Auric's band of adventurers - so called because Khellek called the shots - listened closely to what James had to say. For his part, Khellek seemed to have few issues with the agreement. Sure sharing information wasn't his way, but what would a miner gain from it? Auric and Tirra seemed less interested however. They could care less about the carvings, but sharing the treasure...
After a short discussion, Khellek walked over to James and began to speak. "Agreed. The carvings are from the ancient Aaqa people. All the cairns in this area are tombs of individuals who fell in battle against "The forces of chaos". Details on this unknown force are scarce, but it's known there was a Darklord called "The Queen of Chaos" under whom they fought. Her actual name has been forgotten by history as the victorious Aaqa spent much of their time erasing her existence from the world. Regardless, she and her most powerful minions were finally defeated on the "volcanic plane of Pesh"; here." he said, pointing at the ground.
"According to the culture of Aaqa, fallen warriors were always to be buried where they died because their souls were supposedly bound to that location. In most cases, this meant simple graves for the dead. However, a large number of the nobility - including several princes, major military leaders, and at least one "Wind Duke" - their most powerful of mages - died here. As such, grand tombs were commissioned; the Cairns."
Khellek took a breath and continued. "The carvings in each tomb depict the lives and heroic deeds of these powerful individuals. The Stirgenest Cairn was dedicated to a powerful prince of the empire. The carvings in the tomb have largely been documented or lost, but have lead to most of our understanding of the empire since the heart of the Aaqa empire was consumed by the mists after the death of their own darklord. The new carvings are of a battle against some great monstrous spider. They are of particular interest because it's believed that such a creature was responsible for the death of the aforementioned "Wind Duke" and the shattering of a powerful magical artifact known as the "Rod of Law". Said artifact's remains are of understandable mystical and historic significance. Hence, us."
With that, Khellek was finished. Tirra however felt the need to add something. "The secret treasure vault however is of more material significance so if you'd be so kind as to start walking..." she said, letting the point stand.
Once this was all over and Charles asked his question, Auric saw to the answer. "Of course we're going now? Would you not be forced back into the mine if we left during the day? Besides, there's adventure afoot; how could we remain here?".
As the large group made there way out of town and toward the "Whispering Carin" Khellek began probing all those who were familiar with it for more information on who was buried there and why they expected treasure. Auric spent the trip speaking with Godric and Thalith and any other "physical" type regarding their accomplishments - if any. Tirra largely remained to herself in the back, keeping an eye on everyone.
After approximately half an hour of uneventful walking, the group arrived at the entrance to the cairn. To Charles, this was particularly surprising as he felt no signs of Ezra's disapproval. The entry way to the tomb was constructed of large stone slabs in the side of a hill and extended deep underneath the hill.
Natural light dimly illuminates a long hallway extending north into darkness. A faint breeze brings with it sibilant whispers that sound almost like sighing breath. It must be a trick of the wind, but the effect is almost lifelike.
The walls of the tunnel bear horizontal bands of deceptively simple geometric patterns at waist level. In places the bands reveal startling detail, but in others the walls look as though they have been hacked apart with weapons or eroded by the rigors of time. Flakes of ancient paint, brilliant purple and a dull mustard hue, still cling to the walls in places, hinting at what must once have been a riot of color. A thin coat of dust coats the floor.
Just inside the darkened tomb, the hallway branches into shallow alcoves to the east and west. Here the walls bear the most significant damage. Dozens of clumsy etchings mar the beautiful ancient masonry like graffiti on a city wall.
Outside, the wind picks up, and a chorus of almost human sounds rises from the darkened hall.
"Agreed. The carvings are from the ancient Aaqa people. All the cairns in this area are tombs of individuals who fell in battle against "The forces of chaos". Details on this unknown force are scarce, but it's known there was a Darklord called "The Queen of Chaos" under whom they fought. Her actual name has been forgotten by history as the victorious Aaqa spent much of their time erasing her existence from the world. Regardless, she and her most powerful minions were finally defeated on the "volcanic plane of Pesh"; here.
According to the culture of Aaqa, fallen warriors were always to be buried where they died because their souls were supposedly bound to that location. In most cases, this meant simple graves for the dead. However, a large number of the nobility - including several princes, major military leaders, and at least one "Wind Duke" - their most powerful of mages - died here. As such, grand tombs were commissioned; the Cairns.
The carvings in each tomb depict the lives and heroic deeds of these powerful individuals. The Stirgenest Cairn was dedicated to a powerful prince of the empire. The carvings in the tomb have largely been documented or lost, but have lead to most of our understanding of the empire since the heart of the Aaqa empire was consumed by the mists after the death of their own darklord. The new carvings are of a battle against some great monstrous spider. They are of particular interest because it's believed that such a creature was responsible for the death of the aforementioned "Wind Duke" and the shattering of a powerful magical artifact known as the "Rod of Law". Said artifact's remains are of understandable mystical and historic significance. Hence, us."
James took in every piece of information with an uncharacteristic glee. While he didn't show it, James enjoyed learning. Especially because he could remember back when he knew nothing at all, when words were something he knew, but didn't really understand the origin of, and when everything was new. He didn't know too much about what the mage was talking about, but it was simple to understand, and he started putting it together with information he had gotten before.
I wonder what the "Rod of Law" did.
Could the remains be used for alchemy? Before he got the time to ask, the elven woman spoke up, greedily bringing the topic back to what James had said in order to get their interest. The treasure.
"The secret treasure vault however is of more material significance so if you'd be so kind as to start walking..."
Oh, of course. Let's talk about the money.
"Fair enough, there is only so much night to go on," he muttered as a reply, and started walking, though he stopped, slightly. "Actually, you lot should get yourself prepared for this, I have something to pick up. I'll be back before you know it." With that, he went to get his tools. While James doubted he would need all of it, he had a secret hope of being able to make it out of this place and never return, ever again. Besides, the larger coat had many pockets, and his tools didn't take up that much space, not when he took them apart and split them across his pockets.
