The way he was breathing, it seemed possible that Grond Odinson had run all the way from the Skandik settlement to the thieves’ safe house in the Priests Quarter. “Ingrid, are you all right? What’s wrong?” he asked, gasping for air.
Darius explained to the priest about the attack by the anti-paladin and his black skeleton cohorts, and of the group’s attempt to get help from the main temple of Odin. Grond understood. “Just like Federac, probably didn’t want to get blood on his floor. Well, I’m glad you’re safe, and that you got Tiberius to help. Ingrid, you look pale, what’s wrong?”
“I feel weak, it was those skeletons,” she replied. Grond called upon the power of Odin to restore her strength.
“You should be fine now. I must be getting back to the temple. Good luck to you all.” Grond shook everyone’s hand, then left.
“What are we going to do with this body?” Darius asked, pointing at the headless man on the floor.
“We’ll have to dump it somewhere. I think there’s a sewer entrance around here,” Wynne offered.
Later, the group decided that they should seek out the Octagon, the group of slavers operating out of the drow tunnels beneath the Thieves Quarter. They made their way across town.
Riders on the Storm
Clouds rolled across the sky like ocean waves, bringing first the smell, then the actuality, of rain. The dirt streets of the Thieves Quarter turned to sopping mud. The rain varied in intensity from a light drizzle to blowing curtains that reduced vision. Soon, the sun was lost behind the maelstrom, and the city darkened. Everything became a travesty of gray and muted colors.
Cutting through an alley to save time, the group saw a man step out of the shadows, a dagger in his hand. He howled like a wounded beast, and breathed heavily. He was naked and barefoot. Blood ran in rivulets from various cuts in his flesh. As they watched, he drug the dagger down one forearm, laughing as he did so. “Stay awake!” he yelled. “Don’t go to sleep!” He howled again, and shook like he was cold.
Darius carefully approached the crazed man. “What’s wrong?” he said, “Why don’t you want to go to sleep?”
“Because I don’t want to disappear like the others!” he shouted, and drug the dagger across his chest, causing more blood to spill. “It’s the drug, you see? I never took the drug, no, but they slipped it to me. I never bought it, not like the others, no! It’s called Sandman, makes you have beautiful dreams. But then, you’re gone! Lots of people, gone!”
“Where did you get this drug slipped to you?” Darius asked.
“The Wounded Wolf. Two men, ragged leather armor, they were watching me. They followed me out! Must. Stay. Awake.” the man screamed, cutting himself again.
The Professor produced a small flask, and began pouring the contents of other, smaller flasks into it. He then shook it up, and offered it to the screaming man. “Drink this,” he said, “it will keep you awake for 24 hours.”
The man eagerly downed the potion. His breathing became less ragged.
The gnome continued, “Problem is, after the 24 hours, you’ll sleep for a week!”
The man’s eyes grew wild. “What have you done?” he screamed. He stabbed wildly at the Professor, causing the gnome to dodge out of the way of the deadly arc of the dagger. The man then ran off into the rain.
“I was just trying to help,” the Professor sighed. “Wait, it looks like someone’s coming.”
Evil is as Evil Does
Indeed, there were two men in torn leather armor attempting to sneak down the alley towards the retreating man. The heavy rain, coupled with the darkness of the alley, made them hard to see. The group fanned out, readying their weapons. Wynne leaped atop a nearby barrel, and clambered up onto a roof overlooking the alley.
As soon as the two men got within striking distance, Darius called out to them. “Why are you following that man?”
“None of your concern. Out of our way,” one of the armored men growled.
“Can’t do that,” Darius replied. “You’re not going anywhere until you answer our questions.”
“Then we’ll just have to go through you.” The two men drew their swords.
The Professor lobbed a stink bomb at the two men. One of them was incapacitated, but the other fought back.
Wynne leaped from rooftop to rooftop, jumping down on the other side of the armored man. She and Ingrid had the slaver flanked.
Realizing he was outnumbered, the armored man tried to run away. Ingrid warned the man to stand down. He refused. Reluctantly, Ingrid brought her morningstar down on the man’s head. He fell, never to rise again. His companion suddenly had no problems talking.
“Yeah, we put the drug in his drink. We round up users of the drug for the Octagon, see?” The man pointed to the eight-sided wooden amulet around his neck.
Darius ripped the amulet from him, and handed it to the Professor. “Now, you’ll tell us how to get to your hideout.” He manacled the man’s hands together.
The slaver had a look of horror on his face as he contemplated leading them to the headquarters of the Octagon. “No,” he said. “You might as well kill me now. I’ll not face Sarkhul’s wrath.” He would say no more.
