Previously, the heroes infiltrated the night master’s headquarters, defeated the opposing rogues and aberrant lords, sent the night master to retreat through a portal, and liberated the still unresponsive Hamish. They also managed to free Brandomiir and a custodian named Jan from captivity. Their exit from the headquarters through the ancient waterways was going to be made difficult by an incoming swarm of skaven, so they decided to follow the night master through the portal, only to find themselves in the Newport Vault, where Xarrombus made its home.
Sixth Day, First Ride, Autumn Twilight, 1262
(Silvermoon is waxing, Bloodmoon is waning, Darkmoon is in low sanction)
It must have been in the depth of night. Nobody really knew what time it was; all except for Luca, who had the uncanny ability to keep track of time, even when in a dark, cavernous room like the Hall of the Senhadrim of the Newport vault. Everyone was tired, but unsure on whether to take rest or press on.
Quentin took the others aside and away from Hamish, Brando and Jan. He wanted to have a word in private and counted on Astrid to keep the others busy. She did so with a game of Demon Dice. Quentin asked Luca whether it would be possible to use Blackstar to consume the parasite he believed had infested Hamish without harming the young mage. Luca got emotional as he believed Blackstar to be too blunt of an instrument and he cared too much about Hamish to jeopardise him like that.
In the end the decision was made to rest. Luca had made the effort to carry a small tent around the ancient waterways, but he got the last laugh as he pitched a tent, in the Hall of the Senhadrim, for his friend Hamish to rest in. Quentin and Emrys both had a more modest bedroll, and Jan relied on his stoic discipline to get him through the night seated against the round wall. Astrid also didn’t complain. James and Brando stood watch, making sure the group would not be overwhelmed by the slugs crawling up from the deep.
Without the ability to accurately gauge the passage of time, the group rested until they felt ready to move on. Options to heal and bandage up were limited due to not having a healing kit with them, but it allowed they were able to prepare spells and sort their gear. The group shared a simple breakfast as they went over the plan on descending deeper into the vault.
When Emrys cast his spell and bestowed Astrid with the ability of flight, she soared along the tall ceiling of the domed hall. She had only just complained that she “could not hear the Eagle down here” and only minutes later did she hover above the shaft leading down, her gold eyes gleaming as her face briefly took on the features of a large bird of prey.
Astrid carried people down to the different faces that were set into each of the cardinal directions of the shaft’s wall. Each face was slightly different; one handsome, one regal, one with a beard, one bald. There was just enough space on top of the faces for three people to stand comfortably, and so the trip was done in stages. All the while, Jan was marvelling at the enormous sculptures in awe, recognising them for celestial figures in service to the Platinum Father.
As the group descended further down, the pressure on their ears began growing, as if plunging deep under water. It was at that moment that each of the heroes were reminded of a vivid memory of their past.
James remembered being sent out as a rogue apprentice to rob the valuables from a well-guarded mansion. The guild had found out that there was a gap in the mansion’s defences; there was a way into the mansion’s basement, accessible through a flooded corridor in the ancient waterways. He went out with two other apprentices and dove into a nearby public well. The swim was long and deep. One of the two apprentices had to turn back in order not to drown. The other who made it into the basement of the mansion with James unfortunately didn’t make it out with the valuables, instead dying at the blade of one of the house guards.
The memory that came to Luca was that of his time growing up in Hamlet, a small village in the Elder Foothills. A game the children often played in the summer was to see who could swim from one end of the spring to the other. Wyla and Jonah made it, but he was a few years younger than them, and the turbulent water slammed him against the rocks. He was pulled under and blacked out. He woke up with his father standing over him, screaming in his face.
When Quentin was six or seven years old his family made a trip to Sanségal, the capital of his homeland. Before departure, the master of arms of his house had gifted him his first blade; a long poignard. He cherished it, taking it everywhere he went. Including going for a swim on the shores of Lac Sanssouci. There the blade slipped from his belt and it sank to the bottom. He immediately decided to dive after it, but the lake was so deep that his ears were near bursting and he had not reached the bottom yet. He was not able to recover the dagger.
The mounting pressure reminded Emrys of something different than the others; for him it was the first time his erratic magical abilities started to manifest. They came without warning while he was out in the woods, playing with the other Aen Adhar children. He was suddenly seized by headaches and it felt like his head was stuck in a vice. Harmless illusions materialised all around him, and once the episode passed, he felt exhausted.
Astrid’s memory was that of being throw off a ship into the Bay of Teeth, bound by chains, by the people who would usurp her father.
For a brief moment, during the descent, the heroes shared these memories with one another. It was not immediately clear to them why they had suddenly established this psychic connection, nor did they speak about it, but they were left wondering whether their proximity to Xarrombus had something to do with it.
