TMA Down Time

TMA Down Time
Art by @spoiledchestnut

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Session 24

The tower was shifting rooms at regular intervals. As Klotonk suggested, this continually created new paths, and made mapping our progress very difficult. At one moment a doorway was unblocked, at the next, we were locked in a room until it rotated in a different direction.
Currently, we were stuck at the end of a hall. Ahead, a junction waited. Its floors were missing entirely, only jutting black spikes protruded from the darkness below, even the walls were tiled with equally imposing needles.
Cosmo teetered at the edge, contemplative. “I think I can do this.”
“What's the point?” Maziel crossed her arms. “Another passage should open up behind us shortly.”
Cosmo's mouth fell open. “Hello? Loot.”
Maziel shrugged. “Your life. Taelim, don’t fly in and save him.”
I wasn’t paying much attention to the conversation, so I slid against the smooth part of the wall and waited.
The kender hopped gracefully over the first gap, clinging agilely to a spire. He swung around the spike, bestowing Maziel with his middle figure. Maziel cursed him, but Cosmo only grinned before leaping lightly to the next, and the next. In moments, he had disappeared around a corner.
A few minutes passed by. “Guuuuys?” Cosmo called out, his voice searching, but not yet imploring.
Maziel smiled darkly. “Yes, Cosmo?”
“Good news and bad news.” He paused. “The good news, I’m not trapped by much. The bad news, loot is a stupid book.”
Klotonk cast a fly spell at once, and was already floating around the corner before we could stop him. There was the sound of muffled voices going back and forth, then a shout. Then silence.
I looked to Maziel, ready to shapeshift, but she held up her palm. Another few heartbeats, and both of them were flying back our way.
Klotonk immediately scuttled over, plopped beside me and put the book in my hands.
I raised an eyebrow that seemed to say: You know how I feel about books. He tapped the cover which depicted engraved trees, so I opened it for his sake.
“It’s in druidic,” I said aloud, almost to myself.
“Can we read it? Pleeeeease?” Klotonk begged, nearly hugging me as he leaned over the pages.
Even Nails sat on my other side, equally interested, or lost. Her blank stare was hard to read. Everyone else seemed preoccupied with other ways to busy themselves while we rested. I stretched my legs and got comfortable.
“You did bring me back from the dead,” I smiled wanly.
“Yay!” Klo clapped his hands together softly.
I turned to the first page and translated.
We managed to get through almost all of its contents, but before the end we already figured out it was more than a story. It was a lesson, a powerful spell was imbued within the pages, and I could bring that very ritual into life. What that did to the book...I couldn’t say.
“Like an entire forest?” Klotonk repeated.
“Yes,” I confirmed. “In theory, I could awaken it and they would be at my command.” I stared down at the book, a bit daunted. “It would probably destroy this, but being able to cast a spell like that...”
“Whoa,” Klotonk offered, taking the sound right out of my mouth.
The floor rumbled beneath us, and in the distance we could see one of the walls shift. A new doorway was revealed. I quickly got to my feet, and stuffed the book in my pack for safekeeping. I couldn’t imagine when I would need a spell of that level, but at this rate, I was making enemies fast.
We worked our way into a large, circular room. There, the doorway sealed behind us. What looked to be a ritual was engraved on the floor in front of us. I, for one, didn’t budge.
Klotonk went forward, carefully inspecting the glyphs. Once he worked his way around the circle, he turned back to us slowly. “Well, the short version is: we need to make a sacrifice to continue.”
I threw up my hands, and even Maziel appeared frustrated.
Dagon tugged at his beard. “I mean, what kind?”
Our gnome wizard pursed his lips, thinking over the matter. “Technically, anything with a soul.”
Cosmo pointed at me. “Can you summon something small, and we can…”
“Are you serious? No!”
“Our options are limited, Taelim…” Maziel tried quietly.
“Nope.” I repeated, feet planted firmly.
