Dear Diary….we were not alone

I’m just going to say if Ezekiel doesn’t want me to do my job, he needs to say so, I’ll just say.

It must have been sometime in the morning, while Raven and Wonillon were on watch, that Wonillon shook me awake. Raven was standing at the door, and while Wonillon shook the others, he asked me if I had my bow ready.

So I got it ready, and when Raven threw open the door, what should be standing there but a hill giant! So I nailed it in the joint of the arm – which was pretty good for still having sleep in my eyes.

The giant yelped, and shivered a little, and then turned into a half-elf lady.

Raven wrapped her up in his rope – so I felt safe enough to drop my arrow tip…but we’ve seen people who aren’t what they seem before – and half-elves who aren’t worth the name.

The woman said she thought we might need some help, and after Ezekiel healed her minor wounds, she said her name was Kella, a druid from the Gnarly Forest, who’s been spying on the Temple for some time.

Ezekeil yelled at me for shooting her, but honestly, if you’re going to wake me up after I’ve just gone to sleep after my watch, and you tell me to grab my bow but don’t want me to shoot anything with it, you’re doing it wrong.

We brought her into Bel-Sornig’s room, and Raven took the rope off her – after suggesting that I check her out with Tressarian (Tres said she wasn’t magical…but he couldn’t detect the phylactery she told us about, which lets her shapeshift into unusual forms (like giants, perhaps)?).

Apparently the Hill Giant “king” we killed on the third level (the level below all the elemental temples) was supposed to be on the fourth level – but he liked it better on the third level or something, so just didn’t show up for work…and Kella (shapeshifted) took his place.

The black scarabs we kept finding would allow you to pass through the fungus curtain that used to stand behind the altar. The chief ogre’s stone had different runes than the others, so it’s quite possible it didn’t really work. The most disturbing part is that the merchants in Homlette had a scarab – meaning they were part of the upper leadership! I wonder where they are now…and what trouble they might be causing…

The top leadership of the Temple were Hedrak (the high priest in black armor), Senshock (the head wizard, who, according to Kella, was very good at the management part of the Temple), Barkenar, another cleric, and Degum, the half-elf cleric/magic user we saw briefly last time we fought the leadership. Kella assured us we killed all of them – including Falrinth, the wizard from the level above (he was the one with the ugly little horned thing as a familiar).

She also told us the bugbears were the last of the Temple forces that she knew of…and she “convinced” them to leave. She said the new Temple leadership might not be too pleased with any grunts who failed to defend the old leadership…and we all know how Evil people deal with their underlings.

(About this time she pulled the arrow out, and said something about it being a calculated risk of walking around in giant form…so then I felt like I had to apologize for nailing her so well. She was more chill about it than Ezekiel was.)

Kella said Wizard Senshock seemed to be in communication with the Fungus Queen…but not easy communication, and there was some kind of confusion or interference. Maybe the place where she’s imprisoned makes scrying or other magic calls difficult.

They were trying to get power for her – or something – by filling the elemental nodes…and that took lots of sacrifices. Kella says they did sacrifices almost daily – which makes me really worried where they were getting all the victims from. Senshock apparently had ways to travel from the Temple without using the hallways – so maybe they were using some magical means. (She says he seemed familiar with Verbobanc – like he had a house there or something! – so we might want to tip off some people in authority.)

She says they did sacrifices two different ways. One way, they killed a victim to summon some elemental creature from its elemental plain (it walked down the corridor from the side-rooms we noticed on the map) and then crossed the hall and headed to the room opposite, which sent them to the elemental node.

Secondly, if they were in a hurry, they would just send a creature straight to the node.

According to Kella, the elemental creatures most likely to be summoned by sentient sacrifice are evil…but some of them might have just responded to the magic ritual. Either way, they wanted to send creatures to the elemental nodes, because that somehow gave power to the Mushroom Queen.

(Ezekiel believes they’re tied to the key, so that once we kill her – and destroy the key – the nodes will also collapse. That means we have to rescue anyone trapped in the nodes first (like the fighter Raven met). I’m still confused, though, since the Fungus Queen broke the key — I guess so that no one could follow her? Which means she’s not only trapped, but also protected…and Ezekiel says that means we have to fix the key to get at her and kill her. But presumably the Temple cultists have also been trying to fix the key to let her out…and we’re not going to follow their methods, that’s for sure.)

