Mystery of Vor Shelath

Foothold (Part I)

With the arcane seal removed, you gazed into the unknown passage with trepidation, unaware of the kobold threat gathering behind you. However, the ambush was dispatched before the kobolds could act, as two new adventurers—Nalla, a towering goliath with a mean axe, and Derack, a stout cleric of Mordrin—broke through the reptiles’ ranks. Sent by an unidentified sponsor, they proved eager to join the group, and their kobold tossing abilities proved a suitable résumé.

With the party newly reinforced, Itsu offered to send you off with a ritual blessing from his god, Typhon. He produced a rune-marked candle and a strange feather, one of three which he claimed was from Typhon himself. It was the first such feather he had ever used, but Itsu was convinced the party had been guided to the kenku’s plight by Typhon’s wings, and that they were worthy of such a gift. Invoking Typhon’s power, he burned the feather within the candle’s flame, and the party felt invigorated for the trials ahead.

Pushing past the seal, the party came upon a chamber with relief-covered walls depicting a wizard fighting against demonic creatures, an army of constructs at his command. Several holes existed in the reliefs, where a figure should have been, while rubble and bones littered the floor. You surmised that figures within the reliefs would animate and attack in defense of the area, but that the last animated defender was defeated before you arrived. You made it to the door on the far side of the chamber without incident, but the keen ears of Green Boy detected the chattering of voices beyond. Not one for caution or subtlety, Tecumseh busted down the door, revealing the interior of Ahzrad’s underground sanctum.

Far beyond the doorway, a giant bronze orrery dominated a central chamber surrounded by five rooms. A strange mist hung in the air, composed of uneven clumps that seemed to drift independently of each other, no common air current carrying them. One by one you entered, leaving a piece of your sanity at the door. Despite the party’s concern, the mist seemed unaffected by your presence. The chattering voices could be heard, though muffled, coming from deep within the sanctum.

Tecumseh moved straight ahead, destined for the orrery, while Green Boy could not escape the mystery of a closed door. The door proved an entrance to a tattered library, its vast array of books torn open and strewn about the floor. One book escaped the literary massacre, resting on a magically illuminated desk. Avelis eagerly poured through it, and soon became obsessed with its contents, babbling about the wonders of a realm beyond mortal comprehension.

You thoroughly searched the remains of the library, discovering a magic piece of unused parchment, as well as odd notes scribbled on various scraps of paper. “Blood of one to release the lock. Blood of three to open the gate.” “Pitiful forms do not suit Xamnid. Cast them aside.” And finally, one written in the deep tongue, “We are consumed, reborn.”

Still, Tecumseh continued on. The orrery was surrounded by dozens of rings that spun around it, carrying strange symbols associated with the planets and stars. Upon reaching the sphere, Tecumseh blacked out, but other party members heard him say the name “Caiphon,” and saw the orrery turn into a burning purple sphere immediately after. When Tecumseh came to, he backed away from the device, to have it turn back to normal as he retreated.

You continued your exploration of the sanctum, opening a door to some kind of alchemical lab. A note located by a collection of strange potions documented Ahzrad’s attempt and partial success to stave off madness with the unusual concoctions, but revealed their severe limitation of only working on a given subject once, with repeated doses being wasted. There were other remarks on the note, but they grew more incoherent and illegible as his sanity left him.

Turning over the lab, you also discovered a conventional healing potion, some residuum, and a pair of caustic gauntlets. Argent, meanwhile, explored the crates along the outer edge of the sanctum, uncovering three bottles of wine, one of which he promptly started to drink.

Finally, an alien-looking grandfather clock stood on the edge of the lab, with flickering light emanating from it. Investigation revealed that it opened into an impossibly large room, filled with clay figures, some humanoid, and some considerably less so. A magic kiln burned to the side, and a large statue held a lantern opposite the clock’s entrance.

Avelis wasted no time investigating. He discovered a clay tablet above the large statue that read “ Young clay yields / Fired clay shatters / Within a pliant field / I preserve what matters,” along with an arcane mark that it shared with many of the more disturbing clay figures. He also identified the magic lantern the statue held, and took it without hesitation.

That awoke something within the figures, many of whom came to life to retrieve the item. Despite being isolated, Avelis managed to successfully retreat while the rest of the party rushed to his aid. You quickly learned that, while the figures were easy enough to dispatch, those with the arcane mark and a final attack on their demise, which projected a memory or vision into the slayer’s mind, such as of working in the lab outside, studying in the library, or attending a lecture on a dry arcane subject, causing you significant pain in the process.

With the clay figures dispatched, your exploration turned towards the northern rooms. A magic circle, two broken cages, and several chalk boards defined the north-western chamber. The chalk boards contained a list of names and titles, including Caiphon, as well as a magic circle with its center erased. The magic circle on the floor, which did not resemble the one on the chalk board, appeared to have been moved from elsewhere, and its outer area added later. Sorin and Derack attempted to ascertain its function, but while they found a pair of familiar symbols inside, their religious knowledge proved insufficient. Green Boy examined the cages, to see what could have possibly chewed through them, and while he found that beyond his area of expertise, the arcane runes that covered the bars were impossible for him to miss.

