Session 80: Better Read Than Dead

Caves of Chaos explored by the Outcasts
As Vernim approached the group, the disappointment was evident in his expression.

“Listen, um…” Vernim explained, “Opal needs my help today. You’re not planning on doing anything too dangerous, right? Can you manage without me today?”

“Yeah,” Valeria confirmed, “if you need to stay back, that’s alright. Do what you have to do.”

“If you need me,” Vernim hedged, “I would go with you, but thank you. I appreciate it.”

As Vernim departed with Opal, the rest of the group walked toward the gatehouse.

As they made their way to the caves, Arpad mentioned that she had no recollection of ever traveling this far south of the keep before, even though she clearly had been to the caves. All the sights and sounds that the group had grown to take for granted, were all novel and exciting to the newcomer.

Appreciating Arpad’s attention to the details of the wilderness, Philip and Valeria told her about their adventures with spiders in the woods and bandits on the road. Prynhawn added the zombies they had encountered off the road.

As they continued on their way, eight stirges flew toward them. Martin dropped one with a sacred flame and Jess dropped another with an arrow. Valeria missed one with an eldritch blast. In a panic, Arpad put down the rest with a sleep spell and Yanliz stuck three of them with arrows before they hit the ground.

“Oh my goodness!” Arpad panted. “I’m glad that worked. I’ve never actually used that spell like that before.”

As Yanliz and Jess retrieved their arrows, Valeria and Philip praised Arpad for her skill and composure.

“That was so exciting!” Arpad exclaimed. “Is that what you do all the time?”

“Sometimes it’s a bit more complicated, but yes,” Valeria explained as they continued toward the caves.

As they were walking, Martin was distracted by a sending.

Startled, Martin quickly replied.

“I just got a message from my temple,” Martin addressed his companions. “They’re requesting my help building a new temple in Phandalin. I think I kind of have to go. It’s exciting.”

“Building a temple?” Valeria contemplated. “That sounds exciting.”

“I don’t know when exactly they’re expecting me to leave,” Martin explained. “They said ‘immediate departure,’ but obviously I can’t just up and leave you guys. But I am excited to go! I’ll have to think about it.”

“That sounds cool,” Philip pondered. “You just heard them now?”

“Oh, you didn’t…” Martin clarified, pointing to his head. “It’s a spell. It’s called sending. You just speak in someone’s head.”

“You’re welcome to come,” Martin considered, “I guess.”

“When will you be leaving?” Prynhawn asked.

“Well that’s the question, isn’t it?” Martin explained. “They said ‘immediate departure’ but I mean, I’d like to finish up with you here, and we’re already on our way to the caves. I guess I’ll have to figure it out. I’ll send them a message later tonight and I’ll confirm the details.”

Prynhawn confirmed Martin was continuing to the caves with them, and they all continued on.

The rest of the trip was contemplative, but otherwise uneventful.

When they arrived at the caves, they entered Tarlech’s cave, where they found the rust monster sniffing around where the owlbear’s chains used to be secured.

Philip swatted the creature a couple of times with his staff and knocked it over with a kick. Its legs fluttered briefly as it died.

“Oh, Spotty,” Arpad sighed, but conveyed that there was no love lost on Tarlech’s monstrosity, even though it was generally harmless.

They made their way to the library, where Arpad immediately pulled a slim, nondescript book out from the nearest bookshelf. “This is what I was looking for,” she explained that this was her spellbook. “Otherwise that would have been the last sleep spell I ever cast.”
Arpad in Tarlech's Library
"What kind of stuff did he teach you?" Lawrence asked. “What spells do you know?”

“How to comprehend languages,” Arpad expounded. “How to detect magic. I can shoot magic missiles…”

“Dubricus could do that, couldn’t he?” Lawrence noted, and Valeria confirmed.

Lawrence asked Arpad about the bookshelves and she explained to how the skulls atop the twelve tall, narrow bookcases that lined the walls all represented different schools of magic, and the books therein were all academic research on the respective topics. “I haven’t read all these books, but I did help categorize them. The generic magic books are on the shelf with the halfling skull. Abjuration magic books are on the shelf with the demon-like skull. Alteration magic books are on the shelf with the dwarf skull. Charm and enchantment magic books are on the shelf with the elf skull. Conjuration and summoning magic books are on the shelf with the goblin skull. Divination magic books are on the shelf with the kobold skull. Illusion magic books are on the shelf with the gnome skull. Invocation and evocation magic books are on the shelf with the orc skull. Necromancy magic books are on three shelves with the human skull. And finally, clerical magic books are on the shelf with the massive bugbear skull.”

“This is probably a very valuable library,” Lawrence surmised. “Any idea what we should do with it?” The question was addressed to Arpad.

