With the great black dragon slain, the party spent a bit of time camped out on the outer edge of the temple. There was much to do, and we used the time given to us for healing wounds, repairing equipment, and taking the time to thoroughly explore the upper area of the temple.
Fife, Osman, and Tobias scaled the outer walls of the temple proper in order to scout out the area, and to see if it were possible to discern a pathway back to the main land. Without Stephen to guide us through the morass, I fear that we would become quickly and hopelessly lost. This was the consensus that the party reached as well when we discussed the possibility of going back for the rest of our things.
I do agree with KelLyn that leaving our things there is asking for them to be stolen, and that having some of those things with us would be helpful; but until we can find a way to safely retrieve them - it was at least a two week journey one way to the temple - they are safer where they are. We discussed several options for trying to go back, including trying to use magic to translocate them.
I remembered then, what the Maker had told me before he left us all of those months ago. I remembered what he said about remembering who I am, and remembering to sing. I recalled the symbols that he etched into the stones, and I also recalled - briefly - the ritual that he did to open the gate. I also wondered, in that moment, if I had it within myself to do such a thing; and I felt a very faint surge of something inside me that told me that I could and would... but not yet.
Though the memory was sharp and bittersweet to me, I did not mention the recollection to the party. I do not feel confident enough in my own innate power yet to attempt such a feat, and I dare not risk it now, with such evil surrounding us. I do not know how vulnerable it would make me, nor do I know what calling such power might bring out of the deep miasma of the swamp. This is something that I will think more on, and perhaps in time I will find the answers I seek.
Fife, Osman, and Tobias returned from their scouting then to say that the mud mound of the temple continued on behind us, making a small mountain. Fife also mentioned that he saw four water dogs - like Lan - carrying a house on sticks through the swamps, but when the rest of the party looked, nothing further was seen. Lan had been staring into her crystal orb for a while, when she suddenly looked up with a perplexed expression on her face and quite simply stated that she could see through walls, and everyone looked like skeletons.
Lan is flighty on the best of days, so we all looked at her curiously, but when she said nothing else, we left her to her contemplation of the shiny orb. Osman, Fife, Shalev, and I set about to pull what useful materials we could from the carcass of the dragon, and the rest of the party began to gather our supplies and clean our camp to continue our search for Sacatha's tomb.
Shalev tried several times to find a way to cut through the tough dragon hide, but ran into difficulty as nothing seemed to work efficiently to the task. He eventually asked if he could use the sword that I carry - Toshi's sword - and found that it was able cut through the hide with little effort. After that, it became short work to take sinew, wing, scale, bone; taking care as well to remove the skull, feet, and claws.
The skull, we will carry back to the court of the count, as proof of deed accomplished.
Osman and I each separated out the ribs to use for bows, the wing leather to use for quivers, bags, sails, cloaks, and other containers; teeth and claws for arrowheads, spear heads, and blades. The rest of the party may make light of the fact that we are from a desert culture, but that culture gave us the knowledge that allowed us to reduce the carcass to usable or trade-able materials in a matter of a few hours.
Shalev mused aloud that he wanted to take some of the skin for clothes, as balance to his white armor, and because it would look more regal, as appropriate to his new position. The meat was not very palatable, though Fife and Shalev tried some after a quick purification spell, just to say they did. Amit curled his nose up at it - so we left the rest of the mass there for whatever scavengers may want.
We explored the main area with great care, and found a cache of 2900 platinum coins as well as a selection of jewelry, in the pools where the water elementals had been. We split the coins among the party, put the jewelry in a bag to appraise later, and continued to search for other ways into the mound. Fife and Osman were both wide-eyed at the bag of coins they were each handed, and Fife stated with numb disbelief that this was more money than his entire family had ever held in their entire lives. Ishmael quipped with a smile "welcome to being an adventurer with this group." and clapped him on the back good-naturedly.
