By Brian Flood
Chapter 32 - The Stone Door
East of Kendall Keep, Kingdom of Cormyr
Late-Afternoon, 19th Day of Mirtul; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)
After about a candlemark of this slow and cautious travel, the path ends in a small bramble-free clearing – about thirty feet across – at the base of the cliffs. A stone door in a stone lintel is set into the side of the rock face. The shadows from the cliffs above hide the door from any casual observation from the southern edge of the clearing.
Tiron carefully scans the top of the cliff for movement before entering the clearing, where he stands aside to allow for the rest of the company to file through the narrow path. As they slowly join himself and Amiel, he voices a question in hushed tones. “Is anyone trained in the art of finding traps and snares and the like? Perhaps they should lead the group toward the door over yonder.”
With his sling loaded and ready, Malk moves forward, keeping his station behind Nathan. His gaze is constantly cast left and right. He enters the clearing and moves to his left, allowing room for the front line to form, if necessary.
Upon hearing Tiron’s question, he shakes his head. “I have no such skills,” he says in a quiet voice. Apart from these few words, there is a constant low hummed tune reflecting his mood of quiet alertness.
“Salik,” Amiel murmurs, “check the door for traps. And see if you can work out how it opens. The rest of you make sure we don’t get jumped by anything.” The lady ranger moves to stand next to Salik as he works, her sword held ready.
The rest of the adventurers move forward. As Malk continues on his way past Alain, the big warrior extends his hand silently blocking the young bard from his intended course. When Alain has his attention, he motions with his dagger back to the spot Amiel has selected for Malk.
As the other members of the party move into the clearing, Amiel directs them to stand in a defensive posture, oriented on the mysterious door. As she does so, Salik follows her instructions and inspects the door and lintel.
After a minute or so, the rogue steps away from the portal. He reports that he has found no obvious traps. He also confirms what some of the others have already noted – there is no apparent handle on the door.
“Alain, try and open this door,” Amiel orders, nodding to the big swordsman. “Without a door handle, I presume you push it open. Salik get over to where Alain was.”
Velgardrin stands with his axe at the ready. Before the door is opened, he asks, “Is ther a vial of holy water here? I fergat ter get one in ther Keep. If I had one, I could ask fer the blessing erv the Father of Battles, Clangeddin Silverbeard hisself, on us all but I must do that befer we begin if it would be most successful.” Then Velgardrin looks around the group hopefully.
Already charged for battle, and too long kept in the Keep, Alain ignores Velgardrin’s question and proceeds to carry out Amiel’s orders. Barely nodding to Amiel, Alain hits the door at a charge.
“Cormyr!” the warrior chants as his shoulder hits the door.
Thunk! The door fails to give way to Alain’s assault. It stubbornly stands firm as the big warrior rebounds from its stone face.
Giving his head a shake, Alain rises back to his feet. With a glare at the stubborn door, Alain looks to Amiel, “It seems to be beyond my strength. Maybe Velgardrin has some dwarven magic that will take us beyond?” Alain looks to his dwarven comrade.
Salik’s moustache twitches in amusement. “Next time think a little before charging a solid stone door, Alain. Let me have a closer look at this door.”
Salik trades places with the now sore and bruised warrior and examines the door in closer detail. The rogue squints as he peers into the dark cracks that run around the door.
Unable to see any locks or hinges, Salik twirls a dagger in his hand flamboyantly and then inserts the blade in the crack in the door trying to probe for and clue as to how the door opens. After a few minutes of this technique, the rogue still cannot find the secret to the stone portal.
“Well, my friends, it seems we have a quandary before us,” Nathan states in a serious tone. “We are lacking two key pieces of information here – what is securing the door and who or what awaits beyond. Without that knowledge, I think that we need to err on the side of caution.”
“This leaves us several options that I can see,” he continues, holding up a finger of his left hand as he calls each one out.
“One, we can simply wait and see if anyone exits through the door and react accordingly, though it would be nice to have an idea of how long it’s been since someone or something accessed the door before we start waiting in ambush.”
“Two, we can look for another entrance. According to the markings on the map, this is not necessarily the entrance to the Caves. If the map is accurate, of course.”
“Three, we chop down a small tree and use it to ram the door open. For several reasons I can’t recommend option three,” he finishes with a grimace.
Salik strokes his beard thoughtfully and examines the ground in front of the door for signs that the door has been used frequently, such as grooves in the ground that would indicate if the door opened inwards or outwards. There are no obvious marks on the stone threshold that forms this side of the door lintel.
He speaks to his companions aloud as he searches for clues to this mysterious door, “Maybe there’s some sort of hidden switch or lever to release the door…. Or it could possibly be an exit in which case we stand little chance of opening it.” He looks around at the cliff face searching for a clue of some kind – disturbed foliage, tracks on the ground... anything to give him some idea.
