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Book I, Chapter 6: Cleaning Up the Smuggler's Tunnels

Korovus and Kuch

They took what little valuables the quasit had kept: the doll-sized gown was fine silk, the tiara was studded with a few precious stones barely larger than grains of sand, and the dagger was enchanted with magic to aid an attacker’s strike and make a deeper cut, as well as to return to the hand should it be thrown as a missile.

Abby leaned heavily against the rise of the dais, her breath shallow. She rolled her shoulders in her armor stiffly, and a pained expression pinched her eyes shut. Gloriana looked over in concern.

“The monster’s venom,” the warrior gasped behind a shallow breath. “I still . . .” she faltered and winced again, then resumed, her survivor’s resolve reasserting itself, though there remained strain in her words. “I still feel it. I don’t know how long it will . . . I don’t know what will happen.”

Kara looked down from where she still stood on the dais, and knelt near Abby’s position. On the other side of the small triangular pool the quasit’s Abyssal body was already melting away in a deliquescent fume that gave off a curdling odor.

“It’s worst effects should pass shortly,” the elf said helpfully. As if on cue a sudden shudder crept across Abby’s frame and a sheen of new sweat dappled her face. The warrior leant forward and vomited unceremoniously on the stone floor. Gloriana was by her side immediatetly with a comforting hand on Abby’s shoulder which administered a brief and solemn prayer of guidance. Rahab also drew near and touched Abby’s other shoulder to convey his own spell of arcane resistance. Under Gloriana’s healing ministrations Abby rested a few minutes, sweating, occasionally vomiting, and shaking with the fit of the venom until its potency had passed.

“You’ll feel weaker for a bit,” Gloriana commented, “but in a day or two you’ll return to form.”

Abby was wiping her brow with a kerchief. Now she and Gloriana watched with strange and somewhat revulsed curiosity as Kara bent to a puddle of the warrior’s recent expectoration and collected in a tiny, delicate glass vial a sample of the expelled venom for later alchemical research. Rahab observed the process with genuine academic interest, nodding approvingly at Kara’s professional technique in isolation and collection. Moments later the wizard set about sweeping the room with a spell of detection, confirming the party’s suspicion that the small triangular pool was magical, while the circular blue pool was not.

The pause to recover from the battle was short-lived. Emerging from the concentrated reverie of magical detection, Rahab heard sounds distantly in the tunnels and passageways behind the room of the pools.

“Harken!” he called curtly.

The others looked up, and Gloriana invoked her spiritual connection and washed the area around her in healing energy. Like smoke from suddenly snuffed candles, a trio of wispy, distorted figures—not quite humanoid, not quite beasts—rose from the oracle’s shoulders, wafting and twining through her golden hair with the gentlest touch of a sleepy lover. A moment later the images were gone, and the party felt a cooling sensation descend on them in two waves. Sweat evaporated, aches faded, lacerations coagulated and knitted together.

Outside the pool chamber the sounds drew closer, feet slapping on stone, the ringing of steel and the creaking of leather, and the high-pitched nattering squeal they had come to recognize so well in recent weeks.

“They’re chasing someone,” Kara said, translating brief snatches of goblin-speak that she could make out in the din. “Coming this way.”

They went back to the room with the altar, then into the passageway from whence they had first come. Gloriana gave voice to an invocation against evil powers and then reminded the others to keep any invaders from the magical triangular pool in the other room behind them.

Goblins appeared, one in the lead mounted on one of the horrid goblin-dogs, and Abby charged, weary and subdued as she was from the quasit venom’s initial, painful toxicity. The battle was joined.

Kara opened with a thrown flask that erupted in a shower of clay shards and oily mist at the intersection: harpy musk, a concoction brewed in farmland kettles specifically to disorient and hamper goblins. Those at the charge forefront sneezed and howled in frustration.

At that moment, a new figure appeared in the connecting hallway to the side. Abby, rooted in her battle focus, took note of the new arrival almost incidentally, observing a figure in heavy leather and bearing a long, thick spear, fighting on the defensive but clearly engaged against the goblins. It was a half-orc, and it was attended by a long, grey wolf.

Rahab and Gloriana could not advance further up the hallway in support as the tunnel was too narrow, and they both called out to Abby, who could barely hear above the din of the fight, the hissing growls of the goblin-dogs, and the constant outrageous blabbering of the goblins. Rahab cast a spell of messaging that allowed him communication with Abby as easily as if stood at his side. There was a brief flash of copper-colored light that formed into a rune surrounded in geometric pattern in front of Rahab and mirrored exactly at Abby fifty feet down the tunnel.

