Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Hall of Gargoyles

By the time Qova had healed Arbiddance and Hern of their wounds, the goblin had regained mobility and found itself securely bound and gagged. It's beady eyes drilled holes into her and Qova stood and patiently surveyed her defeated opponent.

Hern had begun opening doors in this room, and had surveyed two when Arbiddance stopped him. "There's no telling what's beyond any of them; let's not release anything on top of us just this yet, yes?" The fighter reluctantly agreed and took his place behind the captive.

"Ready?" he asked Qova. She nodded, and Hern pulled his boot dagger out to cut the gag. The creature spit out the taste of rag and slowly looked around.

Do you understand me? Qova growled, hissed and gargled. The goblin squirmed at the harsh question and looked off to the left. Hern thrust the dagger under the goblin's chin and led the head back into position.

Do you understand me? Qova repeated. The goblin nodded.

Good, Qova replied. I want to make certain you understand my every word lest my friend behind you be forced to pick flowers.

The goblin looked at her quizzically and replied I bargain for my life.

"Now we understand each other," she murmured in the Marchtongue. "What should we ask first?"

Arbiddance said "Ask it how far into this rooms the goblins have explored." Qova snapped her fingers and smilingly pointed to the wizard.

How much of this place have your kind kindled and trod? The goblin started to smirk, but realized it was in no position to play games.

Just these rooms and doors. There is nothing here for you to take.

"Bull," Hern replied when Qova translated. "These little bastards have been raiding through here for quite a while. Ask it where their treasure is hidden."

Qova relayed the question. The goblin shrugged and replied, not much to take. Gains are slim here. What we have is beyond that door. It nodded toward the sole door on one wall. Beyond is hallway. On the end of hallway is a door and past that is all we have. I offer this bargain for my pitiful life.

"There'd better be something good in there," Hern replied after the translation.

"All we have," the goblin suddenly babbled in Marchtongue. "Take it and let this one go."

"Oh no," Qova replied, hefting the goblin onto its feet and thrusting it toward the door. "You're coming with us first and then we'll see."

The trio and their prisoner moved toward the door. Hern carefully opened it (it was one he had not opened before) and stepped back to see what was beyond.

What was beyond was a hallway, perhaps twenty feet wide and extending perpendicular to the room they were now in. Hern took the lead, with Qova and the goblin following, and Arbiddance taking the rear. They came into the middle of the hallway, with it extending roughly forty feet to their left and their right. At intervals on each side stood a large stone column about an inch or so from the wall. Each column was intricately carved with leering faces and forms so that it appeared as a mass of figures twisted and stacked upwards like thick ivy. Each was topped with a grotesque head. To their left, at the end of the hall, there was a door across the way. The goblin pointed to it, and they moved.

Not far into the hallway, Hern stumbled across the remains of what might have been a goblin. Now only a few bones and a stripped torso, it smelled to heaven. Qova wrinkled her nose and stepped around it as they continued on.

Arbiddance studied the columns, counted ten, and wondered where he had seen something like this before. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up.

As he began to speak, the top of each column erupted and changed shape into a terrible winged creature; the trio found themselves surrounded and under attack as the creatures descended with mouth open and talons extended.

"Gargoyles!" shouted Hern. Qova froze in terror and Arbiddance reached under his robes for something.

The goblin saw its chance and, being the smallest thing in this room, ducked under the attacks and made a break for the way back out. It almost made it before a gargoyle swooped down and began to rend it apart. The little creature's death screams echoed down the hallway and then ceased.

Hern's majestic sword began swinging and slashing at the gargoyles in a savage rhythm. At least three were on him, with others waiting for their turn. Arbiddance bellowed "Door! Door! Door!"

Qova ducked under clawed attacks and attempted to shoulder her way through the door. Her slight frame bounced off the thick oak structure, and she rolled down on the floor swinging her mace over her. A lucky swing connected with a gargoyle and sent it spinning back through the air.

Arbiddance stepped over and forced the door. Creaking through ages of non-use, it opened just enough to allow him to drag his comrade through. "Hern!" he shouted as he disappeared, and he hoped like hell something even worse wasn't behind him in the unknown chamber.

The fighter battled his way through the door, and slammed it shut behind him. Through the wood, all three could hear the insane cadence of harden claws raking and scratching plus the screeches of predators denied their meal.

Arbiddance stepped forward with a long rod of wood, motioned to Hern to crack open the door, and thrust the wand out into the hallway. He murmured "Gezzlethin!" and jerked as the wand released its power into the area beyond. Suddenly all became quiet except for a series of thuds and a strange cracking noise. Hern closed the door.

