Session 52: The Bandit Hideout And Beyond

As the group approached the cave above the kobold cave, from where they had been spied upon the previous day, Vernim could not detect anyone spying on them from the direction of the cave, but as they got closer he noticed something in the nearby tree.

They soon saw the bodies of six goblins hanging by nooses. They all had significant cuts and bruises, their ears had been cut off, and their throats have all been cut open.

Vernim grieved for the goblin guards he felt complicit in having had Harkul dispatch.

The cave opening here was surrounded by niches cut into the rock, each of which held a severed head — human, dwarf, elf, and other humanoids. Of the humanoid heads, they recognized a small scaly one with small horns and a pronounced muzzle, as a kobold. Two others, with low brows and thick black hair and dirty gray skin, they clearly recognized as orcs. One of the niches, just to the right of the door, was empty.

Philip examined the rain-washed chalk writing they saw by the empty niche. He read the word "reserved" in Common.

With Prynhawn and Philip in the lead, they entered the cave, which soon split to the left and right.

They turned to the right and soon entered a small, bare room containing little beyond a wooden table, three chairs, and three bandits apparently engrossed in an argument over a game of cards.

"Uh, Otis..." one of the bandits muttered, and the three bandits immediately dropped their cards and reached for their weapons. Jess shot an arrow into the table, scattering the cards and other contents, just as a bald bandit shot and from his crossbow into the wall behind her. Prynhawn rushed the bald bandit, bringing his sword down hard into his chair, as the bandit rolled away from it, just avoiding the blade. A pony-tailed bandit swung his blade across the table, but the paladin deflected it with his shield.

"Come on, Tiga!" Otis called, "You can do better than that!"

Philip smashed his staff into the bald bandit's head, and side kicked him into the wall. Brother Martin finished the bandit with his spiritual weapon. Lawrence dropped Otis with a well aimed firebolt. Valeria finished Tiga with an eldritch blast.

Brother Martin collected the deck of cards and examined them. He noted that they were three decks of roughly fifty cards each, all uniquely illustrated with vivid hand-painted pictures of various people, creatures, and scenes. He also found a small wooden storage case for them, that had been serving as a base for the candle.

Searching the bodies and the floor, Jess found 15 silver coins and 5 gold coins.

Vernim noticed a small tunnel in the southwest corner of the room, just barely wide enough for a person to fit into. It extended less than ten feet and a lone stool stood at the end.

Yanliz volunteered Philip, and the halfling squeezed into the tunnel. At the end of the tunnel he found a piece of cloth nailed into the stone wall. Lifting the flap, Philip revealed a small hole in the wall to the outside. The daylight shown down on the word "reserved" written upside down in Common at the bottom of the hole.

Yanliz collected the crossbows and other weapons and left them by the entrance of the dead end room.

"It's fortunate no one was guarding that hole," Valeria noted, "but look what I found. A secret door in the floor. It's similar to the other doors we found. There's no way to open it."

They left the room and began to take the first corridor branching off to the left.

"Look, you lazy fools!" a large bandit shouted from the west. "Intruders!" He threw two daggers at Valeria, with one catching the surprised bard in the shoulder.

Dubricus, also surprised, barely managed to avoid the scimitar of a bandit who had silently rushed up next to him. Yanliz, Jess, and Prynhawn were also surprised. Another bandit, with a crazed look in his eyes, slashed a scimitar at Lawrence. The sorcerer barely avoided the blade as he dropped his crazed attacker with burning hands, and scorched the silent bandit next to him. Brother Martin missed the silent bandit with his spiritual weapon.

"So much for Crazy Markus," the large bandit in the back muttered.

Philip rolled forward and smacked him with his staff. The bandit barely budged, so Phillip followed up with two kicks in the legs.

"It's going to take more than that to hurt Trystan Night!" the bandit taunted.

Philip leaped off his staff and kicked him in the face. Trystan growled and drew his scimitars, but the halfling had already rolled away.

A bandit cracked his knuckles and swung his scimitar at Dubricus, cutting the wizard. Another missed Lawrence. Vernim was surprised, but still managed to avoid a wild swing from a bandit wearing a bizarre jesters hat.

