The Undiscovered Country

101 ways to die.... In the Tomb of Horrors

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An Insurance Policy

Mortimer once again found himself in a tiny hut, outside something that was probably going to kill him, going to kill him because his companions didn’t believe Acererak would have hidden instructions for fellow necromancers to follow where he had led.

The Sorceror, using the forces Arcana as she did through… instinct… not study, not history books, not religious texts, it was pure folly, who went on instinct when research, mystic study and learning were an option…?

That said… He’d fucked up, slipped up royally, well, almost. He’d given the Siren his Truename, not in full, he never gave anyone that, but he’d given her quite a bit of it, the start and end… shit… some simple spells could use that alone, without even the middle. Even Lobash had known not to do that. It was just so damn odd and confusing Acererak would have gone to such lengths to imprison, prolong the life of, and set a stupid puzzle for the release of, a random creature. One who claimed no more purpose in the tomb than his own amusement.

That… that gave Mortimer some pause.

Acererak was the greatest wizard and necromancer history had ever known, he had built a colossal empire that had ushered in an age of science and magic. It had recorded history, built vast underground railroads, brought water to the deserts. Ironically the only thing he had never been able to do was conquer the place Mortimer called home, the place the 13th Company – The Undying, some of the last of the Gnomish race, had sworn their lives to protect.

Why the Siren?

Everything else in the tomb was a test to make sure only worthy necromancers who placed a value on the secrets of cheating death, above all mortal-world monetary gain were able to make it to the secrets (That must be it, right?!).

What was the Siren then? A trap to those who were susceptible to sexual desires? It didn’t seem like that, she hadn’t tried to tempt them or stop them… It sounded like Acererak did it out of spite, as a baseless joke.

That didn’t sit well with the black-clad gnome.

“Find the False and you find the True”

That was obviously the false secret door that hid the true secret trap door, but the rhyme was getting vaguer, they had survived being put to sleep and flattened only because the Sorcerer could be relied upon for wanton destruction and getting lucky, and Mortimer had his undead force to go ahead and perish on their behalf.

He couldn’t trust the rhyme any more, not completely, couldn’t trust Acererak, and maybe he couldn’t trust this party he was with… this group of Easterners, He had seen their world, they had their own problems.

Mortimer slipped out the jar he had palmed from the Mummy room, it wasn’t hard to borrow things when your party sends you in as the expert on the room. A shriveled heart in a clay jar…

He could work with this, an insurance policy, the same was Acererak had tried to ensure life after death. It could work, the theory was solid, he had a pretty good idea how he could apply the Existential Markup needed, this would be his necromancy, the manipulation of information by arcane forces, not some nasty sacrifice or blood magic.

He stared fixedly at his previous entries, twisting the book away from the Siren as she looked over.

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He could refactor that, that function wasn’t needed. If he used a dynamic_cast there instead of a reinterpret_cast, yes…. Now that, that would be quite stunning. His quill moved furiously. Then it stopped. He couldn’t get the tomb out of his head, get Acererak’s motive’s out of his head.

The pieces of the puzzle were in here, he knew it, a get-out-of-death free card that didn’t require hurting anyone else, but even as he put together the beginnings of such a spell Mortimer contemplated:

Maybe Acererak had never sought such non destructives means of cheating death…

The little death lord was awoken from his introspection by the lighting of a candle

“Plenblwydd hapus.”

He thought for a moment, rang a bell.

“Happy Birthday Cariegg, may the Star of the Morning always shine on you.”

he looked back to his book but felt eyes on him

“I hope that was right? I… I studied a lot of old books, what can I say…. you guys are history to me….”

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Plenblwydd Hapus

My colony’s last day was the 18th of Gorffennaf. I’ll always remember that date. I left on the 19th. It was at least one moon before I reached Hommlet. Another two weeks travelling north to the canyon and back. It was a full moon when we returned to Hommlet, so that would have been… the 5th of Medi. Another two weeks for Wave Echo Cave. Another week or so travelling to the Tomb. Five… five already? It must be. Five days in the tomb. Which would make this the 2nd of Hydref.

My birthday.

Sixty-eight years ago

The healer held aloft the mewling, bloody infant and cut the cord with a dagger.
Aelwen and Gawain wept and smiled.