I tend to forget how much coins are worth, so I rarely pay attention to what I have on me at any given time, regarding the amount of coins in my purse. If I need to buy something, I generally will ask Shalev - whom I rely almost exclusively on in these matters - to either exchange, bargain, or buy outright when necessary. I trust him implicitly with monetary matters, and would imagine that those seeking to cheat or gain the upper hand in a bargain would think twice about swindling the highly armored, towering persona of a paladin of a Goddess of Balance.
The great stone bas relief had swung open when the dragon first emerged, and it lead to the great open-air cavern where we had seen the glimpse of the treasure hoard. When we we looked into the great room again, however, it was completely empty save for a slime covered corridor off to the left. The vast hoards of treasure that we had seen had been an illusion - most likely crafted by the dragon to lure adventurers in. When the dragon had died, the illusion died with it.
Lan spoke up then, and said that she could still see us as skeletons, but also saw a pile of shiny rocks beyond the slime covered passage. There was nothing else in the great room at all, so we approached the passage, and the slime with caution. Considering the slime carefully, we saw that it covered the walls of the corridor in such a way that made it impassable. Shalev used one of the dragon's scales to try to scrape the slime away, in an attempt to create a pathway. He was successful in scraping it off of the wall, but discovered that it was dangerously corrosive, and that even the tiniest bit would eat it's way through armor, cloth, and flesh alike.
During Shalev's attempts to scrape the slime away from the walls, he discovered - much to Ishmael's keen interest - that the dragon scales would cause sparks when they scratched against the walls. Ishmael took a few moments to try to discern what the wall was made of, but only succeeded in damaging the tool that he used to pry pieces off. The wall was virtually indestructible, and Ishmael swore and muttered under his breath when it became apparent that he would not be able to take away a piece of the strange material.
It was Ishmael who discovered then that the slime retreated away from the skin of the dragon. With this revelation in mind, the party tried to find additional ways to clear the corridor safely. Ishmael took a section of the dragon's tail, and swung it in an arc, which caused the slime to withdraw enough for us to see the corridor clearly. We fashioned rudimentary shovels out of the dragon skin, and used these to clear a safe path into the adjoining chamber.
The room beyond held the treasure we had seen in glimpse before, although not nearly so much as the illusion originally showed. There was a pile of copper and silver coins which the dragon used as bedding, and scattered around the room were a collection of various items:
- A suit of armor, still containing the gooey remains of the unfortunate adventurer who wore it previously.
- a crushed holy symbol of Ma'at, bent possibly beyond repair
- a flail
- a sword bearing the mark of a set of scales holding a heart and a feather - the symbol of Ma'at
- a moldy spell book
- a moldy scroll case
- a tattered and shredded cloak containing an old potion bearing an image of a fire breathing dragon
- a crumbling satchel containing an old potion bearing the image of a man standing in front of a seated dragon
- 100 thumb sized sapphires
- 20 thumb sized aquamarines
- 30 thumb sized tourmalines
- 35 thumb sized emeralds
- 10 pieces of robin's egg sized black coral with gold centers
I may ask Shalev to trade some of my platinum coins for a handful of the jewels. I admire the gemstones far more than I do coins, especially the sapphire and emeralds, because they are like a distant memory of a home almost forgotten for me. But I will agree that they are absolutely safer in his possession until we can get out of this Stygian crypt, and to a city where they can be properly appraised.
KelLyn asked to see the spell book, and carefully tried to read through the mouldering tome to see what it might contain. As soon as she touched it, however, it tore into pieces, and a Fyrewerian symbol etched into the book was broken. We looked on helplessly, as the spell released and KelLyn turned ashen. The remains of the book fell out of her hands, and she fell over then, shattering into a hundred pieces.
Lan and I gently gathered the shards together and worked to piece her back together slowly. Once we had found all of the pieces, and put them back in reasonable order, Shalev gave her a draught of pure healing, which was enough to bring her back to life. She appeared weak and woozy, but alive and whole. Shalev offered to try to repair the ruined book, and she shakily agreed, saying that it was safe to touch now that the spell had discharged. He warily took the pieces of the book into the main cave area to work in safety, with Ishmael following behind with a potion if needed. He was able to repair a small part of the book to a readable state. It described a frightening spell called Infinite Void, which would cause grievous harm if cast on someone. The power word and specifics were lost, however KelLyn said that the knowledge she had would be enough to work with.
