The young monk stepped back into the shadows as he heard the approach of two people. Masters, by the sound of their drakescale sandals. Nathaniel’s heart still raced every time he approached the forbidden section of the library, but this interruption by the unexpected late-night strollers had come as a heart-pounding shock. He clutched his satchel of ink and parchment like a protective parent. He hoped he could be as stealthy as Erik the Ranger and blend into the shadows. He pressed back into the recesses between two columns. As their lantern light flickered, Master Windebagg and Master Ofit passed within two dwarfs of young Yewprick. The rotund monk and his stout companion stopped not a staff length away. Nathaniel dared not even breathe. Luckily, the pair did not turn their heads as they began to speak.
“What do you make of the disturbances reported in the Forbidden Section?” Ofit asked his fleshy companion. Windebagg cleared his throat, as though beginning an oratory to a child, “My dear Stoufful, that little weasel of a librarian would think that mouse droppings were a sign of a rodent conspiracy to invade his beloved drakeskin racks. He reported some nonsense. Now, we are on ‘patrol’ for phantoms. Our little stroll is a waste of time. I will humor the Zenith only because I wish to avoid a trip to the Chamber of Understanding.” Ofit lowered the lantern as he nodded appreciatively. Not all who went in for Understanding returned with their limbs intact. “Well, let us finish our little jaunt for tonight, report to his Greatness’s secretary, and let van Laangweend and the others have their turns. Thank the Axe, the new guards will be here in a week’s time, and then we can cease these useless meanderings.”
The two walked off, and Nathaniel exhaled as quietly as possible. Dagger’s Edge! Guards in a week! Patrols by the Masters! How could he have been so careless as to leave traces of his work where the rat-nosed custodian of the scrolls could detect him? He was so far in skills from his heroes, and now he would have to figure out how to unobtrusively access subsequent volumes of Eastlander’s True Writings after tonight.
Based on their footfalls, Nathaniel reasoned that the half-hearted patrol would not return this way. He chuckled. It may be the furthest that Master Windebagg had walked in a year. Based on their pace, which was slow, even if they did come back, he had at least two hours.
The monk’s fingers trembled as he pulled out the small case of tools that the half-elven Master Renithar had given him. At first, he couldn’t believe that this Master was somehow helping him, but the aid had been true. Master Renithar had given him several lessons in how to use the tools to pick the locks that secured the copies of Eastlander’s True Writings. Good thing that the Church didn’t use magic like Tira! The half-elf had been kind in his teaching, a trait the other Masters never showed. Distracted by that mystery, he almost dropped the tools. Idiot! Tira would have had this lock opened ages ago. He steadied himself, took a breath like the Master had instructed, and the lock opened easily. He quickly extracted the drakeskin parchment, shut the cabinet, and moved to the most isolated table. His small candle barely illuminated the writing. His tears of joy did not help.
In front of Nathaniel was Torben Eastlander’s original journal continuing the interview with the cleric Z’alden Silverflame about the Tomb of Horrors. Nathaniel had reached the description of a strange room with three vats and twisted, constructed bodies. Each vat could easily hold two dwarfs, maybe three. Those ostensibly magical vats, Nathaniel had been taught, represented the three horrors of life without the Church: individuality, introspection, and independence. As all knew from Z’alden’s sermon, the third vat was indeed the most evil. Independence oozed forth to destroy the heroes as Tira poked her arm into it! The woman’s pursuit of independence was the most damaging to society, as this story told and the Church reinforced often, but all were subject to the rule of the Zenith in the Church of Eastlander.
Nathaniel saw, even in the first few lines of the journal, that the meaning of this peculiar part of the tale might be different from the common teachings. He hastily began to copy as he read Eastlander’s notes.
My time yesterday with the Ranger left me with bigger metaphors than a man who has just seen a wood nymph step out of the lake. I needed to see just how much the normally taciturn Ranger had been trying to assuage his feelings about running from his friends to protect them from a ‘dangerous’ crown. I note with some irony that, by his own admission, this is the same circlet that later the cleric would wear and would, according to the half-elf Z’alden, increase the ability to wound the enemies of Bahamut. Ha! I think I have seen the Ranger’s true colors here and they are a shade of the daisy. Try as I might with Z’alden later that evening, I could not drag out of him that Erik had the courage of a hatchling. No, all the cleric of Bahamut wanted to discuss was his feeling of helplessness as ooze burst forth from vats. Scratch that – only one vat held the oozes, the others had strange properties, including acid that did not burn the skin of the sorceress as she stuck her arm in to retrieve half a golden key. Acid that did not burn her.
“Really?” I grilled the cleric about this, but he was firm. “Tira could resist the acid.”
I checked my notes. “Yesterday, the Ranger said she could resist poison.” Nodding earnestly, Z’alden said, “Oh yes, thank the Dragon that her resistances change each day. It was great providence that she could withstand that acid, else we might never have found that important half of the key.” Convenient, I muttered to myself, but the cleric failed to notice. This one doesn’t seem to understand sarcasm.
The lack of a believable quality in the details leads me to be even more certain that these five are trying to get themselves sung about by bards with incredulous tales, but I will not be duped. Still, the last volume sold well, and I am but a poor scrivener, and the cleric had offered to pay for the meal as an act of charity. I neglected to mention my profits to date from the previous volume. I continued the interview.
“I must remind you that most of my comrades were battered and bruised after the battle with the skeletal demon of Acererak. I was confident that Bahamut would answer my prayers for healing, and that we could still face any foe. Oh, but I would pay for my hubris!” The cleric started a small sermon here, the numbing details I have omitted. He failed to notice when I put down my quill and took a swill of the liquid that passes for wine in this inn. It is not Nentir ’97 I can assure you. I resumed my notes when he ended his homily and resumed his story.