“Carreg. Carreg… Tândwfn.”

Forty-six years ago

“Well don’t come running to me when you break your leg!” Aelwen cried after the children quickly vanishing down the tunnel.

Gawain smiled up from his abacus and peered over his spectacles. “’Tândwfn’ was exactly right. There’s fire in that girl.”

A scream.

Down the corridor, Ifor on the floor, his arm smoking. Carreg shaking her head. 

“I didn’t do anything. He pushed me. I shouted at him. I didn’t do anything”

Gawain and Aelwen shared a meaningful look. 

Eighteen years ago

“You wanted to see me?”

“Yes, my child. Come, come, sit down. You’re making me anxious with that fidgeting in the doorway.”

Carreg shuffled in uncomfortably and took a rough-made wooden stool. Moreg hoisted herself to her feet with an ornately-carved metal cane and hobbled over to the young dwarf. Examining her— perhaps a little too closely— and seemingly dissatisfied, she pulled up a seat of her own.

“You never did find yourself an apprenticeship, hmm.” It wasn’t a question.

“No. Dafydd at the forges never liked my workmanship and—"

“Quit your babbling, girl.” snapped the priest. “I’m thinking”.

Carreg was thouroughly taken aback. She’d only really seen Moreg before at the other side of an altar. Even at communal meals the priest was quiet and, well, priestly. But the other elders had always tread carefully around her; what Carreg had taken as deference she now saw as fear.

“Yes, alright. You’ll do.”

“I’ll… what?”

“You’ve felt the calling. Heard His voice. You’re telling me in fifty years you’ve never admitted it to yourself?"

She hadn’t. The priesthood wasn’t for her, she’d told herself. I’m not a people person, she’d told herself. I’d do much better for the colony with something practical, she’d told herself.

“Your silence tells me enough. Nearly three centuries under this earth and I’ve never felt Him more strongly in anyone. You’ll do."

It wasn’t fear she saw in the elders, and it definitely wasn’t deference. Carreg could see now it was respect. The same way you respect the flywheel, that could rip your arm off as soon as your fingers grazed it. The same way you respect the mines, lest they cave in or choke you with gas. The same way you respect Hell.

“Well. It’s your birthday, and you’re my new apprentice. A gift is in order.” She was holding out her cane. Carreg looked closer: the handle was large, and crowned with jagged points on one end. The shaft was thick, and almost three feet long. A warhammer!

“Go on then. It’s yours.”

“B-but, your leg?"

Moreg thrust the warhammer into Carreg’s arms. She strode spryly to the bed and glanced back with a twinkle in her eye. “Sereneglyws. Dydd Sul. 6 o’clock sharp.”

Today

Carreg lit a candle with a muttered word and watched it sputter in the dank tomb air.

“Plenblwydd hapus.”

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Season 5 Session 7

After some rest and recuperation in Rima’s Tiny Hut, it is time for the party to press on through the room with the wildly pitching floor. Drawing on his military training, Mortimer quickly crawls across the floor, covering himself with mould-dust but otherwise reaching the far door unharmed. Lubash strides confidently across, only to be knocked to his feet by the moving floor. He injures little but his pride, and makes it to the other side. Even so, Rima and Anarië, seeing this, decide to follow Mortimer’s example. They too reach the door uninjured, and Anarië magically removes all the dust from herself while in the process of standing up.

A narrow passage curves round and down some stairs into a long straight corridor leading to a crossroads. The usual Mage Hands / poles / skeletons protocol establishes that there is a pit trap covering the crossroads. Rima uses a mirror from her disguise kit to peer around the corners of the crossroads, establishing that there are long corridors going left and right as well as the one going forward. Each of these corridors ends in a door.

Which way to go? Skeletal exploration reveals that the right hand door covers another magic spear trap, while the doorways to the left and straight on lead to continuing straight corridors.

Anarië and Rima skip over the trap and go straight ahead, while Mortimer and Lubash remain behind. The elves quickly find their way blocked by a golden mist, which Anarië swiftly dispels to reveal a natural cavern inhabited by a beautiful female humanoid. She seems polite and friendly enough, but seems unwilling or unable to provide any definite information. The conversation proceeds quite inconclusively until Mortimer appears, having failed to establish anything further about the latest door trap, and invited her to come with the party. At that, the inhibiting influence on her seems to break, and she gladly accepts the offer. At the same time, the two sacks that were beside her vanish into thin air.

