Before moving on, the party decided it best they learn what they could from Mimips the kobold. Belor asked the creature where the exit to the surface could be found. Mimips thought about it for a moment.
“That… probably out,” Mimips murmured, turning toward the northern hall beyond the desk. “But there is ghost. Very angry ghost. Very sting-y.”
“Sting-y?” Belor asked.
“It burns,” he replied. The dragonling paused for a moment to think. “Dark hot. Like, inside hot. Makes you feel weak.”
Communicating with Mimips was not the easiest task. Even with a language in common, the lizard’s vocabulary was not very large. He had previously described a vial of acid as “wet hot”. “Dark hot” could mean anything, but nothing good.
“Could you understand the ghost?”
“There were no words,” Mimips replied, shaking his head. “Just circles.” Mimips began hurriedly packing his things away. “These circles are different. Ghost circles are very angry.”
“Ghosts tend to be very angry.”
“I don’t know how the rat gets through.”
“The rat?” Belor queried, raising an eyebrow.
“The rat lives on the other side of the hallway,” Mimips answered. “The ghost wasn’t always here. I don’t know if the rat conjured it. I don’t if the rat… conjured it on purpose. He’s strange.”
“Is the rat the one who draws the circles?”
“Yes. He is very interested in the circles. He had a name,” Mimips tapped his forehead, thinking hard. “Froggio!”
“Dagio,” Belor corrected.
“Dagio! You’ve met the rat!” the kobold said excitedly.
Beyond this, Mimips was little more help. The party had heard that name before in these levels, and between this knowledge of a ghost and Viecar’s warning, it could be anything. Ratfolk were not unheard of in Taldor, much less in Oppara. They were a common sight in the Narrows and the vagabond camp underneath the Grandbridge. It would be understandable for a small gremlin to consider such a creature a threat.
Regardless of whatever this Dagio may be, they had to press onward. Faced with the threat of a ghost, the party had a real challenge to overcome. While Nell had found an enchanted axe in the museum, and both Belor and Inori had access to some limited magic in combat, they were entirely ill-prepared to deal with an incorporeal threat. Such encounters were usually reserved for prepared clerics, paladins and other holy fighters. Ghosts were not bound by the Material plane nor corporeal forms, and conventional attacks would be of no use against them. They couldn’t hope to press onward in the face of such adversity.
The decision was made to explore further. The museum had yielded much of use, and scattered throughout the sublevels they’d found several ancient artifacts to help them stay alive. Perhaps, they thought, the yet-unexplored eastern end of the long hallway would lead to something that could assist them. Nobody wished to rush headlong into death (least of all Imistos), and they knew they needed to be prepared.
At the far end of the eastern passage, the path turned sharply south just as it had at the other side. But this time, rather than a massive greenhouse, there was a sizeable library. Thick wooden bookshelves lined the eastern and western walls, leaving a fairly narrow passage down the center for visitors to tread. The shelves were filled to bursting with bundles of paper, scroll tubes, and ancient tomes. Thick layers of dust covered everything in the room, save for a narrow walkway down the center of the room, and a small seating area in the northwest corner.
They slowly entered the room, peering down the aisles for anything useful or threatening. Most of the library seemed to have lain untouched for centuries. Belor prodded through the haphazard pile of books and papers on the table in the corner, finding only complicated mathematical and geometrical texts. Nell passed down the eastern end of the room, noting that sections at the base of the stone walls had been cracked away. Small scratches and bite marks showed gaps where tiny animals had made their way into the sublevels.
Inori, however, found something interesting. Tucked among the aging shelves was a lone scroll tube that seemed untouched by time. Its brass casing looked at is if it had been freshly crafted, and when she inspected it with her own magic it gave off a small signature of its own. Turning the case over in her hands, she called out to the rest of the party as she detected the magic of a small selection of scrolls inside.
Belor came to look, similarly assessing the tube with his own magic. He could tell that the tube was enchanted, and with abjurative magic, but he couldn’t determine its purpose. Worried that the case may be some kind of trap, he handed it back to Inori for her to inspect further. Once again casting Detect Magic, she could tell that the scroll was lightly reinforced with magic. It was made more sturdy, and protected from natural wear. Satisfied with her inspection, she opened the case.
