TWANG! An arrow flew from the manhole above, narrowly whizzing passed Hector’s ear.
In the fraction of a moment that the team had to consider their next course of action, a rubbery barbed tentacle flashed from the open grate in the floor, wrapped itself around Mouse’s face, and swallowed her into the darkness below. Ovid began speaking the words of a spell, but before he could finish, he too was wrenched through the hole by the alien beast.
“Thresher guide us!” bellowed the paladin as he looked to the enemy known above and the enemy unknown below. Bobben’a’nuk’duk, too impatient to wait for the guidance of a distant deity, had already jumped into the darkness, axe in hand. Mab, who by now had transformed into an unassuming cave bat, followed suit. Shortly thereafter, deflecting and dodging a hail of arrows from above, the rest of the party, for whatever reason, decided to trust the judgement of the barbarian.
Pendrell’s torch extinguished as they all landed with a splash into a deep body of water, and in the darkness, the heavily armored Frytox and Ulric made it their first order of business to promptly begin sinking. Armor was shed, rope was thrown, knots were tied, and lungs were filled with water as the overpowering current threatened to tear the adventurers apart. In the end, half of the group (Fry, Ulric, Pendrell, and Hector) found themselves clinging desperately to a rough, cavernous wall. The rest of the party was no where to be found.
The bewildered group was still panting and coughing up water when four ropes fell from the hole in the ceiling, each one bearing a harnessed huntsman of the Iron Guard. One bore the torch while the other three knocked arrows and scanned the cavern for their quarry. Their eyes fell upon the huddled mass of soaking adventurers, and as arrows loosed, Hector raised the magical stick he had retrieved from the ratlings and shouted “Boom!”.
The torch flew one way, the torchbearer another, and the boom stick crumbled to dust, its magical energy spent in one final flourish of power. In the darkness, the waterlogged party surrendered themselves to the current and escaped the clutches of the Iron Guard once more.
It wasn’t long before they were carried to a large open cavern where the current gave way to a craggy underground swamp. In the distance, they saw a faint torch light, and Hector, scanning the ground for tracks, found evidence of both ratlings and humanoids. After some deliberation, they decided to approach the light cautiously, but their stealth was quickly impeded by Pendrell clumsily tripping over something laying in the ground. Investigating the source of his fall, he found it to be none other than the Book of Cryptic Answers, though Ovid, the book’s bearer, was nowhere in sight.
About this time, Ulric felt a sharp point in the back of his neck. An elven voice threatened from the shadows, “Keep low your arms and speak your business or this arrow will pierce your throat.” It didn’t take much for Pendrell’s silver tongue to win his elven brother’s trust before the less civilized members of the group did something stupid, and soon they were all walking amicably towards the torch light. The elf, Halvath, introduced the party to his mistress, Elyssia Quickwind, and the band of humans, elves, and halflings he traveled with. “My lady,” Halvath began. “I overheard these travelers speaking of a strange book.”
The group made a quick camp and shared stories. Elyssia explained that she was chief of the Order of the Eagle, one circle of the Druids whose main charge for the past few centuries was to watch for a magical book known as the Tome of Infinite Lore. It is said that this book contains the answer to how the apocalypse will begin, and the Order has been charged with finding the tome so that they might prevent the end of the world.
Elyssia went on to share that through consultation with many sages and other sources of lore, she has concluded that the book was originally commissioned by the great great great great great great great great grandfather of Lord Farquat, and that the tome likely has been kept within the family for ages. Her band has come here, to Farquat’s underground aqueducts, in order to cause chaos for Farquat so that he might spread his resources thin and thus lower his guard to some extent. Elyssia explained that the aqueducts are powered by two elementals, one of fire and one of water, who remain trapped against their will. The druids hope that they can free the elementals, doing right by nature and causing Farquat trouble in the process.
It didn’t take much for Elyssia to conclude that the book the party held was none other than the book that her order has been searching for, but she accepted graciously their unwillingness to relinquish it. After some negotiation, Pendrell confided to her that if she could prove her intentions honorable, good, and just, then he would allow her to look into the book for the answers she sought.
Elyssia accepted this offer, and as a first step suggested that the party might join the druids in their current quest to free the elementals. The druids would take care of the water elemental, the adventurers the fire, and they would all regroup in the southern quadrant of the aqueducts, where the ratling presence seemed diminished for some reason. The party accepted, and the two forces departed, hoping to meet again soon.
Ulric, Pendrell, Frytox, and Hector ascended a ladder leading back to the upper level of the aqueducts. Hector’s ranger ears picked up the sound of discussion from around a corner, and he crept stealthily forward to eavesdrop. Two voices—one deep and mighty, the other raspy and sinister—exchanged words.
“You say they have something Farquat wants?” scratches the raspy voice.
“Yes. A book. Do with the interlopers what you wish, but the book is for Farquat.”’
“As Farquat commands. My rats know these tunnels like the back of their mangy paws, we’ll have the intruders in our grasp readily. It is simply a matter of sealing the main gates so that they are stuck in one quadrant, and then your Iron Guard can surround them without issue.”
“Very good. Let us start, then, with this gate.”
Ulric’s eyes dashed to Frytox. “We know that voice,” the paladin whispered. “Commander Hans of the Iron Guard. Farquat only sends him forth on missions of the utmost importance.”
“They’re sealing the gate.” Hector replied. “We must act now.”
“Hans!” cried Ulric, grasping his flail and charging for battle, Frytox following his lead.
“Ulric, you will suffer a traitor’s death,” returned the commander, readying his sword for the charge.