Standing in the midst of a heap of dead giant rats and their ratman masters, the party turned to see if Radek might somehow have survived that deadly attack of choking dust, but the blood running from the corner of his mouth made it clear he’d gone back to the Dwerfater. So his pockets and pack were looted, though his gift from the Dwerfater, the Warhammer of the Goblin King, disappeared from whence it came.
Searching one of the ratman bodies up on the ledge, the party found the ratman just wore ragged old clothes and carried short sword and short bow. An empty vial nearby suggested possible use of poison in the earlier barrage. The other two bodies were left alone to avoid the risks of getting up to them, and the ratman who leapt down to attack in melee was no better armed than the others. Exploring the large rat tunnels these creatures emerged from did not appeal to the party, and the stairs down could wait for a bit more reconnaissance.
So they went back out to the large chamber where the underground stream ran through and, after navigating the outer edges of the stoney chamber, they looked for some way to cross swift-moving water. In the end, it appeared the shortest jump would be about seven feet with a running start, just a bit longer than anyone was comfortable clearing with absolute certainty. So Velma tied herself to a rope, handed the other end to Grumbly, and had a go. She stuck the landing, no sweat.
The other side of the stream blocked off a smaller area of the cavern, not remarkably different than the northern side. However, exploration of the southern walls showed evidence of burn marks from floor to ceiling along some 40 feet of wall. Velma avoided getting too close to that and poked her head into the various ratholes that were apparent. In one slightly larger hole, she could see the remains of a body with no head. Only 15 or 20 feet away, she felt she could get to it easily. And she could! But as she reached out over the corpse to grab the helmet she could see lying nearby she was suddenly swarmed by a dozen giant rats!
She tried to make a break for it, but they came over her too fast. Quick-thinkers on the other bank pulled on the rope to yank her out of the rats toward the stream, and at the same time her dead weight on the rope helped lead a healer across to her as he splashed through the stream. Somehow he just managed to lay hands on her as he hit the southern shore, causing the rats to scurry away for a moment. Baba Zeez jumped across to assist directly, while others fired ranged attacks, and they beat all of them off Velma in short order.
While the party worked to get the beaten Velma back across, Baba Zeez climbed into the rat tunnel she’d found to see what had gotten her interest earlier. He found the headless corpse and the broken helmet nearby. He grabbed the old headgear and investigated the cavern beyond where the giant rats came from. Finding nothing else, he emerged and joined the party on the northern shore.
Since nothing further was obvious to explore that wasn’t some kind of rat hole, even a man-sized rat hole, the obvious way to proceed was to continue down the stairs that seemed to be guarded by the ratmen.
Down they climbed, some 100 feet according to Grumbly. The room at the bottom was a scene of animal carnage. Giant rat bodies were strewn everywhere, blood splattered on the walls, not unlike the carnage they’d created above, but the wounds were seemingly from some large animal. There was not much other evidence in here, and on further exploration, the four doors leaving the room were all found to be locked.
Pretty much choosing at random, since no other clear indications were available, they tried to unlock a door using their thieving tools. The first attempt failed, but a more deft hand succeeded, and they were through. Not far down the passage they found a room containing a massive sarcophagus. Leaning on one side was the corpse of a hobbit, leaning on a rotted old backpack. Inexplicably, the room was icy cold as well, and the northern hall out of the room had a great racket coming from it, which turned out to be a 4-foot spiked ball that rolled around on its own apparently. The hobbit’s rotted backpack contained rotted food and a rotted pouch. Baba Zeez’s persistence paid off though, because the rotted pouch contained 120 silver coins!
Since the northern hall with the rolling spiked ball did not look like a safe way to go, they backed out and tried another door. The next door resisted all efforts to have its lock picked. Even Souca Yant tried an unlocking spell, but nothing worked. Baba remembered seeing a hand-axe lodged deeply in the northern door, so he yanked it out and started hacking at the locked door that resisted the best lock-pickers the party had. After 20 minutes of loud chopping, Baba indicated the way forward was cleared. The rest of the party looked at the mangled door, splinters sticking out everywhere, and only room to squeeze past. Oh well…