Previously, on Phoenix Rising…
… Asphodel and Zola threw down ropes and helped the three back up out of the hole and got them to the other side of the trap and through the open door. Beyond was a small landing and then a narrow stairway going down for a long way – further than anyone’s darkvision could see…
Meanwhile above ground something else was happening:
It was a decent late-summer / early fall day in Neverwinter. The kind of day that starts out chilly in the morning but warms up by mid-morning. The sun was out in full force and there was a gentle breeze traveling through the city, carrying along all the smells and sounds of a bustling city. Kel was in town today as she was nearly half of every week over the past few months, ever since she took a break from adventuring with her friends so she could concentrate on getting her temple/way-station for Desna built and complete her training as a cleric of Desna. Progress was coming along nicely and she made frequent trips to the city for supplies for building materials and for taking care of her workers’ family needs (there wasn’t any place yet for families to move in). Plus she liked trying to spread Desna’s Word to any who would listen to her and she would frequently offer assistance to anyone who looked like they might need help (which covered an awful lot of people in Neverwinter still). She had a bit of an ulterior motive for this as well. She hoped to gain as many followers as she could to help speed along the construction in addition to adding them to Desna’s flock. And if her mother saw all the good she was doing here, maybe, just maybe, she would let her live her own life and forget all about this arranged marriage bullshit.
It was kind of strange though, she thought. Her mother hadn’t tried getting her back to Cormyr ever since that Spelljammer ship they destroyed. She smiled at her thoughts of that Spelljammer going up in flames and explosions. And then frowned at a darker thought: her mother must be absolutely furious – which means that she’s probably going to do something that Kel would not be able to ignore. Her thoughts were interrupted when she heard several loud explosions off in the distance. She scanned the horizon in the direction in which she thought the sounds came from and saw some smoke coming up out of the old ruined House of Knowledge. As far as she knew there were only some squatters, beggars really, living there. Thinking that some plague-changed monsters had surfaced there, she knew that there would be people in need of healing, and maybe even protecting. So she sped off in that direction.
She found that she was the first one to get the scene – no one else was visible and the smoke was slowly dying out. She entered the ruins and cautiously began searching for signs of what had blown up. When she found the origin of the blast, she saw half a dozen bodies of the beggars that lived there, but no living ones. The stairwell down was completely caved in as was some of the second story floor and walls above the area. But it looked like the people were not killed from the blast but from some kind of battle for there were wounds on the bodies that were caused by weapons as well as some that looked more “animal” in nature. But the most striking feature of the area now was a large hole bored out of the floor and earth leading down in a parallel path to the stairwell. With the adventurer inside getting the best of her, she decided to venture down tunnel to see where it led. Soon she came upon an old chamber that someone had opened a secret in the corner. She quietly advanced when she heard voices coming from beyond the door. As she peered around the door into the chamber beyond, she was surprised to see her friends preparing to exit through another door on the opposite side of the room. She took a step forward and quietly announced herself, trying not to startle anyone…
As our five heroes were extricating / being extricated from the pit trap and getting across to the stairway beyond, Asphodel’s mind wandered…
All through the day, Zerak’s words had echoed in the recesses of her mind. You are in control, he had said. If only she could believe that. She really didn’t know how to interpret the strange half-elf’s sudden growth in the heart. She glanced toward the teifling woman that seemed to have become the center of his world. She didn’t know how anyone could change that drastically for someone, it just didn’t make any sense… but then she’s far from an expert in these cases.
Then her inner dragon growled, interrupting her silent revere. Looking over her shoulder, she saw the source of the noise, Kel. The errant princess, turned full fledged cleric of Desna, was standing just inside the door on the other side of the pit trap room. When did she get here? Was I really that distracted that I didn’t notice her arrival. As she approached and explained that she was in town picking up supplies for her Desnan waycastle, Asphodel fought down the dragon’s urge to growl. She didn’t understand why her inner dragon doesn’t like the Cormyran princess, but it seems that way ever since he tasted her blood back in Gardmoor Abbey…
“Well what the hell are you doing here?!” shouted Blackwell after he had turned around to see who had made the noise behind them. Naturally, everyone else looked back and shock, amazement, and happiness crossed everyone’s face (well, almost everyone’s – Asphodel reflected none of those emotions across her eidolon’s half dead looking face). After a few pleasantries (hugs and greetings) the now completely reformed, now complete, newly reforged, bigger and badder… uhh, sorry – got carried away again. After a few pleasantries our stalwart band of heroes ventured through the door and onto the steep and narrow stairway leading down to who knew what. Asphodel was in the lead – moving slowly just in case something jumped out at them. Blackwell was right behind her with Zerak next, then Jobi, then Kel, and finally Zola bringing up the rear. About midway down the flight of stairs Asphodel took another step and then the party heard a loud click as she triggered a pressure plate which set in motion a series of events that would have decimated lesser heroes (moral of the story – the rogue probably should lead into unknown areas that may be trapped).
