The Trials of The Sparing Ones
Waking in the early morning hours after making camp outside of Monton next to the siege catapult of the defeated cambion general, Xahptaanetc Sarrozaxarainey, the party discovers there has been much commotion overnight.
Karen has barely slept as she orchestrated the evacuation of the town and the organization of the newly made refugees. She wakes the party to inform them she is leading the townsfolk away from Monton to seek protection in Bas Eldritch. Moving 1500 plus survivors will take time and strain what little resources the townsfolk have but they ought to be able to make it. Karen has hired the mercenaries that had come with Pras to serve as protectors. She has paid them what they were promised by Jorg in his note to Godan and the leadership of The Hundred (Karen also keeps referring to the mercenaries as ‘The Hundred Hands’).
Pras has decided to go along with the refugees as he needs to report back to his superiors in Bas Eldritch and feels it is the best way to help the townsfolk (the player wasn’t able to make it this night so this was his write-around). Before he leaves, Pras reminds the party that Foxon has also been covered in a similar barrier and that the last time he saw Asher, the tiefling monk was inside the town. However, from Praswell’s description, it sounds as though the party’s homebase of the Moncrief Manse is unaffected.
Karen assures the party they needn’t accompany the refugees as her remaining guards, The Hundred, and Pras can do the job. However, any information the party can discover about the Drow plot or how to get the townsfolk homes back would be more than welcomed. The party have several options before them. They decide to head to the northern Corse ruins where the seemingly benevolent coven of witches, The Sparing Ones, live. There they hope to earn the favor of the witches to discover how to counter the Drow plot as well as to cure Jorg of his lycanthropy (he had been bitten and cursed by a were-gnoll and told The Sparing Ones alone had a cure).
It will be a three day journey through dense forest into wooded hill country to eventually arrive at the mountain ruins the witches inhabit. Along the way, the party goes foraging and hunting to replenish their rations. On the second day, Roben is out on his own when he inadvertently encounters a roaming bugbear.
The creature is just as surprised by Roben as Roben is by him. The two have stumbled upon each other and engage in a brief battle. Roben comes out on top. He takes from the creature its hide shield to give to Nym and morningstar to sell. Returning to the party’s campsite, he discovers John has brought down a buck and is in the process of dressing it. With what Nym was able to forage and the deer meat, the party have plenty of rations for the next week or so.
As they continue on, the forest begins to thin and the terrain becomes more steep. Foothills soon give way to proper mountain terrain as the party moves in the general direction of the Corse ruins. Discovering what looks like a pass, the party slowly travels through the stony crags before coming upon what must be the Corse ruins.
However, the structure is anything but ruined. Against the pale and umber hued rock, the Corse ruins stand out gleaming white. The structure is built into the cliffside with each building looking teardrop shaped with many windows and what appear to be balconies. It’s also clear that the structure is enchanted as its pristine white surface seems to repel any kind of scuffing or smear.
The pass soon opens up into a verdant field where two sign posts stand. The party discover a single phrase written over and over in nearly every known language: ‘Confront Mortality.’ Beyond the field, they can see a break in the stone and the faint outline of ascending stairs appearing to be the only entrance to the Corse building. On guard, the party proceeds.
As they traverse the roughly hundred yard long field, they begin to notice swells in the ground as the grass seems to look as though it is bubbling, rising up and then dropping down. Midway through the field the grass breaks open as a skeletal hand reaches up out of the ground. Soon all around the party emerge from the ground Skeletons of various races and in various states of disrepair. Some of the Skeletons are armed and armored, while others are monstrous creatures.
Battling the Skeletons is time consuming due to their shear number. However, several party members are able to cast mob thinning spells with great success. Nym and Roben each deploy Thunderwave while John’s Wall of Fire nicely divides the enemies in half. As the Skeletons are defend, they appear to be consumed again by the ground of the field, their remains disappearing into the earth below. The battle ends with the party victorious but not wanting to wait around longer than need be. They run to the entrance getting there without further problems.
