Wherein the heroes are rewarded for their impatience.
Meander let out a sigh of relief and slumped down to sit on one of the six stone prayer blocks arranged in the spartan room. The constant series of attacks over the past few hours had the group out of breath. On reflection, they have discovered two of the kids. But the Kitten and Jab’s stories of the escape and chase through the depths of the Crucible left the group uncertain of the health of the other three.
The room was splattered with the signs of battle. They had just finished dispatching a large group of Kobolds and Ghouls. This time, none of the Kobolds escaped to alert others down below. Perhaps this will give them time to rest. But none of them could afford to take too much time, with three of the kids still missing.
The Stone Man stood frozen several large steps into the room. The Kobolds had managed to sever some power reserve. At least that was what Broken was chittering about as he examined inlaid arcane tracings on the golem’s surface. Broken refused to continue until he had the golem functioning again. And, based on the state of the damage, it would take some time.
As the group rested in the prayer room, the persistent sounds of clanging continued from the passage north. Meander decides to check the other rooms to see where they would go next. Walking back into the well room, the clanging sounds are obviously louder from the smoke-filled unfinished cave.
Across the room at the entrance to the ghouls’ butchery, Meander peers at the small swarthy twisted bodies. The ghouls look like furless, half rotten bears. Red had mentioned that the little bear men were actually Dwarves, so it is quite likely that the ghouls are the twisted remains of Dwarves.
Walking back over to the pit, the shaft below is obscured by darkness. Above, the chain is attached to a large cauldron, which appears to function as some makeshift lift. Taking a moment to embrace the power, the shadows below vanish and are replaced by bright light. The well continues below and opens into a large area, with a sunken pit directly underneath the well shaft. There is some rubbish and bones in the pit. Meander stares into the pit below. The children said they crawled up cavelike tunnels before getting lost and making their way here. There is no chance they came up this way. He lets the power fade and the shadows return.
While Meander is wandering about, Song watches Broken inspecting the golem. Broken’s claims his magic is exhausted, and he is unable to repair any more damage without his shop and a lengthy repair session. Song begins to croon and sing, causing lights to flicker through the inscribed tracings on the surface of the golem. Broken exclaims as the Stone Man lurches back to life. Unfortunately it only lasts for a moment. Broken begins to tinker, while making a variety of cursing noises, trying to repair enough of the remaining damage to get the golem moving again. Judging by his speech, the repairs are not going well.
Meander goes back past the ghouls into the butchery to search for any hidden surprises in the debris. He searches the drains and channels in the room, but finds nothing hidden in the trash littered there. On his way out, one of the ghouls grabs his ankle. Meander jumps slightly from the shock and then proceeds to bash at the ghoul. While his pulse races from surprise, he notices that all the ghouls are twitching slightly.
Meander goes back to group, and finds Broken still muttering over the repairs. Broken claims to need more time. Meander, Red and Song decide to go explore while they wait on Broken. They go through the doorway where the Kobolds held them off, and proceed down the hallway. Once at the end of the hall, they turn right instead of left, to come to a short hall and a closed set of double doors. Red listens for a short time and then announces softly, “The room beyond has many chambers, honeycomb like. Hard things rattle around in the room. Not a lot, but still enough.”
Meander nods and opens the door. Meander and Red sneak quietly through the opening beyond. Short hallways stretch to the left and right, with a slightly longer one ahead. Niches line this hallway, revealing a dark ossuary filled with the sound of dripping water. On the far end of the corridor ahead rests a large iron anvil.
Red whispers, “There is a living creature at the end of the hallway, attempting to move quietly.”
“Just one thing?”
“It stopped moving so I’ve lost sight of it. Keep your eyes open.”
Meander turns to the right and walks down the short hallway. A narrow tunnel opens to the left at the end of the hallway.
Red says, “Definitely some rattling going on down this hallway. It is very loud.” Meander listens carefully and hears nothing but the steady dripping of water. Shrugging, he peers down the narrow tunnel. The small hallway is covered in burial niches. All the niches were covered in iron grates that have long since rusted. The grates are broken on the right hand side, but appear intact to the left. Once Meander steps into the hallway, he catches a glimpse of the bones in the niches and keeps walking to the end.
“Hey, it’s bear bones.”
Red replies, “So it’s empty?”
Meander stumbles confusedly, “No… Oh! It’s the bones of the little bears.”
After a brief pause, Red whispers, “It’s the bones. They are moving ever so slightly.”
“Why would they be moving?”
“I’ll tell you when we get out of this hallway.”
Meander peers at the bones carefully. They look exactly like the bones found in the barricaded room at the top of the Crucible. Staring more carefully, Meander thinks he can see them moving slightly. He walks back to the entrance to the small hallway. He turns and looks at the bones in the first niche. Before Red can stop him, Meander reaches over and touches one of the bones.
