The heroes turn east first. They find nothing of value or interest in the chamber with the newly constructed east wall. Gwendolyn suggests that the new construction might indicate that there is something in the temple that even the enemy is trying to keep locked away.
When nothing turns up to the east, the heroes travel west. The corridor turns north beyond the door, and the heroes soon find themselves before another door.
The wooden door to this room is charred with several boards missing and other planks obviously weakened. The handles, hinges, and other metal fittings are half-melted, soundly jamming the door shut. The room beyond, as seen through the holes, is severely burnt, its furnishings buried and ruined beyond recognition. The ceiling has collapsed for the most part, revealing another chamber on the second floor. About fve feet of the ceiling still remains around the walls of the room, forming a narrow jagged ledge. The floor is littered with beams, plaster, ash, and unknown pieces of junk. The air is filled with the odor of rot.
Alliama knocks the door open. She stoops to check for tracks and has only a moments warning to instead raise her bow. Something with hungry eyes, and long, long talons is dropping down from above...and it has many allies at its sides.
The heroes make short work of the ghouls and their ghast masters, and then they go to work searching the room for clues. On the broken remnants of the second floor lie the putrid leavings of the creatures' many meals. The two ghasts kept pride of place, and have the largest, goriest heaps of "wealth."
In one of the ghast's mounds is a soaked leather sack that weighs about ten pounds. Inside the heroes find 941 gold crowns, a pair of gemstones (Laerel's tear and heliodor), and a cloak. Carrie and Dechan have each prepared a cantrip to clean a garment-sized object, and Dechan takes the initiative to cleanse the cloak.
It is a purple cloak held at the throat by a gold turtle-shell clasp. Gold was used to create a pattern along the edges. As Beatrice and Dechan study the cloak, suspecting it might be enchanted considering its quality despite its treatment, they both realize that the pattern is actually a series of runes. The runes promise protection for the wearer.
After a brief discussion, Dechan dons the cloak, hoping to divine its purpose during the course of the exploration of the temmple.
The other heroes' exploration has revealed some other details. First, it is not possible to investigate the second floor of the ruined temple. What remains crumbling around the broken ceiling of this room is a jagged mess that has collapsed around support beams. Trying to move the debris would be noisy and dangerous.
The people whom the heroes followed from the rear entrance came this way. The heroes begin to pieces together a narrative as follows: Agents of the Slave Lords use the rear entrance for specific purposes. When the enter, they know to avoid the traps at the two rear doors. They bring a hyena to feed to the ghouls. And then they proceed farther into the temple ruin through the only exit from this room.
At the top of a short flight of stairs are the remains of a door, beyond which is a room. The floor here is almost entirely gutted as is the floor below. Thirty feet below is the gray stone of the cellar floor.
There is an open doorway on the opposite side of the room on this level. Any exits from the first floor or the cellar have been completely filled with rubble. There are three possible ways to walk across the space—a charred and crumbling section of floor clings to the left wall, a narrow pathway of fallen beams stretches across the center like a bridge, and a sounder section of floor, only burned at the edge, runs along the right wall. All three paths are accessible from this end and lead to the doorway on the opposite side.
With help from Gwendolyn, Sebastien, and Big, Alliama determines that the tracks the heroes have been following continue into this room, and across the plank.
Using David's grace and weightlessness, the heroes move into action. They tie a rope around each person--a rope that David carries easily across the plank between travelers--and one by one, from lightest to heaviest, the heroes make their way to the far side.
Only Sebastien, who comes last, loses his balance. The heroes stand ready and yank the rope so hard and so fast, that he leaps across the divide, striking the wall some fifteen feet below the door, well above the jagged floor. Sebastien's magical boots of landing cushion the blow, and the heroes easily pull him up.
He arrives to learn that the heroes are already dealing with another obstacle in the corridor beyond.
After the room with the gaping pit, the corridor turns sharply, and then turns sharply again. In the short passage between those turns is an alcove from which emerges what appears to be a pile of laundry. The smell of honey emanates from it, and the buzzing of bees.
After a moment's study, Alliama realizes that she is studying a plant; not a pile of laundry. She intones a prayer to speak with plants, and the thing beyond responds.
At first, she tries to reason with the plant. Then she tries to exert authority over it. The plant is a semi-sentient threat...even though it is aware of only one thing. It wants to eat.
