Chronicles of Khaldun: Crux of Eternity

Unfinished Business, Part 2

Sunday, Planting 9, 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, Moonday, Planting 10, 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

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Unfinished Business, Part 1

Freeday, Planting 7, 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, Starday, Planting 8, 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…

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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.

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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…

View
The Belly of the Beast, Part 2

Earthday, Planting 6, 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.

View
The Belly of the Beast, Part 1

Waterday, Coldeven 26, 553 CY (51 AN)

Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, Peren, and Torinn awaken, and after breakfast, they arrange to teleport to Scandshar so that they may gather supplies for their raid on the Chasm of the Cogitovore. Upon arrival, they arrange for a room at The Laughing Maiden, as is their custom, and Bosabrieln begins the process of tracking down rare item dealers so that they may resupply.

Over the course of the following week, Bosabrieln spends his days speaking to merchants, and his nights playing at The Laughing Maiden. As is often the case, his music attracts quite a crowd, including a few sullen gangsters who stare daggers at the Shields of the Sorrowfell but clearly know better than to pick a fight. (Although Peren and Torinn, being old hands in the crime syndicate scene, flash rude hand gestures their way to further aggravate them.)

After six days, on Godsday, Growfest 4, Bosabrieln arranges a meeting with the Shade of Crimson Eternities, soothsayer to the Scandshar nobility. She says she can acquire three scrolls of the spell blindness/deafness (two of which are scribed as third circle spells) at 300gp each, and a potion of psychic resistance at 150gp. Acquiring additional potions would probably take another week or so. The Shields agree, and make arrangements to acquire their items and pay the following day.

The Shields continue their business throughout the following week (with Bezaldooz scribing his blindness/deafness scroll into his spellbook), but are interrupted in the early hours of Sunday, Planting 2, by a knock on the door. (Although they have been reserving a room in The Laughing Maiden, Bosabrieln has been invoking Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion nightly and leaving the door open. Peren has been taking his nightly trance by the open door so that he can hear if any intruders approach.) Peren goes to check, and opens the door to find Lady Victoria MacBeth, flanked by two goons.

She wants to talk to the Shields.

Peren says he’ll gather everyone and closes the door. Once inside the mansion, he and the servants begin awakening the Shields, and so everyone dresses — although Bosabrieln eschews his regular gear for a fancy nightgown instead — and discusses what they wish to do. Although they briefly float the idea of killing her, they decide just to talk. For now. (Bezaldooz asks Goruthrel to hide and keep an eye on things, just in case she notices something the Shields do not.)

Exiting the mansion, they again answer the door, finding MacBeth waiting outside. When attempting to decide a place to have this conversation, the Shields insist on their room. Lady MacBeth says she’ll need to gather a couple more of her bodyguards waiting downstairs, and although Torinn admonishes her for feeling unsafe, the Shields allow this.

Once she has returned with all four of her bodyguards, she reveals her proposition: with abolition on the horizon, it’s a new day for Scandshar and the Illustrious Menagerie of Peacocks. As such, it seems like a waste for them to keep running against one another and trying to kill each other when they could be helping Scandshar instead. Would they be interested in joining forces? Torinn notes that they wouldn’t just be joining as enforcers or something, they would want a leadership role, and this would have to legitimately be for everyone in Scandshar. MacBeth is intrigued at the idea of a council, and says she will pass this along to her superiors. They agree to meet again in a week, and she takes her leave.

Once she is gone, the Shields return to the mansion, and Torinn clarifies that he doesn’t really advocate joining the Illustrious Menagerie of Peacocks, but that will hopefully misdirect her superiors from the Shields’ impending assault on the Chasm of the Cogitovore in a few days. Bezaldooz and Peren both note that the assembled Peacocks seemed odd: they haven’t had much interaction with MacBeth before, but she still seemed different, and perhaps not as nervous as she ought to have been, while the four bodyguards with her did a very good job of seeming human, but their actions were just a little too wooden and maybe just a little too easily synchronized. (Goruthrel didn’t notice anything, although she remarks that it is hard to read someone from a spider’s perspective, and as a fey spirit, she is hardly an expert on human moods.)

Peren suspects the Esteemed and Omniscient Peacock Lord was possessing them somehow.

He wonders if they have been made, or if it was just trying to gauge their reaction, and whether or not they should alter their plans, but after some conversation, the group decides to proceed as planned: finish gathering the last of the potions of psychic resistance, then depart. And theoretically keep their meeting with Lady MacBeth in a week, depending upon how things have changed.

The Shade of Crimson Eternities delivers another five potions of psychic resistance by the end of the day on Waterday, Planting 5. Given that the Shields are as prepared as they anticipate being, the Shields plan on leaving on the morrow, using a combination of scrying and teleport to arrive in the proper location. To protect them from the psychic influence of the Far Realm, Bezaldooz will cast mind blank on everyone in the party just before bed. As a final preparation, the Shields teleport to Argent and retrieve the Crux of Eternity; it is decided Peren will carry it, as he is the most mobile and the least affected by fatigue. As planned, Bezaldooz casts mind blank on everyone.

