Grasp of the Emerald Claw. Part V

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Before the scorpion could reach us Altera dashed forward and cast a spell. It was not till later that I discovered it was a spell of Animal Friendship and she intended to calm the beast and stop the fight before it started. What was plain to see was her magic did not have the slightest effect. Toryil leapt into the path of scorpion and slashed away at it with his double-headed scimitar. In the blink of an eye we were all committed to the battle; Muroni and Vorj hung back and used their magics to empower us, Aaron alternated between fired bolts of radiant energy and healing our injuries and finally Altera, Toryil and myself hacked away with our blades. And I’ve got to tell you that beast took some battering. Its shell was thicker then plate armour and when I did manage to find weak spots here and there the scorpion had the stamina of a whole herd of oxen and refused to go down. Once or twice the scorpion struck me with its massive stinger. Luckily, as the sting itself was as large as a sword blade, it did not hit anything vital and the divine blessings that Muroni called down allowed me to withstand the venom.

After what felt like a lifetime the damn thing finally gave up the ghost and died. I was bleeding in a couple of places but on the whole okay. Toryil had taken his share of hits too but looked worse, I guess elves can’t take their venom as well as us shifters. In the worst shape was Altera; the scorpion had managed to get a firm grip on her with one of its massive pincers and had been doing a good job of amputating her legs when we had final killed it.

Aaron and Muroni set to work using their divine powers to tend to our battered and abused bodies. Within minutes we were whole again if a little sore from the experience. While I waited for the others to get ready I took the opportunity to poke around in the muck that covered the room. The familiar and welcome glitter of gold caught my attention and, stooping, I picked up a large, golden coin. It looked ancient and I figured that to a collector it was worth more then its mere weight on gold. As I glanced around I spotted another, and then another, which joined their friend in my pockets. Then I spotted something even better; three good sized gems of a pale yellow colour. It looked like our little expedition was finally being get interesting.

By now we were all ready. Even though there was a door at the far end we were certain it was the one we had failed to open earlier. It was blocked by years of the scorpion’s waste (and who know how long it took a scorpion to grow to that size). This meant that we had pretty much run out of avenues of exploration. The exception being of the two stone staircases leading upwards into the upper levels of the ruins.

We chose one of the staircase at random and started to head up. We could see a flickering light ahead, torches as it turned out, that we took to be a sign that we were on the right track. We were about two-thirds of the way up when a handful of Emerald Claw goons appeared at the top and fired a volley of crossbow bolts down at us. Cursing the lead-feet of my adventuring companions for giving us away I ducked aside. Luckily for us The Claw must go for quantity over quality when recruiting its storm-troopers; most of the bolts went wide of their intended targets and the couple that did hit only caused flesh-wounds. Not giving the goons time to reload we ran up the rest of the staircase and threw ourselves into the fray. Like I just said these guys weren’t the cream of the crop and it didn’t take long for us to put them out of our misery. As the dust began to settle, and Aaron and Muroni saw to the few wounds we had received, I quickly went through our enemies’ possessions. It would have been too much to ask that they had the stolen Schemas on them but I was disgusted to find that they had nothing at all of interest. The room at the top of the stairs was a little more interesting though. It looked like it was some kind of ante-chamber, although one sized for a giant, with a huge set of carved doors opposite the stairs. It appeared that The Claw had been busy as there was a half-built pulley system rigged up. Vorj and I looked it over to see if we could finish it off. It looked like our luck was in and we would only have to hook up a few things to get it working, a good thing to as Vorj spent most of his time studying the designs on the door rather than the winch. He pointed out three particular symbols that appeared over and over again; one was clearly a three stepped pyramid while the other two (according to Vorj) represented water and darkness.

We soon had the winch rigged properly and set ourselves to the task of getting the stone door open; some of us pulling on the door itself and others heaving down on the chains of the winch. The door began to open and, speaking personally, I instantly wished it hadn’t as a tidal wave of water exploded through the opening we had made, throwing the door the rest of the way open and smashing into us like an avalanche. For a few seconds I was completely disorientated. I hurt over every inch of my body from the force of the impact and was swept off my feet. By sheer instinct I grabbed hold of some stonework as I was carried by. After a few seconds the flow began to weaken enough for me to move around (as long as I kept hold of something solid). Glancing around I saw Altera, Aaron and Vorj, they all looked as bad as I felt, but no sign of Toryil or Muroni. As one we clambered towards the edge of the stairs, still hanging on to walls and the like so we could to resist the flow, and peered down. About halfway down were spotted our two missing comrades. They were pretty much side by side and hanging on to the stairs for all they were worth as water cascaded down on to them like a waterfall. It was clear that they were both in trouble. We had moments to act before they were swept away. Tossing a rope to Aaron and Vorj to act as a safety-line, Altera and I began to carefully climb down the stairs until we reached our friends. We pulled then free of the flow, which was lessening noticeably, and the four of us clambered back up.

