The Realms: A World Apart

Rogue’s Gauntlet VII

Rogue’s Gauntlet, Part Seven

Claire desperately wants to pull the lever. 

“Right on track, fearless leader,” she calls back. “There’s a lever here that’s just begging to be pulled. Can I?”

Melias sighs and considers, then answers, “I think any lever that might be so precariously placed isn’t likely to be trapped. But, if you don’t have a good feeling about it, let me know and I’ll come check for traps first.”

“I suggest she pulls it,” SeLIem says, nodding.

Rastorn casts Spider Climb on Melias, then Raven. Neither has trouble climbing over the flames, but it is hot.

SeLiem and Deathwish are next, but Rastorn waits until the other two are on the other side of the pit before casting. Since they are on the ceiling, there is plenty of space for the first three to congregate.

Claire pulls the lever as soon as Melias and Raven are across. 

All three hear a stone grinding on stone sound emanating from the second pit. Looking in, Raven cannot see the bottom, but estimates it is now twice as deep.

Melias and Raven scramble around Claire (which is much easier to do when everyone can climb the walls and ceilings) and peek down the final shaft. It is angled forty-five degrees and looks extremely slick, like highly polished stone.

After SeLiem and Deathwish reach the first pit, Rastorn casts Spider Climb on Arianna, Kafeera, then himself, but he is the first to enter the tunnel. When he reaches the second pit, he climbs part way down, to make room for those who follow.

“What now, group?” he asks.

Shuffling to the tunnel opening, Kafeera bends over to enter and the contents of her backpack spill out. She kneels and starts gathering her possessions, telling Arianna, “Go, I’m right behind you.”

Smiling as sweetly as she can manage, Arianna tells Kafeera, “Nah, I couldn’t do it. I’m usually the man, er, woman who waits for all her party members to go. So – please – real ladies first. Us fake ones always go last.”

Realizing she is putting Arianna in danger, she quits piddling, stands with her back to the opening, and says flatly, “I’m not going, so I suggest you go while there is still time.”

Deathwish and SeLiem have already made it to the second pit. 

“We need some way to see down there,” Deathwish tells SeLiem.

“I can cast Light on any object or person,” SeLiem explains.

After climbing back toward Claire, Melias shakes his head. “Now I don’t like it. Before it was just a lever. Now it’s just too obviously a trap. I mean, why would they put a secret trap door in the bottom of a pit and make an obvious lever to open it? Why even have a door? If it was meant to fool somebody – why not just hide the lever? I want to see what’s beyond this pit, because I have a bad feeling about this one.” 

He waves to get Rastorn’s attention. Their magic items stopped glowing just before they went to sleep the previous night, so there is precious little light in the tunnels. He asks, “How long does this spell last, Rastorn?”

Peering down the slanted shaft, Raven nods and says, “Yeah, I think this one is a trap, as well. Who knows where we’d end up? Then again, perhaps that’s the idea: make us think it’s a trap, so we miss the real entrance to the treasure.”

“The spell will end for Claire any time now,” Rastorn answers Melias. 

“In fact, you may want to get off the wall now, Bard. When the spell ends, you’ll drop without warning,” he tells Claire.  

Looking back toward Melias, he says, “After Claire, each of you will lose the ability at the rate of one a minute. Starting with you, Melias.”  

Contemplating his own words, Rastorn gets a good grip on the edge of the pit he’s in, then asks, “What is taking Arianna and Kafeera so long?” He looks down the tunnel toward the treasure room, but can’t see anything. “Kafeera! We are running out of space and running out of time!  You have to hurry or we will start dropping from the ceiling on each other and risk tumbling down a shaft!” He grumbles, looks into the pit below him, then says, “Alright, so now it is a decision as to which pit we enter, right? Well, if any of us is going to climb down this pit without the aid of rope, he will need to do it right now, before the spell expires. Melias, it will be close, but you may have enough time to get to the bottom and back up.”  

A short squeaking shriek escapes Claire’s mouth, as she falls from the wall she was holding onto.

“Then again, maybe not,” Rastorn says with a chuckle.

“I might have time.” Raven climbs to the others and down the shaft.

“What if someone were to take one of these copper pieces,” Claire muses, reaching into her bag and pulling one out, “and cast Light on it and then throw it down the shaft? Even the Humans could see and find their way down.”

