It's too bad Amit isn't here with us now. For, what better way to deal with giant rats than to have at your side a giant cat? - Cora
Previously in our story...
The rats, thankfully, made no further appearance that evening, however their apparent disappearance made me extremely wary. According to what Jaeger had described, he and Scott had only taken out half of the beasts, but Lan had seen no trace of them in the tunnels. I pondered again, briefly, how expansive the tunnelworks under the ruined city might prove to be. As we made our preparations to go into the temples across the way, I noticed that the entire area behind the two chapels was entirely unharmed, as if the area had been protected somehow from the utter destruction of the city surrounding them.
Tobias and KelLyn had spent several hours the night before telling us all that they knew from their previous encounters with the Paladin of Celestia. We decided that we would explore that temple first, and made our way carefully through the ruined street and up to the blue stone stairs.
The cobalt colored steps led up and into a main open-roofed worship area which boasted a large altar at the back of the space and a large blue velvet tapestry which hung above it. The tapestry was embroidered with an enormous silver eye - the symbol of Celestia - which was woven in such a way that it appeared to follow the party's movements around the room. From the entrance, the embroidered eye looked very realistic, but as we drew nearer to the altar, the intricate stitch-work became more visible.
Scott made a motion to tear the tapestry down, but I sternly warned against defacing the temple. Tobias seconded my warning with the statement that, while he had a personal vendetta against the paladin of this order, he held nothing against the deity or the rest of the order, and we did not want to borrow trouble. There were doors to the left and right of the tapestry that lead into the temple proper, and I checked the door to the left first. I found no physical traps, but was still wary of potential magical traps, and told the party as much. Ignoring my warnings, Scott walked up and opened the door before anyone could say anything about the action.
I stared after him in utter exasperation, again considering his apparent disregard for safety, but then followed the rest of the party through the door into a room with several desks arranged in an orderly fashion. Each of the desks held several religious texts which seemed centered on the day-to-day functions of running a temple of Celestia. It was odd to see such rituals and rites written out, but as the text were very specific, I considered that it may have been one of the requirements of their order.
Taryn spoke up then, asking if we should take the books with us, but we had no use for them and Tobias reiterated that we should not destroy them. As they discussed the books, I examined the walls and discovered a small alcove off to one side. There was a hidden panel there which opened up a door to what appeared to be a small bathroom. The rest of the party was completely baffled by the thought of an indoor restroom, and stared at me uncomprehendingly when I told them what it was for. After a moment of trying to explain, I simply shook my head at them and said that there was nothing here in this space to worry about.
We continued to follow the hallway a short distance to another door off to the right. This door was trapped, but the mechanism was a simple one, and I disarmed it easily. The door opened into a small room which had several robes hanging on wall pegs. The robes were simple dark blue silk, and Lan grabbed one of them to put on. She happily twirled the robe around with a giggle, and said that it reminded her of the water. This room also held a writing desk, a small table, and a bed. The bed was luxurious with a down filled mattress, and sheets that were made of deep blue silk. Tobias looked at the bed, and then took the sheets off of the mattress with a saucy wink towards me as he folded them carefully away in his pack.
He debated for a moment on how to take the mattress, but it would have been too heavy and too bulky to transport, so he left it alone with a sigh. I raised an amused eyebrow at his obvious flirtation, but then turned to explore the writing desk. With great interest, I discovered several sheets of excellently preserved vellum, several long black quills, and a beautiful blue-black ink which had a mystical quality about it. I added these things carefully to my own pack, and continued to investigate the room.
Underneath the bed, I discovered the carapace of a giant centipede which had died a long time ago of starvation. It crumbled to dust as I touched it, but there was nothing left in the room of interest. We continued our explorations, and the next room opened into a larger area which appeared to be the monk's quarters, with four cells that were sparsely equipped with simple, empty furniture.
Another door on the left opened into a second partitioned room for young clerks. There were basic unadorned robes in a light blue silk hanging on the wall. The silk was good quality, and since they bore no markings of any order on them, I took one and Scott took the other. The cots here were of a much lower quality, and the mattresses were old and musty smelling. As I searched through the room I discovered, to my delight, an old canvas folding tub. The canvas was rotten, but the copper frame was still strong and sound. I gave it to Tobias to add to the cart, with the request to help me recanvas the tub at our earliest opportunity.
