Aquatic Antagonists, Cracked Codes, and a Malevolent Mausoleum
It was a long and solemn rest in the Exodus Knife. Jelvistra was far stronger than when the companions had first encountered her. And Kord’s Deliverance was lucky to have escaped with their lives.
Unfortunately, Gheshkan’s axe was left behind.
Asha approached the Dragonborn. He looked up at her. He frowned, curious, as the deva hesitated, silver gaze lowered.
“I’m sorry, Gheshkan,” she said, finally, after a few moments.
“I should have recovered your axe.”
Gheshkan grunted, shrugging.
“You tried, Asha. Not your fault.”
“No, you don’t understand. I made the wrong choice. I don’t know why I tried to shove Jelvistra out of the way. I mean, look at me,” Asha raised her slender arms, and let them drop in frustration. “Asha, disciple of the God of strength indeed.”
“What other choice did you have?”
“Teleportation. My magical lacings. Nothing Jelvistra could have done to stop me, and then Gwydion slams the door.”
Gheshkan fell silent, regarding the deva stonily for a few moments. Then he shrugged again, awkwardly.
“Don’t sweat it. We were all panicking. Was hardly the first mistake in the battle.”
Asha’s faint smile was interrupted by a voice behind them.
“It ain’t you the deva should be apologizing to,” Morgan growled. “It’s me.”
Both the deva and the dragonborn turned in surprise.
“Really?” Asha regarded the dwarf with a raised eyebrow. “How so?”
“Cause I’m the one gonna be fighting that beetle bitch with this,” Morgan snapped, holding up a utterly plain throwing hammer. With his other hand, he tossed his magical axe at Gheshkan, then turned and stomped off. Not that his indignation could take him far; the exodus space was barely 8 paces on each side.
“If it’s any consolation, Asha,” Slyron commented after Morgan had left, but still well within the dwarf’s earshot, “he never hit much with the axe anyway.”
During the night, Morgan noticed some very rapidly moving figures dash around the area just outside the knife. Only one creature they knew of that moved that quickly, Slyron noted darkly, when the dwarf told the others the next morning.
“There is a synergetic sense to the quicklings presence,” Gwydion said. “He was allied with her in the catacombs of Mithrendane.”
In the morning, the companions emerged, ready to face Jelvistra. However, a quick reconnaissance revealed only empty rooms where they first encountered the lamia.
After briefly considering an immediate search of the buildings opposite, Kord’s Deliverance instead chose to continue exploring the strange hall they was already in. the first room entered was remarkable for both the overflowing well that dominated the centre and the rivulets that crisscrossed the floor. And in the rivulets—
“Gems!” exclaimed Slyron. He immediately plunged his hand into the stream beside him.
The tall, aquatic serpent that burst from the well opened its maw impossibly wide and engulfed the elf’s entire form in one bite. Both Slyron and the serpent suddenly vanished.
Morgan immediately launched himself at the well, reaching into its depths in a desperate attempt to reach the rogue. Again, the serpent exploded from the well, over top the dwarf. He had time to swear vociferously before he too disappeared in a watery bite.
Gwydion immediately recognized the danger.
“Don’t touch the water!” he yelled, jerking his feet well back from the edge of a rivulet. “It triggers the serpent!”
Gheshkan, who had also run up to the well along with Asha, halted just as he was about the reach into the well. He spun back to the eladrin, frustrated.
“But how can i pull them outta this?”
“Are they actually in there?”
“No,” said Asha, quickly looking into the well. “But I can see a key!”
Gwydion hesitated. Asha suddenly spun and faced the west wall. It, like all the other walls in the strange series of halls, was carved deeply with runes. Some were so deep that they pierced the wall entirely. Through them, Asha’s sharp ears caught a sound.
“I can hear them!” she said. “They’re outside!”
“Outside? But there’s nothing there but—”
It wasn’t the river that worried Slyron so much. Not the cold water, nor its depth, or even the rushing current.
It was the top of the waterfall some fifty feet away that was somewhat distressing. The fast approaching top of the waterfall.
Slyron began to push hard against the flowing river. He was a strong swimmer, and the edge of the river was perhaps a half dozen strong strokes. But the elf knew how unpredictable currents could be. If it was possible, soaked in a river, he began to sweat.
Slyron choked suddenly as something yanked hard at his collar from behind. His inexorable flow toward the precipice halted. Slyron looked up into the face of Morgan, who, inexplicably, stood upon the surface of the river. Then the elf noticed Morgan’s wave riding boots glowing with magical energy.
