The Temple of the Restful Lily
Even through the obscuring mist, Aravae could tell the main building of the Temple of the Restful Lily, the bathhouse, was not abandoned as they'd feared. The stained-glass windows were dark, but intact, and the stone walls of the one story structure were scrubbed and free of mold and mildew. The group ascended the three broad steps to stand in front of the set of oversized double doors carved with a scene featuring water lilies.
"No, no, no!" Jhelnae said when the doors didn't open as she tried the handle and pushed.
She hammered against the door with her fists, then stopped and looked back at the others.
"They're locked," she said. "And where in the Nine Hells is Kuhl when you need him?"
It seemed she was aware of the lack of sound her pounding had made and wished someone bigger was there to make the attempt.
"Let me help," Aleina said.
Each taking a stout ironwood door, the aasimar and half-drow hammered for all they were worth with one fist each. Their other hands they used to keep clutching their cloaks around them tight.
"I think someone is coming," Sky said.
"You heard something?" Aleina asked, fist poised to start striking the door again depending on the answer.
"I couldn't hear anything over you two," the tabaxi said. "But unless they're all deaf, someone probably heard that."
They waited. Jhelnae put an ear next to the door, then shook her head. She'd just drawn back her fist to pound again when the click of a lock being disengaged sounded. The door in front of the half-drow cracked open and a bell chimed from inside. A dark-haired man peeked out. From what Aravae could see in the slight gap he left open; his clothes were very fine.
"It's after midnight," the man said. "We close and lock up after midnight."
"Does that mean you won't let us in?" the half-drow asked. "Because the only reason we're getting here late is because we fought a shambling mound not far from here. Then we had to burn it up, which took some time."
The man's mouth opened in surprise, and he cracked the door wider.
"You killed it?" he asked.
His gaze wandered from Jhelnae to take in the rest of the group. It might have been Aravae's imagination, but his eyes seemed to widen at the sight of herself and Mialee, then narrow with appraisal.
"Did you miss the part where we burned it up?" Jhelnae asked. "So, it's pretty dead. Ashes even."
"What my friend means to say is," Aleina said. "Can we discuss this inside? Because it's really cold out here."
"Oh," the man said. "Sorry."
He threw the door wide and beckoned them to enter.
Beyond the door was the large lobby the bladesinger remembered. It was usually brightly lit, either through sunlight from windows in the vaulted ceilings or with lit lanterns. Only a few of the lanterns were lit at the moment, however, leaving much of the room in shadow. The scent of fresh lilies wafted over them as they walked inside, tracking mud on the polished stone floor as they went.
The dark-haired man winced
"Very sorry," Mialee said. "We walked a long trail to get here, and the last part was very wet and muddy.
A desk stood at the center of the room, holding neatly piled papers and fresh-cut lilies in a vase. The man closed the door behind them and gave a sigh as he again looked at the now dirty floor. But then he forced himself to smile.
"Welcome, friends, to the Restful Lily," he said. "Forgive my lack of proper hospitality. I was just surprised to find new guests at our door at such a late hour. We are currently closed, but tomorrow you can freshen yourselves in our luxurious bathhouse. Or perhaps you'd all enjoy a massage? We have an excellent hair stylist or maybe pedicures? Whatever your pleasure, I, Saetham, as chief steward, will be here to serve."
He gestured in a manner indicating he was Saetham.
"Beds for the night will be four gold dragons per person," he continued, quoting prices in the coinage of Silverymoon, the closest city.
"Is there any way we can take baths tonight?" Jhelnae asked. "We smell like smoke from burning that shambling mound."
"Hadn't noticed," the man said, while at the same time wrinkling his nose to indicate the opposite. "But alas, no. As I said the baths are closed for the night as all the attendants have gone to bed."
"We don't need attendants," Sky said, gesturing at Aravae and Mialee. "These two are friends with the naiad. So, the water sprite can be our attendant."
"Ah," Saetham said. "You've been here before."
"A few times," Mialee said. "But it has been many years. And we're not really friends with Cyrena, just guests who talked to her on our visits. She might not even remember us."
"You know her name," the man said, eyebrows raising in surprise. "Interesting…"
He trailed off, looking at them, and again he seemed to focus on the two elves.
"Why is that interesting?" the half-drow asked.
"Just interesting to have visitors from even before I started working here, I suppose," Saetham said. "But to answer your question, no, the baths are closed for the evening. No one is allowed in without an attendant and they have all gone to bed. And Cyrena doesn't count."
