Monday, October 7, 2019

The Isle (Eye-sle) of Vecna

So no shit, there we were...
When we finished the last game, the group had defeated a dark naga and taken shelter in its cave, which seemed to cut through from one side of the ridge to the other. Night falls while we rest, but outside something is scuttling around the (steep but not vertical) side of the ridge. Martini slips outside to check on it, and sees a large, multi-legged beast clinging to the rock; she distracts it, and shortly after that we hear it scuttling around on the far side of the ridge, but nobody goes outside after that.

Eventually we wake up and proceed, following the path/ledge that seems to lead up towards the center of the island. After a short walk, Ruin hears some sort of scratching sound up ahead, and moves up to investigate. He moves as quietly as he can manage, but when he stops to look over the side of the ledge, the behir sees him. Mercy and Asrael move up; Martini hides, and then moves up more slowly. The behir scrambles up the cliff to its prospective next meal (us) and Ruin smashes it a couple of times, after which Marshall Mercy lays into it as well. It then bites Mercy and lifts him up in its mouth.

Ruin, Azrael, and Martini all make their best efforts to beat it down, but despite all this it swallows Mercy and bites Ruin, lifting him up in preparation for the same treatment. Martini finishes the beast, and Azrael -- who has already figured out what happens next -- casts Feather Fall on the corpse. As a result, Mercy and Ruin float gently down to the bottom of the cavern, rather than dropping like mortally-endangered rocks. Ruin pull himself loose of the mouth, and Mercy starts trying to cut his way back out, and between the two of them they cut Mercy loose before he dies. Martini throws down a rope, and Ruin climbs back up to the top with Mercy clinging to his back. (Just to show off, he doesn't use his legs.) (Mercy, of course, is absolutely exhausted by the time the climb is done. "Hangin' on like that is hard work, son, especially in armor...")

We proceed, and fortunately don't encounter anything else before we reach the top of the ridge. At this point, we've got cliffs on either side, and the massive silver dragon is still circling overhead, and it's... terrifying. So terrifying that Martini collapses into a fetal ball of make-it-go-away, while the rest of us have to wait until it circles away from us before we can move at all.

In keeping with his dream, Ruin stops and leaves his weapons at the end of the path. He proceeds forward, motioning for the others to hang back, and... abruptly disappears. Reverend Marshall Mercy starts forward after him, just as Ruin calls out to let everybody know he's alive.

The top of the peak seemed to be flat plateau, with nothing on it but a golden egg at its center. Ruin has fallen right through the illusion. Marshall, of course, falls through it as well. Azrael comes along behind, dragging Martini with him.

Inside the room, the fear effect dissipates and we're able to look around.

This whole room, every inch of walls and floor and ceiling, is covered in writing: old secrets, bits of ancient court gossip, knowledge that might have changed the course of empires had it been in the right hands centuries past. In that, it is much like the tree we found earlier. In light of our recent discoveries, it seems likely that this stone is a repository for important secrets that were traded to the Vecna cult. There's a single passageway, leading out of this room and down; it is also covered, every inch of it, in ancient secrets. We've come this far, and there's still a dragon up above; we follow it.

Ahead, we hear a steady tink-pause-tink-pause-tink-pause, as though someone is using metal tools on stone. The gods alone know where we are, but we line up for the superhero stride and walk in together and find... old guy carving on the walls, with a small hammer and a sort of enchanted engraver's kit on a belt around his waist. He's working mostly in the dark, though there's an additional doorway that lets in a faint red light.

Then he turns his head to glance at us, and his eyes have been replaced with glowing orbs.

Mercy runs through everything he can remember about Vecna and the worship thereof, and comes up with this: the clergy of Vecna have a ritual that allows them to see through other people's eyes. This guy seems to be part of that. Except that aside from that one glance in our direction, he isn't really behaving like an enemy cleric at all: no speeches, no attacks, no threats. In fact, he's gone back to his endless carving.

So, the group moves forward to see what he's been carving recently. A lot of the recent stuff involves Party 2 (our previous-but-not-original set of characters), so we start looking ofr things we should know and find:
-Duke Corbin of Jainbridge/Corwick (one's the city, the other's the duchy) has a mystic minister Almonda, who is a (the?) Vision of Vecna, and sends assurance of a pending alliance with the dwarves.

Mercy hauls some more memories out of cold storage, and gives us a monograph on Vecnan ranks: Memories (level 1-5), Thoughts (level 6-10), Secrets (Levels 11-15), and Visions (levels 15-20) - so a Vision of Vecna (or even a Secret) would be the equivalent of a Solari in the human empire of Sol Povos, capable of turning the course of a battle on their own.

As we're discussing this, the Secret-Carver turns to us. "So," he says, "you're here for my eyes." Then he attacks, damaging Martini.

He's terrfyingly fast, and his follow-up takes Martini down. Ruin and Mercy grapple with him, but then he... is standing loose, like it just didn't happen. We have the vague (and also terrifying) impression that he's somehow undone what just happened. This is doubly disturbing for Ruin, who left all his weapons at the peak; grappling is about all he has left, and while he's ridiculously strong that's no help if the enemy can just... decide not to have been grabbed.

We aren't finished yet, though. Azrael manages to trap the guy with Black Tentacles, and someone -- Mercy or Martini -- manages to injure him; the guy decides that the injury didn't happen, but he's still grappled by a tentacle. Ruin takes advantage of the moment to pin him, and Azrael uses his longsword to finish him off.

It is at this moment, when the glowing eyes leap from the now-dead old guy to Azrael, that Ruin realizes that we are truly, totally, and completely screwed.