The next morning, Earthday, Planting 6, the Shields awaken and have breakfast. With nothing further to plan, Bezaldooz casts scrying, viewing the deepearth chasm they traveled through seven months before. When everyone is prepared, he then casts teleport, and their surroundings suddenly change.

The Shields arrive in the darkened cavern they visited seven months earlier, but they have little time to mark their surroundings when another group of people appear, evidently having also arrived by teleport. Lady MacBeth is among them, wielding a glowing green rapier. She is accompanied by two robed cultists, three gangsters outfitted much like the bodyguards from the previous night, and two gladiators fresh from the pits. In the middle of their formation, evidently having just finished her teleport spell, is a robed female wizard, bearing a strange, tumorous growth upon her head, obscuring her eyes. The Shields waste no time, drawing weapons and engaging their foes.

Bosabrieln flashes them with a hypnotic pattern, initiating a wizard duel as Lady MacBeth, Bezaldooz, and the tumorous lady all invoke counterspells, knotting the Tapestry and reducing the spell to nothing. However, Peren, already on the move, throws a javelin and invokes a spell to litter the clumped Peacocks with javelins, grievously injuring many of them. Lady MacBeth, already on the move and out of harm’s way from Peren’s spell targets the Shields’ clump with her own hypnotic pattern, and while the spell takes effect, the mind blanks prevent it from having any effect on Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, and Torinn. In response, Bezaldooz launches a fire bolt at her, striking the rest of the Peacocks with a fireball. Although several of the gangsters and cultists drop, their bodies writhe unnaturally, suggesting something within them. Torinn moves into the fray just in time to see what it is, as ropy, coiled worms erupt from their charred corpses. Although the things fight with magic and scything, poisoned blades, they are little match for the Shields’ steel and sorcery, quickly being ground to bits by Bezaldooz, Peren, and Torinn. (Although Bezaldooz manages to capture one of the strange worm-creatures in his iron flask.) Meanwhile, Bosabrieln invokes a hold person on Lady MacBeth, and is relieved when she freezes, unable to move.

The Shields make short work of the cultists and the gangsters, and are just cleaning up their eldritch parasites when they turn their attention to the paralyzed Lady MacBeth. They engage her before she is able to recover, and pressed into a fight of four-on-one, she is quickly slain, her glowing rapier disappearing as she draws her last breath. Searching the bodies, they find largely mundane weapons, although the woman with the tumor helmet was carrying an hourglass filled with diamond dust and wrapped in a sack to prevent breakage. Figuring it might be useful, the Shields take it.

When the dust settles, Bezaldooz requests a brief respite of an hour or so, as he burned through several spells. The Shields agree to it, but Bosabrieln admonishes him to conserve his energies; when they finish this rest, they will no doubt enter the gauntlet and will have no further time to rest. As they begin to rest, the Shields wonder how the others arrived at exactly the same time as they. Was it a coincidence?

However, they only have a minute or two to rest before they hear grumbling voices over the edge of the cliff. (Bosabrieln and Peren recognize echoing chatter in Deep Speech, indicating that they seek the investigate the disturbance topside.) As they move to engage, the Shields become aware of a startling effect — the mind blank on each of them falls, and they no longer feel a connection with their various magical implements. (The only exception is Torinn’s axe Drusilla, which grumbles still, hoping for divine flesh to rend.)

The source of the effect is quickly revealed as two malformed heads peek over the edge of the chasm — the cyclopean eyes and various eyestalks of two beholders emerging from the gloom. Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln both cut to their right, running out of the antimagic field and hammering the rightmost beholder with spells. Peren rushes forward and begins cutting the creature, while Torinn runs forward and breathes lightning breath at the leftmost beholder. The one on the right begins shooting eye rays at Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln, but none of them hit home properly. The beholders then start to retreat, closing their central eyes and firing eye rays at all present. Torinn evokes a fog cloud, and seeing that they’re outmatched, the beholders flee, shouting all the while in Deep Speech. (Bosabrieln and Peren both recognize that they’re sounding an alarm, calling out to those below. They quite clearly know who the Shields are and what their presence here means.)

Seeing no options, the Shields realize they must descend into the Chasm of the Cogitovore before the situation escalates. As Bezaldooz has feather fall prepared, the Shields quickly make their decision and begin running for the edge.

As they leap over the edge, they are treated an endless march of seconds spent plummeting through a black void. There is a brief but terrifying moment when they pass through what can only be the gaze of one of the beholders’ central eyes — a sensation of impending doom when all of their magic cuts out at once. However, it quickly passes, and thanks to Bezaldooz’s magic, they land safely on the ledge far below. Up ahead, they see a faint glowing light while the beholders continue to shout high overhead, raising some kind of alarm.

The Shields run for the light.

