They awoke in filth and grime, underneath a grate twenty feet above. Tomatoes, urine and trash descended on them, thrown by the deranged crowd above. As their eyes cleared and they wiped away the after effects of drugs or trauma, they saw minotaurs, humans and stranger creatures jeering and cheering. Some chanted, “Die, die die…”
Aleister, a twitchy elven witch, until recently a cabin boy slave on a pirate ship caught in a storm, grasped the strange scorpion that washed up on the beach with him, wondering at its meaning. Wrecked in the same storm, a serene aasimar cleric of Pele named Keahilani looked in awe at the crowd. He gripped the holy symbol of Pele tight and smiled, purifying rotten tomatoes and eating them straight from the filth. Ono and Zuka Zuka, barbarian brothers, claimed to be Tulita from the Razor Coast. Yet the taint of Dajobas surrounded their scaly skin and clawed hands. Outcasts from their tribe, they knew they were hunted by their Tulita tribe who wished to wipe the dajobasu from the world. Their third brother was nowhere to be seen and they wondered at his well being.
Several of the strangers knew they were in the depths of the Pirate Confederacy in the far west of the Razor Sea. Freeport, to be exact. It did no good to dwell on it. Freeport could not be the destination for any of them. The dajobasu brothers would never locate the Jawbone of Mokoli Ali’i, the sacred cultural relic that might redeem them in the eyes of their people. Keahilani sought the last remnants of the oppressed Menehune race, surely not located within Freeport. Aleister simply wanted to be as far away from pirates as possible and discover the meaning of the strange scorpion and his new power.
Someone called from above, “Hey, Toz! They’re awake.” A minotaur, apparently Toz, bent down over the grate. Interrupting him was a young human woman in a fine dress. Seeming out of place and with a look of disgust, she said, “They will do. I’ve placed my wager.” Looking at the victims, she said, “I have something to even the odds.” She threw a sack through the grate. “If you make it out alive, I’ll have work for you and a safe place to rest.” With that, she disappeared from view.
Toz turned his attention to the kidnapped. “Here are the rules, maze rats. The maze contains many copper rings. If you collect five of these and place them upon the raised arm of the statue of old Vilthalas within three hours, you win your freedom. You’ll even gain 100 gold pieces each, a free night at the Siren’s Song brothel, and all the fame surviving the maze brings you. You might even gain a lucrative job.” The crowd laughed. Toz leaned closer, pressing his face to the grate. “Just so we’re clear: None of us believe you’ll gain these rewards. The gamblers here are all betting on just how long you’ll survive. Well…your possible employer did think you might survive.” He jostled a bag of coins and the crowd laughed. A piercing howl of anger and pain echoed through the maze. Toz grinned. “Sounds like Argus is hungry today. Best hurry and find those rings before he catches you!”
Portcullises raised. The strangers gathered what equipment they had and raced through a gauntlet of filth, enduring urine, fruit and being tripped with boat hooks from above. Fortunately, Zuka Zuka had some survival skills. Using a system to mark the walls, the party went deep into the maze. Whether lost or on the right path, the strangers entered a series of rooms where the audience could watch, taunt and change bets.
One circular chamber was full of toothless man traps, which Keahilani deftly discovered. As he hung upside down from a chain, a pit opened in the floor and kobold archers emerged from small holes. After Aleister put them to sleep, Ono and Zuka Zuka made quick work of a few and threw the rest into the pit, much to the dissatisfaction of the crowd.
Another chamber was filled with giant ants. As the vagabonds rummaged through the room, the audience threw jars of honey on them. The ants became agitated and sought the party out. Zuka Zuka fell to the ants’ mandibles, but Keahilani’s healing and Aleister’s sleep hexes were enough that Xenon could kill the rest. In yet another room, they rescued a rat man from a saw blade trap, enlisting the ratfolk in finding a copper ring. A mostly barren room presented a ship’s wheel and rudder that opened and closed doors. The spokes of the wheel were removed, some holding magic and clues, others summoning goblin dogs or releasing vipers. Zuka Zuka shrugged off a strange contact poison on one spoke and they moved on.
Before they could leave the room, Argus appeared. A fiendish, crippled minotaur with a rusty battle axe, Argus roared in agony and chased them about the room. Fortunately, he was easily avoided. At that point, the party heard raucous music and into the chamber burst nine roachling musicians. The crowd cheered and yelled, “It’s Chamidd and his troupe! Give Argus what he wants!” The roachlings zipped around Argus and taunted the beast, always one step ahead of the minotaur. Seeing a copper ring around a french horn, Aleister put one roachling to sleep while the party stole the french horn and ran for it. The roachling troupe was speechless for a moment and it seemed Argus might smash them. The maze runners saw an opening and left.
Along one hallway they encountered a crazed human named Nuytor. The man raved and asked them who they served. He claimed “the ring” was everywhere and nobody could be trusted. “Are you part of the ring?” He shouted nonsense about Dajobas, Harthagoa and, finally, claimed that Demogorgon would consume them all. The party calmed him and asked him to escort them through the maze. Before long, they met a pure white minotaur who introduced herself as Nal. She only asked that they not hurt Argus, stating he was a troubled creature and in great pain. If they did that, she promised to help if she could.
As Nal left, they found another circular room, this one with moldy tapestries depicting ships upon the high seas. A mosaic of a massive whale covered one wall. A statue of a half-elven man with his right hand pointing away and above stood next to an altar. Keahilani recognized this as an abandoned temple of Nethus, a rumored captured or killed deity of travel and sea voyage. Upon further examination, the statue seemed to be a frozen live being, somehow trapped in time and layered with salt crystals. Clearly this was the “statue” they must hang copper rings on.
With three copper rings, they looked around and wondered where to go next. A shuffling noise came from a far corner…