Chapter 3 - A-Vaulting We Will Go

Over breakfast the following morning, the four new friends told of Lavinia of their success aboard the Blue Nixie, much to her delight. She was not, however, thrilled about the prisoners in the basement, but she understood that it would be necessary to keep them there for a bit. As they enjoyed breakfast, they heard the now familiar pitter-patter of feet entering the room as Kora approached Lavinia and said, "My lady…sorry to disturb you during breakfast, but he's here—again."

Lavinia rolled her eyes and excused herself from the table. "This'll just be a minute."

At the door was Avner Meravanchi. Although they could not really hear what was being said in the other room, they were able to piece together enough to get the idea. Meravanchi was a well-known pompous, spoiled noble with an eye for Lady Vanderboren. He had come to request her accompaniment to the upcoming Wyrmfall Festival. She declined his offer as politely as she could. He insisted on giving her a beautiful gown anyway and encouraged her to reconsider. Lavinia informed him that she had guests and needed to go. Disappointed, he left Vanderboren Manor without too much of a fuss.

"I apologize for that," Lavinia said upon her return, "That man has no idea how to treat a lady. Anyway, where were we?"

“Where, indeed,” Viselys replied, “We have returned your stolen property to you – your ship, the money and your father’s ring – and now we are wondering if our time in you employ has ended.”

“Not at all,” she said, then added, “Unless of course that is what you wish. I am so pleased with what you have accomplished on my behalf so far that I would like to hire you on as my personal troubleshooters, agents, and bodyguards. I am prepared to offer you each 100 gp per month in addition to any potential ancillary benefits that might arise as the result of service to one of Sasserine's noble families.”

A general murmur of agreement rose from the group, prompting her to continue. I am so glad you are interested, as I already have a task for you. I need to travel to Castle Teraknian in the Sasserine Harbor to check my family vault. All of Sasserine's nobility have vaults under the castle, but I’ve never seen any of them, including our own. Rumors hold that some family vaults are quite extensive and guarded by traps, at least based on things I overheard my father say through the years. I suspect that the Vanderboren Vault is relatively small and safe, but that there may be a construct guardian. I would like you four to accompany me to Castle Teraknian to provide protection and aid in investigating the vault contents.

Lavinia hired a coach to take from her manor to High Market in the Noble District, where they then hired a gondola over to Castle Teraknian. They spent little time in the castle itself, stopping only to speak to a clerk who verified Lavinia's identity and her signet, and who then escorted them down a spiral staircase into a large circular chamber under the castle.

Over a dozen five-foot-wide hallways radiated out from the central vault chamber; each of these halls was ten feet long and ended at a single iron door - the entrance to the family vault. The clerk did not accompany them into 'the vault; he instead bade them good day and returned to his office in the castle above.

The short passageway ended at a solid-looking iron door. The portal was emblazoned with a simple rune - an eight-pointed star. Above the door, inscribed in flowing script on a polished silver plaque, was the name "Vanderboren." A single handle protruded from the door, just below a circular depression bearing the mark of the Vanderboren signet. The door was locked.

“Not just locked,” Ornrik noted, “Arcane Locked. I believe your signet ring, placed here in the small depression above the handle, will allow entry.”

Indeed it did. The door flashed once with blue light, then slowly swung open on creaking hinges. It then remained opened, presumably to be closed manually.

“Is this star symbol part of your crest?” Viselys inquired.

Lavinia shook her head, “I don’t quite recognize the symbol, although I admit it seems familiar.”

“I’ve seen it,” Saris noted, “On a sign on a building on the western edge of the Merchant's District. The building is called the 'Seeker's Lodge,' but I have no idea what a ‘Seeker’ is or what they have a lodge for.”

Ornrik stepped forward, “the Seekers are a diverse group of adventurers and treasure hunters. The lodge is their regional base. It would seem that Lavinia's family has long been members of this organization.”

“I had no idea,” Lavinia stated.

“Not surprising,” Ornrik replied, “Tradition holds that induction of children into the guild does not occur until their 23rd birthday.”

