0700, Mol, 2 Octos, 3E999
The Heroes 4 Hire awoke to a magnificent breakfast table prepared for them by Alyn Quinn and the staff downstairs in the Heroes’ Haven, in anticipation of their departure on their next adventure. The team had decided to investigate the rumor of the dead wandering the swamplands surrounding the small village of Rybalka, in the northeastern part of Eridae. Outside, the smith had their armor, weapons and gear cleaned, sharpened, repaired and ready for action, while the stablemaster prepared the horses and wagon for the journey. The staff stocked the wagon well, and Potema and Rumblebelly patiently wandered the compound waiting to depart. The party: Dajjal, Smedley Hampton, Illyia Baham, Adept Karraway, Lieutenant Diplo Norixius, Naïlo Thia, Ryoun Rodri, Luna, Nightshade, Potema and Rumblebelly. Erendriel Thalolan accompanied them to guard the wagon, horses and campsites as they adventured.
Zol, 9 Octos, 3E999
It was an eight-day wagon ride to get to the swampland fishing village of Rybalka. The Heroes made camp on the north edge of town the evening they arrived, and then explored the hamlet the next day. Dajjal found a small but fairly well appointed library, and struck up conversation with the librarian, Sarla Bun. Diplo spent the day cooking in the kitchens of first one inn (the Bugg Inn) and then the other (Rybalka Lodge), after having unintentionally insulted the cooking skills of the first, a pretty gnome lady named Jadyn Ivylock. He would later return with a peace offering of his own specialty dessert, which Jadyn begrudgingly accepted and forgave him. Illyia and Smedley worked the tavern locals for information, while Thia, Thalolan and Karraway walked out to the lumber mill to talk to the workers.
On the way out to the mill, they passed a gaggle of children of various ages, seven to twelve, who abandoned their game of hide-and-seek to follow the strangers and their giant pet wolf… albeit at a distance. Thia and Karraway talked to the mill foreman and several of the workers about the rumors of the walking dead, and after gathering stories they headed back into town to find the others. Thia approached the throng of kids and chatted with them, allowing them to pet Potema with whom they were enamored. She noticed one particularly shy seven-year old girl in a dirty green dress and no shoes, with straight, raven-black hair cut level at her shoulders. She did not speak, but stood at Potema’s ear whispering as she petted. She asked Potema if she could speak like the other animals, and Thia mentally prompted Potema to give the child a positive ‘woof’ in response. The children squealed excitedly, and the eldest thanked Thia for allowing them to pet Potema, and the group then ran off down the lane to resume their game. The young one with the raven-black hair trailed behind her playmates, still fascinated with Potema.
The Heroes gathered back at their camp that evening and shared notes of what they had uncovered. In short, there was a repeating story of folks seeing zombie-like corpses walking through the swamp, although rarely. The stories all described them as only being one or two in numbers, and all heading in the same direction as if traveling with a purpose. The zombies also paid no attention to the living or each other, just continuously shuffling in the same direction. And that direction was always, “…to the northwest of the village.”
Wir, 11 Octos, 3E999
The next morning the Heroes 4 Hire headed northwest from their campsite on the north edge of Rybalka and out into the swamp. They traveled a few miles before Thia and Smedley noticed they had a shadow following them in the form of the raven-haired youngster in the green dress. Thia and Potema slowly started to hang back behind the group, and it became obvious the girl was following Potema. Thia had Potema stop and keep the girl’s attention, while Thia circled through the swamp behind the girl and said hello… which brought a squealing dash back towards town.
As the party explored, they eventually spotted two walking corpses shuffling with a purpose toward a point in the distance to the northwest of town. They surreptitiously followed the zombies into a cave in a medium hill almost five miles from Rybalka. As they followed the zombies in, they smelled the odors of the den of a cave bear, and slowed to proceed more cautiously, but sent the raven familiars ahead to tail the corpses. They slipped past the branch of the cave with the bear, and proceeded through several chambers filled with stalactites, stalagmites, rocks, dirt, and one with a huge pile of bones. The ravens followed the zombies from a distance, trying to keep from being spotted, but as the passageway turned a sharp corner and opened into a gigantic chamber holding a chasm, the zombies were gone.
The team rejoined on the ravens at the chasm, where they found an ancient rope-bridge that was remarkably well-maintained. As they were discussing the disappearing zombies, a breathy, otherworldly voice echoed to them from the darkness above, “Who has come to visit in my bedchamber?” They looked up, and a gargantuan spider, nearly 50’ long, climbed down into view. The spider had the head of a giant, silvered axe sticking out of its carapace just behind its cluster of eyes, a memento of a bygone battle, which gave the appearance of a crown. Terrified of the possibility of fighting this behemoth, the Heroes engaged the giant spider in conversation and found over nearly half-an-hour of talking that he was actually quite friendly.
The spider had been here for over a millennia, originally a normal-sized pet of the wizard, Slaggoth, an academic researcher of necromancy. After her internment, the latent power of her magic suffused her tomb and caused the spider to grow in size and intellect, until it eventually became self-aware and sentient. The magic also removed the spider’s need for sustenance as well as its hunger, so the beast stopped hunting as it continued to grow. The spider poured over Slaggoth’s tomes, and itself is now a repository of her research. It guards her tomb against those who would take her knowledge for themselves, convinced it would be for evil purposes, but will allow those who wish to respectfully tour her tomb passage. He stipulates that tourist may take one trinket as a souvenir, but all books and tomes must remain in the tomb.
