Session 72: An Unholy Congregation

The Hidden Temple of Erishkigal
Having defeated the high priestess and her cohorts and gone through their belongings, the group took stock of the prisoners' room.

They noted that the room had two exits, besides the portal from which they had entered. In addition to the door beyond the ten foot square alcove from which the high priestess had entered, there was another door facing the same direction, but closer to the portal.

With her labrys in hand, Valeria circled the room, examining the walls for traps or secret doors, but did not find any.

"I think we should take a short rest in Sapphira's room," Valeria suggested, "and then keep exploring. We'll bring Jude and the other body back there with us. I have everything else in this new pack, except their armor and weapons. I highly doubt any of it is magical, but feel free to take anything you're specifically interested in."

"We can always come back," Brother Martin mentioned, "It's not like it's going to move, right?"

"That's true," Vernim agreed. "I can tell you that Tymora smiles on us for defeating this great evil, and I'm sure the bounty she has given us from this is great indeed. That's all I can say."

"I'm not sure if this is worth considering," Philip offered, "but is there any value in taking this stuff, so that if somebody comes back here looking for the priests, there's nothing in this room."

"Do you want us to put it outside the secret door?" Brother Martin asked.

"We can drag the bodies into the labyrinth, at least," Yanliz suggested.

The rest of the group agreed, and they placed the four robed bodies beyond the secret door, with their armor and weapons, leaving behind only more bloodstains than had originally been there.

They closed the secret door behind them and brought Dervek back to Sapphira's room without incident.

Once there, Yanliz stood watch in the darkness of the corridor.

Philip prepared some food, while the rest of the group relaxed.

Brother Martin examined the big black book he had taken from what they presumed with the high priestess's quarters. Turning to the page he had bookmarked, he found that it was once again blank. He waved his hand over the book and said, "Erishkigal," whereupon blood-red cuneiform letters appeared, but he could not read them.

"Wow!" Vernim gasped, looking over Brother Martin's shoulder. "That's so cool!"

"Yeah, it would be a lot cooler if any of us could read it," Brother Martin replied. "I'm assuming you can't read it, right?"

"I can see this symbol seems to mean dead," Vernim figured, "and this one seems to mean underworld, I think. And this is kill, but that's about it."

Overhearing the conversation, Yanliz approached and examined the book over Brother Martin's other shoulder.

"I see the same thing as Vernim," Yanliz stated, and returned to the darkness of the corridor.

At Valeria's request, Lawrence focused on the incandescent blue sphere.

Vernim decided to focus on his new shield.

"We have some good food today!" Yanliz complimented.

Everyone agreed that the salted pork kebabs Philip had prepared were a gourmet treat.

"Do you guys always eat like this?" Dervek asked, grateful for the fine meal after having been imprisoned for so many days.

"Yeah, every day," Brother Martin replied. "Three times a day."

"Philip is a phenomenal cook," Vernim added, "Unbeatable! These salted pork kebabs are magnificent! I'm such a fan! Thank you so much! They are so good! You should make them again some time. Instant classic. It is clear that, not only is your skill shining through, as always, Tymora is very pleased with our efforts today."

"They really are delightful!" Valeria added.

"Are you saying killing two innocent people is lucky?" Yanliz called out from the darkness.

"We could have killed four..." Vernim rationalized.

"Yanliz, why are you always trying to kill his silver lining?" Jess mocked.

"I don't like the idea of going back on our deal with the kobolds," Brother Martin offered, changing the subject, "but I can cast a spell to find the dragon egg if you think it's close by. It won't reach everywhere, but if it's anywhere inside the caves, I should be able to detect it."

"It's definitely worth a shot," Philip suggested, "I think."

"I doubt they're still around the caves," Valeria concluded.

While they rested, Valeria sang a song, revitalizing her companions and lifting their spirits.

"I think I figured it out," Vernim announced. "This shield, not only is it a regular shield, but it seems like it's extra protective against missile attacks."

"I imagine it would be," Jess replied. "It's gigantic!"

"This stone," Lawrence said, indicating the incandescent blue sphere that had begun rotating around his head, "makes me feel wiser. Like I have a better understanding of things."

They gave Dervek a dagger, a tinderbox and torch, and a sling with bullets. Vernim cast light on one of the sling stones. They left him there with the bodies and promised to return as soon as they finished their business in the temple.

