“Could there be anything valuable under all this sludge?” Nasti asks, eyeing the black slime puddling lifeless on the floor.
“Doubt it,” Amaya says.
After they patch their hurt and search the room – finding nothing of interest or value – the cousins take the south hall, which terminates in a chamber containing what they have been seeking. A massive stone gate, like the one they found in the Slaughtergarde Laboratory, dominates the western end of this room. Parts of the arch have sagged and crumbled, and entire blocks are missing. This gate has a shimmering gray field. Black cracks radiate out from the center, making it look like an immense shattered mirror.
Four gaunt figures with longspears have emerged halfway from whatever lies beyond the gray field. Each looks like a human skeleton in a bone-tight hide of slimy leather. They have talons, tails, and a single horn curving up and forward from the backs of their skulls. The figures do not move, as though they are caught halfway between the presumed Abyss and the Temple ruins. The floor before the fiends is littered with crumbling skeletons.
“Looks like they’re stuck for now. They look like babaus,” Amaya says, pronouncing it like “bow-bows.”
The cousins ease into the room to get a closer look at the frozen blood demons and the gate itself. Nasti stares with wide-eyed wonder. Nova notes that this broken gate has a sigil carved into one of the stones that the Laboratory gate in the goblin warren lacks. She points the rune out to the other two.
“That may be why this gate is still open – sort of. I’d like to shut it down if possible, but that might free these things.”
“So, what do we want to do about them?” Amaya asks.
“Hopefully, whatever’s been holding them in place all this time will keep them here, at least a little while longer,” Nasti says. “We may have to leave them to the Light Knights.” The tiefling smirks. “Huh. She’s got me saying that now.”
Nova frowns. “So, is that the plan then? Head back and report everything we’ve found? I still think there is more in here than these babaus and the xulgath.”
Amaya makes notes of the gate, demons, and the rune then asks, “Should we check out the other demon arches?”
The others agree, and the cousins make their way across the complex to the burning demon arch in the northeast corner. Beyond the fiery curtain, they find a room with the eastern half-collapsed. A few steps in, the floor drops twenty feet into a field of dense rubble. Incongruously, a large pile of delicious-looking fruit sits in a pile near the center of the rubble.
“How odd,” Nasti says.
“We should check out the rubble… right?” Amaya asks.
Nasti nods at Canter, who flies down to inspect the fruit. As the familiar draws near, the pile moves, revealing itself to be a swarm of fruit-shaped insects! “Ew,” says Canter, flapping up to return to Nasti’s side. The tiefling lobs an orb of flame, but the bugs scatter and her shot hits only the rubble beneath.
Nova’s ray of frost has better luck, freezing a line of the strange insects. Amaya readies her blade uncertainly, waiting for the swarm to advance. The cloud of vermin obliges, enveloping the cousins and Canter. The half-elf swings her blade and manages to swat a few of the insects out of the air, but she can tell it is hardly the ideal tool for the job. “Swords don’t work on it!” she complains and immediately regrets it as part of the swarm attempts to enter her mouth. She clamps her mouth shut and gives her cousins a desperate look.
The swarm attacks, a multitude of insect mouths biting at any exposed flesh. Nasti and Canter split off in different directions, hoping to deny the cloud of bugs multiple targets, but that leaves no time for spellcasting. Nova takes a step back into the corner beside the north wall and the flaming demon arch. Taking a steadying breath, she reaches for the void and inflicts it upon the vermin. Several of them squeal, and they move a little more sluggishly in the magically created vacuum.
Amaya steps beside Nova and keeps swinging her sword, making a modicum of headway against the insects. Her positioning proves to be a mistake as the vermin swarm envelops her and Nova once more, continuing its biting assault. Fortunately, that puts them far enough away for Nasti to safely attack the swarm with burning hands. The spell doesn’t burn as hot as she would have liked, but the cone of flame seems to work better on the swarm.
Nova crosses to the south corner near the ledge to put some space between the cousins. She focuses the rest of her energy on maintaining the void, which kills more of the swarm. Amaya gets out of the cloud of bugs and keeps swinging, but with the vermin evade and descend on her again. Nasti produces flame and burns the last of the fight out of the insects. The swarm disperses.
