Nasti glances at the word scrawled across the northern doors, a little thrown that she hadn’t noticed it before. “That’s Goblin,” she tells her cousins, “for danger.”
The nearest goblin squints at her. “Yeah, that’s right. Look, what really brought you three here in the first place? I know you said Fiznip mentioned the new boss and you’ve talked about taking him down and that’s great. But you didn’t know about the new boss before that, did you?”
“Jikki…” says the other male, but a raised hand silences him.
“You’re sharp,” says Nasti. “I like that. The truth is that we were sent in search of some missing loot crates, yep. But that doesn’t mean we can’t all benefit from our presence here.”
“Interesting,” says Jikki. " I’m inclined to hear you out seeing as how those guys out front managed to survive their ‘smoke break.’"
“Excellent!” She claps her hands together.
“May need you to take about 25% off of your enthusiasm there, though,” says the female.
“So noted. I will dial that back, now.” Her restraint seems to impress them.
“Stupid crates,” says Jikki. “Didn’t we say that job was a bad idea, Mirro?”
“Yep,” says the other male. Nova nods in total agreement.
“Once we’ve removed your boss, we will gladly take them off your hands,” says Nasti.
“I expect so,” says Jikki. “Not like we have a good way to cart ’em off anyway. Buyer was supposed to do that.”
“And I will want to hear about this buyer, as well. But later.”
“Sure. Just make sure there’s a later.”
The tiefling sketches a little salute for the goblins. “Fully intend to.”
“Oh, before we go. What’s on the other side of those doors?” asks Amaya.
“Trap,” the goblins say in unison. “Blades come out of the ceiling,” Jikki clarifies. “Not sure what sets them off. Magic, maybe.”
Amaya nods. “Fair enough.”
“Yikes! Very glad you warned us,” says Nasti.
“Also the fastest way to the rest of the goblins here,” says Mirro. “But I think those dink hobbos have barred the door anyway.”
“Yeesh. Well, we’ll see what we can do about that, too.” Nasti turns to the cousins, “I think we were going east?”
“Yup,” says Amaya.
“Luck with the lizards,” says Mirro. “Oh, and Kiki’s boyfriend, the hyena-man.”
“Shut your fool mouth,” says the female. Goblin bickering fades as the ladies head down the eastern stairs.
The flagstones flooring the short dark passage give way to a natural cavern with a muddy floor. Three fat green lizards almost five feet long rest in the mud to the south. Three timbers brace the ceiling, and a pair of copper doors is set into the southern wall near the southeastern corner.
“Any idea what those lizards are?” says Amaya.
“Giant monitor lizards,” says Nova. “These are venomous. Powerful bite too.”
“Good to know.” The half-elf advances a step into some deeper mud, and when the lizards take notice, she draws her sword.
The lizards swarm Amaya, but only one manages to get inside her guard to bite her. With an unnerving cackle, Nasti hexes another with a wilding word, and Nova attacks with her icy magic, as well. In mere moments, all three reptiles lay dead in the muck.
“This really isn’t time to be laughing,” Amaya says to Nasti, who shrugs and gingerly steps through the mud to scan the room.
“Are you okay, Amaya?” says Nova, wary of venom. “How do you feel?”
“I feel like a chew toy, but I’m okay otherwise.”
“If you start feeling woozy let me know.”
“Will do, Mom.”
“I know your mom. That’s a compliment.”
Nasti snickers at the cousin’s banter and follows Amaya to the southern doors. The half-elf opens one and steps into a narrow hall with flagstones again. The passage heads east for twenty feet or so before opening into another room, where stands a stout hobgoblin clad in leather and petting a hyena.
Nasti peeks around the corner and calls out, “Yark-bree!”
“Skruun!” he cries, the same Goblin word that had been scrawled across the doors to the trap room. The hobgoblin makes a gesture, and the hyena whirls on the cousins with a growl.
“Can’t say as I didn’t try,” says the tiefling.
Amaya rushes forward and skirts to the north of the foes, taking in the room with a glance. Massive bookshelves and burgundy carpet distinguish this chamber. A few books lie on the shelves, and the half-elf spies a couple of boxes with the Sumberton sigil on them. Papers are scattered across the floor, and the carpet has muddy tracks on it that from a path through the room. Hammocks hang between the bookshelves. But what draws her attention is the horse-sized hyena creature standing from a nook in the south.
“Oh, shit,” she says, striking the hobgoblin before bringing her blade to high guard.
