Maropona surveyed the area with distaste. The area was lit by the purplish fire emanating from two huge braziers set either side of the steps, and the sight of it set his flesh crawling. Defiling magic, he thought. A pedestal, supporting an urn, stood at each end of the short passages to the left and right of the steps. The party hesitated, fearing more traps. Eventually Ku-ki’cha approached one cautiously. The urn bore a snake design painted in some kind of dark green fluid, and characters in a language the thri-kreen could not decipher. Naivara appeared at his shoulder. “That’s primordial,” she said, “Our ancestors require… obeisance. Hmm. Ah, there’s a nMaropona surveyed the area with distaste. The area was lit by the purplish fire emanating from two huge braziers set either side of the steps, and the sight of it set his flesh crawling. Defiling magic, he thought. A pedestal, supporting an urn, stood at each end of the short passages to the left and right of the steps. The party hesitated, fearing more traps. Eventually Ku-ki’cha approached one cautiously. The urn bore a snake design painted in some kind of dark green fluid, and characters in a language the thri-kreen could not decipher. Naivara appeared at his shoulder. “That’s primordial,” she said, “Our ancestors require… obeisance. Hmm. Ah, there’s a name too – Koranath Maeshez. Could these be his ashes, I wonder? Let’s have a look at the other one.” The urn at the end of the opposite corridor was similarly decorated, although the artist seemed to have used charcoal. “All I can make out is a name – Palmas Thoran. No, Mik, wait-" As her companion started to lift the urn a pulse of energy shot out from it and sent everyone reeling. “I… I can’t see!” shouted Mik. “I can’t!” “Me too!” came several cries.
As the party groped around, trying to shake off the effects of the shockwave, the bodies that lay on the floor of the chamber began to stir and pull themselves upright. Two lizardlike humanoids stepped from the shadows, and all began to advance on the stairs. Althaea unslung her lute and began to strum a melody, and her sweet clear voice infused all that heard it with determination to pull together and overcome the danger before them. Maro’s sight cleared and the ex-gladiator flung a hatchet straight and true, striking one lizard-man. Curiously, three of the zombies had stopped in a line at the foot of the stairs and seemed to be quivering. As they did this another shockwave pulsed out from them, and the floors and walls shook with its force. “We’re dead if we stay here”, Maro declared, “With me! Let’s get them!” So saying, he hurled himself down the steps at the line of foes. Mik and Ku-ki’cha started after him.
Althaea tasted blood in her mouth and guessed her nose was bleeding, but she continued her song and began to direct attacks against the creatures below. Her companions had recovered a little and she watched the two muscular warriors engage the rank of undead. The thri-kreen seemed to stumble on the last step and plunged forward, limbs windmilling wildly, and the zombie opposite it struck out, but somehow its blow hit its neighbour and Ku-ki’cha clawed it as he stepped past and ended his movement perfectly balanced. To his surprise he felt a sudden rush of strength and struck out at the zombies again. Up on the landing, Graven finished his chant and nodded with satisfaction as the earth spirits energised his insectoid comrade. Mik spotted something in his peripheral vision and glanced at it quickly. The dragon sigil in the floor seemed to be twitching slightly. Ku-ki’cha felt the strong arms of one zombie close around him and winced at another’s bite. He shook himself free, moved behind his assailant and smashed it to the ground with a powerful chop. It did not rise again. A few feet away, Mik’s twin broadswords scythed through a guardian. Ku-ki’cha failed to dodge and was slammed prone, the wind knocked out of him. The zombie closed on him, but Maro stepped in between them, using some power to make his form insubstantial and harder to attack. In a matter of moments the zombie was dead. Most of the enemy were down, but Mik now found himself under attack from the sigil, its form lunging snake-like at him and pulsing with the same purple energy as the braziers. Naivara and Maro joined him in the fight and eventually the light faded and the room was quiet again. Graven set to healing the wounded. As soon as he was up, the thri-kreen scratched furiously at the sigil, defacing it with his spear tip. “No need for that, friend,” said Maropona, “it’s destroyed, it won’t come back.” Ku-ki’cha nodded, but he gave the pattern a few more pokes, just to be sure. The room yielded a gem, a healing potion and a good sum in gold coin.
- The Ancestor Hall with the Zombie and Scaled Guardians
The party were just preparing to move on when they became aware that they were being watched. Three people – a mul, a goliath and a gith – stood side by side on the landing above the room. “Looks like House Shon hired competition behind our backs,” said the mul, hefting his warhammer. “Well, never mind. It was nice of you to clear the place out this far, but we’ll take it from here. Time for you to leave.” Althaea stepped forward. She was mildly concerned that they outnumbered the newcomers yet these felt confident enough to boss them around. “Who are you?” The mul spoke again. “Darak. This is Nalla,” he indicated the goliath, “and that’s J’narr." The last member of the trio nodded, spittle trailing from one corner of its slack mouth, and a halo of psi energy crackling round its elongated head.
Althaea placed both fists on her hips and took another step forward. “I am Althaea. Since entering this place we have defeated hejkin, flaming skeletons, zombies, more hejkin, a chuul, more zombies and those lizard things whose name I neither know nor care about. Even as I and my companions stand here we grind beneath our feet the remains of our enemies. All these we have faced and we go to face-“ Nala cut in. “Are you trying to send us to sleep, bard? We have triumphed over worse, and with fewer than you. Now, get out of here. What’s down there would probably kill you anyway.” She chuckled, seeing Althaea’s discomfiture, then her expression changed to puzzlement and vague suspicion. A thought had entered her head for no good reason, That eladrin at the back of the room just signalled to Darak – they must be working together! Nalla turned towards the mul and hefted her greatclub defensively. Darak looked at her and hissed “What’s the matter? Pull yourself together, they’re trying some mind-trick, aren’t they, J’narr?” Indeed they were; although Naivara had hoped for better results.
Ku-ki’cha whispered to Althaea, “This will end in battle. Perhaps I can get behind them with a trick, yes?” Before the bard could reply he started up the stairs, arms waving as if in panic, calling “Let me pass! I want no part of this!” He pushed past the momentarily distracted trio and headed down the corridor, stopping at the door to the Ancestor Hall. This development threw the newcomers off balance; they had not expected a partial surrender and were at a loss at how to deal with one. Finally Darak and his cohorts fell back to the door. “Right, then, you’re coming with us!” he said to Ku-ki’cha. Ah – this is awkward, thought the thri-kreen, I was expecting a fight, not this. He stood hesitating, until the silence was broken by Althaea’s stern voice, “KU-KI’CHA! GET BACK HERE, AT ONCE! THAT IS AN ORDER!” At this, he pretended to quail at the anger in the bard’s voice, and scuttled back to join his companions before the other three could do anything. “What was that all about?” asked Mik. “Tactics,” muttered the monk. Darak, Nalla and J’narr had meanwhile given up on trying to intimidate the group and retreated into the Ancestor Hall, where they had considerably more success dodging the traps therein.
- Unexpected Guests