Alert: Contains spoilers for the adventure “The Temple of Elemental Evil”
Ehlonna has given me a little friend! He’s a weasel named Mister Whisker and he should be very handy in following scents and such.
(Also, I’ve wanted a pet since I was six years old, but just because Wolfgang dropped his puppy out the window or something before I was even born! the rule was no pets. Besides, Lydia and Mikael both had lots of pets, and it just doesn’t seem fair that I couldn’t have one, so now I do.)
He’s still having trouble coming when I call his name, but we’re working on that (he really likes little crumbs of honey cake, which is handy). Lord Otis says I could have spent that time doing push-ups, but at least he’s happy with how my sword work is coming. (I think the smithy is getting a new roof in the near future.)
I’m going to have a special pocket sewed into my backpack so Mr. Whisker can ride underneath my shield when I’m walking around with my bow. Also, that way he won’t make all my gear smell like him so much.
Turns out the others have been real busy while I was away. Lydia and Ezekiel practiced with her magic mirror, and figured out that if she’s scrying you, there’s a spot where you can step out of her mirror and join her. She’s going to wave through it or something to make it easier on us (she said, because otherwise we’d never get out) but that’s going to make it super handy to rescue anybody trapped in the elemental nodes.
Cuddles is going to stay here, though. He’s kind of big, and he probably wouldn’t do well in the nodes…and this way he can keep Lydia company.
The others have also been sorting out the magic gear, and reading the labels on the potions to decide which ones should be in our backpacks for easier use. While I was in Mrs. Streng’s neighborhood, I did buy more Keotighm’s Ointment, since it came in so very handy before…and what else am I going to use this money for? (I also bought some flasks of oil, since without Lydia with us, we might want a way to make a big fire.)
We’re going to start with the node of air, since Raven visited there before. We’ll see whether we’re prepared or not…
We made it through the Temple safely (someone’s been leaving graffiti here and there, but otherwise it feels pretty deserted) and followed the map to the air node room (the color of the walls helped…it was obviously trying to mimic the Air Temple on the floor above).
We took a deep breath, and stepped onto the magic circle.
I’m not sure what I was expecting…
We found ourselves standing on a mountain peak, with a cavernous roof of some kind at least fifty feet up. A glow of light seemed to come from the dome above us, while misty clouds swirled around the peak. The air was cool, but not painfully so…although the wind has a tendency to snatch your breath away without warning, or throw dust in your eyes.
Ezekiel and Wonillon led the way, and we followed a spiraling ramp that led us down the mountain. Here and there on the ground lay bits of bone, buckles, or even bits of chainmail. There have obviously been other people here…I wonder how many of them are still alive? What are their stories?
Other cliffs and hills rose all around us, so it was hard to tell how far the dome overhead might stretch – or where the ridges might connect with it. It’s certainly a vast space…I’m pretty sure I saw a white dragon flying far off to the south – but fortunately it didn’t see us, or ignored us.
At length, we reached the floor of the ravine (fighting the buffets of the wind) and spotted a slope across the way that seemed to lead up to a cave. Curious thing about that…the ramp looked like it could have been carved by pickaxes. In fact, everything looked artificial…not in a pre-planned way, but in a hand-carved way. It’s a reminder that this is a fake place, created by the Temple for evil purposes.
When we reached the cave mouth, Ezekiel spotted a big white blob — it spotted him, too, and started shlumping toward us.
Apparently only I brought any oil, so I handed it up, and Heiron poured it on the ground and lit it with his flame-sword. That way, at least the pudding couldn’t get at us.
Heiron whacked it in two with his sword, and then while I was digging a torch out of my backpack, Ezekiel threw the Instant Fortress at the puddings (he made sure Heiron got back, first).
When he shrunk it again, the puddings had been knocked into the oil; though I don’t think they were hurt much by being squished, the fire did help them…and when they crawled up the wall to try to get at us again, Heiron was able to flame them to death.
Ezekiel had only just picked up the fortress – and the oil was still smoldering – when a funny-looking flying cat swooped out of the darkness ahead of us and perched next to the puddle of goo. (It had a head and wings like a hawk, and I bet it’s responsible for the droppings I saw on the ramp outside…they looked like big cat droppings, but as though they hit the stone at great speed – or from a distance.)
Apparently it was a kind of sphinx, and could speak to us. It started by saying, “Well this is an interesting riddle,” then asked us for money, then said the “little one” looked tasty and maybe we should deal with it.
Ezekiel said, no, you can’t eat Wonillon (so I guess they didn’t mean me), and then he tried to make up a riddle: “Guess why we’re here – and we’ll leave.”