As they run, they hear another noise emerge over the shouts of the beholders, a kind of cacophonous roaring sound, off to their right and swiftly approaching. Undeterred, they rush for the light, their vision eventually resolving into that of an elevated underground cliff. The glowing light yawns beyond, likely the Far Realm portal they seek to enter. However, they are swiftly engaged by a shadowy humanoid shape, glowing a deep, baleful red and surrounded by a cloud of spectral eyes. The thing begins blasting them with eldritch rays as they realize they are going to have to run this whole way with little cover from the creature’s blasts. Taking cover behind pillars, they begin to move strategically. As the thing taunts them, indicating it is the key and the gate itself, it swoops low to ensorcell Torinn — a fatal mistake, as he then invokes a misty step to leap atop the ledge on which it is perched and he then begins slashing at it with his axe. The creature changes forms, briefly becoming incorporeal to try to possess Torinn, but his mind blank wards against it. Bosabrieln keeps running for the gate while Bezaldooz slams the creature with spells. Peren climbs the cliff and tries to attack it, but it is too far from the cliff’s edge, and he slips and falls to the ground below.

Bosabrieln arrives at the gate as Torinn destroys the eye-wreathed shade. The open gateway appears to be a cave festooned with fleshy vines. A roiling, white heat haze writhes at the entrance, entrapped by a bubble. When the shade dies, the bubble ruptures, and the strange air within leaks out. To Bosabrieln’s surprise, while the air is somewhat foul-smelling, it is somehow thicker than normal air, and he finds that he can tread it like water.

Meanwhile, Peren is still on the ground when the roaring beast arrives: a strange amalgamation of reptilian parts, screaming and roaring with various voices. It is reminiscent of the strange, deconstructed dragon-things the Shields faced here seven months ago. Before it can get him, Peren rises to his feet and climbs the stone rise before the entrance portal. Already on the move, Bezaldooz and Torinn leap into the heavy air, floating as they strike the surface. As Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, and Torinn approach the portal, a creature emerges from it: a robed humanoid figure that appears to be made of worms. It begins launching eldritch rays of crackling purplish energy at them as it approaches, floating through the strange miasma. Although they cannot see past the creature, they have the vague sense that more are coming through the gate. Meanwhile, as Peren ascends the cliff, he hears the pounding of feet behind the mutated dragon-thing.

And all the while, the shouting of the beholders grows ever closer.

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Final Arrangements, Part 8

Waterday, Coldeven 19, 553 CY (51 AN)

Making their way to one of the abandoned buildings, Bosabrieln, Peren, and Torinn begin arranging Bezaldooz’s things for resurrection. However, Bosabrieln quickly realizes that he has neither the components nor the knowledge necessary to revive Bezaldooz from ashes, although Valna likely would. However, before he has a chance to react to this revelation, the three surviving Shields of the Sorrowfell hear the tromp of boots. Before long, Torugar enters the room, giving greeting. Realizing that Bezaldooz has fallen, he sardonically notes that deicide is frowned upon, and as punishment, the gods have seen fit to divorce the Shields from the release of death. (When Peren is concerned he’s being serious, he reveals that he’s not — as much as free agents capable of deicide worries the gods, Kiaransalee broke the rules by attempting to fully incarnate on the Material Plane. Torugar understands that not even Lolth much cares for Kiaransalee, so it is unlikely anyone will miss her.)

Torugar instructs Bosabrieln to lay out Bezaldooz’s clothes, and then quickly invokes a prayer to Moradin. Bezaldooz swiftly reforms in his clothes, with very little memory of what transpired. (He has a vague feeling of unpleasantness, but Kiaransalee was not alive long enough after his own death to trap him for terribly long.) After the group discusses what has transpired, Torugar indicates that he’s going to mingle with the other dwarves. He’ll let the Shields know before he leaves Guldor. Before he leaves this building, Torguar gives Bosabrieln a pouch of diamonds, telling him he’ll know what to do with them.

Since Bezaldooz needs to sleep before he can transport them again, the Shields take the opportunity to revel with the dwarves. (Bosabrieln also sends a sending to Valna, asking for her services to perform true resurrection on Vianibrar. He has the necessary diamonds.) Torugar eventually takes his leave, while the Shields continue to speak with the dwarves and trade stories. That night, they sleep among the dwarf legions at Maldev.

The next morning, the Shields say their farewells to the dwarves. They then gather Aratha, Galothel, and Moridal Delhig, and Bezaldooz casts teleport to return them to Argent on Khaldun. Since Bosabrieln is going to speak to Valna about invoking true resurrection to restore Vianibrar, Peren and Torinn decide to hit the tavern. They catch up with Eddie, Hurm, Mike, Obash, and the other orogs.

While Peren and Torinn drink at the tavern, Bezaldooz uses two more teleport spells to sojourn to Scandshar and buy a diamond and large stone urn for use with the clone spell. He places this vat in his apartment in Argent, and amputates his pinkie finger for use in the spell, presuming that he can ask Valna to heal it later.

Aratha, Bosabrieln, Galothel, and Moridal travel to the Guardian’s Tower to greet Valna. She is prepared, so they travel to the Temple of the Dawn so that she might enact the rite. (At Bosabrieln’s request, Aratha and Galothel stay outside. Moridal insists on being present when Vianibrar returns.)

