Session 67: Castled

Yanliz tried to open the door, while the rest of the group hung back, by the alcove.

Turning and pushing on the handle, he found the door was locked, and alerted Valeria, who checked the door for traps.

Finding no traps on the door, Valeria asked Jess to try to open the lock.

Jess pulled out her lock picks and got to work, quickly reporting that the door was unlocked.

Valeria and Jess backed up to the rest of the party and Yanliz stealthily opened the door. In front of him, he saw a reflection of himself in a mirror, silhouetted by Valeria's light from the corridor behind him.

Seeing no one in the room, he signaled for the others to advance into the small room that either served as spartan living quarters or a prison cell, containing only a simple, neatly made, bed, a shelf holding a pitcher, a cup, and a good-sized mirror leaning against the wall, a bracket holding a scourge, and an empty armor-stand.

There were no other visible exits, and Valeria did not find any traps or secret doors.

Vernim found nothing out of the ordinary among the room's contents.

Philip lifted the heavy, utilitarian mirror and glanced behind it, but found only a bare wall.

The cup was empty, but the pitcher had a few drops of water.

After they were satisfied there was nothing of interest in the room, they left, closing the door behind them.

Yanliz resumed his position scouting in the dark, ahead of his companions, and led them back through the twisting passage, past the corridor leading to the chess room, and further east.

Yanliz followed the corridor as it turned south, until he reached a door in the east wall.

"Let's deal with this so we don't get trapped," Valeria suggested, and after searching the door for traps, asked Jess to deal with the lock.

"I can't get it," Jess complained. "This must be some kind of super lock!"

"You couldn't unlock the lock," Prynhawn tried to as, "or—"

"I couldn't unlock, alright!" Jess admitted. "I'm new at this!"

"Not all locks are meant to be broken," Vernim pontificated. "We've faced trials like this before, but we will get through it, if we follow the ways of Lady Luck! Luck was just not on your side right now. We weren't meant to go through this door. There are always other doors to be opened and new possibilities to be explored."

They considered breaking down the door, but decided to explore further before resorting to making such a ruckus.

Yanliz followed the corridor south, then east, and then south again.

The corridor opened up into an unlit chamber that seemed to serve as a crypt. Most of the simple stone tables were blank, but on five of them he saw people—three women in black robes and two men in red ones—stretched out, lying perfectly still with their hands at their sides or folded across their chest. The room was utterly quiet.

He waved the group into the chamber.

Shining their light into the chamber, they could not tell if the inhabitants were living or dead.

"They're dressed like Priestesses of Erishkigal and Priests of Nergal," Yanliz realized aloud.

"What about those two that we killed?" Prynhawn asked. "Are they any different?"

"They looked more like acolytes," Yanliz confirmed.

Valeria suggested they tie the bodies up, in case they wake up.

Jess gave out some rope and they approached the bodies to tie them up, while Yanliz stood guard at the entryway.

Examining the bodies, Vernim discovered they were perfectly preserved.

"I don't know if we need to attack them," Vernim suggested. "They're very evidently dead priests. You can see. I just checked them, and I think there must be some kind of gentle repose cast on them, because they're preserved exceptionally well."

"Can you see any reason how they died?" Prynhawn asked.

Philip kicked at some dark he saw swoop out from the table at his feet. His foot felt something soft, like water, give way around his kick. He jumped away from it and threw his rope at it, but the rope just hit the ground.

"Guys, there's something up here," Philip warned, "there's like...shadows."

"Shadows?" Prynhawn asked, as one flew around his armor.

"Whoa!" Vernim flinched, as he swatted his warhammer at a shadow that flew out at him. "Guys, guys, did you see that?" He blocked its path with his shield.

Yanliz cast hunter's mark on a shadow that was swooshing down on a startled Jess, but the arrow went right through it. The shadow flew into Jess, and she screamed , "Ah! What was that?" as she felt her strength drain from her legs and almost fell onto the body she was about to tie up.

Valeria tried to hit one with an eldritch blast, but the blast hit the far wall.

A fifth shadow flew into Lawrence, who was too startled to react, and moaned as his strength left him.

Philip swung his quarterstaff through his amorphous attacker. He lunged at the shadow, but his arms felt nothing and he tumbled across the floor.

Jess backed out of the room with wobbly knees, and hid behind Yanliz.

"In the name of Tymora," Vernim command, "vile shadows be rid from this world, and be seen no more!" Radiance of the Dawn flashed from the holy emblem the cleric brandished, tearing through the shadows, completely decimating all the shadows except the ones attacking Prynhawn and Lawrence.