“Urk,” Slyron gasped, pawing at Morgan’s suffocating grip.
“Ah, no need for thanks,” Morgan grinned, and began to pull the struggling elf towards the shore.
Back inside, Gwydion called out to Gheshkan.
“We need that key! I don’t know why, but we do!”
“Wait.” Asha halted the dragonborn, poised to reach for the key. She stepped back, readied her sword. “Now.”
Gheshkan thrust his hand into the well. The water-born serpent shot up, rearing back with its maw agape. Before it could strike, Asha whipped her sword through it. The serpent exploded in a spray of mist, and disappeared.
“Crap. Missed it.” Ghesh growled, his hand empty.
“Be careful!” Gwydion warned. “It’s still active!”
“What is it, Gwyd?” Asha asked, her sword still ready.
“It’s not a creature, it’s a trap. An arcane trap. We can’t kill it, per se, with weapons.”
Ghesh looked back at the eladrin, who was perched warily between the seemingly harmless rivulets on either side of the mage. “How do we get rid of it?”
Gwydion pointed to the well, wordlessly. The dragonborn grunted.
“Of course. The key.”
With an effect defense in place, the three were able to fish the key from the pool. Unfortunately, Slyron returned to the room. Ignoring the warnings from his companions, he immediately splashed after the various gems that were in the small streams. Probably as bait for impulsive rogues.
After drying off, Kord’s Deliverance turned their attention to the structures on the far side of the river. Passing through the cemetery again, Gwydion took a closer look at the obelisks, and the gravestones; they were all ancient, predating Teresa by centuries, if not a millennium.
Despite the heavy undergrowth, the party decided to circumnavigate the entire structure before entering. They discovered two entries: one lead into utter, inky blackness— ‘clearly a sign of a dimensional boundary,’ sniffed Gwydion—and the other lead into a relatively normal, if dusty, antechamber. They chose the latter.
They found a gallery hung with several tapestries. One radiated magic, and depicted a door with a keyhole. The key from the pool fit perfectly, and unlocked a hidden door in the corner. In the room beyond, the mystery of the first verse of the peculiar poem, and the function of the brazier in the room where they fought Jelvistra, came to light. A further door was unlocked.
Down that passageway, the companions came across an intersection. Choosing to go left lead them into a chamber marked by several tables with chess boards upon them. “A further test?” mused Asha to Morgan. Everyone took a seat, and was immediately drawn into a competition with a ghostly opponent. Gwydion quickly defeated his foe, Asha just behind him. Slyron was a surprise winner, having never been much of a chess enthusiast. He was, however, an accomplished cheat. Morgan and Ghesh both struggled, but managed to squeak through with luck and daring.
“This room is old, correct Morgan?” Asha looked to the dwarf for confirmation, who nodded. “But these games, and table—not so much.”
“These are all tests, more than likely linked to the verses we discovered when we first entered Teresa’s lair,” Gwydion stated.
“Yes, but to what end?”
“Well, for protection and defense, obviously. To weed out the unwanted.”
“Gwydion, imagine you are an old lich, with more than a century of arcane study bolstering an already dangerous array of power. Really, what would there be, short of the gods, that would frighten you?”
“Tithe collector?” Slyron offered.
“She still has a phylactery, and it must be protected,” Gwydion carried on. “Teresa’s choice of defense—cryptograms as much as creatures—tells us more about her than the defense itself.”
“But why offer clues, even the hint of the solution, at all?” Asha shook her head. “It doesn’t make sense to me.”
“You heard her back in Fallcrest., she’s arrogant. She’s a bloody lich, for Kord’s sake. Isn’t arrogance a default personality trait of liches?” Morgan said.
Asha frowned. She shook her head slightly. “I don’t know. Perhaps. The Teresa I knew was ambitious, certainly, but she was not arrogant. At least, not outwardly. That trait, unfortunately, was reserved for someone else,” Asha said quietly. “Me.”
“Galad,” corrected Gwydion.
“No, me.” Asha said. “I may not be arrogant now, but every incarnation is a reflection of previous lives, and a part of a whole personality. And anyway, regardless of how much or little influence that has in this life, I have to take responsibility for my past flaws and their consequences. I believe that’s called ‘learning’.”