Valna lays out Vianibrar’s clothes and the pile of diamonds, and spends an hour chanting and sprinkling holy water over the facsimile of the body At the end of this time, the diamonds dissolve, and the clothes are rapidly filled out with a humanoid form — Vianibrar. Bosabrieln embraces him, and after his initial confusion subsides, he asks how long he was dead, what progress has been made on the Illustrious Menagerie of Peacocks situation, and whether they found his secret library. They then return to the tavern to catch up with the others.

When they arrive, a frustrated Torinn excuses himself to go fishing. (When Vianibrar asks, Bosabrieln explains that Torinn didn’t agree with the decision to invade Kiaransalee’s domain to ultimately save one person.) Over drinks, they others inform Vianibrar of current affairs. Later that afternoon, Bezaldooz gets Valna to regenerate his finger.

The Shields and their allies ultimately spend a couple of days in Argent. They decide to return to Duchy Jepson, and after that, it seems as if they will penetrate the Chasm of the Cogitovore to finally put an end to the Illustrious Menagerie of Peacocks.

Aratha, Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, Galothel, Moridal, Peren, and Torinn return to Duchy Jepson by teleportation circle on Moonday, Coldeven 24. Making their way to the Wizard’s Tower, they gain audience with Headmaster Ebenezer. He is surprised to see them returned so quickly, and especially to see Vianibrar returned to life. (When he asks if anyone else was saved, Torinn bitterly remarks that they were not.) After introductions are made, they discuss current affairs, noting their probable desire to soon enter the Chasm of the Cogitovore. They ask if the school knows anything about the Far Realm or beholder hive mothers, and he tells them he will speak to the others and compile whatever they know. (Vianibrar can also probably help.) He requests that they meet him on the morrow. Since the Wizard’s Tower is current curating Vianibrar’s library, he and Moridal head downstairs to investigate it. The Headmaster also says he can probably return Aratha to Sigil, if she is willing to follow him. She gives the Shields her farewells before the group leaves the Headmaster’s office. Once it is just the Shields and Galothel, she likewise takes her leave.

With that, the Shields decide to investigate their houses, which have been built in some of the fields outside Duchy Jepson. They encounter Ekaterina inside, who informs them of her progress in attempting to acquire furniture and other such sundries. (Not that she has had much time yet.)

That evening, as the Shields are drinking in the Addled Alchemist, Torugar appears again. He notes that the gods wanted to reward them for their troubles — and allow them to resupply before they take the fight to the Far Realm — and so presents them with a bag of holding filled with platinum coins. (It ultimately comes to 35,000pp, or 8,750pp each.) He notes he might see them one more time before they disembark, and further notes that if any of them seek audience with the gods or wish to participate in the Olympics or any such activities, they can likely do so. With that, he takes his leave.

The next day, the Shields meet with Gloomblight, the Headmaster, Krizaut, and Vianibrar to discuss what they know of the threat they seek to face. It is unfortunately not much: the Far Realm comprises that which is outside the known multiverse, a place of madness and strange geometries. It is not a place that is mapped — if it even can be mapped — and those who enter rarely return, or if they do, they may return altered or in a vastly different time and place. As for hive mothers, also known as ultimate tyrants, they are beholders of nearly godlike power. They have many of the same characteristics as standard beholders, including an antimagic field projected from a central eye, and various lesser eyes that shoot dangerous rays in imitation of spellcraft, although their abilities are much more potent than standard beholders. They are also known to organize “lesser” beholders under their command. Some especially powerful specimens of beholderkind — and it is probable that the Esteemed and Omniscient Peacock Lord is one such creature — have been shown to narrow their central eye’s antimagic field to a narrow beam that negates magic, draining both permanent enchantments and magic items on contact. While this entity is not likely to display the same raw level of power that Kiaransalee showed, it will still be a very dangerous opponent in an alien environment that constantly shifts.

They are best advised to be ready.

That evening, Bosabrieln is playing at the Addled Alchemist and the rest of the Shields are enjoying drinks. As the night wears on, Bosabrieln is approached from someone in the crowd. She appears as a blonde-haired elven woman, albeit with golden-red feathered wings emerging from her shoulders and the legs of a golden-red bird. She carries a lyre, and introduces herself as Melody, indicating that she heard Bosabrieln is “a god of music.” She explains her current dilemma: she and her father Varian were traveling in the mountains when they were ambushed by monsters. Most were slain, but she was captured and used as a lure for her beautiful singing voice. (Strangely, she notes that she knows Gerald; he and his friends were the ones who rescued her. Bosabrieln is surprised to learn that Gerald is from the Sorrowfell Plains.) Since that time, she has found that her voice ensorcells those who hear it; she suspects this is some manner of curse for the part she played in the monsters’ schemes. Would Bosabrieln be able to assist in this situation?