They took the man to a nearby abandoned shed and bound him further. Darius wrote a note saying the bound man was a slaver. They left the man to the judgement of whomever might find him.
Into Dark Places
“It doesn’t matter that he didn’t tell us how to find their lair,” Wynne assured. “We know they’re holed up in the old drow tunnels. No one ever goes into them, but I know where we can get in. There’s an abandoned house not far from here. We go into the cellar, and there’s a movable wall that covers a set of stairs leading into the undercity.”
The tunnels that ran beneath the Thieves Quarter were remnants of cities that predated Warwik by several centuries. The walls, ceilings, and floors were cracked. In some places, pieces of the ceiling had broken loose and rubble littered the floor. The place was a maze of corridors, chambers, and dead ends. Wynne kept the group away from the inhabited areas, sticking to the mostly unused, more ruined passages.
An hour later, they came to a place where there was, at one time, a massive cave-in. The resulting rubble had been cleared, revealing the beginning of a strangely-shaped hallway. The bottom of the walls flared outward, then angled in to form a peak about 25 feet high. Two strips of decorative carvings ran parallel to the floor about 15 feet up. Elvish runes ran through every inch of the carved strips. At the peak of the ceiling were, at intervals, stone globes the size of a fist, enchanted to emit a strange, purplish light. White objects, such as teeth and eyes, glowed unnaturally in the unearthly glow. Some of the spheres had burned out over the centuries.
“I’ve got to have one of those!” shouted the Professor. He was quickly shushed by the others. “I could stand on Wynne’s shoulders, and she could stand on Darius’, and…”
“Let’s go,” said Darius. He looked up at the carved Elvish runes. “Looks like typical dark elf ranting. Praises to Lolth. ‘Lolth’s eyes are always upon you’, one of them says. There’s also a lingering taint of evil here.”
The group quietly made their way down the strange hallway.
Fight or Flight
The drow had an interesting idea of defense – long corridors, punctuated by wider chambers used to house guards. After about ten minutes of creeping down the hallway, they came upon the first of these chambers. Someone was using it for a storage area. Stacks of crates littered the floor between the strangely angled walls. “Goodies!” the Professor whispered loudly.
They crept forward, between the crates. Near the far end of the room, where the corridor continued on, was a dark stone obelisk, covered in glowing, purple runes in an unknown language. The gnome moved immediately towards it. “Ooh, shiny,” he whispered.
Wynne grabbed the Professor’s collar. “Don’t touch,” she hissed.
The room suddenly seemed to get darker. Three massive, coal-black dogs crept through the shadows towards the group. They seemed to fade in and out of the darkness. One of them gave a mournful howl. The Professor went pale, and began to tremble uncontrollably. “Let’s go, Admiral,” he said to his riding dog. He spurred the dog into motion, racing back along the tunnel they came down. As he went, he activated an alchemical apparatus on his back, causing jets of flame to come out of tubes that ran back along his boots. The force of the jets propelled the two of them even faster down the corridor.
The others battled the ferocious beasts as best they could. Ingrid was pushed to the ground by one of the mastiffs. At times, even well-placed blows passed right through the black dogs, as if they weren’t there. Eventually, the three of them destroyed the shadowy hounds. They rested, waiting for the gnome to return. He did, and attempted to ignore his earlier flight. The gnome closely examined the dog’s corpses. He hoped to obtain some essence from the creatures that allowed them to become insubstantial. But Wynne pointed out that they were likely from the Plane of Shadow, and it was that heritage that gave them such power in the dark.
The rogue examined the runes on the obelisk. She was an apt student of languages, and could probably identify dozens of different tongues. She could not recognize these strange letters, but attempting to read them made her feel… uneasy.
The Professor was keen on emptying a few crates and using them to climb up to examine and possibly take one of the strange, glowing orbs. But Wynne didn’t agree. “No, Professor. We have to continue. Perhaps on the way back, we can do that. Let’s go.”
“Very well,” said the Professor, dejected.
“Just think,” Darius offered, “there will likely be somewhere where they store or manufacture the Sandman drug. You’ll have samples to examine.” The Professor perked up, ready to proceed.
Against the Slavers
The strangely-shaped hallway continued, seemingly without end. But finally, the group spotted another chamber, lit by torches. Listening carefully, the Professor could hear voices. “I hear voices,” he whispered. “Talking about slaves, and selling, and stuff.”
“OK,” Darius said, looking at each person in turn, “here’s the plan. Wynne will use her hat to look like one of the slavers we caught in the alley, and get as far as she can into the room. Professor, you hit them with one of your concoctions, and while they’re recovering, we’ll slip in and finish them off.”