When the group finally reached the bottom, they found themselves on the intersection of four corridors, each leading off to one of the four cardinal directions. The corridors were built in the same style as the rest of the vault, but in many places the walls, floors and ceilings were covered in a biomechanoid material growing in and out of the stone, like roots punching through the floor. These vines had tentacled their way almost everywhere, some of it fresh and soft to the touch, while others were old, thick, and calcified to almost resemble stone. Parts of the fresh vines were covered in holes, all in a neat pattern, like honeycomb. Inside were slimy things gestating and it became clear what the source of the slugs were.
Only one of the four corridors showed some light, which was a relief to all those in the group who were not gifted darkvision at birth. Heading there, they noticed that the corridor was lined with statues of celestial warriors. At the end of the corridor the door opened up into a large, circular room, lined with rows and rows of paintings, each of them in glass cases, framed with wood. The cases were illuminated by tiny, bronze lanterns which emitted no smoke, and were decorated by strings of emeralds, cut in the shape of leaves.
The paintings were all in the theme of divinity, showing angels, saints and prophets. Each of them had been so meticulously displayed as if they were about to go under the hammer at the Landsdowne auction house in Bournemouth.
But the paintings were not the main source of light in the room; that came primarily from the outstretched hands of two, twenty-foot tall, golden statues. Each consisted of the shape of three women, standing back to back in a triangle, there arms thrusted outward and up, their palms to the ceiling. One of the women was an ancient crone, the next a woman in the full bloom of her strength and maturity, and the third was that of a woman who had just matured out of childhood. The flames of one statue were a golden green, while the others were an icy blue.
Luca briefly wondered whether the art had been made by Réonan, and compared it to some of the art he had seen on display at the Circle of Magi. Unfortunately he did not recognise the style to be similar.
After some time had passed, in which the voice of Xarrombus was constantly droning away, undermining the resolve of the heroes and their companions, the group decided to investigate the other corridors. The northern corridor was similar to the one leading to the gallery, but ended up being blocked by a mass of vines thick enough to not just bar the way, but also prevent anyone from peering beyond. Even the little dragonling had no hope of squeezing through. The same turned out to be true for the western corridor.
When the heroes approached the eastern corridor, Emrys, with his keen elven senses, aided greatly by Toruviel, spotted earlier than others what was in the circular room beyond. He saw a great eye, sitting atop a crawling mess of tentacles, surrounded by a black mist reaching to about mid-thigh. Smaller eyes were floating in orbit around the great eye, and it appeared as if several aberrant lords were tending to long shelves, filled with books, librams, manuscripts, scrolls and folios, which were carved into the circular walls.
There were others in the room, including the night master. Most of them were human, some of them seemed frail and emaciated, embedded in the vines that came from the walls and floor. Sometimes, the aberrant lords hovered over to one of them, showing them a manuscript as if consulting with them.
Instinctively, Quentin covered the hood of his lantern, to which James scoffed at the thought that the heroes could keep anything from Xarrombus. This seem to remind the rogue to bind and gag Hamish, which he dutifully did again without protest from the others, even Luca.
The heroes decided to return to the gallery and consider what they’d seen, weigh their options, and come up with a plan. After some deliberation, Emrys suggested he commune with Toruviel. While the blade was more communicative than it has been in the past, it did not immediately present Emrys with something useful. It did not know much about the Newport vault, since they had already transferred themselves into the blade by that point.
Toruviel could identify the two sets of statues as being representations of the winter and summer court that ruled over the Feywild, and it speculated that Xarrombus might have a fascination with the fey and the shadow realms because these are the only alternate realities that are easily accessible from within the Ethereal Mist.
The blade also warned Emrys that when confronting Xarrombus, the heroes might just be facing the aberration and its minions, but potentially the very vault itself. The aberrant overlord could will things into existence, so it was not unthinkable that the very nature of reality could be bent to its will. A sign of this were the occasional eyes that opened up on the vines, as well as a statue of a celestial warrior subtly shift it’s weight from one leg to another.
Emrys asked questions about the vaults, their purpose, and Toruviel shared what the heroes had already learned in the last couple of months; they were meant as a stronghold against invasions from beyond. While the elder races had their own way of surviving the Conjunction of Planes, humans were left to fend for themselves. They constructed fortresses and hid behind walls. It was only when the properties of lyrium were discovered that the playing field was levelled. This reminded the heroes that the precious crystals could aid them in the confrontation to come.
When Emrys shared what he had learned, Quentin turned to regard the two sets of golden statues. He had looked at them, but had not truly regarded them before. He sensed that these statues were not quite good, not quite evil. Neither, and both, all at once. He had a sense that if it came to a route, rallying around the statues, in particular the ones of the summer court, might prove beneficial.
The heroes decided to confront Xarrombus and redistributed some weapons to their companions who did not have any. Quentin shared that he had seen some interesting tactics employed by outlaws in Beauclair that involved lighting a cloth wrapped around the neck of a bottle of strong spirits on fire. James was not willing to part with the collection he kept in his bag, but Brandomiir was given a crossbow with several bolts instead.
And so the heroes returned to the library, where Xarrombus still waited.