APoF 13: A Hall of Reflections
After emerging from the dome that contains the labyrinth, the group speaks to the most senior officer of the contingent that has accompanied them, Kilyen a'Soteýn. They discuss their options, with Kilyen indicating that he is planning on sending scouting parties through the city to try and map out their immediate vicinity. The party agrees with the course of action and asks if they could have a small group of soldiers accompany them while they try to make their way to the rockwurm. Kilyen assents to the plan, and as the officer is picking out the four candidates that will accompany the group, the party splits into two to explore what paths they have lying ahead of them. Ailos Tepes, Thurkear, and Theris Silverfrond, all head around to the left side of the dome while Dr. Roth, Zephyros, and IkBroknard head around to the right side of the dome. Ailos and his companions find a path leading into the darkness on the left side of the dome, and despite his ability to see magical darkness, he cannot see past the black veil that conceals the far end of the path on the left. He realizes that they are staring into a veritable void, and once he throws a pebble through only to watch it disappear, he decides that it is probably not in their best interests to explore that direction. Ailos, Theris, and Thurkear continue walking around the dome, aware that when the original party made its way through the dwarvenhold, that the way to the palace was a straight shot down the promenade, but they find that the path straight ahead is blocked by a sizable pile of debris. Not sure where to go from there, they decide to seek out the other group and find out what they discovered on the other side. Zeph, Dr. Roth, and Broknard find a path on the right side of the dome that is in a similar state to the path on the left, ending in a dark void. Dr. Roth imbues a pebble with light and tosses it through the darkness, and catches a brief, momentary glimpse of another place beyond the veil of darkness. Gathering his courage, he hands Zeph one end of a rope and walks toward the veil. One of the first thing that Dr. Roth notices is the way that the temperature appears to plummet the closer he gets to the veil. By the time that he is standing right in front of it, his teeth involuntarily chatter, but he forces himself through, and though he feels a biting, bone-chilling cold for a moment, he emerges on the other side of the veil of darkness.
The Bright HallOnce his eyes adjust to the bright light, Dr. Roth reacts with awe at the grand hall that greets his sight. With a tall, soaring ceiling, a rich ruby-red carpet at his feet, a parade of perfect, identical marble columns, each with ornate capstones and large, soaring stained glass windows that set the floor awash with brilliant, dancing colors, the grand hall that Dr. Roth finds himself in is truly a wonder to behold. He walks down to the central aisle, making sure that the rope still had the same slack and hadn't, in some fashion, been severed. Once there, he looks down the hall, only to find that it seemingly extends into infinity far beyond his sight. In the meantime, finding that Dr. Roth, Zeph, and Broknard still haven't returned to camp, Ailos, Theris, and Thurkear seek the three out and find Zeph and Broknard standing just beyond the right hand passage, a rope extending into the veil of darkness. As they're about to ask what's going on, and where Dr. Roth has gone, the man himself wiggles his end of the rope. Acting on pure instinct, Zeph yanks the rope, managing to pull Dr. Roth halfway out of the darkness. Dr. Roth is motionless for a moment, dazed by the fact that he had suddenly been dragged through the portal between the two locations. Thurkear walks over and checks if he is still alive, to which Dr. Roth responds that he very much still is. Dr. Roth stands up, dusts himself off, and motions for the rest of the group to follow him into the darkness. Ailos isn't convinced, but when the rest of the party decides to follow, he and Thurkear have little choice but to join the rest of their group in entering the veil of darkness.
