I moved toward the giant spider and swung my sickles in an attempt to catch and damage its legs. Graenas continued to tear at the spider with a necromancy spell, his eyes showing no signs of thought beyond a desire to kill this thing. I heard Danny struggling to free himself behind us. It took him several seconds — not helped by the fact that the spider managed to catch him in more webbing at one point — but he finally broke free. As he rejoined our battle he swung his warhammer with precision and incredible force, connecting with the spider’s head. The creature’s exoskeleton cracked loudly as its head caved in from the impact. The whole creature flopped to the ground and twitched briefly before becoming utterly still.
I turned to my brother who was still lost in icy hatred. I could feel the crackle of energy as he raised the power to lash out once again. I strode to his side and placed a hand on one arm. “Graenas?” I said softly and pleadingly.
He stood staring at the corpse for a second or two longer before finally blinking. He looked at me as more reasoned thoughts returned to him. “I’m here. Sorry about that.”
I nodded and hugged him. Danny shifted uncomfortably and began to look through a pile of various items in the room. I suspect he was discomfited by what he saw in my brother’s expression as well as our moment of tenderness. I could certainly understand being disturbed by my brother’s murderous trance-like focus. It bothered me too. As for our sibling affection, well, the human would just have to learn to deal with that.
After a few moments, we joined our fighter companion in sifting through the pile. We found quite the horde of coins, a leather talisman, some perfumed candles — I could only imagine what use Graenas might find for those — a vial of perfume, a pewter rod which Graenas identified as an enchanter’s rod, a lute, a hunter’s cap, and an idol. We took it all.
I watched as Graenas studied the idol for several seconds. It had the general shape of a man, though the legs were reptilian and the head was that of a wolf. Also, the arms looked more like octopus tentacles. Finally, Graenas said, “it’s clearly some sort of demonic god, though I can’t identify him or anything about the worship of him.”
“Perhaps we can find out more later in Albion City,” I suggested. Graenas nodded as he dropped the idol into his bag.
“Any idea how we get back out of here?” Danny asked. He had barely finished his question when we felt the dizziness of being magically teleported. When the sensation passed, we were once again in the first room into the mine. The four remaining boulders were still there. The passageway we had opened to find the contraption was gone, however. In its place was a small alcove with a beautifully crafted statue.
Graenas sighed and stepped toward it. As he approached, a magical force appeared to cover the statue in a layer of Adamantine. Graenas reached for the statue with his right hand. As his hand approached the surface of the protective layer, it began to glow with an icy magic, surely another gift from his abominable patron. His touch caused the protective layer to melt away and then caused the stone statue to shatter. Danny coughed and said, “‘Tis a shame to destroy such a thing of beauty.”
Graenas stepped back before replying, “I suppose it is. But until I’m in a position to fight back against Auril, I have to basically do her bidding.” Once more, I wondered just how far my brother would take that defense. I hoped there was still a line he wouldn’t cross no matter what, though I agreed that destroying these statues wasn’t an unforgivable offense. I might prefer Tatiana to her frigid sister, but I still wouldn’t call her a grand chum. Graenas pointed to the boulder immediately left of where the statue had been standing. “Shall we get on with the next one?” Danny and I stood behind him and each grabbed a shoulder as he once again pushed through the boulder and led us into the swirling vortex behind it.
When our sense of reality solidified again, we found ourselves in a fifteen foot square room with a stone door in the west corner of the south wall. In the opposite corner sat a destroyed siege weapon and in the southeast corner black and white tiles made up some sort of labyrinth pattern. Graenas tried to open the door, only to find it was locked. Danny and I went to investigate the siege machine while Graenas checked out the tile labyrinth for clues.
After a few minutes of looking, Danny and I figured out that while the machine was mostly unrecoverable, there was a battering ram that seemed to be in good shape. “Do you think we can pull it free and use it on the door?” Danny asked.
“I think it’s worth a try,” I said. We worked together to pull at the strong shaft of wood. It took several attempts, but we eventually were able to pull it free. We heard several connecting pins crack as our hard work finally paid off. “Graenas, are you ready to help us get this door open?”
“Just give me a few,” my brother replied distractedly. “The black tiles turn white when you touch them. I’m trying to turn them all white to see if it reveals a message. Or maybe it actually controls a labyrinth beyond the door. It would be a lot easier if it was just one big empty room instead.”
“Not if it means that every monster in the labyrinth can see us all at once and gang up on us,” Danny muttered. I stifled a laugh. I could see both their points. “Anyway, no disrespect to your brother, but he doesn’t seem like the brute-force type. I suspect you and I can manage this without him.”
I shrugged and followed the fighter to the door. We held the battering ram between us and gave it a few practice swings. Once we were satisfied we had our timing worked out, we begin to drive the ram into the door. The door reverberated each time we hit it. After a couple hits, a crack formed in the door. That crack grew each time we hit it.