She then turned her attention to the moldy scroll tube, but we cautioned her to be wary, as she might not survive if she were grievously wounded again. Shalev graciously offered to help her open the scroll tube, with her explicit instruction, and she agreed. With careful instruction and careful movements, the scroll tube was opened to reveal a very old scroll written in desert common. This scroll invoked the power of the divine pantheon to banish creatures of unholy origin from a space. Protection from Unholy.
This is something that might prove highly useful here, considering what perils and undead things we might be facing further in the dank depths of this tomb.
KelLyn mentioned then, as we continued to pick our way through the chamber, that the armor was magical, as she could see it glowing. She agreed to use her slate to identify the benefits of the plate pieces. As she studied them, she noticed that they would shift size slightly - indicating that it would adjust to a certain degree to fit whomever wore it. After a period of time studying the armor, she was able to successfully identify it as Plate of Invulnerability. The armor was enchanted to be completely impenetrable, and would adjust itself to some degree to exactly fit the person who wore it.
She was also able to identify the flail as being enchanted to have additional accuracy.
We all agreed that Ishmael should take his pick of the treasures we found, and he shyly asked for the armor and flail. We bade him go ahead, and he gathered up the plate armor so that he could clean it thoroughly before trying it on. Osman helped him clean the ichor off of the metal pieces, and when Ishmael tried it on, we could indeed, see the armor shift to be a better fit for it's new wearer. He exclaimed that it felt like he were barely wearing armor at all, and Shalev offered to help him test it out later on to see what it could do. Hidden in the ichor and muck was also a crushed and warped holy symbol bearing the standard of Ma'at - barely recognizable due to the damage. Shalev gently retrieved it, cleaned it, and asked Ishmael's help to repair the item, so that he may use it. As a paladin, it would only be appropriate for him to have such a symbol of office, and Ishmael agreed to aid him however he could with the repair.
KelLyn then turned to the sword, and Shalev cautioned her not to touch it, remembering the damage Ma'at caused to her the last time she touched a holy item. KelLyn looked annoyed, but vaguely grateful for the warning, and managed to work her slate underneath the sword without touching it. She spent a long time identifying the weapon, and was finally able to do so, though the process nearly exhausted her.
The sword was identified as a Defender - aligned as Lawful Good, and specifically in the name of Ma'at. KelLyn said then that she was done, and needed time to recover her energy before anything else could be identified. We agreed to rest here, seeing as the room had only one entrance, and was easily defensible.
Shalev looked at the sword with a little bit of trepidation then, and spent time lost in contemplation of what lay before him. I know that the path of Ma'at has not been an easy one for him at times, but it does seem that his goddess has sent him some clear signs lately of what he needs to do.
I left him to his thoughts, and spent some time examining the area in the main cavern behind the shell curtain. The walls here were covered with carvings which depicted murals of the legends of the Lizard King. Images of battle between men and lizard men, a towering figure wearing a jagged crown, kneeling in front of a carved bas relief of a crouching, snarling demonic figure. The bas relief has a darkly stained altar stone in front of it, but I was unable to get close enough to examine it further, as the carcass of the dragon lay between the statue and the stone.
I returned to the inner chamber then, in time to see Shalev on his knees, holding the sword in his hands. He radiated Presence in a way that was entirely indisputable and definite. He almost glowed with power. When I had walked out to explore, it seems, the rest of the party had urged him to take up the sword. He protested, reminding them that he had recently been told by Ma'at that he would be punished if he died in his current state - due to an evil act that he had done. They apparently insisted, and he caved to their request, and took up the sword. The action took him to his knees, burning his hand significantly, and causing a wave of power to emanate out from him in a wave.
