The party decided that instead of stashing the book, they'd camp out for the night in the temple of evil where they'd found the book -- after all, they'd cleared all the enemies for a ways around that area, and if the gnolls wanted to come out of their magically protected fortress to attack them, well, all the better.
They didn't. It was a bit spooky sleeping in an evil temple, but no one went insane or anything.
In the morning, they headed back to the proving grounds to acquire the remaining three treasures which would allow them to open the doorway to the inner sanctum. Their desire to flood-fill the area without opening doors until they needed to let them map out most of the central area of the proving grounds, which were empty of enemies or threats... at the moment.
But eventually, the had to open doors, and opened the doors that led into the first of the three remaining trials -- the hall of forced introspection!
The hall was guarded by curtains, and full of mirrored pillars. Sam led off with a magic missile at a far pillar, which damaged the pillar but triggered a response -- a flash of light which sucked out some of his life force, doing a hefty dose of necrotic damage. As the pillars started flashing at the rest of the party, they closed their eyes to avoid looking at them, except for Vexx who was lucky enough to just be missed by the beam.
Bore decided that he could hit an immobile pillar even with his eyes closed, so, believing that he was immune to retaliation from them while his eyes were closed, he went to work smashing the nearest pillar. As it turned out, the pillar could still attack him in response to being attacked, teleporting him to the Oubliette of Empty minds, where a very, very hungry gnoll started trying to eat him. Vexx soon joined him, his luck not holding out.
Samuel cowered back in the proving grounds, and Bore and Vexx were trapped god-knows-where, but Morgan and Raiya did manage to keep their eyes closed and stumble through the entire hall (which had a 90-degree turn to keep you from just plotting your course ahead of time), eventually running through another wall of curtains, into a tight space with an altar and a pair of nasty skeletons, which they had to fight alone. They were very hurt by the end of the fight, thanks to the skeletons repeated showers of bone-shards, but they did manage to win, and the altar there had a hand-plate that teleported Vexx and Bore back to the real world. They'd had a much easier time with the lone gnoll! The altar had the mask on it, so two down, two to go.
The next trial took the form of a room dominated by two huge, whip-wielding minotaur statues presiding over pools of blood. Pedestals near the far end of the room held two pieces of what had to be the 'bloodborn blade' they were after.
They really didn't want to go into the blood, so when the near statue animated and started whipping them, Bore, Vexx, and Morgan jumped across to hack it to pieces, while Samuel splatted it with his acid arrow. They planned to destroy the other statue from outside the range of its whip, but a little blood-demon crawled out of the blood and attacked Samuel -- the statues weren't the only threats!
So Vexx and Raiya jumped to the walkway in the center of the chamber (and got whipped by the other statue), and then Raiya used one of her sorcerous powers to fly her and Vexx to the two pedestals, while Bore used his throwing hammer to harass (and mark) the blood demon pestering Samuel. Raiya was molested by a pair of blood demons as she tried to run back through the blood to the walkway (the pedestals in back were too far to jump), but Vexx got close enough to heal her in time to keep her from falling, and the two of them rejoined the party, pieces of the sword in hand, and everyone left the room and shut the door behind them. Three down!
They checked out the rest of the proving grounds before getting to the last room, and found that there were four runic circles, obviously the places to use the various items... somehow. The book had instructions for performing the ritual written in a language none of them understood, which was worrying. One of the rooms with a runic circle also had pools of magical water -- one positive (protection from poison), one mixed (rage), one negative (poison you), and one that did nothing. According to arcana checks by the party's three arcane characters; no one actually tried to drink any of it!
The last room was supposed to hold the Bell, and was called the hall of howling pillars. The howling pillars in question were very creepy -- made of living (or perhaps undead) flesh, writhing in agony, from floor to ceiling. They tried to stand back and smash the pillars with ranged attacks, but it was futile -- the pillars were impossible to damage. The attacks took chunks off, but they healed back immediately. So they'd have to face the peril.
They rushed right on in, and got far enough that (a) they could see the bell on the altar at the back of the room, (b) they all got hit by at *least* one attack by the pillars themselves, and (c) all the enemies that emerged from the pillars came in behind them, surrounding them. They were all blood demons, like the ones they'd seen in the blood, except for a giant demon ape that appeared in front of the altar.
After a bit of chaos and pain, they managed to take down the giant ape -- Vexx 'led the attack' against it, ensuring its doom -- and get the defenders onto the two front lines, guarding the strikers from the blood demons. The battle looked to be going their way!
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And then we had to stop abruptly, in the middle of combat. The plan is to finish off the blood demons, then with all four items in hand... rest the night in the temple, again. We want to be fresh facing the dragon the ghosts warned us about!
Afterwards I went over to Jurann's place, where we played Small World and Pandemic, but mostly spent time building a character for Trailblazer -- a boring ranger of roughly the sort that Tom hated playing. q:3 But this is a different group, maybe it'll work better there. I also made up a version of the clerics I've been playing around with -- Rain the Shifter, follower of Sehanine, goddess of the moon, freedom, and love.
Jurann: "Oh my god, he's a hippy!"
Me: "A hippy with a *bastard sword*?"