The undertombs of the Senate sprawled before them, with two doors leading North out of the museum chamber. Equipped and ready (or as ready as they could be), the party debated which way to proceed. Nell and Inori took a moment to quaff a few of the healing potions they’d found on the display, and were pleased to learn that age had not decayed their magic at all. As they healed, Dara moved toward the easternmost door, ready to head onward into the depths.
The two doors, they discovered, led into a pair of conjoined chambers side by side, and further out beside each of them was an additional chamber. The four rooms laid in a row, each with doors connecting to their neighbors and one door connecting out further North into a long hallway. The four rooms appeared to be a continuation of the museum below, with displays and projects from throughout Taldor’s storied history.
In the far western chamber, dozens of banners hung proud, detailing both military regiments and noble families from centuries past. The second room contained a party frozen in time, a gala full of detailed wax figures dressed in ancient fashions. Another museum full of glass displays rested in the third room, but this one was markedly less useful. Instead of weapons and armors, its shelves held trinkets and oddities from cultures nearby Taldor’s borders, including some civilizations it had long since annexed. Finally, the far eastern room was filled with taxidermied creatures. Falcons, tiny elephants, and even a majestic gryphon stood as a centerpiece in the middle of the chamber.
This chamber was the one that gave them the most pause. Though they were briefly stymied by an electrified trap in the smaller museum room, they passed through relatively quickly. Here, the taxidermies were attached to mechanical riggings. As they entered, two wolves across the room howled and reared towards them. Belor quickly fired a wooden spear from his palm through the nearest wolf, shredding its stitched flesh and revealing the wiring and clockworks beneath. The other wolf paused at the peak of its jump, before snapping its hind legs trying to settle back onto its plinth.
Imistos yelped and scrambled back away from the broken wolf, making a truly undignifying noise before realizing what was happening.
“It’s for show,” Nell remarked through a smirk, watching the ancient mechanisms crumble upon themselves and cough stuffing out from the wolf onto the floor.
The halfling, embarrassed, stepped back forward and gave the wolf a cautious smack. The metallic thud rang through the room.
Completely unamused, Inori walked past the taxidermies to the northern doorway. The show continued with the huge gryphon centerpiece screeching and raising its once-majestic wings. The wings beat back down with more force than originally designed for, ripping one of the wings from the frame entirely and sending it crashing to the floor. The gryphon then attempted to rear up. One of its claws locked in place, and was also ripped away as the bulk of the creature pulled itself up from the stand.
Dara stood nearest, new crossbow in hand, as the rest of the party moved north towards the door. He watched unimpressed as the decayed gryphon reared back. This motion, however, was not part of the show. Something had gone wrong with the ancient traces of magic animating the clockworks, and the gryphon had taken a life of its own. It lunged down from its perch, beak wide, and snapped toward Dara. Three legged and heavily damaged, however, it slammed into the ground near him as he jumped back in surprise.
The party reacted quickly, scrambling through both doorways out into the previous room as well as the northern hallway to escape the massive robotic beast. Belor and Dara fell back into the smaller museum together, blasting the creature with both magical and physical bolts as they moved. Implacable, the gryphon continued to swipe and lunge at the pair. The thick stone walls of these underground passages was its undoing, however, as it was unable to fit its bulk through the much smaller door frame. Shaken, but safe, the party continued onward.
Their next obstacle was this northern hall. It stretched far beyond the reach of their torches to both the east and west, with only one visible door continuing even further northward. This door proved to be more of an obstacle than the animatronics. As they explored the whole subsystem below the Senate, they came across more and more scattered interlocking circles. Scratched into display cases, drawn upon the walls, even scored into the wax flesh of some of the figurines, the circles were omnipresent. This northern hallway, however, bore far more than any chamber before. Chalk and charcoal drawings of these intricate patterns lined the floor, walls and ceiling.
The door was covered as well, with a pattern of inscribed charcoal sprawled across its face. As Nell and Inori approached the door, the hallway seemed to warp. They saw beyond the reach of their torches, and the hallway spread infinitely in the distance, in all directions. There was no escape. Inori closed her eyes, trying to clear her head and stop whatever this strange sense was that had overcome her. Nell was overwhelmed.
Consumed by madness, he was convinced that he was trapped here, and that his group was to blame. He raised his sword with a cry, and brought it down on Inori, striking her across the chest. Completely unprepared for the blow, she was brought down in an instant. The rest of the party stood in mixed shock. One of their compatriots was now bleeding out on the floor, and another had seemingly lost his mind.
