The City of Cauldron

Day 32

The Pit of the Seven Jaws

The Unseen Hand of Justice stood over the fissure. The large crack looked as though it was formed by natural causes. They were getting good at this rock scaling thing, and prepped for the plunge. At 100 or so feet down they had made it to the bottom. The surface was uneven and impossible to stand on. Just then, Theo heard a low growl, and then another, and then another. They looked and spotted a large cave toward one side of the pit. Theo scaled and rapelled in silence towards the edge of the cave. He spotted a VERY LARGE reptilian creature slithering inside, waiting for a tasty snack. They decided to try to find a way around it by scaling the perimeter of the pit. There was no way through. They were going to have to fight the beast.

Theo cast his unseen servant spell again. (He can cast spells now). Hidden near the mouth of the cave he crouched, commanding the servent to throw rocks behind the monster. Taking the bait the creature lifted itself up and revealed its full identity- a fearsome Hydra! The HUGE reptile whipped its serpentine head towards the source of the noise. Then a second head followed. And a then third. Four more writhing heads stayed trained on the entrance of the cave. The hydra stood in all its enormity. Never before had the party seen such a gigantic creature its seven jaws drooling in hunger.

Hydra-time.jpg

Theo dove underneath it’s legs in order to flank the beast, while the other four made a slow approach from the mouth of the cave. Logahn was the first to confront the large but deft wriggling heads. Three of it’s head swept down eye to eye with the half-orcand blasted him with an icy breath. Jerome came up just behind the orc, while Celestine and Gavrielle remained at a distance.

Theo lashed out his whip and attached it to one of the spikes on the creature’s tail. He yanked himself up and straddled the hydra’s tail flailing about like a bucking bronco. He stabbed down into it. When he pulled his rapier out, the hydra’s wounds completely closed before his eyes, regenerating it’s flesh. The hyrda turned four heads onto the pesky nuisance clinging to it’s hind quarters and blasted their frost cloud down upon Theo but the goblin was too quick and ducked out of the way.

By this point Logahn and Jerome had closed the gap and were dealing gruesome blows to the serpent, while Gavrielle peppered it with arrows. It’s regeneration couldn’t keep up with the lethal hack, slash and poke technique employed by the heroes and the beast was defeated with little damage to themselves. The bigger they are the harder they fall.

The cave dove deeper into the earth and they followed it down. They easily found the Hydra’s lair and in it the frozen corpse of drow. Some mithral chain and fire arrows were claimed and the party continued.

The tunnel led down deep into an underground cavern with a large, slow moving river. Three-hundred feet across was a large structure shaped like a fish with a stairway leading from the water and into it’s large open mouth. This must be Bhal-Hamatugn, the Kuo-Toan shrine to Blibdoolpoolp.

Theo scouted to the edge of the river. He heard a sound moving through the water, but because of a thick fog that floated over the surface he could not see what it was. Theo wandered back to the group and they discussed their tactics. They did not want to get into another fight in the water as they had in the past.

The group all made their way to the edge and the sound of the priests armor must have alerted the thing in the water. The fog split as a large canoe emerged and moved slowly towards the group. The canoe was being driving by a strange frog-like humanoid. He wielded both a spear and paddle. The creature put down it’s spear and beckoned toward the group in a deep guttural amphibious voice. Celestine cast comprehend languages.

“Seek you he who sees beyond the dark?”
“Seek you he who sees through nightmares?”
“He who sees beyond the beyond…. fortells”

The cryptic questions were beyond her understanding. Her only response was to nod and the spell did not let her respond in the same bizarre language anyways. With the whole group nodding, the frog-man pulled the canoe to shore and let them aboard. He paddle them slowing across the river and to the base of the stairs. They party climb off and the Kuo-Toan paddled away.

The haunting smell of the Underdark river was strong as the party disembarked from the boatman’s craft. The mood was dark and ominous, but Celestine’s Bless spell cut through the gloom and bolstered the team with a bit of courage. They knew they were walking into a trap though. The mystic river-guide, who like Charon conducted travelers towards deathly shores, surely did not perform these voyages for the convenience of trespassers. He was definitely affiliated with the cult that they had come to confront.