“Can you move, or should we move up?” the wizard asked quietly down the invisible line of the magic that linked his voice to the warrior’s ears.

“Have to clear the corner,” Abby whispered under the measured but heavy draw of her breath, and the now-invisible magic transmitter ushered her words immediately to Rahab’s ear, “so the fugitive can retreat past us.” She thrust her longsword through the goblin-dog in front of her and it writhed in death throes, allowing Abby to step forward into the intersection and open up space behind her.

“Go past me down the hall!” the warrior shouted at the half-orc newcomer. Wolf in tow, the half-orc moved deftly past and hustled back toward the altar room. The goblins pressed close in attack, but Abby held the intersection like a cork sealing a bottle. Dogslicer blades bounced off of her shield or clashed against the steel links of her armor, and she returned the blows in kind, felling another goblin.

Kara retreated to the altar room ahead of the half-orc and wolf, and Abby began a fighting withdrawal, luring goblins into the narrow tunnel space where she could manage their numbers better.

The half-orc emerged into the chamber. “Our fugitive, I presume?” Rahab remarked in a dry whisper to the magical link. Abby gave no reply, only maintained her pace and battle. Gloriana stepped forward and introduced herself, asked if the half-orc needed healing, asked what forces they now faced.

“Kuch,” the newcomer replied, and for a moment Gloriana was unclear if that was the half-orc’s name, some unknown response to her offer of healing, or a description of the opponents arrayed against them. The half-orc went on: “Half-dozen goblins, couple of goblin-dogs.” Gloriana nodded as Abby appeared at the altar room entrance bearing a new wound. Rahab and Kara drew close.

Kuch nodded at the wolf and the animal padded to the opposite side of the doorway in a flanking position while the half-orc leveled his long spear at the first sign of a goblin in range. Though not the largest of his kind, Kuch was nevertheless a taught, capable frame, and as he moved into place he shouldered Rahab out of the way.

“One side,” Kuch grunted in a tone of annoyance, and Rahab stepped back.

Gloriana was weaving the spirits once more, and a moment later there was a rising sound behind her, filling the space of the altar room, growing with a clamor of steel and harsh voices, like a troop of warriors rousing for battle. The sound was unmistakable: spear rattling against shield, heavy boots tramping stone, war chants at fever pitch.1

The goblins advancing in the hallway drew up short, suddenly uncertain at the numbers they were facing. Their stature was such that they couldn’t get a good glimpse beyond Abby’s armored form stoppering the doorway. Kara had time to take her position with longsword in hand.

The goblins only hesitated a moment, then poured forward, urged by their leader babbling and screeching as it recovered its footing from where Abby had felled its mount. Kuch’s longspear skewered one of the goblins, but unfortunately the follow up attacks by Kara, Abby, and Gloriana missed. Rahab launched an arrow of magical acid and it, too, shot wide of the mark. The goblins surged again in glee, suddenly inspired that the battle was now going their way. As if to settle the point, one of the goblin-dogs lunged forward and bit Abby viciously in the thigh, tearing back in a spray of fleshy pieces, blood, and saliva. Abby gritted her teeth against a cry, but her left leg buckled slightly under the weight of her armor, her sword, her shield, her pain.

The warrior-woman, ever the survivor, recovered quickly and whipsawed her blade in a swallow-tail cut that unseamed the goblin-dog with merciless precision. Into the fray of melee sailed one of Kara’s grenadoes, bursting in a surge of blue-white electricity that rippled through the mass of hurtling goblin bodies, killing one and flash-blasting three more. Off to one side, Kuch dropped the long spear that now had no room to maneuver, and drew a wickedly curved, single-edged heavy blade of the type called falchion. Above the noise of battle came Kuch’s sudden roar, a sound of blood and violence. The falchion gripped in both hands, the half-orc raged forward, and between Kuch’s assault and Abby’s determined battlefield management, the enemies were slaughtered in moments.

