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The book indeed radiates magic, of a strange sort you've never seen before. As you peruse its contents, a disturbing trend emerges. Each page you turn to seems initially filled with nothing but strange, incomprehensible symbols, but they almost immediately resolve into perfectly structured Elven that reads as if a native speaker had written it.
The tome speaks in glowing, loving terms of the Ones from Beyond, unfathomable creatures from outside the multiverse who, if summoned, will remake the worlds in their image and usher in a new golden era of peace and prosperity in which all will be transformed into new forms with new knowledge beyond mortal understanding, and tells of the Great One who will be a harbinger and perform the final summoning to welcome in the Ones from Beyond. The book is filled with strange spells and rituals, many centered around summoning, many of which require the sacrifices of everything from fey to shadow creatures to angels to children.
"Oh boy..." Dredge mutters. Although new to the whole magic thing, he can tell when it feels... off.
"I may have underestimated these madmen. Were this an ordinary book, I could shrug off its writings as lunacy; but it is clear the book itself holds some kind of power. However the cultists came across this book, it is likely not the only dangerous thing here. Should we take this book with us, to prevent its rituals being used? Or perhaps simply destroy it?"
I would not want the tome to fall into the wrong hands, or all we do today could be undone. We ought to destroy it; the gods may not all be good, but they are certainly more benevolent overseers than the otherworldly beasts these humans serve.
If there are no objections, I think Dredge or Tajal ought to burn it with their magic. I would destroy it myself, but though my blade is sharp I doubt it would do much to a tome of that thickness.
"Destroy it?! Are you mad?! How dare you blaspheme against the Ones from Beyond!" The cultist screams angrily and grabs Tajal's shirt. "Stop them! Stop their blasphemy!" He turns to Rumble. "You! You are strong, yes? Stop your mad orcling and your psychotic mage!"
The Warlock eyes the book with some curiousity. "I would rather not try to hastily destroy something of magic," he drawls, "for one is never sure what it is invested with. Some time, surely, can be taken to examine the book?"
So saying, he probes with his magic senses, and ponders if he can detect anything from the book.
"I knew you would see sense, my friend!" Exclaims the cultist, thumping Tajal on the back in a gesture of friendly camaraderie.
The book radiates magic that's familiar to you, rather similar to your own. You can tell it has a different source than what you use, however. Even so, it's almost certainly something related to the source of your power.
OOC: Is Tajal reading the book, and if he's attempting to is Dredge letting him? ;)
OOC: Assuming Tajal would like to read the book...
Dredge reluctantly hands the book over to Tajal. "I'm watching you closely, though," he warns. "If you suddenly go nuts or something, I will not hesitate to blast you." Brightly coloured magic dances around his fingertips once again.
The paladin rolls his eyes. We can take the book with us to peruse at your leisure and destroy it later if you wish, Tajal. I am more concerned with the foes that remain within these caves; for all we know, our "guide" here is just wasting our time here so a trap may be laid elsewhere.
As you take the book, it feels warm and comforting in your hands, as if resonating with you in some way. The rituals and spells contained therein feel familiar, yet strange. The book seems to be written in perfectly clear Elven. Several names you recognize are present in the text, listed as among the Ones from Beyond who will remake the world in their image. Still, the macabre components for several of the rituals aren't exactly reassuring, but your patron's name is refreshingly absent from the text except for one page, wherein it is listed as a dire enemy of the Ones from Beyond.
Several passages come off the main cavern. One heads to the north, two to the east and one to the south. The northmost of the eastern passages seems little used, with a spider web across part of it, but the other three show signs of heavy usage. From the dimensions of the rocks outside you guess the southern passage heads towards the river, while the eastern and nothern lead further into the rock. The cultist giggles madly.
"Traps, traps, no no, probably they've run away, the cowards, they do not have proper conviction and belief! Come, come, we keep the keys up here where we keep the prisoners." He gestures to the north.
"Truly an unpleasant piece of literature," he remarks, "and yet I feel compelled to research it. The pursuit of magic is never-ending, and the thirst for knowledge unquenchable, as they say."