"We've come all this way to meet the naiad," Sky said, eyes pleading. "And we really don't want to wait till tomorrow."
"I'm very sorry," the steward said, not sounding sorry at all. "But that is the policy. Nothing I can do about it."
"Your policy must have changed," Mialee said. "Last time, we could go into the baths at any time, right?"
She looked over at Aravae, who nodded.
"Well, that is policy now," the dark-haired man said.
"Why?" Aravae asked.
She wasn't sure why she even asked. Visiting the baths tomorrow would be fine. She and Mailee often went to sleep or took reverie filthy from a long day of travel during their ranging patrols. The hot springs of the Restful Lily were visited for their restorative properties rather than to wash. Whether that restoration occurred tonight or tomorrow made little difference to the bladesinger.
But Jhelnae, Aleina, and Sky clearly hoped for tonight. The tabaxi wanted to meet Cyrena as soon as possible and, judging from the way the half-drow and the aasimar still hugged themselves, they just wanted to get warm.
"It's always been this way since I've worked here…" Saetham began.
A chiming sound cut him off as one of the double doors opened behind them and three female elves entered. Aravae recognized the one in the lead, a slender moon elf with smooth black hair and sparkling sapphire eyes, as Sylvarie Silversong, the founder of the Temple of the Restful Lily. She carried a blank canvas stretched between a frame of red wood. An athletic looking sun elf with copper hair wearing an ornate breastplate with a red fur mantle was with her as well as a rosy-cheeked wood elf wearing a delicate white veil across her eyes. The wood elf held a short leather leash connected to the collar of a massive mastiff with bloodshot eyes. Given the veil over her eyes, the bladesinger guessed she was blind, and the dog served as her guide.
"Greetings to you," Mialee said in Elvish brightly.
The moon elf merely nodded and smiled.
The druid glanced at Aravae, who shrugged. It wasn't surprising the owner of the baths didn't seem to recognize them. They'd only come a few times and it had been years in between. But the moon elf had recognized them last time and warmly welcomed them back. And watching her do the same with others, she had seemed to possess an uncanny ability to recognize returning guests.
"Lady Sylvarie," Saetham said, bowing. "I was just registering and taking payment for these late arrivals."
"We heard the pounding at the door and came to see what all the fuss was about," the moon elf said.
She spoke Common with the same husky alluring voice Aravae remembered and could listen to all day. The moon elf frowned, noticing the mud tracked all over the floor of her lobby.
"This just won't do, Saetham," Sylvarie said. "Can't have the guests seeing this in the morning."
"It will be cleaned of course, mistress," the chief steward said. "But I have some news that may interest you. These guests have taken care of our shambling mound problem."
"They have?" Sylvarie asked. Her sapphire gaze shifted to the companions. "You killed it?"
"Yes," Jhelnae said. "And burned it as well to make sure."
"They must be strong," the sun elf in the breastplate said. "Stronger than they look."
It seemed a veiled insult, but her confident and jovial voice made the sun elf instantly likable. The bladesinger decided it was time for polite introductions.
"I am Aravae Symbaern," she said with a slight bow.
"Azirssa," the sun elf said in return.
She offered no family name.
One by one the companions introduced themselves, Sky giving her longer formal name of Red Sky in the Morning.
"How rude of me," Saetham said. "This of course is your host, the proprietress of the Restful Lily, Sylvarie Silversong."
He gestured to the wood elf. "And the chef of our excellent cuisine, Greensong."
Again, no family name and Aravae didn't know whether to be impressed or concerned that the cook was apparently blind. She decided she would just let the taste of the food be the judge of that.
The chief steward nodded to the sun elf. "Azirssa, our head trainer, has already introduced herself."
"But this is simply marvelous," the wood elf, Greensong, said with a giggle. "We were just talking about how it was time for Sylvarie to do a new painting of some guests when we heard them banging against the door. And I said you should bring your canvas, just in case. Didn't I say that Sylvarie?"
"You did say that," confirmed the moon elf.
"And now we find out they have rid us of the shambling mound. It's perfect. They're the perfect subjects for your next painting."
"Painting?" Jhelnae asked.
"It's a hobby of mine," the moon elf said. "From time to time I make portraits of some of the guests. We have them hanging in the tower. It's fun to look back at the variety of visitors over the years. And even though Greensong can't see them, she loves to help pick out which visitors to paint."
"Let's see," Greensong said, veiled eyes staring sightlessly straight ahead. "Aravae and Mialee bear Elvish family names while Jhelnae has one from the Underdark. The other name sounds human, but I have no idea what a Red Sky in the Morning might be."