The group remained alert. Gloriana set about casting healing spells on the wounded, and Kuch—who seemed somehow physically diminished in the wake of his rage—proffered a palm to Abby. Cradled delicately within the lines of his hand were two fresh blueberries,2 starkly bright amidst the carnage around them, like a blooming flower unfolding in a graveyard. The half-orc nodded in a gesture of encouragement and mimed eating. Abby hesitated a moment, her caution always on guard, but she took the berries and gingerly chewed them into sweet pulp. As the succulent juice spilled over her tongue the ache of her wounds diminished slightly.

Gloriana drew close: where had Kuch come from, what happened, was there additional threat? In a moment the conversation was in full swing. Gloriana made the introductions. Kuch named himself a friend of Shelalu Andosanna. The ranger had asked Kuch to patrol the coast area and keep an eye out for goblins. When he saw a group making their way to Sandpoint he followed, but they got wind of him and gave chase into the old smuggler’s tunnels. The rest the Heroes of Sandpoint knew.

Gloriana began to tell Kuch about the conflict with the quasit, and led the group back into the room with the two pools to illustrate. After some discussion, Kuch—whose druidic training aquainted him with varied, intense, and organic magical processes—and Gloriana speculated that the triangular pool might be diminishing in its capacity to produce the wicked sinspawn that had been in service to the quasit. Some power of the blood—some component of the lifeforce—must have been required for the magic of the pool to produce sinspawn. Rahab observed approvingly as Gloriana proposed a most empirical test: a drop of blood let carefully into the pool from her own palm, the demon’s dagger the instrument of delivery.

Indeed, the pool’s increasingly anemic glow produced another sinspawn. The Heroes of Sandpoint and Kuch dispatched the monster quickly and efficiently. Again Gloriana tested the pool, and its final light authored one last creature to fall under Abby’s unrelenting and focused assault, painting it bloody and broken over the stone floor. The pool faded entirely. After further discussion it was decided the summoning pool was depleted of its power to produce malignancies. At the bottom of the water Rahab’s magical sense detected a jewel of abjuration: a ring of simple silver, unadorned, but imbued with an arcane power of deflection.3 The group decided the ring should go to Gloriana.

With the assistance of the barbarian druid and his wolf, the group set out to explore the remaining tunnels in pursuit of the answer to the mystery of recent days: the goblin attacks, the monk and the murders and the glassworks, all the proximate frantic calamity since the first day of the Swallowtail Festival. Little more than a week had passed since the day that brought together warrior, alchemist, wizard, oracle. In the close quarters of the tunnels, aflicker in torchlight and thick with the copper-bitten odor of freshly spilled blood, the soft scent of freshly baked apple pie and colorfully draped garlands seemed a lifetime gone.

In the shadows Kara hastily blended a handful of powders in water for another emergency elixir.

••••

The party’s explorations discovered a larger space to the northeast, an open room lined with iron-caged cells and surmounted around the upper perimeter by a warden’s walk of aged wooden planks and accessed by a warped pine stair. Two sinspawn prowled the stone floor, closing for battle with Abby and Kuch. One of Kara’s electric grenadoes blasted among them, lighting up the rubbery-skinned monsters in horror-show illumination agleam with razor lines of sharp teeth. From her vantage at remove Kara then commenced an artillery of arrows. Sword and falchion rose to task, but soon Abby was wounded heavily, and Gloriana moved to channel the healing power of her attendant spirits. The sinspawn were soon slain, though the battle had drawn still more effort from the group. They were feeling weary. While Rahab put his conjurations of minor acid to task melting down the sinspawn corpses against their regenerative qualities, Gloriana and Kuch tended to Abby’s wounds.

The warrior was slick with sweat, her breath labored and drawn. While Gloriana channeled more healing magic, she gently chided Abby for rushing straight into the fray in her condition. The oracle’s face was cast with concern. Abby’s assault had seemed reckless, uncharacteristic from the cautious defender the group had come to know the previous week. Gloriana’s mind turned to the effects of the poison still adrift in the warrior’s fevered system.

While the others quickly glanced over the room to ascertain their next move, Gloriana briefly left Abby’s side and retrieved Kuch’s fallen long spear, dropped when he closed for battle with his wickedly curved falchion. As she brought the polearm back to the half-orc, she tested its weight and aspect in her hands as though considering adopting the tool to her own combat purposes.

When they were ready to proceed, Gloriana reached a hand down to help Abby to her feet from where the fighter had settled in brief, but labored, rest. As the golden-haired woman helped her companion back to battle-readiness, she confided quietly: “If you’re injured again, and you see me afire with the spirits, run through me.”