A Maze of DoorsThe rest of the party reacts with varying degrees of astonishment to the sight of the hall beyond the darkness, and almost immediately begin to debate the merits of staying and exploring this place versus any of the other paths. Thurkear patiently listens at first, but decides that he has had enough. He takes matter into his own hands and walks down the central aisle toward the "back" of the room. At some point, the rest of the party decides to follow Thurkear's lead, only to watch as he vanishes. From Thurkear's perspective, once he steps through a certain threshold, walls appear to fold out from thin air around him. The walls are made of a similar marble composition to the columns that parade down the hall, and each one bears a door made of the same material but with golden trim. There are four walls around Thurkear, one in front of him, one behind him, and two to either side of him. Surprised and perturbed by the sudden appearance of a room around him, Thurkear takes a single step backward, reappearing in the hall in front of the party. The party is perplexed by his sudden reappearance and immediately have a discussion as to whether they should continue their exploration. Ultimately, they decide to at least see what's in store for them. The rest of the group marches through the threshold that Thurkear had crossed the first time. They each find themselves in the same four-walled chamber that he had been earlier. One thing that they do notice this time, however, is that they all appear at the center of the room, and that the room expands to maintain an equal distance between the door at the back and the last person who entered as well as to miraculously always have enough space for someone else to "enter" the room. Thurkear walks up to the front door and hesitates, while Zeph, frustrated with all the "black magic" around him, walks up beside Thurkear and kicks the door open. The party all jump as the door in the back of the room slams open, and Thurkear and Zeph are both able to see themselves and the rest of the party through the front door, as though the front door and the back door were linked together. Seeing this, Dr. Roth makes his way to the door on the left and opens it slightly, while the door on the right responds in a similar fashion and sees that the same is the case with the left and right doors. Ailos takes a single step backward to try and see what it would be like between realms and sees that the walls and doors are half-folded up, which he doesn't like. Ailos steps forward into the room once again. However, taking a look around and seeing the "fucky" spacial anomaly of the room, fully steps out of the room by taking a backward step and emerging into the first hall. Once he is there, he finds that their tretâllë companions are just standing there, at the ready, and he starts a game of cards with them. Seeing Ailos exit, Thurkear attempts to do the same, but not entirely understanding the mechanics of the room that he is in, Thurkear makes his way to the door in the back of the room and walks through, only to emerge from the doorway in the front of the room. He tries it again and again and again, each time only managing to cross the room and not exit it. It isn't until he faces the front door and takes a step back that he finds himself back out in the hallway with Ailos. Having a sudden realization about the room, Dr. Roth faces the right hand wall and walks backward from it. Everyone in the room with him is swept along as another set of walls and doors fold out of thin air, replacing the original four. This time, the walls appear to be a different shade of white. Broknard attempts to do something similar, facing forward and taking a step back. Theris does the same. The group is swept up through two rooms in the same direction. Each time, the walls appear a bit more blue. Zeph, on the other hand, faces the right wall and keeps walking backward, the walls returning to their white color. He is able to walk backward to the left until the left hand wall becomes a smooth wall and loses its door. Realizing that he may have hit upon something, and before the rest of his companions can stop him, Zeph reverses course. He figures out that the rooms themselves don't change, and that the people in the rooms are simply transported to the next one by leaving a torch in one room and exiting it, finding that the torch is still there upon returning. In the meantime, Thurkear, wanting to find his friends, enters the first room again and turns around, walking backward to the front of the room. He continues to do so, the walls around him turning more and more crimson until he ends up in a single crimson room. It is the first room that is notably different, with rich silken red draperies hanging from the ceiling and flowing some three feet from the walls to the center of the room. He turns around and sees that located in the front of the room, in the direction that he'd been traveling, is an obsidian-black door with silvery-white trim, in contrast to the marble and gold of the other doors. Seeing this and realizing that he has found something different, he makes his way out of the maze and grabs Ailos. He takes his friend along to the red room. When they arrive there, Ailos attempts to open the door, but the moment that he does so, he and Thurkear are swept away into a desertscape that feels, to the both of them, like a facsimile of home. Ailos freaks out and shuts the door. In the meantime, Theris, Zeph, and Dr. Roth have managed to follow the left-hand wall of the maze to the back corner. Then, following the back wall and moving to the right, they suddenly find themselves back in the first hall, but further toward the entrance than they had been when they first entered the maze. At around the same time, Ailos and Thurkear emerge from the maze, too, and a brief discussion ia had about whether they should stay there. Since both groups are separated by a significant distance, they shout at each other for some time before joining up again to have a conversation at a reasonable volume. Ultimately, they decide that the hall is probably not going to lead them where they want to go and leave.