When he was prepared to leave, rather briefly afterwards, he went to the group again, and started leading the way, though he was careful to let the woman that had mentioned being a local, influence where they went. Of course, he didn't let her lead entirely, what good was his eyes if not for finding the safest route in the increasing darkness?
James had kept his silence during the walk. Questions had been asked about where they were going, but some of the others had boasted the same knowledge as him, so he left it up to them to answer. Besides, he wasn't exactly in the mood to talk, the group had increased yet again, and it had dawned upon him just how many people there were, many of whom could best him in combat.
It should be safe... I share a common goal with most of them. It would not benefit them to get rid of me.
Of course, ensuring that he didn't give them a reason to do so by speaking, was something he considered a task. James didn't know why, but people never really had much of a fondness for him, even without him trying to be rude or antagonizing. Obviously, that made him realize one thing; there was no reason to try to make them like him, simply to ensure they didn't see him as a liability. While he didn't exactly enjoy not being liked, it was better to keep people away than to risk their anger.
Or so he reasoned, anyhow. After not too long, they got to the Cairn. The tomb was beautiful once, but now it was faded. Eery too, with voices and whispers filling it. Likely the wind, but James took care to keep an eye on the dimly lit halls. Unsure of what to expect, he waits for the others to act, not out of cation, but out of curiosity. Do they find it threatening, or do they simply not worry?
Clodagh looked around and felt a shiver run down her spine. There was still wailing in the distance from the zealots, and Clodagh decided she would just wait for them to be done before heading back to her home to avoid their shrill voices hurting her ears.
So, she sighed. Did she really want to pass on a quick excursion just because of her body clock? While pondering this, she heard a faint mention of the "Queen of Chaos". Clodagh perked up at that and tilted her head back towards the door to hear more. Clodagh had read about stories like that as a small child. She wasn't supposed to because they were on her older sister's shelf, but that didn't stop her from trying. She smiled and continued to indulge in a bit of nostalgia as the group left the tavern. Clodagh spotted James near the front and squinted her eyes. But she also saw the hobbit. So Clodagh resolved to just avoid James altogether and stick with the little one.
Clodagh then waited for a little bit, then tailed behind the group by a few dozen paces.
The journey was very long, and very boring. Judging from Clodagh's tired knees she knew she had been walking for a long time. And the sky was overcast, so she couldn't even just look at stars. Arriving at the cairn itself was also pretty underwhelming. Clodagh was expecting something more grand, but then heard the weird noises coming from the tombs.
"So," she said, standing behind the hobbit, "have St. Cuthbert's faithful found a new temple?"
It was smaller and less obviously haunted than Andria remembered. The most prominent entrance was still overbearing though, there was discussion of feats of strength and skill Andria knew too well the value of subtlety to boast more than she had already in the bar. Now she had a few ideas, of course there were probably traps, traps were these sort of places equivalent of Horsderves laid out to impress unwanted guests. The nearby woods were fairly full of things, Andria took her moment away from anyone else to search for something small and skittery, a squirrel would do. The creature looked at her curiously, something it couldn't figure out, and then Andria took off her mask.
The creature couldn't look away or even move as Andria gently picked it up and pocketed it before putting her mask back on.
She then walked back over the looming gloom of the threshold and set the squirrel down, was still a little dazed but she pointed it inside and when it tried to flee anyway else she gave it a quick look to make it scamper away from her, somehow she convinced it the Cairn would be safer.
Thalith walked with the boastful Auric and traded boasts of strength and skill with him, laughing and frowning at the other man as he boasts more and grander. In the middle of telling a story about how he had found and split a giant in two from crown to heel he was stopped as most of the group stopped just outside the entrance of one of the cairns. Looking at the entrance and just inside where the paintings and scrapings were done Thalith frowns and after glancing at Auric he steps forward to set a hand on the stone wall of the entrance.
Rubbing his hand on the stone and mumbling to himself Thalith shakes his head as he looks farther down the tunnel. He had heard something about chaos and wind dukes and who knows what else. Glancing over and watching one of the others send a squirrel down the tunnel he turns towards the greater part of the group and blinks slowly.
"Are we going to move into there? Do we have the torches?"
"Are we going to move into there? Do we have the torches?"
"Our eyes will get used to the darkness, though if anyone has a torch or lantern with them it'd be very useful." Said Godric to Thalith, who had just been regaling Auric and he with a tale of hewing a giant in twain.
Their sizeable group had possibly overlooked one of the smaller details associated with dungeon delving, as not all species had low-light vision. Godric certainly didn't have any source of light with him, nor had he thought to acquire one before setting off. Such had been his enthusiasm to set off it had completely slipped his mind.
"But we can still see a little way into this place," Godric said as he drew his sword and walked up to the entrance to the Cairn, "Are we to turn back now when something like this beckons us in? I think not."
"So, have St. Cuthbert's faithful found a new temple?"
Millie sniggered, and replied "Oh, it's probably just the tortured souls of the dead preparing to devour all who dare defile the thrice-cursed tomb of the Wind Duke..."
She was momentarily distracted as the woman in the mask released a small, furry animal into the Cairn. She called out in an overdramatic tone - "The Queen of Chaos accepts your sacrifice!"
Some of the big, bad 'n' bloodthirsty types were discussing the practicalities of exploring the crypt, which was a fair point. Millie dug around in her pockets hoping for loose matches. She'd burgled- er, visited places in the dark before, of course, but there was a difference between a dingy basement and an underground dungeon.
