Chronicles of Khaldun: Crux of Eternity

Unfinished Business, Part 6

Starday, Flocktime 22, 553 CY (51 AN)

The day finally arrives, and the Shields of the Sorrowfell have no more preparations to undertake. Having made their arrangements with The Solstice King to appear on the roster as The Dawnslight Ripjaws, Bosabrieln will use seeming to make them appear as a shabby group of fey: Bezaldooz appears as a satyr, Bosabrieln and Peren appear as eladrin, and Torinn appears as a firbolg. The night before, as is typical procedure, Bezaldooz enchanted the party with mind blank to protect them from divination and mind-altering sorceries. The Shields spend much of the day in the settlements surrounding the Coliseum Morpheuon, acting in character and preparing for that evening’s battle.

Finally, the event arrives. They emerge second, appearing in an arena that appears to be a rock-strewn, sandy plain. At the far side is a churning sea of dust. Their opponents at The Detroit Dungeoneers: a heavily-armored male dwarf with sword and shield; a heavily-armored male human with an unrecognized holy symbol, a massive hammer, and a belt depicting a fire giant’s face; a female elf with a curved shortsword and a subtle aura; and a male halfling with light armor and a fabulous moustache. All of them bear group insignia and several symbols of unknown provenance, many of which seem to describe guilds or other organizations. Sponsorship, perhaps?

From his floating box, the Khan of Nightmares announces that The Detroit Dungeoneers are pitted against the relative newcomers The Dawnslight Ripjaws, and that the battle is to take place in a facsimile of the wastes of distant and doomed Athas. With little fanfare, he announces the start of the battle. (The Shields, anticipating doing battle with him, note that he is accompanied by some sort of clay golem and three women, one of whom is outfitted as a bard or minstrel.)

As the Shields start moving into position, a massive creature burrows upward from the sand and begins charging in their direction, seemingly directly toward Torinn. It has large, trunklike legs, massive claws, and a mouth full of threatening fangs. Its roar is terrifying, and rattles even the battle-hardened Shields of the Sorrowfell. Bosabrieln invokes a hypnotic pattern spell on The Detroit Dungeoneers so that they can fully turn their attention to the rest of the arena, and the Shields deign to destroy this fell beast before antagonizing the Khan of Nightmares.

The Shields make short work of the creature with blade and spell before considering what to do next. An argument erupts as they realize they didn’t fully determine the signal to drop seeming ahead of time, and Bezaldooz finally resolves the argument by suddenly casting dispel magic on Bosabrieln’s seeming spell. (Bosabrieln, prepared for this moment, casts another hypnotic pattern on the Khan’s skybox. All within manage to resist it, and The Detroit Dungeoneers are now released from Bosabrieln’s thrall.) When the Khan of Nightmares sees the change, he announces five million gold pieces to anyone who brings him their heads and then he leaps off his platform to dive toward them. His clay golem shifts into a sphinx-like form and follows suit, while the women in his skybox all disappear. The Voracious Visitor also appears, ominously floating towards the Shields. From his position in the stands, The Solstice King begins launching arrows at anyone who attempts to rush the arena. (Or who attempts to rush him, for that matter.)

When the Voracious Visitor moves into position, it ripples, turning into a raging, roaring vortex that drags the Shields of the Sorrowfell into it. With the exception of Goruthrel, they all manage to avoid being sucked into the void, but are left off-balance and badly exposed. Peren recovers, taking a few steps back and tossing the javelin of cancellation at the Voracious Visitor. His keen eye sends the magic item directly into the middle of the umbral blot, and its surface briefly ripples before exploding in a burst of white light.

When the dust settles, all are still standing, although everyone has taken at least some wounds from the blast. Torinn uses the power of Cage to invoke the equivalent of a high-powered Mordenkainen’s private sanctum, thereby trapping the Khan of Nightmares in his own arena. (Torinn’s truesight also reveals the Khan’s true form: a humanoid creature with backwards hands and two vulture-like heads, each weeping blood.) Despite the token opposition from The Detroit Dungeoneers when their human spellcaster invokes a column of holy fire upon the Shields, they focus on the Khan of Nightmares — although Bezaldooz is being menaced by the clay golem, and so tries to evade it — prompting him to reposition himself as The Detroit Dungeoneers attempt to move into position. The clay golem shifts its features into a woman’s face with a writhing nest of snakes for hair, and Bosabrieln and Peren inadvertently catch sight of it, instantly turning into stone. The Khan of Nightmares invokes a spell to stun Torinn, and the man with the hammer uses the opportunity to throw his maul at Torinn as it explodes outward with a concussive blast. Bezaldooz, having moved away from the rampaging clay monster and resisted the hammer’s onslaught, invokes meteor swarm, taking out most of The Detroit Dungeoneers and the Khan’s pet clay golem. The Khan, surprised by the fact that meteor swarm hurt him as badly as it did, attempts to flee, returning to his skybox and clearly poising himself to escape. Before he can, however, Bezaldooz fires a fire bolt at the Khan, which again penetrates his defenses and discorporates him, sending him back to whatever pit spawned him.

Bezaldooz and Torinn then turn to the last remaining Detroit Dungeoneer, the elf. They offer her to leave, but she reveals that she cannot unless someone opens the arena. Bezaldooz, having acquired the arena when he defeated the Khan, does so and bids her to leave. She asks if he can revive her companions, and he agrees, although Torinn takes the human priest’s belt as a penalty. Once the opposition is revived and leaves, the Shields set about evacuating the Coliseum Morpheuon before taking their petrified comrades deeper into the complex. They are soon met by Tetposmeton and his associates, who help secure the complex and set about invoking the ritual to free Akinshata. Bezaldooz and Torinn ask if they can help revive Bosabrieln and Peren, and he says arrangements will be made.

Within the hour, Bezaldooz and Torinn are met by a shady cleric, a bald human man with an inverted pentacle for a holy symbol, who invokes the proper rites to return Bosabrieln and Peren from stone to flesh. Bosabrieln is upset that he missed the rest of the battle, and asks Bezaldooz and Torinn for every detail. After investigating the personal chambers of the Khan of Nightmares, Bezaldooz transfers ownership of the Coliseum Morpheuon to Peren, as he seems to be the one among them who really wants it.

Satisfied that they have completed their task in the Coliseum Morpheuon, the Shields of the Sorrowfell return to the Sorrowfell Plains to tell the tale and ensure they have completed any last-minute business before they turn to their individual projects and a much-deserved rest.

Bezaldooz wraps his affairs before heading east into the borderlands to build his own inn. He hopes to make a safe haven where new adventurers might find respite as they undertake their own journeys — the sort of place only the truly dedicated might be able to find. He also moves his research materials and his clone vat to this inn’s attached wizard tower so that he might be able to continue his research in private.

Bosabrieln finally undertakes his grand ambition, taking Torugar’s offer to petition the gods for inclusion in their pantheon, participating in the trials of the Olympics to show his worthiness as a member of their ranks. Although Bosabrieln quietly disappears from the world, some travelers claim they have seen miracles done in his name, while the emergent eoshee of the Feywild revere him as a god. Some even claim visitations from a beautiful female angel named Aratha, first among Bosabrieln’s angels.

Peren is the new commander of the Coliseum Morpheuon, and tries to ensure that the change in management is as painless as possible. A major change occurs immediately, however: he abolishes slavery and frees the oneirobound, improving relations with Dingue and offering the oneirobound a place as employees rather than slaves. It is not long before Peren is approached by Khanbika Khongordzal, also known as the Queen of Thistles. She and her sisters were the women seen in the Khan’s skybox, and she acted as the Khan’s majordomo. (Her sisters, meanwhile, are bound to her so they don’t cause trouble.) She knows how this place operates and would be willing to serve its new master. Even though she seems disappointed that Peren is abolishing slavery — no doubt because he soon determines her to be a night hag — she is happy to abide by his new restrictions in the performance of her duties. Besides, Peren still maintains his ties to the Lower Planes through Tetposmeton, who is now due for a promotion thanks to his role in freeing his superior, the pit fiend Akinshata.

And when not running the Coliseum Morpheuon, Peren trawls through the Underdark, honing his skills and hunting the most fearsome monsters of the deepearth. He is also one of the few Shields of the Sorrowfell to make use of his estates in Duchy Jepson, occasionally visiting as the mood takes him. He also retains Obash, Hurm, “Mad Dog” Eddie, Mike, and the other orcs of the Grimtooth Mercenary Company in Argent for his own use in the Coliseum Morpheuon.

Finally, Torinn returns Cage to Archmagus Iandak Voiddrake’s lair in the Astral Plane. The archmage’s simulacrum asks for all the details regarding the sword’s performance, and likewise answers some of Torinn’s concerns about the recent revelations that he is a partial clone of Iandak. The simulacrum notes that Torinn’s will and his choices are his own — something even the simulacrum cannot claim about himself, since his will is bound to that of the wizard. Torinn still thinks he will need to take time to learn his place in the world, although he may someday return here to speak further with the archmage. After leaving, Torinn sees to a final piece of business: returning to his businesses in Scandshar, he hands over control of day-to-day operations to his employees, telling them he simply wants a 10% cut which he will collect whenever he is in town. Otherwise, he wishes to remain a silent partner and they are free to run these businesses how they wish. His business complete, he returns to Duchy Jepson to speak with Ekaterina, offering her to accompany him to Dawnslight so that he may take his role in raising Rhonwen and keeping her safe. She agrees, and so Ekaterina, Torinn, and the shield guardian undertake the few weeks’ travel on foot from Duchy Jepson to Dawnslight, retracing the route Bosabrieln and Valna took to escort Leogold Spiritforged to Dawnslight over a year ago.

As for the Sorrowfell Plains, the seasons continue to change and the ages turn ever onward. The Shields bring lasting peace to the land, but new dangers rise as apple trees grow in the plains and monster attacks threaten the roads. Some claim that rumors of disappearances in the borderlands and tensions in the settlements presage greater disasters yet to come.

But those are tales best left for another time…

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Unfinished Business, Part 5.1

Earthday, Flocktime 13, 553 CY (51 AN)

Bosabrieln finds himself surprisingly nervous when he broaches the subject of his daughter with Vianibrar. (For his part, Vianibrar is blasé about the prospect of Bosabrieln having a child. Or really having children in general.) Still, as Bosabrieln’s only real family, he agrees to meet her. Just in case something happens when they confront the Khan of Nightmares.

Making arrangements with Bezaldooz, they teleport to Dawnslight. They are well-received by Kevian and Araatris, and Bosabrieln makes introductions all around. The afternoon is pleasant and the conversation is lively as Kevian and Araatris serve them stew. Bosabrieln again shares the lullaby he wrote for Rhonwen while Vianibrar shares a couple of children’s songs he knows. (He also shares the obligatory embarrassing anecdote about Bosabrieln as an adolescent, in proper family tradition.)

Most importantly, Vianibrar has now been introduced to the Fletchers and promises to look after Rhonwen should something happen to Bosabrieln. (Or should he achieve apotheosis and leave this world.)

All-in-all, it is a pleasant afternoon before Bosabrieln and Vianibrar take their leave and Bezaldooz teleports them back to Duchy Jepson.

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Unfinished Business, Part 5

Sunday, Flocktime 2, 553 CY (51 AN)

The Shields of the Sorrowfell only have a scant few days before they receive a sending from Tetposmeton, asking them to reconvene at the Fortress of Doldrums in the Elemental Chaos. And so Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, Peren, and Torinn again find themselves in the meeting room with the Solstice King and Tetposmeton to discuss plans for the upcoming raid on the Coliseum Morpheuon.

All are disappointed that the Solstice King’s dog is not present.

The Solstice King and Tetposmeton explain that they have been reviewing battle plans and realize there is an as-yet unconsidered complication to the plans as discussed last time. While the original plan is to ambush the Voracious Visitor and then assault the Coliseum Morpheuon, that is likely to hit a significant issue in that the Khan of Nightmares built the Coliseum Morpheuon as a fortress, one whose shape and layout he can control at will. If they destroy the Voracious Visitor, the Khan would no doubt lock down the fortress, giving the attackers the unenviable task of breaking into the fortress. This is made even more difficult by the fact that the more time it takes to besiege the Coliseum Morpheuon, the more likely it is that the Khan summons allies to outflank the attacking force.

In essence, a protracted siege benefits the defenders rather than the attackers. They need to complete this quickly or not at all.