They made their way back to where they had fought the high priestess, noting that the bodies and the items left there all appeared undisturbed.

Yanliz peeked into the door closest to the portal, and saw a ten foot alcove, a thick red curtain covering the opening across from the door.

Parting the curtain slightly, he saw a huge room—the largest he had seen in the entire complex of caves—which was clearly a temple. Above a floor of polished black stone with disturbing red swirls, dull black walls rose five or six times the height of a man to an arched ceiling of the same dead black material. The lower portion of the three rearmost walls was covered by the same thick black curtain. Only the far wall was different, with a mass of polished red rock that threw back light like a bloody mirror. Near the red wall stood three altars; the one on the left of polished black stone, the one on the right of polished red stone, and the largest in the center of red and black streaked stone. Behind these, a raised dais held a double throne. The back of each throne was decorated with a mosaic; one of a beautiful queenly woman in black, the other of a handsome and kingly warrior in red. Red candles burned in wall sconces to either side. A great bell of black iron stood to the left of the entrance, flanked on each side by robed figures, one red and the other black, each holding a mallet. The pews were packed with red and black robed congregants who sat patiently facing the thrones and altars.

Yanliz returned to the group and explained what he saw.

"Do you think we interrupted a service?" Brother Martin asked.

"Should I shoot them, or are they prisoners?" Yanliz wondered aloud. "I don't know!"

"I doubt they're prisoners," Valeria guessed.

"Do we just want to walk in then?" Brother Martin hinted. "Were there guards? I do want to see what their temple looks like."

"They're only acolytes," Yanliz said. "Should we just say 'hi'?"

"We'd be asking for trouble," Vernim replied. "I'd like to see it too, but there were a lot of them, I thought you were saying. Every fight we've had with these acolytes or their higher ups has been very problematic!"

"But that's because they were the higher ups," Valeria challenged, "and not the acolytes."

"The fight with Ishara was not problematic," Jess said. "The fight with the two chess players was not problematic."

"What if they're forced to pray to these gods?" Yanliz questioned.

"I feel like it's very hard to force people to pray to something," Brother Martin offered. "You have to have belief, right?

"Didn't you force us?" Yanliz quipped.

"That was an invitation," Brother Martin retorted. "It's completely different. And you didn't even want to go. I was going to let you stay out of it."

"I think this is totally different, Brother Martin," Philip offered.

"You can't force someone to believe in a god," Valeria surmised, "but theoretically you can pray to someone and not believe in them."

"I think we should try not to kill innocent people again," Yanliz suggested.

"Again?" Jess asked.

"We?" Brother Martin asked.

"But you guys told me to shoot," Yanliz claimed.

"Who?" Valeria questioned. "When?"

"It's in the past," Vernim assuaged. "It's in the past, and it could have been a lot worse. We make mistakes sometimes. That's the way life goes. And we do everything we can to atone for the sins we have made. Just not right now, when there are a lot of acolytes in there. We have a problem that we have to get past."

"That's very wise of you, Vernim," Brother Martin recognized.

"I also agree," Valeria seconded.

"If we open the secret door open, and keep this door here open," Brother Martin suggested, "I'm not very worried about us just walking into the room. It's not like we don't have a way out. We have a very easy way out."

"If you guys don't want to," Yanliz offered, "I can go up there and say 'hi' and see how they react."

"I feel like that's not a good idea," Valeria stated.

"I don't think we should send anyone in alone," Brother Martin suggested.

"The two things I'm worried about," Philip shared, "are the black knight, and them ringing the bell, and those are kind of connected. I don't know how we can approach them without attacking and risk them not ringing the bell. That sounds really tough."

"Do we have any way we can kill them all at the same time?" Yanliz asked.

"I don't really want to walk in and just kill all these people," Lawrence said. "They're just praying. They're just praying!"

"What about the guys by the bell," Yanliz asked. "I think that's a big problem. I can shoot them and say 'hi' to the rest."

"If we take out the two by the bell," Philip wondered, "maybe we could tie them up or something."

"Right outside this room there's four outfits," Brother Martin suggested, "and Yanliz said he has a spell that could make him look like an acolyte. We're just missing an outfit for one person if we want to just walk in there."

