Session 20 Synopsis:
Previously, on Phoenix Rising…
The inside of the watchtower is a warped reflection of the outside. In place of a column of stone is a twisting conical dimension of unnatural shapes. Instead of walls, a thick, globular slime slowly oozes up, then down. Sometimes the goo strains inward in clusters of wriggling strands whose bright colors mock the pennants that once hung here. The floor is elastic and membranous, bowing slightly beneath your weight. Large, bubble-like nodes resembling flagstones shift beneath the filmy surface and gradually slide toward a dark crevice, at the bottom of which oozes a sinister black lake. From time to time, the lake emits globules that drift up through the still, stinking air. Set in the membrane on the opposite side of this twisted realm is a luminescent door in the shape and design of one of the cards from the Deck. The card-shaped portal opens and closes, morphing at intervals to resemble an oaken door. The floating globules slowly slide up to disappear into the opening. The chasm is spanned by a footbridge composed of two more large glowing cards, somehow joined end to end. A high, barely audible screech rings constantly from everywhere and nowhere, and nothing seems able to silence it.
When they looked back, the door that they had entered the tower from was gone. There seemed no way to go but deeper into this strange tower…
Zerak suggested that he send his skeleton over the bridge first to see if it was safe to cross. Everything was fine until the skeleton stepped off the bridge on the opposite of the chasm. It was then that the “floor” the skeleton was standing on, rose up around it and started to attack it. And the “bridge” lifted itself off of the far end, arcing itself towards the side where our heroes were standing near the tower wall, and separated into two creatures! It was then that the party realized that the bridge and floor section were actually object mimics. At the same time, a large portion of the black substance in the chasm was actually a black pudding and slid up and onto the floor right in front of Zola. The mimics and pudding attacked the party and at the same time the walls grew amorphous limbs that stretched out and tried to grab our heroes. But only Zerak failed to get out of the way in time to avoid being grabbed and held to the wall.
The ensuing battle was heated. Zola’s first strike at the black pudding with her ancestral sword did not hurt the thing but cut it in half. Now there were two smaller black puddings to deal with! After that she switched to her morning star to bludgeon it, hopefully to death. The walls continued to grab at any party member that was adjacent to it through the entire battle, but it took only a few rounds for everyone to get far enough away from the walls to eliminate the threat. the mimic on the other side was damaging the skeleton pretty well, but it was actually done in by Zerak himself when he cast a lightning bolt and hit two of the mimics with it. He then proceeded to vomit up another spider swarm on the mimics, which slowly ate away at the mimics. After that he flew to the other side of the chasm so he could get a good shot at the black puddings and started to use his burning hands spells one after another. He even made a very heroic effort and got two spells off in a single round of combat, hoping to end the threats as quickly as possible.
Jobi struggled a bit with the wall grabbing hold of her in between her casting magic missile spells. But she became in much bigger trouble when one of the black puddings was able to grab a hold of her. She sufferend quite a bit of bludgeoning and acid damage in the one round she was attacked. If not for Asphodel gabbing hold of Jobi and literally yanking her out of its grasp and flinging her out of the way on her next move, she would have surely perished from the black pudding’s next attacks. But now she was in a better position to fight and kept using her magic missiles on the mimics to help slowly beat them down.
Blackwell also had his fair share of struggles with the wall’s grabby personality, but he too finally moved away and at first used arrows against the mimics. After a brief stint trying to juggle his bow and arrow, he soon changed to his melee weapons and helped beat the monsters into submission. Kel steadily hacked away at the mimic closest to her including one massive hit that nearly killed it outright. But just after that her weapon stuck to the mimic. Not to be denied, she decided to put all her 125 lbs into skewering the mimic instead of trying to pull her weapon free. That seemed to do the trick for the mimic died with her efforts and her sword came free of the beast. Zola through the entire battle just kept bashing away at the black pudding, sustaining some damage from the creatures, but her acid resistance definitely helped to mitigate the severity of her wounds. Asphodel mainly concentrated on the mimics, keeping one of them occupied so that it wouldn’t turn its attention to Zola thereby flanking her with the puddings.
