Valdis, Annonciade, Søren and his henchman Kurzol, Kestrel, and Calendel shivered in the darkness illuminated only by light-enchanted arrowheads, in the company of disoriented and confused body doubles for Tolfree and Jannara. Soren communed with his owl to try and get a sense of whether these specters were even real; indeed, they were flesh and blood humans. But they were unscarred and unbent by time or habit, new somehow. Sloppy overlapping glyph burns were invisible to the eye, but deeply marked the fugitives.
The adventurers convinced their fugitive guides to take them to “the pit” that repelled them. Reluctantly, they traveled through the darkness until they reached a shaft down into the earth, surrounded by a balcony that sloped down towards it, with a pulpit on a protrusion to stand over the darkness. The walls seemed to be shaped by rapid ritual work, as the tunnels had been. Glyphs glowed with a violet light that hurt the head, curling down the sides of the shaft in a double-helix pattern. Some corrosive force rendered the walls flaky and filled the air with a haze of dust that was probably toxic.
Dropping a glowing arrow down the shaft, they determined it was about 50 feet deep–and they had just enough rope to manage the descent. Kestrel also heard the doubles make an offhand comment that at least the screaming stopped for now.
Annonciade used her magical bracelet to spider climb down the walls, careful not to slip on the loose stone of the shaft walls. Kestrel climbed down the rope. The others remained on their guard above. The Tolfree and Jannara doubles suffered from some random bleeding from the eyes and nose, dazed and in pain so close to the shaft.
The low-ceiling cavern at the bottom of the shaft was filled with a mound of dust, and drifts of dust and ash. Calling out to see if the shifter was present, Annonciade saw the dust move as though something was beneath it. A general path was indicated, and she led Kestrel along it until they reached a break in the wall of the cavern leading to a lower area where pillars of shaped stone rose out of black water. The invisible and shapeless guide seemed to slosh an indication of a path in the water. Reluctantly, the two adventurers followed into the knee-deep liquid, wading into the unknown.
Ambush of Bones
At the top of the shaft, the adventurers stood watch. They heard something skittering in the darkness from several entrances, so they were ready with a rolling wave of bones formed into a horrific mass rushed them. Calendel leaped down the rope with Soren at his heels while their guides ran screaming. Valdis and Kurzol withstood the rush of bone, and Valdis managed to batter it apart enough to crush its meaty center with the Rod of the Crescent Moon. Valdis and Kurzol headed down the rope with the others before they attracted more site guardians. Once they reached the bottom, they followed the tracks of the rest of the party.
Annonciade and Kestrel reached a gummy wall with many fist-sized holes where something forced its way through a weak spot. A mass of flesh-like material pushed through to form a torso-sized face modeled loosely on Annonciade’s features, but it could not manage to speak. It beckoned, and Annonciade approached and touched it, pulled into contact with its mind.
The shapelessness extended past the flesh into the mind, so Annonciade spoke to a flawed mirror. The thing explained it was the part that could still reason, so if it was talking to her they should hurry, as the other part was “unsupervised.”
Apparently the shifter had forced a passage connecting to the ocean. It could not escape, but it could draw in water and power from the ocean so it swelled and pressed hard at the bars of its cage. Speaking quickly, it asked Annonciade to find the “golden spike” that the Templar had, for if the shifter got that it could free itself.
The cavern started screaming. Mouths formed on the stone, and some substance roiled the water as it moved. Kestrel was debating what to do when Annonciade was released from the communion; they decided to retreat. However, without the guiding ripples, the way out was not clear in the shallow black water. They plunged on, feeling increasingly desperate.
Meanwhile the other adventurers ventured into the black water, calling for their allies, their shouts drowned out by the screaming walls. Soren bolstered the magical light, and it caught the eye of the others, who sloshed towards them.
As the stone formed reaching hands and screaming faces that pressed out (sometimes melding into the stone columns) a fleshy mass rushed them. Soren’s magic tore it down, spraying them with the horrible interior fluids and gobbets of shifterflesh. Retreating as quickly as they could, they reached the chamber of ashes and dust.
The powdery stuff was forming into the suggestion of helms and shields and armor. Weapons made of bones raised through the drifts. Templar shapes were forming to stand against the incoming walls of flesh; a shapeless defense taking form to contain a shapeless prisoner taking form to escape.
As the adventurers climbed out of the shaft and fled, they realized that an inexorable wall of shifterflesh would build below, drawing on the full-moon energy of the ocean. It pushed out of its prison, extruding through the powdery defense chamber, pressing up past the glyph prison of the shaft, through the maze, to the Moon Gate. And whatever could make it past that was separated from the source, dazed, burned, harried, and tortured. The shapes the flesh took on were echoes of the dead Templar who were likely interred in the dust trap chamber, the shape sealed in place by the prison glyphs in the shaft. Their minds were disconnected and wiped by the trauma.
The forms for the escapees included Tolfree, Gennara, and Chet, as well as one other they did not recognize. As the adventurers ran, they passed a slick of blood and slicing sounds in the shadows; the fugitives had likely been caught by bone guardians, their skeletons harvested for limbs. The adventurers did not investigate.
Through the Moon Gate, they finally felt they could catch their breath.
Weary and distressed, the adventurers discussed their next move. The afternoon was waning, and tonight would be the final night of the full moon. The agitation and high tide would likely combine to send a rush of shifterflesh through the defenses, so snipers would likely occupy the perch the adventurers found on the way in. They resolved to ambush the snipers to find out more.
They followed the path to the sniper ledge, intending to set up an ambush. They were not yet in position when the snipers strolled along the path; moving fast, the adventurers got out of sight, except for the owl. One of the snipers spotted the owl, so the surprise was not complete as the adventurers pounced.
Five of the six snipers were downed in seconds, the survivor pinned down so he could not flee before Soren cast a spell on him to adjust his perspective to friendship. Soren led him away to answer some questions as the fighters undertook the vicious work of making sure the fallen were dead, stripping their corpses, and tossing them off the cliff.
The adventurers were dismayed to find that the survivor was only 16. Of the slain, only one appeared to be older than a teen, and he was in his twenties. The sniper explained to Soren that the Order of Plenty tithed orphan and refugee children, raising them in their clerical tradition to battle the dead. The sniper and his cohort had won contests and competitions, they were bright and promising, and they had been sent on this detail as a test. They had to demonstrate the strength and resolve to kill people.
Feeling disgust, pity, and rage in various degrees, the adventurers waited in the sniper perch with their new friend. He sang hymns to pass the time and strengthen his resolve.
A Rush of Flesh
Around midnight, when the moon was at its peak, the vague screams and thuds from beyond the Moon Gate resolved to a couple dozen escapees staggering into the night sobbing and hysterical. The sniper mastered himself enough to shoot some of them, retching afterwards. The adventurers also fired into the mass, dropping the blood-slicked shifterforms with the cleric bows.
Towards the end of the long night, Calendel approached one and pulled the arrow out, allowing the prisoner to escape. It was one templated off of a form that the adventurers did not recognize.
Return to the Tower
After a rough night, they slept, then had a modest breakfast with their sniper friend. He was to return to the tower when the rush was complete. They decided to go with him. There were a series of towers on a road that eventually led back to the Fallows Overlook. The first tower was likely to have only a skeleton crew. Also, there was a sally port they could use to enter unobserved if they wished.
Simmering with anger at the various secrets and practices of the Order of Plenty and their Templar progenitors, the adventurers accompanied their bewitched dupe towards the church soldiers entrusted with guarding the Ice Cage.