Alvus and Surik listen again as the bellowing giant grows softer and softer...more sobbing, gentle and small. But before they can act, Brewdo sets to work performing a "medicine check" with his monolith sword upon the heap of reptilian flesh. After an intimate inspection, he concludes that the mess of once living material is indeed dead. He also concludes that this creature is currently in three pieces. Further inspection from Riswynn reveals this creature as a Yuan-Ti Abomination.
Jimmy's ears perk up as the sound of tiny footfalls splashing through water halts at the top of the stairs and he spies movement beyond the landing. Sneaking up the steps, he spies, crouched against a far wall, a small humanoid creature. It wears a fine, purple skirt with gold filigree and bangles that jingle as it shifts. He sees its red blouse and gold bracers, as well as a mat of glittering blonde hair, stuck to the face with cold water. This is a child; a teenager, looks no older than 15 or so. Jimmy notes her slightly pointed ears and that her clothes appear a little big on her, synched tight around her form with many different threads, and an extra belt or two.
Her eyes dart up to him and she immediately sprints further into the cave, splashing through a shallow stream in the underground. "Don't run away, we're here to help!" Jimmy calls after her in Elvish, but she doesn't stop. Cursing under his breath, he begins to give chase, the rest of the group close behind.
Brewdo charges ahead, happy to be chasing something, and the group is lead down a long, damp straightaway into a large, flat, domed cavern. The bugbear has to stop short to avoid slamming into a thick stick stuck in the ground, and spins out of its way before slowing his gait to the center of the room and taking in what he sees.
This circular cavern, about 100 feet across, is a cemetery. Every 5 feet or so there is a make-shift grave site, and each has a unique talisman or necklace hung over the cross. Some have sets of flowers, other small urns; no grave is left alone here. As the group begins to take in this sight, Riswynn spies past it all to an opening on the other end, where a flash of red cloth ducks behind the corner. "Girl's that way." she says as she moves on ahead like a shot, faster than Brewdo can react. "Slow down! We're not here to hurt you!"
The pitter-patter of the feet stops, then gets louder, as two gloved hands creep around the edge of the wall and a young face peers back at Riswynn. Her eyes look at the hill dwarf with unease at first, but then they travel up Riswynn's form to the dwarf's shoulder where, with a shimmer, a faerie dragon appears (the druid's companion, Fareday). Seeing her interest, Riswynn sends Fareday over to the girl, who follows the little dragon back out, clearly entranced by the creature, until she is right in front of Riswynn.
The girl mutters, "Pretty..." as she reaches out to pet Fareday, who happily obliges, running up the girls' shoulders as she giggles and resting upon her head playfully. It is adorable.
Riswynn crouches a little to meet the girl's eyes. "What is your name?"
"Oh. My name? My name is Eilir..." The girl's eyes drift back down to the faerie dragon. "What, um, what is her its name?"
"Hi Fareday! Hi!" as she continues to pet the creature and it purrs near her. Her eyes begin to gaze past Riswynn to the rest of the group as they approach with caution and her eyes widen at the sight of the war forged. "Ah! You! You look like my friends! ...Are, are you from home!?"
"No. I am from very far away." Mama remains perplexed by the child.
"Where is home?"
Eilir blinks a few times. "The castle. With the crystal spires."
The party explains that that's where they are headed and Eilir becomes even more excited at the prospect of bringing them home with her and for the opportunity to play with Fareday more. Through conversation, the group gleans that Eilir came into the cave through a short-cut from her "citadel", ran into the "cold one" hunting someone, so she hid, but the "poison one" found her and bit her before she could get away. Upon hearing this last bit, she pulls up her skirt a little to reveal two ghastly prongs, like teeth, in her left calf muscle where pus has begun to flow around the wounds. Mama rushes forward, casting Lesser Restoration on the child, and as fresh blood (instead of pus) begins to flow from the wounds, pushing the teeth out, sets to work bandaging the leg. As this is happening, Xun pockets the cobra-like teeth while Riswynn offers to come with Eilir as her protection, to which she exclaims happily, "Oh good, you can meet my brothers! Perfect."