Valeria dropped a bandit with an eldritch blast.

"Grrr!" Trystan growled. "It looks like Silent Perry is silent for good!" He charged Philip, shouting "Come to Trystan. Come to your Nightmare!" but he could not catch the halfling with his swirling scimitars.

Dubricus cast scorching ray, hitting his last attacker, and missing with the other two rays.

Yanliz hit Lawrence's attacker with an arrow, splitting his skull in two.

"Grrr!" Trystan growled. "Duncan Crackers is finally toast!"

Jess dropped Dubricus' attacker.

"Sherman," Trystan called, "it's just you and me!"

Lawrence hit Trystan with a fire bolt, and Trystan laughed, "I'm coming for you!"

Brother Martin hit 'Jester Sherman' with his spiritual weapon. "Ha!" the bandit laughed, "What was that? Let me tell you the story of—" and he went down as Brother Martin's mace smashed into his face.

Philip smashed Trystan with a kick to the legs, and then tried to kick his other leg, but Trystan jumped over the kick. Philip swung his staff at Trystan's face, but was deflected by his scimitar.

Vernim hit Trystan with his warhammer. Prynhawn cut him with his blade.

"Come on ugly!" Trystan called. "How about a fair fight!"

They were never quite sure who he was talking to as Valeria finished him with an eldritch blast.

Before they could relax, a dozen more bandits ran at them from the west.

Dubricus hit two of them with scorching rays, and missed with the third, avoiding a crossbow bolt.

Yanliz cast hunter's mark, and missed one of the bandits, as a crossbow bolt hit him in the arm.

Jess hit Dubricus' attacker with an arrow.

Lawrence stepped forward and hit three of them with burning hands, avoiding a scimitar from the closest, but getting cut by the other two.

Brother Martin missed with his spiritual weapon and his mace.

Philip swept one with a kick, and its head hit the ground, as it fell, dead. Then he smashed another with his staff.

Vernim drew forth his holy coin, shouting, "In the name of Tymora, begone and trouble us no more!" Radiance of the dawn came down on all of the bandits, leaving only two standing.

The last two tried to run, but one screamed as Valeria shot her down with an eldritch blast, and the other was fatally clothes-lined by Philip's staff.

They looked around at the common room they had been fighting in, and then checked out the room to the west, where the dozen bandits had come from. It was a crude dormitory, with over twenty pallets made up of rough blankets thrown over piles of straw bedding.

With all the bandits dead, the group finally had a chance to relax and search the area before exploring further.

While Yanliz guarded the exit, Jess examined the beds and counted up the coins she had recovered from the bandits, Valeria and Vernim searched the feasting and sleeping areas for secret doors, and Prynhawn piled up all the bandits' weapons by the exit.

Jess searched the bodies and found 66 gold coins and 76 silver coins.

Then, they returned to the eastern corridor, which extended for fifty feet before ending in a small, crowded room full of crates, boxes, and barrels. Bolts of cloth were piled up in one corner, and a great deal of merchants’ goods seem to have been just haphazardly dumped about. Two or three beautiful rugs, now stained with mud or wine and burned in a few spots by overturned candles, had been dragged onto the floor and spread out to form a haphazard carpeting. Otherwise, the chamber seemed empty of any living inhabitants.

Jess began inspecting the crates, boxes, and barrels, while Valeria and Vernim searched for secret doors.

As Valeria was looking around, she turned and saw that right behind Vernim, crouching behind a crate, were a man and woman. They were partially clothed and huddled together, trying to avoid being tripped on by the cleric who was intently examining the walls.

"Guys!" Valeria called, "Look out!" She pointed at the revealed bandits.

"We, uh, um," the bandits stuttered. "Who are you?" one finally asked. "Get off me!" the female said, shoving her companion.

"What are you guys doing?" Vernim asked.

"We were... weren't doing...," the male stuttered, "we were taking invent—"

"What do you think we were doing?" the female hinted.

"I don't really feel comfortable killing them," admitted Brother Martin. "Maybe we should just send them on their way."

"Don't let that rumor get out," Jess snickered. "All our enemies will just throw their clothes at us.

"If we let you go, what would you do?" Valeria asked them.

