While on the last leg of the trek to the Brutal Mountains, the Unsworn visit another Bregan shrine. Here Dovienya finds a better map to locate Gwendols Gate. Nim is curious about the goddess’ blessing and asks Dovienya what’s involved. He plays a bit of a prank on her, telling her it’s traditional to kiss the roadstone (it’s not). When Nim gullibly follows through, she is suddenly yanked into the Ethereal Plane by her good friend Mouse.
TBT: Mouse as a cub
Mouse, current day
How fortuitous! Turns out that Bregan shrines are actually Ethereal gates (who knew?) and Mouse had set up triggers to alert him if Nim ever accessed one. Praise be to the Goddess of Luck!
Mouse tells Nim that, as promised, he’s been looking into her “problem”. He gives her a belt formerly owned by a wizard named Palaemon who once had a similar sounding affliction and apparently used the belt to address said affliction. Unfortunately, the belt is broken and doesn’t do anything now, but maybe it can help Nim down the road with a cure. Nim recalls a recent dream of receiving a helpful gift – a vision of a snake curving around to eat its own tail. This belt must be the snake!
After thanking Mouse, Nim says farewell, and the Unsworn continue onward. They proceed without incident through the mountain checkpoint guarded by Baublebeard (don’t call them that) dwarves. Nim’s dream of a stranger’s gift also comes true: a dwarf from the checkpoint crowd steps out to trade her a bottle of Stone Salve for a flower she picked from the Qualican poison gardens. Her vision indicated the salve would aid her in some way, though how remains a mystery.
The party then ascends the Brutes. After much arduous climbing, they arrive at the shadow of Widow’s Finger, the peak that acts as a landmark for Gwendols Gate. Next to some ruins stands a statue of a Foo Lion – one of Jerum’s beloved beasts.
As Moxie Coppercore suggested way back in Wobbly Rock, the Unsworn takes their collected gilburwort, the poisonous flower received from the Naga of Qualic, and feeds it into the statue’s mouth. In reaction, the stone suddenly bursts open, revealing a living, breathing, and fiery Foo Lion (!)
The benevolent magical creature leaps up onto a nearby cliff and begins pawing into the earth to dig a smoldering hole. A stairwell becomes etched into the rock behind it to allow the Unsworn to make their way to the entryway it has fashioned.
The Unsworn then descend into the FIRE FORTRESS OF DOOM.
Inside is a vast space with elevated stone pathways and bottomless pits on all sides. Patches of the platforms are grates with flames leaping out. The air is blisteringly hot, requiring the Unsworn to summon all the stamina they can muster.
Fire Elementals of various sizes emerge to protect the fortress. It was, after all, built as a prison by the sibling gods of Earth and Fire, Ulikrus and Jerum – and they would prefer invading mortals to stay away.
Besides the Elementals, the Unsworn also contend with a big reptilian fire-belching beast.
After most of the defenses seem to be breached, a squat, brass-skinned humanoid with a mane of fire steps out from the flames to congratulate you.
You recognize it as an Azer, a sort of fire-dwarf. He begins dragging a massive chest much too big for him out of the flames, then begins pulling gold and various enticing magical items out from within: a fire-resisting Blazing Robe which can blast your enemies, a Mallet of Mending for fixing broken things, a set of Amazing Tools of Manufacture for crafting, a Hybridization Funnel for combining two potions, and the obligatory flaming sword. The Azer explains all of these treasures are theirs for the keeping, with Jerum’s hearty blessing and congratulations; it’s Her reward for beating the Fire Fortress.
But only if they leave now.
The Unsworn thank the Azer but politely decline.
Rejected, the Azer gathers up the prizes in a huff and shoves them back into the chest.
“You know, it’s not just Jerum you’re pissing off, right? It’s Ulikrus. That mean anything to you? Her brother? Big Mean Primordial God of Earth? God of the Dwarves? He’ll turn the dwarves against you. Good luck making friends with dwarves again. I mean, if you live. After he like, comes after you with earthquakes and swallows you whole. Make you all buried and the like… I hope you like dirt!!!”
The irritated, sputtering Azer pulls the chest back into the flames and disappears.
Then all hell breaks loose. Swarms upon swarms of inferno spiders (residents of the Plane of Fire) begin erupting out of the fires to overcome the Unsworn.
Trig, who by this time, had Wild Shaped into a huge hippopotamus, manages to keep them at bay by heroically lying down to block the pathway. To buy everyone else some time, his hippo girth withstands the swarms’ attacks – but not for long.