"Will your brothers...be glad to see us?"
"Oh, yeah, they're really good with visitors. They're just really sick right now, so they can't move, so they need me to go out and get food for them. But this way, this will be great; YOU can go meet them, instead of the other way around... It's a long story, do you want to talk here? There's a lot of death here..." As Eilir looks nervously at the 45 graves in the other room, the rest of the group is uncertain of this child, but glean that she seems much more sheltered and is speaking, as far she is concerned, the truth. She explains that she was crying before because poison hurts quite a bit and she was scared that whatever happened to her brothers was about to happen to her... But now she feels better and maybe this group can cure her brothers like they cured her.
Meanwhile, Brewdo got bored, and continued past his companions and deeper down the adjoining tunnel, muttering, "Sneaking...sneaking" to himself, with Jimmy keeping a close eye about 5 feet back. The moment he passes Eilir, still petting Fareday, Riswynn hears her mutter, "Watch out for the-
SNAP. As four javelin-filled boards slam into either side of Brewdo, simultaneously impaling and binding him with spikes and barbed wire. He pitches forward, now mostly contained in a make-shift bear trap, slamming his grumbling face into the dirt. "Yeah, that one! Watch out for the Spikey-Boo! ...oh, that looks like it hurts, hold on!" As Eilir flips a switch inside the trap, its teeth flop back down to the earth, where she quickly hides them again.
Mama is becoming concerned for her mules when Steef feels his Alarm spell get tripped. The two of them rush back toward the mouth of the cave only to be met by two very scared and scarred mules as they watch in the distance, a massive paw reach through the opening of the tunnel back to the mouth, snow-covered white fur upon gray skin, clawing into the dirt ahead of them. The ram-like horns of a Yeti attempt to sunder the opening, fresh blood upon its face and teeth, but it cannot wrench any further into the cave. Mama feels their heart sink as it roars and they hear splintering wood around the corner...
In just a few moments, Mama, Steef, and Surik return and Eilir sets to work tripping her remaining traps further up the path. She returns just in time to hear about the Yeti. "Oh no... Furry McFlufferson is not one of the nice ones! We gotta' go. It's okay, I changed the Spikey-Boom-Boom, the Boom-Boom-Slap, and the Slappers Trapbox up ahead, so we should be fine. C'mon!"
A Girl of Many Talents
Eilir leads the group down a deep winding path into the depths of the mountain. The air in the tunnels becomes thick with moisture, the sound of trickling water filtering nearby and slick deposits of moss beginning to line the walls and floor. As they go, the teenager begins whistling an elegant, but haunting tune. Her voice is clear and pitched perfect, the vibrant tones bouncing off the tunnel walls. Steef, in his studies, finally recognizes the origin of this melody. It is an ancient war lullaby that became popular in the second age, but might be even older.
Riswynn asks where Eilir learned this melody, and the girl seems to blank for a moment - just a second - before answering with a smile, "My dad."
"What was your father's name?
"Uh, his name was Volition."
A few moments of awkward silence follow before the group suddenly becomes painfully aware that they are trudging through freezing knee-deep water. Eilir continues forward, undeterred, while the group struggles to keep pace. Mama's legs begin to freeze, holding her in place, as the others attempt to move as fast as they can through the freezing waterway.
"Don't worry, it's just a few more...oh. Heh." As Eilir turns back and sees the state of Mama, she easily walks back through the freezing ice water toward the cleric. Jimmy's eyes widen as he takes note of her bare feet as she glides through the thickening ice. "Heh. Hold still, big guy. You need to step lighter." Eilir takes a deep breath...and exhales fire on and around Mama's legs, filling the area with steam and allowing her to move. "All right! C'mon, let's go, let's go!" As she helps whomever else is stuck in the same way and happily bounds on ahead, giggling as she goes.
Next she leads the Owls to a steep incline, slick with moss and trickling water. She scampers easily up the hill, pausing only briefly to look back, then vaults onto the edge, swinging her legs while she waits. Half the group begins the climb, some remembering that they have literal kits for this sort of thing, and after a few minutes, all make their way up (the monk easily vaults from one foothold to another to join Eilir quickly). "Great! Now you get to see it from the back!" Eilir scampers down the corridor and veers to the right, with the group in hot pursuit.
