|Artwork officially owned and copyrighted from the 4th edition Monster Manual|
Braum and Ember stood dead silent for a tense moment, their eyes locked on the interior of the wardrobe door. The little beasties on the outside were pounding with all of the force they could, but none of the kobolds seemed to be trying to open the door. Either they were too dumb to try, which honestly seemed unlikely to Braum, or they were smart enough to know that actually opening the rune-locked door would end badly for all involved.
The battering of the wood lastly a only few more seconds, though it felt much longer.
It was only after all had fallen quiet, the silence broken only by the sound of scampering feet pattering out of the room beyond, did the two adventurers explore their surroundings.
Turning away from the battered armoire, Ember openly groaned. The illusionary wall had dropped them into yet another stone hallway.
"Ants. I'm saying it now: you're all descended from ants."
Braum grimaced as he stared at the hard, cold stone but for much different reasons than the pissed off summoner. The earth and rock of the hall was a comfort to him given the sheer amount of time he'd spent on the surface since he had become a paladin. All the same, they had just passed through a magical barrier into an unknown hall and officially had no idea where they were going.
Much like the halls before, this one twisted and worked its way downward and deeper into the earth. However it turned out to be much shorter than anything else they'd dealt with. After just a couple hundred yards, the hall emptied out into a dark, cavernous void.
"Stay here." Braum grunted to Ember who was idly glancing into the darkness while holding the little celestial monkey.
The mage offered no qualms and, past the precipice of the hall, Braum was happy to make out shapes in the darkness. Great long shelves ran along the edges of the room and disappeared into the darkness beyond. There was another, similar one at the top of a great stone stairwell nearby that seemed to run parallel with the stairs.
No. Not shelves. Braum thought as he got closer.
The stone structures protruded from the walls and along banisters but they weren't flat. Instead they seemed to be filled with something. Not shelves, but a basin perhaps? They all seemed to be topped off to the brim with sort of brown and tarry liquid whose pungent aroma stung his nose as he approached it.
Petrol? Lamp oil?
He recognized the smell but couldn't place it. Whatever it was, Braum felt pretty certain it would burn though.
"So let's light it." Ember said nonchalantly after Braum returned to explain his findings to him.
"Could be a trap."
They stared at each other for a long moment before their gazes fell down to the celestial monkey chittering away in Ember's arms.
"Let the monkey do it." they said in near unison.
And so, a minute later, the little celestial monkey was wandering into the darkness grasping one of their misbegotten torches from earlier. It clutched the flaming stick in both hands as it waddled on its hind legs towards the nearest basin, occasionally glancing back with a look of disdain and annoyance. Braum was happy it didn't look afraid; he might have felt guilty otherwise.
It clambered up the side of the closest basin awkwardly and, with no fanfare outside of one last glance back at Ember and Braum, tossed the flaming torch into the petrol.
The oil caught fire instantly.
To their surprise however, nothing seemed to explode or detonate or punish them in anyway for their actions. Instead, the fires spread cleanly and seamlessly down the the length of the basins; connecting in multiple areas and working quickly to illuminate a truly massive room far larger than either of them had imagined. The flaming petrol extended as far as they could see and what they saw caught Braum's heart in his throat.
Treasure. Literal mountains of it.
The paladin could not even guess at the size of the room, but he didn't doubt it could fit a small townscape in it, at the very least. Hills, plateaus, and mountains dotted the "landscape", but instead of being made of rock or mineral, they were constructed out of piles of long forgotten coins and loot; many of them so old they didn't even appear to be made out of modern day precious metals. There was certainly some gold and silver, but piles of iron, copper, nickle, and lead seemed to shine back tenfold for every one that glinted gold.
And, at the center of the room, a pedestal stood towering above it all. Upon it was a spherical gem. The sphere seemed to light and spark and crackle with energy despite its smooth, ruby-red surface. The serene globe was at odds with the internal torment of arcs and bolts of magic that the gem contained; a veritable maelstrom beneath a thin shell of calm.
"Me thinks that's our prize." Ember commented.
The pair stepped forward, heading towards the large stairwell that lead to the base of the room, when a loud clattering sound interrupted them. Along the Eastern wall, a large pile of iron coins and scrap seemed to be moving all on its own, pressing inward from against the wall.
"Looks like we're going to need to earn it though." Braum muttered.
As if to punctuate his point, the high, squeaky voices of kobolds could be heard screeching somewhere beyond.
Ember's face hardened in recognition.
"Cover me." was all the normally witty summoner said in response.
The man snapped his fingers and, with a crack like a thunderbolt, the celestial monkey that had just began to paw at a nearby pile of copper coins disappeared in a flash and a blast of blue smoke. A single, echoing screech of defiance fading into thin air was all that remained a half moment later as mage brought his hands together and started to chant.
Had Braum decided to keep watching, he would have seen the runes form on the ground and the distinct shape of the eidolon begin to materialize.
But he didn't have the time.
They had no way back, no way forward, and had to retrieve that orb and get the hell out before they were overrun or something even worse showed up. He already knew from having seen Ember work with the monkey that it would take him a good minute or two to summon the big guns and that meant it was only him between the mage and whatever the hell was coming to get them.
Barreling down the stairs, he once again drew his hammer and raised his shield; this time certain they would see use. And, at the bottom, he planted himself firmly to the ground; ready to keep from anyone or anything that might try to get past and up to the defenseless summoner above.
He would hold the line no matter what.
The screeching reached a crescendo and the hoard of iron treasure gave way to a wall of bodies. Scrabbling, skittering, and yelling, dozens of small, dragon-like humanoids pried their ways past the treasure that had been blocking the previously hidden hall. Their roars filled the chamber as they rushed him, weapons held high.
And, as the first creature was brought to the floor in a single swing of his mighty hammer, Braum roared back in defiance.
(Hello Lovelies, I do hope you all enjoyed Part 6 of Dragon's Maw. I wanted to give you a heads up based on some comments I've received that I'm only going to put out one more part of Braum's story for now as that will be the end of this little arc. I will definitely be picking it up later, but I want to move on to other work to regain some inspiration. I need to return to Little Island Tales and I have a few other smaller works that I'd like to put out as well. So, keep your eye out for the last entry here shortly and I hope you enjoy what will be the climax of this dungeon adventure!)