Charles shook his head at their reason for entering the cairns now. Regardless, if they were wandering in it was better to know. He walked back to the church, informed one of the others within of the adventurers that had wandered in, put on his armour not expecting to actually need it, grabbed his shield and his pack, and wandered back to the group as it walked and to the whispering cairns.
He listened to them talk amongst themselves as they moved, saying little if asked anything and warning about past infestations of the cairns. He would have preferred they weren't opened at all, or if they were it was done by locals. The whole point of leaving them unknown to travelers was so that someone could use them to escape their debts.
When Charles arrived at the Cairns, the sense of unease that usually came from being outside of the town, the feeling that came with the nightmares wasn't there. The lack of the normal unease made him uneasy about the cairn. The "whispering" coming from it didn't help and neither did the words of the young... the child and the halfling.
As the subject turned to torches, he pulled two from his pack, looked at the group and said "if you have a free hand you can have one."
James rolled his eyes as someone whined about it being too dark. Surely, even without eyes like his, they could see vague outlines. The woman with a mask had sent a squirrel in, probably to see if it triggered any traps, but that was ridiculous, eventually the squirrel would follow its instincts and turn back, or even just go hide. It was night-time, and squirrels weren't fond of the dark. At least, they shouldn't be, they didn't have the eyes to navigate it. James had read that in a book in Jonathan's large library.
Couldn't she at least have gone with something useful? Like... I don't know, a nocturnal critter?
Of course, the others chose to stand around still.
"For the love of--- can't we just get a move on?" he muttered quietly under his breath, as he looked for the path of the squirrel. While he didn't think it would be particularly useful, tracking where it went could still have some merit.
"if you have a free hand you can have one."
James turned around and gave the armoured man a look that said he certainly would not need the torch -despite his free hands- and looked back at the Cairn. As he did, he folded his arms.
"Keep the torches away from me, it makes it harder for me to see," he told the others. He would go on ahead once the squirrel had made it through, or, alternately, once it had gone to hide or gotten itself killed in some manner. Of course, if any of the others would get a move on, that too would be a good way to check for traps.
Wilmet had to admit he was surprised with the traction James got, even drawing the adventuring party to his side. Well now the finds will get split more ways, unfortunate, but then perhaps we'll need the manpower? He was not surprised when Khellek revealed what they knew about the caverns, it matched up with what he knew after all though the 'rod of law' was quite intriguing. I believe that is a powerful artifact of some sort, I wonder if I will be able to tap into it, if we can find it at all that is. The cairns have been here for some time.
Arriving at the cairns and entering them they were greeted by a faint whispering noise, and by rather unfortunately vandalized carvings. My, once we might have been able to learn something from these, a pity. Others in the group made light of the whispering sounds, just as well considering it was quite likely just the wind.
"The Queen of Chaos accepts your sacrifice!"
Wilmet laughed aloud at this "Why I had no idea I was traveling with such esteemed company," he said, grinning broadly. Perhaps these people would make good company after all.
Noting the others working to produce fire and torches he rolled his eyes. Child's play. A brief moment of concentration, a muttered incantation, and a small deft motion of the hands and an orb of light sprang into existence, resting on the tip of his walking stick. Making light was one of the first arcane spells he had learned.
"That should help," he said, somewhat smugly as the others were still distributing torches.
As the small squirrel skittered into the cairn in horror, the trio looked on in varying states confusion and amusement; mostly Auric and Tirra respectively. As the squirrel disappeared into the darkness, the Trio began their entry. Khellek followed Wilmet's example by creating a number of dim, free-floating magical lights that floated wistfully around him; each little more than a candle. From there, he directed Auric and Tirra forward into the long hallways of the cairn.
50ft inside, they came to the first cross path. Fifteen feet down the passage to the right, a huge pile of collapsed rubble blocks the alcove from top to bottom. It looks like it would take weeks to tunnel through the densely packed debris. While this wasn't very interesting at all, the opposite alcove held a slightly more interesting find. The left hall extended perhaps forty feet, ending at a small marble platform raised about six inches off the floor. A strange, shattered arcane apparatus rested upon the platform, its curved ovular frame giving the appearance of a noble's dressing mirror. Only a third of the frame was still intact however. An unusual arcane glyph about the size of a man's head had been delicately carved into the baseplate of the support platform.
Now, further in and with sufficient light, a staircase could be seen at the end of the hallway (past another cross way) leading down and into the depths of the hill.
As the squirrel got lost in darkness -hiding, obviously- James sighed. Of course it wouldn't work out. At least there hadn't been any traps, at least in its path. With hesitant steps, he started walking, though he was quickly overtaken by the trio. Not that he minded that, walking behind them meant they were the ones exposing their backs to him.
"That should help,"
The tiny mage said, and created a light at the end of his walking stick. James narrowed his eyes, torches and lights were apparently plentiful. Putting his hands in some of his many pockets, he walked closer to the gnome, making sure to stand on the side opposite of the light.
"Can't you magic your eyes better instead?" he asked, annoyed. "First the torches, now the magic lights... could just as well have been the bloody day." However, for some reason, he didn't just step away. "... you can't make it day, right? It wouldn't matter inside this place, but..."
James found it aggravating to admit, but he was curious about the magic. He had never really spoken to a mage, and this one seemed intelligent enough to have a conversation. Well, he didn't doubt the wizard with the adventurers couldn't also ask questions, but the trio was currently going ahead, and James trusted them the least.
Though, I am not entirely sure it is possible to have less than none at all trust in someone.
Would that qualify as anti-trust? Did he anti-trust the newcomers? Because distrust meant having a lack of trust, and it was probably worse than that. Not only did he distrust them, but did he feel the very opposite of trust, even more distrustful than distrust?
As he walked, he looked around, picking up details few if any of the others would. He stopped to examine the mirror frame, or rather, what remained of it. There was some glyph, magic probably, and he raised an eyebrow.