Lavinia nodded, “I turn 23 in a few months.

The floor of this domed chamber was of polished green marble. Two fifteen-foot wide alcoves had lower ceilings and featured marble pillars carved to resemble coiling snakes. In the center of the room, five similar pillars were embedded into the walls, rising up thirty feet to a dome overhead. Looking up, the dome bore a huge representation of the same eight-pointed star that was engraved on the door to the south. This room seemed to be some sort of atrium of the vault proper – at least that would be the obvious purpose for the room if there had been another door leading from it.

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They had little time to ponder this query, however, as a something slithered from the eastern alcove. It looked for all the world like a large cobra made up of dozens of circular iron bands fitted together. The iron cobra attacked with iron fangs.

Ornrik was bitten first and he felt agonizing burning, “It may not be alive, but its bite is real enough poison. Luckily, we Dwarves are stalwart. I should be fine, but watch yourselves.”

Viselys took great pains to keep himself between the snake and Lavinia. He and Saris flanked the creature, but they were doing almost no damage to it.

“We might as well be fighting a statue,” Saris noted.

If not for his uncanny ability to dodge, Idae would have been bitten many times over. However, as he skirted another attack, he noticed something. All four of the men had been attacked by the snake, but not Lavinia, and not just because Viselys was doing his best to protect her. Either the snake had a thing for the ladies or ….

“M’lady! Show it your ring,” Idae called out.

Confused, she called out, “What?”

Viselys understood, “The signet ring. This is a guardian. Presumably it recognizes a member of the Vanderboren family and may be ‘deactivated’ by the one who holds the ‘key.’”

“Oh, of course!” she replied. Stepping around Viselys, she presented the ring to the snake and commanded, “Stand down!”

The snake immediately returned to the alcove.

“Well, that was exciting, wasn’t it?” Lavinia commented. Then she looked around the room, “Now what.”

“There’s a secret door here somewhere,” Idae stated emphatically and began to examine the walls and archways. As he inspected the northernmost pillar recessed into the chamber's walls, he noticed something, “See this? The snake patterns on this pillar are different than those of the other pillars.” He ran his finger over a join near the pillar head and found a switch. “Oy, oh!” he said and flipped the switch.

The pillar began to rotate, opening up a hidden room. This octagonal room was supported by a single large pillar with dozens of deep grooves along its sides. The seven walls of this room each bore fantastically detailed bas-relief carvings of exotic monsters in threatening poses. Starting at the wall immediately to the west of the entrance to the room and moving clockwise, the carvings depicted a tentacled monster with a glaring red eye and a mouth full of teeth, a looming dragon, a fish-like creature with three eyes and four tentacles, a two-headed giant wielding a pair of immense clubs, a spherical creature with four eyestalks and a bulging central eye over a drooling maw, a gorilla-like beast with a fanged maw and six eyes, and finally a towering black spider with seven eyes. Each monster's eyes consisted of a glittering red stone. The ceiling above was only ten feet high, with the now-familiar eight-pointed star pattern radiating out from the grooved pillar. The arms of this star were black, save for the one pointing south toward the entrance, which was red.

The creatures depicted (in the order described above) are a roper, a red dragon, an aboleth, an ettin, a spectator: beholderkin, a gray render, and a monstrous spider.

Thinking out loud, Idae said, “I know vaults and locks. There is one or more hidden doors here again.” He walked around the pillar and stared up at the ceiling. He got down on his hands and knees and examined the base of the pillar, and then he got up and examined the grooves and the relief carvings. “Right, well, unless I’m wrong, and I’m not, this here is one big combination lock. This pillar is a giant tumbler. It rotates, with great effort I suspect, turning the star symbol on the ceiling. Each wall represents a different number, but instead of numbers, we got monster images. I’m afraid this is not one of those locks I can pick or jimmy. We need the combination.”

Lavinia seemed to realize something and extracted the note that they had found rolled up inside the ring, “I’ll bet this is the combination!”