“I suggest we fan out and search this wall for hidden switches and the like,” the rogue suggests. “There must be some way of opening the darned thing.”
“Hold Salik,” commands Velgardrin. “Let me be havern a look at ther door and wall first. And no one be answerin’ me about if they be havern’ holy water. Blessins be seemerng good if a horde of zombies er worse be on ther other side o’ this door, waitin’ to attack.”
The dwarf shivers visibly. “I don’t be likern zombies.”
While Salik waits, Velgardrin carefully checks the wall, looking for anything unusual that might suggest construction, other than the door, and not natural rock. He starts at the left side of the door – avoiding the door itself – and checks the wall all the way to the left until he reaches the brambles, stepping past Amiel as he searches. Then he returns to the door and checks from the right side ending with the side of the cliff face against which Declan stands.
After several long minutes of inspection, the dwarf determines the door and lintel – which together measure some six feet wide by ten feet tall – are of excellent construction, possibly even of dwarven origin. The door itself is four feet wide by eight feet tall. As best as Velgardrin can tell, the door must open inward. But once again, as with Salik, he is unable to find an opening mechanism.
Velgardrin ends his search and then returns to where he stood to wait once again. “It’s er a fine door I see. Mehaps even o’ the quality er my kindred er other dwarves.”
Malk gives a quick look around the perimeter and says, “I don’t think that there is any need to wait in ambush. If there is anyone in there, they must have heard the thump when Alain hit the door. Do you want us to fan out Amiel?” the bard asks.
“Well, my friends,” Amiel growls in frustration, “the trail leads here so there MUST be a way of opening the door. There’s no keyhole, so there’s no key.” Pausing for a moment, the tall woman shoves her sword, blade first into the soil in front of her and crosses her arms.
“There’s something we’re missing,” she starts thinking aloud. “The trail lead HERE. Therefore, did the zombies make the trail? Hmmm, that sort of makes sense given the fact that whoever came through the brambles last didn’t really care that they left bits of their flesh on the thorns. That would seem like the actions of a mindless zombie...”
Looking back at the door, she frowns. “So what does that tell us? How would a zombie open the door?”
Shaking her head, she concentrates once more on the Claws. “Gentlemen, I’m afraid this one’s beyond me,” she says, a little deflated. “Let’s do a quick search to see if we can find a secret catch. Tiron, Vel, Salik: search the wall that the door is on. Search twenty feet on either side of the door; take your time and search where the others have been in case the other two missed something. The rest of you stay where you are and keep alert...just in case. Alain, guard the trail; take up station five paces from the clearing. I’ll watch the door in case it opens unexpectedly,” she says as she pulls her sword from the ground and takes up a position ten feet directly in front of the door.
“I wouldn’t think that zombies would actually open a door of this type themselves, as I would imagine that only very simple devices are within range of their mental capacity,” Nathan states confidently. “If my premise is correct, then whoever or whatever lets them in and out is probably within and waiting.”
Velgardrin belts his axe and complies with Amiel’s request. Once again, he checks the wall – starting all the way to the left and moving right – and also the door this time. He checks the ground ahead of him as he moves along the wall for any kind of mechanism that might open the door. Finding nothing, he returns where he once stood.
Alain briefly watches the activity around the door and then moves off to take up his guard position as ordered by Amiel. As he arrives at his post, Alain sheaths his throwing dagger in favor of his main gouge. Facing south, he begins his silent vigil.
Malk turns himself to keep a lookout to the south and west. He glances at the sky to see roughly how long to sundown. The bard keeps his watch with his loaded sling dangling from his right hand; with his left, he casually juggles two of his lead shots, trying to keep both in the air together with the one hand.
“Now THAT’s interesting,” Amiel replies. She’s been scowling fiercely, lost in thought since Nathan’s confident declaration on the mindless behavior of zombies. “So a zombie would stagger up to the door and just knock, bang on the door, bash its head against the stone surface, or whatever. But, if the zombies were accompanied by someone else, we’re back to looking for some complicated mechanism.”
She grimaces in frustration for moment. Her eyes narrow as she considers the stubborn door once again. “I’m going to knock on the door if we can’t find another way of opening it,” she announces firmly. “If nothing happens, then we know that the zombies were accompanied by some else or that someone let them in. And if Nathan is right about the latter, we’re going to tip our hand and reveal ourselves to whoever’s inside when I knock. Are we prepared to do that right now?”
Seeing that her comrades are ready, Amiel walks up to the door. The lady ranger takes a deep breadth and then bangs three times on the stone portal with the hilt of her sword.
