Location: New Vasselheim, Othanzia, Issylra
Date: 1 Sydenstar 845 PD (calendar of Exandria: https://criticalrole.fandom.com/wiki/Calendar_of_Exandria)
Rinn – half-elf sorcerer/rogue
Stubby – half-elf artificer
Tāmerai – gnome bard
Fisch – bear fighter (DM PC)
Absent Party Members:
Bob the Therapist – changeling warlock with a couch for a familiar
Tunk – bugbear monk
Previously: “A child of Ioun. A child of the Take. A child of children of the Take. A child of Melora. You have found me. You have come.” From the shadows emerges a large creature with the head of a humanoid woman, the body of a lion, and the wings of an eagle. This is a gynosphinx. This is Osysa herself. “I was waiting. You are four years late.”
Osysa continues, “Now that you are here, you did not expect to find me. What do you seek?”
Stubby expresses reluctance to speak plainly until Osysa assures them that Lydia Briarwood can’t scry on anything within Old Vasselheim. For as long as they’re there and under the sphinx’s protection, they will be safe, but outside the city she has no power. She understands that the trio have come to free her, but cautions that it will be difficult, and that if she did leave the old city, the empress would love to use Osysa’s power for herself. “Without this,” she gestures towards the underground ziggurat, “I would be unprotected. I understand there is one at your home as well.” This is to Stubby, who immediately tells Tāmarai, Rinn, and Fisch that that’s a secret they need to keep.
Osysa goes on. “The ziggurats are of Ioun, and her followers keep their secrets. Though you do have a champion who frequents your city” [reference: Scanlan Shorthalt] “whose humor leaves much to be desired. The Knowing Mistress makes interesting choices. But she sees the future and the past. Sometimes upon your future and your past, you will walk a path others cannot see. You walk such a path now. To be here with me in this moment has required that the champion, the chid, the stranger, and the awakened come to bring about the end of the days of the one who calls herself empress. The path that young Mr. Shrike must follow is very different from yours, but both of you have a connection to each other and to those who live behind the veil. Where you go depends on the choices you will make today, with me. You are right: time is disturbed. It is healing, which is why you were delayed. Had you arrived, you might have been able to prevent that which has occurred above. But you might also have died.”
Tāmarai checks her hearing. “WE? We could prevent?”
Osysa quotes, “The tiniest pebble may divert a river, if placed correctly.” Tāmarai murmurs, “Yes, Mother,” clearly recognizing the quote. “I can direct you to the safest paths to what you seek, because we share a goal: to stop one who wishes to bring pain to the world. But you have choices. I must test your worth. If you solve my riddle, I will answer only two questions. However, if you fail, or if you decide you wish to know more, then you must enter my ziggurat, face what is within, and survive. You may choose after you attempt to solve the riddle if you wish to enter the ziggurat. You have aided my minions—“
From nooks and crannies all over the cavern, the group hear “TO ARMS!” “PICK THE RIDDLE!” “ZIGGURAT!”
Osysa smiles. “If I am to assist you to ensure the future for Ioun, the Raven Queen, Melora, and for… [looks at Rinn] Others… we must know your mettle, your worth, and your abilities together. It is never the parts, but the sum, that bring victory: a lesson your mother and uncle had to learn. I separated them when they came to prove their value to me, because they needed to be without each other. You four must learn to be with each other. But the choice of which path you begin to walk is yours, and yours alone.”
Tāmarai decides, “We wish to attempt your riddle.”
The sphinx smiles. “This thing, all things devours. Birds, beasts, trees, flowers. Gnaws iron, bites steel, grinds hard stones to meal. Slays king, ruins town, and beats high mountain down.”
As one, the three young people, whose lives have been upended by the very answer to the riddle, give it. “Time.”
Osysa bids them to ask their questions. “When we have reached the limit of what I can tell you of your past, your future, and your quests, I will let you know. You prove your intelligence. You prove your empathy. These are worthwhile traits.”
