The cousins line the hobgoblins’ unconscious bodies up in the sniper’s alcove, trying to make them as comfortable as possible, considering the pain they will be in when they awake. It takes a long time, and Nasti prestidigitates the blood off of herself and her companions afterward.
“You think your friends outside will agree to keep an eye on anyone we carry out?” asks Nova.
“I can probably convince them, yes,” says the tiefling.
“Okay. We might end up having a lot more before everything is done.”
With that dealt with, they turn their attention to the north where Amaya stands. The burnished copper doors engraved with leering demonic faces appear to open southward. Vertical handles are affixed to both doors near where they meet, and they have no latch or lock.
“Do you recognize these?” Amaya asks Nasti, pointing at the demon faces.
“I’d be offended, but: no.”
“You know what I meant.” Amaya opens the door.
Torchlight reveals a wide and high chamber of gray-green stone with chains and manacles hung from the walls. Copper doors are set in the northern wall beyond. Painted in red across those doors is a word of some sort. A round wooden table surrounded by four chairs sits in the middle, three of which are occupied by goblins – two males and a female – wearing mismatched pieces of leather.
“Yark-bree!” Nasti calls out as the goblins turn to look south.
“You talk to Fiznip?” says one of the males, raising an eyebrow.
“Oh, yes. We have clearance to be in this area.”
The speaker blinks, smiling sardonically. “Heh. Fizzy is many things, but ‘authoritative’ he ain’t.”
The other male snort-laughs. “That’s a fact, Jikki.”
“Uh. What happened to the guards out there?” asks the female goblin.
“Smoke break,” the tiefling says without hesitation.
“One of them was definitely smoking,” Nova mutters under her breath.
“Huh. All right, then,” says Jikki.
Nasti walks in, hands empty, and takes a look at the rest of the chamber. Piled in the corners of the room are crates and burlap bags, some of them marked with the moon-and-sheaf sigil on the Sumberton city pennants. To the east and west are passages; the arches over them are fashioned to look like demons’ gaping maws. While her fellows are distracted watching the tiefling look around, the female goblin on the far side of the table casually puts a card up her sleeve.
“Well, uh. What are you doing here?” says Jikki. “Whoever you are.”
Nasti gives him her attention. “We’ve been sent from Sumberton to tell your boss about an exciting opportunity for an upcoming raid. Is he available?”
“What, seriously? That can’t be why Fiznip told you the password.”
“Well, no, he told us the password so y’all wouldn’t poke us to death.”
Nasti ignores Jikki’s tone and saunters to one of the crates, as casually as she can manage. The goblins watch her dubiously, still waiting for this to make sense. “Annnd?” he prompts. Nasti glances at her cousins.
Nova steps forward and says, “Fiz knew that she worked with his cousin. Breek? Or Brak? What what is again?”
“Breek, yes,” says Nasti.
“What, are you hiring?” asks the female goblin. “You look a bit like someone the boss would cozy up with, honestly. Not sure what you can do for us.”
“Ooh, good question, Kiki,” says the other male.
“Thank you, Mirro.”
“Does your boss cut you in for a piece of this action that suits you?" asks the tiefling.
“I mean. It’s a living?” says Kiki.
“Can’t say as I love these new digs, though,” says Jikki.
“Pretty creepy,” agrees Mirro.
“I could set y’all up in my shop in Sumberton,” says Nasti. “There’s a sausage-on-a-stick cart right across the street every day at lunchtime.”
The goblins exchange glances, shrugging at one another. “Look, this’ll go a lot faster if you just tell us what Fiznip said,” says Jikki.
“A sentence I never thought I’d hear aloud, and yet here we are,” says Kiki.
“Regime change?” says Amaya.
“See, now THAT makes sense,” says Jikki.
“Right, that.” Nasti smacks herself on the forehead. “Sorry to dance around it, but you know how talking about loyalty can be.”
“That’s why we have a password,” says Mirro.
“So, what. You three are just gonna take down the boss? That it?” says Jikki.
“Yeah,” says Amaya.
“We’ve had some experience in these matters in the past,” says Nasti.
“You can help if you want,” adds Nova.
“Help? Heh. Backed the wrong horse before. His body got fed to the ankhravs,” says Jikki.
“There’s ankhravs?” The tiefling’s smile only falters if you’re looking right at it.
“Sure. But if you’re here to take out the boss, that wouldn’t be a problem for you. Would it.”
“Nope!” says Nasti, a little too quickly.
“Ankh-raves?” asks Amaya.
“Bugs the size of horses.”
“So, um, which way?” the tiefling asks the goblins.
“Uh. Figure it out, I guess.” Jikki turns back to the game. “Whose turn was it?”
“Mine,” says Kiki. Play resumes at the table.
“So: which way?” Nasti repeats to her cousins.
“Left?” says Amaya, pointing west.
“Fine with me,” says Nova.
Nasti nods. “Left is good.”
Nova walks by the table, noting that the goblins were using a Harrow deck for their gambling. “Huh. Nice set of cards. Nice hand too,” she says to Jikki.
