Having rested up a bit, we searched the room. There were several piles of bones in one alcove, where the gel creature had deposited the remains of its prey, but very little else of interest apart from the exits. Apart from the door we had used to enter, there were a pair of double doors and a winch-driven portcullis. Dragda gave the double doors a casual shove with her axe and practically reduced them to splinters, revealing a rough chamber populated by three floating eye creatures.
I admit: we all tensed up until we noticed that the creatures had far too few eyestalks to be beholders. Our concerns were further allayed when we heard a slightly peeved voice in our heads saying, “You could have knocked.”
As it turns out the three creatures were guardians, summoned and bound to protect a treasure in the cavern. To be more precise, two of the creatures were guardians and the third one was their offspring, an adorable little melon-sized eye creature. The summoning had been centuries ago and now that the door was gone, they were free to leave. Unfortunately they now found that they couldn’t. Their natural plane-shifting ability was being blocked by something.
In with a bit of gold and a few gems was the interesting item that they had specifically been tasked with guarding: a two-handed axe with an utterly black blade. Dragda took an instant liking to it, but kept her old axe along as a door opening device…
With the three eye creatures in tow, we set out to thoroughly explore the caves beneath the keep in the hope of finding whatever was holding them in our world. Dragda spotted that one of the passages we had passed through, where there had been five lighted areas, there were now only four. Our initial theory that this was an indicator that some magical force had been lessened was dashed when we discovered that it was due to a clever bit of construction – the hallway itself used forced perspective and shadow to hide a stairway leading up. Rather than investigate this immediately, we decided to complete our survey of the lower levels.
Just off of the cold room where we fought the first waves of undead we found a doorway leading into a warm antechamber. Beyond that was a luxurious little apartment with a desk, some bookshelves, a comfy bed, and a skeleton chained to the wall. Once again we were a bit taken aback, but the skeleton was well secured, and it differed from the standard undead shambler. It had eyes, and a tongue – although it couldn’t speak.
We were, however, able to establish communication. It could nod and shake its head to answer questions, and with the occasional sarcastic eye-roll we learned that it was the remains of someone who had been chained to the wall, animated and left there to rot as a form of torture. Fungdark was able to place the date of his imprisonment as nearly four hundred years ago. According to the skeleton, destroying his body wouldn’t free him, and his bonds were enchanted to be unbreakable. Some powerful prayer might free him – an exorcism or uncursing – but for now there was nothing we could do. In the hopes of lessening the boredom of his torment, we rearranged the room so that he could reach the books and read them.
Since we were near the entrance, we returned to the surface. Night had fallen, and the fresh air was quite welcome. The guardian eye creatures – still unable to depart our world – took shelter in the tower above the tunnels. The weak floor of the second level would pose no threat to them.
We continued to explore the caves. Soon, we found some areas that had been finished with stonework, including a set of stairs and a long wooden ladder. Having exhausted the lower reaches, we decided to climb. Dragda went first, as she was the heaviest of us. If the ladder would support her, then it should support the rest of us. Unfortunately, about thirty feet up, some dry-rot afflicted rungs gave way. Dragda managed to twist and grab at the ladder as she fell, but she still landed hard. After some healing and rest, we decided to try the concealed stairs instead.
The atmosphere around the stairs themselves felt odd. Almost electric. There was a feeling of nervousness and impending doom. On the way up, Keller noted that all of our metal equipment was giving off a faint blue glow as well. Dragda was the first to the top, followed by me, then Keller, with Fungdark bringing up the rear. When we arrived at the top of the stairs, we found ourselves in a rough room with a narrow passage on the opposite side. We cautiously spread out and set forth, Dragda continuing in the lead. Just as she stepped into the passageway, something spectral clawed into her. She snarled, hefted the black axe, and the fight began!
The creature’s touch was horrifyingly cold. In addition to the physical injury, it also pulled the heat out of its victims, weakening them. Dragda got tagged twice before she was able to barrel into the next room, clearing the bottleneck in the passageway. I was clutched by the creature as well, and can testify that it wasn’t a pleasant experience. Fungdark struck up a Gnomish battle chant and we set to work. Keller and I managed to inflict a few minor pinpricks of damage. His spells and my healing energies could affect the thing, while Fungdark’s arrows passed through it harmlessly. Keller identified it as a Wraith – a fairly nasty form of undead that can’t be harmed by mundane weaponry. Fortunately, Dragda’s new axe was far from mundane!
Bolstered by Fungdark’s song and assisted by an oracular enchantment from Keller, Dragda began carving swathes of ectoplasm out of the horrible creature. I readied the magical dagger that we were saving for Sirette, but for the most part I spent my time healing Dragda or myself from the creature’s claws.
It seemed that the wraith was drawing some sort of dark healing force from the room, but in the end that wasn’t enough for it to keep up with the punishment that Dragda was dishing out. Three extremely solid hits with the black axe, along with the sprinkled spell damage from Keller, were enough to send the wraith on to its reward.