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The Mouth of the Sleeper
The Mouth

…continues from Book #01, Chapter #10, Scene #04

Synopsis

The 1st Day of Tarsakh in the Year of the Sudden Journey
Battling at the summit of the white face adorned hill in the Coilwood, the heroes manage to overcome a force of orcs and the reappearance of strange black creatures. Exhausted, they look for a place to rest with an injured scribe and to look for the lost rogue, Zero.

For a chapter summary please see Chapter #10 Summary.

For an appendix detailing the locations of “The Mouth of the Sleeper” and a full map, please see Chapter #10 Appendix.

Cast List

Khalin Grundokri

7th Level Male Dwarven Marshal (Warlord)

Kireth Majere

7th Level Male Half-Elven Arcanist (Wizard)

Tradden Aversward

7th Level Male Human Weaponmaster (Fighter)

Zero Uhlit

7th Level Male Human Scoundrel (Rogue)

Beltak Ancaron

Scribe of Pelor (NPC)

Scene Length

This scene starts on Wednesday 2nd October 2013 and is expected to be completed by the end of Saturday 2nd November 2013.

Players are expected to be able to post at least once a day.

Storyline
Coilwood Summit

Beltak now seemingly stabilised Tradden stood up, still a little shaky.

‘Zero…’ he mumbled to himself as he shambled over to the hole, trying to remember the exact spot the rogue had disappeared. Swaying ever so slightly due to blood loss and the exertions of the battle, Tradden peered down over the edge…

[Tradden Perception Check: 1d20+5: 8] - failure!

Around the edges of the “mouth” the ropes leading down swayed gently in the light breeze, their grapples scraping and grating across the ancient white stone. The gaping portal was at least ten feet across, maybe more, and the young fighter shuddered at the memory of the orcs spewing out like vomit from its lips.

Below was dark in contrast to the bright sky above — his eyes not suited to the change in brightness — and he could see nothing, but could sense the void below him.

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Storyline
Coilwood Summit

Khalin sighed and turned away from the stricken scribe. To his relief the feeling was starting to return to his own legs and with a grunt he pulled himself to his feet. The dwarf saw Tradden peering into the “mouth” and, using his hammer as a crutch, lumbered over to join the human.

‘He’s down there somewhere,’ Tradden sounded forlorn as Khalin stopped beside him.

‘I know, lad, and we’ll find him,’ the dwarf placed a hand on Tradden’s arm to steady himself as he too gazed down into the abyss, his keen dwarven eyes searching the gloom for some clue to the rogue’s whereabouts.

[Khalin Perception Check: 1d20+3: 10] - failure!

It was difficult to tell what was down the hole. Now two heads were blocking the light from the sun and the darkness within grew. Khalin’s eyes were better in the dark that Tradden’s though, so where the human could only see black at least the dwarf could see shades of grey.

It appeared that the ropes went down some distance, two or three dozen feet at the least. They did not travel straight down, rather they swung diagonally away and down from the opening. There was little sound below, a strange humming perhaps, oddly out of tune.

The hairs on the back of Khalin’s neck began to rise as a queer feeling of a great eye staring at him grew stronger the more he peered down into the blackness.

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Storyline
Coilwood Summit

It was as Kireth moved that he realised how well he had actually come through that last encounter. A feat only achieved by the use of his own superior skills, he silently concluded.

He approached the hole with the other two luddites peering over the edge. The slightest of nudges later and the smiling mage watched the flailing dwarf’s body disappear into the darkness, cartwheeling frantically over itself…

‘Ah,’ he said audibly as, with regret, he pulled himself back to reality. The human and dwarf looked round in puzzlement, the mage having a genuine look of happiness on his face. Realizing he was actually grinning to himself, Kireth corrected the situation and adopted the more correct scowl.

‘Well, move then!’ he snapped, pushing past them to the lip of the hole.

‘Hmm, Tradden, lift that rock up would you?’ Tradden did as requested and the mage placed his hand upon it.

[Light]

[Rock casts bright light in a 20-foot radius]

A moment later the rock began to glow, throwing out of good amount of light. ‘Well, I don’t want it, do I? Throw it in, throw it in.’

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Storyline
Coilwood Summit

Tradden gave a shrug hefting the white stone with ease. He moved back, close to the edge of the abyss, and with a shout of ‘Look out below!’ he casually let the rock fall out of his hands.

For a moment there was silence, a brief pair of seconds as the trio atop the summit held their breath. The glowing rock tumbled end over end into the dark, a beacon of light in the gloom below.

Then there was a crash and the rock shattered into pieces, spewing shards across a great floor. Each of the shards held Kireth’s strong magic granting them all a carpet of soft light. The glow did not stretch to illuminate the top half of the chamber, but gave them a good view of the bottom, perhaps seventy feet below.

The shards of stone had spread out to reveal a circular chamber probably a hundred feet across, the whole construct likely some form of dome with the “mouth” at its peak. Glittering with the shining dust of broken stone were hundreds of sharp spikes in the centre of the floor, stabbing up into the air with longing for the sky. They were arranged in a circle, matching the size of the “mouth”, forming the white of a huge eye shape carved in the floor.

Near the centre of the eye was a humanoid shape, twisted and broken in a grotesque pose as though it had fallen some distance. Extending from the eye shape were three strangely angled channels, one going north, the others southeast and southwest, running away towards the edges of the chamber, still muffled in the dim light.

A balcony surrounded the wide circular room, some dozen or so feet up from the bottom and about ten feet wide, cloaking the area below in gloom. A wide stone banister at the edge gleamed from the light of the stones. Tied to the banister were the ropes stretching down from the grapples hooked at the edges of the “mouth”.

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Storyline
The Mouth of the Sleeper

Most of the south-western portion of the balcony gleamed and twinkled in the soft light as though it were wet, a slight reddish tint covering its stone floor. Just visible, sat leaning against the banister, was a rotund figure clutching a bright shortsword. Around him were scattered a couple of bodies prostrate upon the floor.

The soft humming that Khalin had heard stopped as the figure looked up towards the aperture and the heads of the curious companions above.

‘You took your bloody time,’ it croaked.

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Storyline
Coilwood Summit

Khalin knelt, such as it was — Kireth hid his sneer beneath his cowl. One could hardly tell the difference.

‘Ah, I need… I think I can bring young Beltak around…’ he panted, ‘…give me a few moments.’

Tradden, who had ripped part of his shirt off and was tying it around his head to form a make-shift headband to keep blood out of his eyes, nodded in agreement.

‘Sounds good. How is Z, do you think?’ he asked.

When no-one answered he grabbed a hold of one of the ropes and threw himself off the edge with a shout of ‘I’ll find out!’

[Tradden Athletics Check: 1d20+12: 24] - success!

Sure that the young oaf had thrown himself to his much-deserved death, Kireth peered over. Perhaps predictably the boy was not a broken mess at the base of the cavern but was descending far too quickly for someone who had just had ten shades of the proverbial knocked out of him.

‘You will feel it in the morning,’ the mage hissed, turning back to the dwarf and the cleric.

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Storyline
The Mouth of the Sleeper

Tradden moved quickly down the rope despite his injuries, trying to not look down at the spikes below. He only started to relax and enjoy himself when he was a few feet away from the balcony and the height of the fall no longer worried him.

Kireth’s glowing rocks lit up the dome in a dim white light where they could, some shards playing cruel tricks with shadows of spikes looking long, thin and treacherous against the black walls. As the young fighter looked back up the way he had come from he noticed a couple of cracks in the dome roof where the two great trees on the hill had projected their roots into the abyss. Water trickled down softly from the tips of their roots, sparkling in the magelight as they dripped into the chasm.

Eventually he arrived at the balcony where the rope was tied to the banister. He nearly slipped on the banister’s stone top, smooth to the touch, but managed to slide over and land near Zero, his footing unsure again with a slick film of blood upon the floor.

Two large orc bodies littered the floor near the rogue, their lifeblood oozing out from deep, straight cuts, dripping from the balcony to the floor below and finding their way to one of the sickle-shaped channels, draining towards the walls. Another orc lay a couple of dozen feet away to the northwest, a familiar-looking bolt lodged neatly in the middle of its throat.

With his concentration fixed upon the rogue he moved closer, slowing himself so as not to startle him. Once again Tradden caught the sound of a faint humming, but when Zero looked up at him it stopped. The rogue was covered with blood, Tradden unsure of how much was Zero’s and how much was the orcs’.

‘Are you okay, Z?’ he managed weakly, trying a smile.

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Storyline
Coilwood Summit

Content to let Tradden investigate Zero’s situation for now, Khalin studied Beltak’s prone form with concern. The scribe’s eyes flickered. ‘I think you’re ready for that shield now, Beltak. You’re a bona fide fighter now, m’lad!’

[Inspiring Word]

[Beltak has no Healing Surges left so only moves to 1 hit point]

[Beltak is no longer Unconscious]

A faint smile returned to the scribe’s lips at Khalin’s words. The warlord turned and winked at Kireth, who scowled with disdain once more. As the dwarf looked around a shadow returned to his face, however, and he lowered his voice as he spoke earnestly to the mage.

‘We must rest, we’re in no shape to survive another fight.’ The look on Kireth’s face suggested Khalin needn’t state the obvious. ‘So the question is, are we safer up here or down there? Assuming we could get Beltak down in his current condition?’

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Storyline
The Mouth of the Sleeper

Zero didn’t move from his current position, remaining seated and still. He nodded slowly in answer to Tradden’s question and then replied hoarsely with one of his own.

‘I take it everything nasty up there is dead?’

When Tradden nodded back the rogue let go of the sword, its blade clattering to the stone floor of the balcony. Zero closed his eyes.

‘Can I go to sleep now?’ he pleaded.

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Storyline
Coilwood Summit

With no immediate reply forthcoming from Kireth the dwarf pulled himself to his feet once more. ‘We may need to get Beltak down there — so if you have any fancy magical solutions then now’s the time.’

With that he returned to the edge of the “mouth”. Peering over the side once more the dwarf hissed at Tradden and Zero to get their attention. ‘Is it safe down there?’ he enquired. ‘We need a secure place to rest, and soon.’

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Storyline
The Mouth of the Sleeper

The young fighter looked about as Khalin’s voice echoed around the dome. Kireth’s stones still shone, but the light was a little dim now, difficult for his human eyes to spy past the shadows and edges of the room. From his perch on the balcony he could see down to the floor, a couple of dozen feet below and the dark spikes jutting up from the centre. They’d have to be careful getting down the ropes and he swallowed against the thought of his own recklessness on sliding down the rope so quickly himself.

Straining his eyes against the gloom he could just see three sets of doors, inset into the wall a few feet, perhaps blocking corridors leading away. Zero and he were about halfway between the southern and western pair, with another set in the eastern wall. All of the doors appeared to be made of similar stone to the dome — lighter in colour, but of the same smooth polish. Fortunately they all appeared to be closed.

There was little in the way of noise — the occasional drip of either water from the roots above or from the blood of the butchered orcs dripping over the balcony to splash on the stone floor below and seep away to the carved channels and towards the wall.

The orcs were already beginning to stink and Tradden vowed to cast them over the side of the balcony if they were going to stay in here. At least it was dry and a little warmer. Perhaps they would be better resting up here than in the trees above.

Mouth of the Sleeper: Balcony

He looked back up at the dark silhouettes crowded around the “mouth”. ‘Yes!’ he shouted back. ‘Careful down the ropes,‘ he offered.

Zero picked up a raggedy humming, seemingly to calm himself.

‘Bring some torches, too,‘ he added. ‘We need a better look around.’

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Storyline
Coilwood Summit

Khalin nodded as he listened to Tradden’s reply. Turning back to Kireth he shrugged. ‘If you can’t think of any other way, then I guess we climb,’ the dwarf said.

The mage snorted with derision and began to secure his staff to his pack. Khalin turned to Beltak, still prostrate upon the floor. ‘Do you think you can make it down?’ the dwarf asked softly.

Beltak managed a weak nod and started to struggle to his feet, wincing and sucking in air in large gulps. The scribe looked quite pale and took Khalin’s arm when the warlord quickly moved to support the boy in rising.