Nasti steps into the hall and strikes the hyena and hobgoblin with an electric arc, though they manage to dodge the worst of it. Then Nova steps behind the tiefling and freezes the hyena to death with a ray of frost.
Amaya winces and says, “I think you just pissed off its mom.”
“It’s … mom?” says Nova, uncomprehending. A moment later, the giant hyena rushes into view to bite and knock Amaya to the floor. “Oooooohhh,” the human adds.
The hobgoblin takes a cautious step back and transforms into a hyena himself. Amaya picks herself up and strikes the big hyena twice, abandoning caution in the hopes of taking down the threat. Nasti casts haste to aid her cousin’s efforts. The half-elf strikes the hob-yena when he moves to flank her, then fends off his snapping jaws. The dire hyena takes advantage of Amaya’s distraction, and she hits the floor again. With a curse, she regains her feet and keeps fighting.
Amaya’s blood was flowing freely from numerous bite wounds, so Nasti uses her magic to ease a bit of her cousin’s pain. “Don’t let them bite you so much,” Nova advises helpfully. The half-elf makes a rude gesture before ending the fight with a quick bit of decisive blade-work. The hobgoblin reverts to his true form in death.
More healing magic is used to prop Amaya up, and she says, “Thanks. I really needed that. I think that last bite hit a vein.”
Nova wipes the arterial spray off with prestidigitation. “Yes. Yes, it did.”
Amaya searches the hobgoblin’s body, finding a handful of mushrooms, which she tosses to Nova.
“Mushrooms are for witches,” says the human, teasing Nasti.
“Are they the smokin’ kind or the lickin’ kind?” asks the tiefling. Nova shows her and after a moment’s consideration, Nasti says, “The lizard chow kind.”
“Ah. Well, maybe Canter will like them,” suggests Nova.
“No, he will not,” the familiar shoots back.
“Not with that attitude,” says Amaya.
“Aren’t you part lizard?” Nova asks Canter.
“Hey! Dragon! Dragon! I don’t do that tongue thing,” says the former cat.
Nasti smiles. “I’m running out of prepared spells, but I’m good to keep going anyway.”
Amaya nods. “Okay. We’ll need to bring some healing potions next time.”
“I have two, but, yeah.”
Once they are ready, Amaya leads her cousins into the narrow tunnel to the north. They come to what is little more than a wide spot in the narrow tunnel where the floor is nothing but watery mud. Rivulets of water run down the walls, and a series of narrow planks stretches across the mud to another passageway. They hear indistinct chanting echoing from around the bend of the tunnel ahead.
“Hoo boy,” says Nasti. “Sounds like a voice praying to Lamashtu, the Mother of Monsters. A former Demon Queen who ascended to godhood.” After a beat, she adds, “In Abyssal.”
“One problem at a time,” says Amaya, looking nervously at the “bridge.” She prays under her breath as she steps out onto the planks. They hold her weight as she crosses, but her forehead is sweaty as she reaches the other side. Nova follows after, practically gliding across the planks with little apparent effort.
Nasti aborts a couple of approaches, shaking her head each time to clear it. “That looks really dangerous,” Canter says helpfully.
“Can you give her a pep talk,” Amaya asks Nova.
“Keep your breeches on, I got this,” says the tiefling. Then to her pocket, she says, “I got this, right?”
“All-encompassingly,” says Canter. With a final deep breath, Nasti clambers across the planks to join the others.
The narrow tunnel bends a couple more times before exiting into a large chamber, which room appears to be roughly octagonal and walled with worked red stone. Dim light issues from the east and strips of gauzy cloth that look like bandages hang from rows of iron reels on the ceiling, draping down to the floor in places, forming veritable curtains.
Amaya cautiously enters the room, leaning over to see around the “curtains.” A hobgoblin in robes is the chant’s source. He holds a spear aloft in front of a black altar as he sways and intones. Black candles on the altar flicker in unison with his swaying. A hobgoblin skeleton in chain mail stands near him, holding a lance up and silently moving its jaws as if joining in the unholy praise. A pile of coins lies at the base of the altar.
“Gods of darkness, but the undead freak me the freak out,” Nasti whispers as she peeks around the corner.
The hobgoblin glances south as Amaya’s boots scrape the stone, and he cants his head to one side, considering half-elf. “Huh. May I … help you?”
“We’re here to talk to your boss,” she says.