Nathaniel’s quill dropped. The famous homily of Z’alden before the battle with the evil of Independence was well-known to even the most junior monks. Eastlander hadn’t even recorded the Sermon on the Ooze? Someone from the Church had just made-it-up? What else of the stories had they simply invented? The monk pressed on, confident that Master Windebagg would never make it back this way again. He picked up his quill.
The cleric himself took a deep draught of the swill (he clearly does not notice the difference), and began to describe the events. “Having found a peculiarly shaped key in the second vat, Tira went to the bubbling green liquid of the third. Instead of placing her arm in it, she used an earthenware jug to start scooping out the contents. Just as she was extracting the jug, a bubble turned into an oozy, green tentacle that reached out and tightly grabbed the sorceress. The burning acid from the tentacle’s surface left a horrible smell in the room but did her little harm thanks to her magical resistances that day. The whack itself, though, was enough to knock her a bit silly. It took even the hearty sorceress a few heartbeats before shaking that off. Then, another tentacle came out of the vat and attacked Erik. His swords flashed snik, snak and sliced some of the mucus arm into pieces. Unfortunately, this had little effect. A whole blob of oozing creature, tentacles of a putrid green acid flailing dangerously, poured out of the vat and another began to bubble up.”
The cleric took another sip. He really has no taste buds. “Tira would have none of this. Her dagger whirled and cascading bolts of iridescent lights enveloped the mound of monstrous muck. The creature shuddered and some bits fell to the ground. Still it persisted onwards. Barrick thought to test his axe on the living pile. A mighty heave and the ooze seemed less directed. Black streaks lined its surface, as though the acid covering it was weaker. It seemed as if in those places we could wound it more easily. And, its tentacles were split making it harder for the mucus to attack us. It was a mighty blow!”
“By the Great Dragon, but these wicked things had done enough to our liberty, I presumed. Oh what folly I had. Still, my prayer was answered and a great glow of burning white light sizzled the two oozes, further darkening those blackened areas that Barrick had made. I took a deep breath and called again on the Dragon. His Great Face formed in front of me, and sacred flames of his icy breath made one ooze shudder. Then, directing the righteous light, I made the first one continue to burn with an ongoing golden radiance. Sensing that victory was at hand, the mighty dragonborn Paladin swung his swarthy greataxe into the ooze – tearing it in half! He let out a might roar, only to have it answered with an explosion of acid from the muck flying in all directions. It coated all five of us. We could not avoid it. The acid immediately got under the skin. It affected the mind. I could think of nothing. I had no sense of time. I could not move. Woe it was, because I could still see. For several heartbeats, as a third ooze lurched out of the vat like the goop from a child’s nose, the vile scum flailed their acidic tentacles on the helpless five of us. With wide eyes, I watched as Barrick shook off the effects and split another ooze in half. More acid burst forth! The Ranger, who moments ago was a shining light of swift action and superhuman ability fell to the floor. My friend was dying, and all I could do was watch, helpless under the effect of the mind-numbing acid. It was an evil trip. Even so, we could not fail to note a golden glint from the bottom of the vat. But, the look was only an instant, as the rest of my companions also were burned by the acid or bludgeoned by the tentacles.”
The cleric leaned onto the table to steady himself. Even I, the doubtful scrivener, could not help but see the terror in the half-elf’s eyes as he re-lived the scene. Here was a healer who had been unable to get to a comrade just staff lengths away. Regardless of my feelings about the veracity of the tale, something had happened in the room that had left Z’alden humbled. He was convinced that he had the power to help the Ranger but could not use it. I was moved. Then, the half-elf steeled his grey eyes as he related what happened next.
Nathaniel could not believe this. The evil of the third vat, Independence, that the Church so vilified as robbing one of true freedom had actually been mounds of living muck that froze a person helpless in place with their acid burst? Yes, the ooze from the vat took away liberty, just as the cleric had said. But, the true theft was by the Church in its deception. What was more evil? These creatures set by some wicked power to keep watch over a key, or the twisted tales that the Church of Eastlander had pulled from Eastlander’s stories of real heroes? Yewprick dipped his quill and continued to copy, even as his mind raced with the repercussions.
The cleric leaned in close to me like one making a confession, “The mighty sorceress was not as helpless as I. She shook off the acid’s effects, launched another of her never-ending store of powerful chaos bolts at the ooze, and then had the presence of mind to take out a healing potion and maneuver to the Ranger’s aid, pouring the magical draught down the throat of the dying man. He coughed once and opened his eyes, weak but alive. While I took some delight that I had made the draught days earlier, I longed to aid him further but was still in the clutches of the acid. I could do nothing but make a trip to the altar of hope and prayer. The great Paladin had overcome the effects, and thank the Dragon, called on Bahamut to come to the aid of Barrick. I could almost see the form of the Dragon envelop my dwarven friend as the son of stone shook off the acid’s numbing effects.“
“Having come to but still very weak (my potion was not very strong healing), the Ranger decided a strategic reposition was in order and moved with great speed back into the corridor. Unfortunately, the original mound of mucus gave chase. It was like the swift flow of a child’s vomit in the back of a carriage. I have never seen something so disgusting move so fast to its destination. Our brave General Barrick would not have this vomitous mass again take down our friend. He took a depth breath, gave a battle cry to get past the bruises and batterings, and charged the thing but to no avail. Its quivering volume was too swift for the dwarven axe that time. Still, in his bravery, the great dwarf had given the sentient muck more to think about it, and that would be the key to victory.”
“Dragon’s tail, but I had finally shaken off the acid’s effect. Calling upon Bahamut’s grace, silver and purple flames of healing restored me and then flew from my hands to mend Tira’s wounds. Felsmon also restored himself by the Dragon’s power, and then opening his draconic mouth, let lightning fly at the mounds of muck. The crackling energy sizzled and burned into the ooze closest to him. The muck melted into the floor. If you have ever seen the ooze below a scab, then you have seen in small what we saw at large, as the creature died away. But, in one final, evil twist, it exploded in acid, covering the Paladin and numbing his mind. Thank the Scales, Tira, I, and the rest were out of range of this burst.”