Complicating matters is the fact that the Khan of Nightmares no doubt has contingencies in place to save himself. They suspect he can teleport to his own private sanctum if he gets in trouble, and the thing about his private sanctum is that it is nearly impregnable. There is only one door in the Coliseum Morpheuon that leads to the Khan’s private sanctum, but it is hidden, its location changes daily, and it can only be safely opened by those who have been invited inside as the door kills anyone else who tries to enter. Given his connection to the Coliseum Morpheuon, Akinshata can likely open the doorway for anyone if he is freed, but as previously noted, that requires a short ritual performed on the arena floor.

Given these parameters, the Solstice King and Tetposmeton have contemplated a couple of solutions. The Shields are welcome to offer their input or determine plans of their own.

First, the “less” dangerous solution: Tetposmeton has contacts in the Domains of Dread, in an arctic land called Isiksivik. According to them, the local government has been working on a project to create some manner of “dream key,” a device that allows the user to enter and manipulate dreams. A magically-advanced society, the folk of Isiksivik and its capital of Golova have created many such wonders, and it would no doubt be a simple matter for the Shields to infiltrate the castle of Khan Yemur — the ruler of Golova and Isiksivik, and the darklord of the domain — and steal the artifact. However, while that is ordinarily well within the Shields’ abilities, this particular heist comes with a significant complication. According to Tetposmeton’s contacts, Isiksivik is currently overrun by some manner of magical, memetic plague. The Solstice King knows it as the Idea of Thorns, a mysterious fey ailment that first appeared when the primordial elves of Ynn accidentally created or summoned it through unknown means. The Idea of Thorns was thought to be quarantined in the elves’ demiplane known as the Gardens of Ynn, but has now appeared in the Demiplane of Dread. Since it passes among infected individuals by talking and art, the Shields of the Sorrowfell cannot let it escape into the Material Plane and cannot allow themselves to be infected with it — if, say, a teleporting and plane-hopping wizard or cosmically-renowned bard were to become infected and began spreading that infection, it could easily bring the entire multiverse under the Idea of Thorns’ sway.

That’s the easy option. However, it means they can fight the Voracious Visitor outside on their own terms and then likely use the dream key to enter the Coliseum Morpheuon and move in a relatively straight line for the center. While that’s likely to still be a difficult fight, at least they don’t have to fight everyone at once.

The harder option involves disguising as combatants and fighting in the Coliseum Morpheuon. The Solstice King often acts as a patron to fighters in the arena, so it would be an easy matter to enter the competition. However, this would mean that the Shields of the Sorrowfell would have to fight everyone at once — in addition to the ongoing competition, revealing themselves on the arena floor would likely summon the Voracious Visitor. If they manage to kill the umbral blot, that might goad the Khan of Nightmares to confront them, but he always travels with his captain of the guard, a golem known as the Master of the Hounds, and his majordomo, a powerful bard known as the Queen of Thistles. They would likely be in for a very tough fight as every available defender converges on the arena, but they wouldn’t have to fight their way inside.

In that event, they may also want to consider options for keeping the Khan of Nightmares from fleeing to his sanctum. Keeping him stunned or using a wish to duplicate Mordenkainen’s private sanctum are decent options, but again, it is up to the Shields of the Sorrowfell.

After discussion, the Shields decide they would prefer to keep their options open. They will likely do both: the Solstice King should enter them into the competition, but they will also retrieve the dream key so that they have a fallback option should they need it. Or so they have an exit plan if the plan falls apart. All present agree, and the Solstice King says he will make the appropriate arrangements. They need to decide on their team’s name and what they will resemble when they arrive so he can give an appropriate description to the event organizers.

With that, the meeting adjourns. The Shields return to Argent so that they may prepare for their return to the Domains of Dread in two days, once Bezaldooz has altered his spell selection and protected everyone with mind blank. The following day, Moonday, Flocktime 3, Bosabrieln sends a sending to Olga of clan Zivkovic, asking for her aid. Olga and Vata arrive in Argent and Bosabrieln asks for her help in traveling to Isiksivik. She demurs, indicating she has been there comparatively recently — Olga and Vata apparently emerged there after leaving the Shields in Dominia. She notes that it is a terrible place, and obliquely references the ongoing plague. (When everyone stares at her expectantly, she indicates she and Vata were not infected.) If the Shields need to go, she is happy to help her cousin, but she recommends against it and hopes she doesn’t have to stay long. She further notes that Khan Yemur usually keeps the borders closed, so they will no doubt have to defeat him to leave. Bosabrieln doesn’t think that will be a problem.

With travel plans set, the Shields prepare to leave the following morning on Godsday, Planting 4. Bezaldooz casts three mind blanks that evening, waiting to cast the fourth the next morning. Having been warned that this is an arctic landscape, the travelers equip their winter clothing, whereupon Olga and Vata lead the Shields into the nearby wilderness. They are walking for several minutes before they are enveloped in a sudden fog, emerging from an alleyway in what appears to be a large city at night, illuminated by an arctic aurora. What little they can see is impressive, as illusions mark the city streets as street signs and building adverts. A frozen lake stretches to the west, while a castle looms closeby.

The streets are largely empty, save for the warforged soldiers standing guard outside the castle. Olga and Vata take their leave, hoping to find some place to hunker down while the Shields finish their work. The Shields approach, as Bosabrieln answers the warforged soldiers’ remarks about why they are outside after curfew by announcing the Shields as traveling researchers specializing in dream research. One of the warforged goes inside to check on their status, and though they do not have an appointment, they are allowed inside to wait.

They are forced to wait the better part of an hour — Peren is asked to keep his owl under control when he lets it fly laps around the waiting area — before being allowed into the reception hall. A satyr opens the double doors at the opposite end of the waiting room, dressed in the garb of the Isiksivikians and wearing a lute slung across his shoulder. He introduces himself as Mizaiq and announces the travelers to those within. Inside, there are a couple of warforged guards and a dark-skinned human dressed in finery sitting at the throne at the far end of the room. Mizaiq announces the travelers as they enter, and the man introduces himself as Khan Oyuchan Yemur, instructing those present to call him Oyuchan. (He seems surprisingly insightful and jovial for the alleged darklord of this Dread Domain.) Once introductions are made, the Shields get down to business. Bosabrieln begins by explaining that they are researchers from The University for the Study of the Arcane Arts and Sciences in Duchy Jepson, and they were enticed here by the glory of Golova and the Khan’s commitment to arcane research. Among other topics of interest, they are interested in dream research — having had experience in the Plane of Dreams themselves — and heard there was some manner of dream research presently ongoing here.

Khan Yemur is apparently impressed with their initial presentation, as he explains that they are currently undertaking dream research to treat the memetic plague that has fallen upon their land, and he invites the travelers to stay in the guest wing of the castle. He will speak to Rereti of Har’Akir, the lead researcher on the project, and prepare a second meeting with him later this evening. If the travelers wish, Khan Yemur will invite them to a late dinner. The Shields agree.

Mizaiq shows the travelers to their rooms, ensuring that they have all they need. Before the satyr leaves, Bosabrieln asks if he may examine the instrument strapped to his back, briefly playing a tune upon it. Mizaiq is suitably impressed by the display, and after asking about Bosabrieln where he learned music, he takes his leave, saying they should reconvene in an hour or so.

The Shields of the Sorrowfell take this opportunity to discuss their plans. A brief investigation of the room reveals sigils that suggest this whole place is constructed for easy reception of scrying sensors. As they discuss their plans, Torinn even notes the silvery sphere of a scrying sensor appearing in their rooms to observe. Fortunately, as they are all under the effects of mind blank and some of them are permanently warded from divination, they cannot be observed under these conditions.

Currently, they just plan on going along with whatever is to be discussed. Hopefully they’ll wrangle their way to see the dream key, and then they’ll play it by ear.

In about an hour, they are summoned to return to the reception hall. They are asked to leave their gear and weapons behind; their escort will take them to the reception hall when they have properly unequipped themselves. After some discussion of what they wish to do, they decide to go with their host’s request. It’s not as if they are far away from their rooms.

Returning to the reception hall, they are joined by a robed figure with strange, intense eyes. Introducing himself as Rereti of the domain of Har’Akir, he is apparently the architect of the dream key. He explains that his own dream experiments coincide with those of the government of Golova: they sought a way to fight the memetic plague — which apparently takes the form of some manner of entity — by simultaneously entering the dreams of all the infected and fighting the entity there. They had a group with significant experience who agreed to battle the entity, but that didn’t work out as expected and now they are considering possible alternatives. But still, they are developing the dream key in case their original plan can possibly work.

As for the Shields, Rereti is impressed with their experience and knowledge. They have actually been to the Plane of Dreams, while he has not — his knowledge of dream manipulation is wholly theoretical. He suspects that while they have less formal knowledge, their practical knowledge may be invaluable for further development and testing of the dream key. Presently, it is largely complete but untested as they have not yet fully discerned the dangers of sending someone into the Plane of Dreams with this memetic plague on the loose.

Regardless, Khan Yemur and Rereti are pleased with their meeting, and make arrangements to grant the travelers a tour of the lab the next morning. (The precise time will be determined depending on how prepared the arcanists find themselves for an inspection on short notice.) Khan Yemur invites them to dinner after this, giving them an opportunity to return to their rooms if they wish to change into something more formal than their traveling clothes.

The travelers are escorted back to the guest wing and given an opportunity to freshen up before dinner. There they note that someone has searched their bags, although nothing was stolen. After ensuring that their things have not been molested, they set about joining Khan Yemur in the dining room. Servants serve them a sumptuous meal while they take the opportunity to speak to the Khan regarding about the magical research in this place, the wonders of Golova, and the memetic plague. He explains that his ancestors sought to make Isiksivik the most advanced kingdom in the world, and Golova is the final product: a place that prizes arcane learning above all else. (Their meal is primarily cuisine to which they are accustomed, but served in the Isiksivikian style: Khan Yemur explains that they are able to grow crops by magic in this northern climate.) As for the plague, he knows little about it save that it has ravaged his people. When the Shields note that they understand it came from the elves, the mood in the room changes as Khan Yemur perceives that they know more about it, and given that some of their number are elves or elf-kin, he seems to sour quickly. Bosabrieln breaks the tension by asking if he can return to his room to fetch his instrument and play some music, which Oyuchan allows. Bosabrieln returns, playing the simple tune of the lullaby he wrote for his daughter, followed by a sampling of songs from around the Sorrowfell Plains as an example of the local culture.

Khan Yemur, despite himself, is clearly moved by the beautiful song. He does not react, he just seems like he is somewhere far distant for a brief time.

Dinner finishes without further incident, and the travelers are sent back to their rooms. The travelers decide to retire to Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion for the night, and Bezaldooz will again cast mind blank on some party members tonight and some in the morning. Nothing further happens in the night, save for the Shields discussing the fact that while their host is quite personable and their initial impression of him was surprisingly favorable, he clearly runs this place like some manner of police state. Any doubt that he is the darklord of this Domain of Dread has largely left them only through the small interactions with Khan Yemur, his guards, and his staff.

Plus, Rereti seems evil as hell.

The next morning, Peren leaves Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion to find a porter outside, delivering a message that they will be summoned at noon. No weapons or armor. If they wish for breakfast, they need only ask the guards outside their suite of rooms. The servant then rushes back into the main castle, clearly uncomfortable with these strange guests and their vaguely probing questions.

Having time to discuss their plan, they ultimately decide to stash their bags in Peren’s portable hole which he will hide on his person while Bezaldooz will hide a couple of weapons in his deep-pocket cloak for easy access. Bezaldooz also summons Goruthrel and casts invisibility on the spider so that it can spy for him. Bosabrieln considers using mass suggestion to get the researchers to hand over the dream key without a fight. Everything goes according to plan: the Shields are led to the laboratories, finding themselves in an alchemy lab. In the middle of the room upon a table sits the dream key: a pale, ovoid object like an egg but painted with a singular eye. Notes around it partially describe its construction; Bezaldooz recognizes some alchemical concepts and suspects he could duplicate them. (The notes also suggest that ghosts are somehow involved in the device’s manufacture.) In addition to the Shields, Khan Yemur, and Rereti, two guards and two apprentices are on hand to assist with the demonstration.

Although Khan Yemur is clearly increasingly suspicious of these travelers, they ask their questions of the researchers and Rereti. However, it rapidly falls apart when Bezaldooz sends Goruthrel to get a better look around the laboratories. Khan Yemur lashes out, sending bolts of energy from his hands at the invisible spider and destroying it with the second one. When he starts asking questions, Bosabrieln tries the mass suggestion to calm everyone down and to demand the dream key. Unfortunately, Khan Yemur notices as he starts to cast the spell and orders the others to attack.