The puddings, and the mimics for that fact, were quite sturdy adversaries and it took the party a number of heavy rounds to finally beat them down and kill them all. Once the battle was over, they now had a 10 foot wide chasm to cross and while for some, like Blackwell, Zerak, and Asphodel, that wasn’t much of a hurdle, they had to help the others over it. then they faced the card shaped door that kept fading out of existence for two rounds and then back in for one round as four floating black globules went through the door and vanished like clock work. Zola grabbed one of the globules to see if it was still acidic like a black pudding, but it turned out that they were not at all acidic. SO the party lined themselves up and rand though the door in two groups of three and found themselves in an even stranger place:
As soon as you pass through the door, it vanishes into a diaphanous, pulsating ochre wall. Still, black globules steadily permeate the membrane and drift up through the column in which you now stand, vanishing into a vast star filled sky. Everything in this area seemingly is drawn toward that sky. Even the walls flow upward, their surfaces randomly broken by enormous eyeballs that boil through in spiral patterns like curving stairs, staring madly at you before being reabsorbed. This place seems to retain some semblance of the old watchtower, as though it were trapped somewhere . . . beyond. The weird keening rises in pitch and intensity.
The heroes tried several different things here, but once they figured out that everything is spiraling upwards like traveling up a sprial staircase, they were all finally able to make it towards the sky. Some used the eyeballs on the walls as handholds to climb up, while others found a way to walk about around the walls as if walking up stairs. Once they reached the “sky” it was as if all went black for a moment and then they found themselves somewhere else:
The tower melts away beneath you, collapsing into an ocean of terrible amoeboid shapes-perhaps a single life form, perhaps a million beings. The black globules continue to drift up, becoming one with the sky. The unearthly shrieking finally ceases. Now from the darkness begins an endless nonsensical babble. You float in the void, alone but for the cold, ageless order of distant stars.
At first, each one feels themselves slowly “falling” into the amoeboid morass, which didn’t look like a very healthy option. So through trial and error, they figured out that if they tried flying, climbing, or swimming in an upward spiral direction they would move away from the aliens beings underneath them and slowly ascend towards the starry night sky. Once again, when they reached a certain point, it felt as though they got to the sky and all went black:
The stars grow larger and clearer, resolving into bright rectangular shapes. Cards. Millions upon millions of cards. Three, larger than the rest, are clustered at the center of the vast starscape. In one sweeping motion, all the other cards simultaneously turn like doors on a hinge, and a cosmic wind howls through the void. Inside each dark doorway lurks some horrific, tentacled thing that jabbers idiot rhymes as it reaches forth. The three cards at the center still glow, doors waiting to open.
Our heroes found themselves slowly drifting outwards and away from those three doors in the center and towards the open doors with the horrors trying to reach out and grab them. They all started to fly, climb, or swim their way away from those open doors and get towards the three closed doors in the center of the sky. With some effort,again they found that doing these things in circular upward motions allowed them to finally reach the center cards. And when they got there, they saw:
The three cards grow larger and larger until their cold radiance seems to fill the universe. The light grows brighter until it overwhelms vision, then all is suddenly dark. Slowly, a room comes into view. You stand in a round chamber encircled by a short fiight of stairs leading up to a landing, upon which stand three glowing doors in the shapes of cards. Four suits of armor decked in tabards of Bahamut stand at attention. For a brief moment the environment seems stable . ..
Then an unearthly wail erupts from the darkness as a floating horror of eyes comes out of the far wall and stares at you. Zerak immediately recognizes this horror as a beholder and the party readies themselves for the onslaught. But the creature and the “statues” do not attack. It seems to be studying you, as if its not sure you’re actually there.
Zerak is the first to react and attempts to humbly address the powerful alien creature, in hopes of staying its hands, or rather eyes, for a few more moments. He tried to ask the creature if it had any of the cards that they had and if it would be willing to give it to them in hopes that they could figure a way out of the magically trapped tower.
