The guards fell easily, their forms crumpling into piles on the rough-hewn mine floor. Finneus grabbed a keyring and ran to the closest prisoner. As he turned the key the frightened man looked only slightly more relived. “If you kill the guards, there will be nothing to stop Them coming up from below.”
The last of the guards made a thump as Finneus spun around to yell at his comrades. “Be quick; we’re human have some company!”
They came from the darkness at the far end: a pale reptilian standing on its hind legs, thinner and more lithe than a Dragonborn. The first one out leapt onto one of the shackled men, claws raking his skin and jaws biting into the back of his neck. His scream ended before it reached a crescendo. More slithered forward, while Bluce and Relic and Gronk turned to watch this new threat. As they did so, a massive hunk of scaly flesh stepped out of a side tunnel near Finneus and the prisoners near him.
Gwen saw that the bard was in trouble, and stepped forward, her fingers swirling light before her, runes hanging in the afterimage. She completed a series, swept her hand back through the lot of them, and the light burst out, reflecting off every surface it hit and focusing on the large lizard, who staggered back in pain. Finneus unlocked the prisoner next to him, then ran to get more keys and free more people. “Some of us have been slaves,” Jil had said. “And we know that no one should have to live through that.”
Bluce was twirling and knocking Lizardmen to the ground left and right, and soon enough he drew the ire of the chieftain of the war party. Relic crossed the tunnel and engaged the Lizardman dreadnought. Gronk ran straight past the front line and tackled a Lizardman bearing a contraption that spit fire. Jil continued to move among the slaves, freeing them and trying to protect them as they exited the battlefield. The fight raged on as more and more little Lizardmen kept emerging from the darkness, but when the chieftain fell they stopped coming, and the ones who remained beat a hasty retreat. No one tried to stop them; leaving these mines dangerous seemed like a good idea.
Outside, they reconnected with the Wolverines, the band of abolitionists who had led them to the mine to begin with. The freed were asked what they wished to do: some volunteered to help free others, and some ventured out on their own, but most wished only to sail for home. the problem was that the SS Minnow wasn’t large enough to ferry the lot of them all at once. The Wolverines proposed a deal: they would safeguard those who stayed behind if they could get some help with a problem they were having. Not seeing any other options, it was agreed.
Beneath the oldest section of Batsereg, in the dim catacombs, a large chamber smelled sweet with fermentation. The lights from the walls offered only dim illumination, but the giant vats in the center of the room could be seen plainly enough, the brownish-green sludge inside them swirling slowly. ”Slurry” their guide had called it: it was a foul mix of whatever was available, and it tasted terrible, but it was a ready foodstuff in a city whose farmlands had disappeared.
The trouble was how unstable a large slurry vat became. If you weren’t careful with how the valves that shot new ingredients into the mix, bubbles formed, then grew as they slowly filtered up to the surface, when they’d be a couple dozen feet across. The gases inside would lift them into the air, where they’d float about until they collided with whatever happened to be in their way. Then the entire structure would burst, spewing hot gas and sticky treacle onto the surroundings.
The three vats in this chamber had been spewing forth bubbles for a few days, and the minders had been forced to evacuate as the bubbles grew in size. Now the room was full of them, and each one had to be punctured in turn. Gronk and Relic charged forth to do the dirty work, with Bluce offering Gwen his cloak to protect her from the acidic sludge before he too moved into the fray. Finneus stayed in the back, blowing bursts of sound at any creature that threatened to get his cloak dirty. They all emerged covered nearly an hour later. They had earned the freemen’s keep.