Instantly its guardian sprung from within. Launching itself out of the tube was what appeared to be itself a simple scroll, yet somehow animated. The scroll guardian flung itself instantly into Inori’s face, wrapping itself around her head. Caught totally unprepared, she couldn’t see or breath as she was smothered by the strange guardian. She dropped the case and her sword to the ground and ripped the creature off her head with both hands, throwing it down in front of her. As it hit the ground, the scroll spun around, instantly ready to launch again.
Blood gushed from Inori’s neck as she staggered backwards toward the door. Where the scroll had connected with her, a massive gash ran from her neck up the side of her face. She stumbled out back into the hall, clutching her throat with one hand and fumbling towards her bag for a potion with the other. Dara and Imistos stepped aside to make room for her passing.
“Are you serious? The damn books are trying to kill us?” the halfling screeched in a mix of disbelief and terror.
Belor ducked under the scroll as it launched itself towards his head, loosing a wooden stake with a quick word of magic. Taking aim, Dara fired a bolt at the scroll as well. Both shots connected, but the guardian seemed largely unscathed. Whatever magic or alchemy was animating the tiny construct also seemed to be making it supernaturally resilient to harm. Nell stepped in and swung his mighty axe, but such a weapon seemed far too unwieldy to properly land a strike on the tiny creature.
The scroll launched itself from the floor again and again. It grazed past Belor, and then Nell, grazing both and again attempting to latch on. Nell raised his shield, hoping to stymie the attack, able to fully block the small guardian and keep it further from his body as he moved between the thing and his wizard.
“Nell! The alchemist’s fire we bought!” Belor called out, as he stepped back away from the scroll. The group had acquired a few bottles of the flaming liquid from Mimips in their trades.
Nodding, Nell stepped back as he lowered his shield. He reached back into his bag and quickly drew the bright orange flask. As he hurled it down toward the scroll, it leapt away, leaving the bottle to smash into the floor. The shattering of the glass splashed the liquid all around the area, however, and in the blink of an eye sparks and fire ran in every direction. The scroll itself caught alight, as did the ancient dust coating nearly every inch of the nearby shelves. Highly flammable, gouts of fire raced down the length of the shelf.
The books and papers underneath the dust didn’t hold up any better. As the fire flashed through the dirt, everything stuffing the shelves underneath started to catch. In seconds, the entire room was lit with dancing flames, and fire roared toward the ceiling. The scroll flailed about for a few seconds, trying to extinguish its own blaze before launching again for Nell.
Nell caught the scroll again on his shield, and as the fire burned before him an idea sparked in his mind. Their weapons seemed helpless against whatever protections and wards the guardian had. Fire, however, had clearly given it pause. With a roar, Nell charged forward into the flames. He slammed his shield into the fiery bookshelf, the wood of the stand itself now starting to alight. The scroll was smashed into the growing blaze, and as Nell pulled back dropped to the floor nearly completely consumed. After a brief final attempt to move itself, the guardian finally fell still.
A new problem now faced the party: the burning library. Doors exited the room further to the south, leading to an unknown beyond, but the shelf that had been splashed with alchemical fire was now being consumed entirely. If left alone, its neighbors would surely catch as well, and perhaps the entire room. Who knows what knowledge, and possibly magic, would be lost in the inferno?
As the rest of the party fell back into the hall from whence they came, Nell knew his work was not done. Inori stopped only to grab her father’s blade, throwing an incredulous look toward Nell as he decided to stay. He stepped back from the fire, turning the the next shelf in line, and with a mighty heave toppled it away from the flame. It crashed into the next shelf, and that shelf into the one beyond, cascading until the shelves slammed into the far wall near the door. Hoping to create as much distance as he could, he then stepped past the flames to attempt to down the shelves there as well. As the fire danced and spread, however, he couldn’t quickly upright this end, and was forced to retreat with his comrades.