Bosabrieln, for his part, knew Varian — another half-elf bard, and a friend of Vianibrar, Bosie met Varian once when he was very young. As for Bezaldooz, Bezaldooz recognizes her race, as she is one of the eoshee, faerie nightingales who sometimes travel to the world and are known to be good luck despite their sometimes fearsome appearance. (They are primarily carnivorous, which can sometimes be disconcerting for those who aren’t expecting it.) However, Bezaldooz also recalls that he never heard of the eoshee before four or five years ago, and he thinks he only heard of them in connection with Varian and Melody. When he mentions this to Peren, Peren notes that her general appearance and enchanting song is reminiscent of that of harpies.

Perhaps she is a polymorphed harpy?

After giving her an opportunity to play her lyre with Bosabrieln, the Shields take her upstairs and Bosabrieln conjures Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion so they can examine her in private. Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln ask her to sing, and when she does, all four of the Shields note that her voice is among the most beautiful they have heard, and they do indeed briefly feel an urge to move closer to her that they easily resist. She appears to have no other active magic when examined with detect magic. The Shields explain that whatever experience she had in the mountains possibly turned her into a harpy, or otherwise altered her in some way? As Melody becomes increasingly alarmed and confused by this news, Bosabrieln sends a sending to Vianibrar, telling him, “At the Addled Alchemist with Varian’s daughter Melody. Quite the conundrum. Do you mind popping over for a bit?” He responds, “I haven’t seen Varian in some time. Sure, I’ll be right over.

When Vianibrar arrives, Bosabrieln lays out their theory as to what happened to Melody, while Vianibrar looks increasingly agitated. As the Shields become more suspicious of his motives, since he clearly knows something, they begin questioning him, to his continued annoyance. He finally excuses himself to do more research on the subject, and Bezaldooz says he’ll accompany. Vianibrar says that would be a good idea.

Outside, Vianibrar angrily turns to Bezaldooz and asks what he’s doing. He explains that she is a harpy that Varian adopted, and then performed some manner of subtle polymorph procedure upon her to make her less harpy-like. But she doesn’t know she is a harpy; she thinks she is an eoshee. And all this talk of harpies is likely confusing and frightening her. He instructs Bezaldooz to tell Bosabrieln to speak with him later, and then he takes his leave.

Bezaldooz returns to the magnificent mansion, taking Bosie aside to explain what Vianibrar told him. Bosabrieln, suspecting that this can be fixed with a true polymorph spell, tells Melody that he thinks he has found a solution. Invoking a song of true polymorph to turn Melody into whatever she is supposed to be — Bosabrieln is only working from a description of an eoshee, but he thinks he knows all the salient features — a subtle energy washes over her, although she appears the same as before. Nevertheless, she thanks the Shields before leaving, still confused. However, she returns to the Addled Alchemist later than night, finding and embracing Bosabrieln and telling him the spell worked: her singing appears to not affect those who hear it as before. She says she’ll tell everyone about him.

Later that evening, Bosabrieln finds Vianibrar, who explains that Varian’s ship was attacked by harpies on a sea voyage. After slaying the harpies, he and the crew investigated the nest, finding a lone egg. He felt badly about destroying it or orphaning it, so he kept it and raised the harpy as his own daughter. Over time, he developed a spell regimen to alter her so that she would not look like a standard, monstrous harpy. For whatever reason, he kept this secret from her, although Vianibrar and he discussed it in some of their exchanges.

With the excitement done, the Shields retire to sleep for the night, ready to make some preparations for their upcoming sojourn to Scandshar.

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Final Arrangements, Part 7

Sunday, Readying 2, 553 CY (51 AN)

Time passes.

Bosabrieln and Peren accompany Regthor Longbeard as he and his growing band travel across the planes, recruiting dwarves from every world they visit. Their forces are thousands strong by the time they return to Sigil almost a month and a half later. (Of course, Bosabrieln and Peren have made a few stops in Sigil in the intervening weeks, never staying more than a night or two.)

Although they see many strange and wondrous lands on their journey, they are most attentive to Zaghark, Regthor Longbeard’s new companion. A strange dwarven crone they picked up along the way, they quickly surmise that she is a representative of Regthor’s “benefactors” — “benefactors” in this case being a euphemism for Tetposmeton.

Meanwhile, Bezaldooz and Torinn keep their preparations and maintain a low profile. On Moonday, Readying 24, they pay a visit to Dawnslight, knowing that Sally’s child was likely born by now. They knock on the door to her house, and are greeted by her gruff father, who looks roughly as displeased to see them as ever. (Although perhaps not nearly so displeased as he might be were Bosabrieln there. Still, he seems disappointed that Bosabrieln is not present.) Torinn asks if they may see the child, and he grants entry to them both. When they arrive, Sally is nursing the babe beneath a blanket. They give greeting to her, and she excuses herself for a moment while she finishes. She then shows them the child: a thin, light-haired baby with just a hint of the ethereal features of the fey. She has apparently named the child Rhonwen. They make introductions — the baby grasps Torinn’s finger with a strong grip — and both Torinn and Bezaldooz leave 10 platinum pieces each for little Rhonwen. (Bezaldooz also leaves the obsidian pawn as a trinket for the child.) Torinn notes that there is more money than that in their futures, but he doesn’t want to make them targets for thieves. After a brief conversation, they take their leave, although Bezaldooz uses prestidigitation to conjure fireworks when he leaves, which seems to frighten little Rhonwen. That prompts the pair to leave a little quicker.