“From the corridor, the Ranger longed for the fight. Knowing himself to be most vulnerable in a weakened state, he took his prized swords and flung them as though they were light as daggers – one, two – at the ooze that blocked the corridor’s entrance to the room. One bounced off the door jamb, but the other, oh its sharp blade was well placed. The muck was rent in half, and it exploded in acid! Barrick was covered, burning until his mind again went numb.”
“Though only one ooze remained, the outcome was unclear. The mound was fresh. It had few black marks and looked as green as the moment it came out of the vat like the thick stuff of a sick child’s nose, while we five were weary and bleeding. But, did we give in?” The cleric looked around the room. The Inn patrons had pulled their chairs in close while he had recited the tale to me. “Did we give in?” He lifted his voice, and slammed his mug on the table. “No!”
The crowd roared with approval! Note to self: learn oratory some time. It can have a powerful effect. With his audience enraptured, this was no longer an interview but a telling. The cleric knew what he was doing when he simply told the tale without moralizing. I was as drawn in as the patrons. Was he slipping in some lesson that we were taking even as we followed his story? The cleric broke my revery as his voice rose, “Did we despair? NO! From our stores of power, we sent that evil pile of putresence back to its maker. Tira teleported, leaving a poison cloud behind. You might not think that poison could hurt a creature of acid, but by the Claw, it does. Spells and axes flew at the thing, even as it lashed its tentacles out at me.”
“The dwarf had had enough. Telling the monstrosity where it could put its slimy self, Barrick wielded his Axe and wrenched the mound into two. Acid again sprayed in all directions, but Barrick was ready and ducked behind his shield. Tira was not so fortunate but in a few heartbeats, she had shaken off the worst of it. I called my comrades close. Bowing my head, calling on Dragon’s wings, and my body glowed like the sun as it comes just above the horizon on a cold day. The golden warming rays covered my comrades and mended their wounds and my own. In a few brief moments, we were fully restored.”
Nathaniel realized that he had been holding his breath as he had copied the last few lines. It did not seem as though he was recording some ancient history. It was though this had all taken place just a few weeks ago. He pictured the half-elf surveying the bar crowd as he finished up the story line. And then, Nathaniel began to strengthen his resolve. The True Writings would see the light of day and no longer be confined to the holdings of a few scholars while the Church mangled the stories and conscripted more soldiers of the Zenith to maintain its control over the people. Nathaniel would bring the light of truth to the people just as Z’alden’s light burst forth healing his friends. He waved his quill. Some ink dripped. Before that, the monk realized, he had to finish his copy. He dipped his quill, turned the page, and continued.
Oh, yes, he knew what was supposed to happen next. After the struggle with the ooze, then comes the terrible rest that left the heroes without their full strength. After that, the crossing of the yawning chasm that signified the depth of despair of a society without the Church. The great Paladin, with his dragon wings flies across it like the society in the wide arms of the Zenith himself. Only the independent woman Tira fails to cross, teaching us that all should submit to the Church and not use the unreliable rope of self-determination lest it break, and we fall into the pit of massive spikes of chaos itself.
Nathaniel was puzzled. Nothing about this was on the next parchment. Had the Masters just invented this, too? Or was some part of the book missing? What about the part of the story where Barrick and Felsmon charge a door that is icy cold, shattering it, and the adventurers enter a ruined room with rotting tapestries. The puny chest in the room is filled with nothing but copper. The ruined tapestries on the wall are covered with scenes of evil, toothed fish. Master van Laangweend loved this story for its implications on the futility of life without the Church. Only the crack of truth in the wall leads onwards, but the Paladin loses faith and fumbles through its narrow way, bringing down the rotting tapestry of desolation and causing the fish of despair to overcome him. The inquisitiveness of Tira, tapping the tapestry, teaches us what individual investigations lead to, a blast of the cold of separation from the Church that brings nothing but ruin.
Instead of these parts of the story, all Nathaniel could find was a short section of the interview describing the well-known trap of the monstrous elephant statue that rolled this way and that trampling the heroes. Elephant day was a favorite with the children. Everyone understood this to be a simplistic story of the capricious destructiveness of a society without the guiding force of the Church. Even as the Ranger had landed on the back of the gigantic statue to steer, so did the Church direct society to keep it from trampling all into oblivion. Every year, children received pink candy rolls to celebrate the triumph of the Church over its enemies.
After having seen nothing of the spiked chasm or the rotting tapestry room, just as Nathaniel suspected, there was no real mention of the elephant statue and its horrendous rolling pins of doom in Eastlander’s journal. There were pages upon pages of the importance of this elephant and the rolls in the Book of Eastlander. Nathaniel would find one reference to the pink candy. In the journal, there was this small side note:
The cleric gave me an incredible description of a massive elephantine statue on rollers after several sets of beautiful doors were opened. These were the “false” from the cryptic poem. The cleric still suffers from some delusions after a trip to the southern reaches of the continent or something like that. Statues do not roll forward, then backwards, then forwards, then backwards, then backwards, crushing the bones of those who happen to be too slow or dim-witted to move out of the way. Paladins do not fly over demonic elephant statues. I will note that, at one point, from underneath the table the dwarf Barrick awakened from his stupor and shouted to me, “Scrivener, it was the pink cart from hell!” I snorted knowing the reliability of the dwarf’s descriptions. Sensing my complete lack of interest, Z’alden skipped past this part of the tale, and the crowd ordered drinks.