The HiveWhile Ailos, Thurkear, and Broknard head for the pile of rubble, gathering a few of the tretâllë to help them clear it, Zeph, Theris, and Dr. Roth make their way to the left path. Upon passing through the veil, they find themselves in a large cavern with smooth walls. The only thing that is initially notable about the place is the two rock formations to either side of the entrance, fifteen feet in length and five feet in height, that are somewhat segmented. Both rock formations have a large silver ring resting on their backs, attached to filaments of silver, which are reminiscent to the veins of leaves, that wrap over and around the stone. As the party makes its way forward, they discover that there is more to the cave. Up ahead, parts of the floor is covered in a layer of wood fibre. In the dim light, Zeph can only just make out clustered domes of wood that are affixed to the walls, to the floor, and to the ceiling. There is also a strange and ever-present scratching sound that fills the cavern. Before the group can investigate, however, they are approached by a mysterious humanoid creature who lingers at the edge of the group's light, who implores them to quiet down for their own sake. Just then, the two stone formations to either side of the entrance come to life, revealing that they are, in fact, bees made of solid rock. The rings appear to form the wings, with the silver filaments seemingly forming the veins of the wings and pale moonlight forming the membranes. After a cursory examination of their surroundings, both bees return to their inert state. The stranger steps into the light, revealing himself to be an albino Tureth, a chimera seemingly built of human, rat, and manticore biology. He says that his name is Suroth, and that he has been studying the bees for some time. He correctly susses out that the party needs to get through the cave, but warns them that in order to get to the other side, they will probably have to battle through the hive and, by extension, the queen. He reveals that he is quite safe because his kind is possessed of the strange ability of being able to remain in cognitive blind spots, essentially rendering themselves imperceptible. He says that he can help one member of the party do the same, but at the risk of his own security which he says he is not willing to do. After briefly considering fighting their way through the hive, Zeph and the rest of his companions decide that the task is too daunting and they back out to join the others.
The Filth PitsAilos, Thurkear, Broknard, and some of the Dominion soldiers manage to clear off enough of the debris for Ailos to be able to walk over the mound through to the other side. He spots another veil of darkness and informs the rest of the group about this. He walks through as the others continue working at the pile of rubble. The first thing that he notices on the other side of the darkness is the audible squelch of muck beneath his shoes. And then, the noxious, choking fumes worm their way into his nose. He coughs and sputters, but looks around, finding that he is in a vast refuse pit with seemingly no end in sight. In the distance, however, there are clumps of bright sickly-green light that he regards with wariness. Generating some light for himself to better see with, Ailos walks forward, wading into the filth until he spots a handful of half-rotted creatures shambling in his direction. He slowly backs away, but the motion appears to attract others, and by the time that he returns to his original location, one is dangerously close by. Ailos walks back out through the veil of darkness and finds that one of the shambling creatures has followed him out. It is not hostile, but over on top of the mound, both Dr. Roth and Thurkear ready their weapons, caught off-guard by the appearance of the monstrosity. The creature reaches out for Ailos but makes no overtly hostile motions until one of the others begins talking, at which point it attempts to swing at Ailos. Dr. Roth shoots it with a crossbow, managing to kill it in one shot. Both clerics make their way down the rubble pile, understandably disturbed by the appearance of the horrid creature. They examine it, at which point Dr. Roth immediately declares that they need to construct a perimeter around this path to make sure that none make it out. Fearing that they could carry with them the plague that had once ravaged the dwarvenholds, Dr. Roth deems the straight forward path too dangerous. If not for the group, then for the dwarves on the surface in the case that they bring back pathogens that can still prove to be destructive. After collecting a sample from a pustulent boil, Dr. Roth asks for the corpse to be incinerated. The party clambers back over the pile of rubble to discuss what they want to do. Ailos wants to plunge through the filth pit, while Theris wants to go through the hive. Zeph, however, demonstrating some wisdom for once, advocates for the maze, as the hive is probably going to be too difficult to fight through, and the filth pits are probably going to be too difficult to face. The party ultimately decides to return to the maze, if only, at least, to map it out.
The Trial of AilosFor a good while, the party takes the time to move through every room of the maze available to them, finding a total of six different-colored corridors that each lead to a black door with silver trim. They also discover that there is a seventh door, which appears to bear slots for gemstones analogous to the colors of the corridors. They decide to go to the first door that they found first. Ailos volunteers to open the door, transporting the entire group to the desert the moment that he does so. The first thing that is readily apparent to the party is that Ailos appears somewhat ethereal. Out of the corner of his eye, Ailos can see that the rest of the party is ethereal. The world races past them, stopping for a short while in front of a set of vast stone gates, carved with scenes of battle between the A'Drekh, the True Dragons, and the Tussari Centhiri. The world shifts a second time, on this occasion placing the party in a large throne room-esque hall. To either side of them, all along the length of the hall, are what appear to be ivory arches that climb all the way to the roof, where they join a sinuous column if ivory that runs down the center of the ceiling to the end of the hall. At the far end of the room is a throne of what appears to be opalescent white stone. A woman with ethereal, unearthly beauty sits atop it. Ailos, seemingly spellbound, much to the confusion of the party, starts walking toward the woman.