The five mounted the walkway and made their way along to where it gave access to another room, this one a long-disused chamber of torture. Scattered tools of pain stained with past blood flaked like rust marked the floor, the worktable, the rack. Two doors exited the room, both closed. Behind the door to the east they heard two distinct, muted moaning sounds, while the door to the south admitted no sound. They chose the door to the south for now.

Beyond was a small room with a long table and three chairs, all in disrepair and stages of rot. Beneath the ruin of one of the chairs they discovered discarded parchments that had somehow survived the subterranean damp and nearness to the sea. One of these pages was obviously scripted in runes of magic power, some kind of spell, but Rahab and Kara both failed to discern the meaning. The value of the runes was elusive, cast as they were in a language unfamiliar.

“It’s not the language of dragons, nor the Iron Tongue of Hell,” Rahab murmured with wrinkled brow. Kara shook her head alongside, reading over the conjurer’s shoulder. “I don’t know it, either,” she assented. The half-orc drew near and glanced at the page before shaking his great tusked head, and he shrugged ineffectually. The three of them looked up at the remaining spellcaster. There was a moment of hesitation, and Rahab raised an eyebrow curiously.

“I . . . “ Gloriana began, and then looked aside in obvious embarrassment. “I can’t read magic,” she finished softly.

Kara paid little heed, Kuch was already preparing for the next stage of dungeoneering, and Rahab remained looking at the oracle inquisitively.

“May I . . . I would like—“ Gloriana started, “I would be grateful to learn.” The oracle met Rahab’s eyes sheepishly.

“Of course,” Rahab nodded perfunctorily, as though the request was obvious. Then he rolled up the scroll without further ceremony and stored it away in his case for later study while the group readied its continued exploration.

The last room was up a set of carved steps and contained narrow, shallow pits in the stone lidded in crude wooden planks. Before the group could ascertain the source of the moaning sound from beneath the lids, there erupted a harsh, brutish voice calling challenge in awful parody of the Common tongue: “Korovus will defend the room for the mistress!”

Here advanced the monster to the fight. Six feet tall, corpse eyes clouded in ghostly cataracts, body a canvas of gruesome tattoos suggesting all manner of ill omen, four powerful and mutated arms clutching notched goblin weapons, slack mouth showing jagged teeth, and whole form a patchwork of wrinkled, striated, decaying flesh. Koruvus, the goblin hero of the Seventooth who towered over his diminutive kin and reported missing seven months by Andosanna’s accounting, now raised from the dead in service to the mistress who, in their horror at the vision before them, the party could only assume was she to whom their path had been advancing since the festival: the mysterious and demonic Nualia.

Here auditioned the strategy to the monster. Korovus’ maw gaped and a churning, bloody emetic spewed forth over Abby and Gloriana at the forefront. The awful vomit stung, and though the oracle resisted its disquieting effects, Abby succumbed once more to the array of poisons on display by the enemy entrenched in the old smuggler’s tunnels. The warrior’s stomach heaved in waves of nausea, and fresh sweat beaded her brow. One of the wooden planks clattered aside and tumbled into the pit it had covered, kicked askance by the damned dead goblin-thing. A voice that was not the sound of a living creature shuddered up from below.

“Fall back!” Abby called out. She began her fighting withdrawal. “Big monster! Don’t let it vomit on you!” Abby displayed swordpoint to the encroaching Korovus. A challenging anger arose in her, buoying her above the nausea. The vile deeds of recent days pressed against her throat: a simple festival set aflame, a family attacked in their home, a man murdered in glass, all of these events. Her anger found focus in the target of Korovus.

In growing fury Abby gave challenge, the words practically spat not just at the shambling dead goblin abomination before her but at all the monster represented and presaged. Demure no more, Abby gave vent to her feeling:

“Go fuck yourself, disgusting thing!”

The party had retreated to the torture annex and stood ready, druid with longspear and attendant wolf, alchemist with hand-pitched bombs of electric admixture, conjurer even now collecting arcane forces through complex and obscure mathematics, oracle in the sway of haunts as old as the first roads of humanoid travel. From up the stone steps came the sound of further wooden clatter as Korovus lumbered about in blind obedience to whatever compulsion commanded his undead form. A shuffling gait sounded on the steps.

