It seems that no matter what decision I make, it never turns out correct with these damned zealot monks (though maybe today makes my decisions of yesterday more palatable). We moved on from the bloodbath with Qarbo, to serach for Helen Rae, leader of the monks. We found a library with a great deal of information about Ogremach, the Temple of the Black Earth, and the plans of the leader of this cult, Marlos Urnroyle, including the idea of a powerful weapon he wields called Ironfang.
We moved on to Helen Rae’s room again with the idea to use deception to capture her. It worked at first as she was fooled by my stone armor and Alvalore, but once I tried to get her to surrender she threw down some dust that enveloped the room in a dark cloud. Once it cleared she surprised us by dropping down from the ceiling (Aeylan grant my wish that I may never see another monk fight against me again!) and a brutal fight ensued. I had made a tactical error of not searching all of the rooms leading to Rae’s room, and left behind us 4 monks who flanked us. The battle broke into two parts with me and Drake battling Helen and Krug, Alavalore, and Namfoodle fighting the monks, more or less. As the battle raged, Helen fled and most of us followed on foot through a garden and into a central alter room we had not yet entered. Krug was the exception and once the other monks had been dispatched, he started to retrace our steps to enter the alter room from the other side. Helen fled to a corner of the temple room and pulled a lever and some metallic grating sound rang out along with a roar. At that time I got knocked out by one her rock-hard fists. When I came to after some healing by Yotho, Helen was gone and a blinded owlbear had come up from the stairs leading down (it had been held down there by a gate that Helen released) and was battling the party.
As for Helen, she fled again, but luckily ran into Krug, who had made the excellent choice of circling around and he finished her off. The rest of the party finished off the owlbear. Depleted of spells and exhausted we decided that we needed rest. We found some stairs that lead to a watchtower, barricaded the door, set watches and slept. As I tried to sleep, I reflected on the battles of the past and realized that something an instructor said years ago, now made sense. I saw a weakness in my fighting style that I figured out I could overcome. I fell asleep satisfied with my discovery. That night I dreamt that I was wondering in a darkened, burned out field that seemed to stretch on forever. Then an enchanting voice that could only have been Aeylan’s spoke out through a blinding light that descended on me. It said, “You have been tested and found wanting, but you shall overcome to greater things – I have faith in you.” When the light disappeared I noticed that among the blackened ruins, small green shoots were pushing through, battling to grow. Then I woke up.
As I prayed in the morning I found that Aeylan had granted me new blessings and new spells, that coupled with my increased battle prowess made me excited for the day to come, and hopefully an answer to the fall of the Valiants here. During one of the later watches, maybe Krug’s, we started to earn noises and movements below. I figured that the havoc we wrought would be discovered, and it was. For hours we continued to hear activity, but eventually it faded to silence. We decided to send out some scouts and Namfoodle transformed into a mouse and Krug was able to turn himself invisible! It seems that I was not the only one to grow in abilities overnight…
I write again after a particularly harrowing encounter. After a thorough search, they found nothing except for blood trails made by the inhabitants of the lower area as they dragged their fallen comrades to some final resting place. We decided to follow the trail and it lead to stairs heading down by where we fought Helen Rae. Namfoodle, still a mouse snuck under a door to check out the room. After a few seconds we heard dark laughter and sounds of movement. We decided to knock in the door where we found a Kanondan. After a brief battle we commanded him to surrender, which he did, thank Aeylan! He told us that the dead had been dragged down to the chasm to be interred there, whatever that meant. He also said the Marlos and his men had defeated the Valiants here and that the captured Kanondan had not been part of it, but had come later. He said that there were a few more Kanondans and some humans down here, along with Marlos. I knocked him out and tied him up, since I said I would spare his life, which I plan to do on our way out of here.
We continued on down some passages and found the room that the owlbear had been in. Some passages had been blocked off by tunnel collapses. We finally understood what the chasm meant when we found a giant chasm that seemed to have no bottom with a flat bridge across it with no rail. As we crossed, the earth started rumbling and I was almost knocked off the bridge. Feats of dexterity are really not my strong point, especially after that injury years ago.
Once we crossed to the landing on the other side, Krug went invisible and he and Nam scouted ahead. They saw a disturbing sight: Two Kanondan and an armored man with a big spear sitting around a fire, across the room, tied up as one would hitch a horse was a giant hard shelled creature with a sharp beak-like maw, a bulette! The bulette had a saddle and it seemed obvious that the man was his rider. We came up with a decent plan of assault, which we did not exactly pull off, but we were still successful. During our discussions the Bulette rider moved over to the Bulette. Invisibly, Drake (who had drank a potion) and Krug struck first. Drake attacked the Bulette, which then leaped high into the air, landing on him. Krug started attacking the rider. The rest of us poured into the room, I charged the Bulette crashing into it with my shield to distract it from Drake, who was about to be consumed by it, Nam cast a tangle spell around the fire and the men. This slowed the men down because they had to fight through the grasping vines which forced them to come out at different times. Chaos erupted. With my newfound battle skills, and the blessing of Aeylan, I was able to do some grievous injury to the Bulette by smiting it with the righteous wrath of Aeylan. And I was able to fend of its attacks with my shield, thank Aeylan, but unfortunately I over committed on a swing and exposed my sword side, which the Bulette then clamped down upon. I had never felt that much pain in my life in one moment as then. Somehow the stone armor held, but the jaws were so powerful that it crushed the armor into me, breaking a number of my ribs, winding me badly. Through Aeylan’s grace, I fought through the pain and that was it’s only time it bit me, which was good, because I don’t think I would’ve survived another bite. That chance for another bite was ended by Drake who managed to find a soft spot in its underbelly and slide his rapier in there to finish it.
The rest of the battle was a blur to me, or just unknown to me since my focus was almost exclusively focused on the beast’s jaws and head that I could strike at it. But I guess Alvalore had his way with the rider, who never actually got on the Bulette, with Krug assisting. This turned out even easier than expected when Nam held the rider, using the Fireheart. At one point I think I saw Nam unsuccessfully try to trip a Kanondan charging Yotho by becoming a gnomish bowling ball. Yotho used healing and other spells here and there effectively. Overall, it was a very good team effort. We also got out of it a magical spear which Avalore has taken to use. Yotho has just finished his incantation and the wounds I suffered from the Bulette have completely healed. Time to put this away and make a quick prayer to Aeylan in hopes of a final ending to the mystery of what happened to the Valiants here.