Emerging from the staircase, Era, Lemaia, and Merle found themselves in a hall of neatly laid stone bricks. A far cry from the chipped away tunnels below. Dark hallways stretched in two directions. Sturdy-looking, iron-banded wooden doors lined the walls up and down the hall. With every ounce of caution they could muster, they picked a door, checked to see if was trapped, and quietly slipped inside.
Within was a room is dominated by a large, chipped stone desk bearing an intricate design that was once probably stunning to behold, but has since been marred by scrapes and gouges Tattered tapestries hung moldering from the wall. Wooden chairs lay broken and crushed about the stone floor. The strangest feature, however, was an old suit of dwarven armor standing in the corner. Rather, it was armor made by dwarves, bu was too tall to be worn by a dwarf.
The room bore little else of interest, but the draw of the armor was great. Lemaia searched the suit for traps, and luckily found an array of runes, barely visible, carved upon the surface. He all at once decided that touching the armor was a bad idea, and moved on to the next room.
The second room was a mess. Four wooden posts. wrapped in moldering fabrics, lay sundered over a torn mattress. Down of some unknown bird spilled from the tear across a warn rug. The companions crept inside, trying not to rouse too much attention. Lemaia began searching the torn mattress for anything of value. What she found were a pair of knife-wielding kobolds. The short, reptilian creatures leaped into action, attacking Lamaia, Merle, and Era. The thief dove into moldering remains of the four post bed while her companions decimated the pair of cunning kobolds.
When one fell, the other raced to the wall, revealing a secret door that lead to the previous room. Merle gave chase, followed by Era, but when they arrived in the room with the large stone desk, they found the injured kobold standing next to the trapped suit of armor. With a poke from the little creature, the armor came to life, crushing the kobold in one devastating blow, it’s empty visor focused directly on Merle.
The armor stepped upon the desk, delivering a blow after bone-shattering blow with its steel gauntlets. The dwarf was not to be undone, and tapped into all he had learned in his monastery about the way of the mountain. He would not move to this… thing, and he certainly would not fall. He delivered a series of punishing blows, denting the armor with staff, foot, and fist. Era’a attempts to fell the animated armor with her crossbow were proving fruitless. Lemaia, freshly returned from her hiding place, offered to take aim. Her lucky bolt soared through the visor, breaking the rune that empowered the being. The armor fell into a heap, the magic that once held it together dispersed.
The trio decided to try their luck across the hall. The door they opened lead to a long chamber with bunked beds stacked four high lining the walls. From those bunks sprang seven more kobold warriors. Era, with some quick thinking, put half of them to sleep. The rest attacked or fled the room, attempting to flank the companion, but Merle was there to meet them, dispatching them with ease. A sole survivor raced down the hall to a barred door, but the monk was faster, and his strike was true. The kobold fell before he reached the door.
With the barracks emptied, the three tried their luck with another door, this one stuck. After a few attempts they managed to break it down. Beyond was a spa of sorts, with a single stone walkway running down the center of the room, and stairs on either side leading down into what appeared to be more of the healing hot spring they had encountered in the lower levels.
More macabre, though, were the skeletal corpses of four dwarves, a bizarre purple fungus growing from their chest.
As Lemaia leaned down to investigate, the fungi sprang to life, whipping about pseudo-pods. They lashed both Lemaia and Era with the rotting touch, and the pair were wracked in pain as their flesh began to decompose before their very eyes. Merle leaped into action, holding a pair at bay, while the thief and the bard drew their steel and cut the fungi down to size. They disposed of the violet fungus in short order, claiming the room and it’s invaluable resource; the healing waters, which they made immediate use of. They spent a long while, treating their wounds, taking turns sleeping until finally they felt ready to move on.
On the far end of the barracks stood a solitary door. Lemaia again made sure that no cleverly disguised traps would befall them, and threw the door open. What she found was the privy. A series of stalls lined the wall, with benches inside, bearing a single hole. On one such stall door hung a silver chain with some manner of shining object. Overcome with her lust for treasure, Lemaia shot forth, but recoiled the instant the floor gave way, collapsing down below.
Strangely, one section of rubble seemed to float downward, slowly drifting even after the rest of the floor had settled. Among the chunks of slowly falling broken floor was the silver necklace. Lemaia nimbly sung herself over, diving boots first into whatever the strange phenomenon was. What she did not expect was the gelatinous quality of the area. Still seeing only treasure, she leaned forward to grab the silver chain, and that was when the gelatinous cube had her.
