Chapter 5, Part II: Bart's Nightmare

The party found themselves in a dire situation. Separated and trapped in dimly lit cells within Watson Manor, they had to devise a cunning escape plan.

Bart and Nohki occupied one cell. In the adjacent cell, Vance and Firebrook found themselves imprisoned together. And finally, Xerxes and Drez shared a cell, their minds racing to find an exit strategy.

Vance attempted to weave his magical melodies, but the magic in this place seemed to wane, leaving him with but a faint glimmer of power. He realized that their equipment was missing, including many of their arcane focuses. Because Nohki's focus was his arm, he was the only one with his focus left.

As the group chatted about the mess they had landed in, Xerxes twitched in pain, his body still recovering from the ordeal of their recent battles.

Drez, the keen observer, noticed a wooden ladder leading to a hatch in the ceiling. Beside his cell, he noticed a rack with four hooks, as if designed for keys that were not there.

Amongst their meager remaining belongings, they discovered a lifeline - the sending stones they had acquired from Ricotti. Contacting their friend in the dungeons, dissent amongst the group grew. Ricotti did his best to console them, understanding that they had faced difficult choices. When they told him that the windows and doors to the chapel were missing, Ricotti seemed alarmed: removing such features meant it was likely that there was something in the chapel worth protecting.

Distrusting the snoozing guard stationed nearby, the party opted for stealth, disguising their movements as best they could. Nohki used the reduce spell to shrink Bart down enough that she was able to fit through the bars. Tiny but undeterred, Bart snatched the key from the unsuspecting guard, liberating herself.

One by one, she set the group free. Meanwhile, Drez fashioned a makeshift dagger from one of the discarded bones. As they slipped away, their journey took them upwards through the hidden ladder, leading them to the pantry.

Peering out into the eerie hallways, Bart observed approaching guards while her comrades replenished their strength with soup.

Recollecting memories of happier days, Bart spotted the old phonograph that had lulled her and her siblings to sleep as children; a memory that would come in handy later.

Drez tapped into his newfound Hivemind-Sense, foreseeing one of the first floor guard's patrol routes. Vance remained vigilant, keeping a watchful eye on the guard stationed in the dining room.

Amidst the unsettling environment, their journey progressed. Nohki ventured into the greenhouse, its once-vibrant plants now withered and neglected. Drez, equally observant, noticed the sealed vents and their potential to manipulate the greenhouse environment.

Bart's hazy childhood memories returned as she recalled her parents' lessons on how to care for the plants in the greenhouse. However, their conversation had emphasized the importance of not being present during the process of changing the air quality, for safety's sake. The group then headed outside of the greenhouse in order to investigate the mechanism that led to the vents.

Xerxes made quick work of adjusting the greenhouse's air composition. The result: a guard collapsing in the greenhouse on his patrol route through it. Drez confirmed the outcome, making sure the guard was truly lifeless. They took his key and hid the body amidst the foliage, appropriating his uniform. Firebrook, now disguised as an Order of the Righteous Conflict member, resumed the role with newfound confidence.

Bart, delving into the servant quarters, stumbled upon three slumbering servants - two in peaceful slumber, one remaining awake. She headed out, and Drez and Vance spotted Bart leaving the room from, what they realized was, the servant's perspective.

The rest of the group, from the greenhouse, attempted a minor illusion to distract the remaining Order member who was patrolling the first floor, but their efforts yielded no response. As Bart returned to the group, two familiar voices called to her from the lavatory. Bart's sisters, Pawline and Catrina, informed her of their parents' likely imprisonment by a formidable foe who bore a color-changing sword, and removed the doors and windows to the chapel.

Bart returned and gave the rest of the Talons the information from her little side journey. She also had a plan to incapacitate the remaining guard. Using the phonograph from her childhood in the dining room could lull him into a deep sleep. Drez executed the plan efficiently, carrying the guard away to the greenhouse to ensure his end and to confiscate his key.

The group then ventured upstairs, needing to explore further to find the tools they needed to reach the chapel. In the sisters' rooms, they encountered the mysteries of a mischievous prank book.

Their investigation led to the discovery of the Planar Trap Mirror, a device that Bart believed was a new trick acquired by her younger sister Catrina, ever the prankster. Deciding to put the mirror to use, the party plotted to trap the guard in the Planar Space, activating it as they fled. The guard's fate was sealed as the mirror engulfed him, but not before Bart pilfered his key.

Vance explored the remaining rooms and found the much-needed fleece in Bart's brothers' room. He noted that the boys' names were engraved on the footboard of their beds: Meowthew and Kitridge.

Nohki and Bart found something they had been expecting to find: the carnivorous plant, lurking ominously in a bathroom known as the Gateway Carnifloris.

But upon the moment they discovered and awakened this hungry plant, the door to the bathroom opened and the Order guard stepped in. Their plan teetered on the brink of disaster, but quick thinking and even quicker hiding skills saved the day. They then intentionally lured the guard into the plant's reach, where it devoured the guard, key and all.

The tension rose as a commotion echoed from below, where a guard was rousing from the plant's sinister influence. Seizing the moment, Firebrook, now disguised as one of their captors, intervened. He deftly steered the guard's attention toward the bathroom, where the plant's dark maw enveloped him.

They retrieved the lost key from the dungeon where it had materialized after the guard who had been eaten by the plant left the property, and with all 4 keys in hand, went to the heavy iron door blocking the stairway to Watson Manor's cellar. With stealth and precision, they made their way to the treasury, hoping to stock up on any resources they could find. But alas, the treasury had already been picked clean, leaving only a few forsaken chests. It was clear that Hellspear and his cohorts had left their mark, siphoning away the riches of the Watson family.

However, they all still found something that could aid them on the journey to come. Drez received the Cloak of Elvenkind. Firebrook received the Ring of Feather Falling. Xerxes received the Periapt of Wound Closure. Nohki received a Diamond worth 300 GP. Bart received the Bracer of Flying Daggers. Vance received the Gloves of Spell Theft.

Undeterred, the Talons ascended a spiral staircase, emerging at the chapel. The air grew heavy with dark energy, as they witnessed the nefarious Hellblade in the midst of a sinister ritual. The sight was jarring, as Bart's parents were caged at opposite ends of the room, a mysterious sigil burning ominously in the ceiling above them.

Bart's mother, her eyes brimming with tears and her voice trembling, expressed her overwhelming relief at seeing her daughter once more, even in such dire circumstances. She had been calling out to Bart, desperate for her safety, through the different people possessed by the Hivemind. "Did you see Bart?" She had asked. And when she heard her daughter's name, she would cry out, "Did you say Bart?" Her love and worry for her daughter overcoming, in moments, even an essence as powerful as the Darkness.

But before their reunion could fully unfold, the encroaching darkness took hold once more, her eyes turning into soulless voids as the malevolent force of the Darkness reclaimed her.

In a resolute stance, the Platinum Talons knew the stakes were high, and they were committed to facing Hellblade, rescuing Bart's parents, and dispelling the oppressive darkness that had taken hold of Watson Manor. The most perilous part of their quest had only just begun, and their courage was about to be put to the test.

"Firebrook, I thought I smelled you," Hellblade goaded.

"Hellblade, you sassy bitch," Firebrook replied darkly, readying his stance to take out a deserving nemesis.

And then, the Platinum Talons launched into battle.

Completed: October 2023