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Showing Your Colors: Styx Manor’s Troubling Past

Tormenoth hurries to meet the group and catches up with them at the board with the posted scores, still a little pale from his earlier surprise. He dodges a question from Rila by claiming he ran here and asks how they fared. They came in fifth. This puts them tied for second place with Catalyst, and they can already feel the attention growing as they remain in the top 3. Students around the board and other teams give them wider berth, harder stares, or friendlier smiles. Not wanting the spotlight, they duck out quickly, hoping to avoid too much attention that would make it difficult to investigate other teams for the Blue Mystery.

After getting their results, they split off for a bit. Leon gets the last of his teleportation network info from the bribed student worker. Ariel checks in with her dad over a brunch where he tells her the true story of her parentage. Angels dropped Ariel off to him and his wife one night, warning that her father had lost his wings and the fall had gotten Persephone killed. Persephone was her mother’s twin sister who had been somewhat estranged from the family. The angels and their human counterparts had to hunt her father down to stop his grief induced madness. Her father even thinks the accident that killed his wife only happened because she started looking into the details of her sister’s death. Not sure what to do with the information besides following a promise to be careful, she heads to meet back with the group.

They go to Rhydyr about the whole ‘wanted for questioning’ thing. Walking into the head guard office, they are directed to an office where they wait for a bit. The investigator handling their case walks in with a thick stack of parchments, staring down at them over his thick facial and scowling expression. He slams the door behind him, grunting about all the problems they’ve been causing in his city, adjusting his lopsided red cap and tailor armor as he sits behind his desk. He lays out the charges they’ve been wanted for relating to piracy, extortion, and grand theft. They argue over definitions and try to get details of their supposed crimes. Careful words from Ariel, “Captain” to her team, are able to get them out of the piracy charge, due to their intention to betray Captain Tricorn for her hat and bounty, plus a lack of actually stealing anything. The extortion charge was filed by a drow that Leon argues was clearly a criminal mastermind whose testimony cannot be trusted. Investigator Richard Dour considers this for a moment but then turns his head as if someone was whispering in his ear then gets up and leaves his office. “Stay where you are and don’t touch anything”, he growls as he slams his door behind him. 

While he is gone, the group reassures themselves that the charges are nonsense, but are actively wondering what could possibly be the grand theft charge. They hadn’t stolen anything in the city or done much questing in the area at all. Dour returns with a guest, a lazily strolling man in a blue, pinstriped suit. He immediately introduces himself as K. C. Ninoi, leaning on his gilded cane as he reaches in to shake hands with each of the four adventurers. Richard clears his throat and requests that Mr. Ninoi explain further the charges filed in more detail so he can get the group to admit their crimes to make things easier on all of them and get Ninoi his property back more quickly. Ninoi goes on to explain, with longwinded descriptions and details, of a particularly rare family heirloom that had been recovered and accidentally sent to an auction house. Perhaps the adventurers know what he is speaking of? The looks on the group’s face says it all as the investigator tries to cut in and offer up blank parchments for a signed confession from them all. “By chance could I call upon a favor, Richard, to speak to these young folk alone and dig further into why they might have stolen such a valuable thing?”, K. C. Ninoi drawls.

Investigator Richard Dour gives him a look then stomps out of the room, grumbling, “I’ll give you a few minutes, and if they give you the smallest amount of trouble, yell”. As soon as he is out of the room, the man in the suit twists a ring on his finger and the ruckus of the rest of the building is instantly muted. “I wanted to see for myself what band of adventurers had taken that Egg, but it seems my worries were for naught, you all seem like fairly upstanding sorts.” he says with crisp enunciation and sharp eyes. When the group tries to ask about his identity of how he knew about the egg, he winks and points to the door. It opens as if on cue and Dour steps back in. “I have reasoned, Investigator, that these are not the ones that stole my family heirloom, it seems to be a case of mistaken identity that I greatly apologize for. We must go back to the drawing board and make sure my heirloom doesn’t show up in the wrong hands, I believe it has powerful magics. If anything, these four have been quite helpful and I would be remiss if those other spurious-seeming charges caused them any troubles. Certainly you’ve heard of the Mystery in Blue Cunning? Those academy students are always trying crazy stunts for their teams,” K. C. Ninoi says. Dour takes a stack of bundled notes and testimonies, drops them in a bin on the side of his desk and glowers, “Fine. But don’t think you’re not in my scrying circle now, kids.” With that, he escorts them out and when he turns to show K. C. Ninoi out a more discrete exit, the man is already gone.