Back in the main chamber, the rest of you examined the orrery. You quickly realized that by manipulating a lens crystal via thought to pick a symbol, and then speaking a corresponding command word, you could get the orrery to react. You also realized that the orrery seemed to conceal another function, although its exact nature eluded you. Using Tecumseh’s experience, your bard, Berrand Thunderflute, attempted to use the “Caiphon” command word on a random symbol. This resulted in more of his sanity being stripped away, although it did cause the orrery to change, hiding all rings and symbols save for the symbol he chose and one other. The group deemed further experimentation on the device to be unwise until you got some more information from the rest of the ruins.

With two rooms left to explore, you summoned your courage and stood before the north-eastern chamber. The mad chattering was loudest behind the door, and some of you managed to catch a few coherent sentences and names. Again affirming his belief that handles are for chumps, Tecumseh broke down the door. At the far end of the room before you was a sheet of flesh populated with a myriad of mouths and eyes from which the incessant babbling emanated. Hooks pierced its flesh, and they were attached via chains to a series of weights that kept the gibbering beast taught and stretched. The resulting wounds adopted the metallic features of the implements that held it.

Avelis pondered the creature, and saw a reflection of his nightmare in the beast. He could not be sure, but he believed disposing of the gibbering mouther could be beneficial for your sanity, although not without risk. Seeing the disturbing sight, Thorin Oakenshield girded himself, and valiantly ran away. The rest of you followed his lead, and decided that the final, northern-most door would lead to the answers you sought.

Opening the door, Green Boy was greeted by the sight of a myriad of tiny specks of light floating in space above a still pool of water. Looking ahead, it was as if he gazed into the void itself. Signs indicated that the walls once sported seven mosaics. Two remained: one of a black cephalopod devouring a dim red sphere, and another of a serpent creature wrapping itself around a bright red sphere. On the ground around one crumbled mosaic’s alcove lay a high concentration of green tiles. A symbol resembling those on the bronze sphere marked the top of each alcove.

As Green Boy advanced through the strange chapel to read the symbols, he came upon an altar with a disturbing cloth, a dagger made with an unusual green-stone, a corrupted holy symbol of Pelor, and some skeletal remains. The bones belonged to a kenku, who did not appear to have put up any struggle, and had its flesh stripped from its bones by a knife.

Retrieving the dagger, Green Boy attempted to egress from the chapel with the knowledge of the symbols. However, a deep and terrible howl/groan engulfed the area as every surface of the chapel sprung to life with tentacles and eyes. Most disturbing, from the other side of the altar emerged a mass of large tentacles splayed around a giant beak.

You all rushed in to help your endangered comrade, who was nearly incapacitated by the first attack of the monstrous thing. Sorin, however, lagged behind, and soon found himself ambushed by a blue, bipedal, lizard-like creature. The giant eyes proved harmless on their own, but their power to maneuver you across the battlefield and prevent your retreat proved dangerous enough on its own. The tentacles, in addition to hitting hard, were exceptionally grabby and enjoyed tossing you and comrades further into the room, towards the giant maw. Coordinated, strong, and durable, the various entities were a formidable opponent on their own, but when Thunderflute fell, the true scope of their power became apparent, as the bard fell under the thing’s thrall.

A quick heal from Derack rescued Thunderflute, but the dwarf was the next to fall, this time grabbed and consumed by the thing’s maw. A fleshy polyp emerged from the chapel wall in immediate response. Next, Tecumseh and Green Boy were crushed into the creature’s service, and Tecumseh delivered a devastating blow to Argent, rendering him unconscious before the creature’s maw.

When Argent fell, the strange mist that perplexed you upon first entering the sanctum gained form. Four floating fleshy knots emerged from the fog and began to descend on Argent’s body. The thing grew noticeably agitated at their emergence, its limbs readying to defend its prize.

Nala, Thorin, Avelis, Sorin, and Thunderflute staged a counterattack in an effort to rescue their comrades, cleaving through the mess of tentacles. Unfortunately, it was all for naught, as Nala fell under the thing’s influence. Satisfied with its new slaves, the thing directed them towards its maw, where they were all promptly consumed. New polyps emerged from the walls after each. With Argent as its last meal, the thing receded into the chapel surfaces, back from whence it came. The polyps erupted soon after, revealing your taken comrades. Derack, Tecumseh, Green Boy, Nalla, and Argent were back, though they had been visibly altered by their experience.

What happened to you and your comrades, and what consequences will you incur? Can you still trust your brothers in arms? Can you trust yourself? What purpose does the summoning circle hold? What connection does the gibbering mouther have to you? What secrets does the bronze orrery hold? The mystery and peril grow with each step.

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JSchuler

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