Before they go, Sally tells them to send her love to Bosie.

The Shields of the Sorrowfell reconvene on Moonday, Coldeven 10, at The Silver Tankard in Sigil. Bosabrieln and Peren have returned, having gathered a force of thousands of dwarves — an entire army. They expect to march upon Maldev within a week. They find themselves at dinner when Bosabrieln’s pack shimmers with a rainbow-hued light. Three dwarves appear, summoned by the snailstone: one is a female dwarf with pink hair and a pink beard, one is a hirsuite shirtless male dwarf, and one is a dwarf wearing black armor shaped like a skull. (The last carries an empty glass flask shaped like a hand with a cork in the extended middle finger.) After the initial chaos of their arrival, they introduce themselves as Boudica (Boudie to her friends), Cian Cuhullin, and Gerald Edward Mander (or Ger E. Mander), respectively. Boudica and Cian appear to be siblings who have not seen each other for some time, although Cian appears to have lost his language since they last met, as he usually utters either his own name or gibberish when he speaks. (He seems to understand Common all right.) Gerald attempts to impress everyone with a coin trick, although he fumbles it, prompting Cian to gesture at the mistake.

After a bit of conversation, a voice emanates, echoing in the heads of those present — it is Artamas, a collective of several hundred snails with silver shells that Gerald carries in a lacquered box in his pack. They apparently were also summoned by the snailstone, and seem to have knowledge of the device. In response, Torinn pulls out his jar of glowworms, only to find that the jar is filled with black ash. While the glowworm colony was largely self-sustaining in its substrate, Torinn did not think to check the jar after his first encounter with Kiaransalee.

After finishing their conversation — during which time Gerald gets Aratha to refill his hand flask with dwarven whiskey — the Shields decide to discuss their plans with Regthor Longbeard. His inn room at The Silver Tankard has become something of an impromptu office, and they find him with Travok and Zaghark. Zaghark seems to respond to Boudica’s presence, cackling about meeting “The Runebound Witch” in person. Boudica asks who this person might be, which seems to amuse Zaghark more, as she replies that “Who?” is the question that haunts Boudica. After repeating “Who?” several times, Travok ushers her out of the room as she continues to cackle. Before she leaves, Boudica suspiciously asks if Zaghark has any sisters, to which she replies that she has many.

After Travok ushers Zaghark away from an increasingly annoyed Regthor, the Shields and their newly-summoned allies get down to cases. Regthor indicates he has determined an attack plan; the Shields are free to amend it, but based on his knowledge of the site, he has lightly sketched how he expects things to go. Their main force will assault the entrance to Kandelspire, making their way through the outer defenses. As Bosabrieln recruited both Galothel and Moridal Delhig, Regthor thinks Aratha and Galothel can assault the guard towers and open the outer gate, while sappers and the “benefactors” can break the inner gate. (And being skilled with infiltration, Moridal can no doubt assist with logistics, in addition to the many engineers and locksmiths they have assembled.)

As for the Shields of the Sorrowfell, the main force is probably going to act as a distraction for their entry, as they’re probably the only ones who can stand toe-to-toe with Kiaransalee. There is a cave network a few miles from Kandelspire, and it leads to a deepearth river that passes by an old deepearth outpost beneath Kandelspire. The likely best way to gain entry is to take a keelboat down the river, infiltrate the underground outpost, gain access to the Great Hall, and from there, access the palace. Beyanae’s sources indicate Kiaransalee is using the palace as her base of operations, and so it’s a relatively straight shot from the river to the goddess herself.

However, the while the way is short and likely to be devoid of traps, it is likely to be well-defended. The ghosts of a city’s worth of dwarves linger in that place, and Kiaransalee’s banshees can smell the living, so the odds are great that the Shields will end up having to fight their way through a city full of ghosts. Beyanae likely has more specific information, and so they should meet with her on the morrow. After asking a couple of cursory questions, the Shields return to main floor of The Silver Tankard to unwind and meet their new associates.

The next morning, the Shields meet with Regthor and Beyanae. Beyanae indicates that she will be traveling with them to Guldor, as she has nothing left for her here when the time comes. She will ensure they have access to the portal between Sigil and Guldor, and then make the march from the gate to Kandelspire in Maldev. As for Kiaransalee’s defenses, she does not have much to add to what Regthor mentioned yesterday: she is served by legions of ghosts and banshees, and the banshees can sense the living. Additionally, if Kiaransalee is aware they are in the city, she can begin targeting them with death magic, attacking them with killing words. (Bosabrieln is familiar with power word kill, and so notes that they will have to remain awake and alert to avoid it enervating magic; the slightest faltering can result in one of them falling victim to it, and death by the goddess’ hand is difficult to reverse.) Given these things in tandem, they are best advised to take the city by stealth as long as they are able; the banshees will smell them eventually, but until they do, the goddess cannot target them with death magic, and they will not be swarmed by undead. Bezaldooz wonders if mind blank would prevent them from being targeted by Kiaransalee, and while Beyanae suspects the goddess could still sense their presence in her domain, it’s probably worth attempting.