The Knight Owls are greeted by blinding light as they emerge into the warm sun. They stand upon a brilliant marble terrace; a perfect stone circle under a clear blue sky...the eye of the storm. Ahead of them is a grand staircase that leads to a huge obsidian door. Flanking this door sits two diamond spires, with a third, this one ruby, further back in the center of this castle's structure. The final two diamond spires can be seen on the edges of the bastion's dome further back. A blizzard continues to rage beyond the landscape of the citadel. Alvus and Steef detect magic emanating from the spires, a piercing disk of power pushing back the storm from the central spire.
"Should we go up and knock?" Xun inquires.
"Oh, no, I'll just let you in!" Eilir giggles and begins hopping up the massive stone steps.
Jimmy chimes in. "You said that you haven't seen people like us before. Is that going to cause a problem for people in the citadel?"
"No, no. We've, we've had visitors before... Just not for awhile."
Riswynn: "How long has it been?"
"Oh, you know, just a couple years... Anyway, c'mon!" And she begins hopping up these high steps. The Owls notice that the staircase is impossibly broad, each step 5-feet tall at least, and begin their own belabored ascension. Brewdo, who is bored, makes it to the door ahead of everyone else, and begins knocking loudly. "Anybody home? Brewdo here." With each impact, the bugbear feels no give from the other side of the door. This thing is solid, and very heavy.
Eilir puts her hands on her hips and glares up at the bugbear. "You are very rude, you know." Then giggles and pushes on the door with one hand. It swings open easily, and she skips inside, as the Owls trade glances at this feat. As the massive door swings open into a grand foyer, sets of brazers and torches light immediately, casting warm firelight along the smooth stone walls of a tall entranceway and illuminate a set of five ornate statues.
Everything here appears constructed for creatures much larger than the Owls. The ceiling itself is over two hundred feet high, grand arches framing each statue and marking diverging halls. The figures are each different and impeccably detailed. Jimmy is taken aback as he stares at one of them; a stoic figure in full-plated armor, an imposing helmet covering the face. It carries a halberd in one hand and a pair of spiked ball and chain in the other... "Uh, guys?"
The other Owls take note of the other statues. A bald, robed, lanky figure, somewhat hunched, with two daggers at the ready. On the other side, on the same pedestal, a pair of identical elven women, like mirror images of one another, each carrying an elegant pike and a lantern. The final one, a shirtless brute with a long goatee and a wily tuft of chest hair, stands with his arms crossed, glaring down at the party.
Riswynn asks, "Were these statues built in memory of anyone?"
Eilir perks up. "Oh yeah, yeah. These were before my brothers. The first guardians."
"We might have run into...them."
The girl lowers her eyes, uncomfortable. "They were...seduced...by The Hive."
"The what-now?" - all the Owls.
"Did you, did you see the glowing? The gems? We call those Hive Crystals. ...If you were to touch them, well, you know. ...Volition punishes. They, they, they fell from their pedestals, and now, uh, they reside...in The Hive. Guardians guard, but, they fell from grace. So they're there...now." Though convoluted her speech, the Owls glean from Eilir that the creatures memorialized here used to guard the citadel, but tried instead to take the Hive Crystals. For this offense, they were cursed to protect that passage eternally. However, Eilir alludes to another group; a group of soldiers seeking the crystals, who all met grizzly ends by the first guardians before their own seduction. "Volition...makes examples." And Eilir's eyes drift up to the fifth statue. The Owls follow her gaze.
They see the image of an athletic elven man, long straight hair framing an angular face. He wears an ornate set of chitin armor, a grizzly sawtooth sword at his side and a set of skulls hung from his belt. "Uh, that's Wynn. He, um, he wasn't nice. ...I know that he clings...to life."
Riswynn: "Someone may have punted his head into a lake..."
