1 Sydenstar (Yulisen/Friday) 845 PD
Fisch at the Gate
Our brave heroes wake up that morning by where they camped by the city gates (blasted one mile away from the actual city), and trekked that last mile to Old Vasselheim. There it is, the oldest known city in Exandria, now in ruins. Huge craters torn into the ground, while rocky outcroppings (some the size of small mountains) have torn it up from below. Crevices and canyons likewise gouge the earth, and where the Platinum Sanctuary used to be is a constant pillar of flame. This city always has its lights on.
As Tam, Stubby and Rinn look at this from the city gateway, awed with trepidation, they hear a deep voice behind them. “I wouldn’t go in there.”
A quick spin around reveals a bear, standing up on two legs. Tam and Stubby recognize as the bear that crossed their path (and spoke to them) the day before. He warns them against going inside- other people have, and oftentimes they don’t come back with their ‘heads all together’. Stubby mentions that they want to go to the titan (around the mountain from OV), and the bear mentions that some ‘assholes’ live there, about eight? (He’s still learning to count.) He wonders if ‘their god’ taught them to talk as well. His god(dess) is Melora, and she taught the bears around OV to speak. It takes a lot of magic and energy to teach bears to talk, and what happened in the city did that. (Though the bears that lived closer to the city didn’t survive the explosion.) Melora came, and explained things to the bears after it happened.
He tells them his name in ‘bear’, a story about how he caught 7 fish at once. (It’s rather hard to say, though Stubby manages to do a voice recording on one of her trinkets- the one that can do the white noise effect. The bear is impressed.) They introduce themselves- Tam’s name means a type of flower (lotus), Stubby’s name makes sense due to her ears (¼ elf, so ‘stubby’). And Rinn gets introduced as ‘firefly’, which he’s not happy about, and corrects his name to ‘Rinn’, though it doesn’t really mean anything. (That he knows of.)
The bear does seem to like them (even Rinn, who’s quiet, which he likes). Since they can’t pronounce his name in bear, they decide on ‘Fisch’ (‘fish’) for him, which Fisch is pleased about. He explains a bit more about the city (OV), that it’s overrun with rats (which don’t taste good). Some of them can be reasoned with, but others can’t, especially if their brains are showing, or if they’re frothing (at the mouth). The ground where it’s red-orange is poisoned, and anything growing from it will be as well. Grey ground is ‘dead’. They (the bears) have managed to clean the water, and are working on ‘cleaning’ the ground as well. (Some of the bears are clerics, and Rinn makes a note to tell the Take ‘No Hunting Bears Near Old Vasselheim’.)
And since the three are determined to still go into the city, Fisch says he’ll go with them, as he likes exploring. He calls over to some other bears, heads away, (they hear some commentary in mixed bear and Common that he’s crazy), and then returns with a large duffel bag containing armor- bear-made armor, that his sister made. (Rinn helps him put it on.)
Fisch asks exactly why are they going into the city? Rinn points over at Stubby and Tam, and Stubby starts going over her To Do list. Rinn pulls out the map Otel gave him- and Fisch is fascinated by it, so Rinn spends a bit of time going over it while Stubby and Tam try to figure out where to go first. Fisch mentions that the ‘good tree area’ (BirthHeart) is safe- no poison, and no ‘asshole’ rats. (The red-orange ground tends to make some of them go crazy. Oh, and if any of them go crazy, do they want him to drag them away, or hit them over the head? They figure Fisch can easily drag them away.)
On the Way to BirthHeart
They decide to head to the BirthHeart, which is on the upper, farther levels of the city. (But it’s safe, so it’s a good place to set up.) Fisch starts out, saying to stay on the roads. They pass by their first crater. It’s huge, easily the size of a ship, and around the edge of it are houses cut in half. There are some houses along the way that look fine, until you see they’re stained that red-orange color of too much (bad) magic. Occasionally there are trees growing that look alright, but there are others that are similarly tainted. There are also areas of grey ground, and any trees there are also grey- looking petrified (dead) into stone.
They head down in order: Fisch, Tam, Rinn, Stubby.
Fisch makes the perception check, and alerts the other three to cries of ‘Beware! Intruders beware!’ and they see 5 cranium rats about to attack!
Initiative: Rinn, Stubby, Tam, Fish, rats
Rinn shoots one with the crossbow, and throws a dagger at another. Two kills- cranium rats aren’t that tough. Stubby jumps up on an abandoned box, tries to warn the rats off with a ‘hold or die!’, but they keep coming. She tries hitting them with an Acid Splash, but unfortunately misses. However, Sentri swoops down and kills one with a sonic ‘CAW!”. Tam sings a very bad-ass song about Fisch, inspiring him, which helps a lot as he draws his glaive and cuts through the remaining two.