When the scribe was on his feet Khalin tested the purchase of the nearest grapple. The rough iron spikes of the thing had made punctures in the soft white stone and held the rope quite well. There were a few similar puncture holes around the “mouth” as though the grapples had been used before and Khalin wondered whether there was any other way in or out of the chamber below. Such a soft stone, too, could not have been here for that long without breaking up or weathering — no more than a century at the most.

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Storyline
The Mouth of the Sleeper

Khalin shook his head and turned his concentration back to the ropes. He was about to ask Kireth to head down first, but the mage had already started his descent.

[Kireth Athletics Check: Take 10: 1d20+3: 13] - success!

The mage took it slow and steady down the rope, wrapping his legs around and lowering himself foot by foot with tight, white hands. It took a good five minutes for him to descend, jumping the last couple of feet to avoid Tradden helping him down.

He scowled at the young fighter but Tradden simply shook the rope and looked upwards for the next climber to begin their descent.

Kireth took a quick look at Zero, hoping that the rogue wasn’t too badly injured. Zero simply looked back up at him from the floor, smiled and winked. The rogue seemed pleased with himself, or at the very least pleased to be alive. The half-elf noticed the shortsword by his side, covered with blood, and the hand crossbow some distance away. He raised his eyebrow at the seated human before starting to look around with a frown.

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Storyline
The Mouth of the Sleeper

When the rope jangled to and fro at the summit, Beltak guessed it was his turn to climb. His body ached and he was unnaturally tired, but he knew that he needed to get down the rope to rest safely, or at least with the pretence of safety. With a large gulp he clutched onto the rope with stiff hands and began the climb.

[Beltak Athletics Check: Take 10: 1d20+3: 13] - success!

Slowly Beltak made his way down. Perhaps faster than Kireth, but more ungainly. The scribe stopped periodically to catch his breath and utter a soft prayer to Pelor on the way down. The last half dozen feet were more of a fall than a climb, Tradden’s strong arms catching him before he hurt himself upon the stone of the balcony.

Tradden gave another quick tug on the rope and looked back up to the “mouth” for any sign of Khalin.

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Storyline
The Mouth of the Sleeper

Khalin took one last look around the clearing. Within the trees he could see the cruel birds gathering again, their eyes focused on the corpses that lay strewn around the summit. The trio of black creatures had already begun to rot, dark juices glistening in the cold sunlight of the dawn. He stood above one for a moment, the one with the tendrils that had stretched out from around its head.

It bore little shape of a humanoid now, pooling into an amorphous blob as it quickly began to disintegrate. Patches of orc skin or clothing still clung to it in places — whether it had once been an orc or merely a doppelganger of one he couldn’t tell.

Sporting a wrinkling nose he turned back to the ropes and with a thought he began to yank out the other grapples, tossing them carefully into the middle of the yawning portal, leaving just the one he needed to climb down. They crashed to the floor below, the iron ringing out against the black spikes with a long echo.

Taking a deep breath of the cool morning air he clutched the rope, backed out, and was swallowed by the “mouth”.

[Khalin Athletics Check: Take 10: 1d20+11: 21] - success!

He made short work of the descent and was at the balcony in a couple of minutes, kneeling quickly by Zero to check on the rogue, pleased to see a smile upon his lips.

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Storyline
The Mouth of the Sleeper

Khalin began to fish out a couple of torches from his pack, handing one to Tradden, the other to Zero, readying his flint and steel. The warlord quickly lit them and started to look about for the best place in the chamber to rest.

Tradden turned around and began to walk away from the group, widdershins around the balcony towards the south, looking for some sort of bracket or crevice within the wall to stuff the torch.

Kireth simply frowned at the wall, running his hand across it softly, following Tradden slowly, his face still intent upon the wall.

As the others turned to look they saw what the mage was so interested in. Running around the wall was some sort of carving — pictures and writing — as though some scene or story were being played out in the stone.

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Storyline
The Mouth of the Sleeper

Khalin quickly barked out an order. ‘Tradden, don’t wander off too far, and don’t open those doors for now.’ The warlord quickly looked around the chamber once more, his eyes finally resting on the northern wall.

He turned back to the young fighter. ‘Come, help me get these orcs somewhere out of the way — you too, Zero,‘ he said, gesturing towards the southern wall near the doors. ‘Lay them in front of the doors — they might confuse anyone who comes that way for a decisive moment.’

The dwarf ignored Kireth for now, the mage intent on studying the walls, and grabbed the nearest orc by its arm, slick and slippery with blood. With a grimace against the pain of his wounds he began to drag it around the balcony. Tradden returned with the torch, leaning it against the wall under the carvings to send flickering shadows up onto the domed roof above. The youth then examined the nearest orc.

The dead creature was an ugly brute, its face scarred and pocked and one of its eyes had been plucked from its socket at some time in its life. It was big and powerful, dressed in worn and mismatched armour, dark boiled leathers and iron ring mail, rusting, but serviceable. Tradden noticed several deep cuts in its flanks and shoulders from a short blade that had taken its life. He took hold of its arms and pulled it after him over to Khalin, leaving a red trail behind.

Zero pulled at the third orc a few times, moving it slightly towards the south. Puffing his cheeks and blowing out hard, his face began to redden and Khalin swore lightly as he turned to look. The warlord set down his own corpse and hurried back to the rogue.

‘Go and try to sort some food out or something,’ the dwarf muttered. ‘I’ll see to this. Staying here isn’t the best we could hope for, but at least its defendable.’

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Storyline
The Mouth of the Sleeper

Glad to be away from the foul-smelling orcs, Zero headed around the stone balcony to the northern side, removing his own pack and picking up Khalin’s along the way. Beltak had slowly made his way around to the north also, and was sat weakly against the wall offering Zero a feeble smile of greeting.

Zero fished around in the packs, drawing out some of the dried meats and fruits they had brought from the wagon. His nose wrinkled at the salted beef and bruised apples, the hard cheese and hardening bread, but decided that this was better than no food at all.

He took a little time to use some of the water from the skins to wash his hands and arms. He was covered in blood — unsure of which was his own and which was the orcs’. He shuddered and began to wash it off before he touched the foodstuff.

Putting some of the food to one side, ready for a meal, he called over to Khalin who was still moving the corpses. ‘If you want a fire to keep warm, then we’ll need something to burn. There’s nothing around here.’

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Storyline
The Mouth of the Sleeper

Khalin let go of the last of the three orcs from the balcony, its body leaning against the door to the south in a slight alcove. Wiping his stained hands on his cloak he turned to peer across the gloom of the chamber to the northern side and the rogue.

He stifled a curse — he was tired, weary and full of pain from the two swift battles above. They all needed rest, food, and a warm fire.

A voice piped up from behind him. ‘Well, there was plenty up there,’ Tradden gestured with a nod upwards. ‘It’ll only take me a couple of minutes to go and get some.‘

The young fighter actually looked excited, the prospect of climbing the ropes no challenge to his enthusiasm. Khalin stroked his beard in thought. ‘Quickly then, and don’t dawdle up there. Shout hard if you run into any difficulties. Any difficulties,’ the dwarf stressed.

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Storyline
The Mouth of the Sleeper

Tradden had a hold on one of the ropes barely before Khalin had finished and swiftly climbed back up into the cold air and daylight above.

Checking that the grapple was still firmly entrenched within the soft, white stone of the face he then turned towards the trees. He was closest to the western edge but had to step over several of the orc bodies to get towards the trees. Black crows watched him silently from the trees with small, menacing eyes as he picked his way carefully down from the face and onto the hill. The corpses of the black abominations had nearly disintegrated in the morning air, leaving only a macabre stain upon the white stone where they had fallen. The young fighter was cautious enough to give those a wide berth.

Slowly he slid down the slope towards the trees, the crows eventually flying away in a flutter of wings as he approached, circling the clearing, waiting for him to leave. He took his cue and gathered an armful of dried branches from the floor, stark white limbs like bones against the dusting of snow on the ground.

With a shiver against the cold he headed back up the slope and back to the “mouth”. Looking down into the darkness he let his eyes adjust to the gloom and flickering torchlight before casually tossing down a few of the branches to clatter and echo on the balcony below. With the remainder tucked under his arm he began his descent.

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Storyline
The Mouth of the Sleeper

By the time Tradden had reached the stone balcony Zero had already gathered up the thrown branches and had begun to arrange them ready for a fire. With a sharp knife he had plucked from somewhere he made short work of whittling some kindling and within a few minutes had a small fire going.

The fire gave off a wispy sweet-smelling smoke, faintly reminding the rogue of tobacco, and the smell of a warm inn by the docks in Deepingwald. A curious orange flame accompanied the smoke, crackling and spitting, but at least warming their chill bodies.

In the light of the fire Zero offered the fruits and cheese around the group and they all sat, including Kireth, on the stone floor to gather their strength.

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Storyline
The Mouth of the Sleeper

‘We should keep the fire going as long as we can,’ Khalin remarked as he watched the thin wisps of smoke climb up through the space of the dome to the roof and out of the mouth. ‘Get some good rest before we move on — Tradden, you take first watch. I‘ll take over, then Kireth, and then you, Zero. Beltak, if you take last watch you’ll get the most rest — hopefully we should be more refreshed with the warmth of the fire and some food in our bellies.’

The warlord over at the flickering shadows against the carvings around the balcony. ‘We’ll need our strength to fathom out where we are and what all of this means, I think. We’re in no fit state to do that now.’

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Storyline
The Mouth of the Sleeper

It looked as though Kireth was about to protest, rising from his seat, but the mage merely stood over the fire and began fishing about in his robes. ‘A wise suggestion, I believe, Khalin,’ he began. ‘There are some curious carvings here indeed, and I think we need to study them and decipher the writings beneath if we can. However, we still do not know if Skauril still lurks somewhere down this pit, or whatever else lies in wait. I prefer to stay alive and ignorant for now, as long as it means I may stay alive and become wise later.‘

Finally finding something from within the folds of his robes he sprinkled some dust above the fire, which lept and danced to his call.

[Preserve Flame]

[Flame cannot be doused for 8 hours]

With that the mage found a discreet spot against the wall, pulled up his hood, and clasped his face in shadow.

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Storyline
The Mouth of the Sleeper

Tradden looked across at the mage curiously — there was something about what the mage had just said that didn’t seem to be right, but the young fighter was tired and the meaning of it did not come to him. Rather than pester the mage and be presented with a scowl and harsh word he slumped against the wall and set to quenching his thirst and chewing on the dried meats ready for his watch.

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Storyline
The Mouth of the Sleeper

The group spent some minutes arranging their makeshift camp. Whatever Kireth had done to the fire kept it burning well and bright. The orange flames flickered and danced, but the gnarled branches did not spit or even appear to be consumed by the hunger of the fire.

The others began to settle down — Khalin grunting and snoring in his sleep, Beltak quickest to drop into a deep slumber, Zero humming himself into his dreams, and Kireth simply closing his eyes as he sat against the wall.

Within minutes Tradden seemed all alone in the emptiness of the dome with only the silent flame and a dwarf’s soft snoring for company.

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Storyline
The Mouth of the Sleeper

The morning passed slowly for Tradden. As the others dozed he prowled the balcony, circling the edge of the dome, but always taking care near the doors. As he slowly padded around the stone path his eyes kept getting drawn to the carvings upon the wall and the writing beneath them.

Pacing around and around he gradually realised that the carvings did indeed tell some sort of story, with the beginning to the left-hand side of the southern doors as he looked at them and running widdershins around the balcony to finish at the right-hand side of the same doors. He seemed too tired, however, to fathom out the entire story, often getting confused and weary after only a few strides around the balcony.

He was glad when he judged the sun had moved sufficiently in the sky above, slowly poking its rays through the “mouth” above, and he could wake Khalin. The dwarf grunted out of his sleep, looking almost shocked to be awake, but quickly composed himself and ushered Tradden to his bedroll.

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Storyline
The Mouth of the Sleeper

Tradden settled down to get some rest as Khalin began his watch. Gradually the sun rose in the sky above its glow began to reveal more within the chamber. Looking over the balcony at the floor of the dome the warlord could see more of the layout of the spikes below. The eye of spikes appeared to be arranged in some form of emblem, the spike-filled eye and the three sickle shapes projecting from it towards the walls. The corpse of an orc slowly putrifying in the centre of the eye to match that of the three on the balcony.

