1 Sydenstar (Yulisen/Friday) 845 PD
The Take and What Waits Beneath (continuing)
Cue back to our heroes, face to face with the (giant) sphinx of the Take, Ossysa, in a cavern under the remains of the Slayer’s Take in Old Vasselheim, next to a ziggurat (of Ioun). Stubby pipes up with a ‘hi!’, and Tam bows. Osysa mentions that they’re four years late, but after they apologize, she says not to worry, they wouldn’t have been able to pick up these two (Rinn and Fisch) otherwise. They obviously weren’t expecting her, but she points out it is a wise person who admits they don’t know what they don’t know. So what is it they seek?
Stubby is cautious about saying anything that the Empress might be able to scry on. Osysa reassures her that they are all safe from scrying in the city, up to the city walls. (This is why Keyleth couldn’t scry into OV either.) Would the sphinx have greater powers if she were free? Yes, but the risk would be more than they would care, as the Empress would want to use Osysa’s power. Here, the ziggurat keeps her safe. (And it’s mentioned that there’s a ziggurat underneath Whitestone, but please keep it a secret!) This one and the other belong to Ioun. And Ioun does have a champion that frequents Whitestone- an interesting choice for a champion, according to the sphinx. (Scanlan.)
Stubby then pulls out a notebook, says they want to figure out if they (she and Tam) are in the right time, and then also how to keep themselves safe from the Empress.
Sometimes in your future and your past you will walk a path that others cannot see. You are walking that road now, the Champion, the Stranger, the Child, and the Awoken, to bring about the beginning of the end of days of she who calls herself the empress.
The path that young mister Shrike must follow is different- but it’s connected to yours, and to those who live behind the veil. Where you all decide to go depends on the choices you make here today with me.
They are right, time has been disturbed. It is healing, but that is why you were delayed. If you had arrived in time, you might have stopped what happened above- though you might have died. Tam protests that she couldn’t have done anything, but Osysa points out that even the smallest pebble can change the course of a river.
The choice I will offer you today. You wish to help me escape? I can direct you to the safest paths through, because we share the goal to free Vasselheim from she who wishes pain on the world. But there are choices and I must question your worth. Answer my riddle, and I will answer two questions. But if you fail, or if you wish to know more, you must enter the ziggurat.
Stubby asks if they can enter anyways. They may, after you attempt to answer the riddle. But while you’ve proven yourself to my minions, (the rats pop up and are a Greek chorus to the following proceedings), I must know if you are capable if I am to assist you, to ensure the future for Ioun, the Raven Queen, the Wildmother, and… others. (Kord, being referenced but not mentioned.) There was a lesson your uncle and mother had to learn, to learn to be without each other. But you four have to learn to be with each other. The choice of which path you choose is yours and yours alone.
Tam looks up at them, and says they’ll try the riddle.
This thing all things devours: birds, beasts, trees, flowers; gnaws iron, bites steel; grinds hard stones to meal; slays king, ruins town, and beats high mountain down.
They answer accurately- time!
Ask your questions! When we reach the limit, I will let you know, since you’ve proven your intelligence and empathy. (She also won’t do tricks with language, which is good, so she won’t take any question as A Question.)
The four of them conference, and have to give Fisch a quick run down as to who the Empress is and why they’re concerned about her. He agrees after hearing a bit of what she’s done. Eventually they figure out how to phrase a question to get the most information out of it.
“How do we end the reign of Lydia Briarwood in a way that keeps Vasselheim safe, the world safe, and doesn’t muck up the timeline further?”
Osysa seems pleased by the question and answers. The strands of time were weakened when you were taken from this timeline, it created an instability. Your return has begun the reweaving, the weaknesses that allowed things to happen will heal. But to defeat her who would name herself Briarwood there is one recourse. Her life does not belong to this time, and must be removed. There is no other path that will save Vasselheim, old or new, or your family.
Stubby asks if she can get a clarification without using a question. Yes, she can, and they find out that she and Tam are in the right timeline, it’s Briarwood who is in the wrong timeline.
They debate over the second question, and decide to perhaps save it for later, when they’ve found out more information from Old Vasselheim. Osysa says there are many things they can do in OV, none will harm her, but some will help her. Rinn brings up letting other people in the Take know about her, so maybe they can bring her food and help get her out. She mentions that OV is dangerous for people, even for Fisch and Rinn. Tam and Stubby have the dunamancy around them to help protect them, but for other people it can cause damage and insanity.