And perhaps the book could be key to figuring out how to cast these spells without the help of a patron. Still, it is worrisome that these seem to be enemies of his by affiliation. Probably no time to go over the contents in detail now, though.
"And the way north is clear, then, of traps?" He probes with his magical senses in any case.
Arcana to detect magic in the passage north. (1d20+14). I love rolling Arcana, can you tell?
There's a faint aura of magic from the tunnel, but you can't make out anything specific.
The tunnel is dark, but the cultist grabs one of the globes illuminating the main cavern to serve as a lantern. You can't put your finger on it, but something about the passage seems strange as you go down it.
The cultist takes one of the globes of light illuminating the main cavern and begins to lead you down the passage. It goes on a ways, twisting and turning a bit as caves tend to do. Even this side passage is lovely, the walls coated with formations like flowing waterfalls of stone, stalactites hanging from overhead.
When you emerge into another chamber, however, it's a sadly different sight. The chamber's formations have been crudely removed, leaving jagged scars, in order to fill the chamber with cages and cells. The room is poorly lit, but while you can make out that most of the cages and cells lie empty and open, you can also make out the huddled figures of several more prisoners. A rough table lies in the center of the room, a set of keys lying on top.
Certainly, rumbles the half-orc, moving over to the set of keys. He speaks in Elven to the prisoners. Do not be afraid, friends. We are here to free you from these iron chains, he intones, picking up the keys and setting to releasing the prisoners.
There's a strong source of magic in here, some form of illusion meant to conceal something, in the corner of the room behind some of the cages.
The table seems perfectly normal, and as Baruk picks up the keys, nothing untoward happens.
As Baruk unlocks the doors to the cages, the cultist suddenly gives a mad laugh as two figures come running out of the darkness of the tunnel, one of them hitting a hidden switch as he comes into the room that causes the ceiling in the tunnel to give way, filling it with rubble as the other throws down an armful of flasks that shatter on the floor, producing a cloud of thick, oily green vapors that begin to fill the room. Several of the prisoners scream in terror.
"What are you fools doing?! I almost had them ready to convert!"
"You idiot, they won't see the truth. It doesn't matter, the Great One will be summoned! We shall perform the rites here as we all perish and cast off these mortal forms!"
"Just hold still and let these work their magic while we perform the rites!"
You notice the air beginning to become rather difficult to breathe as the cultists begin to chant.
As soon as it becomes obvious that they've been set up, Dredge launches a quick bolt of acid at the original cultist.
As the gas begins to fill the room, he looks around quickly, trying to determine a number of things: if there is an alternate exit from the cavern, including in the roof; how heavy the rubble is blocking the main exit; the nature of the gas; and any magical effects in the room.
At the same time, he yells "Save your breath, man! These lunatics cannot be reasoned with!"
Attack vs the Cultist that lead us here:
Acid Orb: (1d20+10) vs Reflex
Damage: (1d10+14) acid.
Perception (if two are needed): (1d20+2)
Arcana (for gas?): (1d20+9)
Arcana (for magic effects): (1d20+9)
I think that should be all the rolls you might need...
I wonder what that illusion hides, Tajal considers as the room is flooding with what he assumes to be a poisonous gas. As best as he can, the Warlock approaches the illusion and attempts to both remove it and pass through it.
The cultist you came in with recoils in horror from the sound of Baruk's voice, and the two who just came in flinch momentarily, but the newcomers ultimately just laugh.
"We do not fear death, fool knight! We seek it!" sneers one of them, a short, chubby man with a white beard visible below his hood.
"The ritual must be performed properly! It won't work li-" protests the original cultist, only to be cut off by Dredge's magic, his robes sizzling with the acid and his skin burning as he falls to the ground in shock. "-ke this. Run, take the book, it must be done pro..." He lies silent. Through the vapors in the air you can see his face finally, a handsome sandy-haired young man who looks to have been barely an adult, a look of saddened shock frozen on his lifeless face.
"No, no, NO! Must you spoil things that way? Darthen, you fool!" shouts the second of the newcomers, a taller, thinner man.
"Never mind, it will still be enough!" responds the older one, as he covers his face with his robe and the taller man follows suit, the pair chanting.