Ornrik shook his head, “The four creatures listed on that page are not represented anywhere here.”

“Don’t look at me,” Idae said as they did, in fact, look at him, “The only combination locks I’ve ever worked with involved numbers.”

“Numbers?” Saris spoke up and went to the pillar. He looked at the pictograms and appeared to be counting. Then he made another circuit counting out loud, “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven.” Then he turned to the others, “There’s your numbers; each of these beasties has a different number of eyes, in order one to seven!”

Ornrik thought about this for a moment, “Well, if it’s number of eyes, I can translate that for you. A Chimera is a three-headed creature with a total of six eyes. Cyclops – the name says it all – one eye. Medusa is a gorgon. I presume we are not counting the eyes of the snakes in her hair, since there are only eight sides to this room, so that’s two. An umber hulk – I don’t know for sure. I would have guessed two, but it’s an insectoid creature – maybe four? A basilisk is, essentially, just a big lizard with two eyes. Let me see that,” he reached out for the parchment. He pulled out a quill and wrote the numbers down:

Chimera (6) looks to sunrise
Cyclops (1) looks to sunset
Medusa (2) looks to sunrise
Umber Hulk (4?) looks to sunset
Basilisk (2) looks to sunrise

“And what’s all this ‘sunrise/sunset’ stuff?” Saris asked.

“The other part of a combination besides the numbers is which way to turn the tumbler – right or left,” Idae explained, “But you got me if I can tell which is which.

“The sun rises in the east,” Saris pointed out, “and sets in the west. On a map, east is to the right, and west is to the left. So …” he reached out for the parchment and made his own notes:

Chimera (6) looks to sunrise (right)
Cyclops (1) looks to sunset (left)
Medusa (2) looks to sunrise (right)
Umber Hulk (4?) looks to sunset (left)
Basilisk (2) looks to sunrise (right)

That was all they needed. Working together, they were able to rotate the pillar. It didn’t turn easily, and it click hard with every eighth of a revolution. When the entire series had been actuated, the entire room rumbled as five alcoves rotated in place, revealing several coffers and chests. Most of the 20 chests in the vault were empty - at best, only a handful of silver coins remained scattered along the bottom of each chest. As more and more chests turned up empty, Lavinia grew increasingly distraught. Finally, in the last alcove, there was a reprieve - several of the chests there remain untouched. In all, there was:

  • 2,900 gp in gold and gems
  • Several binders of ledgers
  • A journal written in a strange language.

Most of the ledgers listed debts owed to the Vanderborens from guilds and noble families in Sasserine. It seemed that Lavinia's parents made a practice of doing dangerous favors for numerous organizations in Sasserine, yet rarely bothered to collect rewards. Instead, they allowed their patrons to keep the rewards with the understanding that they could collect at any time.

They passed the journal around and everyone but Saris recognized that the characters were Elven, but the dialect was not the Elf language. Included in the journal were several maps of jungles, coastlines, and other regions that seemed to represent some unknown tropical location. The document also included dozens of sketches of strange, exotic creatures.

Between the gold and the IOUs, Lavinia now had more than enough to pay the back taxes and to begin setting her estate back in order. Nevertheless, the missing money concerned her greatly. “It’ll be a rough year, especially if my aunt and uncle in Cauldron can't help me out in the months to come, but at least I now have enough to carry on.” She offered 200 gp to them as a bonus, which all but Saris declined.

“Twenty five gold is beer for a month! A week, if it’s the good stuff,” he noted, pocketing his 25 gp. share.

Ornrik asked if he could examine the journal as he thought that, given some time, he could decipher it.

After a while of gathering things together, the group helped Lavinia transport it all back to Vanderboren Manor. On the way out, Viselys asked the clerk, "Has anyone else been down here?”

"Why yes," he answered. "Lady…your brother was just in here a few days ago. He's been down here several times in the last month, actually."

At mention of her brother, Lavinia began to cry softly, she turned to the group, and pleaded; "please come to my home tomorrow, there is more about this story, you should know."

Continue to Chapter 4...

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