One flew into Prynhawn, sapping the paladin of his strength. Valeria hit it with an eldritch blast. Prynhawn finally drew his sword, casting divine smite, and slashed through the shadow, dispersing its form.

Lawrence tried to defend himself with a chill touch, but could not reach the shadow with the ghostly hand. Brother Martin hit it with a guiding bolt, and it disappeared.

"You guys did great," Yanliz congratulated.

"Yeah," Jess panted against the wall. "You guys did great."

"I would recommend—although maybe it's probably not the best course of action, I think we should probably head back to the keep pretty soon," Vernim suggested, "because maybe—"

"It's dark," Prynhawn reminded them. "It's already night outside. We might have to spend the night in the caves."

"We're not leaving," Valeria stated. "It shouldn't be hard for us to find a more fortified room."

While Brother Martin prepared a prayer of healing, Valeria began examining the room.

"So there were five shadows and five bodies, right?" Philip pondered.

"I don't know if the shadows came here to do something with the bodies," Valeria guessed, "or if the shadows are remnants of these people."

"I think the necromancer knew we were going after these priests," Vernim speculated, "and maybe getting information out of them and then the necromancer got to them first."

"I think these are the necromancers," Valeria surmised.

"I mean, they're using undead," Prynhawn determined.

"I don't know though," Vernim wondered, "because how did they just die like that, and why are they reincarnated as shadows?"

"Maybe they were sacrificed," Yanliz guessed. "But they were high priestesses."

"I think this might be some sort of ritual, honestly," Brother Martin judged.

Brother Martin directed his prayer of healing at Lawrence, Jess, and Prynhawn, and they felt better, but still quite weak.

Valeria found an off color panel in the south corner of the east wall.

"Hey, look," Valeria called, "I found a secret door."

Examining the panel, Valeria confirmed she couldn't find any traps, and called Yanliz over to slide open the panel, while the rest of the group backed up and she covered her light.

Peeking stealthily through the panel, Yanliz saw a corridor extend over fifty feet to the right before turning left.

They followed behind Yanliz as he ventured into the dark corridor and around the corner.

After turning left, the corridor ended after twenty more feet. A skeleton in rotted leather armor and rotted clothes was slumped against the wall, ten feet away, between the corner and the end of the corridor. A rusted short sword lay by its bony hand. A thin coat of rust seemed to cover the entire figure.

"I see a body," Yanliz called, glancing cautiously at the ceiling.

Valeria moved past the body and searched the end of the corridor with her ax. She quickly found a panel that matched the one at the other end of the hidden corridor. She didn't find any traps on it, and pointed it out to Yanliz.

"Look at that little panel by the ceiling," Valeria pointed to the ceiling opposite the secret door she had just found.

"I don't see it," Yanliz admitted. "Is it like the ones in the labyrinth?"

"No," Valeria said. "It's less than a square foot."

Jess climbed onto Prynhawn's shoulders and slid the little panel open. "Look, Valeria," Jess called, sliding a backpack out of a cubbyhole, and passing it down to Valeria. Jess reached around the cubbyhole, and said, "that's all I see in here." Jess climbed down.

"Do you want to search this body?" Yanliz asked Jess, moving back to the corner of the corridor.

"I can search the body," Jess replied.

Not detecting any traps, Valeria opened the pack and removed an ornate tome with a symbol, which they recognized as belonging to Tarlech, on the cover.

"It looks like this body has already been looted," Jess said, lifting the skeleton's purse with her shortsword, revealing a slit in its bottom.

She let the purse fall and the skeleton crumbled, yellow spores billowing off it, covering the surrounding air.

Yanliz, Valeria, and Brother Martin backed away from the cloud as Jess, Vernim, Prynhawn, Philip, and Lawrence, reeled and gagged from the yellow spores burning their lungs.

Prynhawn used lay on hands to neutralize the poison infecting Jess, Vernim, Philip, and himself.

Brother Martin cast lesser restoration on Lawrence, and their panic subsided as they all breathed easier.

They left the mold filled corridor, passing through the preserved bodies, and back to the locked door they had passed.

Using Yanliz's crowbar, Philip pushed until the lock popped and the door flung forward into a landing above a set of stairs.

Yanliz followed the stairs down into a room that, despite the luxurious four-poster bed, dresser, desk, armoire, table, and chairs, seemed more like a crypt than bedchamber. A rug of concentric red and black circles warmed the bare stone floor, and icons hung on the walls. Black and red candles shed soft light and a pleasant spiced scent. A wooden lectern against one wall held a huge book, the page held open by a heavy bookmark.

Yanliz saw no other exits, and waved for the rest of the group to follow, while he stood guard by the stairs.

