Dear diary…dark residue, part 2

Alert: May contain spoilers for the adventure “Against the Giants”

Well, the report from Raven makes it sound a bit more exciting. As Ezekiel began pouring holy water onto the altar, at first it began to steam…then the water pooled on the top of the altar…then, finally, the water turned red. After seven vials, Ezekiel turned to prayer and declaring the tenets of his faith – which on the one hand, aren’t that extensive, since he (mostly) had to deduce them without divine revelation, but on the other hand, they are powerful in their simplicity:

Life is superior to death. Good is life. Good has a King, and that King is Good, and Worthy of being served.

Raven says it was that worthiness that first inspired him to ask Merikka to release his services so he could attach himself to Ao (that is the person Ezekiel called Ao for the longest time)…but I think he was also thrilled by the sense of mystery, of uncovering truths even the gods have forgotten. You can tell by that tone of voice he gets when explaining what happened. It’s sort of being Chaotic in the most Lawful way.

Anyway, after Ezekiel spent a good hour trying to exorcise whatever was living in the shrine, a winged shape appeared behind the three of them, glowing white in the underground darkness. Mikael just about choked on his teeth (yes, we were supposed to stay back, but after that long, who wouldn’t be peeking around the corner?).

The figure assured Ez that the darkness who had lived here was long gone – centuries gone, in fact – and the taint we felt was just a left-over from his (its?) being here. However, since Ezekiel was so focused and devoted to doing his best here, the “higher-ups” sent a messenger to ease his mind (and Aliana’s). And Raven was also there.

After the divine visitor left, Ezekiel felt more confident to explore the rest of the shrine – specifically a flight of stairs that led down. Before we could get properly nervous, however, the stairs ended in a pile of rubble…past an alcove with some kind of mirror, down about ten paces, then under a tumble of stones and debris that would take a while to clear. The walls display frescos and bas-relief that feel straight out of the Temple – twisting tentacles; ugly, almost-mushroom things; a skin-tingling sense of wrongness. I don’t know how some people think this is cool.

As anticlimactic as it was, the lingering energy of this place still gave us some…not exactly trouble, but a taste of what we missed. Ezekiel stared into the alcove a minute, and said some purple, pink, mauve, sickly pale kind of creature, or shape, waved its tentacles/fronds at him. He stepped back toward Aliana, and by the time he mentioned it, it was gone…or something. Raven says he saw something he can’t quite describe, but it made his hairs stand up – and if Raven is weirded out, you know it’s bad.

Ezekiel wasn’t satisfied until he put on the ring he got from Father Klim and tried whacking at the mirror a bit with his mace. He got a few flakes of some crystally, mica-looking stuff to shed off, but other than that he didn’t accomplish anything except flexing in front of his wife…and she’s a paladin.

Mikael took Shakka around, but didn’t find any secret passages or shifting stones. Ezekiel and Raven were just arguing about whether we really wanted to find what the giants were so eager to dig up, when someone pointed out we still hadn’t completely explored the orcs’ cavern.

So we went back to the passage outside the shrine and followed it down to a more natural-appearing cavern – full, as Raven and Agnar said before, with discarded blankets and ashes from cookfires. Aliana remembered that the orcs had an arrangement with the trogs – food for water – but the orcs obviously couldn’t reach the surface for food, or they would have escaped (unless they were staying for the sake of their imprisoned comrades, which seems improbable).

We finally found a sinkhole tucked away down one passage, where the ceiling of a cave below had given way. A heap of garbage sat at the bottom, and then a voice seemed to speak into our minds: “Food?”

We all looked around at each other…except Ezekiel and Mikael, who didn’t hear anything. Maybe the creature doesn’t talk to cleric-types. Anyway, Raven (ever generous) dropped a ration into the hole, and it disappeared into the garbage vat. The creature wasn’t satisfied until Ezekiel multiplied a ration several times over and dropped them down – then it called us “good friends” and Raven asked it about the orcs.

It said the orcs used to “drop food down,” and when it seemed chill with our presence, we lowered Raven down on a rope. He said there was another network of caves down there, so we filed down after him – avoiding stepping on the big blob of mouth and tentacles that Raven called “Mr. Trash-bags” (I think it was in a happy food coma, and kept mumbling cheerful, vague answers to Raven’s questions into our minds).

Sure enough, there’s an octopus of passages down there, trailing away from the neo-otyugh’s large cavern room (that’s what Lydia named it, since it’s like the thing from the Temple…only bigger, and better behaved). Orc tracks lead plainly down one tunnel, but Ezekiel wasn’t interested in finding what they had for food, but in the dark Evil that had them so scared – so that left basically two directions. One with a plethora of shuffling, trampling footprints from a creature I don’t recognize (but that made my neck-hairs stand up), and a tunnel that led to a worked stone corridor like the ones above – complete with supporting buttresses and tasteless bas-relief here and there. Mr. Trash-bags says many-legged insects sometimes come from there, and when the orcs killed them, he got to eat them. From the tracks (and from his licking his lips…although he doesn’t exactly have lips), they must be truly horrifying in size. So we went the other way first.