“I hope there aren’t civvies on the other side,” Inori sighed, wondering if their battle had doomed more unfortunate nobles. “Why is everything in this place trying to kill me? I’m getting tired of this.”
“That’s exactly the question! Why aren’t we leaving?” Imistos pleaded. He’d earlier voted to push past the ghost, in a bid to find the exit sooner.
“Well, we are now,” Nell replied dryly.
“I say we cut our losses, try to find the exit, and get out of here,” Imistos explained. “The way I see it, our options are stay here until we starve to death, or try.”
“We have the supplies to stay here for a very long time,” Belor reminded the group. The safehouse they’d originally escaped had been well-stocked, and they found a few magical aides in the rooms to stretch those supplies even further.
“Longer than a ghost?” the halfling asked incredulously.
“No, but long enough to get out strength back and maybe try again tomorrow,” Belor responded. Wizards, and indeed all magical sorts, needed time to refresh. Magic takes some toll on the mind, and even the most experienced wizards can only cast so many spells in a given day. Inori agreed with the sentiment, as a rest would restore her magic as well.
“It would let us restore all of our spells. Its seeming like the best option at the moment,” the half-elf finished.
With a hearty sigh, Imistos reluctantly agreed. The party made their way back through the museum towards the Veritas safehouse, noting that the sounds of the gryphon’s rampage seemed to have died down. As they sealed the hidden door behind them, and ascended the stairs back into the safehouse proper, they were met with the surviving nobles. They had several questions.
They found Lady Trant and her cleric, Zubari, resting in the servant’s area. The Abadaran priest was knelt in prayer, while Trant simply sat on the bed nearest him. She tapped him on the shoulder lightly as the party entered, eager for rest. The cleric rose to meet them.
“What has taken place?” he asked in a thick Sargavan accent.
“Are we free? Can we leave?” Dame Trant immediately interjected.
Dara shook his head. “Not quite yet.”
The group quickly brought up the situation, leaving out most of the details and their fights. They explained that they’d found a reception desk, surely indicating that they were near freedom, but learned that a ghost blocked the way. They explained that the casters in the group simply needed to rest and restore their magic. It had been late in the evening when they were first teleported here, and even for the fighters, fatigue was beginning to set in.
“Zubari. Do you think, being a cleric, you could assist us if this ghost turns out to be something we cannot surpass?” Nell bluntly laid out their troubles.
“I do not know what I could offer. I could bring the power of Abadar against him, but I am… useless in a fight. I do not know how I could help,” he said meekly. “If you could not deal with this being, I doubt I would be much assistance.”
“I’m sure we could safeguard you for the assistance, if we need it,” Nell promised the man. “We would be dealing with one enemy, and immediately bringing you back.”
Zubari nodded. Trant slowly looked up towards the party, defeated.
“A ghost. There’s a bloody ghost. All this beneath the halls of the Senate, for how many years unknown?” she moaned. “There must be some way we can contact the surface. The guards, the Ulfen, anyone!”
Nell shook his head, as the rest of the party similarly grimaced. They had long since resigned themselves to their fate: They would escape unaided, or not at all. They had no way to contact anyone above.
“Personally, I’m not thinking contacting anyone outside the safe room is a good idea. We don’t know who we can trust at this point,” Inori recalled, referring to the slaughter that had led them here.
Not much more of value could be said. All those still trapped in the safe room accepted that they had no one left to rely upon but themselves, and after a short while, took their uneasy rests around the safehouse. Though weary, they slept soundly, exhausted from their battles. They knew not what a new day would bring.
Eventually, the group awoke. Trapped underground in these seemingly endless halls, they had no way to tell time or even day. The casters quickly set about preparing their magics, as the rest of the group dug through the storage supplies in the other room for a somber morning meal. Imistos rejoined the group, wary of what the day would bring, but eager to make his escape.
After about an hour, they set back out, heading back to library they’d incinerated the night before. Each among them was wary of what they would find, and unsure of what to expect. As they creaked open the wooden door, they found that the situation was not as dire was they had feared. The shelves in the southeastern quarter of the room had been charred to cinders. They stood as blackened husks surrounded by burnt stone tiles. The rest of the room, however, remained largely unscathed. There was enough space down the middle of the room that the fire did not leap across to the western edge, and Nell’s quick movements had even saved half of the eastern wall.