Aside from hitting the markets to sell and buy treasure and gear, the group leaves Rhydyr having cleared their names. Styx’s manor is where they head to next, eager to plumb the depths of her sealed off labs in the hopes of a good haul of loot. When they arrive, Prince happily shows them to the hidden and locked door leading to the labs. He even speaks a few words to the party, asking them to look for something to help with the arm he lost fighting in the mountains outside Klythmnora’s lair, which at this point is only slowly regenerating. Ariel is the first down into the dusty, stale sewers that connect the handful of laboratory spaces together. Searching around, she finds and has Rila investigate a dead rat. Its blood was completely drained and then its organs devoured. Picking a direction to go, they head north through a double door into a small area. Skeletons are inside the cells lining the northern walls with chains and ropes tied around the bars. As the group starts to hear distant singing, Tormenoth opens a cell to find it unlocked, held closed only by the chains and ropes tied from the inside. Fog starts to creep in to the corner of everyone’s vision, so Tormenoth puts wax in his ears to block the sound, keeping the fog at bay. The others take the lead opening the door east to a supply room that they being looting of items. Tormenoth can see the dangerous, rickety gear piled up but they seem to move in carefree, bringing down weapon racks and heavy furniture down on themselves. Using Rila’s message cantrip, they communicate with the voluntarily deaf Tormenoth to find that they are seeing different things than him. Even though the fog is obscuring their vision up to their ankles, the supplies looked safely stacked to them but dangerous to Tormenoth. 

In the next room they find desks and shelves of books which focus on incorporeal undead and aquatic creatures, especially sirens and poltergeists. A list of trials is found with a number of attempted monster combinations crossed off. Moving to the next room they find a few cells with old bones in them and boxes of alchemical ingredients. The singing is louder and the floor is covered in knee-high fog to all except Tormenoth, who helps guide the other three around weak and cracked sections of the floor. Those spots, when tested, give way like pit traps. Rila, worried about the provenance of the alchemical ingredients, identifying some of the bones on an examination table as a siren, asks Leon to cleanse the bones and ingredients before she takes them. She worries an incorporeal undead could follow them around, reforming near its bones when they defeat it, and she would be the one carrying said ghostly bones. When they head further in to the south, cracking open the door to a room of giant green vats with suspended mer-corpses, they back out when they spot a ghostly, floating siren crying to herself in the laboratory. The fog lurches upwards in the eyes of the three un-deafened adventurers before they pull the door shut to explore elsewhere first. 

As they backtrack to a different hallway in this section, Ariel opens a door to a larger room that connects with a differently styled area and is attacked by a trio of monsters. The centipede-snakes, bug-ape, and tentacle-dogs don’t hesitate to launch themselves at the group, but are held back by Tormenoth in a moon-beam called forth by Rila. When they perish, their corpses start to rapidly decay, so the group leaves the disgusting mess to blast open a salt-encrusted and rusty iron door. This opens to a landing looking down at an arcing, electrically charged room containing controls and a giant metal tube. Currently closed, occasional jolts of electricity crackle to random points in the room. Dodging the arcs, Rila and Leon decipher the controls to safely shut down the system, opening the tube to reveal the bones of both a sire and human within. A death-shriek can be heard through the thick stone walls coming towards them as soon as Leon picks up the bones to put in their bag of holding. They try to prepare but it is only seconds before the floating, mer-tailed ghost appears through the walls to attack. She lashes out with bursts of ear-splitting shrieks and explosions of magic that turn the stone itself into dangerous deadfall traps. Under the onslaught of adventurer magic and blades, she tries to split into illusory copies to hide in the rising fog, but it merely delays her inevitable defeat. With a final blow, her ghost dissipates and the group takes a  moment to catch their breath, bracing in case it is a fakeout. When no counter-attack comes, they head out. 