"We would..." they looked at each other. "We would go—"

"Who are you?" the female asked. "What are you doing here?"

"Come on! Shut up," the male mumbled. "We can go. Let us go. We don't want any trouble."

"We can't kill them," Brother Martin suggested. "They're unarmed."

"That's right," the female said. "We're unarmed."

Yanliz turned to Valeria, and, in Orcish, said, "If we let them go, they might alert other bandits to our presence."

"So are we going to let them go," Jess asked, "just because they were doing a little hanky-panky? I don't get it."

"No," Valeria said, "I think we should tie them up."

"Jess," Prynhawn asked, "do you have any rope to tie them up with?"

"Did you ask me if I have rope?" Jess asked. "Is that what you asked? Do I have rope? Because I have rope."

"Um, yeah." Prynhawn responded. "I think we should tie them up."

"Of course we should tie them up," Jess chortled. "What else would we do with them? They probably won't even mind."

"Well, yeah." Prynhawn responded. "Uh, I thought we should bring them back to the keep on our way back."

"As long as they don't try to harm us," Valeria warned.

"They weren't trying to harm us," Brother Martin assured.

"You don't have to tie us up," the man pleaded. "Just let us go. We won't be any trouble."

"I have an idea!" Dubricus announced. "Let’s tie their fingers together, and then tie their fingers to each other."

They considered various ways to secure them in the storage room, and the merits and risks of eventually bringing them back to the keep.

"Valeria," Vernim proposed, "this is not to undermine your authority or anything, or do anything negative like that, but why— I understand what you're saying, Jess, but they aren't trying to harm us, they don't have any weapons, what disadvantage is there to just saying, 'Go!'"

"The entrance to the cave," Valeria began to reply, "is just—"

"And learned from this lesson," Vernim interrupted. "We've killed all your friends. This has given you a new opportunity on life. Again, this is not to undermine your authority. I'm not doing that..."

"Vernim," Valeria cut it, "you're patronizing me again. And—"

"I don't mean to!" Vernim insisted, but continued as Valeria tried to respond. "I'm really trying not to. I'm really trying not to!"

"Vernim," Valeria called, "let me finish."

"I don't understand." Vernim repeated, "I'm really trying not to."

"Let me finish!" Valeria finally continued, "And, people don't always take second chances. Just to remind you, we literally stacked piles of weapons by the entrance to the cave. They're not armed, right now, but it's not that hard for them to arm themselves. They could just sneak up on us, while we're fighting, and attack us from behind. I think we should—"

"We don't want to attack you," the man pleaded. "Just let us go. Just let us go like this. We won't take any weapons. We'll just leave the caves. You don't have to give us anything."

"Well," the female added, "we would like our clothes."

Brother Martin handed them their clothes, and they quickly donned them.

"If we're not going to kill them," Jess offered, "then I think Prynhawn has a point. The only reason they didn't attack us is because they were...busy."

"I see the point that Vernim's making that," Prynhawn stated in Orcish, "they haven't attacked us, but yet, I think that they still, uh, we have reasonable suspicion that they're one of those bandits. And so I think it's reasonable to bring them to the keep. But I don't think it's so important right now to tell them if they don't seem to be revolting so violent."

"Can I make a suggestion?" Vernim asked in Orcish, "and this is not to undermine, or patronize or anything, this is just like a, uh, an idea. Okay? Just an idea. Not like anything, under—"

"Yeah?" Valeria, Prynhawn, and Yanliz cried.

"Thank you," Vernim continued. "So... May... My suggestion is, uh... Maybe we could take them to the keep, would we take them, or just a question, I guess, would we bring them to the jail, or — assuming they behave the same way as they do now — would we take them to them jail, or would we put them in a room, or like...?"

"Jail," Valeria answered in Orcish.

"We definitely shouldn't let them go," Yanliz advised in Orcish, "and Prynhawn, do you want to give them a chance to attack us before we are aggressive towards them?"

"We could always injure them," Valeria pondered, "and let them go, so they can't attack us..."

"I think the thing is that although they are bandits," Vernim continued in Orcish, "and they would have attacked us, they still didn't attack us. That is a significant point, I think."

