Session 58: Snakes In A Cave

The group was woken from their sleep by an audible alarm, which meant something had entered the cave from the south.

While everyone began donning their armor in the darkness, Valeria had Yanliz open the door and peek outside. He didn't see anything, but he heard moaning coming from multiple creatures around the corner.

Yanliz closed the door briefly and when he opened it again to look around the corner, he saw what appeared to be goblins shuffling slowly around the corner toward the room. He noticed that one of them was missing an arm.

"They're coming!" Yanliz warned. "They appear to be injured. One of them is missing an arm."

"Yanliz," Philip asked, "weren't some of the zombies we fought missing limbs?"

Yanliz tried to close the door as one of the creatures threw itself into the doorway. Philip slammed his weight into the door, slamming it on the creature's hand — its figures falling to the floor as the door closed.

Valeria cast light on a coin in her hand, and they could all see the room.

They looked at the fingers that appeared decayed, and off-color even for goblin fingers, and Valeria suggested they were probably zombies.

Once everyone had their armor on, Yanliz opened the door and the zombie goblins slowly shuffled into the room.

Philip smashed his staff into the first zombie and followed up with a kick that crumpled its legs before rolling backward into the room. Vernim slammed the second with his warhammer. Valeria hit the same one with an eldritch blast. Lawrence dropped it with a fire bolt. Jess sunk an arrow into the next zombie's chest as it evaded Prynhawn's blade.

Yanliz hit two others with arrows, knocking the first back a step and dropping the second. "I'm losing my beauty sleep to these pathetic wimps!" Yanliz cursed.

Two zombies scraped against Prynhawn's armor. Two others attacked Vernim, who deflected one, while the other was blocked by Prynhawn's shield before Brother Martin dropped it with the long mace he had recovered from the bugbear shaman.

Philip rolled up and smashed Prynhawn's attacker with his staff. Then the monk kicked the door into a zombie in the doorway. Vernim crushed the goblin head of Prynhawn's attacker.

"You got this Prynhawn!" Valeria sang, inspiring the paladin.

Lawrence hit Prynhawn's other attacker with a fire bolt. Jess hit Vernim's attacker in the head with an arrow, and Prynhawn, inspired, chopped it down with his sword. Yanliz hit one in the hallway, causing it to bounce into the others surrounding it.

The zombies that Lawrence and Brother Martin had dropped rose and lunged at Prynhawn and Brother Martin, but were both deflected by the paladin's shield. Another clawed Prynhawn, one punched Brother Martin and two others slammed Vernim. Brother Martin hit his last attacker with his mace.

Philip knocked the head off Prynhawn's latest attacker, and then scrambled between the zombies in the hallway. On the way, he crushed the legs of both Brother Martin's attackers with successive round kicks. At the intersection, he saw that there were about a dozen more goblin zombies, and reported this back as he scrambled back into the room.

Vernim crushed his attacker's goblin head.

"Prynhawn, Prynhawn, you're our man!" Valeria sang, continuing to inspire the paladin.

Lawrence hit Vernim's other attacker with a fire bolt, and it fell as an arrow from Jess pierced its goblin skull. Prynhawn, inspired, bisected his risen attacker and deflected two others with his shield, one attacking Vernim and another attacking him. Brother Martin deflected a zombie with his shield, and, with his long mace, crushed the head of the one attacking Prynhawn. Yanliz sunk an arrow into a large zombie entering the room. Two tried to grab Philip, but the halfling was too swift.

Philip smashed one of his attackers with a staff, and knocked it down with a kick to the legs. Vernim hit his attacker with his warhammer, and its head exploded from Valeria's eldritch blast. Lawrence hit one in the hallway with a fire bolt. Jess hit Brother Martin's attacker with an arrow and Prynhawn dropped it with his sword. Yanliz hit one of Philip's attackers with an arrow, pinning its head to the ground.

The zombie Prynhawn dropped rose and lunged clumsily at Brother Martin, who dropped it again with his long mace. Two others that had fallen rose up and tried to grab Philip as he rolled aside. By the doorway, Vernim blocked two others with his shield. Two surrounded Prynhawn and slammed him. Brother Martin swatted one of Prynhawn's attackers with his mace as the last one made its way into the room and clawed at him.

Philip stomped on one of his attackers, crushing its goblin head, and knocked the other back down with his staff. Vernim swung his warhammer clumsily at his attacker.

Prynhawn used lay on hands on himself as one of his attackers fell from Jess' arrow that tore through its neck. Lawrence hit Brother Martin's latest attacker with a fire bolt, and Yanliz drove its head into the door with an arrow. The zombie that Brother Martin dropped rose a second time and scraped against his shield, almost dragging him down. Philip dodged another. Vernim blocked two others with his shield, and Prynhawn did the same to a third.