There was a large carved doorway at one corner of the hallway, which lead into the high priest's room. The door was trapped, and as I worked to delicately disarm the trap, I revealed a set of explosive runes which instantly activated in my face. I managed to avoid most of the detonation, but took some injury from the explosion. Lan ran over to me after the smoke cleared and was able to quickly heal my wounds. The door swung harmlessly open, since the handle was blown clear in the blast, and it revealed an opulent room with an enormous four poster bed with carved posts, a foot locker made of the same wood, a large desk, and several heavily embroidered robes which hung from pegs on the wall.
Tobias again began to strip the bed of the sheets, blankets, and the gauzy canopy; and then began to examine the bed to see if he could figure out how to dismantle it. KelLyn claimed the heavy robes for herself, and I examined the large desk. I found more vellum, and a larger portion of the mystical blue-black ink. Scott expressed some interest in the ink, so I gave him the smaller container I had found earlier, and added the larger container of ink to my pack with the additional vellum. I also discovered an odd rocker tool which was covered in heavy linen, which I gave to KelLyn, as well as a small box which contained several long flat quills and 6 gold nibs which I claimed.
There was a small wardrobe which contained more silk clothes that Taryn and Lan began to go through, and I noticed that one of the pieces of vellum that I picked up had some writing on it. The note was written in common, which I could not read, and I handed it to Osman who said that it was a set of instructions for shipping and handling of merchandise. There was a small alcove in one wall with wooden panels that opened up to reveal a small gold picture frame with platinum filigree. There was no picture inside it though, and in the wall behind the wooden panels was a small slot which looked out into the alleyway behind the temple. Tobias took the picture frame, and I opened the footlocker to reveal an additional set of blankets and a masterwork set of steel manacles with an ornate key. Tobias pointed out that the manacles might be useful if we decided to take prisoners for some reason, and Taryn said something about the letter referring to slaves. I looked at him in confusion for a moment, before realizing that the "shipping and handling" instructions were what he had been talking about. I dropped the manacles and eyed them in distaste, and glared at Osman who had the grace to look abashed at the deception.
Tobias, having given up on trying to dismantle the bed, put all of the blankets and sheets that he had gathered into the footlocker, and he and Scott picked it up to carry it back out to the cart. When they returned we continued to explore down the hallway over to the last room of the temple. This room was locked with mystical traps guarding the door, and I called KelLyn over to help disarm them. She looked at the door critically for a moment before stating that there was not one, but two spells on the door, a trigger and an effect. She drew a circle on the ground to help boost her power, however the first attempt failed. The trap, thankfully did not go off, and her second attempt was powered by two circles. The air sparked with static, and we all ducked around the corner for safety. She dispelled the effect spell with a gout of purple flame, and then said that it was safe to come back in. She said that the trigger spell was still there, but was essentially ineffective and would not cause any harm. The door was still locked, though it was simple enough to pick, and Scott pushed the door open as soon as he heard the locking mechanism click open, knocking me backward in the process.
I glared at him again as I picked myself up off of the floor, and muttered to myself that I would let him unlock the doors on his own from then on. Inside the room there was an iron lockbox, and a single book. The book was a ledger which listed line after line after line of transactions. The high priest had been in the business of trafficking people, it seemed, and it made me feel ill to think of the lives that had been lost by such a despicable trade. I dropped the book back on it's stand with distaste, and turned my attention to the iron lockbox which contained three smaller boxes of separated coins.
We took the lock box and the coins back to the cart and made our camp for the evening with the decision to explore the second temple and surrounding area in the morning. Morning came sooner than expected though, and towards the end of second watch, the rest of the party was awoken by the sounds of commotion. Instantly on guard, I looked over to see Tobias' box on the ground, two apparently dead giant rats on the ground, and two more attacking Scott and KelLyn. Scott was yelling, which is what had finally made the party aware of the danger, and KelLyn was in the middle of casting a spell at the two rats who were attempting to flee.
Her spell went off with a whisper, and I saw one of the rats topple over asleep, just as Scott fell over beside it, snoring deeply. One of the two dead rats was actually still breathing shallowly, but I killed it quickly before it could regain strength and attack us again. I walked over to Lan and shook her awake to help tend to KelLyn and Scott, who had both been bitten by the diseased rodents. Tobias was grumbling darkly and opened his box up to make sure that nothing inside had been damaged before pulling it back up onto the cart. I noticed that two of the rats had run off into the dark, and I began to silently track them through the rubble to see if I could locate where they had come from.