"They were not aware of us," Valeria replied, "and in the middle of something, and didn't have any weapons. The reason they didn't attack us is that they were unarmed."

"I know," Vernim acknowledged.

"Vernim," Prynhawn reiterated, "do you get the point that, uh, that we should still bring them to the keep, because they are still suspicious that they are bandits?"

"I agree," Vernim conceded. "I agree. I'm just... I think I guess I was just perpetuating the idea that, you know, that they are more innocent than the other guys were. Again, not to patronize or anything."

"I think we get the point," Prynhawn concluded.

"Yes!" Valeria agreed. "It's less patronizing when you don't mention it."

"I just don't know when I'm patronizing," Vernim clamored. "I don't know! I need to learn. I need to figure out when I'm patronizing you, because I don't know when I am. Is there anyone who believes that we should just let them go?"

"What are you talking about?" Brother Martin asked, not understanding Orcish.

"What to do," Valeria replied.

"Why don't we tie them up here," Jess suggested, "and we can figure out what to do in the other room?"

"That's a great idea!" Valeria responded and helped Jess tie them up.

Once the bandits' hands and feet were bound, they rolled them up separately in two of the carpets and tied rope around the carpets.

Back in the feasting room, Lawrence mentioned that he was still feeling injured, and Vernim cast cure wounds on him.

They decided to leave the bandits and explore to the north.

The corridor went forty feet before splitting to the east and west, and ending in a dead end ten feet further north. To the east, there was a door after ten feet. To the west, the corridor turned north after forty feet.

Valeria and Vernim searched the dead end, but did not find anything.

Valeria examined the door, with guidance from Brother Martin, and immediately found a needle embedded in the lock.

Jess took out her thieves' tools, but could barely see the needle. With Valeria's guidance, she managed to disarm the trap. She then handily unlocked the door.

Prynhawn opened the door, revealing a long, cozy chamber with brightly colored carpets covering the floor, and comfortable furniture filling the space. The walls were lined with heavy tapestries of woodland scenes. A dozen beds lined the rear of the chamber in neat rows.

Yanliz guarded the door, and Valeria and Vernim began searching the walls behind the tapestries. From ten feet ahead of Valeria, a man jumped out from behind a tapestry, and flung himself on the floor, crying, "Please don't hurt me! Please don't hurt me!"

"Who are you?" Valeria asked.

"My name is Norman," the overdressed man replied. "I'm a prisoner here."

"How long have you been a prisoner?" Brother Martin asked.

"In a luxurious room?" Yanliz added.

"Well, uh... yeah." Norman pleaded. "I'm a prisoner. Just because it's a luxurious room doesn't mean I'm not a prisoner. Please don't hurt me!"

"Why are they keeping you here?" Brother Martin asked.

"They're trying to extort money from me!" Norman explained. "I was traveling with a band of merchants, when they took me prisoner! I guess they saw my fancy clothes and thought they could somehow hold me hostage. I don't know what their plans are!"

"Where are you from?" Valeria asked.

"I'm from..." Norman answered, "Waterdeep."

Valeria and Vernim questioned him about Waterdeep, and Norman was familiar with the Great Harbor and the Naval Harbor, and explained that he was a noble from the Worrell family in the North Ward, shipping spices, tapestries, and rugs. They did not recognize his family, but everything else sounded reasonable.

Brother Martin had him rise from his groveling position on the floor.

"If you let me go, and bid me safe passage back to my home, you are always welcome there," Norman promised. "I will gladly repay the favor."

Yanliz and Brother Martin returned to the storage room and found their prisoners still rolled up in the carpets.

"Hey love birds," Brother Martin. What's behind the locked door down the passage?"

"Well, that's where Ace and his gang hang out," the man replied. "Or at least they used to."

"Used to?" Brother Martin queried. "They're dead? They left?"

"The boss sent them out on a special mission," the man replied, "and they never returned. No one wants to go in there, because no one wants to mess with Ace, but he hasn't been back since. I don't know, but I heard a rumor that they were killed, but I don't really know."

"Would you stake your life on that?" Yanliz asked.

"What am I staking my life on?" the man asked. "Why do I have to stake my life on anything? I didn't do anything?"