The four confer as to what questions would be the best to ask, and decide they should pick questions they can’t answer for themselves in a timely fashion. Fisch starts off by asking what’s an Empress Briarwood; they explain, and Osysa generously does not count this in their allotted two. It’s Stubby who formulates their first question. “How do we end the reign of Lydia Briarwood in a way that keeps Vasselheim safe, the world safe, and doesn’t muck up the timeline further?”
Osysa seems pleased at the crafty wording, designed to elicit maximum information. “The strands of time were weakened. When you were taken from this timeline, it created an instability. Your return has begun the reweaving. The weaknesses that allowed things to happen will heal. But to defeat she who would name herself Briarwood there is but one recourse: Her life does not belong to this time, and it must be removed. There is no other path that will save Vasselheim, Old or New, or your family.”
Stubby requests clarification of this answer, and is given it. The Whitestone crew, temporarily reduced to two, are not out of time: the ersatz empress is. In fact, the Whitestone crew are in the same timeline they left, just placed a little farther forward in it. Further, Osysa informs that while there are many paths they could walk within Old Vasselheim, some will aid her, but none will harm her. The group then decide to save their second question for later, perhaps after they’ve had more experience of the city. They ask permission to tell the Take back in New Vasselheim that she’s here and needs to be brought some food, but she declines. “It is not safe for others to come here for my sake. It is not safe for two of you to remain here long, either,” she says, giving a meaningful look to Rinn and Fisch. “You have heard rumors that those who come here find their brains… melted. The journey your friends have been on, it protects them from this: because as I said, the strands of time are mending, but the mending is not complete, and the incompleteness makes it unsafe for those who have not been where you have been. If you can ease and quicken the mending, for a specific god that you already know, it would become safer for others to come here.”
She explains that making it safer to enter Old Vasselheim would merely be speeding an eventuality. “Time will heal all wounds, but if time itself were to heal faster, it would aid you. You are kept from your home for much the same reason I am kept from mine.” They hear music. Singing. Rinn has heard the song before, but can’t place it. The others don’t know it, but may recognize the general nature of a sea shanty. Fisch opines that it’s a “bad song,” and not everything of nature is good. The Wildmother said that song was a bad song and it means ‘beware’. (A chorus of little rat voices echo, “Beware!”)
“There are others who would rush to fill the vacuum of power.”
A bit later, Osysa mentions that their communication stone will not work from Old Vasselheim, thanks to the same magics that make spells unreliable, but when they’re able, the trio should inform Stubby’s family that Osysa has survived the destruction.
The three discuss their plan, which at the moment begins with visiting the former Raven’s Crest and speaking with the Raven Queen, verifying the presence or absence of the Sword of Kas, and then looking for the anti-scrying amulet(s) that may be in the temple on their way out.
Tāmarai also alludes discreetly to her desire to find the Luxon beacon, but expresses worry that Lydia Briarwood may have a Contingency spell that would let her know when that has been found. At this point, Osysa’s eyes flash, turning from rich brown to cobalt and slightly glowing. Her voice sounds like multitudes murmuring in unison. “The object you seek is of no interest to the one who calls herself Briarwood. The children you wish to save are not her concern. She will not know when you have achieved your task, nor does she care. You have three paths before you. You may follow the path of Ioun and enter the ziggurat. You may follow the path of the Raven Queen and enter her catacombs. You may follow the path of the Trial Forge. All three will lead you to the answers you seek, though perhaps not in the speed you wish to find them.”
Tāmarai barely waits for Ioun (speaking through Osysa) to finish: the path of Ioun is to enter the ziggurat, and that seems to be enough for her to turn and walk towards it. The stairs before her slide open, revealing a doorway beneath them.
Returned to herself, however, Osysa instructs, “Find my Stone of Returning, and survive as a team. Once you enter, you may not leave until you have found my stone, or until death. Whichever comes first. This is your last chance to change your mind.”
While Tāmarai is fully ready to enter on her own, being told she won’t be allowed to do do puts a little crimp in her plan. She explains, mostly for Fisch’s sake, that what she wants is to look for an object of great historical importance for her people, to save the lives of children. Rinn asks for a description of the stone, and Osysa casts a minor illusion to show it to them: shining, blue, roughly carved, and with a shape that suggests either a Lucky Kitty or a happy, fat Buddha.