Belor quickly cast a spell. With a quick motion and word of magic, he screeched towards Nell, a truly ear-piercing wave of incapacitating sound inaudible to anyone else. Nell lowered his sword arm, raising his other hand to cover an ear as he reeled backwards.
“I don’t want to shoot you,” Dara warned as he took a step back with his crossbow raised. Nell was now left alone next to Imistos, the lone halfling they were escorting.
“He’s killing us! Stop him!” the halfling cried, drawing his tiny rapier. Imistos quickly stabbed twice, scrabbling the tip of his blade across Nell’s breastplate as he continued to reel. Imistos narrowed his eyes, focusing.
“That’s not gonna stop him long,” Belor said as he continued to move back from the crazed fighter.
Imistos took a second to steady himself, seemingly reading Nell’s movements. As Nell moved his arm down and began to recover from the spell, turning and raising his sword-arm, the halfling struck. He placed his rapier into Nell’s armpit, above the protective metal of the breastplate but below his pauldron. The strike pierced true, burying into Nell’s flesh, and sending him staggering back against the wall. His limp body slid down and slumped next to Inori’s.
“I… I did it? I did something! I helped!” Imistos exclaimed, turning back towards Dara and Belor.
“And you said you couldn’t fight,” Belor observed.
“I, I can’t! That was a lucky strike,” Imistos replied, stuttering with excitement.
“We need to get them back to the cleric,” Dara said, moving back toward them.
“Do we? He’s clearly turned, we should finish him here,” Imistos replied, indignant.
Dara and Belor had more faith in their newfound allies than Imistos did. The halfling maintained his point, that Nell had lost his mind and was a threat to the group. Dara and Belor were convinced it must have been some sort of spell, some magic that had taken hold of him and forced him to attack. Outnumbered, and less in the group’s trust, Imistos reluctantly conceded. The three worked together to half carry, half drag the unconscious bodies of Nell and Inori back to the cleric they’d left in the safe room.
This would not be the end of their woes with door, however. Another attempt to bypass its protections caused Nell to lose his mind once again, this time taking his axe to himself, and bringing them once more back to the cleric. The Abadaran priest warned the group that he did not have much more magic available to him, and that his services and divine power granted to him by the god were extremely limited. Once more, the group set off to the northern hall.
Their progress halted, they decided to continue past the door for now and off to the western end of the long hallway. The passage turned south after awhile, and turned to something strange: a lush, green garden chamber. The area was massive, far larger than any room they’d encountered so far, with green stalks and shrubs lining both sides of the massive room. Magic lights hung overhead, illuminating the area. A small temple stood at its far end.
Confused, but intrigued, the party cautiously moved through toward the chapel. The inside was plain. Save for a few rows of pews, there was nothing but a trio of statues around a small, wooden box. The central statue any Taldan could identify as Aroden. Nell and Imistos strode forward, unsure of what to expect. As they entered the chapel proper, a spectre strode forth from the statue. A shimmering blue rendition of Aroden himself addressed them.
“Followers. Present tithings,” the ghost demanded, gesturing down towards the box at its feet.
As most of the party stepped back, Nell toward towards them. He stepped forward, placing a single gold piece in the box before the image. The ghost looked down upon him.
“Do you mean to pass offense?” the spectre questioned.
“I don’t know what offering is suitable,” Nell replied.
He was quickly blasted with a shimmering pillar of light that erupted from the ground, striking him blind.
“Fools! You have earned Arrow-dean’s anger! Tithe!” the being demanded again.
The party quickly retreated from the chapel. Nell, blinded, fumbled around and felt for the box. He reached for his pouch and pulled out nine more gold pieces, dropping them alongside the first. His vision returned to him. His sight returned in time to see the ghost step back into the statue.
“Very good. Now leave this place, before you incur the wrath of Arrow-dean further.”
Nell stumbled back out of the chapel toward the rest of the party.
“What the hell was that?” he asked.
Belor was unconvinced. Something was terribly off, and it wasn’t just that the ghost of Aroden couldn’t pronounce his own name. Aroden was Azlanti, a member of the ancient progenitor race to humanity, but he wore Taldan fashions. His actions did not align with his legends in the slightest. Something here was clearly amiss.
Nell took this as a personal offense. He strode back into the chapel, and the ghost appeared once more. As it demanded once again he leave, Nell ignored it and walked back to the tithing box, picking the whole crate up in his arms. The ghost was enraged. It swore threats at Nell, but they fell on deaf ears as he simply walked back out of the chapel.
Now the party was curious. As they cautiously made their way back into the building, they looked around. The ghost made no further appearance, but it wasn’t what they sought. They looked for a source to this illusion.
