Episode 23: 12/5/09
Ashelia Raminas, elf ranger-rogue/4-3
Nineve, human knight/7
Xicar, human cleric/7
Haroldur, human wizard 3/cleric 4
Sarek, human wizard 7
With Balabar and his henchmen taken care of, we attempt to formulate a plan. Diamond Lake is a desperate town of refugees, and we just offed their leader and most of his cronies. Tyrant though he was, Balabar Smenk was maintaining some kind of order, and his death will create a power vacuum that could throw the remaining survivors into anarchy and chaos. And of course, we can’t have that.
There is also the minor problem of the dragon. And the fact that we haven’t found Lazare (or 31E) yet. However, while we were being poisoned by Balabar, he told us that the cart of offerings to the dragon is always delivered near the Whispering Cairn, and the dragon seems to be hanging out there for some reason. Lazare was also rumored to be at the Whispering Cairn, so it looks like we can kill two birds with one stone here. Yay, us.
After some debate, we decide to leave Tamclar in charge of Diamond Lake while we take the Harkness across the lake to the Whispering Cairn in search of Lazare (and probably the dragon). We also encourage Tamclar to evacuate Diamond Lake as soon as possible. The dragon hasn’t been back since the initial attack, and we suspect that it may have been after Lazare, anyway. Even if the dragon does attack them as they evacuate, their only other option at this point is starvation. It’s worth the risk to make a break for civilization.
We spend several days getting the survivors in order, fixing the Harkness, and making preparations. A day or so after our showdown with Balabar, we are shocked to see Kullen, wounded but healing, limping into town. Things are tense at first, but he makes it clear that he had no personal grudge against us, nor any special loyalty to Balabar Smenk. Now that Smenk is dead, he has no further beef with us. We accept his apology, and he offers his assistance with the current predicament. We send him to Tamclar, who has taken charge of Diamond Lake and is preparing for the evacuation.
At last our preparations are complete and we are ready to leave for the Whispering Cairn. Tamclar is particularly somber and it’s obvious he thinks we’re going to die. As we’re saying our goodbyes, he suddenly remembers Mossad gave him a package for us before we left the Cabal. It turns out to be a bag of holding (type 1)! On the Harkness, we dump it out and get:
3 scrolls of sending (Keep in touch!)
1 potion of Lesser Restoration (You never know…)
1 scroll of Raise Dead (Just in case.)
1 scroll of Restoration (Hope you won’t need this.)
5 potions of Cure Serious Wounds (One for each of you.)
We sail across the lake. In transit, we find Balabar’s stash:
bronze statuette of a knight
adamantine armband w/filigree
2 gold bars worth 200 gp total
copper & silver anklet
onyx sphere w/trees carved into it
The trip across goes uneventfully and we disembark into the early December countryside. As we enter the valley containing the Cairn, the air is warmer and misty. We round a bend and see it: a vast red-gold dragon, fast asleep in front of the entrance to the Cairn. A low thrumming comes from its jaws and nostrils, along with wisps of smoke, but its fires are low in slumber. Beneath it, under its limbs and huge coiled tail and all around lay a strange assortment of things; some precious, some little more than trash. This part of the valley is thick with the dragon’s scent, and the air is filled with smoke, like fog, from the blasted and smoldering hillsides.
We exchange some meaningful glances and silently decide to try to sneak past it without waking it. Unfortunately, as we approach, a thin and piercing ray of red shines from under the dragon’s eye. We dive behind a nearby rock. Unhurried, it lifts its massive head and turns its piercing gaze in our direction.
It bids us emerge from our hiding place behind the rock, and since it knows we’re there, there’s no reason not to. We have a completely unnerving but surprisingly civil conversation with the massive, murderous dragon. The dragon recognizes our scent and claims we meddled in it’s affairs in the mountains (Oops.) It seems that Lazare stole something from the dragon while it was out razing Blackwall Keep. The dragon knows Lazare is hiding in the Cairn, and demands in a nonchalant but unquestionable way that we “chase the little worm out of his hole”, presumably in exchange for not eating us on the spot. Haroldur brilliantly talks us through, and we enter the Cairn.