He stood then, shining with faith, and tried out his new power, casting a Detect Evil on the area. He discovered that there was a spot underground, just behind the altar where I had explored moments before. Apparently there was a hidden flight of stairs that had three lizard men waiting at the bottom. We decided to wait until morning to venture down below, and felt safe in our rest, knowing that the heavy carcass of the dead dragon covered the stairs and prevented anything from emerging.
Later that evening, as I helped him bandage his wounded hand, he confided in me that Ma'at had come to him in his mind to tell him that if he thought he was ready, then so be it. He told me of the new abilities that he was granted with his new position, and of his continued uncertainty that he was the right person for the task Ma'at had given. He elected to keep the wound to his hand, letting it scar, as a reminder. He told me too, that the entire conversation with his goddess took only a heartbeat, and at that moment when he touched the blade, she granted him the power I had felt radiating off of him in waves.
I gave him some salve for the burn in his hand, and cautioned that he would need to continue to stretch and use the muscles as they healed, lest the scar tissue stiffen and impair his grip. I am proud of him for following this path, and pleased to see that his goddess does answer him - though not always in the way he expects her to. This role suits him well, and I think, as he becomes more comfortable with the concept of balance, he will too become more comfortable in his role as Paladin.
The party rested well that evening in the main cavern, and began to make final preparations to head down into the slimy deeps and unmapped tunnels below us. We ate well and rested long, gathered items, tending hurts, and repairing armor and weaponry as we could.
The next morning, we discovered that all of the copper and silver coins had disappeared entirely, though strangely only the coins that we had gathered from the hoard. All of the coins that we had on us previously, as well as the platinum coins, gems, and jewelry remained untouched. We also took wary note of the slime now once again covered the corridor to the inner chamber, as well as marking of the fact that it had spread slowly out to the walls to the main cavern as well. We drug the carcass of the dragon aside to reveal the door to the lower stair case. With Lan's new unique ability to see the skeletons, and Shalev's new ability to detect evil, we were aware of the three lizard men waiting below. With all of the noise that moving the carcass of the dragon caused, it would have been foolish to think that they were unaware of us.
Ishmael opened the stone covering to the stairs, and three lizard men began the climb up, grumbling about the late arrival of their replacement watch. It was their last mistake. Shalev gave them no chance to even make a sound, killing them all with the quick, deadly efficiency of a warrior testing a new strength. They carried nothing at all on them, so we moved the bodies aside into the shadows, and made our way down the stairs and to a closed door.
Ishmael and Shalev took point, with Osman in the center, carrying a torch. Fife and I followed, he with a spear at the ready, and I with bow knocked. Lan was behind us, also carrying a torch, and Kellyn and Tobias took rear guard against attack.
The door opened to another corridor, and a set of closed double doors. Those doors opened to a large room with doors to the left, right, and straight ahead; and a group of 10 people in armor, who immediately bolted in fright towards the exits shouting out that they were being invaded. These bore no signs of being trained warriors or guards, and were most likely set there to shout warning to anything further in.
Ishmael and Tobias ran to block the doorways to the left and straight ahead, and Fife threw a spear with deadly accuracy to block the way to the right. KelLyn began casting a spell, but it went wrong, and her pouch of stargems exploded, wounding everyone around her, including Fife and I.
Shalev engaged the bandits to the left, Osman and I used arrows, and Tobias used his skills at brawling to take care of the rest. Two of them managed to escape under the spear blocking the right hand door, and ran out of sight, screaming. Their cries were abruptly cut off, and Shalev spoke quietly to say that the main source of the evil was off to the right. Lan used her new sight to look ahead a way, and said that she saw 3-4 enemies off to the left. The party decided, after some deliberation, to barricade the doors to the right and rear of the room, and proceed to the left, preferring not to leave enemies behind us in such a treacherous place. Shalev used his Detect spell once again to confirm the presence of enemies, and
Instead of 3-4 enemies, however, we encountered a group of 6. Dark robed, and chanting, these figures were attempting a summoning spell. Shalev, without hesitation, cast Dispel Evil to interrupt whatever dread thing they may have been trying to call up. One of the figures turned then, and said clearly "Kill the paladin first!", and drew a black mace to engage. Shalev used his abilities to dodge the incoming attacks, and they turned then to engage Fife and Ishmael.
