The shrill cry of the ratlings echoed throughout the cavernous underground aqueducts as hordes of the beasts swarmed upon the party from above, below, and all around. Tattered rags, razor claws, and hungry fangs crawled along the walls and swam through the water, covering nearly every inch of visible ground.
The party’s most battle hardened members soon found themselves overtaken by the swarm. Hector was pinned beneath a pack of them, struggling for freedom as his faithful hound, Achilles, picked at a rat here and there. Ulric, the paladin, after valiantly sending many of his foes to be judged by the mighty Thresher, god of wheat and combat, soon found himself disarmed. Ratlings crawled all over him, scratching here and biting there while Frytox, in a failed attempt to free the holy knight from his predicament, got his signature claws stuck within the scales of Ulric’s armor. He too was now swarming with frenzied rat men.
That was when the real threat emerged. One ratling, armed with a crafted wooden stick, peered from around a corner, pointed its wand at Ovid, the wizard, and shouted “Boom!” An explosive magical force blasted through the air. The shot went wide, though, and did little more than send a few chunks of the wall flying about. The other ratlings, however, seemed stirred to even greater servile fear in the presence of their swarm boss and began to fight with all the more vigor.
It wasn’t long before Mouse found herself all alone, her light halfling figure driven far down a side corridor by the gnashing horde. Mab went to the aid of her sister halfling, transforming slowly into a vicious bear before proceeding to maul her way through the horde of rats. There were too many of them, though, and the Druid was forced to return to her normal form before she could reach the stranded Mouse.
Pendrell, seeing the rogue’s plight, leapt daringly across the stream that separated the party. His feet barely met the other side, though, and he was forced to drop the torch in order to land steadily. As the burning stick splashed in the water, the battlefield went dark, and for a few brief moments the rat men had the upper hand. Pendrell, sensing the morale of his allies slackening, lifted their hearts with a fair elven battle hymn.
In the darkness, teeth gnashed and explosions rang out, all the while, the party’s resources and well-being dwindled. The swarm seemed endless. For every one that was slain, two more crawled forth from the depths of the aqueducts.
Strange arcane words drifted slowly through the shadows as the caverns became once more illuminated. As Ovid finished his spell of light, he drew forth the Book of Cryptic Answers and began turning its pages, asking “How can we defeat the rat men?” The book answered with a single word, “Fetch”. Hearing this, Mouse, who had just given herself some room by setting a few ratlings aflame with some well timed flint and steel, shouted “The Boom Stick!”
Just about now, Hector had finally wrestled himself free and cut down enough ratlings to rejoin the party. He rounded the corner, narrowly dodged another blast from the swarm boss, and returned fire with an arrow that flew true. The swarm boss grasped his hand in pain as the Boom Stick rattled to the ground and an order barked from the mouth of the ranger: “Achilles, fetch!”
In no time the faithful hound had retrieved the wand and placed it into the hands of his master. The swarm look dismayed. Without the fear of the Boom Stick to whip them into submission, their natural cowardly instincts took over, and soon they were squealing away in terror.
The party had little time to revel in their victory, however. Within moments, the nearby stream began without clear reason to boil and churn, filling the caverns with such steam and unbearable heat that the group was forced to flee the area. They may well have been steamed alive were it not for Mouse’s keen senses detecting a secret chamber.
The group now found themselves in a pleasantly cool, if not slightly cramped, room. A single grate lay in the center of the floor and a ladder extended upward into the darkness. As Hector searched around for tracks, Mouse whispered “We’re not alone”. Her trained ears heard faint, hidden breathing up the ladder. Ulric and Frytox, ever ready to do battle, quickly ascended, and everyone could now hear their hidden guest retreating up the ladder.
At the top was a manhole of sorts which gave access to a lightly wooded grotto above the caverns. Here, the group met their supposed foe, Bobben’en’ookduk, a barbaric looking fellow who, having no satchel in which to carry his possessions, seemed to simply wear everything that he owned upon his body. A bit of parley and a warm blanket made a friend of the barbarian, and the group settled down to camp for the night with a tentative new member. Racing questions disturbed their slumber and few of them slept restfully that night. Who were those rat men? Did they work for Lord Farquat? Why does he pursue the Book so relentlessly? Why haven’t we just given it back?
The morning came too soon as a horn blared throughout the forest. “I know that sound well,” declared Ulric, his eyes darting to Frytox, who returned a knowing nod. “Tis the rally call of the Iron Guard of Farquat. They’ll be upon us in minutes.” As the group clamored about for their gear, an arrow whizzed passed the barbarian’s ear. Bobben’en’ookduk met eyes with the lightly armored enemy scout and advanced with slow deliberation, battle axe in hand. Another arrow flew, this time striking the warrior in the chest, though if it caused him even the slightest discomfort he showed it not. Eyes red with battle lust, the barbarian’s pace quickened like the sudden surge of the rip tide, and before the archer could knock another arrow, his head was separated from his body by at least a stone’s throw in a messy display of bloodletting that left the berserker painted head to toe.
In the meantime, a well-meant but mispronounced spell of Ovid’s drew unwelcome attention to the band. His magic missiles failed to fire, and instead the wizard found himself uncontrollably spewing forth a rather impressive fireworks display. In moments, the mounted knights of the Iron Guard had zeroed in on their location and had them surrounded.
It was clear that the battle could not be won, and so the party retreated back into the caverns below, Ulric, Frytox, and Bobben’en’ookduk holding back the enemy as best they could to secure the retreat of their allies. Battered, bloodied, and barely rested, the group found themselves once again crammed into the tiny secret chamber. As they readied themselves to defend against the pursuit of the Iron Guard above, Mouse pointed out that the grate, which had previously rested sturdily closed in the center of the room, was now open. An exhausted sigh escaped from everyone in the group, unanimously declaring their general fed-up-edness with being caught between a rock and a hard place.