The battle is swift and chaotic. The Shields immediately grab the dream key and the research notes, securing them as the fight erupts. Only then does Peren conjure a wall of fire to partition the room. Seeing this display of magic, Khan Yemur and the apprentices flee for the exits while the warforged soldiers move into melee. Khan Yemur attempts to throw a potion at Bezaldooz as he flees, invoking a spell as he does so, but Bezaldooz counterspells firit, causing the liquid to turn into icy shards breaking against an invisible barrier and falling harmlessly to the ground. Bezaldooz retrieves Torinn’s axe while Peren slaps the portable hole against the wall, running inside to gather his swords. Bosabrieln holds his ground, trying to manipulate the soldiers’ minds while Torinn rushes after the fleeing Khan. Rereti also attempts to flee downstairs, but he appears to be somewhat slow, hobbling his way down the stairs. When he realizes he will not escape in time, he changes tactics: to the surprise of everyone present, he turns into a screaming sandstorm and slips underneath a nearby door. The Shields make short work of the soldiers as Torinn and Peren give chase after the Khan: Torinn cuts his way through the fleeing apprentices before engaging the Khan. Holding him fast, he starts attacking him with his axe; weirdly, the Khan’s defensive wounds do not bleed and appear to be the same color all the way through, as if he were cast in a mold. Peren soon catches up, flanking the Khan as they both begin attacking him; the Khan largely defends with his bare hands, generating strange energies to try to defend and attack. Upstairs, Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln note that the warforged soldiers’ bodies are twitching and so he invokes a fireball to make short work of them before Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln flee downstairs.

The battle is over within seconds: another blast from Bezaldooz kills most of the arcanists in the lab, but Khan Yemur manages to invoke a spell that causes Peren and Torinn to hesitate just long enough to allow the Khan to flee. Peren gives chase, dropping a wall of fire ahead of the Khan and finally allowing him and Torinn to destroy the Khan. When Torinn cleaves across his torso, the Khan disappears in a flash of light.

Satisfied that they have everything and with more guards on the way, Bezaldooz retrieves his tuning fork, using plane shift to send the Shields to Argent.

Once returned to the Material Plane, the Shields of the Sorrowfell finally have an opportunity to study the dream key and prepare for their future battle with the Khan of Nightmares. They spend the better part of the next month on this endeavor: Bezaldooz studies the dream key, and takes a sojourn to Sigil to purchase some spell scrolls for transcription in his book. (He purchases antimagic field, enlarge/reduce, and fly.) Bosabrieln accompanies him to spend time with Aratha. Torinn accompanies him to talk to Tetposmeton on an enigmatic errand.

Knowing that he might not return from his battle with the Khan of Nightmares, Bosabrieln also arranges to bring Vianibrar to meet his daughter, Rhonwen, hoping to further secure her future.

As the date draws closer, the Shields of the Sorrowfell receive word from the Solstice King, informing them of their upcoming bout on Starday, Flocktime 22 (their time). They are evidently going to battle against a group known as the Detroit Dungeoneers. Apparently, the Detroit Dungeoneers have previously made names for themselves on their world in what is known as the Extreme Dungeon Crawl League, a competitive dungeon-crawling sport.

What the Shields choose to do with this information in their remaining allotted time is up to them, of course…

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Unfinished Business, Part 4

Freeday, Planting 21, 553 CY (51 AN)

Certain that their plans are complete but that the Shields of the Sorrowfell will not travel to Dingue tomorrow, Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, Peren, and Torinn spend the rest of the day relaxing before retiring for bed.

The next day, Bezaldooz teleports the Shields of the Sorrowfell to Duchy Jepson, where they all go their separate ways, whether to drink or research or speak to Vianibrar. Torinn goes to “retrieve the shield guardian,” but in truth travels to the Wizard’s Tower. Again moved by a force he cannot wholly name, he heads to the basement, traveling to a dead end. As he approaches the wall, the stones part, opening into another space.

It appears to be a circular, stone room organized like a laboratory. The windows, however, overlook a silvery sea and darkened sky — Torinn has been to other realms enough to recognize the Astral Sea, and that this place is no longer in the world. The only inhabitant is a single robed, bronze-scaled dragonborn whom Torinn recognizes from many inn stays with mirrors as bearing a not-insignificant resemblance to himself.

The dragonborn begins interrogating the wary Torinn, and Torinn finds him to be somewhat eccentric, imperious, and unpleasant, but not hostile. The dragonborn introduces himself as Archmagus Iandak Voiddrake, Supplicant of the Quaint and Curious Spheres — or rather, the archwizard’s simulacrum, as the wizard himself has been absent for some time. (Torinn surmises that Iandak himself left several decades ago, probably before the Cackledread War, although the simulacrum has not been keeping close track of time, having abandoned the practice “after a decade or so.” Torinn also notes that the simulacrum has evidently not spoken to another living being in that time, which neatly explains his eccentricities.) He has apparently been continuing experiments in Iandak’s stead, and suspects the elder wizard is likely still alive, although he does not know for certain.

Iandak also inquires about Torinn’s intrusion on the tower, and notes that Torinn must be a partially-activated clone of Iandak. Apparently the wizard was working on some grand spell to ensure his survival, an automated parthenogenesis spell that would seed clones into which he could project his consciousness if anything happened to him. Has Torinn come into contact with large concentrations of magical energy? Torinn says he likely has, which Iandak suspects may have partially activated him. (It explains why he is able to traverse the tower and maybe even why he started manifesting magic.) While Iandak’s simulacrum asks if Torinn knew his father — he did not, which seems to not surprise the wizard — Drusilla remarks that she certainly does not recall mating with a spell.

With that strange revelation, Torinn returns to his main point: he may be in need of a secondary weapon if current events part him from Drusilla. While she balks, Torinn notes that we may all need to make sacrifices to ensure others’ safety. Surely that is something she can understand? She is quiet, and Torinn continues, asking if there is anything Iandak might have available. After some thought, he says there is a blade on the top floor of the tower, but he warns Torinn that it is a prison: the blade imprisons the potent efreeti noble, Padishah Nurhan Solak, whom Iandak defeated and bound some decades ago. The efreeti can be commanded to grant wishes, but if all three wishes should ever be used, the efreeti will be freed and will no doubt seek vengeance. Torinn takes this under advisement, and ascends the tower to seek the blade.

Arriving at the top of the tower, Torinn finds a large room featuring a pool, bookcases, and a table covered in papers. Dominating the center of the room is a statue of an efreeti bearing a scimitar, although the scimitar is clearly a real sword and not part of the statue. Made of black iron, it is sized for the giant genie and clearly has runes along the blade and some sort of markings along the haft. The pommel appears to be a small cage. When Torinn approaches and touches the blade, the statue animates, its stony flesh turning into the ebon form of an efreeti.

Padishah Nurhan Solak gives Torinn an opportunity to take the sword freely if he wishes for the Padishah’s freedom. Torinn retorts that he will happily take the sword without a fight. Neither side compromises.

The genie invokes a spell and transforms into a massive, wormlike reptile creature with blue scales and twelve legs. Torinn begins hacking into it, and although it tries to grab him, it meets with little success before he carves it apart and it transforms back into the Padishah’s form. He summons a fire elemental, but Torinn manages to disrupt the genie’s concentration with his unrelenting assault and he finds that the elemental moves to assist Torinn: although it cannot injure the efreeti, it moves to harry him and tries to pin the genie. The fight does not last long after that, as an increasingly desperate Padishah Solak tries to defend against the lone dragonborn warrior. When defeated, the genie disappears in a puff of ash as his scimitar clatters to the ground. A faint, glowing ember appears in the cage on the pommel, and the runes along the blade glow a dull crimson. Torinn gathers the blade, finding it warm to the touch. Before he leaves, noting that the fire elemental begins setting fire to the books, Torinn grabs several papers from the table in the hopes of rescuing them and perhaps delivering them to Bezaldooz. He then heads back downstairs.

Once again at the base of the tower, he thanks Iandak and explains that there is a nuisance upstairs. Iandak says he will take care of it after Torinn leaves. Torinn likewise notes that he may return here with further questions, and Iandak supposes that he will be able to return the way he came. (Torinn also finds that Drusilla and the sword don’t seem to get along very well, as they occasionally interject and snipe at one another.) With that, Torinn leaves the Astral Sea, returning to the Wizard’s Tower in Duchy Jepson.

Torinn first makes his way to the shops to purchase a plain scabbard for the genie’s scimitar — which is sized like a greatsword for him — and a cloak to hopefully hide the thing. Then making his way to the Shields’ estates, he finds Ekaterina. After she asks if he is well — his armor is scuffed and he appears to have recently seen battle, but he notes he is fine — he inquires with her whether or not she finds the shield guardian useful. She says she does and asks if he needs it back, but he says he does not. He does ask her for one favor, however: he gives her a letter and 500 platinum pieces, and explains to her that if something should happen to him, she should deliver this to someone. The letter explains who it is. Ekaterina agrees and Torinn returns to town to find the others.

Peren instantly notices the new sword and starts inquiring about it, particularly since Torinn doesn’t return with the shield guardian. (He answers, somewhat truthfully, that Ekaterina is still using it.) Bezaldooz joins him in this line of inquiry, and while Torinn shrugs off their questions, he quickly dispenses with the pretense of trying to hide the sword.

That evening, Bezaldooz casts mind blank on them as planned, and everyone retires for the night. Torinn takes the opportunity to study his new sword so that he will best know how to use it in the future. Strangely, he finds that he can now read the runes along the blade, discovering that they are paeans to Padishah Nurhan Solak, written in the language of fire elementals. (The leather wrapped around the hilt is decorated with binding wards written in Draconic.)

The next day, Sunday, Planting 23, the Shields of the Sorrowfell prepare for their journey to Dingue. As previously discussed, the Shields are looking for any escaped slaves from the Coliseum Morpheuon — what the locals call “oneirobound.” Bezaldooz uses the tuning fork attuned to the Plane of Dreams to cast plane shift, and the Shields once again find themselves somewhere else.

As before, the transition to the Plane of Dreams is pleasant and the Shields’ surroundings feel diaphanous and fuzzy. They find themselves in the midst of a bustling market with creatures and vendors from across the planes. Everything is decorated in textiles of all colors, some of them impossible to achieve on the Material Plane, and the vendors sell such things as well. The air smells of the sea and sapphron, although there is a chemical undercurrent that no doubt represents the textile manufacturing process. As for their surroundings, they are in the midst of a super-structure comprising several towers and other buildings floating in the air, radiating from a central point like coral. It is beautiful but similarly impossible to achieve on the Material Plane.

While some travelers reach these buildings by conveyances, several of those present seem able to fly of their own power.

After some discussion, the Shields decide to ask a local merchant about whom best to contact regarding any sort of resistance at the Coliseum Morpheuon. They find a man named Hassan who speaks slowly and seems vaguely confused at their questions — he seems half-asleep himself. (In fact, they notice several of the folk of the market have similar manners, most of those so affected being merchants and other staff.) He recognizes Bosabrieln when he introduces himself and when he asks about the prospect of possibly liberating the oneirobound in the Coliseum Morpheuon, Hassan directs them to the Council of Six in the highest building overlooking the city. Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln also ask about flying, and Hassan replies many of those in the city can do it. For emphasis, he awkwardly hovers above the ground, briefly floating about his stall. Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln both successfully try, while Torinn is less successful at it. Peren just pulls out his flying carpet for the others to ascend to the Council of Six. (Bezaldooz eschews the carpet, save that he is notably slower than it, so he is eventually convinced to join them.)

Atop the city, they find a domed building, clearly some sort of parliament. Guards wait without, and when Bosabrieln makes his introduction, one goes inside to announce them. He returns, saying the council will see them momentarily. In a few minutes, they are announced (as “Baron Bosabrieln Peredhel Zivkovic Fenn” and his retinue) and invited inside. Within the council chambers, they find several benches facing a raised dais which in turn faces a semicircular platform behind which sit six robed figures with long cowls obscuring their faces. They give greeting, introducing themselves as Generosity, Morality, Patience, Vigor, Concentration, Wisdom, and suggesting they are clearly familiar with the Shields’ accomplishments. It is not long before Bosabrieln broaches the subject of the oneirobound at the Coliseum Morpheuon.

The Council of Six ask their guards and other fellows to leave the room.