They came to the mouth of an enormous temple that was in the likeness of a fish, up to which led a set of worn steps that seemed to have withstood countless ages. The boatman disappeared noiselessly behind them into the fog. The party saw only one way in – no stealthy infiltration was tried. As they closed ranks and walked slowly towards the entrance, rustling could be heard. Gavriel noticed Kuo-toan archers forming up in little windows above the mouth/entrance.

“I see you!” shouted Logahn as he became aware of the watchers. To make their intentions clear, the frog-men on the ramparts notched their crossbows and leveled them down at Logahn.

Only Celestine could decipher the guards’ utterances:

“Why have you come?” Celestine parrotted some of the boatman’s garbled talk regarding “the dreamer.” The Kuo-toans barely acknowledged, and proceeded to demand a sacrifice as a cost for admission into the inner sanctum.

With a gleam in his eye, Theo produced a donkey out of thin air using his donkey-patch. However, the Kuo-toans dismissed this as an wholly improper victim. As the party feared, they wanted a sentient.

“Take me” spoke Jerome unexpectedly. Uneasy looks were exchanged. Everyone knew Jerome was kinky, but it seemed like this experiment could end badly for him. The Kuo-toan guards did not hesitate to accept his offer though: out of the temple maw marched a squad of guards, armed with wooden shields and spears and covered in a gross layer of slime. They escorted Jerome back into their lair. The rest of the party followed warily as they could. Suddenly, but not wholly unexpectedly, Kuo-toan’s blocked their passage at the main gates. Two soldiers formed themselves into a blockade.

“Only one” croaked the nearest.

The adventurers were beginning to realize they did not have a plan for dealing with what was happening. Again they shot glances amongst themselves – but it was the Kuo-toans who made the next move. One of them pointed a slimy finger at Celestine’s holy symbol. A strange look spread across their faces. “We allow this one too” said one of the guards, pointing at Celestine. At this point “play along” was the name of the game. Celestine decided to accompany Jerome into the temple depths.

Of course by this point, Theo had snuck by the temple guards and was keeping pace with Jerome, performing ludicrous feats of concealment by going unnoticed in a room crawling with enemies!

Outside, Logahn and Gavriel did not like the way things were developing at all. But a rash move at this point would be bad news for Celestine and Jerome, who had by now been stripped of their weapons and armor (though Jerome had hidden his Tickler amongst the folds of his lustrous garb) and ushered into matching holding cells a ways past a crank-operated portcullis. Logahn at least managed to scare the exterior guards into allowing him and Gavriel to remain by the gates.

Inside, Theo surveyed the scene as best he could. There was a squad of six or seven guards spread out inside the antechamber, which had been built out of rock masonry. Jerome had settled back against the wall of his cell, unruffled by anything about the situation. Celestine on the other hand seemed to be at her wits end, being totally unarmored and without a decent weapon to wield in case their dealings went south.

As the warm cloak of stealth settled about Theo, a familiar yearning spread throughout the young goblin’s mind. He was in his element. Nothing could stop him. The outside world passed over him like a dream – like a far-off, whimsical comedy performed by actors in silly costumes, and Theo was to be their heckler. He was going to heckle them with arrows. “Especially that one down there, at the end of the hall,” thought Theo. “Him especially – he needs a good heckling.” But a shrill whisper to his left put a damper on things:

“Hey! You gotta let me out of here!”

It was a halfling prisoner, and he had spotted Theo. What an imbecile! Afraid that the prisoner was going to freak out and give away his position, Theo hatched a dastardly plan. First, he released the prisoner.

Then he blasted an arrow into the guard down at the end of the hall.

The web of tension shattered like glass. Perhaps in an alternate universe, Jerome and Celestine went on to enjoy a nice Chardonnay with the temple overseer, who politely handed over the missing dwarf after apologizing profusely for any unpleasantries, which were surely just due to “cultural differences.” But it didn’t go down like that. Instead, there came a battle:

The group was split, but their positioning could have been worse. Logahn and Gavriel forced the riverside detachment back into the antechamber, while off to the right, Celestine and Jerome fought on the threshold of the portcullis, preventing a flanking situation.