She reveals that she is a siren, trapped here by Acererak and forbidden from revealing any information essentially for a laugh. She knows little of the Tomb, and has never seen Acererak, although she is quite familiar with his voice.

Bringing their new companion along, the party heads up the left hand, and final, corridor. It leads eventually to a door on the right hand side, and then to a stairway that goes up to a blank wall. Searching for secret doorways proves fruitless, so Anarië simply disintegrates the blank wall and a ten foot cube of rock behind it. Any hope that this might lead to a way forward is dashed when it becomes clear that all she has done is hollow out a cube in the featureless rock.

However, careful observation reveals that the dust from the disintegration seems to be slowly pouring through a crack along the bottom of this cube, on the right hand side. Lubash takes his mighty hammer to this edge, and smashes open a hole large enough to look through.

There is a room below and to the right. It contains a large stone statue of an elephant-like beast, mounted on great stone wheels.

Meanwhile, Mortimer sends two skeletons through the door on the right, which leads to a short corridor.. They trigger a gas trap on entering, but the door is closed before the gas can escape.

At this point, the stone construct – which we will call a Juggernaut – begins to move.

The party heads back down the corridor towards the crossroads. The Juggernaut moves into the gas corridor, smashing the two skeletons under its immense wheels, then smashes through the door and comes out into the corridor which the party is retreating down. Anarië sends a Fire Bolt at it, which does not seem to have much effect, but shortly afterwards the Juggernaut stops moving, one of its wheels apparently cracked. Some observers claim that it has a mournful expression.

Lubash removes one axle from the Juggernaut. This does not improve its expression.

Despite the Juggernaut threat being removed, there still seems to be no way further into the Tomb. Much careful searching, particularly by Rima with her Eyes of Minute Seeing, eventually reveals a concealed trap door in the corridor. This leads down into another long corridor that eventually ends in a large, locked door.

This door has three slots in to, too big for any ring or key that the party possesses, but just about the right size for a sword blade. Right enough, when three swords are inserted into the slots (this being all the swords this party happens to have hanging around – this is not a sword-happy bunch) the door swings open.

Beyond is a large room with many pillars, and what seems to be a throne at the far end. At Anarië’s urging, Lubash drives a spike into the floor to stop the door closing, but in the event the party does not venture far into this room, choosing instead to retreat back to the corridor outside and rest in a Tiny Hut. Which is perhaps just as well, as no sooner have they left the room than the door swings inexorably shut again, crushing the large iron spike that was supposed to keep it open.

Deaths so far: 0 (not counting two skeletons and one iron spike)

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The Riches Come Gnome

Gnome For The Wedding

The happy newlyweds broke their kiss and gazed happily into each others eyes when suddenly a rumble vibrated the floor of the great hall. Wullie and the Queen knew that sound, knew what it signified. Without pause, Wullie shouted the Undying Force to action, getting them to clear the guests from the ornate ring marked on the floor. He himself assisted his new wife and her retinue up onto the royal dais, standing between them and the rest of the hall.

tbc.

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Dream

From the notebook of Lady Anarië of Warbeck:

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Season 5 Session 6

The party has a choice: go through the secret door, or follow the main corridor round the corner. They decide to explore the main corridor first, only to find that, after a long walk, it ends at a stout door with multiple locks. They decide to go back to the secret door, at least until such time as they manage to find some keys.

The secret door leads to a stairway down to another corridor, which turns off to the right. Careful inspection of the stairway reveals yet another secret door, opening onto yet another corridor. After some discussion and prevarication, the party eventually agree to follow this second secret door, and at the end of the corridor they find a large room with tables, jars, and all the paraphernalia needed to mummify corpses. Towards the rear of the room are three large vats.

This looks like very much Mortimer’s department, and with the aid of a Fly spell he looks into the vats, all of which contain murky brown liquid. Prodding them gently with a pole, the first appears to be mucky water, the second is some kind of acid, while the third contains a jelly-like creature that leaps up to attack Mortimer.

