With as much conversation as he offered on trip to the Garden, the eladrin vanished into the forest depths, clearly unwilling to step any closer towards the once holy garden.
The party advanced cautiously towards a cave that seemed to serve as the Garden entrance, observing a massive cliff beyond the rocky formations. The forest edge on either side seemed alive with energy and movement, and the party spotted harpy silhouettes beyond the forest line. A careful approach revealed that at least some of them appeared to be decoys, or illusions … or bait? It was unclear.
The team continued onward, stopping only to translate a curious poem found etched in the stone entrance of the cave. Written in High Elven, but rhyming in common, it generated feelings of unease and confusion:
Count you the shadows, watch the sun
The wise know where they stand
While knowing not the time to shun,
The fools must find themselves undone
Like lustful swain or panicked child
Who beg another’s gentle hand,
The fool delves heedless through the wild.
The wise are not so soon beguiled
When darkness falls and dreams portend
The rising of fearsome foe,
The fool, swift-striking, meets his end;
The wise know foe from friend.
Let art and image point the way,
Abandon all you think you know
For common sense leads fool astray.
The key is simply this: Obey.
The wise must never strategize;
They never play, unless to win.
They see the harm in comfort’s lies,
And see to open weary eyes.
You’ve fought your way; you’ve risked demise
To view the ivy heart within.
Now as the soul within you dies,
This knowledge is your only prize:
You’d never have come, were you truly wise.
Onward into the cavern, a natural formation with no lines of verse on the inside. Rather, the path was blocked by a triune statue – three humanoid women, all arranged in a row.
After a moment’s inspection, Castus placed a coin in the youngest-looking-woman’s statue’s outstretched hand. (I think I’m remembering that correctly.) Without a sound, the statue of the crone sprang to life, leaving behind a sheet of stone in her place as she waded into the fray, clawing and striking at the party. The team sprang into action, weathering her attacks with skill, even as her arms split into four separate limbs and tore into the entire team. With time, the statue went down – literally getting reabsorbed into the floor and reappearing in its original place with its original pose.
This time, a coin was placed in the crone’s hand. When the old bag sprang to life this time, it was simply to step out of the way, allowing the team passage through to the other end of the cavern – which opened back up into daylight.
Here, a small clearing sat at the base of the 60 foot tall cliff, with a few curious features. A stone building of uncertain origin stood at the far end, near a cascading waterfall. A giant stone column held rickety bridges leading from the top of the building to the cliff’s top. Lower than the column was a curious obelisk.
Finally, set near the base of the cliff was a sacked campsite. Tents, logs, and tools lay strewn everywhere.
The team’s inspection of the campsite revealed that it was likely the remains of the last team Thex had sent in. Little did they know, however, that someone had left the remains there as a trap. With killer intent, the logs burst into flame and soared at the team, followed shortly by the calamatous attacks of the tools and the horrible flaps of the tent canvasses. A pitched battle ensued, drawn out further by Norm’s proximity to the obelisk. The arcane, spidery runes on the obelisk flared, and the shardmind experienced something he’d never felt before – sleepiness. Thankfully, the party managed to put down the campsite pieces and rouse their cleric – but shortly drew the ire of a lurking will-’o-the-wisp. With careful maneuvering around the lethargic power of the obelisk, the team put down the vanishing light creature … which turned an unexpected blood red in its final moments. Danger averted, the team took a moment to rest.
A trifold race was proposed to the top of the column, handily won by Hogar’s monkian ability to scale walls with spider-like grace. The team hauled themselves up and crossed the rickety bridge to the top of the adjacent building, stepping carefully on the aged, worn planks. Norm stumbled and fell prone, but managed to avoid completely tumbling the full drop down. A slow, unsteady path brought him to safety.
Atop the building, the team discovered that it was a reception area / visitor’s center for those visiting the Garden of Graves. In fact, a map atop the structure provided a general layout for the cairns and masouleums found in the center. A cursory glance of the clifftop’s buildings, however, revealed that few of the buildings on the map remained intact… or if they did, they’d been warped and arranged in some obscene new configuration. Two paths laid before our heroes, a map-detailed building directly north, and the rest of the garden’s strange new edifices to the northwest.