Eilir perks up excitedly. "Oh, he's gonna' hate that! That's wonderful, who did that?" Alvus raises a reluctant hand, and Eilir rushes over...and gives him a high five. "Great job! He's gonna' be so annoyed later, it will be beautiful!" She keeps giggling and begins moving to the next door; Brewdo is already there, staring at the deep navy metal of the door as he pushes on it to no avail.
Eilir skips over to the door, giggles again, "Don't worry, you'll get it one day." and palm-heels the door. Again, the Owls watch this tiny girl knock open another hundred-foot door with ease, more brazers and torches lighting as it swings open. On the way through, Mama takes note of the door and its similarity to their armor; Adamantine. "It just takes practice, no big deal!" the girl continues to skip ahead.
Meanwhile, Brewdo doesn't look too good. Dark circles under his eyes, he seems extremely tired, and Mama checks his face to find a crystalline, onyx vein beginning to protrude from his mouth, obscuring his speech. Riswynn alerts Eilir to Brewdo's condition and Mama explains that one of old guardians stuck something in him. "It stabbed him with crystals and-
"Hold still, please!" As Eilir hops up to Brewdo and pokes him hard in the chest. Brewdo begins contorting his face in pain as the Owls watch her pinch something just on the edge of the skin. "Oh, uh-oh." With a horrible crunch and a snap, they watch her hand enter Brewdo's chest and begin fishing around inside. As the Owls begin to panic, she pulls a long jagged shard of pure diamond from Brewdo's chest, ripping the onyx vein with it.
"Dat not supposed to be derr."
"Nope, that's real bad." Eilir pats Brewdo on the shoulder, holding the diamond out. "But, you know what, don't worry about it, you're going to be - FINE." And on that last word she sends her palm into Brewdo's chest, slamming him against the wall. The Owls hear a sound like grinding stone, and Brewdo's other symptoms melt off of him (Lesser Restoration).
Riswynn: "What was happening to him?"
"Oh, he was being...replaced. Well, Sala, he...never liked his job. And I think he's come back too many times, so it looks like he was trying to, um, what's the word...quit? And because Volition makes quitting impossible, he was trying to replace himself. With him." And she nods to Brewdo.
Xun begins to walk up alongside the girl. "I appreciate you helping him."
Eilir smiles up at the half-orc. "Oh yeah, I wouldn't wish Sala's job on anyone..."
"How did you do that?"
She smiles brightly. "Oh, pressure points! Ya' know, chakras! ...Just, just regular pressure points and seeing that something was sticking out of him, that's all." Eilir continues to skip down the hallway as the half-orc smiles; of course it's chakras!
Hall of the Five
As Eilir skips ahead, the Owls emerge into a long corridor with high ceilings and grand arches framing the central path. Dark shadows cling to the edges under the archways, and a reflective dark stone floor flows out beneath their feet. Each takes note of inscriptions running along the shape of the archways. The script is large, primitive, but foreign to most. Except for Xun Fu, who speaks Primordial. They read, in order, as the script begins to wrap around the end of the hall.
We Five find the Guilty Hive.
We Four seek Forgotten Shores.
We Three see through the Key.
Wrapped around the ornate adamantine door.
We Two see Through You.
And there, around the handle.
I Am, that which Remains.
"Heh, I love that rhyme. My brothers wrote it!"
Riswynn again chimes in. "Who exactly are your brothers?"
"Um, well, isn't it obvious? ...I mean, you saw the old guardians..."
"So they're the current guardians?"
"Yeah! Just through here!" As Eilir begins to reach out toward the massive door.
Brewdo informs the party loudly. "Brewdo tired. He's gonna' go take a nap. For like, an hour. Or somethin'." And begins wandering under one of the arches. Mama addresses Eilir, "Is there a place we could rest, we are all very tired."
Eilir smiles at the group, looking at each of them. "You all look fine to me." As she says this, Fareday shimmers into view and Eilir lets go of the door, sitting down on the floor to pet the faerie dragon. Between Brewdo's whining and Riswynn's persuasion, Eilir allows the group to rest as she sits in a meditative position in front of the door and breathes patiently.