Kella also confirmed what we guessed from the map – the eight branching rooms coming off the central “sanctuary” were arranged in pairs, one for each of the elements, and the rooms marked with glyphs were tied to the elemental nodes (the room on the east – except for the earth pair, which is flipped).

We asked what questions we could think of. Kella mentioned that Senshock once said something about being afraid of the “Scarlet Brotherhood” (whatever that is) and laughed at the things people will say in front of dumb giants.

Ezekiel went around the room with his healing (including Kella and anyone else who was still hurt from yesterday), and we invited her to have breakfast with us before going to report to her druid order.

Raven fixed up something quite savory, especially for scrounged ingredients, and Kella turned into a bat at the doorway before disappearing into the darkness. (I don’t know whether to envy druids or think they’re creepy.)

While talking about how to get out of the nodes (since we’ve figured out “getting in” in the past) Lydia mentioned that her magic mirror helps her scry things – which would include us, even inside the nodes. The mirror also “allows travel between plains” or something like that, which they led me to believe would let her pull us out again, if she stayed in Homlette and watched us through the mirror. (And as far as we know, the mirror doesn’t turn you evil like the crystal ball does.) I like this plan much better than Ezekiel’s “charge into the nodes and hope it all works out” plan, and also better than his “if I kill a bunch of demons I’ll get Plane Shift” plan, which included a Step 2 I wasn’t quite comfortable with.

**

After Kella left, we headed back to the bottom level to check out the wizard-locked door. Lydia had studied up on something that let her break it open, so we let ourselves in and took a look at (I assume) Wizard Senshock’s bedroom.

Unlike High Priest Hedrak’s room, this one had no concubines lounging around. It did have a row of workbenches, covered with spell reagents and other paraphernalia, a bed, a cabinet, and a shelf with three books on it that Ezekiel told us not to touch.

He went around the room with his special “trap-detecting” vision, while Tressarian and I followed, looking for anything Evil. Fortunately, nothing radiated Evil – so we started loading up the reagents and other trinkets while Raven looked at the wardrobe.

At first it seemed like the wardrobe didn’t really open (Ezekiel checked the wall behind for secret doors) but after fiddling with it for a while, Raven found a teeny tiny secret compartment – with a crumpled up, used black handkerchief.

We were all pretty confused by that – but Tressarian said the hanky was magical…so Raven started unfolding it (he’s immune to disease after all) and kept unfolding it, and kept unfolding it, until finally it was a six-foot wide circular tablecloth. He laid it on the ground, and there was a six-foot hole in the ground.

We all crowded around, and Ezekiel looked into the hole with his “trap-vision.” He said a flask of oil had a “fire trap” on it, and there was a cloak that looked a lot like the poisonous one the medusa statue was wearing – but once Ez safely removed those, we could look at the rest of the stuff. I counted five spellbooks, and several tall wooden racks full of potions (Wonillon and Lydia counted those, and it came up to 29). (Apparently a magic hole like this doesn’t tip over or anything when you fold it, so the racks were a safe way to store the potions.)

While Lydia snuck peeks at her new spellbooks, and all the rest of us piled spell components into the hole (and bag of holding), Raven kept poking at the wardrobe. He found several other compartments…some worth more than others. Tressarian told us which things were magical, but Raven avoided picking anything up until Ezekiel told him what was trapped…which turned out to be really smart, since there was a little magic pocket-mirror that Ezekiel said, “Don’t look into it!” and hid it in a pillowcase, because apparently it sucks your life or something.

When we were finally done loading, we swung by the giants’ rooms. As we had suspected, the bugbears made off with most of the giants’ coins…but they left enough copper to make it worthwhile shoving into the sack.

We wanted to check out the teleportation rooms before heading back to town – just to have as much info as possible before making more plans – and headed down the first corridor we came to (for the earth node).

