No other two words occur to me to describe my current situation. The hands of the righteous I looked forward to in my last entry have become, instead, the hands of a poet. However, if anything good has come from this, my memories have returned to me. I remember the touch of my mother and the odd red tinge to my father’s eyes. I remember my journeys with Azujhan aboard the Neptune. More importantly, I remember the disapproval stark on the face Tyr, resignation on Torm and sympathy on Ilmater.
After we finished our rest with Ilda, we reassured her that we would gather the books and return them to her. We moved to the next room, what appeared to be a throne room. Along the far wall, a large giant, 12 ft. tall and clad in purple toga stood in front of a closed door. We went to look at it, looking for a way around and open the door. As we approached, the giant animated from its unnaturally still stance. From its mouth, a smooth baritone demanded tribute to pass the door. I drew a potion from my pack and laid it at its feet, atop the other offerings. The giant, who I could see was an illusion over what appeared to be a clay golem, gazed upon my offering and nodded acceptance. He moved aside enough that I could step behind him and moved through the door. The others followed suit while we waited in the hallway.
Beyond the door, we saw what appeared to be a banquet hall with six demons sitting at the table, eating ravenously. They looked up as we entered and smiled widely. They joyfully welcomed us and invited to partake of the food and drink on the table. Something tickled in my mind and the glint in their eyes told me that the risk of not accepting their hospitality far outweighed the risk of poison in the meat itself.
They relaxed slightly as I thanked them and began eating a roll. They were left here by Verram to guard the door to the south. Wraiths and specters tended to inhabit the room to the south and occasionally journeyed into the dining hall. Their orders were simple; don’t let any creature from the south door beyond them. We were a curiosity; we had come through a third door.
This was an opportunity. Since we hadn’t been specifically covered as not being permitted, we sensed that they could accept a … consideration in exchange for access to the door beyond them. While not extreme, the amount they seemed to expect would have raised eyebrows. Fortunately, we had the funds and were able to satisfy their expectations.
We followed the hallway around the corner and arrived at set of double doors that had seen better days. The heavy iron doors were just cracked open and torch light flickered from the room beyond. I reached out and pulled on the door cracked open. I pulled at it harder, it still didn’t budge. I looked at Edward and he nodded. Then he lumbered over and we nodded and pulled with all of our strength. With a sharp crack, the hinges to the door came apart and began to tumble. With unnatural swiftness, I leapt to the side, the edge of the door caught me and spun me into the wall. Edward wasn’t as lucky and only the rubble on the floor, and the awkward angle of the wall saved Edward from being trapped under the door. Edward pulled himself out and chuckled at the bruises that were beginning to form under his skin. He waved off our attempts at healing; a simple bandage bound the cut on his arm.
Beyond the door was a dimly lit room, a large, dry basin dominated area. The pool was bone dry, though stained black. Lying prone, a body stretched before the pool, the blood beneath is was still wet, not yet congealed.
I rushed to the side of the body and knelt, unmindful of the gore under my knee. I was relieved to feel a pulse, weak though it was, barely a timid throb spaced entirely too far apart. I lay my hands upon the body and channeled some of my faith into healing energy and revived the body.
As he gasped, I noted that it was a half-elf, one that took its stocky, muscular build from his human parent. We sat him up as he tore at the robes that covered his armor. He appeared to be confused, blinking and reaching instinctively for a sword that wasn’t there.
His name was Pelius, a name that I recognized as a brother in the Order of the Gauntlet. I had never met him before, but his name was known in the deeper circles of the order. His mission, so as I understood, was to infiltrate the Cult of the Dragon and work from within to gather the information we needed.
Our first reaction was that he had been exposed and executed. However, as we continued to talk about it, it became apparent that Pelius was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. He told us of the grim sacrifice the pool had demanded and he was chosen, seemingly at random to be the sacrifice. Obviously, he didn’t have much say in the matter or that he was thoroughly over-ruled.
We were able to get him settled and back to some semblance of order. We judged it best for him to continue with us rather than finding his own way out of this place. I vouched for him and welcomed him into the group.
I wandered over to the pool and peered into the dry basin. On an impulse, I took my sword, Delilah, and lay it in the basin. From my pack, I pulled the bottle of water that I had taken from the cistern in the source room. As I unstopped it, the water seemed to boil away and rush from the mouth of the bottle. Quickly, I poured what remained over the sword and watched as the water turn from its crystalline purity into a hideous memory of black oil. There was a rush of wind in my head and a bright flash and I stood in the pool room, brightly lit in an all-encompassing rush of light. The colors seemed muted by the sheer whiteness and I turned to find my colleagues missing.
