APoF 12: Into Darkness
Following their successful breach of the city gates of Kassar, the party heads off to resolve unfinished business as well as to stock up on provisions for their coming trip into the depths. Most everyone buys equipment, even as the economy of struggles under the weight of the Dominion's intervention. Ailos Tepes makes a trip to the library in the hope of finding information pertinent not only to the current situation but his own personal interests and finds an old tome: On the Historie and Lore of Dwllerun's Drakons.
Following this, the party makes their way to the administrative center of the city in order to take care of the lawsuit pending against them. They meet their legal counsel Lisarna a'Korida on the steps outside of the courthouse, who informs them that she is in the process of filing documents that should make the group's defense even easier.
Entering the building, the party notices that there is a bit of chaos inside. Staff appear to be rushing about while a handful of employees of the court are attempting to maintain some semblance of order. Lisarna walks up to the front desk and asks the clerk to file the documents that she has on hand. The clerk appears skeptical at first, but upon seeing the documents blanches and sends for someone to file them. She then tells the party to head to a particular courtroom and wait there for the next available judge.
Lisarna smiles, explaining very little of what has just happened, and leads the party to the appointed courtroom. The group waits there for a good fifteen minutes before the doors burst open and the mayor of Kassar, Symvon Borweth is dragged in between two tretalleri minders. A few minutes later, the local high priest Tolws Aviathis joins him on the prosecutor's stand.
Everyone waits with bated breath for a little while longer until an adjacent door opens to reveal the judge that will be presiding over the case, who is none other than Anadaleýnë a'Devytorë herself. After being seated, she turns to the defense and asks what their arguments are. Lisarna argues on the principle of clean hands, stating that the prosecution for both cases, the mayor and the high priest, have obviously acted in bad faith on the subject matter of the complaints and thus should not be entitled to anything.
Andaleýnë turns to the prosecution and asks if they have anything to say. Tolws is about to speak, but before he can, she bangs her gavel and dismisses both cases, leaving the party both confused and free to go. She offers to explain things, which Ailos jumps on, and she states that because the government of Kassar has been deemed unfit to rule, being the highest-ranking military officer present, it is her privilege and duty to oversee the governance of Kassar until such time that a fitting government can be formed. This is why she is presiding over the case.
Ignoring the prosecution's withering glares, Lisarna reminds the party that the Dominion said that their case would be much easier if Kassar's government was declared unfit for office. Still somewhat shaken by how quickly matters were resolved, the party departs.
The Journey Down
After discussing the merits of waiting in Kassar and taking a rest because Dominion reinforcements will not be available to the party for a while due to the ongoing occupation, the party decides that it might be for the best to at least head into the tunnels leading to the dwarvenholds before taking a rest for the evening. Zephyros
leads the party, heading in the wrong direction before figuring out the right way to the entrance to the depths that the party took in the first place.
Once they descend, Zeph, Dr. Roth
, and IkBroknard
all notice that there is somewhat of a chilly bite to the air, quite unlike the atmosphere of the cavern before. Concerned, the party carefully proceeds, ready for anything, though they don't meet any trouble on the way down. They stop at the platform that serves as the intersection of three paths forward and decide to strike up camp there for the evening.
The next day, the group rises bright and early. They decide that getting rid of the rockmaidens that they had encountered the first time they descended the cave would be prudent and ask Viper
to join them for the time being, even though she's volunteered to stay behind to guide the Dominion troops down the right path to the dwarvenholds.
The party proceeds down the left path that leads deeper into the cavern. Theris Silverfrond
notices that the entire cave appears eerily quiet, but the party can do nothing but be on guard as a result. After a short while they come upon the first rockmaiden cave and find no trace of the creatures there.
Half an hour later, they come upon the second rockmaiden cave and find it similarly empty. But this time, when Ailos and Zeph press their ears to the rocky tunnels in the back of the cave, they hear a faint white noise that they can't quite figure out. Another half hour passes before they happen upon the third cave. It is empty, as well, but stepping into the cave makes the white noise readily apparent. Dr. Roth listens and figures out that the noise sounds like rushing water, though he determines that there is something off about its timbre.