Raven rushes down the shaft and quickly spots a secret door thirty feet from the top, hidden on the side of the wall she is climbing. It is on the side closer to the fire pit and opposite the slide. Further down, she can make out the bottom of the shaft and the multiple spikes awaiting there. She can see the false floor where it had slid back into the wall when Claire pulled the lever. Having seen the lever herself, she believes pushing it back into place would move the false floor back into place.

“No one’s going anywhere until Raven comes back,” Claire announces. She slaps her forehead. “Dammit, why am I becoming responsible?” She looks at Melias, her face in mock outrage. “You’re a bad influence on me.”

Raven climbs back up, not wanting the Spider Climb spell to wear out before she’s on safe ground again. 

“Allright, there’s a secret door about thirty-five feet down. There’s spikes at the bottom of the shaft, so if anyone else is going down, I suggest using a rope. I think it’s possible to move the floor back to where it was if we push the lever the other way.” She looks for Arianna and can barely make her out as she stands at the entrance with Kafeera.

Arianna tells Kafeera, “Well, I guess we’re at an impasse. You won’t go until I do and I won’t go until you go. So, it seems like we’re both stuck here.”

Kafeera exclaims, “Don’t be a fool!” Wiping the sweat from her brow, she says, “Look . . . here.” With trembling hands, she gives her backpack, with all her worldly possessions within it, to Arianna. “You can take this with you. Go on. They will need you. Go before the spell ends!”  

In the tunnel, Claire pulls the lever back into place. “So wait, I just put the spike trap back into position?” she asks.

Raven answers, “If there’s another trigger, I guess. If someone secures me with a rope, I can check out the secret door down there.”

Claire hands Raven a rope at the same time that Arianna receives Kafeera’s pack.

Arianna lays Kafeera’s pack on the floor and crosses her arms across her chest. “No, either you go or we are both stuck.”

Kafeera’s outburst had drawn Claire’s attention and so she heard their last exchange. 

“No one’s going anywhere! Do you get that – you two?” Claire yells. “Unless, of course, you’re talking about either me or Raven.”

“Right, well Claire, I think responsibility is a refreshing change for you,” Melias says. He rubs his chin and considers their predicament, then says, “Alright, the pit went down to a floor forty feet before the lever was pulled. The secret door is thirty-five feet down. We pull the lever back into place, hopefully pop the floor back up, and we have free reign on the secret door. No rope required.”

“Responsible? Me?” Claire asks, theatrically.

He nods, then sighs, hoping it isn’t yet another bizarre trap, since he thinks he has it figured out. “See, people come along, see the pit and think, ‘Oh. A pit!’ They flip the lever, see the slide, and think ‘Oh, an exit!’ Drop down, slide to the spikes, and become shishkabobs. So, it looks like I was right. The lever is there just to fool you into a false sense of security.” He nods to Claire, “Pull the lever back.”

Claire pulls the lever back into place, unsure of whether she is revealing the spike trap or the secret door.

Looking back at Arianna and Kafeera, Melias calls out loudly, “What’s that Raven? There’s wine down there? That’s great news! Let’s get something to drink!”

Ignoring Melias’ shouts, Kafeera paces back and forth in a stooped position, thanks to the low ceiling. On the fourth lap she stops and turns to look Arianna in the eyes. “Your efforts are appreciated, but there is no way I’m going in there. Not at least while I still draw breath. Now go. Save the world. I’m going back to the cells. Do you intend to follow me there as well?” She raises an eyebrow as she retrieves her pack, then turns toward the door leading back to the cells.

“Well, it’s not the wine causing Kafeera’s issues,” Melias tells Rastorn.

“Let her go, Arianna!” Melias shouts. “If she wants to be afraid, she’s no good to us like that. Let her go cower alone. We need real heroes, not yellow-bellied, spineless, good-for-nothings.”

It’s another gamble. He hopes to press the right buttons on the female barbarian eventually.

“Well, no rope required if you can climb straight down a smooth wall. It is a good way down to that door. Thank you, Claire,” Raven says. She looks back toward the room and asks, “What are they doing out there? I think it might be that the fierce-looking one is afraid of confined spaces.”