After a short while, however, their trail simply vanished; and I returned to camp annoyed. I told the party that i didn't think that the rats were really what they seemed, and KelLyn spoke up then to tell us that she had seen them turn into small humans. I glanced at her, my annoyance growing, and said archly that that information would have been useful BEFORE I started tracking the things. Tobias thought for a moment, and then said that he had heard of creatures like this in his class at the university, and that the description sounded like what he had learned about were-rats.
Lan agreed to continue working on healing Scott and KelLyn, and I took Tobias back out with me to continue to try to track and hunt the remaining two creatures. I noticed that there had been an odd pattern in the obscurity of their tracks, and the repetition bothered me for some reason that I could not yet fathom. We tracked them back to where I had lost the trail originally, and I spent some time searching around the rubble to see if I could pick up traces of where they had gone. I discovered a concealed door amid one of the piles of rubble, and I pointed it out quietly to Tobias. We agreed to return to camp and get the rest of the party, and I pondered how to mark the trail back to the hidden door.
I remembered a pattern of rocks that Shalev and I had used when we were in the desert, and I used that pattern again to mark the path we would take. When we returned to camp, we saw the rest of the party members still fast asleep. We checked on Lan, who said that she had done what she could to heal Scott and KelLyn, and we pointed out that they might very well have also been infected by any number of diseases from the wererats. Lan quickly cast a cure spell on them both successfully, and the rest of the evening passed without further incident.
When morning arrived a few hours later we told the others that we had tracked the wererats to their hole and we needed to get rid of them. Scott expressed disappointment at being cured, saying that he thought turning into a rat might have been fun. I stared at him for a moment, but then decided that it was not worth the argument. Jaeger agreed to stay with the cart, and we followed the trail of rocks back to the trail.
I noticed several times that the rock pattern had been almost exactly duplicated in several attempts to throw us off the trail. Only someone who was intimately familiar with the exact pattern would have been able to tell the difference, and I commented at the intelligence and cunning that this showed.
We made our way back to the concealed gap in the rubble and followed it down into a curving passageway that opened off to a large room on the right. We looked around the corner cautiously to see that the room was full of a seething swarm of smaller rats, and we quickly backed up a bit. I turned to KelLyn and told her to forget the warning about fire and enclosed spaces, and to light the room up. She grinned wide with a joy she only finds when she is destroying something and immediately began to chant in what I had come to recognize as Fyrewerian.
The rest of the party quickly backed out of the tunnel as a blanket of fire engulfed the room, killing all of the rats inside instantly and sucking all of the air out of the room. I had the breath knocked out of me as I was yanked back by Tobias, and we all waited for a handful of moments before venturing back into the tunnel.
The large room had been charred from floor to ceiling, and was completely empty of anything but smoldering ashes. We continued to explore the tunnel that lead us to another large room that had three piles of rags on the floor. One of the piles was occupied by a small human, and I quietly moved ahead of the party and cut it's throat. As I made my way silently over, I felt a surge of approval that I knew came from my ancestors, and I smiled quietly in the knowledge that they still watched over me even though we could not communicate outright.
One quick knife stroke killed the wererat before it could even wake, and I turned to see the rest of the part gaping at me in disbelief.
I blinked at this reaction from them, as it was unexpected, nature is about life and death after all. Wererats were an unnatural scourge, and the elimination of the rodents was necessary to restore the balance of the area. I started to shrug off their amazed, horrified expressions, and turned to examine the body only to blink again at the arrow that lodged itself in my armor just above my heart. I looked down at the thing then looked up quickly to see a small wererat in a shadowed passageway staring at me with chagrin at his failure to kill me outright.
I reacted quickly by throwing two of my daggers at it, and shouting alarm to the rest of the party. The first dagger struck true, wounding it, but my second throw glanced off of the wererat as he moved to draw his sword. Tobias ran at him with his maces drawn, and struck him squarely, wounding it a second time and silencing the area around them. The rat completely unsheathed his sword then and pointed it at Osman, who had taken aim at it with his bow. I watched as the arrow was deflected by a quick snap of the rat's flimsy sword, and then as another of my daggers wad deflected in the same fashion.
