The cousins arrive back in Sumberton with the Chicane Guild wagon in the evening, surrounded by the half-a-dozen goblins who had agreed to apologize on behalf of their gang. Vintra wears a bemused expression during Fiznip’s awkward speech, but she accepts it with grace. At a suggestion from Nasti, the halfling ponders aloud the possibility of taking on a crew of goblin troubleshooters to patrol the region and dissuade other bandits from considering attacking guild wagons in the future. The goblins are enthusiastic about this prospect and arrange a meeting for later in the week, promising to bring their friends back to sign up.
After the goblins leave, Vintra thanks the cousins for their swift recovery of guild property. She agrees to broker sales of the other valuables discovered in the lair and to either pay in hard coin or establish lines of credit for all three ladies, at their preference. She provides a receipt for everything they hand over and promises to settle up with them later. She listens eagerly to any details they wish to share about the complex but doesn’t pry, noting that the three have taken injuries and likely wish to rest.
Amaya drags her cousins with her to share a late dinner with her parents. Selvala spoils Canter with treats and dotes over Nasti and particularly Nova, considering her condition. The human assures her hosts that all she needs is a good meal and a better night’s sleep. While they eat, Amaya speaks to her father Tajic about the notion of recruiting hobgoblins into the army. He muses over the idea, suggesting that a squad of “irregulars” might be handy at that. The cousins tell as much of the story of their encounters with the goblins as seems prudent to keep Amaya’s folks’ fears under control. Goodbyes take a while as the ladies make assurances that they are taking care of one another, despite appearances.
* * *
Gozran 3, 4720 AR
Without the slow-moving wagon, the return trip to the canyon containing the tunnel entrance to the Laboratory is much easier. Amaya speaks with the hobgoblins camped nearby the picnic spot to let them know the likelihood of their acceptance into the national army. The goblinoids are pleasantly surprised by this information, and she agrees to escort them back into town to meet with a recruiting officer personally.
The cousins descend the slope into the Laboratory, relying on Amaya’s everburning torch for light, and make it to the gambling room before noting that something has changed. The north doors to the trapped room are closed. Nasti surveys the door, but detecting nothing untoward, she steps aside so Amaya can push it open.
“Do we remember anyone else being in here other than giant bugs and creepy dogs?” says Nova. “And the BFSG … big effin’ stone giant.”
“The ‘lavender bastard’ and his associate, perhaps?” suggests Canter.
Amaya shrugs and pulls the doors open. As before, they see the scratched floor and the closed copper doors to the north.
“The switch is in the hall on the other side, right?” says Nova. The others nodded agreement.
Amaya tosses one of the chairs into the room, which clatters across the stone floor, coming to rest against the far wall. “So do we think they’re armed?” she asks.
“Is it worth the risk? This or the plank again.”
“I say plank. Though, this way would be quicker.”
“And I’m in favor of this,” says Nasti. “Nova?”
The human thinks for a moment. “Let’s do this. I can always heal you if things go wrong.”
Nasti nods and steps into the room, scanning for troubles. Unfortunately, when her weight comes down on the first stone inside the room, two scything blades swing down. She avoids the first deftly but steps right into the path of the second. She yells something about copulating in Orcish
Amaya pulls Nasti back, then they spend several minutes treating her fresh wounds, the tiefling grousing the entire time.
“So, plank then,” says Amaya.
“Let me try that again, shall I?” says Nasti, persistently.
“How about I try it?”
“Okay. Then, plank.”
Amaya steps through the other door and two more scything blades swing down. The first hits her so hard that it knocks her out of the path of the second.
“Oh, hell,” says Nova, who had been about to change her vote to ‘plank.’
They spent another several minutes treating Amaya’s injuries. Then Nasti spends some time examining the floor of the trap room from the safety of the gambling room. She notes that pressure plates line the tiles along the north and south walls, though the ones immediately in front of the near doors do not appear to have reset yet. She shares this information with the others and says, “I can try to disarm the plates.”
She leaps over the nearer pressure plates, just in case, then gets to work jamming a piton into the space between the floor and one of the pressure plates near the northern doors. Once she is satisfied, she waves the others over. “DON’T stand here,” she says, pointing at the tile in front of the other door.
“Nice work,” says Nova.
They enter the north hall and open the hidden panel to find the switch in the up position. Amaya moves it down to disable the traps, then nods and moves to listen at the east doors. After a moment, she whispers to the others. “Voices speaking… Sounds like strangely accented Elven, and the speakers appear to be discussing the yeth hounds.”
“Now that’s strange,” says Nasti, her curiosity clearly piqued.
“Let’s go say ‘hi,’” says Nova.
