Adventure Date: August 7, 2009
Last Updated: November 17, 2009
Neon, with a grin, gave the door a gentle nudge and it swung open silently. As they edged into the portal, they could see two men, in the middle of a discussion, turn towards them with expressions of surprise. One was Shan Thar, still clad in his armor, while the other was dressed in sorcerers' robes.
“....” Neon said, forgetting that the magical sphere of silence still encompassed the group. Rushing in, Neon pierced the sorcerer through the torso, pinning him to the wall behind him. Okul was fast on Neon's heels, charging Shan Thar and slamming him with his spear. Both men writhed in pain, their mouths open to shriek, but no sound came forth.
With an agile tumble, Swan took aim and launched her arrow, penetrating the sorcerer's right lung. A painful blow, but not instantly fatal. His lips writhed as he either begged for mercy or cursed his fate – in the end, no one would ever no what his final words were. Risca struck Shan Thar with his axe, almost severing his arm, blood pumping out from the wound. Overcome by their wounds, both slipped into unconsciousness.
Gideon ran in, pulling out bandages, and tended to Shan Thar's wounds. Tying off a knot over the deep cut in his arm, Gideon managed to stop the flow of blood and stabilized Shan Thar's condition. Seeing that Shan Thar was out of immediate danger, he turned to the sorcerer. Instantly, Gideon could see that he was beyond his help. Reaching over, Gideon gently closed his eyes. Turning his attention back to Shan Thar, Gideon continued to treat his wounds.
As Kilzadi entered the room, Swan and Neon were already searching for hidden treasures and secrets while the others moved the body of the dead sorcerer to a corner of the room. It was surreal to see all these actions being done in complete silence. In a rush, sound returned. Kilzadi could hear Shan Thar's raspy gasps, the soft padding of Swan and Neon's feet as they moved about, and the chime of glass as Okul examined flasks and books knocked from a book case. Pulling out his slim wand, Kilzadi spoke a brief word of command and suddenly he could see the magic as a shimmery aura. Scanning the room, he quickly put aside any items that glowed to his enhanced vision. The pile of magic items grew quickly as he placed six potions, three from the sorcerer and three from Shan Thar, together with a wand and a medallion that had hung from Shan Thar's neck.
Swan let out a small, triumphant cheer as she pulled out a chest hidden from view from underneath a desk. Neon's nimble fingers gently scanned the surface of the chest for any signs of hidden needles or other traps but found none. “Hey Risca,” Neon called. “You tend to have good luck opening chests (except for the time you went blind). How about you give this one a try?”
Risca walked over, muttering something about namby-pamby sissy boys, and opened the chest wide. The pulse of magic was bright to Kilzadi's eyes as Risca removed nine small vials, as well as three rolls of vellum from the chest. Kilzadi quickly bade Risca to add it to the pile of other magic items. Peering deeply at the potions, reading their magic auras, Kilzadi was able to determine the magical properties of several of them, though some thwarted his attempts.
Gagging Shan Thar, Gideon performed a quick search and found a key tucked under his belt. “What could this be for?” Turning to Kilzadi, he saw that he was in the middle of examining potions so Gideon focused his attention to the scrolls found in the chest. As he picked them up, he could feel the divine energy stored in the seemingly innocent rolls of vellum. Tucking them away, he returned to tending to the prisoner.
Shan Thar's eyes opened slowly – he was obviously in a tremendous amount of pain. “Kevrin?” he gasped before slumping into unconsciousness.
“Anything else?” Okul asked.
“Nothing,” replied Swan. She had just finished examining the room for any other hidden surprises, but turned up empty-handed.
“The wand we found doesn't seem to have any runes or markings on it,” Kilzadi stated. “Probably not a good idea to play around with it now.” Tucking it under his belt, he turned to the others. “Shall we proceed?”
“I don't think they still know we're here,” said Neon. “I don't see any signs to indicate they know their defenses are breached. Right now, our only problem is to get into the main building.” Pointing his thumb at the large, double doors, he smirked a little. “I'll give credit to whoever built those doors, they're reinforced steel. Won't be easy to break down if they are locked.”
Padding forward, Neon and Swan examined the door for any traps, but found none. Looking for locks, they were both surprised to find that there weren't any. Waving the others forward, they began to push on the door, but it wouldn't budge. As the others arrived, they all began to push on the door, but it refused to move. As they strained, Risca thought he heard something on the other side.
“Shush!” Placing his ear on the door, he managed to make out a person's voice calling down the hall, “Get Fembrys! Someone seems to be at the door!”
“Uh oh.” Informing the others that their cover was blown, they ducked around the corner, out of sight of the door. Swan and Neon, hoping to catch anyone who came out the door by surprise, scaled the walls of the keep on either side of the double doors and crept into the depths of the shadows.
Time crawled and nothing happened. Realizing that the foe wasn't going to come out, they needed to get in. Walking up confidently to the door, Kilzadi pounded his fist on it and called out, “It is Kevrin! Something has happened to Shan Thar! Open the doors so that he may be treated!” Silence was the only response.
