Session 77: Shades of Grey

Caves of Chaos - Session 77
Once the group was gathered together in the secret corridor with the bodies of the wizard, the cat, and Chantel, they made sure the two humans were bound, gagged, and blindfolded.

As they dragged the bodies, Yanliz led them north to the labyrinth through the secret door in the chess room.

Once they were secure in the labyrinth, they made their way to Sapphira’s chamber and took a short rest to recover from the wizard’s fireball.

Valeria, Philip, and Jess took the wizard’s body down the corridor and around a corner while Prynhawn, Lawrence, and Brother Martin remained in Sapphira’s chamber with Chantel and the cat. Yanliz stood guard at the intersection where he could see both groups.

Jess searched the wizard’s body and found a pair of bracers and a ring.

Prynhawn used lay on hands to revive Chantel. Her eyes opened and she stared blankly at the paladin.

“You’re the one who was with Mendel, right?” Lawrence asked, but she continued to just stare blankly.

“Are you going to make this difficult?” Lawrence threatened. “I would really prefer if you didn’t make this difficult.” She continued to stare. “We just want to find out about the missing people and the people walking around as zombies… It would be really helpful to us if you would just be honest and forthright…”

“Prynhawhn, I think she might not be all there,” Lawrence concluded after examining her gaze. “She looks dead inside. I don’t think she’s aware of what’s going on.”

Prynhawn patted her cheek, but there was no response. “I suppose we should call Valeria.”

Lawrence called to Yanliz to inform Valeria and the others and led a compliant Chantel to lay down behind the divan.

Valeria, Philip, and Jess returned with the wizard’s body, and tied him up to a chair in the middle of the large chamber, facing the entrance, away from the divan.

Brother Martin removed the arrows from the cat and returned them to Yanliz, placing the cat on the table.

Removing the blindfold, Prynhawn used lay on hands to revive the wizard.

“We’ve been wanting to meet you for a while,” Lawrence began. “We’ve heard some not so good stuff about you on this side of the valley.”

The wizard just moaned, his body still badly scorched from Lawrence’s fireball, until Valeria removed his gag.

“What’s going on with Chantel,” Lawrence asked. “Let’s start with her.”

Prynhawn drew his sword, while Yanliz and Jess notched their arrows.

“What did you do to Chantel?” Lawrence continued. “Be honest. She’s completely comatose.”

“Chantel?” the wizard moaned. “The pain. Aww… Who’s Chantel?”

“The girl that was in your room,” Lawrence pressed, “with the skimpy clothing.”

“Who?” the wizard asked absently.

“You don’t remember the girl from your room?” Lawrence questioned, picking up the dead cat and dangling it in front of the wizard. “You were just in your room with your cat and the girl.”

“That cat?” the wizard claimed. “No, I don’t remember.”

Eager to hear the conversation, Yanliz stepped up to the chamber’s entrance.

“Do you remember your name?” Prynhawn asked.

Tarlech the necromancer
“No,” the wizard replied. “Who am I?”

“I’m not usually that good at these things,” Yanliz whispered to Brother Martin by the entrance, “but he’s totally lying.”

“Are you sure?” Brother Martin asked. “Go make sure he knows he can’t trick us.”

“You’re lying!” Yanliz accused loudly, training an arrow at the wizard. “You better answer our questions truthfully, or I’ll let this loose and it’ll be the last thing you see.”

The wizard’s eyes grew wide with fear at the sight of Prynhawn brandishing his sword menacingly. “I’ll ask you again,” the paladin repeated, “what is your name?”

“Tarlech,” the wizard replied. “My name’s Tarlech.”

“So you were lying to us,” Lawrence asked, “about the memory loss?”

The wizard nodded pathetically.

“So let’s start from the beginning, and be honest,” Lawrence insisted. “What did you do to Chantel?”

“Chantel was perfect,” Tarlech replied.

“You kind of ruined that, didn’t you?” Lawrence pressed his interrogation.

“No, I made her perfect,” Tarlech insisted.

“She’s basically a lifeless doll,” Lawrence argued.

“She was completely obedient,” Tarlech explained.

“You turned her into a slave?” Lawrence probed.

“I wouldn’t call her slave,” Tarlech refuted. “Just an obedient servant.”

“Where did you get her from?” Prynhawn asked. “Did someone give her to you?”

“Yeah,” Tarlech moaned painfully. “The same place I get all my…subjects.”

“From a smuggler?” Lawrence inquired.

“Yeah,” Tarlech agreed. “A smuggler comes by.”

“A smuggler named Mendel?” Lawrence suggested.

Tarlech’s eyes flickered from side to side at Lawrence’s words. “Yeah, we know about that,” the sorcerer confirmed.

