Although they enjoyed the respite offered by the lift cart, they all knew it was but a temporary reprieve at best, and so long as they remained in such a confined space they were vulnerable. Once the worst of the wounds had been bandaged and disarrayed battle gear straightened out, the lift cart once again rose up the shaft, juddering and creaking under the strain. As they neared the top, a piercing shriek of pain rang out. After the echoes had faded, other sounds of pain and despair could be heard coming from ahead.
Upon attaining the upper level, John and Cyan took a moment to cripple the lift in order to prevent them from being followed. The others spread out into to cramped corridor, seeking the source of the sounds of torment, Kaylea leading the way. Seeing that the turn to the left was dusty and seemingly disused, yet the sounds came from that very direction, Kaylea proceeded with utmost caution. Even so, she barely saw the tell-tale line in the dust before she stepped over it. Calling up Cyan, the gnome set to work.
Finding it to be a simple pit trap, with nothing like the guile or cunning of the traps she was familiar with from her underdark upbringing, Cyan decided that the best course of action was to simply remove the false floor covering the pit, leaving it plain for all to see. Thus decided, she tossed the false floor tiles down into the pit, where they threw up a small cloud of dust amidst the stakes and skeletons of long dead snakes which filled the bottom of the pit.
Using his unseen servant, John opened the door on the far side of the pit. A flood of light issued forth, along with a shout of alarm, as another Shadar Kai Crossbowman ran to the doorway and started firing. This one however was not clad in chainmail, but was instead wearing robes akin to a butcher’s apron, and spattered with blood. In a flash, Quildaro was upon him, teleporting next to the rather surprised foe, closely followed by Kaylea who easily vaulted the pit. Molo was keen to join the fray, so Mond picked him up and bodily threw him across the pit, sending him careening into the crossbowman and sending them both sprawling. Before he could arise, the huddle around the crossbowman were apon him, his body pierced again and again by their blades.
As Mond helped the others across the pit, those already within the room set to exploring. Chained to the wall was the pitiful remains of a human, tortured beyond endurance. Seeing the hand-prints melted into his chest, and feeling the aura of magic radiating from the gloves on the nearby workbench (strewn with implements of torture) Molo set to interrogating the prisoner. He gave his name as Servak, and between racking coughs told his tale. He was a failed servant of his master, the deamon lord known as Grazzat, and this was his punishment. His soul had been bound to a small clay statue in his likeness, and so long as the statue endured, he would recover no matter how severe his wounds. He had been brought to this place, a temple upon an island, for his punishment. He said there was but one excape from this place, and that was to swear fealty to Grazzat. There was more he said, a secret of great value, but he was unwilling to part with it unless he was released from this life. To kill him would mean finding and destroying his statue, and once found he swore to tell his secret. Finding the pitiful wretch’s pleadings pleasing, Molo donned the gauntlets, and used their acid grasp to melt through the chains binding Servak.
The body of the Shadar Kai Crossbowman had been tossed into the pit, and a fight almost broke out between Molo who was trying to defile the corpse and Justice who wished proper respect for the dead to be shown. John, Mond and Cyan stepped in to keep the peace, whilst Z’zygon, Kaylea and Quildaro stood by, shaking their heads in despair. After a few seconds of scuffling, the matter was resolved without bloodshed, and they were ready to move on, Servak leading the way lest he direct them into a trap.
Searching from room to room, it was quickly established that this area of the complex had been the living quarters for the three Shadar Kai Crossbowmen, their main duties seeming to be religious services to their dread lord and the torture of Servak. They had survived, it would seem, upon water from a decanter of endless water and a satchel of everlasting provisions, supplemented by an occasional roast leg, cut from the pitiful but regenerating Servak.
One chamber, lit by an eldritch green glow from a large statue of Grazzat at it’s centre, contained hundreds of teracotta statues, each about a foot tall and facing the central statue. Servak, who had slipped from the group’s awareness as they debated which way to go at a turning, dashed into the room and before anyone could stop him had shattered one of the statues. His words proved truth, and as soon as the statue was broken the magic knitting his wounds back together failed, and he died from them.
Entering the room, Cyan, John and Quildaro quickly inspected the statues. Finding none in their own likeness, and one in the likeness of Darvin, Cyan put Darvin’s statue into her pack for safekeeping, and John took a statue of a Naga. This done, they set to destroying the remaining statues, Quildaro in particular sending great clouds of clay dust billowing as his blasts of arcane energy destroying swathes of statues at a stroke. As more of the statues were destroyed, the light from the large central statue dimmed. Amidst the destruction, no-one thought twice when Justice gave a slight start. With the smaller statues destroyed, Cyan set to work on the large one of Grazzat himself, using the pitons from her climbing kit to burst it apart it’s hips and shoulders.
