Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Expedition to the Lost Temple of Pelor

(From the copy added to the file on "The Problem of Undead in Caston Vale" in the archives of the Temple of Erathis in Fort Balasar.)

On the morning of the 28th, I, Alethea Eveningstar, Solomon Resni, and Schepo Cheerfisk planned to investigate the rumors we'd heard of the lost temple of Pelor to the west. I knew Schepo to be a reliable enough gnome, as I'd ventured out with him before, and though I'd just met Alethea and Solomon, they seemed to be competent enough.

We made it to the temple just as we planned. Well, we had to play dice with a satyr, run away from some giant bats, climb across giant logs with colonies of giant insects, fight off a nest of giant rats, and so on, but we managed to incorporate those incidents into the plan.

We entered the temple late in the afternoon. Oddly, the inscription on the entrance arch was in draconic. Still, it was true to Pelorian dogma, and wished us safe entry. If only.

The monastery was completely abandoned and in a state of disrepair. Our first sign that something was amiss, aside from the number of letters I had previously dug up saying something about undead, was a huge streak of old blood across the main hall. Our second clue was the pantry, which had been used to store piles of gnawed human bones. The one intact skeleton we found had its rib cage torn apart. We moved onward, and found the source of the blood - a cell used for meditation, with a secret door left open. An adjacent cell held a skeleton which appeared to be trying to force its way through the bars at the moment of its death... but I would like to concentrate on the important details.

Behind the door lay a passage to one of the two intact towers of the campus, which held the records of Brother Lucien, the man in charge of the temple. An unfinished letter lying on top of his other scattered papers was very interesting. Apparently, the priests of Pelor had just finished repairing the border of the "Fell Wood," despite the attacks of the walking dead. Though it's not clear what exactly the "Fell Wood" is, he might have been referring to the wards on the temple itself, which appeared to be protected with an abjuration against the undead which may have been roaming Caston Vale. Then again, it may have been a reference to some "pylons" to the southwest, which we found on a map among his papers. The arc of the pylons seems to describe a specific section of the woods, which may have been the original source of the undead.

One other thing that the letter mentioned was sightings of the undead at night. Since it was already getting late, we decided to use the tower as a safe haven, closing the secret door and pulling up the ladder after us. It was cramped enough, but it was safe.

Safe enough. Still... hearing the shrieks of the bats outside, surely the same ones which had almost ripped us apart earlier, was unnerving. If we hadn't made it to the river, they would have finished the job. Without doubt. Devouring us would have been easier than carrying off one of those twenty-foot-tall deer that roam Caston Vale. But worse than that... Schepo had tried to tell us that he heard something earlier that evening, some movement in the darkness at the end of the main hall. We hadn't gone that way, but I had a look, and there was nothing there. At the time, I thought he was just bored and overimaginative. That night, though, there was a terrible sound from below. The sound of fingernails on stone, frantically trying to dig through. For hours. They only let up at sunrise.

On our way back, things had changed. Back in the room with the cells, everything had been torn apart. The secret door was worn with claw marks, and a rat we had come across earlier, well, had been devoured. Still, we decided to press on, and since the sun had just come out, we were in high spirits. Higher, anyhow.

There were a few more things of interest that we came across that morning - the most important of which may have been a hidden trapdoor in the southeast complex of cells. It was too heavy for any of us to move, but a more physically powerful group might have been able to. We didn't find anything else, and the last place left to investigate was the chapel.

The chapel was as abused and torn up as any other place in the monastery. The huge statue of Pelor that rested next to the altar on the dais at the front of the chapel had been broken into pieces. While most of the body remained intact, everything above the chest had been smashed apart. The arms, holding the sun, had been stripped off the torso and thrown to the ground, the sun itself had been pulverized and cracked in dozens of places, and Pelor's head was lying some ten feet away in a corner, barely recognizable. Most of the pews had been upended and smashed, while the few that remained untouched looked painfully out of place. The morning light pouring through the dusty stained glass windows at the front of the huge room, normally a tribute to the power of the sun to illuminate and warm the world, felt unreal. The bright blues and yellows contrasted sharply with the dull bloodstains all over the floor and the filth rubbed into the walls.

Nothing else of importance seemed to lie in the chapel, except for a strange hole in the stones of the dais. Judging from the pattern of damage, something had erupted from beneath the stage. On a plaque nearby, we found another inscription in draconic, listing the names of honorable deceased, next to depictions of dragonborn outfitted with gleaming armor and arms. It was clearly not of the same generation as the rest of the temple - in Lucien's writings, a "renovation" of the temple is mentioned several times, but the initial construction was never referenced.

Looking down the hole, we could see nothing save a few assorted shelves in the darkness. Alethea cast light on a stone, which she threw down, but given the angle we were looking at, it wasn't possible to make out any other shapes or information. Schepo, ever the daring sort, decided to jump down and see what was up. He didn't see anything immediately, but he was able to make out what was on the shelves in the room below: mummified dragonborn, piled up on a huge number of racks in a 40 by 50 foot mausoleum. The rest of us clambered down after him, to make sure he didn't get in too much trouble. Suddenly, something darted past me - I tried to corner it between me and Smiley, but it suddenly leapt out of nowhere - I dodged, but the shock of it stunned me for half a moment. This was no lurching zombie. With its pale skin, long white hair, and gaunt stature, the emaciated human shell in front of me was obviously a wight, fitting all the descriptions I'd read. The only aspect of its being I was not prepared for was its stench. The bodies of the dragonborn piled around us in the shadows at least were well preserved; had I been using my nose, and not my eyes, I would have had no difficulty tracking the cannibal from the putrid miasma hanging around it.