As Rinn collects his dagger and the crossbow bolt, Fisch holds up one of the rats, showing it stained that same red-orange color. There’s no reasoning with these ones. Plus, if you go off the road, they can hear you easier.
The road continues (Fisch taking turns and whatnot, as other roads are ruined), and they pass by an even bigger crater and take a moment to investigate. They can’t even see the bottom, so Rinn takes a stone, casts Light on it, and tosses it in. The light faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaades away and disappears. Scheiße. Stubby catches a faint “tink, tink, splish!’ from the bottom, and ponders – with a daredevil grin!- feather fall. But the grin alerts Rinn and Tam, who both grab her, and Fisch joins in after a moment as well. (He catches on quickly!) Tam also threatens to tell Stubby’s mother if she goes randomly jumping into bottomless craters.
They continue onwards, and Fish points to where the RQ temple is, or rather, was. (It’s a smoking hole.) The Velvet Cabaret nearby is still standing. Mostly. Fisch then points up the hill, and you can see the edge of (healthy, safe) green where the Birth Heart tree grounds are.
They wander through the dusk meadow district. Here there are some hasty graves, and some houses that don’t have that orange-red taint, but are damaged. In the road are lots of little, dropped items- silverware, coins, and other things that people decided to get rid of in order to leave faster. The whole place is unsettling, echoing empty. There are more rocky outcroppings (Fisch’s brother has a theory there’s an outcropping for every magical artifact that had been stored in the temples). Some of the outcroppings thrust up from the ground are huge, though- as if someone decided to push up a mountain from under the ground. The placing of these few huge ones seems to make them think of something, but they will have to check it against the map (or a higher vantage point) later.
They finally reach the border of the BirthHeart Gardens, and even Rinn (who is a city boy at heart) can feel the peace in the green area, compared to the hauntingly empty, ruined, city below. They turn around to look from their vantage point- and some of those outcroppings of rock look eerily like fingers from a hand, rising up to engulf the city. (Size wise, far, far FAR bigger than even the titan!) But at least it’s safer up here- the trees and ground itself is normal, healthy. There are insects and birds making faint noises, and all previous tension at traveling through the city fades away.
BirthHeart and Family Connections
In the gardens, they spot a rather large house. (Four stories.) It looks rather undamaged, so they head over to check it out. It was where the (many!) gardeners of BirthHeart stayed. The first floor is common rooms (dining hall, etc). Offices on the second floor, dorms on the third, and storage up on the forth. They decide to head over to investigate. There’s no fresh tracks around it, and plenty of dust. There’s still plates on the table (empty now thanks to totally normal rats and wildlife), items left in places- basically people got up and left, and nature took over. Stubby and Tam investigate the dorms (they find a book of fanciful porn and a letter that wasn’t even finished before the person left), while Rinn gets mattresses down from the storage level- this seems like a safer place to stay while they investigate the city, so might as well be comfortable.
While he’s doing this, Stubby investigates the offices. She finds a historic log book, and starts paging through it. Near the beginning, she finds notes about the titan approaching (Old) Vasselheim, and mentions the threat of Vecna. (Mostly commentary about how the gardens will be ruined!) But before that there is mention about a group of people asking for permission to bury a box containing ashes in the BirthHeart gardens. Stubby knows that story- that was her family doing a favor for someone they met in the Elemental Plane of fire, to bury his wife’s ashes in the Abundant Terrace (the area of the BirthHeart Gardens.) She recalls that her Aunt ‘Kiki’ always mentioned she wished she could have investigated the box and ashes further, and she thought it was a bit shifty. The log book mentions exactly where the ashes were buried, so Stubby takes off!
She runs right past Rinn, who- knowing Stubby- drops what he’s doing and takes off after her. Tam and Fisch look at each other, and then Fisch offers Tam a ride as they head out after the other two.
Stubby hurries across a new bridge (bear built!) across a river, and then finds the location. She excitedly begins DIGGING IT UP, and is still in the process of doing so when Rinn, Fisch, and Tam join her. They stop her by the simple method of having Fisch scoop her up. Stubby hurriedly explains what she’s doing, and that her aunt always thought the box with ashes should have been investigated more. True, but Tam and Rinn are loath to dig up a grave. Rinn asks if Tam can investigate it for magic (Detect Magic), which should give them answers without digging it up. She begins the ritual, while Fisch asks what ‘wife’ is- and then Stubby goes into explaining human (mortal) mating ceremonies. (And while Stubby explains things, Rinn watches how Tam does this spell.)