I turned back to the pool, searching for an answer, but the pool was gone. Replacing it was a dais of pure gold. Three figures sat enthroned upon magnificently carved chairs. Instictively, I recognized the faces and felt my heart sink. I’ve already mentioned the looks on their faces, so the reader is already familiar with the mood those faces set in my heart.
“Lucas,” Torm’s voice boomed. “We are most disappointed in you.”
Tyr spat heatedly. “Disappointed! By Ao’s beard, we’re furious that you would betray us!”
Torm lay a calming hand on Tyr’s arm and Tyr quieted back to his fuming glare.
“You have given in to the evil of your nature and taken it upon yourself. We offered you the chance no other mortals dream of, righting the wrongs of their ancestors, and you failed us.”
Torm squared his shoulders as though passing judgment.
“Lucas Higgs, you are found guilty of abrogating your vow to us as a paladin in our cause. We strip from you the powers we have granted you and return you to the bard we found you.”
Tyr spoke in a clear, coldly furious tone. “You will remain a tiefling to remind you of your failure.”
Ilmater cleared his throat pointedly and Tyr grimaced and sat back. Torm resumed his judgment.
“Our brother,” Torm motioned to Ilmater “has reminded us that we are to be better men than mortals. You may break your oaths. We will not.”
“You were promised the cleansing of the taint on your bloodline in exchange for the defeat of Tiamat. We hold to that oath. That does not mean that we must still support you as our paladin, but you still have a goal to aspire to. Do not fail us again.”
There was another flash of light and a deep tearing pain. I then found myself back in the room with the divination pool, panting and reeling. The weight of my armor began to crush me and I was unable to bear its weight. I fell to my knees and began tearing at the armor that bound me while the others stared at me as though for the first time.
The water was gone from the cistern, but we knew where we could find more. Unfortunately, the dark nature of the pool hinted that the needed sacrifice was not going to be something as paltry as an expensive bauble. Delilah had been accepted because of the soul trapped in the blade, which gave it the sinister power. The others would need a similar sacrifice. Fortunately, there were acceptable ones in the room we had just left.
The fight with the bearded devils was painful. My new role was a strange one to me. It felt odd to stand back and strum my lute while the others fought with blade and arrow. Yet, my songs were of the best help that I could provide, granting wisdom and healing and sapping the will from those who would attack my friends.
We returned to the pool with the requisite souls and each of us took turns releasing the water and making the sacrifice necessary.
Elyria stood silent for a moment as she cleared her head. Her movements were less furtive and more confident. Her back straightened as newly found strength surged into her.
Sven looked into the waters and new light flared behind his eyes as new knowledge flooded his mind.
Tairen appeared to be confused as he stepped back from the pool. He had been focused on his admission to the Arcane Brotherhood that he seemed to not be prepared for his transformation.
Edward’s eyes grew sharper and an amulet rose from the pool to settle around his neck.
Pelius, our newest member, found his mind opened to new heights and new ideas while a gleaming circlet of metal settled upon his temples.
Once we finished and the pool had once again dried, we took a moment for rest. We redistributed the items we carried and attuned ourselves to the new ones. I gave my armor to Pelius, I certainly wasn’t strong enough to wield it any longer. My dragon eye that granted me immunity from cold had to go as well. I simply refuse to have any evil artifact upon me, regardless of its source. Tairen gave me his staff of healing that he wasn’t able to use and thought I would find it useful.
Curiosity got the better of us and we retraced our path to the stairs leading to the room the demons were guarding against. Wraiths and specters phased in and out of the walls Tairen’s skeletons were a handy wall that helped us channel and contain some of them while we dealt with the rest. A few of them died (again). See, my bardic humor is already returning!
The room was a treasure room and we found some very nice artifacts. I kept a ring of spell saving while Tairen favored a ring of spell storing.
We returned to the divination pool to continue our quest. Through the door we found a sarcophagus and the voice of Diderius boomed.
“You approach Diderius in repose. I know what you seek. Yuan-ti have taken the one called Varram beyond their portal in the northern wall. Be prepared, for I shall open the way to peril."
We nodded our understanding. We were ready. We had a firm grasp of our goal and knew where to find him.