The light in the thirty-foot-square chamber 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 flows into a wall basin.
Glancing back at the open pit in the hallway from which they’d entered, Besilana said, “Perhaps we should be more wary of traps going forward?”
Taliesin nodded. “It’s a good bet that there are more. I agree.”
“I for one don’t want to be dropped into a pit or pierced with a surprise spear,” said Felicity.
The druid opened the northern door to reveal a hallway that split irregularly to the west, heading farther north and south. The southern hall being the nearer of the paths, the adventurers saw that it terminated after fifty feet, with a branching passage that appeared to head to the northwest near the southern end. Besilana crossed the intersection to peer north. The northern hall spanned nearly a hundred feet, turning a corner to the east at the end. At about the midpoint, a branch headed southwest.
“Left, still?” asked Furnok, glancing down the hall over the half-elf’s shoulder with a sardonic grin. She nodded absently.
“At this point I’m not sure it really matters,” said Taliesin.
“No, sinister,” quipped Felicity.
“Oh, right. Traps and such,” said the rogue. “Hang on a tick.” He scanned the walls and floor, searching for … anything. Then he stood up. “Nope. Looks clear.”
The northwest hall eventually made a corner to the north, with a door on the west wall there. Furnok searched more efficiently this time, and declared the intersection safe. A passage to the northwest connected with the northern hall they’d seen just outside the guard room. The passage continued north past the extent of their light and darkvision. Doors started appearing on the east and west walls after about thirty feet. Another branch headed west perhaps ten feet north of the door in the southwest corner of the hall. They made their way to this door with Besilana once more on point.
A scream from sounded from within, muffling the sound of the door opening. Lurid light from a flaming cresset in the northwest corner lit the northern part of the chamber beyond, which smelled of sweat and blood. Something clanked, another thing creaked, and another scream broke the unnerving quiet of the dungeon. At the sound of the second scream, Besilana surged forward and down the steps into the room.
In addition to the cresset, a glowing brazier full of charcoal revealed a thirty-foot by twenty-foot chamber containing a rack, iron maiden, cage, and all the other unspeakable devices common to a torture chamber. Two adjacent ten-foot-square alcoves, one to the south and one east, were barred, their doors held fast by chain and padlock. Two prisoners were in each, obviously here to await the tender mercies of the torturers – female humans in the south cell, and two orcs in the east. A human man and a bugbear were busily engaged in torturing another human man on a rack. The human torturer wore chainmail, and the bugbear wore a chain shirt and leather jack with metal plates. At the paladin’s headlong charge, the torturers looked up with a vicious gleam in their eyes.
Furnok moved to the corner to get a better angle on the enemies, then waited for a friend to distract one of them, bow ready. Taliesin advanced to a point between his opponents, shifting into bear form on the way. He attacked the bugbear with tooth and claw, but the creature evaded the bite and minimized the slashing claws. Furnok’s arrow was snapped out of the air by the brute’s morningstar. He was not able to avoid Felicity’s sacred flame, however.
The human foe’s axe carved into the druid’s shaggy hide, even as Besilana advanced on the bugbear, Starsong raised high. She scored a nasty gash along his side, cursing him in Elvish. Enraged by the pain inflicted upon it in such short order, the bugbear lashed out in a blind fury at the paladin. Deliberate action might have served him better, as his wild swings went right over the half-elf’s head. Furnok could not find an opening in the melee to put an arrow in the axeman.
Taliesin bit into the bugbear’s side and ripped his torso open, which caused the orcs in the cell to break out in cheers. The druid-bear swung his powerful neck, tossing the body at the axeman, who knocked it aside harmlessly. The corpse smashed into the southwest corner, splashing blood across the women in the cell. They screamed in terror.
Felicity took advantage of the human’s distraction and struck him in the chest with a bright guiding bolt. The man swore, then turned and rushed the halfling, carving her up one side and down the other. Besilana was not best pleased at this turn of events, and her blade exploded with radiant energy as she stuck it into the axeman, who recoiled from the righteous fury of the blow. While he was still reeling, Furnok’s arrow pierced the man’s head. He fell dead as the women continued screaming hysterically, the man on the rack groaned, and the orcs guffawed with tears of mirth in their eyes.
The cleric immediately went to the aid of the man on the rack, finding the release on the torture device and starting to tend his injuries. While she did this, Taliesin pushed the dead bodies into the top corner of the room and shifted back into elven form. Besilana searched for a key on the gaoler, but finding none, relieved him of his treasures – a bronze ring set with a triangular jet and a pouch of gold. Furnok rolled the bugbear, finding a small rock crystal and a handful of coins.
