The adventurers looted the kenku corpses and then regrouped in the chamber west of the entry hall. Healing magic was applied for those in need, and once everyone had caught their breath Mom asked, “What next?”
“Everyone takes a light and we keep going,” said Xan. They each took a sunrod taken from the bodies, ignited it and began following the rogue as he stalked through the twisting paths of the stony maze.
They came under attack by a pair of dire weasels in the northern part of the labyrinth. Sam and Xan slaughtered the first, and though one got a grip on Mom, Drake kicked it off of him, crushing the beast’s skull and splattering it against the wall behind Sam. “Huh,” the alchemist commented. “Didn’t think it would get so much…distance.”
Sam looked over her shoulder and her eyes followed the weasel as it slid down the wall. “Squishy.”
“Thanks, Drake,” said Mom, looking disturbed.
Liberty covered a smile. “You all right there, Mom?”
“Gah!” he exclaimed. “I’ll laugh later, but for now, GAH!”
“Okay,” said Xan. “Moving on. Come this way. I’m backtracking a bit.”
The rogue took his time searching the walls for secret doors that he was sure existed. “I know there’s a door here, but I can’t find it. My compliments to the designer.” He gave up searching and led the others toward the eastern passages of the labyrinth.
Xan heard movement coming from a southern corridor, and gestured behind him for the others to be silent. He crept around a dogleg in the maze and found a small chamber with faint light. A couple of kenku that appeared to be laying an ambush lurked near the entrance of the room. The rogue returned to the others and reported what he’d seen. “I say we charge in on 1…2…3!” he rushed around the corner and into the room.
Then the two kenku he hadn’t seen struck.
The robed one sent a sickly green ray at the rogue, which struck him in the chest and made him feel weaker. The other lobbed a vial at Xan, but he ducked underneath it. It exploded in flames on the wall behind him which singed Sam, who stood just around the corner.
Liberty cast a burning shield to protect her from attacks, as Sam rushed past Xan and killed the two kenku lurking near the door with one wide swing of her enchanted greatsword. The kenku sorcerer conjured magical grease on the floor at the entrance, and the warrior woman lost her balance, falling to the floor. Xan leapfrogged off of Sam to avoid the grease – to which she protested, “Watch the hands!” – then stabbed the feathery spellcaster. The other remaining kenku flanked the rogue, but failed to connect with his club. Drake and Mom moved up, and into the room despite the grease.
Liberty made an end of the enemy spellcaster with a pair of magic missiles and Sam pulled herself up off the floor and slashed the remaining kenku with her blade. Xan spun around and took advantage of the flank she provided, stabbing the birdman in his kidneys. With a snarl, the kenku tore one of the beads off of its necklace and slammed it down onto the floor where it exploded in a fireball that engulfed the room and all those within.
Xan hid behind Liberty, whose very skin seemed to absorb the flames, but the others were not so fortunate, and Drake was knocked to the floor. The kenku, amazingly, stood unscathed by the flames. The smug look on its face was removed quite literally by a massive blade propelled by two hundred pounds of raging half-orc. The last thing it heard was the off-beat warcry: “BLOOD MAKES NOISE!”
“Thrice-damned… Blasted… Sonova… Hell… GREASE!” Drake couldn’t seem to decide upon an appropriate curse as he pulled himself out of the grease. He accepted Liberty’s hand and she helped him to his feet.
Sam frowned at Xan. “And just what makes you think my boobs can be used for a springboard?”
“Well, they look springy,” said the alchemist, relighting the cigar that had been doused by his fall. She turned her frown on Drake.
“That was kinda neat, Xan,” said Mom with a grin, as his rage bled away. “Another hobby?”
The rogue laughed out loud. “Umm… Yea. Using boobs in creative ways is definitely a hobby of mine.”
Sam raised one eyebrow and opened her mouth to say something, but found that she couldn’t. Drake looked like he might be in danger of smirking, and Liberty rolled her eyes with such force that they almost fell out of their sockets.
