The adventurers checked the rest of the Vecnan part of the complex to make sure it was clear of further threats then stopped to recover from their assault on the labyrinth. Liberty found a number of apocryphal writings apparently penned by the Faceless One, or whatever the melted form on the floor of the laboratory had been. She requested some time to examine them, and the others obliged, content to heal and rest up before taking the attack to the third and final section of the compound.
I came to life today, in this dark place. Then, the Master’s Voice taught me my place in this world, and spoke of my role in the accomplishment of the Ninth Prophecy. He told me I have to forget the surface world, the trees and the sunlight, that these dreamlike memories weren’t mine but would stay with me, and that he had taken away from me the face that wasn’t mine too. Toiling on the Master’s Great Work makes me happy. I hope to prove him my devotion by succeeding where the Ebon Triad project failed.
~ ~ ~
The preparatory rituals are done. The womb left uncompleted by Vecna, then a simple lich, already wears his imprint. We only need to melt in the two other divine essences needed.
~ ~ ~
The Hextorites came, trickling down by small groups from the mine. They seemed pleased by the rooms prepared for them, and began at once the consecration of their temple. In accordance with the Master’s plans, they mistook me for a servitor of the Maimed God and don’t suspect my true allegiances. As foretold by the Master’s Voice, the grimlocks came by the caverns. I presented myself as an emissary to their prophet, named Grallak Kur, and was welcomed as a divine messenger. Apparently, their complete collaboration was mine even before I spoke, as I appeared in the prophetic dreams that led Grallak Kur and his tribe to this place. This fanatic has even burnt his ships by provoking a cave-in. I have to laud the Master for the clever manipulation of those barbarous humanoids.
All necessary attendants being here, we proceeded to the first infusion of divine energy, under the cover of fake and uselessly complex rituals. At first, Theldrick was reluctant to lend hand in what he called “blasphemous ur-Flan rituals”. I had to remind him of what he owed to our timely help, and of what he risked by rejecting our demands. The thought of the future destruction of Diamond Lake, and most notably of the Archpaladin followers dwelling there, also seemed to help him stifling his scruples.
~ ~ ~
I had to inform the Master’s Voice that the embryonic growth is slightly behind schedule. He told me that specific necrotic reagents could be used to optimize the divine energy infusion. I should receive new instructions soon.
As instructed, I transmitted the Master’s Voice orders to Dourstone. He will contact this Balabar under the false pretense of an alliance proposal, then demand the delivery to Dourstone mine of the raw materials needed for the distillation of the necrotic reagents. With the arguments given by the Master, his full cooperation is ours.
~ ~ ~
An intruder has been located in the temple, but managed to escape by the mines. A sample of Tenth Prophecy material has been stolen from my laboratory. The Master’s Voice has been informed of the situation and took care of it. The instigator has received a little reminder. Alas, the sample hasn’t been recovered, despite the divinations used.
~ ~ ~
Those fools are impatient to see the birth of the Threefold Spawn. If only they knew that their participation in the infusion rituals tied their life forces to it! Soon, their deaths will give the needed impulsion for the womb’s bursting. I giggle in glee thinking of my part in the coming of the Age of Worms. But the right time hasn’t yet come. A premature birth would only produce a weakened Spawn.
In addition to a number of apocryphal ramblings, the scribblings included the cipher that she needed in order to decrypt the scrolls they had found in Theldrick’s chambers.
The secrets of this page are most holy. Know ye heretics who invade them that the eye of Vecna is upon you. If you read this, Theldrick, you have either slain me and doomed our cause, or the time is nigh for our final victory.
At last the riddle of this place is solved. In ages past, a great being known as Kyuss rose above the petty warlords who fought and struggled for material gain. Mighty Kyuss is the herald of the Overgod. Soon, he will sound the clarion call to the faithful. The three sundered faiths shall be made whole.
The undead our agents spotted must be located and captured. If they bear the worms of Kyuss then they perhaps hold the final answer to our research. The Ebon Aspect stirs within the pool, but it is still not ready to emerge. Perhaps a traumatic event – a great battle fought within these halls – could awaken it. But even then it will attain only a minor form.
The Way of the Ebon Triad speaks of the danger of awakening the aspect too soon. Our work will be for naught. We must find the worms and the undead hosts that carry them. If they are not here, then we must send agents to the Rift. If Kyuss himself, or his agents, cannot shepherd in the Age of Worms, then we shall do it ourselves so that the Overgod may live.
Our course is clear, my dear Theldrick. Send agents to the Mistmarsh, across the southern hills. I believe that we will find what we are looking for there, among the lizardfolk. Summon more of your warriors. If the calculations and portents are correct, the time for covert action is at an end. As the Age of Worms begins, we must strike hard and fast to prepare the coming of the Overgod.
Of course, dear Theldrick, if you were so rash as to slay my followers and I, then you, soon, shall join me in the afterlife. Doubtless your treachery has already stirred the Overgod. Our mission has failed, and you will die at his hands.
They discussed these revelations and decided that despite the risk of releasing the “Threefold Spawn” mentioned by the Faceless One, they needed to press on and destroy the last of the Ebon Triad cultists lurking beneath Diamond Lake. This, they decided, they would do in the morning.