The beholder turned all its eyes onto Zerak and spoke to the party asking if they had found a way out. Zerak replied that they had not yet but had an idea on how to escape. he described that he thought they had to get the cards together in order to do that, for when they held their cards up to the glowing floating representations of the cards, their real cards became warmer the closer they got them to the glowing card apparitions. The beholder then told them that he had not one, but three of the cards in its possession. The beholder seemed to be thinking that maybe the party needed to give their cards to him instead of the other way around. But then it decided that it would part with one card to see what was going to happen. The card that was given to Zerak was the Skull card. Immediately when Zerak touched it, two of the “statues” armor immediately started to rust and pit and some of the floor around them once again looked like a normal wooden and stone floor of the tower. This intrigued the beholder (and the party).
During this time the rest of the party was slowly moving around the room trying to position themselves in the most strategic positions they could, just in case this encounter turned violent. Zola was especially on her guard, knowing full well that a fight with a beholder and four whatever they were statues could very well turn deadly for one or possibly all of them. And she definitely did not want to be taken by surprise from this abomination.
Zerak, feeling a bit emboldened but still extremely cautious, addressed the beast again and asked if they could get another card from it to see if the magicks would further falter in hopes that they could all escape. The beholder this time though stated that it was extremely hungry and the party could be considered a good snack. So it asked what the party would give it for the next card. Now this statement definitely made everyone much more nervous and they all tried to reassure the beast that there were hundreds of orcs, and other humanoids just outside the tower that it could feast on. But it seemed a bit reluctant to that idea for orcs were “grisly” in its opinion and the argument looked like it was going to fail.
So Zerak made the decision to offer it a small snack to help slake it hunger for just a little while longer. The rest of the party immediately became a bit panicked with this statement – especially Jobi who, like everyone else, was wondering what this “little snack” might be. Zerak slowly approached the beast and laid bare his left arm up to his shoulder. This surprised everyone including the beholder. Jobi started to tell him not to do it, but it was too late. The beholder looked Zerak in the eyes and said, “OK” and bit his arm off at the shoulder. Blood gushed out of Zerak’s body and severed limb, spraying across the room and dripping down the beholder as it finished eating his arm. Zerak was ready for the intense pain and bleeding and cast a healing spell on himself to staunch the flow of blood. And the beholder was true to its word and gave the party its second card, the Balance card. Once again, as Zerak touched this card, another two statues armor became pitted and rusted and more of the tower turned back to normal. He handed this card to Kel and she immediately knew what power the card had. Jobi just stared at Zerak, obviously aghast with what just happened.
With enormous effort Zerak again addressed the beholder and asked for its third and final card. The beholder said that this course of action seemed to be working but he just couldn’t give the party the card, it had to receive something in return. When asked what it wanted, the party collectively held their breath waiting for its answer, hoping that another body part, or worse would need to be sacrificed and a battle would ensue after all this anyway. But the beholder said it wanted a magic item. Everyone sighed relief and Zerak immediately offered the beast the spellbook that they had found earlier in their adventures. And the creature accepted it and gave them its last card, the Key card. When Zerak took this card, the last statue became just like the others but the grip of the magic on the tower did not completely break. They were all still trapped in here and the beholder started to look agitated with this development.
So now five of the members each had one card in their possession and the magic hadn’t been broken yet. But then they got the idea that maybe all five cards had to be touching each other and so they brought them together with Asphodel holding all five cards in one of her hands. With that the magic broke with a loud whoosh and blinding light flash the tower was a normal tower again. The statues had transformed into long dead knights or paladins of Bahamut, and the beholder was nowhere to be seen. The party quickly descended the normal spiral stairs and got out of the tower. They made their way out of the grounds and into the wooded area some distance outside the walled in area to rest for the night and regain their strength before continuing on looking for the elves that may or may not still be living somewhere in the forested area of the Gardmore Abbey grounds.
