It is I, Willem of Melcott, these are my words and today I triumphed over my enemies.
A cursed angel must guide my steps, because look, I am back in the Quiet Halls with Horatio the Street Mage (since that's his name with this party), the Elf who calls himself Swampy, Yrsa the Druidess and a trousered Danaan Cleric named Dian.
We are not alone here. There's a band of Stygians - cultists in those mad animal masks they wear - standing in the columned hall and squabbling in that language of their's that sounds like belching. I'm up for a ruck with flesh-and-blood enemies, but the party prefers stealth. That's wise. Horatio's newt Nelson follows the cultists to a new corridor of crypts, which they start breaking into. They're looking for something. Or someone.
Oil is the way. Chuck it on the floor and call the Stygians to walk over it. In goes one of Horatio's flashbombs and WHUMPF! It's grizzly, people burning like that. The Hobgoblin Occupational Army used to burn its prisoners. It doesn't sit well with me. But then I remember what it felt like being beaten by these thugs. I make peace with myself.
Then the madness begins. The air smells of incense and a mist fill the tunnels. There's a boat sails into view, a high-prowed funeral skiff like the ones the Stygians paint on their pointy tombs. It's crewed by the dead and piloted by a robed figure who's either Sutekh or Saint Charn or the Crow Queen's grisly grandfather. How am I feeling? My bowels are in my socks, make no mistake.
The undead crew start harvesting the corpses of the dead Stygians and the skeletons advance on us. This is why you bring a Cleric! They say that Danaan Priests can't turn away beggars, never mind the Undead, but Dian does a solid job, waving that silver hand he carries. I'm not spiritual, but I resolve to drop a few coins in Nuada's collection plate when I'm back in Merkabar. Thinking there might be Danaan gods watching, I take a swing at the remaining zombies. It feels good, the way they squelch. The funeral skiff sails off and fades like a dream.
This place is crazy.
No time to get all philosophical. We're here for the tomb robbing. There's a nasty statue of Tsathoggua peering down on us the whole time. Cheerful. The crypts are empty or full of slavering ghouls. While we're dealing with one of these beasts, another crypt opens behind us and a hex comes down on Dian the Cleric, turning him stiff as a gallows-pole and dropping him to the floor. It's that evil hermit, Malfrecas Null. He's been living among the dead things, like a crazy person. He reeks of leprosy but he's grinning like a Danaan with a bacon sandwich. I reckon that's who the Stygians were looking for.
Swampy shows his style now, grabbing the mad mystic's arm and chopping it off at the elbow. Then we jump on his remaining fingers. No more spell-casting for him.
There's a bit of a discussion. Horatio's promised to deliver Malfrecas to the Stygian priest in Merkabar. That's a terrible idea and we will all regret it. But a promise is a promise. A couple of people offer to carry Malfrecas, but he's so vile they end up gagging or vomiting over the walls. We end up putting a leash round him, like a dog, and shoving a sock in his mouth to stop him whimpering.
Despite all the weirdness and an insane hermit for company, I'm feeling cheerful. There's a room with a giant dead snake in it and Dian shows his god in a good light once again by turning skeletons away, so obviously that stereotype of Danann Clerics being only good for turning pixies is just not true. Sharp-eyed Swampy finds a secret crypt but even Crypt Shades don't bother us these days. A fine golden crown is in there. We've already earned more than my last descent into the Quiet Halls.
Dian leaves us now. He's taking Malfrecas Null out of the dungeon before the nutter finds some way of calling trouble down on us. These Quiet Halls suddenly get a lot darker and colder without a Cleric. Since I'm a spiritual person now, I call on one of my nan's favourite saints, old Nine-Leagues Jack, to guide our feet.
My nan was a bloody daft old woman. We walk into a pit trap that drops us down a chute and into a heap of filth somewhere on the second level.
The second level. A bad place to be. What did my nan used to say? "Nine-leagues Jack, Pack your sack, Guide my feet to Hell and Back!" Well, they're half-deaf, the Saints of the Old North, because we've been dropped into hell with no way back.
Swampy has the map and calculates that stairwell we discovered last time must be a distance to the south-west from here. There's a passage south, but it leads to deserted guard rooms and tunnels heading off to the north and east, exactly where we don't want to go.