Okul and Risca tried to force the door again, but to no avail. It was barred from the inside. Seeing that they wouldn't get in through brute strength, Gideon returned to the side room and laid hands on Shan Thar. Holy energy pulsed through Shan Thar as his wounds knit. His eyes fluttering open, he was greeted by the sight of an angry Gideon.
“How do you get through the doors?” Gideon growled. “If you want to live, you will tell me.”
Shan Thar smile was sickly. “The inner chambers are only for those who are part of Mystra's secrets! You will not soil these holy grounds with your presence!” Picking up Shan Thar by the throat, Gideon dragged him over to the doors. Hoping his body would somehow open the doors, Gideon held Shan Thar against the doors. They remained closed. Dragging him back into his room, Gideon threw a laughing Shan Thar into the corner in disgust. Okul quickly gagged Shan Thar again to end his cackling laugh.
Inspired, Kilzadi took Shan Thar's medallion and held it against the door – they remained closed.
There must be a way in thought Neon. Searching through Shan Thar's room again for a secret passage, they found nothing. This did allow Kilzadi the chance to give the room's books a closer inspection. As he read them, he found that they were treatises on the nature and use of magic. What was most disturbing about them was the information within them was all wrong. These books are deliberately misleading. What is going on here?
Meanwhile, Neon gave a brief cry of success as his nimble fingers found a secret drawer in Shan Thar's desk. Pulling out a small wooden piece, he found a keyhole hidden behind it. Taking Shan Thar's key, he turned it within the lock and a small compartment opened on the underside of the desk. A letter rolled out and Neon picked it up promptly.
Calling the others over, without thinking, he opened it up. Swan almost tackled him, fearing a magical trap, but fortunately no mystical energy flared. “Didn't know you cared that much, Swan.” She just stuck her tongue out. The letter was brief; it was addressed to Father Shan Thar.
Father Shan Thar,
We need more recruits in the inner temple. Start pushing the Sacred Trust a little harder, would you? Esvele sends word through Dspayr that we need to step things up out here. I know you have your doubts, but do as you're instructed, lest the goddess find you in shadow.
“Another piece to the puzzle. But we don't even know what the puzzle is supposed to look like!” Swan said in frustration.
Turning back to their prisoner, Neon ripped out the gag.
“Tell us how to get in or die,” he said flatly.
Shan Thar smiled again. “The doors are solid. You can't get in.”
Neon would not back down. “Is there another way in, other than the doors?”
“There are none.” Shan Thar's voice grew hard. “Have done with your threats. You will never defeat us and our goddess!”
Grasping Shan Thar's jaw, Kilzadi turned his head to face him. “How many people inside the keep?”
“I. Don't. Know.” Shan Thar's voice was defiant.
Kilzadi and Neon looked at each other. “Useless,” they said simultaneously. Neon's rapier and Kilzadi's scimitar tore into Shan Thar's body. Shuddering once, Shan Thar's corpse fell on its side. Wiping the blood off their blades, they followed the others who had approached the double doors again. Swan quickly checked the nearby statues for any hidden catches or levers, but didn't find anything.
“I will not be stopped by a pair of doors!” Saying that, Okul ran to the outer door of the keep and began tying ropes to the door's large wooden bar. Risca went over to help him tie off the last of the rope and they brought the make-shift battering ram over to the double doors. Hoisting the bar by the ropes, it slammed into the doors repeatedly, the sound echoing throughout the keep.
Suddenly the doors burst open with a crash. Dropping the bar, the heroes rushed forward into the inner chamber. A large, rectangular room, it was dotted regularly with columns. In the center of the chamber, a man, regal in his robes, held an orb in his hand – presumably Fembrys. He clutched a symbol to his chest, though it was impossible to see it, marking him as a cleric. Turning his eyes from the altar that stood in front of him, he glared at the heroes – his voice was a deadly hiss. “Kill the infidels. Kill those who defile Mystra's sanctum!” Soldiers, previously unnoticed, stepped up to attack the heroes.
Instantly, Swan and Neon jumped into action. Both rushed forward, passed the guards and launched arrows at Fembrys. Both arrows struck – painful blows, but their target seemed to shrug aside the pain. “My arrow flew more true!” Neon teased.
Okul, running forward, thrust his spear deep into the vitals of a sword-wielding soldier, severing his spine. Arrows, magical and powerful, slammed into Okul's body, forcing him back. Risca, trying not to be outdone, rushed in and tripped, throwing Guifoon at Okul's feet. “Get a hold of yourself, Risca! You need to focus!”
Kilzadi finished chanting and four images, each an exact replica of himself, sprang into being around him. As his hands began to creating arcane signs for his next spell, a large burst of sound screeched out from nowhere and from everywhere, catching Okul, Risca, and Kilzadi in its wake. Kilzadi clutched at his ears in pain, trying to end his agony. Okul and Risca, already in the middle of hand-to-hand combat, could barely hear the noise over the sound of their crashing weapons.
Arrows flew passed Risca and Okul as they moved to engage more of the soldiers. Three swordsmen, in leather armor, leaped forward nimbly and engaged Swan and Risca. Swan managed to dive under the quick thrust of a blade, but Risca took a shallow wound in his shoulder as he blocked a swipe of a sword. Instead of slowing him, the wound seemed only to goad him on more recklessly.