The wight would have been easy enough for us to dispatch had it not been for the other creatures lurking in the shadows. Seconds after that corpse's apparition, the shocked yells of my companions signaled the emergence of other undead from all around us. Though at the time, I had no idea what was going on, I think I've reconstructed what happened over the next few seconds. I heard Schepo swearing behind a rack of mummies, but at this point, it was out of frustration and not pain. As I was to learn, these creatures were shockingly nimble, and he must have missed his target. Alethea and Solomon both climbed on top of one of the racks next to the hole we had climbed down, and a second later were throwing spells in two different directions. I, meanwhile, tried to defend myself against the wight which had sprung out at me.

A second later, I heard the Solomon's incantations, and a sudden burst of divine energy swept over half the room. The creature next to me was struck by a huge spike of blue lightning, and flew through one of the shelves of bodies, sending mummified dragonborn corpses everywhere. The following blur is hard to untangle, but I remember channeling Ioun's presence through me, and for a moment I felt that I was the Goddess, scattering these undead monstrosities with Her brilliance. That epiphany was short-lived, as only moments later a ghoul leapt onto the shelf of bodies I had been using as cover; its clumsy gait toppled them and me with them. I dug myself out as quickly as possible from under the corpses, trying to get away from my assailant, but it was no use.

We were surrounded by these beasts - four of them, each more than the equal of every one of us. Like shepherding dogs, they had rushed around us, forcing us all to huddle together, while they flayed us apart at their leisure. I had managed to avoid their claws for the beginning of the battle, but my resolve and agility both began to ran out. Their claws sapped my strength, and at that moment I felt the weakest I ever have in my life - the mercury fevers that I'd suffered through as a child back in Sturluson's pass were nothing compared to the wounds inflicted by these unholy creatures. Suddenly, the entire battle exploded again. Alethea somehow stepped through the Feywild to combat two wights off to the side, Schepo managed to evade the ghouls and climb on top of the racks of corpses, and Solomon led the two ghouls over to the wall. I couldn't help any of them. They were too fast - every time I tried to channel the anger of Ioun against them, they almost gracefully evaded my avenging lightning. It was then that I saw it all happen - one of the ghouls had managed to immobilize Solomon, and then sank its teeth into his arm, almost ripping all of the meat from the bone. He would have passed out from the blood loss right there, if I hadn't quickly woven a protecting sigil of Ioun around him. That was the only aid I could provide to anyone at that point - I had almost collapsed myself, and Schepo and Alethea were both looking grimmer and grimmer.

What transpired over the next ten seconds is... not easy to record. From between the scattered bodies of dusty dead dragonborn, I saw Solomon fall, with two slavering ghouls ripping into him with their bare hands, smacking their bloody mouths with relish, the most human emotion I had seen them display so far. Schepo had climbed onto the racks of the departed, trying to gain some advantage, but one of the ghouls swatted him aside, digging its tainted talons into his flesh - he might as well have seen a medusa, given the rictus that came over him then. My agile companion had finally been stopped in his tracks, his every muscle locked in place. Though I might have been happy for him to contract a bit of lockjaw just an hour earlier, I cannot imagine the pain he must have felt. The ghouls then turned away from Solomon's prostrate body, and fell on Schepo's motionless body, locked standing in place.

At that moment, I heard a scream from twenty feet away. Alethea, who had managed to distract the wights with her storms of ice, had finally been overcome. I didn't see her fall, but from the sounds... oh, by Ioun... (the writing here becomes indistinct)

I had no idea what to do. I climbed up the pile of corpses next to me, their immaculately tied bandages now stained with fresh blood, and then hesitated. I was next to the hole leading to the outside world, my only chance for escape, and I'm still amazed that I did not take the opportunity when I did. But something made me stop and look around. My new perch afforded me a view I would not wish on my worst enemies. I wished I had a human's eyes at that moment, and that the shadows could mercifully have shielded my view. But that moment, however scarring, was my salvation. I saw Solomon's chest rise, ever so slightly. At the time, I /knew/ that doing anything but climb up that hole would lead to my immediate death. Ioun knew better. All I know is that I relinquished my body for what happened next, and that the Goddess drove out all weakness from that husk. My morningstar was in the ghoul's head. Then I was carrying Solomon. The ghoul was on the ground, and Schepo was on the ground, and the other ghoul was staring at me with its mouth full. Then I was climbing, and then my eyes were burning.

As soon as I was out of that hive, I knew what I needed to do. I gripped what remained of the statue to Pelor, and slowly - so slowly - slid it over to the gaping hole. I could still hear the remaining ghoul and the wights, chewing and scrabbling against the stone, but they didn't budge the statue. I tried to remember what I'd read about healing the gravely wounded, and apparently, my memory was better than I remember. I somehow managed to stabilize Solomon. While I was trying to see if he had any broken ribs, I felt something in his pocket - a healing draught we had taken from Lucien's study. I managed to get him to drink it, and a few seconds later, he was sitting up, calling on Bahamut to mend our injuries. A few seconds later, and with renewed strength, we ran out of the monastery, back into the light of day. We were almost out to the forest, until Solomon had an idea. A few seconds later, we were back on the threshold, and the chapel was burning behind us.

When we had gotten back to our lodgings in the One-Eyed Hag, it was suppertime. Artie had a special that night - some farmers had managed to bring down a baby boar out north, and sold it to the tavern to roast. The appetite of his patrons that night made me vomit twice. Solomon paid for the drinks. I don't remember much after that.

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