In which an unexpected acquaintance is made.
Between lungfuls of chill air, our survivors make a plan for their next step. Sigbert unravels about 30′ of the rope, gives one end to Gareth, counts back 15′, and has Esma hold on to it at that point. Then, Gareth feels his way to the right (east) side of the slot, and Sigbert finds his way to the left side (west). Cautiously, wary of stepping into empty space in the pitch blackness, each begins to feel his way along the curving wall. Holding on to the middle part of the rope, Esma moves up the water channel, roughly between the two men. Soon, Gareth reaches a corner and calls out that fact. Sigbert continues to make his way around the circumference, until he comes back on the other side of the same corridor that Gareth has found. Esma makes her way over to them.
They have a rough conception of being in a circular chamber about 15′ across, with water starting somewhere near the middle of the room (no one investigates closely enough to be sure) and draining out the slot in the north wall by way of a 6″ deep channel cut into the stone floor. A 5′-wide passage opens to the east. As the trio rest for a moment, their eyes adjust, and they see a faint red glow coming from further down the passage. Quietly, they advance, with Gareth in the lead.
Gareth notices an object ahead, about 5′ high, protruding from the right-hand wall and silhouetted against the source of the red glow, while the passage opens up to the left; they’re approaching some sort of room. At the same time, Esma, with her big ears, hears a low muttering coming from that direction. Gareth waits, letting his eyes adjust more, until he can make out the light shapes of some books crammed into the object. It’s a bookshelf. And now he can hear the very low muttering too, from just on the other side. He creeps slowly forward, trying not be heard. I give him a DC 12 Agility check to stealthily approach (figuring in noise from the waterfall, darkness, and being obstructed by the bookshelf). He rolls a 15 and gets up against the shelf.
From there he can see more of the room: walls lined with shelves, crammed floor to ceiling with tomes, scrolls, piles of parchment, odd gewgaws. Overhead, two iron chandeliers filled with unlit candle stubs hang by chains from the ceiling. Gareth tries to understand the muttering, but it seems to be in another language. He decides he’s going to make a surprise attack on the thing, and Gareth’s player describes how he’s going to climb the bookshelf and jump down from above on the mutterer. Esma’s player points out that unless the bookshelf is attached to the floor, it might topple over on him. Gareth doesn’t think so, takes his axe in one hand, and begins to climb. I have him make a DC 12 Reflex save to jump free as the bookshelf topples over on him.
He leaps backward far enough to get out from under the shelf, which comes crashing down to the floor, revealing a tiny humanoid, about 8″ tall, sitting on a cushion with a small book open in its lap, facing the explorers. “Unh?” the creature says, and its bat wings flare out from their folded position. Details are hard to make out, since it’s so dark and the creature is backlit by the red glow (which now is seen to be emanating from a circular pool of red liquid just beyond), but they can see that it’s unclothed, and has two small horns on its head. Initiative rolls are made.
The creature rolls highest, and, letting out a high-pitched squeal of surprise, drops the book and flies into the air, flapping immediately out of sight around the corner to the south.
Gareth looks around for a a long-handled candle lighter that could be used to light the chandeliers — and I have him make a Luck roll to see if the chandeliers are in fact lit that way. He makes the roll: leaning between two bookshelves on the north wall is a 4′ iron rod used for just that. He spends his turn running to get it. Sigbert climbs carefully across the bookshelf into the middle of the room, no weapon ready, and says, “We mean you no harm!” Esma spends her turn getting into position behind Sigbert, spear at the ready.
Now they can see the entire, red-lit room. Aside from the piles of paraphernalia, there are three circular pools along the length of the room, each about 4′ in diameter, cut into the stone floor. The glowing red pool, and two others that contain some sort of liquid but are not glowing. The tiny bat-winged humanoid is crouched at the edge of the third and furthest pool, dipping a glass flask into the liquid. In the southwest corner of the room, a hanging curtain conceals an alcove or passage.
The creature caps the flask and hurls it wildly at Sigbert. It shatters on his chest and covers his shirt with foul-smelling acid that begins to crackle and smoke. The acid does 1d4 points of damage, but I decide it does 1 point per turn, and will take 1 turn for it to eat through Sigbert’s clothing. So he has to spend his next turn getting his shirt off or he will start to suffer damage.