“O Great Kossuth, bless my morningstar that I may strike your enemies and bring them down!” Gideon's morningstar glowed; with a satisfied grin, he moved forward to get within striking distance.
Neon continued to press forward, deeper into the room, and fired another stinging arrow into the robed leader. Swan continued to dodge and weave around the main group of assailants, and planted her own arrow into the Fembrys. He was beginning to look like a pincushion, but in his fervor, seemed able to dismiss the wounds.
Ignoring Swan, the swordsmen engaged Risca and Okul. One of them tried to leap forward to slam his blade into Okul's side, but Okul met his charge with his spear, impaling him through the chest. Three more magical missiles, soaring over the robed leaders head, slammed into Okul. “Where are those coming from?”
Risca, drawing his sword, brought his blade down, bisecting the other swordsman's head to the chin. “Over there!” With his blade, he pointed at three sorcerers at the back of the room. “Hey Swan! Want to get these guys off our backs!” Without waiting for an answer, Risca moved towards the next enemy.
“You will not challenge my mistress' holy plan!” Pulling out the arrows lodged in his body, Fembrys cried out magical words harshly. The blood stopped pooling at his feet and he was able to draw himself back up to his full height. “Prepare for my mistress' revenge!”
The archers shot their arrows at Okul, but, seeing them miss, decided to change tactics. Drawing their swords, they moved to intercept the heroes. The last swordsman whirled forward and struck Neon in the arm. Dropping his bow, Neon drew his rapier. “Shall we dance?”
“O Merciful Kossuth, protect your messenger on this plane from harm!” A holy nimbus surrounded Gideon, warding him from direct attacks. Stepping forward confidently, his enemies moved back, awed by the holy light surrounding him.
Neon, with a clever flick of the wrist, knocked the swordsman's weapon up and away. Grinning almost apologetically, he skewered his opponent's heart. Whipping out his blade quickly, it was followed by a gush of heart's blood. The final swordsman dropped, dead before he hit the ground.
I'll get to those sorcerers after I deal with this guy first. Rushing forward, she let fly with an arrow that pierced the Fembrys under his right arm, almost causing him to drop his dark sphere. Moving towards the sorcerers, she nocked another arrow.
As the archers moved to attack, Okul and Risca intercepted them. Two dead archers were left in their wake. Kilzadi, his blood boiling, yelled, “That hurt!” Pointing at Fembrys, he said two quick words. A bolt of fire leaped from his finger and impaled his enemy faster than the eye could follow. A fist-sized hole had been burned through his chest. Fembrys' lips quivered for an instant, then he collapsed to the ground.
The only enemies left were the sorcerers at the back of the room, and they were very afraid. Gideon rushed to attack as Swan moved to block their exit through a set of double doors. One sorcerer swung at Swan with a dagger, but his attack was very clumsy and she avoided it easily. Firing another arrow, the sorcerer pitched over backwards, impaled through the eye.
Okul ran forward and struck another sorcerer in the chest, snapping ribs, his spear having gone clean through. The last sorcerer, mad with fear, launched another magic missile at Okul. Risca, growling, stepped past Okul and swung his sword. By luck, the blade cut through his robes but only made a shallow cut. Gideon, crying out for the power of Kossuth, smashed the sorcerer with his morningstar, crushing his skull like a melon.
Moving to the center of the room, they dressed their wounds. Gideon used the magic of a scroll to heal Okul's wounds, while Swan used her wand to treat Risca and Kilzadi. As the soothing energy from the wand washed over Risca, he commented, “This sure is better than when Gideon heals me! When he does it, it feels like my nerves are on fire and my whole body starts to twitch!”
“Be thankful for the blessing of Kossuth,” Kilzadi replied. “What he gives, he can easily take away.” Bowing to Swan, he walked towards Fembrys' body. “He's a little strange in the head, ain't he Swan?” Risca asked. She just nodded a little, hiding her smile. Walking over to where Guifoon lay, he scooped up his axe and apologized. “Sorry, m'friend. I promise never to do that to you again.” Kissing the blade, he returned his axe to its holster on his back.
Now that the immediate danger was over, they had a chance to look more closely at their surroundings. The room was dark – the ceiling was oil-black, the floors were obsidian, and the walls were made of the same dark stone. There was good lighting – the ceiling had pinpoints of light strewn about, like stars, and torches burned on the east and west side of each column – but any light seemed to be swallowed by the darkness of the room itself. The heroes checked the area for further information about the temple. After a quick scan, several doors were found that had been previously missed. They had not been hidden, but the gloom had shrouded them from sight. There were two doors on the northern wall and three on the southern wall.
Gideon and Kilzadi were making short work of finding the magical items on their dead enemies. A small pile made of potions from the sorcerers, and the cloak, orb and a scroll from the cleric all glowed with mystical power. A set of three keys was also found on the cleric. Strange, Gideon thought, where is his holy symbol? A broken chain dangled from the Fembrys' neck, its ends melted from an intense heat. It seems it has been destroyed. Too bad. It could have answered many questions about the nature of this place. As he continued his search, a circle, etched with seven blue-white stars and a red mist flowing from its center, fell out of the cleric's robes. It appears to be a symbol of Mystra, but it just doesn't feel right.