The corpses of the amalgamations have been dragged away, with a few, tiny beetles marching away to the west with bits and pieces of the necrotizing goo in the mandibles. Leaving that for another time, the group heads over to the room with green tanks to investigate now that the siren is gone. In the room there are three large tanks, two still containing mostly intact mer skeletons while the open one has loose bones bubbling at the open top. Some laboratory tools litter the work tables and when the group carefully pulls out the skull from the vat using mage hand, they find a hidden amulet in the skull. They make sure to also take these bones just in case. The door to the south opens into a room barricaded, runed-walls, and smeared with long-dried blood. The armor and clothes of dead corpses are looted, as Leon finds Smoky Armor amongst what used to be human guards. An adjacent room is a bedroom turned into some sort of nest, the bed torn apart, black and white feathers everywhere, and the shelves filled with all manner of shiny trinkets and junk. When Leon opened the door, some humanoid creature turned to black mist and disappeared. After removing some of the barricades, they find a main room with a huge, stagnant blood pool. To the east of the main room, they find a collection of cages, humanoid bones still inside, again monitored by a stone eye that directs a beam of energy towards them that they avoid, leaving the room.

To the south of the main blood pool, they find an old kitchen with a dead rat very recently drained of with a few red footprints abruptly ending. It is a three-toed foot, bird-like but human sized. An unlocked pantry holds a desiccated corpse that turns out to be a ghoul when instigated. Rila and Ariel are both paralyzed before Tormenoth puts the creature down with a Green Flame Blade. Unusually, the foodstuffs appear to be mostly untouched except for a few mouthfuls gagged up around the room. They notice that this is the only runemarked door that matches the walls’ runework. The dining hall portion of the room still has half-finished meals, long rotted, on the wood tables. Broken polearm mancatchers still have a few runemarked heads and a hidden diary talks about having to constantly replace the doors until a new system was put in place. 

Their investigation of the room is interrupted as a shadowy, birdlike humanoid appears behind Ariel for a brutal attack of talons and beak before vanishing as the adventurers turn their attacks its way. Paranoia starts to rise as their investigations continue to get interrupted and whoever is alone gets attacked. They stop to have Rila take off the pantry door, preserving its runes, while Leon checks out the mancatchers. Abjuration magic still fills the polearms and Rila gets the door but when the thing attacks she is the only one quick enough to try and snag it with a mancatcher. Unfortunately, her size isn’t enough to weigh it down so it just carries her along until it tries to teleport through a door and fails, bouncing off. It shakes her and the mancatcher’s head off its back before fleeing again. When they head west from the main blood pool, they hear slurping then a caw of pain to the north. The room north of the main room has active fountains of blood, still bubbling. Rila tries to investigate what magic powers them when the stone eye at the end of the room opens, turning its blue-white beam towards her. She ducks out of the room before it reaches her and the eye closes shortly after she leaves. They get spooked since it kills their shadow-kobold summons instantly as their test. With the new Shadow Armor’s burst of shadows and some sacrificial summoned kobolds they reach a valve to shut off the blood fountains. It does nothing to stop the beam of energy, with Rila pinned behind the fountains, the only one small enough to hide behind their small size. Sick of the convoluted distractions and running, Rila tests the beam with her pinky to find it harmless. 

Then they explore the cells, no longer wary of the eye-beam guarding them, and set a trap for the chupacabra with a baited trail of blood from the fountains. It falls for the trap, but not without a fight and a few surprises of intelligence where it tries to outflank the group to escape. Once they trap it inside the runed cells and leave the room, the eye beam shuts off and the creature paces back and forth in its cell. Any time it tries to leave the cell, the beam re-engages and it has to flee the beam’s light back to the cell. With the creature secured, they decide to head west out of the main room back into the connecting sewers. 