Wynne thought about the rough-looking men from the alley. She may not have got every detail right, but it was close. She strode up to the doorway. “Who are you?” one of the slavers called out. “I don’t recognize you.” They stood up, drawing their weapons. Wynne noticed a half-orc in long robes at the back of the room, next to a closed set of double doors. She made a mental note – likely a spellcaster. She also noticed another obelisk, it’s purple runes glowing like cold fire.
“Yes!” the professor exclaimed, perhaps a bit too loud. “Watch this!” The gnome used his staff/sling to launch a bottle towards the slavers. They coughed from the fumes, but none succumbed to the ill effects of the vapors. So the Professor quickly tossed another flask. A cloud of dense smoke billowed from the opening into the room. It only lasted a few seconds.
When the smoke cleared, the slavers had assumed defensive positions at the opening into the hallway. Two of them stood in front of the half-orc, who began casting a spell. A bright line of flame lept from the sorcerer’s fingers towards Darius’ chest. The paladin dodged the flames, and pressed the attack.
The group traded blows with the slavers. Ingrid chanted a prayer to Odin, filling the group with the power of the god in their attacks and defenses. They drove the slavers back, taking them down one by one.
One of the slavers ran towards the closed double doors. The Professor urged Admiral forward, attempting to intercept the man. He was unable to stop the slaver from opening the door and racing down the hallway. The Professor gave chase, lobbing firebombs at the fleeing man. Even badly burnt, the slaver continued his flight down the corridor.
Just as the Professor was about to catch up with the slaver, the man ran into a second chamber, occupied by more, better equipped men. These other slavers moved towards the hallway to make their way back to help their fellows. The gnome had no choice but to quickly retreat.
The half-orc sorcerer tipped over a table and attempted to put it between himself and the rest of the group. He tried to blind Darius with a spell. Darius pursued, and cut the sorcerer down.
“More coming!” the Professor shouted, riding Admiral back into the room. The group used the tables as defensive walls, and prepared for the slaver’s attack from the hallway.
The slavers fired volley after volley of bolts from hand crossbows. Darius was hit, and felt the effects of the drow sleep poison begin to take hold, but he fought it off. The Professor hurled stink bombs, and tossed a glass sphere onto the floor in front of the attackers, causing three very large rats with bony ridges on their backs to appear. The rats tore into one slaver, causing him to bleed out on the floor. The gnome took down another with a sling stone.
As the surviving slavers shook off the effects of the stink bombs, each one retreated down the hallway. One tore off his Octagon symbol and shouted that he would take his chances with Sarkhul’s wrath rather than die at the hands of the group. Soon the hallway was clear.
Slave Pits of the Undercity
As they continued down the drow tunnel, the group passed by a leather shop where numerous collars and leashes lay in various states of assembly. A salty breeze greeted them at an intersection with a crudely-dug tunnel that left the hallway and led to the docks near the Wash. It was big enough to allow a wagon to pass. The wagon was there, waiting for the next group of slaves to transport to a waiting ship. In each chamber they passed was another of the strange, black obelisks.
At another widening of the hallway, they came upon the slaves themselves. There were stone-lined pits, twenty feet across and ten feet wide, with sturdy iron grates covering them, locked in place with padlocks and chains. Dozens of people lay at the bottom, many sleeping from the effects of the drug, others wandering aimlessly back and forth. They would have to return to free them once they were sure the complex was secure.
The group passed by sleeping quarters for the slavers. The rooms were empty.
There’s a Hole in the World Like a Great Black Pit…
They smelled the Pit long before they saw it. A short set of stairs led down to landing, itself the top of a long staircase that wound around the wall of a massive, round room with a domed ceiling. Along the floor on the staircase, and along the floor of the round room some 50 feet below, magical white lights poured their brilliance out onto a stone floor covered with muck from the sewage troughs that dripped down from the city above through holes in the ceiling.
At the far end of the massive room was another obelisk. And in the center of the room, apparently either from a collapse in the floor or scooped out of the stone by some massive hand, was a pit, filled to overflowing with the muck that slowly dripped from the ceiling. The Professor foolishly tossed a rock from the top of the stairs into the fetid pit, but after the stone sank, there was no movement.
“I’m not sure we should go in here,” said the Professor. “This does not make me curious at all.”
“I think you’re right,” Darius added.
“The Octagon will live on,” boomed a voice, coming from all directions at once. “You have caused me a minor inconvenience, but that is all. You lack the power to stop me.”
“Professor,” Darius asked loudly, “think we can collapse this room?”
