Spider Bard
Or: Paranoia is Your Only Friend

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White Plume Mountain is, for all future reference, a living hell.

Living hells bear little resemblance to your standard eternal-damnation-for-hocking-a-gold-piece hells that paladins are always talking about. Living hells are fear, and stench, and sweat, and no baths for hundreds of miles. Living hells are water up to your knees hiding green slimes and beholder-kin and traps of all kinds. Living hells are those things that make you wake up, bolt upright, because you could have sworn that sound was an incantation when it was actually the damn mage pissing into a stone jug and singing about it.

The mountain had always been there, but the dungeon complex was, as Mythran had explained to me, a sort of hero trap. Its original builder, Keraptis, used the lure of legendary artifacts to draw heroes and cut-throats from all across Oerth so that he could suck their souls out and use them to modify his body further towards godhood. Keraptis had long since been killed no less than four kinds of dead, but whoever had taken over the complex had a serious thing for his experiments, so we'd been sent in to deal with the problem. The thought had begun to dawn on me that walking right into the trap was not the most solid plan we could have devised.

The rotting wooden doors had given way to solid steel portals that Mythran informed me were designed to stop the total flooding of the dungeon from the upwelling of boiling water beneath. One such door stood in front of us, and I listened at it.

"There's some kind of churning, sloshing sound on the other side," I informed my companions, rubbing the cold out of one pointed ear.

"Well, open it," Mythran told me. I put my gloved hand on the knob and opened it inward. There was a small stone platform to stand on, and the rest of the room was filled with a whirlpool of astounding violence and speed. Two more platforms allowed anyone who could actually manage to get there to stand before two more doors.

"Jade," Lythan said slowly, "what did you say those boots of yours did again?"

"They let me walk on walls," I answered. I didn't wait for the order to explore the other two rooms; one foot was placed against the wall, followed by the other, and then I was horizontal. Walking along the walls was easy enough. Vertigo had never bothered me much.

Opening the first door, I found a bare room containing a single chest. I drew my replacement longsword and strapped on my battered buckler.

"What is it?" Mythran asked, straining to see in vain.

"Look, either it's going to try to kill me horribly or it isn't. I think you're enjoying this too much."

"You are enjoying this a little too much," Lythan agreed as I walked into the room. I was expecting a trap. I wasn't expecting the chest to burst into a mass of pseudopod and knock me out of the room. Only a hasty incantation from Mythran saved me; I landed on a disk of solid green force, rather than in the whirlpool. The door to the false chest's room slammed shut.

"Mimic," the mage said sagely. "Nasty little bastards. Try the other door."

The other door opened on well-oiled hinges and I looked in to see the two most beautiful elf maidens I'd ever laid eyes on, waist deep in the water with absolutely no clothing on. Vaguely, I felt the need to leave the door open, but my hand shut it behind me.

"Bathe with us?" one of them, a maid with dark hair, pleaded.

"I can't," I had enough presence of mind to plead. "I need to find a trident. The sphinx said it was nearby."

The other maid, this one with hair as yellow as gold, held up an ornate coral trident. Wave. One of the three artifacts we'd come looking for.

"Come and get it," she invited, and I kicked off my boots and waded into the pool, armor and all. Immediately, the two maidens leapt upon me and tried to hold me under, but one of my hands had already grabbed the trident.

The power shock was immense. I did not worship the god who laid claim to the trident. But it blasted the kelpies off of me, and I was able to keep a grip on the weapon long enough to run out of the water and through the door.

I really should have been paying attention. I put one foot on the wall, slipped, and fell into the whirlpool. The last thing I saw was Lythan grabbing a rope before my skull dashed against a rock at the bottom.

It was more than two weeks before I awoke once more, my soul shoved forcibly back into its mortal coil.

"That's two, Twitchy. Kelpies? Really? C'mon. And try not to make this a habit, hey? You're expensive."