It is time to begin, and after a day of resting and doing some relaxed research, Tormenoth finds enough cross references to five headed dragons that he can be sure the prophecy is talking about Tiamat as the queen and tyrant. The morning of the Red Daring begins with a rush of students clamoring for a good spot in line at the teleportation array while teams eat sturdy but light meals. They meet at the appointed time and are ushered into a designated classroom of SSM by a proctor. They are assigned a random order and will be retrieved at their time. Then the face of the dean appears and explains the rules of the event, to both the competitors and the stands. Each team will enter one of the three similar dungeons to face its challenges and obtain its treasure, helpfully donated by sponsors, alumni, and friends of the Red Daring and its designer, Einn Casterly. Just as in the real world though, there is only so much demand for raw materials and parts, so the competition will penalize groups that try to pad out their numbers too far with minor goods. In the case of a tie in loot totals, the team that delved their dungeon the most efficiently, in terms of resources used, spells expended, and damage received, can be factored in to break the tie. Those in the stands and tuned in via scrying will be able to watch the action as it unfolds and teams that are unable to continue will be retrieved, forfeiting any loot they’ve obtained. Lastly, any treasure these groups find is theirs to keep, although for convenience of restocking for successive matches, many of the items can be exchanged immediately for their market value to the judges. The proctor is then given time to answer questions and then exits. They can hear other teams going and soon they are called in to make their attempt.
On their turn, they are brought to the teleportation and transported into the dungeon’s first room. They start in the entrance chamber with a big skylight, two brazzers, and a door. There is a painted set of double doors behind them with the words, “knock thrice to conclude”.
The group is immediately suspicious of the room and spends time knocking over its brazers and investigating both doors. Rila even turns into a lizard to scale the walls up into the skylight. When the group attaches a rope to pull Ariel up there too, they try to discern the magic of the skylight but end up noticing a secret door instead. Unable to see a latch, Ariel blasts it open while Rila holds the two of them up. Inside is a fancy draconic toy chest that they carefully lower using the same rope before Ariel is carried down by Rila as well.
Moving on, the group heads through the door, confirmed safe by Leon, into a short T-shaped hall. The group decides to turn right first instead of go straight. Leon’s look at the door reveals it has a slight catch to it, and cracking the door open a touch exposes both a wire attached to it as well as a room full of traps. The group stands back as Leon gives the door a kick and dives back, the pulled rope starting up a number of swinging blades and falling pillars in the room beyond. Rila takes a look to see that the door wasn’t the only trigger either, there are tripwires and pressure plates all over the room, but her lizard form is perfect for ignoring most of them and simply going over along the ceiling. Leon figures out a path through and opens the other door to the next room, with Ariel copying his steps exactly to follow. Tormenoth takes up a watch in the hall, not wanting to risk the trapped room.
Ariel and Leon find an elaborate pillar with painted and spelled levers, with a riddle written above. There is also a cheap, standing mirror, and a sturdy, but empty crate. Rila, bored by the empty crate and cheap furniture, leaves to rejoin Tormenoth who has at this point moved forward to investigate the north door of the hallway, triggering a pit trap. Rila returns to secure a rope, still in lizard form, and get the elf out of the pit, a little worse for wear. She climbs into the pit, hoping to find a clever secret door or pathway, to no avail, the hard-packed earth isn’t hiding anything. Tormenoth can hear mechanical sounds emanating from the next room, but decides to wait for Ariel and Leon to finish their puzzling before doing anything. It takes some time, but the two come to an agreement about which levers are the correct ones to pull and when activated, the pillar turns, opening a small chamber containing a large brass key.