"Some sort of cat person," Azirssa said.
"Tabaxi," Sky said.
"Tabaxi," the sun elf amended. "And the human one has some celestial heritage I think."
The blind wood elf smiled in delight. "A cat person and a part celestial? What an interesting group. You simply must make a painting of them, Sylvarie."
Jhelnae was already shaking her head. "Stand for a painting? Now? I don't think so. It's late, we're tired, cold and just came from fighting a shambling mound. We just want a bath and to get under some warm blankets."
"I've never been in a painting, Jhelnae," Sky said. "Don't you want to see how we would look painted?"
"I don't think you'd like it, Sky," Aleina said. "You have to stand still for hours."
"Oh, she wouldn't paint the whole thing tonight," Greensong said. "Just a brief sketch to capture things in the moment. The details she would add in her studio."
"Just a sketch?" the half-drow asked. "Just a few minutes?"
"Only a few," Sylvarie assured. "Just sketch a few details to give the final painting its authentic feel. If you are bathed and rested, I won't capture the bedraggled hair right or hints of exhaustion at the corner of the eyes."
"Not sure I want those things captured," Aleina said, brushing some stray dark locks behind her ear.
The moon elf smiled. "The preaching of Sune is all about letting inner beauty shine through. This painting will be a celebration of those who fought and defeated the shambling mound for us. We want a bit of trail grit and fight fatigue to show."
"That strangely makes sense," Mialee said. "Let's do it. And if any of us ever come back here again the painting will remind us of each other."
"Remind you of each other," Azirssa said. "Such a sweet sentiment."
The sun elf sounded sincere, but for some reason it felt like an insult.
"Where would you like us to stand?" Mialee asked. "The sooner we get this done the sooner we can get into one of the baths."
The companions hadn't missed how casually the druid had shifted to the assumption they would be allowed into the bath house after the sketch was completed and traded grins. Saetham noticed as well. He opened his mouth, probably to protest, then shut it after a look at his mistress, who didn't object.
"Saetham," Sylvarie said. "Please light the rest of the lanterns, then fetch my easel, paints, and brushes. Azirssa, please collect their cloaks. I don't think we want them wearing them in the painting. Stand over by the desk please. That way the viewer will know where you were. And let's keep the vase of lilies visible."
The chief steward busied himself lighting the lanterns, as ordered, and the shadows fled as the lobby brightened. The sun elf went to each of the companions and received their cloaks. She smiled as she folded Aravae's over her arm.
"My, my," Azirssa said. "Isn't this one bristling with weapons?"
Her tone was friendly, jovial even, but when the bladesinger met the sun elf's gaze there was something feline and predatory there. Before Aravae hardened her own stare, however, whatever she thought she saw was gone and only a friendly and smiling face remained. The bladesinger decided she must be more tired than she thought and imagining things.
The dark-haired chief steward returned and set up the easel and paint supplies. Sylvarie placed her canvas and took her position, ready to start painting.
The companions formed up in front of the desk.
"A little closer together please," the moon elf directed. "And don't stand so straight and formal. Look natural. Don't be so afraid to touch each other."
The more natural Aravae tried to stand the more awkward she felt. But then someone placed a hand on her shoulder, and it relaxed her.
"Yes," Sylvarie said. "That's good. Hold that."
For a time, it was easy to hold her position. The moon elf's intense sapphire eyed stare, alternating between canvas and companions, mesmerized her as did the wet sticky sound of the brush strokes. Soon, however, boredom set in and the bladesinger wondered what became of Sylvarie's promise of the initial sketch being over quickly."
Perhaps sensing growing impatience, the moon elf started to talk.
"Almost done," Sylvarie said. "Tell me, what shared desire brought you all to the Restful Lily?"
"Shared desire?" Jhelnae asked.
"Well, you all came together," the moon elf said. "Some common want must motivate you."
"That's a strange way of putting it," Aleina said. "But we're here to relax and have fun together."
"I came to meet the naiad," Sky said.
"And to relax and have fun with us, Sky," the aasimar said.
"Fine," the tabaxi said. "And to relax and have fun with them."
"I'm so happy to hear you all say that," Sylvarie said, sultry voice hypnotic. "It is my desire that you all find relaxation. May you find so much it feels as if you are in a trance like stupor."