The monk laughed. The Masters had turned a molehill of a few lines into a mountain of a credo. Quickly past this small section, Nathaniel continued to transcribe. The “true” door had been found as a hidden one only revealed after many inspections. He scribbled through the incredible description of a massive magic iron door with three slots. At Felsmon’s suggestion, only upon risking their prized magic blades by placing them in the slots did Erik and Tira open the huge door that barred their way. So many lessons had been taught on that act, and the dragonborn’s guidance to pursue it! But, his lessons did little to prepare him for the cleric’s description of the many-columned hall into which the five entered.
“We entered a cavernous room filled columns and pillars. The ceiling alone was 30 feet above us. On the western wall that spanned perhaps 30 staff lengths or more, three doors were spaced along it. Above the nearest and furthest doors, well up on the wall, demonic green faces with black mouths like the one we had seen in the beginning of the tomb. On the eastern wall, an ebony dais featured a solid silver throne covered in silvered skulls. Sitting on the throne was a golden crown and a golden sceptre inlaid with silver. The throne had an inlaid of gold that matched the crown and sceptre. What strange imagery was this mean to represent? I cannot say. All I know is that the dragonborn was a like a child who had been listening to a schoolmaster drone for hours upon the subjects of Muqabalah and jabr and now had found a room full of the most wonderful toys. He nearly flew from one spot to another while the rest of watched like deer frozen in place. I don’t know if it was fatigue from the encounter with the deadly elephant statue or something else. If only one of us had had the good sense to stop the romp before it ended badly.” He looked wistful for moment, and the continued.
“First, Felsmon investigated the throne. He picked up the crown and placed it on his head. He said that he could see the room more clearly now, but it was never clear what this really meant. Around a crater in the northeastern corner were several dead, burned skeletal figures ringed around an orange gem. Felsmon picked up the gem. I studied it but could really tell nothing. Tira and Erik discerned it was a wishing gem with one wish. Tira could tell that the scepter was magical and that it was tied to the crown and the throne.” The cleric smirked, “Even with my meager training, I figured out that much.”
Sidenote to self: maybe Z’alden does understand sarcasm. I have to keep on my toes with this one.
“There was something about those demonic wide mouths that the Paladin could not resist despite his previous experience. He was like a tongue touching a painful tooth. Felsmon flew up to the furthest mouth and stuck the scepter into it. Instantly, he realized his mistake, but it was too late. The scepter was being sucked in and so was he. In a heartbeat, our impetuous Paladin had disappeared.”
Nathaniel turned the page, and then he froze. He had been wrong. Masters Ofit and Windebagg were coming back. Nathaniel could not believe the geezer was still breathing after such exertion. He had a few moments to hide, or he would surely be discovered. He hastily put his night’s work in the satchel, returned the Eastlander scroll to its place, and hid under the table, just like Tira had in the fight in Goodright’s house at the start of the Horror book. Even as he loved emulating the heroes, how the young monk longed to get to back to the writing. Just yesterday, Master Windebagg had extolled upon this very part: the fate that befell the young Paladin Felsmon after he had been dragged inexorably into the obsidian mouth of an emerald demonic face in the mysterious columned hall. Nathaniel no longer believed the words that the entire class had chanted as the rule of the allegory: the demon face and its black mouth represent the darkness of the soul of man that we must all avoid without a thorough examination lest we be sucked into its maw. The Paladin’s flight up to the black mouth represented the high-flying thinking that only led to destruction. Indeed, the dragonborn had vanished into the darkness leaving the party alone in the large chamber.
Nathaniel shuddered as he remembered what happened next, at least according to the Church’s version. He shuddered even more at the thought of a trip to the Chamber of Understanding if the Masters caught him here. He waited with held breath. The two Masters passed by, grumbling about the stupidity of their little constitutional. Nathaniel exhaled as quietly as possible. He followed behind them at a distance and returned to his cell, putting his completed pages in their safe hiding spot behind the third stone. Now, just how was he going to back to the True Writings with these patrols?
Z’alden, Tira, Barrick, and Erik: You stand with mouths agape as Felsmon is drawn inexorably into the mouth of the green devil. You hear a faint “oh oh” just before Felsmon disappears from view, and then nothing but silence.
Erik swears a ranger’s oath as he recalls that Felsmon was wearing the golden crown, carrying the gold and silver scepter, and had the giant orange wishing gem in his pocket.
As you are all pondering Felsmon’s fate, Barrick suddenly notices that the adamantine door has begun swinging shut. Darting over in ponderous dwarven fashion, he hooks his hands around the door and attempts to stop the door. His dwarven oaths surpass even Erik’s, as he strains his mighty muscles. But it is no use. Barrick whips his fingers out from the door just as it slams shut with a resounding clang.
Tira and Erik examine the door. You can clearly see the outline of the door, but there is no handle, and nothing to grab. As Z’alden realizes that there is no way to retreat, he fights down the urge to panic.
Looking around the huge room, you see numerous pillars, spaced every two staff lengths. On the north wall there are three doors, two near the corners and one in the middle of the wall. Also on the north wall, in either corner, right near the ceiling, are the two green devils. On the south wall is the ebony dias with the throne. The throne is made of obsidian, inlaid with silver and ivory skulls. On the front of the throne is a replica of the crown, inlaid in silver. The only remaining feature in the room is the blackened remains of adventurers in the southeast corner, surrounding the spot where the orange gem was found.
Erik kicks through the charred remains, but finds nothing of value. Tira wanders over towards the three doors. As she gets closer to the door on the left, it shimmers with a faint blue light. There is a brass pull in the center of the door. The door on the right also shimmers blue, and also has a brass pull. The door in the center glows lilac instead of blue, and has an iron pull in the center.
This session: Vat oozes: 2400 xp, pit spike trap: 500 xp, brown mold room: 300 xp, stone juggernaut: 2800 xp, adamantine door: 500 xp, for a total of 6500 xp or 1300 xp each. Your total now is 42210 xp.
