Episode 13: Suspicions Confirmed

Silence claims the Amber Temple once more. From the head of the statue the adventurers can’t see much in the great hall, especially Siri who can’t see anything at all. She pulls out her sunsword and lights it up, feeling better as the sunlight radiates out from it.

“What now?” says Haldar, looking around the room but seeing nothing that piques his interest.

“I’d kind of like to see what the sarcophagi have to say,” replies Siri. “I know the entities inside are evil, but I know evil now and if there’s anything in there that can give us the power to destroy Strahd, we should really check it out. Plus, it would be a kick in the teeth to an evil entity if we then use the power they give us for good, right?”

Haldar and Thia aren’t convinced, but Devlin and Obryn are up for a scout around so they head back down the statue’s stairs and cross the hall towards the crypts they’ve already found. There are no fireballs aimed at them, indicating that the man has not yet teleported back to his lair. This is a good thing.

In the first crypt, Siri touches the sarcophagi and listens to their messages. One offers the power of true-seeing, while the next offers the power to open portals to other planes, which Drusilla has already accepted. Siri politely declines both and then touches the third. A raspy whisper fills her mind.

“Welcome traveller, do you come here seeking power?”

Siri remains cagey, although she is tempted by the mention of power.

“Maybe,” she replies. “What can you offer me?”

“I can give you the gift of great strength. Would you accept?”

Siri turns to look at Obryn, who appears to be singing a song to himself.

“No thanks. I have a friend who’s already very good in that department.”

Obryn sees her looking and stops his tune, giving her a quizzical look.

“What did that one say?” he asks gruffly.

“Erm… it offered… errr…” Siri blusters, not wanting her friend to be tempted by an evil being. “It says it offers… great charisma.”

There’s a pause as they eye each other, but then Obryn grins and turns away.

“Oh, I don’t need that, I’ve already got plenty of charisma!” He says confidently, walking out of the crypt scratching his left buttcheek and belching loudly.

The next crypt is the one where they’d previously encountered the nothic, and as Siri enters it fixes its singular eye on her. She smiles and waves, and it goes back to examining the smashed sarcophagus at the back of the room, picking through the shards of amber.

As Siri declines a gift of divination, deeming it not powerful enough and wandering over to the other intact sarcophagus, Thia approaches the nothic.

“Hello,” she says.

It fixes her with its gaze as well, but then gives a barely perceptible shrug.

“What are you looking for?”

“I do not know,” it whispers. “Something, perhaps. Something that will show me what has happened to this one.”

Thia cautiously walks a little bit closer.

“You don’t know what happened to it?”

The nothic shakes its head.

“No. I think maybe it has escaped.” It goes back to rooting through the amber pieces, seemingly having lost interest in the cleric.

On the other side of the room, Siri touches the second sarcophagus and another reedy, whispering voice seeps into her mind.

“I am Delban, the Star of Ice and Hate. I can give you the power to unleash deadly cold on your enemies. Do you accept this gift?”

“Well,” she says quietly. “I do hate what Strahd has done to this land and its people, and this sounds like a powerful weapon against him, so yes, I accept.”

“Siri, NO!” yells Haldar, but it’s too late. The paladin turns around with a grin on her face.

“It gave me the power to cast Cone of Cold once a day!” she says excitedly. “That’s a pretty powerful spell that we can use against the vampire!” She shakes herself a little. “Also, I don’t feel cold anymore, which is weird.”

Haldar tries to resist slapping his hand to his face.

“And what of the cost? What did you pay in return for that power?”

Siri thinks for a moment.

“What do my eyes look like?” she asks, leaning towards Thia who is still watching the nothic at the back of the room. The cleric studies her face.

“Fine!” she says, smiling.

“Then I don’t know,” replies Siri. “I don’t feel any different, except maybe a bit warmer.”

“You don’t feel any different at the moment,” says Haldar. “But there will be a price. There always is.”