“Well,” Klo said in a soft voice. “I suppose I can offer something. We came all this way…” From his robes, he produced a golden lion statuette and placed it on the floor. It expanded to full size, fur sprouting on its body. It let out a regal roar, coming to life fully.
It was beautiful, and we were going to kill it. “We” included all of us, because I knew I wouldn’t stop it, and neither would the rest of the crew. I stepped aside, looking away, and Maziel moved toward the lion.
I could hear Klotonk muttering something in a timid voice, then Maziel drew a knife and did the deed. It was over quickly, and from the blood-soaked floor a stairway erupted, producing an exit upward.
We ascended in silence. When we reached the top, we halted and stared at the sea in front of us, waves lapping at our boots.
“Whooo!” Cosmo leaped into the water, floating on the surface lightly.
The rest of us just looked, unbelieving.
“This can’t be possible…” I said, taking in the foamy waves.
Dagon was ankle deep in the water, chortling to himself as he splashed around.
“Taelim,” Maziel started, patrolling the edges, “Does this appear natural to you?”
“I mean, look and feel versus what should be possible…” I shrugged.
“So you don’t think it’s real,” Klotonk said, mumbling by my side. He was rubbing his chin, deep in his thoughts. Then, a wide smile spread across his lips. He walked forward, at first thigh deep, then he was neck high. Finally, he disappeared entirely. “It’s an illusion!” Klo’s voice called from somewhere in the sea.
The rest of us looked at each other, then back at the water. Suddenly, the image dispersed. We were in a long room, Cosmo was laying on his back, pretending to float while Dagon kicked at nothing.
Huh. I thought briefly, before I noticed the man with face tattoos at the far end of the room.
Klotonk was already chatting him up, and I got the strange feeling they had met before. The fellow went by the name Doresain. Lucky for us, he wasn’t the insane, sacrificial type. The idea of company didn’t appeal to Doresain, he was here for knowledge and nothing more. So, we parted ways, and I was happy enough it didn’t end in a fight.
We followed a path that ended with a full length mirror hanging on the wall. It didn’t exactly reflect our images. We could see beyond it, which showed another corridor and identical mirror there.
Cosmo was the first to approach, as he quickly discovered it was a portal. The kender stepped inside, and we could see the corridor stretch, doubling the distance to the back mirror. Dagon followed immediately after, and the corridor only grew longer.
“Ohhh!” Klotonk gasped, his curiosity getting the better of him as he jumped inside. Again, the corridor stretched even farther.
I looked at Maziel, and gestured to the mirror portal. “Age before beauty.”
The drow’s features soured. “Go through, Taelim. I’ll cover you.”
I sighed, and obeyed grudgingly, Nails right behind me. Naturally, this time the hallway's size didn’t alter. From the mirror in the back, an imp came through, sitting on his haunches. He bore a mask with my resemblance.
At once, Maziel leapt in after me, an arrow knocked.
“Easy, Maziel” I said, taking a step toward the imp. “I’m sure there’s a solid, if bizarre, reason to explain this.”
The imp mirrored my movements, taking a menacing step forward. I cocked my head, and it did the same.
Maziel’s arrow flew, taking the imp in the shoulder.
At that moment, a pain pierced my shoulder, causing me to cry out. I blinked at the imp, then at Maziel, who didn’t seem the slightest bit remorseful.
“Huh…” Dagon glanced over his shoulder and drew his maul.
“Don’t. You. Dare.” I growled at the dwarf, wiping away the blood where the invisible arrow struck me.
The dwarf swung, sweeping the imp off his feet. I slammed on my back, cursing Dagon’s name.
“Quit it, fool!” Nails shouted.
“What do we do!?” Klotonk called out, making distance between him and the imp.
“Stop attacking it!” I yelled.
“The mirror!” Maziel cried, drawing another arrow and firing it at the glass. It struck home, cracking the glass behind the imp.
The imp looked at some of the fallen shards, then picked up a rather large piece.
I swallowed hard. “Break it, quick!”