“I do apologize if you were hurt at all,” said Xan.
Sam smiled lightly. “Well, there is enough of them that no damage was done. I guess I have enough to share for tactical needs.”
The rogue nodded with a smile. “Let’s see what these guys have.”
* * *
“I’m going to need a quiver for all these wands,” said Liberty, after the loot was distributed and the magic items were identified. “These bird tokens will take a written message to anybody, anywhere. And this other one turns into a giant magic whip.”
“Kinky,” said Sam.
“Maybe I should give it to my sister,” the sorcerer said matter-of-factly. Drake snorted.
“Drake?” said Mom.
Sam grinned. “I think he likes that idea.” Drake grumbled at that.
“Xan, you should take these elixirs,” said Liberty, holding up a pair of vials.
The rogue accepted them. “Sure. What do they do?”
“That one makes you sneak better,” she said, pointing. “And the other one might help you find these damned secret doors.”
“Nice. How long do they last?”
“About an hour. Each.”
He nodded. “By the way… When did you become fireproof? I saw that fireball wash right over you.”
“Around the time we went to the Free City, I guess.”
“Yea. It’s the fire in my blood, getting stronger.” Mom grunted.
“That is some ability…trait? I might be a little jealous, Miss Liberty Grace.” She grinned and sketched a quick curtsey.
* * *
With his senses augmented by the elixir of vision, Xan managed to find one of the secret doors near the entrance to the labyrinth. “Wow… This is good stuff. I can see so much better! Now that I know what I’m looking for, maybe I’ll have better luck finding others.”
“Yea, maybe,” said Liberty.
They made a complete circuit of all the obvious passages in the maze, and as they passed the fallen kenku Drake took another pull off his flask. “Damn crows. Wonder what we’ll find in the third part of this complex.”
“Theldrick’s journal mentions someone called Grallak Kur,” said Liberty. “Maybe he’s in Erythnul’s chambers. Also, someone called the Faceless One should be around here somewhere…”
“This cannot be it,” said Mom, with an accusatory glance at Xan. “There has to be another room or something.”
“I have a hunch about the north walls,” said the rogue. “C’mon, let me test it before this elixir wears off.”
* * *
Xan’s hunch was right, and a few minutes of searching the north walls revealed another secret door. He opened it up and found a wooden door just beyond. Boxes and crates filled the room past the second door, leaving only a narrow alley to cross. Kegs of water, boxes of rations, and other mundane gear were arranged in neat, orderly piles. After a cursory glance at the crates, the rogue nodded. “These are Smenk’s goods. These must be some of the provisions he’s been ‘forced’ to provide to the cult.”
“Maybe we can take them with us on the way out,” said Liberty.
“Unlikely,” said Mom.
“Hopefully, we’ll have more of value to carry out,” said Xan.
“We can take anything we might need,” said Sam, starting to look through the goods. “Smenk can pick up the rest of the stuff himself, if he wants it. We aren’t his delivery boys.”
Liberty smiled. “I was thinking the same thing.”
“That’s the spirit,” said Xan, smiling. He made his way up the narrow northern hallway and through another door to find a room cramped with two sets of bunk beds, a small writing table, and several stools. A single torch cast light across the room from a sconce between the beds. The rogue crept to an open archway on the eastern wall and peeked around the corner. There he saw a larger chamber.
An acrid, almost metallic stink emanated from it. The walls consisted of a strange green rock with purple veins that writhed and danced within it. Six black pillars formed two rows along the length of the chamber. They had a tar-like appearance, and what looked like human hands pushed at their surfaces from within, as if a crowd of humanoid creatures was trapped within each one. A plain basalt altar rested on the western wall, and Xan saw a human man wearing tattered purple robes and a prominent holy symbol of Vecna standing before it.