“Well, whatever the truth may be, I ain’t gonna hold it against yer former spit swapper iffen she wants ta give us the answers to her lair right at the entrance, cryptic or no,” Morgan rumbled. “Let her arrogance be her downfall. She can learn from that. And my axe in her backside too. I’m good fer teachin’ that aspect of humility.”
“And a cryin’ shame you cannot teach it to yourself,” Slyron finished.
“You got nothin’ to offer right now other than cheap laughs, do you? Don’t answer,” Morgan cut off the rogue’s response.
“Every door must have a key, Asha. A defense cannot be so perfect that even those it is meant to defend cannot pass through.”
“Yeah. That’s called a wall.”
“Correct, Morgan, if a little sarcastic.”
Asha thought about Gwydion’s assessment, then nodded. “An astute observation. And, ultimately, it doesn’t matter. We’re going in, regardless of what means is necessary.”
“Great!” Gheshkan slapped his hands together impatiently. He’d been pacing near the entrance to the chess room while his companions debated. “Can we move on now?”
It took Kord’s Deliverance no time at all to get into trouble. Gheshkan pushed ahead quickly, back to the intersection and then off into the second hallway. It was more of an antechamber, really. And as Gheshkan reached the middle, a familiar buzzing sound grew louder. He roared out a warning, but the swarm was already upon him.
The quicklings slashed at the dragonborn rapidly. The sound of daggers ricocheting off metal plate armor filled the air like maniacal timpani performance. The rest of Kord’s Deliverance, somewhat behind the impatient dragonborn, sprinted to catch up. Slyron, ever fleet footed, arrived first.
“Where’s Xixxit?” He snarled as he sprang into the room, vampiric dagger at the ready.
“Here!” came the reply. “No here! No no, here!” A blurred form cackled as it whirled around the rogue. Slyron spun away desperately, but the quickling still cut several small wounds into Slyron. He nevertheless got a riposte in against the fey creature. Blood was drawn on both sides.
“Ghesh is completely surrounded!” Morgan yelled as he, Asha, and Gwydion charged towards the chaos.
“Perfect,” replied Gwydion. A quick arcane chant, and a blast of energy engulfed the maelstrom of quicklings and dragonborn. As the bright light faded, all but one quickling had been evaporated. Ghesh himself managed to avoid the blast.
The quicklings retreated swiftly, and regrouped with guerrilla attacks, but Kord’s Deliverance was relentless. Making use of the narrow corridor between rooms, they managed to at least complicate, if not nullify, the escape routes of the speedy fey creatures. And with the advantage back in Slyron’s court, the elf easily matched the dizzying mobility of Xixxit. In short order, he delivered his wounding blow, ensuring Xixxit’s eventual demise.
“Gheshkan, I have a welcome gift for you,” Asha announced, returning from further up the corridor where she had chased and finished off the remaining quickling. She held out his potent axe.
The companions explored the last few remaining corridors, finding no new exits, mundane or magical. They returned to the first entranceway they had discovered back outside, near the graveyard. Braving the inky, black, possible dimensional border, Kord’s Deliverance stepped through.
Into a very old burial crypt and mausoleum. The crypts, found in the long, bending corridor, had been ransacked and defaced many years ago. The inhabitants of the crypts—at least, their remains—were discovered in the mausoleum in a terrible display of desecration: an eight foot high pile of bones, relics, and rubble sat in the middle of the ruined chamber.
The spiritual remains of the inhabitants, on the other hand, popped up all over the place. And they were none too pleased to discover the heroes. The feeling was mutual.
“Nightwalkers!” gasped Gwydion. Asha’s determination did not waver, but a grim look settled over her features. They were in for a hell of a fight, she knew.
And she was not wrong. Despite hammering the first nightwalker back into oblivion with three staggering blows, more began to manifest, along with smaller, but no less dangerous, wraithlike foes. A frantic, running battle ensued, with the Kord’s Deliverance alternately fighting off their opponents and trying to re-consecrate the sarcophagi. Morgan’s Stream of Life barely kept the heroes on their feet, rather getting them back up on their feet on several occasions. Scars abound.
Yet, with the final artifact and tibia returned to its resting place, the dire threat immediately faded away, the spirits at peace. Only one remained, now appearing as a noble elven apparition. It bowed mutely to the party, a serene nimbus surrounding its insubstantial form. In thanks for their release, the ghost offered to the party an ancient elven artifact: a potent and stylish amulet, infused with the essence of Life.