The cultists looked at the adventurers expectantly. “No,” Besilana said. “We’re not from the Fire Temple. We’re from the outside.”
This revelation was more startling to them than their assumption. “But … Huh?” said one, stupidly.
“Easy Charlie,” said another. “They’re still skilled killers.” He gestured at the evidence bleeding on the floor.
“What are you doing here, outsiders?” asked the first speaker.
“We are servants of good!” said Felicity, casually healing her companions. “We carry the strength of light as you have seen!”
“I think we can take them,” said Charlie in what he must have thought was an undertone. “See how badly they’re wounded!”
“Shut the fuck up, Charlie,” another said helpfully.
Felicity smiled through the blood on her face. “We still stand, Charlie. Wounds heal.”
“Okay. Heroes,” said one of the reasonable cultists. “So. Where does that leave us?”
“Tell us what you know of this place,” said Besilana. “Then, leave and never return.”
“Okay. We can do that. This is the top-most of, I think, four or five levels of dungeon. We are – were – the bulk of the force in service to the Earth Temple specifically. Romag there was the high priest, such as he was. But he answered to the cult leaders.
“I don’t know who or what else you might have killed making your way to here, so … I assume you know there are other guards in the temple already. Some human, some goblinoid, some gnoll, and way too many undead.”
Furnok checked Romag’s arm. “Yep. Another tattoo,” he said, looking up at the cultists expectantly. Besilana and Felicity gasped. Taliesin let out a low howl.
“That? I think that’s the mark given to trusted servants of one of the Temple leaders. Barkinar, the previous head of the Earth Temple.” Furnok’s expectant expression shifted toward Felicity. The halfling looked down at her covered hip. The cultists just exchange confused glances.
While everyone was distracted, Charlie made a move. He caught his companion’s knife with his heart before he even took a step, though. “I warned you, Charlie. You stupid bastard,” said the cultist, squatting down to clean the blood from his blade on his former companion’s pants.
Looking up from his kill, he addressed the adventurers. “Sorry about that. Any other questions, or shall we fuck off, never to return?”
“What happened to Barkinar?” asked Besilana.
“He’s one of the Leaders of the whole cult now. Capital ‘L’.”
“Aye, he was promoted, the blighter,” added another.
Besilana looked to Felicity, horror writ large on her face. For her part, the halfling looked wholly confused. Her face scrunched up in a frown and it was almost like she couldn’t place the right emotions.
“Right, will that do us?” Furnok asked his companions. He still gave the cultists a dubious look, but had bled too much of his own blood to really push for finishing them off. Taliesin nodded his shaggy head.
“Yes. Go on, now,” Besilana told the cultists. Concern for Felicity had taken her heart right out of the negotiation.
“Yes, ma’am. C’mon lads. While the amnesty lasts.” The remaining three cult guards exit to the south.
After the door had closed behind them, Felicity let out a long sigh and slumped into one of the chairs. Taliesin walked over and plopped down next to the chair. Furnok determined that the nearby door locked, and made use of this fact. “I guess the officers didn’t trust the rank and file all that much,” he said.
“They almost seemed to expect an attack from the Fire Temple, too,” added Besilana, moving behind Felicity’s chair and putting her hands on the halfling’s shoulders. Felicity shrank at the touch.
“Put enough villains in one place without a common foe and they’re likely to fight among themselves for a higher place in the pecking order, I guess,” said Furnok.
The paladin nodded. “That was my thought, as well. Evil turns in on itself.”
Furnok cast a glance at the druid. “You holdin’ onto the wolf form, then?”
Taliesin shifted back to normal form and shrugged. “I was mainly just holding it until all threats were gone. I can’t shift again today.”
“Oh?” said Furnok. “Finally wear yourself out?”
“I think we’ve all pushed ourselves as far as we can go for now,” said Besilana.
“Agreed,” said the druid. “The threats down here are many.”
“At least we can rest in some comfort. So, shall we check out the ‘high priest’s’ goods?”
They spent quite a bit of time looting the bodies and the furniture of the various chambers. The tapestries on the northern wall covered two narrow archways. The easternmost led to a closet-like space where pegs held ceremonial garb, including a brown velvet cassock upon which are embroidered triangles of gold thread with precious stones.
In the northernmost room, an iron chest was chained to a ring set in the east wall. “That thing is trapped,” Furnok said, pointing at the elaborate chest.
“How trapped?” Besilana asked, as she heard a click in the rogue’s direction.
“Shit. Ow.” Furnok nearly swooned again. “Poison,” he guessed accurately. He very clumsily managed to pick the lock anyway, drooling a little. Inside were a bullseye lantern and tinderbox, two leather bags filled with gold and electrum coins, an expensive-looking gold box set with ivory, a magical potion, and a scroll containing a pair of spells.