“I don’t know,” Arpad replied, “but I agree. It would be valuable to anyone who was interested in the topics. Most of it is very academic.”

“Are there any other spellbooks in here,” Valeria inquired, “other than yours?”

“It is an impressive collection, though,” Lawrence noted, “regardless of their magical potency.”

“There was a book…” Arpad addressed Valeria’s inquiry as she rummaged quickly through the shelves. “There was a book on the desk—that I was working on—that did have spells in it.”

“We have that,” Valeria disclosed. “It’s back at the keep.”

“Well that’s an important book,” Arpad emphasized. “I might be able to use that book. The other book I was hoping to find was Tarlech’s spellbook, but that wouldn’t be in here. That would be in his room.”

“That might have gotten burned in the conflict,” Lawrence admitted.

“Oh really?” Arpad exclaimed. “Maybe we should check.”

“We have Tarlech’s spellbook,” Valeria revealed. “Maybe it’s a copy. Maybe he had two. But we definitely have one. It was in the back corridor.”

“Oh, you found his other spellbook?” Arpad sighed in relief. “I’ve searched for that book, but was never able to find it. I knew he kept a copy somewhere in that corridor, but I could never figure out where. He also had a bunch of scrolls in his room.”

“Which were probably burned,” Lawrence reiterated, “but we can find out.”

Martin suggested that everyone stay back while he dispelled the glyph on the door.

“You can dispel magic?” Aprad asked. “That’s how I disabled the trap on Tarlech’s backdoor.”

“Do you want to try your luck against this one too?” Martin asked.

“I don’t know how to do it,” Arpad explained. “I used one of his scrolls.”

The group waited in the library entrance, while Martin cast dispel magic on Tarlech’s door from as far down the corridor as he could. The snake symbol on the door flickered and went out.

“I think it’s safe now,” Martin declared.

Philip led the way into the scorched room.

Arpad examined the remains of Tarlech’s ash-ladan shelves. “There were so many scrolls here. He should have secured them better. Oh well. He only has his shelf to blame.”

Arpad moved through the backdoor to the corridor, examining the wall, confirming with Valeria that she had recovered his spellbook from there. Valeria indicated they would deal with the book when they returned to the keep.

Agreeing that they would return for the books with a wagon, they exited the cave and entered the temple cave.

They made their way to the Temple of Erishkigal where Valeria revealed a corridor behind the curtain on the west side of the southern wall.

The side-chamber of the temple looked more like a bedroom than some place that might serve a ceremonial function—perhaps a resting place for the clerics between services. A low couch or divan with a headrest at one end, a stand with an iron bottle and two silver goblets, another bearing an hourglass, several robes hanging on pegs on the walls, and sconces for candles on the east and west walls completed the simple but elegant furnishings.

Valeria noticed what appeared to be a secret door hidden behind one of the red robes on the east wall. After examining the wall, Valeria tugged on the wall sconce, which caused the door to slide to one side, revealing a hidden room beyond.
Hidden Temple Treasury in the Caves of Chaos
Peering inside, they saw treasure, and lots of it! Coins of copper, silver, electrum, and gold were spread out at their feet, hiding the actual floor of the twenty by twenty-foot room from view. Gems glittered here and there on the piles. A heap of coins rose toward the middle, where a depression had been scooped out. Inside a tall armoire against the south wall hung gorgeous robes of black and red in various sizes, each made of the finest fabrics and clearly sewn by a master tailor. Some even had gilded highlights. The room was softly lit although no light source was apparent—as if the very air were vaguely luminescent.

Valeria noted that the depression was the same size as the dragon egg, and resembled the pile of coins in the kobold chamber where they had found it. 

“It could very well have held the same egg,” Yanliz pointed out.

Martin searched through the coins for diamonds, but only found eight small diamonds, not nearly valuable enough to revive anyone.

“Wow!” Arpad exclaimed. “This is a lot of treasure. Is this what you normally find? This is probably more treasure than in the entire keep. I’ve never seen so much.”

Valeria explained that this was not a routine haul, and Martin implied that it was probably acquired unscrupulously.

Valeria waved her labrys along the walls, but detected no doors to the labyrinth.

They scooped all the gems and as many of the coins into their sacks as they could, prioritizing the most valuable.

They returned to the shrine where Arpad cast detect magic from her spellbook and confirmed that bloodstained bowl, goblets, and ewer were all enchanted, but a sampling of the coins they had just acquired were not magical.

They entered the labyrinth from the nearby reception chamber and followed the twisting, winding passages to the secret doors that they had not been able to open. First they went to the one they suspected led to Skeltar and Zombire’s room. Martin examined Philip’s hammer, which they placed by the door. Then they left the labyrinth and the caves and, just outside the fungus cave, Martin cast locate object on the hammer.

