Cycles of Life
During their short rest, the heroes learned a bit more of about their Thri-Kreen competitors and their journey to look for the seed. Before venturing further into the caverns, Chao-ka (the thri-kreen’s leader) insisted that they leave behind guards as “we have felt the footsteps of others who seek this place”. Castri volunteered to remain behind with three of the thri-kreen, while Chao-ka and Chai-Tak made the descent with the rest of the group.
The spiral stairs opened into a cool, fresh cavern that was blanketed with growing plants. Grass covered the floor, and vines clung to the walls and dangled from the ceiling. Water poured from two small fountains carved in the shape of a lion’s head. A beautiful and ancient conifer tree stood at the far end of the room, and a faint green radiance seemed to emanate from it.
In contrast to that idyllic scene, several skeletons stood at attention. Their empty, malevolent eye sockets were turned directly toward the heroes. Other forms that seemed to be composed of little more than the desiccated remains of dismembered and mummified arms, legs, and hands began to drag themselves across the room.
Hovering in front of the tree was a humanoid figure. What remained of its flesh and its ancient armor were blackened and charred. Fire crackled from its burnt fingers, and its voice echoed telepathically. “Doth House Lubar still desire to torment us after so long an age? We welcome you, and we shall render unto you the wages of hate that we have nursed these many long years.”
A deadly battle ensued between the guardians of the tree and the heroes. The swarms of arms and hangs proved exceptionally resilient to the attacks of Kelvor and Morg. Avor targeted the two warriors with fiery attacks knocking Morg unconscious several times. Gwyn, who’s magic was more effective against the creatures fell under the relentless attacks of claws and hands. Only a supreme act of willpower allowed her to regain consciousness.
Chao-ka was not as lucky and was consumed by the crawling masses. Although Vinara could have used her magic to restore him to life, she chose to save her powers for her close friends. Merric was slowly moving around the edges of the cavern in an attempt to get into good position against Avor and joined with Morg and Kevlor in taking him down. The swarms of limbs continued to harass the party but were eventually destroyed.
The battered adventurers tended their wounds, attempting to determine what to do next. There was a great debate between the heroes on the best course of action with their thri-kreen and the seed of life. Eventually they agreed that it would be best to honor their bargain and allow the seed to be taken the the thri-kreen lands, where it would be safe from the sorcerer-kings.
Morg and Merric searched the room and discovered a small chest buried beneath the tree’s roots. Inside Merric discovered a silver headband and a pair of leather boots, both bearing strange markings and designs that appeared to be elven, but were obviously ancient. Morg kept the headband and gave the boots to Merric.
There were also a set of stone tablets with strange writing on them that none could decipher. Chai-Tak gave Gwyn a scroll for the body of Chao-ka, that contained a magical ritual. Gwyn was able to use the ritual to decipher the writing and learn a bit about what befell Avor Firesworn and his followers.
Vinara, Gwyn and Kelvor used their combined talent to attempt to draw forth the Heartwood Spear from the Tree of Life. It took all of their effort, but the tree yielded to them and Vinara withdrew a wooden spear. As she did so, the ancient tree finally yielded to the centuries and died, its wood turning grey and the last leaves falling.
Chai-Tak moved to the tree of life and plucked the seed from its limb. Content to let his new allies discuss and search. He patiently waited to return to his clutch-mates and begin the journey home. Morg and Vinara meditated on the seed as instructed by the tablets and they felt a great sense of responsibility towards the seed. Neither could tell if the emotion was theirs or whether the seed was attempting to communicate with them.
Castri and the other thri-kreen were not to be found in the first cave. Their tracks appear to lead back along the path taken by the heroes. Assuming that they sought to secure the main entrance, the group continued on. Along the way back to the surface, Kelvor kicked one of the skulls in the first passageway. As he did so, something caught his eye, shining in the torchlight. Digging through the rubble and remains, he found two silver pendants each portraying a lion’s head. He quietly picked them up and caught up with the group.
At the entrance to the surface, the group met with an unexpected, and unwelcome surprise. Instead of Castri and the other thri-kreen, they found a literal army. Two humans, each bearing the snake-skull mark of Yarnath the defiler. They were surrounded by a number of skeletal warriors and other humanoids wrapped in rotting rags. In the back a large figure that appeared to be made of salt stood at attention. The group quickly backed into the tunnel and prepared for a siege.