interrupt but…” said Felicity as she came up behind Besilana and prayed for healing. With more composure than she usually had at this late point in a battle, the paladin attempted to dispatch the knight, but again he parried her swing masterfully. Taliesin pulled the man from his feet, but he sprang back up. Still, the effort cost him speed and his next blows failed to land. Weary and bleeding, he was losing steam.
Felicity’s sword gracefully slid over behind the foe to attack. The armored warrior fell to a knee as the blade crashed down on his shoulder from behind. He was barely propped up on his sword when the radiant fire burned down on him, ending his life. “I’m so sorry, may you rest peacefully,” she said.
“Okay, so. There are people down here,” said Furnok, stepping into the room to loot the corpses.
The light in the thirty-foot-square room came from four torches, one on each wall, and several large candles standing on long trestle tables. Also on the tables, which were flanked by benches, were food, drink, and knucklebones. The dishes and vessels were ordinary pottery. Narrow three-tiered bunks lined the north, east, and west walls. The unadorned walls and weapons racks indicated that the room was originally allocated as a place for guards. The racks were full of various weapons and shields. A fountain in the south wall flowed into a wall basin.
Taliesin transformed back into an elf and the party wordlessly found seats to rest.
“So we’ve got ghasts, ghouls and guards,” said Felicity as she fussed over Besilana.
Furnok held up a necklace he’d pulled off the knight. A bronze medallion with a raised triangle hung from it, which the paladin considered for a moment. “These men were faithful to the Earth Temple,” she decided.
The rogue nodded, turning back to the bodies again. He froze, staring down at the knight’s arm. “Um, guys?” He pulled the right bracer aside to reveal a tattoo like Felicity’s. Besilana’s breath caught in her throat.
“Oh…” said the halfling, her face going pale. “Oh no.”
The half-elf got to her feet and moved to put her hands on Felicity’s shoulders. Furnok swiftly checked the other bodies, but only the leader seems to have been marked.
“I’m not like them,” said the cleric. “I mean, if they didn’t attack us first, I wouldn’t have had to kill those two…”
Furnok looked thoughtful. “Lareth branding Eiravain seemed like malice, but it must have some significance to the cult. Or at least someone within the cult.”
“This is the only place where we’ll be able to learn what it means,” said Besilana.
Felicity gathered herself emotionally. “Then we keep going. I want answers.”