Opening the door to the next room, they find it filled with machinery, steam pipes, conveyor belts, and numerous mechanical spiders that turn to attack. They leap forward, making a slashing attack with their blade-like legs. Tormenoth takes the brunt of the attacks, having insisted on being first in the door. But the group struggles to bring any of the creatures down as they leap and climb around the doorframe to attack the squishier party members behind. Their second attack sees them discharge blasts of electricity, badly wounding Leon who entered the room to get a better view of the machinery. Looking closely, he can see that two devices at the upper corners of the room are powering the conveyor belt and hidden machines that are slowly creating more spider constructs. Taking a risk, he climbs up the ladder to the scaffolding to shove a spike into one’s gears, breaking it. This leaves him at the mercy of the spiders in the room that he adamantly announced could not climb up to reach him with their blade legs. He has the rest of the group retreat to the hall but they refuse to close the door behind them. To the rest of the teams lack of surprise, some of the spiders climb up the same ladder he did, but others attack Tormenoth, this time with their mechanical fangs lunging out and dripping with green acid. Leon holds on long enough for a few more spiders to be destroyed as the rest of the group piles in, but he can see that most of those broken pieces are being pulled back into the construction machine by the conveyors. Rila hurries across the room to break the other controller as the remaining spiders take the time to retreat out of reach, in preparation for another leaping attack. The last spider is dropped from the creation tube and is put down as the last controller is destroyed by a toss of a spike from Tormenoth’s hands.
They take a beat to tear apart the machine and loot parts from the broken spiders that weren’t swept into the conveyors. Then, they make their way down the hall east. Remembering their troubles from the previous hallways and Einn Casterly’s supposed affinity for repeats and traps, they carefully search the hall ahead of them. Luckily, they discover a secret passage to a small space with an empty hearth and a painting of Einn Casterly. The inscription below the painting reads, “Light the fire and rest”. Suspicious but only able to sense restorative magic within, they light the fire and feel rested.
Some of their exhaustion and wounds restored, the group slowly moves down the hallway to the north, wary of traps. Their paranoia pays off as Rila notices another pit trap set into the floor at a T-intersection. She decides to forcefully trigger it from a distance so they can all more easily try to jump around it. When Rila attempts to go first and leap over the trap to head to the west, the ground gives way under her feet and she falls. The group groans at Einn Casterly’s annoying redundant pit trap right past the first one. Rila climbs out, standing on the thin brick wall between the two pits, sees only more corridor to the west, and then double checks the northern passageway to find yet another pit trap. The whole group laments the unoriginality of the dungeon designer, agreeing with Styx’ original condemnation of the man. This time, Rila skips the risk of jumping by changing into a spider form, triggering the third pit trap, and crawling along the walls to carefully scout the walls, ceiling, and floor of the hallway to the north. After the group is across the double pit traps, they find another set of the brazzers throughout the space, and tip them over to make sure they don’t miss anything hidden underneath. While Leon is tipping the stonework over, the group examines the stout metal doors at the end of this hall, but find no traps or magic.
Tormenoth takes up first position at the metal doors and on confirmation that everyone else is ready, he pulls the large metal handles to reveal a massive stone chamber beyond. The room is ringed by a five foot walkway above a twenty foot pit, but this walkway is level with a thick web of metal cables that support scattered chunks of stone. All these cords connect back through pulleys and anchors to the back end of a giant mechanical spider looming at the back of the room in front of two smaller metal doors. One door is covered in the same steel cable webbing while the other holds a motif of a five-eyed spider, but each glass eye is empty. Around the room and on the stone chunks there are spaces of dwarven runes. Each chunk represents a different concept: Slash, Leap, Piercing Thrust, Smash, Shocking Grasp, Entangling Web, Venom, Corrosive Touch, Fire, and Retreat. One of those stone chunks sits on the back of the spider, the Venom runes. Readying for battle, the group charges into the room, save Rila, hoping to spread out. They scatter in the room, taking pot-shots at the creature, before it makes a great leap and slashing out in a wide arc hitting Tormenoth and Ariel with its bladed legs. It stands on the metal webbing, as it squeals and creaks under the massive weight of the huge spider, just above the stone bearing the Shocking Grasp runes. Rila and Ariel investigate the runes closest to them for clues as to their purpose, relying on Tormenoth and Leon’s attacks to keep the creature distracted. Tormenoth is wary of the web, so uses his spellwork while Leon unleashes a fireball to put some damage into the beast. While investigating, both women discover that stepping on the runes causes them to shine, but no other magical effects occur, and their investigations turn up nothing in the heat of battle. The group speculates aloud as the spider rears up to deliver a powerful shock to the web and those near it that perhaps the runes control what attacks the spider cannot use. A plan is hatched. Tormenoth takes his opportunity to run across the web towards the Piercing Thrust rune, but stumbles under the swaying of the wires and drops to the floor below. At the same time, Rila, Ariel, and Leon each reach a nearby rune to activate, hoping to limit as many attack options as they can while they continue to pelt the beast with spells. When they hit the fifth rune, however, all the eyes on the door blinked red for a short time then went dark again as all the floor runes went dark too. All its opponents out of reach, the spider moves towards the nearest target, Ariel, and lunges with its venomous fangs. She is struck, and wounded but responds with eldritch fury, calling upon her pact magic to blast the spider, giving as good as she got.