Xun sits across from her, mirroring her movements, curious of her technique. An hour passes and Eilir exhales and stretches. "Okay! Who's ready to go?"
"You know, the longer we rest, the longer you get to play with Fareday!" Riswynn summons the little dragon back to her side.
Eilir's eyes light up. "REALLY!? Sure! You can take all the time you want!"
As the group rests, they learn that Eilir has not seen a dragon on the island for some time, but recalls the "scary dragon" that took over one of the neighboring islands. She is pleased to learn that a few of these Owls helped in defeating it. When asked if there is food for the mules, she sprints off into the darkness...returning a few moments later with a large trough under one arm (filled with water) and large bale of hay in the other. Setting them down, she looks frantically around for the "puppy dragon" and tries to catch Fareday.
As she plays, the group continues to ask her questions.
"Is there anyone else living here?"
"No, it's just me an my brothers. ...Dad's gone now."
"How many brothers do you have?"
"Oh! Just four."
"And they're all sick."
"Yeah... It's my job as big sister to take care of them."
"Excuse me, what are their names and how old are they."
"That's sort of personal, don't you think?"
"Where did your Dad go?"
And this question, Eilir appears very sensitive on. Her play with Fareday slows as she moves just to hug the tiring creature. "Um. He went to see Mom...and never came back."
"What was your Mom's name?"
Done with questions for now, Eilir goes back to playing happily with Fareday, while the Owls rest and keep watch. Jimmy and Xun take first watch; Mama and Ameera take second.
Jimmy takes note that this space, and the citadel as a whole, is immaculate. The floors appear polished to a sheen, the walls devoid of dust or wear; as if this place has been separated from the weathers of time. Wandering the large room near the entrance door, passing by the lamps and torches of his allies, Jimmy sees something on the edge of the shadows in the far right corner of the room. The firelight is licking the edges of what appears to be a claw.
The human shifts into the shadows unseen by all and slinks toward the figure. Within a few feet of it, his boots scratch against something. Sand, or dust, from an otherwise clean floor. Getting closer, his eyes adjusting, Jimmy sees a lion. A beautiful statue of lion, tipped over on its side. It is extremely detailed; fine craftsmanship, even though it is in a few pieces. One claw snapped off, discarded on the floor under the form, and the tail is missing. It appears to have been pushed, as there are groove marks under it, the first real imperfection in the floor. There is a saddle on its back, with something on it. It appears a part of the sculpture, as all of these components do, but as he stares at it, Jimmy can't shake a rising worry. They are a set of legs, hooked into the stirrups of the saddle, connected to half a torso and one arm.
Staying hidden, Jimmy looks around for any other pieces of this statue. In the other far corner, embedded in the wall, as if it were meant to be there, he finds a head with a swooping helm and a pointed ear. He only sees half, however, as the head is looking down the length of the wall, as a profile. The eyes are open, mouth closed, stoic and stone. Other than the lion, the rider, and this head, Jimmy finds only loose stones and dust; no other discernible pieces of the statue nearby.
As Jimmy wanders back to the camp, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible, he sees Eilir's head perk up from the sleeping dragon in her lap and stare at him curiously. "Sorry, just had to relieve myself." (Natural 20 Deception)
"I'll have to clean that later! ...Boys are gross."
At second watch, Ameera hears a faint dragging sound, and something heavy being dropped, just on the edge of her hearing. Wandering back to the left side, where Jimmy told her something was, she finds instead a deep indentation in the wall. Upon further inspection, she can make the inverted profile of a face and helmet, complete with a deep, swooping hole for an ear. Moving to the other side, where Jimmy described the fallen lion, she finds a small pile of shaved stone. Nothing else. Ameera begins to move away, unnerved, and hears shifting stone behind her. Whirling back...the pile has diminished greatly. She turns and turns back...only a few pebbles now. Ameera darts back to Mama.
And 8 hours later, Eilir hands a sleeping, exhausted Fareday back to Riswynn, then stretches again. "Alright! Let's go." As the Owls gather their things, Steef sprints back to lion's corner.
The floor is clear, shiny, and immaculate.
Finished in Part 3.