Haggor is once again first into the room, and sees the demon-tainted cleric standing atop a pedestal, waiting, her claw-scarred belly hideous in the torchlight. As he charges across the room, half-visible undead shadows detach from the biers that make up this burial chamber. Two make contact, and he feels his mighty strength being sucked away. The party piles in behind, and Balekh cannot make much sense of the situation, but can manifest the power of his god to drive back the creatures. All three flee to the rear of the room and cower against the wall, seemingly trapped within their burial chamber. Nualia slaps off a wrestling hold from the weakened Haggor, so he makes use of an ability he’d heretofore considered somewhat gauche and deals a stunning blow to her head. With a single, stunned target to focus on, Taeva and Veshenga very quickly fell the warrior-cleric with a series of swords and arrows. With the shadows still turned against the wall, it is a simple matter for the two women to use their backup magical weapons to disperse the incorporeal undead.

The party retreats back to the office to heal and examine the battle’s loot, but realizes that they’ve only explored likely a third of the bottom complex. While they plan their further exploration, they look over Nualia’s notes and journals, finding out her history and mad plans. Perhaps most importantly, they learn that the demon trapped within the dungeon is known as Malfeshnekor, a Barghest. As they sleep and recover, Balekh is subjected to more dark dreams, and Taeva feels the eyes of something terrible constantly upon her.

Before venturing past the illusory wall of coins, which Taeva eventually figures out how to open, the party decides to clear the hidden passage behind the shadows’ burial crypt. Descending into water-logged stairways, they find the remnants of an ancient treasury, with strange faded carvings on the walls. The centerpiece of the half-flooded room is a massive golden helmet, seemingly sized for a giant. Haggor immediately goes for this piece of treasure, and manages to wake the giant hermit crab that uses it as a home. Finding himself once again the grapplee rather than the grappler, Haggor and the beast wrestle for dominance. Balekh fires off a scroll to enlarge the monk, and suddenly the fight is much more even. As half-orc and crab jockey for leverage, Veshenga and Taeva slice at the crab’s shell and underbelly. Very quickly, the dual-wielding rogue cuts the creature into so much seafood, and the party is able to gather up the remaining treasure in the treasury and head back to the office to recuperate for another evening.

Finally, the group decides to confront the demonic presence at the heart of the dungeon, fully aware that it might be far out of their league. Two rooms in the sector of the dungeon behind the wall of coins reveal some of the history of what this complex was once used for: a looping hologram of an ancient Thassilonian informing the denizens of their impending demise for the glory of the empire, and a room full of torture implements and a warped skeleton. Within the latter, they find a key to the final room, where, no doubt, the ancient barghest waits.

The seemingly empty room, lit by scores of everburning candles and a magical pit of flame, quickly bursts into the frenzied presence of a massive demon wolf. With a brutal series of bites and claws, it smashes Haggor, unconscious, to the ground. Knowing it is only weak to magic, Veshenga begins firing the elf-bane arrows taken from the bugbear, earlier, into the creature. Taeva moves around and attempts to destroy it with her tiny, returning dagger. Balekh keeps healing the monk, only to watch him put down again and again.

However, the party was prepared, and the room leaves the barghest little space to maneuver. Though the heroes are gravely wounded, the fight is over within less than a minute. They cast the demon’s form into the mystical fire, loot the room, then pack up their belongings to finally return to Sandpoint.

AFTERMATH

Within a week, about a half dozen of the remaining goblins of Thistletop and allied tribes mount a courageous raid to free Gogmurt the goblin druid. They are slaughtered to a man. The druid is publicly executed two days later.

On hearing of Nualia’s demise, Tsuto begins obsessively creating a mural on his cell wall with what charcoal and paint he can talk the guards into giving him. It’s a heartstoppingly beautiful sketch of himself and Nualia embracing in the fires of hell. He commits suicide as soon as the art is complete. In a small, private ceremony, Ameiko has his body consecrated, cremated, and scattered to the sea; Balekh is asked to help officiate the burial.

After much digging, Sheriff Hemlock eventually discovers that the mercenary, Orik Vancaskerkin, is wanted for murder in Riddleport. He’s happily sent off to face justice there on a crisp Autumn morning.

A week or two later, the Sheriff gathers the party up with a bunch of guards to go to Thistletop, cave in the entrances to the dungeon, burn down the fort, and cut the rope bridge behind them. Since that time, the number of goblin raids on travelers have decreased dramatically, even for the cold seasons, as if the goblins are no longer nearly as well organized.

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