The rogue signaled back to the group to advance quietly, but as Drake approached, the human man took notice of the intrusion. Xan rushed into the next chamber to take advantage of the cultist’s surprise and saw a second robed man near the altar as well. Unfortunately, as he passed near one of the pillars, the hands reached out and grabbed him. He was held fast!
Liberty rounded the corner and blasted the first cultist with her magic missiles, then a spectra l wizard appeared and reached for Xan. “Ghost!” he cried, wrenching himself free from the pillar and retreating back to the bunkroom.
One of the cultists advanced on the pair and evoked a cone of flame from his fingers, but Liberty’s fiery soul absorbed it. She smiled like a skull and asked, “That all you got?”
Seeing this development, the other cultist pulled a scroll and cast the spell it contained. A mass of sticky webbing completely filled the bunk room, trapping the adventurers within. They managed to avoid getting stuck completely, but moving within the magical web would be a challenge. Mom cast a defensive spell, then advanced as far as the web would allow and Sam followed him in. Drake maneuvered through the web and lobbed a firebomb at the acolytes, singeing them each.
Liberty’s burning hands spell cleared some of the webs and laid the nearer cultist low. The spirit floated right into the webs, completely unhindered, but the sorcerer managed to avoid its reaching grasp. Up close, they could hear an eerie babble emanating from its skeletal maw, and the madness it spewed overcame the minds of Drake, Sam, and Xan.
“Kord!” cried out Mom, channeling the Brawler’s divine energy. The spirit barely seemed to notice. Liberty blasted it with a magic missile from one of the wands she’d taken from the kenku mage, and it reached for her again, but she ducked beneath its insubstantial claws. The attack on one of her comrades shook Sam out of her stupor, and with a growl, she cut a swathe of ectoplasm from it with her enchanted blade. Mom continued feebly channeling energy, and the remaining cultist retreated through a door on the far side of the eastern chamber, calling for help.
Drake and Xan shook off the supernatural fascination, and the adventurers managed to finish off the spirit a moment before the cultist returned – with backup.
A door to the north of the bunkroom opened to reveal a man wearing green robes and a leather mask set with iron studs. Only his coal-black eyes were visible beneath it, and his hands were covered with mystical tattoos. “What bringsss you to my domain, ssstrangersss?” said the figure with a slight lisp. He evoked a flaming sphere on top of Liberty, setting the webs alike. Her sorcerous blood protected her from most of the heat.
“Faceless One?” she guessed. “Hang on. I’ll come show ya.”
“Fassscinating,” the figure replied.
“Well, hells,” rumbled Drake. He took a vial out of his pouch and downed it. He clenched his teeth as his muscles to bulge and stretch out his clothes.
Liberty used burning hands to clear the webs to the north and burn the Faceless One a bit, then she took a step toward him to get away from the flaming sphere. Xan advanced on the cult leader, and Drake followed suit. Deciding that was well in hand, Liberty headed back to chamber housing the robed cultist – and the two others who had joined him.
Sam advanced on the three cultists to the east, and was blasted by scorching rays cast from scrolls. The burns began to take their toll on the warrior woman, and she reached for a potion. Mom came up to support her, using the healing wand to tend to some of her burns. She and Mom proceeded to finish off the lesser cultists, supported by Liberty.
The Faceless One moved the flaming sphere at Drake, who avoided it, then took a step back into what appeared to be a laboratory and sent three magic missiles into Xan’s face. The juiced up alchemist advanced on the Faceless One and smashed into the wizard with his fist, knocking the leather mask to the floor. Beneath it, the cult leader’s face was a blank, featureless slate save for a small, sharp nose and a toothless mouth. The Faceless one retreated another step, and then launched a lightning bolt at the adventurers. Drake leaped to the side and pulled Xan with him, avoiding the worst of the electrical strike. The young men then flanked the wizard and brought him down with blade and fist.
As the Faceless One collapsed to the floor, his body turned to what appeared to be melted snow.
“What the-” said Drake.