After a moment, the door slowly swings inward, accompanied by the grating sound of stone against stone. The room or passage beyond beckons as it were an open black maw. No light emits from beyond the lintel and neither the shadowy recess of the cliffs nor the setting sun allows light from outside the door to pass beyond its threshold.
As the door grinds open, Tiron moves into position directly behind Amiel. From there, he estimates he can deal with any hostility that should issue from the portal. The half-elven ranger nocks an arrow and, with a keen eye and quick reflex, covers the narrow opening.
Velgardrin stretches himself to his full four-foot, one-inch height thinking, “Don’t put an arrow in that one inch, Tiron.” He squints his eyes while peering into the darkened room beyond the door and waits, prepared to engage vile zombies or other undead should they appear.
The opening door catches Amiel by surprise momentarily. “It worked? Have we found the necromancer's lair?” she thinks to herself.
She immediately ducks away from the opening, moving to her left, where she stands with her back to the stone face, sword above held ready for whatever comes out of the darkness. Out of the corner of her eye, she notes her troops’ positions briefly, as she tries to pull a plan together to counter the screaming hordes of undead that are, undoubtedly, about to be unleashed.
Salik shakes his head at the futility of his extensive search in disgust. Sighing to himself, he sheaths his daggers, draws his scimitar, and goes into a crouch against the wall – ready to leap out at any foe that might emerge from the dark passageway.
Nathan carefully moves a few paces to his left to give himself a better line-of-sight in case a foe presents itself. From his stance and the position of his hands, it would appear that he is prepared to cast a spell, if necessary.
Hearing the knock on the door and the following exclamations and shuffling of positions, Malk quickly stores his sling bullets back in his pouch. He then glances around but maintains his station.
Alain continues to guard the party’s back. His only concession is to shuffle back, until he is back to back with Nathan. Feeling the tension in the air, his warrior instincts screaming at him. Alain’s combat crouch lowers, as well as the tip to his rapier, bringing it on line with anything that might come down the path.
Nothing immediately comes from the actions of the many adventurers. The dark hole in the side of the cliff continues to stare blankly back at the readied combatants.
Amiel lets out a slow breadth, relaxing her guard ever so slightly in order to breathe. “Get a torch or lantern lit, Vel,” she orders softly. She then points to Velgardrin, then to herself, then to Tiron, and then into the dark space. To the rest she gestures to wait.
Tiron obeys Amiel’s silent gestures and falls in several steps behind her. His bow – as he has been taught – is directed toward the ground for safety’s sake.
“I don’t be havern those,” replies Vel. “I’m thinkern yer needs ter be askern one o’ the ones who be speakern words -- ”
The rest of whatever Velgardrin was going to say is lost as he is interrupted by a loud grating sound emanating from the open portal. As eyes turn to the source of the sound, the stone door begins to close.
Amiel, about to unshoulder her backpack, looks up in amazement at the closing door. “Dammit!” she snarls as she realizes that there is little she can do to prevent it from shutting. Did it shut automatically? Or did someone – or something – shut it? The latter would mean that the group would have virtually no chance of surprise.
“Alain, get over here!” the lady ranger calls over her shoulder.
“Wait Amiel,” Tiron states calmly but sternly, “let the door close. We can surely open it again.” And he lets his bow go slack, as the threat of evil issuing from the door is momentarily gone.
Salik jumps as the door he was pressed again starts to move. Realizing that any mechanism that can move a solid stone door isn’t going to stop easily, he makes a snap decision and he steps inside the door calmly, perfectly at home in the darkness. The closing door – and a wall located to his immediate right as he crosses the threshold – impedes him from going more than a pace or two into the area beyond the portal.
“You idiot,” Amiel gasps in horror at the rogue’s actions.
Meanwhile, hearing Amiel’s call for assistance, Alain bounds into action. Pivoting around Nathan, Alain sprints toward the door. Unfortunately, Salik stands in the open doorway in front of the door, blocking the warrior’s chances of shouldering the door.
Velgardrin’s eyes, riveted on the blackness, see that the door is beginning to close. His hand holding his axe turns white-knuckled as he grips it tensely. “Hold! We be not ready ter enter!” he calls out as he still stands guarding the opening.
At the grating sound behind him, Malk stuffs his sling into his belt and quickly reaches for his short sword, whilst turning to take in events. A few feet to the bard’s right, Nathan does his best to remain ready to cast a spell if necessary, though obviously stunned at the events unfolding before his eyes.
Just inside the door, Salik’s instincts – honed by his training in blind fighting – scream that he is not alone. His ears pick up the barely perceptible whistles of incoming melee attacks.
Spang! Sparks come from behind the door as a metal weapon impacts the back of the door. An instant later, the rogue gasps as a large steel blade cleaves into his right arm.