Swan and Neon searched the rest of the bodies and found more keys. They also replenished their supply of arrows. “You won't be needing those anymore,” Swan chided. “Keep practicing with your rapier and become a skilled...swordsman. Then, we'll talk.”
“But my prowess with my blade is already prodigious,” replied Neon with a wink. “We can spar later on when we are in a more private setting. Let's say, your room or mine?”
Neon was suddenly shoved to the side. “Out of the way, twinkle-toes,” Risca grumbled. “There's work to be done.” Swan giggled as Risca hoisted up the bodies, quickly checking them for any treasure or other useful items.
Seeing that they weren't needed for examining the bodies, Neon and Swan had gravitated towards the altar. Checking it for traps and secret compartments, they were sorely disappointed. Too bad, thought Neon. Usually the best treasure is hidden under the altar.
“Shall we move on to the rooms?” Okul asked. Moving towards the northwestern door, Swan eased it open as the others stood ready to attack, if needed. The room was broken into three, cell-like alcoves. Each alcove had a robe, cot, blanket, and chest. Checking the chests, they found 60 gp. Neon, disappointed with the haul, checked the area for any secret compartments or doors, but, again, he found nothing.
Moving to the northeastern door, the heroes found another room with cell-like alcoves, similar to the previous room but having four alcoves instead of three. Checking the chests, they found another 80 gp, and no hidden doors or compartments. They searched the southwestern door and found it to be a storage room filled with boxes, crockery, and jugs.
The southern door proved more interesting. As they opened the door, the first thing they spotted were ceremonial, black robes hanging from pegs by the door. The door opened up into a corridor which continued, after a small bend, further south. At the bend, a door could be seen. Opening the door, they found it led to a toilet. “This is not fun,” Neon whined.
“Would you prefer it if a volley of arrows had flown the moment the door opened?” Gideon asked. Wincing at the painful memory, Neon only shook his head.
Examining the final door, the southeastern door, they found it to be locked. “Finally, something interesting!” crowed Neon. Cracking his knuckles, he bent to pick the lock. Suddenly, Kilzadi jammed the key he found on Fembrys' body into the lock. A quick turn and a faint clicking noise could be heard as the door was unlocked.
“Sorry, Neon,” Kilzadi apologized. “I thought this would be faster.”
The door swung open with the slightest of pushes. Behind it, large, private quarters could be seen. Two narrow narrow were on adjacent walls, while a tall wooden cabin took up a third wall. A small bed sat between the doors, and on a nearby table rested several interesting items.
“Dibs on the table!” Kilzadi shouted. The party moved in and started examining the contents of the room. Opening the first narrow door, it turned out it was simply a closet – about the size of a coffin. Within the closet were five clerical vestments, each decorated with gold thread. Risca whistled. “Those could be worth a pretty penny!” he said as he collected the vestments. Opening the second narrow door revealed another closet with another set of five costly vestments. Grabbing the other vestments, Risca searched the closet for any signs of hidden compartments.
Meanwhile, Kilzadi, Gideon, and Swan were examining the table and its contents. A cup, pitcher, plate, bell, and a staff, all apparently made from gold, rested on or near the table. “Not a bad haul,” Swan said. But Kilzadi and Gideon weren't listening. They had focused on a large leather-bound book. The cover was black with seven stars prominently shown.
Checking it for magic, traps or otherwise, they found no signs. Opening it, they both reached a point of soul-shattering frustration: it was written in a language neither understood. Kilzadi swore. Swan looked over and commented, “What's wrong? Is the ink too smudged for you to read? If you want, I would be happy to read it for you, since you two give bats a bad name.”
Gideon turned quickly towards Swan. “You can read this?” he asked, incredulous.
“Yes,” she replied, a little surprised. “My mother taught me the importance of languages as I learned the sacred rites to Solonar Thelandria.” She paused. “You really can't read it?” Seeing their glares, she swallowed a lump in her throat and continued. “I will be happy to translate. It says:
Magic is born between stars, as Mystra’s symbol shows – the stars are known points of magic, but the space between the stars holds far more, knowledge that Mystra reveals only to those who show special promise.”
Finishing their search of the room, they moved to the set of double doors the sorcerers had been guarding. Attempting to push it open, they found that it, too, was barred.
“Arggh! Not again!” Okul said, frustrated.
“I guess subtlety is out of the question anyway,” Neon mused. “Might as well use the ram again.”
Risca and Okul ran back to the entrance and retrieved the make-shift ram. A minute or two later, the second set of double doors flew open. Expecting the worst, they dropped the ram and drew their weapons, but the room behind the double doors was empty.
It was another dark room – its walls, ceiling, and floor were all made with obsidian. “This décor is depressing,” Swan joked. The room wasn't as well lit as the previous one, but two large statues could be seen in the dim light. They seemed to be flanking an altar at the center of the room. Opposite where they entered, another set of double doors could be seen. Signaling silently to each other, Okul and Risca strode in cautiously, straining their senses for any sign of trouble. Swan was in her element and relished the moment. She slid into the room and disappeared into the shadows, skulking along the walls and keeping pace with Okul and Risca.