* * *
26 Planting, 595 CY
The area behind the western door from the Dark Cathedral opened into a natural cavern that wound down a flight of uneven stairs. The darkness was complete, but for spell-light and the glow from the sunrods Xan had insisted everyone take from the kenku. The walls of the tunnel were rough and cracked, and the floors were pitted with shallow holes, rocks, and other debris that made it more difficult to maneuver without tripping.
After awhile, the tunnel opened up into a cavern containing a small forest of stalactites and stalagmites. The rocky formations made it difficult to see too far ahead, as they choked most of the natural cave. The steady, rhythmic splash of water dripping into a puddle echoed throughout the chamber.
Three grey-skinned, eyeless savages ambushed the party with javelins from the shadows, but the adventurers made short work of the creatures – grimlocks according to Drake. They picked their way through the spiky forest and found another tunnel exiting the far side.
The corridor turned to reveal another room choked with rocky formations that blocked line of sight ahead. The natural stone floor sloped downward, and a number of rivulets of water flowed southward toward a wide ledge. Another grimlock and a pair of strange four-legged creatures lurked within. Xan recognized the latter as beasts known as krenshar, and he called out a warning to the others.
He scarcely needed bother. Between Sam’s bladework and Mom’s rage, the cave denizens were no match for the adventurers. A quick search uncovered additional loot, including several gemstones and a few potions.
Drake and Mom approached the southern edge of the chamber, which dropped off into darkness. The bottom of the cliff rested almost fifty feet below. They saw iron spikes had been driven into the cliff face, offering a crude if convenient path downward. The shaft’s floor appeared to be covered with loose debris, a few shattered stalactites, and a number of stalagmites. The ceiling of the shaft rose fifteen feet above the edge of the cliff, and jagged stalactites hung there.
Xan approached the ledge, looking leerily at the chasm. “Are we really climbing down there?”
“I don’t see another way,” replied Liberty. “I want to jump down,” she said, brandishing her magic ring. “I just don’t want to be down there by myself.”
“I’ll go first this time,” said Mom.
They waited at the top while the half-orc made the climb. After a few moments, he reached the bottom unmolested. “See anything?” Liberty called down.
“A small tunnel choked with rubble here on the floor, and another high up on the wall above it,” he said.
Liberty needed no further prompting. She took a step off of the ledge and floated down to land beside Mom. “I’ve been waiting to do that for weeks,” she said with a grin. The cleric chuckled.
Xan began his climb next, and as Drake moved toward the ledge to follow the rogue down, a pair of grimlocks popped out of hiding on a ledge on the far wall, just above the tunnel Mom had pointed out. One of the grey-skinned creatures lobbed a tanglefoot bag at Xan and the other put an arrow in him. Xan lost his grip and fell to the rocky floor below.
Liberty started a barrage of magic missiles, and Drake hurled fire-bombs down on the archers, which made them the two favorite targets for the grimlocks’ counterattack. Fortunately for the sorcerer, Mom was right there to provide healing, but Drake had to just tough it out as the grimlocks made him into an oversized pin-cushion. The fight was bloody and awkward, but eventually the grimlocks fell. Drake and Sam made the climb to the bottom of the shaft safely, and everyone’s injuries were patched up.
As Mom had said, the cavern’s floor was choked with loose rubble, fallen stalactites, and other debris. Here and there, stalagmites poked up through the loose rocks. Ahead, a ten-foot-wide passage opened in the far wall. Xan offered to scout it out.
The passageway emerged at the base of another tall shaft. A large pile of rocks and stony debris was piled in the far corner, while above, a crude rope bridge linked a stone shelf almost directly overhead to a second shelf set thirty feet higher on the opposite wall. Xan waved the others forward.
“Anything up there?” asked Liberty, peering at the bridge above.
“Can’t tell,” said Xan, with a smile. “This should be entertaining.” He got a grip on the near wall and began the climb.
When he reached the ledge at the top, he found a tunnel that was little more than a wide crack in the rocks. Five feet wide and perhaps six feet tall, it provided a jagged, twisty passage. Of more immediate importance, however, was the grimlock crouched within it. She wore battered armor and held two dull, rusty knives. Her hair was long, knotted, and grimy with dirt, mud, and dust. She had a haggard appearance, with a gaunt, ropey physique.
“Heeellllo,” said Xan, heaving himself up on the ledge and drawing his weapon.
As the sounds of combat erupted from above, the others flew into action, some attempting to make the climb and others maneuvering to more useful positions. Drake had the misfortune of drawing the attention of a pair of hunched over wretches lurking in the large stone pile. Each had long, pliable arms like tentacles capped with five wide, spiny claws, and they lashed out at the alchemist, gripping him around the neck.
Liberty turned her attention toward helping out Drake, and her fire burned the aberrant chokers. Xan maneuvered past the savage grimlock and fought it from the cramped quarters of the narrow tunnel, noticing as he did that a trio of grimlocks on the far side of the bridge were slinking away into a tunnel there. Sam made the ledge that the rogue had just abandoned and tried to bring her greatsword to bear against the threat. Due to the close quarters, she had little success. Once the chokers were dealt with, Liberty made the climb and burned the berserker down. Thanks to the wounds it had already suffered, her spells were enough to finish it off.