Arrows and bolts flew, shattering the mirror entirely. The imp let out a hiss, then dissolved into an ambiguous puddle before disappearing from sight.
Maziel reached down and helped me to my feet. “I enjoyed that.”
“I bet you did,” I grumbled, healing my wound. “But I’ve got some bad news for you.” I pointed at the empty frame. “Our path is gone.”
“You’re welcome, Taelim,” Cosmo concluded.
I waved him away, all out of cursing.
“I have an idea!” Klotonk said, standing beside the empty frame. “Wait here.”
“Like we have a choice,” Maziel answered gruffly. She peered at the first mirror that was still whole, as if ensuring it was there.
In a puff of mist, Klotonk vanished, and we hovered by the frame, holding our breath. A few minutes passed before the wall behind the frame was gone, and Klotonk was standing there, smiling. He stood in a circular room where a silver basin full of water rested on a pedestal.
The gnome gestured for us to follow. “I’ve just got one more glass to drink,” he added aloofly. He dipped his palm into the bowl and drank deeply.
Maziel and I both opened our mouths to chastise our companion, but at that moment, a set of three eyes appeared on the basin. The middle eye began to shine, and its ray of light hit the wall. There, a massive painting of a dark forest materialized.
I approached it warily.
“Step inside adventurers,” a voice rang out all around. “I'll take you wherever you please.”
We exchanged wary glances; we were used to false promises.
“Anywhere?” Klotonk wanted to confirm.
Anywhere,” the voice purred. “Step inside the painting, you'll see.”
“No really,” Maziel spoke up. “You’ll take us to the Primordial of this tower?”
“If that’s what you want. We’ll go together.”
Again, we all looked at each other.
“I don’t think it’s lying,” Maziel turned to us, whispering. “I just think it happens to be evil.”
“I mean,” Klotonk began. “If it takes us directly to our goal…”
They turned to me, and I shrugged. “I’ve already died once today. Why the hells not?”
With that, we stepped inside the painting and told it where we wanted to go. The void we were in was in no way representative of what the mural depicted, even though we could see the basin room we came from. The moment we uttered the words we requested, the air grew unbearably cold, and frost formed around the frame and under our feet. The picture of the last room shifted. A different image took form, one of a massive cavern. There, a titanic white snake was staring our way. It curled around a black orb protectively, waiting for us to step through.
“See?” That same voice rang out. “As promised. Where to next?”
We all leapt out of the picture and into the cavern. The picture hung on the stone wall behind us .
“I see. I will await your return then, adventurers.”
I shuddered. Not if I can help it.
“I’ll wish for help with Primus,” Maziel said aloud. “Let’s not waste all our resources.” She moved forward, and the gargantuan creature of old lowered its huge head, turning so one eye watched the drow.
When Maziel was done, she stepped aside, and Klotonk went next.
The magic cat, Mug, popped into view, and rubbed against Nails’s leg. “You want to make a wish?” It purred.
Nails didn’t seem perturbed in the slightest. She glanced at me, then at the waiting Primordial. “I think I’ll pass.”
Cosmo ran up next. When he was done, he disappeared from existence entirely.
“Really?” Maziel threw up her hands. “What did he ask for!?”
I sighed. At least he has clones back in Illium...
I extended a hand for Dagon to go next, but he shook his bearded head. “I’m...still thinking on this…”
With that, I walked toward the Primordial. You and me both. I stopped before the titan, hesitant, as it tilted its head my way.
Your wish? It hissed in my mind.
Well, if Primus is resolved...I’m out of ideas.
You have nothing to ask?
I did get killed today, so I’m pretty pissed about that. I paused to think. In a way, I kind of want to be stronger, but I’m not sure how. It feels selfish to ask for something like that.
A peculiar laughter resonated in my head. Then I will grant you something that will make your attackers think twice.
A sly grin graced my lips. Sounds good to me. I had no idea what I had been given, I certainly didn’t feel any different. So, I stepped aside and let the dwarf approach.
