After an extended rest in the prayer room where they had subdued the Angel of Valor, the party was ready to continue their trek through the seemingly inescapable Gallery of Percival Price. As his diary entries had suggested, this was a lair meant for his eyes only but he was not so foolish as to believe he would be the only one to know it existed. He took special care to write a detailed account of his creation process so that anyone who found the diary would gain some insight into how and why this place exists. He failed, however, to explain what was waiting for our adventurers in the next room.
Never the type to wait around for something to happen, Shaden pushed forward through the door and into what appeared to be a garden. Amidst all the stone and concrete that formed the walls of this place, lush trees and wild plants grew in abundance toward the center of this room. A canal of fresh water looped around it like a snake, leading from one side of the room to the other. Toward the far end there appeared to be something of a portal, and next to it, two chambers without doors. Though there were no breeze present, Morgan noticed movement amongst some of the plants. Ohlm snarled at this, equally angry and excited that unknown dangers lay waiting. Shaden’s experience with dungeoneering led him to believe that the flow of water was an intentional hindrance, perhaps a strategically laid-out canal that acted to concentrate potential scuffles into areas that favor those native to the area. This information wouldn’t effect his plan of attack, however.
Throwing caution to the wind, Shaden leapt 10 feet down to the grass below. He was confronted by a vicious murklord frog which immediately attacked. Soon after, two bullywugs moved from the safety of their hiding places and chose to strike. Morgan and Ohlm wasted little time in rushing down to aid their partner. Cleric Morgan Detto had little time to think strategy as he was soon grabbed by a bloodthorn vine, which had been patiently awaiting the opportunity to spring up and sink its hollow-point needles into something succulent.
The bullywugs and the murklord frog wasted little time in capitalizing on Morgan’s folly. Utilizing teamwork and tactics that could only come with thousands of years experience, the smaller creatures managed to make this battle a perilous one for our heroes. It probably didn’t help that Shaden’s normally nimble nature completely failed him early on, resulting in an unexpected dip into the pool. He would not be the only one to wade in these waters, however, as both Ohlm and Morgan would be pulled in as well; Ohlm by the lashing tongue of a bullywug and Morgan by the strength of the vine whose thorns were embedded in his leg.
After a harrowing back-and-forth, the adventurers managed to overcome the amphibian beasts in their native habitat. However, it was a narrow victory, which could be attributed to a lack of strategy, to their enemies having home field advantage, or both. Morgan Detto came within an inch of his life but has what I believe we can safely call “his friends” to thank for never allowing him to lose it. The group rested for a moment before scouring the rest of the garden looking for clues as to an exit route.
They came across a fragment from the Diary of Percival Price. It was what appeared to be the last entry, scribbled hastily, featuring a few specs of blood here and there. It told of Percival’s attempts to minimize the loneliness he felt down there by creating a warforged entity to spend time with. He explained that he had begun experiencing a change in his personality, becoming more antisocial and less talkative, a byproduct of spending years alone working on his art. He brought this creation to life but it had no soul or personality and thus was ultimately as lively as the plants growing in the garden (besides the bloodthorn vine, of course).
Then it told of Number Two, the second warforged he had created. This one had all the advantages of a personality, and with them, all the disadvantages. It had grown to love Percival, which his notes indicated as an unintended quality. Number Two grew insanely jealous of Percival’s wife, as she believed her to be the cause of Percival’s extended vacations from her. Number Two, of course, failed to realize that Percival’s trips to this created world of his were his vacation from reality. When he made this clear to her, Number Two grew violent. She rebelled, attacked, and released the creatures from their chambers in an attempt to show Percival the extent of his curiosity. She wanted Percival’s greed, his manifestations and creations together, to be his undoing.