Valeria began searching the walls for secret doors.

Vernim searched the furniture.

Philip, Brother Martin, and Lawrence examined the book. The pages were solid black and no writing could be seen against its inky surface. Brother Martin flipped the pages and saw they were all the same.

"I wonder if it needs to be dark to see it," Philip guessed. "Maybe it's some kind of special..."

"Ink?" Prynhawn finished. "That's an idea. Yeah, let's try it."

"They do have candles in here," Brother Martin observed, "but maybe you're right."

"There's some well made outfits in here," Vernim said, shuffling through the armoire. "Of course they're all black and red. Oh, I see some other clothes in here as well. More like traveler's clothes.

"Oh, I see some papers here also," Vernim continued, having moved on to the desk. "It will take me awhile to look through them, but it looks like correspondence." He placed the papers in his pack to read later.

Brother Martin placed the heavy, leather-bound tome in his pack.

Yanliz put the red and black candles in his pack.

Valeria did not find any secret doors, and they went back up the stairs, past the chessboard room, to the stairs beyond.

Valeria covered her light and Yanliz went stealthily down the stairs.

The room below was obviously a dormitory or living quarters, with five simple beds, a chest at the foot of each bed, five chairs, two tables, a brazier with a small fuelbox, and a shelf of books. Unlit candles in holders rested on either table.

A lone figure appeared to be sleeping under the covers of one of the beds.

Yanliz slipped back up the stairs, and alerted his companions. "I see a guy sleeping. Should we attack?"

"Was he wearing red robes?" Valeria asked.

"I couldn't tell," Yanliz replied.

"Maybe we can ask him how to read the book," Brother Martin suggested.

"I think it's worth knocking them out," Valeria determined.

Yanliz went stealthily back down the stairs and drew his shortswords. There was no movement from the unwary victim as he smacked the figure with both blades.

"I think he's unconscious, guys," Yanliz called up the stairs.

Yanliz stood guard by the stairs as his companion came down and joined him.

Jess took out her rope and tied up the sleeping prisoner, who appeared to be a woman in black robes.

Prynhawn gagged the woman with a bit of rope. A scimitar and shield were propped up next to her bed.

Valeria confirmed the chests were not trapped, and asked Jess to examine them.

"They're not locked," Jess confirmed as she opened the chests. Inside, she found three of the chests contained red clothes and the other two contained black clothes, including the prisoner's. She also found miscellaneous personal items, such as combs, lingerie, small mirrors, needle & thread, pouches, cosmetics, perfume, traveler's clothes, etc. Looking through the pouches, she collected 478 gold coins and 117 silver coins, all divided unevenly among four pouches. A fifth pouch was empty. In the prisoner's chest was also a chain shirt.

Yanliz noted that all the clothes appeared to be those of acolytes, similar to what Duranki wore after they set him free.

Vernim grabbed a set of red and black acolyte’s clothes.

Valeria examined the prisoner, and saw she wore the symbol of Erishkigal.

Lawrence examined the shelf of books, taking books on theologysaints, and deities. He also saw books of poetry and adventure, but left them behind.

Valeria put one of the mirrors in her pack.

Brother Martin cast a detect magic ritual, detecting necromantic magic on the black tome, slight necromantic magic on the spellbook Valeria had picked up, and abjuration magic on Vernim's new shield. He detected no other magic in the room, aside from the standard sheen on some of their weapons.

Yanliz, Philip, and Lawrence accompanied Brother Martin back to the chess room, but detected no magic except for slight abjuration coming from the secret door.

They went to the crypt-like bedchamber, but detected no magic there or in the room where they fought the shadows.

They returned to the acolytes' chambers where their companions were waiting.

While Prynhawn brought the prisoner to the chess room without waking her, the others dragged Tishpak and his companion into the labyrinth on the other side of the secret door, closing the secret door once again.

Jess collected the chess pieces.

Valeria removed the acolyte's gag and waited for her to wake up.

"I think she's awake and faking," Vernim eventually said.

She opened her eyes.

"What's your name?" Lawrence asked the prisoner.

"Ishara," she replied.

"Have you been to the room at the end of the hall," Lawrence asked, "with the six altar looking beds?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," Ishara replied.

"The big room," Lawrence explained, "with the dead people."

"Where the honored dead are?" Isahara asked.

"Yeah," Lawrence confirmed. "Were you aware that there's ghosts floating around in there?"

"The spirits of the honored dead?" Ishara clarified.

"Well the spirits of the honored dead attacked me and my friends," Lawrence stated, "and I'm wondering if you can tell me anything about it."

"Well, you shouldn't have disturbed them," Ishara explained.

