A lot of things were laid bare today. Some things I had thought would be kept hidden, and others that were right out in the open. I'm still a tangle of emotions, and getting my ass kicked halfway to Valenhall hasn't helped me collect my thoughts.
Having retrieved the key to the Dark Window chamber from a mummified but surprisingly sprightly monk, we decided to investigate the last major section of the monastery we'd not yet visited. It was a long hall with a vaulted ceiling that let in dim light through stained glass windows. There were statues of monks in various alcoves, but the more pressing feature was the four grioths hanging upside down on the ceiling. I deduced that the man-bats were most likely nocturnal creatures, and were thus sleeping on this bright spring morning.
We moved into position to ambush them, but I was a little clumsy on my feet and stirred them to wakefulness. It made little difference. The fight was brief, and I thankfully played little part in it. Lennox's arrows and Aldern's magic brought down one of the creatures. Knives snapped the neck of another with her whip. Aldern called forth a flaming sphere and then bounced it into the air to scorch a third creature. Lennox pinned the fourth to the ceiling with an arrow. My sole contribution was throw an axe and miss.
Once the dust had settled, we examined the hall and its statues, finding little of interest. This was when we realized we'd searched more or less the entire monastery and had not found the Dark Window chamber. We must have missed something. While Aldern set about leafing through his spellbook for options, I pulled out the key I'd gotten from the dead monk, hoping that there might be some hidden clue on it. The key itself, however, felt strangely warm—more than it should be, even "pressed against my thigh" as Knives put it. After some experimentation in the long hallway, I realized that the key grew warmer or colder depending on the direction I moved.
Aldern cast a spell, the oddly specific detect secret doors, but was a bit premature—the key was pointing us towards the other side of the monastery. His spell would only last five minutes, so I grabbed his elegant hand and dashed off with the key held in front of me. The rest of the group hurried along after us. By the time we reached the monastery library, the key had grown uncomfortably hot. Aldern's magic was able to penetrate the illusion hiding the secret door and with a turn of a key a hidden passage was opened to us.
There were tracks in the tunnel—grioth man-bats—all of them leading out but never in. It was not a difficult intuitive leap to suspect that whatever lay at the end of this passage was where the grioths were coming from. But first we were confronted with a steel door inscribed with a warning that "dark oblivion lies beyond." We debated whether to press further, with poor frightened Lennox hesitating a long time before finally opening the door.
In the chamber beyond, a strange rectangle hung suspended in the air, looking like a hole through reality to a realm of murky darkness and fading, distant stars. The rectangle was bound within a square made of magic runes carved into the floor. Two smaller squares of runes lay in front of it. I kept my sword drawn while Aldern spent a few minutes studying the window and the runes.
Knives must have heard it first, for she perked right up and stared towards a shadowy corner of the chamber just before the rest of us as a frightful monster seemed to literally step out of the shadows as if through a door. It stood a good 12 feet tall and looked like a tree crossed with a spider by way of a squid. It threatened us, so I moved to put myself between it and the group. Lennox struck it with an arrow, Aldern blasted it with a lightning bolt and Maffei hit it with her own magic. Knives… hesitated. Letting the dragon off the leash, I took a raging swing at the creature with my sword and cut open a sightly gash in its bark-like skin.
Then the monster let out a terrible howl in our minds that rattled our thoughts and sent pain lancing down our spines. Aldern collapsed, and poor Yuki the owl with him. Still hurting from the fight with the dead monk, I was nearly knocked out as well. The psychic blast left me disoriented to the point that I attacked Maffei by mistake. Knives, meanwhile, was under some kind of spell of the creatures and was denouncing us for harming it.
By the time I went from befuddled back to berserk, Lennox had mistakenly shot Knives with an arrow and knocked the half-orc woman unconscious. The tree-spider-squid thing had attacked Maffei and I, but lost its footing. I was able to leap behind it to flank the aberration with our shadowy friend. Then it rose back to its full height, despite our best efforts, and grasped me with a tentacle.
I've seen enough Minkaian erotic woodblock prints to know where that was going and wanted no part of it, but I was barely on my feet.
Aldern and Knives were both out. Maffei was having trouble cutting through its bark. Lennox had rush over to Aldern to search the wizard for a potion to revive him, only to realize it was Knives who had the healing potion. I thought that this was the end for us, killed by some monstrosity from the blackest depths of reality here in this musty monastery. But in my mad fury, I was determined to make such an end of it to be worthy of entrance to Valenhall.
Gorum must have been with me in that moment as I swung Wyrmspite again and again, hacking at the abomination until I had cut through its trunk like a lumberjack.
Lennox used Knives' potion to revive Aldern, but the half-orc could not be roused to consciousness. Aldern then identified the dead monster as an eldritch aberration known as a yangethe. We were indeed lucky to be alive!
Our wizard then put his talents to good use, determining that the smaller runic squares on the floor would enhance any force magic aimed at the mirror. We used our last bead of force, followed by one of Aldern's missiles, to shatter the window into a thousand thousand pieces.
In order to recover from the pummeling, we then trekked down to the magical restorative pool at the end of the Aspirant's Path. Aldern, the cheeky boy, tried to argue that he didn't need to wear a blindfold, but Lennox set him straight. We undressed Knives and carefully propped her up in the pool so that its waters would heal her, then stripped down to join her. Lennox asked after my birthmark, a question that was bound to happen sooner or later.
I told the story of how the ancient founder of my House, Sigrun, battled a white dragon and ate its heart. I told them how she had been wounded over her right should by the dragon's claws and some of the wyrm's blood had seeped in to mix with hers. I left out the fact that she had carved her way into the dragon to get at its heart. Seemed too gruesome. I explained that the blood had imbued Sigrun with part of the white dragon's primal fury, which she passed to her descendants. The birthmark appears on those who carry the curse of the berserker, something I never wanted.
When I shared my plans to eat Szangi's heart to honor my ancestor, Aldern spoke up. He was more subdued and humble than I'd ever seen him before, even under that blindfold. he explained that he needed the heart as a reagent for a ritual to cure his sister. She had been stricken with some magical affliction after one of Aldern's experiments had gone awry, and he has a limited time to concoct a cure.
Before I had time to process this revelation, however, we had an unexpected visitor.
The gem that Lennox was inexplicably wearing around her neck in the bath suddenly flared a bright green. This was followed by a splash, and then a soggy dwarf head spluttering up from beneath the water to gawk at us. I shrieked and tried to cover myself, then clumsily tried to get to knives to cover her, failing at both. Lennox did the same, and our cries sparked Aldern to tear off his blindfold and fumble for his crossbow. I went from shrieking to cursing at Tagnus and tried to cover his eyes with his beard.
"Calm down lass," the hairy little man said, "I've seen more titties that you've seen people."
Tagnus set about casting healing magic on all of us there and then. Given these were "touch" spells, it was quite uncomfortable. Though I will admit that under my anger and embarrassment, I was so very glad to see our druid once more. I may have scooped him into a hug after he healed up my wounds.
Aldern, gentleman that he is, put his blindfold back on. While I'm sorry the others also had their modesty compromised, I don't mind that he got a quick look. It's not as if I hadn't taken a few peeks at his delicates, either. By accident, of course.
Tagnus was able to get Knives revived as well, much to her dismay. The dwarf mentioned having been up to adventures in the First World, which he only half remembers. Much as the sight of his first leering look will haunt me, I'm very glad to have him back. We need his magic, his strength, and perhaps even his rough and ready attitude if we are to face this dragon, rescue Azmur Kell's wife, and save all of Belhaim.
Today's pretty much shot, however, so that will have to wait for later.