Dovienya quickly distributes Fly potions to everyone. The Unsworn soar over the remaining obstacles until they become face-to-face with two red, crystalline beings guarding the final door.
Trig transforms into a giant Dire Bat and follows after his friends as the inferno spiders continue their onslaught, chasing them from behind. Trig sends an ice storm hurling down, freezing the the first wave in place. Then the Unsworn handily defeat the two guardians and flee through the door into the next chamber.
Inside stands a solitary figure of immense bearing, like a Demi-God, powerful and imposing, wielding a massive hammer. It looks like the Unsworn is going to have to somehow take out this Big Boss in order to proceed to the final chamber.
Before combat can begin, Dovienya pauses to peer at the guardian’s face. He recognizes her from his historical studies. It’s none other than Gwendol – the First Fool!
But what is she doing here? Shouldn’t she be in Purgatory?
Dovienya and Nim talk to her, and using their impressive diplomacy skills, manage to befriend her, convincing her not to fight. Gwendol explains that she woke up here in the Fire Fortress after her time in Purgatory, She only knows that she must guard this chamber and she can never leave this place. It is her eternal punishment for being the First Fool. With dismay, she admits that her ex-lover, the goddess Jerum, will never forgive her.
The Unsworn proceed onward, leaving the melancholy demi-god alone with her torment.
In the next chamber they find the object of their quest: the fabled Tablets of Asmenkorod. Dovienya mixes up a potion so Tumn can read the words written in Ignan, what the Blink Dogs called the “tongue of flame”.
Tumn turns to each of you and expresses his gratitude for getting him here. He’s scared, but there’s no turning back. He reads the words written on the Tablet. After he’s finished, he appears confused. Nothing seems to have happened. He looks back at you for a split second about to say something more, but then suddenly he’s gone.
Only now in his place there’s a figure, same height, same build, standing there. It’s a hooded halfling in a magical cloak, wielding a serrated Derulade dagger. It’s not Tumn, but someone else. Whoever he is, he looks haunted, half-starved.
At the sight of you all and his new environment, he becomes scared and starts backing away.
“Who are you?,” Daisy yells at him. “Where’s Tumn?”
Seeing the Unsworn as threats, he teleports quickly away to the entrance, away from everyone. Then he summons a strange beast to help protect him. It’s an Esobok – a native of Purgatory.
Dovienya notices the halfling accidentally dropped something before teleporting away. It’s his satchel, and inside, Dov finds a tattered book. This is the handwritten journal of one Willis “Thicky” Thickbrush – adventurer, explorer, and self-proclaimed “Shepherd Prince”. You recognize the name as Moxie Coppercore’s friend whose map it was that had the location of Gwendols Gate. The journal chronicles Thicky’s efforts to pursue the same Shepherd Prince prophecy that Tumn sought to fulfill. His primary motivation appears to be to prove his worthiness to his mother with whom he had a contentious relationship. The journal describes his experience with the Blink Dogs where he was given the initial prophecy. Then details his efforts to find the fabled location of Gwendols Gate and then his trek across Qualic and into the Brutal Mountains to read the words of banishment on the Tablets of Asmenkorod – all exactly the same as what you have just undertaken. It’s clear that Thicky was enthusiastic and excited to pursue his destiny in Purgatory, but he apparently added no entries once he arrived. There’s no writing implement in the pack so maybe he lost the means to add to the journal.
Some things become clearer: No wonder the Blink Dogs called Tumn a “contender” for the Shepherd Prince and seemed like they were going through the motions of testing for the second time. In hindsight, it also explains how Gwendol exited Purgatory and was sent here. Only one living mortal can be in Purgatory at one time, you learn. Reading the Tablet’s words swaps you with whomever was there before. So when Thicky activated the Tablet initially, he switched out with Gwendol, and then when Tumn activated the spell a few years later, he switched out with Thicky.
Back in the Fire Fortress, Thicky is pursued, and, with the help of Gwendol, prevented from escaping. Thicky agrees to accompany everyone back to Gridea. Nim pulls out the teleportation candle and glow-hops the Unsworn and Thicky back to Ralfustro’s house.
Once there, Nim is saddened to see that Gwendol did not make the journey, though all had hoped it would work. Whatever power is keeping the First Fool in the Fire Fortress is too great for the Wick’s candle magic to overcome.
To Be Continued…