Session Twenty-Five: Catacombs Redux

The next morning all of Kaer Maga was abuzz with the news of the brazen robbery at Berkanin Ardoc’s home. The current whereabouts of Augustille were lost amid the scandalous revelation that Berkanin’s catfolk mistress had assisted the robbers, and speculation over what horrible punishment the Ardocs would inflict upon her.

The people who were the cause of all this commotion, however, were unconcerned with the goings-on in Bis. They had ditched their disguises and were headed toward the Therassic Spire accompanied by the troll leader Vargun. When they arrived, she banged on the door until the eye slot opened, and the person inside said in an exasperated voice, “I told you before, Vargun, no one comes in. Not even you.”

“It’s not me that needs to come in,” the troll replied. “It’s these people. Augustille has seen into their future, and it involves a shard.”

The eyes behind the slot went wide, followed by the clanking sound of locks being opened. The door swung open, and a thin old woman in robes shooed them in. “Who are you?” she demanded, “Scholars? Mercenaries?”

“A little of both,” Theodora replied, “now tell us your problem.”

The librarian spoke quickly, as if finally relieved to get the secret off her chest. It seemed that a few weeks before, one of their number had been contacted telepathically by a race of creatures called the caulborn, who lived far beneath the earth. The caulborn had offered to tell them of a secret door in the library, one which had been sealed since the time of the Thassilon, leading to an undiscovered part of the catacombs. In exchange, the surface-dwellers would send a team through the door to meet the the caulborn, and there help them to remove something that they could not get at themselves: an ancient Runelord’s magical shard.

It had seemed a win-win proposition for the librarians, and they had eagerly agreed to the terms. Unfortunately, the team that they had sent to meet the caulborn had been gone for over a week now, and none of the library’s scholars was hardy enough to follow behind them. Worse still, they did not know if the caulborn were still waiting, or had been killed by whatever calamity had destroyed their team, or were now preparing a war party to punish the librarians for breaking the deal. And to top it all off, they could ask no one for help without incurring the wrath of the Duskwardens, who would surely look askance at the opening of a potential invasion route from the catacombs. The librarians, not being men of action, had concluded that the only feasible course was to close the library and hope that something would happen to fix their predicament. Now it appeared that something had.

Scratchy, however, felt one thing was missing. “We can go after your team for ya,” he said, “But we’re going to have to be paid.”

The head librarian, Koifa, looked at Scratchy with an expression somewhere between anger and desperation, then turned to Theodora, “Um, he’s not going to try and burn down the library, is he?”

“No, he’s not,” answered Theodora, “but we’re still going to have to be paid.”

Koifa eventually agreed to give the party 4,000 gold and all the treasure that they found, including the shard. At this point, she just wanted the whole affair to end. The negotiations concluded, she led her new business partners through the warren of shelves that made up the inside of the library, presently coming to an open door leading to a tunnel leading down.

Scratchy smirked at the scholars gathered near the door, crouching behind upturned tables and pointing an assortment of wands and staves at the opening. He smirked a little more when Koifa led them down the tunnel, as the human stumbled and groped her way through the dark. The tunnel wound through the earth for hundreds of feet, then ended in a blank wall. There was not just one secret door, it turned out, but two: the one in the wall of the library, and this one at the end of the passage. Koifa showed the party how to open it, then rushed back up the tunnel to safety.

This door was a masterpiece of design. Opening it required several switches an arms’ length apart to be pressed simultaneously, none of them looking any different from the surrounding stone. Once the opening mechanism was activated, previously-invisible seams in the rock appeared, and the door swung open to reveal a bare stone chamber beyond. Bare except for two things, that is: an ornate, high-backed wooden chair set against a wall, and a head-sized blob of condensed purple fluid slowly pulsing and warping in the air right at the center of the room, like a drop of heavy oil suspended underwater. Milacent was about to say something when a pleasant female voice asked in Thassilonian, “Please state your query.”

Everyone froze at the sound of the ancient language, but after a moment or so nothing terrible happened, and Theodora decided that they might be able to use this to their advantage. She cleared her throat and asked, in her best Thassilonian, “Who are you?”

“I am the research assistant.”

“What do you do?”

“I retrieve information and assist the master.”

“Who is the master?”

“The Lord Karzoug.”

At the sound of the Runelord of Greed’s name the party members looked at each other worriedly. “How long has it been since the master last passed here?” Theodora asked.

“That interval is beyond the limit of my record-keeping.”

“And what is that limit?”

“Five thousand years.” The party breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Theodora decided to get a little more ambitious with her questions and asked, “Where is the Shard of Gluttony?”

“Beyond the workshop, in the dark forest.”

“And how far does the workshop stretch?”

“Until the river.”

Scratchy, in the meantime, did not speak ancient Thassilonian and had been listening to this conversation with growing impatience. Finally, he tapped Theodora on the shoulder and demanded, “Hey, what’s it saying?”

At the sound of a question in Common there was a loud gong that echoed up the tunnel, and the blob of liquid suddenly reshaped itself into an arcane symbol floating in the air. Theodora recognized it as a Symbol of Weakness, but it was too late. A wave of enervation swept over the party, and everyone felt some of their strength leech away. Zelcor, already the weakest member, collapsed to the ground.

In the subsequent rush to get out of the room, Milacent was the last out, and she pushed the door shut behind her. As she did, she realized she didn’t feel so bad. A little weaker, yes, but still more than capable of hurting things. Helanda was the same. Theodora, for her part, was leaning over Zelcor and casting spells to restore his strength. The two spellcasters didn’t need to be particularly strong to be effective, but they did need to be able to stand up and walk around. Scratchy was checking himself and his wolf and determined that they, like Milacent, had escaped the worst of the weakening effect, and Zelcor’s riding dog was totally okay. After a brief discussion the party decided that they were still strong enough to fight, and resolved to reenter the room with the floating blob, but silently this time. They opened the door and saw that the blob had reformed, and made their way wordlessly across the room to a door on the other side.