Amaya pushes the doors, but they do not open, rattling slightly as though someone has barred them once more.
“Huh. Seems like whoever is down here does not wish to be disturbed,” says Canter.
“So… Plank then,” says Nova.
Amaya shrugs and promptly kicks the doors in. The wooden bar snaps and the doors bang open loudly. The operating room is much as they remember it, sans hobgoblins. Whatever voices Amaya heard have gone silent.
They enter the room cautiously, and as Amaya crosses to the stairs, a humanoid woman with lavender skin, pointed ears, and red-hued eyes appears at the railing. Nasti and Nova exchange a glance at the sight of the dark elf, who holds one hand up to shade them from the light and gazes down at the trio curiously. She glances back over her shoulder and says, in oddly accented Elven, “Three surface-dwellers. Nambrakh’s bane, maybe?”
The drow woman shifts to the corner near the stairs to allow a dark elf male to take her place. “Oh, look,” he says. “Hellspawn? No. Pitborn, maybe. Blessed.”
“Pitborn,” Nasti says in Abyssal.
“I’m sorry, dear. I don’t understand that gibberish,” says the drow man. She holds her tongue, but her tail is twitching madly.
“Good afternoon. We didn’t expect to find anyone in here today after we cleaned it out. I’m Nova. This is Nastassia and Amaya.”
“Fascinating,” the man says, addressing his companion. “The chattel has been taught the master’s language. Like some kind of trained lizard-monkey.”
“And you are?” says Nova, seemingly unaffected by the insult.
“The surface is so delightfully backward, is it not, Darvyna?” he says to his companion
“If you say so,” says the woman, sounding bored.
“I suggest you apologize to my cousin,” says Amaya.
“Cousin? Oh, I see it now. You’re mixed-blood, as well. A lesser servant related to a slave? So liberal!”
“Forgive me, please,” he addresses Nasti and doesn’t sound very sincere. “We assumed your business with Nambrakh concluded with his death and thought to poke around. Should we come back another time?” He seems very amused with himself for some reason.
“Our business with Nambrakh is over,” says Nasti, “but we aren’t finished ‘poking around’ here, either. Have you come from the Temple?” She emphasizes the last word.
He tilts his head to one side, expression bland. “Temple?” The lie fools none of them.
Nasti smiles like a knife. “So coy. I like it.” The slightest bit of air escapes his nostrils. “The Valley’s other demonic compound, of course. Well, the other one Nambrakh knew about.”
The dark elves exchange a blase glance. “Chatty for a dead man, this Nambrakh,” the male says. “What is your interest in this … facility?” He enunciates the last word crisply.
“When I read a tall, dark man in my future the other day, I must say I didn’t expect this,” says Nova, mostly to herself. “Our interest. The protection of the valley. That’s easy.”
He lifts what seems like a sort of breakfast taco to his mouth and takes a bite, not even glancing at Nova. “Does that thing speak for you, Blessed One?” he asks Nasti.
“I thought I might find something herein that spoke to my birthright,” she says, also trying to affect boredom. “But we haven’t explored every cran and nookie yet.”
“Mm. That’s a more interesting answer. Not a TRUE one, but I did open the door to prevarication, I suppose.”
“I fear that you did, Mister…?”
“Abyss preserve me, how rude! Brelaggio.”
“Brelaggio,” she says as if savoring it.
“I like the way you say it, anyway.” His companion rolls her eyes.
“So what were you hoping to find here? Was it something my companions and I already turned up?”
Brelaggio sighs. “Well, the gate was a bust, unfortunately. Likely the most interesting things that still work are the mirrors across the way,” he says. “Though I am also fascinated by this … trap? I’m not sure what to call whatever binds the hounds so.”
Nasti puts one foot on the stairs, eyes on the dark elves. Darvyna draws her sword a few inches as she does, so the tiefling pauses. “That is one of the enigmas I wanted to return to.”
Brelaggio tuts. “She’s ever so protective.” Amaya also draws her sword a few inches, which the drow man notes. “Not because she likes me, of course. But one cannot have everything.”
“I just wanted to come up and compare notes,” says Nasti. “We didn’t spend much time studying the snare before we left.”
“Oh, I’m afraid we’ve told one another too many lies for me to be quite THAT trusting. You understand.”
She smiles, a little sadly. “Of course. It’s been fun, though, hasn’t it?”
“Very nearly,” he says, thick with condescension.
“And here I was expecting y’all to just bone and get it over with,” mutters Canter.