As most of the party passed through the room, Belor hesitated. He looked backed toward the northwest corner table, curious about the scattered books in papers in the otherwise organized room. He paused a moment, and asked the party to wait as he gave the table a final look. The wizard sifted through the papers, piles of geometrical diagrams and advanced theorems. Tucked inside, however, he found his prize.
An autobiography dated centuries ago, penned by Eros Glendower, was tucked among the stacks. Noting how conspicuously out of place the writing was, Belor gathered its pages and scanned through. He read the tale of a wizard like himself, who came into contact with a strange group calling themselves the Immaculate Circle. Eros was appointed to the Taldan Senate, and the Circle wanted access. They offered him rare and forbidden tomes of magic in exchange for the power of his vote. As time passed, the man realized he was simply being used by this shadowy group, and lusted for more power. He began to turn his magical experiments toward immortality, hoping to take his seat “at the table of the gods”.
An interesting read to be sure, but unfortunately an unhelpful one. Finding nothing that would assist them in their escape, Belor motioned that the group press on. The doors to the south led to a much larger extension of the library, where they were briefly troubled by strange spider-legged book creatures, but no real harm came to them as they passed through on their journey through the library’s aisles.
In the furthest chamber, they found a strange creature. A floating, winged orb of brass with a single blue eye seated in its center floated in the very middle of the small room. It turned to address them as they entered.
“Welcome. I am Factor 12,” the thing introduced itself, its voice emanating from seemingly nowhere in particular. “I am the curator of these archives. Have you come to make a withdrawal, or to investigate a requested item in the attached reading room?”
“What?” Imistos questioned, confused.
“This is fascinating,” Belor gasped, seeming unaware of the halfling’s interjection. He explained to the group that what they saw before them was an inevitable, a strange and secretive race from beyond this plane of existence. Little was known about this odd, nearly mechanical race, and they were rarely encountered on the material plane. That one rested here, seemingly in the employ of the ancient library, was incredible.
Factor 12 explained to the group that the room in which it resides was a magical archive; a small storehouse of artifacts the library had procured. It had remained here for over 700 years, implacable, and seemingly unbothered by the passage of time. It listed the artifacts available to be “borrowed” to the group, informing them that any “patron of the library” could rent one of the items at a time. The storehouse had magical weapons, magical armor, enchanted boots and cloaks… and a single, strange key. The group all immediately realized that Factor 12 possessed the other half of the key they’d received from Viecar.
With no real choice in the matter, the party asked to borrow the key. Factor 12 helpfully explained what they already knew: that the key belonged to a pair, and it was useless without its counterpart. It went on to explain things that were more useful. The keys opened the auditorium part the reception desk, where Mimips had encountered the ghost. The only interaction the inevitable had had with another being in centuries was a theft from the archives. A rat had stolen several magical items from the lockers and escaped.
Of course, the party knew this had to be more of Dagio’s work. They were slowly forming a picture of this creature, but still had no idea what it would be when they encountered it. Dagio, if that name still applied to a living creature, had to be some form of Ratfolk. He was either magically inclined, or at least augmented by the items he’d stolen from this vault. He met Viecar, and ran something called “the Circle” in the sublevels. Finally, somehow, he was either protected or trapped by a ghost.
It was time. The party had nowhere to go but through the spectre.
They gathered what strength they had and headed back to the reception desk. They saw no sign of their strange kobold ally from before, and they passed quickly through to the far hall. As they entered, they saw the hallway turn and widen, culminating in a door with a pair of keyholes side by side. This had to be their goal.
A lone, leering statue watched from the hallway corner as they advanced. Its sceptre pointed toward their destination. After a few steps down the hall, however, they began to see manifestations. Blood oozed from the stone tiles of the walls, and grew from the cracks in the ceiling. The blood formed dozens of circles scattered all over the hallway, and spread to cover the door as well.
The party took a step back, all but Dara.