I wonder what it means.
"Say... mage. What would that glyph mean? No, actually..." he trailed off a brief moment, then looked back at Wilmet, shielding his eyes a bit that they didn't hurt. "Define magic, will you? What makes up the very foundation, how it built up... then I can find out what it does myself."
Narrowing his eyes to get used to the light from the torches and balls of light Thalith follows the group as they walk in. When they get to the crossway Thalith looks at those around him before walking over to the cave in and stamps his foot against it. Digging his fingers into the rubble and pulling out a handful of gravel and small rocks he starts shaking his head as he lets it pour from his hand. Throwing the rest back onto the pile the rock man turns to walk back to the rest of the group already knowing it would take months of work to mine through that and even then it would take more people than they had to do it well.
Getting back to where the path split Thalith looks down the other way and sees the arcane apparatus after everyone else had. Glaring at it he flicks his eyes at the wizard and mages in the group Thalith stomps towards the thing and stops about 10 feet away as he crosses his arms. He knew nothing about magic and didn't want to know anything, his place was swinging his axe and making sure those who knew what to do with magic could do what they needed to to keep the group alive.
Looking back as he hears something Thalith snorts softly.
"Say... mage. What would that glyph mean? No, actually...Define magic, will you? What makes up the very foundation, how it built up... then I can find out what it does myself."
"You want to learn how to do magic? Your probably to old for that now.."
Looking back at the group that hadn't moved or was just starting to Thalith scratches at one of the crack like scars on his skin.
"Are we stopping here to look at this thing or going down those stairs?"
"Are we stopping here to look at this thing or going down those stairs?" Said the rocky Thalith.
"I don't know. This is interesting, but if we don't know what it is and can't decipher that marking on the base we're just wasting time. The blonde kid is working on it." Said Godric, taking a step back from the group that were inspecting the apparatus. He knew little about magic and wouldn't have a chance in hell of deciphering the glyph.
"Give them a bit of time to work it out, this place isn't going anywhere." He continued, hopeful the apparatus would give them a lead to other potential treasures. If they could rebuild it and get it out of the cairn it could be worth a fortune. If it was a trap or magical ward device it made sense to know what sort of danger it might put them in.
Places like this were often filled with the skeletons of treasure hunters who rushed in too fast. Godric didn't want to become the next skeleton near the entrance to be picked over by the next group that entered.
Charles shrugged as the others began walking into the Cairn. One hand on his hilt, ready to draw and to force prepared magics into his blade and the other still holding the torches, waiting to see if another desired them or he required them he followed the others into the tombs.
As Charles walked and the others began to talk again he watched his surroundings, what little there was to look at. When they arrived at the first crossroads it was learned by them that one was blocked, another led to a... he needed a better look at that, and the path forward into darkness.
As the others wondered what it might be, he walked a bit towards it, enough to see around the goliath and looked at the glyph upon it. It looked akin to the runes for travel, transportation, perhaps teleportation? The shape... two more of those and it would be perhaps a portal or gate of some variety.
After a few moments he said "I think that it's the remains of a portal, I'd advise leaving it alone."
Wilmet chuckled to himself at James' barrage of questions, the lad was certainly inquisitive. No doubt he had the right mindset for working magic, though aptitude and mindset were of course very different matters. Still before he could begin to address the questions the Thalith spoke up.
"You want to learn how to do magic? Your probably to old for that now.."
"Depends on how quick a study he is," Wilmet said "Other factors contribute as well of course, not everyone has the aptitude for it, and certainly starting from a young age helps but is hardly necessary."
With that addressed he turned back to James, thinking for a few moments about how to answer the various questions the man had asked. The last in particular would be difficult to address, such a simple question, yet even the greatest archmages might struggle to define magic perfectly, though of course there were a number of simpler explanations he could resort to.
"Let's see, where to start..." he said, taking a deep breath, he would need to speak quickly "firstly yes I could improve my ability to see in the dark but that hardly helps the rest of you see, changing the time of day is a considerably more difficult thing and well outside my current abilities, though conjuring daylight itself is fully possible, a glyph is a mark or rune with a specific meaning or purpose, and as for what is magic well that is an entire conversation in and of itself. Suffice to say it is power, the sort which underlies all of reality."
With that addressed he turned his attention to the matter of the strange arcane apparatus in the center of the room. Certainly he would like to examine it before they moved on.
"I think that it's the remains of a portal, I'd advise leaving it alone."
"An interesting theory," he said, stepping closer to get a better look "if so a portal to where? Is it an entrance or an exit? If say, it is a portal from which demons were called, then it would behoove us to examine it. It looks well and truly broken anyways, I doubt it poses any significant danger."
Stepping closer he reached out and ran his fingers over the glyphs, brow furrowing in thought as his mind turned over what he knew about the place. The writing was utterly unfamiliar to him, some old dialect that was quite likely dead and forgotten. It did seem broken beyond repair, it would likely be easier to build a new one rather than repair what was left, assuming he acquired the knowledge to do either.
"I'd wager it connects to another cairn," he said "more than that I cannot say, I'm afraid I'm not familiar with the dialect of these symbols."
He stepped back from the device, a shame it was inoperable but little else could be expected after so long.
"I don't think I can glean anything more from it, we may as well move on," he said.
"You want to learn how to do magic? Your probably to old for that now.."
"Depends on how quick a study he is. Other factors contribute as well of course, not everyone has the aptitude for it, and certainly starting from a young age helps but is hardly necessary."
"Looks can deceive," James responded dryly, his tone mostly intended for the stone guy. "I don't know how old you think I am, but you're wrong. I'm... I think it's gotten to three months now. If that's too old, do tell me how you teach an infant magic tricks. Not to mention, I can understand anything, surely I would be able to learn magic too," he said as if it was the most sincere thing he had said yet. To him, there wasn't a thing he could not figure out. Well, apart from people.
