Let them think him a warlord, seeking nothing more than to enrich himself at his victims’ expense.
Let them ignore what he was truly searching for, the cherished prize that would be the ultimate triumph, the ultimate irony, and the ultimate insult to his old kinfolk.
All for his glory, and the glory of the Crawler Below.
cabin looked deserted to a casual observer. It was half-crumbling, filled with
little more than broken furniture and crockery, and filled with dirt, muck and
small rodents. To the experienced adventurers, it was clear that many feet had
trod through this building recently. Pieces of wood were kicked away from the
piles of timber they would have belonged to, the dirt on the floor was marked
with traces from where furniture and debris had been pushed and some of the
debris itself was marked with the blows of hammers and axes as it was broken
their way into the basement, it didn’t take the adventurers long to find the
secret door and the staircase behind it. Carved out of natural stone, the
staircase led into the depths of the cave, beckoning the adventurers standing
before it. Needing no more invitation, it wasn’t long before they had lit their
lamps and descended into the depths.
in the stone cabin above had been nothing unusual to the adventurers, who were
well used to the solitude of the road. The depths of the cavern were entirely
different, as the shadows and the silence came together to make them realize
just how out of place many of them were. They had experienced the feeling more
than once, having ventured into caverns and dungeons many times before, but it
was something most of them could never quite get used to.
the exception, born and raised as he was in the Lortmils. The depths did not
bother him-indeed, he hardly noticed them. Rather, the gnome was fighting as
hard as he could to fight off a rising sense of rage. Old images flashed
through his mind, images of battles with orcs and goblins, interspersed with
other images of his kinfolk’s bloodied corpses. Shaking his head briefly, it
was only when he looked up that he fully took in the room that surrounded them.
portcullises surrounded them, each blocking a separate passage further into the
depths. The adventurers looked first at the gates, then at each other,
wondering what to make of it all.
be a gnomish design?” Weimar asked curiously, wondering which of the gateways
blinked once, before he digested the question.
portcullises are, but this wouldn’t be a traditional defensive measure,” he
replied, his mind suddenly much more at ease. “More likely than not this was
just a way to keep the trolls from following them into the depths if the
wretches ever got greedy. As likely as not, all the portcullises lead to the
And what could deter trolls from following them
into the depths? Ma’non’go
signed warily, now looking from one to the next of the portcullises as if he
expected an attack from one of them.
out,” Amyalla replied, as she approached the first of the portcullises. Looking
up at it, Amyalla glanced at the portcullis itself, at the lever set into the
wall next to it, and at the walls between the gateways. She could see that the
bars were all greased, making it almost impossible for even creatures as strong
as the trolls to lift them. Nor could she see any kind of mechanical trap around
any of them. There didn’t seem to be anything preventing any of the trolls from
simply opening the gates and walking through.
again, maybe that’s the point,” Amyalla muttered to herself. Getting a closer
look at the lever, she nodded.
you talking about?” Weimar asked curiously.
yourself,” the halfling explained, as she picked up a rock. “You’d all best
stand back,” she explained, as she pitched the stone at the nearest lever. She
only smirked in satisfaction as the lever seemed to shatter, releasing a liquid
that spilled down the front of the cave wall, hissing loudly as it made contact
with the stone.
forward, Amyalla nodded to herself as she examined the remains.
levers made of dark-tinted glass, containing acid,” she nodded to herself.
“Imagine if you were a troll trying to pull one of those levers. It shatters
under your grip, and then your entire hand is burned away by acid. Would you
So which lever is the correct one? Ma’non’go wondered.
fourth one,” Amyalla finally decided. “See how it doesn’t reflect the light of
the lantern the way the others do?” Leaping up, she grabbed the lever with her
free hand and pulled down, smiling widely as the portcullis slowly slid open.
Soon, the adventurers had passed through, flicking a hidden switch on the other
side to close it again.
Cunning bastards, Airk thought to himself. Gnomes designed these traps, gnomes consorted with trolls, gnomes
murdered the people of the hills…
It’s warmer than I thought it would be down
thought to himself in surprise. I wonder
if it’s due to the more confined space, or is it because we’re closer to the
had widened considerably beyond the portcullises, and now Ma’non’go and his
friends were passing into what looked like a wilder area. Stalactites hung from
the cavern ceiling, now far above them, and the sound of running water echoed
off in the distance. The sight reminded Ma’non’go of what one of his friends
from X’tandelexamenka, a scholar who apparently specialized in the studies of
the oerth, had told him about how vast the caverns that extended beneath the
surface of the oerth could be. They could be far and wide alike, to the extent
that a traveler could enter a cave from one point on the surface and re-emerge
hundreds of miles away, depending on how far he traveled through the tunnels of
what was called the Deepoerth.