Sensing that the hammer was south by southeast, Martin walked east until the hammer was due south. He led the group to the Skeltar and Zombire’s room and verified that the labyrinth led to the door they had not been able to open.

They returned to the labyrinth and repeated the process with the other door, placing the hammer by the door and casting locate object from the valley. Sensing that the hammer was due south, Martin walked south, climbing the slopes of the ravine until he reached the entrance of Tarlech’s cave, at which point the hammer was due east.

Valeria, saying she thought she knew where the secret door was, led everyone in the opposite direction, into Tarech’s cave. They went down the stairs and passed the library and back into Tarlech’s chamber until Martin confirmed that the hammer was under the southeast corner.
Caves of Chaos and underlying labyrinth explored by the Outcasts
Waving her labrys, Valeria found the last secret door, but it did not open.

After some debate, they decided to check in on Bethany. Jess had suggested forcing her to leave. Martin and Yanliz disagreed on whether killing her was an option. Valeria was reluctant to make any decisions on the matter without considering Vernim’s opinion.

After entering the labyrinth from the reception chamber, they followed the twisting, winding passages to the rock-carved chamber where they had encountered Bethany. They found the dark-haired woman in a sleeveless white dress lying on the ground in the back of the room by her white cloth-draped box altar. The two bowl-like lamps on the altar were no longer lit and gone was the pleasant spiced scent.

“Watch out for snakes,” Philip warned as Martin rolled Bethany onto her back.

“She’s been dead a while,” Martin announced after examining her. “It looks like she starved to death. That’s awful. Maybe her god lost faith in her and stopped delivering food. She just didn’t leave. That’s brutal.”

“Brutal?” Jess contested. “Why didn’t she just leave and find some food?”

“She’s a fanatic,” Martin offered. “Maybe she just thought it was her god’s will.”

“Do you really think that Apep was giving her food?” Jess questioned.

“Oh, no,” Martin realized, “we killed the minotaurs and they stopped bringing food, like they brought to Saphira.”

“She has three silver coins,” Jess annoyed after searching Bethany. “And this ankh.”

Searching inside the box that served as an altar, Valeria found two empty jugs that smelled of lamp oil and a suit of chainmail armor.

They also found a flail alongside her sleeping pallet and a golden snake amulet under her pillow.

There was no sign of snakes.

Arpad cast detect magic from her spellbook, and detected magic coming from the golden snake amulet.

Martin wrapped the amulet in a cloth and placed it in his pocket.

They brought Bethany’s body to the valley, along with the bodies of Jude and the other prisoner that died along with him, and buried them. Martin performed a ceremony over their bodies.

Once they were done, Philip began preparing a meal for their trip back to the keep.

“Arpad,” Yanliz inquired, “ Dubricus had this spell that he could tell what things do if he had this precious pearl…”

“You mean the identify spell?” Arpad affirmed. “I’m sure I can cast it if you give me enough time with Tarlech’s book.”

At Yanliz’s insistence, they went into the kobold cave to explore the small tunnels the kobolds used to escape. Squeezing into the tunnel and squirming through the dark earthen tunnel, Yanliz emerged at the base of a tree in the valley.

Yanliz returned to the kobold cave and snuck up behind his companions.

Next they returned to the old orc carnage cave where the bats filled the ceiling.

Passing through the corridor streaked with dried blood, Yanliz entered the room with Prynhawn and Martin close behind, while the rest of the groups waited in the corridor. Flies still buzzed and crawled over the corpses of the dozens of orcs, including many women and children.

As Yanliz examined the rippling dark mass on the ceiling, four small skeletons emerged from the carnage and advanced quickly toward Yanliz.

Valeria cast faerie fire, engulfing the skeletons and many of the bats in a blue glow. Angelic spirits appeared around Martin as he cast spirit guardians and advanced on the skeletons. Lawrence dropped one with a firebolt before they all fell to the radiance of the spirits.

With the threat of the skeletons eliminated, Yanliz picked up a bug infested limb from the carnage and raised it gently toward the bats until one flew down and began to feast. Gathering more insects, Yanliz coaxed the bat onto his shoulder with the limb and slowly withdrew from the cave. As they moved toward the light, Yanliz drew the bat under his robes with the bat’s tasty treat.

The sun was already beginning to set when they finally headed back toward the keep.

They were about halfway back to the keep when they began to hear growling and barking coming from the south of the road. The barking seemed to surround them.

Yanliz moved away from Martin’s light, disappearing into the darkness. The barking nearest to him turned to a sick laughing sound as two hyena leaped at him in the darkness.

Martin cast bless on Philip, Valeria, and Lawrence.

Arrows appeared from the south, most landing harmlessly, but Valeria and Arpad were both struck.

Lawrence cast light on his dagger and tossed it south, but he did not see their assailants.

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