The ceiling opened up along the entire length of the stairway and a deluge of oil spewed forth, coating everything and everyone from the tip of their horn(s) to the tip of their tail(s) and everything in between and around. It smelled like lantern oil and was extremely slick. Then the stairs collapsed in on themselves forming a very steep (40 degree) smooth stone surface. And so everyone began sliding down towards the bottom at a very fast rate of speed. Asphodel used her large axe and tried to slow down their descent by jamming the haft against one oil-soaked wall and the sharp head against the other oil-soaked wall. She then felt everyone behind her slide into her as she used all her might trying to grind the axe into the walls. It definitely slowed down their descent but it was not enough to stop it even though Zerak had his overland flight active and Zola had popped out her wings to help slow down (there just wasn’t enough room in the hallway to spead wings out to allow proper flight). Jobi and Kel were not able to keep their footing and slid on their knees and backs which helped to speed the entire group’s slippery slide down. And then to top it all off another click was heard and all along the hallway from both walls hundreds of jets opened up and shot forth flames which in short order engulfed absolutely every surface that had oil on it, which was every surface and every creature in that hallway (the scene made me think of the joke Richard Pryor told about himself running down the street on fire from free-basing – but I digress yet again).
Asphodel didn’t care about the flames since she is immune to fire and Jobi and Zola could withstand them for at least a little bit, but the others were going to turn into roasted marshmellows at a campire in hell if they didn’t get out of there quickly – already the screams of pain were beginning to get quite loud. She saw that at the end of the stair-slide led to a drop off that could be pretty far down. She also could see that the small room at the end had a set of double doors and was not currently on fire, well not much anyway. So she decided that the best course of action was to release her axe from contact with the wall, spin around, try to grab Blackwell and fly after she slid off the end of the slide. The sudden release made everyone slide that much faster down and Zerak was unbalanced by getting hit by Jobi sliding under him that he was not able to grab her and keep her from falling over the edge. Jobi landed on her feet thirty feet down because she had her catfall boots on and only sustained minimum damage from the fall (and the fire). Zola caught Kel and was able to get her quickly to the floor below and then staring casting her create water spell as fast as she could (many gallons at a time), trying to wash away the burning oil off of her companions. After a few rounds the burning heroes were extinguished and they did a small amount of healing.
Then they turned their attentions to the two double doors. Blackwell found no traps (and neither did detect magic) and he successfully picked the locks. Asphodel opened one of the doors and they saw a large chamber beyond and appears to have been a reading room – ransacked and nearly destroyed many years ago. This fifty by forty foot room has tables and few small bookshelves – all toppled and rotting with the remains of books and other mostly decayed paper material scattered all over the place. The opposite wall has a set of double doors in the middle of the wall along with two single doors on either side of the double doors. What was newer in the room was the many stone statues of women placed throughout the room. There were a total of 12 of them, six on each side wall and all looked alike. And their faces were carved such that they were all looking at the door the party just opened so it looked like all twelve statues were looking at them. Blackwell entered the room cautiously by checking for traps every step he took. He examined the nearest statue and saw no traps nor anything out of the ordinary. A detect magic spell revealed that every statue had some transmutation magic radiating from it – meaning that they might be able to animate and attack them. And sure enough, that is exactly what happened. The statues all moved away from the walls while pulling out long, slender stone long swords from seemingly nowhere and advanced slowly towards the party.