Logahn tried to pull a Benedrad and whipped out his flask of alchemist fire, hoping to score a nice hit on a group of Kuo-toans. This totally failed, for ball-throwing games were nary a focus at the cloister of Logahn’s youth and thus his aim was highly unpracticed. The bomb ricocheted back and partially immolated Gavriel. Perturbed, Logahn switched to his conventional weapon, charged up some buffs and bore down on the frog-men, as Gavriel posted a volley of arrows towards the enemy lines.

Jerome’s Le Tickler went snicker-snack against the Kuo-toan flank, dealing ridiculous damage as he sent his precise attacks into the weak-points of the sinewy frog-cultists. Celestine whacked away with a secondhand Kuo-toan dagger, although she was able to contribute support with her ample spellbook.

A second imprisoned stranger called out to Theo. Meanwhile the halfling he had released was nowhere to be seen.

“Hey, let me out too!” the human practically ordered. Shrugging, Theo jimmied the lock and the man burst out of the cell. He shoved his way out of the shrine, knocking down Celestine and Jerome in the process. Perhaps these two knew all to well what it was like to be a Kuo-toan prisoner. What did Theo do next? Well, Theo did what goblins sometimes can’t help but do. He went delving. He delved down the side stairway, the dank, dark allure of which he never could have resisted. Off for Celestine’s armor he went. He spawned an Unseen Servant (a symbolic embodiment of Theo himself), and together they descended into the promising murk.

Something felt strange about that battle – the Kuo-toans did not fight aggressively, but preferred to rally around the door at the back of the antechamber. The party cleaned house without too much trouble. Theo returned with Celestine’s things, and gave report of the layout of the catacombs. After performing their post-battle routines, the group decided to explore the area that Theo had partially discovered.

The Kuo-toans, like a lot of Underdark dwellers actually, were quite into torture. Most of the rooms down in the catacombs seemed devoted to that purpose expressly. The team turned up nothing of value. Fetid water began to creep up their ankles as they ventured further down. It was dark, and it smelled worse than any sewer in Cauldron. The goal was to secure these catacombs before moving forward though, so they continued onward.

Ripples in the water of the next room put everyone on full alert. Logahn and Jerome closed in on the disturbance, with Jerome moving nimbly on a wall ledge while Logahn trudged through the torso-deep water in his full plate. They were very close to whatever it was. Logahn channelled a Daylight blessing through his sword Dawnbreaker, which signalled to the enemy that it was on.

A hideous form unfolded before them: waves of luminant cloth swirling about a revolting walking corpse, doubly corrupted first by embalming desiccants, then by ages of moisture and rot. It seemed to the party as a harbinger of doom, and it buzzed with an aura that seemed to project tendrils of cosmic terror out to each living thing within a few yards. Theo and Gavriel immediately succumbed to a paralyzing sense of despair, with their senses left racing but their limbs locked, as if held in place by icy roots that spanned leagues down to the taproot of an ancient evil that lay dreaming without any sense of time.

Logahn and Jerome shrugged off this discouragement, and immediately lay into the mummy with trusty steel. It dished out a beating, but Jerome finally drove his sabre home into the a section of walking horror’s critical musculature and it collapsed back into the murk.

Even as the group had laid the water-mummy low and was beginning to slap some sense into Theo/Gavriel, ominous croaking shadows were spotted, flitting about the far end of the hallway. The Hand decided to press onward. They blocked off the unexplored passageways as best they could, to prevent any scouts from attacking their rear as they pushed into the bowels of the temple.

They returned to the antechamber and looked around a bit more. A large set of doors clearly led inward to a larger chamber. The walls were covered in strange markings and mosaics, and in one area someone had painted a picture of a humanoid of short stature, unidentifiable due to the fact that a circular void stood where his head should have been. The Hand scouted around warily. Logahn pulled aside a tapestry to reveal a eerily lit side-chamber that connected via a set of stairs up to the enclosed ramparts where the Kuatoan guard had first set them in their sights. A set of bizarre Kuo-toan pincer weapons caught Logahn’s interest, and he quickly shoved them in his bag.