Azrael's first words, after he finishes writhing and screaming, are: "Holy shit, guys. This is so metal." To our tremendous relief, Azrael is still Azrael. The eyes have brought him a tremendous amount of power; not only can he reproduce the old guy's ridiculous speed and supernatural defense, he can... well.. there are about one hundred people in the world who have cut deals with the cult of Vecna that involve trading out one of their eyes for an eye from the cult. With a bit of concentration, Azrael can now see out of their eyes. He can also see... well, almost everything around him. Which is going to get really boring really fast, because he can't leave this chamber and he's going to go mad if he doesn't get back to carving secrets soon. In fact, he's already picked up the toolbelt and is reorganizing it for greater efficiency. But he can see something on a pedestal in the next room, and he tells us that if he could get to that he could leave this chamber.

So Ruin just grabs him and barrels through the illusion concealing the doorway into the next room. Sure enough, there's a pedestal in the center, and a map on the far wall. It's a map of the island; at this size and from this angle, it's also the symbol of Vecna.

We're standing on an eye-land.

Ruin barely breaks stride in the face of these revelations. He sets Azrael down in front of the pedestal and backs away quickly while Azrael reaches out... The golden orb pours power into Azrael's new eyes, and the moment it's done we book it back out of that chamber. This turns out to be a good decision, because the island is now coming apart and sinking into the ocean.

Azrael: "This is so metal. I should tell Wendy about this."
Martini: "I will murder her and you if you do."

In the treasure that we took from the Dark Naga -- remember the dark naga? -- there was a folding bolt. Ruin grabs his weapons again as the others are unfolding the boat and tying Azrael down, and we all hop in as the island finishes sinking. This silver dragon flickers and fades; it was only an illusion after all. With some effort, we row back to the boat that brought us here.

We settle in for the voyage back, and Azrael uses his lucid periods to look through others' eyes in search of answers. We don't really get those, but after piecing together several different accounts and making some educated guesses at geographical locations, we eventually figure out that there's another army entirely being led on its march into Sol Povos by a brass dragon named Estrelecada. Estrelecada is a Voice of Vecna - the high priest of Vecna on this plane.

We finally dock, and the captain sees us off with perfect politeness and no small amount of relief. We travel briefly overland, and soon reach Annon...

There are dead, tarred corpses hanging from the gate. "Traitors," explains the gate guard when Ruin asks. "The High Provost rooted them out and put them down."

We... decide not to go directly to the High Provost, even though he was the one who sent us on this mission. Instead, we cart Azrael into the temple of Artemis. After extensive negotiations, and despite the High Pristess' absolute bafflement at Mercy's insistence that Artemis (whom they both worship) is a snake-goddess and more properly addressed as Artem-hiss, we manage to convince her that, well, we need a miracle for Azrael. (Ruin: "If you could, I'd like you to consult with Artemis herself; I'm hoping she'll see fit to help us for, well, the survival of this whole plane of existence.") Eventually, we strike a deal that costs basically all our gold and Mercy's Necklace of Adaptation, and the following morning the high priestess performs the miracle: Artemis moves through the temple, and the glowing orbs that have replaced Azrael's eyes fall out and coalesce into a pair of 100-faceted gems, which we quickly dump into the bag of holding and close up. Azrael is sane again, but he still has no eyeballs.

He still needs to have them regenerated, but the High Priestess is exhausted and we can't afford it.

We still need to talk to the High Provost, though honestly OOC that was late in the evening and this may not have been our best judgement call ever. So Ruin suggests that we say nothing about glowing eyes, and just say that Azrael was blinded as a result of the battle.

We're just a block away from the High Provost's compound when a rock hits Ruin in the shoulder. He turns, sees a shadowy figure in an alley, and motions for everyone to stop and Martini to flank. Martini heads around a corner and then runs up a wall as Ruin steps into the alleyway after the figure.

It's Ruin's twin brother Darvinin. He says something is amiss with the provost: he claims to have hung the traitors who supplied that mysterious army, but there's no way this happened on such a scale without him being complicit. It was too easy for all that equipment and all those provisions to find their way there. We can't trust him. Also, in probably-unrelated news, nobody has heard back from the elvish expedition to the Dwarves, which means that Ruin and Darvinin's mother is missing.

Ruin brings Darvinin over to the others, and they agree: we can't trust the High Provost. But it'll be even more of a problem if we don't report in. So Ruin, Martini, and Azrael will go, and see if we can cadge enough money to fix Azrael's eyes while not admitting that we acquired anything from the island. Mercy decides to stay outside with Darvinin, and watch over the bag of holding that currently has the eyes.

We are shown to the High Provost immediately, and the interview goes... badly. He's not buying Martini's story that we put down a demon but it blasted out Azrael's eyes, and he says we should have come to him first; but he's also unwilling to admit that he sent us to that island with a specific goal in mind and a good idea of what he expected us to find there. So he says that if we happened to acquire an artifact, it should be hidden where the cult of Vecna can't find it -- we should take it back to Martini and Azrael's hometown, and consult with their father (emphasis explicit) who will know what needs to be done. He's also almost immediately made aware (by an underling) that Mercy and Darvinin are outside

Ruin is angry and disgusted and ready to gut the man on the spot, but the Provost hands over enough gold to get Azrael's eyes regrown and start us back on our way. And at least he isn't trying to imprison us, even if it's obvious that he doesn't trust us and we can't trust him.

Which gives us a choice of whether to be led further, or whether to pick our own path. The two main options are either to head back to Martini and Azrael's hometown, or to go see what's happening with Ruin and Darvinin's mother and the Dwarves, but there are other options.

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