The Circlestone Injustice Episode 11: What’s a nice corpse like you doing in a place like this?
“Corpses sour you. They are bad for objectivity.” ― Bertolt Brecht
20 Elient, the Red Room
As Maena prepared to interrogate the corpse by first casting a spell to ensure that no matter what language is used, she will comprehend every word that the body might utter, then she begins a prayer to reanimate the dead body in such a way that it will be able to converse with her.
Jonathon seems to be in a thoughtful mood, his gaze resting on his friend J’Wi, who herself seems to be lost in her own reverie.
Connor and Remy cook up a side project that is less focussed on discovering the history of the underground void and more about testing the theory that when a pendulum is displaced sideways from its resting, equilibrium position, it is subject to a restoring force due to gravity that will accelerate it back toward the equilibrium position. So while the Elven cleric channels her faith to gain insight from the corpse she in kneeling before, the Tortle throws the Halfling up so that he can grab onto one of the vines hanging from the cavern’s ceiling. The diminutive barbarian starts singing a song he recalls from around the campfires of his youth, a tale explaining how a mighty warrior would get her sisters-in-arms to launch her into battle in full plate armour by swinging her towards their enemies on a length of chain, “She came in like a wrecking ball!”. His singing echoes through the cave.
Remy calls to his friend to be careful and to not spend more than 6 seconds (or possibly 6.5 seconds, opinion differs) on any one vine, lest it should break. Connor then swung from vine to vine, eventually falling to the floor where his partner in crime failed spectacularly to break his fall. J’Wi rolls her eyes, Anahita shakes her head; Remy and Connor try again!
Maena completes her spiritual commune and feels a minute shift in the Weave. The corpse before her makes the slightest of sounds, as though it had been holding its final breath in for all this time, and Maena knows that a line of communication has been opened. With careful consideration Maena begins questioning the body:
“Who are you?”
A rasping voice, like wind blowing through the dry leaves of autumn, responds with three words,
“Protector, servant, sacrifice.”
“Why were you sacrificed?”
“Service, honour, war.”
Maena ponders briefly on this reply and then continues her inquiries, “Against whom did you fight?”
Again the whisper brushes up against her ears, “The Enemy, the Empire, the Snakes.”
At this news a shadow of concern passes across Maena’s face, the implication of what she is learning starting to impact on her, starting to make her wonder how J’Wi will react. To Maena, the snakes are most likely the Yuan-ti. This place is looking more and more like it might be some sort of relic from an ancient war in which the Yuan-ti were likely not the victors.
“What is this place?”
“Safe, hidden, protective.”
“What is hidden safe here?”
“One. Of the five … Danger.”
As the last syllable drifts from the corpse’s desiccated lips, a feeling of the Weave re-aligning itself signifies that there will be no more post mortem oration, the spell has ended. Maena is left with the information she has gained arranging and rearranging itself in her mind. A voice, very much alive and embodied, disturbs her contemplation.
“What did it say?”
J’Wi is standing just behind Maena.
At first Maena is concerned that J’Wi might have heard the words of the dead body and be upset or angered, but it turns out that she overheard only that last word, danger.
In fact there is nothing for the noble-woman to be worried about. J’Wi, with her customary lack of emotion reveals that she has already started to connect this place with the stories of her childhood. In those tales the Yuan-ti are at war with their immortal enemies, the Naga. The war is bloody and terrible and largely perpetrated by agents of both sides, the Yuan-ti coercing, bribing, charming and enslaving various races to fight for them and the Naga holding lesser beings in their thrall through magic, intimidation or just good old fashioned religious devotion. Thousands perish, hundreds of thousands suffer misery and loss and neither side makes any great gains. Eventually the Naga decide to fight fire with fire and hatch a plot to infiltrate the Yuan-ti ranks and strike at the heart of their power, their sorcerers. They send agents into their enemies ranks and through immense efforts involving intricate plans, powerful magic and some amount of luck, they are able to locate and steal five powerful religious items; relics that the Yuan-ti magic users used to power their armies in unnatural ways. The items are taken as far from the Yuan-ti homelands as possible and hidden in locations spread around the cold and, at this time in history, desolate Northern wastes of the young continent of Faerun. Without their supernatural devices to amplify and intensify their magicks, the Snake Sorcerers lose control of their forces, the Yuan-ti armies begin to scatter, collapse and desert. The Naga strike, hard and fast and the Ophidian Empire starts a descent from which it will never recover. The Yuan-ti are defeated. That was thousands of years earlier.