Number Two also told of her plans to leave the Gallery behind and venture out into the real world, her primary objective being the murder of Penelope Price, the woman who had taken her Percival away from her. When it became clear that Number Two had gone insane and negotiation was no longer an option, Percival sealed the Gallery so that nothing may leave. He left a hint to the only way out in the last line of his last diary entry: A full life given and one may never be free, a false life taken and you have the key.
After reading this, they came across a dark chamber adjacent to the garden. It’s door was open and in the darkness sat a fey panther. Not easily frightened, the group insisted upon making friends with the beast, though it became very clear that the panther would have none of this. The group made their retreat before any wounds could be administered, but made note to return and try their luck again if they had time. If he were around, Carric might have drunkenly joked that they “have nothing but time” before stumbling about.
They followed the canal around the edge of the garden, finding that while a wall blocked their path forward, the water continued to flow underneath this wall. They took to the water and arrived on the other side; the passage was dark, damp, and narrow. It took a few more steps before they noticed they were not alone. A visejaw crocodile swam quickly toward them and wasted little time communicating his intent. Ohlm wondered if they might be able to calm the croc down before Shaden informed him such beasts are angry by nature, a reference to one of his favorite musical groups in Eliroth.
While they expected some hostility from the crocodile, what they didn’t expect is that it would act in tandem with the fey panther, who phased through the iron bars of its chamber and entered the canals, attacking the group immediately. If it wasn’t already obvious that it wasn’t Morgan’s day, the crocodile swam forth and clamped down upon the leg that the bloodthorn vine had neglected. Wounds, however, only serve to anger the cleric, and he fought back more violently than ever. At the same time, the fey panther had been dealt a painful blow by Shaden and attempted to flee back to its chamber. Quick to act, Shaden was able to clobber it over the head just before it began to phase. The fey panther phased through the bars and came to a crashing halt in its chamber, unconscious.
When the crocodile had been slain, the party re-entered the garden. They discussed the portal they had seen in the far end and how anything could be waiting on the other side. While Morgan and Shaden contemplated what they might do to reduce vulnerability when walking through, Ohlm had decided he had waited long enough and marched through
like an idiot bravely without warning his comrades. As baffled as they were, Morgan and Shaden were not about to lose one-third of their hope of escaping this place to foolhardiness.
They leaped through to meet Ohlm on the other side, only to find themselves in a room of magical experiments and abominations; the floor beneath the narrow walkway on which they stood was composed of magma, a whirlwind appeared out-of-nowhere and began spinning violently in the center, the ground was covered in a sheet of glimmering ice on the opposite end of the room, and a pillar covered in moss let off a feint green glow every few seconds. There wasn’t time to marvel in the sights before them, as the creatures that inhabited this room were not welcoming and instantly attacked.
They fought a magma hurler, a dust devil, and a lesser fire elemental bravely, considering they stood directly over their enemies’ element. The heat from the magma below was enough to make it clear they faced danger in all directions, and, on a hunch, the group moved toward the moss-covered pillar in an attempt to find terrain that favored them. Their assumptions had been correct, and the glowing moss began to heal them over time. This would not deter the attacks of their enemies, however, and Morgan Detto’s wounds were quickly re-opened.
The fire elemental’s instinct told it that Morgan had been brought near-death once already and this time it had hoped to seal the deal. As it rushed forth, Morgan had suddenly come up with a strategy of sheer brilliance. The cleric waited until the last possible moment before jumping from the walkway and testing his endurance against the cooler parts of the magma below. Moving too fast to suddenly stop, the fire elemental continued forward and launched itself through the portal. It appeared in the garden, flying straight and over the floor’s edge, finally coming to an abrupt end in the flowing water of the canal. It had been extinguished by Morgan’s strategy, but still two enemies remained.
The dust devil, which had previously been laughing with evil glee, grew frustrated when it realized its odds of survival had diminished. No longer was this fun and games to the being and it began to focus its attacks on Ohlm rather than the party as a whole. With a renewed vigor thanks to the pillar of life, the group was able to fight back and mount a victory. They moved toward the entrance to this room that wasn’t a portal and found a room full of statues.