Staying calm, Z’alden asks Erik for the magic hook, so that he can scale the wall with the devil that consumed Felsmon and try to discern what has happened to the Paladin. He suggests to Tira that she fly up so that they can study the face together.
Assuming both agree, do they learn anything about where Felsmon might have gone or what might bring him back?
Z’alden uses the magic hook to carefully scale his way up the wall until he is resting just a staff length away from the green mouth. Even from that distance he can feel the magical pull of the demon. Peering inside the mouth, Z’alden sees only darkness. No amount of light penetrates the black void. Using his well-honed arcana skills, he can detect the presence of strong magic, but there is nothing malevolent about it (unlike the green face at the beginning of the tomb).
The cleric mutters to himself, “strong magic. Dragon’s teeth, but I should have studied more during the class on Evil Holes! Maybe then I would know more.” Sadly, Z’alden lowers himself to the ground.
Perhaps, at least, we can learn something useful about these doors. Z’alden tries to detect magic behind each door. He concentrates well enough to avoid the sources of magic that he already knows about.
Z’alden goes up to each door and carefully studies it. As he approaches the left door and the right door, the blue glow increases in brightness. When he approaches the center door, the lilac glow also grows brighter. With the left and right doors, Z’alden cannot detect anything out of the ordinary. The center door has a faint aura of arcane energy, as if it is coming from the room beyond rather than the door itself.
Do you want to examine anything else in the pillar hall?
Erik thoroughly searches the room – each pillar, each door, the thrown and surrounding area. In particular he, focuses on that thrown area, checking it twice. They have time to kill, so why not?
While he searches, Erik suggests that someone send a message through the green devil’s mouth letting Felsmon know their status and what they’ve learned about the door colors and anything else new. Finally, Erik asks Tira to keep the Orb of Blink handy.
[DM: Is there anything lying around that can be used to aid in defense? Chairs? Boards? Poles?]
Erik wanders carefully around the room. His expert eye misses nothing. The obsidian and silver throne stands imposingly on the ebony dais. Erik can glean no new knowledge about the throne. The three doors appear as they did to Z’alden. When Erik touches the doors on the left and right, the doors flare up to a brilliant blue, and he quickly pulls his hand away. Erik approaches the center door, with the iron pull ring. When he touches the door, it pulses with a bright and coruscating purple with tinges of sickly green. A tingling shoots up his arm, and he feels an almost overpowering urge to draw both of his swords. Startled, he pulls his hand away from the door, and the purple glow fades away.
Finally, Erik approaches the columns. Each one is colored a slightly different pastel. The pastel colors seem to take your torchlight and reflect it back somehow changed, deeper in color, almost sinister. Peering closely at a column, Erik can see no trace of carving, tool marks, or even any texture to the stone.
Erik reaches forward and lays a hand gently on the pillar. Immediately, he feels his feet lift off the ground. In a panic, he tries grabbing onto the pillar, but the cold surface slips from his grasp. Bobbing up towards the ceiling, Erik tries to calm his racing heart. As he reaches the ceiling, he feels a strong eddy of air take hold of him, sweeping him forwards towards the green devil in the top corner of the room.
Z’alden, Barrick, and Tira hear Erik cry out in alarm. They race forwards from different corners of the room, but they are too far away. They hear Erik shout, “The pillars. Don’t touch the pillars!”
Tira sees Erik pull out the magic flying hook and throw it away from him. As it flies through the air, the rope snakes out from it back towards the flying ranger. But it is too late. As Tira watches in horror, Erik slides into the green devil’s mouth, feet first. His hand stretched out as if in supplication, the magic rope coming closer, closer. But then Erik disappears completely.
The flying hook still attached to the ceiling, the rope is stretched out horizontally, with the end of it just inches away from the green devil’s mouth.
As Erik slips into the mouth of the green devil he readies himself for a fall, wanting to catch hold of anything or to land cat-like on his feet when the levitation ceases.
[DM: Did Erik go through the same green devil mouth as Felsmon?]
Z’alden cries out, “Dragon’s breath, NO!” Then, the cleric tries to calm down and assess the situation. “Friends, we must rack our brains for any sliver of knowledge that might help us discern whence our comrades have gone and how we might free them from the evil that has captured them.”
Trying to connect with Tira and with Barrick, Z’alden racks his brain for any knowledge of History, Religion, Arcana, and Dungeoneering that might give them some clue about what has happened and how to rescue Erik and Felsmon. Perhaps, the history and powers of these devil faces lies deep in the mind of the cleric?
[DM: Does the color of the pillar that Erik touched seemed to be important? Might some other pillar be the “return” pillar? It seems as though Felsmon and Erik went through the same mouth. Did they?]
As Tira runs toward Erik, she begins to activate her circlet so that she may fly up and rescue her friend. But before she can obtain the mental focus he is gone. No sounds of pain, no evil laughter, just gone. She stops and goes to lean against the nearest pillar for support, Erik’s last words jarring her upright before she makes contact. Not knowing what else to do Tira grabs a handful of copper coins from her pouch and throws them at the green face. Tira turns and looks at Z’alden and Barrick with confusion. She does not know what she can do to help Z’alden study. Her only suggestion: “Let’s try the doors, but if we cannot get out of this room or bring them back within a few minutes I say we follow.”
Z’alden racks his brain, trying to discern some clue about the green devil faces. The only thing he can tell is that, unlike the face in the tiled entrance hall, these green faces do not cause harm. Instead, they are only used for teleportation.
He carefully examines some of the pillars, without touching them. As far as he can tell, they are all identical, differing only in subtle shades of color, which don’t seem to convey any hidden meaning.