We head north and find ourselves in the worst place. It's an arena where people have been fed to big beasts. There's a viewing platform 15' overhead, for sick weirdos to enjoy prisoners being eaten. There's something up there, watching us. Meanwhile, down here, there's a swarm of flesh-eating bugs and they're not listening to our Druidess' sweet words.
We light torches to drive away the bugs, but the viewers upstairs turn out to be hobgoblin scouts with crossbows. Swampy gets drilled, once in the ribs then again straight through the neck. He's down, our best fighter. The hobgoblins are reloading.
Yrsa has a plan. She turns into a snake, a little stripy snake no longer than a bootlace, and wraps herself around a crossbow bolt. I throw it - and her - up to the balcony. Horatio's doing something with the Sentinel Staff, creating a magical barrier, while I drag Swampy out of the way. He's in a stupor.
Up on the balcony, Yrsa turns back into human form and rushes the unsuspecting hobgoblins. She knocks one over into the arena and he lands on his noggin: stone dead. Horatio shoots out his extendable hand and grabs the dead monster's crossbow for me.
Yrsa is facing off against two hobgoblins. She brains one with her staff but the other has her at swordpoint. I'm no shot with any sort of bow, but I fire the crossbow as best I can. Either my old nan or Saint Jack or Nuada Silverhand was watching at that moment! The bolt goes straight into the hobgoblin's back, dropping him dead.
The second dungeon level might be dangerous, but there's treasure down here. The jewellery on the corpses in the arena is amazing and I don't even mind the gruesome business of getting it off old cadavers.
Now we have to be swiftly-swift. Swampy is only half-sensible and I'm feeling the fatigue, carrying him along. The next big monster could be the end of us. The tunnels take us west then south, then further south. We starting finding familiar architecture. We ignore the puzzles and tunnels left and right. We press on, all the way to the stairwell up to the Quiet Halls that Gore explored last week.
A nasty blade trap nearly takes off Yrsa's head, but we get back to the first level and some stone doors through to the Kobold Korner. Kobolds like us, it seems, since Swampy saved them from this Giant Shrew. But whatever reception this party got from kobolds before, it's a bit different this time. The little runts can see we're wounded and their attitudes changes really fast. It's weapons out and "Back you scaly bastards, get back!" Yrsa's staff turns into a snake and grabs one of their bosses and Swampy's familar puts a doting-hex on the other one. That changes things! Now we're welcome guests once more - we're the famous Shrew-Tamers and we can breathe easy.
Except we have to wait upon the kobold boss, who calls himself Trustee Sniv. Nasty creature, with teeth as bad as Malfrecas Null's fingers. Of course he wants a bribe and takes that big gold crown off us. Good job he didn't see the jewellery from the second level.
Then Yrsa starts shooting her mouth off about hobgoblins and what's rightly coming to them. Don't get me wrong: I've fought the Hobgoblin Occupational Army and I wouldn't stir milk to save any of them from a good massacre. But monsters tend to stick together. Except, Sniv gets this sly look on his face and offers to show us a stairwell down to the Hobgoblin Redoubt on the second level. It wouldn't cost him sleep to see the Hobgoblins routed, apparently. Treacherous bunch, monsters are.
The Kobold Tavern serves terrible beer, which is just the way I like my beer. The party are looking for a witch called Lachesis, who doesn't seem to be about, but they get pointed towards another woman called Esmalia. Esmalia is up from 'deep downstairs' with a gang of villains in tow. They're a foul bunch, not just filthy-dirty but, I don't know how to put it, they're dirty inside too. I won't sit with them. Esmalia has these teeth filed to sharp points. Her breath is awful, worse than Malfrecas, worse than Sniv. She'll take our message to Lachesis about this shrine the party have discovered. In return she wants us to take one of her companions, a scratching, twitching bedlam-girl named Gretchen. Gretchen has to be smuggled into Merkabar and I don't think it's because she wants to use the public baths. Gretchen doesn't speak. She just scratches herself. Nasty.
Esmalia's gang offer us safe escort out of the dungeon, which would be good if it didn't involve spending time in the company of Esmalia's gang. They remind me of Gore, that way they look at you. A hungry look.
All of which would make me sad and inclined to re-evaluate my life choices. But not today. He might be on his sick bed, but Swampy calls in a favour to sell that dungeon jewellery to a big-shot collector. We're rich: rich like big heroes, Elyon-rich, richer than I've been since the last time I danced on a gallows.
Money like this puts me in the mood to make really unwise decisions. And one of them will be going back to Stonehell again.