He sighed, picking a small vial in his pocket -hand still in the pocket- and rolling the vial between his fingers.
"Regardless, it wasn't a question based on me wanting to learn magic, but rather understanding it. I care more for alchemy than magic tricks either way."
"Let's see, where to start... firstly yes I could improve my ability to see in the dark but that hardly helps the rest of you see, changing the time of day is a considerably more difficult thing and well outside my current abilities, though conjuring daylight itself is fully possible, a glyph is a mark or rune with a specific meaning or purpose, and as for what is magic well that is an entire conversation in and of itself. Suffice to say it is power, the sort which underlies all of reality."
"If it is a conversation in itself, then what better time is it to talk of it now?" No reply, instead people started talking about the glyph again.
"I don't know. This is interesting, but if we don't know what it is and can't decipher that marking on the base we're just wasting time. The blonde kid is working on it."
"Holt. My name is James Holt," James corrected. Hopefully everyone had heard it, so that he didn't need to repeat it ever again to these people. He could have let it go, being called a blonde kid was among the more neutral things he had been called, but he wasn't really a kid... or anything, really, simply James. Himself.
If I'm just not Jonathan, of course.
"And I'm just curious. I don't think it'll do much to help us, being broken and all, but..." He looked towards the people who had started talking about their theories, the gnome's being a bit more founded in knowledge than the other's. But then again, that was just an assumption, perhaps a silly one, given that being unaware of someone -anyone's- magic abilities could be dangerous. Scary, frightening.
He listened in silence as they did speak, not wanting to interrupt. It was intriguing, and he wondered what the purpose of connecting one cairn to another had been, though if they didn't know what cairn it was, or how it worked, then they could work out possible reasons and still have gotten nowhere.
"I don't think I can glean anything more from it, we may as well move on,"
the small mage said, and James tilted his head. "Yeah, I suppose so. Perhaps I'll figure out what it means one day, as long as I remember what it looks like. Besides... I'm more curious about what magic consists of." He looked at the smaller man expecting a reply. It was clear to him that the other could provide some information he could use to understand how everything worked, just a little better.
The talk of magic was as expected a mix of tedious and over her head so Andria instead kept to the back and began inspecting the various people who were gathered in the cain. They were a mixed bunch and their attention was largely focused around what they were saying was a fragment of a former portal, all she could make of what she saw was a probably value and an exciting one at that.
She managed to resist touching the piece of whatever it was, considered using her powers to pick it up with her blades but that could be saved for later. There were torches being handed around one of which Andria procured for herself. Approaching the stairs she tried looking down but her eyes weren't strong enough to see much. So she stabbed one of her knives through the handle of her torch so she could keep it floating with her mind and send it on ahead. Looking back to the others seeing if they were going to follow her she paused for a little while before she was ready to venture forth. Keeping the light as far ahead of her as she could she made sure to keep her eyes peeled as she descended.
She had to wonder where the squirrel had gotten to, she probably owed it some huts or something.
The arcane apparatus held Millie's attention for about a minute, but she moved aside once Crazy James came over to scowl at the thing up close. The gnome in the robe seemed interested in the relic as well. Millie was a little wary of the religious symbol he was wearing, but he seemed friendly enough. Besides, she liked gnomes. They made her feel tall.
Stepping around the large, muscular types, Millie moved over to the staircase, where the tall, strangely-dressed squirrel woman was doing something clever with a torch. Even with the light she couldn't see more than a few steps ahead. She considered throwing a rock down the stairs to see how far down they went, but thought better of it. If there was a vengeful undead bloodthirsty Queen of Chaos somewhere down there, best to catch her by surprise.
Instead, she said "Looks ominous. I hope there are traps!" and followed Andria down the stairs.
As Andria and Millie made there way down the long corridor, the quickly outpaced the rest of the group. The trio of adventures had paused at the second cross path before walking into the left annex. Just inside there was a wide dais spanning the back half of the wing, calling attention to a faded fresco upon the south, west, and north walls. From a vantage point at the center of the dais, the wall painting made it look like you stood within a massive room with seven short hallways radiating outward from a central point. Paintings of chains dangling from the ceiling at the end of each hallway; each with a gleaming colored lantern hanging from the chain; each a different color of the rainbow.
As the rest of the party began to catch up, it was first Charles, then James and Clodagh a second behind, who noticed the faint gleam of indigo light down the right passage. The dim light was obscured by ruined stonework, a ratty old pack, and the bones of the pack's former owner who had fallen victim to some unknown, horrendous fate.
Andria and Millie reached the bottom of the stairs relatively quickly.
The wide stairway descended into an immense domed chamber. Seven short tunnels branched from the room in all directions, extending some thirty feet before ending in rounded walls. At the terminus of each passage, a thick chain could be seen dangling from an unseen high ceiling. Five of the chains had differently colorful lanterns at there ends, but two held nothing at all. Each lantern cast a weird, murky light about the room. Countless chips of glass and shiny metal inset into the chamber's domed ceiling reflected this light, giving the impression of starlight and falling snow. The dome itself started about ten feet off the ground and reached an apex about thirty feet over the center of the room.
Below the dome's peak, a long dais held what appeared to be a marble sarcophagus. A milky white bas-relief figure rested passively upon the sarcophagus lid. Unlike the rest of the tomb, the room was completely silent.
Clodagh trailed past the others for her own safety, but also to take in the atmosphere. She had never been in a real physical crypt before, so this was the start of something exciting for her.
She overheard a few people talking about the crypt gliphs,
"I think that it's the remains of a portal, I'd advise leaving it alone."
Clodagh was going to say something, but then Wilmet interjected and started going on about transportation.