The heroes decide that they will try to dash past the plant. They are almost successful. As the last person runs by, a half-dozen tendrils stretch out and grab Sebastien, Big, and Rufus.
The heroes must battle the thing, pulling at the tendrils, cutting them, and striking at the bulk of the creature's body. Carrie blasts the alcove with fire; it is deep enough that she can be sure that her friends are in no peril. Soon after, the heroes deliver the felling blow.
They move on from the smoking husk, wasting not a second more than they must.
A short flight of steps leads down again, putting the heroes back on the same level as the rear entry. A room waits at the bottom.
Little more than a small alcove set along the center of the passage, the room has three barrels in it. These barrels are sealed and dusty. The wooden staves are stained a dark brown.
The tops of these barrels may only be opened by smashing them. The heroes abstain but are able to deduce that these contain wine turned to vinegar.
From the wine cellar, the heroes try to detect threats. Rufus hears distant voices, but only barely--no one else hears even that much.
David places the heroes near the two openings that he found in the temple roof, and specifically closest to the one that he thought might be safe enough for his friends to lower themselves down. That would mean that the heroes are also near the stable, the western entrance in the outer wall.
Moving carefully, the heroes find that the passage beyond the wine cellar is far more traveled than the secret corridors they are exiting. If the door to the west does lead to the stable, then this is a fairly well-used thoroughfare.
Following tracks, the heroes move away from the stable doors. They follow tracks down a passage to the east, which leads past both of the chambers that David spotted while he investigated from the roof.
At Dechan's suggest, Beatrice lays a trap behind them. A tripwire and an alarm, which will hopefully give the heroes a heads up if a patrol or other force starts to approach from behind. They are now in a place where they could literally bump into anyone who dwells here.
Past the two chambers with collapsed ceilings, the heroes find a stairwell leading down into the earth.
Finished stonework gives way to hard-packed earth and stone.
Alliama accepts the help of her friends again and gauges the floor foor tracks. She finds that large men, wearing boots, walk here often. So do ants the size of war dogs. And larger ants that seem to walk in a bipedal fashion.
As the heroes discuss which way to go, Rufus speaks again. He shows an uncharacteristic lack of direction. He explains that something is wrong here. The Slave Lord they seek is here and at te same time he is not. Considering the passage, he says that he could go in either direction, but at the same time his gut is telling him that he could just as easily go home because this trail has gone cold.
Well-educated on the exploits of the avenger Duncan Anders, and very recently refreshed on the certainty that guides a man such as Rufus, the heroes are just as puzzled as Rufus himself.
Alliama suggests that there could be a dreamscape. She says this does not sound like teleportation. Beatrice agrees and elaborates. She says that what Rufus is describing could happen if the Slave Lord's body lay nearby but his consciousness drifted elsewhere.
The heroes consider their options. To the left, a few men in boots walk. To the right, the majority of them go. The ants and ant-men travel both directions in equal numbers. Carrie does not cast a vote, but she asks to go first if the heroes follow the majority of their quarry. She expects to find a barracks or some other large chamber. She wants to start the battle with a fireball, which she won't be able to do if the heroes are lined up ahead of her.
Considering Carrie's words, the heroes turn left.
At the end of the corridor is a chamber that appears empty although the floor has four three-foot deep pits dug in it. There is ample room between the pits to safely walk across the chamber. The pits appear to have nothing in them. On the east wall is a ladder to a trap door in the ceiling.
An exit leads to the southeast, but only the ants and ant-men use it.
The heroes investigate and find that the trapdoor is locked from above.
Alliama opens a small crack in the stone surrounding the trapdoor, just large enough for a mouse to squeeze through. Dechan uses the Bartholomew Amulet to summon a mouse and investigate what lies above.
The walls of the long chamber above are linked with twenty human slaves, their ankles and wrists shackled and manacled together. Dechan investigates via mouse, scurrying among the slaves towards the door at the far end.
At the far end is an alcove where three orc guards sit at a table.
Dechan is about to slip through the exit when he glimpses one of the slaves thrusting a sword at the mouse. His awareness is sent, jarringly, back to his own body.
As the heroes discuss the strangeness of what just happened, Rufus' disorientation mounts. Suddenly, the entire passage begins to churn and roll around them, while they stay sickeningly still. A voice becomes apparent--a voice that has been speaking all along but only now has become audible to the heroes.