"All we did was walk into the room," Lawrence insisted. "It's not like we were trying to—"

"They wouldn't have attacked you, if you wouldn't have disturbed their bodies," Ishara rebutted.

"So those were the spirits of the dead?" Lawrence asked.

"Yes," Ishara acknowledged.

"And how did they die?" Lawrence asked.

"They passed away naturally," Ishara explained. "They are our honored dead. Our former high priestesses and priests."

"Oh, so this place has been here for a while then?" Lawrence asked.

"Yes," Ishara acknowledged.

"And what, exactly, is the goal of this place?" Lawrence inquired. "And you and your priestess?"

"We're here to spread the realm of Erishkigal," Ishara exclaimed.

"Don't the people here follow two gods?" Lawrence asked. "Isn't Nergal involved here as well?"

"Nergal is just the defender," Ishara explained.

"So the goals are from Erishkigal?" Lawrence asked.

"Yes," Ishara acknowledged. "Erishkigal is the goddess."

"And Erishkigal is trying to spread her domain?" Lawrence clarified.

"Yes," Ishara confirmed, "essentially."

"And how, exactly, is that accomplished?" Lawrence asked. "What does the domain look like?"

"That is why we are here," Ishara explained. "We will spread our dominion throughout the valley, and then beyond."

"And what does the domain look like," Lawrence asked. "Undead and havoc?"

"Undead is not havoc," Ishara insisted.

"Well undead is havoc when they're attacking you in your sleep,"Lawrence argued, "like they did to me and my friends."

"You mean like you attacked me in my sleep?" Ishara countered.

"Well, I guess we returned the favor," Lawrence chided. "So I guess the question is, is the purpose of spreading this domain to bring out evil?"

"This is not evil!" Ishara maintained. "This is the dominion of Erishkigal!"

"I guess I'm missing the point of spreading the dominion," Lawrence pressed. "Is it just to gain power and spread your dominion more?"

"I serve Shamhat," Ishara revealed.

"I thought you served Erishkigal," Lawrence questioned.

"Shamhat is the high priestess," Ishara clarified.

"One of the dead ones that was in the other room?" Lawrence asked.

"No!" Ishara explained. "They are the honored dead. They are the former high priestesses and priests. The ones who have already passed."

"Where can we find your current high priestess?" Lawrence asked.

"She's here somewhere," Ishara answered. "And she'll destroy you when she finds you."

"We've been around and we haven't seen her," Lawrence explained. "Is she down one of the longer hallways upstairs?"

"I don't know," Ishara replied. "I was asleep. I don't know where she is at all times."

"What else can we find upstairs?" Lawrence asked.

"There's the temple, Egalgina, The Everlasting Palace," Ishara replied. "Esizkur, the House of Prayer. Kumugi, the Land of No Return."

"So this is just quarters and a crypt down here?" Lawrence asked.

"Yes," Ishara confirmed.

"And what exactly do you do in the temple?" Lawrence asked.

"We perform our rituals," Ishara replied. "You should ask Shamhat."

"Well, we don't exactly know where to find Shamhat, now do we?" Lawrence asked.

"Have you looked upstairs?" Ishara suggested. "Shamhat will explain it to you."

"That's what we were going to do next," Lawrence replied. "The rituals you have in your temple. Are they sacrificial? Bringing back undead? Because these would be less than desirable things."

"Often they are," Ishara acknowledged. "Less than desirable for who?"

"For the people you're sacrificing," Lawrence accused, "I think."

"They are not the faithful," Ishara explained. "They don't matter."

"Faithful to Erishkigal," Lawrence disputed. "And what exactly is Erishkigal the goddess of?"

"She's the goddess of the underworld," Ishara replied.

"I have a question," Philip asked. "How many of you are there?"

"One," Ishara replied.

"How many comrades do you have?" Lawrence asked.

"Oh," Ishara realized. "There's about a dozen of us."

"How many high priests or priestesses are there?" Valeria asked.

"There's only two," Ishara replied. "Shamhat and Nabu-Nisir."

"Are there any other acolytes?" Philip asked. "How many?"

"Yes," Ishara explained. "Four, but maybe only three others now. I have not seen Duranki in a while."

"I'm sure he's doing fine," Lawrence lied.

"How about Tishpak," Prynhawn asked. "Do you know him?"

"Yeah, he's one of the acolytes," Ishara revealed. "And Ninurta, and Hanigalbat."

"Does he like to play chess?" Prynhawn asked.

"Yes," Ishara replied, looking around at the blood stains on the floor and the cracked chessboard, "often with Ninurta. What did you do with them?"

"What? Who?" Valeria stammered. "They were not here when we got here."