Darvyna moves to the top of the stairs, rapier ready, and Amaya ascends to meet her, leading with a two-handed strike that drew first blood. This threw the dark elf woman off balance and her counter impaled the air an inch to the side of the half-elf’s head. Brelaggio glances to the left as Nova’s ray of searing light passes a foot from his face. His mouth forms an “O” but not a concerned one.
Nasti retreats a few steps and casts haste on Amaya. Brelaggio takes a step back, fires a crossbow bolt into the railing beside Amaya’s arm, sighs, and reloads. Darvyna skewers Amaya with her rapier, smiles dispassionately, then takes a single step back, inviting the half-elf to come forward to her doom. The half-elf grimaces, but advances gamely striking the drow woman again, before raising her blade to parry.
Nova rushes forward and pours healing energy into her bleeding cousin. Unable to get an angle on both drow, Nasti settles on sending a lightning bolt at Darvyna. The drow woman leans back and is only lightly singed by the passing electricity. Brelaggio fires his hand crossbow at Amaya a second time, and when the second shot misses, he casts a disgusted look down at the weapon. Then he grins wickedly and plunges the room into darkness.
Darvyna unleashes a flurry of stabs at the suddenly blinded Amaya, but miraculously, only one lunge manages to enter Amaya’s thigh through her new enchanted chain mail. The half-elf stumbles blindly back into the doors. She shoves one open and steps back into the hall there, keeping her blade raised defensively. Nova retreats toward the trapward exit, disappointed that the lights remain off even in the hall.
Nasti glances around in concern then dispels the magical darkness, allowing Amaya’s dropped everburning torch to illuminate the chamber once more. “Uh, ladies? Lights are on again,” she says, retreating south along the wall. Brelaggio rushes down the stairs after the tiefling but fails to stab her with his own rapier.
“Look out, bitch, he got a knife!” cries Canter.
Amaya defends herself from Darvyna’s next attacks, then with four lightning-fast strokes, cuts the drow woman down. “You’re next!” she shouts at Brelaggio, who ignores her. Nova’s sound burst makes the dark elf wince, and Nasti’s burning hands singes him.
He swears as the magic assaults him, then calls out, “Darvyna, finish that servant and get down here!” When she doesn’t answer he says, “Darvyna?” Then he glances up, sees her body, and swears. He turns his attention back to Nasti, who growls, then pursues her with a flurry of desperate attacks. The tiefling bleeds more, but Brelaggio does not survive Amaya’s fury afterward.
“Are y’all okay?” says Nasti.
As the adrenaline from the combat fades, the half-elf wipes her blade and puts it away. “Been better,” she says.
“They certainly live up to their reputations,” says Nova. “What jerks.”
“Oh, sparkly,” says Canter, drawing the cousins’ attention to the jewelry on the dark elves’ hands. They loot the bodies of rings and a potion vial tucked in Brelaggio’s pouch.
More healing magic is applied to the wounded before the trio ascends to the balcony. They cast their gazes down at the glowing lines on the floor of the large chamber where three yeth hounds still lurk. They discuss possibilities for a moment before deciding that they agree with Brelaggio’s hypothesis: the energy must be keeping the fiends trapped within. But for what purpose?
“My guess is that they were being experimented on at some point,” says Nova. “Guinea pigs. But … you know … Dire Guinea Pigs.”
Nasti nods. “Something to do with the shattered gate, maybe? I mean, this is where we found those elves.”
“I mainly just want to know how to shut down that cage… so that we definitely DON’T do that.”
Amaya absentmindedly picks up Canter and gives him chin skritches.
The familiar purrs like a dragon then says, “Wonder where ‘the back way’ is.”
“Hey, yeah,” says Nasti.
Amaya nods. “Let’s put a pin on these hounds. We can go check out the doors at the shrine.”
They find the previously barred doors open easily. Beyond them is a room that contains a wooden desk and a single wide bedroll. In the southwestern corner is a narrow tunnel that leads upward. By the smell of the room, which is fresher than other areas of this forsaken ruin, and the slight draft, they guess that tunnel leads to the surface.
They waste no time searching the small chamber. Inside the desk, Amaya finds thirteen parchment sheets, a pen, chalk, and ink. Among the parchments are two with drawings and handwriting in a language unfamiliar to all of them. One is a sketch of a shattered gate along with a note. The other is a sketched map marked “(Something),” which shows a path through a forest to a square marked “(Something Else),” then a scrawled “(Some third thing),” beside stairs leading down to a demon arch.
Nasti holds it up for Canter. “Any idea what this language even is?”
“By YOUR grace, I currently know exactly one language. This one we’re talking right now.”
“Sarcasm?” says Nova.
The familiar places one paw up to his nose and points at Nova with his other forepaw.