The creature is quickly destroyed by magic before any real harm is done, and the party explores the room. Systematically sifting through the vats with a Mage hand, Rima finds two halves of a golden key, which she cleans and snaps together. Is this one of the keys to the locked door? Meanwhile Mortimer assembles another skeleton servant from assorted parts he finds around the room.

In the far corner of the room is another secret door, which the party go through, albeit with Anarië having to encourage Mortimer to leave the room of dead things behind.

Ahead of the party is a long, straight corridor, down which they advance using their well-established protocol of Mage Hands with poles, followed by skeletons, followed by the party itself. As the Mage Hands move down the corridor, suddenly the floor beneath them collapses, revealing a spiked pit completely blocking the corridor and stretching some twenty feet ahead. Too far for the party to jump.

In a moment of recklessness, Mortimer goes ahead with a pole, levitating and pushing himself off against the walls and floor. This comes to an abrupt end when his pole taps the floor of the pit at the far end, causing all 200 of the metal spikes at the bottom to shoot upwards. He manages to shrug off the damage, thanks to Anarië’s inspiring words earlier in the day, but he is most startled.

The trap immediately resets, with more metal spikes appearing at the bottom ready to explode upwards again. Carreg suggests using skeletons to repeatedly trigger the trap until it is full of metal spikes and they can all just walk across, but this is deemed impractical. Instead, Lubash fixes a rope to the ground with a spike and, with his great strength and some magical assistance from Rima, leaps across the pit to affix the other end of the rope on the other side. Anarië skips daintily across the tightrope. The others follow, less elegantly, but without mishap.

Further along the corridor is, yes, another secret door. This opens up into a room full of chairs, sofas, wooden chests and other furniture and storage, decorated with two large tapestries on opposite walls. Some of the chests and containers evidently have some magic associated with them. No Name’s vision of danger indicates some hazard involved in pulling down the tapestries. When skeletons are sent into the room, the entire floor begins shaking violently, and this continues until they come back out again. There is a door in the far corner, but when this door is tapped by Mage Hands with poles it sounds as though there is no space behind it.

Indeed, when the door is opened with a Mage Hand, a spear shoots out from the blank wall behind, piercing the tapestry on the opposite wall and ripping it downwards. This causes the tapestry to transform into a green ooze that slides onto the floor. On the bright side, this does reveal a secret door which was concealed by the tapestry. However, it is now harder than ever to see how the party can find out what may be inside these chests.

Anarië decides on direct action. Advising the others to get behind her, she launches a Fireball into the room. The rest of the party are at a safe distance, especially Mortimer, who has run as far back down the corridor as he can.

The Fireball incinerates the various chests and boxes, but rather than destroy the oozing thing it transforms it into a carpet of brown mould. The other tapestry is similarly transformed, and so now almost all of the room is covered in the stuff. Anarië gives it another blast with a Fireball, just in time for Mortimer to return and then run away again. This just makes the mould grow further. Reasoning that the opposite of fire might do the trick, she uses her Wand of Winter to set off an Ice Storm in the room, destroying the mould creatures and leaving a rather fouls residue.

Careful scraping through the remains with Mage Hands produces a haul of several hundred gold and silver pieces, but not the further keys that the party had hoped for.

Deaths so far: 0

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Practical Necromancy

Mortimer had nearly finished his ritual, he tried to ignore the others as they inspected pots and jars or poked at what remained of the Jelly he had sucked the life-force out of… he still had goosebumps, that was a rush. Of course he played it off like it was simply clean, clinical magic. He disliked the idea that Necromancy was linked to emotions, sacrifice or blood magic, using lifeforce as power for spells, or constructs (or one’s self?) as opposed to channeling pure arcana through ‘slightly modified’ channels.

He finished inscribing the fifth of his functions inside the double bracketed summoning circuit he’s drawn on the ground in equal parts gravedust and (un)holy water… Originally he’d just used dust, but this was easier to ensure no broken circles, and since his tapping into the merest spark of divine power from an un-dead god, his necromancy had new potency.

He joined his five defined functions with intersecting lines and formed the pentagram within the circles, sure, he could have just written them in a list, but just like the padding and whitespace in his spell book wasn’t strictly necessary, it was the principle of the thing! He fought the urge to add dribbly candles… that was the sort of thing his old master would have made him use.

