What an awful, awful day this has been.
I shouldn’t say it. I’m wrong to say it.
We haven’t had anyone killed. We’ve learned things. We’ve even made progress towards finding this Aelidron person. And I know I said I’d see this adventure through to the end. But right now, I’m just hoping to get through today without it ratcheting up one more time.
It might be cheating to start from late yesterday afternoon, but that’s when it started. We’d flown yet another day, and were approaching the center of the area of interest. Not that this area was well-defined, or small enough to search, but it was the best we could do with star charts consulted from hundreds or thousands of miles away while looking over sketchy ancient maps. Suppose it’s a damn sight better than searching the whole mountain range. Anyway, I spotted something by the lake what looked like a boat dock. Thought it might mean there was a settlement nearby. If I’d known what would come of it, not sure I’d have mentioned it at all.
It was a marble ledge, well-used, with a few long-abandoned boats nearby. We investigated, and Victor’s summons found an underwater tunnel, which Dolg swam to discover a cavern at the other end. Now, I’m not fond of distance underwater swimming in full plate, but it was that or teleporting in without being quite sure where you’re headed, and that makes it the lesser evil.
Past the cavern, we came to a decorated area, hallways with wave-and-water-motif carvings, looked like a water-aspected temple place. Sigh. I don’t much care for strange temples, and especially not watery ones. Give me a city, or a mountain, or even the forest with the dirt under my feet. Earth, rock, metal, these are solid, sturdy, trustworthy things. You can’t trust water. Always fluid, that’s its nature, and in nature that’s tolerable, but as a philosophy? Bah.
The first creature we encountered, they called a ‘water mephit’, a sort of watery imp thing. It was snacking on someone’s arm. I knew I wasn’t going to like the people who live here… Oh, and they’ve got leeches. Not one or two, but swarms of them. Syama thought they smelled oddly intriguing. Gilly thought they needed burning. She always does with vermin, at least the reasonable-sized ones. Giant spiders is fine, well, as much as any monster, but swarms of little things… not so much. Wonder what it is about them that she hates so? Dunno.
That disposed of, we explored what turned out to be the ‘left half’ of the complex. There was a store room, a room with a pool of water and a censer, a chasm with some nixies up on a ledge, a sunken area in the back with what had once been a throne, and a temple… with statues of the demon goddess Lilith and her six monstrous children. Demons. Ugh. This just gets worse.
We took a long time looking through these places, didn’t want to make any dumb moves in a powerful demoness’s temple. Victor talked with the nixies, but we couldn’t trust what they said. Syama made a bridge over the chasm, but again, we didn’t trust the nixies to enough to cross. Oh, and the sunken area had more leeches, which Gilly again jumped at the chance to immolate.
Then Gilly remembered about looking for secret doors and the like, and things got interesting fast. First, she found a hidden alcove with a magical conch shell, which supposedly tries to make people speak the truth. Seems strange to find such a thing just tucked away in a corner, but there it was. Then she discovered a sort of button in the nixie’s room, which she prodded with her ‘tracto’, and all hell broke loose. Rocks fell throughout the room, bringing both nixies crashing to the ground. We rushed over the moonlight bridge from earlier, found one already dead, and I was forced to use my dragonmark to save the other.
It was as is always is: first I felt the itchy prickling, then warmth as the mark flared to life, felt the healing magic rushing up my body, down my arm and out my hand, making the dying live, and at last the familiar trepidation — would using it make it stronger? Would I someday find that I could have removed it, but only if I hadn’t relied on it so often? No time to dwell on it now though.
We explored past their room, and found a secret door leading to the passage beyond the temple. In it, six alcoves inscribed in Aquan, broadly hinting that we should place the wands from the statues here to open a locked gate at the far end. Gilly tried to take one of them, from the statue of a Lamia, and it came to life! Not for long, we quickly defeated it, but it did something to my mind first, and Syama couldn’t fix it. It still feels wrong today. Sigh. Really not liking this place. We sized up the potential other fights, one (a succubus) being very dangerous, and one (a maralith) being absolutely fatal. But Syama’s star chart thought there was a means to getting the wands without having to fight, and a possible benefit to our mission from doing so. I guess we’ll need to keep our eyes open.
