As I sipped my tea by the fire, I continued to study the book of spells that Tobias had gifted me. There were several scribbles and notes in the margins of the book, which were obviously personal observations from the original owner. As I examined the words, I meditated on the last real conversation that I was able to have with my ancestors. The barrier here still prevents direct contact, and I feel their absence almost like a missing limb. I am looking forward to the time when we can be quit of this place, and I can once again converse with them.
I still have so many questions. Looking back over the past few months, - No, years. Time really has no meaning for one such as I. - I contemplate again the larger picture. How does everything we have done, everything we are doing, tie together? I grow more and more certain that this will be just one more piece of the puzzle, but I cannot yet see what the finished result might be.
If... when we bring the barrier down here, how will that affect the outside world? How will it affect this one? We still have to find the cup and the chalice, though KelLyn's friend is long-dead now. The winged man also mentioned several other artifacts that we would need in the coming battle against the dark elves. The talisman of Al Akbar, and one other artifact located in Kaibar. I wondered if Pyl - the author of the letter that Tobias gave me along with the book of spells - still lived there, and if they might be able to give us more information on what we sought.
Then there's the elven city and the sylvan tree where we found the Maker. No. I have not forgotten that, and it still fills me with a seething fury that those who would call themselves my kin would so desecrate something that should be held sacred. I am determined to see this through to the end, and though I am prepared to fight them - or whatever has corrupted them - I am also aware of what the cost might be, and I wonder if I am strong enough to pay it. I ponder all of the knowledge I have gained here regarding the restoration and care of sylvan trees, and I know that I was given such a glimpse for a purpose. Perhaps what I have learned here, what I may yet learn here, will give me what I need to complete what lies ahead.
and just maybe I can save two trees instead of just one.
Previously in our story...
As I contemplated thoughts of what remained to be done, I glanced around at the campsite, noticing that Osman lay still and quiet, finally resting fully. KelLyn was drunk, again, but that seems to be her escape. She seems distant with her former lover, Taryn, and I am curious as to his reasoning behind disappearing so thoroughly. I have noticed that humans tend to see such things as a personal slight for some reason, though I imagine it also has a lot to do with how short their life spans can be.
I sipped my tea and then noticed, with some interest that both Jaeger and Scott had vanished. I mentioned this to Tobias and KelLyn and was told that the two had wandered back into the academy to finish explorations on their own rather than wait for the rest of the party. I looked at them both, then looked toward the academy, and shook my head. Either Jaeger and Scott would return, or they would not. They had made their choice to explore the unknown unaided.
Several hours later, they indeed did return, scratched and bruised and grinning like little children who had gotten away with mischief. Scott showed us the things that they had found inside:
two potions, likely healing potions from Scott's description, a cloak that was still in good repair where he had found the potions, a ring which Jaeger warned needed to be identified before it was worn, a sling with a pouch of iron pellets, a few pieces of mismatched armor, and two clear potion bottles that contained very old holy water.
As Scott had not yet equipped himself beyond the simple clothes that he wore, he took the cloak and the potions for himself, at the party's insistence. I pointed out that there was also a full suit of leather armor somewhere on the cart that would likely fit him, and Tobias went to help him find it.
I put one of the bottles of holy water on my belt, and Jaeger took the other one. Once he had the bottle, he opened it and dumped the essence of the shade from the mirror into it. The black goop hit the water with an audible scream, and both the potion and essence exploded into vapor which shattered the bottle in his hands. As Jaeger stoically held the bottle during this process, I heard Taryn say, somewhat ironically, that he was glad that he had sided with us. His words cut short however, and I looked up to see him staring at Jaeger with a horrified expression on his face. During the concentration that Jaeger focused on the destruction of the shade essence, he had allowed the illusion that he wore on his face to slip, and he once again appeared as an orc.