"Your companion is a poor liar," Ishara said to Lawrence.

"Yeah," Lawrence agreed "most of us are."

"Do you know anyone named Tarlech?" Lawrence asked.

"The necromancer?" Ishara asked.

"What do you know about him?" Lawrence asked. "Does he associate with you?"

"Yes," Ishara admitted, "he's a necromancer."

"Can we find him upstairs as well?" Lawrence asked.

"He could be," Ishara replied, "or he could be in his own cave."

"Which cave is that"?" Lawrence asked.

"It's higher up," Ishara revealed.

"Do you know anything about this?" Lawrence asked, showing her the black tome from Brother Martin's pack.

"That's Shamhat's book," Ishara replied.

"It doesn't look like there's anything on it," Lawrence explained. "Do you know how to read it?"

"I don't know how you read it," Ishara revealed, "but I know Shamhat said the name of the goddess and it appears."

Lawrence turned to a random page and said, "Erishkigal." Nothing happened.

"You have to wave your hand over it," Ishara clarified.

Lawrence waved his hand over the pages and repeated, "Erishkigal." Blood-red cuneiform letters appeared. Lawrence closed the book and returned it to Brother Martin.

"What are your intentions," Ishara asked. "Do you want to join us? You should try it."

"We weren't planning on it," Lawrence replied. "We're not exactly aligned. I think I'll pass."

"Are you going to let me go?" Ishara asked. "Are you going to kill me?"

"That's not my decision to make," Lawrence replied.

"Who's decision is it?" Ishara asked.

"It's mine," Valeria replied.

"Are you going to kill me?" Ishara asked Valeria.

"I'm still deciding," Valeria replied. "Do you have any other information that could be useful to us?"

"I don't think so," Ishara replied, turning to Yanliz with a command. "Scream!"

"Ahhhh!" Yanliz screamed from the doorway.

Philip jumped up and kicked Ishara in the face, knocking her head back at an awkward angle.

Valeria gagged Ishara, just in case.

"This is a good chance to capture the high priestess lady," Brother Martin suggested. "Around the corner is a little alcove, right? We can just wait for them to pass."

"We can hide in the alcove," Valeria suggested.

"Should we all hide in the alcove?" Prynhawn questioned.

"Half of us can hide there," Valeria offered, "and the other half can hide around the corner."

Philip, Prynhawn, Brother Martin, and Jess hid in the alcove.

Valeria, Yanliz, and Lawrence hid around the corner on the landing above the stairs.

After twenty minutes, they hadn't heard anything.

Yanliz screamed again.

They waited for another ten minutes.

When no one came, they decided to take a rest by the landing above the stairs.

Yanliz stood guard in the doorway of the chess room.

Philip lit a small fire on the landing and began to fry some potatoes.

After another twenty minutes, they heard a horn blast from just down the hall.
The ground between the landing and the doorway began to shift as ten zombies rose from the stone floor.

"Guys, our ambush plan didn't work." Yanliz stated, as he backed up, disappearing into the darkness of the chessboard room, cast hunter's mark on the nearest zombie, and sunk an arrow deep into its chest, taking the head off another zombie with a second arrow.

Brother Martin cast spiritual weapon in the center of the zombies and slammed one with his spectral mace, before casting sacred flame and dropping the zombie Yanliz had shot.

Jess grabbed her bow as she backed up and shot at a zombie, but her arrow went too high.

Yanliz was oblivious to the surprise and confusion on his companion's faces as the commotion from the hall suddenly turned to silence.

Philip grabbed his frying pan and whacked a zombie in the head, searing its face with hot potatoes. He smacked it again with the pan, but it kept coming at him, as he dodged a flame-like radiance that fell from above. Philip tried to deflect an arrow coming at him from down the hall, but it was too powerful, and pierced his side.

Valeria drew her sword and dropped the zombie with potato on its face.

Prynhawn drew his sword and slashed into another, blocking its counter.

A black beam of energy sprung from down the hall and hit the wall.

Valeria felt her muscles contract and was no longer able to move, as two zombies that had fallen began to rise again.

Lawrence backed up, drawing his crossbow, and stuck a bolt into the zombie hit by Brother Martin's spectral mace.

Philip felt his muscles contract and was no longer able to move.

Vernim slammed his warhammer into the zombie rising at Valeria's feet, and slammed another that almost fell while trying to grapple at him.

Another tried to slam Valeria, but Prynhawn intercepted it with his shield.

From out of the darkness down the hall strode a dark armored figure, who they recognized as the dark night they had encountered on the road. It pointed at Prynhawn and beckoned him, as if into a compelled duel.

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