Dagon chatted with the Primordial far longer than any of us. I figured he was thinking of the finest ale, or perhaps the perfect brothel, all were up the dwarf’s alley in regards to taste. I was wrong, because when he was done, he simply dropped to the floor. Then so did the rest of my friends, all except Nails.
Their listless eyes looked up at the sky vaguely, and they didn’t give off the faintest sign of life. I panicked, and Nails hurried to my side.
“What do we do?” She asked, trying to calm my own anxiety.
I was breathing hard, then turned to the Primordial, but it was already slithering out of sight. Shit. “Help me drag the bodies close together!”
Nails obliged, and we managed to get everyone clumped together. “Don’t let go,” I told her hurriedly, and she clung to my arm. Then we all vanished out of the tower, and plane shifted back to Illium.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Session 23

We were back in the Shadowfell. Here, eternal twilight reigned. We stood at the very edge of a broken bridge that spanned to a floating island, and there Orcus’s Black Tower pierced the sky. There wasn’t much time for admiring the view before a small contingent of undead in obsidian armor lumbered toward us. Through sheer force of will, we stood our ground and didn’t draw our weapons. What looked to be their captain confronted us boldly.
“Mortals in the realm of Orcus,” the captain started in a raspy voice. “Why are you here?”
As casually as possible, our group exchanged glances. It was Klotonk who spoke up. “We heard the tower was a...proving ground.” He tried to show the black bone which brought us here, only to find it had turned to ash. He waved us on, and we hurriedly agreed.
The undead captain peered at his soldiers. They broke out into a laugh. “You’re going to get killed.”
Maziel shrugged. “If that’s so, let us pass. We’ll see how long we last.”
The captain clenched his decaying jaw, then he slowly broke out into an unnerving smile. He stepped aside, and extended his arm in the direction of the tower. The rest of the undead parted.
“If you leave the tower, we’ll kill you.” The captain warned, in no way as reassuring as his terrifying grin.
“Fair enough,” I added.
We all but ran inside.
In what we could only assume to be the foyer, stood the most daunting prize of all. From floor to ceiling, a wand like a half spine floated, the tip topped with a crazed skull. Darkness seemed to ooze from it.
“Is that the--” Klotonk gasped.
“Wand of Orcus,” Maziel finished, more wary than amazed.
“Nobody touch it,” I threw in.
We all glanced at Cosmo. The kender huffed, then scurried away, offended.
Immediately in front of us was a stone doorway, but it was sealed by more black stone. To our left and right were additional passageways, so we turned left first, quietly creeping through the narrow hall. A single coffin on a dais waited alone in the room, glyphs and images of Orcus’s tower depicted all around.
“Don’t touch it, Cosmo...” Our red-headed kender mimicked in Maziel’s voice.
Maziel glared at him, but I snorted. “That’s pretty spot on.” I placed a hand on Cosmo’s shoulder. “But seriously, don't touch it. We came here for one thing, so let’s not die before we get it.”
Cosmo cocked an eyebrow at me. “Who are you?”
I smiled and returned to the hallway. Out of options, we made our way right.
This hall was longer. We stopped at a single doorway halfway through that was packed with decaying bodies of bizarre creatures. We promptly closed the portal, and continued on. Our footsteps slowed as we neared the sound of muttering.
Alone in a circular room, an undead centaur was happily painting some sort of ritual on the floor. With precision, it carefully dragged body parts into exact locations. Satisfied, it continued muttering and touching up its design, paying us no mind.
“This can’t be good,” I said in a low voice.
Still, we hesitated. While this creature currently posed no threat, everything within these walls assured us otherwise.
Klotonk cleared his throat, he was standing right beside the beast’s rotting hooves. It glanced down at the gnome, ensuring nothing had been moved out of place.
Then, it grinned widely. “Yes?”
“Hi…” Klo began tentatively, eyes darting around the markings that he stood dead center of. “What are you up to?” He cut right to the chase.
The centaur cocked his head at an unnatural angle. “Why, resurrecting Orcus of course!”