The finished passage led into a large room…with the double triangle from the Temple worked into the floor in green copper, probably longer than I am (though none of us risked stepping on it. Raven did toss a pebble onto it, but nothing happened).

A staircase leads up from this junction room, ending in a pile of rubble. According to the map, this should be the other side of the sanctuary we found, which answers some of our questions. So for once we picked the right direction right away.

Another passage out of the central chamber brought us to two other rooms…one of them had old cobwebs cluttering the door, and (once we got the door unstuck) a couple giant spiders inside. I suppose they were pretty hungry with how instantly they attacked us, but we killed them almost as quickly (Mikael was sad and sentimental after the fact, but he knows sometimes you have to put wild animals down. Plus he got to use his staff).

The second door on this hallway got us a little more. First off, we had to break down the door. Then, there was a cloud of “darkness” in the corner; and when Ezekiel went over to investigate it with his mace and light, a nimble figure with dark skin and elf ears stabbed at him.

Master Oaklock snapped something in Elvish that Aliana declined to translate, and dealt the killing blow. Then he said, no wonder the giants were so evil, if they’re mixed up with the Drow.

Ezekiel said, he wasn’t so sure – since the Drow was down here hiding. The Drow also didn’t seem to have anything on him that tied to the giants…although he had an odd pendant in the shape of a copper staff, that’s not a symbol I recognize. Ezekiel wants to question him, but it won’t be until tomorrow, since we’re…thorough.

In the meantime, we explored the rest of this paved area. One of the hallways is just bizarre. It tees off into two dead-ends…at one end, it’s noticeably warmer; at the other end, it’s almost cold, but not quite. Even Ezekiel, with the gem of seeing (wasn’t that the best birthday present ever?!), and Mikael, with Schakka, couldn’t find anything hidden or magical…it’s just Bizarre. I guess these ancient elemental types just enjoy random things.

Anyway, we got a bit more out of the last room. It lies opposite the room with the triangle, and is shaped like the inside of a ball – perfectly spherical. The whole surface is covered with mosaic pictures, and it’s sloped gently enough that dexterous people can walk around and look at them.

Lydia, Ezekiel, and Aliana spent a good hour walking around, pointing things out and piecing the narrative together. Lydia says it runs backwards in a counter-clockwise spiral (though Aliana said she started in a different place), and asked me if I wanted to copy it into my journal, but I don’t think I want these pictures anywhere near me.

Let’s see…tentacled creatures fought a spider, with the help of smaller followers (I didn’t get a clear definition of what race the followers were). A ram-headed figure and a dragon also fought against the tentacles, and Aliana and Ezekiel got all nerdy about which lord of the underworld they thought it was (Ez says his ram’s-headed mace is no relation). Finally, recognizable devil and demon figures hunted the tentacle beasts until the latter had to flee into the earth, while their ruler (the Tentacle Queen or something – I’m not totally clear) was imprisoned on a distant star (maybe the Astral Plain was involved? That’s hard to represent in a mosaic). The big spider swallowed the key to the ruler’s prison. Finally, the devils and the demons were free to rampage across the surface, while the tentacle beasts could only watch and glower (which is also hard to represent with mosaics).

Ez pointed out how remarkable it was that the devils and the demons were both fighting the tentacles…not that they necessarily teamed up, but they both considered it a threat. Lydia said, that didn’t make them friendly, just because they were fighting devils and demons. Aliana wondered how the giants fit in to all of this, since they clearly placed this fort above this old shrine for a reason, and drove the orcs to clear the rubble and repair the tunnels.

Someone reminded us they were still working at the smithy and the barracks when we interrupted them, but they didn’t put any kind of guard on the shrine to keep the “rebel” orcs from going there (of course, the shrine was the last place the rebel orcs would go; that was the whole source of their insubordination, anyway). Aliana said, maybe the altar in the shrine actually had held something – like a relic – but once the giants got it, they didn’t need the shrine anymore. And Raven wondered if that is connected with the sphere over Istivin.

I guess we can’t know for sure until we catch up with the giants’ leaders. In the meantime, Raven told Mr. Trash-bags that the orcs have left, so he might want to find some other place to find food…and Ezekiel and Aliana brought the Drow’s head so Ezekiel can perform his interrogation ritual in the morning (he said he dropped the dead body onto the copper triangle, but nothing happened. I guess Ezekiel is just a scientist at heart).

I admit I’m much happier to be spending the night outside the barracks, rather than down with all the giant insects. And Master Oaklock admits this side of the cells is much better than the other side.

Find the previous entry here.

One thought on “Dear diary…dark residue, part 2

  1. Pingback: Dear travel, please - Kimia Wood

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