Once in the entrance, the party discovers there is no stairway, that had been an optical illusion. Instead before them is a rising, narrow passage way. Walking through the passage it soon thins to the point where the party can only walk single file and then again forcing the group to shuffle along sideways their chest against one side and their back against the other of the crevice. Fortunately, no one gets pinned or stuck, and the crevice opens up into a huge cavern.
Although the group know they are inside the mountain, the cavern is seemingly flooded with natural light. The party see before them a thick, healthy looking woodland. Just beyond the woods is a tall waterfall further up from which a sheer cliff rises towards a plateau from which the party can only make out a faint red glow. Before them are two sign posts nearly identical to the ones they first encountered outside. This time the script of myriad languages reads ‘Endure Elements.’
Once in the forest, the group realizes there is no clear path for them to follow and no way for them to see through the under and overgrowth. Nym decides to cast Speak with Plants to find a way through. Asking the trees, grass, and shrubs which way leads to the witches, she is told that all roads lead to them. Asking which way is the safest, the plants inform her that hostility will be met with hostility and that all paths are equally safe and dangerous. After Nym relays the information, the party decides to simply press on with teh hopes that something will reveal itself.
Soon they find themselves in a small open field where a giant creature seems to be going about a very deliberate task. The huge, hulking creature seems to be made up of soil and rock, roots make up what appears to be its sinew, there are small trees growing on its skin, its spin looks like craggy boulders, moss seems to give its ‘face’ made of shale looking rock definition with eyebrows and a kind of beard.
As the creature moves, it is gently but forcefully lifting thick-trunk trees from the ground, scratching a new in the ground for it, and re-planting the tree. It arranges shrubs and stones around each tree and seems to sprinkle what becomes grass over the exposed dirt. The party gaze upon this creature that is utter indifferent to their presence but is completely blocking their progression. Nym’s spell is still in effect so she uses it to ask the plants to serve as a go-between for the party and the creature. As she speaks to the plants and the plants seemingly relay the information, the creature stops what it’s doing and comes to consider the party.
It speaks a language that sounds like rocks scrapping together. Nym discovers they are dealing with an Earth Elemental. She explains that they need to talk to the witches to cure their friend, gesturing to Jorg. The elemental leans in, its massive face gazing at the party. It then lifts Jorg up, its hand easily wrapping around the rogue’s torso, and seems to inspect and sniff him. Satisfied, the Earth Elemental sets Jorg back down. As it moves away from the party to continue its work, the forest magically opens up into a clear path leading to the lagoon and river of the waterfall.
Once the party is through, the woods close up again and the clear path is gone. The party stand on the banks of a lagoon and wide river at the base of the waterfall they had seen at the entrance. The river moves steadily away from them disappearing into the depths of the cavern. The group must cross. They swim across the river, however not everyone is able to do so successfully. John gets mysteriously caught in the waters. When Roben goes to help by throwing a rope, he loses his footing falling in. Nym then grabs hold of the rope the other two are holding and tries to pull them to the opposite bank. However, her small frame isn’t able to do much and while Roben is able to get back to shore, Nym falls in. Roben and Jorg then try to rescue John and Nym with the result being Nym getting out of the river but Jorg now falling in. Exasperated by the whole process, John casts Fly lifting himself and Jorg out of the river to join the others on the bank.
Now the group need to climb up to the top of the waterfall. Roben casts Fly to get to the top and Nym uses Wild Shape to turn into a mountain goat to bound up the rock face. In order to get Jorg up to the top, John has him climb into the Bag of Holding the party has. It’s seems like a tight fit at first but soon John with Fly still in effect soars up to the top of the waterfall joining the others and overturning the bag allowing Jorg to plop out.
At the top of the waterfall is a huge lagoon in the center of which is a seemingly unending fountain creating the water. The fountain churns a steady white as the party follow the narrow bank around the lagoon. They are able to just make out a stair way behind the fountain.