All those shadows, Ma’non’go thought to himself as he scanned the
darkness around them. Who knows what-
immediately rapped the handle of his trident on the cavern floor, getting his
alertness saved them just in time, as they scattered before the beast would
have landed in their midst. As they readied their weapons, they got a good look
at the creature in the lamplight. To Ma’non’go, it resembled one of the black
panthers that were said to dwell in the lands of the Touv people that the Olman
sometimes dealt with back in Hepmonaland. It was far larger than any panther,
however, and its tail was unnaturally long, extending well over the creature’s
head and swinging around like a flail.
raised, Ma’non’go was about to charge forward when he was stopped short by
surprise. One moment, there seemed to only be one of the weird cats, but then
there was suddenly nine of the foul things, smaller than the original but
looking no less fierce as they growled and charged at the adventurers. The
creatures emerged in an expanding ring, forcing the adventurers back and
preventing them from linking up.
under the swinging tail of the panther that advanced towards him, Ma’non’go
thrust his trident at the cat, but the creature easily dodged the blow. It
swung another blow at him, forcing him to bring his trident back to block the
Off to his
right, Weimar had better luck, deflecting the panther’s attack with his shield
and then striking back with a perfectly aimed axe blow aimed at the creature’s
neck. The blow struck home, but to Weimar’s astonishment the panther simply
blinked out of existence. Looking around in confusion, Weimar wondered if the
creature was preparing to attack him from behind, but it seemed to have simply
Two of the
creatures sprang at Seline, instinctively realizing how little she had in arms
and armor compared to her companions. Seline had been preparing to cast a spell
in return, but she had no time to do more than dodge their relentless attacks.
Taking her wand out of her pocket, she chanted quickly, releasing a blast of
heated steam straight into the face of one of the cats, which howled in pain
and seemed to vanish in turn. Unfortunately, that was when Seline heard the
roaring behind her, and saw that the other panther was advancing, ready to
crush her with its flailing tail.
astonishment, the thing vanished, as did all of the other cats fighting the
companions. Soon, all they could see was just the one large cat, roaring as it
wheeled to face its attackers. Cunningly, the creature sprang forward, forcing
Revafour and Luna back, but it lashed backwards with its tail, striking Amyalla
and sending her flying as she tried to sneak up on the monster. The halfling
landed some distance away, struggling to get to her knees, as her friends
struck back. Revafour came forward, viciously slashing the creature across the
chest, but then it seemed to vanish yet again. In its place, there were now
seven of the smaller weird cats, roaring in a perverse harmony as they attacked
Airk had no
idea what this thing was or how it was doing its disappearing trick, but he
didn’t intend to let it get away with it. Charging forward, he slammed the
nearest panther in the head once with his morning star, blocked its tail strike
with his shield, and brutally smashed the creature again before it vanished. He
heard a cry of pain as Luna fell back, hit by the tail of one of the creatures,
but it too soon howled and vanished, blasted by the magical bolts Seline cast
but five of the creatures left, and two of those soon vanished as Ma’non’go and
Revafour struck them down. The three creatures seemed to merge back into the
single panther, and it appeared angrier than ever. It seemed as if it was ready
to spring, but then its roars became a choked gurgle as it fell to the ground.
As Airk stepped forward, he saw the long dagger suddenly protruding from the
monster’s throat, and the battered Amyalla smiling grimly as she came out of
the shadows. Pulling the dagger out of the large cat’s throat, she
contemptuously wiped the dagger on its fur, before returning it to its sheath.
that thing?” Amyalla wondered, as the companions regrouped. Luna stepped
forward, casting a healing spell that the battered halfling gratefully
“I’d say it
was a nonafel,” Seline said, “though I never thought I’d ever see one.”
Weimar asked curiously.
are a race of catlike predators that many sages believe are related to the
displacer beasts,” Seline explained. “They have the ability to create multiple
copies of themselves, all linked together by a single mind and fighting as one.
They can separate and reunite, healing their wounds when they’re all together,
but if any individual cat is destroyed, the nonafel must regenerate that cat
over several weeks.”
right,” Weimar nodded. “The elves I studied with as a lad always called them
the ‘cat-o-nine-tails’, though. How could something like that get into the
this isn’t their complex,” Airk said impatiently, gesturing with his head to
urge his friends onward. “This whole area is part of the natural cave system.
Surely you didn’t think wild monsters might not wander in here?”
portcullises were just built as a way of deterring anyone from following the
gnomes back to their lair,” Airk continued, as if expecting the question. “They
choose an area for a lair, find a route to the surface and set up a trap to
guard the way. It’s unlikely they have the time or the resources to take over
the entire cave network. Surely all this would be obvious! Now come, we’ve lost
enough time already!”
Weimar looked at one another in concern, before running to catch up with Airk.
hour’s worth of walking brought the adventurers to the edge of a vast
underground lake. Water flowed into and out of the lake through various smaller
rivers that branched off in all directions, many of them continuing into some
of the other tunnels that led into the main cave.