After a few moments, we began to notice that the light in the room kept getting dimmer. “Hey boy,” Danny said to Graenas. “Stop what you’re doing. I think changing the tiles is affecting the light.” Graenas stopped. We waited a couple minutes and the light level remained the same. Graenas abandoned his task and rejoined us.
Danny prepared to make another assault on the door when I waved him off. “Let’s see if we’ve caused enough damage to the latching mechanism.” I reached for the handle. As I pulled, the door crumbled. We were now looking down a long hallway into the darkness. A pair of glowing red eyes stared back at us from the darkness. Graenas lit a torch. The extra light was enough to let us know that the red eyes belonged to a ghoul that was charging toward us on all fours. Graenas cursed and hit the advancing creature with an eldritch blast. The creature faltered briefly, but then continued toward us. Once it reached the doorway we were gathered around, Danny and I began to attack it. After we each delivered a couple of blows, I managed to tear open the ghoul’s midsection with my sickles. The ghoul stood in what might have been astonishment as its rotting entrails spilled to the ground. Then it collapsed.
I poked at the remains with my boot, disgusted. “That’s one less undead thing in the world. I will consider that a great service tot he natural order.” Danny grunted in what I assume was agreement. Graenas made no response. We slowly made our way down the hallway, checking for traps. After 125 feet, it finally ended at another stone doorway. This one seemed to be sealed around the edges with some sort of metallic substance.
Danny glanced back toward the room we had just left. “Perhaps we should go back for the battering ram.”
Graenas shook his head. “The corridor’s too narrow. I doubt the two of you could work it together effectively in such a tight space.” I nodded my agreement.
“Well then, let me see if I can push this thing in,” Danny said as he leaned all his weight into the door. After a few seconds, we heard creaking and saw as the metallic sealant appeared to be losing its cohesiveness. A few seconds later, the door collapsed and Danny stumbled forward. We followed him into what turned out to be another room fifteen feet by fifteen feet in size. This one had two archways, one in the east corner of the north wall and another immediately south of the first. There was another siege weapon in the room, this one even more destroyed than the last. On the wall behind the siege machine, someone had inscribed the phrase “beneath the statue.”
A loud voice came from the archway in the north. “Hey! Whoever is out there, turn out that light.” The three of us glanced at each other wondering how to respond when the voice continued, “Oh yeah. What’s the password?”
We again looked at one another, unsure what to do. I glanced at the inscription on the wall, but decided against it. While the drawl in the voice suggested we were dealing with someone rather unintelligent, I doubted they were stupid enough to write the password where any intruder could just read it. Eventually an eight foot tall half-ogre walked into the room brandishing a battle axe. “I said, ‘What’s the password?’ Now are you going to give it to me or do I have to smash your faces?”
After a moment, Graenas plastered a cheery smile across his face and stepped toward the beast. “Hey there! You must be the front door guard. The boss told us to expect you. ‘Great guard. Great at smashing faces of people who go snooping where they don’t belong,’ he said when he hired us. That was just this morning, in fact. But you see, here’s the thing. He was in such a hurry that he forgot to actually tell us the password before sending us on our way. Easy enough mistake to make. I’m sure you understand.” I had to bite my tongue to keep from laughing. My brother was insane, but if anyone could fast-talk us past this idiot guard, it was Graenas. I decided that if he succeeded, I’d have to buy him something special. Maybe even treat him to a tavern visit myself.
“Uh? Which boss?” the half-ogre said, momentarily confused. I could see Greanas trying to figure out how to keep the ruse going. Unfortunately, the creature wasn’t quite stupid enough for our purposes. “Hey! You two are half-elves. I’m gonna have to smash your faces now!”
It was worth a shot, I thought to myself as I rushed forward with my sickles. The half-ogre managed to catch me with a swing of his battle-axe and I flew through the air a few feet and landed hard on the floor. I was blacking out fast. As consciousness faded, I heard Graenas shout, “That was my sister, you fucking bastard!”
When I eventually came to, Graenas was kneeling over me, with my medical kit in his hands. “I thought we had lost you.” He said, the concern in his voice palpable.
“Me too,” I said, taking my kit back from him. I spent a few minutes taking care of my wounds, as my brother’s clumsy attempts had merely stabilized me and allowed me to regain consciousness. I glanced at our companion, who looked like he had taken a nasty blow himself. “Let me patch you up, too,” I said. Danny came over and I cleansed, salved, and bound his wounds.
Once we were in a better state to continue, we followed the archway back the way the ogre had come from. We found ourselves in another room which expanded twenty five feet to the north and fifteen to the east. There was an iron door in the west corner of the north wall, a stone door in the north corner of the east wall, and an archway in the center of the east wall. There was yet another ruined siege machine in the room. Danny and I decided to check it out while Graenas investigated the doors and archway.
“Doesn’t look like there’s much use for anything here but some extra tinder,” Danny said.
“That may be useful for fires,” I offered. The fighter nodded and we set to work salvaging what wood we could.