Dara turned his gaze upward, into the rafters overhead. Lurking in the shadows, he spotted a small, child-like creature. A strange gremlin dressed in white robes.
“I take it this was all you?” Dara asked, addressing the monster directly.
The thing skittered further back behind the rafters, where Dara watched it wave its hands around, casting a spell. Arrow-dean’s voice echoed out through the room again.
“Leave this place!” it commanded. “Leave or-”
The voice faded, no longer echoing from the room itself. The creature continued in its own small, high pitched voice.
“Oh, gods damned.”
The gremlin climbed down and introduced itself as Viecar. Though far from helpful, the creature clearly knew it was outmatched and had no desire to help. It pulled a comically oversized sack out from under its robes, and offered the party goods for them to leave him be: a few potions and a strange key. Viecar explained that he was the “high priest” of the underchambers, and threatened the party with his wrath.
Nell raised the box over his head, as if to throw it at the goblin.
“Ok, ok, ok, ok, ok,” Viecar begged, putting his hands up. He made no further threats.
Viecar said he was the high priest of Dagio, and of something called “the Circle”. He didn’t seem to possess much knowledge of either of these entities. The key was part of a pair, but he had no idea where its sibling rested. Viecar warned that the keys, when joined, would lead to Dagio’s chambers, where the group would learn the “ways of the Circle”.
With what seemed like half a proper key in hand, the party made their way back toward the enchanted door in the northern hall. Determined, they took a slower approach this time. Belor and Inori worked together to try to determine what manner of ward was protecting the doorway. The circles drawn upon the door were themselves projecting a mental ward. Any who looked upon them too closely was subjected to the mind-altering magic that had taken Nell twice. All that was required was they simply smear one of the circles, and the ward was broken.
The hallway beyond led yet further north, into a chamber that appeared to be a reception area. This seemed hopeful. If they were working their way backwards out from the deeper saferooms, surely a reception area must mean their escape was close at hand! Behind the desk a small creature rooted around. It was a red lizardlike humanoid, dressed in fairly simple leathers, and with a belt of strange vials and flasks.
It turned toward the party as they approached, addressing them in a guttural language they didn’t understand. The kobold stood tall (as he could), seemingly counting the group as they came around the corner. Then, he quickly reached down behind the counter, pulling up a sack and placing it on the table, and began digging about inside.
“Do you speak Taldan?” Nell asked, stepping carefully towards the creature. He sheathed his axe as he approached. The kobold only threw him a quick, furtive glance before he returned to searching through the bag.
The kobold then drew vials and bottles from the bag, rapid fire, slamming them down on the table. He piled several full of various liquids and in all kinds of flasks together, and continued adding more and more items. Etched round stones, wads of cloth and tar, he nearly filled the countertop with his strange collection. He lifted the bag by its bottom, holding it upside down and shaking it to make sure nothing remained.
“Ugot zordum! Ding zom!” the lizard exclaimed excitedly, spreading his arms wide over the items and turning towards Nell. Belor recognized the language as Undercommon, the language of the Darklands, but no one in the party could speak it.
Belor did, however, know Draconic. He also knew that Kobolds themselves were dragonlings, and it was very likely the lizard spoke this as well. As the creature tried to demonstrate a few of his wares to Nell, Belor reached out to him in Draconic.
“You speak Draconic?” the creature seemed confused. “Ah, very well! I didn’t… hmm. Surfacers, speaking Draconic? What is this?”
To the rest of the party, Belor and the Kobold were simply hissing at each other. Draconic was a strange and very subtle language, which to the untrained ear doesn’t even possess individual words or phrases. Belor explained to them that the kobold was simply a merchant, and wished to sell his wares.
As the dragonling pulled out bag upon bag of additional goods, including magical rings and cloaks as well as dozens of potions, Imistos pointed out that they could simply kill the creature. Whatever his intentions at the moment, kobolds are evil beings at heart, and they could do the world good while gaining piles of supplies to keep themselves safe as they explored. The party disagreed, seeing no need to kill a creature that posed them no threat. Though Dara nearly had to physically restrain the halfling, Belor and the kobold happily did business and made trades.
Among his inventory were several much-needed healing potions. The lizard, Mimips, was an alchemist by trade, though not an exceptionally skilled one. Regardless, his help was very much welcomed by the tired and injured party.
Somewhat resupplied, the group prepared once again to venture forth. They’d met all kinds of strange personas in these sublevels, from animated gryphon machines to friendly(ish) kobolds and gremlins. They still had not found an exit though, and by Viecar’s warnings still had this Dagio to contend with. But with a reception desk here, they felt hopeful the exit could not be much further.
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