“I don’t see a key,” Besilana told the rogue. “Will you try to open the cell while I try to calm the women down?”
“On it,” said Furnok, setting to work.
“Oh, man. You got those assholes so good,” said one of the Orcs in barely accented Common.
“I know, right?” says the other. “Barry splattered all over the wall! All. Over!” They fell down laughing.
Besilana spared the orcs a glance before turning her attention to the traumatized women. “We’re here to free you. But I need you to calm down and listen to me. There are still many dangers here.” Her soothing tone and authoritative presence apparently soothed their frazzled nerves. They quieted down and allowed the paladin to lead them out of the cell by the hand.
Furnok glanced over at the giddy orcs. “What about them?”
Besilana turnd her attention to the orcs. “Can I trust you two not to cause us any trouble if we let you out?”
“Hell, arm us and we’ll fight with you!” said one. “We’re not cultists. They’re too crazy.”
“Damn right,” said the other. “I mean, we may not be up to your level of carnage, but we’re happy to give it a go!”
“An interesting alliance,” said Taliesin.
Besilana nodded. “All right, then. Furnok?”
“Heh. As you like.” The rogue popped the lock and the orcs high-fived. “There’s a battleaxe and a morningstar,” suggested Furnok, indicating the weapons Besilana had retrieved from the fallen torturers.
“That’ll do, yeah. I’m Bert. This is Ernie.”
“Hell yeah,” Bert replied enthusiastically.
“Damn. This armor is trashed,” said Ernie of the bugbear’s corpse.
The man formerly-from-the-rack sat up, thanking Felicity. Her smile was bright. “You’re welcome!” she said, helping the man steady himself. Besilana turned her attention back to the women, asking where they’d come from. The ladies were mere country folk, taken in a raid. The human claimed to be a man-at-arms taken in the same raid. He had refused to join the Temple fighters and so was to be slowly killed and fed to gnolls.
“I can get the ladies back home, if you can show us the exit,” he offered. The ladies seemed willing.
“If you’re well enough, aye, you’d have my deepest thanks,” said the paladin.
Felicity healed the wounded, and after a brief rest, the party saw the humans safely to the dungeon exit. Once they’d returned to the halls near the torture chamber, they asked the orcs if they knew anything more about the Temple or its inhabitants.
“If you’re trying to get deeper into this dungeon, there’s a hall nearby that leads to a stairway down,” offered Bert.
Taliesin scrutinized the orcs for a moment. “Hmm… Which of the two of you is tougher?”
“Ernie,” said Bert, as his counterpart said, “Me.” They exchanged a glance and nodded with certainty.
“OK then. Let’s help Bert out a bit then.” The druid cast barkskin on the orc.
Bert freaked out a little about the wooden skin, but then his expression changed to joy and he said, “Hey Ernie! I’ve got wood!” They laughed again, and Furnok smirked.
“It’s ironwood even,” Taliesin chuckled.
Felicity looked at them sideways. “I don’t get it.” The orcs laughed harder. “Why is it so funny?” the halfling asked, looking around at her companions.
“Penis joke,” said Furnok.
“Oh. OHHHHHHHHH! Wait, what?” Furnok just shook his head and smiled.
“Oh. That is funny,” said Besilana. But she didn’t laugh.
Once they recovered from their amusement, the orcs pointed at the western hallway. “That leads to the stairs down,” said Ernie. The adventurers followed the long hall that terminated in a set of spiral steps spinning deeper into the ground.
Furnok said, “I think we should clear this level before heading down. If the hydra is any indication…”
“Oh that thing was awful,” said Felicity.
“Oh, I concur,” said Besilana. “I just wanted to see where the stairs were.”
“Agreed. Also the entire structure needs to be cleansed,” said Taliesin. “That reminds me. Felicity, don’t forget to plant your flowers. This place needs them.”
“Flowers that grow without sunlight?” said Bert.
“Yeah, no,” said the halfling. “I will when there is a sunny place for them to grow…”
“I can help with that, for a time,” offered the druid.
“For a time is but a small bit for something trying to thrive with nothing,” she replied.
“Sure, but maybe focus on getting rid of the source of corruption before trying to spruce up the place,” Furnok said whimsically.
“Furnok’s right,” Besilana said. “Unless you brought fungus with you, Felicity.”
“I’m pretty sure fungi aren’t within the domain of our goddess…” said the cleric. “Now I have something to ask about in prayer later.” She smiled.
Besilana nodded and reached for the first door of three along the western wall. It proved to be locked, and the half-elf invoked Furnok to intercede. “Work, work, work,” the rogue muttered with a smile.