Khalin nodded in approval at Zero’s skill in dispatching four of the creatures — the rogue always appeared to be at the fringes of combat, cautious in putting himself at the front line, but the lad had made a fine job of getting rid of the creatures that still lurked down here.

He was drawn like Tradden to the carvings and writing around the balcony as he patrolled around the dome, particularly the writing that seemed to shine in the sunlight that now spilled into the chamber with the sun high in the sky above. The writing was crafted skillfully into the wall below the carvings, each raised letter shining and polished opposed to the grime collected in the crevasses. Noting the polish Khalin then saw that the top of the wide stone banister possessed a similar smoothness, gleaming in the sunlight from above.

There was nothing to be done for it for now, though. The others were asleep and it was approaching the time to wake Kireth for the mage’s watch. Returning to the orange fire and the warmth he roused the half-elf and then settled into his own bedroll, a snore picking up only moments after he had laid down.

1st Day of Tarsakh | Noon | Clear, Freezing, Rising Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Storyline
The Mouth of the Sleeper

The mage waited until he was sure that Khalin was fast asleep before he moved around the fire and knelt down next to Zero. Quietly he opened the rogue’s pack and extracted one of the gemstones Zero had found on their travels. The mage had used two before in creating a magic circle that warded off the attacks of wolves. The minor trick he’d used to change two pebbles to look like gems had now faded, and the rough stones sat in the leather pouch.

With the gem in hand he rose and moved across to the writing encircling the chamber, choosing what he hoped was an appropriate section. He began to intone a spell and the gemstone crumbled within his hand.

[Comprehend Languages]

[Kireth Arcana Check: 1d20+12: 15] - success!

[Kireth can read the carved writing for next 24 hours]

Kireth let the spent dust of the gemstone slip through his fingers as he moved around the balcony studying the writing, pausing at points to examine the carvings above. The rest of his watch was spent circling the path, reading and re-reading the words.

When his allotted time was up he returned to the fire to seek out Zero. As he looked at the rogue laid out on top of his bedroll he turned back to the writing and then back to the rogue. He cocked his head slightly, a curious smile playing over his thin lips, then nudged Zero with his foot repeatedly until he woke.

Without a word he sat back against the wall near the flickering orange flame, drawing his hood over his face and folding his arms. By the time Zero brushed sleep from his eyes the mage was likely asleep.

1st Day of Tarsakh | Early Afternoon | Clear, Freezing, Rising Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Storyline
The Mouth of the Sleeper

Zero’s watch passed slowly. Tired and hurt and in desperate need of a hot bath and good food, the rogue huddled with his back to the orange flames and tried his best to keep awake and alert. He felt himself drifting off a couple of times and decided to walk around the balcony to stop himself curling up and sleeping.

The carvings intrigued him, particularly as they seemed to tell a story, but the subject matter appeared to be harsh with no trace of a beautifully carved woman to distract him.

Disappointed and too tired to fully comprehend the tale that it told he returned back to the fire and pulled a small kit from his travel pack. The sun had moved past the “mouth” by now — the late afternoon glow fading above was slowly reducing the dome back to gloom — but the flames gave him enough light to start sewing up his clothes where they had been slashed and torn by the orcs’ attacks. Although he carried a couple of spares he was quite attached to the embroidered garments now and would hate to see them ruined.

By the time he had finished he gauged it was Beltak’s turn to take watch. Donning his tunic he moved over to the scribe and gently woke him.

1st Day of Tarsakh | Late Afternoon | Clear, Freezing, Rising Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Storyline
The Mouth of the Sleeper

Beltak took up the watch without complaint although his head was still throbbing with pain. He seated himself near the fire and took out the copy of The Annals of Pelor they had found within the orc stronghold on the Old Road, thumbing through its pages and trying to fathom its meaning.

As the sky through the “mouth” started to turn dark as evening approached he put down the book and readied himself to rouse the others. Slowly he woke them in turn from their deep slumbers, Tradden first and then Khalin, Zero, and finally Kireth.

1st Day of Tarsakh | Early Evening | Clear, Freezing, Rising Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Mechanics
Extended Rest

Healing Surges and Hit Points
Healing Surges are regained.
[Khalin has 9 healing surges and is now on 56/56 hit points]
[Kireth has 8 healing surges and is now on 48/48 hit points]
[Tradden has 10 healing surges and is now on 63/63 hit points]
[Zero has 7 healing surges and is now on 55/55 hit points]

Encounter and Daily Powers
All encounter and daily powers are recharged.

Milestones
No Milestones achieved. Action Points reset to 1.

1st Day of Tarsakh | Evening | Clear, Freezing, Rising Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Storyline
The Mouth of the Sleeper

The sounds of groaning and limbs creaking as the companions stretched and roused themselves from their sleep echoed around the chamber. Hands were held out to the fire to be warmed and rations were broken out to satiate their hunger.

It was not long before the fire began to hiss and spit, Kireth’s magics finally wearing off, and the flame began to die. Tradden quickly jumped to grab a torch, lighting the end with the final sparks from the wood as it succumbed to ash in an instant.

Holding the torch high to ward off the gloom the others looked out into the darkening dome with refreshed eyes. Looking up towards the “mouth” Zero spotted something they had missed before.

‘Look!’ the rogue uttered, his voice echoing through the chamber. ‘The stars are out.’

Following his raised arm the others noticed the stars too, although they were on the inside of the dome. Carefully placed stones within the roof of the dome had been flecked with gold, reflecting the simple light of the torch back at the group, perfectly simulating a night sky above in all its detail.

‘There’s Pelor,’ stated Beltak pointing out a constellation directly above their heads, several large “stars” in a complex pattern with a cluster of smaller, fainter ones providing the appearance of a beam of light outstretched into the dark.

‘And Moradin,’ agreed Khalin gesturing towards the east and a set of stars representing an anvil with hammer beating down.

‘But what lies there?’ asked Kireth in a flat tone, pointing off towards the far side of the dome. ‘That is not the void in the sky above.‘

The others turned to look towards the south, expecting a large portion of the roof to be blank as the sky was on even the blackest of nights. However, several bright stars beamed back down at them, yellow and golden in their sparkle.

‘A spiral,’ mumbled Zero, his voice breaking.

1st Day of Tarsakh | Evening | Clear, Freezing, Rising Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Storyline
The Mouth of the Sleeper

Though as a proud dwarf Khalin was no stranger to glittering caverns, the vista that had revealed itself across the roof of the chamber was nevertheless impressive. Under a night sky the stars of Moradin always brought warmth to the warlord’s heart. But this new constellation was a mystery. The dwarf was not exactly a slouch when it came to history and racked his brains for any reference to such a star group, but none would come.

Khalin turned once more to Kireth and Beltak, who the dwarf presumed were most likely to have insight on the matter: ‘Do you know of any record of a spiral star group in the histories? Or the symbolic significance of a spiral perhaps?’

As he spoke something tickled at the dwarf’s mind and he furrowed his brow as he recalled: ‘Hold on, Kireth, have you still got that wooden amulet we found back under that mansion on The Islands? Didn’t that have a swirl on it? Maybe they’re related?’

1st Day of Tarsakh | Evening | Clear, Freezing, Rising Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Storyline
The Mouth of the Sleeper

Tradden, always thinking, was not listening to Khalin’s monologue. Almost at the same time that the warlord turned to Kireth and asked about the amulet, the young fighter piped up.

‘Hmm, I know a spiral is a spiral is a helix, but that looks awfully like the exact shape of those necklaces we keep finding on bad guys.’

The use of the word “helix” was an unveiled dig at Kireth, who Tradden had come to realise didn’t think he knew much about anything. The word was tangibly thrown in the half elf’s direction. Tradden read books too. Tradden wasn’t finished with the mage there however.

‘Which reminds me — you said something last night which I didn’t quite click onto until I woke up. You said you didn’t know if Skauril lurked down this pit, or similar. That guy is dead. Right? Zero broke his dressing up mirror. Right?’

1st Day of Tarsakh | Evening | Clear, Freezing, Rising Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Storyline
The Mouth of the Sleeper

The mage turned from human to dwarf as the pair bombarded him with questions. He stared at Beltak, who was mute and transfixed upon the fake stars above, then at Zero, who he studied for some time. The rogue turned to face the mage, his face pale and white.

‘I have a very bad feeling about all this.’ Zero offered meekly.

‘I’m sure you do,’ replied Kireth softly before turning back to look at the scene above. ‘Here,‘ he said to Khalin without looking, holding out the small wooden amulet the dwarf had suggested for the warlord to take. ‘I think you’ll find a close match,’

The mage then glanced briefly at Tradden. ‘A slip of the tongue,‘ he said to the young fighter. ‘Curious,’ he added, more to himself.

1st Day of Tarsakh | Evening | Clear, Freezing, Rising Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Storyline
The Mouth of the Sleeper

Khalin accepted the small amulet. Sure enough the markings on it were strikingly similar to the glittering new lights above. ‘No coincidence I’m sure,’ the dwarf remarked glancing up once more. ‘Kireth,’ he continued slowly, ‘you’ve never struck me as one susceptible to “slips of the tongue”. Methinks you’re hiding something.’

A sharp look from the mage softened the warlord’s next words though. ‘Are you worried we’ll be startled by some revelation you’ve come to?’

1st Day of Tarsakh | Evening | Clear, Freezing, Rising Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Storyline
The Mouth of the Sleeper

There was a cold and silent stare from the mage, his eyes far away as though he were contemplating many things. After an uncomfortable silence, Zero filled the void.

‘Those stars are certainly intriguing, but shouldn’t we also discuss the carvings on the wall? I’m not an expert on these things, but to my layman’s eyes it appears that some big nasty being and his chums needed sorting out and a king and his allies all teamed up and took him down. Doesn’t look like a happy ending though. In fact, it doesn’t seem to have one at all. Hmm, I wonder if we’re part of the story now. Wouldn’t that be a thing!

He looked around from companion to companion, hoping to relieve the tension that had steadily been building up.

1st Day of Tarsakh | Evening | Clear, Freezing, Rising Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Storyline
The Mouth of the Sleeper

Tradden clasped his hands behind his back and started to pace slowly up and down in front of the nearest carving, the look on his face indicating a serious, contemplative series of thoughts were passing through his mind. He cleared his throat.

‘Yes, I had opportunity to consider these carvings last night, although the efforts of the day had taken their toll and it was not until I had another look this morning that it started to make sense.’ He gesticulated with one palm-up hand around the chamber. ‘It’s a story, we know that much, and seems to run around that way.’ He pointed circularly widdershins.

‘It’s not light bedtime reading — hard to take seven forty feet dark stone tablets to bed. By the way,’ this was to Khalin and was clearly a further attempt at showing off, ’… Obsidian or Jet?’

He let the question hang in the air for a moment and then continued. ’Odd that some parts seem to have been weathered, vandalised and also that the end is not finished. Kind of makes me wish I had brought one of my old chisels!’ No-one laughed.

Unperturbed, he continued. ‘I think I agree with Zero as to the general gist of it being a battle between some big, bad fella and maybe a group of other people. All our races seem to be included in the group — humans, dwarves, elves, halflings and even gnomes and goliaths. Not sure about these other elf-looking folk here, and here and I dare say Rhasgar might be interested to note that there are no Dragonborns kicking around.’

[Tradden Religion Check: 1d20+3: 17] - success!

‘I always loved old legends and stories and whilst I might be getting carried away… I wonder if this second scene,’ he pointed to the second tableau, ‘is the battle that followed? The bad guy has some weird things on his side — here, the odd creatures which seem to, erm, drip, out of the background. However, the good guys seem to have some help also. The guy with the “halo” thing, well, you tell me Beltak but that looks like it could be Pelor? Khalin — isn’t the dwarf awfully Moradin like? No Corellon as far as I can see but the elven spear woman — Sehanine?’

Tradden was seriously on a roll now. ’And look, here, in the second and third sections — there isn’t the same focus but look, Bahamut, Erathis, Ioun, Kord… maybe Sehahine, hmm, wouldn’t make sense given what I said before, but you get the idea!’