Time for a new plan it seems. Tormenoth makes his way back up to the fight and quickly devises a new idea for the runes, that they are actually a combination for the door, not the spider. The group will need to hit them in the right order. The group makes an attempt at the combination while continuing to halfheartedly attack the spider, but the damage causes the spider to start to visibly sag, its parts wearing out. As it sags, so do the wires connected to it, so a snap decision is collectively made to minimize the damage they do to the spider to avoid dropping and breaking the much needed runes in the web. Unfortunately the five runes chosen by the group fail again, with their thinking that maybe the flashes on the door’s eyes were hints about how many runs were in the correct order or not.Rila chimes in that if they only need five runes for the door, then there are only five different ways the mechanical spiders have attacked. Almost as if to prove her point, the giant spider uses its turn to reel itself back to its original spot using its spooled wires. There is no debate about the first rune, as every spider they’ve fought has done a Leap to open combat. Ariel is closest so she runs over and touches it. The second rune is debated for a few seconds between Slash and Piercing Thrust, but Leon’s still scratched arms make up his mind for him and he moves to the Slash rune in the middle of the web. From there the only remaining difficulty is how their group will hit the Shocking Grasp, then the Venom on the spider’s back, then the final rune. Tormenoth decides to kill two birds with one stone and runs out to hit the Shocking Grasp rune and hoping to draw the spider into leaping at him so Rila can jump on its back to engage the Venom rune and Ariel will follow a split second behind her to touch the Retreat rune. Their plan goes perfectly, the spider leaps into the middle and both runes are lit up, the door’s eyes even light up green, but they spider does not stop fighting as they expected. It’s heavy slashes knock Rila out of her spider form and hit Tormenoth even through his heavy armor. Without a reason to hold back though, the group retreats off of the web and unleashes every powerful spell and attack in their arsenals. The wounded construct doesn’t survive for another attack. In its death throes, the cables secured to its back unmoor, whipping around the room, cutting the group up further before all the metal and dust settles below.
With the cables loosened, the group is able to pry open the blocked door while the eye door opens easily at a touch, with both rooms concealing treasure within. The eye door holds magic items on pedestals that the group debates about which to take, only to realize that they are allowed to keep all six pedestals of items. Two sets of platemail, a silent spellcasting rod, two pedestals of expensive liquor, a charm to copy potions, a time-stealing javelin thrower, and a set of magical charms for opening or locking doors. In the formerly steel cable barred room, there is a smaller but still significant treasure of rubies, a land title, and a minor magical item for controlling water.
Happy at their big score and wounded, the group cautiously backs out through the way they came in and over the trio of pit traps to try the last hallway they haven’t fully explored yet. Rila listens to a south facing door to hear faint mechanical noises within. Leon steps up, tired of spider ambushes and opens the door, fireball at the ready. When he sees a room full of piled junk parts and a giant crucible, he lets loose and shuts the door. When Tormenoth opens the door scimitar first, Ariel clutching handfuls of eldritch magic in her hands just to his right, they find only a handful of badly damaged mechanical spiders that they quickly dispatch. A search of the room reveals that any of the junk parts that had any value are totally worthless after the fireball. However, the five foot tall crucible suspended from the ceiling is built to resist heat and is still glowing red from its top. Leon volunteers to play with fire as everyone else backs out into the hall, but he agrees to be safe using their dungeon looted, insulated lava worm gloves to handle it, only to find the light isn’t from heat, but from an illusion concealing more treasure inside the ceramic crucible. It holds some cow futures, magical stunning crossbow bolts, and a nice porcelain planter. Not a great haul compared to the last two treasures, but still worth adding to their total.
