Elisar had returned with Alan Clayborn, the ranger. They had tracked the cultists back to some ruins in the nearby Rushmoors, a swamp with an evil reputation. These ruins were no doubt the same that the rescued captive Cirilli Moist had told the party about.
The party made preparations to take the fight to the cultists – a raid on the swamp ruins. They went to see Ramme the old wizard, who gave the party a short stick inscribed with runes.
“Now that we know Explicita is a naga, you can expect her to have some nasty spells,” he said. “Snapping this stick will release a minor globe of invulnerability spell around the person breaking it. The magic released by this stick will protect you from all but the most powerful spells. Use it when you first encounter the naga, or any other powerful wizard. It obviously can only be used once.” The old magic user also gave the party a healing potion and a gnarled wand. “A wand of wonder,” he said. “Built with chaos magic. It only has a bit of power left in it. Last time I used it the thing nearly killed me – a lightning bolt flew out of it, killed the orcs in front of me but brought most of the cave down on my head as well. I get the impression you, Dobby, would make use of this, but I suggest using it only in dire need.”
The party thanked Ramme, and Dobby took both the wand of wonder and the rune engraved stick. They took their horses, and David Williams, Lady Elizabeth’s squire. He was dressed in the studded leather armour and shield of the Orlane militia, and weilded a club. David looked longingly at Lady Elizabeth’s magic sword, and then back at his plain club. Lady Elizabeth noticed the look, but said nothing.
The ride to the Rushmoors took a day. They camped at the edge of the swamp, taking turns to stand watch while the others slept. Apart from a couple of false alarms at strange noises coming from the swamp, they were not bothered. In the morning Nyves Shonal prayed to Moradin and received his blessing in the form of spells. Lady Elizabeth and David Williams prayed to Bahamut, and received the feeling of certainty the mission they were about to undertake was good and just.
David Williams the squire was left at the camp to mind the horses. The rest of the party looked despondently at the Rushmoors. Thick rushes, interspersed with patches of scummy water, stretched as far as the eye could see. They advanced into the swamp, which involved wading through one or two feet of water and slimy mud. The trail to the ruins was very obvious, as the rushes had been crushed out of the way to open a passage.
Several hours into the journey, a giant snapping turtle burst out of the water where it had lain in wait in a waterfilled hole. It lunged at the party, catching Reaver in it’s strong beak, crushing him. The party counter-attacked with sword, arrow and mace, and the beast was slain. Reaver coughed out some blood from a lung punctured by a broken rib and groaned. Nyves called down the power of Moradin to heal him, and he felt better although was still in pain. A sip of half the vial of healing potion donated by Ramme restored the half elf to full health.
After a wearisome trek t hrough a seemingly endless sea of rushes, the adventurers saw a low barrier in front of them. Soon thereafter, they reached this barrier – a circular dyke made from mud and wood. The dyke held the swampwater back from a small island of dry land, barely fifty feet across. A gaping hole in the ground at the centre of the dry land indicated the entrance to the swamp ruins.
“Hmmm we could break the dyke,” said Dobby. “It would flood the dungeon and we’d just have to wait for the water to subside.”
“Any prisoners there would die as well,” pointed out Nyves.
“And we don’t know how long it would take for the water to subside, if it ever does,” added Reaver. “Which means any treasure would be very hard to recover.”
“Good point,” agreed Elisar. “We don’t want to make any treasure inaccessable.”
“Or be responsible for the deaths of any captives,” added Lady Elizabeth, looking sternly at Elisar.
“Or be responsible for the deaths of any captives,” agreed Elisar. “I was just about to say that.”
Standing at the hole looking down the party could see muddy wooden stairs descending into the earth. Reaver cocked his head. “I can hear muffled voices,” he said.
The party listened but only Elisar could also hear the voices. “We’ll just go down the stairs a little and maybe we can hear what they are saying.”
The two elves descended down the stairs quietly. After a while they listened again.
There were at least three different voices.
“I ’ate this place,” one rough voice complained. “It’s nearly as dangerous to us as it is to any intruders. Which I might add, we ain’t never seen. When are we gonna go to Hookhill with the others? I’m bored with this place.”
“When Gareth tells us, I guess,” answered another, deep voice. “I if we’re gonna git any more captives. I miss ‘avin’ me way wiv some of those ladies who are brain addled after being charmed by Her.”
“Me, I prefer those that resist the charm. They fight harder,” said a third voice. “All the more because they know they’re gonna die after I’ve ’ad me fun.”
Elisar whispered to Reaver, using Thieve’s Cant language, that he was going to head down to surprise them. Reaver was to return to the others and tell them to run down when they heard fighting.
Elisar silent as an owl went down the stairs to arrive at the bottom. There were four men here, not three, dressed in leather armour and armed with spears, sitting in a circle. With the advantage of complete surprise he released arrow after arrow. Within seconds only one was alive, and he was sorely wounded with an arrow in his side. He gripped his spear and made ready to charge. The guard drew a breath to yell, but it ended only in a gurgle as yet another of Elisar’s arrows caught him in the throat.