Qova lay on the floor with a bloody nose from her encounter with the door. Amazingly, she and Arbiddance had no serious wounds. Hern's shoulders were a chewed mess even through his armor, but he seemed unfazed. He looked around the empty room.

"I'm going to remember that goblin the next time I see it," he smirked as he wiped his blade, and the floor suddenly collapsed beneath them.

Rock and dust flying around them, the three fell a good distance before striking another floor hard. All three instinctively covered their heads and loose chunks of rock and mortar rained down around them.

"Don't move," Qova choked out through the dust. "Just stay there and try to see what hurts."

"My arm," said Arbiddance.

"My ass," said Hern.

"I think I have a sprained ankle," Qova said. She rose to her feet, and collapsed. "Two sprained ankles."

"Ok, no one panic," Hern said. "Nothing's after us here... yet. So let's take this moment to gather ourselves." He stood up and surveyed the room and the distance they fell. "Fourty feet if it's an inch," he said in a disgusted tone. "How tidy of me to close the door before we fell."

The three huddled together in the light of their amulets. Qova began popping her ankles... slowly at first and then faster until no sound was heard from them. Arbiddance's arm was slashed down the bicep and bloody; he took a healing potion from his pouch and quaffed it down.

As Hern, who didn't admit to being hurt even though Qova healed his shoulders, stalked around the room, he discovered a large hole in an opposite corner from them. Shining his amulet down into it revealed a depth of maybe 100 feet of more and what appeared to be another room below.

"Up or down?" he smiled.

"Up," Arbiddance quickly spoke.

"Oh?" Qova replied. "Didn't get enough up there?"

"Those were gargoyles," he shot back. "Gargoyles are used to guard things. I want to know what they were guarding. Besides, they're no problem now."

"I agree," Hern said. "Now let's figure out how to get back up to that door."

After perhaps half an hour of debate, they stacked as much rubble as they could move under the door. Hern climbed on it, found it reasonably stable, and motioned for Arbiddance to join him. The wizard climbed up Hern and perched on the fighter's shoulders. He motioned for Qova to join them.

Qova, with a coil of rope on her shoulder and Hern's dagger in her belt, shook her head slightly and then climbed onto the rubble. As the other two leaned into the wall to get support, the slight women climbed their backs and sat with her knees on the shoulders of Arbiddance. The wizard wilted slightly under the strain, but spoke. "You're going to have to stand up."

Scraping on the wall for support, she managed to stand up. Their arrangement began to sway slightly, and he noticed she was almost one foot from the door. "Not enough," she called down.

Hern, taking a deep breath, grabbed the wizard's legs and hoisted both of them up as much as he could. Qova reached the door, shoved the dagger into the cracks between the boards, and with a glance down to warn her comrades, jerked as hard as she could.

The door swung open easily with no floor to drag on, and the other two found themselves tumbling backwards off the rubble pile, with Qova swinging on the door and holding on to the dagger for dear life.

"Swing!" Hern shouted, and Qova arched her body to force the door back toward its original position. As it did so, she caught the door frame and hauled herself back into the hallway. A split second of hesitation made her freeze as she remembered the gargoyles. She looked around and saw them all on the floor dead with a thin coat of frost rapidly evaporating.

Tying the rope around the nearest column, she dropped the rest of it to her companions.

"What's so important here that it needed ten gargoyles?" Arbiddance mused aloud. Hern was happy to retrieve his favorite dagger, and Qova was coiling the rope.

The wizard stalked up and down the hallway, examining each square foot. At last he stopped at a section next to the doorway from which they just emerged. He traced on the wall with his finger, and grinned.

"A secret door here," he said to the others. "Damned if I can see how to trigger it though."

"Perhaps one of the columns?" Qova asked. She casually looked the nearest one over. She rapped it with her mace and her eyebrows raised. "It's hollow."

Arbiddance frowned at her and came over. "No kidding," she said. "It's hollow."

Hern rapped on another column. "This one too." They checked the other eight columns and found the same thing.

Hern took Qova's mace and hefted it. "Get ready," he grimaced, and swung hard into a column. The structure collapsed after four blows, and the rubble covered a large leather pouch. Qova grabbed up the pouch, opened it, and pulled out an ornate chalice of remarkable workmanship.

Arbiddance softly whistled, and looked at the other columns.

Hern went to work on the other pillars, thankful they didn't support the ceiling here. After almost an hour of hard bashing, the trio had collected fifteen pieces of ornate treasures of different kinds: chalices, statues, and other objects including a ceremonial dagger that was so delicate it couldn't possibly be used in battle. All told, Qova filled a large sack with their discoveries.

"I think it's time we found a warm hearth, and counted our...um... blessings," Arbiddance smiled.

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