“I’m sure we can, with a few well-placed bombs,” the gnome replied.
“You cannot,” the voice answered. “Even if you destroy the entire complex, you will not stop me. The only way to defeat me is to fight me. And for that, you must come down here.” The voice laughed, echoing off the walls of the chamber.
Darius and Wynne exchanged glances. Both knew they wanted to defeat the Octagon. But neither knew the secret motivations of the other. “Let’s go,” Darius said. They advanced down the stairs. Wynne was overcome by the stench, and had to fight to keep from vomiting. She knew she would not be in top form for the fight to come.
…That is Filled With People Who Are Filled With…
They reached the bottom of the long, curving stairs, and ventured out onto the slippery floor. The muck in the pit began to bubble. Wynne steadied herself against the sickness that threatened to overcome her. Something broke the surface of the murky liquid. It was a thick tentacle, like some great octopus. Then a second, and a third, followed by a huge, bulky spheroid body split with an enormous, tooth-filled mouth.
The abomination spoke. “Excellent. Soon I shall be rid of your petty interference. And, as you’ve expressed curiosity, the obelisks have let me observe you from the time you entered my domain. I know your moves, your tactics. And I know how you are going to die.”
The Professor hurled a stink bomb. The smell was barely noticeable above the stench of the room. The otyugh was not even fazed. Wynne and Darius took up flanking positions around the creature. It lashed out with its bone-ridged tentacles and almost tore the rogue into shreds.
Darius moved to attack the creature. Before he could strike, the otyugh lashed Darius with its tentacles. Darius brought the hammer down, and the powerful blow staggered the disgusting Sarkhul. Darius then poured holy power into his wounds. His heart sank when he saw that by healing himself, the otyugh was able to steal some of the energy and heal its own wounds.
Ingrid tried to quickly make her way across the filthy stone floor, but slipped halfway to Wynne. Instead of rising to her feet, risking an attack from the deadly tentacles, she called upon the power of Odin to heal the entire group. Wynne was relieved to be brought back from the brink. So was the otyugh.
Ingrid shouted from the floor, “Varuna!” A cloud of cold fog appeared in front of her, and the great winter wolf appeared from her ring. The wolf tore into the otyugh with her massive teeth, and breathed a blast of magical cold to freeze the creature.
Wynne landed a crippling blow to the creature. The otyugh sank beneath the muck in the pit. Ingrid made haste to heal Wynne’s wounds. But in doing so…
The otyugh lashed out from beneath the liquid in the pit, striking Darius again, this time wrapping around the paladin, threatening to pull him under.
The Professor lobbed a flask… at Darius. The paladin found himself covered in very slippery grease. He grinned, easily slipping from the otyugh’s grasp.
Knowing the otyugh was using the obelisk in the room to see to attack from beneath the surface, Wynne raced across the room and threw her magical cloak over the device. It must have been enough, as the aberration rose once again to its full height. Ingrid channeled the energy of her god, and Darius stood, hammering away at the creature.
Darius was knocked unconscious by a vicious tentacle attack and dropped to floor. Ingrid channeled holy energy, healing the paladin. And the creature. Darius rose, standing once again. The otyugh lashed out, striking the paladin four times across the chest. Darius staggered, and fell.
Laughter of the Valkyries
Somewhere, on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge, Darius appeared in the halls of Valhalla. Between deep drinks of mead, the assembled heroes roared with laughter. Odin’s laugh was the loudest. “Darius,” the god yelled, ”how come ye show up in my hall covered in shite?” The paladin hung his head in shame.
Screaming for Vengeance
The gnome rushed over and poured the contents of a potion down the paladin’s throat, saving him further embarrassment in the afterlife. Darius stood, calling out to Odin, anger coursing through the paladin’s veins. With a righteous shout, he swung his now glowing hammer at the aberration, cracking bones and exploding muscles. It began to sink into the pit. Helga called down lightning, severing the creature’s life force from its bloated carcass. It would never rise again.
Darius sheathed his hammer. “Thor’s beard, Odin’s bloody eye socket, Freya’s tits, and Loki’s hairy balls, I was worried I would be the laughing stock of Valhalla showing up covered in shit.” Everyone laughed. They would never know.
Free at Last
On the way out of the drow complex, the Professor gathered some samples of the Sandman drug, as well as some notes on its manufacture. Ingrid channeled healing energy into the dazed slaves, while Wynne jimmied open the locks, freeing them. The Professor stood on several crates and was, at last, able to reach one of the purple, glowing orbs. Using a small hammer and chisel, he freed the stone sphere from its mount. The glow disappeared.
The Professor’s cries were heard throughout the complex.