The rat stood squarely and continued to defend himself with intricate sword work, knocking arrows, daggers, and mace strikes alike with an amazing skill. I saw Osman begin to cast a spell, and I drew my bow to continue to try to at least distract the rat. As Tobias moved to swing again with his maces, the rat threw a bag of something at his feet, and vines exploded out of the small pouch to entangle Tobias' arms and legs. Seeing the immediate threat removed, the rat then quickly threw a small stone at Osman which bounced off of Osman's chest with a small rumble of thunder.
My arrows again struck the wererat, in the shoulder just as Osman's spell completed and a haunch of goat arced through the air toward the rat. Tobias was still struggling to free himself from the vines, and Osman and I both took aim again with our bows. Taryn threw a dagger, and Scott rushed in to brawl with the rat. The haunch of goat meat struck the dumbfounded wererat in the chest which distracted him enough to allow for my second arrow to hit him squarely, though Taryn's dagger and Osman's arrow were both deflected.
Scott ran straight at the wererat, but then to his surprise was thrown clear when the wererat made some small motion. Everyone except KelLyn was surprised by the move, and the rat took out a potion to drink it. KelLy, paying no attention to the rats movements, walked over to him, stopped right in front of his face, and reached out to grab him. The rat, unaware that KelLyn had gotten so close to him, looked up just in time to have KelLyn's hand close around his throat as she was in the middle of casting a spell, and with a flex of her muscles, she tore his head clean off.
She tossed the body out of the room, and we all spent a few moments recovering from the fight. We searched the room and discovered a small chest under one of the beds of rags which contained a pile of cheap silver plated flatware, a blue silk cape, a pair of gold bracelets shaped like intertwined snakes, and a box with a badly mangled lock.
Tobias examined the box for a moment, and then quickly knocked the hinges off of the back of the container to reveal a silver and platinum masterwork flute. Taryn gasped in wonder, and Tobias handed it over to him. The bracelets and the cape were taken for the party stash, and we discovered nothing else in this room of note. The shadowed passage that the wererat had been hiding in lead to another cavern like room with a table in the center.
On the table was a map of the entire sewer system, which showed points of entry and exit clearly marked. The tunnelworks were indeed massive, as I had suspected, and I quickly rolled the map up to take with us as a guide. There was a locked iron box in this room as well as the headless body of the unfortunate wererat. Taryn also claimed the silver needle like sword, which he called a rapier, as it was a weapon that he was familiar with.
Inside the lockbox we found a second tanglefoot bag which Tobias claimed, a short stick that Scott claimed, saying that it was a smoke stick, and a small silver box labeled with dwarven runes which contained a metal dwarven crossbow and 20 bolts which Osman claimed. There were several other treasures inside the larger lockbox as well:
a small wooden box containing 125 gold
a travel pen and ink set which I claimed
a bag of signet rings
a bag containing 10 small sapphires which I claimed
a broken silver candelabra
and an unlabeled potion which Scott identified as a potion of Eagle's Splendor, which Taryn took.
The main cavern here had several tunnels that lead into it, but was otherwise empty and unoccupied, and we decided to return to our camp on the surface, using the map to guide us out of the tunnels. Once back at camp, we added the new treasures to the party stash, and the gold was split between the party members. I declined the coins, as I had claimed the sapphires instead, and Taryn and Scott grew wide eyed with wonder at the pile of gold that they were each given.
The second temple still needs to be explored before we can move on, and there is no telling what we might find inside. Having the map to the tunnels under the city will prove very useful, I think, and may give us away to move around to areas that we would not otherwise have been able to explore.
The dragon still waits.
After this is done, however it may end, it is my hope that we will have yet another piece of the puzzle for the larger picture. There is still so much to do. I honestly wonder if Scott will survive long. He seems to have a disregard for the dangers that we face that borders on outright stupidity. The party, with perhaps the exception of KelLyn, seem wary of me after my assassination of the sleeping wererat. It does not bother me overly, as I have never shied away from trying to maintain balance where I can. I think sometimes that they forget that balance can occasionally mean taking a life rather than saving it.
I realized recently that, aside from my thoughts on Shalev, I have stopped thinking about the desert in terms of "home." I am beginning to wonder how long it will be before I do make it back to the shifting sands that I once considered my sanctuary, and when I do return, if it will still feel the same.