"What if we cast silence on the bell?" Yanliz suggested. "Then we can walk in and say 'hi' and then if they're aggressive..."

"Yanliz how many did you see?" Brother Martin asked.

"Dozens," Yanliz replied. "Many dozens."

"I'm confused," Brother Martin said. "If there were so many... This just seems strange, because the other acolyte told us there were about a dozen."

"Should we really go around killing people?" Yanliz asked.

"We can always ask Tymora and see what she thinks," Vernim offered. "I'm very wary of the whole thing."

"Are we just planning to go kill people that worship gods that you don't agree with?" Yanliz challenged.

"They're not just gods we don't agree with," Valeria refuted.

"But they, individually, haven't done anything to us," Yanliz argued.

"To be fair," Valeria maintained, "they have prisoners that they keep, torture, and sacrifice, at least according to Dervek."

"I think that's what this room is," Brother Martin guessed. "I think these people are about to be sacrificed."

"It's hard for me to think nicely," Philip said, "about these people who have bad gods, but I don't know. Maybe I just didn't..."

"They don't just have bad gods!" Jess argued. "They're killing everyone in the area. They chased the orcs out, and they said they were going to attack the keep."

"I see what you're saying," Vernim replied, "but they no longer have a leader. It's like a chicken without a head."

"Brother Martin, who don't you see if they want to redeem themselves," Jess suggested, "and if they don't, well, then...we can leave their souls to Tymora."

"We can always flip a coin," Vernim suggested, "and see what Tymora says."

"We can just walk in and say anyone here who wants to renounce this evil worship can leave," Brother Martin suggested.

"I think we should cast silence on the bell," Valeria advised, "and then we can walk in."

"I am more than happy to devote that spell to the cause of general good," Vernim declared. "I'm happy to go in and say, 'your leaders have abandoned you. they risked their lives, making a stupid decision, fighting against a party working towards good, toward saving people, and they got killed, and if any of you wish to renounce the evil gods that you once followed, now's the time,' and if not, well, they are evil—I'm starting to sound like Brother Martin. My goodness gracious. I guess Lathander is rubbing off on me. I don't know. I'm very excited by all of this. Maybe they will understand that good fortune does not reside in evil."

"I think we should walk in and make a statement," Brother Martin suggested, "and anyone who's willing to—"

"Yeah," Vernim interrupted. "That's a good, safe position."

"I think I should cast silence on—" Valeria started.

"Valeria," Vernim cut in, "I have a proposal, if you'll hear it. I know with silence, there's a chance we would be unaffected by it. Maybe we should both cast silence."

"Why would we do that?" Valeria asked.

"Not to patronize or anything," Vernim said. "I was just thinking it might make it more effective. I'm sorry. I'm sorry."

Decided on a plan, Yanliz explained that the bell is about thirty feet ahead of the door and twenty feet from the right wall. Vernim spent ten minutes casting silence on the bell.

Brother Martin opened the door and parted the curtain, seeing it was seventy feet from where he stood in the back of the room to the front of the room by the altar. He passed behind the thick red curtain along the right wall and made his way, along the wall, to the front of the temple.

Yanliz and the rest followed Brother Martin behind the curtain, except for Jess, who stayed in the rear of the room, by the door, where it was silent.

Brother Martin stepped out from behind the curtain, at the front of the room, and up to the dais, where he addressed the congregation.

"Acolytes of Erishkigal and Nergal, as a messenger of Lathander, I—" Brother Martin started when he noticed a very bony chin sticking out from one of the congregants robes. Scanning the congregants, he realized that beneath the hoods were skeletal faces and others with rotting flesh.

"Guys, these people are dead!" Brother Martin announced. "It's like someone got a bunch of skeletons and put them in robes." He noted that in each of the ten rows of pews, which were divided into two aisles, sat six congregants.

"I think we're about to fight all these zombies and skeletons," he concluded. "Vernim, I suggest you get out here!" he called, and cast bless on Philip, Yanliz, and Lawrence.

"Coming," Vernim shouted from behind the curtain.

Philip braced himself as Brother Martin drew his mace and approached the nearest skeleton.

Yanliz peeked out from behind the curtain and aimed at the zombie by the bell, impaling it in the head, and did the same to another zombie in the front row.

