The cousins head through the western doors to the T-intersection that split south toward the tarantulas and north toward something stranger. The northern end of this chamber has clearly collapsed and slithering among the rubble are two amorphous blobs of yammering mouths and oozing, fleshy sludge.
“Uh, what are those?” Amaya asks.
“Disgusting?” Canter responds.
“You ain’t lying.” The half-elf looks south and notes only one giant tarantula, which seems content to wait for food to come to it. “So, the spider or those blob things?”
“Going home isn’t on the table, I take it,” Canter says.
“I vote spider, then. At least we know what to expect with it,” Nasti says.
“I’m a little low on healing,” Nova says. “If there is still more than one, we should back off.”
Amaya rushes in and her initial overhead chop lops off one of the spider’s legs. Nova’s icy ray froze up the joints on another of the tarantula’s appendages and it retorts by shoving Amaya to the floor. Nasti takes control of the spider’s shadow and attacks with it, and though the giant spider gets one more meaningful blow in on the half-elf, it perishes soon after.
The cousins tend to their wounds and inspect the room more closely, checking behind the curtains of webbing. They find a cocoon suspended from the ceiling in the northeast corner.
“Do we want to know what’s inside?” Amaya asks.
“I do,” Nasti says.
“Oh, I do, too,” Nova agrees.
Inside they find the corpse of a drow male hanging upside down. They relieve the corpse of a key and a magical chime, leaving behind his mundane arms and armor. Their search turns up no more of interest, so they inspect the southern doors where the mosaic footprints finally end.
Amaya pushes them open to reveal a wide cavernous chamber. A red-eyed spider the size of a small hut crouches to the south. “Ogre spider,” the half-elf tells her cousins. “Web-spitter and nearly as venomous as the tarantulas.” Despite its intimidating size, the ogre spider proved to be less of a threat than the smaller tarantulas were.
Beyond the corpse, upon a black altar, an idol of a hulking figure wearing spiked armor and wielding a halberd glows with baleful green light. The western wall of the room is an avalanche of stone and dirt. Thick webs that have bones among them enshroud the room and obscure the floor, but it seems like something on the altar is glittering in the green light. Amaya approaches the altar with her cousins close behind.
Atop the altar they find a pair of silver bracers inlaid with jade a few dozen gold coins. Nasti bites her lip as she tries to make up her mind about the bracers. Amaya simply pushes the bracers off the altar with her sword, and a voice emanates from the statue. “Leave the homage you’ve paid for foresight or face the future without knowledge."
“Fascinating,” Nasti says, examining the altar and statue with her witch-sight. “The altar seems useful for aiding demon-priests in preparing divinations. The statue’s purpose is a bit beyond me, though.”
“You said the altar does divination stuff?” Canter says. “Maybe the statue does it … better? But for a cost?”
“That makes sense.” The tiefling picks the bracers up off the floor.
“I think I’d rather have my knowledge that some gold,” Nova says.
“Can we pay for it with the bracers?” Amaya asks.
“I think the bracers were already used to pay for it,” the oracle says.
“No take backs!” Nasti says.
“I don’t trust anything that altar could tell us anyhow.”
“Pity I can’t make it smaller. Naryalla’s friends might be interested in it.”
“My sight transcends time, but my advice comes only with sacrifice," the statue intones.
Amaya tosses a single silver coin on the altar. “Are Chendrea and Nasti going to get married?”
“Wait what?” Nova says.
“Good question!” Canter says as Nasti’s cheeks blush vermilion. The familiar opens his mouth to speak, then catches Nasti’s glare and wisely closes it.
“I provide no information to thieves,” the statue intones.
Nasti shrugs and sets the bracers back down on the altar. She then counts out three gold coins and lays them on the altar. “WILL Chendrea and I be married?” Her tone is doubtful but with a vein of hope.
“Mortal emotions are as ephemeral as they are irrelevant,” the statue says.
The tiefling snorts a bit too loud. “As I expected. But now I wonder what it does consider relevant. I’ve got more money.”
“Don’t do it,” Amaya says. “That’s how they get you. Nova, can you ask it? Maybe it’ll do it out of professional courtesy,” Amaya says.
Nova frowns. “IF we are going to use this, which I am not sure is a good idea, then why don’t we ask it something about the threat? If the gates will be used in the future to bring demons here, for example.”
Amaya nods. “Oh, maybe how to turn off the fire gates also?”
“That’s not fortune telling, per se, but who knows that this thing is capable of.”
“Knows all, sees all, tells less,” Nasti says. “Should we press on for now?”
“Up to you two. I can take it or leave it,” Nova says.
Nasti holds up one of the four silver bowls looted from the crone shrines. “This is worth something. And I’m willing to part with the necklace, if we’re asking about the demon threat.”
Amaya places one of the recently pilfered rings on the altar, and the statue says, “Your tribute is noted. Beware the Knights Luminous, for they seek to keep us forever buried. Within Sumberton, a tenebrous evil grows. Seek allies there.” The half-elf notes the words down in her journal.
Groaning, Nasti puts the other ring on the altar but puts the necklace around her neck. The statue continues. "Beneath the mark left by this dread mountain, a doorway to our home will open soon. When songbirds fall from the sky, sharpen your blade, and loosen your boots.”
