Calendel, Valdis, Annonciade, Kestrel, and Søren (continued from part 1).
The adventurers threw torches and fired a magically illuminated arrow into the darkness to get a sense of what stood against them; on the other side of the pit trap, barricades with hill folk defending them, and behind that a tall menacing cloaked figure with a massive sword and bodyguards.
Arrows and magical bolts paved the way for the fighters, who ran one down each side of the pit, assaulting the barricade and chopping through the hill folk. Calendel and Søren combined fire on the leader, taking him out from a distance. The battle was over for the moment.
The massive shrine chamber had a carpentry workshop and piled lumber, and restorative work on a mural that appeared to be a many-headed dragon triumphant, bursting through the crust of the world like a lava plume. The frontspiece had a prayer, something about sacrifice and lightning, that had been covered over with artwork and was being restored.
Frank wasn’t impressed by the leader’s corpse; apparently Tolfree had been decapitated, slowly tortured to death, corpse burned, and buried alive, but he always came back and killed the ones who killed him, then reasserted himself. Valdis lopped the corpses head off, and embedded the sword in the body of the dragon mural. Calendel took the head, nicknamed it ‘Alice’, and tucked it under his arm to carry around. The corpse itself radiated a glittery magical energy to Søren’s magesight, because the corpse’s “death” was missing so it could not truly end.
The adventurers checked a side chamber to find Tolfree’s personal space, with a sultry girlfriend in a pile of bedding. She rhapsodized about Tolfree’s skills as a lover, and was casual about his severed head; he’d be back. He promised to bring her back if she died, but she wasn’t sure she believed he would. Interrogated about his other special abilities, and how she entered the picture, she told them she was a friend to wizards and she had been traded to Tolfree in a complex series of games of chance involving trading spells among other esoteric prizes, and they since became affectionate as well as intimate. Søren threw a dagger into her face, killing her.
The adventurers rifled the room, finding barrel lamps and some supplies and several folios of artwork. Tolfree also scribbled some about his prayers and back story in between sketches planning out the mural under construction in the next room.
Traps, Threats, Rituals
The adventurers continued exploring, finding another store room, and a hallway down some stairs. A complex metal door had defiant mystical glyphs that were enchanted to prevent the incorporeal from passing through, and the door’s complex defenses included pockets of acid and magical traps; Annonciate recommended bypassing it, so they left the cold door alone. Then she found traps on every other step on the next flight down; they collected ambient energy, then shocked anyone touching them. There were charred corpses at the bottom of the staircase.
They found a curve in the corridor with glyphs built around it, glowing; it was clearly a barrier, and it appeared that the glyphs fed the energy to the “Fifth Head” presumably of the dragon figure. Calendel checked in this Big Book of Etiquette, and found that the Fifth Head devoured magical sacrifices and energy death in one of the obscure passages in giving gifts to draconians.
The adventurers went upstairs and found a not-quite-dead hill man, dragging him downstairs and tossing him through the warding; he was disintegrated, only a skull remained. But that shorted out the barrier, and they strolled through.
At the bend, they found a ritual chamber that had seen recent use, with a ring of black liquid and a chalice in the center, runes indicating it was a communication place that crossed barriers between things.
The Lightning Vault Door
They left the ritual chamber alone, continuing down a hallway scored with increasingly complex inlaid scoring like lightning strikes. At the end of a very long hallway, they found a complicated interdimensionally defended vault door–this would likely be the Lightning Vault. The complex door’s center was a diamond-shaped open dragon mouth pointed down the hallway.
Concerned that tampering with it might fill the long hallway with no cover with some sort of lethal reaction, they withdrew. At the same time, Tolfree’s head dissolved to sand–he was probably reconstituted. They retreated back upstairs, noting the sword and his corpse were missing, and the door to the outside had been opened, with a fire built just outside to ruin night vision and illuminate their shadowy movements inside.
A New Alliance
Calendel agree to parlay with Tolfree, coming out without his bow to meet the unarmed (and apparently unkillable) man. Tolfree suggested they work together; both wanted to get into the Lightning Vault. Tolfree wanted his death, which he had been assured waited within. They could have the treasure, which was also a region-scale weapon. They could use it, keep it out of the wrong hands, whatever; he didn’t care.
Calendel took the deal back to the others, who agreed to at least hear Tolfree out (understanding that they definitely planned to betray him, and in no way trusted him.)
Tolfree told them he needed to secure the Lightning Vault, and get divine energy of the right kind that could be channeled into the door, that was the only thing that would open it. He was going to go down the Spine Coast or to the city of Shadelport to pursue the lore needed to acquire such a thing, but if they would work with him, he could use the thirty or so hillfolk he had left and defend the site quietly (instead of aggressively recruiting, as was his plan) and they could get lore.
If they promised to bring him enough books to do research within 1 month, and some divine energy within 6 months (by winter solstice), he would consider them partners and let them go. They agreed. He gave them a war chest of a pouch full of sapphires and diamonds as a war chest, about 10,000 gold. They celebrated together, sharing venison and other foraged food with the hill people.
Attention to Backstory
Søren was unmoved by this new alliance, furious with the people who destroyed his village and killed his mentor, and a momentary alliance changed none of that. He kept to himself, only Frank bringing him food and trying to keep him company. He left Frank to keep an eye on the hill people in his absence, knowing that in the meantime the friendship enchantment would wear off and leave him feeling soiled.
Valdis talked more with Tolfree, finding that he had been ritualistically slain and mummified for offending followers of Zomok, one of the pre-Saints gods–the most powerful of them. Zomok had no independent power, but could turn a wish into reality, as a god of the crossroads and dark bargains. He gave supplicants what they wished for, and then they were sorry; his whole conceptual and frame was based on the idea that people want the wrong things, and if they all got their wishes it would destroy everything worthwhile in the world. The frustrations, checks, balances, and limitations of the thinking peoples were profoundly important, and he was the consequence when they were defeated.
As an example, three hundred years after he was condemned to an ever-wakeful entombment (exactly what his murderers wanted), he was released and he spent four years hunting down the ancestors of those who cursed him, destroying them (and making their tribes sorry). Then he started this quest, to end his immortal suffering.
Valdis was scarred by lightning at the same moment Tolfree was released five years ago. Tolfree suggested perhaps their fates were entwined, perhaps Valdis had to have something burned out of her to make space for carrying that divine spark that could open the Lightning Vault.
Tolfree also explained he was trying to research what demigod was mixed up in this; he suggested it was a child of Zomok and another god, focused on lightning. He was trying to find out more so he could properly target a quest to acquire the needed energy and open the Lightning Vault. That was the research he meant to conduct.
Noticing Valdis admired his bright-bladed centuries old sword, Tolfree offered it to her; she initially was thrilled, but decided it would draw too much attention (6 foot long total, 4 feet of blade) and declined the gift. She also declined his advances.
Annonciade also inquired around and found Mandy the lamb, who was going to be a pet for a hill man’s daughter; but they killed that hill man with an elven arrow to the face, and survivors were fine with her taking the lamb. Wooly Bah was very satisfied to see the young thing, adopting Mandy at once.
Onward with Dark Purpose
The next morning, the adventurers headed out, none the worse for wear. Their objective was Shadelport. They spent some coin and preparation to head towards that major city, to acquire research material and pin down some next steps to pursue the cosmic spark.
Somehow, in the shadow of Zomok, the adventurers sensed that they would get exactly what they wanted.