After emptying out the wooden chest and checking the rest of the cavern, Jenassa and I find ourselves loaded down so much loot that we’re practically dragging our packs on the ground. Not that this is too surprising. We haven’t sifted through our belongings since we left the shipwreck camp, and our assortment of goods has grown rather cumbersome. All our recent activity is starting to catch up with us, and as we drag ourselves back to the lower part of the cave, I find myself starting to feel sleepy — and, of course, ravenous. I start digging around in my pack for a quick snack, but much to my annoyance, all the food is trapped beneath our recent load of acquisitions. It’s impossible to reach it without dumping my pack out on the ground and reorganizing it all — which, as I know from experience, takes far too much time when I’m already hungry and tired.
Jenassa admits she has the same problem. It’s inconvenient, especially since we’re both exhausted, but if we want to eat hearty and sleep well, then we’re going to have to head back outside and empty our packs into our horses’ saddlebags. It’s not ideal, but it means we can get started on dinner a lot faster. So, naturally, I’m on board with this plan.
If I had built up any expectations before stepping through a secret door deep in a hagraven’s lair, they would have been shattered within the very first minute. Aside from the fact that we’re still inside a cave, the area ahead of us is a stark contrast to the space we just left behind — from a damp, chilly, shadowy tunnel full of filth and spiders, to a warm, dry, well-lit expanse with a relatively clean floor and a welcome lack of arachnids. While it’s definitely a change for the better, it’s also a cause for concern. It seems pretty clear that this area is the real hideout, and the cavern we just left was nothing more than an elaborate entryway, with the hagraven and spiders acting as lookouts for whatever else might be hiding back here.
The other thing I notice right away is… the table.
There’s nothing particularly special about it. It’s just a sturdy wooden table, located quite close to the hidden doorway. But since we’ve just been in a place where the most sophisticated construction was a rickety bunk made of sticks and rawhide, seeing an everyday table in here is more than a tad surprising.
The other surprising thing is what’s on the table. I’m not sure what I expected, but I sure didn’t expect to see a collection of potions and shiny gemstones. Huh. Usually we have to fight more enemies than a single hagraven and a couple of spiders before we get to any of the good stuff, but I’ll take it. I’m just turning toward Jenassa to direct her attention to this most interesting find, when something else happens that I didn’t expect — and it nearly makes me jump out of my skin.
Passing through the entrance of the sea-battered cave, we find ourselves in the rough equivalent of a small vestibule. And I do mean rough. The cavern walls glisten with damp, but there’s no hint of lichen, seaweed, mushrooms, or any other substance that might lend a yielding texture to the implacable stone. Beneath our feet, the stone floor slopes down toward a wider opening that seems to be leading into the main chamber. It’s also pretty dark in here, but there’s just enough light for us to see. By unspoken agreement, we decide against lighting a torch until we have a better idea of what other creatures we might find inhabiting this place.
Once past the small entryway, the cave opens up dramatically. A velvety green phosphorescence shimmers distantly from the walls around us, and a narrow skylight pierces the roof above an inky underground river. Our path leads us along a wide sandy bank, but in the strange light, the substance beneath our feet appears less like sand and more like soot. It’s an unsettling scene, and for a moment I seriously consider heading back outside and taking my chances on the cold stony beach.
But aside from the gloomy view, the first thing I notice is the noise of the water. It’s a constant cascade of murmur, bubble, and splash, amplified by the rocky walls and startling in its volume. Surprised by the intensity of the sound, I turn to say something to Jenassa, only to find that my hasty speech is echoing throughout the cavern. So much for being stealthy. I immediately stop talking and make a mental note to proceed silently in here, since the ongoing reverberation of even the slightest sound makes normal conversation next to impossible.