But if they can ease and help the time mending for a specific god that they know (Raven Queen), it would make it safer for others to come to OV. But Osysa warns that destroying one evil, when not done correctly, will leave room for another. They hear music, the rats humming (though not singing), and it’s a sea shanty- one Rinn remembers vaguely from his trip over here, but cannot recall the words, at least at the moment.
Tam asks about the Luxon, and since there is one here, can the empress use Contingency? The sphinx’s eyes go all blue, and her voice echoes. (She is channeling a deity, probably Ioun.)
“She who calls herself Briarwood seeks not what you seek. The children you wish to save are not her concern. She will not know when you complete your task, nor will she care. You have three paths before you. You may follow the path of Ioun and enter the ziggurat, you may follow the path of the Raven Queen and enter her temple, and you may follow the path of the Trial Forge, and all will lead you to the answers you seek, though not with the speed you may wish.”
Tam bows, and immediately heads to the ziggurat! Stubby quickly follows, as she’s been wanting to as well! Fuck, Rinn goes after them, and so does Fisch. The stairs open, revealing a doorway. Osysa says for them to enter the ziggurat, find her stone of returning, and survive as a team. Once you enter, you may not leave until you have found my stone, or your death. Whichever comes first.
Rinn grabs both Tam and Stubby, asking them if they’re sure- that they are not just ready to jump into this based on nothing but enthusiasm and the excitement of the moment. They confer, especially since all four of them have to go together, or none at all. He’s willing to go, and after they talk to Fisch, (they’re a team, they’ll help him with what he needs as well, but he still also gets a say in this matter if he wants to go here or not,) and he’s willing as well. So it’s agreed. Rinn quickly asks Osysa for a clarification as to what her ‘stone’ looks like, (“A stone upon an altar. It glows. You can’t miss it.”), and then they head in. (Tam and Stubby, then Fisch and Rinn.)
They enter, and there’s a moment of spinning disorientation. Tam and Stubby find it familiar, similar to when they were grabbed from Whitestone, though this is new to Rinn and Fish. Then it passes, and they are in a large, empty room. It’s lit, though there’s no torches, and when you look up there is no ceiling, just blackness. Stubby gets Aegea activated to start shielding them, (Temp hit points), and Tam casts Detect Magic, which doesn’t see anything. Across from them is a door, and in the two ‘centers’ of the rectangular room there are sections of lighter stone in the floor.
They head over to the door, avoiding those sections. It’s locked. Stubby and Rinn check it for traps, then he picks the lock on the door. As soon as he gets it, 4 gnolls appear.
Rinn, Gnolls, Tam, Stubby, Fish.
Rinn shoots at one with a crossbow and throws a dagger at it, but misses for both. The one near Fisch attacks, but also misses. The three others stab (spears) and shoot at the others, and thankfully miss. Tam goes badass and does Magnify Gravity on the group of three, getting all of them and injuring them. Stubby runs over, throwing acid (Acid Splash) on two of them, then Fisch simply decapitates the one near him – And the body of the gnoll simply disappears once it’s dead.
Rinn quickly casts Blade Ward on himself, and heads over to the remaining group of gnolls. He gets stabbed at, but the ward and Stubby’s Aegea protect him. The two other gnolls attack Stubby, but aren’t able to do much. (Aegea keeps proving it’s worth!) Tam does Magnify Gravity again, centering it up in the air where it will hit the taller gnolls and avoid Stubby – it works, and manages to kill one. (The body disappears.) She also yells at Fish to see about getting a gnoll onto one of the sections of lighter colored stones in the floor – they have no idea what it does, but maybe they can find out. Stubby does Acid Splash again on the gnoll near Rinn, but it manages to dodge out of the way. (She also directs Aegea to keep up the shielding, and has Sentri go for a Sonic Caw on that gnoll as well, but Sentri misses.) However, Fisch moves in, grapples that gnoll, and does toss it onto one of those suspicious sections of flooring-
Causing the trap to trigger, and a spray of arrows shoots across the room (lining up along those two sections of flooring). No one is in the line of fire except for that one gnoll that got tossed there- and he’s already expiring on the floor as the arrows pass over him, and that’s the last sight he sees in this world, and the body disappears.
Rinn moves in on the last gnoll, zaps it with Shocking Grasp and then stabs it with a dagger, and it disappears like all the others.
While the four of them are catching their breath, there’s the distant sound of applause.