We decided to explore the other side of the complex before waking the nixie. She’d be asleep for a good long time, and we might want to ask questions about the things we find there, or demonstrate our knowledge of the place to make her more talkative. Of course, the first thing we do is muck up a powerful magical trap (which we avoided earlier by doing the left side first). Syama tried a couple times to dispell it, but to no avail, so Victor sent in a summon to trip it. There didn’t seem to be any effect, so after a moment, Gilly went in to see what was going on and maybe disarm it. Then she came out, blinking furiously, and proclaimed “I am confused. Stop me.” before she started acting crazy. I grabbed her, and she twisted and flailed and tried to bite, like some kind of wild animal. Victor declared it was a confusion effect, and we waited a few minutes for it to wear off. It didn’t. We couldn’t think of anything better to do, so we waited for something like an hour, and finally she went limp and came to her senses. She was rather tired out from all the wrestling, heh.
The trap still seemed sprung, so we proceeded without too much worry. The first room we passed had brine and rust and two coral golems. They didn’t attack us, but they did move forward in a discomfiting way when Victor tried talking with them, so we closed the door. They didn’t come through, so we just left it at left.
Past that, we found a cell block. One live prisoner, whom Gilly talked to a bit, he tells her there’s another one currently being tortured by the sirens who run this place. Like the demon they worship, they’re forces of destruction, bringing suffering for no better reason than that they can. They’ll taste my axe soon, I warrant.
At the end of the passage, we found a disturbing sight — a massive stone head of some sea creature with lots of huge sharp teeth. The teeth were adorned with dead bodies, sacrifices to this dark place. Beyond the disgust we all felt, it gave me a sense of foreboding, but it would be the next day before I knew why.
We healed the nixie enough to talk, with the conch nearby and an setup that let us pretend her friend was still alive without actually claiming so. I don’t like these tactics much, but they’re definitely effective, and as Gilly keeps noting, that’s what really important. The two sirens, one a cleric type and the other something of a fighter, keep house past the gate you unlock with the wands, and they find the nixies tolerable company. Though not enough to tell them about traps… Having gleaned some useful information, we killed her. Again, some of us weren’t comfortable with it, but we all could admit it was what we needed to do.
We plotted a strategy for fighting the nymph, medusa, and siren statues, and these worked well enough. Lots of fighting blind and relying on grapples, bit touch-and-go but nothing serious. Then we encamped for some well-deserved rest.
In the morning, Syama attended to her star chart with Gilly giving the questions. Gilly can get the wands without fighting if she can emulate chaotic evil, but not anything easier. Throwing everything she can think of at it, including opening her soul to chaotic corruption, won’t be enough to be sure of success. Okay, that’s bad… But success might be guaranteed if she sacrifices the drowned man at the stone head by having Maral impale the corpse upon the teeth? What the fuck? Syama flinches too, but continues.
After, I tried to take Gilly to task, sacrificing to demonic forces is out of the question, and she didn’t even consult me first? But she coolly told me that she’d hoped it wouldn’t be necessary to even ask the question. And that this is a question of what’s necessary, given that if it fails, we all die. Of course, she’s right, I might not want to do this, but it’s my duty to the party.
We discussed the question of ‘maybe’ we’d succeed, and thought this was probably because maybe we’d get the form right, and maybe we wouldn’t. Victor informed us of the proper style, which involves raising the body over one’s head and thrusting it down upon the teeth with great force. I tried not to think about what I was doing. But then that wasn’t an option. The corpse hit with a terrible wet sound, and as the stone teeth erupted from its chest, water and blood going everywhere, time slowed and then stopped. I was in the temple again, but the statues were gone. And Lilith herself stood before me.