As they reached the center of the room, there were no signs of life. The altar was a featureless slab of stone. Kilzadi detected no signs of magic emanating from it, so Neon checked it for more mundane traps. Finding none, his fingers brushed along a slightly uneven stone on the back of the altar. Working it loose, Neon found a small keyhole.
“Bring me one of those keys! I think I found something!” he whispered excitedly. Testing the different keys, Fembrys' key finally opened a small, empty storage area. With an expert eye, Neon concluded that the space was just large enough to hold the black sphere Fembrys had been holding. “Nuts. I was hoping for more...” Examining the rest of the room, the heroes found nothing of interest and decided to move on.
Approaching the double door, their way was barred again. “I've had enough of this!” Okul seemed to be losing his normally calm composure. Running back, he lugged the ram back and on the first try, they burst the doors down. “If there are anymore barred doors, I'm going home,” Okul declared. A flight of stairs sloped downwards.
“With the exception of the barred doors, we don't seem to have encountered much in terms of defense,” Gideon mused. “We must be doubly cautious from now on. The forces that will come to bear on us will most likely prove more challenging.” With that, the party made its way down the staircase.
Halfway down the stairwell, they reached a landing. The staircase split to the left and right, and continued down. To either side of the party was a coal dark, stone statue, standing guard in the corner. “Creepy,” Neon said. Sneaking passed the statue, they continued down. After traveling down thirty feet, they entered a large room. In the middle of the room a statue of a lady stood bearing a staff, starry light flickered all along its body. A large pile of ash could be seen around the base of the statue – paper, burned quickly and incompletely, still smoldered as well as other items.
Gideon approached the statue while the others took up a defensive position around him. The statue was a representation of Mystra and the craftsmanship was exquisite. He bent to examine the remnants of the paper and was surprised to find burnt scriptures pertaining to Mystra, and smashed holy vessels and other items holy to Mystra in the debris.
“What is going on?” he began to ask. At the sound of the sharp intake of breath from Neon, he stood quickly and drew his morningstar.
Neon couldn't believe his eyes. Four warriors emerged from the shadowy corners of the room. Though they looked human, their skin was a dusky, sickly gray and their eyes were so heavily veiled, they were nearly impossible to see. They also seemed emaciated, their bodies so thin, a strong gust of wind could blow them away. The rest of the party had all drawn their weapons, ready for combat to begin. Risca cried out, “Beware! They're shadow-touched! I don't know how effective our weapons will be!”
With that, the battle was joined. The first shade stepped up and aimed three slashing blows on Okul, but it hadn't anticipated Okul's speed. As it stepped forward to attack, Okul slashed it across its chest with his spear. Normally a crippling, if not deadly, strike, his spear seemed to pass harmlessly through the shadow-stuff as if it was nothing more than a shadow. The shade's retaliatory strike, which left a burning cut on his arm, told Okul otherwise.
Neon was having more luck than Okul. Neon leaped skimmingly like a flying fish, while his rapier darted in and struck the shade he was facing. The shadow-stuff seemed to twist and squirm around the invading blade, trying to push it out. Slightly disgusted, Neon tore his rapier out and hoped his opponent would fall – a vain hope.
Even though Swan was well-hidden in the shadows of the room, she was in their element. Unerringly, a shade glided towards her and swung with his sword, narrowly missing her throat. The third shade returned the favor to Neon and slashed his thigh with his sword.
Risca swung Guifoon at the fourth shade, but it seemed to slip its body aside. The lightning riposte was deflected at the last moment – a harsh chromatic song of steel on steel rang out.
The shades drew back quickly and suddenly, and their forms blurred. They seemed to be focusing so hard that they were incapable of maintaining their shape. Without warning, a featureless mass burst from the stone floor and moved towards Kilzadi, who had been closest to the staircase. Amazingly, the floor was unmarked, as if the creature had phased through the stone. It was humanoid in shape, but it plodded along on two featureless legs of rock and earth, its club-like arms of jagged stone swinging at its sides. Its head was also featureless, though it seemed to be staring blankly in Kilzadi’s direction.
Side-stepping the earth elemental, Kilzadi avoided its swings and cast a quick spell. Four images of Kilzadi, each a twin to the original, sprang to life. The shades moved in to end the battle.
Everyone turned at the sound of a ponderous step. The statue of the Lady Mystra stepped off her pedestal and moved towards the heroes. “What next?” Kilzadi cried.
The shades seemed hesitant – even taken aback slightly. Gideon had a sudden flash of insight. “I don't think it wants to attack us!” As if to confirm Gideon's leap of faith, the statue swung its staff at the elemental, knocking several chips from its side. Taking heart at the turn of events, the heroes threw themselves into the struggle.
The battle that followed had a dreamlike slowness. In the murky light, desperate scenes of survival unfolded, appearing completely apart from each other. Here, Guifoon swung and dealt a telling blow on one shade. There, another shade extended itself, its blade darting forward, hungrily trying to bury itself in Swan's side. Throughout it all, the statue moved, swinging at the shades and the elemental.