Only one of the two doors was open at this time so only two statues could get close enough to attack at all. Asphodel took a swing at one with her giant axe and cracked into it but her axe made a definite resounding sound indicative of metal being stressed. Zerak probed his knowledge for a few seconds and blurted out that he believed these were caryatid columns – a type of construct that has similar defenses like other stone golems, like immunity to most spells plus they were hard enough to actually shatter weapons used against them. Plus he also placed a black tentacles spell in the middle of the room and captured eleven of the twelve constructs within it, effectively grappling them in place for the rest of the battle. He then proceeded to use his crossbow to whittle them down slowly. Jobi resorted to using her sling and proved that she was definitely getting better at using it for she never did hit any of friends with a sling bullet this time. Zola and Blackwell switched spots so Zola could attack with her ancestral weapon and Blackwell could use his pistol on them. Since there was virtually nothing Kel could do against these foes, she casted spells like bless and prayer to help other members’ chances of hitting the enemy. Jobi also casted hast on everyone so they could attack them more quickly. Even still, it was a long and drawn out battle. Zola had her ancestral weapon broken a couple of times, but all she had to do was let go of it so it would disappear and then re-summon it so it would be whole again.
Eventually the party destroyed all the caryatid columns and were able to enter the room and sift through the debris. They found nothing of use so Blackwell turned his attention to the four doors along the back wall. He checked each one for traps and found none. Then he unlocked the last door (the single door on the right side of the room) and Asphodel opened it revealing a hallway that went only a dozen feet or so till it turned to the right. So Blackwell started checking for traps and slowly went down the hallway, around the corner, and followed the hallway for about sixty feet. Then he turned another corner and checked another twenty or so feet for traps. This led them to the end of the hallway to another closed door on the end. He also checked this door and unlocked it. Then he decided to open the door. Beyond was a large room, some sixty by fifty feet or so. It was obviously a library. There were long and tall bookshelves all along the perimeter of the room as well as two more free-standing bookcases down the middle of the room. There were a lot of books on the shelves and in tall piles near the back of the room. And there were also a half dozen heavily armed and armored men in the room. The one at the far end spoke up, “Hey! You’re not supposed to be here! Who in the Hells are you?” Blackwell tried to bluff them by saying that they were the new recruits but that only got them the sound of weapons being drawn and another battle had begun.
Zola, Kel and Blackwell held the line at the door so they could limit how many of the fighters could get at them. Asphodel went into the room and brought the fight to them so fifteen or so feet from the doorway. These fighters proved they knew what they were doing for they were able to strike true a lot more than our heroes had been used to for a little while now. Blackwell kept trying to get out of melee range so he could use his pistol, but one enemy had other ideas with him and kept pressing into him with his bastard sword, forcing Blackwell to use his own melee weapons – then trying to get enough magical healing several times in order to stay up and in the fight. Zola was hitting back just as hard as, possibly even harder than the enemy. She struck one fighter down enough to allow Kel to help heal Blackwell. Kel also was proving that she could still fight effectively even though being a cleric and even though her new weapon of choice was now the star knife (instead of a bastard sword). Zerak and Jobi casted several spells including magic missiles, scorching rays, and other directed spells. Zerak had called out early in the battle for everyone not to use any kind of fire or other forces that could potentially destroy the books.
Vicious blows were exchanged back and forth but in the end the only ones to fall were the soldiers guarding the library. Asphodel and her large sized greataxe made making ground meat from a dodging creature seem easy. And then it happened again. She got a bit over-zealous in her melee attacks that she once again slipped into an uncontrolled rage and then really started making minced meat…
Kill! Asphodel’s inner dragon roared as he made a mighty swing with the over-sized greataxe. He was once more free of the little halfling girl’s will. Free to bathe in the blood of his free kills. Free to exact his vengeance upon all creatures foolish enough to stand in his way. She may be his “master”, but she can’t do what is needed to survive in this cold, hard world. With a draconic smirk, he opened his maw to belch forth a gout of crimson flame upon the humans in his path…
No… Asphodel weakly protested, grimacing from the intense effort needed to push against her inner dragon’s rage.. Don’t breath out here, you’ll ruin… all the books… that Zerak… wants… To her incredible surprise, the dragon seemed to obey, however, his rage continued as he slashed violently against the men in front of him.