After several minutes, my brother rejoined us and gave us a report. “It sounds like there’s someone or something behind each door. I’m guessing whatever is behind the iron door is another ghoul or some other kind of undead creature. I don’t think anything living would make the wheezing and moaning sounds I heard. Whoever is behind the stone door is intelligent enough to speak. I heard it talking to itself, though I couldn’t make out what it was saying. As for the archway, there’s definitely another room that way, but I didn’t notice anything coming to investigate or patrol.”
Danny tore another piece of wood from the machine before saying, “So what do you recommend?”
Graenas thought for a moment. “I worry about intelligent enemies. I say we deal with whoever is behind the stone door so they can’t sneak up on us if we end up facing an onslaught of zombies from the north.
“Seems reasonable to me,” I said. “It should only take us a few minutes to finish up here. Of course, it’d go faster if you’d give us a hand.”
“And damage my perfectly manicured nails?” Graenas said, his face showing look of horror that I couldn’t be entirely sure was in jest. I just swatted at him and went back to work.
When we were done pulling apart the weapon, we went to the stone door. I carefully reached out to open the door. As I touched the handle, a rune flashed on the door. I quickly leaped backward and tumbled across the floor to the opposite wall as a burst of energy was let loose. I stood back up and dusted myself off to find both men lying on the floor. A voice came from beyond the door “What happened? Who’s there?” I realized I was alone if the owner of that voice came to investigate. I crept over to Danny and examined him. I sighed in relief as I confirmed he was alive and even conscious. But he appeared to be paralyzed.
I silently thanked my father for convincing me to study herbalism as part of my training as I pulled out my herbalism kit. I took my time recalling and following the formula to make a tonic I knew would negate even most magical forms of paralysis. It still took me a half dozen attempts to successfully make two doses. I poured the first one down Danny’s throat, figuring that if I was interrupted, his warhammer would be better back-up that my brother’s magic. After I saw that the human was regaining the use of his limbs, I walked over to tend to my brother. In minutes, they were both ready to go again. Danny said, “That may have been the worst thing I’ve ever experienced.” Graenas nodded as he returned to the door. Danny interrupted him, “Are we sure that the same thing won’t happen again?”
Graenas paused before answering. “That was a rune-trap. Usually, they dissipate once they’re sprung, just like a physical trap. All the same, I’ll understand if you want to back up a bit.” The fighter grunted and backed up ten feet. I joined him. I trusted my brother’s judgment, but I wasn’t a gambler either. After all, if I was paralyzed this time, who would create the antidote?
Graenas carefully opened the door, only to be confronted by a gray-skinned gnome holding what looked like some sort of mechanical weapon. The gnome spoke quickly and harshly, “Who are you? Speak fast or I’ll put a bolt clean through ya.”
I felt a tingling sensation as my brother began to exude some sort of fey power. He spoke kindly to the gnome. “Hello there.”
The gnome’s face went expressionless than took on a more welcoming looking. “You’re kinda pretty,” he said. I covered my mouth quickly. I prayed that Graenas would not be too tempted to look for the love — or whatever he frequently mistakes for love — he desperately wants in the middle of this dungeon. That would surely spell doom for us all.
Fortunately, Graenas managed to control himself as he continued to work his charms. “That’s so sweet of you, old friend. Hey, can you tell me a bit about the guardians we might find here?”
The gnone blinked. “Guardians? What guardians? What are you talking about.”
Graenas paused for a moment. “Well, I suppose you don’t think of them like that. Who else is down here, behind all these doors?”
“Oh, there’s all sorts of people and things down here,” the gnome replied almost cheerfully. “There are a few ghouls and skeletons, the occasional cultist, and who knows what else.”
“And how can we find the main chamber of this complex?” my brother pressed.
At that, the gnome became more agitated. “Hey, why are you are you asking all these questions. Who are you again?” Graenas seemed about to respond again when I stepped forward. It was clear to me that my brother was losing this gnome and I wanted prevent any more near-death experiences, I slashed at the gnome and his weapon in an attempt to disarm him. I was successful only in ending the conversation. “Hey! I’m going to have to kill you for that!”
Graenas groaned, “I know she can be annoying, but all of you need to quit trying to kill my sister.” With that, he blasted the gnome with his power. The gnome managed to get a couple shots off with his bolt-throwing machine. One missed and the other seemed to suffer some sort of misfire. I began to suspect that the device was still too experimental to rely on in battle as I slashed at the gnome.
Danny quickly ended the battle with a swing of his warhammer that turned the gnome’s skull into a small explosion of bone fragments. The rest of the body collapsed. Graenas sighed, “I tried to keep this from turning violent.” I wasn’t sure whether he was regretting having to kill another sentient being or just preferred to avoid a direct physical confrontation. I comforted myself on the possibility that it could actually be both.
Graenas picked up and stowed the bolt-throwing device, then searched the body. He found a small platinum key, and a parchment. He held out the parchment for Danny and I to inspect. On it was a drawing of a statue. The drawing showed what looked like might be a a keyhole in the rear part of the base, and once again the words “beneath the statue” were written on the parchment. It seemed obvious that we now knew where to use the key. We just had to find the statue.