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Reached the last room in the living quarters. Whispering sounds behind the door. Cold inside. Skeletons and chains hanging from the walls, for restraining monks in the past when they lost their minds? Chains came alive, squeezing around us. Found some treasure in the room to sell back in Threshold, jade bracers and three gold rings.
Back to the entrance room again, finally took the south door. Long corridor headed deep into the vaults. Large room with statue of an eladrin scholar holding a bowl of water. Eli said it was for a ritual to ask a question, but very costly on ritual components.
Corridor split, we headed left. Kal smelt more zombies behind some doors; left them alone. Came to two large rooms, sounds coming from one. Asked my raven to look around the corner first. Esgal walked around staying close to the wall. Was a torture chamber, covered in blood. Three flayed human figures working on a zombie.
Xavian charged in, surprising them. Kal followed him. An iron maiden in the corner was animated by magic, swallowed Xavian repeatedly. The eladrin escaped the first a few times, then the iron maiden spat him out when unconscious.
Other large room had paper hanging down between pillars like a web. Esgal flew over the paper to scout the room. Voice in our heads told us to leave. Said "truth's an illusion". Then it ordered "kill them" and two arcanoshades flew out of the walls.
The paper formed into a humanoid creature. Apocrypha demon. It dominated Eli, made her shoot fire bolts at Xavian. Once free Eli turned on the demon, setting the paper-filled room alight. Xavian teleported to a source of magic in a corner of the room. Grabbed a vial there before the fire consumed it. A potion of vitality - very powerful healing. We dodged the expanding fire in the room as we finished the demon and the shades.
Exhausted we returned to our safe room to rest before pushing further. Checked on the guard we'd saved too.
Continued deeper into the vaults. Xavian picked a lock on a door, led to a large circular chamber. Floating balls of light lit the room. A wall of light on the far side had to be a portal.
Painting on the floor of three wizards, one carrying an orb, a wand and a sword. Rose from the floor, attacking us. Guardians of the portal and very strong, hurt us badly. Kal lost his physical body for awhile. The Eli remembered the password we'd been given, shouted out "Yeltonin". The wizards sank back into the floor and gave us no more trouble.
Stepped through the portal. Landed on a giant winding scroll of paper. Nothingness to the sides and above. The surface we stood on was scattered with spurting ink blots, flaming letters and crumbled heaps of paper. Xavian said the letters came from the abyssal alphabet.
Three freshly flayed zombies closed on us; they had been men from the village. Ripped into me, afraid of my radiant scimitar which struck them hard. We pushed one over the side; he fell into the emptiness. Moments later he dropped from above back onto the paper floor with us.
Finished off the zombies and crept up the strange scroll. Heavy book floated at the end, the Codex of the Damned. Shar-thom stood there reading from it. Said he'd flay us too, add our skins to the codex to escape from the vault.
Used his magic on Xavian, attacking his face. We struck back, Xavian, Kal and myself pinning him against the edge of the scroll. Unable to shoot magic at us, Shar-thom jumped over the edge. Before he fell back onto its surface, I shouted to quickly grab the floating codex, the source of this power. We ran back down the scroll, passing it to Eli. Shar-thom returned to see our warlock summon a giant fiery hand and throw the book back through the portal.
He was enraged, but weakened a little. We traded blows, wore each other down. My healing powers were exhausted. We used our healing bells and potions, and the vitality potion Xavian found. Xavian was still knocked down and nearly killed. Eli landed the final blow, not a moment too soon!
Returned through the portal. Performed the ritual on the codex, wrote a prayer from the book we found using the magical liquid and quill. Vaults fell quiet, background whispering of ghosts and zombies stopped. Slept another night in the safe room with our rescued guard to recover our strength before heading out.
Headed out of the vaults. Emerged to find the trench covered. Villagers had set a trap. Someone shouted quickly not to set it off over our heads.
Spoke to the priestess and the village major. Both were very grateful. There were celebrations in our honour. Lots of food. Kal ate a whole goat.
Greta wrote us a letter to take to the Patriarch in Threshold. We asked to keep the dragon hide prophecy, to sell to recoup our costs. We'd used a lot of potions up in the vault. Greta agreed to reimburse us instead to keep the item within the church.
Reported back to Halaran and delivered Greta's letter. He invited us to one of his dinners in two days time, said he'd get back to us about a reward.
The Patriarch's dinner was attended by the usual selection of Threshold's nobles. For our rewards he opened the town vaults, allowing us to choose a magical item we could each use. The church also promised us two thousand gold's worth of items, whether we needed more healing bells or curses now or in the future.
Much less desirable, he insisted we pose for a sculptor who'd been commissioned to craft busts of us to go in St Yaleford's Church once rebuilt.
Met Finston at the dinner. The gnome had business reasons for returning to Highforge soon and invited us to go with him. I was delighted at the offer and the others agreed. We were going to visit the gnomes!
Set out for Highforge early in the morning with Finston, his servant Ross, and his two dwarf guards. Met two young nobles at the gate; twin brother and sister, Quintus and Quintica from the Verona family. Let them travel south with us.