He glares up at her. “Dude.” The other two goblins fold.
“I could have been bluffing … they don’t know.”
Goblin swearing follows her toward the stairs where her cousins wait. The three descend and at the foot of the steps, they find another chamber lit by a gently flickering torch. A row of four triple-bunk beds lines the north wall. A leather-armored goblin male is crouched at the foot of the farthest bed, picking up and dropping something on the floor in front of him. A female goblin stands near crates and barrels on the southern wall, some of which bear the Chicane Guild mark.
“Yak-break,” says Amaya, eliciting a facepalm from Nasti.
The goblins turn, surprised to see non-goblinoids in their hallway, and reach for weapons.
“She means yark-bree,” says the tiefling.
“That’s what I said,” the half-elf whispers.
“Oh,” says the female. “Uh. Okay.” She and her partner do not put away their weapons.
“What happened to all the guards before you got here?” asks the male.
Nasti nudges Amaya. “Fiznip told us there was an opportunity to implement a change of leadership down here, so we’re looking for your boss.”
“Also to get you out,” says the half-elf.
“That … doesn’t answer my question.”
“Mainly they are getting cheated at cards by their fellow guards,” says Nova.
“They let us through,” adds Nasti. “They’re in there playing five-card Harrow, hammers are wild.”
The goblins exchange a glance. “Well, that sounds right, anyway,” says the male.
“Hold up, Makku,” says the female to her companion before addressing the intruders again. “Do I understand correctly that you three intend to take out the boss and his lackeys?” She looks about as dubious as the previous goblins.
“Fate willing, anyway,” says Nasti.
“That’d be nice, sure. Just … can you actually do it?”
“I hope so. It’d help if we knew exactly what we were up against. Is there anything helpful that you can tell us?”
The female looks at the male, who shrugs and says, “Seems legit, Kirob.”
“Sure, okay,” she says. “Well, the shortest path to the boss is back the other way. You can get there coming this way, but it would take you through the bugbears and the stone guardian’s path.”
“And the weird dogs,” adds Makku.
“Right. Those, too.”
“The bugbears are loyal to the boss.”
“That ALL sounds like it’s best avoided. Thank you!” says Nasti.
“Of course, heading east takes you through the lizards and the weird hyena guy.”
“Oh, and you have to cross the shaky bridge.”
“Shaky bridge?” asks Amaya.
“Yeah, you don’t want to fall into the mud there,” says Kirob.
“Let’s avoid the shaky bridge,” says Nova. “You know… Amaya’s… uh… armor.”
“Yes,” agrees the half-elf.
“Where else would we need to go to get the rest of the people out safely?” asks Nova.
“There are more of us north of the shackle-room,” Kirob explains. “The short path is trapped, tho. We lost Gilzzed to it last week because of a stupid dare. You can get there no matter which way you go.”
“More hobgoblins north, too,” says Makku. “I think they’re loyal, which is why the boss doesn’t make them guard the entrance.”
“He consorts with demons. I think that’s why he chose this place as our new lair.”
“Likes the ambiance.”
“No, stupid. There’s power here. Old power.”
“Well, that’s fair.”
“Demonic power?” asks Nasti.
Kirob shrugs. “No offense, but you look like you’d better informed than I am on that topic. You tell me.”
“THAT’S fair.” The tiefling grins, but it’s forced.
“Plus with that accent,” says Makku.
Kirob frowns at her companion. “Okay, that’s a little racist.”
“Ignore him. He’s an idiot.”
“It’s all right,” says Nasti. “I’ve heard worse. I’m sure I’ll hear worse before the sun sets.”
“We’ll make ready to leave,” says Kirob. “Just give us the word. What about the others?”
“Spread the word. We’ll do the same,” says Nova.
“We can’t really do that right now.”
“This place is kind of… Well, you’ll see,” says Makku.
“We’ll tell folks as we see them, then,” Nasti amends.
“Before you head back east,” says Kirob. “It would be convenient if the bugbears were to meet with an accident.” Both goblins glance at the exit to the west and the narrow bridge beyond.
“You have been very helpful; sounds fair to me.”
“How many are there?” asks Amaya.
“Three. If you see the ankhravs, just don’t antagonize them and you should be fine. They’ve been fed recently, but they’re not too proud to beg for more scraps. It’s ridiculous.”
“Shall we?” says Amaya, drawing her sword.
“Yep!” says Nova.
“Luck, ladies.” Kirob smiles like a shark.
A wooden plank bridge suspended from posts leads into a natural cavern. Rocks and dirt line the bottom of a crevasse about twenty feet below the bridge. Running through the middle is a raised earthen pathway.
“I miss the sun,” Canter grumbles.
“Quiet!” Nasti hisses.
The trio crosses the bridge to the raised pathway and turns north. A short distance later a second bridge spans the gap across the crevasse to the base of steep stairs heading up. As Amaya reaches the far side of the bridge, they hear rocks and dirt settling below as a big wormy thing rolls over and looks up at the cousins expectantly.