"Philip the great! Philip the mighty! Philip Ladless, always in the right-ey! Save us, Philip! Run, run, run! Go and fight the magic one!" Valeria sang, inspiring her halfling friend.

Inspired, Philip once again ran past the crowd of zombies to the intersection, looking for anyone in control of the undead. "Sorry, Valeria," he called, "I don't see anyone!" Running back, he crushed the goblin skull of a zombie attacking Vernim, and broke the legs of the other with a kick, before back kicking one attacking Prynhawn.

"He's probably just toying with us," Vernim cried as he swung his warhammer, finishing the one Philip had just hit.

Valeria put away her wand and drew her sword, running it through the zombie that was stirring by Brother Martin's feet. Prynhawn beheaded one that was rising. Yanliz drew his sword and finished off the last one that was stirring, just as Brother Martin brought his mace down on it.

Together, the group explored the rest of the cave, looking for any more attackers, but after a thorough search, they did not find anyone.

Outside the cave, Yanliz found the goblins' footprints dragging in the dirt, but lost their track at the stream.

They returned to the cave, and Jess searched the goblin zombie bodies, but found nothing of value or interest. The dragged the corpses out of the room and piled them up in the alcove to the north of the intersection.

They resumed their rest until Vernim and Valeria woke in the early morning and woke their companions.

It was dawn by the time they finished eating breakfast, and they visited Duranki in the tunnel behind The Catbird Seat.

While Yanliz guarded the entrance. Brother Martin removed Duranki's gag, and Prynhawn fed him from his rations.

"Ah, you're back," Duranki sighed. "Thank you. What's the plan now?"

"I don't think there's anything for you anytime soon." Valeria replied.

"But don't you want to meet my leaders?" Duranki pleaded. "Come on, we're all on the same side here."

"What side is that?" Brother Martin asked.

"The side of killing all the monsters," Duranki clarified.

"What monsters are you going to go after now that the bugbears are gone?" Brother Martin asked.

"I have no idea," Duranki replied. "I don't make these plans."

"What other monsters are there in this cave," Valeria asked.

"I don't know," Duranki replied, "but what are you going to do, leave me here forever?"

After discussing among themselves, they decided to give Duranki a chair to sit on, and they left him shackled. Prynhawn covered the tunnel entrance with the armoire.

They made their way to the bugbear cave, and with Yanliz scouting ahead, in the dark, they went up the stairs and past the living quarters to the door at the end of the corridor. As he quietly tried to open the door, he felt a spark like static electricity.

From the stairs, the group saw a flash of light as Yanliz dove away from the door, and the explosion of lightning that had erupted from it.

Brother Martin cast cure wounds, healing Yanliz.

"I'm glad we didn't try this yesterday," Valeria said as she and Jess searched the door for traps. On the door, Valeria saw glyphs fading before her eyes.

They went down the stairs and around the storage room in the northeast of the cave. They used the key to open the locked door and began to rummage through the storage crates inside.

Philip packed up the three kegs of wine and some spices. He recognized one of the spices as one rumored to have an intoxicating effect, but not one that halflings are fond of.

After they searched the room and didn't find anything, they left and went down the eastern stairs to the barred rooms.

Yanliz prepared to open the barred door to the west, while the group waited around the corner in the room at the bottom of the stairs.

Using one of their keys, Yanliz unlocked the door while Philip removed the bar and ran back around the corner.

Opening the door, Yanliz was unable to see into the darkness inside.

They locked and barred the door, and Valeria quickly searched the dead end corridor for secret doors, but found none.

They returned to the door that had the lightning glyphs and Vernim cast detect magic as a ritual. He detected no magic from the door.

Jess opened the door, and inside they found an uncommonly sultry room, almost bare except for two chairs and cots, and a small table with two large empty steins on top. A fur blanket was draped over one of the chairs.

While they searched the room, Vernim and Brother Martin went down the stairs to scan the rest of the cave for magic. Philip ran after them.

Vernim detected evocation magic coming from the dark room, but none anywhere else.

They returned to the rest of the group and reported their findings. Vernim did not detect any magic in the room behind the door with the lightning glyphs, but he did detect slight abjuration magic on the secret door in the bugbears' living quarters.

They left the cave and decided to enter the closest cave to their west, since the other two remaining caves were higher up in the valley.

Entering the cave with Prynhawn and Philip in the lead, and Yanliz watching the ceiling, they found the tunnels inside curved and twisted, with natural walls, splitting every twenty or thirty feet in a variety of intersections.