Come to me, my loveThe woman spreads her arms wide and seemingly beckons for Ailos to approach. But the party watches as a pale spectre comes into being just behind the a'drekh, its ghostly fingers wrapping around the hilt of Ailos' blade before pulling the sword out of its sheath and walking right through Ailos. Eventually, the spectre forms into a white-scaled dragonborn who falls to one knee in front of the throne. He presents the blade to the woman, who grabs the weapon and stabs it into the stone next to her seat. She says to the man that Ailos was "a worthwhile sacrifice," at around the same time that the rest of the party notices blood pooling behind the throne, as well as what appear to be the limp, lifeless extremities of Ailos not quite hidden well enough behind the seat.
You were always just a tool to meAilos kneels in front of the throne, beside the white dragonborn. The woman backhands him across the face. Thurkear, in a panic and not knowing what to do now that he is seeing his friend get hurt, rushes forward and asks Ailos what is going on but is ultimately ignored. Ailos straightens himself, just as the woman grabs him by the chin, her hand turning draconic, her claws digging into his flesh. The woman looks him in the eye, and says to him, "You were always just a tool to me." The words seem to knock all the wind out of Ailos' face, and the party has to watch helplessly as the light in his eyes fades to dullness. The scene fades and the party finds itself in a crimson room reminiscent of a throne room, but one with more conventional architecture. Ailos finds himself standing on a raised platform which seems to be meant for a throne but is instead housing a full-length mirror that Ailos is staring into. He is caught in a stupor until his reflection begins to move, pulling itself out of the mirror. Seemingly acting out of instinct, Ailos punches the reflection. Combat is joined against the reflection, and although most of the party jump in initially to help, Zeph questions whether they should participate in what, to him, appears to be a test of Ailos' character. Zeph refuses to lend any aid and manages to convince Dr. Roth, Theris, and Broknard to all sit out of fighting the reflection. Thurkear, on the other hand, is livid at the rest of the group for not participating in fighting the reflection. He asks why they are not taking up arms, but his pleas fall on deaf ears. Ailos then speaks the only words he utters in the entire fight and turns to Thurkear, telling him in the tongue of his people, that he had always wanted to fight himself.
"And you shall not fight aloneTo this, Thurkear responds with words of conviction and friendship. "And you shall not fight alone," he says. Together, Ailos and Thurkear assault the reflection, but no sooner than it is defeated than another steps out of the mirror, only as a result of breaks in the mirror as a result of enchanted stones that the rest of the group have been lobbing at it, the reflection appears broken, too. While Ailos engages his reflection, the focus of the group shifts from the reflection to the mirror, with the party eventually managing to shatter the hateful object. At this point, the reflection vanishes with a quiet shriek without needing to be vanquished. Ailos, looking up, spots a pedestal through the broken pieces of the mirror. Upon the pedestal rests a red gem. He retrieves the stone and pockets it, filing out of the room with the rest of the group following him in a somber fashion.
Looks like we've all got things to faceOutside, in the room with the four doors, Thurkear speaks to the nature of what they had just faced, and what it appears the rest of the party will have to contend with. Ailos agrees, and the group decides to move on to the next door, passing by the one door with the six slots for the six gems. Ailos elects not to slot his gem into the door, but does notice that the door is partially ajar. He does not share this observation with the rest of the party and does not interrupt when they make their way to the brown door.
The Trial of Dr. RothThurkear volunteers to open the next set of doors in the brown room, but they refuse to respond to him. No matter how hard he tries, the doors will not budge. It isn't until after a minute passes that Dr. Roth hears the voice of a child calling out to him, laughing, telling him to stop doing something because it tickles. Recognizing the voice, Dr. Roth steps up to the door and flings it open without restraint, finding himself in his old "clinic." The neat rows of medical instruments and cures, the cupboards filled with herbs and tinctures, and the smell of the chemicals that he once used to clean his workstation floods Dr. Roth with a not-unwelcome sense of nostalgia. He jumps at the sound of something banging on his door and decides not to answer it. The noise goes away, but returns shortly afterward. Again, he ignores the loud sounds and continues to explore his old place of business. It isn't until the racket returns for a third time that he wrenches open the door, only to jump back in shock as one of the half-rotten plagued creatures that Ailos had brought through from the filth pits jumps out at him. Acting purely on instinct, Dr. Roth brings his dagger up, sliding it into the gut of the monstrosity. The creature goes limp in his arms, but the vision shifts, revealing that he had instead stabbed a little girl. She looks up at him, her confused and betrayed gaze dulling with every moment as the blood bubbles up from her throat.
You're every bit the monster they told me you wereShocked and dismayed, Dr. Roth lets go of the dagger and staggers back, only to bump into someone. He whirls around and finds himself face to face with the child's father, who has more than a few choice words for him.