‘We talk about gates to other dimensions, and look, on the third scene — couldn’t that be Halo Guy, erm, sorry, Beltak, Pelor, closing the doorway these dripping things are coming through? Hey!’ Tradden had a sudden thought. ‘Maybe that’s a scribe of Pelor there — with the book!’

Khalin looked like he was going to say something, but there was no stopping Tradden, history expert, now he was going. ‘By the time we get to this fourth panel it seems to be that Moradin and the others are imprisoning yonder bad guy and, erm, not being very nice to him actually, but I am sure they have a good reason for cutting out his eyes…’

‘Not sure that the fifth scene really adds — your bad fella is manacled to a huge rock, could be in a cave maybe, with birds feeding on the blood, do they do that? And then fading away. Weird. Not sure whether the discarded spear means anything?’

Tradden was nearly out of breath at this point.

‘As you can see, by part six things are starting to get a little rough — literally. It’s like someone didn’t have time to finish it and it doesn’t make a lot of sense — now there are lots of people, all without eyes, kind of like those orcs I guess, and what appears to be lots of humans dying. Looks like one sun eating another. What’s that all about?’

‘The seventh panel is just blank — intentional, or a story not yet finished?’

‘My take on it is that the big bad fella came, offered something to the people who refused and rose up against him and then imprisoned him. Problem is, it looks like they took their eye off the sword and now… well, he might be back in town.’

With that he stood back, arms folded. Proud of himself.

1st Day of Tarsakh | Evening | Clear, Freezing, Rising Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Storyline
The Mouth of the Sleeper

Khalin raised both eyebrows and shared a look with Kireth. ‘Thank you, Tradden, that was… impressive,’ he acknowledged. ‘I would agree with your interpretation.’ The warlord’s brow furrowed in thought once more: ‘While I don’t recall any mention of an evil giant in the accounts of the Age of Myths and the Dawn War, it is said that the gods did unite against their enemies, champions for the mortals of the world against ancient foes. It is told these enemies, “primordials” if you will, worked alone. Perhaps this is an interpretation of such a battle.’

‘To my mind it looks like Skauril, if he lives still,’ the dwarf punctuated the point with a glance at Kireth, ’or his followers, might be trying to recall one of these leviathans from whatever otherworldly place they were banished to?’ Khalin stroked his beard in a troubled fashion as he continued. ’Though the stories said they were destroyed not banished… and I do not recall tales of the form they took.’

With that he looked up once more at Kireth, hoping the mage would finally break his guarded silence and enlighten the group to his thoughts.

1st Day of Tarsakh | Evening | Clear, Freezing, Rising Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Storyline
The Mouth of the Sleeper

Kireth stifled a smile at the dwarf’s compliment to Tradden. ‘Impressive,’ he rolled over in his mind. ‘So we’re now using that word for anyone that can describe drawings?’ Well, the lad was trying and, at the very least, his ability to regurgitate what was already laid out before them meant that Kireth didn’t have to explain it to the other dullards.

‘Yes, very impressive, Tradden,’ he said with sincerity as he stood and walked before the carvings. ‘If you would allow me to add to what has already been cleverly deduced, my humble little ritual has helped me translate some of what is written. Each of the following corresponds, that means “attaches to”, each of the carvings in order… ahem:

The mage walked slowly from one panel to the next, pointing out the words as he spoke.

‘The first: “From the Elemental Eye, the ken of afar. Withheld by Celestials, a gift for believers.”’

‘Here, the second: “The curtain slips, the Harrow to enter upon the wheels. Might of the Celestials proved.”’

‘The third: “The Eye is tempered, the curtain closed. Dual edges for the wheels, His name is struck.”’

‘Our fourth: “Chastening within chains, the First Aegis. His sight cut out, exaction in darkness.”’

‘Now the fifth: “Stowed in the depths, below Eagle’s Nest. The black to feed. Tharizdun bound.”’

‘The strange sixth: “Light must be snuffed, perfection decayed, order dissolved, and minds fragmented.”’

‘And the seventh, well, there is no writing as there is no carving.’

1st Day of Tarsakh | Evening | Clear, Freezing, Rising Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Storyline
The Mouth of the Sleeper

‘And, while we are on the subject of translation, that script that runs around your clothing, Zero. You will have noticed the pattern is a repetition, well maybe you haven’t but it is. Anyway, the grammar of it is extremely poorly structured which makes it difficult to decipher precisely but as best I can tell it reads: “The Eagle takes flight. Trim his wings.”

He paused a few moments to let this information sink in. Realising that might take some time he continued.

‘Ok,’ he said, considering the slightly blank looks he was getting, ‘let’s not get too caught up with the words right now, we can come back to that in a moment. Let us consider the carvings and writings themselves rather than just their meaning. You can see it has been rubbed and polished, almost to the point of smoothness. Why? By whom? Why did they continually do this?’

He paused for a moment… no… nothing? ‘I have no doubt that when you carefully examined the carvings for your analysis,’ he nodded at Tradden, ‘you noted that certain elements of the depictions seem to emit their own light, a glow if you will. See here on the first tableau, the giant? And here again on the second, the giant’s maul? And so it continues throughout. Very interesting, no? Just for emphasis? Maybe… maybe not. Could it be that these are the parts we too should rub? Should we darken the area to see them clearly?’ He let those questions hang for a moment also.

‘And the penultimate panel, that means last but one, clearly of inferior craft even to my unskilled eyes. Why would this be? Why take such care, such pride over the others only to make such a hash of this. I would think this might intrigue you, Khalin? I would not over look the importance of that.’

The mage sat himself down. ‘You “see”, sometimes you have to actually look at what is before you, instead of just reciting what is before you.’

1st Day of Tarsakh | Evening | Clear, Freezing, Rising Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Storyline
The Mouth of the Sleeper

Zero hitched up the hem of his shirt and examined the stitching. As Kireth had mentioned, there was undoubtedly a similarity to the script beneath the carvings.

‘What the…?’ Zero gasped. ‘What was that little bugger Lowfield up to? I certainly didn’t ask him to incorporate some cryptic, esoteric design.’

1st Day of Tarsakh | Evening | Clear, Freezing, Rising Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Storyline
The Mouth of the Sleeper

‘Who was this Lowfield?’ enquired the mage, eyes narrowing. ‘Did you know him well? Man, elf, halfling? Did he make or give you anything else?’

1st Day of Tarsakh | Evening | Clear, Freezing, Rising Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Storyline
The Mouth of the Sleeper

‘Well,’ Zero replied, taking a telling breath, ‘I hadn’t heard of him until Skillet, the innkeeper, told me he could make me some decent clothes. As he was measuring me, he told me he came over from Deepingwald with his family when they were asking for folks to come to Blackengorge and settle. Interesting thing is, do you remember that Khalin thought there was a traitor in Blackengorge? It had totally slipped my mind, but Tradden reminded me we had seen the words “Low” and “Field” written on the cell wall where we found Celestia. So, suspecting Lowfield might be the traitor, we searched his house. We didn’t find anything incriminating though.

‘That’s all I know about him,’ the rogue concluded.

1st Day of Tarsakh | Evening | Clear, Freezing, Rising Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Storyline
The Mouth of the Sleeper

Khalin harrumphed. ‘Thank you, Kireth, for that… recital,’ the dwarf emphasised the last word, ‘and your words, Zero. Now if we can actually decipher some real meaning we’ll surely be onto something methinks,’ he finished with a raise of his eyebrow.

The jibe returned to the mage, the warlord’s demeanour resumed its serious gait once more as he moved towards Zero. ‘So, an eagle it says?’

He then turned to the unfinished final panel Kireth had indicated, casting a craftsman’s eye across it.

[Khalin Dungeoneering Check: 1d20+5: 10] - failure!

Khalin studied the panel for some moments, running his hand lightly over the stonework and peering closely at the rough carvings. He stroked his beard and turned back to the mage.

‘Hmm,’ he thought out loud, ‘the major difference that I can tell is that its not by the same person. The others are of a similar style and to a higher quality, this one is most certainly by a lesser craftsman, a different hand.’

1st Day of Tarsakh | Evening | Clear, Freezing, Rising Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Storyline
The Mouth of the Sleeper

‘Lowfield!’ exclaimed Tradden, hopping inelegantly from one foot to another whilst pointing at Zero. ‘I knew it! I told you that old geezer was up to no good! Ha!’

Pleased with himself Tradden stood back against a section of carving, casually crossing his arms. ‘The guy probably is Skauril — he had some neat threads, as I recall. I say “had” — what’s the deal, Kireth, is he dead or not? I know you know!’

1st Day of Tarsakh | Evening | Clear, Freezing, Rising Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Storyline
The Mouth of the Sleeper

The final vestiges of light from the mouth above disappeared as Kireth stared back silently at Tradden. The mage appeared to be contemplating his answer carefully, a soft frown replacing the familiar scowl becoming clear in the flickering torchlight.

A flash of brilliant white light followed swiftly by a vicious crack from above jolted them all out of silence, Zero jolting and nearly stumbling over the balustrade with the shock.

‘Moradin’s Anvil!’ cursed Khalin, who had dropped into a crouch and had automatically reached for his warhammer. ‘What on the gods’ name was that?‘

As if to answer stars began to fall from the mouth above — huge flakes of snow twinkling in the golden glow of the torchlight.

‘Skauril can wait,’ suggested Khalin. ‘We need to get moving.’

1st Day of Tarsakh | Evening | Snowing, Freezing, Strong Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Storyline
The Mouth of the Sleeper

‘I wholeheartedly agree,’ said Zero, pulling up his collar. ‘We aren’t going to find any more answers in this grim gallery.’

1st Day of Tarsakh | Evening | Snowing, Freezing, Strong Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Storyline
The Mouth of the Sleeper

Thoughts of Skauril’s demise being greatly exaggerated out to one side for now, the warlord hustled the others into action.

‘Three exits,’ Khalin pondered. ‘Zero, which one did the orcs come from, or were they already there to welcome you when you descended? If there’s nothing else to distinguish them let’s try the first one,’ he finished, indicating the nearest entrance with his hammer.

1st Day of Tarsakh | Evening | Snowing, Freezing, Strong Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Storyline
The Mouth of the Sleeper

Zero nodded to the door towards the west. ‘That one probably, they were all over at that side, I think.’ He slowly moved over to the double doors, quickly noting the lack of hinges suggesting they would swing away from him, before pausing just before them.

Without touching the surface he cocked his head to one side, getting as close as he could and listening out for any sounds, the stone cold near his ear.

[Zero Perception Check: 1d20+11: 24] - success!

Content that he had been met with stony silence he began to turn his attention to the doors themselves, carefully scrutinising the door frame and the dark handles.

[Zero Perception Check - Find Traps: 1d20+13: 22] - success!

Zero smiled back at Khalin. ‘I think they’re safe,’ he said. ‘After you,’ he added though.

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Storyline
The Mouth of the Sleeper

The warlord scowled at the rogue but stepped forwards to the doors nonetheless. Readying his hammer and shield just in case he turned to the group. ‘Ready yourselves,’ he ordered, turning back to the doors.

With a powerful shove he pushed back the doors and braced himself for any assault.

The only assault was one of the stench of unwashed bodies and the remnants of a cooked meal. Beyond the doors was a long corridor, perhaps fifty feet in length, several doors lining the southern wall and a solitary one to the north. At the end of the corridor the room opened out into something larger, dimly lit by firelight from around the corner and a guttering lamp on a table surrounded by benches.

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Storyline
The Mouth of the Sleeper

‘Well, gentlemen,’ said the thief. ‘Shall we?’ And with that, he started to creep down the corridor.

He started slowly, watching the floor almost as much as the doors to the side.

[Zero Perception Check - Find Traps: 1d20+11+2: 26] - success!

The rogue seemed content with his footing and the corridor before him and turned his attention to the first door on his left. It was slightly ajar, pushed slightly inwards, and Zero wrinkled his nose at the stink that emanated from its murky depths.

[Zero Perception Check: 1d20+11: 20] - success!

‘A bedchamber by the looks of it,’ he gagged as he poked his head briefly into the opening. ‘Doesn’t appear to be anything moving in there.’ He moved on, crossing the corridor to the door to his right as Tradden couldn’t resist opening the door further with his boot.