Opening the other door in this room, on its south wall, they find a workshop. Paranoia mostly worn off, the group quickly searches and dismantles the room of anything valuable, netting some masonry and carpentry tools but deciding to leave behind the workbenches as unworth the effort of dragging them out considering they’d likely reached their limit on minor goods with all the spider parts. With that in mind and not seeing anything else to loot in the dungeon, they make their way back to the entrance and knock three times. They are teleported out with their loot and walked over to the judges tent where all their loot is piled up, tabulated, and they are given the market value for the generic goods and items. Their proctor greets them with wide eyes, having never seen that much money in one place, but dutifully takes them back to the same classroom they waited in before as their other competitors are called forth one-by-one for their own turns at the Red Daring.
Having a real moment to rest, the group can’t help but worry about how their numbers will stack up. Leon and Tormenoth decide the pass the time continuing to train the cleric in how to actually fight in heavy armor. For Tormenoth, this was a skill he learned early on, back when he was young and his mother often used martial training as a way to keep him busy in a structured environment, especially one where he could vent his frustrations out on hapless target dummies or other trainees. He’s glad he has those skills now, but that wasn’t his view at the time when it was either train for the guard or spend time in jail for theft. On the other side of the training, Leon is barely keeping up with the sparring. Leon wonders if maybe Styx doesn’t have the right view of things, keeping around a construct of bone and sinew to do the heavy armor wearing or take the brunt of spider attacks. At the very least, there isn’t really any glory to be had in making living creatures suffer and fight when non-living constructs, perhaps even necromancy, could be used instead. But before long, their sparring begins to tire them enough that the idle thoughts fade back into the subconscious and a knock jolts Ariel and Rila from their desk naps.
A faint cheer can be heard from other nearby classrooms as the group’s proctor slips in the room. She bring with her a handwritten scroll that she slowly unfurls as she marches to the front of the room. “Dissonant Whisperers, with a total value of 19,500, have come in second place…” They all look between each other, no one saying anything for a brief moment, before they all scramble forward to see the rest of the list. The team that had beaten them was Catalyst, having edged them out by only 260 silver of treasure, but they had been worried they were far behind, sure they had missed some secret nook that needed a brass key. The group starts to ask questions about how their friends, rivals, and enemies had done, but the proctor raises her hands defensively, “I can’t really answer that stuff, both ‘cuz I don’t know and ‘cuz I’m supposed to be neutral. But I am supposed to bring you all to see the Dean, since you got in the top three. He likes to meet the top performers personally.”
Dean Brandt Kupfergetriebe is a fiery red haired dwarf with a matching beard, braided with turning gears and gadgets. His secluded office is paneled with a rich wood that has veins of copper running through it. When they enter the stout, muscled man tips his broad hat at the group and gestures to sturdy chairs. “Congratulations on your victory, Whisperers. I quite like your directness with some of those traps and puzzles, if Casterly can’t build his junk to withstand a little poking then he’s begging someone to break his stuff. But let me cut to the chase with you all here,” he says as he waves his hands to cast a spell. Ariel and Leon are skeptical but allow him to cast unimpeded. “There, a little additional privacy, but now I can tell you that I know about the EGG, “he says as he breathes out a breath of colorful smoke. It begins to coalesce as the room seems to grow larger until looming over the Dissonant Whisperers is the full form a huge red dragon with flecks of coppers across his red scales and vibrant wings of fire and soot. “I am Brashka Veinborn the Red, and I mean you no harm here. HA, no I wouldn’t want that egg if you were giving it to me. No, I can guess at what that old hag Tiamat is playing at with this thing, she wants to get me and other powerful dragons squabbling over her little “gift”, playing her usual game of survival of the fittest. But see, I have built myself something powerful here in this school, I am at the heart of innovators and tinkerers the world over. I am right where I want to be, so fighting for some little relic won’t give me more of what I want, I already have it.” He waves away the smoke as he leans forward and pulls off his large hat to glower, “Make no mistake though, I will fight to keep it out