They head through the doorway, into a very narrow hallway (Stubby, Tam, Rinn, Fisch). There’s a room ahead, and Stubby sees a large boulder in the middle of the room, a couple of statues, a Mummy!, and then a dias on the farside of the room, leading up to somewhere. She heads in, sneakily, (keeping an eye on the mummy), and sees a couple of doorways with hallways leading off on the sides of the room – and in one of them she sees the large boots of something on the landing of some stairs leading up. She sneaks back and tells them what she’s seen. The vague plan is to see about dealing with the mummy quietly, and Stubby gets an Idea. She goes back into the room, takes off her cloak, puts it over the doorway with something/one lurking in the back of it, and casts Immovable Object on it to block off the doorway. However, that something/one (an Orc) hears the others (Rinn *cough cough*) sneaking into the room, and starts to head into the room just as Stubby gets her cloak up- and makes the comment of “oh, that’s clever”. Rinn shoots at the mummy, but misses, and Tam takes a shot down the seemingly empty other hallway, just in case it’s not as empty as it appears.
Tam, Fisch, mummy, Stubby, Rinn, orc.
Tam goes up the stairs to the dias, to get a better view (and height!) on the situation, and then shoots at the mummy but unfortunately misses. Fisch manages to LEAP over Rinn, and goes to attack the mummy. The mummy uses a Dreadful Glare on Fisch, but the warrior bear shrugs it off, and also shrugs off the attack from the mummy. Stubby is waiting for the Orc to hit the cloak, with the plan being to take off the Immoveable for a moment, let him fall into the cloak, try to wrap it around him, and then reinstate it. (She also keeps Aegea going.) Rinn moves in closer to the room and mummy, and starts zapping it with Witch Bolt. The Orc stabs at the cloak, Stuby does her plan, but ends up only trapping the Orc’s javelin. “I see you.”
Tam does a quick scan of what’s further up on the dias, and sees the stone! But it seems to be an illusion. She does shoot at the orc, (over Stubby’s head). Fisch keeps attacking the mummy, and hits it. The mummy does manage to use Dreadful Glare on Rinn, and succeeds in Frightening Rinn, who is No Way going to move closer to that dreadful thing. Stubby steps back away from the orc, and shoots at the mummy, but misses. Sentri does manage to get a Sonic Caw in. Rinn is able to keep the Witch Bolt going, and though he’s still freaked out, manages to throw a dagger at it as well, which manages to kill it- and the mummy disappears like the gnolls did previously. The Orc leaves his javelin wrapped/trapped in the cloak, and pulls an ax out to go after Stubby.
Tam shoots at the orc, and tells him that she could have nailed him in the eye, and gets a nat 20 on Intimidation! Fisch, thinking on his feet, PICKS UP THE BOULDER and TOSSES IT ACROSS THE ROOM to block the other hallway, making sure nothing else can come from there to attack them. Stubby tries to shoot at the Orc, but she’s too close. Rinn moves closer, and uses Lightning Lure to pull the Orc away from her, and manages full damage on that spell which kills it. (It disappears as well.) There’s thunder that only he can hear, with applause in it.
Tam heads up the stairs, and sees off to the sides of the altar with the stone are two sphinx statues, one male, one female, both with some sort of magic to them. She takes a moment to check the other two statues downstairs in the main room. One is a former champion of Ioun, the other she doesn’t know (but it looks gnomish, and is labeled ‘Sprigg’.) She heads back up, but the illusion of the stone just passes through her hand. Now, the other three are heading up there, and Rinn points out that they’re all supposed to be doing this together- so them grabbing the stone together at the same time might work. It does, and as they all grab it (solid and real), there is the sound of many applauding, and a voice intones: “Your success will only be found in relying on the strength of one another. The true strength of one has yet to be found.”
There is that disorienting feeling again, and all of a sudden they find themselves out of the ziggurat and back to Osysa’s Cavern- (It was totally a Portkey.)
Questions and More Answers
And it’s a much cleaner cavern than they remember. The formerly worn and skinny sphinx now looks fine. There’s a bit of momentary panic on Stubby’s part- how long were they gone? – but Osysa reassures her it was all an illusion. It was also a test, to see how they would act if she was helpless. And in the ziggurat, they have proven themselves a team, so she has information for them each:
Tam: Rely on your friends, and trust them.
Fisch: Your recklessness will be your doom.
Stubby: You must learn the lessons your family has learned at the expense of bone and blood and love. There is another (the Raven Queen, probably) who will have more words for you.