The copper coins from Tira’s pouch fly upwards. Some bounce off the green face, but a few fly through, to an unknown fate. Tira shrugs, then walks over to the door on the left. Firmly grasping the brass handle, Tira pulls. The door swings outwards with a shriek, to reveal a tiny room, only two staff lengths on a side. The floor is covered with a thick layer of dust, with no tracks. There are no other exits.
Passing over to the other side of the room, Tira pulls open the door on the right. It grinds slowly open, to again reveal a tiny room. However, this chamber is not empty. A low stone table stands at the center of the room. A large wooden sarcophagus rests on the table, the lid partially smashed open. Scattered about the room are broken and looted chests, urns, and coffers. A skeletal hand hangs limply out of the hole in the lid of the sarcophagus.
Going back to the center door, Tira grabs hold of the iron pull. As she takes hold, she feels the same electric feeling like Erik did. A vision of flashing swords races through her mind. Limbs cut off, shields split asunder, helmets crushed like egg shells. Leaping back in alarm, she finds herself standing, her dagger drawn, heart racing, a cold sweat on her brow.
Tira, by the Claw, wait!” the cleric cries out to the sorceress before she opens the electrifying door. “Let us take a moment and learn from what is here. These skeletons may have some answers to a few of the riddles that are before us.”
Z’alden moves to the circle of skeletons to the left of the throne when facing it. He approaches the one that seems most likely to have been a leader of the group. If there be nothing to distinguish them, he starts at the top and circles counter clockwise until stopping at the seventeenth skeleton. To his perhaps bemused remaining companions, he says, “Seventeen is a number holy to the Great Dragon. He has four claws on each leg and a tail as deadly.” Taking some components from his pack, Z’alden lights the ritual candle and takes ten minutes to intone the ritual speak with dead. (Religion +11)
If successful, he asks the spirit that remains with the bones, “What are the dangers in the room?”
He hopes for a second question but knows that his skills, even with religion, are meager.
[DM: What is the response to the first question? Does he get a second question?]
Z’alden, as you begin the ritual for speaking with the dead, the light from your ever burning torch grows suddenly dim. A chill wind whips through the room, stirring up the blackened remains of the corpses near where the huge orange gem was found. The corpse that you have chosen begins to stir. Its hands scrabble over the flagstones, desperately trying to reach the sword just out of its reach.
The fingers clench around empty air, and then relax. With a dusty creak, the skull begins to speak. “My sword? Where is my sword? Who asks about danger?”
The skull swivels around, to stare uncomprehendingly at Z’alden. “Priest of Bahamut, you dare to commune with the dead? What has the world come to? And yet… I will answer your question. The dangers here are many. Cloyer Bulse the thief put on the crown. Then his head exploded. Roaky Swerked (our cleric) floated through the green devil. Never saw him again. Then, we tried the middle door. Flerd, Fonkin, and Frush died a terrible death. Cut down by terrible foes wielding swords. We never even saw their enemies. Slammed the door shut. When we opened it again, the room was empty, except for their bodies, hacked to bits.”
The skull wheezes a bit, puffs of dust coming out. “And that leaves me, Beek Gwenders of Croodle. Half elf. Ranger. I chose the easy path, the gem. I wanted my companions back alive, you see? But I worded my wish poorly. Wishes are tricky things, eh? Instead of alive, I’m dead. Messed up the wording, see?”
The skull stops speaking. It is still staring at you, as if daring you to ask another question.
Z’alden pauses only momentarily. He frowns at the ‘dare’ cast by the half-elf. The meager intellect of the half-elf contemplates for less than a second. His certainty takes even less time. In trying to save his comrades, there could be no clearer path that it is true to the God of Hope than using every recourse available, yea, even speaking with the dead to find some glimmer of hope. Felsmon’s head did not explode when he put on the crown. The group is already ahead. Maybe the reason for this other party’s adventuring into this tomb of horrors holds the key to rescuing Felsmon and Erik. True to the Hope of the Great Dragon, Z’alden must try.
With certainty in the rightness of his cause, he asks, “Good Beek Gwenders, Ranger of Croodle, why did you come here?”
The skull stares balefully at Z’alden. “Why did we come here, you ask?” He pauses, as if pondering your question. The pause lengthens. Just when you are beginning to give up hope of an answer, the skull swivels away, staring off into the distance. “We were adventurers. We found the riddle in the tiles. Who was this Acererak, and why did he build such a terrible place? Our cleric convinced us that it was the right thing to do, to rid the land of this evil. Bah. Me, I just wanted the treasure.”
The skull swings back to stare into your eyes. “I know your thoughts, Z’alden Silverflame, bearer of the symbol of Bahamut and Tiamut. Your comrade, Felsmon, he has put the crown on his head, yes. But, can he take it off again?”
“I was Beek Gwenders of Croodle. I am no more. I wish you all the best of luck.”
The skull rolls over on its side, coming to rest in the exact same position it was in before the ritual. With a sputter, your ever burning torch regains its full strength.
Erik does something, somewhere. Maybe.
Does anyone else do anything, anywhere? Yes?
“Tira, Barrick, I see little choice in the matter. Beyond the middle door that races the heart likely lies the iron-men of visage grim. I have no fear of them or anyone in battle, but I am loathe to engage if it means a delay in finding our comrades. My only thought is to proceed through the darkness of the green-faced devil and try to rejoin our good Ranger and Paladin. What say you?” Z’alden looks to his companions.
Barrick’s mind cannot get past the thought of his friends facing unknown dangers without him. He looks at Z’alden and Tira, then at the columns. He announces “By the Mines of Moria, I wasn’t going to live forever anyway”, and runs up to the same column that sped Erik on his way, laying both hands on it, waiting for who knows what to happen to him.
Barrick, his heart full of dwarven fighting songs, touches the pillar. For a moment, it seems as if all those dwarven scones that he had for breakfast might keep him pinned to the ground. But then, Barrick balloons upward, just like the inflated pig bladders that he used to play with as a youth.