Stubby checks the readiness of her little Aegea bot while Tāmarai casts Detect Magic to help them know what’s important to focus on. As prepared as they can be, the group go forward and enter the ziggurat, crossbows and daggers at the ready. At the threshold, their stomachs flip. For Tāmarai and Stubby it’s a familiar sensation by now, just like the way they found themselves in Ravinia and subsequently in Othanzia, but for Rinn and Fisch it’s a surprising and somewhat unpleasant roller coaster.
They all stand, a little dizzy and nauseated, in a wide, apparently empty room with a light source they can’t see. There is no other magic in that room, however, only a door. They check for traps and locks and so on (and also notice that either there is no ceiling, or it’s too far up to be seen). Because the door is locked, Rinn starts to pick the lock, but is interrupted by the appearance of four regular gnolls. It’s a surprisingly short interruption, as the group make good work of dispatching the gnolls with almost no damage taken (thanks to Aegea’s buffs!). The gnolls vanish as they fall: magical guardians, not real, though real enough to have caused the four adventurers damage if they’d been just a bit luckier.
In the next room, the group discover two statues, a mummy, at least one orc, and the altar. Stubby’s clever use of Immovable Object traps one orc, who can’t fight them past an unmoving cloak, while Fisch moves a large rock at the center of the room to block a doorway and trap the other orc before that one can even get to them. The mummy is barely a problem, being not particularly quick on the uptake, nor quick at moving around.
After this second fight, the adventurers approach the alter. They spot two sphinx statues in side corridors off the dais, one slender and one with a very impressive mane. Tāmarai takes a moment to go check the statues that were in the room with the mummy. One is of a former champion of Ioun; the other is gnomish, and the inscription reads “Sprigg.” Then she comes back to check the magic of the stone on the altar. It’s teleportation magic, and feels nice to Tāmarai’s hand, but she can’t take the stone. Almost as one, though with Rinn slightly ahead, they decide that they probably all need to touch the stone. They do so, and hear applause and a multitudinous voice (Ioun again) intones, “Your success will only be found in relying on the strength of one another. The true strength of one has yet to be found.” With another topsy-turvy tummy feeling, they find themselves back outside the ziggurat — but the room has changed. It’s clean.
Osysa, too, looks healthy and lush rather than weakened and thin as she says, “You have proven your friendship.” Then each of them receives advice.
To Tāmarai: Rely on your friends. Trust them. They must know you trust them.
To Fisch: Your recklessness will be your doom.
To Stubby: You must learn the lessons your family has learn at the expense of bone and blood and love. There is another who will have more words for you.
To Rinn: You fear your strength. You do not need to. Embrace who you are. There is no one else who has been you or will ever be you, and those who see you are proud to know that they are your friends.
Osysa continues. “You have questions; we may speak more freely now. Unlike when your family was here before, Stubby, I cannot give you a weapon. I cannot give you a Vestige. But I can tell you the answer to the question you were afraid to speak. Do you wish to know who Lydia Briarwood truly is?”
Stubby squeaks the tiniest “Yes.”
“The answer to how she came to exist is in a deal that was made. The heroes of VM destroyed a dragon. This dragon was attempting to prove his merit to his mate-to-be. When he failed, she wished to avenge herself on adventurers, beginning first with those who would dare set foot in her land, including a small group of adventurers from Wildemount who fared surprisingly well. Angry, she planned revenge on VM, a revenge which was thwarted by a small group of people who accidentally tripped her spell and prevented her from running away. But she had made a deal with another entity. While they were unable to prevent you from using her getaway, they were able to move you out of time. You carry with you the stone of Flynn. Be wary, for while it has great power, it can consume you.