“Uhhh…” Canter says. Nasti and her familiar focus their attention on the family’s soothsayer.
“A tenebrous evil in Sumberton,” Nova says. She favors Nasti with a glance that says "You? No? Okay, no. Good.”
Nasti places the four bowls on the altar.
“When the mountain ignites, a doom not of our making will scour the Valley and beyond.”
“Not if, but when the mountain ignites,” Nasti says. She puts a platinum piece down.
“The Regalia of the Screaming Sorcerer will one day be reunited, but only after his scepter is retrieved from the depths of the Vaathwood.”
Then the other one.
“Beware the red poppies that travel on the wind.”
Nasti spends the remaining looted coins.
“Darkness and Light are not opposites, and both oppose us in their own way. The Gates were a failsafe but may be our revenge. Those from Beyond corrupt our sanctum.”
The last gets Nasti’s attention. “Beyond what?”
Unprompted by tribute, the statue says, “Our master may have been deceived by the-” an unintelligible noise cuts off the last part of the statement. Nasti blinks and tries to memorize it phonetically for future research.
“(Unintelligible noise) waits. (Unintelligible noise) is patient beyond the ken of most immortals.” The voice sounds … shaken.
“It keeps referring to something not us or them. That feels familiar.” Nova says.
“You knock one measly bracer off, and now you’re ’a thing from beyond.’ Ooooh,” Amaya says.
“Girl, you’ve been a thing from beyond for years,” Canter says.
“I don’t believe it was talking about us, Amaya,” Nova says.
“Oh. So, should we go find these Beyonders?” Amaya says.
“I’m more inclined to worry about one cosmic threat at a time, personally,” Nasti says.
The floatiness typical around Nova starts looking … agitated. More irregular. “I am reminded of something,” Nova says, sounding uncertain. “A dream I had when those wererats nearly killed me.”
“What do you mean?” Nasti asks. “How does this remind you of this dream that may have been not a dream?”
“All went black … and then ‘something’ called to me? And judged me. Or something. It was all very hazy. But these noises the statue is making remind me of that somehow. It was very … different.” After a moment, she adds, “Oh. And it referred to the stars.”
“That doesn’t sound like a coincidence, no,” Nasti says.
“I wish I understood. You have no idea how frustrating it is to be a fortune teller who has no idea what is happening to her. I also think this is related to my Blessing.”
“I don’t doubt it. We’ll have to research it when we get back.”
“Right. But I’m more concerned about the tenebrous evil in Sumberton. It’s bad enough the dark elves are helping the demons open the gates. "
“That is worrisome, but I’m trying not to concern myself with it until we’re back there.”
The statue utters one final elongated stream of angry noise before the green light went out. A quick cantrip confirms the magic of the statue is no more.
“I think that’s our cue to leave,” Amaya says. “Let’s go check out the blob things.”
“With the point of your sword, I imagine,” Nova says.
“Good idea,” Canter says. “It’s been too long since we’ve dealt with anything super gross.”
Nasti bags the cash and prizes from the dead altar then follows Amaya. Nova glances back from the doorway. Is it a trick of frazzled nerves, or does the statue have three glowing eyes superimposed upon its face? She blinks and the “eyes” are no more. Or perhaps never were. She shakes her head, more troubled than before.
The cousins return to the chamber inhabited by the amorphous mouthy blobs, and the creatures(?) take an interest in them, and their yammering intensifies. The cousins shake off the maddened gibbering and attack. When Amaya slashes one, the wound forms a new mouth to bite her. The creatures also spit acid into her eyes, and each tries to absorb the adventurers into their gooey mass. Fortunately, the cousins avoid this fate and work together to defeat the weird blobs.
After the threat is neutralized, the cousins inspect the chamber. Marble debris litters the southwestern corner, and a statue of a robed human male sitting cross-legged is in the southeastern corner. Carved into the southern wall are inscriptions in a strange language. The northern wall is a mix of natural rock and dirt. One of the larger pieces of rubble has more writing but is not etched into the stone. It appears to have been scrawled in … blood?
Nasti reads the bloody message aloud. “‘Mu-Tahn Laa was deceived by the Dark…’ The rest is lost to time.”
The statue in the southeastern part of the room depicts a bald, elderly human male wearing ornate robes and sitting cross-legged on a carpet, the details of which are carved into the stone floor. The tiefling points to an inscription in Abyssal on the eastern wall behind the statue. "And this fellow is Shahd Bahkhut the Mad, Architect of Slaughtergarde.”
The rubble to the southwest is a destroyed statue. Nasti points to an inscription in Abyssal on the western wall near the debris. "And that was, or used to be, Minauchtra the Brazen, Corruptor of Souls.”
Finally, she points to the message carved into the masonry along the southern wall. “Gaze and be inspired! The champions in this chamber have served Mu-Tahn Laa long and well. They have been found worthy in his fiery gaze. Treat their words as the expressed will of Mu-Tahn Laa. Strive fiercely for Slaughtergarde, that someday you might join the champions assembled here!”
“Look on their works, ye mighty, and be annoyed,” Canter grouses.