A moment of truth is at hand.
It is 10:30pm on Day Six, and the Heroes and their Dwarf companions crouch at the high-water mark of the lake-pond, guessing the exact location of the secret entrance. The sky has turned purple-blue, the stars emerge in sweeping clusters, and the last light of day has left behind murky shadows blending into a uniform dark. Theirs is a time for action; the vulnerability of night is upon them. Ahead lies uncertainty.
Lester volunteers to make the foray into the unknown. He bundles his hawk familiar, Percy, in cloth and silences its protests with stern words. Then, wading into the chilly shallows, Lester draws a deep breath and dips under the surface, moving toward the shoreline.
Feeling ahead, Lester finds open space before him and unnaturally smooth stone above his head. After about two feet, he feels the stone above him end and his hand breaks the surface into air. Lester comes up and finds himself in a pitch-black space, the echo of his coughing and sputtering the only sounds.
His hand finds a stick, and the Halfling casts a Light spell on it. Next he unfurls an indignant Percy, sets him upon his shoulder, and they look around. The chamber is worked stone; a shallow dome above and a sloping masonry surface leading out of the water to the lip of a square opening. The opening is a tunnel, a mere three feet high by three feet wide, leading out of sight into black shadows under earth. A groove in the floor of the square stone tunnel has a thin trail of water, and a lot of slime. This chamber smells of wet earth and decaying vegetation.
Outside, in the dark, the Heroes see the shimmer of Lester’s light through the water, and queue up for a quick swim to join him. The Dwarfs are most reluctant to get wet, while at the same time the most eager to be under ground.
The chamber becomes cramped quarters as the Party crowds in. They prepare to enter the tunnel : one of the Dungeon Delvers will go first, followed by the Heroes, then the second Delver. The remaining Scouts and the Dwarven Defender will stay in the exit chamber, and await the arrival of the main Dwarven force in an hour or so.
The lead Delver inspects the tunnel entrance, finds nothing of immediate concern, and ducks inside. The Heroes follow.
What comes next is not a pleasant trek for most of the Heroes. The newest addition to the party, the bald Cleric calling himself “CHAMPION” GODFREY KENT (played by A.T.), has the worst of it, standing 6’7” and crouch-crawling in this long stone coffin in the most discomfort. He has cast a second Light spell, this one on a small rock, to at least improve visibility. The Delvers and Lester are well at ease. But the Humans and Half-Orcs, pressed above and on the sides by slimy black stone and in tight single file with poor light, are unnerved.
For twenty minutes the group shuffles and squeezes along, the minutes long and maddening. The tunnel runs straight, on a barely perceptible incline. The floor is slick but not slippery. The Delver up front calls a halt. He sees an obstruction ahead.
It is a gate, possibly locked, and possibly trapped. The Delver has the Heroes hold position, then the Dwarf eases forward and spends five long minutes carefully inspecting the metal grille blocking their path.
At this time, the Heroes make a Will or Fort Save, at their option. Genive, Lester, Wobberts, Kartug, and Kent have no problem. Arxius Cole does not succeed in his Save, and succumbs to the claustrophobic oppression of the tight space. He is Shaken until such time as he can get into open space.
The Delver completes his inspection and reports back. There is no lock and no trap. The gate is a metal frame around a mesh of steel wire forming 1” holes, meant to keep out vermin such as rats. The gate is hinged at the top, swinging downstream in the event of high water flow through this tunnel, and swinging closed when the flow is gone. The Party can bypass this gate by simply holding it up as each person passes through.
Twenty more minutes trickle past as the Heroes and their escorts slowly, painfully crawl deeper into the earth. Only the grunts of their effort and creaking of equipment make any sound, and at that they make too much sound to permit anyone to hear anything else. They keep wary eyes on the groove in the floor, ever cautious against a change in the flat sheen of water to be found there.
Again their progress is stayed as the lead Delver spots something ahead – another grate, this one a much tighter mesh of wire. He spends a few minutes investigating, then reports his unfortunate findings. The gate is not trapped, but it is locked – and locked from the other side.
Another Save is required as the Heroes try to rest in this narrow stone chute; Arxius’s condition does not worsen into a state of Panic, but the Dread Pirate Wobberts is unsettled and finds himself also Shaken. The other Heroes are maintaining control of their nerves.
Some ideas are floated as to how to bypass this obstacle. Kartug offers to smash the gate down, but he will not be able to squeeze past those allies in front of him to try. Lester considers a Stone Shape spell or something similar, but the tunnel is worked stone and therefore immune to alteration by the incantation.
It is Genive’s suggestion that ultimately proves easiest. She passes over the Chime of Opening to the Delver at the head of the group. He taps the base of the gate, the Chime sounds and a charge is expended, and the Average-grade lock instantly clicks open. The Dungeon Delver swings up the gate, and quietly reports that they have come to a large chamber. The Heroes eagerly crawl out of the tunnel to stand up and stretch. As he passes the gate, Lester jams up the locking mechanism with some odds and ends from his pockets. Now this hinged gate cannot lock behind them.
The Heroes find themselves in a large, pitch-black, open space. With a 40-foot radius of sight around each of the Light spells in effect, the Heroes consult their map and guess that they have arrived in the Cistern Room on the 5th underground level of the Moonwatch fortress.
Looking around, the Heroes make out a wall behind them and a curved wall before them, both lost up into the darkness. Even as Godfrey tosses his Light stone up in the air and catches it again, the arching globe of light only illuminates the seemingly endless wall, and the silo-like cistern at the center of this chamber. When the Heroes are all free of the tunnel and stand quiet, listening for danger, all they hear is the distant echo of flowing water, presumably echoing off a distant ceiling from the open column of the cistern silo.
It is cool in here, and smells of mildew, and the walls show green and black patches of harmless, swamp-variety slime. Outside their light radius, it is entirely black. Despite the tomb-like atmosphere, Arxius and Wobberts are much more at ease, their Shaken condition dispelled.
Off to the left is a door, barely visible at the edge of the magic glow. The Heroes decide to make this chamber a temporary staging area. They station the Dungeon Delvers here; one will hustle back to the tunnel outflow chamber to update the Dwarven Defender and Scouts, and the other will remain at this end of the tunnel and secure the entry point to the fortress.