It was indeed a bedchamber — a rough bedroll stretched out on the floor of a small cell, maybe ten feet by ten feet. It stank a little, but not too badly, but wasn’t lit. When Tradden thrust his torch into the room it illuminated all of the corners. Nothing jumped out at him and no insects scurried away. The only other contents of the room were a rough leather pack and a rickety chair to one side.

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Storyline
The Mouth of the Sleeper

Whilst Tradden clumsily — in Zero’s opinion — searched the bedchamber the rogue slowly opened the door on the northern wall, keeping half an eye further down the corridor.

[Zero Perception Check: 1d20+11: 18] - success!

A tiny flame of a small candle on the far wall spluttered as he pushed against the door. It was about a couple of dozen feet away and gave off a soft yellow glow. As his eyes adjusted to the gloom he could make out a number of stalls on either side of the room. At first they reminded him of stables, until he realised to his amusement it was a privy. One meant for many men, perhaps, with eight stalls as far as he could tell. There was no foul smell, though.

‘Anyone desperate?’ he quipped as he returned back to the group. ‘Latrine,’ he scowled as no-one laughed. ‘A clean one.’

Khalin stared back at the rogue and then ushered him onwards, pointing with his hammer to the other doors.

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Storyline
The Mouth of the Sleeper

With growing confidence Zero moved back across to the other side of the corridor. Nothing had jumped out at him yet and with the noise Tradden had been making surely if there were other creatures here they would already have attacked.

Still, he’d always been sensible enough to be cautious. No sense in blindly walking into the father of a maiden in the middle of the night when you’re leaving her chamber to go to her sister’s. He listened quietly at the next door, also slightly ajar, with all of his usual care.

[Zero Perception Check: 1d20+11: 12] - critical failure!

This room seemed much like the other bedchamber, complete with a simple bedroll. In the gloom, however, he couldn’t spy much else and left the room without another look. With simple bedrolls and poor quality packs he doubted whether the chambers held anything of value to him.

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Storyline
The Mouth of the Sleeper

With a node back to Khalin he moved onto the next door, following his well-worn routing of pausing, listening, pushing back the door and letting his eyes adjust before moving inwards and checking.

[Zero Perception Check: 1d20+11: 16] - success!

Another bedchamber, Zero surmised. This one, however, housed a darker stench. The air was heavy with a tang of iron and sweat and the bedroll was stained with dark red blotches. At the head of the bed sat a bundle of bloody bandages of various ages. The rogue began to back out almost immediately.

Breathing the clearer air of the corridor he turned to look at Khalin with a grimace. ‘Not nice,’ was all he could say, before moving on even more cautiously to the last of the corridor’s doors.

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The Mouth of the Sleeper

The last door was wide open, revealing another small bedchamber within. Khalin’s and Tradden’s torches gave the room plenty of light and it was not difficult to peer within.

[Zero Perception Check: 1d20+11: 28] - success!

Again Zero noticed the bedroll before scanning the rest of the room. This one matched the others with the exception of a chair and a dilapidated desk. Under the desk sat another leather pack, similar to the first of the four rooms. This one, however, looked bulkier, complete with sturdy pieces of iron to reinforce its shape.

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The Mouth of the Sleeper

With care he backed out of the room and turned his attention to the larger chamber at the end of the corridor. He was quite close now and had a much better view of its dimensions.

[Zero Perception Check: 1d20+11: 30] - success!

The room was fairly large and housed a couple of large tables surrounded by stools. In the southeastern corner were stacked barrels and crates of various shapes and sizes, mostly wooden he could see in the guttering light of two lanterns, one on each of the tables.

The tables themselves were strewn with dirty plates covered with half-eaten food as though everyone had left in a hurry. A set of white dice in the middle of one of the tables abandoned halfway through a game. A fireplace or oven squatted in the southwestern corner, coals dying slowly due to lack of tending.

Three doors, all closed, lined the western wall and another one stood ajar on the northern wall. Behind him, next to the corridor was another closed door on the eastern wall.

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The Mouth of the Sleeper

Tradden was right behind Zero. Although not too close — he had learned not to cramp the rogue’s style by being right on his coat tails. Instead the fighter slowly followed at a distance, searching rooms more thoroughly, safe in the knowledge that Zero would have picked up on anything of special note. Tradden was happy to pick up the slack by getting down and dirty with anything his friend had passed over. That said, it seemed that these rooms might have more “down and dirty” than most.

The first room didn’t have much to write home about — the rickety chair was, well, a chair. Tradden had often dreamed of exploring foreign lands and finding exotic items of amazing power. The truth, now he had found a chance to explore a foreign land, was a whole lot of pain and hard work and not much in the way of exciting items. He wasn’t complaining — he did after all have a superb frosty longsword strapped to his back — but it would have been nice to find a “chair of battlefield domination” or similar. As it was — it was a chair. Not even that, if someone tried to sit on it they would likely break it.

The pack was old leather, well worn, smelled musty and certainly had been used an awful lot. In fact his guess was it had been at sometime hauled through a muddy river. The contents of the pack were equally uninspiring. He found some ragged, plain woollen clothes, all black, grey green and probably fitting an orc assuming they ever changed out of their armour. There was enough for a full outfit — jerkins, britches, and a thick cloak. In addition there was, what was to all intents and purposes, an adventurer’s pack — some oily candles, a poor quality flint and steel, around twenty feet of hemp rope, some odd oversized shoes, some bits of whetstones and cloths for cleaning weapons and armour, and a cloth pouch with around two dozen copper coins. He took the coins and the shoes — the former for obvious reasons, the latter because they piqued Tradden’s interest — and slipped them neatly in his own pack.

The bedroll was nothing special. It smelled a bit, was obviously well used and not perhaps not just here — it smelled equally of the great outdoors and orc.

The second room was much like the first, a rough bedroll with a pack slung against the far wall. The pack was similar in contents to the first, although there were a couple of rusting but sharp knives strapped to the side of the pack, some stout wooden handles that looked like they might be spare axe handles and a mixture of flints, steels, and copper wire. Again there was a pouch, this time holding slightly more bounty; two silver and half a dozen coppers.

‘This place must have been a base for a scout or something!’ the human hissed at Khalin as he moved out of the second room and continued along Zero’s path.

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The Mouth of the Sleeper

Moving on to the next area Tradden homed in on the bedroll and blankets — was this a clue?

[Tradden Heal Check: 1d20+10: 27] - success!

Kneeling down and prodding the various bits of material with his shortsword Tradden gave a running commentary, to no-one in particular.

‘Hmm, the blood seems human to me.’ Sadly the fighter had seen enough of his own and others to be reasonably confident about this. ‘Given the placing of the various bloodstains on the roll the injuries look to be on the chest or upper back. The bandages look to be different ages — some are clearly older. See the crusted and long dried blood which has darkened with age on some whilst the others are fresher with more crimson stains? Whatever the injuries are they don’t look to be life threatening.’

He stood up and surveyed the room more widely. ‘Clean. This room is pretty clean without much here.’ He sniffed the air. ‘No smell of orcs in here either. Hmm.’

There wasn’t much more to say, so Tradden didn’t say anything (which was unusual). Moving onto the next room revealed a chamber much like the first two he had searched. It was simply an unremarkable chamber smelling of orc and containing a bedroll, chair and desk. The pack under the desk was slightly interesting in that it had clearly been used to carry something, or many things, that were heavy — there were tell-tale iron struts to keep the pack from splitting with the weight, reinforcing it. It was empty now however.

With that, Tradden moved up towards Zero in the room beyond.

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The Mouth of the Sleeper

Khalin gave Tradden a nod of thanks as the human followed them into the common room, before putting a finger to his lips. He then pointed quickly to the door that was ajar, indicating for Zero to take a quick glance through the gap.

With the coast apparently clear the dwarf studied the doors on the western wall once more. ‘Storerooms, perhaps?’ he wondered. ‘Let’s check them next — one at a time,’ came the whisper.

Despite his speculation his hand involuntarily reached for the handle of the craghammer at his side as Zero moved to peer through the slightly open door.

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The Mouth of the Sleeper

Zero inched forwards slowly at an angle towards the door, trying to peer inside from as far away as he could get. The door was open perhaps a foot, inwards, and gave him a reasonable view. The swim of dim light from within let him know the room was lit, but it was only as he got closer he could tell it was from a few oil lamps hung around the room in a scattered pattern, hung to the stone of the roof on rusting hooks.

There was no movement, nor any large objects for anyone to hide behind, although the rogue was careful about what might be lurking behind the door itself. With a quick sidestep he rounded the frame and slipped inside. To his relief the room was devoid of threat.

The room was as wide as the common room, but a little longer. Lined along each walls were rows of bedrolls, most filthy and worn, most topped with a pack or sack. The room smelt of sweat and worse. With a wrinkled nose the rogue backed out.

‘Seems like some sort of dormitory,’ he whispered loudly back at Khalin. ‘No sign of any other way out than the door.’

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The Mouth of the Sleeper

The dwarf nodded, not taking his hand off the shaft of Aecris ‘That one next, I think,’ he replied, motioning towards the southernmost of the three western doors. ‘One by one.’

Zero stalked slowly across to the door studying its unremarkable frame carved into the stone of the wall. The door itself was like the others, smooth and cold with a dark handle, perhaps of some other stone. Edging up the stone he listened carefully, placing his hand upon the surface to see if he could feel any vibrations from within.

[Zero Perception Check: 1d20+11: 20] - success!

He nodded to himself, content that there was nothing growling on the other side, before moving his hands swiftly over the handle and frame, squinting at the seams and blowing small puffs of his breath into the cracks at regular intervals.

[Zero Perception Check - Find Traps: 1d20+11+2: 23] - success!

The rogue looked happy enough that he couldn’t find anything untoward about the door and grabbed the handle. ‘Ready?’ he asked the group as he pushed on the door.

The door didn’ budge and Zero nearly fell into it. With a scowl he tried again with the same luck. Frustration showing on his face he reached into one of the side pockets of his pack and pulled out a pair of small tools and knelt down to peer and prod into the crack between handle and frame.

[Zero Thievery Check: 1d20+11: 12] - critical failure!

There was a piercing scrape of metal on stone and a curse under the rogue’s breath. A somewhat abashed Zero turned and stood up, his cheeks flushed red. ‘This one is sealed,’ he remarked in a tight voice. ‘Probably just a false door or something,’ he added quickly. ‘Perhaps we should move on?’

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The Mouth of the Sleeper

‘False door, eh?’ smirked Tradden cheekily as he brushed past Zero. He had seen the rogue work on many a door and whilst he wouldn’t say it out loud so as not to embarrass him, Tradden knew when Zero had right royally messed it up. ‘We’ll see about that!’ he finished, standing a pace from the door and planting one boot sole heavily against the centre of the stone so as to kick it open.

[Tradden Strength Check: 1d20+7: 16] - failure!

There was a long, low groaning sound…

…as Tradden fell slowly backwards, as if pivoting on the heel of his standing foot. The door, if it was a door, was wholly unmoved. It simply sat there, smug in the knowledge it had outsmarted the young human.

‘That door… is false…’ came a croaky whisper from the floor.

‘Hmm,’ was all Zero had to say, one eyebrow firmly raised as he held out his hand to Tradden, who gingerly took it and hauled himself up.

‘Stop your messing!’ chided Khalin, before clearing his throat. ‘The centre door, Zero, please.’

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The Mouth of the Sleeper

Ignoring the antics of the others, Kireth slowly walked towards the stubborn portal, his eyes never moving from its handle.

Zero paused in front of the centre door, waiting upon the mage, but Kireth ushered him onwards with a flourish of one arm. ‘Continue, continue,’ he said without looking at the rogue.

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The Mouth of the Sleeper

Zero shrugged, glad to be no longer the centre of embarrassed attention, and turned back to the stone before him. This one would not defeat him, he was sure of that.

[Zero Perception Check: 1d20+11: 26] - success!

There seemed to be no sounds coming through the door, nor any vibrations upon its surface.

With the same care as the previous door the rogue began to thoroughly scan the seams and the handle. He paused at the intricate keyhole on the handle itself — a feature that had defeated him on the previous door — noting that he did not recall such a thing on the doors in the corridor.

[Zero Thievery Check - Find Traps: 1d20+11+2: 32] - success!