It looks like our friend the GRW spent some time blasting and clawing at the entrance. The walls are black with soot and crumbling in places where the rock has been completely baked and shattered. A little inside the destroyed entrance to the Cairn, we find several deceased deranged Imperium cultist bodies, like we’ve encountered before with 31E in this area. The front end of the tomb is largely like we left it. We advance to the back, the true antechamber to the tomb, and the door that required 31E’s key plate to open it. The door is near the end of its closing sequence. We quickly deduce that Lazare and 31E must be in Icosiel’s proper tomb, so we go on through, lest we get get sealed out forever!
Inside, things look unchanged, but the previously-docile Wind Warriors impede our progress. We are forced to fight them. This is a very tough fight that nearly claims our lives, but we make it through.
Strangely, the black portal we noticed last time appears to be active. Lazare and 31E must’ve gone through it. It is labeled “Amsophar”. We’re badly hurt and we don’t know what’s on the other side of the portal, so we take a moment to heal up. As we’re preparing, Zollara appears before us, with her trusty deck of cards.
Nineve – The Rakshasaa
Haroldur – The Inquisitor
Sarek – The Foreign Trader
Ashe – The Hidden Truth
Xicar – The Wanderer
The Inquisitor… The Locksmith ….The Idiot
The Snakebite ….The Juggler …...The Courtesan
The Tyrant …....The Beating …...The Eclipse
“Again, the Inquisitor appears, representing you 5 and your unswerving dedication to your purpose. To stand against the Inquisitor is to court disaster. The Snakebite represents recent deception or trickery, perhaps betrayal. The Tyrant, although still a grave threat, is now behind you, although his part may not be fully played out yet.
The Locksmith represents the keys needed to unlock one’s destiny or long-hidden secrets. The Juggler here does not represent anything in particular, although I suspect you are soon to meet him in person. The Beating warns of unexpected and overwhelming attack, though not necessarily ambush.
The Idiot represents one who feigns ignorance to disguise one’s true gifts. Here, the Courtesan represents two women of power – it would be wisest to be as polite as possible when dealing with them. Aligned as she is, the Courtesan represents a grave danger if the situation is mishandled. The Eclipse is darkness. Beware the dark and those who dwell within it.”
Healed up and armed with new knowledge, we step through the portal to Amsophar, or hopefully, his tomb. The blackness is so deep, it is almost viscous. Stepping through it, one gets the dizzying impression of of traversing vast gulfs, a staggering distance, in just a single step. Aside from being a little unnerving, however, we all emerge from the portal unchanged and unharmed.
We step from the inky blackness of the gate into a long, wide stone hallway. Ahead, a pair of brightly lit alcoves illuminates the corridor. A faint breeze brings with it sibilant whispers that sound almost like sighing breath. It is odd, but the effect is almost lifelike. If I didn’t know better, I would think we’d been transported back to the entrance of the Whispering Cairn. Although the effects of vast gulfs of time are evident in the uneven flooring and cracks along the walls, these halls are in far better repair than ruins outside of Diamond Lake. The walls are covered with strange runes and intricate reliefs. Translation of the runes indicates that the reliefs are scenes from Amsophar’s life. Farther down the corridor, we encounter an alcove.
A statue of an armored Storm King, left hand resting on a sword, right held up to shield his eyes, stands at the far end of the alcove. The marble statue has sparkling blue gems for eyes and various details made of gold. A beam of bright light shines onto the statue from above, causing the gems to glitter and the stone to glow softly. The walls are carved with delicate reliefs of servants and warriors bowing and saluting. Incorporated into the statue is a removable metal plate, marked with runes that translate as “Wind”.
Further down the corridor, we find three more alcoves, almost identical to the first, except for the metal plate. They read “Thunder”, “Lightning”, and “Ice”. It seems like a good idea, so we take the plates and move on.
The runes in the next hallway spell out various accolades for Amsophar. However, here and there are phrases that are missing a key word. Immediately after this, the 10 foot wide corridor we’ve been walking through is crossed by what appears to be another 10 foot wide hallway. My rogue-sense is tingling – this smells like a trap! I insists my companions hang back while I check it out.
As soon as I cross the threshold into the other “hallway” (it’s actually just a small room placed perpendicular to the main corridor), a forceful wind blows me clear across the “trap room” and plasters me onto the far wall. There, vents in this side of the room leak a noxious paralytic (Dex-damaging) gas! While I’m taking Dex damage, I notice our friend Lazare, lying in a heap in the noxious gas. He’s obviously been paralyzed by it. After a few seconds, the gust of wind abates and I can move again. I grab Lazare’s immobile form, get out my trusty troll-gut rope (with hand grappling hook!), and run back towards my companions, who are still in the safety of the main hallway. I toss the troll hand to my companions and it grabs Nineve. Literally seconds after it stopped, the wind kicks back in. There’s no way I would have had time to run back to safety on my own. I can see how Lazare became trapped!