Once it is just the Shields and the Council of Six, they get down to cases: the Shields have been threatened by the Khan of Nightmares using the Voracious Visitor, and that, as their reputation suggests, they are opposed to his activities. The Council interjects, noting that to their knowledge, the Voracious Visitor is bound to the Plane of Dreams and cannot travel to the Material Plane. They are in greater danger here than on their home plane. When the Shields say they saw it, the Council of Six asks if they are certain. They admit that it could have been an illusion.

Nevertheless, would it be possible to seek aid from the Council of Six or otherwise coordinate with them?

The Council of Six admits that it has made preparations for trying to awaken and free their own people, for the oneirobound are not free. The oneirobound are dreamers who have wandered too far from their own bodies and into deep dreams, so they are only half-awake, but they are prized for their ability to manipulate dream-stuff. However, this half-awake state makes them very susceptible to suggestion, which unscrupulous sorts use to their advantage. (The uses of a race of pliant beings able to create any object at will is likely self-evident.) The Council of Six is not yet ready to move on their plans to free the oneirobound, as they have been waiting for the Damnation Epoch, the Coliseum Morpheuon’s biggest event that only occurs every hundred years. (It is evidently a tournament to win the Cup of Dreams, an artifact that produces one wish a year for a century.) The next Damnation Epoch is set to occur in a couple of years, but Bosabrieln suspects they will move much sooner than that. Bezaldooz asks if time moves differently here, and the Council of Six reply that while it sometimes does, the Coliseum Morpheuon is fairly synchronized with the Material Plane. A few years here will be a few years for them, as well. The Shields and the Council of Six ultimately agree that whatever the Shields decide to do, they will let the Council of Six know. The Council of Six, in turn, will aid them if they are able. (But as they note, there is little they can do: they are not a military power, and those oneirobound who still work for the Khan of Nightmares are bound to his commands and will not leave willingly unless they are awakened.)

Leaving the chambers of the Council of Six, the Shields of the Sorrowfell initially make plans to stay at a local inn, The Awakening Sleeper. However, after some consideration of operational security, they instead decide to find an inconspicuous alley and retire to Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion to plan. Considering their resources, they recall their affiliation with the Four Seasons and ultimately decide to contact Lord Maervik in the hopes that he will be able to put them in contact with someone relevant. Bosabrieln prepares a sending_, saying, "_Greetings, friend. We wish to speak with you regarding a dreamy endeavor. Where can we find you to speak in-person?"

Lord Maervik replies, “Meet me at The Silver Bell in Vonseloth tomorrow for lunch.” With that, the Shields rest for the remainder of the day.

Awakening the next morning, Moonday, Planting 24, the Shields of the Sorrowfell take their leave by plane shift to Vonseloth, making their way to The Silver Bell. It is a well-appointed inn, run by an old gnome named Berny. He serves them but quickly surmises their identities, especially once Bosabrieln starts playing. As it often does, his playing attracts a large crowd, enraptured by his music.

Around noon, they hear a commotion as Lord Maervik pushes his way through the crowd. Although slightly exasperated, he seems largely amused that the Shields seem to attract such a crowd everywhere they go. He asks if they can retire somewhere else to speak privately, and the Shields say that is possible. Bosabrieln announces he is taking a break, Berny gives them access to a room, and they move upstairs briefly to speak in Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion.

As they proceed to discuss the purpose of their meeting, Lord Maervik explains that he knows someone who wishes to speak to them. An ally of the Court of Fallen Leaves known as Auberyon, the Solstice King, is a sponsor at the Coliseum Morpheuon, but he knows of the Shields’ proclivities — both in their opposition to slavery and their antipathy to the Khan of Nightmares — and wishes to speak with them about it in the hopes of securing their aid. Are they interested?

The Shields, of course, agree.

Lord Maervik presents them with a tuning fork attuned to Limbo in the Elemental Chaos for the purposes of plane shift and the sigil sequence to a teleportation circle at the Fortress of Doldrums. They are to meet the Solstice King at noon in three days’ time. (The Fortress of Doldrums was chosen as a neutral ground for all parties, something the githzerai monks agreed to do for their own reasons.) As the Shields ultimately agree to the terms, Lord Maervik takes his leave.

The Shields return to the common room of The Silver Bell so that Bosabrieln can resume playing for the crowd. Eventually, they retire for the night.

The next three days are largely uneventful as the Shields engage in personal business. (Notably, Bosabrieln arranges for Bezaldooz to transport him to Duchy Jepson to spend time with Vianibrar while Bezaldooz himself teleports to Argent so that he might monitor his clone’s progress and scribe spells from Lord Candle’s book into his own spellbook.) By midday on Earthday, Planting 27, the Shields have reconvened to make their way to the Elemental Chaos. Bezaldooz invokes plane shift and the Shields’ surroundings change yet again.

This transit is not nearly so pleasant as the trip to the Plane of Dreams, as they find themselves in the midst of a storm, a cacophony of elemental power. They are in an area of comparative calm, inside a teleportation circle in a gatehouse upon a bridge. They are apparently standing outside a fortress floating on a single earth mote in a bubble of calm in what is otherwise a raging maelstrom of flame, ice, mud, and wind. They greet the githzerai guards outside and are granted ingress to the fortress.

Inside, all is incredibly still as the githzerai monks are largely silent. They lead the Shields to a meeting room set aside for this purpose. Inside is a large table with six chairs, one of which is of enormous size. A single monk waits inside the room with a massive towel, and there is tea and biscuits provided for the guests.

After a brief wait, the doors open and three figures stride into the room. A massive elfin figure, well over ten feet tall, strides into the room, his lithe form adorned with tattoos a loincloth and little else. (Although they have never previously met, he is unmistakably the Solstice King.) He bears antlers and cloven hooves, and carries a longbow and halberd. He is accompanied by the largest hound anyone present has seen, over twenty feet tall at the shoulder, so large it has to crawl to squeeze through the door. In addition to its massive size, its storm-grey fur and lightning flecked eyes mark its eldritch parentage.

Unsurprisingly, everyone loves the hound, as both Peren and Torinn accost the beast to pet it. (The hound’s presence also reveals the purpose of the monk with the towel: the massive hound produces plenty of slobber, and the monks like to keep the place tidy.)

Following the Solstice King and his hound is none other than Tetposmeton, grinning widely at the Shields.

All take their seats.

Before they proceed, the Solstice King and Tetposmeton have one request: Tetposmeton gets to speak with Torinn alone first. This is something the Solstice King and Tetposmeton apparently discussed ahead of time, and is a stipulation for the rest of the conversation to take place. Given the ultimatum, they agree, and Tetposmeton and Torinn leave the room. Bezaldooz sends Goruthrel to spy on them, and although almost no one spots the familiar, the Solstice King clearly does. He points his finger and intones some manner of spell, destroying the spider before anyone notices what happened. After the room calms and Bezaldooz sheepishly apologizes, the others in the room wait for Tetposmeton and Torinn to return.

Retiring to an adjacent meeting room — Torinn notes with some amusement that a few githzerai monks follow Tetposmeton at all times and will not leave him unsupervised, even with Torinn there — Tetposmeton asks if Torinn trusts the others. Torinn inquires why the devil would ask, and Tetposmeton explains his meaning: is there any possibility that they could have been subverted by the Khan of Nightmares? Were any of them alone with the Khan at any point? After all, if the Khan of Nightmares suspects they are having this conversation, this whole enterprise is doomed to failure. (Tetposmeton further notes that Torinn’s distrust of him suggests he is unlikely to have allied with the Khan.) Torinn notes that Bosabrieln was briefly alone with the Khan more than once, but has not acted strangely since that meeting. He trusts the rest of the Shields.

This satisfies Tetposmeton, and the pair return to the original meeting room.

After Tetposmeton gives a subtle nod to the Solstice King upon his return, the unlikely conspirators present their proposition. The Solstice King believes the Voracious Visitor is an abomination and would see it destroyed. Tetposmeton’s superior officer, the pit fiend Akinshata, was captured aeons ago by the Khan of Nightmares and is held prisoner. Since they understand the Shields’ antipathy to the Khan of Nightmares, they determined that the Shields would be a good group to aid them. Both have no specific payment in mind, but the Shields would be well-positioned to claim boons from them afterward, as they would both owe the Shields a great debt.

Over the course of a few hours and several discussions, a plan forms. The conspirators explain that the Khan has bound the Voracious Visitor to himself through unknown means, and also has his majordomo (some flavor of magic-user) and the captain of his guards (a sapient golem of some sort) at his command. His guards comprise the Hounds of Ill-Prophecy, descended from a prisoner ship that wrecked on his island in antiquity and now comprising a legion of tiefling lycanthropes. If the Shields can neutralize the Voracious Visitor, the Solstice King and Tetposmeton can land troops on the island and keep the Hounds of Ill-Prophecy busy while the Shields push their way inside to confront the Khan himself. However, the Coliseum Morpheuon is built like a fortress and forms the seat of the Khan’s power, particularly at the arena floor. Gaining access will no doubt be difficult, and the Khan will no doubt make his stand in the arena. If the battle goes against him, he will likely flee into his private sanctum.

Tetposmeton also notes that whomever slays the Khan takes control of the Coliseum Morpheuon. When Peren expresses great interest, they both note that they do not wish the hassle of managing the arena, and will gladly let him have it.

But before preparing for that, they have to determine a way to destroy the Voracious Visitor. (Although Tetposmeton notes that whomever inherits the arena would gain control of the umbral blot, and they have developed a ritual to free Akinshata which would allow him to take control of the umbral blot, although it needs to be performed on the arena floor and would take roughly half a minute. Everyone else would rather see the blot destroyed.) The Solstice King understands that a weapon similar to a rod of cancellation would destroy the creature, although to his knowledge, no such weapon exists and would take years to develop. However, he suspects that a carefully-worded wish could create such a device.

Not knowing that Torinn’s new sword can grant such powers, the sword speaks and makes its presence known. (Tetposmeton interjects, recognizing the voice of Padishah Nurhan Solak and mocking the efreeti lord for his imprisonment. Bosabrieln connects the name to a noble efreeti who lived in the Underdark and disappeared seventy or so years ago, making a mental note that the title of “Padishah” is well beyond the creature’s station.) After the cross-chatter dies down, all parties agree to make use of one of the efreeti’s wishes to craft such a device. The Solstice King recommends it take the form of an arrow, but Peren, who suspects he will be delivering the blow, suggests a javelin. All agree and set to negotiating this carefully-worded wish. With a few hours’ work, the contract is complete and Torinn invokes the wish, creating a new javelin of cancellation.

In the interests of fairness, the Solstice King recommends leaving the weapon with the githzerai. (Tetposmeton says he will gladly keep it safe.) After a brief debate about the merits of this storage solution, all involved agree.

Before parting company, discussion leads to one last thing: Tetposmeton reveals that he knows the Khan of Nightmares to be a rakshasa. This irritates the Shields, who know rakshasa cannot be permanently slain, but Tetposmeton has reason to think that won’t be a problem…

With their meeting complete, those assembled agree to move in roughly three weeks’ time. The Solstice King and Tetposmeton will mobilize fleets off-shore, ready to move when the Voracious Visitor is slain.

With a tentative plan in place, the conspirators prepare to part company, with the Shields of the Sorrowfell returning to the Sorrowfell Plains. Once returned, they prepare to undertake their final preparations before the battle — and Bosabrieln plans on informing the Council of Six of the impending chaos — while Torinn takes the opportunity to inquire with Bezaldooz regarding what he knows about clones…

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Unfinished Business, Part 3

Freeday, Planting 21, 553 CY (51 AN)

Certain now that they will confront the Khan of Nightmares, Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, Peren, and Torinn continue to discuss their plans. The Shields of the Sorrowfell ruminate on several possibilities, wondering if they could convince the Voracious Visitor to turn on the Khan of Nightmares (or would contacting it just warn the Khan of their plans), and whether they could contact Tetposmeton for additional information (although most of them agree that informing Tetposmeton is probably a security threat, as he once claimed to be a good friend of the Khan of Nightmares). Torinn also suspects Drusilla could destroy the Voracious Visitor, but it would probably destroy the axe in the process. As the Shields find themselves with several options but no clear obvious choices, Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln eventually go to separate corners of the tavern to compile their own information. Given the opportunity to review his notes, Bezaldooz recalls that the Plane of Dreams does not have an overarching hierarchy to which they could appeal, but the Coliseum Morpheuon’s nearest neighbor is the island of Dingue. Primarily known for its beautiful textiles, it also hosts several escaped slaves from the Coliseum Morpheuon, and seems as though it might be a good place from which to recruit allies or find additional information.