Cloagh had only read glyphs before, but the symbol looked as though to read the word "Nexus". She would have said something, but they sounded somewhat educated on the topic, and besides, she didn't even know if the glyphs in her old library were even in the same library.
Then she looked around to see where Millie had went off to, and trailed after her. Down the steps they went, and she emerged into some strange room with light everywhere. She wanted ask who had been lighting this place all these years, who the people were that would invest this much time into an underground tomb, but what she went with was the stone sarcophagus.
"This sculpture's finger is missing." She stated. The thumb bent to and clung to the marble palm, but the actual finger had been knocked off. The question was where. "Can anyone see it?" She asked, checking around her own feet.
Watching the two people walk down the stairs Thalith follows them. Thudding on the last step and looking around he grunts softly as he takes in the lights. The topic he had left was something about what they had found but most of it was magic in origin and he was not interested. This on the other hand was something he was familiar with and after pausing at the bottom of the stairs and a cursory look at the lighting for this place he walks over to the statue like thing and leans over to take a closer look at the craftsmanship of the statue. Looking down and looking at the finger missing from it he can hear one of the people behind him commenting on it and its absence. Looking closer at the statue he grunts softly and straightens, looking the room over again before saying back at the woman who had asked about the finger.
"This statue was made by magic, or some way of shaping stone i have never seen or heard of."
Glancing down at the finger and running a finger over the rough edge he frowns at the mark to this unnatural but beautiful workmanship. Turning around and looking at the floor close by he stops on one of the lamps. Rubbing his hands together and cracking his knuckles Thalith ignores the rock on rock sound it causes as he steps away from the statue and crosses his arms.
"More magic, though the craftsmanship is incredible."
James provided an... interesting response of his own to Thaltih's comment about his age. Why would he claim such a thing though? It is clearly not the case, a compulsive liar perhaps? Bah, it makes no difference we have more important things to concern ourselves with. Still the man introduced himself so Wilmet felt it was only polite to do the same.
"Well met James," he said "I am Wilmet Ningle, though you may call me Wilmet."
The man's interest in magic was hardly uncommon, though his insistence that he would be able to grasp it so easily amused Wilmet. He could recall a time when he was similar, convinced that the secrets of the universe would simply reveal themselves to him.
"Yeah, I suppose so. Perhaps I'll figure out what it means one day, as long as I remember what it looks like. Besides... I'm more curious about what magic consists of."
"That could prove quite a lengthy explanation," Wilmet said "perhaps one best saved for another time, for now the dungeon awaits."
"Looks ominous. I hope there are traps!"
Delightful. Wilmet thought as he followed the girls down the stairs. No doubt the halfling considered herself a deft hand with traps, otherwise why wish for them, but he personally would be quite happy to never see one. The room they entered did not seem to have much in the way of them though, at least not at first glance. A sarcophagus with a depiction that was missing a finger and posed in a curious manner, and a number of colorful lanterns. Clodaugh began looking for the missing finger while the Thalith admired the craftsmanship. Wilmet meanwhile cast his gaze about looking for the missing finger as well as trying to glean the significance of the lanterns.
"Why are there only five lanterns but seven chains," he said, "a chain for each tunnel, I wonder if that is significant."
"Well met James. I am Wilmet Ningle, though you may call me Wilmet."
"Well met, Wilmet," James replied, smirking at the way it sounded out loud.
Welmet-Wilmet, wonder if he considered that.
James had to admit it rolled off the tongue easily, though he was not the type to enjoy play on words... that much.
"That could prove quite a lengthy explanation, perhaps one best saved for another time, for now the dungeon awaits."
"Perhaps never then, for if this goes well, I'm leaving. I have nothing but the cost of travel and protection stopping me from leaving Diamond Lake," he replied, and then decided to start walking a bit quicker. However, he trailed off for a bit, as he saw the light of a lamp in a side passage, the owner seemingly caught in some kind of trap or accident.
That's... unfortunate? I suppose.
That meant there had been other people there, other people who had been hurt.
I don't know if I find the idea of traps being more comforting, or the chance of this place falling apart. One of those are designed to kill us, the other means whatever us doing well could be foiled at any time...
It made him a little scared, and he didn't want to think about it. Instead of going closer to the body, he continued ahead, meeting the others in a dome-shaped room. It had lanterns in almost every colour, and the ceiling was shimmering like the star sky.
"Why are there only five lanterns but seven chains. A chain for each tunnel, I wonder if that is significant."
"We already know where the indigo one is," James said, thinking back at the path with the indigo light. "At least, there was a light down another passage, close to a body, and it seems to match one of colours that would be missing." He looked in towards the passages with missing lamps. "The indigo lamp was taken by someone whose path ended in a trap. My question is; the remaining colour, the one we haven't found yet... Red, I think. Did that too lead to a trap? Or did someone pass unharmed? Should we not think of that, rather than think about a missing finger?"
He crossed his arms, unless the statue was rigged in some manner, it had little meaning to him. However, he did -as a rare and never to be repeated again courtesy- look around for the finger, perhaps his eyes would catch something the others' wouldn't. However, as he looked around the sarcophagus, he noticed something particular.
"Say... doesn't that look like an arrow?" James asked and looked towards where it led. The orange lantern, though his walk over there was for nothing, the only thing at the end of the path was an orange lantern. "... Okay, I'll give you that the finger could prove useful, but I still think we should consider the lanterns. Why is the red gone? should we attempt to return them to their places? And what is the importance of the arrow..."
He crossed his arms, frustrated. Of course he couldn't figure out the puzzle if not all of the pieces were there... the one with the red lantern hadn't taken the solution and hidden it, right?