At this instant, Tira gives a shout. “Look! The door!” From his height above the room, Barrick looks down on the scene: Tira pointing towards the center door; Z’alden, his mouth open in astonishment. From under the door, a trickle of some unknown liquid is streaming out into the room.
Tira watches as the unknown liquid slowly begins to pool in front of the door, with small rivulets running off between the pillars.
The last thing that Barrick sees before he is sucked into the green devil’s mouth is Tira, bending over, about to touch her finger to the unknown substance. Z’alden is standing next to Tira, a puzzled expression on his face as he contemplates the unknown beyond the door.
Time seems to slow down for Barrick. He can feel himself becoming less substantial. Then, blackness descends.
Tira turns and watches as Barrick disappears into the void of the mouth, pauses for a second, chuckles softly at Barrick’s last action, then turns back to the liquid. Leaning forward she sniffs and studies the liquid. If she only detects “normal” liquid, e.g., nothing funky or appearing to violate laws of physics (OK, she does not know what the laws of physics are, but she does know how liquids normally behave), she will dip a gloved finger into the liquid and bring it up under her nose for a better smell.
Tira sniffs the liquid. It appears to be odorless and colorless. She touches a tiny drop to the back of her bare hand. When nothing unexpected happens, she licks her finger.
Water! Cool, fresh spring water! Tira cannot remember when she has tasted such good water. In fact, she cannot remember when she actually last had a drink of water. Z’alden thinks about it, and realizes that he too is thirsty beyond belief. Filling up their water skins, they both take long drinks of the cool refreshing liquid.
More water leaks out from under the center door.
As the water continues to slowly leak out, Z’alden and Tira pace nervously. Suddenly, without warning, a distant boom is heard. It sounded like it was coming from beyond the adamantine door, but it is difficult to tell.
Z’alden can see no reason to stay with his friends gone, but he won’t leave Tira alone. “Tira, let us go to the pillar and find our friends. Mayhap we can help them escape from wherever the mouth takes us.”
Z’alden goes to the pillar that caused Erik and Barrick to fly to the mouth and prepares to touch it only if Tira is right behind him.
Tira smiles, “Into the unknown? Possible death? Save our friends? Absolutely!” Tira holds her hand near the pillar and nods. “On three?”
Z’alden lowers his head, “on three it is. One, Two, Three.” Z’alden puts his hand to the pillar as close as possible to the timing of Tira’s.
Tira and Z’alden both touch the pillar. As soon as their fingers contact the smooth stone, they feel their feet lift slowly off the ground. Bobbing upwards, they soon reach the ceiling. A gentle breeze begins to waft them towards the waiting green devil’s mouth.
Z’alden thinks to himself, “There must be some sort of metaphor for life here. Perhaps some sort of spiritual meaning, even. I must discuss this with Torben the next time we meet.”
Tira wonders at the huge appetite of the green devil, and whether it will find them indigestible or not.
Bumping and jostling against one another, Z’alden slips first into the inky blackness of the mouth, followed closely by Tira. Just as Tira is about to disappear, a flash of movement over on the far wall catches her eye. It is difficult to see that far, but it appears that the adamantine door with the three slots is slowly opening. Tira catches the glint from a sword blade, and then her sight fades.
After what could have been just a moment, or a year, Z’alden blinks and his eyes open. He finds himself sitting in a small pool of water about one inch deep. In front of him on the wall are a set of glowing letters, which read:
“You who dared to violate my tomb now pay the price. Stay here and die slowly of starvation, or open and enter the door to your south where certain but quick death awaits.”
Tira pops back into existence right behind Z’alden, but facing the other direction. By some stroke of luck, she is standing on her feet. Looking down, she sees that her shoes are becoming soaked by the pool of water that she finds herself standing in.
But, Tira and Z’alden are not alone in the room. Just a few staff-lengths from them are their comrades-in-arms. Barrick, Felsmon, and Erik are all standing with their arms folded, smirking at the new arrivals, perhaps sharing an inside joke.
“Well,” booms Barrick, “now all the fish are in a single pan!” He rubs his hands together in glee.
After some hearty backslapping and good-natured guffawing, you all get a good look at your new surroundings. The sight is a sobering one. The room itself is about 6 staff lengths across, 4 staff lengths deep, and about 3 staff lengths up to the ceiling. In one corner the glowing letters glint evilly on the wall. In the opposite corner there is a small fountain, from which trickles a steady stream of clear water. The water spills over the side of the fountain, and down to the floor. A series of drain holes covers the floor, but you can see that these have been expertly plugged by someone with a ranger’s talent. Down a short hallway to the south you see a door with an iron pull. Erik describes how the door glowed with a bright and coruscating purple tinged with sickly green, just like the door in the pillared room.
The floor of the room is now flooded to a depth of 1 inch, and the water is flowing slowly under the door to the south.
But the most obvious feature of the room is the vast array of rotting bodies. Littering the floor are dozens of corpses, in various stages of decay. Most are intact, with weapons and armor still in place. However, you notice that those nearer to the door are hacked to pieces, with missing limbs, heads, and great slashing wounds. None of the bodies look to be fresh, and most have probably been here for tens or hundreds of years.
“We looted the bodies,” states Felsmon, “but there wasn’t much to find.”
“Also,” says Barrick, “there’s no magic that we can detect, nothing strange about the stonework, no secret exits. We think the door will open, but we’ve been a bit skittish about opening it…”
“We’ve call this the Chamber of Hopelessness,” intones Erik solemnly.
Erik describes some plans that they had come up with while waiting for others to arrive. One was that Felsmon would freeze the floor with his dragon breath to make enemies slip and fall. Another was to use the finger bones of the deceased to have the effect of needle bearings; again, to make enemies slip and fall. Finally, one option was to open the door just a bit, brace it with bones and old swords, peek out and shoot at whatever evil lay beyond.