While this was happening, Theo was on the move. Jerome watched skeptically, puffing his rolled tobacco, as Theo started picking away at the lock on the big doors.

BOOM! Theo and Jerome reeled as a tremendous sonic burst issued from the door’s threshold. Theo somehow managed to dodge the shockwave. The door remained closed, but it was now unlocked – and an unearthly chanting could be heard now coming from the other side. Gavriel and Logahn rushed down from the upper level, having heard the concussion.

Logahn and Jerome looked at each other and decided to bust down the door. With the brunt force of his mailed foot, Logahn created a path and rushed through, with Jerome close behind.

There was no time even to blink. From somewhere below them, a beam of electrical energy surged up and saturated the two warriors in its withering field. The only way was forward. Jerome escaped the brunt of the attack, but Logahn could only stumble for the next few seconds, his field of vision gone dark. He quickly cleared his head. An unholy temple came into focus: Blibdoolpoolp, the atavistic god of the murky depths, stared down at them, her stony aspect nearly a hundred feet tall. Around this debauched bulwark loomed several levels of balconies. A squad of Kuo-toan archers held these positions. Logahn and Jerome quickly looked to the base of the statue: the chanting was coming from down there.

Four Kuo-toans looked up at them through limpid eyes. They were decked in ceremonial garb, and scrolls, spellbooks and maces dangled carelessly about them. These spellcasters were unholy clergy, so Logahn and Celestine knew some of what they would be facing.

As the rear guard (Theo, Celestine and Gavriel) entered the chamber, the Hand hatched a hasty plan. Theo set off for the upper levels, where he planned to shank as many of the Kuatoans as he could, while Gavriel would distract/kill the remaining archers on the upper floors. Meanwhile, Celestine, Logahn and Jerome would lay the hurt on the priests. Everyone set off. Under fire from the archers, Celestine’s detachment unfurled a Rope of Climbing and scooted down to the ground floor, where the priests were already readying their next spell. Gavriel immediately started firing, skewering a few good hits but missing a lot too.

Theo ran around like a little scamp, sticking to the shadows so he could deliver a nice stab into some frog throat. He tiptoed confidently up the stairs and approached one of the archers, readied his blade – but all of a sudden his target pricked his ears up, and turned around! Theo was caught, and he had no choice but to hold court in direct combat with his dagger. This was not going to end well: he was outnumbered and outgunned.

Back on the ground floor, the battle of the priests was not going well for the Hand. The Kuo-toans had managed to cast another a Lightning bolt, though fortunately Logahn got up a Resist Energy and mitigated some of the damage. The melee fighters swung like pros, but the blows just would not land. Celestine had noticed earlier that the Kuo-toans had cast Shield of Faith. So that explained that.

At once, the priests of Sarenrae pivoted to using holy damage. Logahn landed a lucky blow that unleashed the Holy Smite that had been readied on Dawnbringer, and Celestine saturated their rivals with Channel Positive Energy as she could, though often this spell needed to be expended in its healing form.

Despite the improved strategy, a chilly dread began to take root in the hearts of the adventurers. They were outmatched. Logahn paused and looked up for a moment to see Gavriel get riddled by yet another crossbow bolt, with a descended spearman closing in on him fast. And to his left on the balcony above, Theo cried out in pain as a Kuo-toan blade came down on him. Logahn, with his own constitution sapped by repeated shock, knew that the time had come to choose either life, which would bear the shame of defeat, or a crusader’s death in the realm of a foul religion, hidden from the grace of Sarenrae.

Self-preservation won out, for defeat could be redeemed by a later victory. The adventurers sounded the signal to break and run, to flee in any direction they could, and regroup later. There was no time for the ground team to even climb the stairs: they could not risk being targeted by even one more shaft of lightning. They broke for a small door underneath the entrance that they had used to come in on the level above. It flew open, and Jerome, Celestine and Logahn hurled themselves headlong into what they seriously hoped was not a cul de sac …

Day 32 continued

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