When the party had made it across and shut the door, they let out a palpable sigh of relief. Looking around, they saw that the workshop was a series of stone corridors with strong wooden doors, and they set out to investigate the warren of rooms therein.

The first room contained several grooved stone tables of various sizes, and a floor of gradually sloping toward several large drains. The ceiling was obscured by a woven mesh of spiked metal chains. The party stared into this room through the doorway for several seconds, when a trio of female humanoids wrapped in chains descended from the mesh in the ceiling. “Sister, come join us,” they called to Milacent.

“Um, no,” Milacent answered, and she shut the door.

The second room contained a magical feathered serpent, a couatl named Tsikinal. It was, like the chain creatures, bound to its room, in this particular case to serve as a guard. It was a particularly cruel act, binding a good-aligned creature to serve as a guard for an evil runelord, but two things served to make the situation much less dire. First, the sight of the “Runelord Sorshen” allowed it to ignore its compulsion to attack, and inform the party of how they could free it. The second thing was that it told them it could be freed by pressing a powerful Thassilonian artifact against the center of a summoning circle in the room and uttering the phrase, “By the power of Thassilon, I release you!” The party, of course, had three of the Sihedron shards on their persons, and in short order Tsikinal was free.

The third room was completely round, and at the center was a strange mechanism consisting of spheres set onto circular tracks. Theodora recognized this as an orrery, a machine devoted to demonstrating the absurd notion that the world went around the sun. It was nonsense, of course, but to the side of it was a small brass wheel and a lever on top of a four-foot-tall podium. After checking it for traps, Scratchy pulled the lever, and the walls, ceiling and floor of the room transformed into a panoramic view of Kaer Maga from several hundred feet in the air. Oddly enough, the party could see people moving far below them; the view was not static, but a view of the city in real time. Curious, Scratchy turned the wheel clockwise, and the people sped up, and the sun rose and set in a few minutes while they watched. “Hmm,” said Theodora, “turn it the other way.”

Scratchy turned the wheel counter clockwise, and everything began moving backwards. The sun rose in the west and set in the east, at shorter and shorter intervals. Very soon, days and then years were flashing past in a blur. Meanwhile, the spheres in the orrery were rotating around each other, moving faster and faster and rattling unsettlingly within their fastenings. Scratchy tried to move the wheel back but it had stuck, and now the whole mechanism was shaking violently as it moved at speeds that it clearly had not been designed for. An instant later the whole thing exploded, spraying pieces of jagged metal throughout the room.

The party picked themselves up off the floor and began healing themselves, but there was one last surprise the room had in store for them: its peering into the past and future had attracted strange beings that beyond the bounds of reality, the Hounds of Tindalos. First there was a howling noise, seemingly out of nowhere, then a dark smoke pouring from cracks in the walls, solidifying into a pair of gaunt, long-limbed quadrupeds. They were scary, but there were only two of them. Milacent and Helanda moved to engage them while Zelcor and Theodora fell into their support roles. Scratchy tried to shoot at them with his bow, but found himself moving unnaturally slowly, almost as if he were caught in a bubble of half-speed time. Fortunately, the two fighters’ damage was enough to handle the hounds, and the slowness on Scratchy soon wore off. It was time for the next room.

When the party opened the next door, they found a stone chamber with the walls and ceiling partially covered in a strange, papery honeycomb. There were several long workbenches in it, but most notably, at the far end, a woman with her mouth sewn shut was keening over the body of a male halfling. Theodora tried to talk to her, but she would have none of it, and leapt to attack. She kicked at Milacent, who knocked her onto the ground and then began to pummel her senseless. She tried to stand again, and which point Milacent knocked her right back down. Soon she was the party’s unconscious captive.

At that point, the real danger appeared. The body of the halfling had begun twitching as soon as the monk had left its side, and was now crawling grotesquely across the floor of the room. Theodora fired a Disrupt Undead spell at it, and the body burst open to unleash a cloud of black and yellow red-eyed wasps. Milacent slashed at the things as they swarmed toward her, but her blade passed through the cloud ineffectually, missing the tiny wasps entirely. Soon they were upon her, stinging relentlessly, as the party spread out to make themselves a less vulnerable target.

“Take this!” Zelcor exclaimed, and let loose a Burning Hands spell amongst the insects, to surprisingly little effect.

“No, they’re Hellwasps!” Theodora shouted as she swatted at one on her neck, “They’re resistant to fire!” Unlike most enemies they fought, there was no extra effort required for Theodora to touch one of these things and learn its nature.

“Ow!” Zelcor yelped as the wasps stung at him, but fortunately for everyone he managed to get clear of the swarm long enough to conjure a stream of acid to spray over it. There was a sizzling sound as acid-burned wasps fell to the ground, and Milacent jumping to get out of the path of the stream. The wasps turned and dived on the gnome, but they were unable to stop him from casting. Soon the swarm was dispersed, and the fight was over.

Once everything had settled down, Theodora turned to their captive and asked, “Now, who are you, I wonder? And how did you get your mouth sewn shut?”

“Oh, I saw one of those in the market,” Zelcor volunteered, “they’re called Sweettalkers. They sew their mouths shut in order to show … um … dedication to their god? Or something?”

“She sewed her own mouth shut on purpose?” Scratchy said, “This city’s weird.”

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