In the morning, the party invaded the Tomb of the Serpent Kings once more. Avoiding the secret passage to the Basilisk Hall, they instead decided to explore the chasm just outside the Stone Cobra Guardian's chamber. They heard the sound of chattering and muttering, and the panicked protests of someone in danger. The party cautiously approached the noise with weapons drawn.
Twelve pale, shriveled creatures stood around a stone plinth, on which stood a terrified and protesting slugling wearing a crown of bent iron and wood. The creatures were waist-high, with huge oval heads filled with teeth and two tiny red eyes placed extremely close together. Franklin thought they might be goblins, but they were unlike any goblins he had ever seen before. They chattered and grabbed spears as the party approached, but made no other hostile moves. The two groups eyed each other warily.
"I am the Spackles, the Illusionist and," the slugling said with a hesitant tone, "the King of the Goblins." At the word 'king', the goblins grinned menacingly. "I was, uh, invited here please help by my good friends they kidnapped me to act as their king you must rescue me."
While Fredrick and Antonia readied themselves for a fight, the Paladin pushed forward and offered the goblins half a loaf of dried bread. While they examined this offering and squabbled about dividing it, the Paladin brought out more tidbits of food from his pack, leading to more excited squabbles and a lowering of spears. Eventually, after a delicious lump of moldy cheese was produced, the goblins eyed the slugman from head to foot, argued some more, and swiftly removed the terrible crown and placed it on the Paladin's head.
Incredibly relieved to find the goblins crowding around another target, the slugling slid off the plinth and joined the party as they retreated back to the Stone Cobra Guardian hall. The slugling introduced himself once more, whispering to Antonia that he was a traveling entertainer of considerable magical talent. These strange pale goblins had overrun his caravan, devoured his horse, burned his cart, and then forced him to become their king; a position without power and with several obligations. Chief among them, the goblins apparently devoured their king each full moon. The goblins suddenly took on a more sinister cast in the eyes of the party. The crude cutlery they were sharpening and their salivation at the Paladin's well-toned form did not comfort the party. The Paladin, in particular, began to look at his new retinue with fear.
Franklin, Thomas, and Antonia swiftly decided on a plan. They would use the goblins to distract the Basilisk and, as it snapped them up, the party would slice off the giant lizard's head.
The first stage of the plan was fairly simple. The crowd of goblins eagerly followed their delicious king into the secret passage connecting the clay warrior room to the Basilisk Hall. Apparently the goblins were unfamiliar with this section of the dungeon, for they gazed at the walls with amazement. They clustered behind the Paladin in the narrow secret passage, peering outwards with beady red eyes. Without delay, Franklin charged the horde of goblins with his shield, shoving them into the doorway. They got stuck. As they screamed and scratched, Spackles, seeing his chance, also charged the mass. For a few moments the ball of Paladin, goblins, frogling, and sluging slid back and forth before bursting like a firework into the dark and pillared Basilisk Hall.
The next few minutes were filled with darkness, terror, screaming, and the snapping jaws of the basilisk. Antonia and Thomas sat together outside the secret passage listening and wincing.
Eventually, Franklin emerged, his shield broken and his skin covered in sweat and goblin juices. He explained that the Paladin had - somehow - tamed or at least pacified the Basilisk through a combination of feeding it goblins (by hand, and overhand throws), and neck scratches. The gigantic lizard, its vision restricted by its brass headgear, was careful to never stare directly at the Paladin, but merely to glance at him.
Over the next half an hour, the party carefully approached and examined the overfed and sluggish creature. Spackles even climbed onto its back to fiddle with the ancient gears on its blinders, locking the slits shut and blindfolding the creature. It did not seem bothered by this; presumably, it was accustomed to darkness.
With the creature safely blinded, the party felt more confident in exploring the area, though they proceeded with extraordinary caution. While Antonia secretly collected valuables from the petrified statues, Thomas and the rest of the party discovered hints of a sprawling series of rooms to the east. They only explored one, and found three stone spheres imbued with magical energy. Not knowing what else to do with them, Thomas pocketed them for later use. At the west end of the hall, Franklin discovered a gigantic door made of carved stone snakes. He also discovered the occupied and magically lit chambers of a skeletal but still perfectly lucid snake-man sorceror named Xiximanter. Deciding that this was definitely "wizard business", Franklin hauled Thomas over.