At the same time, the door continues to close. Salik now finds himself slightly wedged between the closing door and the doorframe. The pressure of the closing door against his left side is relentless. His choices are clear. He can slip by the closing door and into the unseen foes; he can attempt to push back on the closing door – leaving him defenseless from the attacks from the darkness beyond; or he can simply allow the door to push him back outside.
Velgardrin, still guarding against what he can’t see, yells, “Salik! Out here!” Almost without conscious thought, his mind begins reviewing the words of a prayer of healing so that he is prepared to restore Salik, when possible.
“Let them shut the damn door!” Amiel snarls. ‘There’s no more need for stealth’, figures the lady ranger. ‘We’ve shown their hand – and in Salik’s case, almost had it hewn off!’
Nathan moves a pace or two to his left for a better line-of-sight, taking a position next to Malk. His knuckles white from a firm grip on his staff, he maintains his readiness to invoke magic.
As much as Malk’s curiosity is trying to get the better of him and telling him to rush and join the throng at door, his head tells him to stay put. He figures that if the others there can’t help Salik, then by the time he gets there it will be too late.
The bard draws his dagger and holds it in his left hand. His eyes sweep left, right, and behind to make sure that nothing takes the group by surprise whilst their attention is held at the door.
Tiron is shocked by Salik’s move and he stands in disbelief, anxiously awaiting what the fool will try to do. Meanwhile, he unconsciously draws his bow in readiness for the villain on the other side of the door.
“Alain, move aside!” the half-elf shouts in haste, suddenly realizing that the bulky warrior is in his line of fire.
Salik watches his companions calmly as they react in apparent confusion at his strange actions. Despite the blood that runs freely from his arm, he begins to walk slowly from the cavern, seemingly oblivious to the attacks from the darkness beyond.
Seeing Salik’s plight, Alain drops his main-gauche, and reaches for the base of Salik’s neck. Grabbing the rogue, Alain jerks him back and to the left, towards the party’s healer.
As the door swings shut, again there comes the sound of metal or steel ringing on stone. An instant later, the door closes with a solid thunk.
“Damn!” curses Amiel. She’s seething with rage as she barks orders, “We’re not going to let them prepare for us leisurely. Vel, heal Salik – one healing spell for now. Nathan, Dec, Tiron: we NEED magical light – no time for anything else. Cast it on this if you can,” she says holding up her sword.
“Alain,” the ranger continues without stopping, “step away from the door. We’re going to try the door again as soon s we’ve a light solution. For Torm’s sake, I hope that the magic of the door will work again!”
Bending down, Alain retrieves his main gouche. He then steps to the side of the door and turns to face the door. Readying his weapons, the warrior settles into a combat crouch, and waits to see what happens next.
Tirondalin, fearing an enemy rush from the door, quickly voices his own opinion, risking Amiel’s possible retribution later. “Forget light, ready for combat!” he shouts to the group, and keeps his bow trained on the area in front of the door that Alain has newly vacated.
“I don’ ha’e the chuffin’ spell fer light anyway!” curses Declan. The fiery mage remains in his place – now behind Alain – and awaits further instructions.
Meanwhile, Velgardrin immediately places his left hand on Salik’s wound and into the gash he releases Clangeddin Silverbeard’s power for healing that he sought in his morning devotions.
The silvery aura of Velgardrin’s patron deity flows over the rogue’s arm. A moment later, it vanishes, leaving no trace of a wound.
“Salik, behind me,” orders the dwarven priest when he sees the results of his powers. The rogue dutifully follows the instructions and takes a few steps back so that the Velgardrin is between him and the door.
At the rear of the group with Nathan, Malk shrugs his pack down his arms and over his weapons. He pushes it out of sight into the brambles with his foot, noting were it is hidden.
As the others curse in frustration over a lack of magical light, something is jarred in Malk’s memory. As if the discussion has provided the last piece of some mystical puzzle, the words to an incantation for magical light start to take shape in the bard’s head.
Velgardrin slips his pack off and slides it towards the wall and out of his way. Then, he continues to guard against attack from the now closed door.
Malk feels a tingling and sharp pain shoot across the back of his skull. He drops his weapons to the ground. Words suddenly appear in his thoughts. He speaks them quietly but firmly in a low musical voice. He understands them; as he speaks the words, he makes a small finger gesture with his left hand.
The bard points at the sharp end of Amiel’s sword. An instant later, Amiel’s sword begins to emit a bright light.
Alain looks back and forth between Malk and the glowing sword. Then settling his mind back on business, he looks back at the door and awaits Amiel’s next action.
Meanwhile, Tiron channels all of his strength into holding his bow taught, ready to launch an arrow into the throat of whatever should emerge from the door...if it has a throat.
Amiel nods and grins savagely to Malk. Seeing everyone’s readiness, she reaches out and hammers on the door with her fist again.
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