I hate apes. Monkeys, apes, guerrillas; the whole dung-flinging bunch. Hate them. I’m also getting ahead of myself.
So, after our run in with the Drowned we headed back down the stairs to regroup. Some of us were pretty done in. We could have burnt what little healing magic we had left seeing to our injuries but instead elected to take a bit of a breather. We spent the better part of an hour in one of the rooms off the scorpion chamber cleaning and bandaging wounds and general getting our breath back. Vorj spent most of the time flicking through his spell book in an effort to shore-up his exhausted magical powers. With the possible exception of Altera I was the least wounded of our band so I spent some of my time in the scorpion chamber recovering as many of those ancient gold coins that I could find.
Soon enough it was time to get going again, we didn’t want the Emerald Claw getting too much a lead over us.
We had decided to try our luck with the other staircase heading upwards. I for one had leant the lessons of the previous staircase. Leaving the others behind I stalked up the stone stairs; quieter than a mouse out past its curfew. When I reached the top I glanced, carefully, over the top stair to get the lay of the land. I spied a few side passages, some of which had a very dim illumination as if there was daylight getting in somewhere. Ahead of me was an archway and a little way beyond that was a large set of double doors that reminded me a little of the ones that lead to the flooded chamber. These door were different in one major respect though. They were ajar. Not just that but a pair of Emerald Goons stood on guard a little in front of them.
I judged the distance between me and the guards as being about sixty feet but there was a good spot, about half way between us, to hide in.
I signaled for my companions to quietly head up while all the time keeping my bow trained on the guards. Altera was the first up, even I’m impressed by her skills of stealth, and she hurried across to the hiding space. Then Toryil, Muroni, and Vorj. All three made it across without incident. Last came Aaron. To this day I can’t tell you what he tripped on but no sooner had he left the top step when he stumbled. There was jangle of chainmail and weapons harnesses. One of the guards peered our way, trying to see what the source of the noise was. Had he seen us? From the way he turned towards the opening in the door it was clear he had and the alarm was moments away from being sounded. I loosed an arrow in the hope of shutting him up. Both literally and metaphorically it was a long shot, the chances of killing a man before he can even cry out are slim indeed. It turned out luck was really not on my side. The arrow was a fraction too high and deflected harmlessly off his helm.
With stealth a fond memory we now had to rely of speed. Altera and Toryil ran out from their hiding place while I sprinted from the stairs. Altera got to the guards as they dashed back through the door and managed to bloody one with her sword as they went. I dashed past her into the chamber beyond. My first thoughts were that it was a replica of the flooded chamber, complete with pyramid, but luckily devoid of water. I caught a glimpse of what looked like a way out in the far corner. To one side were tents and trestle table and it looked like the two guards I had been chasing were taking cover behind them. At the foot of the pyramid was another Emerald Claw goon who was in the process of readying a shield. Half way up the pyramid were two more, these ones unlimbering crossbows. Near the top of the pyramid, quite close to a floating orb of light, was a final figure in robes.
The sound of my companions rapidly closing from behind gave me the confidence to make a stand. I fired an arrow up at one of the crossbowmen and was rewarded with a satisfying cry of pain.
The three foot-soldiers at ground level came charging back to engage Altera, Toryil and myself in close-combat. The fight had barely begun when Vorj dropped a fireball on all six of us! I’ve got to admit that for a moment there I thought I was a goner. I’m proud to say what I believed at the time to be my dying thoughts weren’t panic at my imminent, fiery demise but a vow that I would find my way back for the great beyond and haunt Vorj till the end of his days. Then I noticed that, while I was a bit hot, I wasn’t actually burning. Using some king of wizard’s jiggery-pokery Vorj had shaped the fireball so the three of us were unhurt. The same could not be said about the Emerald Goons and, when the flame cleared, there were three smoldering corpses on the ground.
That only left the two crossbowmen and the figure at the top of the pyramid. The two bowmen proved no problem but our last enemy was a bit tougher. As he went into action it became clear that once again we were facing the undead. I’m guessing that, like the armored skeletons, the Emerald Claw had brought him (”him”? “It”? what-ever) with them. My more scholastically minded colleges said he was a mummy. Under his cloak the figure was emaciated and desiccated; all skill and bones. His flesh looked as hard and tough as old leather and seemed to have been stained the same colour. I only caught a glimpse of his eyes but that was enough to make my skin crawl. Toryil seemed to get into a starring contest with the mummy and afterwards he told us how the creature’s gaze sapped all the resolve and courage out of him.