Lawrence stepped out from behind the curtain, and missed the nearest skeleton with a fire bolt.

Valeria cast faerie fire, and everything in an entire aisle of pews was illuminated in a violet glow.

Brother Martin cast spiritual weapon and smashed the nearest skeleton, missing it with his mace, as it drew a rusty sword and stabbed him. Philip ran up to it and kicked a hole in its chest, collapsing it. Five nearby skeletons rose and drew their swords. Brother Martin blocked the thrusts of two of them, but was stabbed by the third. Philip evaded both that engaged him.

Vernim stepped into the center of the pews, holding forth his holy symbol and channeled his divinity, shouting, "Vile abominations, you shall finally come to rest under the great power of Tymora, I shall guide you to that after life. Begone!"

Vernim and his companions were bewildered as the undead congregants seemed to ignore him, except for three nearby, that drew weapons and attacked him. Blocking a skeletons sword thrust, he was stabbed by another and smashed by a zombie's club.

"The silence!" Vernim yelled. "No!" as he realized his concentration had been broken.

Jess sunk an arrow into a zombie near the back of the room.

The mallet wielding skeleton in the back rang the large iron bell.

Philip rolled down the aisle and leaped into the air, smashing the bell ringing skeleton to pieces with a leaping side kick. Then he hit another skeleton in the rear pew with a spinning kick.

Yanliz landed an arrow in another glowing zombie.

Lawrence approached the corner of the pews and cast burning hands, scorching dozens of cramped skeletons and zombies, some of which fell to the ground in flames.

Valeria nicked a nearby skeleton with an eldritch blast.

From the center of the pews, Vernim blocked the swords of two skeletons, and cast burning hands, scorching many of the already burned skeletons and zombies, causing more of the undead to fall in flames.

Jess sunk another arrow into the same zombie as before.

Two zombies smashed Lawrence with their clubs, and three fallen zombies nearby began to rise.

Brother Martin blocked the swords of four skeletons, killing one with a counter from his mace, and crushing a zombie with his spectral mace.

Philip sidestepped the swing from two zombies, but was stabbed by two skeletons as he rolled up to the front of the temple, and kicked two skeletons attacking Brother Martin, dropping one.

Yanliz dropped another zombie near the front with an arrow in the chest.

Lawrence cast burning hands again, and dozens of undead fell, smoldering.

Three zombies swung at Valeria, only one connecting, hitting the bard in the shoulder as she cast shatter at the undead in the rear pews, destroying dozens more with the thunderous impact.

Vernim cast burning hands again, this time aiming at the undead in the back that still stood, and in addition to many zombies, the last of the skeletons fell in flames.

Jess barely hit a zombie near the back of the room.

Three zombies swung their clubs at Vernim, but he avoided their attacks with his shield and a warding flare.

Brother Martin blocked another zombie's club, and dropped it with his spectral mace. Then he blasted another zombie with a sacred flame, and blocked another zombie's club.

Philip weaved between three attacking zombies, and dropped all three with a series of tornado kicks.

Yanliz dropped another zombie with an arrow in the head.

Casting green-flame blade, Lawrence swung his staff at a zombie, but missed, and was struck by another zombie.

Valeria drew her sword and nicked a nearby zombie.

Vernim blocked two zombie clubs and dropped one of his zombie attackers with his warhammer, but another stepped in to take its place and hit him in the arm.

Jess dropped a zombie at the rear of the temple with an arrow in the chest.

Brother Martin dropped an attacking zombie with his spectral mace, and cast cure wounds on Lawrence.

Valeria deflected a zombie's club, but was clipped by another's.

Philip ducked under two zombie's swings and dropped both with a leaping split kick.

Yanliz dropped another zombie with an arrow in its chest.

Lawrence dropped a risen zombie with a fire bolt, and was clubbed by another.

Valeria stabbed her zombie attacker and it fell.

Vernim crushed an attacking zombie with his warhammer, and blocked two others' swings.

Jess dropped a zombie with an arrow.

Brother Martin's spectral mace finished the zombie attacking Lawrence, and his real mace crushed one attacking Vernim.

Philip bobbed beneath a zombie's club and dropped it with a leaping front kick. Then the monk dropped the last zombie still standing.

They looked through the corpses and made sure none of them could rise again.

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