Hours later and thousands of feet higher, the weary troupe filed into a concealed canyon. At once, the fatigued ponies set to feasting on the grass that carpeted the floor of the ravine and drinking from the trickling remnant of the stream that had carved it. The adventurers settled onto the turf while Rasmus Rask produced the maps procured by Baba Magyr. Landmarks were quickly identified and approaches discussed. Rask pointed out what he believed was the grand entrance to the temple complex and explained that relics, icons, and sacred scriptures would have been displayed for arriving pilgrims. He produced a second map of the interior of the structure, indicating the alcoves for such displays. Another sheaf, revealed the small chapels dedicated to long forgotten saints of Serenrae in the basement of the building. Thus it was, that Grundmoch’s Lair, home to the Troglodyte allies of the Carrion King was chosen as the most reasonable insertion point for the treasure hunters.
After a brief rest, Rasmus Rask and his hired help made their way to the Outer Gatehouse. Relying on the dark of night and the element of surprise, (for a slow, stealthy approach was unlikely to safeguard the heavily armed and armored group) the adventurers launched a direct assault. The outer doors were not fortified, but they were guarded. After forcing their way in, the treasure hunters met a barrage poisoned javelins.
What followed was genocide. Clean. Efficient. Effective. Through once holy spaces, now desecrated with the abominable worship of immortal horrors, Quarrell, Toska, and Nicto strode like the executioners of divine a sentence. Walls that once were adorned with pious art, and later rendered anathema by the vandal congregation of beast gods, were painted anew in the black blood of Troglodytes. Even so, nothing devoted to Serenrae was located. Even in Grundomach’s own den, where vile Lamashtu’s most appalling adoration was apparent, not but trinkets valued in soulless coin could be found.
Onward and inward trekked the adventurers. According to their map, an underground corridor ran from the Outer Gatehouse into the warrens beneath the Great Dome of the central temple. Leaving no Troglodyte alive in their wake, the relic hunters set to dismantling the barricade between the domain of the lizard men and that of the dog men. Why such an edifice existed at all was a worrisome detail suitable only for those whose cerebral interests outweighed their dash and vigor. Quarrell, Toska, and certainly Nicto were not what one would call contemplative. However, Rasmus Rask was, and having witnessed the room to room bloodbath in the Outer Gatehouse, he had grave misgivings as to what might be encountered in the Carrion King’s own home.
In short order, the trio of adventurers cleared the way. The relic hunters cautiously advanced into a wide hall with large pillars along its central axis and many shadowy alcoves along the walls. As they neared the first pillar, a raging wind began to howl, coalescing into a cyclone that filled the hall with debris, extinguished the torches along the walls, and raised a tremendous noise. Scarcely were the adventurers able to engage the Air Elemental before it simply dissipated, having alerted the dog men in the barracks and the guards in surrounding area.
Rasmus Rask had witnessed his hired muscle dispatch small pockets of Trogledytes, but he had not seen them in pitched battle. Rask was not a young man, nor was he inexperienced in contests of arms, but the savagery, the terrifying bestial clamor raised by the Gnolls, their hideous teeth and murderous claws… The aging scholar groaned.
On the other hand, Quarrell, Toska, and Nicto plied their trade with the skill of true professionals. Scenes that would shatter the will of common men, they regarded with the cool eye of the craftsman. “Was that cut as clean as I wished it to be?” “Could I have burned a larger hole through that one’s torso?” “Will my griffin get sick from swallowing so much repulsive Gnoll meat?” A score of rabid dog men met their end in that subterranean hall. Though from the remains heaped about the room, it looked like armies had met, and Rasmus Rask, retching in the corner, only wished he could empty his memory as easily as his stomach.
When he had originally envisioned the mission to retrieve the Yasna, the scholar had pictured a small party of cunning, secretive men slipping unseen into the Carrion King’s domain. With immaculate stealth, they could dash from shadow to shadow, secure the ancient scrolls, and evaporate into the night with none the wiser. Never had he dreamed of facing the ferocity of monsters then using their viscera to ornament their den. Rask could bear no more, but before he could express his distress, a discovery was made.