With the destruction complete, and now without their guide, they proceeded through the next doorway. Beyond the door was a cramped and crowded room, full to bursting with vials, beakers, powders, jars, drawers, cupboards and shelves, all tools of the alchemist’s trade. Giving the room a quick scan with his arcane vision, Molo identified the only item with an aura of magic, and in his wizardly arrogance assumed it to be the only thing of value, pocketing it discreetly. At the far side of the room was another door, so the party made their way to it, squeezing through the jungle of unidentifiable glassware with care.
Opening the door, a long corridor extended out beyond the range of their lights. Molo and Kaylea both tensed, seeing as they could into the distant darkness, where a terribly familiar figure awaited, a pack of Shadow hounds milling around the hooves of his steed. Hissing a terse warning, Kaylea dashed through the doorway and into the darkness, taking cover at a corner where one of several side passages joined the main corridor.
Not wishing to turn back, Quildaro urged his companions hastily onwards and down a side turning, himself and Mond striding forward to buy their fellows some time. The two drowe ignored his urgings and followed at their heels, making ready for battle, as did Anton and Maxim who sought the safety of numbers.
Cyan, John, Justice and Z’zygon on the other hand needed no further urging, dashing off and running pell mell through the twists and turns ahead of them. Z’zygon was rather disconcerted as three small glowing globes appeared, and looped in orbit around his head.
With a couple of contemptuous flicks of his wrist, the Master of the Hunt set his hounds running. Four he sent down the side passages to hunt down those that had fled, and four he sent straight at Mond and Quildaro. As they rushed in, Maxim’s nervous shuffling to the rear triggered a trap, and a heavy iron portcullis slammed down behind them, impaling the unfortunate acolyte. Hearing this, Mond and Quildaro cast a glance behind them, but seeing the lad was clearly dead turned back to the fight hoping to prevent any others from joining him.
Although the two doughty warriors stood firm as the hounds crashed into them, containing them and allowing Molo to rain fiery death into their tightly packed midst, the swirling melee eventually drove a gap between them, through which the hounds looked set to pour. Then, into the breach stepped Kaylea, her two weapons describing twin arcs of bloody death. Hewing about herself, every blow found her enemies’ flesh, driving back the hounds with the fury of her attacks.
From somewhere deep in the side passages came the sporadic sounds of combat, as a running battle was fought, punctuated by several loud clangs as more portcullises fell from the ceiling, restricting paths still further. Justice was the first that the hounds came upon, bowling him to the ground and mauling him savagely. Hearing his cries of pain, Z’zygon rushed to his aid, whilst Cyan seemed to coalesce from the shadows, and together they were able to drive off the hounds.
Whilst Justice and Z’zygon headed back to join their fellows in the main corridor, Cyan set to exploring deeper into the labyrinthine corridors. Unfortunately the hounds that had attacked Justice had only been driven off, not slain, and stalked the diminutive gnome, attacking her as soon as she was alone. With no friends to help her, and overwhelmed and outnumbered, she was forced to rely on her wits to survive. Scrambling desperately to the nearest portcullis, Cyan was just able to wiggle through an opening before the teeth of one of the hounds closed upon her. After pausing a moment to ensure the hounds were unable to follow, Cyan took a moment to catch her breath and wrap a makeshift bandage around the worst of her wounds.
The return of Justice and Z’zygon, together with Kaylea’s continued bloodletting tipped the scales, and the last of the hounds facing them was destroyed soon after. Seeing his minions bested, the Master of the Hunt sunk his spurs into his horse’s flank and, with his last two hounds hard on his heels, charged headlong into the midst of the triumphant heroes, hewing about himself with his broadsword. The numbers against him were too great however, and they were bolstered by Anton’s prayers, incensed as he was by his charge’s death, and after a brief but fierce struggle, the Master of the Hunt once more summoned a cloud of magical darkness to cover his retreat. As his horse rushed away, riding down the one remaining hound, it slammed Z’zygon back into the wall, bruising the already battered Gith’zerai still further. Incensed by this he gave chase, tracking his foe by sound until he was clear of the darkness.
A shout from Cyan, hidden deep in the shadows, brought everyone running. Everyone that is apart from Justice, who went to see what had become of his Gith’zerai companion. Barely 30 metres down the corridor, he found the Z’zygon’s mangled body crumpled upon the floor, a red foam forming around his mouth as he breathed his last. Seeing that the injuries were far beyond his ability to heal, Justice pragmatically set to stripping the dying monk, wrapping his few valuables in his still warm monkish robes. Then, without a backwards glance, set off to rejoin his still living companions.
Coming up to Cyan who was crouching at a corner in the corridor, it was plain to see that beyond the corner lay John, who was in a very bad way. He had been set upon by two of the shadow hounds, and badly injured. Whilst one of the hounds lay dead from Cyan’s sling bullets, the other was trying to finish the bard off. The only thing stopping it was Siegfried, John’s tiger, who was fighting tooth and claw to protect his master. Rushing to the rescue, Kaylea caved in the hound’s skull with her warhammer.
With the immediate danger averted, but at least two shadow hounds unaccounted for, Cyan hastily ushered everyone through the labyrinthe to the staircase up that her bat had found when she’d sent it off scouting.