Era suddenly realized what was happening, but it was too late. The thief began to slowly dissolve before their very eyes. Merle leaped down below, and thrust his bare arms into the cube to rescue his companion. As the flesh was being stripped from him, the dwarf managed to pull Lemaia free, but there was little to celebrate. Cornered, there was nowhere for the monk and thief to go. The cube slowly slid over them, engulfing them into its corrosive body.
Era, summoning up every bit of courage she had, followed Merle’s example and thrust her own arms into the cube from her lofty perch. Summoning a strength she didn’t know she had, she pulled the pair free, though her arms had been completely stripped of skin. A stray pseudo-pod lashed Era in the back, but the still managed to stagger ahead. They were safe for now, but they had paid a hefty price for Lemaia’s treasure-lust.
After a rest, the companions ventured on. Their exploration lead them to another room, this one was mostly sparse, save for a dead kobold, skeletal from the waste up. Era entered, intrigued by the phenomenon. From the ceiling, a green slime fell onto the bard’s shoulders. She issued forth a scream as the slime began to corrode her armor and skin. Lemaia came to her rescue, scrapping the slime off with her trusty dagger.
Meanwhile, as Merle was observing the scene, he felt a warmth, stinking breath on his neck. He turned to see thee face of an emaciated ogre staring back at him, with a crazed-looking kobold riding upon his hunched back. The ogre swung with it’s heavy club, crushing the stone beneath its strike, but thankfully missing everyone else. Era pointed to the giant and demanded “Sleep”. The weak-willed and exhausted ogre was more than happy to oblige, and fell forward. His kobold rider, though,was furious, and attacked Era with all that he had in him.
Merle and Lemaia rushed to her side, and together they slew the raving reptile. After catching their breath, they pressed on, slowly and carefully walking down the halls until the sound of voice reached their ears. Lemaia went on ahead to scout out the situation, eventually coming to the entrance of a chamber. She peeked inside, noticing what looked to be a desecrated temple. It was almost certainly a holy site for some manner of dwarven god, but every stone effigy of him was smashed to rubble, and any surface that bore his symbol was marred and defaced. Standing in the back, upon a dais stood a winged kobold in scale male, clutching a strange symbol around her neck. She seemed to be arguing with a few other less armored kobolds. The thief took care to roll her ball bearings across the entrance as quietly as possible.
Era’s curiosity tugged at her, and soon she found herself stalking up behind Lemaia, though her footfalls didn’t have the practiced experience of the tiefling. The kobolds ceased talking, and and the sound of soft, leathery footfalls echoed thorough the hall. The three waited in anticipation, and when the time came they attacked, clashing with the little reptilian humanoids. The one upon the dais conjured forth a spectral mace to strike those foolish enough to enter. It was then that Merle had his target. He rushed forth, shaking off a blow from the mace, and proceeded to assault the magic-wielding kobold. Era and Lemaia felled the two guards, while the dwarf continued to strike the magic user with devastating blows, though his fists had a difficult time penetrating some invisible shield around her.
Era pulled her flute free and played a song she had never played before. A moment later, the kobold was overcome with raucous laughter. The three bound the laughing kobold and dragged her down the hall, to the room where they had left the gelatinous cube. There, they questioned her.
She revealed her name was Ssassra, and that she was once the leader of her tribe of kobolds. One day a man with a golden mask gave them a gift. The gift, it turns out, was a curse in disguise. The gift was a being called Verolax, and it had displaced Ssassra as leader. It declared itself God-King, and demanded tribute and fidelity from the kobolds.
The trio demanded to know the location of the ale barrels. Ssassra told them that they were not far, and that she would lead them to them om exchange for her life, her freedom, and her ability to reclaim control of the kobolds after the companions dealt with Verolax. Negotiations went sour when Merle asked if it was she who had desecrated the temple. Proudly Ssassra smile, and said “Yesssss”. Merle threw her into the cube, which dissolved her to her bones.
The end of their quest was within sight. If Ssassra had been truthful, the ale was nearby, but the companions were left with many questions. Who, or what was Verolax? What lay in the dark, unexplored corners of this abandoned mine? Would they all stay alive long enough to see Keen again?
As the three returned to the healing spa, locking the door, Lemaia marveled at a new piece of treasure she had taken from Ssassra; the holy symbol she had so tightly clutched. A symbol of Tiamat.