(illustration by Stephen Fabian, from N4 Treasure Hunt)
“He’s dead,” Alistina said, not finding a pulse along Osric’s neck. Zeke stared at Theronna, dumbfounded. The soldier took no notice, her attention fixed on the old man’s body, her face glistening with sweat and scarlet.
“We need to find that boat, now.” Eilir wasn’t sure if she should be shocked or grateful. She looked at the map and moved down the hall, wand out. “I don’t want to stay down here and test fate.”
“She’s right,” said Alistina. “I don’t want to be around for the destruction of the island.”
“Ya didn’t have to kill ‘im,” Zeke said softly to Theronna before turning away.
“Sure she did.” Alistina moved to where she could see Theronna’s face. “You did, didn’t you?” Getting no reply, she followed Eilir and Zeke down the tunnel.
Theronna knelt beside Osric, closing the old man’s eyes. “Sorry, Osric,” she sighed, holding his limp white hair in her hand. “One day I’ll meet you on the other side.”
The long white hair reminded her of a man in Waterdeep, the man who met the VIPs she’d escorted there. That’s right, she wasn’t attacked on the way to Waterdeep; it was on the way back. That man wasn’t to be trusted, either. What was his name…?
She coughed, the first in a chain of hacking coughs; she pulled herself together, then started after the others.
- – - – -
They entered the storeroom that Osric had marked “good weapons and armor” on their map, finding crates stacked precariously high along every wall.
Alistina said “Try your wand on those crates” to Eilir. The wizard nodded and moved into the room, not noticing the tripwire until her ankle had already found it. The crates came crashing down on her, bruising her back. One crate split open as it hit the floor, spilling out a pile of bricks.
Zeke and Theronna moved to dig her out, and Alistina provided some healing. The wizard put up a hard front, but still seemed to be on the brink of tears.
“Mebbe we should leave these storage rooms in peace,” Zeke suggested.
Eilir nodded and allowed him to help her back to her feet. With one loud sniff, she made her way back to the hall, where a rotted tapestry blocked their view of the corridor beyond. It depicted ships closing for boarding action; or, at least, it used to. Zeke pushed it aside, allowing the magical light to illuminate another tapestry twenty feet beyond.
Zeke and Eilir approached the second tapestry. The farmboy nodded encouragement to her, and she replied with a weak smile before brushing the tapestry aside. Doing so tugged another wire tied to counterweights, which yanked out the beams supporting the hallway.
The wizard dove forward as dust and massive stones rained down upon the others. Stones pelted Alistina and Theronna; Zeke took a rock to the temple and fell to the ground, quickly buried under debris.
It was over in moments. Now crying openly, Eilir moved to uncover Zeke, with Theronna’s help. They found the farmboy bleeding and unconscious, but alive. The soldier used her knowledge of battlefield medicine to stabilize him; once Alistina mended her own wounds, she tended to the others, explaining that she was out of healing magic for the day.
Eilir dusted herself off as best she could. “Let’s get out of here. I shouldn’t lead us anymore, I know, but I can get us back to the mainland once we’re on the boat.”
“I’ll lead,” Zeke said, trying to shake off grogginess.
- – - – -
The second set of storerooms was much like the first, with crates stacked high in the first two and a circular stone-lined well in the third.
Theronna experienced another coughing fit as the castaways approached; seeing the looks of concern, she said “It’s nothing a good shot of whiskey can’t cure. Back in Silverymoon, every soldier acquires a taste for it.”
“I see,” said Zeke, without seeing. He went to examine the well, finding a bucket, but no rope. He turned his attention back to the crates, hoping to find something he could use to haul water; however, the boxes were filled with earth and rubbish.
“Strange,” said Eilir, “that someone would go to so much trouble to store – did you hear that?” She grabbed Zeke’s wrist and pulled him toward her. A scratching sound, faint at first, grew louder as several mangy-furred creatures wormed their way out from the crates – five rats the size of dogs.
The rats were upon them in a flash, biting Eilir and Alistina. Zeke readied his falchion and brought it down on a rat, severing its head. Eilir cast an orb of fire at one which missed her by inches, filling the room with the stench of burning hair. The smoldering rat scurried back toward the wall of crates.
Theronna dodged an attack, neatly slicing the dire rat in half with one deft stroke. Another rat avoided Alistina’s club; Zeke aimed too high with his attack, his blade whistling right over the rat’s head. Eilir doused that one with a splash of acid; it screeched but continued its assault.