The prisoners who haven't been freed yet begin to weep in panic, even as the ones who have begin to run about frantically, even as the air grows fouler.
You can't spot any immediate exits, and a quick glance at the rubble through the vapors only reveals it to be a rather large pile, one that doesn't much look like it's going anywhere. The gas itself seems to be quite mundane, but you're reminded of several reagents for alchemy that are said to be quite poisonous, particularly a distillation of the sap from the spiteneedle tree that grows in the darker parts of the Feywild. You have more luck with the magic auras in the cavern, and like Tajal you're able to identify it as illusion magic, presumably hiding something.
Tajal: As you approach the illusion, what seems like a solid stone wall at first proves to be anything but. The illusion itself stays put, resisting your attempts to dispel it, but you're able to put your hand through, finding beyond it a rough stone handle in the rock of the real cavern wall.
(OOC: Everyone takes 10 poison damage from the fumes. For right now this can be averted by using something to filter the air, but you all have a feeling it won't help for long. Six prisoners have been freed, and five more remain in their cells.)
Dredge follows the cultists example and uses one hand to bring his cloth robes up to cover his mouth, even as he uses the other to launch another bolt of acid.
Then he notices Tajal toying with the wall from which he sensed illusion magic, and moves over to join the warlock.
"What have you found?" he asks, his rasping voice accentuated by the toxic fumes. "Is it a way out?"
Attack: Acid Orb vs the older cultist: (1d20+10)
Damage: (1d10+14) acid.
I assume I can't try to remove the illusion on the same "turn" as making an attack, since they'd both be standard actions, but that's ok... it can wait till next turn. Dredge isn't even particularly worried if only the three of them disappear through the wall and the prisoners all die confused and alone ;)
"With no way to surmise where this path leads, I believe the most appropriate answer is..." Tajal's lips curl in a wry smile. "I've found somewhere that's less toxic."
The Warlock shields his mouth with his sleeve, but he doesn't trust in it enough to sit by idly. He fires off a bolt of eldritch energy towards the ceiling, hoping it'll alert everyone as to his location; with that, the Eladrin retreats into the passage he's uncovered.
Follow the warlock! shouts Baruk at the prisoners, pointing through the fog to where Tajal is heading. Rumble, cover their escape. I will free those who remain. Baruk takes an embroidered handkerchief out of his pocket, smiles melancholically for a moment and then puts it over his mouth. With his other hand, he opens cages and wrenches open doors.
The cultist dodges Dredge's attack and continues chanting, even as Baruk frees two more prisoners from a cage. The freed prisoners do as they're told and run for the corner Tajal's magic came from.
The passage is fairly unremarkable, though it's hard to tell in the dark. Feeling your way through it, it proves to be fairly level. The air here, free of the toxic gas in the chamber, is much easier to breathe, and the freed prisoners who crowd in behind you breathe a sigh of relief.
The cultists, seeing their prey escaping, drop their chanting and start to fire bolts of magic, trying to stop the escape.
(1d20+9) vs Baruk's Ref, 7 damage on hit. (1d20+6) vs Dredge's Ref, 7 damage on hit.
Dredge nimbly dodges the bolt of magic, and returns fire once more before slipping behind the illusion.
Once inside, he blinks twice - the first causes his milky eyes take on a golden sheen, and with the second they begin emanating a soft light into the darkened passageway. He then takes note of anything he can see in the new light.
Acid bolt vs old cultist:
Attack: (1d20+10) vs reflex
Damage: (1d10+14) acid
He also activates Unseelie Eyes (darkvision) and the eye-light from the same ability (bright light, 2-sq radius)
The frightened prisoners crowd around Dredge in the new light. The passage continues to be fairly unremarkable, though you can tell now that it's obviously man-made. It continues another 50 or so feet before turning to the right in what you think is the direction of the river.
Baruk manages to free the other prisoners and is able to join the others in the tunnel.
As everyone regroups and joins each other in the tunnel, you're all able to breathe a sigh of relief. A small side passage joins the tunnel from your left near the end, but the feature that grabs your attention is the opening ahead that leads to the river.