Where do we go now? Ma’non’go wondered. Must we employ magic to proceed any further?
in that,” Airk shook his head, “and in any event I doubt you prepared the
necessary spells?” he asked Luna and Seline.
even know much of such magic,” Seline shook her head sadly. “Would that-“
worry about it,” Airk muttered, glancing down at the ground. “Come over here
and help me,” he continued, gesturing towards Weimar and Revafour. “Help me
search for tracks-the footprints should be about my size.”
Revafour weren’t sure what they could expect to find, but then they noticed the
gravel, mud and dirt that surrounded the lake’s shores, which could mark a
creature’s passage as easily as the mud or sand of the surface. Following
Airk’s lead, they began glancing around, and it wasn’t long before Weimar found
a set of traces in the dirt leading towards one passage several hundred feet
away, just in front of a river that carried water out of the cavern. Much of
the grit and dirt had also been disturbed, spreading out in the telltale
patterns that emerged when they were kicked by walking feet.
to bring his companions over, Weimar’s pleasure at discovering the tracks was
marred by the look of dismay and anger crossing Airk’s face. He could only
imagine what the gnome was thinking, but the gnome seemed to constantly lose
awareness of his surroundings, falling into thought with a faraway look in his
eyes before suddenly coming back to reality.
What are you looking for, Airk? Weimar wondered. Are you still searching for something, too?
Or are you trying to rid yourself of something that still haunts you? Are you
left wondering about where you came from, and how it affects who you are?
Or are you thinking about what was done to you,
and wondering what you could have done differently to stop it? Weimar wondered, recalling the
betrayals Airk had told his friends his gnomish clan had suffered during the
Hateful Wars so many years ago.
back at Revafour, and he was suddenly reminded of their dispute over Weimar’s
attending the sweat lodge back in Oakdale. Revafour’s anger at Weimar’s request
still stung him, although he could understand his Flan companion’s reluctance.
Damn it all, he cursed to himself as he confirmed which way
the footprints were going. I knew I
shouldn’t have finished that last wineskin-
turning to call his companions over when he caught a glimpse of the larger
footprints in the grit. The size of the feet, to say nothing of their owner’s
stride, was far larger than that of any gnome.
several trails of footprints all headed in the same direction,” Revafour was
saying to the rest of their friends as they came up. “How about you?”
“So did I,”
Weimar nodded, “but that’s not all. We’re also dealing with giants,” he pointed
out, gesturing at the larger footprints he’d discovered.
If Airk had
seemed to constantly losing himself in thought, he became fully alert at the
sight of the larger footprints. If anything, he seemed almost to calm a bit,
now seeming more determined than angry.
explains a lot,” he cursed, before muttering something to himself in gnomish.
dealing with giants again?” Luna asked curiously. “Should-“
giants,” Airk shook his head. “I know what made these trails.”
By the time
Airk finished explaining the nature of their targets, the expressions of his
human and halfling companions were almost as grim as his.
cunning rats,” Airk finished, “and all they care about is the survival of their
own hides. Giants and humanoids at least care about prestige and impressing
their allies with their battle prowess, but that hardly matters to these
wretches. They’ll have no compunction about slitting your throats if they
surprise you, or abandoning their comrades if things go badly.”
everyone ready?” he asked, although he hardly needed a response.
For all the
anger he had felt just a short time ago, all Airk Venbelwar felt now was an icy
You know the suffering these creatures bring to
your people, he
silently thought, his mind filling with the images of Gaerdal Ironhand and Garl
Glittergold, the gnomish gods of war and protection. Never have I received the vengeance I have so long prayed for-if you
have never seen fit to grant it to me, then grant me the strength to destroy
these hateful things. More than that, I ask that you extend your blessings to
my friends-they are not of our people, but they deserve to die beneath the sun
and the sky, rather than the darkness of the oerth.
set, his military pick in hand, Airk led his friends on, determined to see the
adventurers soon found themselves in an area of worked stone, one where it was
clear many feet had recently trod. Some of them were smaller in stature, others
large, and it only reconfirmed Airk’s suspicions. Further ahead, they could see
several tunnels branching off at a crossroads, from which they could see
weirdly glimmering lights flickering and shadows dancing macabrely on the
They didn’t post any guards, but that’s just to
lure people in, Airk
thought to himself. Looking around, he found a smaller cave off to the side and
gestured towards it. Leading his friends into the cubbyhole, he further led
them to dim their lanterns, knowing full well the dangers of the light giving
Airk had a
fairly good idea of how their opponents would have designed their lair, and he
began tracing an outline in the grit at their feet, whispering quietly as he
explained his plan.
They lure people in and expect them to be easy
prey when they finally arrive, the gnome thought to himself, smiling inwardly.
Let’s turn that against them, he decided.
And they call themselves tricksters…