"I'm just asking," Yanliz threatened. "If we find out that none of what you said is true..."

"Well, but, I," the man stammered. "I didn't see Ace's band leave, and all I heard is that they left on a special mission."

"Uh-huh, uh-huh!" the female agreed.

"What does Ace usually wear?" Brother Martin questioned. "Is he a rough and tough bandit like you guys? So we know what to look for."

"Well," the man considered, "they were usually camouflaged for their missions. They would hide in trees. They were like rangers."

"Have you ever been in their room?" Yanliz asked.

"No," the man replied. "We're not allowed in there."

As they turned to leave, the female called out, "Wait! Don't go! If you let us go we'll tell you where they keep all their valuables."

"Why don't you tell us where your valuables are," Yanliz replied, "and we don't kill you?"

"Uh, yeah," she stuttered. "We don't have any valuables, but I can tell you where they kept their valuables. Ace and his crew, they had a lot of valuable stuff in there. A bunch of it. And our leaders had a bunch of stuff in The Catbird Seat, too."

They kept walking and returned to their companions.

After comparing notes, Lawrence and Philip left for the storage room for further questioning.

"We want to ask you some more questions." Lawrence disclosed.

"Sure!" the female called out, "We can tell you where they keep their valuables."

"We want to know more about Ace," Lawrence stated. "Does he have any distinguishing characteristics? What's his hair color? Let's start with that."

"It was dark brown." the man said. "Maybe black."

"How tall was he?" Lawrence questioned.

"Six feet?" the man guessed.

"What style was his hair?" Lawrence noted that Norman was significantly shorter. "Long? Short?"

"I don't know," the man replied. "It wasn't my style. I guess it was short."

"Have you captured any prisoners lately?" Lawrence pressed. "And would you leave them in their fine clothes, or would you take those and sell them off?"

"Not that I know of," the man replied. "We don't normally take prisoners. Those questions are beyond my pay grade. But like I said, we don't usually take prisoners...and you shouldn't take prisoners either...We usually just try to collect toll on the road and collect some coin. There's no reason to have our lives ended."

"I don't think we're going to kill you," Lawrence offered. "What are your names?"

"Whew! That's a relief." They introduced themselves as Jeff and Yvonne. "Like I said, all the valuables are in the rooms to the north. Why don't you take what you want and let us go?"

"That decision is beyond my pay grade," Lawrence replied.

"I see," Jeff replied, and Yvonne added, "Well in that case, can you guys hurry it up? It's really uncomfortable in here."

Lawrence and Philip returned to the rest of the group.

Yanliz watched over Norman in the room, while the rest of the group congregated in the corridor.

"Please don't shoot me!" Norman whined. "We don't need any unfortunate accidents. My family is very wealthy. If you let me go, we can pay you handsomely."

Lawrence relayed what he had heard and mentioned the discrepancy between Ace's and Norman's height, as well as the bandit's comments about not normally taking prisoners.

Valeria speculated that Ace could have been one of the groups of bandits they had already encountered on the road.

Jess suggested that they tie Norman up as well, and search the room.

Prynhawn retrieved the third and last carpet from the storage room, ignoring Yvonne's calls, and dragged it back to the long chamber.

"Lay down on the floor," Jess ordered Norman, "and put your hands behind your back!"

"What, why, what are you making me..." Norman began to sputter and whine, "why are you making me...what are you going to do to me? I didn't do anything? I'm innocent!"

"Be quiet!" Prynhawn commanded.

Norman began to sob and wail as Jess tied him.

"We're not going to do anything. It's okay," Vernim promised. "Everything's going to be alright."

"Why do you say that?" Yanliz fumed at Vernim.

"You're going to kill me!" Norman cried.

"We have not decided to kill you," Valeria offered, "yet."

"You can't just leave me here!" Norman sobbed.

"We won't," Vernim said.

"We're not going to leave you here," Valeria agreed, "forever."

"What are you going to do?" Norman bawled. "There's evil monsters out there. What if they get in here? What if something happens to you and I starve to death?"

"You're going to be safe," Vernim promised.

