There is poison in the fang of the serpent, in the mouth of the fly and in the sting of a scorpion; but the wicked man is saturated with it ~ Chanakya (circa 370–283 BCE) an Indian teacher, philosopher and royal advisor. Originally a professor of economics and political science at the ancient Takshashila University, Chanakya managed the first Maurya emperor Chandragupta's rise to power at a young age. He is widely credited for having played an important role in the establishment of the Maurya Empire.
Speaking in the mystical tongue Suri read the scroll containing the Knock spell. Upon completion nothing happened. "I knew it" William muttered. "Faulty magic, most likely". "Hush, William" an annoyed Suri replied as a crack in the wall appeared. "There IS a door" Joshua confirmed. "William should take the lead" Suri decided, concerned about booby traps.
"What? You're the one who found it. Ladies first, I say" William complained. Both Suri and Joshua flashed their companion a dirty look. "Well, I guess you did open it. My turn then" William acquiesced. By this time the crack had spread all around the chalk outline and the now apparent door began to swing open. The three associates stepped back to allow the stone slab to swing into the room. Suri tilted her staff forward so that the glowing stone on top could illuminate what lay beyond.
A narrow corridor that extended beyond the reach of the light-spell-powered rock was revealed. Meanwhile the noise that indicated their enemies might be trying to bash their way through the opposing wall continued. "I think they are getting close to breaking in", a worried William remarked. "Time to go" William decided, hoisting up his gem-laden pack he steped over the threshold and into the corridor. Suri followed closely behind. "Close the door behind you" Suri said, speaking to Joshua. William stopped short and Suri ran into him. "Move it, William!" she grunted, her face in his hair. "My pack is slipping out of my grasp" William snarled, explaining why he had stopped short.
Standing in the door frame Suri felt a sting in her side. "Ow! what the Hades was that!" Suri cried. William moved forward and everyone entered the passage. Suri grasped her side in agony as the small sting turned into a searing pain. "Let me take a look" Joshua said, first closing the door behind him, then kneeling down to get a closer look at the area Suri indicated was the source of her discomfort. "A dart has pierced your skin" Joshua said, carefully plucking out a tiny barbed projectile.
"William, you arsehole" Suri muttered as her body went limp. Suri's mage's staff clattered to the floor and Joshua quickly stood to catch Suri before she collapsed. "Look at her face, it has gone completely white" a concerned William gulped. "She has been poisoned" Joshua replied. "Luckily I have a slow poison spell memorized" Joshua whispered. "What about the Croakers?" William cried, looking worried. "The door clicked shut behind me. It usually is the case with secret doors that their magic is reactivated once they close. So, hopefully it will not be noticed from the other side" Joshua replied in a hushed tone. "Now be quiet while I cast my spell. I have to act quickly or Suri will die".
The cleric spoke words of power relayed to him by his God and Suri seemed to stabilize. "She is OK for now" Joshua observed. "Now help me carry her body". "I can't help you carry Suri and bear the burden of my heavy rucksack" William complained, looking annoyed. "Quickly William, we must depart posthaste!" Joshua hissed. "No way" William said, refusing Joshua's command. "After all we have sacrificed I am not walking away empty handed".
Knowing that an argument would only delay their escape Joshua spun his knapsack around to his front, then squatted and secured Suri's staff to the side of her knapsack. Finally he draped Suri's right and left arms over his right and left shoulders. Standing he took a few steps while dragging Suri behind him. "Proceed" Joshua grunted, indicating that William should move forward. In this manner William and Joshua made their way slowly down the passage. Apparently their Caecilanite friends would not, or had not yet found the secret door.
After walking for a while William and Joshua came to a fork in the tunnel. "Which way should we go?" William asked. "Well, we could turn, hoping that the Caecilanoids go straight if they follow us, but that tunnel seems to slope downward. I say we continue onward" Joshua decided. "OK" William agreed. The exhausted companions trudged onward, noting the slight incline. "This would be a lot easier if you dropped your sack" Joshua finally said, observing that William was slowing down considerably. "We just need to find a place to rest" William replied.