“Do you have the keys? I will try to unlock the door,” he said, turning back toward Belor. The half-elf paused for a moment, then reached into his bag and drew the pair of keys, handing them toward the Osirian archer.
He strode forth, steadfast in his resolve. He drove both keys into their sockets, turning them in unison, before raising a hand to open the door. As he touched the bloodstained wood, his vision was overwhelmed with a pale flash. He saw a man standing in a circular chamber, surrounded by arcane sigils and equipment. Energy flowed from the runes into his hands as he performed an elaborate ritual, detailed to Dara in a series of quick flashes. The energy overwhelmed the man. In a panic, he brought his hands to his shoulder, transferring the coursing magic into his perched familiar.
Transferring the magic into his rat.
All became clear as his vision returned, the door swung open before him. The group quickly hurried through, as the seeping blood began to run down the walls. Inori cast her magic detection, swinging it around the hall and sensing incredibly powerful necromantic magic resonating from the bloody passage. Relaying this to the group quickened their pace further.
They arrived in a large circular auditorium. Several rows of seating were raised up on tiers so all the room had clear view of the center, though the seats had been moved from their proper places and arranged in circles throughout the room. Insane mathematical equations and thousands more circles coated nearly every inch of the floor, walls and ceiling here. Centered in the roof above, a half dozen interlocking circles in a rainbow of colors ringed a small opening, five feet across.
A voice rung out from the darkness.
“Trespassers. You tread upon the will of the Circles,” the voice echoed. “You have interrupted Golarion’s most important research. Why have you come?” The voice rang through the room, making it impossible to pinpoint.
“Last time I heard a voice booming out talking about trespassing, it was a weird little gremlin thing,” Nell quipped.
“We come from Viecar. He gave us his blessing,” Belor hurriedly added.
“That GREMLIN sends you into the domain of the Heirophant of the Arc, the Archduke of Tangencies, the Beginning and the End, the Eternal Cycle, Dagio the Great?” the voice shouted out, enraged.
“So you’re a rat,” Nell observed again.
“You, who have trespassed in this domain, I condemn thee to death. Rise, followers!”
A horrendous scratching and scraping rattled up from beneath the floor. Hundreds, if not thousands of rats poured out from underneath the tiered seating rows, coalescing into two massive hordes.
Nell and Belor, addressing Dagio, were the furthest forward, and the only two who’d made their way down into the center of the room. The rats swarmed toward them immediately, biting and clawing as they infested their clothes and armor.
Dara aimed his crossbow down, holding his free hand up. “Please, there must be some way we can appease you. We are just trying to get people to safety.”
He was answered by a blast of flying acid shooting out from the darkness, splashing onto Nell’s breastplate and instantly burning away the polished metal. As he recoiled from the rats and the acid, Dagio spoke again.
“Have no fear. Your deaths, and your bodies, will provide for the infinite research of the Circle. It will unlock the ancient secrets of the infinite passage,” he proclaimed loudly.
Imistos, sticken with fear, backed away toward the hall. “Rats? What are we supposed to do against a million rats?”
Trapped on the lower floor, Belor and Nell raised axe and magic against the horde of rats surging around them. Dara and Inori flanked around the room, staying on the upper tier, going down opposite sides. As Inori pressed forward towards the source of the acidic blast, her light revealed the source of the spell.
Dagio clung to the wall, twenty feet above the highest tier, scrambling around the outskirts. He was massive for a rat, clearly grown tenfold in size from the ritual that had been diverted into him centuries ago. Even his own body was covered in circles, drawn into his fur with white paint. As he skittered into the glow of Inori’s magic, he raised one paw and blasted a pair of mystical bolts directly into her chest.
Inori reeled back from the spell, readying magic of her own. As Dagio was revealed, the rest of the party turned to do what they could to assist. Inori cast a corona of light into the rat’s eyes, hoping to blind him, as Belor once again let forth a magical scream. The beast recoiled, but weathered the assault on its senses seemingly unharmed.