“Greysproket! What is this? I have taught you this spell a thousand times, reach out with your feelings, rip the life force from the plant and infuse the cold flesh with its vitality for as long as you can hold it in this world, the plant mocks you, it is beyond you, the hand will obey your every whim!… this… what you have given me… this is a mere cantrip, a Mage Hand bound to _the cadaver with a Gentle Repost worked into the incantation, and what is this stale, formulaic notation you fill your pages with? Why is that Candle out? Black candles are vital_ Greysprocket, people must believe your dark power, or they can’t respect it!”

Young master Greysprocket thought: “I’ll never turn to the creepy side. You’ve failed, ‘Your Highness’. I am a tinkerer, like my father before me”

Back in the Mummy making room Mortimer channeled arcane energies into his script. Call the 5 point functions, and passed the variable, the pile of bones at the centre. Out of the pile a human skeleton stood, saluting slowly.

“Welcome to the 13th Regiment, The Undying… literally”

Some unused rib bones (how tall where humans again?) flew out of the circle and clattered into the corner

“Gotta appreciate built-in garbage collection” he mused aloud.

Mortimer nodded at his creation, his tutor had been wrong… he had a retinue of undying, never tiring protectors, not some twisted unlife made from the power of blood and sacrifice of mortal soul. but from the creative application of the principles of the Unseen Servant. Clean arcane, I mean, just because you reanimated the dead, you didn’t want to be some kind of monster!

Maybe he’d call it “Compassionate Necrovatism”, “One-nation Necromancy?” ah… who needed buzz words?

As the others prepared to leave, to venture deeper into the dungeon, the pint-sized wizard considered the designer of their potential final resting place.

Had he been a mad old necromancer like his former tutor? Angry at a world that shunned him as weird and eccentric, so he’s turned his frustration and hurt into a kind of power, ripping life out of things to make mindless servants to obey him and make him feel special?

Or had he been the figure Mortimer had imagined him to be from the endless tomes of lore he had read about the man and his empire: A great and powerful wizard that had brought about a golden age of magic, alchemy and natural sciences, only to be recorded as a monster by jealous and cruel victors who wrote the history books?

On the one hand, traps, but on the other hand, he had left the key to safely navigating them all in the rhyme, in the entrance, the rhyme was the key… and he’d left handy resources for necromancers strewn throughout the tomb, It was almost like he wanted the next generation to pick up his great work…

“Mr Greysproket! If you please!” a far too well-spoken voice informed him the party was moving on, deeper into the tomb.

Huh… Sorcerers. Magic just by will, by emotions, no structure, no code, it was the very worst way to wield the force-arcane, she’d get them all killed! Trust an elf…no head for mechanics and process… What was poor Wullie getting himself into?!

“Ahhhright – don’t rush me!”

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Wagon Train

There it was. Just like she’d told him. Amazing

A village, sitting in the wilderness on the edge of the desert, looking for all the world as if it had been dropped there by some capricious conjurer, an oasis of green fields and woodlands in the wide and dusty plains.

Even he could see they couldn’t survive. Not without help.

Just as well he had come, then. His wagon train might be modest by Western standards, but out here in the East he had the best concern going, and he was ready to grasp this opportunity.

He’d had to overrule his deputy, unfortunately. He never liked doing that, but when it came down to it he was in charge, and the business case was unassailable.

He was sure it was unassailable.

The woman who’d come to him – Margy something? – had been very convincing. This village was desperate, unable to sustain itself. Without help, it would die. But thanks to some well-heeled travellers, the local businesses had a surplus of gold and silver coin.

So the village only had a problem because you can’t eat money. This was the kind of problem he was happy to solve for them. Three wagons of meat and grain, and two of beer and wine, were only the beginning.

It all made perfect sense.

He looked across at his deputy, sitting at the front of her wagon. She scowled back. “This was worth defaulting on the oil contract for?”

Of course it was. He had never been more sure of anything.

He led his wagon train into the village.