With as much preparation as they think they will be able to get, the Shields continue their planning for the week. Bosabrieln spends time tracking down magic item merchants, eventually being introduced to a strange being in an opulent palace offering items such as a hammer of thunderbolts, a horn of Valhalla, or a ring of invisibility. Bosabrieln lacks the funds for such grandiose items, instead just wanting as many healing potions as he can find. The entity asks that he grant him a day to track down such items; the following day, he offers the Shields eight potions of superior healing for 8,000gp. They purchase them and distribute the potions among the party.

The day before the battle is to take place, they rest in Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion. Bezaldooz casts mind blank on himself, Bosabrieln, and Torinn, while Boudica prepares a heroes’ feastwater for the lot of them.

On Waterday, Coldeven 19, everything is in place. Columns of dwarves from across the multiverse make the pilgrimage towards The Lady’s Ward, where Beyanae activates the portal in an abandoned storefront, leading to a cavern on Guldor. The Shields and their hours emerge in the lands of Guldor: spired mountains reaching towards fat, lazily-floating stars in a bluish-purple sky. (When they cross, they again get that sinking feeling in their guts they felt on Solstice during the Battle of Scandshar, a feeling that perhaps they should just quit and die.) It takes hours for the dwarves to process through — there are a couple of engagements with ghosts and wandering gnolls in the meantime — and when they finally do, Regthor briefly speaks. Addressing all present, he indicates that today is the day all present march into history. What they do today represents a stand against tyranny, a blow struck on behalf of Moradin and all dwarvenkind. If they die, they die as dwarves in dwarven lands. But no more land must be given to the forces of the Spider Queen; no retreat, the defenders must stand their ground and press ever onward.

With that, the dwarves march, while the Shields and their summoned allies depart from the main group, heading towards the caverns. After a couple of hours, they find themselves at the cave. As the distant sounds of battle begin to echo through the spire-like mountains, the Shields make their way into the deeps. They follow passages for another hour until they arrive at the underground river. Peren produces the keelboat from his portable hole, and they begin to row downstream.

As they approach the arranged spot, Peren invokes pass without trace to keep the party less obtrusive. Reaching a bend in the river, they spot a handful of floating, spectral figures lurking. Peren leaps out of the boat, and with his ring of water walking, dashes across the river to investigate. Two of the figures appear to be grim, shadowy figures with piercing red pinpoints of light for eyes; their wretched shadowed bodies look almost robed, but it is merely a nimbus of darkness surrounding them. (They look similar to the ghosts who attacked the Shields in Morana the Forsaken’s fortress.) In the middle is a ghostly woman with elfin features and a ghoulish appearance; she comments to the others that there are definitely two groups of the living, and they have been so persistently noticeable that they must be coming this way.

Peren retreats to inform the others, and as they’re about to make their move, Bosabrieln’s snailstone shimmers and Gerald (and Artamas) disappears in a flash of rainbow-colored light. His potion of superior healing drops into the boat where he sat. Undaunted, Bosabrieln gathers the potion, and they prepare to move. Peren casts water walk, and the six leave the boat, taking cover as it floats past the ghosts. As the ghosts note the boat and bid each other to be ready, the Shields attack.

What follows is an increasingly-desperate fight to breach Maldev and reach the goddess Kiaransalee. The Shields engage the ghosts and round the corner to find the rotting remains of a subterranean harbor, half-sunken hulks standing dead in the small cove. A chain is clasped across the harbor, preventing ships from accessing the harbor by easily-traversible by humanoids. Boudica turns into an earth elemental made of pink quartz as battle is joined, wading into battle with a ferocity that is surprising for her bubbly demeanor and pleasant appearance. Cian partially transforms into a toothed beast as his rage overtakes him, leading him into combat with his greatsword and he savages enemies with both his sword and his slavering jaws.

Although the three ghosts guarding the entrance are quickly slain, more emerge from the dead city — waves of banshees and dwarven ghosts. (After getting a good look at the interlopers, one of the banshees flees in the opposite direction, no doubt to inform Kiaransalee of their arrival.) Waves collapse against the Shields of the Sorrowfell, and while they manage to conquer them, there are setbacks: a banshee wails and Bosabrieln falls unconscious, his life force ebbing away until Boudica heals him, while a dwarven ghost manages to possess Peren and set him against Cian. Cian holds him fast until Boudica arrives and knocks the ghost out of Peren with a greater restoration. They rush into the dead port town, encountering a contingent of ghostly dwarven legionnaires. The ghosts march into battle without fear, but one by one, they are discorporated by sword and spell.