Before anyone could go prancing about and foolishly setting off traps, Shaden warned that there were trigger panels scattered along the floor. Cautiously, the group examined the statues: an elf with an amulet, a dragonborn wearing some kind of armor, two angels, an orc, and a small-scale recreation of the Frost King. Having previously noticed the traps intended to maim and/or kill them, Shaden decided against treating the statue room as a free-for-all gift shop. Morgan and Ohlm, on the other hand, felt otherwise; Morgan pocketed the amulet and Ohlm shoved the cumbersome armor into his pack before they moved on.
They re-entered the room of abominations and walked past the magma, the ice, and the pillar of life to find chambers identical to the ones they had seen adjacent to the garden. This time, they didn’t find a panther inside, but rather, a sleeping hippogriff, and behind it, two hippogriff eggs. Beyond that there were iron bars, leading Shaden to believe this chamber was built identically to the one they saw before. If that were so, these iron bars could be accessed from the other side.
Choosing safety over the chance to show off his sneaking abilities against a potentially murderous foe, Shaden took the canal route and carefully extracted the hippogriff eggs between the iron bars. He managed to pocket both of them without waking the hippogriff, and soon the rest of the party followed Shaden into the canals. They were quietly whispering about what they would do with the hippogriff eggs when they came upon a room with a large wooden door, lit by a fireplace glowing bright green on the opposite end.
This had been the fireplace they saw in Percival Price’s study, which no doubt lay on the opposite side. It became clear that this was something of an escape route for Percival. Any danger witnessed from the study would result in Percival fleeing via the magical fireplace, through which only he could pass, and out this door. Only trouble was the door seemed sealed shut by some form of magic. Before it, something was kneeling and apparently, crying, before a collection of bones.
This must be Number Two, they thought, kneeling before the remains of Percival Price, but before they could approach her, she turned and screamed at them, “who dares to walk the halls of the great Percival Price?!” Her violent admiration indicated their suspicions were correct, and they addressed her as Number Two. This surprised her and her abrasive demeanor changed to something of a curious one. “How do you know that name?” She seemed offended that anyone other than the person who gave her the name would speak it, but more than that she seemed hopeful that the men before her may have known Percival Price.
They explained that they had read the diary and that is why they knew her name. From there, they cautiously interrogated her in an attempt to learn the way out, only to find that Number Two had tried every means of escape to no avail. Then, they remembered the last passage of Percival’s diary. “A full life given and one may never be free, a false life taken and you have the key.” It became apparent to them that Number Two was the false life, but Shaden thought there might be an easier way to obtain the key. He questioned her about her desire to leave this place, resulting in her confession that she desired the blood of Penelope Price, the woman who “stole Percival away.” Shaden proved his tongue as sharp as his blades, convincing Number Two that they had already slain Penelope. Perhaps she believed them to be rival wizards after Percival’s accumulated knowledge or maybe she thought he had created powerful adversaries in his meanderings within the real world, but Number Two believed his claim.
With nothing to live for anymore, Ohlm convinced her there was also nothing of importance to die for, thus she was at the end of her respective “rope.” Shaden looked to the magical fireplace behind them and then back to Number Two before suggesting she do what little she can to be close to Percival Price. After some hesitation, Number Two threw herself into the flames without incident and died without so much as a whimper. The only sound that broke the silence was the crackling of the flames and the hissing of Number Two’s components bursting apart.
With that, the door before them opened and a portal appeared in its frame. The trio took a moment to reflect on what they had learned in the Gallery of Percival Price and then stepped through. They arrived in the large, dusty fireplace of the manor. Everything felt just as it was before they entered the courtyard’s well what must have been days ago – but in the real world, it had only been one second. They were fatigued, wounded, and scratched up something fierce, but to the outside world it were as if they had hardly gone anywhere at all. Now that they were back, however, it was time the world took notice.