There didn’t appear to be any springs or mechanisms lurking inside the lock much to Zero’s relief and he set to it with a slender pair of picks.

[Zero Thievery Check: 1d20+11: 25] - success!

It only took a moment for the rogue to align the tumblers, sliding the stone bolt back into the door.

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The Mouth of the Sleeper

This time the rogue had a broad smile upon his face as he stood back from the door and with a flourish grabbed hold of the handle. ‘At your service,’ he said with a bow and pushed open the door.

[Zero Perception Check: 1d20+11: 17] - success!

As torch and candlelight alike filled the room it was immediately apparent that this was another of the sleeping cells they had encountered before. However, Zero’s disappointment was tempered with the fact that this cell appeared to be more opulent than the others.

Instead of a shabby bedroll upon the stone floor there was a wooden bed in the far corner, rickety, but at least looked more comfortable than a cold floor. Opposite the door was a wooden chair and desk — a polished metal sheet acting as a mirror atop it. A shaving razor and comb were left upon the top of the desk along with a metal goblet and pipe.

Piquing Zero’s interest more, however, was a solid-looking wooden chest nestled under the desk.

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The Mouth of the Sleeper

Zero could hardly help himself. The broad smile grew into a larger grin and he rubbed his hands together to get them ready for his work. He settled down on his knees before the chest stroking his short goatee, almost in mockery of Khalin, before pulling out a separate pair of lockpicks.

‘Now then, my beauty,’ he whispered to the wooden coffer, checking it thoroughly to see if it was safe.

[Zero Thievery Check - Find Traps: 1d20+11+2: 26] - success!

A frown crossed the rogue’s face. ‘Trapped,’ he scowled. ‘But where there’s traps there’s something to protect.’

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The Mouth of the Sleeper

Shuffling a little on his knees he continued to frown at the chest. ‘A bit more light, please,’ he asked and Khalin moved into the room, holding his torch high.

Zero began to hum his tune and slipped one of the picks around the side of the lock.

[Zero Thievery Check - Disable Trap: 1d20+11+2: 14] - critical failure!

The rogue’s tune stopped abruptly as his pick lodged itself in the wood. ‘Whoops…’ was all he managed before a jet of crimson liquid burst out from the chest, flinging open the lid and covering both Zero and Khalin.

[Blood Rain Trap]

[Close Burst 3]

[Burst Attack: 1d20+12: 28 vs Zero’s Reflex (20)] - hits!

[Burst Attack: 1d20+12: 31 vs Khalin’s Reflex (15)] - hits!

The pair were splattered, the liquid stinging their eyes and fouling their lips. They both began to gag, trying desperately to wipe their faces clean.

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The Mouth of the Sleeper

Tradden had muttered to himself, something about a stupid door, whilst ambling off to lick his wounds and trying to be useful — having a search of what he called the common room and the dormitory.

Neither room held any surprises.

[Tradden Perception Check: 1d20+5: 7] - failure!

The common room was as plain as he could see — tables, an oven and a collection of small barrels, sacks, and crates containing provisions such as flour, snowmelt water, cheap wine, firewood, and lamp oil. The supplies being in good nick Tradden took a few bits to replace his general supply.

[Tradden Perception Check: 1d20+5: 10] - failure!

The dormitory was similarly boring — the various sacks and bags contained a bit of loose change, including a few silver. Tradden took them, more out of habit than anything else.

Tradden’s luck was consistent if nothing else. Some minor treasure but no weapons of ultimate smiting. Not even a Footstool of Doom.

It was at that point that he heard the muffled yells of Zero and Khalin, so swords drawn he ran back to investigate.

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The Mouth of the Sleeper

As Tradden burst into the smaller room he was greeted with the sight of carnage — blood literally everywhere. No enemies, oddly.

‘Whoa…’ was all he could manage.

Beltak had already rushed in and was helping a kneeling Zero, the rogue gagging and retching. Khalin was bent over holding his mouth, so Tradden sheathed his swords on his back and went to help the dwarf. Like Zero he was soaked with blood — in fact blood was everywhere in the room except near the now opened chest, with sprays of it over the south wall of the cell with macabre shadows of Khalin and Zero clear of blood. It would have been funny were his friends not in such shock and pain.

In truth Tradden and Beltak did little other than stand over Khalin and Zero whilst they composed themselves.

As they both straightened up a half-elven voice floated in from the room outside. ‘What is in the chest that required such powerful magic protection?’ it mused.

Odd, Tradden thought, the mage hadn’t even poked his head around the door frame to see what had happened.

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The Mouth of the Sleeper

Kireth scowled at the noise emanating from the adjacent room. He had already started his own style of work on the blocked door before him and the interruption set him back. His curiosity had been raised by the chest, but he had work to do here.

The door intrigued him and he would not be beaten by it. Mumbling under his breath he stretched out his palm towards the handle, his hand trembling and whitening with the strain. Beads of sweat broke out on his forehead as he concentrated on his words.

[Knock]

[Arcana Check: 1d20+12+5: 34] - success!

[Kireth loses 1 Healing Surge]

A small wisp darkened the room from his upraised palm, a tiny shadow of a key. It swam towards the handle swirling and seeking some entrance. It was met with a red light, forceful and strong. The two danced together, testing each other, seeking weakness. The red glow grew in strength and the shadows started to falter.

‘No,’ gasped Kireth, ‘not today.’

The shadows strengthened, beating back the glow, and shot into the cracks around the handle. There was a crack and Kireth exhaled strongly. The door scraped open slightly.

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The Mouth of the Sleeper

Leaving Khalin, Zero and Beltak to the room now eerily covered in blood, Tradden went to see what Kireth was doing. Seeing the door was now ajar he noted an air of smugness around the mage even though he didn’t betray any emotion. The fighter shrugged — results were results and you couldn’t argue with that.

Once again unsheathing his swords Tradden nudged the door inwards a bit with one boot. Seeing it was dark inside Tradden nodded towards the crack although Kireth was already ahead of him.

‘Shirak!’ was the whisper from behind Tradden and the top of Kireth’s staff was a comforting glow emanating from above and slightly behind Tradden’s head.

[Tradden Perception Check: 1d20+5: 15] - success!

Edging carefully forward the combination of light from the staff and the oil lamps in the common room behind them revealed what was a small room, similar to the others they had opened, perhaps ten feet square.

The door suddenly stopped opening inwards without warning, making Tradden jump until he realised it had stopped up against a bed nestled in the corner. The room was really quite dry — Tradden’s mouth could attest to that. It made sense considering there was an oven at this corner of the common room.

The room was still — no occupants. Good. As with some of the other rooms there was a desk and chair, these both in good condition, in situ and both up against the western wall. Tradden could just make out a large vial of ink, probably half full, on the top of the desk next to a few discarded pens. As his eyes improved to the semi-darkness, and he and Kireth moved forward inch by inch, he could also make out ink stains across the desk here and there.

The bed was furnished, quite elegantly compared to the bare bedrolls in nearby rooms, but had the look of not having been used in some time. That matched the overall feel of the room — not really used much, and not for some time.

Tradden was just about to chalk the room down as being unremarkable when he noticed for the first time that each of the four walls had a mirror at their centre. Each mirror was a slightly different shape and size, but they all faced inwards towards the centre of the room.

The mirror on the northern wall (well, it was to his right as he walked in) was small and round and the surface appeared to be dull and grey. The one on the western wall was tall and straight and dark. The one on the southern wall, over the bed, had a large crack across it, and the one on the eastern wall, when not obscured by the door, looked bright and green.

It was, in short, a bit like Tradden’s rooms back in Deepingwald, but substantially more creepy. In fact, it was very creepy. Strange mirrors? Parchments? Writing and desks? That meant only one thing.

‘Erm… one for you I think, Kireth…’

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Khalin had barely noticed Tradden disappear to investigate Kireth’s efforts. The dwarf was hardly a stranger to blood — it was pretty much a prerequisite of battle — but the shock of the spray from the trap, covering his face, inside his mouth and nose, clogging his eyes, was almost too much to stomach. Nevertheless the gag reflex subsided and he wiped the red goo from his eyes. His first concern, once he’d seen Zero was recovering also, was for any lingering maleffect.

‘Nice work,’ he spluttered to the rogue, spitting blood from his mouth. ‘Are you familiar with this sort of trap?’ The dwarf shuddered as he considered the potential implications. ‘Could this stuff be poisonous or infected?’ he asked of Beltak as he tried to brush the foul stuff off his armour.

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The Mouth of the Sleeper

It was Beltak that spoke up, trying his best to help wipe away some of the bigger splotches of blood on Khalin’s armour.

‘Did you swallow any?’ the scribe asked politely, frowning at Khalin’s nod of confirmation. ‘Then we need to keep an eye on you both. If either of you feel hot or dizzy then let me know. I doubt it is poisonous, but who knows what filth or disease it may spread.’

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Zero appeared to have managed to regain some level of composure although his face shone a pale white against the black and now red of his garb. From somewhere he had produced a lace handkerchief which he had used to clean his face and hands and disappointedly discarded into a corner of the room, soggy and crimson with the blood.

He turned back to the chest, eager to inspect the contents that had caused so much trouble to reveal.

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The rogue breathed a small sigh of relief when he noted the contents of the chest had not been damaged nor fouled by the explosion of blood. At the top of the chest sat a small bone scroll case which Zero quickly determined contained a number of parchments — he handed this absentmindedly to Beltak over his shoulder.

Underneath, lining the length of the small chest were a pair of tunics, both well made and about the right size for Tradden, ornately decorated with swirling patterns befitting a noble. The pair were a deep red with dark embroidery and Zero nodded at their eloquence.

The chest was not so large and Zero was beginning to get concerned there would not be any space left for gems and jewels but underneath the tunics he found what he was looking for. A small wooden box, intricately carved and perhaps worth a good sum itself, easily opened within his hands and spilled the reflected light of Beltak’s torch across the room as it shone against a pair of rubies.

The pair were laid out in a soft cloth within the box and would likely fetch two or three hundred gold back in a reputable gemsmith’s in Deepingwald.

Pocketing the small box he turned his attention back to the chest. Laid upon a purple velvet cushion were a brace of bottles, dark red and labelled with flowing writing. ‘Wine!’ he squealed back at Khalin softly, stroking the bottles gently. ‘Oh, I bet this one is a good vintage,’ he continued.

One of the bottles rattled against the velvet, proving it was no cushion. ‘And what do we have here?’ the rogue questioned, picking up the velvet and emptying the chest. It was heavy, Khalin could see that in the way Zero lifted it — the velvet but a wrapping.

Slowly Zero unwound the material revealing a dark stone platter, which at first he thought was just a plate. Two holes near the centre told him otherwise. Turning the platter over, the stone cold in his hands, he asked Beltak to raise the torch higher.

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The Mouth of the Sleeper

The dark stone was flecked with white, like snowflakes, shimmering in the torchlight, but it was not those that held Zero’s attention. It was the holes. They were eyes. The platter was a mask.

For a moment Zero seemed confused, staring at the face of the mask with disbelief. Then he stood, holding it out in front of him, turning around and putting it between himself and Khalin at the doorway. He lined up the eye holes with Khalin’s questioning eyes for a second and then lowered it again, the rogue’s face growing paler.

‘Spit it out, boy,’ roared Khalin in the confusion.

Zero paused for a moment, gulping. Then slowly he croaked, ‘It’s you!’

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‘What?’ exclaimed Khalin, almost unsure he’d heard the rogue right. He reached out to take the mask and slowly turned it round in his hands with trepidation. The dark obsidian of the mask felt smooth to his touch.

‘What in Moradin’s name…’

The warlord’s voice was quiet, almost reverent as he regarded the visage staring back at him. The likeness was striking — but Khalin was pretty sure it wasn’t him. Nevertheless, the face was familiar and the dwarf’s eyes took on a faraway look.

‘Find the truth,’ he whispered. ‘Hunt the shadowed chain.’

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The Mouth of the Sleeper

Khalin carefully wrapped the mask back up in the velvet from the chest and started stowing it safely in his pack. Whether it was simply a fortuitously found family heirloom or something of much greater significance the warlord had the feeling he should keep hold of it. With the worst of the blood wiped clean the dwarf shrugged back into action.