Meanwhile, Bosabrieln performs another legend lore on the topic of the Voracious Visitor. He learns that, “The Voracious Visitor is only freed by the will of the master of the Coliseum Morpheuon. Only two in all of Hell know the secret of controlling it.

When Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln return with this information, the Shields’ next steps seem clear: Torinn wants to retrieve his shield guardian from Ekaterina in Duchy Jepson (which is actually a ruse to examine the Wizard’s Tower for additional secret compartments that might hold weapons), and then they should travel to Dingue to learn more about the Khan, the Voracious Visitor, and any allies they might be able to recruit. Bezaldooz will likely cast mind blank before the trip just to ensure that the Khan does not sense their presence on the Plane of Dreams — an unlikely outcome, but it is better for them to be safe than sorry.

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Unfinished Business, Part 2

Earthday, Planting 20, 553 CY (51 AN)

The next morning, Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, Peren, and Torinn meet over breakfast at The Laughing Maiden. They first interrogate Peren about his new (and vaguely creepy) owl companion, which he initially says is a perfectly normal companion to have before mystically banishing and summoning it to mess with Torinn. (This allows Bezaldooz to determine that it is, in fact, a familiar spirit in owl form.)

After discussing their future plans — talk again turns to the name of this place, and the clear winner appears to be “The Aggravating Gnome” — they decide they should return to Argent so Valna can put the Crux of Eternity in the vault for safekeeping. A teleport spell later, and they find themselves in Argent, heading to the Guardian’s Tower. To their surprise, they find that Valna is talking with Torugar when they arrive. When they present their desire to keep the Crux safe, Torugar offers to take it back to a secure location. (He notes that the gods probably should have done that from the beginning, but the Dawn War was a chaotic time.) They agree this is probably best, and so give the Crux to him. Before he leaves, he asks if there is anything else they require. Bezaldooz asks if it would be possible to remove the enervation that saps him after using the Crux, while Torinn asks if he could get a new set of armor. Torugar says they were considering compensation anyway, so he will petition Moradin and see what he says on the matter. He should have a response within a day or two.

Once he takes his leave, the Shields of the Sorrowfell take an opportunity to pursue other projects. Bezaldooz summons Goruthrel and returns to his chambers to check on the growth of his clone while also scribing demiplane into his spellbook. (He sends Goruthrel to watch on the others and let him know if they get into trouble.) Peren heads north to investigate the former hill giants’ lair and see if he can find any further evidence of vampires there. While the others are engaged, Bosabrieln approaches Torinn to discuss their disagreement from the other day. While Bosabrieln thought that Torinn took umbrage at Bosabrieln’s divine aspirations for their own sake, he is more irritated at Bosabrieln not taking responsibility for his own daughter. After a brief conversation — during which time they take the opportunity to shoo Goruthrel away — they decide that they ought to visit her. When Bosabrieln shouts at Goruthrel, who now watches them from a long distance away, Bezaldooz hears it and heads out to talk to them. After explaining their plan, he agrees to arrange transportation to Dawnslight. Torinn recommends that Bosabrieln bring a gift, so he takes out one of his blank journals, writes a sonnet in the front as an inscription, and completes the inscription by urging his child to, “Use this book to create beautiful things, it’s in your blood. But don’t let this be the only beautiful thing that you do.”

Shortly thereafter, Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, and Torinn teleport to Dawnslight, and after giving greeting to some of the villagers, they make their way to Araatris’ and Kevian’s house. (On the way, Bezaldooz and Torinn gather samples of dirt as sympathetic connections for the purpose of teleport.) Torinn says this is for Bosabrieln to do alone, and after Torinn tells Bosie the names of Rhonwen and Araatris, Bosabrieln knocks on the door.

Kevian greets him gruffly, but allows him inside when he says he is here to see his daughter. Araatris is clearly excited to see him, and introduces him to Rhonwen, who is currently sleeping. (While he and Araatris talk, Bezaldooz and Torinn linger outside, eavesdropping.) They talk about various things — largely revolving around Rhonwen and their families — and Bosabrieln notes that he is still busy and traveling, and so is unlikely to be here often. Araatris says she suspected as much, but it is good to see him nonetheless. (During the course of the conversation, Kevian notes that Torinn invited them to work in Scandshar, but they have declined. His wife is buried out in their field after all, and he feels they have too many roots here to move elsewhere. Araatris asks Bosie about Scandshar nonetheless, and he says it is beautiful but dangerous.)

As the night wears on, Bosabrieln stays for dinner at Araatris’ request. Bezaldooz and Torinn join them, and it is a comparatively quiet and pleasant evening. Bosabrieln is charming enough that even Kevian warms up to him. He sings a song for Rhonwen — the sonnet he wrote in her journal, set to a simple tune so that Araatris can sing it — which attracts a few villagers to listen.

At the end of the evening, Araatris and Kevian bid them fond farewells, and after Bosabrieln takes a moment to say his farewells to Araatris and Rhonwen, the trio leaves the house and teleports back to Argent.

Meanwhile, Peren wanders north to search the hill giants’ steading. He finds the place still abandoned, with only a handful of wild animal infestations marring the silent halls. Finding no evidence that Magister Remegni’s vampires ever returned, he leaves, heading back to Argent. Roughly two hours away from the city, he runs into a lone halfling hiker, whistling as he walks through the mountains. He decides to make introductions, learning that the halfling is named Maso. He is apparently a wanderer, and perhaps something of an itinerant based on the fact that he notes he doesn’t quite have a home, but seems friendly enough. Peren asks if Maso has found anything interesting, and he and Maso exchange gifts — Maso presents a strange, palm-sized stone with a hole in it, through which a whispering wind sounds, while Peren gives him 10gp and a sunrod for his trouble — and Peren notes that he’s heading back to Argent. When Maso expresses an interest in seeing the place, as he thought it was a myth, long since destroyed, Peren says he is welcome to accompany him.

Upon his return to Argent, he takes Maso to meet Valna first, and then takes him to the tavern, introducing him to the orcs of Grimtooth Mercenary Company and the torrians who keep Argent running. Already suspecting that Maso is more than he seems, he proceeds to question him again when he’s deeper in his cups. Given the halfling’s general eccentricity, coupled with one instance where he almost says “lair” instead of “home,” he is roundly convinced that Maso is a dragon in humanoid form. He tells Maso that if he is seeking a “home,” Peren knows a place just north of here.

By the time Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, and Torinn return, they find Peren drinking with this strange halfling. They are surprised to find that Peren told Maso his real name and offered him a place to stay, but Peren seems to be in control of his own faculties, so they deign to allow him to continue along these lines.

The next day, Freeday, Planting 21, the Shields continue their activities while they wait for Torugar to return. Bezaldooz continues to scribe the demiplane scroll into his book while Peren escorts Maso to the former hill giants’ steading north of Argent. (Bosabrieln and Torinn engage in their usual activities, resting and training while the others undertake their personal projects.) Peren’s trip is uneventful, and he successfully introduces Maso to the place. Maso finds it to his liking, although he notes that the caverns below are hotter than he likes. Peren also gets him to admit that he is a silver dragon, and Peren notes that they met another silver dragon masquerading as an elf named Galothel. She currently resides in Duchy Jepson, and Maso says he will no doubt have to go and visit her. (Peren suspects he is looking for a mate.)

Peren returns to Argent without incident, and reconvenes with the rest of the Shields. That evening, Torugar meets the Shields, indicating that he can fulfill their requests. (The heavy sack on his back probably has something to do with this.) He says a prayer over Bezaldooz, finally removing his fatigue, and then presents the sack to Torinn. He indicates it is dwarven plate, enchanted by Moradin himself. He asks if they require anything else, and Bosabrieln asks if he can bestow a blessing from the gods on his daughter. Torugar says it will be done, then takes his leave.

Left again to their own devices, the Shields plan their next move, considering what preparations they will have to make if they wish to fight the Khan of Nightmares

View
Unfinished Business, Part 1

Godsday, Planting 18, 553 CY (51 AN)

A persistent yet quiet knock at the door awakens Torinn in the early morning. After grabbing a weapon and making his way over to the door, he opens it to find himself face to face with the proprietor of this establishment. She is wearing a cloak and seems dressed for travel. She also seems nervous, and possibly in a hurry.

She asks if his offer from earlier in the day still stands.

The discussion is brief but fruitful: she wishes to sell quickly, and she has a contract already in hand. (Although a witness is technically required, that field has already been signed by a “Darmorel Chorster” of the Scandshar Advocacy and Solicitations Guild.) She asks that Torinn signs first, in view of her. He reads the contract — although Torinn is not especially versed in the somewhat baroque particulars of Scandshar contract law, he is far better read than most people give him credit — and finding it to his liking, deigns to sign when she presents a quill and inkwell. She then signs her portion, revealing her name as Brithuia Pamor, gives him the keys and a copy of the contract, and quickly leaves.

Peren, already awake in the early morning, heard the knocking and whispered conversation, and decides to follow her, traveling under the shadow of his own elven ensorcellment. Although he initially considers killing her, he finds her traveling to a waiting carriage, where she soon takes to the western road leaving the city. As such, he deigns to let her go — she is unlikely to be further trouble to them.

Once he is certain she is leaving, he doubles back to The Laughing Maiden, but a thought begins to bloom in his mind. If the members of the Illustrious Menagerie of Peacocks and their wards and allies are leaving the city, that likely means that many of their upper echelon are on the move.

That means that Lord Candle is probably on the move.

This is likely their best chance to kill him, so Peren returns to the inn, positively giddy at the concept.

He awakens Torinn first, and after discussing with him, they awaken Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln. (Peren, having surmised that Torinn purchased the bar, awakens Bosabrieln by kicking in his door. When several guests awaken and begin investigating the ruckus, Bosabrieln assuages their concerns with his typical charm.) Once the Shields of the Sorrowfell convene and are all settled, Peren explains the situation, and everyone agrees to assault Lord Candle’s lair. Bezaldooz first uses scrying to locate him, and finding that he and his minions appear to be packing (and are likely located in the tunnels beneath the gladiator pits), they then teleport to his location.

They find themselves in a moderately-sized stone room much like the one Bezaldooz saw in his scrying, albeit with old mouldering skeletons strewn upon the floor and orcish graffiti on the walls. Surmising that they are in the wrong place, Bezaldooz attempts to teleport again, this time finding himself in a similar room albeit with furnishings, guards, and a very surprised Lord Candle looking at papers and giving orders.

The battle swiftly grows chaotic as the tiny room does not afford the Shields much movement. (Made all the more chaotic as Bosabrieln uses mass suggestion to convince several of the guards to attempt to apprehend Lord Candle, resulting in a snarl as some guards start fighting the others.) As they fight Lord Candle’s personal guard, Lord Candle manages to flee, scuttling along the walls and attempting to leave the door. Unfortunately for him, Bezaldooz, Peren, and Torinn make their way to him and injure him badly enough for him to turn to mist. The Shields manage to fight their way out of the halls and follow him as he flees, keeping pace with the fast-flowing mist until it reaches the street and begins making its way to a waiting wagon. As they hit the street, Torinn invokes a fog cloud to attempt to befuddle the wagon’s guardians, while Peren uses greater invisibility to move unseen. As they are aware that the wagon is well-guarded and the mist is heading toward it, they move to investigate. Peren cuts the reins and sets the horses free while Torinn climbs aboard the wagon. Among the crates and things on the wagon is a coffin-shaped crate which he smashes, scattering dirt around the inside of the wagon. The mist attempts to flee deeper into the city, possibly in search of another resting place, but he does not get the chance — as Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln catch up to the others, Bezaldooz casts sunburst, and although the wagon and the buildings are rapidly sun-bleached from the magic, most of those on the street are unharmed thanks to Bezaldooz’s superior control.

However, the mist that was Lord Candle is gone. No trace of the former vampire remains.

The Shields inform the remaining guards that they can leave unharmed, a deal which they all eagerly take. The Shields then load the crates into Peren’s portable hole, and head back to The Laughing Maiden.

On the way back, they encounter a contingent of guards coming the investigate the flash of light that just erupted by the arenas. After explaining their fight against a vampire, they continue on their way. A few blocks from The Laughing Maiden, they encounter a contingent of strange folk emerging from a sewer grate — about ten in all, bearing hand crossbows and shortswords while wearing makeshift clothes. The Shields are suspicious and question them, where they reveal that they understand there is opportunity on the surface these days. Bosabrieln, interpreting this to mean that they are aware of the upheaval among the Peacocks, is satisfied, but Peren and Torinn are less so. However, the similarly stubborn street folk don’t feel the need to explain themselves to these heavily-armed mercenaries, and so the conversation quickly grows tense. Eventually, however, Peren and Torinn decide it is not worth it to antagonize them further, and so give them a directive to not cause trouble in these parts before the pair follows Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln, already having left for The Laughing Maiden.