Taryn began to panic at this, as he had been unaware of Jaeger's true nature, and continued to get riled up about the presence of such a creature in the party until Scott grabbed him by the shoulder and shoved a large mug of good strong ale in his hands. Scott physically guided Taryn over by the fire, and quietly talked to the pale man while they drank the ale. Scott handed Taryn one of the healing potions that he had found in the academy, and then KelLyn sat up and slurred drunkenly that she could try to identify his ring now if he wanted.
Scott started to say yes, but the rest of the party hurriedly assured her that it could wait until morning, and then breathed a collective sigh of relief when she fell back over and began to snore. I returned to my studies and, remembering the encounters from the previous day, I began to specifically look into spells that would allow me to clean myself and my belongings, as well as ways to potentially help bolster my power for more difficult spells.
The rest of the night passed uneventfully, and the next morning the party gathered our things and set out back into the academy, still resolute in the decision to leave no stone unturned. As we broke camp, the sun rose gracefully over the spires of the temples across the road, and I noticed again that the temple to Celestia on the left. The party agreed that we would examine them thoroughly once we were done with the academy, and once again, we made our way through the doors. KelLyn agreed to look at the ring that Scott had found, and she said that it had a modify images and mind spell on it, but it did not seem to be cursed as far as she could tell; and Scott put it on his finger.
Once inside, we immediately went over to the area that the ghasts had previously been guarding. The floor was still littered with piles of various gnawed upon body parts, and Jaeger pointed out several small diseased rats crawling among the carnage. We avoided the rats carefully, and opened the doors to reveal a library. I could feel Jaeger, KelLyn, and Osman all instantly perk up, and I shared their excitement over the potential knowledge here. As I examined the room further, however, my excitement turned to disappointment, as I realized that all of the books here were more for show. The tomes were all very lightly used, common books that were evidently only meant to create the appearance of being well-read. The shelves were very dusty, and as we examined the shelves on the off chance that there might be something of use, Jaeger pointed out one book that was less filthy than the others. He cast a quick ward over himself before taking the book from the shelf, and showed it to KelLyn.
The book turned out to be the traveling book for a mage named Arcus, and KelLyn and Jaeger broke out into a small discussion regarding the ownership of the book. She had also realized that Jaeger's sword, for whatever reason, consumed half of anything he claimed for himself, and so KelLyn looked at him critically for a moment before declaring that he was to study the book as her student, therefore voiding the sword's claim to half of the book and potential destruction of any knowledge therein.
Jaeger looked surprised that he had not thought of this before, and opened the book carefully to see that it was, in fact, a traveling spell book. There was nothing else of note in this room, so we proceeded to the next door which opened up into a sitting room with several crystal decanters of sour wine and some moldy chairs. The ceiling and walls here were thick with webbing, and before we could warn him to take care, Osman strode into the room. He made it three steps into the room before an enormous spider dropped from the top of the room onto his back. Osman shrieked and flailed, and Tobias managed to quickly swat it off of his back with one of his maces, smashing it against the wall with a liquid sound of pulping arachnid.
Osman, who had leaned over to regain his composure, straightened up in time to see another large spider drop down over Tobias' head, and he shrieked again before firing wildly with his bow. Scott stepped into the room then to see what all the fuss was about, with Taryn close on his heels. Tobias eyed the descending spider warily, and prepared to give it the same treatment that he had the first one.
Osman's first shot flew wild, but his second shot struck home which knocked the spider down into the range of Tobias' mace. This spider flew to meet the messy remains of it's kin against the far wall, again with an audible splatter, and Scott turned ghost-pale before retreating hastily from the room. No other spiders appeared, however, and Jaeger began to eagerly gather up the spider webs to use as spell components. I took the time to examine the room, and discovered several crystal decanters, with a gold colored wine inside them, along with a set of 10 cut crystal goblets. I carefully gathered up everything and wrapped the decanters to prevent them from breaking.