A scream, heard as if from across a great gulf, escaped from one of the shades as Swan's arrow pierced its brain. Reeling, it tumbled to the ground and melted into a puddle of gray ooze; the ooze seemed to be soaked into the stone beneath it and vanished. Okul's spear punctured the elemental's chest, shattering its torso. It tried to strike back, but its arms broke off from the violent motion.
One of the shades had trapped Neon's rapier and was forcing him back, off-balance. Suddenly the statue of the Lady Mystra was there, swinging her staff so that it ruffled Neon's hair and striking the shade between the eyes. Its head snapped back and the sound of rotten twigs snapping could be heard. The shade dissolved into another pool of ooze.
The remaining two shades moved back to back. Risca came on recklessly, swinging Guifoon with abandon. His strike swept aside the first shade's sword and Guifoon crashed through its body, separating its trunk from its legs. Neon rushed forward and, dancing past the last shade's sword stroke, stabbed his rapier into its chest to the hilt. Both shades disintegrated before their eyes.
A creaking noise drew their attention as the statue of Mystra, bowing briefly to the heroes, resumed her post on her pedestal. “Well, it seems Mystra is taking a more active hand in the goings on in this temple,” Kilzadi reasoned.
“She doesn't seem too happy with the whole situation,” Okul replied. “In fact, I think She is downright furious!”
“So does this mean that this was all a sham?” Gideon asked. “Or have these followers fallen from the faith?”
“We won't know standing around here, now will we?” Swan stated. “Coming Neon?”
Neon had moved towards the statue and stared for a moment. He couldn't believe what had happened. A deity, or its avatar, had come to the mortal realm and he had witnessed it. Thinking it was some sort of trick, he began examining the statue. The statue's eyes flared a moment and Neon jumped back after his hand was swatted. The statue was wearing a playful grin.
Shaking his head, he still couldn't fathom what had happened. Then, he knelt down, placing his rapier hilt-first towards the statue. He whispered, “I pledge my sword to Thee, Lady Mystra. Thank you for your timely aid. We will see to it that these pretenders are punished in Your name.” Rising, he turned to see the others staring at him. “What?” His roguish smile came back. “It never hurts to show your appreciation to a lady, no matter what the circumstance.”
At that, Risca laughed and slapped Neon's shoulder. “Words to live by, Neon.” Swan gave a Neon a sidelong look, but didn't say a word. Though they laughed, each took his or her turn giving solemn thanks to Mystra.
Once they were done, they quickly healed themselves so they could begin exploring the room. The room itself was strewn with rubble and had several doors. Two led south, two led west (on the side opposite the staircase) and one led north.
“One door is as good as another,” Swan said. Leading the others to the northern door, they opened it to find a small library. Scrolls and tomes could be seen on the shelves as well as scattered on the floor.
Jackpot, thought Kilzadi. Checking the area for magic, six scrolls glowed faintly with divine energy. Crap. No prize for me. Handing the scrolls to Gideon, he went to examine the tomes for any useful information. Gideon, for his part, used his magical sight to decipher the nature of the scrolls and tucked them away for later use.
Checking the central western door, it opened to reveal a wide hall lined with six statues. The statues were made of the same, cold, black stone that had been seen earlier. The hallway itself led west to another door. “Let's explore this path later,” said Gideon. “I don't want to leave any surprises behind us.” Agreeing, they gently closed the door and went to the southern west door, opening it. It revealed a narrow passageway that traveled west, then bent towards the south. “Again, let's check this one later.”
The southwestern door led to a privy. Ignoring it, they opened the southeastern door. They found a square room with four comfortable-looking chairs around a large oak table. Two doors, one on the south side and one on the east side, were the only other distinguishing points in the room. It wasn't well maintained, but it had seen recent use.
Searching the east door in the room, Neon found it to be locked but picked it expertly. Flashing a grin over his shoulder at Swan, he pushed the door open and nearly had a sneezing fit. The room had a bed and dresser, but was covered entirely with a thin layer of dust. “Guess no one's been home for a while,” Risca commented. Searching the room, it seemed to have been cleaned out completely.
“Let's check the south door,” Swan said. Rushing in front of Neon, she found the door locked. Grinning at Neon, she was about to pick the lock when Neon placed a key within the keyhole and unlocked the door. “Only one of us gets to show off.” His grin spread from ear to ear. As he pushed open the door, they were greeted by a horrifying sight: seven human heads, placed on spikes, as trophies. Even as his gorge rose, he moved to turn Swan away from the obscene sight.
Warning the others of what he had seen, they entered the room cautiously. It was clearly a bedroom, with a bureau, cabinet, and desk. The only abnormality were the severed heads. “At least it's no one we know. Though I wouldn't have shed a tear if Jarwain's ugly mug had been up there.” Risca's grim humor sometimes manifested at inopportune times. Receiving several stares at his tasteless comment, he shrugged his shoulders, not apologizing.
Searching the room, they found sheets of paper covered in bold scrawl on top of the desk. The first sheet read:
I can't believe we have to pretend to worship Mystra while the True One stays hidden.
