Recovering the initiative, the party counter-attacked. Elysia let fly with Magic Missile, whilst Alagon tried to hit it with an oil bomb, but missed and caught Gullhar with it instead. From across the room, Lydia fired an arrow but just failed to hit it. Alurax launched his arrow and managed to hit the creature, dealing it a serious wound.
The party managed to maintain the initiative but Alagon’s answer was another oil bomb, which missed again, catching poor Gullhar, who had not yet stopped burning from the last attack. Elysia decided to use her remaining Fireball on the creature, but she found out when the flames had dissipated that it remained untouched by her spell. On the far side of the chamber, Ferros drew back his bow, determined to live up to his nickname and let fly with his arrow, scoring a direct hit and sending the creature crashing to the ground, where it dissolved into a mass of stinking, oily filth.
The remnants of the creature, now revealed to have been an ice devil, were examined by the still-smouldering Gullhar and Alagon - they noticed that amongst the mess was a small shiny object. Neither of them fancied touching it but Alurax was not so squeamish and picked it up.
Nobody knew what the key might do, but they did notice that following the ice devil’s killing, the walls of ice that it had thrown up were starting to melt. Figuring that there was no time like the present, the party decided to bed down and recover their spells and hit points.
Eight hours later, they were ready to move on. The walls of ice had completely melted by now and Lydia set off down the corridor from which the frost giants had appeared. The party had already found the giants’ treasure room but now a previously unexplored passageway led to a small chamber in which sat a chest of black wood. The key that Alurax had found fitted the lock exactly and Elysia used Unseen Servant to open it and remove its contents, which consisted of a hoard of gems, gold and platinum coins and three ornate pieces of jewellery. As well as these, there was the small figurine of a phoenix; Florin had been found but its owner was already dead and so it was decided to hold on to the figurine until they could think of what to do with it.
The party left the dungeon a man down, but with the knowledge that they needed to press on if they were to achieve their goal. This came closer by the end of the day when they reached the crest of the pass and looked down the western side of the mountains to the vast, grey-green swamplands that awaited them.
They camped at this point as darkness was falling and the next morning, set off down the slope towards the edge of the swamp. The date was 22nd September; barely a month had gone by since they had set off, bright-eyed and ready for anything from the Moat House. How much they had gone through since then and there was still much ahead of them to deal with.
It took them all day to reach the edge of the swamp; Elysia and Alurax sent Relic and Eris out to scout the terrain. Some time later, the hawk and pseudo-dragon returned to report that there seemed to be some sort of ruined temple far off into the marshes, and behind it a mound near a lake. Elysia decided that this sounded a likely prospect and the party resolved to set off in that direction the next day.
The day dawned grey and misty and the weather did not get any better as they pressed on into the swamp. After a while of travelling, they ran into marsh drizzle, a fine rain that drenched everything that they were carrying, including their leather, animals and food. Once they had passed through that, they spotted some floating lights off into the gloomy mist but, having encountered the will-o-the-wisps before, they refused to be taken in by them.
Some time later, they spotted what appeared to be a figure in the mist; they cautiously approached it to find that it was a statue, larger than man-sized and covered in lichens and moss. It seemed to be standing on a pedestal but apart from that, there was nothing else that they could tell about it. Fearing that it might either animate or was a sign that medusae were operating in the area, the party moved on. However, not far away, they spotted two more statues, humanoid in form but with horns, claws and wings, perching on pedestals. The party rode by quickly but Gullhor, who was convinced that the statues were sinister in intent, glanced back and noticed that one had turned its head to watch the party go by.
|"I'm getting sick and tired of being mistaken for Weeping Angels"|
The party had decided to camp down there and explore further in the morning (the sun having set on the far side of the mound by now) but Alurax managed to find a doorway in the side of the mound and beyond it a tunnel. He edged down it, the rest of the party following, bedding down forgotten about by now.
|The safety gate was put on to deter foolish parties of adventurers. Clearly didn't work very well.|
From the base of the shaft, a corridor ran deeper into the dungeon. The party followed it and emerged into a large chamber, in which were several stone sarcophagi, all of which were filled with fragments of shattered bones. Certain members of the party remembered a situation many months ago in which a passage had been concealed by a similar sarcophagus and so Alagon, Gullhar, Alurax and Larsh (who was now able to be animated once again) set to moving the heavy coffins. They were puffing and sweating by the time they found out that two of the sarcophagi were in fact extensions of the wall and concealed secret doors, which Gullhar, with his elven senses, had detected.