Xiximanter proved to be a polite if slightly terrifying conversationalist. He seemed to think the tomb complex was still active, that priests roamed the halls, and that a vast city of snake-men stood just above him. The party must be "tourists" or "visitors to our great city", and must have been properly vetted by the authorities to reach this secret place. Research into the nature of life and death occupied Xiximanter. In exchange for living creatures, "livestock, if you must, but the smarter the better, and wizards if you can get them," Xiximanter promised them potions, spells, and tutelage in the magical arts. The party retreated to the surface confused and slightly worried.
|The Party, as of Session 3|
They decided to rest overnight and return to the Tomb of the Serpent Kings in the morning. Their camp, without tents, cooking pots, or guards was a meager affair. As they tried to prod their feeble campfire to life, another group of travelers clattered up the overgrown road.
First came a banner-bearing squire. Then, on two horses, a pair of hound-men with sagging jowls, rheumy eyes, and maces in their hands. Next came a knight in black armour with a grey shield. Franklin recognized his heraldry. This was Corvus, the Magpie Knight, named so for his race and his avarice. The last horse in the group carried a bedraggled wizard in magenta robes, who looked at the party with weary eyes.
After a pleasant if condescending chat with Antonia, Corvus declared his intention to explore the dungeon and its "rich treasures". He'd heard of the dungeon from the party's ex-minstrel, who he'd met on the road. While the hound-men assembled a lovely camp with a pavilion tent, the party plotted how best to prevent Corvus and his band from robbing them of potential treasures. They discussed luring him into the Basilisk Hall, hitting him with spells, stealing his tent, making him King of the Goblins, or a dozen other schemes. While they debated in secret, Corvus and his retainers entered the tomb and emerged an hour later with sacks of loot taken from areas the party had skipped. The electrum plate hidden by Antonella was among their treasures, which infuriated the fishling thief.
Franklin, whose family had never gotten along with the arrogant house of Corvus, challenged the Magpie Knight to a duel. The winner would retain control of the Tomb. The loser would depart forever. Corvus pointed out that Franklin, despite being the "Iron Frog", was no longer a knight by royal decree, and could not therefore challenge a proper noble. Out of the goodness of his heart, Corvus accepted anyway.
The pair elected to duel around the pit of mummy water. Franklin, never one to fight fair, discreetly coated his sword in the foul black oil before starting the fight. The two knights rained blows down on each other. Both lost their shields, and within a few rounds, their armour was cracked and dented in a dozen places. Both were breathing hard when Franklin parried and counterattacked, swinging his sword at Corvus' exposed neck.
The Paladin, with the voice of the Authority, shouted "STOP". Franklin froze, dropped his sword, and knelt. Both fighters rose after a very brief prayer, glaring at each other. While shaking his opponent's hand, Franklin 'accidentally' tipped Corvus backwards into the pool of mummy water. While his retainers fished the bedraggled magpie knight out, Franklin reminded them that they needed to depart immediately.
By the time Corvus and his retainers packed their tents, the magpie knight was coughing purple bile into his silk handkerchief. Antonia and Thomas proposed riding after the departing group to "check on their health". The Paladin insisted on accompanying them on their 'noble' mission. Night had fallen by this point, and Corvus had barely made it two miles down the track before falling from his horse in a coughing fit. The Paladin eagerly accepted his request to ride to Bogrest and fetch a healer. Antonia and Thomas also accepted, but immediately feigned fear and exhaustion, doubled back, and robbed Corvus' camp by cover of darkness, escaping undetected with the wizard's spellbook and pockets full of gold.
The Paladin, meanwhile, rode hard for Bogrest, heedless of the dangers the road posed to lone travelers at night. Would he ever return to the unexplored halls of the Tomb of the Serpent Kings?