My stomach twisted. I felt my hands inch toward Radiant’s hilt, the rest of us hunching, readying for battle. Klotonk shook his head in our direction, so we held uneasily, unsure of what he intended.
“Can you explain it to me?” Klotonk asked, drawing the centaur's attention.
Annoyance crossed the undead’s features. “Isn’t it obvious?” It began to strut around the room, pointing at various markings. Ever so slightly, Klotonk was nudging pieces out of place, as he trailed the centaur nodding and agreeing with the creature’s insane ramblings.
The centaur was laughing now, elated with his progress, disregarding Klo entirely. It didn’t last, it couldn’t, despite our gnome’s valiant efforts. Klo slipped up, drawing the undead’s attention halfway through scuffing up a glyph.
Utter hatred replaced the centaur’s distracted mirth, it pointed a bony figure at the gnome. “You will die for that.” Somehow, the words came out with excitement.
We hadn’t noticed the bodies in the corner until now, they got to their feet and shambled in our direction. To make matters worse, laughing echoed down the hallway from where we came, in tandem with the centaur.
“Yes, Harthoon will kill you all, then resurrect Orcus, you’ll see!” The centaur giggled.
With that, combat ensued. Maziel and Cosmo immediately went to the farthest reaches of the room, unloading projectiles at the undead nearby. Dagon ran screaming at Harthoon, maul raised high. Meanwhile, Klotonk took to countering whatever spells he and Harthoon were trying to fling at one another.
I stood at the doorway, awaiting the laughing foes heading this way. Now that first room of bodies was far more intimidating a notion. They came, their decomposing limbs waving whatever makeshift weapons they could carry. Their numbers filled the passageway, as they pushed at each other, desperate to get closer and entrap us. We were outnumbered.
A thousand ideas ran through my mind, but most of them came with thoughts of Maziel’s furious reprimands. I was reminded of the last time I tried to take on a horde and almost got devoured. I immediately sheathed Radiant, who seemed entirely disinterested in fighting any of this, and stretched out my hand as I uttered in druidic. I filled the hallway with a wall of fire, stretching it from end to end. The laughter turned to screams, as the undead burned, toppling before they even reached their goal.
“Nooooooo!” Harthoon roared, for once sounding entirely unhappy.
I whipped around, and combat seemed to stop. Harthoon glowered in my direction, and then chuckled, in no way amused. “Fine, then you will die. Taelim.”
There was no time to think, or react in the slightest. There was no way to prevent what came next. With a single word, the lich killed me.

I awoke in the room with no grasp of how long I was out. I just knew that my body ached all over and I felt entirely drained. I blinked up and found Klotonk frowning deeply, relief washing over his features when I came to.
I didn’t bother to move. “What happened?” I groaned.
The gnome hesitated. “ died.”
Groggily, I sat up. Maziel was pacing to and fro, watching the exchange. Dagon and Cosmo waited nearby, a stack of undead at their feet. Harthoon was nowhere to be seen.
“Where’s Harthoon? He just made it to the top of my shit list.”
“He teleported away.” Klo said quietly.
I sighed, but it came out as more of a growl. I’ll hunt him down in my spare time. Then a different thought crossed my mind. Why was I alive at all. “How did you…?” I met Klo’s gaze. We didn’t have a cleric.
“I had a scroll, in case the worst…”
I closed my eyes, then laughed, but I’m certain my friends could hear the fear in my voice. “And we just got here.” Wearily, I staggered to my feet. “What now?”
“A doorway opened up in the first room,” Maziel said. She had stopped pacing and was studying me carefully, as if evaluating whether or not I was up for the challenge.
“This whole tower, it shifts,” Klotonk added. “It must be constantly opening up new paths.”
“I care about the one that leads us to the Primordial.”
Everyone seemed to watch me. “I’m fine! Let’s go,” so I led the way back to the foyer. The group trailed in silence.