Lan and Osman both began summoning, at the same time, and it was with a tremor of uneasiness that I realized they both could summon fae. They complete their call, and a lady in white appeared, asking "Who is pregnant?" She and Lan have a brief conversation in the language of the fairy folk, and lan points to one of the cloaked figures who had drawn a hammer. Lan then handed her the warding stone that she had been given earlier during the battle with the dragon, and the White Lady appears to agree with the bargain struck.
One of the dread priests wielding a mace swung at Ishmael, hitting him with resounding force. Ishmael's new armor allowed him to shrug off the blow, and then he returned the stroke, using his flail to similar effect. They both blinked at one another, shaking their heads simultaneously, and then engaged again.
The other priest attacked Fife, and Fife used his deadly skill with a spear to stab him through the mouth, taking him out of the fight but not killing him.
Two of the dread priests began to cast a spell, and Fife took action to spear one of them through the throat. KelLyn cast a spell on a second spear, and Fife aimed that one at the one who had first issued the commands, spearing him in the mouth. A spell goes off - whether it was KelLyn's, or the enemy priest's I will never know - and a massive wave of cold washes through the room. Shalev's armor protected him, deflecting the power of the spell around him like a river around a solid stone. Unfortunately, in deflecting the spell, it hit both Fife and I. We were both wounded previously when KelLyn's spell went awry, and it was enough to knock me unconscious.
Amit moved, growling fiercely, to guard my unconscious body, and Lan used her abilities to check my wounds.
The rest of the battle I learned about as Shalev, Tobias, and the rest of the party related it to me over the fires that evening.
The leader of the dread priests commanded them again, to kill the paladin, and turned in time to see the White Lady touch the hammer-wielder that Ishmael faced, turning him into a frog. Shalev wasted no time and stepped in to stab the frog and kill it.
Osman fired an arrow at one of the priests who was in the middle of casting a spell. Tobias used his speed to rush the other spell caster in the rear of the group, but was knocked flying back because of a reflection spell that they had successfully cast earlier. Fife threw a spear then, and was also taken out with the same reflection spell.
Ishmael and Shalev moved in to engage the remaining enemies, and Tobias also ran back into the fray, wielding his sword. Shalev took out one of the mace wielders, and Tobias took out the other caster with a solid blow to the face.
Ishmael went after the remaining caster near the back of the room, and KelLyn -who had been casting a spell - released her magic to chaos, causing one of the priests that Fife had speared earlier to disintegrate into dust. Shalev engaged the leader of the group then, who cast a spell causing a wave of fear to sweep through the room.
Shalev, however, used his brooch to ignore the effects of the spell. He looked at his enemy with some amusement at the attempt before stabbing the dread priest in the face with his holy sword.
Once all of the dread priests were dead, Fife and I were carried into the room, and the bodies of the priests were searched to find:
1 - a ring, a scroll, hammer, armor- highly damaged
2 - a ring, plate armor, mace
3 - chain mail, mace
4 - chain mail, scroll
5 - a staff
6 - chain mail, mace
and 117 gold pieces between them.
Lan gave me a healing potion, but I remained unconscious for a time. Since I was still being fiercely guarded by Amit, who refused to let anyone near me, Lan turned to Fife. she gave him a healing potion as well, which was enough to bring him back to full health.
Surrounded by unknown enemies and unknown powers, and a definite, lurking evil, we will rest here. Guarded and wary, we will continue to recuperate. I think before we proceed any further, I will see what blessings my god and goddess might be willing to provide. I tremble to think of what we might still be facing, and know that any advantage the divine might be able to grant us would be welcome.