"There are definitely evil monsters out there." Valeria agreed. "And you're just going to have to deal with it. Vernim, stop making promises you can't keep!"

"Okay, I'm sorry," Vernim apologized. "I'll be quiet now."

"Good." Valeria sighed.

Jess finished tying Norman up, rolled him up in the carpet, and tied that up.

On the way out, Valeria noted that the lock on the door was only locked from the inside.

Yanliz kept an eye on the door, while the rest of the group continued to the west.

They soon encountered another door. Valeria examined it, but could not find any traps.

Prynhawn tried the handle, but it was locked.

Jess drew her tools and began to work on the lock. Brother Martin cast guidance on her and the lock immediately clicked open.

Prynhawn opened the door, revealing a luxuriously furnished room. The walls were adorned with framed tapestries showing various scenes of splendor. An enormous four-poster bed dominated the center of the room, covered with silks and other expensive looking fabrics. A freestanding mirror stood next to an armoire in the northwest corner, the door hanging open to reveal a variety of rich clothing in many different sizes and styles. A night table beside the bed held a variety of combs, perfume bottles, and cosmetics. An elegant silver candelabra with a dozen candles burning in it hung from the ceiling.

Valeria and Vernim began examining the wall.

As Valeria stepped toward the armoire, they heard a low moan that seemed to come from somewhere behind it.

Philip cautiously peered behind it and found an opening in the stone wall leading to a shallow alcove that apparently served as a temporary prison. A woman in a blue silk gown was hanging in shackles, a trickle of blood slowly dripping down the side of her face. Two more sets of manacles hung from the ceiling, currently empty. Her eyes opened and she stared blankly for a few seconds before whispering, “Help me.”

Valeria called Yanliz to join them.

Prynhawn noticed, laying on the floor in the middle of the room, a jeweled earring with a spot of blood on it.

Valeria had Jess pick the locks on her manacles.

"Thank you," she whispered, and collapsed to the stone floor of the alcove.

Valeria cast cure wounds on her, and opened her eyes and sat up, saying, "Thank you!"

Prynhawn offered to carry her to the bed, and she glanced at him, and said, "That's okay. I can do it myself."

Valeria asked her if the hooped earring was hers, noting that she wore an identical one.

"Oh, yes it is," she thanked, "those bandits were roughing me up, and they tore it off me."

"When was that?" Prynhawn asked.

"I don't know, I was..." she replied. "Maybe it was earlier today, or yesterday. I've been..."

"Do you know how long you've been here?" Vernim asked.

"They just captured me yesterday," she replied.

"Where are you from?" Yanliz probed.

"Originally?" she replied. " I'm from Daerlun."

"Where's that?" Valeria asked.

"In Sembia," she explained.

"Interesting," Valeria replied.

"What did the bandits look like?" Yanliz inquired.

"They all looked different," she answered. "One of them was a large brute. He said he would be my worst nightmare. And another one, he wore a jester's hat."

"Well," Yanliz replied, "we killed them."

"Oh, thank goodness," she responded. "All of them?"

"Yeah," Valeria added, "pretty much."

"Were any of them well dressed," Yanliz asked.

"No," she responded. "They all looked like thugs to me. Thank you for rescuing me,"

"Not a problem," Valeria replied. "Are you hungry?"

"I am," she replied.

"Lawrence," Valeria hinted, "why don't you give her some food while Vernim and I search the room."

"Absolutely," Lawrence agreed and gave her some of his rations.

"What is your name, by the way," Vernim asked.

"Oh, I am Lady Lenore, but please, call me Nore," she answered. "What is your name?"

"Call me Vernim," he replied.

"What were you doing when you were captured?" Prynhawn interrogated. "Where were you trying to go?"

"We were on our way north," Nore explained, "from the keep."

"Did you stay at the inn?" Valeria asked, glancing at Jess.

"No, I didn't stay at the inn," Nore clarified, "I stayed in the private apartments."

"Interesting," Valeria replied. "And this was yesterday, or two days ago?"

"Yeah," Nore replied, casually.

"And why did you come to the keep?" Valeria pressed. "Where were you going?"

We were going to Neverwinter," Nore answered. "We were passing through, and it's a good place to stay."