Quintica was talkative. Left Eli to make the polite conversion. Sounded like the noblewoman was feeling out our political position. When the road split we parted company with them. Quintica told us to look up their uncle if we visited Kelvin, at the Guilded Rose Inn.
Finston told us about Highforge. Mostly below ground, and true entrance not where people think. Their King Dorfus Hilltopper isn't fond of big people. We could look around but warren areas best avoided, tight passages where we'd get lost. Warned us never to comment on a gnome's moustache, even a compliment could be taken badly.
Talked about gnomish inventions we might see. Machines with cogs and gear, powered by elementals. Including a bowless crossbow that usually worked - sounded dangerous.
Stopped at a way house Finston knew in the evening. Sent the horses back to the Feywild for the night. Spooked the stable boy they disappeared! Common room was boisterous. Lord Titinius of the Black Eagle barony was staying with his men. A large man, proper warrior. Travelling to Gnome Ferry for a diplomatic event, launch of a new boat. Xavian stayed up all night drinking and swapping tales of heroic deeds with him.
Another day travelling south on the roads. As evening approached Finston led us into a field, and a gnomish inn hidden by illusion magic. Rural folk, laughed at us ducking under their low roof. But they knew Finston and accepted us by association. They talked about the launch. A new river boat powered by water elementals, called the Crimpshrine. Promised to be very fast.
We weren't allowed to see the route into Highforge. Finston asked us to sit in the wagon. I paid attention to the turns in the road though; reckon I could find my way back if I needed to.
Finston was greeted by his wife and three children. Finston Junior was excited to see elves. His cousin from Castellan Keep joined us for lunch. Said another adventuring party had cleared out the rest of the Caves of Chaos now. Sounded like Eli's friend had been with them.
Another of Finston's cousins gave us a tour around Highforge. Took us into a military area to see the bowless crossbow. Eli tried it out but the fire elemental escaped and the weapon misfired. She was covered in soot. Outside a gnome enquired about her cleaning ritual.
Our guide took us deep down into older tunnels to see a temple of one of the immortals. No light was allowed inside. Beyond heavy stone doors was a cavern where gems in the walls glowed softly. The place was quiet and beautiful. Some gnome mystics lived there, saw one wandering around the cavern naked.
Supper was a heavy meal at an inn, with ale. Afterwards the gnomes were smoking and telling stories, and wanted to hear a few of our tales too.
Gnome Ferry was a short distance away. The public extension to Highforge that welcomed visitors and where the gnomes carried out a lot of trade. Lots of tents belonging to diplomatic parties, banners from Threshold and Fort Doom amongst others. They'd erected temporary grandstand seating on the floating wooden docks around the Crimpshrine. Finston gave us counters that were passes for our seats.
Lord Titinius invited Xavian to an impromptu tournament he was organising. The eladrin just couldn't say no. Also at the tournament were two eladrin knights with a banner I recognised from Rifflian. Xavian quickly donned his helmet to hide his face, hoping the knights wouldn't recognise him. The rules of this tournament didn't permit the use of magic. Unable to fey step or use his arcane powers, Xavian was knocked out in the first round by a very nimble knife wielding gnome.
We watched the other fights. Then noticed a few more eladrin knights had appeared. They started moving towards us. I grabbed Xavian. Pretending we hadn't noticed we made good speed for the grandstand enclosure. They followed, but once inside we were directed to our seats and they couldn't follow us.
The gnome King started off the speeches. Other dignitaries followed. A little bored, Eli glanced under the seating where a gnome child was looking. One of the supporting beams had been badly constructed and shook every time the crowd clapped. She tried to tell a steward but they wouldn't listen.
The crowd cheered and clapped more. This seating was going to come down. Xavian bravely, if foolishly, fey stepped underneath the grandstand. He couldn't reach the wobbling timbers now above his head. I used my spiritual magic normally reserved for combat, this time dispersing the effect, attempting to protect the crowd around me a little.
A section of grandstand collapsed, timbers and gnomes falling onto the dock. Xavian was buried beneath. We helped free some of the trapped gnomes. Xavian hadn't escaped yet. I found where the rubble was moving and lit up my scimitar so he could see well enough through the dust to fey step to me.
Further sections of the grandstand continued to collapse, including the royal box. Torch lights had been knocked down, setting fire to the dock. We shouted at people to cross the gangplanks onto the Crimpshrine. The gnomes crewing the boat looked confused at first, but soon realised it was the safest place for them to be.
A frantic guard was blocking the route past where the royal box had been. The king had been injured and they couldn't move him. Eli quickly produced a healing bell he could use. Finston was attending his king, but we didn't see his family.
Xavian went to look for them. The dock were they had been seated had collapsed completely. He saw an illusion of Finston and some fireworks over the water directing him. Finston's wife was in the water, clinging to some timber and frantically looking for her children. Xavian dived in, found Finston Junior holding onto his sister but unable to reach the surface He dragged them back up and we threw ropes to them. Lord Titinius strode over carrying the third of Finston's children he'd found.
Eli was summoned to Dorfus Hilltopper, now in a cabin aboard the Crimpshrine. He curtly thanked her for the healing item. Quite a gesture from the gnome king who doesn't like outsiders.