‘Come on, Zero, there’s two more doors to try,’ he said in an encouraging tone, before adding, ‘we should be cautious.’

The rogue scowled slightly in response to the gentle rebuke before following the dwarf to the last of the three doors opposite the entrance to to the room. Khalin stepped to one side to allow Zero forward to begin his examination.

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The Mouth of the Sleeper

Zero continued to scowl at the warlord as he rose and padded softly out of the door. He looked as though he were about to say something, but held his peace before approaching the northernmost of the three eastern doors.

[Zero Perception Check: 1d20+11: 31] - critical success!

With his ear to the door, more out of habit than necessity, he listened for any sounds within before declaring the room empty with a knock at the door.

‘Another sleeping cell I would presume, judging by the echo,’ he smiled back at Khalin. The rogue kept his caution, though, slipping out one of his tools and checking the door thoroughly.

[Zero Perception Check - Find Traps: 1d20+11+2: 25] - success!

Confident the door was safe and that it was not locked, he swung it open.

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The Mouth of the Sleeper

Zero had been right and the door opened into another one of the small sleeping cells. A spluttering candle burned with a poor yellow flame upon a wax-strewn desk in front of the rogue and as he peered around the door he could see a familiar bedroll, although this was definitely more unkempt than the other pair of adjacent cells.

The room smelt of stale sweat and had an orcish-odour, although whether that came from the bedroll or the oiled leather pack in the corner of the room he couldn’t tell. A rough wooden crate, without a lid stood against the far wall, three or four rusted and wicked looking blades standing upright within it.

‘It’s safe, Khalin,’ the rogue uttered, dismayed at the lack of obvious baubles.

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The Mouth of the Sleeper

From outside the sleeping cells, Beltak cleared his throat and began talking, assuming that everyone was listening. It was hard to tell if the scribe were talking to himself or the rest of the group. He appeared to be fascinated by the parchments in the scroll case, reading one with a puzzled expression.

‘It looks as though they are written in the common tongue,’ he began. ‘A little archaic, perhaps, but readable. They’re some sort of correspondence I guess, and you’ll like this, they’re from Skauril.’

The scribe kept focusing on the parchments, oblivious to the rest of the groups’ activities.

‘I think I’ve sorted them into some sort of chronological order, although I’d need to do a little more thinking before I catalogue them any other way.’

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There was a cough from the most southwesterly room, but Beltak simply continued.

‘This is the first one,’ he addressed the unseen group, bringing one of the parchments to the fore and reading aloud.

Khase, first spear, may you eat of the flesh of our Lord and drink his blood, and through him gain life everlasting.”

I have need of you to the west and demand you make haste, the search at Sunderpeak can be continued by Korosphlax as we need to spread our own wings. Helvec has sent word that one of the reflectors may be located far across the Stonemarch. I will go myself to supervise and find a suitable base of operations rather than have him mismanage the situation again.”

Take two dozen of the Severed Eye and a hobgoblin slave wagon and bring them to the Mouth of the Sleeper. Korosphlax can give you the location of the Mouth now it is open to the skies. Gather what wretches you can on the way — there are many chances here to slake the thirst of our Lord, but keep them from the Seer that still lives here, he is quite mad I am sure, although may be turned to be of use. I keep him alive if only for amusement and the chance that he may scribe something that will swing our fortunes.”

Beltak turned the parchment over a couple of times. ‘It’s definitely signed as Skauril,’ he confirmed. ‘From what I can tell it seems to be from the start of the second tenday of Alturiak. Just over a month ago.’

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The scribe was not deterred by the silence of the others, simply leafing through some of the other parchments and plucking out another. This one was slightly smaller, had been crumpled and stained somewhat, and held a dark red seal, broken in half where the correspondence had been opened.

‘Looks like Skauril’s writing again,’ Beltak began holding the parchment in the air in case anyone came back out into the common room. ‘It seems as though this one has been through quite a journey — it’s addressed to the same “Khase” though.’

Helvec’s site looks to be of great interest and we have already started excavation. To the north we have found a ruin which will suffice as a base of operations. I have sent Helvec back to the west to monitor the settlement and bolster the goblins there in case they are required.

Aethelinda has headed for Gorizbadd to speed up our search there with strict council to dispatch the reflector there with one of the Aeneators to you at the Mouth as soon as it is found. You may need to use it to before I return.

‘This one is definitely after the first and its dated on the back — the twenty sixth day of Alturiak.’

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Zero looked back at Khalin in the sleeping cell with a frown upon his face.

‘Ever get the feeling you were completely out of your depth?’ he asked the dwarf.

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Khalin merely smiled. ‘The game’s afoot, my dear Zero!’

The dwarf rubbed his beard once more as he ambled into the common room towards Beltak. ‘Well, the exploits of this Skauril extend further than we imagined,’ he frowned, realising the prospect of a large tankard of frothing ale beside a warm fire anytime soon was apparently receding.

‘Kireth,’ he boomed towards the southwestern chamber, ‘you never told us your thoughts. Is Skauril still alive?’

‘This “seer”,’ the warlord turned to Beltak, ‘any more mention of him? Perhaps the chest was his, and chances are he’s still at large. If we can capture him maybe we can get some answers.’

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Beltak shuffled the parchments nervously, looking for an answer to the warlord’s question.

‘Not that I can see&hellip’ he began, and then his face froze. One of the parchments he held out in front of him, Khalin could see it was covered with plenty of ink marks, even from the rear. The scribe turned it on its side and then upside down, a frown beginning to crease his face.

‘Erm, you’d better take a look at this, Khalin,’ he whispered. ‘It looks like a rough map of the area. You know the treelines we came through on the way to the hill with the “mouth”?’ Khalin nodded. ‘And the way that the frozen rivers or ditched between them were curved a little? Well, it forms a pattern.’

Beltak handed the parchment to the dwarf, almost reluctantly. Khalin studied it for a moment, gathering his bearings and wits. There was a rough sketch of the face on the hill, almost comical at the centre of the parchment in dried brown ink. Surrounding it were the swirls of the treelines spiralling outwards from the centre widdershins, with the channels of the breaks between the treelines making an all-too familiar pattern.

The warlord stroked his beard once more.

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Whilst Khalin and Zero were investigated the other room and Beltak had been examining the scrolls Kireth had moved slowly into the room where Tradden stood. Ignoring the young fighter he kept away from the centre, moving slowly towards the mirror on the western wall opposite the door, ensuring he did not get caught fully in its reflection.

[Kireth Perception Check: 1d20+3: 15] - success!

Staring intently at the dark, straight surface he then shifted to the side to stand right before it and examine his reflection. The hooded mage, face lost in the shadows of his hood with only his bright eyes peering back out, stared back at him silently, his shadows almost being drawn into the dark surface.

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Kireth’s white hands clutched tightly onto his staff as he turned his attention to the mirror on the northern wall, over the desk. This one was smaller, round, and a curious dull grey. The reflection was dim and faint as though the room itself was clouded in fog.

[Kireth Arcana Check: 1d20+13: 25] - success!

Reaching out to touch the mirror he could sense a vague dweomer emanating from its surface as though it had once been touched by magic although not inherently magical by itself. It was faint and curious, a magic that seemed unusual or perhaps forgotten.

Whether it was a trick of the light or the bumbling oaf Tradden moved behind him into the reflection he could not tell, but the mage suddenly felt nauseous as the fog within the mirror appeared to shift for an instant.

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Kireth stopped, drawing his hood down and revealing a confused face. He threw up an arm to stop Tradden in his tracks before the youth could even move and then stepped back himself slowly.

He began to turn to look at the other mirrors before realising he had stepped involuntarily right into the centre of the room and the mirrors’ focus. He looked down and saw the smoothed stone beneath his feet where someone else may have stood.

With a whisper he uttered, ‘Open the eyes…’ Then followed it up more strongly with, ‘Skauril!’

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Kireth appeared to regain some of his composure but still looked a little pale. He turned to Tradden.

‘I’m not sure if dead or alive are the right way to consider Skauril any more, but there is something “not right” going on here… more not right than usual.’

He turned back to the mirrors and their reflections of him. ‘Open the eyes,’ he whispered once more.

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Tradden looked at Kireth, and then at the mirrors. Then at Kireth. Mirrors. Kireth. In the end the fighter shrugged his shoulders and backed out of the room. ‘All yours, K. Let me know if any orcs jump out from under the bed.’

Striding out and over to Beltak, Tradden swiftly but firmly nipped the parchment from the scribe’s grasp, studied it intently, but clearly far too fast to actually read it, and handed it back to the servant of Pelor before he had even chance to stutter an objection.

‘“Khase”, eh? “Kloros…plax”, eh? It all starts to makes sense. Oh, no, wait a minute — it doesn’t! What in Moradin’s name is going on? This just keeps getting bigger and bigger! Come on, let’s get cracking, otherwise we will be here all day!’

Clearly miffed, the fighter strutted across the common room. Beltak heard the distinct sound of the scraping of a stone door being flung open.

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An uncompromising curse echoed from the northeastern side of the common room and just from inside the door where Tradden stood.

The room before the young fighter was dark but there was enough light from the common room to illuminate its disappointing content. Perhaps the first dozen feet of the room were fairly clear, empty weapon racks lining the stone walls, only a pair of rusting javelins and a dull short sword remained in their banks. Within the space were a couple of stools and a low table, perhaps used for fletching arrows judging by the scattered arrowheads and shafts nearby.

The far dozen feet of the room appeared to be some sort of dumping ground — a jumbled tangle of shattered wooden struts, rotting tapestries, iron bed frames and other detritus.

‘An armoury, perhaps,’ the young fighter sighed. ‘Once.’

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Taking a moment to light a torch from his pack Tradden set about seeing if there was anything of use, or interesting, in the room — it never hurt to try…

[Tradden Perception Check: 1d20+3: 9] - failure!

The young fighter prised back some of the rusting bedsteads and old wooden planks to see what could be found beneath the junk. As he moved one of the frames aside he jerked back quickly, slicing his hand on the rusting iron. Cursing once more and sucking his hand he shivered at the thought of the bones and skulls beneath the wreckage that had startled him so much.

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Tutting at the noise Tradden was causing and the inelegant solutions the young fighter continued to muster, Zero shambled across to the crate. The blades looked as though they had seen their own fair use of battle, the edges nicked and dulled with use. The rest of the crate was disappointingly empty.

The oiled pack in the room was just as disappointing to the rogue. It appeared to only contain a couple of furs and blankets and the trappings needed for a long march and rest outdoors. Nothing of value.

With a sigh he stood up, turned and padded out of the room towards Beltak.

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Khalin, having returned to the doorway back into the common room, had been watching Kireth intently. The mage’s reactions brought a palpable sense of unease to the dwarf’s gut. He walked slowly over the join the wizard.

‘Kireth,’ the warlord spoke softly, as if not wanting to wake someone from sleep, ‘what’s going on here?’ He glanced around at the mirrors that had spooked his comrade. ‘Are we being watched?’

Kireth did not immediately respond, and the dwarf looked around to the others once more before coming to a decision. This time speaking with a clear, sonorous voice, the warlord announced: ‘We must finish searching this place. If we can confirm it’s secure then we may have done all we can for now. If this “seer” is still around perhaps we’ll get some answers. If not, then we may have done all we can, and we should meet up with the Talons at the northern edge of the mountains. There were two more doorways back beneath the mouth. Come on.’

With that the dwarf made for the passage back to the circular walkway beneath the mouth. The others swiftly followed.

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As the group reemerged in the large cavern, flakes of snow continued to descend before them. Shrugging off the cold Khalin pointed towards the other doorways, one directly opposite them, one on the southern edge.

‘The longer we spend here the greater the chance reinforcements might arrive. We need to determine if there is anything, or anyone, left here. I propose we split up. Zero, if you check the nearest doorway, myself and Kireth will investigate to the south.’

The wizard couldn’t have looked less thrilled at the prospect, but the dwarf continued regardless.

‘Then you, Tradden and Beltak continue on to the east door, and check beyond.’

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Zero shrugged silently, glad to be on the move again, although not relishing the thought of splitting up. He padded softly around the balcony — avoiding the bloodstains from the corpses of the orcs that he had slain — and arrived at the large stone doors at the southern edge of the dome.