Eventually, my companions manage to pull me and my paralyzed baggage through the gale-force winds and back to safety.
We use a potion of Lesser Restoration on Lazare, who is conscious but very weak. He revives a little and we ask him to explain himself. Why did he abduct 31E? What’s he doing in this tomb? What did he steal from the dragon?
Lazare explains that the thing he took from the dragon was a crystal disc. It was the first artifact he found as an adventurer (back in his younger days). He and his companions were set upon by the GRW, and he traded it to the dragon in exchange for their lives. Not surprisingly, the dragon betrayed them and only Lazare escaped. He’s been trying to retrieve the artifact ever since. When the dragon finally left his lair (to raze Blackwall Keep), Lazare took advantage of the distraction to reclaim his property.
After years of research, Lazare has deduced that the crystal disc is some sort of key to Amsophar’s tomb. He also discovered, partly with our help, that Icosiel’s tomb in the Whispering Cairn was linked to Amsophar’s tomb. Once he retrieved the artifact, he knew he had to go to the Cairn to see if he was correct.
Lazare also insists that he didn’t abduct 31E. He simply went to the Cabal and asked the automaton if he’d like to accompany him on his explorations of the Whispering Cairn (and beyond!). As this is part of 31E’s programmed directives, he readily agreed. They left the Cabal perhaps without consulting all the proper authorities, as they both deduced that Marten wouldn’t be willing to let 31E go.
They made it this far, but Lazare’s explorations were cut short by his encounter with the trap. 31E managed to escape somehow, and Lazare doesn’t know where he is.
In turn, we tell him about the dragon attack, the fall of Blackwall Keep, and the destruction of Diamond Lake. He seemed genuinely unaware of these activities, and looks more crestfallen with each new bit of terrible news. Nevertheless, it’s good to be united with an old friend, and we all agree that it’s very lucky for Lazare that we came along when we did!
Lazare must have been stuck in that trap for quite a while – he looks emaciated and very much worse for the wear. We offer him food and drink while we try to figure out the puzzle before us.
After several hours of study, we deduce the missing words in the text and discover these words can be arranged to make the sentence, “Amsophar made war that we might live in peace”. Cautiously, I approach the “windy passage”, which is still gusting intermittently, and speak what I hope are the key words. Immediately, the wind abates, and we advance unmolested.
As we’re celebrating our victory over the trap, 31E emerges from around the next crossing. Apparently he made it past the first trap, only to be claimed by the second. Of course, we’re thrilled to see him. We repair him and he attaches the new leg (he was very surprised we managed to find one!).
While 31E is putting himself back together, we mention that we think we know what his mechanical scarab is for. We tell him about the ones we saw in Jarkardos’s lab back in Blackwall Keep. 31E is skeptical, but we convince him to try it. Fortunately, I was thinking ahead, so I just happen to have an accurate atlas of like, the entire known world! We roll it out and set the scarab on the map. It whirs and clicks and skitters in a straight line for the Whispering Cairn, where it sits, fluttering its mechanical wings intermittently. This seems to ring some bells for 31E, because he makes a strange face (as much as a construct CAN make a face), and says “Of course. The scarab is currently programmed to display my original mission objective.” He picks it up and fiddles with it a little, explaining that he can alter the scarab’s function to display our current location. He sets it back down and we all gasp as it skitters completely across the map, coming to rest in an unknown mountain range thousands of miles from Caledon.
That’s… a bit of a shock. But, there’s no sense in worrying about it now; we have a Storm King tomb to explore! At this point, Lazare, who looks really exhausted, apologizes for not being much use to us. He hands the hard-won crystal disc to Xicar, and then quite unexpectedly polymorphs into a ferret and crawls into my backpack. Will wonders never cease? We take the opportunity to rest and regroup a bit before venturing forth.