In the south end of the sewers they find old corpses with bone-saw swords and then make their way down a sewer staircase to find a room filled floor to ceiling with packaged crates of bones. Each box is labeled with the grade and type of bones, but cracking one open they find that the bones are enormous humanoid bones. A door to the west opens into a cavern of bone meal piles hosting tons of micromiconids that attack when they send in Trixi, Leon’s cherubic trickster statue, to explore. Her explorations knock over one of the giant mushrooms sprouting from the bone piles when she climbs up one of them. The swarm miniature mushroom-folk tosses volleys of tiny mushroom stalk javelins that poison Ariel and Leon, leaving Ariel almost unable to see as her vision swirls with psychedelic effects. Tormenoth catches some of the poison too as he blocks the doorway, but Rila’s Moonbeam and the group’s attacks quickly cause the myconids to flee. They abandon their attempt to parade forth a set of shovels and a wheelbarrow covered in small engravings. With the mushroom people hiding in small crevices in the cave walls, they are free to search the room. Investigating the mushroom stalk, they find crude murals carved in about giant (to them) people delivering wheelbarrows of bone meal with ‘holy’ shovels. The group feels a little bad, but moves on anyway. In the next room they find a disassembly chamber where giant bones are salvaged for inks, dyes, metals, and components inscribed on the inside and outside of them before grinding up the bones in a magical circle. The next room holds an archive of bone related reference books of all kinds plus folders of failed experimental results, return orders, cancellations, and complaints about the bone shipments turning to dust. Frantic theories are hypothesized and disproven in other folders, discussing anecdotes of what types of damage or combinations seemed most effective at carving up the “Eterna Rey”. A door from here opens to a ransacked storage room, with a few bonesaw-style weapons. To the north, they open to a large ritual room in disrepair featuring an array of magical source fountains, control panel, and a floating sphere of bone in the center. 

The group delves into the magical machinery to figure out what it does and just how broken it is. Reading lab notes strewn about, fixing the wires, the battery runes, the startup panel, and then the broken parts under the pools of elemental energy, they set it up and continually test its abilities. It is a device that puts out controlled beams of elemental energy, fire, cold, electricity, acid, thunder, and/or radiant at the bone suspended in the center. The group that built it was trying to find the right combination of elements that would open up a vulnerability in the bone that makes up the “Eterna Rey” (Eternal King). Each part of the machine they fix improves the damage of the beams, restores more abilities to the control panel, or eliminates the fluctuations. A weak barrier keeps the energy from backsplashes the room, but it is old and failing. They try testing different strengths and combinations of elements, damaging it but only if they do enough to overcome its inherent regeneration. The group finds just the right balance of power to slowly whittle down the bone sphere while keeping the barrier just barely up, despite the time it takes to slowly chip away at the chunk of bone. When the last spec is destroyed, it stops regenerating. They aren’t sure they’ve found any particular weaknesses, and leave disappointed.

The room to the west has old magical weapons, smocks, and another list of employee anecdotes about “Eterna Rey”. Contradictory accounts fill the notepad and the only thing agreed upon is that necromantic, psychic, and force damage are useless. When they head north from the magical array, they walk into a huge cathedral with a massive skeleton seated at the far end, hunched over to fit under the 60 ft. ceiling. It notices their arrival and slowly pulls back a fist to take a swing at them, easily dodged by the group stepping back into the previous room. They bait out the slow titanous skeleton’s attacks, letting it smash its regenerating fists against the stone walls while they try magic but realize it has too much regeneration for them to fight through. Curiously it doesn’t seem willing or able to leave, content to sit curled up in the giant room, crowned head touching the ceiling. A baited punch gives them an opening to head further north where they run into more bug-snake things then find a defensive tentacle dog. It is not aggressive and when they bring it a snake-bug corpse, it runs off with it. This north-western laboratory area seems grimy and dingy, with small puddles of oily detritus in the corners.

