Game Time: Tuesday, just after dawn
Salek led the group on a quiet slog through the tunnels with Arkady nervously following behind. Ilian had been pretty clear about his expectations: bringing Mika back was the most important, but Ilian was also angry. So they marched on. Generally they stuck to one side or the other, occasionally splitting left-and-right to cover for an obstacle. Arkady showed them where the rats' nesting tunnel was. Somewhere inside would be the unusual nests that Ilian had mentioned. Shard and Arkady scouted ahead, but Arkady sloshed noisily through the water and moved awkwardly – Salek pulled him back and sent Shard ahead.
Shard peered down the tunnel and scrambled up the short rise to peek inside. Once everything was clear, the team moved up the ledge in pairs and discovered that the tunnels forked: rough terrain to the right, smooth tunnels to the left. Arkady indicated that he & Mika had gone left, so the team moved left as well.
Shard stuck close to the left wall, slipping silently between the wall and a pillar of stone on the- KERTWANG-whizzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz-thud. Shard dangled upside-down from his ankle near the low ceiling, smarting from a bruised shoulder and pride. Salek tossed a sunrod over to the pillar and Shard cut himself down, landing gracefully, but now everyone was alert. As the party regrouped and moved forward, Lichna narrowly avoided the same fate. A cursory inspection revealed a very complicated trap – pulleys, rope, a counterweight or possibly some springs – and Arkady confirmed for Salek that it wasn't one of Ilian's. He'd never seen anything like it… this was not one of Ilian's traps, but it was equal in sophistication. As they puzzled over the origin of the trap and waved their lights around, those in the front saw movement in the shadows, and the rats attacked. In an instant, Orsik set up a barricade of dancing orange flames, and the rats delayed their assault. At the fringes of the flame, another hempen rope sizzled and caught fire; the whole cavern was laced with traps.
Something didn't fit. Most of the rats seemed vicious but just-barely-clever – smart enough to stay out of fire, dumb enough to attack heavily-armed intruders at a well-defended pinch point. The three rats from the flanks seemed a little smarter and stronger, snarling and clawing aggressively and directing the other rats' movements. As the team closed ranks and began stomping, smashing, flailing, and stabbing the rats at the front, another pack appeared in back.
The rats in the back appeared to be more of the same, except for one. This one was blacker than shadows, and slipped past Orsik's defenses deftly. Orsik reacted almost instantly, turning into a mountain lion and counterattacking, but the rat was too fast – when Orsik lashed out, the rat struck back like a coil of black smoke, blinding Orsik temporarily, and slipping out of reach before Orsik could land a blow. Lichna, Helena, and Orsik turned their attention to this new threat and the handful of lesser rats that seemed to accompany him. One particularly daring rat snuck in and made off with Lichna's sunrod, and in the darkness, the smoky rat struck again.
On the front, Irina visited the Raven Queen's blessings on the foot-soldier rats; Ryken cleared out a mass of them with a terrifying blast of dragon's breath, and Shard slipped in behind them to visit sharp-edged pain to one and all. Shard took the worst of it, pinned between two of the most vicious attackers, but as he fought back it became clearer and clearer why they were focused on him because of his silvered short-sword – it seemed to cause them pain, and while they appeared to bounce back from most other wounds, this sword seemed to leave lasting gashes that steamed and smoked.
Helena peppered the rats on the flank with arrow after arrow, and the shadow hunter seemed to reconsider his tactical position as even the most vicious and hardy wererats stumbled and fell before the team's onslaught. It had been a perfectly-executed pincer movement, but with too few troops to be effective – it was easy to see how Mika and Arkady had been overwhelmed and separated. And now that the last of the wererats was dead, Arkady was nowhere to be found. In the confusion of the opening moments, he had been cowering back in the shadows at the top of the gravel rise. As the team patched their wounds and settled in for a short rest, Lichna mentioned that she was not feeling very well, and Salek also felt fatigued far out of proportion to the few bites he had sustained.
With Mika and now Arkady both missing, Salek & Lichna feeling sore and tired, and the prospect of fighting more trap-setting wererats who could disappear at will, it was hard for anyone to be too upbeat. Shard's blade – and its effect on the rats – seemed to be the one bright spot.