Another half hour later, and the group encounters the fourth and final rockmaiden cave, still outlined by the pitons and rope that they had used the first time to climb over it. It is empty, but this time, they can hear the noise even from outside. Wondering where the rockmaidens had gone but with nothing to show for it, the party sends Viper off so that she can guide the Dominion troops while they descend further into the cave.
The party proceeds down the path, stopping for a moment as they notice a faint bluish-green haze of light further down. They cautiously approach and find out that the light is being produced by small motes of brightness that drift in the curls and eddies of the cavern's ambient air. Since this is a new feature of the cave, the party decides to approach with even more care, though nothing jumps out at them as immediately dangerous.
They discover that the motes of light are actually coming from strange flowers with petals made of gold filigree and pistils made of glass fibres. The motes bead on the tips of the pistils, like droplets dripping from the tip of an icicle, growing in size until a threshold, at which point they are carried away by the faintest movement of air. Theris and Dr. Roth both try to capture one of the motes. Theris fails to catch one, but Dr. Roth is able to shepherd one into a glass vial.
The mote splashes against the side, turning into a softy glowing opalescent fluid. Intrigued, Dr. Roth tries to collect more by bringing the vial up to one of the flowers' glass stalks but ultimately ends up breaking the delicate glass fibre. The broken half drops into the vial but continues to leak, slowly filling the container up with bright fluid.
At this time Thurkear
decides to move a tad ahead of the party to examine the area that they will be heading into, finding that for the most part the courtyard is as it should be with the exception of the flowers. The back side of the courtyard is faintly lit but indiscernible from the distance. Simultaneously, Ailos uproots one of the flowers and finds that it has a stem as well as a root system that appears like a tangled ball of gold fibres, crushing the flower in the process, and making it leak its fluid on the ground.
Theris lights one of the flowers on fire and finds that despite appearances, it does not react to the flame like metal would. Rather, the filigreed petals wither and blacken, curling up on themselves in much the same way that organic petals would. Meanwhile, the opalescent pearls of light and the faintly oily glowing fluid that they produce cause many different colors to manifest in the fire, creating something of a dazzling display.
This done, the party decides to head onward, marching into the courtyard to find that the rear half is dominated by Shardscape vegetation. A field of metallic grass ripples in an unseen breeze, while they recognize the source of the sound of rushing water that they have been hearing so far, a gurgling spring of liquid metal shooting from the top of a pile of rubble. Little rivulets of what appears to be quicksilver rushes down the jagged and uneven edges of the pieces of stonework before pooling at the bottom of the pile and flowing in a small stream out into the metallic grass.
Beyond the grass they see that the large stone gates leading into the city are closed, and that it is flanked by thick greenery. The stonework is covered in a crisscrossing spiderweb-like pattern of metal filaments and tendrils, while to either side of the stonework large metallic plants with fan-like fronds sway gently in the same unfelt breeze as the grass.
Ailos, suspicious of the plants, blasts one with eldritch energy but does not get a response. Bold and somewhat foolhardy, Theris steps up, walking toward one of the plants with Zeph close behind. He makes a grab for the stalk, but as he does, the fan-like fronds snap into place, forming the fleshy bulbs of an enormous flytrap, complete with wicked teeth. The plant bends along its stalk, opening up to face Theris, but the elf holds his ground and takes the form of a great brown bear.
At first, the plant seems amenable to this, making somewhat of a polite bow, but this is quickly revealed to be a ruse as the fan-like fronds that had all dramatically slid into position around the two bulbs of the flower open wide and begin to vibrate, moving and reflecting the light in an enchanting pattern. Theris is only just able to resist the hypnotic allure, but it is enough to create an opening in his defenses, and one of the plant's many steel tendrils wraps around his waist.