The bold elf opened one of the doors and was confronted by a hideous stench of decay and death as two ghouls reached through the gap and tried to rake him with their claws. They failed to do so, allowing Alurax to hurl in an oil bomb, killing one, whilst Gullhar finished off the second. It became apparent that the room beyond was full of the undead horrors and so, at Ferros’ request, the party members fell back, drawing four more ghouls into the large chamber. Ferros raised his holy symbol and the power of his faith blasted the four ghouls to rotting smithereens.
|"Let's get him, lads...oh wait, it's an elf"|
At the end of the passageway, they found another chamber. In this room was a dais on which sat a throne of iron. Around the dais was the inscription ‘those who sit upon the throne and wish to experience its power will be truly changed, perhaps for the better, perhaps for the worse.’
It might be thought that nobody would risk sitting on the throne but of course, this was Team Adventure and they were not going to be put off by a dusty and cobwebbed-covered throne promising to change those who sat upon it. Alagon walked onto the dais and sat down. At this point, the power of the throne was triggered; Alagon now found himself a lot less attractive but very nimble and dextrous indeed.
(The throne randomly selected two attributes and then swapped them over. Alagon had 9 DEX and 17 CHA, which were now 17 DEX and 9 CHA. I know that technically he was now no longer qualified to be a paladin but I decided that this would not apply; if he had been facially injured in, say, a black dragon attack, would he lose his paladinhood? I think only a deliberate move to evil might remove the status, rather than a reduction in Charisma. Anyway, here endeth my justification)
Alurax decided that he too wanted to experience the power of the throne but alas for him, his intelligence and wisdom were exchanged and since they were only slightly different to begin with, there was little appreciable difference.
Nobody else wanted to hazard a turn of the throne so the party moved onto the next room, which was occupied by two corpses. Ferros at once decided to animate them and add them to his undead army but as the bodies stirred and began to rise, a swarm of giant rats came scurrying out of the rotting torsos and headed straight for the cleric who had disturbed their resting place.
|"I've only got half a hit die and I've bitten a 7th level cleric. Go me!"|
The passage out of this room was only five feet wide and it was a tight squeeze for Larsh but the rest of the party had no trouble, although they had to go single file. At the end of the passageway, they found a small room into which Ferros stepped, only to feel the flagstones shift and wobble under his feet. He pressed on and although the other flagstones on which he trod did move, they did not give way. He made it to the exit on the far side of the room and looked into the room beyond, only to hear something large moving towards him. The rest of the party was stuck on the far side of the room with the shifting stones – unless they dared risk it to join the cleric.
Gullhar managed to get a spear point under one of the flagstones and tossed a torch down to reveal a pool of green slime waiting for unfortunate travellers. Meanwhile Ferros had discovered what was about to attack him – a huge Shambling Mound, which swiped him with one of its massive arms, nearly knocking him flying.
|And remember, killing one of these counts towards your 5 a day|
Alagon, with his new dexterity, decided to get past the blocking members of the party, none of whom seemed to want to risk the green slime, and climbed up and over them, then around the slime room’s walls to get to Gullhar’s assistance. By now, the valiant elf was being hard pressed indeed to hold his own. By the time Alagon had arrived just behind him, Gullhar had been knocked to the floor, falling back into the paladin who fell likewise – but not back into the slime room. He managed to get to his feet and realised that he had moments to save Ferros from being suffocated in the heart of the Shambling Mound.
Both Alagon and the Mound missed each other, and then Alagon remembered that he had a magic axe that he had not used for a while. This seemed like the best time to use it and so he swung it at the hideous monster. Although he damaged it, he did not manage to kill it.
Alurax had now decided to join the battle, seeing that Gullhar was down. He stepped into the slime room but the floor gave way beneath him. He managed to grab hold of a firmer section of floor and stop himself falling right through but was stuck for the moment.
Finally, Alagon, with his superior reactions, got the first blow in on the Mound and managed to kill it, just in time to save Ferros, who was hauled, stinking and gasping for air from the vegetable embrace of one of the toughest monsters that the party had fought for a long time.
They were now beginning to realise that this dungeon was going to challenge them in ways that they had not been tested before and that the penalty for failure was likely to be considerably higher than a few lost hit points.