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Season 5 Session 5

In need of a rest following their exertions, our heroes return to the corridor of the many-coloured spheres and Rima pitches her magic hut carefully among the traps. Despite some heavy hints from the others, Mortimer fails to notice that he has one skeleton more than he should until it blows him a raspberry. Yes, it’s Jack, who has been hanging around in skeletal disguise for an undisclosed period, just for a lark.

Following food, drink and yet another inspiring speech from Anarië, the party moves on to explore the corridor leading off from the black sphere, that seemed to come to a dead end. Mortimer briefly appropriates Anarië’s Gem of Seeing to detect a magically hidden door.

This leads into a large room, containing two rows of wooden pews facing an elaborate throne – evidently some kind of temple. The walls are decorated with frescoes, there is a low railing between the pews and the throne, and to one side of the throne is an archway.

Rima and Jack begin examining the frescoes, Mortimer and No Name make their way up each set of pews, opening them one by one with ten foot poles, while Carreg wanders quite insouciantly into the temple to investigate the archway.

The pews open up, revealing their contents: thousands of silver pieces in the back row, thousands of gold pieces in the next row, thousands of electrum pieces in the one after that – and when No Name opens the front pew on her side, a cloud of noxious gas is released. Fortunately, she is quick off the mark with her druidic powers, and manages to contain the gas with a barrier of wind until it settles and vanishes. Examination of the pew reveals a mechanical trap involving a now-deflated bladder and a pin. The final pew, on the other side, has a similar trap that is dealt with harmlessly.

Having found a considerable haul of treasure, the party must decide what to do with it, It would be very bulky to carry it all, and Anarië argues that their objective is to find the secrets of the tomb, not to gather treasure. Mortimer proposes sending the treasure through the portable teleportation circle to the shining city, with a note directing that it should fill the coffers of the Undying. The party agrees.

[In the shining city, the Elf Queen and Wullie are in the midst of their wedding ceremony. Just as they seal their vows with a kiss, coins start falling through the teleport circle in the city.]

No Name decides now would be a good time to divine the presence of any further traps. It appears there is some danger emanating from the throne down the line between the pews, and the party resolves to avoid this area.

Carreg walks into the archway, then comes back out a moment later reporting that there is nothing behind it but an empty room. Strangely, she emphasises that it would not be safe for anyone else to go in there, but refuses to elaborate. Anarië surreptitiously attempts to read her thoughts, but without success – it seems that there is something very odd going on with Carreg. Mortimer dispels magic, at which point Carreg seemingly disappears, and reappears back at the entrance to this room. She is most upset that Mortimer has interfered with the spell which turned her invisible and created an illusory duplicate to go ahead safely, while Mortimer and others are irate at her for not informing the party of what she was up to. Eventually Anarië manages to calm the situation and reconcile everybody, with Carreg reluctantly undertaking not to be so secretive in future.

The examination of the room continues. Anarië sends a mage hand all around the walls, tapping with a ten foot pole while she follows thirty feet behind, avoiding crossing directly in front of the throne. This does lead to an embarrassing moment when she clumsily straddles the low railing, but does eventually lead to the discovery of a secret door. Closer examination shows that this door features a small slot, inscribed with a circle. Mortimer is convinced that inserting the Ring of Protection into this slot will open the door. Anarië, on the other hand, is quite clear that this is her ring, and she is jolly well keeping it thank you very much. She asks Carreg to join her in teleporting through the door to the corridor on the other side – but only Carreg makes it, with Anarië left to nurse the bruised pride of having tried to teleport into solid rock until Carreg opens up the door from the other side. The hallway beyond expands from the narrow doorway until eventually reaching the usual ten foot width, explaining Anarië’s targeting error.

The corridor leads to a stairway which descends to a long corridor split into three sections, each of which turns out to contain a pit trap. The leap across the pits is a bit much for Anarië – the rest of the party manage fine, even the gnome and halfling – but she manages with the help of a flying spell from Rima.

After the third pit, the corridor leads on further, but Rima, mindful of the fresco poem’s line about “the third leading to a fortunate fall” examines this last pit closely, Indeed, it contains a secret door, which the party decides to take, but not before doing a spot of scientific research into whether or not the deadly poison on the spikes is made safe by heat. (Preliminary results indicate that it is.)

Deaths so far: 0 (Anarië’s pride was only temporarily injured)

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