The next morning our stalwart band, now one arm short, made their way back into the forested area by way of the breach in the wall. Blackwell tried to sniff out a direction for elven life, but only got a few snoot-fulls of squirrels! and birds. They adventured slowly into the overgrown wooded area and soon came upon a clearing and saw:
A font bubbles in the middle of this clearing, its water sparkling in the light. Encircling its broad base is a mosaic depicting a platinum dragon and a silver stag in eternal chase; the tiles that define the beasts’ shapes are marked with miniature runes. Along the mosaic’s perimeter, toppled walls form a broken stone shell bounding what once must have been some manner of shrine. A host of elves camps amid the fallen walls, hair and mail shimmering like quicksilver, but they don’t seem to be ordinary elves like the ones the party has met before. They seem more vibrant, more alive, if that was possible. The male leader, tall and silver-eyed, scowls as you approach and brandishes a gleaming longsword. “What is your business here?” he says. “Speak quickly or fall where you stand.” In the blink of an eye other elves suddenly surround you, their own bright swords instantly drawn. The trees around the font seem to whisper and shift, although there is no wind to blow them.
Kel and Asphodel took the lead in talking with the elven leader stating that they were there looking for them to see if they would help the humans of Winterhaven destroy the orcs and retake the temple and village for the safety of everyone in the area.
The elven knight gazed upon the clear waters of the font as he contemplated your words and slowly began to speak to you. “I am called Sir Berrian, and my house is Velfarren. For two human lifetimes I have searched the wide world over in a quest to discover the mystery of my father’s fate and pay a son’s proper tribute to his memory. All roads have led me here, to this human ruin. But once again they diverge and lose themselves in the fog of time, and
though I near their ends I cannot see them clearly. Do they lead to dishonor? Vengeance? Death? It is impossible to see. The dark abbey crawls with perils, and orcs and giants infest the grounds. A frozen thing in white robes sometimes lingers near the font, staring into the memories its waters contain. And in the shadow of yon door-less evil tower this place confounds us with its mysteries and its dangers. The grove thrums with the life of the Feywild . .. of home. But the closer we come, the farther we fall away. Fey beasts lair in the ruins. Gossiping nymphs tantalize us with secrets. And now my sister Analastra too has vanished, thus halting our sacred quest until she can be found.”
When the party mentions that they did enter the tower and purge the strange magical influences that kept it locked away, Sir Berrian seemed somewhat pleased, maybe even hopeful and said that he does believe them that they may actually be able to be allies in this struggle. But before he committed to anything, he needed the heroes help in finding bringing back his sister, Analastra. He spoke to the party once again, “My sister Analastra has not reported in for several hours, and I fear for her safety. She is a competent warrior, but ever since we have come here, my sister has been … different. I am not about to let my family fall apart on the quest to discover its past. If you help me with this task of finding her, we will be on the path of becoming allies.”
The party agreed to help him and asked where she had been going. Sir Berrian told them she had been heading towards the Bell Tower. Blackwell wanted to use his very keen sense of smell to help aid in finding her trail and Sir Berrian agreed to a request for him to sniff her scent off of one of her possessions. The knight signaled for one of the other elves to get something and a short time later he had brought one of her cloaks for Blackwell to sniff. Then they headed out looking for her. He was able to follow her scent in a general direction, though it was not a strong and easy path to follow. At times she used the natural paths in the forest, and at other times the party had to hack-n-slash their way through the dense tangled under brush. But after a little while they came out into a clearing and saw:
A pale, slender figure with long silver hair flees through the dark grove, her desperate footfalls making hardly a whisper. Behind her and to either side, two feline monsters pursue her in eerie silence toward a ruined bell tower. Their black, six-legged forms are hard to focus on clearly. Spiny tentacles whip forward from the back of one of the beasts and lash the fleeing figure, who drops with an agonized shriek.
The party started to run and shoot at the displacer beasts. Asphodel flew as fast as she could towards the one that had the elven woman, who they assumed must be Analastra. She pounced down on the beast which distracted it enough to leave the woman alone. The rest of the part kept advancing on the two beast with Zola getting in melee combat with the second one, while the other four assisted with ranged combat. They noticed that it was quite difficult to land a hit on the beasts and they weren’t doing as much damage as they thought their blows should have. But the magic missile spells from Jobi and Zerak and Zerak’s lightning bolt seemed to be landing true. At this time they heard more loud shrieks coming from the Bell tower and saw three of the largest stirges they had ever seen. They were the size of overgrown wild hogs. They must have been awakened by the scent of the displacer beasts’ and Analastra’s blood being spilled.
Tune in next week when we ask the question, can pigs really fly?