One of the decanters had a small crack in it, and so I took some of the glasses and poured a small measure of the sunshine colored liquor into each glass to share with the party before it spoiled. I told them that this was a rare vintage that needed to be savored and that taking a little bit of down time before continuing was not a detriment. Jaeger and Scott refused, but Tobias, Osman, Taryn, Lan,and KelLyn all agreed to share it with me, and soon we had cleared a space out on the porch of the academy to sit and enjoy the wine while we kept watch on the cart. Once he had seated himself beside me, Tobias launched into a descriptive tale of our past adventures, and I saw Taryn's eyes go wide with awe as he realized that the stories he had been raised up on were ones that we had lived.
I noticed quietly that both Scott and Jaeger had wandered off into the depths of the academy again, and I shook my head to myself at their stubborn and foolhardy actions. The wine would wait for no one, not even me, however, and I settled in with a small smile to enjoy the memories that Tobias recounted. About an hour or so into the recollections, KelLyn suddenly sat up straight to say that she had felt a massive pull of energy from somewhere inside, and that we should do something about it. The statement made her pause and think for a moment before she declared "and speaking of.. let me tell you about the time that we DID the thing..." and she lapsed into a continuation of the story that Tobias had started telling, recounting our journey through the pyramid with her own embellishments for flair.
It was not long after that, maybe another half an hour or so, when we heard one of the windows near by smash outward, and we saw Jaeger tossing Scott through the shattered window to fall to the ground by the cart. They were both wounded, winded, and frightened, and I ran over to see what I could do to help with their injuries. Jaeger's injuries were minor, and he seemed to be relatively unharmed, but Scott was uncooperative and swinging his fists deliriously. I dodged several swings and glanced at Lan who nodded and tried to cast a spell to knock him out so we could work on bandaging his wounds. He threw off the attempt though, and continued to fight us until both Lan and I gave up in frustration. I muttered darkly to Tobias that Scott was too stubborn or too stupid to live, and if he wanted to fight our help so much, he could just sit there, and I stalked back over to where Jaeger had flopped to the ground with an enormous sigh to ask him what had happened.
Jaeger grabbed a drink to help with the aches and pains that he was dealing with, and he began to explain - via KelLyn who was acting as a translator - what they had discovered.
Scott and Jaeger, having seen that the rest of the party was occupied with enjoying the wine, used the opportunity to sneak away and re-enter the academy to explore the one remaining hallway, search bodies, and see what they could discover. They came across a tunnel which lead to a cave entrance where there were a number of bodies tossed haphazardly. The bodies were all nude and drained of blood, likely the discarded empty husks from the vampire's previous feasts. The corpses had all been gnawed on by rats and other vermin, and Scott and Jaeger decided to drag them up the stairs to burn them. The effort of moving the bodies attracted the attentions of 15 giant rats.
Jaeger attempted to get Scott to leave at that point, but Scott was supremely skeptical, saying "what? They're just rats." Jaeger threw one of the corpses at the rodents in an attempt to distract them, but it didn't work and all of the rats swarmed toward them. Jaeger backed up to a narrow bottleneck in the hallway and began to actively dodge the rats attacks. Scott followed him, and the rats continued to swarm out of the cave entrance until their number had almost doubled. Knowing that they were outnumbered, Jaeger tried again to get Scott to run, but Scott would have none of it, and stepped in front of Jaeger to protect him. Jaeger began to cast a spell then, drawing an enormous amount of power - which is the surge that KelLyn had felt.
The rats swarmed both Jaeger and Scott, attacking en masse, but both Scott and Jaeger were able to brush off the first wave of bites and scratches with only minor damage. Jaeger's spell completed and as he shouted the last words of the spell, stone spikes shot up from the ground to smash the rats up into the ceiling, killing the first wave of them instantly. Scott was unable to get out of the way of the spell in time, and he also was slammed into the roof of the cavern, gravely injuring him and smashing the potions that he carried on him. The rest of the rats had backed up warily, having also taken some wounds from the rapidly emerging spikes.