Another room, another puzzling situation. Some of Godric's travelling companions had already started to work it out. There appeared to be a lantern upon all but two chains for each tunnel and each had a different colour of the rainbow. The blonde kid, James, was suggesting the missing lanterns could have been taken to lure them, or someone, into a trap. He was probably right, and it worried Godric that something in the Cairn was alive and had malicious intentions for their group.
The puzzle of the lanterns was a little too complicated for Godric, there wasn't much chance he'd be able to figure it out that the cleverer members of the group couldn't. Instead he directed his attention towards something potentially simpler.
Godric strode over to the sarcophagus and looked at the figure carved on the lid, "Why is one hand open and one clenched into a fist? You'd think they'd carve them both the same." Something about it troubled him, but more than that he didn't like the deathly silence of this room. It was less of a quiet place and more somewhere with an absence of sound. Godric was sure it had something to do with the nature of the room, he didn't like burial places, there was no place that more illustrated the difference between death and the very absence of life. It was the latter that really got to Godric.
"Is the key to unlocking the secrets this room hides held here somewhere, or will we have to do more exploring?" Godric already knew they'd be looking further into the Cairn, but secret doors and hidden passages could be around.
"This sculpture's finger is missing. Can anyone see it?"
"No fingers over here," Millie called back. There wasn't much of anything, aside from dust, but it was pretty dark even with the torches and lanterns. The lanterns, incidentally, had apparently caught James and Wilmet's attention, and they were trying to work out if the coloured lights meant anything. Millie herself couldn't think of an explanation...maybe it was something to do with magic. Or perhaps stained glass had been in fashion when the crypt was built.
"Why is one hand open and one clenched into a fist?"
The big armoured chap had a point. A fist seemed out of place with the whole dearly departed, rest-in-peace thing. Millie went over to have a better look at the sarcophagus. Normally she rather liked puzzles, but then again, there was usually money involved.
Turning to the knight Millie raised her hand, with three fingers up - copying the carved hand with the missing finger. "Maybe the dead chap got his finger bitten off. Happened to somebody I knew back home in Lesser Burkington. That, or we have to find three of something."
As the others moved through the hallways Charles looked down the left, looking at the fresco, thinking it could have some importance he tried to memorize the details of it before continued. To the right he noticed something else, he decided was of greater importance. Bones, a pack, and an indigo light.
After a few seconds of wondering whether or not it was a trap he tried to signal anyone who had yet to pass the cross and went to investigate. He crouched down next to the bones and the pack and lit the torch in his hand. He decided the other light was untrustworthy as he started to investigate the passageway. As the fire in his hand started to burn he began to search the bones and the pack on the ground.
As Charles crouched in the dim light and searched the ancient body, he was quick to note the body's many injuries. He couldn't be certain how long the body had been there for it had been picked clean by scavengers. Teeth and claw marks from some local wildlife - likely wolves - covered the bone though, based on the condition of the body they seemed unlikely to be the cause of death. Rather, severe cracks and breaks from some large concussive force seemed to be the true source of the man's death.
Turning his attention to the indigo light, the source was immediately apparent - the rotten backpack. Large tears in the sack revealed the glowing magical lantern within before Charles could even open the pack. This however was but one item within the pack. Beneath the lantern were two other items; a simple copper necklace and a stone finger.
The stone finger was clearly broken off some greater piece but was exquisitely carved into a rather odd angle for a finger. The necklace was marked on two sides. On the front was a symbol Charles was unfamiliar with, while on the back a name and number were carved in the common, modern Barovian tongue; "Ulavant, #4"
Inside the sarcophagus chamber however, it was Millie and Godric to make the next discovery. While inspecting the stonework at the base of the sarcophagus, they found a seam that circled the entire base of the stonework. Though it, they could make out a complex mechanism beneath the base that would allow the base - and by extension the sarcophagus - to rotate clockwise.
It was a very small seam, but annoyingly noticeable now they'd actually seen it. Godric cursed himself for not realising it was there sooner. Perhaps this was the key to unlocking the secrets of this room, who knew if they'd already missed other hidden secrets?
"It rotates! There could be something under here, or this might be a lever of sorts." Godric said, placing his hands onto the sarcophagus at one end and motioning for Millie to do the same at the other end.
"Perhaps if we push it round it will open something." he said, tensing up his arms as he prepared to apply pressure and push the sarcophagus round before he stopped, "Or perhaps it triggers some sort of trap, and we're just about to kill ourselves horribly." Giving a smile as the words left his mouth. It wasn't a particularly amusing prospect, but Godric was trying to be optimistic here.
"What do you think?" He asked Millie.
Looking down at one of the others looking at the statue cry out about a seam and the statue maybe rotating Thalith Blinks in surprise and squats to get a better look at the so called seam as the two who had found the seam get ready to start moving it before stopping.
"Perhaps if we push it round it will open something. Or perhaps it triggers some sort of trap, and we're just about to kill ourselves horribly."
Looking at the one who had spoken Thalith grunts softly and slides a finger along the seam as he looks at the statue. Rumbling to himself but still heard to those in the room.
"Where is the finger... it looks like someone tried to move it and broke the finger while they were."
Looking around and seeing someone down a passage without a lantern he can see him kneeling next to a backpack and shakes his head as he goes back to the statue. Running his hand over the base and feeling the stone.
"Why have a trap so hard to find?"
"Perhaps if we push it round it will open something. Or perhaps it triggers some sort of trap, and we're just about to kill ourselves horribly."
"Worth a shot!" Millie replied, bracing herself against the corner of the sarcophagus. The corridors all appeared to be dead ends (literally, in the case of the skeleton), and nobody seemed to have any better ideas for making progress.
The big guy was inspecting the mechanism. "Why have a trap so hard to find?"
Millie laughed nervously. "Right! Of course it's not a trap. Doesn't make sense. No traps here." There'd better not be any traps now, she thought to herself. Mum would be so disappointed if she died ironically.