“You got this, Furnok,” said Taliesin, not unsympathetically. He gave the druid a wobbly thumbs-up.
“Maybe you’d better lie down…?” suggested Besilana.
After the loot was gathered and distributed into weight appropriate bags, the party settled in for several hours.
* * *
Furnok had figured out how to cook bacon over a brazier, and so the party ate a decent breakfast. While the rogue and the druid cleaned up, the paladin sat with the cleric, her expression concerned.
“Feeling any better, Felicity?” Besilana asked, though her tone suggested that she already knew the answer.
Felicity nodded slightly. “We need to keep moving. We need answers,” she said flatly.
They decided to continue south, and Furnok unlocked the door. The common room beyond was empty. The short hall had plastered walls and contained a bench, and a stool. Several pegs and hooks had been recently added, from the look of them, and supported a brown cloak, a quiver with nine arrows, and a hand axe.
The next chamber to the south appeared to be a barracks, with four double bunks along the southeast wall. Eight small chests were shoved under the bunks. The floor in the northeast corner was covered with mosaic tiles. The paintings on the walls displayed scenes indicating that the room was meant for drinking and debauching. A long and well-made is flanked by long benches, plus a chair at each end. A jug and several cups were on the table. Several large smoked sausages hung from a rope tossed over a ceiling truss. A small cabinet between the bunks on the east wall held dishes. The heroes approached the south door, and Besilana opened it.
A hallway extended to the east and west, with several branches forking off at angles. There was a door at the far east end. The paladin entered the hall and saw the nearby northeast passage turned north after fifty feet. They headed that direction. Maddeningly, after heading north and northeast for a little ways, the hall abruptly turns south. A dogleg after fifty feet continued to the south, then forked again.
“Why…?” Besilana groused, before pressing on.
The southeast fork quickly headed due south again. They took the northeast fork, which opened into what appeared to be the south end of a hexagonal chamber. A partially destroyed stone chair dominated the place. It was hewn of brown marble, veined with black, and stood near the middle of the north wall. Both arms had been broken off, and the seat was chipped. A piece was missing from the back, and the whole was fractured. Rubble and broken furniture were strewn about the room. The ceiling overhead was at least thirty-five-feet high, lost in the shadows of the supporting arches. The stench of rotting flesh faintly lingered throughout the area.
“Bugs…. big ones,” warned Taliesin, looking upward as he transformed into a giant spider. He crawled up the wall, and bit one of the stirges in half. Felicity evoked sacred flame on another of the leather-winged mosquito-like creatures. The swarm descended, knocking the druid out of wildshape due to blood loss. The melee was chaotic and bloody, but eh adventurers managed to eliminate the dungeon vermin relatively swiftly.
They took several minutes after the last stirge fell to recover. Unscathed by the extermination, Furnok began to inspect the room while his allies rested. “Huh,” he said, cocking his head to one side as he considered some rubble. He reached down and pulled out a ring with several small blue gems and one that looks like a starry night sky. “Check this out,” he said.
“Pretty,” said Felicity.
“Oh, my,” exclaimed Besilana. She reached out to take it, tentatively.
Furnok handed it over with a wink. “A gift.” He waggles his eyebrows at Felicity suggestively, and she frumpled up her face at him.
Placing the magic ring on her finger, admiring it with a smile. She took a few minutes to inspect the bones and rubble that littered the throne. She only found a handful of copper for her trouble, but that hardly bothered her.
“This place makes so little sense,” said Taliesin. “I haven’t been in many structures of worship, but I don’t understand what a room like this would be for.”
“Consider that the builders were likely half-mad at best,” suggested the rogue.
“Either that or very spiteful.”
Furnok smirked. “Farther south?”
“Farther south,” agreed Besilana.
At a four-way intersection to the south, they took the eastern passage into a pillared chamber. The seventy-by-thirty-foot chamber appeared deserted. It had probably served as a privy, for the place had a foul fecal odor and filth was scattered here and there on the floor. The columns which supported the ceiling forty feet overhead were thick, four or five feet in diameter. A few skulls and bones lay around the pillar bases.
Taliesin stepped into the room, noticing the floor depress as he stepped upon it. Nothing seemed to happen immediately. “Well… don’t move,” he said. “I’ve just stepped on a pressure plate.”
His allies immediately complied. A moment later, a heavy barred gate dropped between the party members inside the chamber and those still in the corridor. Discordant singing could be heard from the eastern half of the room as a pair of hideous winged women appear out of niches high above the floor.