Chapter 18 - Hey, Brother, Have You Seen My Finger?

The next morning, everyone woke with the strong desire to return to the temple to try to save Urol as quickly as possible. Although they had no way of knowing, they had all had the same dream the night before of finding Urol on an alter, having been tortured all night, and expressing how disappointed he was that they had chosen to rest for the night rather than rescue him. Even Avner was feeling a bit guilty about that.

Viselys and Saris were nearly overcome by a feeling of hopelessness. Ornrik realized that the nature of the cursed jungle was taking a mystical toll on those who were not able to fend off arcane influences. He used a restorative spell that seemed to lift the cloud for them. Then he set about casting healing spells on Viselys to get him ready to face whatever lay within the shrine of Demogorgon. When they were as ready as they were going to get, they set off into the jungle.

As before, Thunderstrike was inconsolable when faced with the dual gaping maws that marked the dual entrances. Avner knew he would not be able to bring the horse in with him and, though he was loath to leave his prized steed unattended, he saw no other choice – these characters were going to need him.

The party stood looking at the two cave entrances. After some time of silence, Viselys spoke up, “Well, Avner, which one?”

“I’ll defer to the dwarf,” he replied, and then to Ornrik, “You seemed to recognize what this place is. Any insight on which is the better bet?”

The truth was that Ornrik didn’t have a clue. He knew a little bit about the Prince of Demons, but nothing in his experienced would indicate how to proceed here. However, he wasn’t going to tell them that. He furrowed his brow thoughtfully and scratched his beard as if considering before he spoke, “I think right.”

“Lead the way, Avner,” Viselys said, clearly goading. However, if Avner noticed, he wasn’t giving Viselys the satisfaction. He just nodded in agreement.

“However,” he added, “I’d like the dwarf at my side, if for no other reason than he is the only one capable of seeing this … whatever it is … that we are using to guide us.” Ornrik expressed his agreement with a nod, but he was getting really tired of being referred to as “the dwarf.” He fell into step on Avner’s right side with Saris immediately behind.

“I’ll be in the back,” Viselys stated.

Without missing a beat, Avner replied, “Of course you will."

Either Viselys didn’t hear him or just ignored him.

The group entered the cave on the right, and after about 30’ they came to a fork in the cavern. As they paused to determine which way to go, Saris noticed something on the cavern wall. “Hey guys, take a look at this.” It was a small bloody handprint. It was either a child’s or a tiny person like a gnome. “Could be Urol,” Saris noted.

“Which way?” Avner asked Ornrik.

Having taken the right cave entrance, Ornrik knew that if he hugged the right wall, he would follow the perimeter of the caves – the most efficient way to search. Unless his choice led them out of the caves by another exit, he expected that they would probably pass this way again if they continued hugging the right-hand wall. Had he been Urol, he would have explained his rationale, but instead he just said, “This way,” and headed down the cavern.

They hadn’t gone very far before both Urol and Saris paused and both whispered over each other's words to the effect of “Did you hear that?” Avner shook his head, ‘no.’ “It sounded like chains, up ahead.” They continued on cautiously.

As the cavern curved around to the left, it narrowed. Soon they found the source of the noise. Against the far wall a man was chained by his wrists. The cavern narrowed to a dead end beyond to the left. The imprisoned figured looked positively wretched. One eye was swollen completely shut, and the other was barely a slit. He dangled from his bonds, so it was difficult to tell how tall he was, and his hair was black with dried blood. At least some of the blood came from above his head, as dark, crusted streaks ran down his right arm from his hand where a digit was missing.

“Amadeus?” Ornrik asked, tentatively.

The pathetic figure licked his dry lips, clearly doing no good. “No, Ornrik” he croaked, “it's still; Adameus. Uh-DAM-ee-us.”

Ordinarily, the others would have chuckled at this exchange, but their long-lost companion’s condition inspired no mirth.

“Adameus,” Viselys spoke up, “where is Lavinia?”

“I’m fine, thank you Viselys,” Adameus said, sarcastically, “How are you?”

“Yeah, Viselys,” Ornrik said, “One would think your first priority would be to get your brother down.”