"Did you have any companions?" Prynhawn questioned.

"Yeah, there was a bunch of us," Nore replied. "They sent the rest of them on their way, and took me prisoner."

"Valeria," Prynhawn said in Orcish, "I don't know, because they said they don't take prisoners, right? And why would they say they wouldn't? Do you think they lied, that they don't take prisoners? Or do you think she lied?"

"I think it's highly unlikely that she's lying," Valeria concluded. "The other guy was in a nice room, and this one was in a torture chamber. I think she was clearly a prisoner."

"That's a good point," Vernim acknowledged. "Do you think that this makes the man's story more or less believable, Valeria?"

"Can we let the lady rest in here and talk outside?" Jess suggested.

"Why don't we search the room?" Yanliz suggested.

"Yeah," Valeria concurred. "That's also a good idea."

Valeria and Vernim resumed the examination, while Prynhawn guarded the door, and Jess examined the contents of the room and kept an eye on Nore.

Vernim showed everyone a secret door he found in the stone on the west corner of the south wall. They gathered around as he opened it, revealing a dark and still thirty by twenty room. A small wooden table with two chairs sat in the middle, and a large wooden chest, its lid closed, rested against the north wall. A map of the countryside between the keep and the caves had been drawn in chalk, on the south wall, with many annotations scribbled on it in some strange runes that none of them recognized. On the south side of the western wall was the inside of another secret door, made of stone like the one they had just opened. Other than that, the room seemed to be empty.

Valeria examined the walls and found a secret door in the floor, similar to the many they had already found, that they could not open.

Valeria examined the chest for traps, and noticed some sort of mechanism that looked like it would squirt something out if they tried to unlock it. She lifted up the chest and found a key underneath it.

"Jess," Valeria called, "what do you think?"

"What?" Jess asked. "What do I think about what?"

"It looks like there's a trap on this chest," Valeria explained. "It looks like it will spray something if I try to open it."

"Let me take a look at it," Jess said and began examining the chest. After a few minutes she said, "I think if I..." She pressed something on the side of the chest, with an audible click. "I think it's disarmed as long as I hold this down."

Valeria grabbed a pillowcase from the bed and had everyone else back up out of the room while she opened the lock.

She opened the lock and found piles of gold, silver, and copper coins. On the lid of the chest, she found a clear sack filled with a bluish liquid.

Valeria collected the coins and put them in her sack. She suggested they continue exploring through the secret door in the west wall.

"What about her?" Jess asked, indicating Nore.

"Oh, yeah," Valeria remembered. "I think she'll be fine, but I don't know if we should leave her here alone."

"Do you want me to wait here for you?" Nore asked.

"I have an idea!" Dubricus suggested. "Why don't we eat those moon pies."

"Yes!" Vernim agreed. "We could always eat the moon pies."

Lawrence and Dubricus were still feeling pretty banged up, so Vernim gave them each one pie. They tasted like a cheesecake made with brie, and afterward eating them, they felt much better.

"Did you say you killed all the bandits?" Nore asked

"Well," Valeria replied, "sort of."

"You mean there's still bandits out there?" Nore asked anxiously.

"Yes," Valeria explained, "but they're all tied up.

"Oh," Nore replied, relieved. "Well, if they're all tied up, then I can wait here until you get back. Maybe I can use this chair to barricade the door."

She asked Vernim to help her, and together they barricaded the door with one of the chairs.

"I'll just wait for you to get back," Nore said. "You're not going to be long, are you?"

"No," Valeria and Vernim assured her.

They open the door into a long corridor. After fifty feet, there was a door on the north wall. After another thirty feet, the corridor turned south.

Leaving the secret door behind them open, they advanced to the door, which was slightly ajar.

Valeria leaned over Philip and heard something squeaking from inside.

Prynhawn peered into the room, and saw a twenty foot square room with another corridor extending from the north side of the east wall. Entering the room, the squeaking ceased, and they moved to the corridor, which soon opened into another twenty foot square room.

In the center of the room were at least a dozen well-gnawed human-sized bodies lying on a pile of wooden debris.

Three giant rats crawled out from the debris and leaped at Philip.