“So what do you want from me?” Tarlech asked.

“We want to know what you’re doing here,” Lawrence replied. “We want to know about a few friends of ours.”

“I’m just doing my experiments,” Tarlech pleaded. “I’m just doing my work.”

“Okay, so Mendel brings you people,” Lawrence interrogated, “and you turn them into slaves? Zombies? What did you call them? Subjects? Yeah, whatever.”

“I preserve them.” Tarlech insisted.

“As zombies,” Prynhawn corrected.

“Mindless zombies,” Lawrence added.

“Close enough,” Tarlech conceded. “They’re compliant. Docile. Willing to serve.”

“And what was your plan for them?” Lawrence asked. “Were you just going to have them work for you?”

“I’m a scientist,” Tarlech explained.

“Are you the one that created those goblin zombies,” Prynhawn asked, “and bugbear zombies?”

“I have created some zombies here,” Tarlech revealed, “but I’m not the only one here that can do that. The priests can. And Skeltar and Zombire were doing it too.”

“And there was no end goal?” Lawrence pried. “It was all for the sake of science?”

“I don’t know what their goals were,” Tarlech answered, “but yes, mine was for science.”

“What about Arpad?” Lawrence asked. “Is she a doll now? A servant? Mendel said he kept her safe. Was that a lie?”

“Arpad,” Tarlech sighed. “She is not so docile.”

“Yes, she’s alive,” Tarlech admitted. “...or at least she was the last time I saw her.”

“When was the last time you saw her?” Lawrence asked.

“I see her all the time,” Tarlech revealed, looking around. “Where are we?”

“Close to your home.” Lawrence shared.

“How close?” Tarlech pried.

“It’s not for you to know,” Prynhawn growled.

“Okay, how about Mendel?” Lawrence continued his interrogation. “He was here yesterday. I’m assuming he was delivering more subjects. Do you have any idea where he went?”

“I have no idea where Mendel is,” Tarlech claimed.

“That’s a shame,” Lawrence sighed. “Valeria, is there anything else you want to know?”

“Do you happen to know someone by the name of Aseneth?” Valeria asked.

“That name is familiar,” Tarlech admitted.

“Was she a pupil of yours?” Lawrence asked.

“She wanted to be,” Tarlech explained. “I hoped she would be. But she never showed up. That’s why I needed Arpad.”

“You wanted Arpad as a pupil,” Lawrence asked, “not as a subject?”

“Yes, I needed an assistant,” Tarlech confirmed.

“Chantel wasn’t a good enough assistant?” Lawrence chided.

“Not for these purposes,” Tarlech elaborated. “Chantel had her uses. But she was a subject. An experiment. And a most successful one.”

“If we want to return her to the way she was,” Lawrence asked, “is there a way to do that, or is she too far gone?”

“Anything’s possible,” Tarlech acknowledged, “but I wouldn’t be able to.”

“Do you recognize this armor?” Prynhawn asked, indicating The Black Knight’s armor he wore.

“Yes, I recognize it,” Tarlech admitted.

“Do you have his body?” Prynhawn asked.

“Yes,” Tarlech confirmed, “it was brought to me.”

“Brought to you?” Prynhawn asked. “By who? Your subjects?”

“Yes,” Tarlech admitted, “my subjects brought it to me.”

“How many subjects do you have,” Lawrence asked, “not including Chatel?”

“I have a few,” Tarlech admitted. “...roaming around.”

“Where do you usually keep them?” Prynhawn asked.

“They're in my lair,” Tarlech revealed.

“Your lair?” Lawrence teased. “That doesn’t make you sound evil at all.”

“Well, my home is no castle,” Tarlech replied, “but it suits my purposes. Or at least it did until you all came along.”

“It’s a good thing we did,” Lawrence countered, “before you could turn more people into subjects. Alright, is there anything else we can learn from him?”

“Valeria?” Prynhawn asked.

“I might be able to do things for you.” Tarlech offered.

“Yeah, you might,” Lawrence responded, “but I think we’ll all pass on that offer.”

“Yeah,” Valeria confirmed. “What happened with this cat?”

“It looks like you killed it!” Tarlech accused.

“Is it a cat?” Valeria asked.

“Yes,” Tarlech explained, “that was my familiar. Necromancy can be used in a lot of ways.”

“Is it time to put him down?” Lawrence suggested. “I don’t see another path forward.”

“I’m a lot more use to you alive than dead,” Tarlech bargained.

“And you’re also a lot more dangerous to us alive than dead,” Lawrence refuted. “And to other people too.”

“I’m just a doctor,” Tarlech pleaded.