Nova steps up beside her cousin, and Amaya reluctantly says, “Uh. Yeah, we.” She leans over and whispers to Nova, “Damn it, you know I don’t like talking to strangers.”
The hobgoblin purses his lips. “I’m afraid I don’t understand. What are you doing here?”
“Regime change?” says Amaya.
Nova interrupts, pointing at the skeleton. “I mean … just … why? I just don’t understand the need. Does he do yardwork? Bathroom attendant maybe? Help me understand here.”
The hobgoblin glances at the skeleton. “I mean. Bit of both, sometimes.”
“Really?” she asks, genuinely shocked. “Well … today I learned.”
“Sometimes, you don’t want chatty underlings bringing you fresh leaves … after. Does that make sense?”
“Now I get it.”
“We’re talking to a necromancer,” says Amaya to herself. “You’re a necromancer right?”
“What?” says the hobgoblin. “Oh. No. That’s just a hobby. Waste not.”
“Anyhow…” says Nova, “you seem like a good necromancer. And that chanting … man, I don’t know the language, but it sounded legit. Do you know who’s in charge around here?”
“Hm. I guess that might be me. Nambrakh is my name. And you are?”
“Oh! Well, that makes it a little awkward. I’m Nova. This is Amaya.”
“Charmed,” says Nambrakh. “So. You’re here to talk to the boss – let’s assume me for now – about a regime change? Have I got that right?”
“Sort of. It’s complicated. Mainly we came for the guild crates you took. There are some PO’d halflings back in town, let me tell ya.”
He chews on that for a bit. “Oh, I think I see. And the goblins roped you into their little dissent, eh? Isn’t that just lovely?”
“In fairness, it was better for you and us I guess that we didn’t have to kill them. And for them too. Win-Win-Win.”
“I … suppose,” he says. “So, you want the crates? They are for sale, if you like. I have another buyer lined up, but … the market is the market.”
“A haggle then? Okay. You give us the crates and throw in a sincere apology to boot. And we will help you all stop getting into the kind of trouble that brings people like US to interrupt your nice rituals.”
Nambrakh chuckles. “The chanting? That is just midday prayer. Also, that’s a remarkably low offer. I’d be happy to part with the merchandise for … let’s say fifty gold per crate.”
“I’d consider it, but that won’t help in the long run, ‘cause you’ll just steal more. We can’t have that.”
“We could just acquire them from you using the same methods you used to acquire them from our employers,” says Amaya.
“Well, you could certainly try,” says Nambrakh.
“That’s not really very nice, Amaya,” Nova chastises her cousin.
“Well, what they did to the people carrying these crate probably wasn’t nice either,” says the half-elf.
“Have you considered a legitimate business? Selling handy yard workers and bathroom attendants for example,” says Nova.
“You’re beginning to bore me, dear,” says Nambrakh.
“NAMBRAKH!” Nasti shouts, striding into the room like she’s making a wrestling entrance. In Abyssal, she bellows, “The Mother of Monsters has sent me to visit her wrath and displeasure upon you! Your hour of judgment is at HANNNNND!”
The hobgoblin blinks, astonished for a moment. Then he addresses the tiefling in the same profane language1, looking more fascinated than anything.
Switching to Common for the benefit of her cousins, she cries, “YOU’LL be the one taken care of, asshole!” Her staff blazes with fire.
Nambrakh shrugs and casts a spell, conjuring a stinking cloud of obscuring mist. Through the haze, the cousins see his spear ignite before he flings it into Nasti’s side. Then the weapon vanishes to reappear in the hobgoblin’s hands.
“Well, FUCK!” complains Nasti, stumbling forward to the west side of the room to get outside of the cloud. She pulls a potion out of her pack and quaffs it, sighing at the paltry amount of healing it provides.
The skeleton drops the lance it had been holding and draws a sword as it enters the poisonous cloud to engage Amaya. It draws blood with its strike, but the half-elf is quick to counterattack, shattering several skeletal ribs with her bastard sword. Then she evades an attack of opportunity as she flees the cloud, closing with Nambrakh. Nova moves to stand beside Nasti and casts a more potent healing spell on the tiefling.
“Well, if you’re going to be kind enough to line up, it would be rude of me not to,” Nambrakh finishes his sentence by casting lightning bolt. Amaya and Nasti evade the worst of the spell, but Nova is a beat too slow and her teeth rattle in their sockets from the electrical assault. The tiefling moves closer and evokes a plume of fire from her staff, but Nambrakh jukes aside and is only lightly singed. The skeleton emerges from the stinking cloud to place itself between Amaya and the hobgoblin spellcaster. The half-elf tries to destroy the animate as it moves into position, but it brings its shield up and survives the blow. Then it slashes her across the arm in retaliation.