She beckoned to Thalith. "Can you give me a hand here? I'm not exactly made of muscle."
Charles looked over what he found, briefly wondering about why the man was carrying what he was carrying when he died, before placing the finger and the necklace in a pouch on his belt and picking up the lantern with his right hand. He stood back up and walked back down the hallway before joining the others in the chamber.
Charles looked at the room. Seven tunnels, coloured lanterns. It looked like the fresco. This was oddly convenient. After a few moments of wondering and looking at what the others were doing he walked over to the tunnel the indigo lantern should match up to. He walked in and attached the lantern to the chain before quickly backing out of the tunnel, wary of the possibility of the room being trapped.
Not seeing much happen he walked over to the sarcophagus to see what a few of the others were looking at and apparently trying to move. Missing a finger, convenient again. With it being in the pack it was either part of whatever mechanism was in this room or nothing. Probably nothing, could be something. He placed the finger where it looked it was supposed to be and took a step back again.
Looking at the man who had put the finger back from wherever he had found it Thalith looks at it and over towards roughly where the finger was now pointing. Looking from the finger to the blue lantern he shakes his head and bends his legs and jams his fingers under the edge of the coffin. Looking over at the girl who had asked him to help he grunts low and lifts the lid. Looking down at the crack where he was lifting Thalith is half squinting when something flies out of the darkness and slams him in the face. Roaring and staggering back he slaps his hands over his face as it burns and the upper half of his body as well.
Thankfully he was not wearing much and as he staggers back he slaps at the fire burning at the leather harness for his axe Thalith shakes his head and rubs at it as he blinks and tries to get the spots and ash form his eyes. Breathing hard and glaring at the coffin that he had been lifting.
"WHO THE HELL PUTS A TRAP IN A COFFIN!!!"
"WHO THE HELL PUTS A TRAP IN A COFFIN!!!"
"Probably the same kind of people who makes this entire place into a puzzle," James replied in a sarcastic tone. "Now, given that we know that the entire place is a death trap, perhaps giving things a bit of a thought next time you decide to try to push something open by force. I don't really care what happens to whoever triggers it, that's their own fault, but I'd rather not be caught up in it."
Honestly though, James didn't really want anyone to get done in by a trap, but that didn't matter, saying it aloud would only make him seem like a fool, after all. It didn't seem like anyone but the Goliath had been hurt by the fire-trap, though.
It wasn't exactly the brightest idea out there.
He had stepped away bit as the Goliath and the shorter of the women had decided to lift the lid of the sarcophagus. While he obviously hadn't seen it coming, James suspected pretty much everything that could be interacted with in the Cairn, especially after having seen what happened to the stranger with the indigo lantern. He looked at the now placed finger, and then at Charles. "So it points towards the blue lantern... Where exactly did you find it? By the dead guy?" he asked, he knew that he wasn't the only one who had seen the body.
"Any clues to how that guy went?" he continued. The finger didn't seem to have changed much, if anything there. No sounds of mechanisms getting triggered, and no sudden solution. "Anyways, you," he pointed at the knight guy who looked like he had been in a few battles too much. "It turns, right? I don't think we'll find much without turning it, and though I am hesitant to do so, it looks like it is part of the intended use, unlike the action of opening it. Everything so far suggests that as long as we act within the intended actions of this puzzle, following the pieces laid out for us, and choosing the right solutions, we'll be fine. So..." he sighed, and went towards the sarcophagus.
It'll be fine.
He couldn't help but feel his heart beating, though. For a moment, he surveyed the area.
Where to try first? Or rather, what direction?
If the stranger had an intention behind removing the indigo lamp and the finger, perhaps that was a clue. Given the location of the lanterns, and the way the finger and the arrow interacted, it would be easy to check. Because, if it really was tied together with the finger, it would only take a slight push to move it there, pointing the arrow at the yellow would be enough. To anyone else, it just looked like he was taking a very brief moment to consider it, and, to be honest, all the thinking was just a way to keep himself calm.
It's fine. It's part of the puzzle... I hope.
He started pushing it upwards, towards the yellow. Hands shaking, feeling a bit short out of breath and eyes almost closed from fear, he prepared himself mentally for what could happen, triggering a trap, or even just a sound would probably get him startled and running.
"WHO THE HELL PUTS A TRAP IN A COFFIN!!!"
"Looks like you got your wish," Wilmet said to Millie, checking his hair to be sure it hadn't been singed, then turned to Thalith "probably people who didn't much care for their dead being stolen from."
Of course that was what they were here to do, so no doubt there would be more traps such as these. He glanced back at the halfling, hopefully in the future she would be able to disarm such diabolical devices before the exploded, crushed, maimed, or otherwise negatively impacted party morale. Unfortunately this one had certainly done that last thing, James began rambling about how they should proceed but it was clear from how the boy was shaking that the trap had rattled him. Doesn't like not knowing things, hidden traps would be rather unnerving for the lad. Nevertheless the boy began pushing the sarcophagus in a particular direction, perhaps he had already unraveled the puzzle.
Wilmet took a glance at the missing (now found) finger and the colored lanterns, before it settled on him. Of course, the colors, they proceed in the particular order with indigo and red missing. He had to admit he was impressed by James having puzzled it out, though of course time would tell if the hypothesis was the correct one. Then again if I was tall enough to be able to tell that the thing was shaped like an arrow I probably would have solved this ages ago.
He cleared his throat "boy if you're worried about traps then our intrepid Queen of Chaos could try inspecting the mechanism for such devices before we begin pushing it about," he said, then turned to Thalith "Ah and before I get caught up in the thrill of discovery, are you injured? You seemed to take the brunt of that trap, if you're hurt I might be of some use."
Healing was of course not his specialty but every aspiring cleric had some practice with it and he was no different.