I guess the sphinx didn’t find that very interesting, because it left. We decided to take the other passage into the cave before bothering the sphinx (it did say “we,” so we knew there were more of them). This second opening led to a cavern full of rats (Ezekiel called them “vapor rats,” though I’m not sure why) and Raven came to the front to talk to them. They told him that the passage didn’t go any further, and that humans “sometimes” came by this area…but they’re only rats, so they couldn’t really tell us more.
Heading back to the cave mouth, we spotted another white pudding in the opening – well, sort of on the cliff ridge just outside. As we were preparing to deal with it, a…brain with…horns or fingers of something (Mikael said its limbs looked like coral). The brain thing fought the pudding for a while, until the pudding wrapped around it and digested it or something. Then it casually slid off the cliff and left.
We all huddled back and watched the show. Not sure if the others agree with me, but I think these blobby slime beings might be creepier than all the giants and trolls I’ve ever seen.
After that spine-chilling spectacle, Ezekiel led us to “deal with” the sphinxes (he says we have to explore everywhere and everything).
We crept up the passage until I saw a sphinx swooping at Ez’s head – and shot it.
Ezekiel dropped the torch he’d been carrying to draw his mace, which meant our only light was from his shield and mine (on my back). Maybe that disoriented the sphinxes, because although they slashed at us from the air, they didn’t do much damage before Raven snared them in his rope. After that, it was like plinking fish in a barrel.
Their nest in the corner of the cavern was lined with feathers – and littered with human and demi-human remains. We didn’t see anything else of interest, so we headed back to the cave mouth.
As we emerged, we saw a warrior in plate armor, standing on an outcrop farther down the slope, facing us. His gear was all sky blue, from his helmet, to his chest-plate, to his shield – and he had to be at least seven feet tall (taller than Mikael or Heiron, even)!
Before we had too much time to wonder what on earth was happening next, Raven recognized him and called out, “Taki!”
The man answered with Raven’s name, and asked if we were his friends – and Raven said yes. So the man took off his helmet and joined us, and said he was glad to see we had finally showed up.
Another gust of that vicious wind slapped us around, and we suggested retreating into the cave — Ezekiel pointed out it was big enough to set up the portable Fortress.
(Taki was glad the sphinxes were dead; he said he saw them drop a halfling off the cliff once. If I still had any concerns about killing them, that settled them.)
Once inside the Fortress, Taki really relaxed. The wind couldn’t get to us there, and Ezekiel and Lydia have explained that no one – not even a wizard – can open it up from the outside…only whoever knows the magic password. (I hope no one can shrink it while we’re inside? We’re probably safe, since the old owner is dead, and no one else is likely to know the magic word.)
Taki had some scratches from the debris thrown by the wind, but other than that he seems in pretty good health. I guess to survive here, you have to be the best.
He gave us lots of info about the nodes. Apparently there are magic transportation circles that lead from one to the other, and he’s explored all of them to some extent (although he prefers the Air Node, since it’s the easiest to survive in). He says there’s a link to the Water Node from here, that he can show us or at least give directions to. (We haven’t mentioned our exit strategy yet, and although we’ll probably let him join us in our scour of the nodes if he wants, I wouldn’t blame him at all for wanting to be rid of them for good.)
He explained that he was separated from his party while fighting in the Temple, and the bugbears and ogres forced him down the passageway and into the portal to the earth node (better than being sacrificed to summon an elemental).
As for other people…he spent some time with an “Ashrim” guy (says he claimed to be the chief priest of the Air Temple; Ezekiel thought he recognized the name from one of the record books – sacrificed to node for discipline, and replaced with Kelno). There’s also at least one bandit group going around, but after Taki killed a couple of them they decided to cut their losses.
He seemed quite relieved when we told him the Temple leadership was dead. Apparently someone in here theorized that killing the High Priest would collapse the nodes, and fortunately that’s not the case. (Ez says they’re tied to the Key the Mushroom Queen broke and left behind, but of course we haven’t figured that all out yet.)
The nodes of Fire and Earth “feel” more underground than the Air and Water nodes, but all the nodes are dangerous. He says the Water one has a bunch of floating islands and dangerous creatures – but that some friendly talking rocks in the Earth node helped him out. Maybe we can rescue them, too, before collapsing the nodes?
Ezekiel is kinda worried about finding everyone Good here who might need rescuing. Just the Air Node is pretty vast, and full of dangers (Taki says there are three white dragons here! And we don’t have our magic user), and to explore all of them would take some doing…besides which, the people here keep on the move to survive!
We could always leave notes on the cliffs or something (in the varieties of Good), but that wouldn’t help rock creatures that can’t read. Well, our patron gods and goddesses have brought us this far…maybe they’ll have to lead us to the people we need to rescue. (Not to mention the parts of the Key, whatever those may be… Why has nobody found them yet??…)
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