“What do you mean by science?” Yanliz asked. “Was there any goal in particular, or were you just experimenting for the sake of experimenting?”

“Isn’t this reason enough?” Tarlech argued. “The ability to preserve life, almost perfectly, to live in immortality? Is that not a worthy goal?”

“And you think it’s completely okay,” Yanliz accused, “to steal people from their families and abduct them?”

“I don’t steal anyone,” Tarlech refuted, still staring at Prynhawn. “I don’t take anyone from their families. They were delivered to me and were completely willing.”

“Same difference,” Yanliz insisted, looking to Valeria for the word to finish him.

“Like you don’t take life into your own hands,” Tarlech countered. “You came here and killed how many creatures?”

“They attacked us first.” Brother Martin disputed. “And what about the bugbears? You turned them into zombies?”

“You invaded their homes,” Tarlech argued. “And those bugbears were already dead. What about the bandits? Most of them were just trying to make a living on the outskirts of society, and you slaughtered them.”

“Yes,” Prynhawn acknowledged.

“This is what I was hired to do,” Tarlech pleaded.

“You were hired?” Lawrence asked.

“Yes,” Tarlech explained. “This is my job.”

“Who hired you?” Lawrence asked.

“Mendel!” Tarlech replied. “I thought you knew. You said you knew.”

“Mendel hired you to make zombies?” Lawrence asked.

“Yes,” Tarlech confirmed.

“That doesn’t change anything,” Yanliz suggested, pulling back his bowstring. “He still decided to take the work.”

“I did,” Tarlech acknowledged. “Just like you probably took a job to come here, and you took everyone’s life into your own hands when you did.”

“You’re okay turning people into these beastly things?” Brother Martin challenged. “You can sleep at night after doing that?”

“This is what I do for science!” Tarlech maintained. “It’s for the greater good! Didn’t you see what a perfect specimen Chantel was? Have you ever seen a zombie like that?”

After an unspoken agreement, Valeria nodded and Prynhawn heaved his sword as Yanliz let his arrow loose. Muttering a word, Tarlech disappeared, leaving behind a silvery mist and empty bindings, instantly appearing between Yanliz and Brother Martin.

As Tarlech took off down the corridor, Yanliz punched the wizard, but was unable to stop him.

Yanliz took off after the wizard, chasing him around a corner, with Prynhawn following behind.

Tarlech was gaining ground and about to round a bend when he fell dead to Yanliz’s arrow.

Prynhawn retrieved Tarlech’s body and dragged it back to Sapphira’s chamber.

After confirming that Chantel was indeed not living, Brother Martin put her down with sacred flame and then cast a ritual gentle repose on her.

Entering Sapphira’s treasure room, they began looking through the rest of the treasure, finding vast amounts of copper, silver, electrum, and gold coins. The only other item of interest they found was a well-made great sword.

They retrieved the two locked chests from the adepts' chamber.

While they were nearby, with determined reluctance, Lawrence returned the bronze goblet to the shrine where he had taken it.

“Guys,” Jess pointed out, “These vessels are really valuable. Like really valuable!”

“I advise against it,” Lawrence urged. “They are bad for your health.” At Jess’ look of skepticism, he continued, “it could cost you your life, so I suggest you leave them where they are.” At Jess’ still pondering expression, he continued, “You can always take them and sell them after we get Vernim to remove any curses on them.”

Seeing that Jess seemed placated, they returned to Sapphira’s chamber.

Brother Martin cast a ritual detect magic and determined that Tarlech’s bracers and ring were magical, but the suits of armor and greatsword were not.

Since it was already getting late, Valeria suggested they sleep in Sapphira’s chamber, noting that Vernim had expressed wanting to spend time with Opal anyway.

Philip whipped together a delicious dish of rice pilaf.

Valeria created a tiny hut, providing them all with safe shelter. Yanliz cast alarm in the intersection for good measure.

When they woke, Lawrence was relieved that he hadn’t had any troubling dreams.

Prynhawn had attuned to The Black Knight’s sword of wounding. Jess had attuned to the bracers of defense. Yanliz had attuned to the ring of protection and gave it to Philip. Valeria had attuned to the priest’s ring of protection and gave it to Jess in exchange for the cloak of protection.

After eating, they agreed to explore Tarlech’s lair. They returned to Tarlech’s chamber through the secret corridor. After searching for traps and finding none, Yanliz cast pass without trace and tried the door, but couldn’t open it.

Brother Martin cast guidance on Jess as she worked the door with her tools.

“This door isn’t locked,” Jess insisted.

“Can I borrow your thieves’ tools and give it a shot?” Yanliz asked.

Jess handed him her tools, but soon demanded them back when he clearly didn’t know how to use them.

