It seems a bad idea to leave anything able to sneak up behind them, so they decide to examine the other side-passage before heading up the main tunnel. It leads down a similar corridor, whose carvings are a little better-preserved. These seem more devotional in character, perhaps funereal or religious scenes? At the end is a substantial stone chamber, with no door and only simple geometric shapes marking the walls. It is empty, except for a stone box in the centre, several feet wide and deep. Wary of further monsters, they peer around cautiously, but discover nothing lurking. At last, the Professor suggests Lawson examine the chest. The others step back cautiously, which proves to be a wise move. As the guardsman carefully heaves up the lid, a hidden catch triggers and bronze flechettes whicker out in all directions. Lawson yelps in pain and reels back with two of the darts protruding between the rings of his mail shirt. Fortunately, the wounds aren’t too deep, and any poison has long since lost its potency. Having pried out the darts, he finds the box carefully packed with what seem to be offerings. A number of wooden items have long-since rotted away, but there are small nuggets of precious metal, two large pearls, and a strangely-patterned circlet of iron and leather that shows no signs of rust. With the danger clearly over, the others cluster round to examine the items, and promptly announce that the circlet has a faintly magical aura. They spend some time studying it and muttering minor incantations, and eventually decide it strengthens the wearer’s mind against attack.
“I think Lawson should have it,” suggests the Professor, and the others agree, perhaps a little too unanimously to be flattering. However, Lawson accepts the circlet and slides it carefully onto his head, a little suspiciously. It doesn’t seem to do any harm. The rest of the treasures he stows away in his pack, despite a couple of desultory protests.
Heading down the larger central passageway, they hear the sound of dripping water. There’s the faint light of a storm lantern and voices muttering up ahead; Raylin can just make out complaints about the weather interspersed with what sounds like a game of cards. Someone mutters that there won’t be any pickings to be had in this sort of weather. Bandits, it seems.
The long stone hall opens out into a larger space, furnished crudely with rotting tables and rusted iron implements. The walls are moss-grown and any decoration is long since lost to the ravages of time. Rain is falling from a crumbling hole in the ceiling, and a knotted rope hangs down from it to the floor. The water trickles out through a opening in one corner, clearly designed as a drain. In a dry corner, a pile of surprisingly new sacks and boxes has been heaped up, and a heap of rags and furs lies nearby. Clearly, someone has been using the place. The lantern casts a faint glow over the room, and picks out Cedric like a white ghost swooping overhead. The Professor feels a pulse of warning from the owl; someone’s here. Despite the rumbling of the storm, the group are making a fair amount of noise stumbling through the stony passages, and two men rise from their game to look around. There’s no opportunity for talking; as soon as the men spot the intruders, they brandish their swords and charge forwards. Mr. Barky dashes forwards to snap at one of them, while Lawson closes with the other. There’s a flurry of clashing metal and the fleshy thud of crossbow bolts, and their attackers are down.
Searching the room, they confirm their decision that the two men are bandits. The random assortment of sacks, boxes and amphorae look more like plunder than anything. They couldn’t expect anything but execution from the authorities, so it’s no surprise they attacked on sight. Discarding sword and shield, Lawson hauls himself up the rope overhead. In the ruined building above, he finds a recent camp and a sizeable rubbish pile, but nothing else. They leave the goods for now and continue on. Raylin takes a short sword from one of the bandits, as the crossbow is a bit unwieldy in these close quarters. As she does so, she spots arcane symbols on the man's belt, and carefully removes it. It bears a mild load-bearing enchantment to help the wearer carry heay burdens, which the delicate priestess decides will prove quite useful.
The passage splits now, with a narrow side-tunnel heading off on a sharp angle, while the main passage leads to an ornate stone door. They debate what to do: head into what looks like the most important chamber, or make sure nothing’s lurking behind them? There could easily be more bandits here, or some other horror like the vargouille. Examining the ground, there are signs of footprints near the door, but none seem to go through. Presumably it’s bound with the same enchantments that held the outer doors, so the bandits couldn’t get inside. Even if the spell is now broken, nobody seems to have gone inside, so they decide to check the side-passage.
The passage is too narrow to walk side-by-side. Ghosting ahead, Cedric suddenly flutters wildly, and a sense of violent alarm makes the Professor wince. The owl barely avoids tangling himself in a large spidersweb that stretches across the ceiling. He balks at the danger and swoops back to the safety of the main tunnel. Feeling the need for stealth, they leave the clanking Lawson as a rearguard. Up ahead they find a doorway whose wood door lies rotting in the corridor. It’s quieter this far into the mound, and smells of dust and time. In the dim glow of the magic light, the floor of the chamber ahead is greyish and irregular. Raylin, Elefthenea, Mr. Barky slip forward to investigate, and the wolf suddenly squirms as he finds himself trapped in another of the webs. As Elefthenea and Raylin try to free him, a huge spider drops from the ceiling above and sinks its fangs into the priestess. Panic ensues. As the injured Raylin staggers away to safety, Elefthenea conjures a giant centipede from thin air to fend off the spider. The two monsters struggle with each other while Mr. Barky tears his way free of the web. Though the centipede can't get a grip on its enemy, the others take advantage of the distraction to hack at the spider in relative safety. By the time the centipede evaporates, the spider is badly wounded. It’s a nasty fight, and Raylin struggles against the numbing poison, but they manage to finish the creature off. As they pause to recover their breath, the Professor spots something glinting amidst the silk-wrapped animal remains: gold! One of the larger bodies turns out to be humanoid, perhaps an unwary third outlaw who stumbled in here? A rotting pouch has spilled its contents, and the Professor gathers up a heap of coin and a small pearl.