The Draconomicon Quest - Chapter 2: Of Ruins and Failure
The sun begins to set behind the western walls of the Gate, and walking, face towards the sun, is Jon Smythe, as he makes his way, slowly, to the Shelf of Many Books. He walks in measured stride with the people of the Palace District, blending in as best he can...then, entering the Shelf as inconspiciously as possible.
Finding an unpopulated alcove within the Shelf's many rooms, he quickly takes a wrapped tome from his valise, and with haste, places it amongst the sea of spines....of the literary type—a risky but perfect hiding place...for what has amounted to be a cursed thing, a cursed tome quest...and a failure at this stage in the game.
Relieved to be relieved of the weight of the Draconomicon-to-be, Smythe finds a chair across the walkway from the shelf of which he deposited the tome in, and leans back in the comfort of rest. His body aches, for it has become weakened—some curse having been bestowed upon him and others, so very recently.
Staring long at the tome nestled amongst so many others, his thoughts drift back into the recent past, reliving it in some detail....
A new company of both known and unknown faces was formed at the Blade & Stars: Sapphire the cheery dwarf; Nersial the skilled arcane warrior; Rose the very precocious hin; Bryanna the Healer; Celegorm the warrior for hire; and of course, Jon Smythe, the simple bookseller. So many personalities put together for the first time, there are bound to hastily made judgements and taunts to test each other out, and this initial scene was no different. But nonetheless, the desire for coin and a worthwhile adventure-plan laid out by Smythe kept their attentions and focused their minds to the task.
A plan had been made: Rose would be the eyes scouting forward; Celegrom the first to see combat; Nersial, Bryanna and Smythe stay in a middle position, providing what needs providing by way of magic and healing; the dwarf Sapphire guarding what would attack from behind.
To Ulcaster's Ruins they would travel, by ferry and by foot, until they found themselves deep within the canyons of the great Wyvern...and then atop the outcropping where what existed of Ulcaster's Tower lay in stone waste.
A camp was made, and Smythe invited all to rest and prepare—Smythe, Sapphire and Nersial camped here before, knowing how to remain safe for a time. As camp was prepared, guarded and night fell, Smythe pulled Rose the hin aside, and tasked her with searching the ruins, as it was his belief that a small hin, traversing the leftover stonework, would find what he had not been able to previously. In addition, he presented to her a magical chime, for which to ring aloud if she came upon anything that seemed like a portal, or a door. "We are in a place of magic, Rose...we must use magic to do what the eye alone cannot."
As luck would have it—and being a Hin, luck oozes from the pores—Rose located a hidden door. Entering was challenging for the company of six, but necessary at any cost. Soon, the company had made their way into a realm of darkness...and a place most unknown.
"There!" "Look!" "In the darkness it moves!" Before the last body wedged its way into the first hallway below ground, snakes slithered out of holes in the wall, scrorpions did drop from cracks in the ceiling, and darkness of near impenetrability confronted the company. Many weapons where drawn and swung, but chaos rulled, and only through sheer skill on the part of each adventurer did they survive this welcoming death wave.
"Nersial, bring light to our predicament," pleaded Smythe. The skilled arcane warrior cast a spell of light at once...but the darkness hung tightly around them, and little could be seen farther than a stones throw.
"Where has that hin gone?," asked Smythe, who would continue to have to ask that question many times over, as the hin scuried off into the shadows more often than not.
Traversing further into the dungeon, the company of six came upon a gate, locked and with no mechanical way of penetration. Two books stood at the gate, and Smythe was asked to apply what knowledge of reading he possessed to them. Oddly, they were written in Luskan...and it seems a riddle did lie within the text. The company sought out a nearby room, where a statue and flame did sit amidst the most wicked of cobwebs.
"Burn them down...this is what I believe we must do," ordered Smythe, in an attempt to respond to the riddle.
Nersial had the company stand back, and send wave after wave of magical fire from his fingertips, and the room was cleansed.
A clanking sound was heard from behind, for it was the gate, now opened.
"This way!" cried the hin as he hurredly scampered off into the darkness without the party. They clamored in the darkness to follow.
Taking two bridges over black and deep water, they entered a nearby landing, and immediately a wave of undead surged the company. Shade after Shade waded in from the darkness, and with the company sitting too tightly together between the landing and the bridges, no tactics could be managed besides fight until victory or death....
Here, Jon Smythe, sitting in the Shelf of Many Books, shifts uncomfortably in this chaird. His memory goes blank, for what he can remember is a great black maw of a hand striking his face, hard...and then utter blackness of mind.... Jon Smythe shakes, at the memory, and from the loss of memory. Concentrating, he begins again to remember...from the point of regained consciousness....