The rest of the day is filled with business. Once back at The Laughing Maiden, Bezaldooz orders an early breakfast, prompting the servants to awaken and begin cooking. Torinn addresses them, explaining that he is the new proprietor, and things are going to change around here. Everyone is going to be employed henceforth, and if they wish to leave, they are welcome to do so — but they are to see him before they go. Otherwise, he is happy to retain them as employees. He also wishes to nominate a manager, as he may travel often and will need someone to run this place in his stead. (A half-elf named Oroth volunteers.)

Over breakfast, they contemplate the eventual name change for this inn (such as “Dragon Pudding,” “The Leaping Lizard,” or “The Tipsy Turtle,” although Torinn decides that he is not going to change the name right away) and review what they looted from Lord Candle’s wagon. All told, they find several gems, 14,000gp and 1,900pp, a couple of potions, an enchanted crossbow bolt, a spell scroll of Tasha’s otherworldly guise, and Lord Candle’s spellbook. They also discuss their future plans — with most of his equipment destroyed, Torinn is now far more wary about challenging the Khan of Nightmares, although he might be more interested if he can acquire new equipment. At the very least, new magical armor would help alleviate some of his concerns.

Bosabrieln sends a sending to Vianibrar, saying, “Darling, come, revel in the joyous aftermath. Peacocks on the run, quite the sight. Also, could use some sane company… In Scandshar, Laughing Maiden.” Vianibrar responds, “Well, I am certainly intrigued. I will be along shortly.

After Vianibrar joins them and learns what has transpired, the Shields go shopping and wander around the city. Bezaldooz and Peren start the process of liquidating Lord Candle’s gems, ultimately gathering a grand total of 38,000gp for the morning’s trouble. Bosabrieln and Vianibrar walk around with drinks in hand, looking for the quiet evidence of the city’s criminal underground in turmoil. (They take a drink every time they see it.) Torinn looks to purchase other establishments that formerly dealt in slaves and Peacock money but now seem to wish to sell — he quietly acquires a general outfitter in the Market District called The Royal Voyage, and makes the employees the same offer as he did those who work at The Laughing Maiden.

The next day, Waterday, Planting 19, Torinn makes arrangements with Bezaldooz to teleport to Dawnslight. In addition to seeing how things are going, Torinn speaks to Sally and her father (whom he finally learns are named Araatris and Kevian) to offer them a job — if they wish to manage or otherwise work at The Laughing Maiden or The Royal Voyage, those properties are theirs if they wish them. Although Araatris seems dazzled at the prospect of working in Scandshar, they deign to discuss the matter privately before they make a decision. Later in the day, Kevian returns to Torinn, indicating that they have decided to decline his offer, but he thanks him just the same, especially thanking him for his kindness and support these past few months.

At the end of the day, Bezaldooz and Torinn return to Scandshar as the Shields determine what comes next in their adventures…

View
The Belly of the Beast, Part 4

??? (date unknown)

Before they depart into the tunnel, the Shields of the Sorrowfell make a handful of additional preparations. Bezaldooz takes a moment to memorize the teleportation circle sequence, in case they need to some day return. Bosabrieln invokes additional cure wounds on Bezaldooz and Peren to ensure they are ready for whatever comes next. Peren suspects they are close to their quarry, and notes that the createst concentration of slime seems to be “down.” Knowing that it is difficult to move in this medium, Peren gives Bosabrieln his obsidian steed while Torinn gives Bosabrieln his scroll of blindness/deafness, since Bosabrieln is the most likely to be able to get a clear shot at the Peacock Lord. (Bosabrieln speaks the command phrase to summon the nightmare from the obsidian steed, then mounts it, commenting to Peren, “You know there’s a song coming out of this. I’m sorry in advance.”)

With all potential preparations complete, they descend.

It is not long before they are met by a booming voice, echoing up the corridor. It paraphrases, “‘Welcome to my parlor,’ said the spider to the fly.” When the Shields begin chiding the voice, it proclaims that it knew they were going to say that.

The Shields begin to move toward the voice, surmising (correctly) that it is their quarry. They very briefly feel the familiar sensation of all extant magics layered upon them shutting off before the antimagic field suddenly drops, followed by a flash of light almost two hundred feet down the shaft. The flash of light illuminates an enormous face, revealing the eyes and the toothed maw of a beholder of truly mammoth size — a creature that can only be the Esteemed and Omniscient Peacock Lord. The flash narrows into a beam, aimed directly at Torinn; before he can flee, it strikes him with full force. His armor deactivates, and he feels the connection to his reality cord sever, and the mind blank dissipates. (His axe Drusilla seems unaffected.) Although he doesn’t know for certain, he suspects these things have deactivated for good.

The Esteemed and Omniscient Peacock Lord is too distant for a clean shot, so the Shields are forced to awkwardly swim in the creature’s direction while he pummels them with eye beams. Torinn narrowly misses another beam that leaves him fatigued and weakened in its wake, while Peren continues unseen toward the target. Bosabrieln keeps being thrown from the nightmare as it enters and exits the Peacock Lord’s antimagic field, prompting it to alternate between figurine form and nightmare form. Bezaldooz centers a meteor swarm where he suspects the creature was, briefly illuminating two of its companions that are reduced to bloody shreds. It is soon just the Shields and the Peacock Lord.

Although the thing launches a flurry of eye beams at them, they manage to survive the onslaught, drawing ever closer to its location. Peren reaches it first, stabbing it and moving away before it can retaliate. (It does attempt to bite at him a few times, but never figures out his location to accurately strike at him.) Although the Peacock Lord manages to hit Torinn with a ray that renders him unconscious, while the creature is dodging Peren and getting in range, that allows Bosabrieln the chance to invoke one of his scrolls of blindness/deafness on the creature. Angered, the creature attempts to bite at Peren — being the only one who gets within range — and flee. Bosabrieln awakens and heals Torinn before continuing to head towards the Peacock Lord. It manages to shake off the blindness quickly, launching eye rays at them as it retreats. As the Shields draw closer to it and it pulls farther away, Bosabrieln attempts one, last desperate maneuver, invoking a hypnotic pattern.

The Peacock Lord is stunned, staring slack-jawed as it floats in the tunnel.

Seizing on the opportunity, the Shields move into position, waiting until everyone is ready to attack the Peacock Lord and break the spell. Bosabrieln starts with a vicious mockery before Bezaldooz joins in with a fire bolt and Peren and Torinn move in with blades. The badly injured Peacock Lord barely has time to react to the onslaught before Peren’s vorpal blade cuts it apart with a savage snicker-snack.

The Esteemed and Omniscient Peacock Lord is no more.

Bezaldooz and Peren descend on the creature, carving off eyes and fangs as trophies. Torinn, too fatigued to respond, ignores his axe when it whispers to him that now is the time to strike at the others, before they become gods. (But he makes note of the request; even though the axe craves gods’ blood, it would just as readily prefer to destroy them before they become gods.) When they are certain they have done all they wish, noting that one of the strange psychic storms of the Far Realm is screaming at them down the corridor, they gather and Bezaldooz plane shifts them to Argent.

Allegedly.

They arrive in some manner of badlands, a series of rocky, craggy hills overlooking a vast desert plain underneath the oppressive heat of an enormous red sun. As the nightmare is still active, Peren uses it to scout, but cannot determine their location, other than his sneaking suspicion that they are not on Khaldun. He does note the approach of a single figure amid the wastes, and when he reports this to the others, they decide to greet this figure. He dismisses the nightmare, returning the obsidian steed to its figurine form, and the Shields begin to walk toward the traveler under the aggressive and oppressive gaze of the merciless red sun.

When the traveler finally catches sight of them, he waves at them and begins jogging closer to them. He is a robed figure, dressed for the desert but perhaps not this desert. When he finally arrives, he is overjoyed, indicating they are the first such travelers he has seen. He asks if they have water, and Bosabrieln throws him his water skin. The traveler unwraps his face, revealing that he is a dark-skinned and handsome elf. His cracked lips betray that he has been here for a surprising amount of time, and he greedily drinks the water before Bosabrieln asks Peren to refill the water skin with his decanter of endless water. As the elf marvels at his good fortune, the parties make introductions. The elf indicates that he is Ansrael Amshar, and when he recognizes that the four before him are the Shields of the Sorrowfell, he is shocked and asks again where they are, as he does not know this place. He reveals that he is from Anhak, and knows the Shields as great heroes from centuries in the past. Bosabrieln seeing where this is going, asks if they mysteriously disappeared, but Ansrael indicates they did not; he is not as familiar with their exploits as some, but they are revered as folk heroes and gods across the sea in the Sorrowfell Plains. He explains that he was investigating a temple in Anhak’s Kharha Desert when he clearly activated something that dragged him to this endless desert. The Shields note that they wish to rest, as they have been through a great battle — Ansrael asks if it was the Battle of Scandshar against the death-goddess, and Bosabrieln explains that it was not — and Ansrael agrees. Peren uncoils his rope and casts rope trick so that they may rest away from the desert heat.

Inside the space, Bosabrieln and Ansrael talk about what he has heard of the Shields, while Bosabrieln plays music and offers what healing he has left to the rest of the Shields. Torinn, investigating his equipment, finds that most of his magic items were deactivated, save for Drusilla and his boots of striding and springing. Bosabrieln also presents Ansrael with the Codex Canalium and the five reality cords (including the one disenchanted one), explaining that they were instructed to give him these gifts.

Before the rope trick ends, Bosabrieln suspects they have achieved what they need of this space, and according to The Archivist, they are to leave this person behind with the objects they gave him. They should be ready to use the Crux of Eternity to return home; Bezaldooz agrees to be the one to invoke the artifact, despite the fatigue it will cause him. Before they abandon Ansrael, Bosabrieln asks Peren to give the elf his decanter of endless water. When he seems confused at the gesture, they tell him farewell and Bezaldooz invokes the power of the Crux of Eternity before he has a chance to respond.

The Shields appear in the teleportation circle in Scandshar’s Market District, apparently around noon on the same day they left. Tired, they make their way through the hustle and bustle of crowds toward The Laughing Maiden to rest. The raven-haired proprietor is behind the bar, as per usual, and as they sit down to drinks, they receive stares from those who can tell they are tired and bloodied from some unknown trial. When they order drinks, Torinn asks the proprietor if he can buy the bar; she responds that it is not for sale, and he says he will ask again tomorrow, prompting laughter from Bosabrieln. With nothing further to be done, and everyone quite strained from the morning’s trials, the Shields largely drink and rest at The Laughing Maiden for the rest of the day. As Torinn wishes to purchase new armor, Bosabrieln and Torinn head back to the Market District to find an armorer, and are able to find a suit of heavy plate on display that looks draconic in its style; Bosabrieln purchases it for Torinn for 150 platinum pieces. Peren, meanwhile, also shops for reagents worth 10gp, as he has a ritual he will soon wish to perform. (While they’re out, they don’t notice any unusual activity in the city, although the Shields suspect it is only a matter of time before they encounter a reaction to what has just transpired.) After their errands are complete, the Shields return to The Laughing Maiden, spending the rest of the day there before retiring to their rooms for the night.

Peren awakens in the early morning from his trance, gathering the components and performing his ritual — a summoning to invoke a fiendish spirit. Introducing itself as Omalim, it takes the form of a dark stygian owl with crimson eyes, and indicates it is here to serve him as his familiar.

View
The Belly of the Beast, Part 3

??? (date unknown)

Given a quiet moment, Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, Peren, and Torinn proceed to investigate. This apparent warehouse of the Sentinel bears doors ahead and to the left and right. These doors lack handles or knobs, instead bearing boxes with slots where such objects would normally reside. The slots and doors are decorated with colors; the door to the left is brown, while the doors ahead and to the right are violet. The Shields of the Sorrowfell quickly surmise that they are some form of locking system. Approaching the doors also initiates some sort of light effect that briefly shines on them. However, the door beeps and does nothing when this occurs.

