Regrouping following the battle with the strange statues, the party moves carefully across the chamber. On the far side, they find a pair wooden double doors bound in iron, closed by a bolt, and bearing an iron frieze in the shape of a minotaur’s head. It looks menacing and evil.
Gloria listens carefully at the door, and thinks she can hear the low murmuring of voices beyond.
Cordivae, feeling tired, sick and clammy after the combat with the statues (and a recent bite from a diseased rat) slowly pulls back the bolt and opens the double-doors.
The room beyond is composed of the darker stone the adventurers also found in the current chamber. A large statue of a minotaur in an iron crown towers over the space within. The adventurers are struck by a disturbing sensation of malevolence emanating from the vicinity of the statue, and a rough-hewn stone alter across from it. Nuriel, in particular, is overcome by a feeling of nausea in the presence of such wickedness. The alter bears two blood-red candles. To the right, in the corner of the room, the statue of a female minotaur wearing robes looks upon them with a cruel smile.
Four human guards standing within the room look up as Cordivae opens the door. Three of them are armed with halberds, and the fourth with a short sword. They immediately move to attack, meeting the adventurers at the door of the chamber.
The guard with the short sword engages Cordivae, and it becomes obvious that something is different about this particular opponent. He moves and shifts in a way that Cordivae cannot quite follow, but—more often than not—seems to put the dwarf at a disadvantage in the fight…
All four guards fight fiercely. The three who wield halberds threaten the adventurers from a short distance—but this is not the most disturbing development. As the battle begins in earnest, the explorers are horrified to see a yellow, oozing mass seep from cracks between the stone blocks forming the walls in far corner of the room. This living blob of slime moves directly into the fray. It seems to know who its friends are, and only appears interested in using the party for dinner.
A back-and-forth scrum commences. As the ooze is targeted by Amarth‘s arcane mark, it retreats further into the room. When Amarth’s attention moves elsewhere, it returns to the battle. At one point during this cycle, the blob slams Kep with a slimy pseudopod. The halfling staggers from the blow, and his skin burns with acidic fire where the putrid tentacle touched his flesh.
The adventurers rain blows, arrows and fell magic upon their enemies. Two of the guards fall, and the others are gravely wounded. These retreat beyond the statue of the crowned minotaur, and let the ooze take most of the punishment. This has an unexpected affect. As the attacks of the party slash and hammer the slime, it suddenly divides into two separate blobs. Kep maneuvers to the steps of the small platform bearing the statue of the robed minotaur, where he can attack either creature, but cannot be flanked by them.
While the explorers are taking in this development, the remaining guard with a halberd drops this larger weapon, unslings a crossbow, and begins targeting the party with pot-shots.
Using grit, determination and clever tactics, the group eventually strikes down the crossbowman, and reduces one of the two ooze creatures to an inanimate pool of stinking puss.
As they turn their attention to the remaining blob, the party encounters another surprise. The one remaining guard (the one with the short sword,) moves up to assist them in dispatching the vile creature. When it finally succumbs, the guard drops his sword and raises his hands in the air. Then, his form changes into that of a kindly-looking young woman.
“Shifter?,” asks Gloria. The woman just stares at her, then says to the party in a whispery voice:
" Mareleth pays me well, but not well enough to sacrifice my life.1"
The group pauses for a moment to take this in, then asks who Maraleth is…
“You will find out soon enough,” she answers, “if you continue penetrating this ancient minotaur temple. I know some things that can be useful, if you will spare my life and let me go.”
Kep, in a curious manner, says “I thought you were a man…”
The form of the young woman alters again, to that of a handsome young man. “We don’t make those distinctions,” he answers.
“Well, in that case,” replies Kep, “I liked you better as a woman.” The young man transforms back into the shape of a young woman.
Following this short exchange, the group agrees to let the woman go if she tells them what she knows about Mareleth.
“I don’t know where he comes from,” she tells them, "but I do know that he had some business dealings with a merchant from Fallcrest named Traevus. They had a bitter falling-out many years ago, and Maraleth still holds a grudge. I know he recently sent goblin raiders to steal something from Traevus’ trade caravan.2"
The party inquires as to what this was. The young woman only knows that it is a box or a chest of some sort. She does not know what was in it.
“Mareleth is a necromancer of some skill,” she tells them. If you proceed farther, you should be prepared to battle the living dead.
“Well,” says Amarth “as long as he is just a necomancer of some skill, not of great skill…”
“How much did Mareleth pay you?” asks Kep.
“I don’t really keep track of these things,” answers the woman. “I just make money and spend it. I like shoes.”
The group asks where Mareleth is at right now. The woman tells them that his laboratory is through the other set of double doors exiting the chamber containing the statue and the alter.
“He hasn’t come out yet, because he pays us to take care of disturbances. If he doesn’t hear something from us, however, you may meet him sooner than you would prefer…”
“Well, why don’t you go in there and tell him everything is all right?,” asks Kep.
“Oh, I don’t think that would be a good idea,” says the woman. “He’s in the middle of an experiment, and doesn’t like to be disturbed.”
“In fact,” she says, while edging toward the door, “I really need to go. I appreciate you sparing my life.” As she skirts past Gloria she says “I like your shoes,” then maneuvers across the floor of the room with the light and dark squares, and disappears.
Considering their options, the party decides to exit the temple to rest and recuperate. They make their way out of the tunnels, and set up camp on the backside of the hill from the cave mouths which serve as the entrance to the complex. Kep sings a soothing melody that boosts the spirits of the adventurers, and fills their bodies with an arcane power to help them heal.
The first watch passes without incident, but during the second watch, Nuriel and Kep hear rustling in the prairie grass beyond the light of their camp fire. Within her eladrin trance, Gloria sees shadowy figures approaching their position. Galanthal comes wide awake out of a sound slumber.
Nuriel reaches into his backpack to place his hand upon the party’s one remaining sunrod. His other hand tightly grips his mace. Both he and Kep are on their feet.
Suddenly, with a savage battle cry, three goblin warriors charge into the circle of firelight. They stop a few paces from Nuriel, and all three hurl daggers at him.
‘A massive, hairy creature resembling a giant goblin2’ strides into the light, and then charges Nuriel, striking at him with a great axe.
Kep shouts, “You’re mine!,” and moves to assist Nuriel against this intimidating opponent. He is startled, however, to see another goblin enter the fray. The newcomer bears a battle axe and wears a skull for a helmet. He fixes his eyes on Kep and growls “No, you’re mine, bitch…”
Two more, smaller goblins emerge from the darkness, and close in on Nuriel and Kep from opposite sides.
Gloria steps up, and strikes down one of the smaller goblins with a fatal thought. The three warriors who arrived at the start throw another salvo of daggers and draw their short swords. The party springs into action, and begins to reduce the enemy force piece-by-piece.
Kep, however, stands facing the two largest opponents. The young halfling fights valiantly, but he cannot dodge every blow. Even as the bard’s companions rush to his aid, the goblin wearing the skull hauls back his battle axe, fixes his eye upon the courageous adventurer, and brings the vicious weapon around in an arc that strikes Kep down in blood and steel.
His friends stare in dismay. Then as one, they rally, bringing deadly violence to their enemies. In short order all the goblins, large and small, lie unmoving on the quiet earth—but it is too late. Kep is dead.
1 Dungeons & Dragons Starter Kit Dungeon Master’s Book, 4th Edition, p.32.
2 Dungeons & Dragons Starter Kit Dungeon Master’s Book, 4th Edition, p.32.
2 Dungeons & Dragons Starter Kit Dungeon Master’s Book, 4th Edition, p.34.