On top of that the mummy was some kind of wizard too and while Altera, Aaron (who had grabbed a crossbow from a nearby corpse) and I took potshots at the mummy it was Vorj who did most of the work. After the pair traded spells back and forth for a few seconds the mummy showed the better part of valor by quaffing a potion and vanishing. The next minute or so were pretty tense. We all expected the mummy to re-appear and renew his attack. Even if he had no spells left I hear that those things had superhuman strength but after a while it became clear that the mummy was gone. Toryil was certain that he saw one of the ladder that the Emerald Claw had leant against the pyramid move a little, as if something was climbing down, but to be honest I saw nothing.
By unspoken consent we all decided the fight was over and began to look around at the Emerald Claw’s camp. Toryil found a stack of notes on the tables and gathered them up for later study. Aaron clambered up the pyramid to see what that strange light was. It turned out to be a simple staff that someone had wedged between two stone blocks and then cast a powerful spell of light on. As for yours truly I quickly began to search the bodies for anything of interest. Most had nothing at all but the guy with the shield was a different story. Maybe he had been some kind of leader but he had a handful of gold and silver coins (into my pocket they went; thank you very much) and a small vial of some kind of liquid. Despite the flames his chain-mail armour, a handful of adamantine-tipped crossbow bolts and his long-sword seemed virtually untouched. Vorj cast a quick spell over them to reveal that these items, and the contents of the vial, were magical. I handed the bolts off to Toryil, Vorj tossed the armour into his magical backpack while Altera swooped in and took the sword into protective custody.
Now, if you were paying attention, you might have noticed that poor Aaron hadn’t really made his presence felt in that fight. Well so had I and, when I asked about this, he admitted that he had pretty much exhausted his divine magics for the day. I figured that Toryil was probably in the same boat, although he was a much better swordsman then Aaron and so needed his magic less. I floated the idea that maybe we should call it quits for the day and start again tomorrow when we (and when I say “we” I mean the spell-casters) had regained their strength. Surprisingly it was Aaron who was most vociferous that we press on. There’s gratitude for you.
We decided that the mummy would have most likely left via the archway at the far end of the chamber and so headed in that direction. Beyond was a corridor and a cluster of rooms. The rooms were barren. They were also noticeably smaller than most of the chambers we had seen so far. My guess is they had been the dwelling places of the giant’s elven slaves back in the temple’s heyday.
Following the corridor it doubled back on itself, probably linking up with one of the side passages off of the staircase, before opening on to a balcony that seemed to run around the entire outside wall of the temple. After getting by on torches and my dark-vision for the last few hours it felt good to be back out in the sun-light. We were higher up then I had imagined and there was an impressive view, if you like that sort of thing, of the jungle all around us. Despite being well above the jungle floor it’s sounds could be heard strangely loud and clear. We put this down to the strange, stone funnels that run along just below the level of the balcony and were somehow channeling the sounds upwards to us.
With no clear notion of which way the mummy had gone, or even if it had come this way at all, we headed left along the balcony. Before long it came to a corner. We rounded it and, while the balcony continued to head all the way along the outer wall, a little way head we could see an open doorway.
We had covered maybe half the distance to the door when all hell broke loss. I think may be Toryil and Altera heard them coming a split second before they attacked. If they did neither had time to shout a warning before a horde of howling, raging apes fell upon us. There had to be at least a dozen. Most had swung down from above using vines but some had come running out of the doorway. They leapt in to attack without hesitation and with moments everything was a sea of fur, teeth and claws. They howled constantly as they fought and the smell…
Thanks to a mixture of sheer luck and a little skill I managed to weather the first few second of the attack without injury. My companions were not so fortunate. Aaron and Muroni were especially having a hard time. With no small skill I nimbly slipped away from an ape that was trying to pound me into paste and came up behind an ape that was harassing Muroni. A quick cut to it’s carotid artery and it was “good night monkey” but even so things were looking grim.
Altera, who as supporting an unconscious Aaron, shouted over the din that we had to retreat and for once I agreed with her. I stood my ground while my companions fought their way free of the melee back the way we had come. Once I was certain that we had all disengaged I backpedaled as well. As I did so I tugged one of the seven precious orbs free of my necklace. With a flick I tossed the small, golden orb into the mass of apes, who were already starting to pursue us, and it detonated, blossoming into a ball of flame that engulfed our enemies. It would only take a second for the fire to burn itself out but as I waited I had to wonder; would it be enough?