I wasn’t afraid as such, and I still don’t know if that is to be commended or mocked. I was overawed, I could feel her power… and her nature as well, that force of destruction that I had come to hate above all else. She told me my sacrifice was a pleasing one, and that she knew what I sought, and it would be mine, that my companion would have no trouble with the wands, if I would but drink. “And what will this drink do to me?” She seemed disappointed as she praised my wisdom in asking first, and explained that it would turn me chaotic evil. But, this is Gilly’s doing, not mine, I sputtered, ask this of her. But I knew the answer before she spoke it: this choice was mine, and mine alone. Gilly had made it very clear that we needed to be sure about this. But to corrupt my mind, to make me support my enemies? It was impossible, even knowing that it risked all our lives. Shame poured over me as I said I could not accept. She seemed unperturbed, leaving it as much my decision as she had said it would be, and I came to in the room with the stone head.
It was utter relief and utter revulsion together to be back, gore splattered on my armor, the sodden corpse still in my hands, blood running down the jagged teeth, but away from Lilith. I never wanted to be the one to seek the planes, banter with gods and such. But here I am, and I did what I did of my own will. Why did I ever agree to it? Why? I… I can’t think of it, not now. I need to be strong, for the party. They’ll need me focused for the fight.
We returned to the temple room, and I explained why the sacrifice ‘maybe’ hadn’t been of any use. Syama said she didn’t blame me, but Gilly didn’t say anything, just continued with her preparations. After some spells, she marches into the temple, calm as you please, bows to Lilith, and takes the wands. The statues stay stone. Later, after the battle with the sirens, I tried to apologize. She just said “Really? You think we’d be mad about you not wanting to be chaotic evil? Why? Cause we’ll think you’re unreliable? Psh, Maral, use your head.” Argh. This place must be getting to me if I need the likes of Gilly to tell me that.
We were now ready for the big battle, both having the wands and being out for blood. Of course, the magic users had to hash out their plans for the fight. Took them a while, but they came up with good ideas, protection from the mind-warping songs, flying, haste, giant wasp summons. We charged in, taking out a door on the way, and attacked. As luck would have it, my target was the cleric. She had a miserable time of it, Gilly interrupting her spells with firey blasts, and my hasted axe cutting furiously.
The other was a lot stronger at melee, with great agility and powerful focused strikes. Gilly got in an amazing shot with an infirmum, but it didn’t slow her down much, and neither did Dolg’s flying fists. She got one perfect hit in that put Dolg in a world of hurt. Makes me remember I need to practice zone coverage with the shield more often. Any rate, we weren’t at risk of losing the fight, but if she got lucky, she might manage to kill one of us first. After a few tense moments, she tries to escape out the doorway, but fortunately, Dolg already had that covered. He had been on the defensive for a while there though. Wonder if he worries as much as I do about being strong enough? Glancing over at him as I write this, it’s clear there’s nothing to fear there — he’s as serene as always. Aye, he’s a wise one, knows his job’s as important as anyone’s. No need to ask.
We rescued the second prisoner, healed him and ourselves some, and hunted around a little to find some magical items, one of which lets you scry using the pool… It sounds implausible at first, that we’d find just the thing we need to locate Aelidron, but then I stop a moment and think. There’s been any number of Fated moments, supposed coincidences that we found we were steered towards by gods, the portals, the Fulcrum, all of it. And now that Syama can consult her star charts, we generate our own Fate more and more. Of course we should happen across something like this, and it probably isn’t happenstance at all. Didn’t we start our search here based on information from those charts?
We bound the fighter and healed her enough to awaken her, and made as if to bargain with her life, getting the word to use the scrying pool and then killing her. Again we don’t object when Gilly rips open the siren’s belly with her claws, though again we let her do that job. We’ve all got our role in the party, and I don’t mind that that one is hers.
Then, finally, we go to the pool, and Syama spends an hour coaxing its magic into searching for Aelidron. Every minute my spirits rise, thinking of how soon we’ll be out of this accursed place. And then it doesn’t work.
We’ll have to try again tomorrow.
Maral and Dolg will need to stay here while the other Wind Walk to bring the former prisoners to a safe haven, and see if we can get some more information.
I know it’s the best choice. Logically, tactically, it’s the right thing to do. They need Victor to leave, the prisoners couldn’t possibly make the swim, and having diplomats and mages on this mission makes a lot more sense than fighters. So I bite my tongue and put my stoic face on.
After they’ve gone, I try to talk to Dolg, but he’s studying his book and meditating. Maybe later. For now I’ll write down what I need to, before I forget any details.