The remaining cultists have scattered — fled down the halls at either end of the common room. Through the nearby window, Artex and Stedd see movement and lights flickering outside. Ceyli fumbles with his tools, his heart pounding in his chest, but he manages to pick the lock of one of the doors, while Gertrude looks on, ready for more trouble. Nyx stands in the doorway at the opposite end of the hall, near the bodies of Khalil and Atalia.
"There are lights outside," call Stedd and Artex.
"That could be the guard," replies Trudy. "I think we should open the door and face them."
"Well, I'd like to search these bodies first," says Nyx, as she kneels down to relieve Atalia's body of her necklace, ring, and purse, as well as the symbol hanging at Khalil's throat. The symbol is a pair of waves — the sigil of Umberlee! — but it is strange and different than others that Stedd has seen.
Ceyli's work complete, he pushes the door, and it swings open revealing a small room with a chest on the floor at the opposite wall. Using his mage hand, he searches it thoroughly, but finds nothing inside or out. He nudges the chest, and the trap is sprung! The floor of the room gives way, and the chest falls, crashing to the level below.
Meanwhile, Trudy peers out the window and sees Festhall patrons gathered outside in their nightclothes. She hears the muffled voice of the manager they met earlier, calling for the Shields of Yartar, and saying that the Waterbaron will hear about this trespassing and vandalism!
"Get away from the window!" calls Ceyli. "I don't want to end up in jail!" The rogue worries that despite their certain knowledge that these cultists are behind the abductions (and probably much worse), they have no real evidence of their wrongdoing. All concede the point, and they withdraw into the hallway, and watch the door swing shut behind them, again sealed with an arcane lock. Entering this part of the Festhall for the first time, Artex, too, succumbs to the sense of terror that emanates from it; now, all but Trudy are now gripped by this fear.
The heroes imbibe healing potions and compose themselves as best they can. Removing to the back room at the end of the hall, they make a search, and the paladin finds a secret door. They open this door, and discover a small chamber with a stairway leading down. Opting to check the staircase in the main room first, they ascend its creaky wooden treads. As they do, they feel the oppressive effect of fear lifting from them. At the top of the stairs, a door stands locked, but Ceyli makes quick work of it. Peering behind it, however, they see nothing but an ordinary corridor of an inn with many rooms.
Retracing their steps, they find their way back to the secret door and descend in to the darkness below. It is apparent that the heroes have found the temple of these cultists: torchlight flickers from sconces along the wall in this large room, and the smell of the sea is strong. Ceyli scans the room, and notes that the trapdoors he found upstairs fall into barred cells. The modified sigil of Umberlee is inscribed upon the floor in the center of the room. Casting protection from evil, Gertrude implores Torm to ward her comrades from the dangers that lie in wait.
The gates at the far end of the chamber raise with an infernal clacking, and Artex senses movement coming from behind one of the pillars. "We're not alone!" calls the ranger. Clearly, whoever is down here is well aware of the heroes' presence. Ceyli casts blur upon himself as a precautionary measure.
The enemies strike! The two assassins who fled before Stedd's spirit guardians emerge from their hiding places and fire poisoned crossbow bolts at Stedd and Artex. Both find their mark, and the heroes are badly wounded. Gertrude aims to retaliate, advancing to the middle of the chamber, whereupon she triggers a stinking cloud effect that fills almost half the place. She and Ceyli avoid breathing in the rancid fumes, but Stedd is not so lucky, and begins retching in a corner. Worse, or perhaps better, the combatants on either side of the chamber can no longer see one another. The heroes can hear that the far door has opened, and one or more figures has entered. Beyond that, they know nothing.
Artex, effectively blind, reaches into his bag of tricks and pulls out a giant elk! He tosses it as far as he can. The poor creature finds itself right in the stinking cloud, and is overcome by the gas. On top of that, it's frightened by the guards and wards. But it's an enormous target, right in the (probable) midst of the enemy, and thus serves its purpose.