Unable to get beyond the door to Tarlech's chamber, they decided to enter from the outside cave entrance.

An overpoweringly foul odor of offal and rotting meat assaulted them as they approached the cave entrance. A low, deep growl resonated from the cave mouth. As they drew nearer they heard the clanking of a chain.

Owlbear in the Caves of Chaos
Peering inside, they saw what at first looked like a great cave bear at least eight feet high. Then they noticed that instead of a snout filled with teeth this creature had a powerful beak; its matted coat seemed to be a mix of blackish-brown fur and yellow-brown feathers.

Agreeing to try and free the beast, Philip dove inside with a somersault and continued to flip around, evading the monstrosity. As soon as Prynhawn entered it suddenly lunged at him, surprisingly agile for so bulky a beast, swiping with its mighty paws and snapping with its wicked-looking beak.

Prynhawn held the powerful beak and claws at bay while he took a swipe at the chain with his sword. With his second swing, Prynhawn broke one of the chain’s links, still defending against the owlbear. On his third swing, he broke through the chain, and carefully withdrew out of the cave.

Philip attacks the owlbear from behind
The hungry owlbear was in swift pursuit, and continued to swipe at the paladin outside the cave. Eventually, it knocked Prynhawn’s shield aside and battered him with a powerful claw. Prynhawn tried to retaliate, but could not get his bearings. Philip followed them out of the cave, trying in vain to appease the beast with soothing noises.

“Attack!” Valeria commanded, and hit it with an eldritch blast. Jess hit it with an arrow. Philip leaped up and hit the monstrosity in the back with a series of spinning kicks, sending it falling, lifeless, into the valley.

Brother Martin cast cure wounds on Prynhawn.

Entering the cave, they found only well-gnawed bones littering the chamber.

They followed the tunnel into a room with what appeared to have once been furniture, but was now smashed to flinders.

They continued to follow the tunnel, turning a corner into a long corridor leading to stairs headed down. From the base of the stairs, they saw a chamber opening up off of the tunnel ahead and also a tunnel running off at an oblique angle to their right.

“There’s something coming,” Yanliz warned.

Spotty the rust monster
One of the strangest creatures they had ever seen bounded up the steps toward them, like an overeager puppy. Its lumpish body rose in a great hump covered with stony plates like a turtle’s shell. The face was merely two eyes and a tiny beak at one end, out of which a short sturdy tongue hung. Two large antennae whipped about, quivering in the creature’s excitement as it padded forward on oversized three-toed feet. Its rear legs were noticeably longer than its front ones, giving it an uneven, almost comical gait. The flexible, segmented tail ended in two bony plates that the creature seemed to use for balance as it moved.

They all backed up against the wall, hoping it would pass them by. It briefly waved its antennae at Prynhawn and Yanliz, but continued on until it reached Brother Martin, when it tapped his mace and morning star with its antennae. Immediately the two weapons began to rust before their eyes and crumbled to orange dust. The Dawngreeter lifted his shield up into the air as it tried to leap up at it.

Yanliz and Jess shot it with arrows and it keeled over with a squeaky snort.

Brother Martin cast spare the dying on it, and they dragged it to the room with the owlbear’s chain.

Peering down the stairs Yanliz saw a chamber opening up at the end of the tunnel, and before that a tunnel running off at an oblique angle to the right. Reflected light on the tunnel wall showed that the room ahead was lit.

Descending down the stairs, Yanliz peered down the dark tunnel to the right. An opening in the left side some thirty feet down was dimly illuminated by some flickering light within.

Yanliz peered into the opening and found a room filled with books. A large table dominated the center of the room, and behind it was a young woman in a short black dress, writing something onto a sheet of parchment with a rather ratty looking quill pen by the light of a single candle.
Arpad in Tarlech's Library
Returning to the group, Yanliz whispered, “There’s someone there. I’m going to shoot them.”

“Maybe we should wait,” Prynhawn whispered back.

Yanliz shot two arrows into the wall around the woman before landing a third into her throat as she looked up. She toppled over behind the desk.

The rest of the group entered the room and found it was filled with more books than any of them had ever seen in any one place in their whole lives, easily several hundred. Scrolls lined the shelves, all apparently neatly catalogued by some system. Twelve polished skulls, each belonging to a different species, stood atop the twelve, tall, narrow bookcases that lined the walls. Papers scattered across the large table’s surface almost obscured its beautiful inlay work. On its top was a parchment, half-filled with text and next to that a great black folio.

Looking behind the desk, Brother Martin recognized the woman as Arpad! He cast spare the dying on her, and then cure wounds, but she was still dead. Finally, he cast gentle repose.

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