of the hands of upstarts and rivals. They will try to steal or destroy what I have built here, doing more damage than what I’d lose in fighting for the egg and that includes destroying you if I get so much as a whiff that you are giving it away or selling it. You, my young collegiates, are going to be playing eggsitter.” He slaps the desk, making all four of the group jump, “Ho Ho, but I’m quite happy to play things straight with y’all. You keep that egg out of the hands of other dragons and I’ll keep out o’ your hair. Hopefully, we can keep it that way long enough that I can convince the more level headed dragons with something to lose to make a pact to go after anyone who tries to claim that egg. Until then though… You. Are. The. Bait.” Recovering from their nerves, Ariel is the first one to ask the draconic dean what makes the egg so useful to dragons, all it does for them is summon shadowy kobolds. He answers that the egg, in the hands of an attuned dragon, would allow them to turn even unfertilized dragon eggs into perfectly loyal, dragon soldiers. When Rila asks how he knows, he responds that the eggs whispers to him, even now, about what powers it can grant to the dragon strong enough to take it. Without much else to discuss and other teams to see, the Dean gives his condolences to the team for the burden they have unwittingly stumbled into, and then tells the proctor to bring in the third place team.
They head back to the room, and the proctor brings in a magic crystal. Once set up, it flickers to life and then a small, intangible copy of the dean of Page & Wisdom appears. The project goes on to explain in a distracted, sing-song voice about what the next challenge will be, a Green Meditation on Wisdom. This challenge will take place within three weeks. The challenge will be elaborated on further on the day of, but teams should prepare to be discreetly moved to a forested location with their equipment to face a challenge of their moralities and characters. Just as the image flickers off and the proctor begins to ask if there are any questions, a second, shadowy figure drips up from the crystal. The cloaked figure introduces himself as the Dean of Blackrun Academy of the Arts, and that his yearly challenge will begin now. From a list of known challenges, each team’s advisor will be secretly given one task that the team must complete no later than two weeks after the Green Meditation is finished by the last team. Any team that fails to complete its assigned task will be disqualified from earning any points. All other teams will then submit their guesses on what each other teams’ task was, earning a point for each correct answer. This, he explains, will be the Mystery in Blue Genius.
The proctor is willing to answer any questions the group has, but after they run out of practical questions about timing and how to turn in their task, the proctor says they are free to go and then leaves. With lots of new information and likely a big target on their backs, the group hangs back to go visit their halfling friends in the stands and hopefully chat with the number one team, the dwarven group. They wait awhile after speaking to their friends, but they are almost ready to leave when the proctor finally leaves from the dwarven team’s room. Ariel walks in to introduce them and the dwarven team offhandedly mentions a few details of the group’s recent adventures and that they are looking forward to the Dissonant Whisperers providing a strong challenge. On the way out, the group even runs into Ophelia and the Huntresses, with both groups congratulating each other for placing better than they hoped. Ophelia comments that maybe her group should have stuck around to trade more info, laughs, and then runs off to catch up to the Huntresses.
The group takes a well deserved rest and in their downtime goes off to buy and sell in the marketplaces. Their rise to the second ranking doesn’t leave them unnoticed however, as they wake up the following day to a great deal of mail. The one that sticks out most to Ariel though is one from her father’s administrator. He spends time talking pleasantries about how the estate is going and her father is staying busy, but also mentions that her father recently received a veiled threat from someone who intends to expose Ariel’s lineage secret to the barony and other nobility. The blackmailer hinted that her father better pay to keep this secret quiet, or else rumors can spread as quick as feathered wings. Rila on the other hand starts to feel cramped and fenced in on a campus that has suddenly started paying her a great deal more attention. It reminds her of the feeling when her home forest began to slowly change, thorns and roots tripping her up where they hadn’t been before, like the fans and opportunists now interrupting her meals and walks. She wouldn’t be so naive a second time to think it was nothing, she would be prepared for when things got worse this time.