The second sheet was written with beautiful calligraphy.
The latest set of petitioners awaits disposition in the river dungeon. Don't steal any of these for your sad hobby, Fembrys, or you’ll find your own head on a wall.
The cabinet held equipment useful for a taxidermist, but there was nothing else of interest within the room. Gideon muttered to himself, “Where's Scooby Doo when you really need him?”
“What did you just say?” Okul asked.
Gideon quickly replied, “This mystery keeps getting stranger and stranger.” Hurrying along, they left the room and returned to southern west door which had the passage that turned to the south. Moving down the passage, passed the bend, they came upon another door. Gently placing her hand on the door, Swan whispered to the others, “There's water on the other side.” They looked at her incredulously. “I can feel the moisture on the door.” Impressed with her skill, they cautiously opened the door.
Finding themselves within a circular room, water could be seen leaking down from the ceiling onto a central dais. The water then spread and filled the rest of the room. Based on the smell and the debris floating in the water, it seemed that this room was where the waste from the upper level emptied in to.
“Gross,” Kilzadi said. They left the room hastily and returned to the central western door. Opening the door, Risca crept down the hall, glancing at the statues. Hope these don't come to life.
Reaching the door at the end of the hallway without incident, the others followed suit and joined him. Swan and Neon examined the door, their eyes roving over its surface, before gently placing their fingertips on its surface. Feeling the door for anything suspicious, Swan's hand suddenly drew back, as if she had touched something very hot. Neon immediately examined Swan's discovery and found it to be some sort of mechanical device.
“Know what it is?” she asked.
“Looks like an alarm,” Neon replied. Turning to face her, he continued. “I may need your help on this one.”
“What, you can't go it alone?” Swan chided him. But seeing his serious manner, she simply turned to the door and asked, “What can I do?”
“I'm going to need your fingers to hold back parts of this mechanism so I can properly deal with it without setting it off.” With that, Neon gently pried a cleverly hidden cover from the door and began fishing around in its guts. Periodically, Neon asked Swan to hold certain pieces back or twist a wire or press down on a knob. With a gentle click, Neon stepped back. Not only had he managed to disable the alarm, he managed to unlock the door.
“Thanks for the assist,” he said earnestly. “I wouldn't have been able to have done it without you.” Swan blushed a little. The others had drawn their weapons, expecting the worst to appear on the other side of the door. And they were in no wise disappointed.
The door opened up into another hallway with multiple doors. Two soldiers, similar to the shades they had fought previously, stood shoulder to shoulder with two ladies. The first lady was dressed in noble's robes while the other was dressed in full plate. Both were clutching symbols in their hands and seemed to be focusing. A snake-like creature moved between the female clerics towards the heroes. Though the threat was imminent, the scene was dominated by a large disk of darkness at the end of the hallway, behind the enemy. Its surface shimmered and flowed, a dark, inky pool. “Another portal?” Gideon whispered.
“Ambush!” Okul shouted as he rushed into the hallway. Unfortunately, two more shades had hidden on either side of the door in anticipation of this. As Okul ran forward to engage the enemy, both thrust their swords at his sides. Managing to dodge one, the other stabbed him in his side. It was a painful blow, but not life-ending. Without breaking stride, he pushed his spear into the midsection of one of the shades in front of him, slaying it instantly.
As he finished killing the first shade, the noblewoman cast a spell on Okul. A feeling of lethargy and extreme tiredness washed over him. Shaking off the feeling, Okul turned in time to see three more snake-like creatures appear from the pool of darkness and slither towards him. Their forms seemed to be blurred and it was difficult to tell where they really were. Stabbing two in rapid succession, his spear seemed to pass through their bodies. Are they real? Then he realized he hadn't hit the mark – he had just missed both targets, his sight fooled by their blurred outline. Adjusting his grip, he looked for other signs to get a more accurate feel for their location..
Neon darted through the shades that barred his passage, swift and fluid as he dodged their attacks. He was like a dancer, all grace, power, and seemingly effortless motion. Weapons hacked and cut with lethal force, but they might as well have tried to contain quicksilver. His rapier slashed at an attacking shade, but failed to penetrate its defenses. Stepping back, he took stock of the situation, grinned, and renewed his frenzied attack.
“Ninniach!” Swan rushed forward, her way blocked by two shades. Her lips were set in a grim snarl as she made a prodigious leap over both of her assailants' heads. In midair, she flipped and, amazingly, launched an arrow at a shade menacing Neon. The shade shifted its stance to deflect the arrow with its sword, but it left an opening for Neon.
The two shades were so distracted by Swan's acrobatics, they failed to react to Risca's growl. As they turned back, they were bowled over as Risca pushed his way past them. He casually took a swing at one of them while passing, but his main focus was the snake-like creatures. “Marthammor Duin!” Swinging Guifoon, he hoped to lop off its head, but even Risca was fooled by its blurred outline. Stumbling a little, the creature tried to wrap itself around him to squeeze out any resistance. Planting his feet, Risca held it by its throat as he tried to get a good swing in with his axe.