Then, abruptly, reality snaps back. The churning cavern floor, ceiling, and walls all return to stark, unmoving stillness. The nauseating motion is amplified by the sharp return to normalcy.
Rufus shouts, "That's what my gut's been feelin'!"
The heroes have begun to form theories of what's happening. They decide not to pursue the ants and ant-men; instead they double back to the staircase and continue on, towards what Carrie suspects will be a barracks.
After a short walk through the earthen tunnels, the heroes come upon a large, dug-out chamber with several exits. Three of these are man-sized in height and lead off in different directions. The other exits are smaller, near the floor, and appear to be large enough for only gnomes or halflings to travel upright.
There is much activity, and the room appears to be a meeting area. Four insect men are occupied with various tasks—mending straps, eating, sharpening weapons. Around their feet run five giant ants.
Just before the tunnel entrance is a silken trip cord set about four inches above the floor. This trap releases a camouflaged net hung over the tunnel entrances. These nets have been soaked in the sap of the giant sundew, making them particularly sticky. Carrie, Alliama, and Sebastien are all trapped.
The ants move in unison to defend their lair.
Sebastien breaks free of his net.
Carrie works within the confines of the net binding her, managing to invoke a fireball that blasts several of the ant men and kills several giant ants.
As the battle is joined, Sebastien frees Alliama from her net, and the heroes press into the room. At first the ants seem to be holding their ground. Then, in a matter of seconds, all of the remaining ant-men are felled in a series of skillful and well-placed attacks.
The heroes are determining which tunnel exit to pursue when the cavern begins to shift and churn again. Reality comes unhinged, and they realize that the voice is still speaking...
Alliama leads the heroes to a Y-Intersection. Here she realizes that the booted tracks are not the prints of men at all. Most are orcs. Of these tracks, the orcs followed the northwest fork. The humans traveled northeast.
The heroes, eager to find and interrogate the Slave Lord, follow the human tracks.
When the tunnel apparently ends in a finished stone wall, the heroes are not put off. They have a wand to detect secret doors, but they are more than capable of finding the portal on their own. As the door opens, reality churns and warps again. They hear the voice...
Only this time, the churning does not stop...
This chamber is circular with a moat of underground river flowing beneath a bare platform in the center. Around the outer wall of the room is a narrow, three-foot ledge connected to the center of the chamber by three arched stone bridges. On this ledge stand ten orcs. From the west side of the room a staircase descends into the center of the platform. On the platform are a table, chairs, and many crates and boxes.
The heroes can see that there is a man sitting at the table with five giant weasels around him.
The entire area is lit, but any true detail is hard to make out. The ground and walls roll and churn. There is another man here--the speaker. He wears violet robes and bears the holy symbol of the followers of the Bound God that the heroes defeated under Darkshelf.
The orcs that heroes see on the ledges are outlined by shadowy, menacing shapes far more fearsome than orcs. The weasels physically change into nightmarish creatures as they attack. One becomes a scorpion the size of a warhorse. Another becomes an equally large spider.
Brother Kerin, the Slave Lord at the desk, stands and joins the battle.
The heroes concentrate their attacks, largely ignoring the oddly limned weasels and orcs. They successfully defeat the priest, and at the moment he dies, reality again snaps into place.
In reality, outside the dreamscape, the heroes see only large weasels and orcs. The Slave Lord is not where he was. He lies dead, slumped over his own desk. The orcs and weasels, all emaciated and incapable of posing a real threat, flee when the opportunity arises. They have been slaves to the priest for so long that they can think only of escape.
The heroes watch them go.
Brother Kerin, the monk Slave Lord, died some time ago. As Alliama and Beatrice posited, though, his mind was kept alive in the dreamscape created by the priest of the Bound God. With the end of the dreamscape, Kerin is not only dead--he is dead for a time frame that outlasts Dechan's ability to commune with his spirit.
The heroes are left with the Slave Lords encoded journals, his enchanted wrist straps, and a stone chest full of thousands of gold crowns and several jewels. Above all else--even this king's random in gold--stand the journals. The heroes have in their hands the key to finding the lair of the remaining Slave Lords. But can they crack its code quickly enough to avoid more lives being ruined?