Theronna struck another rat with a powerful blow, but it caught the flat of the blade and flew into the crates, chittering but unharmed. Alistina brought her club down on the rat’s leg, pulverizing its tiny bones. It leaped up and closed its sharp teeth on Theronna’s forearm.
Zeke reversed his missed upswing and severed the rat’s spine without splitting it in half. He lifted it off the ground and sent it sailing down the hall, dead before it hit the ground. The acid-scarred rat evaded a ray of frost from Eilir, only to end up in front of Alistina, who bashed its skull in with her club. The scorched dire rat scrambled over the crates and disappeared.
“Ever’body alright?” asked Zeke. Eilir sank to the floor and sighed heavily, bleeding a little from where the rat bit her. After a short rest, she said, “Why would someone pack a bunch of earth up into crates… why would they spend so much time doing that?”
“Maybe there’s goldat the bottom of the crates.” Theronna looked around the room. “Or treasure. We should check for – “
“The hell’s wrong with you?” Zeke scolded. “Who gives a damn about treasure when our lives are in danger here? The only thing we should be thinkin’ ‘bout is survivin’ long enough to get off this damn island. Ta do that, we need a few things, but treasure ain’t even on the list.”
Eilir recoiled from Zeke’s sharp words, even though they weren’t directed at her.
Theronna stood toe to toe with Zeke. “Listen here, comrade, what’s the harm in taking a few for the road? It’s not our intention to load up, but don’t we have a right to give someone a proper burial?”
“Stealin’ from the dead ain’t my idea of a ‘proper burial,’ Miss Theronna. I don’t know how they do things in Silverymoon, but we ain’t like that in Tethyr.”
“Enough!” Eilir looked up, her eyes full of tears. “If you want to look for treasure… you better hurry… and stop fighting over it!” She stood up, thrust the wand at Theronna, and pushed past everyone on her way out of the room.
After a beat, Theronna said “Then I’m mistaken. And I’m sorry. It was not my intention to do the gods any injustice.”
Zeke seemed surprised by the apology. “Kay, then. Help me find somethin’ to fetch water from the well, and somethin’ ta carry it in so we can get on with searchin’ fer this damned boat.” He spun around and continued his search of the crates, keeping a wary eye out for rats. Finding nothing helpful or valuable, he went after Eilir, finding her and the others at the edge of the tunnel that Osric had marked “Go Slow Hallway” on their map.
The laid-stone floor looked buckled. Theronna ignored Osric’s advice and raced across the uneven stones, but they gave way beneath her feet, and she dropped out of sight.
“Miss Theronna!” yelled Zeke, racing to the edge of the pit. He saw her leap from one narrow ledge up to another, about twenty feet down. The sound of rushing water below was deafening. Theronna had clearly hurt herself in the fall.
Alistina ran back down the hall, returning with the tapestries. The group fashioned a makeshift rope from them, which they used to haul Theronna out of the pit. They also drew water from the well, which was cold and refreshing.
- – - – -
The last group of storerooms bore no semblance to Osric’s maps; they found two short hallways, each with a series of five doors. Theronna tossed the wand back to Eilir, saying “This thing is too complicated.” The wizard spoke the command word and began to search for magic auras, not finding any.
Frowning, Zeke tried the first door on his left, not seeing the wire attached to the door until it was too late. A crossbow bolt flew from the darkness and thunked into his chest; he staggered back a step, groaning in pain.
“ZEKE!” shouted Eilir, trying to catch him. “What happened?”
“Uh…” he said vaguely, gesturing at the bolt sticking from his chest. “Trap.”
She ripped off a piece of her shirt to bind his wound. “Ow… I’m all right, Miss Eilir.” He saw her bare stomach.
“Sorry,” she mumbled, eyes cast down.
“No, it’s okay,” he said, taking her hand. “I appreciate it.” Then he released her and turned away.
They searched every inch of the area and found nothing… no valuables, and no secret door.
“Wait!” said Eilir. “The rats… they had to come in from somewhere. Let’s check behind those crates! Maybe there’s a way they got in.”
They returned to that room. It was arduous work, but they moved the boxes away from the walls. They found small holes in the wall, big enough for a dire rat to squeeze through, but of no use to them.
Eilir was ready to give up when she found an oddly colored rock along the wall. She turned it, causing a secret stone door to grate open, revealing a long tunnel winding down, deeper into the earth.