After that description, Erik shrugs and looks at the new arrivals for more ideas.
DM: Did Erik hear anything more at the door?
“Though I have fasted for prayer, slow starvation is not on my list of ways to die and certainly not today,” Z’alden smirks. “An icy floor could be just the thing to turn this certain death into a one much less certain.” Z’alden looks as though he is thinking, which clearly hurts.
“We have the crown, scepter and gem,” Erik says with gears turning. “How can we use them? The wish? That would seem to be unwise, but maybe these items can be used together somehow to defeat our presumed foe on the other side of this door.”
Erik then turns to Tira and Z’alden and inquires, “What do you think you saw coming through the door?”
Z’alden steps up to the door. He tries to detect that peculiar form of magic associated with undead.
After that, knowing that their lives may hinge on any scrap of information, he will go the body nearest the door and perform the “Speak with Dead ritual.” He wishes that he had not already used the Ritual Candle, but his meager skills will have to do (+11). If successful, he will ask one question, “What slew you?”. If he is fortunate enough for a second question, he will ask “How many enemies were there?”.
Erik steps over the dead bodies and approaches the door. Putting his ear to the worm-infested wood, he listens carefully. No sound reaches his ears from beyond the door. Just as he is about to pull away and inform his comrades, he catches a faint sound in the distance. From beyond the door he can hear what sounds like clashing swords, or perhaps a sword against bone. He cannot be sure, but he thinks he hears a scrabbling noise, followed by a sharp yell of pain. Then, the sound fades away and silence descends again. From Erik’s vast experience of listening at doors, he would swear that the sounds were too faint to be coming from the next room, but were coming from a more distant source, perhaps beyond a further door?
Meanwhile, Z’alden leans down and stares at the most gruesome body he has ever seen. Cuts and slashes cover the torso, a leg and an arm are missing, and the neck is half severed. Z’alden begins the terrible speak-with-dead ritual, the words rolling out of his mouth, drowning out whatever sounds that Erik had been hearing from the other room.
As Z’alden finishes the ritual, the eye sockets begin to glow with a strange green light. A voice intones, “Who dares disturb the rest of Roaky Swerked, cleric of St. Cuthbert?”
The neck makes a terrible cracking sound as the head turns to face Z’alden. “Ah, a fellow priest. Good.”
“What slew me, you ask?”
“I was slain by the sword. My enemies were many. I could not count them. A score, or perhaps more. Swords were flashing everywhere. I could not get a good look at my foes; they had shields which I could not see past. I tried with my mace, but I could not break past their ranks. Flerd, Fonkin, and Frush rushed in to help, but it was no use. We were all cut down. I was the last one standing.”
The skull pauses.
“I wonder what happened to the others. Beek Gwenders of Croodle, he was a good ranger. Probably retired to a well-deserved rest by now…”
“Z’alden, I thank you for the brief respite from my pain. And now, I must go back to face my punishment. I was not good enough in my life, not good enough…”
As the green glow begins to fade, you catch a glimpse of flames licking at the edges of the eye sockets, and you see a vision of red-hot coals torturing a host of tormented souls. Then the glow fades entirely and the skull clatters back into its original resting place.
After pausing to think, Erik turns to his comrades, “Well, if there be a great number of foes, we need to keep them funneled through a narrow spot, such as this door.” He points to the one exit to the room that is recessed by one staff length. Erik continues, “I fear that there would be an endless supply of foes to wear us down, or too many to teleport over.”
Erik then asks his friends about the wish, gem, crown and scepter. Can they be used? Erik also asks his friends about where they think they are, clues coming from the door handle and perhaps something else?
“Erik, it just occurred to me that Tira and I saw the same color of green and purple radiate from the middle door of the many-columned hall. And, water was pouring out from underneath the door, just a little. Perhaps we are no further than a room away from the ‘iron-men of visage grim’ who I had presumed lay beyond that adamantine door. I had also spoken with the remainds of Beek Gwenders of Croodle. He said that in addition to comrades who went through the green demon – this very cleric among them – other comrades had opened the adamantine door and been cut down by terrible foes wielding swords. While it may not be the same foes, it just might be. I wonder if this is the same water that Tira and I drank.”
Z’alden goes over to the fountain. He will first try to detect magic on the fountain. If he finds none, he will taste the liquid to see if it seems the same as what he had before.
Z’alden can detect no magic on the fountain. He tastes the water. It is the same as the clear spring water that was flowing under the door.
Felsmon approaches Z’alden. “My good friend, I may be younger in years that you (today is in fact the anniversary of my hatching), but I think you are mistaken about the door.”
Felsmon continues, “The adamantine door was the one that we came through to get into the pillared hall. It was the one with the three sword slots that then slammed shut, locking us into the pillared hall.”
Z’alden, pondering all of this, you realize that the young dragonborn is correct. Both this door to the south and the center one in the north wall of the pillared hall are made of stone, with an iron ring in the center. When the ring was touched, both glowed with the same shade of sickening purple and green. The water is flowing underneath this door, and apparently the same water is flowing out from beneath the center door in the pillared hall.
Z’alden frowns, as if in deep concentration. There is a puzzle here, but he cannot for the life of him make out what the answer could be.
Suddenly, Z’alden brightens. “Stone or adamantine, Dragon’s scales, they are both very hard! It matters not. The only thing that has me thinking is that both this door and the middle one in the pillared hall glowed the same color when touched. This door to the south has water flowing under it. The middle door also had water flowing, but out from under it. What lies beyond each door has been described somewhat similarly by the bones of members of an adventuring group.”
The cleric pauses. He is trying to reason, and it is not his strong suit. The weakness shows. “What if the demonic mouth teleported us to a door on a side of the room containing the men of iron visage grim?”