Devlin thinks back to the voices he heard in his mind while they were in the other crypt, voices that offered him the gift of non-detection and the power to turn life into undeath. He ponders these options for a minute.

“I’m very tempted to take one of these two,” he confides in the others. “The trouble is, I feel like they might be a bit small-printy.”

With the others a little reluctant to jump in as Siri has done, they decide to sneak to the back of the hall and have a look through the doorways that lead off it. On the left side, the door has been smashed leaving a big hole in the wall and fragmented amber all over the floor, but on the right the door is still intact and closed shut. Checking the open room first, they’re startled to find that the floor is littered with skeletons, all with adventuring gear that has long since rotted or rusted. At the back of the room is an alcove that looks as if it may have housed a tall human or a statue of some kind, but it’s empty now. Finding nothing of worth, they head for the second door. This one is closed fast, despite Siri and Obryn shoving on it, so Thia casts Dispel Magic. There’s a soft click, and the door swings open easily when they push it, revealing a room beyond that is not only piled high with treasure, but also has a similar alcove at the back. Standing in the middle of this one is a huge amber statue with a hawk’s head. It turns towards them and closes its fists. Too late, Siri realises that the alcove in the other room was probably home to the jackal-headed amber golem they’d fought upstairs the day before, and that it must have escaped when the other adventuring party had broken in.

Thia casts Guardian of Faith to ward the area they’re standing in, while Siri and Obryn charge forward to wail on the golem with their weapons. Devlin hurls a firebolt at it, but as it hits Siri yelps and dashes away, narrowly avoiding a huge, swinging amber arm. Haldar fires his arrows at it, but they just ping off letting him know that this thing won’t be pierced by anything short of a magical weapon. Its face doesn’t show anger, but it’s body language indicates that it’s clearly not happy as it stomps towards them. Stopping just short of the range of the Guardian of Faith, it raises its arms and then brings them down again, slamming its fists into the ground with an ear-shattering crack. Obryn suddenly feels as if everything is happening in slow motion but Devlin is undeterred, unleashing more firebolts at the large amber figure and cracking its surface. Siri yelps againas the fire hits, leaping backwards, but then steels herself and charges at the statue, stopping short to just tink it with the tip of her sword. It shatters in an explosive of amber shards, and as the dust clears everyone turns to look at the paladin.

“What the hell was that?” questions Haldar. “Why all the yelping and running away?”

Siri cocks her head thoughtfully.

“I don’t know, I think it was the fire. It took me by surprise.”

Thia snaps her fingers and a flame appears in her hand which she holds out to Siri, watching as her friend shrinks back from it in terror.

“You’re scared of fire,” the cleric says. “I think maybe that’s the price you had to pay for your gift.”

Devlin pulls a face.

“Well, that could be awkward given that I’m a fire mage,” he chuckles.

They look through the treasure and pick out a few items, including some signed copies of ‘Snow Dwarf and the Seven Wights’ by Nitch Rackmay, but there aren’t any magical items in there, and most of it is either too heavy or large to carry (like a life-sized wooden pony, and an ornate chariot) or has rusted or decayed.

As Siri coos over the wooden pony and yells at Obryn when he kicks it over, Haldar spots a crack in the back wall and, peering through it, calls everyone over. They squeeze between the crumbling amber-sheathed masonry and find themselves in a large room like no other they’ve seen in the temple so far. Stretching from the centre to the north wall, an ornate marble staircase with black railings spirals gently up to the next floor, while the amber-covered walls of the room are sculpted to look like tentacles that wrap around marble statues of kings and queens. In three alcoves on the east, west and south walls are tall, rough blocks of amber, larger than the sarcophagi they’ve already encountered and much more imposing. Lying in the middle of the room are six rotting wooden crates that look largely out of place in such a lavish setting.