Bosabrieln attempts to speak with the four bulky constructs in this room, but they complete their tasks and largely ignore the Shields — Bosabrieln surmises that the constructs recognize them as living organisms, but they do not know one another’s language. (The Shields dimly recall that SENSEI and several of the constructs aboard the Sentinel could speak the common tongue because of their extensive study of the Platinum Claws. Otherwise, the original inhabitants of the ship spoke an unknown language from their home plane.) Torinn theorizes that the constructs can open the doors, so he attempts to shove one of them towards the door; the construct shoots him with some manner of beam that does no injury, but shoves him away. Having noticed that the constructs are attempting to corral the boxes, Peren and Torinn then grab one of the cargo crates and shove it toward the door, but when the constructs approach to replace the box, it still does not yield.

Out of ideas and aware that they probably have a time limit, the Shields decide the most efficient way is to bust through. Peren and Torinn take their weapons to the violet door on the right, hacking through within a minute. (The door issues a sad squeaking sound as it is cut in half, but otherwise does not respond, save for a shower of sparks.) The Shields continue into another warehouse full of crates, clearly still on the outer ring of the vessel. (A brief examination of one of the crates reveals machine parts.) They repeat the procedure, hacking through the next violet door they encounter. This time, the sad squeaking resolves into a blaring alarm of some sort. The Shields realize their time is short before something happens.

Moving into this room, they find another cargo hold with a violet door on the opposite side. They hack their way through it as another alarm sounds, aware that something is coming from behind them. Eager to get away from it, they continue onward, finding another long hallway on the outer ring of the vessel. Halfway along its length, they find an alcove leading to another violet door and ringed with more crates. They decide to use this as a staging area to create an ambush point. They wait a few moments before something else moves around the corner — another metal construct, this one roughly the size of a human. Its head bears an array of lenses similar in fashion to the larger worker constructs, but this one lacks legs, its primary mode of locomotion hidden beneath a flared skirt. It bears two gleaming serpentine tentacles, an arm ending in a pincher, and an articulated, skeletal arm. The Shields quickly hack it to pieces, Peren’s vorpal longsword cutting it in half with a decisive snicker-snack. Curious, Torinn grabs the metal torso and brings it close to the door, which prompts it to slide open, overlooking a hallway. Now armed with a key, they decide to investigate this room further, finding another violet door at the end of it. They decide to stick with the middle doors and the accompanying hallway. Determining that the cyst consuming the vessel is probably their destination, they determine that they need to make their way to the opposite end of the vessel, and so head right. However, they quickly come to a dead end that slopes upward as if it once joined to something else, but has since been sealed away. Backtracking, they come to a series of doors that lack slots or colors, instead having buttons next to them. They decide to investigate; upon pressing the button they find a tangle of doors inside, one of which (to the right) has a brown slot and the others having buttons. They deign to go counterclockwise, starting with the brown door, but they find little of interest: a possible prison with skeletons, a series of pools making awful noises as their water floats in globules above them, a steam room, and a sauna. The Shields hear noises deeper in the sauna and don’t wish to linger long here.

The last door leads to a large chamber featuring tiered stadium seating, various disheveled pads on the floor, and bars with crossbeams in some level of disarray. The Shields surmise this is a gymnasium and are crossing the gym to the doors across the way — albeit awkwardly, given the lack of gravity throughout the vessel due to the Far Realm’s influence — when three humanoid figures enter the gymnasium behind them.

They are armor-clad tieflings wielding glaives, the same identical siblings as the Terrible Old Man’s boatman and Morana the Forsaken’s guards. The tieflings pull shortbows and open fire, prompting the Shields to take cover behind the bleachers; Bezaldooz stays out in the open to cast spells (and because he moves the slowest and so would not be able to reach cover in time anyway), prompting Torinn to interpose himself between the tieflings and Bezaldooz. The tieflings spread out, launching volleys of arrows and trying to dodge whatever the Shields throw at them, only to be vexed by another one of those human-sized, cylindrical constructs of the sort Torinn is carrying. It is clear they are not allied with the constructs native to this place, as it immediately launches a canister at one of the tieflings which issues forth some sort of gas. Torinn lowers the visor on his armor and rushes into melee with the tiefling in the gas, felling the creature and reducing it to mirror shards and scraps of strange flesh. (Now that they have had the opportunity to observe this phenomenon in its native environment, they note that the leftover flesh resembles the membranes separating planes of the Far Realm.) The rest of the Shields, wanting to continue on their way, begin to leave the room, with Torinn acting as rear guard. As he leaves, he closes the door and smashes the door controls with his axe — he can still hear the struggle of the tieflings and the construct inside.

Back in the halls, they find another dead end before using the broken construct to enter the brown door they find, leading to another series of storage areas on the outer ring. Traveling clockwise, they come to another brown door and decide to gain entry as they hear something approaching from behind them.

They move into another storage area, but this one is different. The outer hull of this vessel has ruptured, partially eaten away by a fleshy tumorous mass that leads into a hollow cavern made of the same electroradiant-colored tissue. This gateway into the cyst is guarded by a single tiefling. Bosabrieln attempts to parley, but the tiefling is not interested, and the Shields begin to move into position.

As they do, they realize that more of these identical tieflings lurk between the crates. (They also spy that security construct following them before the door closes.) Although the Shields manage to injure several of the tieflings with spells, the tieflings arise in a wave and quickly surround Bosabrieln, Peren, and Torinn. (Bezaldooz, who was hanging back, is not within range.) One of them, evidently some manner of leader, leaps into the fray when he inverts, turning inside out and teleporting across the intervening space. A duplicate remains in the place from whence he left, suggesting that he may be the source of all these identical tieflings.

However, the tieflings’ onslaught doesn’t last long as Bezaldooz rains fire upon the tieflings, reducing several to mirror shards and scraps of flesh. The battle ultimately turns against the tieflings when the construct opens the door, saying something in its alien tongue and firing some manner of area-wide beam that paralyzes most of the tieflings. The Shields quickly recover and defeat the surviving tieflings; of their number, only one of them does not dissolve to mirror shards and onion-skin when he dies. They surmise this must be the original.

After gathering themselves, the Shields delve into the cyst, a series of fleshy caverns that seem to loop in a spiraling pattern. As they move, they hear tittering noises off to a passage behind them, but they continue forward. Moving quietly, they come upon a beholder, floating in a side passage; they are able to make short work of the creature, but face another as the source of the tittering emerges — a swarm of seven tiny beholders, making strange noises and mocking the Shields’ spellcasting incantations. The second beholder opens its central eye just as another eldritch storm hits: Bosabrieln and Torinn took cover from the beholder’s antimagic field before the storm hit, while Bezaldooz and Peren didn’t make it in time. When the energies hit, Bosabrieln and Torinn find themselves on the floor, subject to normal gravity, while Bezaldooz and Peren fall upward, landing on the ceiling but otherwise subject to normal gravity. After leaving the central eye’s energy field, their reality cords assert themselves and they carefully float back to the ground. As the beholder moves into position to menace them with its eye rays, closing its central eye, Bezaldooz uncorks the iron flask to summon the worm creature he captured earlier. He orders it to kill the beholder; seeing an opportunity, the worm moves and casts a suggestion, telling the beholder to entreat with him and plan on how best to kill these meddlesome humanoids. The beholder agrees, and when he comes to the ground, Torinn is able to hold him fast while the others take care of the smaller beholders. In seconds the battle is done, and the Shields continue the spiraling path towards the cyst’s center. (Bezaldooz asks the worm creature a bit about itself, and in its rasping Common, it explains that it is a noble tsochar. Able to cast magic, it would prefer a humanoid body in which to integrate, but it doubts it will find such here. Apart from the Shields, of course.) The eldritch storm quickly passes.

The caverns open, and Peren is aware of the same tittering behind some of the columns. Scouting ahead, he can spy more tiny beholders, so he warns the others and then plans on drawing them out. He slices one of them in two while Bosabrieln mimics the beholder’s voice, telling the tiny beholders to come out because it’s “play time.” Nearly two dozen tiny beholders flood out from behind columns and pillars, prompting the Shields and their tsochar companion to war against the strange beasts. With some effort against the overwhelming numbers, they manage to bring the creatures low with spells and blades before moving onward. In the next area, they hear similar signs and so repeat the procedure: Peren attacks and flushes them out while the Shields kill the survivors. This time, however, two adult beholders emerge from a side passage, launching a flurry of eye rays at the interlopers. Although the tiny beholders panic as their numbers thin and begin to flee, the larger beholders are becoming quite the threat as they stay out of range and fire rays at the Shields. (Both Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln are grievously wounded by necrotic blasts, necessitating the use of powerful healing magic so that both may recover.) Although the beholders slay the tsochar, Peren and Torinn manage to make their way to the beholders and begin attacking them. When another beholder leaves its post to go after Bosabrieln, he manages to entrap it with a hypnotic pattern; after they slay the last active beholder, they make short work of the ensorcelled one.

With their battle complete, they take a moment to recover and find their way to the heart of the cyst. The last bit of solid ground is a small outcropping of the same fleshy substance as the rest of the caves, bearing a teleportation circle. Apart from that, the center of the cyst opens into a tunnel running both up and down and no doubt corresponding to the long tube the Shields saw outside the vessel. It appears to cross multiple levels simultaneously, as evinced by the fleshy membranes running across the width of the tunnel maybe half a mile distant. Given that this is the only place left to go, the Shields prepare to deploy into the tunnel, to face whatever lurks beyond…

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The Belly of the Beast, Part 2

Moonday, Planting 17, 553 CY (51 AN)

The battle continues as Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, Peren, and Torinn face down the robed humanoid made entirely of worms while the cacophonous roaring of the dragon thing issues forth behind them. (And footsteps move in the dark beyond them.) Peren leaps off the cliff into the region of heavy air, joining the fray. When Peren moves behind the entity, he passes through the light barrier that separates the material world from the eldritch plane beyond the gateway, allowing him to see the legion of twenty or so diminutive humanoids “swimming” through the air, their flesh rippling and pulsating with worms burrowing beneath.

The Shields of the Sorrowfell are quickly becoming surrounded.

Not that it’s been much of a problem for them before. While the Shields are focusing on the worm-creature, the diminutive humanoids move into view, allowing Peren to drop a wall of fire on them. As the horde of humanoids retreat into the tunnel between worlds, two of the creatures — injured, but still alive, move forward to menace the Shields. As the worm-creature prepares to invoke a spell, artfully counterspelled by Bezaldooz, the dragon-thing rushes around a pillar, moving into view.

The Shields quickly decide that they don’t have time and energy to waste, and that they should try to move through the portal as quickly as possible.

The Shields make short work of the worm-creature and the two injured humanoids before turning their attention to the amorphous dragon-thing as it rushes into their midst and makes contact. (Both of the humanoids appear to be riddled with worms, and they readily spit worms at foes while the creatures infest their sharp teeth. The Shields, wisely, do their best to avoid the biting, burrowing worms.) Its presence would be maddening were it not for the mind blank spells on the Shields — save Goruthrel, who is stunned by the creature’s howling mouths. When Bezaldooz misty steps away from the melee, the creature responds with a gout of digested food and psychic energy, which dispels Goruthrel but leaves the Shields unscathed. As several more of the worm-ridden humanoids move into view, Bezaldooz destroys most of them with a well-placed fireball.

The melee continues as the Shields finish slaying the dragon-thing and the surviving worm-ridden humanoids. As they move into position and Peren drops the wall of fire, the beholders finally arrive. Bosabrieln invokes a hypnotic pattern to hold the worm-ridden humanoids previously trapped on the other side of the wall while Torinn interposes himself between the beholders and the rest of the Shields to give them time to flee through the Far Realm portal. However, as the beholders enter the portal, the enchantment on the worm-ridden humanoids falls, and one of the beholders gets a lucky shot with an eye ray, turning Torinn to stone. Although he manages to shrug off the stone effect thanks to his superhuman constitution, Torinn is still forced to face half a dozen foes by himself. Peren swims back to assist as Torinn slays one of the beholders, only to find himself surrounded by worm-ridden humanoids. (And although he manages to avoid being infected by their worms, he is still surrounded by a half-dozen of the parasites.)

When the other beholder falls, the hypnotic pattern reasserts itself and the diminutive humanoids are again frozen, allowing them to easily be slain. The strange tunnel, covered in fleshy vines, finally falls silent. The travelers continue to swim forward, further into the light.

Partway down the tunnel, the Shields find a choice: the tunnel continues ahead, but a wooden door is set into the vines and stone on their left. (Especially strange, as it almost seems like it was not present until they drew closer to it.) It is water-damaged, and a stained brass plaque bears the word, “Archives,” upon it. Most notably, when the Shields pass it, the door forms a mouth on its surface and speaks in Bezaldooz’s voice, saying, “Hey, I probably already used all my spells, so if you wanna rest, this is your last chance! Better get inside!” After a brief but vigorous debate as to whether or not it’s a trap, the Shields decide to enter.