“Well, THAT’ll be hard to forget,” Canter says.
The pit contains nothing of value or interest. Nasti coaxes Canter into searching a narrow tunnel near the ceiling along the northern wall, but it only leads up to the surface after a couple hundred feet. The cousins head back south.
Confirming that the dark elf mages are no longer in residence, they check the next room to the south. Two beds are set against the northern wall of this small chamber, footlockers at their feet, while three beds are set against the southern wall with no accompanying lockers. A round table sits in the northeastern corner. Three places on it are set with pewter flatware. Statues of grotesque winged humanoids with claws and horns stand in the western corners.
The cousins collect the dishes with a shrug and confirm there is nothing of value in the footlockers before turning their attention to the statues. Nasti frowns, noting that either these are gargoyles or statues expertly carved to resemble them. “Might have to warn the Rad Lads about these too,” she says. “Oh, hey. There’s a satchel tucked between this statue and the wall.”
“What’s in the bag?” Amaya asks.
“Let’s see. I’m gonna try to grab it.”
“Oi, don’t do that, please. It’s only trifles, miss,” the gargoyle says.
“Oh!” Nasti blinks. “All right, then.” She takes a prudent step away from the stony creature.
The gargoyle nods. “Ta. Didn’t think there were anyone left alive down here. ’Cept that damned swarm.”
“We just dealt with that, too,” Canter says.
“Me sympathies, friend,” the gargoyle says. “Nasty business, that. Me bruvver and I just came down tryna find what loot we might.”
“That xulgath is still keeping his shrine, also,” Nasti says.
“Ain’t seen such a thing, but we ain’t ranged far,” the other gargoyle says.
“He’s one tough bastard.”
“We’ll stay clear of ‘im, then. Lookin’ like the previous tenants had themselves a bit of a disagreement, eh?”
“We may have encouraged that.” Nasti can’t look the statue in the eye when she says it.
“That right, then? Well, makes for simpler looting, eh?” He chuckles – a sound like shredded gravel.
“They di’n’ leave much tho, innit,” the other gargoyle grouses. “Downright rude, ya ask me.”
“We got no quarrel, eh? If it’s all the same to ya, might we bugger off?”
Amaya nods. “Sure.”
The cousins clear the door to make room.
“Damned decent of ye, truly.” The gargoyles depart.
“Sure. Good luck with ya,” Nasti says. Canter sighs and gets up from the bed where he’s been croissanting.
The final chamber of this branch of the Temple is occupied by another pair of plague zombies. Beyond them are five beds along the southern wall and a small table with a box upon it. The cousins make quick work of the undead, and Nasti figures out the begemmed puzzle box on the table in short order as well. Inside the box are a set of fine silver eating utensils, a silver necklace with a spider pendant, and three uncut diamonds.
“Praise Magdh!” Nasti says, clicking it shut.
Satisfied that they have done as much good in the Temple as they can for now, the cousins depart for the surface.
* * *
18 Gozran, 4720 AR
Armin Harrak is pleased to see the trio back and safe. She takes their report as well as copies of the drawings and notes that they took. “This should give the Order enough to open an official investigation into the Surrinak lands. We appreciate the pains you have taken on behalf of the Valley. As agreed, your payment.” She passes each of them a heavy sack of gold.
“You are most generous,” Nasti says.
The paladin smiles. “Have any of you considered a more formal relationship with the Luminous Order? Agents of your talent would not start at the bottom, I shouldn’t think.”
“Yes,” Amaya says.
Nova nods, “I’d consider it as well. I’m concerned about some of the things we were told back at that altar.”
“Those were peculiar and disturbing … utterings,” Armin says. “Perhaps you want to investigate the potential threat to Sumberton before accompanying me back to the Shining Citadel? Or one of the other … things it said?”
“I think that would be best,” Nasti says.
“I do, too,” Nova says. “It mentioned a threat from within. That needs to be brought into the light.”
“I would not want to take you away from any tasks you find pressing,” Armin says.
“I do have a little business to see to,” Nasti says.
“Very well. I will share this information with Sergeant Tajic and depart in a few days. If you would like to accompany me, you are welcome.” The tiefling nods noncommittally.
“I’ll be there,” Amaya says.