Sure enough, there was a doorway of sorts. It was some kind of gelatinous form that reminded me of congealed blood. A curious Dagon raised his already bloodied hand and poked it. The goo sucked the crimson liquid clean off his hands, and it parted slightly.
“Blood offerings, can’t say I’m surprised.” I said aloud.
“Let’s give this!” Cosmo piped up. He was dragging half the body of an undead.
Maziel pulled out her knife and opened up a wound. It still bled. The drow picked up the undead and pushed it into the ooze. It took the body eagerly, and we watched, in horror, as it sucked the form dry. Then the ooze parted entirely, satiated, making just enough room for us to get through. We bolted past.
Carefully, we picked our way through the next series of rooms that led left, since the right was blocked off by another stone wall. Maziel took the lead, and I was in the rear, tired, but refusing to admit it.
This next room proved less fatal. The hallway ended in a rectangular room where a silver gorilla was imprinted on the door. It was twice my size, and paced inside the frame that bound it there.
“I’m hungry!” It roared, face pressed against the door, pointing to its gaping mouth.
I stopped to entertain it, and Maziel pressed on quietly down a different path.
“What do you want?” I asked the door.
“I’m hungry!” It repeated doggedly.
I rummaged in my bag, and found some dried fruit, then dropped it into the creature’s metallic mouth. At once its face scrunched up, and it spit out the remains.
I looked at the mess on the floor, then turned to my friends. “You deal with it.” I went to follow Maziel down the shadowy hall.
A gloved hand was immediately over my mouth, and Maziel placed a single finger on her lips before lowering both her hands.
“Taelim,” she said, barely a whisper. “There’s someone in the next room. She’s distressed.”
“Okay, what do you want from me?” I replied in a low voice.
Maziel’s eyes darted about, making sure no one followed. “You’re good with people. But she...might prove an obstacle for you. Promise not to overreact.”
I sighed. “I hate when you do things like this,” I said before nodding. “Lead the way.”
Like a shadow, Maziel whisked ahead, stopping at the doorway outlining her frame with firelight. I paused beside her, taking in the massacre. Bodies of robbed figures littered the room, and in the center was a skeletal tree that reached the ceiling. In the farthest reaches of the space, a woman was curled beside the wall, muttering, clearly in shock.
It took me another second before I recognized the emblems they all bore, the five-headed dragon, Tiamat. Cultists. I shot Maziel a glance, but the drow returned a face that suggested, We can always leave her. That made it my choice to stay.
I bit back my grumblings and quietly approached the woman with dark skin and a frightened expression. “Hey, are you alright?” No, Taelim, obviously. I placed a hand on her shoulder anyway.
The woman reached up and grabbed it, clinging to it with her thin hands. Her long nails dug into my skin, terrified. “Don’t leave me!”
“I won’t,” I returned, reassuringly. I put both hands on her arms, and gently lifted her to her feet. “What’s your name?”
She stared at me blankly, and uncertainty took over. “I-I don’t remember,” she glanced around the room, as if her memories were fading. “I just...please….”
“Well, you can call me Taelim. That miserable drow is Maziel. The rest of my friends and I are working our way out of this place. You can join us.”
She nodded her head vigorously. “Please.”
“I’ll need something to call you,” I said, leading her toward the exit.
She was studying her hands which gripped my arm. Distantly she replied. “Nails will do.”
Maziel waited patiently all the while. In that time, she had carefully regarded the glimmering sword beside a body before deeming it safe to pick up. It was wreathed with gems, clearly more for decoration than damage, but she took it with her all the same.
Nails and I continued down the passage, and Maziel followed behind, smiling to herself.
“Give me back my money!” Dagon was screaming at the gorilla. “You spit the food out!”
“I’m still hungry!”
“Here,” Maziel said, offering the decorative sword and lowering it into the gorilla’s void-like mouth.
“Mmm!” The gorilla door patted its belly, then belched. He turned solid as the door, and it fell forward with a resounding boom, saying no more.
We stepped inside the next part of the tower, just at the floor shifted beneath us. The path behind us was gone, and the only way was forward.