“I’m inclined to agree. Maybe if we grease up her sides she’d be alright?” Melias asks, with a slight chuckle. “But, what are we going to do about it? If she doesn’t want to come with us, it’s not like we can force her. We can’t wait for her to get up the gumption to try. It might never come.”

“Normally, I’d suggest we get her drunk, but that requires wine or spirits and maneuvering through narrow tunnels with hidden traps while intoxicated might not be a good idea,” Melias comments.

Claire softly moans, thinking back on all the times she’d snuck into a brothel and had to slip out in the middle of the night, horribly drunk. Ah, such happy experiences. She hears Arianna wish Kafeera luck and wonders why Melias doesn’t interject and give his whole ‘something bigger than yourself is going on here, and if you can’t see that, then I don’t know why you’re even here’ speech. It would be truer in the barbarian’s case than in her own case, she reasons.

After also listening in on the conversation, Rastorn tells Melias and the others, “I don’t think it is the small spaces. She’s made it this far. She ran off one other time, too. On the first floor, when a room was trapped, she ran all the way outside. The trap Claire set off – remember? Perhaps she has an unnatural fear of traps.” 

He yells to Kafeera, “The spell will last a while longer, Kafeera! We will see if we can disarm this trap! Wait a while longer!”

Kafeera pauses, shrugs, and says, “I got time.”  

She walks back to the opening and peers inside. “You should go. Before the spell runs out. After all, you have a war to stop, right?”

After a thoughtful pause, Arianna Spider Climbs into the tunnel, eager to learn if the lever did what they expected.

It did.

With the sliding floor back in place, Raven stands on it while she searches for traps on the secret door. Finding none, she opens the door and discovers it leads to a fifteen foot deep horizontal crawl space that radiates heat. Just out of reach inside the tunnel is another lever. As she leans in, she feels the Spider Climb spell end.

Rastorn, who still clings above Raven on the lip of the second pit, hears the door open and asks Raven to let them – especially Claire, since she is manning the lever – know what she has found. Turning to Melias, he suggests they lower a rope so they can follow her down.

Melias holds up his hand to quiet Rastorn, so they can hear Raven’s response and decide based on what she has discovered.

As she climbs into the newly revealed tunnel, Raven calls back, “I think maybe I found the switch to the fire! There’s a lever down here and it’s quite hot inside this tunnel. Shall I try pulling it? Maybe it will turn the flames off!”

“Yes! Yes!” Claire shouts back. “Levers are only there for one reason and that’s to pull them!”

“Allright, here goes!” Raven says, then places her fingers, one at a time, on the lever, before allowing her palm to touch.

Dumbfounded, Melias turns his head and looks at The Green Bard. “Levers are there to pull? Are you serious? That last lever was a trap. It looked like it worked to our favor, but it would have killed us – probably – had we trusted what it exposed to us.”

“However,” he adds, as he looks into the hole. “Claire is right, I think – about this one. This lever is carefully hidden, so it would stand to reason it might be something the creator of this dungeon wouldn’t want us discovering and putting to use. I think you should pull it also.”

Claire looks at him blankly, shakes her head, and laughs to herself.

Raven pulls the lever and three things happen simultaneously.  

A door drops into place behind her.

A secret door quickly rises at the end of the tunnel, revealing a three foot square cubby, with a small pile of treasure inside, including a potion.

The ceiling directly above her splits in the middle and collapses, dumping the fire from the pit above.

Everyone looking down the shaft hears Raven scream and see flames jet out from the side tunnel she had entered, before the second door slams completely shut.

Inside that tunnel, Raven dives straight ahead and into the secret space that opened when she pulled the lever. The flames engulf the area she was just in and instantly spread outward to fill the space she is in. Covered in fire, she attempts to cover her vital areas. Her shoulder bumps the latch for the secret door and it falls down behind her, effectively cutting her off from the section on fire. Rolling and patting herself, she puts out the fires on her clothing.

Arianna reaches the fire pit just as the flames in the pit drop down. A second later, the two-part floor the flames had sat upon swings back up and into place. 

“SeLiem!” Rastorn shouts.