Viselys was already setting about prying apart the manacles. The metal was so age-stressed that this was not a difficult task. Had Adameus been in better physical condition, he would probably have been able to free himself. “I AM freeing him, and he’s NOT my brother.”

Adameus ignored the argument and proceeded to answer the initial question, “After I teleported to Lavinia’s location, I escorted her, along with the Jade Ravens, to Farshore. Then I backtracked her path to try to find you. Since she and the Ravens had made it so relatively unscathed, I figured I could find you the conventional way without wasting another charge on the bracelet. And, well, here I am. I found you!”

Lowering the battered rogue to a comfortable sitting position, Viselys looked over the chafing of his wrists, “Where is the bracelet?”

Adameus shook his head, “I have no idea. Presumably with the rest of my gear?”

“Hold still,” Ornrik said, “let me try to heal you up a bit.” Adameus looked at the dwarf with what might have been uncertainty or reservation, but then he nodded in agreement. Before actually casting the healing magic, Ornrik examined the wounds closely – or at least that is how it appeared to the others. In actuality, he was directing his detection of evil spell at their conveniently rediscovered companion. However, Adameus did not ‘register’ as any more evil than anyone else in the party. Then again, the whole place was putting out so much evil that it would have been like trying to see a lightning bug in front of a bonfire on a sunny day.

When Adameus was reasonably healed, Ornrik pointed to the right hand where a digit was missing, “I, uh, have your finger.”

“You have my finger? Really?!” Adameus asked, “Can you, um, …” he held up his hand.

Ornrik looked a bit sheepish, “Well, no. At least not yet.” He reached into his pouch and pulled out the digit. “Eventually I can, though, if I hold onto this. In the mean time…” he took the signet ring off the finger and handed it to him, “here you go!”

Adameus took back his ‘Shadowboren’ signet and made as if to put it on his finger but, remembering it was absent, placed it instead on another. “Um, thanks.”

“All right, let’s move out,” Avner said and they returned to the fork where they had seen the bloody handprint.

“Which way?” Viselys asked, sarcastically. Avner spared him only a sneer.

Very few steps onwards, there was another branching. Ornrik knew that his logic of hugging the right wall was sound, but he also knew that following the left would eventually lead out the other entrance, and he thought it prudent to reinforce his bearings, so he led them towards the left.

What happened next happened so quickly, it was very difficult for anyone to get his bearings. Avner and Ornrik both found themselves buried in rubble, hurting and struggling to breathe. Adameus and Saris were able to jump back enough to avoid serious injury, while Viselys didn’t need to react at all as far back as he was. In fact, he probably had the best view of the ceiling collapsing so he could recount what had happened later. However, at the moment, digging out their comrades seemed like the higher priority.

After a few minutes of digging, and a bit of magical healing, the only way around the fallen rubble was the other passage. A little further up there was a pile of objects on the floor. It was Urol's pack as well as Adameus’ gear. As Adameus was putting on his armor, Viselys asked, “Is the bracelet in there?” Adameus looked then shook his head. As he detected some skepticism form Viselys, he held out the pack to him to confirm. “What happened to it?” Viselys asked. Adameus replied with ignorance.

The only way onward curved first to the right then a sharp left as the natural caverns gave way to worked stone and a short hallway ending in a pair of tarnished bronze doors. The doors were engraved with scenes of all manner of demonic reptiles and simians tormenting human slaves, and the handles were the barbed tongues of fiends. A pair of stone statues flanked the door in niches carved into the walls. These statues each depicted leering monkey demons, their tongues dripping an oily red liquid that evaporated before it hit the floor below.

The door was magically locked. It was clear that they would have to discover the secret to opening them in order to progress.

“There’s an inscription on each of these statues,” Ornrik noted. “It’s Abyssal. This one says ‘Give of your left.’” He moved to the opposite statue, “Give of your right.’”

“The statue on the right says ‘give of your right’ and the one on the left says ‘give of your left.’ Give what, though?” Saris said.

Viselys noticed that the demonic tongues that were the handles on doors were extended as if awaiting a holy wafer to be placed on them. He went back to the dripping tongue of the upright statues, attempting to catch the red liquid, but it evaporated before it touched his hands. Nonetheless, he went through the motion of collecting the liquid and took it to the corresponding handle to deposit it there. Nobody was particularly surprised when this charade had no useful effect.