Tam finally announces that there’s nothing odd about the box with ashes (aside from a minor enchantment on it to make the box more fancy). (Tam also notices the magic of the BirthHeart- the tree looks like it was half petrified, but there’s healing magic at work to help it get better. It BLAZES with magic.) Fisch sniffs at the ground, says that it smells different, and they have to explain cremation vs burial. (The bears go in more for a ‘sky’ burial, leaving their bodies to feed the rest of nature.) Fisch then starts saying a prayer in Primordial- which Rinn UNDERSTANDS, but has no time to try to (quietly!) ask Fisch what that was.
The Take and What Waits Beneath
They still have about half the day left, (it’s maybe not a good idea to go wandering around the city at night, even with darkvision and the blaze from the Platinum Sanctuary lighting it up), so they decide to head to the remains of the Slayer’s Take since it’s relatively close by. The group head out, Tam still riding up on Fisch.
They head along, Rinn marking what streets are now gone on the map, when Tam hears something that sounds a bit more than the previous Cranium Rats. They all then hear ‘Beware! Beware!’ and spot three tangle-tail swarms of rats, heading towards them from three different directions. Stubby and Rinn get ready to fight, but Tam starts off by trying to talk to them-
And it works. The rats at first don’t want to trust her (them), since she brought a BEAR into the city! But they mention that they serve Ioun, in the name of their king, to which Tam replies that she’s also a servant (worshipper) of Ioun. They claim her as a brother, and start talking about their king who also serves Ioun, a sphinx under the Take-
Which Rinn has heard about! The previous version (and location) of the Slayer’s Take was directed by a Sphinx who lived in a cavern below it, named Osysa. He shows the rats his Slayer’s Take badge, and they claim him as a brother as well, and start leading them to the Take and the sphinx. Apparently she’s trapped underneath and can’t get out.
They get to the Take. The main building seems relatively in one piece, though there are graves outside. (Only a few of them have names: Vanessa Cyndrial, Mertin Cyndrial, Lyra. The Cyndrials are the parents of the person running the Take now.) But behind the building, where there should be stables, some outbuildings, etc, there’s just another very large crater. (You might be able to toss a stone across it. Maybe.) Peering down, they can see a bit of light shining from a tunnel in the side down there. That’s where the sphinx is, so how to get down?
Rinn mentions that there is a quick way down, but getting back up would be the harder part, so maybe it would be better to climb down so there’s ropes to return back up. Stubby says she has a way to get them back up that should be easy (without worrying about ropes going down), so- the quick way?
Both Rinn and Stubby are grinning at this point, which should REALLY worry anyone else who knows the two of them. There’s a question as to who should do ‘it’, and Rinn says he should be able to handle everyone… (which was pure conjecture on his part, just by his estimate as to how ‘strong’ his magic is for this sort of thing- but he was right about it!)
So Stubby just jumps. Tam is saying ‘absolutely not’, but Fisch takes that decision out of her hands and leaps after Stubby. Rinn follows- casting Feather Fall on the group of them!
It’s a long way down, especially with the odd, static charge of Rinn’s magic, and Tam nearly screaming all the way. But they light down on the ledge of the tunnel, (Rinn landing with a grin, and then a rumble of thunder from the cloudless sky up above.) (Fisch comments, can all the rest of them do things (magic) like that?)
There’s room enough for them on the ledge, and the tunnel starts off wide enough, but pretty soon Fisch is having to squeeze a bit to get through. (Tam got off beforehand.) There’s no way a Sphinx can fit through this- but most of the narrowness is from rock falls, etc- so maybe they could clear it? (Rinn, Tam, Stubby, Fisch.) The light gets brighter and brighter, and soon the tunnel opens up into a large room, with a ziggurat in the middle of it, dust all over everything. On one side of the room is the picked over carcasses of many small animals, tucked neatly aside.
The group hears a shaky voice. “Who comes?”
Tam steps forwards. “A follower of Ioun.”
Rinn adds in “A member of the Take.” (That is, identify yourself as an ally!)
Stubby and Fisch are quick to add in their names.
Out emerges a rather weary, worn looking sphinx.
“A Child of Ioun. A Child of the Take. A Child of the Children of the Take. A Child of Melora.”
“I’ve been waiting.”