…to a Goblin.
Li Sun looked over the Revenant, the Minotaur, and the Elf who had joined him. The only one he knew was the elf who had brought him their mounts. An odd mix, but he was glad Amyria had sent them. Ki’sho and Sun Li were in no shape to do battle with an archmage after the fights they had with the Gnolls and their demonic friends.
Apparently one of the Mages of Saruun had gone rogue and was trying to take over. He was using the Duergar and Gnolls to accomplish some secret plan.
“Secrets,” snorted Ragnar. “With worshipers of Vecna, it’s always secrets.”
But Li Sun had the key. And the key seemed to know where it wanted to go. First it led them to the Seven-Pillared Hall, then to the Road of Lanterns, and finally to this nondescript portion of that road.
Where they found a keyhole.
Li Sun placed the key in the keyhole and a secret door opened. Revealing a long passage, which led to a room with a circle of teleportation inscribed in its center. When Drake walked up to it, the circle turned out to have some powers of summoning as well. A spectral figure, clad in thick robes of the deepest scarlet appeared in a blinding flash. It was missing its left hand. And, while an eye filled the right socket in its spectral head (really little more than a skull, from what Li Sun could see), the left socket was empty.
“The secrets of the tower come at a price. You must each pay for the right to enter this place. What can you offer to the dreaded Lord of Secrets? I seek lore, power, and your souls.”
“L’esprit de L’escalier,” Ambassador Tien told the goblin cheiftain, “is the spirit of the staircase.” Takin was thoroughly confused by this, so Tien explained. “You see, the high elves who originated the expression often held their balls high up in the forest on platforms perched in the trees or hanging from the branches. To get up to these woody ballrooms, they had to climb long, ornate staircases. And to leave the ball they had to descend the same stairs. They noticed that sometimes they did not think of the perfect retort for their rivals’ insults until they were leaving the ball when their wit did them no good. I suspect something like this is happening to the four members of the Golden Scales who failed to protect their souls from the Spirit of Vecna.”
Ragnar the Mighty avoided being blinded by the flash of light — admittedly by fleeing, but this gave him his chance…
…so he charged the thing he feared.
As Wicked Fang passed harmlessly through the apparition’s gut, the Spirit of Vecna laughed. “You cannot intimidate me because you cannot harm me!”
“So, what was it you wanted?” Ragnar asked, somewhat meekly.
“Fool! Only three things will get you into the Tower of Mysteries: lore, power or your souls.”
Li Sun tried a bit of history, but it turned out to be something the spirit already knew. And Drake whispered to the others: “It cannot be intimidated, enjoys flattery, and is susceptible to well-told lies. The lore it seeks is arcane lore, historical lore and religious lore.”
“Not natural lore?” asked Jonalith, the elf, looking a little disappointed.
“I am pretty sure such things have little interest to Vecna,” Drake told him.
Ragnar decided to try a little flattery. At first, his compliments were a little too subtle for the apparition. It thought he was trying to intimidate it again. But once it realized he was commenting on its powers, it seemed to be pleased.
Drake ran into a similar problem when he tried to compliment the spirit on its ability to pretend to be a ghost. At first, the apparition was confused more than flattered.
“I’m trying to say I’m impressed!” the blackguard raged. And eventually Ragnar thought it mollified, if not totally impressed by the compliment.
Li Sun switched to arcane lore, but the Spirit of Vecna was no more impressed by it than by the historical tidbet Ragnar tried next: “What is my true name?”
“Ragnarok!” shrieked the spirit. That was an easy one."
Alen saw that Takin was still not getting it. “Any of them coulda mentioned that the Raven Queen appears to be working with a certain Platinum Dragon. She’s been trying to keep that quiet, so there’s a good chance Vecna wouldn’t know it. And even if he knew it, he might not have shared it with all his minions. The Spirit mighta thought he could really impress his boss with dat kinda info. Any of dem adventurers who thought about it after was probably kickin’ demselves for not thinkin’ of it in time. Dat’s the Spirit of the Stairwell.”