Looking back quickly at the others he pressed he ear close to the nearest door.

[Zero Perception Check: 1d20+11: 16] - success!

A stony silence greeted the rogue.

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With no obvious sounds from beyond the door Zero began his usual pattern of searching the door for any suprises. First he ran his hands around the gaps and prodded here and there with one of his tools.

[Zero Perception Check - Find Traps: 1d20+11+2: 23] - success!

The rogue nodded to himself after a few moments, content that there was nothing lurking that would cause him any pain, or embarrasment.

‘Seems clear to me,’ he offered, without actually opening the door.

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Tradden playfully pushed the rogue away from the southern doors towards the eastern side. ‘Come on,’ he offered, ‘Let’s see what’s behind the other one whilst they play with this one.

Zero sighed but complied with his friend, following his usual routine at the eastern doors.

[Zero Perception Check: 1d20+11: 23] - success!

‘Nothing again,’ the rogue frowned, almost disappointedly. ‘Is there nothing left in here?’

‘Just get on with it,’ chuckled Tradden, impatient to get the doors open.

[Zero Perception Check - Find Traps: 1d20+11+2: 22] - success!

‘Yup!’ agreed the rogue. ‘This one is clear too.’

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Tradden didn’t waste any more time than absolutely necessary, pushing the door with one hand whilst gripping the hilt of his longsword with the other as soon as Zero gave the all clear.

The door gave way to a short hallway walled with the same stone as the common room stretching out for a couple of dozen yards to the east until it became lost in gloom, opening up into a chamber.

In the centre of the chamber Tradden could spy the base of a black statue, dimly luminescent against the darkness that threatened to obscure it. Leading into the chamber were dark chains along the sides of the walls, starting from the door where Tradden stood and running around the chamber to the far side where another pair of stone doors stood closed. The chains were at hand height, loose and slack, hanging from iron rings set into the stone at intervals. At the bottom of each slack area appeared a heavy ball between links of the chain.

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‘Let’s proceed… carefully,’ promoted Khalin as the door to the south softly scraped open. The warlord and mage advanced down a gloomy passage that resembled the others they’d traversed. The pair had barely gone half a dozen paces before the passage turned abruptly to their left.

Peering cautiously round the corner the pair saw the coast was clear and proceeded on. Some twenty feet beyond they came to a spiral staircase, the stone steps bending down.

‘It looks like it goes down to the base of the chamber,’ mused Khalin, and he carefully headed down.

The steps did not go too far before they ended in another corridor, dark giving way to the warlord’s torch to reveal a long passageway with a turn to the right.

Khalin headed back up the stairs to Kireth. ‘Let’s report back to the others before we venture down there. No use in running into a pack of enemies whilst we are split.‘

With that the pair headed back through the doors and around the balcony to join the others.

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Slowly but surely Tradden inched forwards until he had a good view of the room. He had been in this “business” long enough now to know when to be careful and when not to be. An ominous looking statue in a room? Odd looking chains? Such things were not good news stories for the front page of the Daily Tradden Tribune.

Whilst he heard the footsteps of his various comrades approaching behind him, the fighter took a second to have a good look at the key parts of the room.

[Tradden Perception Check: 1d20+5: 23] - success!

The statue stood tall within the hexagonal chamber — as far as he could see it seemed to be made of the same black stone as the wall carvings around the dome. The statue had a faint luminescence, veins of a different kind of rock swirling through it giving off a dim glow.

The statue itself confused him a little in its appearance — it was essentially a hooded figure with a long cloak and which sported a pair of long curved blades. Wait a minute… ah… that was what was odd… it wasn’t two arms, it was three — one extra arm and one extra blade.

Try as he might, he couldn’t get a good angle on the face beneath the hood from where he stood, so that remained a mystery.

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Turning to the chains running along the walls the young fighter brought his vast experience to bear.

[Tradden Dungeoneering Check: 1d20+9: 17] - success!

He first noted that each of the two chains came from out of the walls at the far eastern side of the room, near the doors, through a small hole. One didn’t need to be a dwarven metalworker to see that the chains were aged. That said, the tops of the chains were smooth and had a polished look which contrasted with the rusty, old look of the sides and underneaths of the links.

The weighted balls were just plain odd — he could see the nearest ones quite well and they seemed to be eyeballs judging by their faint carvings, the pupils staring upwards.

Tradden cleared his throat nervously as a sudden memory came back to the forefront of his mind which he then spoke out loud.

‘Hey, remember the ruined keep and that big statue that came to life. That sword really, really hurt. This one has three…’

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Zero gingerly reached out to grab the chain and gave it a quick shake before whipping his hand back. His eyeballs flitted about the room nervously.

The iron chain slipped from his grasp easily, banging against the walls and the hoops that it ran through. It swayed like a wave along the wall, the eyes knocking loudly and twisting wildly, as though staring back at the rogue in mockery.

The wave ran past the hexagonal room and the statue and finally came to rest within the holes in the far walls by the doors as though it were taught on something there.

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Khalin cleared his throat as he barged to the front.

‘Right. No one ever found gold without digging a mine. Form up behind me — stay close and keep your eyes open, especially you two,’ the dwarf motioned towards Zero and Kireth with Aecris.

Zero was mildly offended at having a warhammer thrust in his general direction but decided to not let it show.

‘You know what you are looking for, experts that you are! Tradden, cover the rear and Beltak… keep your connection to Pelor strong and clear — I have a bad feeling about this…’

With that the group slowly filed across the chamber, the warlord leading them in a wide path around the southern side of the statue.

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Khalin led them out slowly keeping his eyes focussed on the floor in front of him and across the chamber to the door at the far eastern side. Each step he took with care, trying to ignore the statue and the curved blade it thrust out to the left of him. Warily he made sure that the floor before him was sound and did not give beneath his feet.

Zero followed the warlord checking all he could in the glow of Khalin’s torch, switching between the stones beneath his feet to the chains and to the statue looming on his left.

[Zero Perception Check - Find Traps: 1d20+11+2: 31] - success!

The floor seemed normal to the rogue — the same stone as in the other chambers and similarly worn, perhaps more so nearer to the chains. The chain itself was also smooth on the top at this side of the chamber. The statue loomed above him ominously with its curved blade, slightly hooked at the point, stretching out to point at him. Peering up at the head he noticed that the hood was carved in an odd flowing style and it eventually occured to him that the statue had three faces to match the three arms. Looking up, however, Zero saw no face, only a hollow space where a face should be.

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Kireth and Beltak closely followed the rogue, the mage copying Zero’s footsteps and movements all the while muttering syllables of spells.

[Kireth Arcana Check - Detect Magic: 1d20+12: 23] - success!

The mage looked up at the statue, the faint traces of a dweomer surrounding the whole of the dark stone, a similar faint trace to that of the carvings in the dome, but perhaps clearer, or newer, he wasn’t sure.

‘We are right to be wary,’ he offered, although he knew everyone was being so.

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The young fighter brought up the rear, pacing backwards and keeping his eye on the doors back to the dome, both swords out with a torch grasped with his shortsword. The torch swung left and right as he tried to keep a firm grip, sending flickering shadows back through to the dome.

‘Wait!’ called Zero, stopping in his tracks. Kireth and Beltak nearly bowled him over, and Tradden stepped backwards into the scribe, but they all managed to keep their feet.

Tradden swung around. ‘What is it?’ he asked before Kireth had the chance to admonish the rogue.

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Zero paused for a moment and turned to face the wall and the chain. He stood at the angle of the hexagon, just past the first of the statue’s blades and looked down at the iron ring set into the wall that held the chain.

‘There’s something odd here…’ he began.

‘You don’t say…’ Tradden interrupted.

Zero scowled and cast the young fighter a withering glance that caught Tradden aback, silencing him for now. ‘Odd in the wall. Don’t you see it?’ he asked of Khalin. The dwarf took a long look and nodded back to the rogue. ‘A door?’ the warlord suggested.

‘Exactly,’ agreed Zero.

‘How does it open?’ spoke up Beltak for the first time in a while. ‘I see no handle.’

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Zero looked carefully at the stonework, the iron ring, and the chain stretching off towards both doors. The eyes of the chain’s balls stared up at him in mockery.

‘A secret door,’ he mused to himself, ‘but what secrets behind?’

After a moment’s pause he turned to Khalin. ‘It looks obvious to me.’

Khalin looked back at him with a slight shrug of his shoulders.

‘I guess you pull the chain out. An eyeball gets stuck in the iron ring. Pull the chain some more and it opens.’

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Tradden continued his vigil, constantly scanning the room.

‘Well? Does it open?’

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Khalin tilted his head as he looked at the macabre chain, brow furrowed in thought. The dwarf looked over his shoulder to the opposite side of the room. ‘Hmm, two chains. Two doors?’ He cocked his head to try peer past the statue to the opposite corner but the stone behemoth impeded some of his view.

[Khalin Dungeoneering Check: 1d20+5: 22] - success!

The warlord couldn’t see for certain from where he was, but he could see that the opposite wall held an iron ring in almost the same position as the one before him and Zero. It seemed like too much of a coincidence to be anything other than a matching door.

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Weighing the chain in his hand, the warlord appeared to have reached a decision. ‘May fortune favour the brave,’ he murmured, before reaching out and grasping the chain to give it a firm pull.

There was an odd, strangled sound from Tradden’s direction as he turned to face the warlord. It was joined by a somewhat shocked, manic look to the fighter’s eyes.

‘That’s it?’ he blurted out, scrambling to get close to the dwarf. ‘That’s your plan?’ Tradden’s eyes darted between the dwarf and the large, imposing, dark statue with three swords as the chain began to grate against the iron rings along the walls.

‘Look, I’ll go with you if this is years and years of honed dwarf knowledge coming to the fore, but it seems a bit, well, it’s…’

‘It’s the kind of thing Tradden would do…’ offered Zero, not unkindly.

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Tradden paused before continuing. ‘Yeah! That’s the kind of thing “I” would do!’

The fighter again studied the large statue, aware that if the thing did come to life, as seemed to be the norm for evil-looking statues, he would be the one taking the beating first. ‘I mean, didn’t you at least want to’ I don’t know, tie some rope to it and pull the whole thing from out there…?!’ He gestured to the corridor they had entered through.

It seemed to be too late though as the “eyeball” slotted itself into the hoop with a dull clang, its pupil staring at an angle at Zero. The chain grew taut and Khalin gave it a final heave.

[Khalin Strength Check: 1d20+6: 15] - failure!

There was a sharp click as the iron ball pulled back on the ring and others joined it along the chain. The whole chain seemed to be taut now and dust puffed out of the holes in the walls next to both the western and eastern doors.

Small stones began to fall from the roof just in front of the doors in a fog of dust, but settled just as quickly.

Khalin strained a little, his cheeks puffing out from below his whiskers, but the chain would pull no further.

‘Maybe you’re right,’ the dwarf offered, one eye on the dust and one on the young fighter.

Then the noise began.

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A harsh grating of stone on stonesprang up first, making the warlord jump. It came from the statue, swinging around until its blade pointed due south. Tradden dropped his torch to better grip his shortsword and the others dropped into crouches.

The statue did not appear to be coming to life though, it merely stopped. But only for a moment, then its blade came down, quickly and fiercely, but missing Khalin by more than a foot, a clumsy downward swing. Its curved end caught on the chain, entangling itself within one of the links.

‘Ha!’ shouted Tradden, ‘a bad shot!’

The statue did not respond, but the blade began to rise, bringing the chain with it, pulling the iron balls further into the hoops until the chain looked like it might break. The puffs of dust began again and then there was a whirring noise as if something had been set loose.

More stones fell from above the doors before iron portcullises slammed down in front of them with a resounding clatter. The sound of stone grating then rose, right in front of the group and all around them as the masonry of the walls began to part where the iron rings were pulled by the eyeballs.

Doors opened and the groan and scrape of bodies within, now released, began to fill the dusty air.

1st Day of Tarsakh | Evening | Snowing, Freezing, Strong Easterly Breeze | go to latest… | back to top…

Scene
Completed

End

[…continued in Book #01, Chapter #10, Scene #06…]