The Bestiary (cont.)
After running the gauntlet of Owlbear and Wyrmling, the party confronts a scene of wreckage like the zoological counterpart to Bromswell’s berzerk laboratory: Boxes, cages, bookshelves, barrels, all over-turned and askew, and that smell… Probably has something to do with the carcass of a razor-boar over by the smashed terrarium. Fur, blood, offal. Awful.
And if that weren’t bad enough… something moving in the darkness — or is it the darkness itself that stirs in the corners… along the ceiling… moving this way. Something alive? Just the opposite, really. Here the party dispatches three Nightwings, escaped from whatever sort of vessel could have held them, before further exploring the filthy ex-menagerie — only to find scattered notes & diagrams ruminating on the nature of live, longevity, death, and the alternatives…
Oh yeah, the barrels: Several overturned and broken open, lined with an inner coating of some kind of waxy resin, below a sign reading simply “Slimes and Oozes.”
At the back of the room, the Paladin, Thief, Ranger, and Wizard discover a door to a stone passageway, apparently of older and grander designs. Sgt Finn applies his skills of observation to the entrance and discovers a trail where the (considerably dusty) floor is clear and clean, but it ends at a nearby wall.
All the characters can feel… something emanating from down the corridor, brushing at their skin and hair like an irregular breeze or currents in an invisible stream. Victorius, ever alert, shoots an experimental arrow down the corridor: It lands true, embedded in the wall where the hall turns to the south, but she marvels somewhat at its course. Both Ranger and Thief can easily discern that the arrow took a bit longer than it should have to strike the wall…
Cautiously, the party make their way to a bend in the corridor and discover, to the south-west, a large, metallic door bearing a design of concentric circles, standing slightly ajar in an arch-shaped doorway. After some ado about his 10-foot pole, Sgt. Finn is the first to venture through…
The Leyloom / Well of Timeless Repose
This is a big, round room. That much is clear immediately.
Sgt. Finn feels an almost eerie calm as he enters, free at last from the erratic waves of arcane effluvium apparently emanating from this place — the eye of a hurricane of weirdness. To his mates, however, his appearance tells another story, his movements dream-like and uncannily retarded. When he looks back at them, they are spastic, frenetic, their facial expressions a chaos of blurred motion.
But the room itself… The floor has three low circular tiers, making the room look like a bull’s-eye laid flat, and the central dais is dominated by the black shape of a large ornate sarchophagus, covered in runes and unsettling imagery.
The walls that circle the room rise up to a height of 15 feet or so, before the room opens up into a large domed enclosure whose circumference seems even larger than the circle formed by the room’s vertical walls. At the tops of the wall at regular intervals, settled into strange-looking sconces, Finn notes the shapes of 10 or 11 large metallic arachnoid constructs — and another one, to the west, the size of a wagon, with a single red glowing eye. Although it’s hard to say for sure, the Thief intuits that the eye is fixed upon a strange device on the east wall: a desk overflowing with notes, almanacs and odd calendars sitting before a vertical board of metallic pegs. The pegs themselves are connected by a complicated and arbitrary-looking criss-cross of silvery wires, capped at each end to be affixed to any of the pegs…
Treading carefully, Finn arrives at a door on the far side of the room and spikes it open with pitons… As he does so, he glances upward and notes that the ceiling is practically obscured by a latticework of dozens and dozens of thick cables, in some cases spanning the full width of the room, anchored at both ends in large spout-like apertures. Most curiously, threads of blue-gray power course visibly along the fibers of every cable.
As an alternative to dying of old age in the corridor, the rest of the party enters the room — Tor and Halwyrr taking up stations near the door as Regulus and Grit approach the sarcophagus. The latter two note the presence of some notes, and a spilled ink bottle to the side of the monument where the hinged lid may open… Then they decide to open it.
As soon as the seal is broken, the heavy lid flies open with force, catching the Paladin off guard and sending him reeling. On his back and trying to clear the stars from his visual field, Regulus returns to his senses just in time to see the oozing mass of a giant roiling mass of ooze flow and bubble gracefully out of the great stone box and over his legs. In the brouhaha that follows, these things happen:
- Various bits and pieces of the Paladin are partly digested by a giant grey ooze, including the edge of his sword and most of his leg-hair.
- Tor throws the be-oozed Paladin a life-line, in the form of a rope, which also gets partly digested.
- The farm-boy-cum-warrior “Grit” takes a blow for Regulus, and receives an epic clobbering from one of the ooze’s club-like pseudo-pods.
- A gnome-like wizened little man with bent spectacles and a scorched beard emerges from the sarcophagus, with some assistance from the Ranger… Behold, Bromswell Willowleaf!
- Sgt Finn approaches the strange peg-board, and behind him, hears the kind of sound that a metal spider the size of a wagon would make if it jumped 15 feet onto a stone floor.
- The old man, who seems wholly preoccupied with the current date, takes a moment out from interviewing Tor to bark an exotic monosyllable at the Arachnoid — at which point it halts its nightmarish advance on Finn, returns to its wall sconce and emits several satisfied jets of steam from its thorax and jointed leg segments.
- Halwyrrr, who has been sporting an eldritch erection ever since coming down the corridor because of the surplus of arcane juju in the atmosphere, peppers the ooze with an array of souped-up magic missiles, which ultimately undo the blob’s cohesive integrity. Under this high-powered onslaught, the ooze bursts at last into a soup of brackish watery sputum and swampy-looking brown foam.
- Regulus investigates to see just how dead Grit really is. Fortunately, he’s only “mostly dead.”
As the battle ends and the ooze begins its new career as just a stain, Willowleaf (having learned the date and consulting his various almanacs and charts) begins feverishly working the pegboard — what he calls the Leyloom — changing the configuration of wires in a dozen or more circuits. As he does so, the 11 smaller mechanical arachnids pop from their resting places and, with specially adapted pincer-like “mouths,” begin disconnecting and reconnecting the larger cables the span the ceiling. The air crackles with loose energy, but as they finish, a sense of equilibrium returns that our heroes haven’t felt since before they came to Grimwood.
Bromswell has his man-servant (actually a Quasit as Halwyrrr comes to learn) tend to Grit and then fly to the mayor to set up a meeting to discuss repairs, re-capturing some of the more dangerous creatures that escaped from the bestiary, and so on.
He confirms the party’s suspicions about the sarchophagus: When it is closed its contents become timeless. He was working on transcribing some of the runes (for other research) when the ooze dropped on him from the ceiling/cables above. The fact that the sarchophagus door fell shut only a second later no doubt saved his life, although Grimwood would pay the price…
The Leyloom channels the massive natural magical power of Rook’s Roost in positive directions via hidden ley lines that stretch out from Willowleaf Manor: Keeping fields fertile, weather temperate, dead resting in peace — all the good stuff. But it’s all sensitive to the cycles of sun and moon, and the turn of the seasons — and must be adjusted regularly from the loom.
At the end of the day, he gratefully offers the party some coin and grants Tor a strange boon in the form of a small, stoppered bottle of light blue glass, decorated with pewter metalwork representing billowy clouds… the Flask of Breath.
On the down side, Bromswell does insist on taking back his gramma’s teapot.