Rinn: You fear your strength. You do not need to. Embrace who you are. There is no one else who has been you or will ever be you, and those who see you are proud to know that they are your friends.
Osysa settles back. They still have questions, and she can speak more freely now. Unlike what she did for Stubby’s family, she can’t give them weapons, or vestiges, but she can give them the answers they were seeking. She can now tell them who Lydia Briarwood was, and how she came to exist.
The heroes of Vox Machina destroyed a dragon. That dragon was attempting to prove his merit to his mate-to-be. When he failed, she vowed to avenge him. First upon a small group in Wildemont that surprisingly fared well against her. Then against Vox Machina, but was tripped up against a small group of people who tripped her spell and kept her from running away. (The spell that yoinked Tam, Stubby, and others from Whitestone.) She had made a deal with another powerful entity, and while they couldn’t keep others from using her spell, they were able to move you through time as well. The Flynn stone. Be wary of it. It has power, but can consume you.
The true name of Lydia Briarwood is…. Lady Vex’ahlia deRolo … the third. The granddaughter of your eldest sister. In her life, the youngest child of the deRolos never returned, and Vex’ahlia did not take it well. When she saw Stubby once again in the future, she was confronted with the fact that she did not do enough to look for her daughter, and went mad. She eventually made a pact with Vecna, and was able to destroy every dragon and dragonborn in Exandria- and then was destroyed by Keyleth, who had no choice.
But with Stubby returned to (nearly) her proper time, that ‘reality’ faded. So this descendant blamed Stubby, not Vecna who was actually to blame for this. She came to this timeline to enact revenge against Stubby for what happened to Vex’ahlia, but it was arranged by Vecna in an attempt for him to return- which was thankfully prevented. They have the stone, and Tam and Stubby have protection against the magics that ravaged this land, and they have the only chance to defeat her. Find allies to help you.
Go to the titan, and kick it in the foot as you wish. There is a trail there that will lead you to find out more about the Blue Sick, the illness Briarwood wishes to spread across Tal Dorei. Because if she can make Stubby suffer, she can restore events to bring back her own timeline. Those who are angry and in pain will seek out solace from any source.
So far, you (Stubby) are lucky. The version of your mother you saw in the future, she took as many vestiges as she could find and used them in her madness. Lydia then used them, and they were destroyed as a means for her to come back through time. She did not cause the explosion of Vasselheim. (Nor did Tam and Stubby.) It was predetermined, not by her, but by the gods. But she used that knowledge to her advantage, working with Arkan and Vecna.
Stubby’s dream was real, and that’s how things began. But that past, and future, is fading with time. If they can heal the time split at the Raven Queen temple, they can keep Lydia from leaving, meaning they can then destroy her.
And there is some good news in all of this. What they did affected things so that there is no more time travel, aside from its normal progression. (Many mages around the world doing research in this are now very upset.)
So go to the tombs of the Raven Queen. The spire has fallen, but the catacombs remain. You will find a sword, and you will close the last thread that feeds Lydia her power, leaving her nothing but a half-elf not much older than yourself.
Stubby sits down on the ground, stunned by all of this information. A blue light from Osysa settles over the group of them, and they feel the slight aches and pains of their recent fights fade away. (Short Rest.)
As for Vecna, he is kept behind the gate by the gods, and the trammels that Vox Machina used. But the split in time was caused by the crack in the trammel given by the Raven Queen. Vecna exploits that, and always will. (But it is unlikely that he will return.)
Tam asks if Lydia- Vex the third- might be able to be saved. Sadly, Osysa thinks that Lydia is not redeemable.
The sphinx continues- You didn’t ask about the Ashari. Who could stop a woman on a rampage, armed with many vestiges? Keyleth. Which is why the Ashari were targeted by Lydia, to keep Keyleth busy, so she couldn’t stop Vecna. The total destruction of their lands was needed, and the citizens of Tal Dorei were just collateral damage.
She’s given them a lot to think about, and they are welcome to stay there for the night. Osysa has a place set up for them, a little side nook of the cavern with cots. And the rats are providing food- good, cooked food, do not ask how. They can rest, and ask more questions in the morning. One thing to consider is the Vonns, who have done a good job of delaying the Empress. They can seek out the Vonn who is lost, he can be found. They’ve heard the rumor of the mechanical dragon in the north, follow it. All rumors begin with a hint of truth, afterall.
The four of them head over to the side room, to rest and gather themselves together.