At the same time, the second flower, on the other side of the gate, comes to life. Ailos rushes in to help Theris but ultimately is ineffective, while Thurkear unleashes a death-like withering energy on the plant that is currently accosting his friend. However, the dark, black-green bolt washes harmlessly over the plant's metallic biology, proving impotent despite the sheer power that went into its conjuring. Other members of the group leap into action, but the plants once again display their hypnotic pattern, this time managing to ensnare both Dr. Roth and Ailos in a dazed stupor.
Both Broknard and Zeph attend to the plant on the left, while Thurkear and Theris struggle with the one on the right. Dr. Roth and Ailos both remaining in their daze, even when the plant that has Theris in its grasp swallows him between the fleshy bulbs and begins to drip corrosive acid over him. Thurkear summons a spiritual weapon and sets it on Ailos in an attempt to wake him from his trance, but the act is in vain as he cannot shake the plant's hold on him.
Meanwhile, trying to delay his digestion, Theris takes the form of a giant octopus between the mantrap's bulbs, his tentacles shooting out through the gaps in the long needle-like teeth. On the other side of the battlefield, Broknard and Zephyros both are trying to save a wounded Dr. Roth from the same fate and are succeeding, but at the cost of attacking the tendrils instead of the main body of the plant each time. Dr. Roth, too, is unable to escape from his trance.
Theris is ultimately forced back into his normal form by the plant, at which point he summons all of his power and evokes a thunderclap in the confined space. The sheer pressure that it builds shoots him from the dripping jaws of the plant and sends him tumbling over the floor only to be caught up once again in one of the plant's tendrils. Thurkear summons the blessings of the Stranger upon himself, Dr. Roth, and Ailos, finally allowing the two to regain their senses, though the battle is not over.
With savagery that his ancestors would be proud of, Broknard delivers the killing blow to one plant, while divine fire called forth by Thurkear gives Dr. Roth the opportunity to finish off the other. In the immediate aftermath, the party regroups to tend to their wounds, while Thurkear, seeing potential value in the metallic fronds of the plants, sets them aside for easy access if and when they finished with their business in the dwarvenholds.
Into the Dwarvenhold
The party decides to wait for reinforcements before pressing further, and the Dominion soldiers, thirty in all, arrive two hours later accompanied by Viper. Once camp is struck out in the courtyard, the group pushes open the gates and enters the dwarvenhold. The first thing that they see is that the little park they came upon when first coming into the city has been overtaken by Shardscape influence. There is a carpet of metallic grass, and the broken fountainhead in the middle appears to be oozing a tarry, oil-slick substance into its basin.
The group moves past the fountain and through the second set of gates into the city proper, but even the city has been overcome by eldritch influence. The entire left side of the city from their perspective is set on a 45-degree upward incline, and they see the tops of buildings hanging over their heads, streets pressed up against the ceiling. To their right, the architecture appears initially normal, until they see far in the distance, buildings jutting straight out parallel to the ground from a vertical wall.
Perturbed but undeterred, the party continues onward, marching down the surprisingly-empty promenade in search of the rift. They are so focused on their destination that they don't notice their spatial orientation changing, only becoming aware when some of them look up and see that the tail end of their procession is now walking on the ceiling. Or, in other words, they
are walking on the ceiling now. They look around for any indication as to how this has happened, but all they see is flat ground around them.
Once again, persevering through the strange circumstance, the group marches toward the center of the city where they know that the rift should be, only to find that the square that had once contained the naked rift is now covered by a tall stone dome with a single darkened entrance facing the promenade. Zeph marches in fearlessly and finds himself in a small earthen room with a slit about four inches tall running horizontally across the far wall.
Zeph peers through the opening and sees the rift, far larger than he remembers it, hovering over a massive sprawling labyrinth further below than should have been possible. The party discusses the implications, but decide to leave the labyrinth for another time, knowing that the rockwurm should be at the palace.