Because a certain player didn’t complete his assigned homework, there was a fair bit of book-keeping at the start of the session—but that’s okay, because that sort of downtime is (in moderation) part of the fun of D&D. Suffice to say that Phloyd finally mastered the quantum/fourth-dimesional difficulties of Leomund’s secure shelter, and there was much rejoicing.
Even more notably, Phloyd researched his very first spell, an arcane variant on the classic priest spell goodberry called Phloyd’s Phower Bhars.
- Phloyd had time to engage in spell research because we advanced the calendar by 10 weeks to the Midsummer festival. During that time, the intrepid gnome had exhausted every avenue, both magical and mundane, of investigation he could tap in an effort to discover the whereabouts of his missing teacher Praetorius, and all to no avail. Having access to his master’s library and laboratory, though, did enable him to engage in the aforementioned spell learning and research, so at least there was that.
- William spent the break ingratiating himself with the higher-ups in Suzail, and even led a small expedition north of Arabel to clear out the booming gnoll population. The gnolls melted back into the highlands of the Stormhorns without offering battle, and the land was pacified.
- We picked up with the Midsummer festivities in full swing in the streets of Suzail. But our heroes were nowhere to be seen. Phloyd was back in Tyrluk, up in his tower laboring away on his next spell (“Phloyd’s Phantastic Pheast”). William, meanwhile, had been summoned to the private chambers of the High War Wizard Vangerdahast. As horns blared and the shouts of cavorting revelers drifted up from the plaza below, Vangerdahast introduced William to a certain Tunaster Dranek, a cleric of Mystra, Goddess of Magic.
- Dranek was not a native Cormyrean, but he had sought out Vangerdahast after a disturbing encounter in the town of Wheloon. Dranek had been surprised, on passing through the town, to discover a temple of Mystra had sprung up since his last visit. This was quite noteworthy, as Mystra was not a widely-worshiped goddess in Cormyr and had no temples dedicated to her name in the whole land. Dranek hadn’t heard so much as a peep regarding this new temple, though he was in regular contact with other members of the faith. Furthermore, he had never heard of the temple’s supposed high priestess, one Lady Arthas. Looking in on the temple, he immediately began to sense something was not quite right. The priest he was introduced to, Starweaver Fembrys, in particular gave off a rather odious aura. Trusting his instincts, Dranek ran for it, and was chased off by the temple grounds, arrows at his back.
- The situation was certainly suspicious, and Vangerdahast felt that further investigation was warranted. Unfortunately, the local head of the Purple Dragons, Constal Tholl, seemed unwilling or unable to turn up anything unusual. Vangerdahast did not suspect Tholl of any wrongdoing. Rather, he was fairly certain it was the local lord, Sarp Redbeard, exerting pressure on the Dragons to go easy on the temple—the Mystrans had already proven themselves a boon to the local economy, and much opportunity for further growth was anticipated. Therefore, Vangerdahast tasked Sir William with going to Wheloon incognito and seeing if he could turn anything up where Constal Tholl had failed.
- William took on a new squire, an eager young lad named Trod, and rode out for Tyrluk. Phloyd, despite being nearly done with his Phantasic Pheast research, happily welcomed William upon his arrival and enthusiastically agreed to accompany him on this investigation, setting aside his researches for the time being. Fetching his trusty giant lizard, he hit the road with his old friend.
- By the time the heroes arrived in Wheloon, the Midsummer festival was over and life had largely returned to normal. Phloyd, William, and Trod took a room at the Wyvernwatch Inn and began plying the locals for information about the Mystran temple. There was some talk of strange lights seen at night over the temple, but no one thought much of that—this was a temple to the goddess of magic, after all. The only really negative thing anyone could say about the place was that it had clashed with the two local, established temples, Harvest Hall and God’s Grove.
- William, in the guise of a regular-joe adventurer type, paid a visit to the Watch House, barracks to the local Purple Dragon chapter. There he met with Constal Tholl, who was rather tight-lipped about the Mystran temple, saying only that he met with a representative named Shan Thar, whom the Constal quite liked. Before William left, Tholl got him to pay for a charter for his adventuring company (their cover story being that they were headed to the Vast Swamp for battle practice), which William decided to call “Phloyd’s Phantasmal Force”.
- Phloyd had similar ill luck with his visit to Harvest Hall, a temple dedicated to Chauntea. He learned even less than William in regards to the Mystran temple, but did manage to divest himself of most of his copper coins in the name of a passive-aggressive “donation.”
- The evening concluded back at the inn with Phloyd sitting down to play a local dice game called Dungeon; with Phloyd involved, the game became increasingly high-stakes and by the time he retired, he had fleeced his merchant opponent out of over 1,000 gold pieces!
- First thing the next morning, Phloyd and William headed out to the far east end of Wheloon, where the town’s second temple was located: God’s Grove, a literal grove of trees dedicated to the nature god Sylvanus. The druid in charge proved a bit more affable than the priests of Chauntea, and volunteered a story about his icy interaction with the priests of Mystra, and his unwillingness to go back anytime soon.
- Having gathered as much information as they could, the PCs headed back across the river ferry and up to the bluffs north of town, where the temple of Mystra stood. It had been built upon the ruins of an old citadel, which was situated directly against one of the cliffs above the river. A plain figure of a woman adorned with what the PCs assumed was Mystra’s holy symbol stood outside the temple walls, which were patrolled by guards. Deciding on an initially open approach, they rode through the gates.