From the cells at the far end, two chuuls appear and attack. The nearest, forcing his way through the stinking cloud, gropes at Stedd. The cleric avoids its pincers, in part thanks to Trudy's protection from evil and good effect, and then he backs out of the cloud. Ceyli and Trudy attack the chuul nearer to them, but do very little to discourage it. Meanwhile, across the battlefield, an unknown figure tosses a fire bolt at the hapless elk.
Nyx knows that she need not see her opponents to hurt them, so she directs a fireball through the cloud, at the far end of the room. Are some opponents actually hurt? The heroes will never know. The giant elk is for sure, though. The beast bleats in pain, wondering what it did to deserve the treatment it has thus far received. It stumbles forward to escape the cloud and the fire, only to bump (harmlessly) into some cultists.
The elk's mother, so to speak, can make out the vague form of a chuul. Artex casts hunter's mark and fires two arrows at the vagueness. His fingers still trembling with fear, only one arrow connects, albeit solidly. The elk absorbs another hit from someone, somewhere. The chuuls clumsily swipe at Stedd and Ceyli, respectively, but fail to find purchase. From somewhere in the cloud, an enemy casts spiritual weapon to threaten Stedd, but is frustrated when he cannot find Stedd. This stinking cloud is not necessarily an unalloyed benefit to the cultists who planted it.
Trudy and an assassin trade blows, to little effect. Ceyli waits for help from Trudy to battle a chuul; the help never arrives. More consequentially, what must be an enemy wizard takes a page from Nyx's spellbook and casts a fireball blindly at the heroes. Artex saves, Ceyli evades the effect entirely, but the gnome gets the full effect. Fortunately, the damage is minimal. This grand melee has taken on the character of a slap fight.
Not content with one battlefield control effect, Nyx layers on another: sickening radiance. For once, the hapless giant elk is unaffected! Some undetermined number of enemy cultists are, though, and are limned with a pale green glow for their trouble. The giant elk is finally put out of its misery by some unseen blow. Ceyli thanks it for its service.
The chuuls, Stedd, and Ceyli trade misses with one another but one of the assassins manages to stab Trudy. The paladin retains her concentration on protection from evil and good, and, growing weary of this standoff, finishes off the assassin. One down! And as so frequently happens with the Sword Coast Drifters, things begin to snowball in their favor. The enemy wizard is very badly wounded by sickening radiance, then tries to fire a cone of cold at the group. Nyx immediately counterspells, undoubtedly saving her own life, and Stedd's. She then magic missiles the nearest chuul, and Artex follows with another arrow. The enemy cleric flails helplessly (not with a flail, but with spiritual weapon and guiding bolt). Though the chuul finally hits Stedd and grapples him, Stedd manages to cast spirit guardians, which finishes off his enemy.
After being struck by Ceyli, the remaining chuul grapples Trudy, but the paladin summons her last bit of energy to smite the beast, slaying it. As Nyx drinks a potion, Artex casts spike growth to make the chamber even more deadly. But Stedd hears the door close at the opposite end of the room. The cleric, wizard, and assassin have fled, it seems.
After a long day's march toward Triboar, the company makes camp on a chilly night. Huddled close to the fire, Ceyli unfurls his scroll of comprehend languages and resumes his study of the magical tome Halavar & Trebbe's On Dragons. He finds no references to the Conch, but there are recurring symbols that catch his eye as he leafs through its pages — Giant Runes! He discovers that the Vonindod is inscribed with a pair of these symbols. And while cross checking the authors' notes, he finds a passage that gives him a surge of adrenaline:
"This is the theory behind the ancient runes of the Jotunbrud. The runes are not letters (as often supposed), but diagrams – models of the relationships between ancient and undying cosmic forces. To learn their secrets is to gain control of these relationships — it is the basis of the Jotunbrud's RUNE MAGIC, which is beyond the scope of this work. I will endeavor to collect Halavar's notes and compile them into a second volume 'On Giants' -T"
Session XP: 1,500
Total XP: 45,450 (Ceyli & Nyx 41,940)