Gareth spends his turn using his flint and steel to ignite the candle-lighter. Esma leaps across to the far side of the pools and charges the little winged man, spearing him for 3 points of damage. He lets out a shriek of agony. I describe how the spear cuts into his side, how the flesh slices open cleanly but does not bleed. Sigbert hurriedly strips off his smoking shirt and hurls it aside, avoiding the acid damage.
The creature, threatened by Esma, flaps shrieking across the acid pool to the other side of the room, lands, and ducks behind the curtain. Gareth manages to light a couple of candles on one of the chandeliers, and in the low light the PCs take a moment to glance into the pools. Esma sees a golden crown resting at the bottom of the pool of acid; Sigbert sees 3 black arrows resting at the bottom of the middle pool, and Gareth sees a black dagger resting at the bottom of the glowing red pool.
Gareth gets a gleam in his eye at the sight of the dagger, and uses the lamplighter to fish it out onto the floor. He snatches it up eagerly and examines it closely: needle-like blade of black, glassy steel, black iron hilt crafted in the shape of two serpents coiled around each other. Gareth grins madly.
Esma uses her spear to poke at the crown in the pool of acid. The crown disappears as soon as she moves the tip of the spear through it (it’s an illusion), and then the top 1′ of the spear, weakened by the acid, breaks off, leaving her with a 5′ long pole. The acid bubbles and fizzes as it consumes the spearhead.
Sigbert ignores the pools and cautiously approaches the curtain. He hears the faint whimpering of the little winged man. He carefully pulls back the curtain, revealing a second curtain, and pulls that back to expose the creature, huddled in the corner of he alcove, looking at Sigbert fearfully.
“We’re not going to hurt you,” Sigbert says.
Esma objects: “Yes we are — that thing tried to kill you!”
“What are you doing here?” Sigbert asks the little man.
“I wait for Master.”
“And what does Master call you?”
With Esma looking on disapprovingly, Sigbert converses with Horpt. The creature allows him to get close, and Sigbert sees that, while his wings appear to be actual bat wings, Horpt’s flesh is claylike, to the degree that the fingerprints of whoever modeled him are still visible. This gives Sigbert the idea to close up the flesh around Horpt’s wound, and I allow him a Personality check to convince Horpt to let him try. With the creature wincing, Sigbert pinches the claylike flesh closed over the bloodless wound. I allow this creative attempt at helping the creature, healing 1 hit point of the damage he has suffered, and winning the little creature’s trust.
They learn that Horpt was created by his “Master,” and has spent his entire existence in this chamber. His Master departed without explanation at an indeterminate point in the past, and Horpt has been waiting for him to return ever since. Sigbert asks about the book he was reading, and Horpt says he can’t read, he was just imitating his Master. Sigbert asks how his Master left the chamber, and Horpt says he went past the curtains, but when Horpt tried to follow, all he found was the blank wall of the alcove.
Meanwhile, Gareth has recovered the 3 black arrows from the middle pool, noting that the head of each is inscribed with an unknown rune. Then, he and Esma search the rest of the room. I decide I will allow each PC three search checks, but don’t tell them that, or the DC (15). Gareth and Esma each make two checks, and fail them, so they give up. Which is too bad, since there were a total of 5 special items waiting to be found among the librams and codices, the first of which was a grimoire that would have been perfect for a fledgling wizard! Ah well.
Following Horpt’s hint about the alcove, Esma goes to search it. Abiding by the DCC credo of “favor described actions over DC checks,” I have her explain exactly how she’s checking out the alcove, and she finds a stone in the wall that slides inward, causing the whole rear wall of the alcove to grind to one side (cue stock sfx).
Sigbert invites Horpt to join them, over Esma’s objections. The creature is reluctant, having never been out of the chamber, but Sigbert tells it that its Master may never return. Horpt thinks for a moment before flapping up to perch on Sigbert’s shoulder.
Before they venture forth, Esma points out that her spear has been turned into a 5′ pole by the acid bath, and that Gareth has his hand axe and the black dagger from the pool. Reluctantly Gareth, who had been collecting all of the candle stubs and fusing them together into clumps to use as light sources, hands over the dagger to the large-eared swineherd.
Gareth pokes his head out of the alcove, holding a clump of lit candles. The secret door opens onto a landing in the midst of a long stone stairwell that wraps around down to the left, and up to the right. He asks for silence, listens carefully, hears nothing.
Figuring that the dog-men must be below them at this point, the party sets off up the stairs.