The Path of Broken Stones
After the long fight against the fey creatures, the party decided to take a few hours near the pond to recover their strength. Instead, the found that something was draining their energy while they tried to rest. Gwyn and the others recognized this as a tell-tale sign of defiling magic. Unwilling to wait longer, the group continued on through the thick woods and waving grasses, seemingly without a definite directions.
Finally the trees began to thin somewhat and they spotted an enormous ridge of dark stone looming ahead. The sounds of rushing water could be heard in the distance, but the dense trees prevented them from finding the source. From where they stood, a narrow tunnel could be seen piercing the dark-hued rock. Some writing was chiseled into the stone, a form of Elven that only Elleandra was able to translate.
Like lustful swain or panicked child
Who beg another’s gentle hand,
The fool delves heedless through the wild.
The wise are not so soon beguiled.
Let art and image point the way,
Abandon all you think you know,
For common sense leads fool astray
The key is simply this: Obey.
The wise must ever strategize;
They never play, unless to win.
They see the harm in comfort’s lies,
And seek to open weary eyes.
You’ve fought your way, you’ve risked demise,
To view the ivy heart within.
Now as the soul within you dies,
This knowledge is your only prize:
You’d never have come, were you truly wise.
Although they were unsure of the true meaning of the poem, they saw no other way to get to the Garden of Graves and so entered the tunnel.
The Cave of Entry
The adventurers found themselves in a simple cavern in the rock cliff that looked as though it hadn’t been used in some time. Not all of the stone was natural, however. A trio of statues stood along the far wall, forming a portion of the wall. Each statue depicted a humanoid female clad in rags and tatters with her right hand out, palm up, as though expecting to receive some gift. The figure on the left was a young female, her beauty apparent even given the poor condition of the stone. The center figure was older, her face kind and matronly. The figure on the right was stooped with age, her face a maze of lines and wrinkles.
Gwyn and Elleandra could sense powerful magic within the cavern, coming both from beyond the carved figures, and from the statues themselves. The magic coming from the statues was not the powerful defiling energy they had been feeling, that appeared to be coming from beyond the cave. The group was unsure on how they could get past the statues, knowing that it was some type of puzzle.
They decided and Elleandra placed a small number of gold coins in the palm of the middle statue. They disappeared but the crone statute moved to attack, placing her hand of Elleandra who began to wither and age. The group battled the animated crone statue, attempting to appease it with coins, but not being successful. Kelvor too suffered the touch of the crone statue, but was able to overcome its withering magic.
Once the statue was battered down, it reformed and continued to block their way. Eventually the group decided that the gift should go to the crone statue and when Kelvor placed a few gems into her open palm, they disappeared and the statues moved aside, allowing them access to the the exit from the cave.
As they emerged from the passage, they found themselves at a crossroad. A path lead to the left around the base of the cliff and it appeared that their other option was to make a climb up the 60 foot cliff face to reach the top. They could not see the top of the rocky cliff, but felt that the climb might be too dangerous, especially given the condition of Elleandra.
The path lead to a series of old tunnels that cut their way into the living rock of the cliff. These tunnels were obviously quite old, and appeared to be unused. They group explored the tunnels for a few hours, making note of many dead ends and finding no other exit than the entrance they used. Just as they were about to give up and attempt the treacherous ascent, Vinara noticed that one of the dead ends had as small amount of light coming from above and with Merric’s help a secret door was located which lead to a narrow staircase leading upwards.
They emerged from a trap door into a room that appeared out of place. The chamber before them was luxurious, sporting a rich carpet, a gleaming chandelier in the cent of the ceiling, and five large tables each with a haphazard collection of dice, cards and gaming pieces. Every surface of the floors, walls and ceilings were covered in carved eldritch runes. There were two sets of massive double doors providing exits from the room.
As the room and tables were explored, each felt a compulsion to sit and play one of the games. Heeding the suggestion of the poem, none resisted this compulsion. Although none had ever played these games before, they knew the rules once they sat at the table and began to play against their unseen opponents. Merric and Chai-Tak had no game to play and each took up a position near one of the doors.
Vinara played a card game whereby the winner is determined by the ranks and combinations of their cards, some of which remain hidden until the end of the game. For her game, Gwyn moved around a game board buying or trading properties, developing them, and collecting rent from their opponents, the ultimate goal being to drive them into bankruptcy. Morg played a comparing card game against a dealer where a specific number was reached but not exceeded. Elleandra played a game on a board depicting a political map of a fictional land where the primary object of the game was to occupy every territory on the board and in so doing, eliminate all other players. In Kelvor’s game, he assumed the role of a settler, attempting to build and develop holdings while trading and acquiring resources.
Each person eventually won their games, however, each player suffered as mistakes were made, the game punishing them. However, as each game was overcome, one of the doors leading out of the room opened slightly. With the last game completed, the door opened all the way, revealing a passageway headed deeper into the building. The other door easily opened to the outside, where the graveyard could be seen.
Chamber of Tapestries
The group followed the interior hallway, which was also covered with the same strange runes. They found themselves in a chamber adorned with about a dozen tapestries. One had an image of fey dancing in a ring of toadstools as thunderclouds gather overhead and another showed a young man weeping over the corpse of a murdered maiden in a glade.
One tapestry against the western wall shows an almost life-sized double door, bounded in iron and silver and covered in arcane runes. A figure clad in black is being hurled back from the door by a bolt of lightning, with obvious lock picks flying from his fingers. His companion, who is dressed in chainmail, is leaning forward as though to stop him. The second figure is holding a key in his open hand. It’s the only tapestry that shows an indoor scene.
The room had no obvious exit, but behind one of the tapestries was a hidden door. The door opened easily enough and the group proceeded on. The power of the magic growing steadily stronger as they moved through the rune-etched hallway.
Wild at Heart
A much larger chamber opened before the group when they exited the hallway. A raised dais on one side had a large pile of stones resting atop it. It looked to be a cairn, but if so, it was the resting place of something truly enormous. Three smaller cairns lay clustered on the floor on the far side of the room. Like the other rooms in this structure, the walls and floors of the chamber were covered in runes. Vines and other plants could be seen growing throughout this room as many cracks and holes in the walls and ceiling allowed ample sunlight through.
Vinara and the others began to examine the contents of this room. It was clear that the cairn stones didn’t belong here, as they appeared to have once lain outside. On the opposite side of the room from where they entered, a large set of double doors, similar to the ones depicted in the tapestry, were closed. These enormous double doors were covered in runes and bound in iron and silver.
During their examination of the room, one of the stone coffins was opened, causing a great disturbance. From the raised dais, the large pile of cairn stones began to move and a leathery shell of a giant emerged from beneath them. The smaller piles also shifted, revealing three humanoid figures dressed in rags and decaying armor. From all around, the vines began to shift and twist on their own as a massive plant emerged from the rubble.
Surrounded and already weakened by their encounter with the crone and the combat was brutal. Both Gwyn and Vinara were knocked unconscious at the same time and only the quick actions of Elleandra allowed them to survive. Morg and Kelvor both suffered as the giant drained their vitality to feed its own. Merric was slain by a combination of the plants poisonous vines and the zombie knights attacks. Eventually the giant was over powered and the other opponents finished off.
The group took a brief rest and Vinara used her magic to bring Merric back from death, although the ritual sapped some of the last reserves from her companions…