Inside the small room, Raven’s eyes quickly adjust to the darkness. The flames still burn on the other side of the secret door and they have made it uncomfortably hot for her. Once her breathing slows, she leans back on the cool wall behind her, exhales, and closes her eyes. As she slowly tips her head back against the wall, her hands drop beside her and tap loose coins. As her hand slowly closes around one of them, she opens her eyes. 

She lets out a high-pitched sound of delight and scrambles to her knees to search through the treasure, deciding she can wait until later to worry that her only way out is engulfed in flames. 

Burns on her back and the back of her legs make movement uncomfortable, but she focuses on gathering, categorizing, and counting the treasure to keep her mind off the pain. She pauses to admire her find: a potion (with the same symbol as the last ones they found), eight gold pieces, twelve silver pieces, ten electrum pieces, seven platinum pieces, three gems, and a wand.

She opens her scorched backpack and takes out a small sack. She puts everything, except the gems, in the sack. The gems she stuffs in a belt pouch. 

Only then does she stop to consider how she will escape her tiny, hot, cell.

“This place is full of surprises,” Melias remarks, cutting the silence. He turns to Claire and says, “See what happens when you go pulling strange levers?” He chuckles, then wonders why he would laugh at such an inappropriate moment. Regathering his senses, he calls for Raven. “Raven? Can you hear me? Are you still alive?”

Hearing Melias faintly through the trap door, Raven calls back as loud as she can, “I’m down here! I can’t get out! It’s burning! I can’t get past the flames!” 

She moves back to the far wall and glides her fingers along it, searching for another secret passage. Following a crease, she discovers it is the outline of a door. Sliding her hands where she expects a handle to be, she finds a small knob, too. Pull. Twist. Open! Beyond is another crawl space that ends abruptly.

Kafeera has still not joined the rest of the group in the larger tunnel. She peers in and notes the lighting has changed. She can no longer see the flashing yellow light of the fire.

Inside, Rastorn pulls himself out of the second shaft and sits on the edge. “I’m assuming we are rescuing Raven, but are we all going down there or just a couple of us? We need to decide right now, before all our Spider Climbs wear off. Melias, Arianna, what do you two want to do?  Where’s the Cleric?”

The Spider Climb spell has already ended for SeLiem and will soon end for Deathwish, making scarce space in the small tunnels. Since Rastorn will be next, he is anxious to get somewhere else before then.

Raven crawls into the new tunnel slowly, searching for traps, but mostly glad to get to a cooler area. At the end of the tunnel, she searches for another exit and locates another secret door. She doesn’t see any traps, so she opens the door and sees it opens up thirty feet above the floor of a ten foot wide shaft. At the floor level, is an exit leading back under the wall she is on and at the top (another ten feet up from the door she is looking out, but on the opposite side) is an exit going away from her. From this angle, she cannot see where either exit leads, only that there are openings.

Rastorn decides not to wait for an answer and Spider Climbs down the second shaft to the door where the fire shot out. He cautiously peeks in and yells, “There’s no fire down here! The tunnel goes in a short way, then ends. I don’t see the . . . I don’t see Raven anywhere! There must be something beyond the wall at the end! Yes, that would make sense. The fire must be on the other side of the end of this short tunnel. If she’s beyond that door, she must be cooked by now!” 

“Raven – can you hear me? Where are you?” he shouts into the empty tunnel. Within a minute his spell will end and the idea of standing on the false floor with Claire’s hand on the lever makes him nervous, so he wraps the rope around him and wedges his knee into the opening, just in case.  

Realizing how foolhardy climbing down alone was, he looks up and shouts, “I don’t see the lever Raven spoke of! Melias, this is more in your area of expertise!”

Melias has been considering what he’s been hearing and trying to mentally picture it. He looks at Claire (who has taken her hand off the lever) and says, “Let’s assume for a moment that Raven’s on the right path. That means fire has blocked our path and bars the way between us and her. If I open that trap door, I’m almost willing to bet all that fire will come rolling right down on me – especially with the way this place is designed. Two steps forward, one step back – pretty much the whole way. So, if we find a way to open the secret door without risking life or limb, we can let the fire roll into this pit, then open the floor to let it fall further down – harming no one.”

He calls to Rastorn, “Stay put! I’m coming down.” Using his new magical gloves to assist in his climbing ability, he descends into the pit to check the secret compartment and look for whatever switch might be there to open it.  