The giant spider also told them of the young girl from the village, Jira, who found her way into the caves and this chasm-chamber, and befriended him. She introduced herself, but when he said he had no name, she immediately named him Krekklefeets, The Spider King… the name for the sound his feet make of the rocky surface of the chasm cavern, and the title for the silvery axe that is his crown. When Krekklefeets described Jira, the party realized he was referring to the raven-haired seven-year-old who had been shadowing them. The Heroes thanked The Spider King and agreed to his conditions for access to the tomb, and then proceeded across the bridge. Except for Thia, who decided to remain with Krekklefeets and talk, while keeping Potema and Rumblebelly with her on this side of the chasm. During her conversations, Krekklefeets revealed that a dark stranger had visited several months ago that put The Spider King on edge, but he obeyed the rules so Krekklefeets allowed him access.
The Heroes 4 Hire opened the doors to the tomb and went inside, wary of Krekklefeets warnings of traps set by those who originally built Slaggoth’s tomb to protect her valuable against graverobbers… a funny fact that Krekklefeets pointed out, that Slaggoth cared nothing for material wealth and would have objected to being buried with all her worldly possessions. Ergo, that was why he allowed those that respectfully toured the tomb take any souvenir except the books. They avoided several pitfalls, accidentally tripped one but managed to avoid any real damage. They found several antechambers, a prep room for internment, and a room with four people in glass containers in some form of suspended animation… who Krekklefeets guessed, when asked, would be Slaggoth’s female apprentice, Mertegram, and Slaggoth’s three (!!!) male consorts, Marco, Higgins and Ogam. Diplo smashed open one of the glass cases, waking the consort named Higgins to ask him some questions about Slaggoth and the tomb. Higgins, once roused beyond grogginess, was happy to answer the team’s questions as best he knew. He told them of Slaggoth’s ‘academic only’ interest in necromancy and that her laboratory and library lie in “The Horizontal Tower” she had constructed near his village high in the mountains of Etra, a country to the north of Eridae. He also agreed to show them the way to her tower, and they concluded he was over 1300 years old… but didn’t look a day over 30.
Farther into the tomb complex, the Heroes 4 Hire came upon an octagonal room with identical mirrors on each of the eight walls. In the center, a small, circular stone dais raised one step up out of the floor, and was encircled on its edge by mystical runes carved into the stone. They closed the entrance door (in the north wall, which had the mirror on the back), and noticed the mirrors reflected everything in the room except them. Confident they were not all suddenly vampires, Illyia stepped up into the raised stone circle, and suddenly his reflection appeared in all eight mirrors… except, that each mirror showed him at a different stage of life. The west wall had him as a fetus, northwest a baby, north a young child, northeast an adolescent, east a young adult, southeast a middle aged Illyia, south an elderly elf and the southwest a rotting corpse. All the reflections moved as he did, true mirror reflections of Illyia’s movements.
When he stepped off the stone circle, the reflections disappeared. When he returned, they returned. He noticed that two of his reflections were not perfect in their movements; the north (young child) and the southeast (middle aged) reflections would not exactly hold his gaze when he stared at them in the eyes. The team discussed several options to solve the puzzle, remembering what Krekklefeets had told them of Slaggoth’s love of puzzles and tests of character. Illyia, however, also remembered the riddle passed to them by the statue that Krekklefeets had directed them to before they entered the tomb:
“Turn not from your death; embrace it and you will have what you seek.”
He turned to face the rotting corpse reflection of himself, held its gaze as he descended the stone circle and crossed to that mirror. The other seven reflections disappeared, but the rotting corpses remained, holding Illyia’s gaze and perfectly reflecting his movements. Illyia raised his arms to hug the corpse, but when his arms touched the mirror, the corpse disappeared. Across the room, on the southeast wall with the middle aged reflection that wouldn’t make eye contact, the mirror slid to the side and a latch popped open a secret door in the stone behind.
The secret door led to the burial chamber of Slaggoth, a stone sarcophagus set on a two-step dais. The dais was beset on each side by three stone columns with statues of skeletons standing guard carved in the rock. The sarcophagus showed signs of tampering, scratch marks along the lid and sides like someone had slid it open with use of a crowbar. A quick search of the room revealed a secret door in the southwestern corner, but it took Illyia’s Wand of Opening to convince it to open for them. They opened the sarcophagus to investigate, and immediately the six stone skeletal statues sprang to life and attacked. Six on six, the Heroes manned up one-on-one with the Animated Statues, and quickly smashed them to bits without taking a hit.
Inside the sarcophagus they found Slaggoth’s well-preserved mummified corpse. Underneath they found a hidden compartment that held her spellbook, filled with every necromancy spell known and a few unknown, as well as a switch that, when activated, unlatched the secret door Illyia had just forced open magically. Closer examination of the mummy found a delicate gold chain around her neck, outside of the wrapping, that had snapped when an unknown item was pulled from it.
Inside the room beyond the next secret door had the remains of Slaggoth’s wealth: piles of coins of all denominations, gems, casks later identified as Elven Sun Wine, a cursed cloak of madness, a magic onyx ring, two magical staves, seven ornamental staves, a vase, a slightly magical statue of ‘happiness’, a Wand of Cold, some exquisite gowns, some exquisite furniture and a bejeweled skull. The room also housed twelve more of her tomes and journals of her research. The Heroes perused and identified everything, and then each chose a ‘non-book’ souvenir and departed, sure that the “Dark Priest” they sought had been there already, had taken something off the mummy, and was headed toward Slaggoth’s Horizontal Tower next… and had a four-to-six month head start.
1800, Wir, 11 Octos, 3E999
What did the “Dark Priest” take from the Hidden Tomb of Slaggoth? What is his aim? And what dangers and discoveries await the Heroes 4 Hire at the Horizontal Tower?
Tune in next time, on “TGC: Heroes 4 Hire!!”