Curious, Devlin gazes into the amber of the nearest block and again sees a thin black wisp of something floating and twisting lazily inside it. He touches it, and a voice manifests inside his head offering him the gift of power over death. The sorcerer doesn’t respond and instead goes to touch the other two blocks, one of which promises the gift of immortality while the other offers the dark gift of the Vampyr, gaining life by taking the blood of the living.

“This is the one that Strahd accepted,” he says, pointing at the western sarcophagus with a frown. “This is the one that turned him into a vampire.”

Drusilla is suddenly consumed with rage, raising her hands and readying herself to cast a spell at the block of amber.

“Then we must take the power from Strahd by destroying this thing!” she cries. “Only then will we be able to vanquish him!”

“Stop!” Haldar runs in front of her, much to her annoyance. “We don’t know what will happen if we destroy it. What if the creature inside escapes? We can’t unleash something like that on Barovia. Whatever these things are, they were imprisoned for a reason!”

Drusilla is incensed.

“If we destroy it, it will weaken him!” she growls.

“We have no proof of that,” replies the ranger, angrily. “We have no proof that destroying it will have any effect on him at all! Why don’t we explore upstairs first, to see if we can find out anything else about them before we charge in?”

“No!” shouts Drusilla. “It must be destroyed now!”

Devlin steps forward, feeling the need to intervene and calm the situation down.

“Drusilla, reign it in a bit,” he says, laying on the charisma. “I’m inclined to agree with you, but we don’t know what will be released if we break this.”

The dark elf throws her hands down in frustration, her expression that of a sulky child.

“Fine.”

She stomps over to the southern sarcophagus and places her hand on it, cocking her head to listen to the voice.

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” yells Haldar, boiling with rage. “Just exactly what is it that you want, Drusilla?”

“I am a seeker of power,” she replies through gritted teeth. “And there is much power here. The trouble is that only one of you has yet been brave enough to accept it!”

Devlin steps in again, his hands outstretched between the two.

“Let’s go and have a look upstairs, then we can decide what to do about these, okay?”

Climbing the spiral staircase, they try to be stealthy but Devlin trips and falls against Obryn, who clatters his war-axe against the railings in an attempt to stop himself from falling. Luckily there doesn’t appear to be anyone around, and they emerge into a room with a large fresco across the ceiling, a fresco of angels being set ablaze in hell. It’s a tad unsettling. However, the place has clearly been cared for; it’s free of dust, has lit candles, and embroidered rugs cover the marble floor. As they gaze around the ranger’s eyes grow increasingly wide, because against every wall are ten-foot-tall bookshelves that contain hundreds of well-preserved tomes. He takes one down and flips the cover open, but the words inside are incomprehensible and not even a linguist like Haldar can make out the language. Siri casts Identify on one and gets the impression that it’s a book about summoning and binding beings from the Abyss.

“I think these are all spellbooks,” she says, and could swear that she sees the ranger drool for a moment. Putting the book down, she reaches out her divine sense to make sure that they’re safe but she is concerned when she gets the feeling that something evil and undead is somewhere off to the west of them. Devlin casts Detect Magic in the direction indicated by the paladin and picks up traces of necromancy as well, but he can’t find any secret or hidden doors at that end of the library. Unable to decipher the books and finding nothing else that can help them, they return to the room downstairs were Siri uses her divine sense again. This time, she picks up a sense of something evil and undead from one of the wooden crates in the middle of the room.

Thia walks over, a quizzical look on her face.

“The vampire spawn we fought in the undertaker’s shop, they were sleeping in crates of earth, weren’t they?” she says, prying up a bit of the rotting wood on one of other crates and seeing the dirt inside. “I think Strahd may have placed some protection here to look after his source of power.”

