A hush fell upon the chamber, broken only by Knarillas’ grumbling from the adjoining chamber. Dozens of orc corpses and a dead dire wolf lay strewn about the ruined dining hall.
Once Knarillas had extricated himself, the heroes set about lowering themselves into the stinking pit. Kade used the statue standing over the pit to secure his rope, and plunged into the darkness, followed by Badden. They descended to the top of a disgusting midden of orc leavings, decorated with the slashed body of some tentacled serpent creature, and made their way gingerly into a dark slimy passage beyond. A hint of movement revealed another of the creatures in the chamber ahead, and as Kade moved forward to engage it, he encountered a bloated monstrosity lurking behind the wall awaiting its chance to ambush the party. Two more of the serpent-creatures reared up from the muck in a clamour of horrid clicking croaks, and battle was joined, with Knarillas and Saint Belardan having descended into the sewer to assist.
Kade drew the enemy to him, and paid for his bravado with some nasty deep slashes, while Badden threw himself in panther form at a serpent that attempted to skirt around the melee to attack the others, ripping its flank open with knife-like claws. Spells rained down upon the abhorrent foes, with Knarillas’ magical bolts particularly effective. One bolt even managed to kill one of the serpent creatures before it ricocheted off to dispatch the bloated monster that almost had Kade at its mercy.
Once the threat was pacified, the team explored the cave and the bent-inward grill leading to a passageway beyond. No treasure was found in the midden, but Badden and Kade did spy the form of the fleeing orc in the drain beyond the grate. He was standing still in the passageway, and when Knarillas fired a bolt at the fiend, a strange web-like pattern formed in front of the orc, quivering strangely in the air.
Closer inspection revealed the orc to be caught in some sort of transparent gelatinous mass, which immediately heaved forward and absorbed poor Kade. A strange light, an image ofa gem, appeared on the floor behind the mass. Somehow, Saint Belardan forced the creature to disgorge Kade into the passageway beyond before it could do any serious damage, but the unfortunate paladin was soon consumed once again as the thing heaved towards the grate. Attacking it through the grate proved difficult, but the creature was burned and slashed into crumbling globs of quivering jelly before Kade was inconvenienced by the horrors digestive juices. The strange light winked out, but the same image was present on the ivory plaque that was the only surviving item left inside the jelly, all else having been melted or corroded away. The plaque proved impossible to identify, although it was quite evidently magical enough to resist the cube’s digestion.
After some deliberation, the sages in the company agreed that the plaque was in fact a component of the fabled Deck of Many Things. Following a quick ransacking of the ruined keep’s dungeon, the party proceeded at haste back to Cecil and the minotaur camp.
The camp had been overrun. Cecil, three shoulder-women and a handful of others had survived – but with the exception of a small guard force, the minotaurs in camp were old, young or infirm, and the orcs had made short work of the sack, not even tarrying long enough to torment the hapless victims.
Cecil took this opportunity to tell the party what he knew, and had learned from the shoulder-women. The orb they had found in Kautas’ tower was in fact part of some sort of machine, one which was present at the beginning of the world, according to Cecil. He was shocked to observe that this revelation did not provoke incredulity or outrage among the group, and in fact questions were asked and theories expounded that made Cecil’s own head spin. He was visibly stunned at the party’s reaction as they proposed repairing and firing the machine up to see what it would do.
After some discussion, Cecil also advised that the shoulder-women had told him the wisest and oldest resident of these lands would likely be the best person to interview for more information. Unfortunately, this would turn out to be the despised Reaper of Horns. Although the enmity between minotaurs and the Reaper was implacable, and the party had already encountered the hag and her retinue, Cecil judged that perhaps she could be bargained with.
Having introduced the concept of maps to the shoulder-women, they had enthusiastically created a map of their own detailing the preferred campsites and known landmarks of the area. Marked on the map was the place they call the Godsmaw – the place Cecil believes harbours the fabled machine he seeks. As well, the marsh and barrow housing the Reaper of Horns was marked, along with some sort of structure nearby to the south of this.
The company wasted no time and pushed on to the marsh. After an unpleasant slog through the noisome bug-infested mire, they came at last to the Reaper’s barrow, and saw chained before it a massive warty green troll, sitting in a muddy circle and singing softly to itself. One of the hag’s elven guards approached the heroes, and they were invited to audience with the Reaper. The troll was bought off with some morsels of food, which it too eagerly devoured at the cost of one of its own fingers.
Entering the barrow, the party passed through a corroded old iron door, and walked down a musty-smelling low tunnel into a larger dome-shaped chamber. In here, all about the walls, the ancient yellowed horns of minotaurs jutted inward. There must have been thousands of the bony spikes, some adorned with carvings, small glittering stones or tarnished metal bands. There was little else by way of furnishing in the hall, save some sleeping pallets and a long bench cluttered with a collection of weird apparatus and items with unguessable purpose. A worn circle festooned with strange symbols had long ago been carved into the stone floor at the centre of the room.
Upon a chair of bones at the far end of the chamber sat the Reaper, watching with cold eyes as the company entered. Behind this throne, a rusty cage hung from a chain supported from the ceiling, and within this prison a humanoid shape stirred at the arrival of the guests.