Meander startlingly jumps back as the bones coalesce into a hand and grasp at him. The other bones rattle and lift, piece by piece forming a menacing skeletal bear man. Its dagger-like fingers reach for Meander’s throat. Meander steps back out of the narrow passage and prepares to attack the skeleton as it approaches. Red, ready and waiting, swings his rod, yielding a spray of broken and separated bones. The bits and bones scatter down the hallway.
“More bones are starting to come alive.”
“Just here, or in the other hallway?”
“As far as I can tell, just here.”
Song steps up carrying one of the Kobold’s spears. Red stands posed, waiting for the skeletons to approach. Meander looks at the small hallway, and then turns, stepping lightly towards the opposite hall, checking the tunnel on that side.
Song surprises Meander by singing softly and laying hands on him. Meander starts to move back towards Red, with Song moving along with him, still singing. Red unleashes another blow on the next skeleton to approach, smashing in the ribcage. The skeleton’s finger bones scrape across Red’s chest. Meander pulls out his axe and smashes into the left leg, cracking bones. Red sweeps across and strikes at the lower vertebrae, causing it to fall apart.
Meander and Red catch a glimpse of Song slipping around the corner and out of sight down the longer corridor. They only have a moment before another skeleton steps up to take the place of the fallen. Meander swings the axe high and knocks clean the head off the skeleton. Red waits as another skeleton begins to step forward.
A loud clatter echoes from the long hallway, as if a barrel of rocks were heaved down the hall. Bones begin to rattle from around the corner. Meander leaves Red to take care of the skeleton in the narrow hall and peeks around the corner. The floor is littered with bear skulls surrounding the limp form of Song passed on in the hall. Meander rushes over to Song.
Clawed arms emerge from the walls on all sides. The hallway is lined with gates on each side, leading to burial niches. A skeleton lies in each niche, reaching for Meander with those sharp claws. He seems safe standing right where he stopped in the center of the hallway between two grates. Another step fore or back would have brought him in range of the claws. Quickly checking Song, he looks like he has been bludgeoned, likely will all the skulls surrounding him.
Red continues to battle the skeletons coming down the hall. He fends off a few attacks, while breaking both arms off the skeleton. Then, before it can press from another angle, He strikes it in the head, loping off the head. Another skeleton moves up and this one falls. It lunges at Red, managing to puncture through his armor, digging the dagger like fingers into his vitals. Red gasps and strikes back, hitting it in the shoulders and battering it back.
Meander swipes at one of the arms, battering it away and trying to make room. Taking his whip, he lashes out at one of the skeletons, entangling the whip around its arm. Yanking fiercely, he manages to immobilize the arm against the bars. Pulling again, Meander can’t seem to generate enough leverage to hurt the skeleton.
Red knocks an arm off this skeleton and disables it with a cracking blow to the sternum. The last skeleton in the narrow hallway lashes out at Red, scraping across his leg. Red finishes it off with three quick blows to the ribs and spine. He takes a moment to catch his breath before going round to see what trouble Meander has found himself in.
Meander is having difficulties with the arms. Giving up on the whip, he immobilizes one of the arms with one hand and takes the battle axe with the other, smashing into the arm. However, he can seem to do more than chip at the bones. Turning the axe around to do more blunt damage, he strikes at the arm a few times, but nothing more than some cracking noises. Turning the axe back around, he focuses a moment and strikes out, splintering through the arm. Plenty of more arms flail about the hallway.
Red steps around to get a view of the hall and sees all the arms grasping at Meander. He positions himself carefully to be able to attack, without coming into range of the arms. He can also still sense something hiding in the back.
Meander barks to the end of the hall, “Vale, is that you back there?” There is no sound over the rattling of the skeletal arms. Red and Meander take their time slowly chopping and smashing all the skeletal arms off on the right side of the hall, making a safe path down the hallway. They have to stop to rest a few times, but eventually clear the way.
Meander sneaks to the end of the hallway to see what or who is hiding. “Hey Vale, we are here to save you.” Something screams and crawls further behind the large anvil in the back of the room. Meander rushes over to get Vale out, but he balls up and is unreachable. Red also tries to talk him out, but it is in vain.
Song eventually wakes up and sings to Vale in a soft soothing voice, coaxing the child out. He tucks the child into his shoulder and keeps him from seeing the arms flailing on the left side of the hall. Song takes him back to the other children, Kitten and Jabs.
Meander and Red spend a moment looking at the anvil. It is larger and sturdier than any anvil that Meander has ever seen. Red tells him that the anvil is only ceremonial. They quickly leave to catch up to Song and Vale, leading them back to the group.
Once they get back to the prayer room, Kitten rushes over to Vale and seemingly can keep him calm without Song’s constant singing and comfort. He was obviously traumatized by the skeletal gauntlet that he must have endured in the darkness to procure that hiding spot from the Kobolds.
Song turns to spend some time singing to Red and ToughBark, healing some of their wounds. About that same time, Broken lets loose a sigh of relief, as the Stone Man starts to move again on its own.