Near the entrance they soon found an empty cavern with no other exits. After searching it, they turned back and went further into the tunnels.

Many of the tunnels were long and often ended in dead ends, forcing them to turn back the way they had come. They often sloped up and down, and even seemed to overlap each other.

After wandering around for at least thirty minutes, they were turning right at an intersection when Prynhawn said he smelled something to the left. "It smells like pleasant spices," he said.

Following the twisting, winding passages, they came across a closed chamber carved into the rock. In the back of the room, a white cloth was draped over what looked like a large box, creating a simple altar. Two bowl-like lamps burned on the altar, filling the room with a pleasant spiced scent. A dark-haired woman in a sleeveless white dress with sandals was kneeling before the altar with her back to the group, apparently lost in prayer. A black cloak was spread across a small, neat pallet set against one wall, beside which was what looks like a scroll case, a waterskin, a small cage filled with mice, and a bowl and sponge.

They could not make out the words she was chanting as they waited quietly for her to finish her prayers.

Around her neck she wore a gold necklace that formed an unfamiliar squiggly line.

"I recognize that," Yanliz whispered. "That's the symbol of Apep the Devourer, “He Who Shall Devour the World!”"

She began swaying from side to side while she chanted, and soon she was writhing in place, with her hands over head.

She was oblivious to their conversation as they discussed how to approach her.

Eventually Valeria approached her from the side, careful to stay out of her reach. She noticed that the woman's eyes were closed. "Greetings," she finally said.

"Oh, hello," she replied. "Greetings. When did you arrive? It's so nice to have company here." As she rose, she noticed the rest of the group standing there. "Oh, you have friends. Would you like to join me in prayer? I am Bethany."

"What are you doing here?" Philip asked.

"Me?" She asked. "I'm praying. This is my altar."

"Who are you praying to?" Prynhawn asked.

"I am praying Apep," Bethany replied "the snake god, Swallower of Evils. Would any of you like to pray with me?"

They all introduced themselves.

"Valeria, can you come over here?" Yanliz whispered, and he explained that, "Apep is not the Swallower of Evils, but He Who Shall Devour the World! She's lying!"

Meanwhile, Vernim asked her about Apep and she explained that Apep is always around us, and will eventually swallow all the evil in the world and deliver us into nirvana.

Brother Martin asked Bethany about why she lived in seclusion in this cave and she explained that it didn't matter where she lived or prayed.

When asked, Bethany told Yanliz she had never heard of Nergal, and surprised him by revealing that she understood Elvish.

When asked, Bethany told Valeria that she had never encountered any monsters in the area.

Brother Marin asked her where she got food from and she went on to explain that she never had to leave the cave and that food was always provided to her by Apep. She offered them some of the nuts and dried berries she had, which they politely declined.

She explained again that soon Apep would swallow all the evil, and that the faithful would be delivered to nirvana.

Yanliz called Brother Martin out of the room and repeated his warning to him.

When they returned, she was asking them again to join her in prayer.

Brother Martin noticed that she had what looked like small bites on her arms, and asked her about them.

"Oh, that's nothing," Bethany replied, holding out her arms, "those are nothing. Those are from my pets."

She walked over to her altar and held her arm out to one of her lamps, and a small snake unraveled itself from its base and slithered from it onto her arm. She explained that she had six of them, and that they had no names. "They're just snakes, silly," she chided. She insisted that the bites were harmless.

Philip took out a keg and began to drink.

Yanliz pulled Valeria out of the room, and Brother Martin followed.

"It just occurred to me that Apep is also known as Apophis," Yanliz said, "who is an evil snake god."

Meanwhile she was admiring Lawrence's scales. "Your scales...they're so pretty. Can I touch them? Do you have them all over your body? You must be blessed."

"Sure, I guess," Lawrence answered. "In some places."

"So, will you pray with me?" Bethany repeated, specifically to Lawrence and Vernim.

"Um..." Vernim groaned in discomfort, "uh, I'm happy to observe—I'm sorry,  I, I, I'm interested in learning still more, but I'm not really prepared for that yet."

"If you don't want to join me to pray," Bethany resigned, "and you don't want to join me to eat..."

"Can you tell us more about Apep?" Yanliz asked.

"He who devours the world?" Prynhawn added.

"No, you must have misunderstood," Bethany corrected. "Apep doesn't devour the world. Apep only devours the evil in the world."

"Can you tell us about Apep's place in the greater pantheon?" Vernim asked. "Maybe who Apep's allies and adversaries are?"

"Apep is the devourer. The devourer of evils. Apep does not have any allies or adversaries," Bethany explained. "There is no one else. Apep has always been here and always will. Apep will devour the evils of the world and the faithful will be delivered to nirvana."

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