As we waited for the flow of water to subside enough for it to be safe Aaron and Muroni did the rounds with their healing magic again. Things were starting to look drastic. Muroni had by now completely drained her wand, although Vorj had another he gave her. Both Aaron and Toryil admitted to being pretty much out of spells although Vorj still had a few tricks left up his sleeve. As we contemplated our next move a sudden realization occurred to me; where was Altera’s wolf? As soon as I raised the question Altera ran back to the stairs and began to look down. There was no sign of her pet and it didn’t take a genius to figure out what had happened to it. Without hands to grip with Khan had been swept all the way down the stairs by the rush of water and then straight off the side of the ruin to his death on the jungle floor 50 feet below. Not a good way to go.

Screwing up our resolve we peered into the room that lay beyond the door. There was still water flowing out of it at a pretty constant, if more sedate pace. The chamber itself was huge, far bigger then we could see by torch light or Darkvision. The floor of the chamber was underwater. In the center was a three stepped pyramid some sixty feet across and thirty feet tall. Stepping into the chamber meant a step down into the water. It must have been between two and three feet deep and it was easy to feel a steady flow coming from somewhere off to our left.

drownedIt was a no-brainer that the pyramid should be our first port of call. We had got about half way when the atmosphere in the room suddenly changed. The air, which had been damp to start with, became so heavy with water that I could almost drink it. Our breath started to catch in our throats. Glancing around we were in time to notice a humanoid figure rise out of the water behind us. It looked like it had once been an elf but the creature was now so bloated with water that it looked like a collection of overfilled sausage skins that had been left to putrefy. The damn thing was clearly dead but its eyes blazed with a malignant purpose as it advanced through the water towards us.

For once it was Aaron who was quickest off the mark, forcefully thrusting his holy symbol at the creature and demanding it “Be gone!” Aaron’s righteous indignation seemed to do the trick and the creature held its ground. Even so, with each step the creature had taken closer the air had become harder and harder to breath. Vorj came to the rescue, pulling a scroll from his pack and casting what turned out to be a Water Breathing spell. As soon as the spell was cast we all found we could breathe more easily. As quickly as we could without taking our eyes of the creature we made for the pyramid. Hurriedly Vorj explained that he had recognized our foe from an ancient text; it was a form of restless-dead called a Drowned. We had already started to feel the effects of its most feared ability, to make living things drown on dry land.

With the Drowned watching us with impotent malice we reached the first step of the pyramid. It was ten feet high and heavily engraved with strange symbols, whether they were words or patterns I didn’t know. Grabbing what handholds there were we started to climb upwards. Okay (just on case you have heard this story from someone else) yes, I was pretty much the last to climb the pyramid. Beaten to the first step by an assortment of clerics and wizards. But before you mock just remember that I had already been poisoned four times that day and that might, just might, have meant that I wasn’t at the top of my game.

By the time we had got on to the pyramid the Drowned was nowhere to be seen. We set to examining the structure. It seemed to be solid with no doors, hidden or otherwise, that we could find. Of particular note was the top step of the pyramid. Each step was smaller than the one before so this one was barely five feet tall. More intriguingly, while the rest of the pyramid was covered in carvings, the top step had only three carvings; one each on three sides and the forth side was blank. We spent a good while pocking and prodding the top step in an effort to unlock any secret it might have had but we found nothing.

Disappointed and frustrated we decided it was time to explore the rest of the chamber. From the pyramid we could see the back wall but the sides were still hidden from us by the darkness. We decided to find the source of the water that was still coming in from somewhere.

Cautiously we lowered ourselves back into the water and started wade against the direction of the flow. We were on the alert for danger but the Drowned still took us off guard as it reared up right in front of us and plunged into our midst. Vorj’s Water Breathing spell was still in effect so we were protected from the Drowned “aura of suffocation” but that didn’t mean it was harmless. The Drowned clearly knew how to hold a grudge as the damned thing made a bee-line straight for Aaron and started to beat him like a drum. The undead monster must have been as strong as an ogre as it battered Aaron from pillar to post like a cat with a mouse. The rest of us dog-piled the beast; hacking and slashing for all we were worth only to discover something that Vorj had not read in his ancient texts, namely that The Drowned’s wounds healed almost as quickly as we inflicted them.

Aaron couldn’t withstand The Drowned’s relentless assault for long and soon collapsed. At this point Toryil stole a move from Aaron’s playbook and called out to The Undying Court for aid. Once again the undead beast was driven back giving us time to snatch up Aaron’s motionless body and make a run for the entrance. The Drowned followed remorselessly behind as we ran but was unable to get any closer to Toryil. Once we were out of the chamber we had a few seconds to revive Aaron. The Drowned hang around the doorway watching us. It was unnerving to see the way its wounds pulled themselves back together. By now the effects of Toryil’s divine magic should have worn off but, thankfully, the Drowned seemed either unwilling or (if we were lucky) unable to leave the chamber. With our collective tails between our legs we slunk back down the staircase to the floor below to consider our options.