Valeria hit the nearest rat in the tail with an eldritch blast. Philip tried to kick the same one, and missed, but crushed its skull with his staff. Dubricus hit another in the tail with a fire bolt. The rat bit at Philip, but the halfling was too nimble. Vernim shot the farthest rat in the head with his crossbow, and it dropped, still. Lawrence cast scorching ray, and blasted the last rat to bits with all three rays.

After searching the room, and finding nothing, they returned to the corridor and headed south.

After twenty feet, the corridor split to the east and west, and continued ahead where they saw a cave mouth exit to the valley.

Heading east, the corridor was stained with streaks of dark dried blood, as if dead or dying folk had been dragged down it. After thirty feet, it turned south and quickly continued east again. After another thirty feet the corridor opened to a large room containing the smashed remains of a crude barricade into what was apparently once a common area for the dead humanoid remains that now lay here. Flies buzzed and crawled over the corpses of the women and children that were apparently massacred here with no way to escape. In addition to at least twenty adults and a dozen children who seemed to lie where they fell, another twenty or so bodies, all male, were stacked to the side of the entrance—apparently slain elsewhere and then placed here after. The ceiling of the room seemed to be a dark mass that rippled above them.

Standing at the edge of the room, Yanliz recognized the mass as a swarm of bats.

Vernim shot a flaming crossbow bolt to the far corner of the room, and the rippling ceiling seemed to form waves that soon descended into the room like an upside whirlpool of bats.

They abandoned the room and headed to the west corridor, which was also stained with blood.

After thirty feet, it opened into a thirty foot square room that appeared to have been the site of a desperate struggle. The green-skinned humanoids whose bodies littered the place seemed to have lost, slashed and clawed to death by their undead foes: several human skeletons, their dry bones broken or smashed, and now collapsed into untidy heaps. In a few cases, it seemed as if the desperate humanoids had been reduced to biting at their foes, trying to break their bones with the huge teeth in their jutting lower jaws. The human skeletal remains seemed much older than the humanoid bodies, which while far-gone, cannot have been dead more than a few weeks.

Rats scurried for cover under the bodies as they approached.

Valeria and Vernim began to examine the wall, while Jess began to sift through the corpses.

Rats emerged from among the corpses and began to bite at Jess' boots, getting bolder by the second.

Lawrence threw a fire bolt at one of the rats. Jess drew her short sword and stabbed a bunch of rats at her feet.

The remaining rats began to flee, heading towards two tiny holes in the far corners. Valeria blasted a rat with an eldritch blast. Yanliz shot an arrow into each hole, skewering at least three rats each as the arrow followed the last retreating rats into the holes.

They continued their searches, but found nothing of interest or value.

They wound back through the cave, back through the secret door, and found that the chair was set aside and Nore was no longer there.

They left the room, and confirmed that Norman was still rolled up in the carpet.

They returned to the storage room and found that one of the carpets was cut open and empty. The other carpet was still rolled up and tied, but it was also empty. Clearly aggravated, Jess retrieved her rope.

They confirmed there was nothing of value in the storage room.

They returned to the room where they had left Nore and finished examining it. In the armoire, they found a dozen complete changes of clothing, two-thirds of which were male attire and the rest female. The silk sheets on the bed seemed valuable, as did the cosmetics. The mirror and the chandelier were both clearly valuable, though they were fragile and bulky. Finally, the four tapestries were pretty as well.

The closed both of the secret doors, Valeria packed the clothes and silk sheets, Jess packed up the cosmetics, Prynhawn carried the mirror, Yanliz took the chandelier, and Vernim took the tapestries.

Prynhawn suggested they rest in the caves until morning, resting in shifts. "There are plenty of beds in the room where we left Norman."

Yanliz wanted to return to the keep, but Valeria didn't want to carry so much treasure at night, and wasn't sure what to do with Norman.

Brother Martin suggested that he could cast zone of truth in the morning.

They retrieved the weapons they had left by the cave exit, returned to the room where they left Norman, and agreed to rest there for the night.

They locked the door and Lawrence spiked it with his pitons. Yanliz cast alarm on the front of the room, where they dragged the beds, and they agreed to rest in shifts.

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