Korovus appeared; already Kara’s bomb was in flight, but her throw was amiss and landed short, blasting the walls of the chamber in electric blue light and splashing galvanic tendrils across the floor. The others moved immediately. There was a flurry of fighting, some blows landing, others missing their target. Kuch and his wolf were successful, Abby was not. In return, the shambling Korovus struck Kuch a resounding blow with a longsword, the one blade he carried that was pristine and shaped by a careful smith now forgotten. Behind the goblin thing loomed four gaunt, clumsy shapes: more dead walking, humans as once was and long for the grave, yet made to linger beyond the limits of their mortality in service to a still unrevealed end.

A thin shaft of acid launched by Rahab slammed sizzling into a zombie’s dessicated midsection, eating a gaping space clean through. In their blind undeath the shuffling corpses attacked indiscriminately, including against Korovus, who seemed only to ignore the assault and press its own attack, multiple arms flailing with elegant sword, crudely wrought axe, and a dagger with a blade of silver. Kara was wounded in the fray. Rahab’s next dart collapsed the zombie in a haze of acrid smoke.

Abby waded in against Korovus and in a single, certain swordstroke felled the monster. Kara fell to one side and collapsed upon the rack, blood pouring over her bandoliers from the sword wound. In pain the alchemist fumbled for a potion of healing and drank it hastily down against the injury. Three more zombies began to descend the steps.

Gloriana became healing golden fire and her shape moved through the wounded Kuch, knitting a cicatrix of Korovus’ swordcut. Abby availed herself of the opportunity and hearkening to Gloriana’s earlier instruction, stepped into the column of humanoid light the oracle had become. Healing suffused the warrior. The zombies closed on Gloriana; she had them right where she wanted them.

In a moment, Gloriana channeled her energy outward in an uncoiling wave that washed over the mindless undead and stripped the wasted flesh from their shuddering forms as the sea washes stone into sand. Four zombies crumbled into drifted powder. The remaining two staggered, paused, shuffled forward once more, less substantial than before. Abby unlimbed one by sword; Gloriana crushed another under the pointed weight of her morningstar.

Gloriana’s body of energy receded to her more familiar form. The battle was over. A quick survey of newly won space found seven pits in the upstairs room, each a narrow space about nine feet deep. The undead interred there had crawled forth on the wooden planking that had served as lid and been kicked within for access.

Searching for magic Rahab and Gloriana discovered Korovus’ longsword to be enchanted.4 Abby took the blade for her own. The silver dagger went to Gloriana. At the end of a narrow passage south out of the pit room the party discovered a curiosity. Beyond a closed door lay a room completely spherical, fifteen feet in diameter, the walls plated in hammered metal and painted in runes. The air of the room was charged most strangely, some complex magic at work that caused vision of the metallic walls to waver and that rendered null the gravity in the spherical space. Floating in mid-air like motes in a sunbeam: a narrow, short wand of iron with a forked tip; a dead raven; a book; a bottle of wine; a scroll. When she stepped into the spherical room, Abby found herself likewise unseated from the ground and joining the other objects adrift.

While the others maneuvered to grapple Abby, the warrior retrieved the book, the scroll, the bottle, the wand. Kuch and Gloriana drew Abby back out of the door; her weight resumed as she crossed the threshold and regained her footing.

After some magical scrutiny, Rahab kept the wand, the scroll of two spells,5 and the book, the latter which showed itself a bestiary penned in gruesome fashion in an unsettling and unknown language. Rahab saw the quality of the craftsmanship in the text and kept the tome for his collection, for a library as yet unbuilt except in the recesses of his mind.

They had cleared the smuggler’s tunnels. Exhausted and spent, the Heroes of Sandpoint returned above ground, exited the glassworks, and made their way back to The White Deer Inn. Dinner was eaten mostly in silence. In the morning Abby would enjoin Gloriana for help against the poisons encountered in the underground combats. When they retired to their beds, the party members found sleep overwhelming and deep, vast and unconquered like the ocean that whispered to them from the west.
_________________________________________________

1 Gloriana cast Ghost Sound to suggest 8 additional human warriors in the altar room as an Intimidate check against the advancing goblins to buy additional time for the party to prepare and recover.

2 Kuch has levels in barbarian and druid. He gave Abby two Goodberries.

3 Ring of Protection +1.

4 Longsword +1.

5 Wand of Shocking Grasp, Scroll of Flaming Sphere and Scroll of Burning Hands.

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