Bryanna lifts up Smythe's head from the floor, and bestows a few healing prayers upon him. "I live yet...," Smythe says weakly, then coughs blood over to his side. His body feels frail—something is amiss, and what natural armor he possesses in body seems to have left him (Smythe, and 2 others, those that would die, receive a death curse of -2 AC, temporarily permanently...let this be a lesson to those that want to be in DM events...;o lol).
Smythe looks up to find that Celegrom also fell beneath the onslaught of Shades, for there was no way to escape their powerful might. Sapphire, the short and usually cheerful dwarf, stands above Smythe to related what had happened: Shades, a Mimic and other other-wordly things did take all by surprise, but the core fighters of the group managed to defend against all odds. It was told by Sapphire that he even had to cut out the hin Rose from the stomach of the Mimic, which the dwarf said with a smile.
With a quick regrouping, the company of six walked further on, until their progress was stopped at a doorway, blocked by a glowing orb. Neither Nersial, Bryanna nor Sapphire could find a way around it.
Smythe, thinking up wild solutions—must have been the weakness from the near death curse affecting his judgement—he attempted to use the tome itself, it's warded power, to affect the orb and unlock/unbare the door. This action had no affect...however, at that moment, a strange voice was heard behind them, coming from the path they had recently crossed.
Reversing direction, the company retraced their steps until they found a skeleton corpse, propped up against a corner in the farthest area they had crossed so far. Be some magic, it spoke: "Return my Baldurian sword to me and your path with be opened." It grabbed onto the arm of Sapphire, only letting go when the company agreed to heed it's request. As the company of six did start to march in a search of said sword, the dwarf Sapphire did halt the group, pulling from his bah of holding a sword he had found in the Mimic, along with the Hin. "Aye, it wasn't a gem nor jewel, so I be thinkin' it worth nothin' of it."
Smythe shook his head at the dwarf, coming to realize that both Hin, Dwarf and maybe others of this hired company were freely looting while his attentions were held elsewhere—or while unconscious—and not sharing openly with the group. Smythe made mental notes of this fact, regarding those two particularly.
Nonetheless, the groups returned to the bard corpse, and set the sword in the skeleton hand. Sounds did ring out from the direction of the glowing orb, and the company made haste—hurriedly catching up with a running-off-without-them-in-the-shadows-Hin. Yes, the orb was gone and door unbared, and then they entered....
Jon Smythe, sitting in the Shelf of Many Books, peers out a nearby window. In the glass panes, he can see a small reflection of his own face, and it looks haggered. And, with a tinge of regret, a regret over what did not happen, while other things did happen...
The company of six entered the large hall, filled with four main pillars, and four large and odd magic circles inscribed upon the ground. There, at the back of the room, appeared to be a large sarcophagus. Then, between the company and the sarcophagus, a robed skeleton appeared, with burning red eyes and a glowing staff. "You do not know what you search for...", it hissed. Then, from the ground arose, magically, a small skeleton army, that lumbered in force towards the company.
Without the change to engage the robed skeleton mage, the company of six was thrust into fighting, once again, for their lives. The mage, with a powerful blast, caught Smythe in a cage of paralysis, where numerous skeleton warriors where able to slash and rip at his person, slowly cutting him down. Smythe yelled out for help, but the others where all fighting against great odds, and could not divert their weapons and magic to aid him. Again, Smythe succombed to the great blackness...
Smythe, back in the Shelf of Many Books, closes his eyes, mimicking for himself the knowledge of the great blackness...if only for a moment. "Such an opportunity lost...," he murmurs to himself, then continues upon with his next conscious thought....
Again, Smythe awoke in the arms of Bryanna. "My Lady Bryanna," Smythe spoke quietly, "a simple bookseller I am...and this place is not safe for the likes of me." The healer Bryanna just smiled and prayed, as Smythe's wounds closed up and he was able to regain his feet.
Looking around, it seemed much was lost...and little gained. The hin, Rose, had attempted to break into the sarcophagus during the battle—for whatever selfish reason—and was fried alive by a bolt of electricity. Her smolden, blackened, ripped open and crisped skin smoldered in the darkness, and her lifeless body hung still to here knives which were lodged in the crypt.
Again, it seemed the combined might of Nersial, Celegorm and Sapphire brought down the robed skeleton mage...but to what end? The company was left there, amongst the now lifeless undead bones, and for what? Smythe was still as clueless to the connection of the tome to this place as he had been back at the Blade & Stars. Nonetheless, the group decided to search the hall for clues, in an attempt to reap whatever benefit there was, to outlasting the magics of the robed skeleton mage. The company converged on the sarcophagus, but before doing so, Bryanna the healer brought the electrified hin back to life...to the astonishment of all that were present. The hin seemed unaffected to what had transpired, and continued on their harried way through life.