“If there are any old bones at the bottom of this pit – where the spikes are – maybe SeLiem can Animate Dead and make them go in before us to pull levers or whatever,” Rastorn suggests to Melias.

Raven crawls back and shouts to Rastorn, “I’m still here! I found a secret tunnel! It opens up into another shaft with two exits, one at the bottom and one at the top! Can you hear me? I’m on the other side of the fire!”

SeLiem shouts to Melias and Rastorn, “I can create a Flame Walk on myself and then her, could that help to get Raven out?” 

“We have to find a way to the fire, first!” Rastorn shouts to SeLiem.

“Raven, how did you open this first secret door?” Melias asks loudly through the wall. 

Having assessed the situation, Arianna tells SeLiem, “I think I can help Raven, but I need a Protection Against Fire spell. You think you can cast one on me?”

Once Seliem casts the spell, Arianna plans on climbing down the shaft that originally held the fire and using her newly gained Gauntlets of Ogre Power to lift open the trap door, making an escape route for Raven. Her plan does not consider how Raven will get through the fire.

Raven calls again from the other side of the fire. “Maybe I’ll get back to the tunnel you’re in if I follow this new tunnel! There are a couple of exits!”

Rastorn looks at Melias, “Maybe we don’t need to save her. Then again, if she goes running around by herself, she’s bound to end up dead.” 

He looks up the shaft to where everyone else waits. It looks like SeLiem and Arianna are working on a plan, too. “It depends on whether the way she is going leads to The Cube or if we need to slide down that last shaft to find it. If she’s on the right trail, then we have to get to her regardless.” After a moment of consideration he adds, “We could split up, although I know everyone has been pretty much against that. Do we tell her to stay put right now or take one of the exits she sees and hope she can reach us?”  

Melias is struck by how much the Necromancer has seemed to change. Rastorn seems to care about the mission and the party. Melias scratches his head and answers, “I really don’t think it matters what we tell her. Anyone in this group has tended to do their own thing no matter what we think is best.”

Above them, SeLiem casts Protection Against Fire on Arianna.

“Good luck to you. Don’t do anything irrational while you are down there,” SeLiem says, as Arianna climbs down.

Arianna tries, but is unable to lift the trapdoor. She climbs up that shaft and down the shaft where Melias and Rastorn wait. Feeling the heat on that door, she realizes the fire is behind both doors and opening this one might unleash an inferno on her companions. “I can’t budge the trapdoor, so what’s next?” 

She wonders why she even bothered to try. No matter what she did, it always backfired. She decides it’s time to stand in the back again and remain quiet.

“Stone Shape or Teleport Without Error would be nice right now . . . I guess we have no choice but to go down that last shaft – the one that looks like a slide,” Rastorn says, discouraged. “I have a bad feeling about that one, I don’t mind telling you.”

Claire crawls to the edge of the slide. “Cast Light on the copper piece now, SeLiem,” she calls, “I’ll be able to follow it down the slide.”

Not hearing any suggestions, Raven crawls back through the tunnel and gets out her grappling hook. She tosses it at the open area at the top of the opposite wall, but there is nothing for it to hook onto. As she reels it back, it catches on the edge of the opening. This could still work, if she is below it, but not at her current position on the opposite wall. Looking down the shaft, she notes little bumps on each wall, spaced perfectly for climbing. It would be a simple task for her to leap to the opposite wall, then pull herself up the rope. If the grappling hook holds. The foot and hand holds will make it very easy to climb a rope. The walls also have little holes spaced throughout, like the bumps, but their purpose is unclear. She could also ignore the rope and climb down one side, then back up the other.

Raven packs up her rope again and starts climbing down the shaft, using the bumps. On her way down, she tries to get a better look at the holes, but doesn’t touch them, afraid they might be traps of some sort.

Claire waits for SeLiem to cast Light on one of her coins, but he’s either indecisive or he’s ignoring her. She sighs, takes out her newly acquired Lyre of Suggestion, and begins to pluck at it idly, singing in a low voice for someone to give her something to see down the shaft.

As Raven climbs down, she learns what the holes are for, as thin spears mechanically stab out from them whenever she gets near. She avoids the first two, but the third stabs her in the upper arm. 

She is only a third of the way down. 

To be continued . . .

To be continued . . .

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