They need some cover or they'll be overwhelmed, thought Kilzadi. Pointing at a nearby torch, he mumbled a few arcane syllables. The torch flared and then died out as a writhing stream of smoke billowed out from the torch, forming a choking cloud. The cloud spewed forth, engulfing their opponents – unfortunately, Swan, Risca, Okul, and Neon were also caught within the confines of the cloud. The smoke was blinding, and burned the lungs. Neon succumbed to a fit of coughing and tried to escape the acrid cloud.
The snake-like creatures and the shades seemed immune to the effects of the cloud and continued their assault. Both Swan and Neon were stung by their blows. Meanwhile, Gideon prepared to take a more direct role in the combat. Focusing his fury into his hand, he concentrated his deity's holy wrath into his palm. Stepping forward, he prepared to pass the blessing of Kossuth onto one of their opponents.
Even as he struggled with the snake-like creature, Risca heard a peculiar rushing noise, like an object passing through a waterfall. What could that have been? Did someone pass through the gate? Shouting in Chondathan, he yelled, “Hey! I think someone passed through the gateway-thingy! I don't know if they were coming or going, but...” He stopped suddenly as he saw the robed cleric emerge from the surging cloud into his field of view. She finished chanting, and an irresistable urge to sleep washed over him. As his head hit the floor, he could see Okul, who had been surprisingly close to him, collapse in a heap as well.
Combat within the cloud turned out to be too dangerous. Slashing and shooting as they tumbled out from the cloud, both Neon and Swan carried fresh wounds. “Where's Risca?” asked Swan. A sword lashed out from the cloud and almost clipped Swan's head. “Where's Okul?”
Without waiting for an answer, Gideon stepped forward and plunged into the cloud. Searching for an opponent to unleash Kossuth's holy energy, he nearly tripped on a prone form. Thinking it an enemy, he almost gripped its shoulder before realizing it was Okul, sprawled on the ground. “Okul!” Releasing the pent up energy, Gideon grasped Okul's shoulder, fearing the worst. Turning him over quickly, he did his best to check for any injuries, but found none. In fact, Okul seemed to be sleeping soundly!
As he was about to shake Okul awake, the blinding cloud dissipated suddenly. Looking around, the only people left were the Seekers. All of their enemies had left, at least the ones that were able to. Risca lay nearby, asleep as well. Shaking both awake, Gideon shook his head ruefully. “You wouldn't happen to know where everyone disappeared to?” he asked rhetorically.
The hallway was well lit with torches and doors dotted both sides – three single doors on the south side of the hallway, and two pairs of double doors on the north side of the hallway. The portal still glowed with an eerie light. “Where did they all go?” Risca asked. “I was just getting ready to take them all down!” Risca jumped as Swan tweaked his ear.
“Don't lie,” she admonished. “You know it would have been my arrows that would have routed them!” She gave him a sly wink and the others chuckled.
“Enough joking around.” Gideon seemed quite irate. “We need to find out where they went. Let's start searching the doors.”
Beginning on the southern part of the corridor, they began examining the doors. Finding the door furthest east was locked, they decided to tackle that one first. Neon swiftly picked the lock and the door swung gently open. The room was small, and seemed to be someone's personal quarters. It had a small bed and table, as well as a small shelf with several books. On the table, an open book caught their attention. Scanning it quickly, it seemed to be a guard’s diary. Swan began to read the entries.
At first, she wrote about her doubts and disappoint about her service to Mystra. She passed through the “Mystic Gate” and was found wanting. Mystic Gate? thought Swan. Skimming through more entries, the guard described her fears of strange creatures that the temple employed and her disgust at their drastic methods of dealing with “defilers”. But, as Swan continued reading, the guard’s disgust turned to pride – her pride in associating with such fearsome creatures and her courage in facing them – and satisfaction that others who sought to earn Mystra’s Sacred Trust were spurned as she was. In the final passages, she described her sheer glee at the tortured pleas of a failed petitioner and her hatred for any who failed to earn Mystra’s trust.
Continuing their exploration of the room, they found it opened up into a larger area. In the larger area, there were three cots, each with a small chest underneath it. Opening the chests, they found some extra clothes, toiletries, trinkets, and a total of 60 gp.
Finding nothing else of interest, they went to the central southern door. With a push, the door swung open to reveal a storage room filled with dried meat, blocks of cheese, grain, and other foodstuff. After searching it, there was nothing noteworthy.
“Let's hope the next room proves more interesting,” Neon said. “I'm getting bored again...”
When they opened the door furthest west on the southern wall, Neon regretted his words. The room smelled like a charnel house. Body parts, some rotten, some fresh, were hanging from chains or nailed to the walls. Several instruments of torture were found around the room. A brazier was filled with ash and pieces of unidentifiable meat. A rack, covered in filth, stood at the center of the room. In one corner, a large table displayed many tools of the trade in a well-organized manner.
Though they were greatly disturbed, the heroes searched the room for any clues to identify the victims or their assailants. Hoping for the best, they found nothing.
“Let's leave this place.” Solemnly, Kilzadi led them from the room. Their determination had crystallized – the ones who perpetrated this heinous crime were going to pay, and pay in blood.