J’Wi shares these stories with Maena, Anahita and Jonathon (Rembrandt and Master Beatenpath are still getting their Foucault on) and then Maena reciprocates by detailing her discussion with the corpse. The group seems to reach a consensus, that whatever is encased in the large sphere hanging above their heads should probably stay there, and the chamber be sealed, if not forever (Maena indicates that at some point, when she is armed with more data, she may wish to return to this place and investigate further the powerful magic it enshrines) then certainly for the foreseeable future. They agree that it is time to leave here, return to House Stanipavel and instruct Tagen to send a team to collapse the final tunnel. Before they do this though Anahita decides to check the now-mute corpse for any items that might be important, or valuable. She runs her hands over the robes, looking for pockets or pouches but finds nothing. Maena, noticing the Genasi’s disappointment, decides that the ceremonial dagger might make a nice souvenir for the blue-hued woman, and removes it from the death-grip of the dead fingers. Those fingers, so long held in that final clasp, in the position in which they were when the last charge of life left them, seem to demonstrate a resignation, a recognition that their job is done, and crumble away to dust and bones in Maena’s gentle caress.
Maena hands the dagger to Anahita and tells her that it seems to be either imbued with some protective charms, or of exquisite crafting, or perhaps both, so unharmed by the passage of time does it seem to be. Anahita regards it carefully, noticing the delicate engraving and carving on the hilt, images of snake-like creatures swirling around and entwining with each other. The blade is a steely grey inlaid with another metal, darker again, in intricate geometric patterns, beautiful in their elegance and abstract nature. Anahita holds this beautiful piece of sacred metal and wonders, “What is this worth, in gold?”
J’Wi also takes the opportunity to make a final pass around the cavern before the team leaves and it is shut up. As she walks around the edge, tracing an anti-clockwise trail across the black-glass floor, she notices a long, almost invisible gossamer-like tube of the finest material resting in the curve where the wall meets the basalt. It is a skin, a shed snakeskin, and clearly from a large creature. She delicately collects, folds and stores this item amongst her other belongings. She then continues her perimeter walk until she comes across another, previously unnoticed, feature of the void; a tunnel heading down, at an angle, into the rock. She enters it, without hesitation, on her hands and knees. Inside she sees that this funnel travels forward a short distance, maybe ten feet, before plummeting straight down in the depths. She leaves the hole and calls the others over.
The PCs hatch a plan which involves J’Wi being secured by the extra rope Tagen supplied them with for just such an occasion, and then lowered slowly over the lip of the shaft by Remy. She will use her exceptional darkvision to see if there is anything of interest, or danger, lurking in the deep.
Again, Jonathon finds his knotting proficiency being called upon, and again he excels in his ropey endeavour, constructing a simple, elegant and comfortable harness for J’Wi. Remy places himself carefully at the opening and Connor comes up alongside him, ever vigilant. Maena and Anahita watch as J’Wi crawls back into the tunnel and disappears from sight.
Inside the cylinder of rock J’Wi wastes no time in achieving the lip of the shaft and lowers herself, a little gingerly, over the edge. Outside Remy, feeling the rope go taught, takes the strain and then starts to carefully let the rope play through his giant hands.
J’Wi allows gravity do what gravity does best and drops down, putting her energies into looking around for any clues that might explain this new level.