The walls started black near the “sanctuary,” then shifted to tan, then dark brown – classic earth colors like we’d seen on the levels above. The room itself was triangular shaped, with creepy eyes inside triangles on each wall (again, like we’d seen on the Earth Temple level).

A big symbol on the floor seems to have a permanent teleport spell tied to it (according to Ez and Lydia)…and although they said it might have a matching symbol somewhere, that might let you say a spell or hold a magic item to get back, there’s no way to be sure. Lydia assumes the Temple leaders would want a way to get back, just in case they ever got there by accident, I guess – but they’re dead so it’s not like we can ask them.

Raven mentioned that during his brief trip to the Air Node, he saw goblins who seemed to be mining something – which implies they were going to send it back here – but who knows, honestly?!

The room at the end of the opposite corridor was basically identical – with nothing to indicate that this symbol leads to the actual elemental plain (as described by the map).

After that, the only remaining place to search was behind the big altar – behind what used to be the fungal curtain.

Up the steps of the dais, past the huge altar with the scorched altar cloth, there’s a little room with three oval altars. A closet on each side held wardrobes of ceremonial robes (a selection in each of the elemental colors) and a couple chests full of money (each with the exact same amount of money – someone’s very picky, or fond of numbers). Speaking of numbers, we also found a bunch of paperwork for loans taken out by the Temple staff from the treasury. It’s not like we can collect on these loans now, but Ezekiel brought the papers along just in case any of these names are familiar to someone in Homlette…or even Verbobanc. It’s possible this would count as evidence of involvement in the Temple…

The robes probably won’t be very useful, since they have the symbol of MR. EWWY and a gold skull on them, so we left them for now. Kella suggested that the new leadership that arrives at the Temple might be sent by the Old One — not only would he be anxious to keep the Temple going and free his girlfriend, but that way they’d be loyal to him, not necessarily the Queen. I don’t like the thought of that very much, and hope we can stomp this out before the new arrivals get here.

At the top of the room were slanting, narrow passages we assume were for the Temple staff to retreat into – although they also make little horns on the map, on top of the altar room. They were also painted all over with warding glyphs, and Raven got scorched before Ezekiel turned his “trap vision” back on and warned us of the remaining ones.

With Protection from Evil, Ezekiel went to investigate the last passage – a flight of broad steps leading down. They seemed well-cleaned and well-maintained, so although they’ve been used it’s impossible to tell how frequently.

Raven, Ez, and Lydia were the only ones who ventured down the steps – and they took it slow, avoiding actually stepping off the stairs. The room at the very bottom gave off a pearly glow…and according to the three scouts, it’s pretty tall, with a domed ceiling. The whole walls are covered with a mosaic done in precious stones – Raven insists it’s the landscape of the surrounding countryside (Nulb, Gnarly Forest, and so on) as it would probably look from the Temple’s tower. It seems to be conquered or something, and is full of figures of all races paying homage to the Temple.

In the center of the room is a pillar of light – as tall as the ceiling and almost that wide. It must be what the light comes from – and it seems to have flashes of color that swim through it (I asked Ezekiel, “like an oil slick?” but he didn’t seem to think that did it justice).

Lydia said the pillar was “powerful spells,” but couldn’t tell anything more from where they were – and for once, even Ezekiel agreed we weren’t ready to mess with this quite yet. We don’t know if this is something the Temple did, or the Queen did, or the Good warriors who invaded ten years ago did…but it’s a bit above our pay-grade at the moment.

Heading back to Homlette now. We have a lot of loot to sort through, and decide what of it we might actually use, and what we’re better off selling, and we gets to use what. Ezekiel says he wants to keep the magic armor from the priesthood (I caught him petting the black armor of High Priest Hedrak) in case he gets “disciples” he needs to outfit. Heiron and I don’t know what he’s talking about.

It’ll be good to get out into the open air again. I’ve been missing the trees. I want to talk to someone who understands…and a druid doesn’t count, because they’re all “druidy” and stuff.

But I almost feel like I could talk to animals if I really concentrated…or if I really, really needed it to, the natural world would give me a hand. Maybe that’s Ehlonna really subtly telling me She has my back.


Find the previous entry here.

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  1. Pingback: Dear Diary….the elemental node of air - Kimia Wood

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