- Phloyd’s giant lizard immediately attracted attention, and soon a priest was bustling over, but he was all smiles. The entry to the temple was an open courtyard, its floor covered with black obsidian inset with white, star-shaped tiles. A few parishioners were lingering about the courtyard, come to make offerings at one of the altars there or else just look about. Two more female statues dominated the center of the yard, again presumably representing Mystra.
- The priest turned out to be the aforementioned Shan Thar, and he was welcoming and forthcoming. He invited the PCs to attend one of the temple’s nighttime services, and, when William hinted that he might be interested in becoming a full member of the church, offered an opportunity “to learn more than the average parishioner, the revealed knowledge of Mystra’s Sacred Trust.” Playing along, William heartily agreed to this idea, and promised to return for an evening service soon.
- The PCs left the temple and rode until they were out of sight of the guards, at which point Phloyd summoned a secure shelter. Inside the invisible cabin, they formulated a plan: Phloyd would do his usual “stealth infiltration” of the temple that night to observe the ceremony. If everything seemed on the up and up, he and William would openly return the next night and see what else they could find out.
- And so that night, as the stars came out overhead, Phloyd invisibly departed his invisible cabin and made his way back up to the temple. He found the ceremony being conducted in the open courtyard. About a half-dozen men and women from the town had turned out, and Shan Thar led the ceremony. He was assisted by an acolyte who used simple illusion magic to produce a sort of laser light show in the sky—that would certainly explain the “mysterious lights” that town residents had reported.
- At the end of the long ceremony, Phloyd saw two of the parishioners approach Shan Thar and hand over some money. Thar then took them to a set of double doors on the far side of the courtyard, which opened at his knock. Phloyd dashed over, just slipping through as the doors closed behind the others.
- Beyond the doors lay an inner temple, an enclosed colonnaded space tiled in black obsidian, lit by torches. Another priest, one Phloyd hadn’t seen before, emerged from a side chamber and intoned a strange sermon:
“Do you deserve Mystra’s Sacred Trust? Some of you do not, and you’ll be asked to leave during the three days you’ll spend in the petitioner’s quarters. I won’t lie—the next three days will be hard. You may get bored, you may get hungry, but if you persevere, you might just earn the Starry Gnosis, the secret knowledge. If you can’t commit to three days, leave now. Father Shan Thar will return your donation.”
“If you’re staying, put your belongings in the petitioners quarters, and change into the vestments you’ll find there. Stay there until you’re called, contemplating obedience to the goddess.”
- The two evidently chose to stay, and were led off to a side chamber. The mystery priest, meanwhile, retired through yet another set of double doors on the far side of the chamber. Making up his mind quickly, Phloyd set off in pursuit of the priest. He had to cast wraithform to keep from getting caught in the doors as they were shut behind the priest.
- These doors were evidently barred from the inside, and had been opened by temple guards. Unlike the guards Phloyd had seen in the courtyard outside, these guards had a strange shadowy aspect about them. Their skin looked strangely dark, and they seemed to cast their own shadows, which melted into the darkened recesses around them.
- Putting aside this discomforting sight, Phloyd floated along invisibly behind the priest as he descended a wide stone stairway on the far side of the chamber. The stairs seemed to go down a good 30 or 40 feet, past a landing with two black stone statues of a female figure, before ending in a strangely rubble-strewn chamber. Another female statue stood in the center, glimmering with sparkles of moonlight event though they were deep underground. A detect magic spell revealed strong magical emanations. All around the statue were piled shattered bits from other carvings, burned manuscripts, and smashed holy vessels. The priest did not pause here, but went through one of several doors granting egress from the chamber. Phloyd followed.
- They passed through what looked like a cozy receiving parlor and into what was clearly the priest’s chambers. The smell of formaldehyde assaulted Phloyd’s nostrils and he looked on in horror at the macabre display that dominated the room: eight human heads mounted on the walls like trophies, glass eyes staring from their yellowed flesh.
- As the priest began getting ready for bed, Phloyd examined the nearby bureau. Several stacks of a papers and a couple journals sat in untidy piles on top of the desk. Phloyd waited until the priest drifted off to sleep before canceling his wraithform_, scooping up all the papers and journals, then using another new spell (_Rary’s mnemonic enhancer) to recall his wraithform and slip away.
- Back at the secure shelter, Phloyd and WIlliam pored over the retrieved documents. The journals contained mostly notes on taxidermy procedures and rants against “the atrocity of pretending to worship Mystra, while the ‘true one’ must remain hidden.” The papers were mostly random notes and jottings, but there was also a letter addressed to the priest—who turned out to be the “Fembrys” mentioned by Dranik—from the high priestess of the temple, Lady Arthas:
The latest set of petitioners awaits disposition down in the river dungeon—Don’t steal any of these for your sad hobby, Fembrys, or you’ll find your own head on a wall.
- The PCs had all the information they needed to prove the necessity of further investigation, but they didn’t quite trust the local authorities. Before dawn, they quietly slipped out of Wheloon and hit the Way of the Manticore, heading west for Suzail and a meeting with Vangerdahast…