She/he violently hit the first one with the flat of her axe and with a loud THWACK he went down like a puppet that had its strings cut. If he wasn’t dead, that last hit was going to leave a very, very bad bruise on his face. By now the first one she had been fighting had been joined by the one who had spoken to them in the beginning, most likely the small band’s leader, so she now focused all her attention on him. But he turned out to bleed just like all the others and soon fell to the heavy blade as well. Turning around she advanced on the one that Blackwell had been battling and soon made him into dinner for the lesser scavengers of the world.
At about the same time Zola also hit the last enemy soldier with a solid flat-of-the-blade hit and promptly knocked him unconscious. Then, seeing that Asphodel was not in control of herself, Zerak, Jobi, Blackwell, Kel, and Zola all backed away from her so none would be within her immediate sight range in hopes that she would be able to calm herself if no new “target” presented itself. Fortunately, it only took a few moments for Asphodel to regain her control and dismiss her eidolon, which afterwards, she went to the nearest corner of the room, sat down and rested due to her fatigue. Zola went over to her and used her mercy paladin ability to remove her fatigue. In the meantime they bound the one soldier remaining alive while Kel channeled healing energy to heal our heroes (but they only stabilized the soldier).
In the meantime, others were searching the library for anything of value. The soldiers themselves had around 300 gold pieces, magic full plate armor, magic shields, magic bastard swords and cloaks of resistance – 5 sets fo each all worth a substantial amount from the right buyer. Plus they found a few books and scrolls that were quite valuable – a tome of understanding to increase someone’s wisdom, a divine based scroll with stone shape and speak with dead written on it and an arcane scroll with the spells pugwampi’s grace and explosive runes.
When the soldier awoke, Jobi was determined to question him and find out what was going on down here. She asked him several times what they were searching for but he refused to say anything at all. He didn’t respond even when Blackwell held his pistol to the man’s “family jewels” so to speak (which got several disapproving scowls and admonishments from several party members). So Zola decided that she needed to cast her confess spell in order to try and get this person to tell them what they wanted to know. Then she asked him again, “What were you looking for?” He struggled and struggled. It was apparent that he was having a difficult time trying to resist but then he gave up and answered, with a smug look on his face, “Books.” He told the truth in the most basic of answers and thwarted the punishment of the spell without giving away any secrets. So, our heroes looked at each other for a minute then asked Jobi to go ahead and charm this joker like she did to that one back in Waterdeep some months back.
Jobi successfully casted charm person on the soldier, and he immediately became so much more cooperative. He was smiling and very pleasant, especially to Jobi. She asked him a number of questions and found out that they were looking for all manner of history books, especially the ones that dealth with the royal line of Alagondar, the original ruling bloodline of Neverwinter. Then the scribes were making copies of the books. He didn’t know why – he just worked for the highest bidder who, he revealed was Alira Vond. Jobi knew that Alira was partners with or at least worked for Mordai Vell. This gave her visions some collaborating truth, not that she needed that for she knew her visions were true given their source, but nonetheless, it felt good to get a second corroborating source. Then she asked him about the library area in general – what was behind different doors, where and how many foes were around, etc. He didn’t know much but did tell them that the other single door from the statue room led to another library that was pretty cleaned out and left with only traps to guard it. And that the scribes and others were down the main hall beyond the other set of double doors.
She then proceeded to talk to the soldier, named Barabbas, about his life choices and instructed him to seek out the temple of Saranrae and ask what services he could do for the goddess in order to repent for his previous evil ways. He was agreeable to this but asked if he could seek out Pharasma instead – he always had an affinity for the Lady of Graves. Jobi and Zerak both agreed that Pharasma was a good choice too and immediately Barabbas looked happier and brighter and said that he would go straight away. He also asked Jobi if she would come and visit him – he was beginning to have a smitten look across his face as he gazed at the tiefling beauty he was enamored with. She said she would but right now they all had things to do.
So they untied him and went out to the room with the now smashed statues and showed the party how to reset the stairs and also told them that the statues used to stay put for anyone that showed them a symbol of Asmodeus (mumurs of ohhhh and ahhh spread through the group of heroes at this gain in knowledge). Then without further ado, Barabbas left.
And so we come to another end of a session and have to bid farewell to our stalwart band. Armed with limited knowledge of this underground library complex, they now faced a decision of either: going through the single door and exploring what is supposed to be another library beyond, or to go through the double doors and go further into the belly of the beast. Until next week…