"I can't drag Suri much longer" Joshua agreed. Still the two continued on for quite a while longer. "What's that?" William whispered as the light from Suri's staff illuminated a enormous cavern dead ahead. Exiting the narrow passage William dropped his sack and sank to his knees, exhausted. Joshua carefully lowered Suri to the ground. Removing her pack Joshua placed her bedroll under her head. "I'm exhausted, but have nothing to rest on, seeing as I left my bedroll behind" William complained, looking at Joshua. "Don't look at me, I'm using my bedroll" Joshua answered. He unrolled his sleeping mat and laid down next to Suri. "You could keep watch" the half elf suggested.
But, knowing it would be foolhardy to rely upon William to protect them Joshua removed his SEP talisman from his pack. Mentally reciting the activation command Joshua expended one of the enchanted item's charges. Now they should be relatively safe. Even if a monster happened to stumble across them (literally) in the dark it would be somebody else's problem, and whoever (or whatever) it was would continue on without giving the reason for the trip a second thought. The magic only worked on living creatures with a modicum of intelligence, however, so there was still a risk that something unthinking or incredibly stupid would find them. But, as dead tired as he was, Joshua decided he had little choice.
William curled up on the hard stone and tried to fall asleep. Waking with a start some time later he found himself surrounded by utter blackness. When William's eyes adjusted he noticed a soft glow on the ground next to a sleeping Joshua. It was the illuminated stone atop Suri's staff, covered with a handkerchief. The piece of cloth fluttered to the ground when William grabbed the staff and used it as a crutch to rise from the hard stone. "Oh, my aching back" William muttered as this spine cracked.
William's throat was parched, so he wandered away to see if he could find any potable water, but not before he checked both Joshua's and Suri's canteens. Unfortunately only one contained a mouthful of water, which William gulped down. Crossing the rocky terrain William moved toward what he imagined was the sound of gurgling water. Discovering a small sub terrestrial brook the still thirsty William sank to his knees and drank his fill. "That hit the spot" a sated William sighed after imbibing a bellyful of the cool liquid.
Meanwhile Joshua awoke and found the light staff missing. "William!" he hissed. Where was the doofus? Joshua was almost convinced that he should slit William's throat and take his chances with Suri alone. Still, they might need him. And his religion forbade such act of betrayal against a friendly traveling companion. Also, for some odd reason it seemed that Suri liked him, or had some kind of unnatural connection to the lout.
Digging around in his pack in the pitch-blackness Joshua found the medium sized leather pouch he was looking for. Opening it, the half-elven cleric withdrew a small item wrapped in cloth. Unwrapping the cloth revealed a coin from which an eerie light emanated. Clearly it would not have been prudent to travel below the earth without a back up light source, and this light spell powered coin was his.
Silently Joshua said a prayer to Pollale, the Goddess of healing. When he was finished he received his reply. No voice spoke to him, but Joshua knew what needed to be done none-the-less. Quickly he pulled from the pouch a variety of herbs contained in small metal canisters. Using his wooden mortar and pestle Joshua mixed several dried herbs and fungi into a fine dust; an antidote to the poison that would have killed Suri if not for the slow poison spell he had cast earlier (a spell he sensed was about to expire). Now all he had to do to add a teaspoon or so of water to complete his poultice. Luckily he remembered he had a small amount of liquid remaining in his canteen.
Joshua unscrewed the cap and titled the lip of the container into the wooden bowl, but no liquid was forthcoming. "What happened to my water?", a confused Joshua wondered out loud. The vessel did not appear to be leaking. Joshua tried Suri's canteen and found it was also empty. And still no sign of William. But wherever he had got to it was not what was most pressing at the moment, as Suri had less than a half hour remaining before the magic keeping the poison within her at bay expired. If that happened it would be to late. Suri would be dead within minutes.