“That’s an ankhrav,” Nasti says. “The goblins were right; let’s just ignore it and move on.”
“If it lets us,” grouses Canter.
“Yeah, let’s get off this bridge,” says Nova. The ankhrav chitter-whines when it realizes no snacks are forthcoming.
Amaya leads the others up the stairs, arriving at the top to find a strange sight. Four mirrors that have green, glowing frames are mounted on the western and northern walls, and most are cracked. The eastern portion of the room has no wall. Instead, the precipice there apparently leads to a much larger room. A long ladder lies flat near the edge.
A bugbear in a chain shirt stands at the north side of the room opposite the stairs and glares at the light in the half-elf’s hand. No sooner than she begins to wonder where the other two goblinoids are than she comes under attack from either side of the entryway. A sickle strikes her arm and as she turns to face her attacker, a dagger impales her shoulder.
Amaya grimaces and brings her bastard sword to bear in a quick pair of cuts, the second of which slices her enemy deeply. Then she drops her everburning torch and raises her blade defensively. With her guard up, the bugbears find themselves far less effective against the seasoned warrior.
Nasti ascends and evokes an arc of lightning to strike two of the bugbears, felling the one that Amaya had so deeply wounded and injuring the other. The third bugbear managed to get its sickle into the half-elf once more, but the rest of the fight goes downhill quickly for the goblinoids. Nova draws upon her cursebound magic, while Amaya resists an attempt to shove her off the eastern edge of the room.
Moments later, it is over and the tiefling reaches up to anchor Nova, who has begun to float a little. “You okay up there?” she asks.
“Got a little carried away there,” says Nova. “Would be nice if I could actually … aim.” She slumps in a corner to rest and refocus, recovering partially from the curse that accompanies her magic.
Nasti nods sympathetically, then forces Amaya to sit so she can apply bandages and medical know-how to the half-elf’s injuries. Several minutes later, unsatisfied with the results of her mundane efforts, the tiefling calls upon her magic to heal most of Amaya’s remaining wounds. The half-elf nods her gratitude and the cousins take some time to examine the chamber more closely.
The mirrors are clearly magical, but there is not enough of an aura to figure out what they might once have been for. Or perhaps the magic they contain is simply beyond the cousins’ experience. “This is advanced stuff,” says Nasti, slightly awed. “I wonder if this links into why the boss came here.”
“Obviously,” says Canter.
The tiefling ignored him. “This is beyond our understanding, so perhaps we’ll have to ask him before we kick his ass.”
Looking into one of the intact mirrors, they see not their reflections but instead the image of a square room with piles of ruined armor on the floor. Squatting in the center is a metallic beetle the size of a dog. Glowing mirrors line the walls of the reflected chamber, as well. A bright light comes from somewhere down a passage that exits the chamber. They puzzle over this for a moment before Nasti catches a glimpse of movement in one of the intact mirrors and directs the others to it.
After a minute or so, they see a beautiful, black-haired woman, a toad-like creature whose massive maw nearly fills the mirror image, and a bearded man whose eyes and nose are obscured by a black cloak. Each appears in the mirror for a few seconds and seems to be shouting angrily, although no sound emerges from the mirror.
“Was enjoying that view,” says Nasti.
“I don’t think she was human … or even mortal,” says Nova.
“You’re right! I think that was a succubus, also known as a lust demon.”
“This place is so much more than a Goblin warren.”
“What was that toad thing?” asks Amaya.
“No idea,” say the others in unison.
Joining Nasti’s familiar on the open eastern edge of the room, the cousins see four circles of glowing red sigils carved on the floor of the large chamber twenty feet below. On the far north and east sides of the chamber are other ledges, making the lower room more of a pit.
A massive creature seemingly formed of stone walks around them, a sword and shield held in its rocky gauntlets. It pauses and turns its head to look at them briefly, then resumes its walk among the glowing circles.
“Is that this ‘stone guardian’ they were telling us about?” asks Canter.
“Probably,” says Nasti. The design of the construct reminds her of something, but she cannot place it. She glances up, looking farther east across the pit, where a faintly glowing pattern outlines indistinct four-legged figures. A future problem, perhaps, she thinks.
“So back the other way?” asks Amaya.
The cousins retrace their steps to Kirob and Makku, who ask about the bugbears.
“They’re done, yes,” Nasti confirms. The goblins sigh in relief and wave the women on.
Back in the shackle room, the goblin card-players glance up at the intrusion and hide their hands from Nova. She smirks and says, “There are some interesting mirrors that way. Have you seen those?”
“Nope,” says Mirro, projecting indifference.
“Bugbears too … but they were less interesting,” says Nova.
“Less moving now also,” adds Amaya.
“You beat some bugbears. Good job,” says Jikki, noting the blood on Amaya’s clothes. “How’s that going for you?”
Amaya shrugs. “It’s not all my blood.”
“I’m sure that’s true,” says Kiki. “Or you wouldn’t be interrupting the game again.”
Jikki nods. “Bugbears are the second least of your problems. Hope you got enough blood left in you for the rest.”