Sapphire produced a large sledgehammer from his bag of holding, and with it took steady aim on the sarcophagus. With a number of great whacks, he broke off the lit, so that Celegrom could fish out two items—everything else that had been inside had become damaged from the bursting open of the thing.
An amulet, and a odd canary diamond. Through attempt, potion and magical aid, Bryanna was able to determine that the amulet was of concentrated evil, and she would not touch it further. And, it seemed the canary diamond was cut to be fitted somewhere...a mystery then, where it originated from, and what would happen if it could be returned to that place...wherever it may be.
Alas, after opening the Sarcophagus, examing the room and the shelves and even a great book lodged in the corner, Smythe nor his company could find one shred of visible, useable, tangible evidence to help unlock and reveal the secret of his Draconomicon-to-be tome, still safely lodged in his trusted bookseller's valise.
As Smythe stood there, idle and broken, both from a lingering curse brought on at the first attack by the Shades as well as feeling the weight of an unresolved quest. It was the yearning of the company to leave the place at once, that broke his inner turmoil.
They company regrouped and retraced their steps, moving with purpose, but quickly, taking sharp and random turns on their own, almost completely disbanding in the darkness. Sheer preservation on Smythe's part—with the help of the reliable, friendly and protective dwarf guarding his back—was able to call them back before they were to far gone down this corridor or that.
Smythe was losing control it seemed, be it the weakened body and spirit, or the fading energies of the group. Exhaustion, most likely, was taking it's own toll on the company, as there had been no rest after so much battle, so much failure. But indeed, after some time retracing their steps, the way to the surface was spotted in the darkness, and the group ascended back...but only after Smythe, having stopped before the exit, turned to look long and deep into the darkness of the dungeon, knowing that little had been gained this day.
Upon the surface, the company breathed the fresh air, and a sense of freedom and safety washed over each and every one of them. A fire was made, after the area was determined still safe from the random attack of wyverns, and the company of six did finally rest. Pensive, Smythe sat in silence, until by some inner cue, stood to address his hired band of adventures.
"I cannot say we tell a story of great success this day, my compatriots, but alas...we all have our heads." He stammered for something positive to say, burdened by a sense of failure, fueled by a curse within this bones, a curse also felt by the hin Rose and the warrior Celegrom, who nodded along with Smythe's speech.
"There was a desire to succeed here that did not prevail on any front. I must think heavily on another path of discovery, one that does not jeopardize our lives without gaining a thing...except a weakness."
The only gain—that Smythe was aware of, at least—was that Nesial had taken the magic staff of the fallen robed skeleton mage. It was agreed that they company would draw straws, and the winner of longest straw would reap that one reward. That straw landed in the hands of Celegrom.
Many suggestions were proposed to Smythe, to seek the key the unlocked the secret of the Draconomicon-to-be...and he did take consideration of the combined wisdom of his company. And, many did offer to rejoin Smythe shall he be in need of their services again.
Jon Smythe stood to his feet in the Shelf of Many Books. The caretakers were walking the halls, ousting everyone as it was late. Smythe was no exception to the rule, and he places his tall, black hat upon his head, shouldered his valise, and propelled his weakened body to the main entrance. Upon the streets, Smythe looked up the the Moon, and stared, for a long, long time.
"It does have a marked difference, aye, than from the Isles."
As he lumbered forward back towards the Blade & Stars Inn for the night, he found himself oddly longing for home...a home, that in reality, no longer existed for him.
To be continued.....
1) the tome is still as locked and warded as ever. To Smythe's displeasure and frustration—is it the curse that eats away at his resolve, or something more?!?
2) Celegorm didn't collect the Staff of Wizardry.
3) Celegrom has still the Amulet of Evil, plus the Fitted Canary Diamond. Smythe spoke with Bryanna about getting the diamond back, since she vouched for Celegorm, as it may be useful after all.
4) Smythe did not have time to pay off the second payment to Rose nor Bryanna
5) Rose, Celegorm and Smythe all remained cursed for -2 AC. Unknown how long that will last (Sapphire seems to have overcome his curse...damn dwarves).
6) Ulcaster's Ruins is now rumored to be filled with undead magic, undead mages....and death. NO TRESPASSING!
And...thank you to DM Lyrewyn for setting up a dark and deadly dungeon for us. And, to the players of this chapter, who kept it together while Jon Smythe died terribly, terribly..over and over again....*fist bumps all around*
As J.G. Ballard has said, "It's a mistake to hold back and refuse to accept one's own nature."