We descend an elegant staircase and enter a large central room. The octagonal chamber is lit by six floating lanterns that hover around a central statue of some strange metal. The statue depicts Amsophar clad in armor and lounging in a throne. One hand rests lazily on the pommel of a sword, while the other is stretched out languidly along the back of the throne, casually pointing across the chamber, seemingly at nothing in particular. A thick, swirling fog obscures the ceiling far above. A series of 4 intricate reliefs decorate the walls of this magnificent chamber. Numerous small items: coins, jewelry, statuettes, and other small objects litter the statue’s rune-carved pedestal.
As we approach, thick mist swirls upon the reliefs, animating them strangely. I take rubbings of everything:
Relief #1: This relief shows Amsophar at a great battle fighting twisted creatures of chaos against impossible odds.
Relief #2: This relief shows Amsophar avenging the death of Icosiel, striking down a terrible robed figure wielding an orb that seems to destroy anything it touches.
Relief #3: This relief shows Amsophar wielding a long rod or staff against a tremendous form of writhing darkness and horror. Amsophar triumphs, but his staff shatters into 7 pieces, and he collapses to his knees.
Relief #4: This panel shows Amsophar being struck down by a hideous creature with the body of a great spider and the head of a wolf. The creature appears to sneak up behind him and strike while Amsophar is recovering from an earlier battle.
We eventually discover that with a bit of elbow grease, the statue rotates counter-clockwise. Each rotation seems to cause Amsophar’s hand to point at a doorway. We rotate it one click, and the stone panel of the relevant door slides into the ceiling revealing a small chamber beyond. Simultaneously, a booming voice erupts from the statue and Order’s Wrath washes harmlessly over the party (since we are all Lawfully aligned). Then, the mist on the ceiling coalesces into 4 Belkars that descend on us menacingly…
We brace for impact and Sarek kicks things off with a fireball. With 31E’s help, we destroy the Belkars. Xicar the Wanderer checks the rubble and finds:
an emerald worth 1000 gp!
At the back of the small chamber we discovered, we see a serious of identical runes. One is missing. It matches the “Wind” plate we have, after much discussion and puzzlement we figure out what must be the correct position for the metal plate, so we place it in the empty slot. Nothing happens.
We rotate the statue another click. The floor of this small chamber is 20 feet below the level of the main room. It has what looks like a shaft leading down into darkness. I volunteer to check it for traps. I borrow Nineve’s ring of Featherfall and jump down… only to fall UP! Apparently, I’ve triggered a Reverse Gravity trap! I fall up 80 feet (luckily taking no damage, thanks to Nineve) and I’m deafened by thunder, blinded by lightning, and chilled by ice and snow! Eventually my companions drop a rope up to me and pull me down out of the trap.
We rotate the state again and find another small chamber with a missing rune. We slot in the “Thunder” plate and get it wrong! A blast of deafening thunder nearly kills the lot of us! We try again, and with 31e’s help get it right, and nothing nasty happens to us.
We rotate the statue another click and reveal a tubular elevator down. We’re not quite ready to leave the main chamber yet, so we decide to come back to this one.
The next rotation reveals just an empty room. I step inside to look for a secret door or something, and the panel slams shut! Yelling through the wall, Nineve tells me that as the door closed, the statue rotated forward two clicks! They can’t move it back – they’ll have to go all the way around again. About this time I realize the ceiling in my little death chamber is getting lower and lower…
Everybody struggles to turn the statue back around in time. A fair bit of fumbling occurs. When the door opens again, I have to roll out into the central chamber – I was flat on my belly with about 5 inches from floor to ceiling! Casting a sardonic gaze over the three puny men, I advise my companions against the “Ceiling Trap of Doom” weight-loss plan.
The next two chambers are more rune puzzles. We slot in the appropriate runes and move on.
Finally, we make a complete circuit with the statue. There is a little bit of debate, but Nineve’s unnatural fear of elevators wins out and we decide to try the ‘reverse gravity’ alcove. To our surprise the reverse gravity seems to be disabled, and we decide to descend down the shaft instead. At the bottom, the pit opens up into a beautiful arrow-shaped room. Elegant marble columns and statuary grace the chamber, along with a bunch of Wind Warriors who promptly try to kill us. We fight our way tooth and nail through the whole mess of them, covering the previously-pristine chamber with blood (ours) and bits of ceramic armor (theirs). Xicar the Wanderer pokes through the debris and finds some Oil of Greater Magic Weapon +5! Then, we use my trusty troll gut grappling hook rope to get the hell outta Dodge.