Jaeger tried then to intimidate the rats outright, and forced Scott to choke down the potion that Jaeger had snatched off of his own belt. The rats continued to back up cautiously at his screaming, and that was enough time to let the potion go to work on Scott, healing he worst of his wounds and allowing him to get back to his feet just as the rats decided to charge at them again.
Jaeger picked Scott up and threw him over his shoulder then, in order to run out of the cave, back through the tunnel, and toss him out the window where we had found them.
After telling his side of the story, Jaeger downed the rest of his drink and promptly fell into a deep sleep. The rest of us watched warily for the emergence of any other rats, but none appeared and the night passed without encounter.
The next morning, we gathered up our belongings and set about examining the windows where Scott and Jaeger had come the night before. Osman was still set on seeing what was in the room with the rock slide, though none of the windows showed us anything new. As we explored the outside of the building, we came across four dead trees, completely blackened, and in one corner of the little courtyard we saw that one entire side of the building had collapsed, filling the room with impassable rubble. Finally satisfied that there was no way through the debris, Osman gave up the search and Jaeger looked at the dead trees saying something about charcoal. I remembered Ishmael saying something about such a thing, and said that there would be no harm in removing the trees, as they had been dead a long time. Jaeger and Tobias worked to bring the trees down, and I commented that perhaps we should bring some of this stuff back to Ishmael, seeing as he had been so interested in it before.
The rest of the party wanted to explore elsewhere then, but I argued fiercely that I did not want to leave who knows how many giant rats behind us. We argued for a while about, before everyone finally agreed that it was a bad idea, and we cautiously made our way inside and back down the stairs to deal with them.
We came across the room with the hoard of dead rats, and KelLyn eyed Jaeger with appreciation at his skill. Aside from the mass of rodent corpses, however, it was eerily quiet. The footfalls of the party were the only sound, and even that echoed off of the walls. The entire place felt, at last, deserted, and we continued to pick our way through the tunnels until we came to a single large room where we saw several different holes and tunnel entrances. Realizing that this was a crossroads of sorts in this maze, we took our bearings and chose the largest of the tunnels.
We followed the winding passage until it came to a smaller intersection, but stopped there because none of us could fit through the remaining tunnels without crawling, and we all agreed that crawling single file down a narrow tunnel was not the best idea. We made our way back up to the main room where the pentagram shaped pool had been, and then back over to the wine cellar. Scott and Taryn showed some interest in the wines that were shelved there, but Tobias informed them that we carried better vintages just on general principle. As I examined the shelves, however, there were two that caught my eye. I picked them up and noticed the intricate label on each one. I could pick out enough lettering to spell the word "Aving" and Taryn recognized that as the premier winery from the other continent, which had stopped producing wines some 750 years prior. They had been known for a golden wine of mystical properties, and I put the two bottles carefully in my pack for my own personal stash.
Lan spoke up then and asked us if we wanted her to use her shiny ball to explore the tunnels that we couldn't fit through, and we agreed that this was likely the only way we would be able to discover what was beyond them. We escorted her up to the cart, where she grabbed her orb, and I deposited the wine and crystal carefully. We made our way back down into the darkness, and the light from Lan's orb was enough that we did not need to light a torch. We made it down to the first crossroads area where she sat on the ground and stared into her ball. She told us that one tunnel went back for some distance, but she saw nothing living or dead within the maze.
We made our way back up to the surface, and after thinking for a moment, KelLyn began to close and lock doors behind us as we went. When I looked at her appraisingly, she simply commented that we didn't want the rats to come up behind us, and this was one way to prevent that from happening. Once we reached the cart, we sat down to discuss our next moves.
We decided that the temples would also need to be explored, but the trek into the tunnels had taken up the majority of the day, and we did not want to go exploring at night. We decided that we would begin that leg of our journey in the morning, but that tonight we all needed rest. Scott still looked pale, and I was not sure how long Jaeger would take to recover he energy he spent with the spike spell.
We set out camp again, keeping a wary eye across the way, and while we rested, I asked Tobias to tell us everything he knew about the Celestine paladin that they had encountered before.