Looping around the dank corridors, they find the connection point to the Siren laboratory where they had fought amalgamations earlier. The beetles are gone but as they continue moving they find an acrid purple liquid staining a few areas and some old, metal, rusting casks of the stuff. In a room to the south, they find a long dead skeleton in a surgical study room, lying against the corner of the wall, scalpel nearby, surrounded by long-dried bloodstains. A conspiracy board of ramblings and endless notes pile high on a desk and a dried corpse of a crude tentacle dog looking creature is carved open on a surgical table. Next to the skeleton is a small magical cloth that opens to a small pocket plan, Paxton’s Pocket Plan, an Oasis Waterskin that replenishes itself, and an Endless Ration bento box. Reading the notes they find that it starts out as a scientist trying to figure out a way to escape or stop the Hive, but the notes grow more crazed and end in “Can’t EScape. The kNives work less eacH time and I’m out of embalming fluid. no WAY OUT.” With little left to do, they continue onwards past a newer section of wall, less grimy than the rest. Leon stops the group and decides to give the wall a tap with his magic, and it recoils. It curls open to reveal beetle-apes ready to ambush the party. Leon’s quick thinking turns the ambush back on the ambushers, as they quickly stomp the beetle-apes in combat. Almost before the bodies stop twitching, the tiny beetles are here again, quickly dismembering the beetle-apes to carry off their meat. Not wanting to give whatever it is more sustenance, the Dissonant Whisperers follow to find a massive chimera creature chained to and growing out of a stone wall at the back of a cavernous room. It disgorges more amalgamation creatures like they have fought, but each generation of these creatures seem to be more resistant to their attacks than the last. The suicidal charges of the creatures keeps the group on their toes as they desperately fight against the increasing numbers, Rila using summoned wolves to help block choke points. They do notice that every creature spawned here seems to take mass out of the chimeric hive. The downside being that every corpse its beetles pull back in gives it more mass to use as well. Not wanting to fight a war of attrition with something that keeps gorging itself back up, Leon cordons off the hive with a wall of fire, trying to cook it while keeping it from taking any corpses back in. This works for a while, but its minions continue to fight as it slowly gains resistance to the heat. A second wall of fire is put down after the first, but a beetle-ape fist knocks Leon around enough to break his concentration. Out of spells to block off its beetles, the group switches tactics to back off and kill minions at a distance, baiting them away from the hive while pulling defeated foes into their new pocket plane. Bleeding and exhausted, they almost decide to retreat and regroup, but Leon pushes them forward, certain the hive is weakening faster than they are. Ariel grudgingly agrees, worried that retreat will give this thing time to build back its strength and fortify its resistances.

With a hopeful charge, they pour the last of their spell slots into a fresh pair of summoned wolves, barrages of fire, and finally a thrown katana from Tormenoth that catches it right after it spits out another pair of beete-apes. A dying gurgle bubbles up from the creature’s many mouths as it begins to rapidly decay into necrotic goo, detaching from the wall it had grown into. All the remaining minions still alive suddenly become docile, so Leon and Rila shepherd them into the pocket plan for later investigation. From here they head north where they were going before the abmush to find a surgical theater with a magical spotlight chandelier, a skeleton in a lead-smith’s workshop, and a boiler room with dozens of oxen stacked up in suspended animation. The lead-smith’s workshop was sealed with leather gaskets and untouched by the amalgamations. The oxen room, covered in acrid soot was likewise untouched save for a few explorative footprints. When they go to leave this laboratory area, they notice that the fake wall starts to close up behind, indicating that the hive maybe isn’t as dead as they thought, as the wall should be mindless like everything else.

Returning to the chimeric hive’s corpse, they find it is being pulled apart by beetles that scurry away from the group when they move in to investigate. When Ariel blasts the wall it was chained to, they find it to be another fake, organic wall. Behind it is a spherical ‘heart’, a pulsing organ appearing like a ball of overlapping honeycomb chitin anchored to the stone around it with dozens of roots that the beetles scurry up and down. They sever enough to pull it free and deposit it unceremoniously in the pocket plane after taking the corpses out. Dirty, wounded, and out of spells, the group decides to call it a day. When they return above, they find Prince waiting and he gives them a questioning look as he escorts them to a meeting room to wait for Styx. Tormenoth picks up on what he is asking about and gives Prince a nod, putting some pep into Prince’s undead step.

In debriefing room #3, they explain what they found below and answer the tough questions of Styx, Prince, and Klythmnora about the laboratory experiments below. They are quite happy with the answers about the Magpie Chupacabra, Breeder Hive, Sirengeist, and Eterna Rey, which nets them bonus pay from Styx. The team sweeps back down to gather up the oxen left behind before heading out, having given Styx the bones and captured hive while telling her how the Eterna Rey and Magpie Chupacabra are contained. It is time for a long bath, greasy food, and good rest.

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