Nell moved closer to the center of the chamber, desperately trying to fight the hordes of smaller rats. As he moved to defend his team, he drew more alchemical fire from his bag, but even that burning blast barely made a dent in the huge swath of rodents coating the chamber. He was wholly unprepared, and untrained, for an encounter of this kind. Belor tried to assist, flinging more of his splintering wooden spears into the hordes of rats, but similarly making little impact.
From across the room, Dara took a moment to aim. He kneeled down behind one of the chairs, leveling his crossbow at Dagio as the rat readied another magical blast. With a press of the trigger, he loosed a bolt true into Dagio’s neck. The shaft thudded into him, lodging itself into the side of his neck underneath an ornate gold and ruby collar. Dagio turned to face the soldier, enraged.
With a word of magic and another wave of his free paw, Dagio sent another blast of magically-enhanced acid into Dara. Perched and readied as he was, the Osirian had no chance. The surging slime hit him directly in the head, covering his face, burning away his flesh. He cried out as he felt the skin and muscles being seared away, and exposed bone being left behind on his cheek and jaw.
Nell did not far much better, nor did Belor. Both were still under constant assault from the horde of rats, who by sheer number were tearing away at them. They had no proper recourse from this assault. More acid or alchemical fire would do as much damage to them as it did the rats.
Belor tried to run across to the western end of the chamber, to aid Inori in her struggle against Dagio. Nell tried desperately to hack away at the swarm, and even harder to simply remain standing.
Inori backed away from the rat, with no means to reach him perched so high on the wall. She looked around the room, wounded from his magic.
Belor staggered up the tiered stairs towards the wall, desperately hoping to escape the horde.
Dara held his face as chunks of his melted face fell through his hands onto the floor.
Nell fell to his knees, and the swarm overran him.
She shook her head, desperately trying to clear her mind and think of a way out. She had no way to effectively deal with the hordes, but she couldn’t even reach Dagio. She turned toward Nell, determined to do what she could to save the noble.
As he reached the wall, Belor turned and cast another pointed spear into Dagio. Piercing through his body alongside the bolt still lodged in his collar, he finally lost his grip on the wall. The massive rat fell to the ground, twisting and flailing as he quickly tried to right himself.
Dara raised his crossbow and screamed. A mixture of pain and rage, he squinted his one remaining eye, aiming his crossbow toward the fallen rat as he steadied himself. Dagio pulled a rod out from beneath his collar, and electricity surged from its end. He raised the wand for a strike toward Belor.
“You may slay me here, but I cannot die. The circle in unending!” the rat screeched.
Dara fired. The fight had moved away from him, and he was enshrouded in darkness. His pained roar echoed from the shadows, followed by his bolt. The shot buried itself in Dagio’s hide.
The rat lay still.
There was no time for celebration. Nell had fallen, and the seemingly endless horde of rats would spell his doom if they were not stopped. Belor and Dara were clinging to consciousness, if not life. Inori was desperately injured. They needed a miracle.
“Do you know how disappointed your dad would be, if you died here? To rats?”
Nobody heard the voice but Inori. It was deep, and sounded as if it had come from inside her own mind, as if telepathically. She didn’t recognize its origin, or its owner. As it spoke, a shimmer ran down the length of her blade, and electricity crackled from its tip. The sword itself gained a dull glow, nearly black.
Her blade had awakened.
Augmenting the surge with her own lightning, Inori raised her sword high and brought it down upon what remained of the rat swarm. Arcs of energy crackled along the ground as her slam connected with the floor, coursing through the bodies of the beasts. Rats were blasted off and away in every direction, and those that were not slain fled. As the room cleared, Nell’s body was uncovered. He was bloodied, burnt, with parts of his breastplate seared away by acid, but alive.
Inori held her sword at arm’s length, looking at it in awe.
The room fell silent.
“We… is it over? Did we do it?” Imistos asked, hiding by the doorway.
“I think so,” Belor groaned in pain.
Check out the Discord server for a text write-up of #TheStorySoFar (that’s the channel) to get a real quick catch-up to the current episode! Or, look into #WarForTheCrown for fully detailed text versions of the adventures! Also, just come hang out!