When they are about to move beyond the fountain, it suddenly springs forth larger than before and a curtain of water blocks the group’s way. The churning white water seems to turn towards the party as a kind of face can almost be made out in the ever moving water. The party hears a kind of speech sounding like gurgling and crashing waves. Unknowing what this apparent Water Elemental is saying, the group begin to brainstorm how to get by it. John uses Prestidigitation to attempt to charm the elemental and succeeds; the party is allowed to pass. The elemental parts the wall of water as though it were a curtain allowing the group to head up the stairway. As they do however, they notice that the waters for the lagoon begin to swiftly rise. As the party goes up the stairs, water floods the stairway preventing them from turning back.
The group finds themselves on a very narrow ledge with a sheer cliff not more than a few inches in front of them rising up nearly 150 feet. There are cracks in the rock from which great gusts and air currents seem to blow. They begin to climb. The going is slow even with the use of Jorg’s grappling hook and pitons. Eventually, John decides to cast Fly again only this time on himself and Roben. The two attempt to soar up to the top but encounter a forceful burst of wind greatly slowing their progress. However, they do eventually get to the top where they are able to lower a rope to Nym and Jorg (who are halfway up and just imbibed Potions of Climbing). A combination of pulling and climbing soon get the remaining two party members up to the top faster than if they had been left to their own devices.
Now the party is looking out over a sea of molten rock. While discussing what to do next, there appears behind them an Air Elemental. However, there still seems no way for the party to cross the magma lake they are facing. John then breaks a twig off one of the withered cliff shrubs and using Mage Hand sends it out over the lake of fire gesturing to the elemental that that is direction the group wants to go. Suddenly, the party feel the air around them thicken and left them up off the group. The element sends the group to the exact spot where the twig finally burnt up because of the heat. They hang there in midair. Everyone squirms and gestures that they need to get to the far side. Lifting them up slightly, the element tosses them the rest of the way.
They land on a black sand beach. Behind them, the magma lake belches heat. Before them, the black beach rises up and seems to flatten out at what looks like a platform about thirty feet up. When they take their first step towards the top, out of the lava emerges a form of fire and molten rock, a Fire Elemental.
Unlike the other elementals, this Fire Elemental doesn’t seem interested in what the party has to say nor is it entertained by John’s simple tricks. It moves closer to the party making the heat around them intensify forcing each member to roll a Constitution DC check or take heat damage. The party attempt to calmly head towards the platform behind them but the elements throws enough magma to create a wall to block their assent. While not attacking them, the elemental moves closer and soon surrounds them increasing the number of saving throws each party member must make.
Roben has the idea to do a display of fire magic hoping it will impress the elemental enough to let them pass. He casts Burning Hands up into the air above them and seems to get a nod of approval from the elemental. Following suit, Nym casts Flame Blade putting the fiery sword into the ground and kneeling before the elemental, who heartily approves. John cast Fire Bolt sending the mote harmlessly into the air out into the lake of magma, and the element watches in delight. Jorg, lacking any spells or fire ability, lights a torch and spins it around for show. The elemental scoffs seemingly shaking its head in derisive disappointment but it relents receding into the lake of fire, unbarring the party’s path, and creating a stairway from the black sand for the group to follow.
Once atop the platform, the party look out back over from where they came. Their view is entirely enchanted as it looks as though they are atop a mountain and down below them miles away are all the elemental regions they just walked through. Turning their attention to what is now before them, the party sees a giant door with a bas-relief script scrolling all over it. There is no handle or hinges or lock. Inspecting the door, the group is able to make out a phrase repeated in all the known languages, ‘Know Thy Self.’
The party spends several hours attempting to find a way to open the door. Finally, they realize they must say the phrase aloud in the language of the script they know while pushing on that script. The door begins to lighten as the each member presses a different script. Soon a blinding light flashes and the party find themselves standing in a void of pure white. There is utterly no definition to anything, simply white. Then, in the distance, the party see four bodies standing. They move closer and the others move closer too. It doesn’t take long for the group to realize they are walking towards an infinitely long and tall mirror.
The only people they see are themselves…