Jonalith watched his friends struggle with the difficult task of coming up with things Vecna did not know. It was hard. Vecna was, after all, the Master of Secrets. Jonalith had difficulty coming up with things such a master would not know.
But he did have friends who knew many secrets. Samwise and Jerath had come to the court of Fallcrest during the time he was there. And Sam shared the secrets of a weapon that he coveted. He had told Jon about the Darkblade of Melegaunt and its origins.
“Did you know the Darkblade of Melegaunt is a dagger made of shimmering black glass?” he asked the apparition.
“Why, yes, I did,” the spirit replied. “In fact, I know that it’s tip trails shadowy tendrils as it seeks its target’s most vulnerable spots.”
“But… but did you know it was forged in a Pact with a prince of Netheril?”
“Hmm, no, I did not. Perhaps Vecna himself knows, but I will have to take this knowledge to him to find out. This is truly lore which might be of use.”
After Ragnar failed another historical lore gambit, Jonalith saw Li Sun was taking another tack while sticking to the Well of Demons theme. “I would have thought such a spirit as yourself would have known all about Maldrick Scarmaker’s death.”
“Well, yes. But now I do.” The Spirit of Vecna seemed to be impressed by the backhanded compliment, but Jon was worried the effectiveness of flattery might soon be coming to end.
“You can only do so much of that kind of thing,” he thought, "before it becomes obvious.
Takin the Scared finally thought he had it. "So dese hot-shot adventurers been goin’ around discoverin’ all dese secrets? And den dey can’t even remember ‘em when it counts? Dat’s what dis “spirit” thing is all about? Kinda like when some troll insults me in front of da boss and I don’t think to call him a snotnose until later. Even though I can see the snot when I’m standing right dere. OK, OK. I gets it. But what I don’t get is why you two keep talkin’ about the stairs. Dere aren’t any stairs in dat tower."
Drake the Enforcer was impressed when Li Sun showed the map to the Well of Demons to the spectre. So he tried another bit of lore about the well. “And the guardian of the well, a green dragon, is now dead!”
“Dead? I did not know that.”
Jonalith told a story about a new religion rising up around Amyria. At first he thought the was making something up, but as the details emerged it became clear he was talking about the worshipful attitude some of the Githzerai were taking toward the Deva paladin. And the spirit seemed genuinely impressed with this lore.
Drake noticed Ragnar was whispering to his sword. Suddenly the Minotaur looked up and shouted, “I bet you do not know the role that the Raven Queen played in creating my sword.”
“You mean the power she channeled from Drake’s curse, empowering it and giving it a life of its own?” smirked the Spirit of Vecna. “Anyone who worships Vecna could see that as soon as they saw your blade. We are not so ignorant of matters arcane and religious as you. It is obvious that you and your friends have no more to offer the Lord of Secrets. I will leave you your powers, and simply take a bit of your souls.”
As the apparition disappeared, Drake felt a small portion of his reserves dwindle. But he knew that he had some left.
And he heard the spirit’s last words in his head, “You may now enter the Tower of Mysteries. May its secrets intrigue you.”
Hearing that, Drake stepped into the circle. And was teleported into another room in a blinding flash. He was standing in the middle of a 20-foot-by-20-foot room with two exits — one north and one west. The walls of this chamber are covered with carvings that depict human faces. Each face is wearing either a blindfold or a gag.
Drake noticed that, as soon as he stepped through, all the blindfolded faces animated and began to chant. All the gagged faces seemed to animate as well, but they simply glared at the interlopers as each of his companions materialized in the circle in the middle of the room.
To the north and to the west, Drake saw pillars in the corridors beyond. These were also covered with carvings of faces, but these faces were different. No gags; no blindfolds. Each face seemed to be missing one eye.
They did not seem to be animated like those in the room Drake was standing in. But every once in a while he seemed to see one animate out of the corner of his eye. As so as he looked at the one which he thought was animating, it froze again as stone.