A shiver ran through Aravae at those words and a tingling warmth spread from her head, down her neck and spine, and through the rest of her body. The bladesinger suddenly felt very relaxed. Her head dropped and her eyes drooped, She entered a dreamlike state where the flow of time, one moment following the next, ceased. Then far off voices came.
"All finished. Would you like to visit the baths now?"
If the voice was speaking to her, Aravae couldn't muster the will to answer. Neither could anyone else, apparently, as silence followed for a time.
"I wasn't sure it would work," a husky voice said.
Aravae felt like she should recognize it, but it seemed different than whoever it mimicked before and had none of its allure.
"…but the painting caught all five."
"Tempest of Baba Yaga!" A hissing voice slurred. "You used our last canvas not knowing if it would work?"
"No choice," Another voice croaked in an aged whisper. "You heard. They know the naiad and want to speak with her. And they are powerful. Powerful enough to defeat the shambling mound."
"They did us a favor there," the husky voice said.
"You were watching and listening through the eye?" a male voice asked.
"Of course," the old voice whispered.
"Do you know how difficult it is to craft those canvases?" the slurring voice asked.
"No, we do not," the husky voice said. "Why don't you teach us with the skins of these two elves here."
"Why don't you teach us the binding of desires to the painting?" the other voice slurred. "Or Greenbones teach us the infusion of demon ichor into the paints?"
"That's what I thought," the slurring voice said. "Now who are they? Who are they really?"
"Are you ready to vomit?" the husky voice asked. "They must be who they say. Five friends who came here to relax. Otherwise, the painting wouldn't have caught them."
"What?" The slurring voice again. "Like some sort of all female adventuring company? Are they straight out of a puerile chapbook or something? No wonder they fell for your drivel of letting inner beauty shine through."
"To play my role I have to spew such nonsense," the husky voice said. "And fortunately, it works on such feeble minded halfwits."
"They probably have some silly name like the Sweet Sisterhood of Swanmays," the old voice whispered.
All three feminine voices erupted in a bout of cackling.
"Very alliterative Greenbones," the husky voice said. "Just the kind of ridiculous thing five foolish females would come up with."
"What now?" the slurring voice asked. "I take the two elves and craft more canvases?"
"Not just yet, I think," the husky voice answered. "They are all bound together. Kill the two elves and the other three are released. And you are sure you can't use the drow's skin. Drow are elves."
"Yes, Morgan," the slurring voice said. "I am sure. I tried, remember? And it did not work. But why not just kill them all together?"
"Because it would be a waste," the whispering voice, Greenbones, said. "One is part celestial. What would a devil give to get a soul like that? At the very least we could get more elf skins for canvases."
"Greenbones is right," the husky voice, Morgan, said. "But there is more. The growing problem we have discussed. When we first took over the Lily there was a stream of guests and we never needed to worry of an elf finding their way to us. But our presence here means our swamp in the Feywild creeps in. The shambling mound is but the latest sign. And as the journey grows less pleasant and dangerous, our guests slow to a trickle. We need a lure to cast out and reel in new elf fishes. Look at that pretty drow face. Who could resist?"
"So, we sell the part celestial for whatever we can gain and find corrupting leverage on the drow," the slurring voice said. "What about the cat person?"
"Useless," Greenbones said, "Feed her carcass to Morty."
A resounding bark sounded at that last proclamation.
"Saetham," Morgan said. "Strip them of all weapons and spell components and stow them in one of the vacant rooms. And see to it we are not disturbed. We will be bargaining with some dark powers tonight."
"They will not resist?" the male voice, Saetham, asked.
"They are caught by the painting," Morgan said. "They will remain in this stupor until I tell them otherwise."
She laughed before continuing. "Just lay them out in one of the rooms and let them get the relaxation they so desire."
Some distant part of Aravae's mind recognized she and her companions were in dire peril. But the greater part of her found the idea of good long rest to be irresistible. Exactly what she desperately needed. She could deal with other problems after that.
This is supposed to be a fun interlude at the Temple of the Restful Lily from the adventure 'The Price of Beauty' from the Wizards Book 'Candlekeep Mysteries' (which I recommend by the way).
For narrative purposes I've changed up the sequence of events. As written it is unlikely the party would get captured in the painting. In fact it is unlikely the cursed paintings would be used at all on the PCs. But I wanted to incapacitate them and take away their weapons. Also, the way it is written, an all out fight between those that have taken over the Temple and the party would likely happen fairly fast (as soon as the party visited the baths). I wanted to set it up so one of them had to investigate the mystery a bit and free the others.
Updated 5-4-2022 - rereading and updating