Amaya’s next stroke crushes the skeleton, and she steps up to threaten Nambrakh anew, grabbing his robes to throw him off balance as she slashes in from the side. “Oh. You’ve smashed my toilet friend,” the hobgoblin says mildly, winking at Nova.
“I don’t think you are going to need it anymore,” she retorts. “You really should have agreed to my terms. Were you trying to kill us with that lightning bolt?”
“Yesss?” he says uncertainly.
She grits her teeth in consternation but lacking a better choice she casts healing energy into the room, hoping she and her cousins gain more benefit than Nambrakh will.
The hobgoblin blinks in surprise and says, “Oh, that feels nice. Thank you, madam. Anyway, let me introduce my actual passion.” He clutches at his chest, grits his teeth, and his eyes glow as a hole in reality appears and allows a something that looks like a cross between a wolf and a goblin into the world from … somewhere else.
“Aw no, Gods, what the Hells is that?” says Canter.
“Ow,” says Nambrakh before shaking off the pain of the summoning and stabbing Amaya with his gross spear. The clawed finger of its head impales the half-elf deeply, and Nambrakh seems slightly refreshed by the injury.
“Nope!” says Nasti, arcing lightning to the hobgoblin and his fiendish minion. Amaya shifts focus to the newcomer and manages to draw blood. Nova focuses a powerful spell on the half-elf, whose blood is flowing freely.
The thing addresses Nambrakh in the harsh tones of Abyssal, and the hobgoblin responds in kind2. “Backup butt wiper,” says Nova. “Got it.”
“Hello, hero,” the thing says to Amaya in Common. Then it shifts a step away from her and waggles its fingers. Magic assaults Amaya’s mind, and she begins to babble incoherently. Nambrakh evokes a fireball to hit the cousins, and Nova hits the floor. The hobgoblin’s spear begins to sweat acid, but Amaya manages to avoid his thrust.
Dropping her staff, Nasti whips smelling salts out of her bandolier and holds them under Nova’s nose. The human jolts back to consciousness, and the tiefling produces a healing potion and pours it down her companion’s throat.
Amaya recovers from the fiend’s spell and slashes Nambrakh twice more. “Well, this is unsustainable,” complains the hobgoblin. Nova regains her feet but is still too woozy from pain to properly aim her moonbeam spell. She staggers clumsily as her curse reasserts itself. The fiend advances on Amaya and she avoids both its sharp teeth and flashing claws.
“What? Is that all?” says Nambrakh to the fiend. It mutters dark curses in Abyssal. “Useless. I guess I have to do all of the work!” He takes a cautious step away from Amaya’s reach and casts another spell on her. She glares at him furiously as the magic washes over her to no effect. Nambrakh frowns and then his eyes widen as the fiend vanishes with a pop. “Too distracted, Nambrakh old boy,” he chastises himself. He dodges Nasti’s next attack spell, then comes face-to-face with a furious half-elf.
“YOU. ALMOST. KILLED. NOVA.” Amaya’s overhand strike brings the hobgoblin to the brink of death.
“She looks,” he coughs blood, “fine to me!”
The half-elf sneers and slashes him again as she grabs him by the robes with a free hand. Nova reaches deep, but her moonbeam splashes harmlessly against the far wall.
“Welp. Time to go,” says Nambrakh, shaking off Amaya’s grip and fleeing up the north hall. Nasti pursues but pulls up short as she enters the next chamber and sees four rotting hobgoblins shuffle listlessly across the floor. At a glance, she takes in the rest of the room. An ornately carved arch takes up the entire western wall. It is a larger, more detailed version of the demon arches in the rest of the compound, but this arch just has a blank wall beyond it. Two of the smaller demon arches pierce the southern wall, and Nambrakh is headed for the other one.
The tiefling grits her teeth and sends an electric arc into the hobgoblin’s back. He falls with a curse, and the undead look at her hungrily.
Nasti turns her head back down the southern hall and cries, “Zombies!”
1 “You’re not one of mine. You could be if you wanted. I would see to it that you are well taken care of.”
2 Thing: “So, what? We’re killing these things?” Nambrakh: “Basically.”