Beyond the door is a library, poorly organized with stacks of books and piles of scrolls everywhere. (Some are shelved, but the organization seems haphazard or especially arcane.) The floor was clearly once water-logged, and is warped in places, but the books and scrolls are clean. Sitting behind a desk is a pale creature wearing a red robe. It is vaguely humanoid in shape, but its milky eyes and too-wide mouth do not resemble any of the common folk of the Sorrowfell Plains. It is scribing a book as the Shields look inside, and it appears that its hands resemble that of a common humanoid, but split down the middle — the thumb, index, and middle fingers form an individual hand of sorts, while the ring and pinky and an erroneous polydactyl digit form another hand. The creature looks up, and silently gives greeting to the Shields. Since there seems to be no immediate danger, the Shields enter, finding that normal air and gravity reassert themselves. The creature gestures as if speaking, although its mouth does not move. It then gives them an inquisitive look, pantomimes casting a spell, and taps its head. When they speak among themselves, the creature repeats the gesture, and Bosabrieln asks if it is attempting to communicate telepathically, which it confirms, noting that their minds are shielded. It gestures for them to wait a moment, and retrieves some sort of strange, eyeless pale worm from a back room. The worm bears a human mouth. The creature wraps the worm around its shoulders, and the worm begins speaking.

The entity introduces itself as the Archivist of the Archive Adrift, indicating that it is good to see the Shields again. It indicates that it has met with the Shields many times, as it experiences sequential events coterminously and simultaneous events sequentially. (There are anywhere between one and six members when they arrive.) Every time they seek to fight the Esteemed and Omniscient Peacock Lord, they encounter the Archivist first. (Or at least have the opportunity to do so.) Bosabrieln asks if this battle happens across multiple worlds and timelines simultaneously, or if they fight the Peacock Lord multiple times because they have failed. The Archivist explains that neither of those is wholly correct, but the former is more accurate — to their perspective, there are multiple possibilities and alternatives. The Archivist is happy to speak with them and allow them to briefly rest here, although it can only guarantee their safety for an hour or two; anything beyond that, and their enemies will likely come seeking them or otherwise be ready for their onslaught. The Archivist does note that it has a couple of demands: it seeks to ask a series of questions of them, and it wishes to give them a set of objects which they must deliver after their use.

The Shields agree.

The Archivist opens its ledger and begins to ask its questions, which Bosabrieln and the rest of the Shields proceed to answer while the Archivist takes notes:

1) “Did you slay Vilustuminen the White upon first meeting?” The Shields did not. They came close, but did not slay the dragon.
2) “Did Bosabrieln sire a child, and was it with Araatris Fletcher or Nerisatra Fiedlerson?” Bosabrieln sired a child, but they don’t know the mother’s name. (The Archivist notes they usually don’t.)
3) “Did one of your party die in Kiris Dahn?” Yes, although they brought her back.
4) “Did you save Gydd Nephret?” Yes.
5) “Did you run afoul of Big Sendak?” It’s possible, but if they did, they never got a name. (The Archivist suspects they would know if they had.)
6) ""Did you kill Lady Danae Ulyan or did you turn her over to the authorities?" They turned her over to the authorities and she was executed.
7) “Did you rescue The Platinum Claws?” With some sadness, they note they did. When the Shields begin to explain about The Platinum Claws’ subsequent death in the Battle of Scandshar, the Archivist flips through its ledger and makes several notes, informing them that it will return to that. (The Archivist is unfamiliar with the Battle of Scandshar, leading Torinn to remark that they must have screwed up somehow. Kiaransalee hasn’t invaded Scandshar in a previous iteration.)
8) “Did Sodalicium Remegni recruit and turn Bezaldooz?” Yes.
9) “Did anyone die during the battle against Lord Oculus?” No.
10) “Did The Traveler of Roads Untrod escape?” They believe that he did.
11) “Did the entire party survive the initial battle with Earthshaker?” No. The earth titan killed two people, if they recall.
12) “Did you manage to destroy all of the Hendiatris?” No, they missed one of them.
13) “Did you spare Jarl Hargaad?” They did, and returned his people’s artifacts.
14) “Did you rescue Jarlkona Ragnhildur Brimirsdóttir?” Bosabrieln says yes with a knowing chuckle, prompting the Archivist to write an extra note in his ledger.
15) “What became of Breven Foss?” He is dead. As the Shields say, triumphantly, “We finally killed that motherfucker.”
16) “Was Piranoth released?” No.
17) “If recruited, is Bezaldooz still a vampire?” No.
18) “Did you prevent Kiaransalee’s conspirators from escaping the giants’ crypt?” No.
19) “If not, at what stage did you halt their plans?” The very end. The Shields recount the Battle of Scandshar here, which the Archivist dutifully records.
20) “Did you destroy Dr. Daclaud Heinfroth?” No.
21) “Did you prevent the minions of Graz’zt from seizing the Crux of Eternity?” Yes.

The Archivist then gives the Shields its second set of requests, presenting them with a book and five lengths of rope. The ropes look like knotted, fleshy cords — tendrils or perhaps umbilical cords of some sort — wrapped in silver wire. The book is a heavy tome labeled Codex Canalium. The Archivist explains that these cords are reality cords, designed by the Gith to be worn as belts. They will protect the Shields from the harmful, reality-warping environs of the Far Realm as they travel here, and they should spend their time here donning them and learning how they work, as they will have a much harder journey besides. When they leave this place — and Bezaldooz should keep plane shift prepared for the occasion, as the Archivist ill-advises that they remain here — they will find themselves elsewhere. They will likely need the Crux of Eternity to return home, but before that, they will meet the Archivist again in their second meeting but its first. (And it will look much different than it does now, but they will know the Archivist as it is the only being that will exist in that place.) They must deliver the reality cords and the Codex Canalium to the nascent Archivist, but do not take it back with them, no matter how cruel it seems. That part is a key decision point that will lead the creature to become the Archivist it is today. Does that make sense?

The Shields agree.

Lastly, the Archivist notes that they must destroy the Far Realm gate through which they are traveling, as it is now open and unguarded, and the resulting cerebrotic blot will eventually engulf all of Scandshar. This is why they will require plane shift to return home.

After that, they have an hour to rest and investigate the reality cords. Bosabrieln plays music to help the Shields regain their strength for the trials ahead, and when he has time, asks the Archivist about its unique perspective across multiple timelines, which it is happy to explain. Afterward, they bid the Archivist farewell and continue on their journey, noting that they will meet again.

The Shields leave the Archive Adrift, again finding themselves in the strange corridor between planes. They “swim” through the heavy air until the corridor narrows before opening into a new and eldritch vista.

They find themselves looking out over a swirling void, the place suffused with strange, oily colors. Although gravity is totally gone, so there is no “up” or “down,” they can still describe things in relation to the portal through which they just exited. Above and below them, within a mile or so, appears to be natural barriers, appearing like onion skin but translucent enough to see through. Beyond the barriers are more such barriers in a stack, forming an infinite number of planes in this realm, although they can only see to a depth of ten or twenty before the membranes become too opaque to see further details through. In the distance, certain structures — some of which are moving and are likely alive, appearing like giant tentacles or animals on the magnitude of miles-long whales — are large enough to exist on multiple layers at once. Just ahead from the portal’s exit is a floating structure that appears to be a shattered circular temple, its stone foundation cracked in half as it rotates in the endless void. Shattered stone forms something of a path to this temple, although the stones are not necessary to traverse this weightless place. Just beyond the temple is a massive, coin-shaped structure, hundreds of feet across but with a large square hole in the middle. (The hole is maybe a hundred to two hundred feet across.) The “coin” is angled such that the Shields can see the underside, and close to the temple is a hole large enough for human-sized people to easily move through. On the far side of the “coin,” the metal structure is being enveloped by an enormous, fleshy cyst, and this tumorous growth is itself connected to a large tube that spans multiple layers simultaneously.

Were they not under the effect of mind blanks, this vista would likely be incredibly overwhelming to behold.

However, between them and the temple is an array of guards: five enormous muscular humanoids, floating in the void, along with a single creature of human size carrying a staff. Standing in the middle of the temple, performing some rite before a magic circle, is the tumor-headed woman the Shields encountered just before the Chasm of the Cogitovore.

There is no conversation as the Shields join battle. Bosabrieln casts a hypnotic pattern, which only seems to work on the sole human participant. Bezaldooz starts launching fireballs as Peren and Torinn push off the floating stones towards the enemy; when Peren makes contact, he swings his vorpal longsword, slicing off one of the hulking humanoid’s heads with a satisfying snicker-snack before moving on to attack another. Torinn quickly makes contact with that one, as well, as the two warriors begin to hack their way through the fray. The misshapen staff-wielding humanoid gestures at Torinn, as the space around Torinn warps and bends, but it appears to have no effect. The tumor-headed woman, shaken from her torpor by Bezaldooz’s onslaught, shouts in Deep Speech, telling the others to hold until the Herald arrives and not to let the Shields into that vessel — gesturing to the enormous coin before them. She then invokes a teleport spell and disappears, as Bosabrieln (suspecting that this is her first time meeting them but their second time meeting her) shouts, “See you soon, bitch!” after her.

However, the battle soon becomes more complicated. An energy storm emerges above them, crossing membranes at a surprising speed. As they notice this development, Bosabrieln’s pack emits a rainbow-colored glow as the snailstone summons an entity. However, this light never resolves into a person, instead appearing as a vaguely-humanoid amalgamation of jagged rainbow energy shards that make a terrible buzzing sound. (The snailstone is also issuing a high-pitched whine.) The creature begins floating toward Bosabrieln, possibly attempting to communicate or make contact with him. Its touch is painful, prompting Bosabrieln to get the message and invoke dissonant whispers to make it flee. Meanwhile, another creature appears through the magic circle. A robed humanoid, it looks like it could be generously described as an elf, although it has been altered — its limbs are long and thin, its eyes emerge from its head on eyestalks, and a whipping tendril emerges from its chest. A crown of eyes emerges from its head, giving it an appearance vaguely similar to a beholder as it floats about. Shortly thereafter, two small beholders emerge after it. The staff-wielding humanoid launches some manner of psychic attack at one of its hulking fellows, which reflects it, but Peren and Torinn ignore it thanks to the mind blank. (It seems to affect one of the snailstone-summoned entities, however.) One of the beholders manages to hit Torinn with an eye ray that briefly deactivates his bag of holding, spilling its contents. He ignores the objects as he continues to hack his way through the crowd, trying to pin down the teleporting Herald.

Bezaldooz, seeing how this is going, decides to put a stop to it and conjures a meteor storm, shielding his companions from the worst of it. The stone temple is set slowly spinning from the impact, although the metal disk does not buckle at all. Torinn’s floating collection of objects is largely destroyed. The struggle against the rest of the combatants is abridged as several of the hulking humanoids die and the rest present are injured. Peren and Torinn rush into combat with the others while Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln continue to struggle against the energy beings summoned by the snailstone. (While those previously summoned were destroyed, it continues to generate new creatures, the pitch of its hum rising each time it does so.) Bosabrieln, trying to move away from them, pulls the snailstone from his pack, and suspecting it is drawing too much energy and is going to explode it, throws it at the open portal to destroy it. As the staff-wielding creature and the small beholders are slain, the Shields press their attacks against the retreating Herald. As the snailstone explodes in a flash of rainbow-colored light, causing the summoned energy beings to wink out of existence and collapsing the portal (leaving no evidence of the gate’s prior existence), the Shields finally slay the Herald.

As it is left floating, they quickly abandon it to flee into the opening in the “vessel.” They enter just as the storm hits, a cascade of energy that leaves them unaffected (no doubt thanks to their reality cords). Inside, they find themselves in a large room, illuminated by clean ambient lighting almost akin to that of a light spell. Metal boxes are strewn about, clearly having been mislaid by some catastrophe to the disk. (Some of them also slowly spin in place thanks to the lack of gravity.) Four large constructs, shaped like humanoids but with a duck-billed appearance, are trying to move the crates back into some semblance of order. They note the Shields as they enter, but pay them no mind and do not initiate communication. Although the Shields have not seen these constructs or this specific area before, they certainly recognize the markings on the crates and the general aesthetic of the room in which they find themselves.

This must be a missing section of the Sentinel.

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