“The one who calls herself Lydia Briarwood, her true name is Lady Vex’ahlia deRolo III. She is the granddaughter of your eldest sister, and in her life, the youngest child of the deRolos was never returned. Vex’ahlia, your mother, took this poorly. She saw you once and never again, and the guilt she felt for having not continued to seek you out consumed her. That same entity that the dragon had made a pact with, as did this version of your mother, she destroyed every dragon and dragonborn on Exandria and was destroyed in turn by your aunt Keyleth, who had no choice. But this future never happened to you. As you return to your proper time it began to fade from existence. Your cousin, for lack of another word, sought revenge, believing it was your fault — not the ploy of the Whispered One himself to break your mother and steal her power. She attempted to come to our time to enact her revenge on you specifically for destroying Vex’ahlia her grandmother.
“This was not your fault. You did nothing; you were a pawn. The Whispered One intended to cause this divergence of time to attempt to return. You have prevented this from happening. You have the stone; she does not. You are protected from the magics that ravage this land; she is not.
“You are, in fact, the only ones who stand a chance to defeat her. You must find your allies. That titan you wish to kick: do so. It will not harm you. But there you will find a trail that will explain to you what the Blue Sick is. It is merely a magical illness she wishes to cast upon Tal Dorei, causing a plague to run across the land and for all to die. And because she is sick with revenge, and believes she can kill you and restore her own timeline where your mother is not insane, because she has been lied to. Those who are angry, those who are in great pain, will seek out solace from any source.
“You are lucky. The future version of your mother that you saw: She took as may Vestiges as she was able to find, and used them in her madness. Lydia-Vex’ahlia destroyed the Vestiges to come to your time. She did not cause the explosion of Vasselheim, however, nor did you. This was predetermined. The gods themselves decreed it. But she came here with the knowledge that it would happen, and when, and used it to her advantage to work with Arkhan the Cruel and serve the Whispered One.
“Your dream was not a dream. What you saw that made you flee to the arms of the RQ was indeed how things began. But that past, for Lydia, and that future for you, it fades every day as you heal time. If you can heal the RQ’s temple, you will prevent her from being able to leave, which means you will be able to destroy her. THe best news I can tell you is that no one may time travel again in any direction other than forward. The long, slow steps of life is all we have left. Many mages in Rexxentrum are very frustrated in this moment. Go to the tomb of the RQ. The spire has fallen, but the catacombs remain. Enter. You will find a sword. In doing so, you will close the last thread that feeds Lydia Briarwood her power, leaving nothing more than a half-elf not much older than yourself.”
Stubby sits flat on the ground. A blue light settles on the four of them, and they are surprised to feel rejuvenated (the effect of a Short Rest).
“This is a lot. The Whispered One remains behind the gates, kept there by the gods and the trammels your family used. But as you saw, that Father Gleeson did not remember the correct number because one trammel was broken. It cracked as it was attempted to b used. It was the trammel of the RQ, and the Whispered One exploits that weakness to this day. I fear he will continue to do so until the end of time. However, it is unlikely you will face him yourself.”
Tāmarai asks if Lydia is redeemable, and Osysa opines that it is very unlikely, at best. However, she also adds for Stubby, “You have not asked what happened to the Ashari, who are the only creatures that were able to stop a reign of madness; who were able to defeat a woman on the brink of sanity, armed with three vestiges: a bow, a cloak, and a sword. Your aunt Keyleth must also suffer, as she cares for life, and family, and nature in a way far beyond most of her kind. To prevent her from being able to stop the Whispered One, total destruction of her land, her power, and her abilities was needed. I am afraid the citizens of Tal’Dorei are collateral damage.
“I have given you much to think on. If yo would like, you may spend the night here. You will be safe. I have food — though, thank you for the snakes — and in the morning if you have more questions, you may ask. Your journey is still a beginning. The Vonns have done an admirable job delaying the destruction of Tal’Dorei. If you seek the Vonn who is lost, he may yet be found, if you are bold enough to look. You have heard the rumor. Follow it. All rumors begin with a hint of truth, after all. But now you should rest.”
The rats show them to an alcove, already set up with several cots and blankets and pillows, with a squeaky chorus of “We bring you food and water and rest!” The food is cooked, too. How they did that, the group don’t know.
Go back up and loot the old city for spell scrolls and other useful stuff.
Take your meds.
Don’t forget to love each other.
Is it Game Day yet?