Game Time: Tuesday, early morning
Salek caught his breath and tried not to show how lightheaded he felt. The bite on his thigh stung fiercely and he felt a sick dizzy tingle all along his leg, sapping his strength. He noticed that Lichna also looked lightheaded, and so he called a short halt. Shard slipped into the shadows and set two lines of flagstone traps to the north and south. He was less familiar with the flagstone traps, but managed to get most of them set and fairly well concealed. It was tougher on the south edge – not as much loose gravel. One of them stuck out like a sore thumb, but there wasn't much he could do about that. The team checked each other's gear, and Shard paced along the north trap-line looking into the darkness, eager to get out of the bright light.
Lichna stared glassy-eyed into the shadows, distracted by the pain from her wounds… and if she hadn't been staring right at the shadow she wouldn't have believed that she saw it move. There it went again – behind the pillar – slithering back past the gap to the southeast. She let the rest of the team know; it looked just like the swirling
black fog that the wererat had summoned around itself just before disappearing. Whatever it was, it had decided against attacking them when they were gathered in force. They finished resting uneventfully, and Salek and Shard began planning a more cautious reconnaissance of the tunnels to the north.
Salek quietly ordered a careful tactical positioning – leaving the southern trap-line in place – while Shard skirted the bright lights and scouted ahead. There was a large room to the north, dimly lit with a red glow like burning coals… a bigger cavern to the south lit by a smoky campfire… and a tiny archway dug into the rock, from
which Shard could hear quiet breathing and hissing noises. Ryken and Irina took up flanking positions by the south doorway, and Helena readied her bow to provide covering fire. Orsik lurked in the center, ready to set fire, thorns, or claws on anything that moved. Shard took a silent breath and disappeared from view as he slunk into the shadows and hid around the corner so he wouldn't be backlit. When Salek's sunrod finally illuminated the room, it took every ounce of discipline for Shard to not curse. Avandra's own luck – he had managed to step on the three or four foot-sized spots in the straw that weren't covered in sleeping rats. They ranged from normal-sized up through spaniel-, retriever-, and hog-sized, and every last one was sleeping. Shard looked at the straw around his feet and reached slowly for one of the grenade traps. He tried to remember the right order: pull back the spring, set the jaws, place the grenade, release the j- wait, that wasn't-
The springs and counterweights whistled and snapped, and the grenade shattered in his hands, spraying boiling green acid everywhere. The straw and rats caught fire instantly as he staggered back out of the doorway, knife at the ready. None of the rats managed to escape the flames, but as Shard hissed and swatted at the flames, he heard something moving to his left. Two of the larger wererats stormed towards the doorway and were brought up short by the hissing SNAP of the flagstone traps. Ryken and Irina turned on them while they tried to regain their footing and began thrashing them mercilessly. The rest of the team waded in, blades and bows at the ready.
The clumsiest of the rats staggered back from a hail of blows, infuriated by the affront of being trapped like a common rat. His beady eyes focused briefly on Ryken but before he could complete the thought he fell, his wounds closing magically – but too late. The other one stood bravely, shaking his wounded ankle as he warded off arrows, blades, thorn whips, and countless punishing blows, but he eventually succumbed to the tide and fell, bleeding from a dozen wounds.
A white rat with blood-red eyes emerged from behind a pillar, hissing and cursing as he brandished a fistful of bones and a sickle at the invaders. With a pair of vicious gestures he shoved Irina back from the fray and yanked Shard closer, eyeing the silvered knife and muttering. At the same time a horde of rats surged around the corner, writhing and squeaking. In seconds they were everywhere around Shard, nipping and biting viciously. Shard took a few swings with his knife and Ryken waded in, grinning and huffing, building up a huge lungful of air for a ferocious puff of wispy smoke… not exactly his usual fierce blast of flame! Shard cringed for a moment and briefly considered using a grenade, but Orsik beat him to it, laying down a blast of searing flames that consumed dozens of the rats. They crawled up the heroes' legs in vain attempts to escape. Irina waded in cursing left and right, enjoining them to cause no more harm on pain of their own swift deaths. They acted as though they had not
heard her, but the punishing violet flashes of the Raven Queen's disfavor combined with the flames to wipe out the last of them.
Meanwhile at the flanks, Salek and Helena were each attacked by more of the wispy shadows they had seen earlier. Like living smoke they appeared, slipped around any attempt to strike, and blinded their targets before slinking away invisibly. Salek was struck immediately by the realization that engaging the rats would keep them in a known place, and endeavored to corner the one attacking him – he forgot, briefly, why the expression "to fight like a cornered rat" was coined. One of them offered Salek great power – he urged Salek to surrender, claiming that Grigory would bring him "more power than Ilian could ever grant you". The other made a similar offer to Orsik, but was so incensed at the insulting reply that he struck back more furiously than before. Helena swatted at the ghostly smoke in her eyes and fired her arrows wherever she could still hear their scrabbling claws, and was twice rewarded with the angry hissing of a rat speared with an arrow. As the shaman in the southern chamber staggered away from the fight and started a retreat, the shadowy rat near Helena made a break for Salek, hoping to at least help its partner to flank him and bring him down. They smelled death and blood on him, and knew that he was the only one they had a chance against. Helena loosed another pair of arrows, and the rat fell to the floor dead, its body sliding to a stop. By the time the shadows cleared from the corpse, it was no longer a rat but Mika laying in the gravel.
Salek continued dodging and parrying, shedding his close-quarters gear for a longspear and catching his breath before stepping into the dead end where he knew the rat was hiding. With the rat cornered, Salek waded in, jabbing ferociously and watching his footwork. It leaped and dodged and swirled to no avail – Salek jabbed it viciously and Lichna finally caught up and helped bottle up the escape route. Outnumbered and cornered, it made one furtive escape attempt, but as soon as it was in sight, Helena dropped it with a pair of arrows in the throat, and it fell right on top of Mika's body. By the time it hit the ground, its body had also transformed, revealing Arkady, the same scout who had come with them, and whose report had prompted Ilian to make the attack.
Dusting themselves off and checking for more bite-wounds, the party regrouped and searched the area. The map they found in the makeshift prison confirmed their worst fears: either Mika or Arkady had drawn up the location of Ilian's secret base for the rest of the rats. The coins in the common room were separated, gold and copper stored openly but silver coins segregated and out of reach. The discovery of the map struck them all as grave news, and they headed southeast to lay another trap line to cover their retreat. As he set the traps, Shard noticed another nesting site. After some brief discussion, they agreed that eliminating all of the rats was crucial, and so Shard and Helena headed around the bend to set the grenade traps and exterminate every trace of rat-kind from the caves. A series of sharp cracks and pops, a flash of green-and-orange flames, and Orsik's helpful flame seed all combined to obliterate the sleeping rats before they could strike back. Shard buried his silver dagger in the eye of a particularly hardy rat that tried to flee the flames, and all was quiet.
They hurried back to meet Ilian and tell him the grave news. Irina patched up Salek and Lichna, and Ilian considered the news for only a moment before he had made his decision: Shard would head to the Ocean Quarter to inform Katya's team that they should be extremely cautious about rooting out any more nesting sites. The evidence that this site had been at least partially a trap was alarming, and the fact that Grigory's rats were trying to infiltrate his organization and learn of his location was particularly troubling. Shard headed to the dorms to swap out his gear before departing, making sure to take a fistful of silver coins for his sling; the rest of the team paused briefly around the cook-pot to grab a warm meal. They ate silently and quickly, then trudged to their beds, hearts heavy with the betrayal and death they'd seen.
Next Week: Shard warns Katya's team and meets our intrepid heroes on the way.