“Stand back,” says Devlin, and the hexagram on his forehead flares purple as he shoots a fireball at the crate which was giving off the evil aura. Siri squeals and darts under the staircase as the box explodes into flames, spilling the earth all over the marble floor. Suddenly there’s a scream and a creature scrambles out of it, before running up the stairs on all fours with fire licking around its limbs. Haldar is ready and targets it with an arrow while Devlin and Thia chase up the stairs after it, but by the time they reach the library, the thing has vanished into thin air. Even though Thia can smell smoke coming from the west corner of the room, it doesn’t reappear. Puzzled, they go back downstairs to join the others, who are smashing all the other crates and spilling out the earth so that any returning creatures will have nowhere to rest and regenerate.

Then, completely out of the blue, Drusilla turns and shoots a firebolt towards the Vampyr sarcophagus, damaging it then smiling in triumph. Haldar yells at her that they don’t know what will happen if the entity is released, but Siri and Devlin join in, theorising that stopping anyone else from taking advantage of the dark powers is probably a good thing. Both of them dispense immense hits to the amber and cracks appear on its surface like those on an icy pond during a thaw, but its only when Thia strikes it with a guiding bolt that it shatters completely. The black wisp from inside rises into the air with an inhuman screech, squirms as if it is trying to return to its sarcophagus, then disintegrates into nothing. Seeing this, they also destroy the other two sarcophagi, ridding the land of the evil power contained within.

Satisifed, they return to the library where Haldar sets up his tiny hut so they can rest, posting watches to make sure they remain safe. During the night, Thia hears a scream from the west of the library that rings out but is then abruptly cut off, as if something has just met a sudden and untimely end, but otherwise the night passes peacefully and the adventurers remain undisturbed.

When morning comes Devlin wakes up early, attunes to his new staff of frost and takes the time to study the Tome of Strahd again, managing to decipher yet another passage. This one reads:

‘Exethanter’s mind is eroding. On my most recent visit I found him delirious and distracted. He seems unable to remember my visits or his magic. I do envy the lich, nor do I pity him. It would seem that I chose all the more wisely in the means of immortality.’

Despite a good night’s meditation, Haldar is still extremely cross with Drusilla and, while they eat breakfast, he questions her about why she’s been lying to them. Drusilla is furious.

“I haven’t lied! How dare you!”

Haldar raises an eyebrow.

“You told us that you knew Patrina, but you didn’t,” Haldar replies, his voice dangerously quiet. “You came here seeking power, and for what? You won’t even tell us who you worship.”

Drusilla snaps back at him.

“Well, I have what I need now. The sarcophagus is destroyed, Strahd has been defeated, and I have a way out of this dismal place!”

“I think Strahd is still a problem and we need your help with that,” Siri says. “Don’t forget, Arabella saw you fighting him alongside us in her vision. Granted, you were a giant spider at the time, but…”

The dark elf’s eyes would have flashed with anger had they not become starry voids after accepting the gift of planar travel.

“What is that supposed to mean? You think I’m a what? A giant spider?”

Even as they’re packing up their camp and heading back downstairs, the ranger is still arguing with the dark elf. He huffs, raising his eyebrow once again as they reach the great hall.

“Drusilla, you’ve done nothing but try to deceive us since you joined us,” he states, matter-of-factly. “You’re secretive, economical with the truth, power-hungry, and you lied about knowing Patrina. You didn’t know her, and because of that I’m not sure anything you’ve ever told us is true!”

He spins around to face his friends. “You know we can’t trust her.”

Drusilla suddenly stops in her tracks and replies in a low voice.

“I don’t like it when someone doesn’t trust me.”

Pulling one of the three rings she wears off her finger, the adventurers are horrified to see her body change and distort from the waist down, becoming black and bulbous with eight huge, long, hairy legs protruding from it. The floor of the great hall begins to sink as a pit starts to form, and she turns and points at Haldar, her voice filled with rage.

“Goddess, I summon you to take this sacrifice I offer! I call to you Llolth, to COME AND CLAIM YOUR PRIZE!”

Haldar turns to the others and rolls his eyes.

“I bloody told you,” he says with a sigh.

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