There was some squabbling about what to do, but eventually Ornrik stepped forward, somewhat reluctantly, as if he knew what needed to be done, but didn’t want to actually implement it. “Blood,” he said. “It wants blood. I’ll do it.” He took a blade and cut a line in both his palms, then grasped the handles. There was a sharp pain as the demon tongues drank, seeming to draw the blood out of the wounds like suckling babes.

It worked and the doors opened. Inside was a chamber stained with blood. Two stone thrones sat on either side, set into alcoves. On the far side of the chamber was a blood-caked alter of greasy green stone, topped by a pair of black tallow candles. Iron-framed mirrors stood on either side of the alter, their reflections warped and indistinct.

Because of a prophesy Ornrik had experienced, he knew that the way onward involved one of the mirrors. He also knew that he had to do certain tasks in certain orders. Lighting one candle caused blood to bubble up from the throne on the opposite side of the room. Attempting to light both candles caused a big explosion that Adameus deftly avoided. Eventually Ornrik got up the courage to light a candle and sit in the resulting bleeding throne. The opposite mirror, in which he could see his distorted reflection sitting in blood, began to shimmer. Suddenly, Ornrik’s distorted image emerged from the mirror while the real Ornrik was drawn into the mirror. A fight immediately ensued and the dead, savage Ornrik again changed places with the real Ornrik. Some time later, they figured out that someone had to light a candle, sit in the appropriate chair, fight a savage version of one of their comrades, and then do it all over again with the other candle, throne, etc. The result was a shimmering mirror that was a portal onward. The group each took turns passing through the portal, Viselys insisting on going last, with Adameus going ahead of him.

One by one they emerged as though through a solid wall in an alcove. As each stepped forward, he found himself standing between a pair of fountains filled by water pouring out the fanged maws of large baboon heads. The heads were mounted on the walls just above the fountains. The water was quite murky making it impossible to see the bottom of either fountain. Atop each baboon head was a valve, presumably to regulate and shut off the flow of water into the fountain. Beyond the alcove was an approximately twenty foot squared chamber where thousands of bones were piled high in the corners and center. Directly across from the alcove in which they stood, on the far side of the chamber, stood twin iron doors, which were closed. In the left-hand wall of the chamber, as they were facing it, was another single door.

However, they had no time to explore as a large snake-like creature emerged form behind a bone pile to cast a magic missile spell. The creature, a naga, appeared to be undead, but that meant far less than its ability to cast spells. At five to one, as formidable as the naga was, she was simply overwhelmed by the fierce and lightning fast assault form the party.

With the naga dead, they took a survey of the room. Among the bones they found a magical spell-storing warhammer and a potion of haste. This led Ornrik to become curious about the fountains. If he turned off the spigots the basins would drain and he could see what lay beneath. After turning off the flow in one fountain, he saw that the speed at which the basin drained meant he would have to wait about twenty minutes before he could see the bottom. “Well, we’ll be back this way,” he said. When he touched the second valve, he triggered a magical trap getting blasted by a sudden ice storm. Well, the damage was done, so he went ahead and turned off the other fountain. Then they crossed the room to examine the most obvious path onward – the double iron doors.

The pair of doors were not locked, but they were very heavy. Working together, the men were able to push them open. Beyond they found another square chamber with another pair of iron doors, carefully carved with the images of ape demons and burning landscapes, directly across the chamber from them. The walls and floor of the chamber were polished smooth, and two large statues stood on either side. Also made of iron, these statues depicted hulking simian fiends, each one holding out an arm missing a hand. The statue on the right was missing its left hand, while the left-hand statue was missing its right. These second sets of iron doors were locked and it didn’t take a great deal of debate to come to a consensus that the statues’ hands needed to be replaced in order to continue. With this goal in mind, they doubled back to the single door leading from the bone chamber.