A short time later, he declared it ready for laymen.
“Our rest will be well earned, when we finally get to it,” said the paladin, opening the door. Disappointingly, it only opened on a small empty cell. Furnok unlocked the next door on the west, which was not empty. It contained a young gnome man, bound, gagged, and chained to the far wall. Besilana and Felicity went immediately to his aid.
“It’s all right,” said the paladin. “We’ll get you out of here.” His expression turned hopeful as she removed his gag.
“Many thanks, fair lady,” he said in a silken voice. “Pray, may I have the honor of knowing thy name?”
“Besilana,” she said. “And this is Felicity.”
“Hi!” said the halfling.
“A pleasure to meet you both, woe only to the fact that it be under such dire circumstances as these.” He looked abashed, somehow no less charming for the fact that he is chained to a wall.
“We’ll have you out of here soon enough. What do we call you?” asked Besilana.
“My name is Wonillon, a humble warrior, though not so skilled as to best the hordes plaguing these fair lands, more’s the pity. Thus I find myself in these dire straits. Though my luck appears to be on an upward trajectory.” He smiled.
Furnok lent a helpful lockpick to the gnome’s situation, freeing him from his fetters. Wonillon rubbed his wrists, bowing in gratitude to the rogue. “A scholar as well as a gentleman, I see,” said the gnome. Furnok gave him a curious, knowing look.
Besilana glanced between them, a bit confused. Then she remembered. “You know, you aren’t the only gnome we’ve helped out of a bind like this.” She held up her right hand, the simple iron ring on one finger.
“What fortune!” exclaimed Wonillon. “Twice, then you have come to the aid of me and mine. I would be happy to join your merry band if you would have me, as some small form of repayment. Alas, I came here without a copper to my name, seeking my fortune to the detriment of the blackguards who herein dwell.”
“You came here to find wealth?” said Taliesin. “Not sure if that was brave or foolish. Probably both.”
“That’s why I’m here,” said Furnok, grinning.
The druid ignored him. “I’m Taliesin, by the way. It’s nice to meet something else down here that isn’t trying to kill us.”
“A pleasure, friend,” said the gnome.
“Furnok,” offered the rogue.
Felicity’s expression grew serious. “You seem to know things. We found tattoo on one of the cultists. Can you tell me what this symbol stands for?”
“Tattoo?” asked the gnome. The orcs looked interested, too.
Besilana pulled her journal out and flipped to the page where she had sketched Felicity’s tattoo. Wonillon examined the drawing in Besilana’s journal with a critical eye for a long moment. “I regret that I have never seen the like, so I cannot begin to guess its meaning. My apologies, fair halfling.” Felicity’s disappointment showed on her face.
“What are your talents beside speechcraft, Wonillon?” asked Besilana.
“I’m a fair hand with a blade. Alas, I was overwhelmed by numbers. I had thought this place … well … abandoned, from the look of the outside.”
“Understandable. We’ll get you a sword in short order. In the meantime, we’ll try to manage anything we come across.”
“It will be abandoned once we are done with it, if Ehlonna wills it,” said Taliesin.
The gnome nodded in understanding and appreciation. “Of course. I will endeavor to stay out of your way.”
The third and final door on the west wall proved to be a locked and empty cell. Besilana turned and tried the door opposite, and it opened to reveal a trio of zombies! “Shit,” she swore without heat.
“Finally! Something to cut!” said Ernie.
Taliesin moved up and shifted into a dire wolf.
Besilana’s sword clacked against the door frame, and one of the zombies raked her as she backed away. The animated corpse followed her, but she defended herself. The other two attacked the dire wolf from inside the cell. Felicity’s prayer burned down on the zombie in the hall, and Furnok stepped up and stabbed the burning undead. His blade sank into its head, finishing it off.
The orcs rolled up on the cell, ready to mix it up, getting in Besilana’s way. Taliesin bit off one of the zombie’s legs, then retreated a step taking the appendage with him. He was raked by filthy claws for his trouble. Besilana stepped in and sliced the one-legged zombie. It tried to strike her back, but only managed to get ichor on her shield.
Felicity moved up behind the paladin and prays for sacred flame again, burning it down. With no space remaining in the crowded cell, Furnok dropped his rapier, drew his bow, and took a shot. The arrow tore the last zombie’s arm off, but still it stood. The orcs rushed into the cell and tore the undead monster to pieces. As it fell they hooted and laughed.
“Enthusiastic chaps, are they not?” said Wonillon, looking a little green.
“Seems,” agreed Furnok.
“As long as we can keep their enthusiasm focused on our enemies…” said Besilana.