Holding a map of the warren in his bloody gauntlet, Quarrell pointed toward a brick-sized opening just within reach on the North wall. The map showed a small room with a door where that wall stood. What’s more, the room had been marked by Rask as a promising location. Intrigued, the scholar overcame his anxiety while the adventurers pulled down the wall brick by brick and revealed a well appointed study within. In this one room, the iconography of Serenrae remained unblemished. A very old and elaborately annotated copy of The Birth of Light and Truth lay on the desk beside a journal detailing the search for the Scroll of Kakishon to be found in the Pit of Screaming Ghosts. Rask’s hands shook as he searched his maps for anything that might serve as such a pit until he found an image of a cave. But, how to reach it? The shrewd old scholar welcomed the adventures impressions, and it was discovered the stairwell down to the cave was a match for the dimensions of the Carrion King’s Maggot Throne.
Rasmus Rask recoiled. There was a short path to their goal: hidden stairs to the King’s chambers, out his royal doors, across his audience hall, and up to the throne itself. But, what rivers of blood must they ford along the way? Aggrieved by visions of what must follow, Rasmus Rask announced his retreat and was surprised to find relief in faces of the adventurers. They were not afraid for themselves, but keeping the old man in one piece could prove impossible while rousting the Carrion King from his bed and putting his most elite guards to the blade. Toska was particularly kind to the old man; she sent her griffin to guide him back to Navus Canis and the ponies.
In fact, the relic hunters were feeling rather better about the outing. They now had a clear understanding of where they meant to go, an accurate map of how to get there, and they had demonstrated that the anticipated resistance could be overcome. Things were going nicely in their opinion. “Too bad the old boy lost his nerve. Who knows, we might even find something more interesting than a moldy old scroll along the way?” Any injuries they had suffered, were quickly remedied by the hearty Druid, so the adventurers tromped ’round the corner, shifted a bit of rubble, and pried open the ancient iron door to the roots of a ruined tower. It was a short journey, no more than fifty paces, and yet, Toska witnessed an odd transition in the environment.
A small fountain, easily mistaken for a latrine due to its appalling filth, marked a boundary… no, a schism. Here the worship of Lamashtu, Mother of Monsters, ended and the adoration of Rovagug, The Great Destroyer, began. Gone was the imagery of Sarenrae entangled and abused by tentacled creatures of pure corruption. Such blasphemies were replaced by panoramas of devastation. Bas reliefs of ravaged cities, mounds of corpses, mountains split and bleeding molten stone. Among the barbarian tribes sufficiently savage to consort with Orks, Lamashtu was known well enough that Toska recognized the beast goddess’ sickening symbolism. Rovagug was another matter. She had never known the Great Destroyer as a persona, an entity engaged in mortal affairs. Each new element of knowledge surrounding the Carrion King painted an increasingly bizarre picture.
Nevertheless, the stairwell waited, and at its end, yet another iron door.
The complaint of rusty hinges drew the attention of Ghartok and his bodyguards. Lounging on a pile of rotting bearskins, the Carrion King watched with amusement as plaster cracked from the wall to reveal a door. The foolish Gnoll, mad Troglodyte, or desperate human slave who happened to come through that door was in for the surprise of his life. The Warren was riddled with abandoned passages, and the Gnoll host, as relative newcomers to the venue, were constantly stumbling upon them. Ghartok’s amusement faded as Quarrell bent back, more than forced open, the metal door. The king of the dog men was even less pleased at the site of soldier’s glaive. That this reckless human was not alone was motivation for Ghartok to order his pack forward while he retrieved his greataxe from the array of weaponry on his trophy wall.
Nicto and Toska could see next to nothing from where they stood on the steep stairs above and to the left, but they could certainly hear the frenzied snarling and barking from the room beyond. When a canine face came into view over the soldier’s shoulder, the sorcerer removed it with a scorching ray. Quarrell swiftly stepped over the headless Gnoll leaving space for Toska to join him on the threshold. Nicto made the most of his secure position, inflicting eldritch destruction with spell after spell. Ghartok’s favorites were falling fast. The flee-ridden monarch called upon his divine master and gave battle to this unforeseen enemy. Regicide was added to the tally of the adventurers’ achievements almost instantly. Each poured their own brand of malice into Ghartok: burning, blasting, slashing, and crushing, but it was Quarrell’s premium product that finished the job. He didn’t kill the king with a single slash; it took two. The first gave a deadly wound. The second severed the Carrion King’s critical link to life.