The rest of the party arrived to find all the guards dead and Elisar looking smug. Reaver and Elisar checked the bodies, but they had no treasure.
This lair appeared to have been dug out of damp earth. Corridors were 10 foot wide and high, and supported by massive, although usually slightly rotten, timbers. The dampness was everywhere, and the air smelled of rot, mold, and swamp gas. The party followed one of the corridors out of the guard room, and found themselves in a passage with a door at the very end and a greeny mud puddle halfway down. Most wouldn’t have even noticed, but Reaver decided to be cautious.
“I don’t like the look of that greenstuff in that mud puddle,” he said. He advanced forward and pushed the tip of his longbow into the puddle.
When he withdrew it, the green slime was slowly eating away the tip of the bow. He showed Dobby.
“Don’t get any of that on you,” advised Dobby. “Green slime will eat metal and flesh much quicker than wood.” Reaver quickly scraped the green slime off the tip of his bow.
They poured lantern oil onto the slime and set it alight. There was lots of smoke which attracted another set of guards. These were also easily despatched. The party continued their explorations. The guards rooms were found, and two more groups of four guards. The first were dispatched quickly, and the second set of guards, all female, were tied up.
“We’ll take them with us when we leave. Justice will be done,” said Lady Elizabeth. She understood the rationale behind some other party members’ desire to kill the now unarmed women, but as a paladin she couldn’t allow that to happen.
The guards coins were appropriated, not a lot, but more than ordinary guards would usually have. This must have been their share of the spoils so far.
Further into the ruins a large underground lake was found. Further exploration found a secret door, behind which a boat capable of holding about 10 people was found on a muddy bank. This was obviously how the cultists moved across the lake. The party decided to finish exploring all the areas on this side of the lake first, so they didn’t leave any enemies behind them should they need to do a retreat out of the dungeon later.
A smaller lake led to a secret door on the far side. Two killer frogs lurked in the lake, and they leapt out of the water. Lady Elizabeth slew them without difficulty however. Behind the secret door, not much more than a wall of dirt piled up to conceal the area beyond. In the space beyond were three chests, locked and bound with metal making them very sturdy indeed. Two were picked by Reaver and Elisar, but one was a tricky lock. It required some strength and leverage to finally get it open. The chests contained an assortment of coins and gems, none particularly valuable by themselves, but overall amounted to a tidy sum.
Continuing their exploration they discovered the quarters of some of the officers of the guard. These were dispatched also, and their treasure taken. There were only three officers and four bedrooms, the last one was that of a priest. He or she must be in another part of the dungeon at present. A shield taken from one officer was ornate and provided a magic armour bonus, and it was decided that Nyves Shonal should have that. Another officer had a magical shortsword, which Reaver took until they could discover its benefit through spell or just by using it.
Behind one door they heard a warbling sound, as if a large bird were beyond, but they passed this one by to come back later. At one point the party had a disagreement about where to go, and they split in too. While exploring their section Dobby and Reaver encountered giant rats which they slew easily. The party reconvened at the door where they had heard the bird like noise.
Behind the door was a harpy’s lair. Most likely lured into the dungeon with the promise of innocent flesh to feast on and to be used as another guard or trap. The creature warbled a compelling tune, a charm spell of sorts as the notes were heavy with magic. However not one of the party members succumbed to the harpy’s magic. She resorted to physical violence and flew at the party with her claws and bite, holding a dagger in one hand with which she lashed out at her intended victims’ eyes. But she was perhaps used to dealing with wailing villagers, not hardened adventurers and it was she whose blood soaked the muddy floor. Her treasure mostly comprised amulets and medallions, draped over the tree like structure which had been assembled for her. The most valuable of these were taken and sold later (including a magical amulet of significant defensive power, which eventually fell into the hands of another adventuring group who used it to good purpose – but that is another tale).
The exploration continued. They returned to the boat they had found earlier, and crossed the dark lake. Crocodiles moved closer, perhaps for morsels, but were obviously used to the boat. They swam off again when no morsels were forthcoming. Troglodytes guarded the way to the lower level of the dungeon. These were dispatched easily, their tactics were poor and they sought to fight individually rather than as a group. Giant centipedes were the only other creatures encountered, and while dangerous if you kept away from their poisonous stinger one could also easily kill them.
Given the ease of their incursion thus far it was a surprise then that one of the bold adventurers was to fall. It happened in the lair of the troglodytes. The reptilian creatures laid and ambush, and while the party were battling with these, another suddenly appeared with a large snake in a fragile cage. It threw the cage at the party and it burst open upon striking Dobby. The enraged snake sunk its fangs deep into Dobby’s arm, and his body thrashed and convulsed on the ground. The rest looked on dismayed as there was nothing they could do but finish off the creatures. The snake tried to slither away in the mud but was stuck by Lady Elizabeth’s sword. By that time Dobby was dead and there was nothing for it but to leave the dungeon with his body. They did make time to loot the bodies.
“It was what Dobby would have wanted,” said Reaver. Elisar nodded.