The single door was not locked. What lay beyond was unexpected and a bit daunting. This huge chamber was bathed in a strange red light that came from above. Thorny vines grew across the walls towards the ceiling from forty feet up. A natural stone bridge crossed through the upper reaches of this room, directly above a large pool of crimson liquid. To the north (or what they assumed was north) stood a large mirror, its warped surface framed in iron. The warm scent of wet fur was overpowering here. From their vantage point at a high level of the south end of the cavern, the party could clearly see that the source of the red light was a large blood-red piece of quartz lodged in the ceiling and filtering in natural light from outside. Another door across the cavern at the same level as they were at could also be seen. Adameus went across the natural bridge to the other door to examine it. Ornrik moved to examine the mirror, and Viselys moved towards the pool of blood being very careful not to get too close. Then Viselys moved to another door that he found, this one wooden and locked.

Suddenly, from above, there came a tremendous explosion of screeching and hooting. “What did you do, Shadowboren?!” Avner shouted from the lower level. Up above, Adameus had opened the door and a stampede of wild baboons poured out. This was going to be a very messy battle.

That is, it would have been if Ornrik hadn’t been thinking quickly. A massive fireball streaked out from the dwarf and the agile Adameus was able to dive into the adjoining room to avoid it. The fireball exploded in a hail of brimstone and monkey fur. Avner was unable to hide the impressed look on his face.

The room beyond from which the now incinerated primates had emerged was some kind of throne room. Six columns ran down the length of the room flanking a pit covered by a rusted iron grate. On the far side of the room was a stone throne. The room itself was, not surprisingly, chokingly foul smelling.

The iron grate separated this area from a cavern below into which the refuse and bones from this room accumulated. Viselys deduced that this was probably what he would have discovered had he opened up that wooden door in the other chamber on the lower level, so now he was glad he didn’t.

Ornrik discovered that there were scuff marks on the floor in front of the throne. “Hey, check this out,” he said, “I think I just found a secret, uh, something or other. Door, passage, something. Help me out here.” They pulled out the throne to reveal a small passage that led into a little chamber. Inside were two rusted iron chests sitting against the far wall. Both chests were identical in appearance, bearing engravings that depicted horrid flames consuming the just and the righteous. Both were also locked.

The chest on the right contained 2,000 gp and 3,000 sp. Resting on two of the coins was a left handed ape paw made of iron (One down, one to go), a magical buckler shield and a wand. The other chest was empty and trapped.

Confidant that they had fully exhausted their searching, they returned to the bone chamber. Ornrik took this opportunity to return to the now drained fountains where he found a mess of silt and bones, but he dug through it to find that one of the bones was actually made of copper and was, in fact, a magical wand. Also, as he seemed to expect, he found the other iron monkey paw. Now they were ready to continue on.

Affixing the money paws to the statues had the expected effect and they were able to open the next set of iron doors. Beyond them was a long hall lit by flaming brands held aloft by iron ape statues placed at even intervals on either side. Each of the ape statues had its head thrown back, as if silently howling at the ceiling above. At the far end of the hall, another pair of double doors, this time made of gleaming copper, stood closed.

Ornrik turned to Adameus, “I think this is your area. Search for traps?”

Adameus looked at the statues and then at the dwarf, “Yeah, right,” he said, hesitantly, then moved in to examine the first statue. When he was relatively sure he wasn’t going to find anything, he moved on to the next. As he did, Avner and Ornrik looked at each other and nodded. Avner took a step into the room and that’s when it happened.

A piercing howl issued from the statue closest to Avner. There was no doubt that the sound could be heard throughout the complex – surprise was out of the question now.

Adameus turned around and came back, “I wasn’t done searching!” he shouted. “Great, just GREAT!” He ushered the rest through the chamber quickly. “Okay, come on. Now all we can do is move quickly.” Sure enough, each statue began to howl as the group passed it.

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The copper doors were not locked. With surprise no longer an option, they opened the doors. The huge chamber beyond was watched over by five hideous statues. To the east and west stood four towering demonic ape statues in alcoves, facing a roaring fire pit in the room’s center. On the opposite side of the room was an even larger stone statue. Possessing the stout, stylized body of an ape, this statue had two stone tentacles where each of its arms should have been. Sprouting from its shoulders were two fanged baboon heads. The statue lorded over the room atop a great dais staring out in frozen rage.

Dangling above the fire pit by a chain from the ceiling was the battered and beaten body of Urol.

Continue to Chapter 19...

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