When the dust settles, the fighters take a moment to rest. (But not too long, as they know they are subject to a clock they cannot see.) Bosabrieln sings a quick song of healing for himself and drinks several of the potions of superior healing before they move onward, not wanting to get slain by Kiaransalee’s killing words. They then open the door into the city, filing into a hallway filled with murder holes in the walls. As Cian moves, he is pelted by acidic, bloody spit, which he largely ignores as he begins to move. He sees a portcullis ahead with a skinless corpse standing beyond, the creature dripping hissing blood on dwarven stonework. He crouches and charges forward, crashing through the portcullis. While a fireball does not slay the creatures in the walls, the engagement is still brief: they quickly dispatch the skinless corpse ahead. As it falls, a dark elf woman steps from a side room, coming face-to-face with Peren. She is dressed in the manner of a priestess, carrying a wicked-looking dagger. She recognizes Peren’s helm — and clearly knows the Shields are here — but before she can flee or make any sort of preparations, she quickly falls before the Shields. Torinn closes the door from which she exited, only for doors on either side of the hallway to be opened by the scorched and injured skinless corpses who remain. They, too, are quickly slain, and the Shields move forward.

As they ascend the stairs, the next section of hallway appears to be punctuated by doors, evidently acting as some manner of city street. Banshees sit on the benches while a contingent of ghostly legionnaires march in the street. Battle is joined, and as Bezaldooz launches a fireball, the banshees wail (again dropping Bosabrieln, who is quickly revived by Boudica) and ghosts begin flooding from the buildings. A single yochlol arrives from a side alley to investigate the commotion, and the Shields begin doing what they do best, cutting their way through ghosts and hammering the street with spells. In seconds, the street is silent, the battle only marked by the Shields’ increasing fatigue, the ringing in their ears, and the pockmarked buildings displaying the evidence of a battle. They again take a moment to reorient themselves and invoke magic to regain their strength, but there is no time to rest. They press onward.

As they ascend to street level, they find themselves in the Great Hall. Completely dark, what little they can see suggests it was once magnificent, a grandiose collection of buildings, a wonder of dwarven architecture and engineering. It is now largely silent, save for the growing sounds of battle to their distant left. As they slink forward, about to dash for the palace, they hear the whispers of Kiaransalee as she begins speaking seductive, killing words at them. They manage to resist her call to death as they process to the palace.

The gates are closed: high, adamantium structures of magnificent dwarven craftsmanship. Two ghostly dwarves stand guard, and the Shields engage them. Battle is swift but surprisingly troublesome as the dwarf ghosts summon additional dwarven ghosts to their aid to battle. In seconds, the ghosts are discorporated, and Boudica and Torinn begin destroying the doors to gain access. When the doors collapse, they find themselves in a grand entryway with two stairs leading upwards. As they enter the hall, dwarven ghosts pop up at the balcony to the second story, firing spectral crossbow bolts at them, while a horde of dwarf ghosts pour through the walls. Peren invokes a wall of fire to keep the dwarf yeomen from peppering them with spectral bolts, and the Shields begin doing their best to move past the ghosts. Cian runs for the stairwell and jumps onto the second story balcony as Peren begins moving to take out the ghosts blocking the stairwells. While he makes short work of the ghosts upon the stair, one of the ghosts manages to possess Boudica in earth elemental form, and banshees begin pouring out of the second story walls. Torinn is forced to attack the earth elemental, keeping Boudica from moving while the others handle the escalating ghost situation. Seeing how things are progressing, Cian leaps back to the floor as the banshees shriek, dropping Peren. One of the yeoman ghosts in the balcony fires on his prone body, although it fortunately does not kill him. Torinn manages to destroy Boudica’s earth elemental shell, returning her to Boudie’s form and knocking the ghost out of her. With the group back to normal, they restore Peren to health and manage to mop the banshees without much difficulty.

As the Shields begin pouring up the stairs, they launch attacks on the two ghostly yeomen on the balcony. As they carve their way through, Torinn kicks open the door to find two dark elf wizards who immediately begin hammering the open doorway with spells. However, the spells are less than effective — one does something that does not affect Torinn at all, while the other conjures a cloudkill while most of the Shields are still out of range — and they are quickly slain.

Opening the next door reveals a great hall, lined by dwarven ghosts. Suspecting this is the throne room, the Shields begin their final assault. Torinn rushes into the room, drawing fire from most of the dwarf ghosts while Peren conjures a wall of fire to block line of sight into or out of the room.. However, Kiaransalee whispers at the far end of the room, invoking additional ghosts to her aid as banshees and wraiths begin their onslaught. Two of the wraiths phase through the walls to outflank the party while the banshees move into their midst and scream. Most of the party resists the horrific onslaught, but Bezaldooz collapses. While Bosabrieln and Boudica soon have him on his feet, it is short lived as Kiaransalee speaks a killing word, reducing the gnome wizard to a pile of fine black ash.

When the Shields begin to feel panic rise, Bosabrieln’s pack shimmers and Gerald reappears behind the back rank of the party and the wraiths threatening it, fiddling with a coin. He drops the coin to draw his mace and begin hammering the hungry ghosts. As the Shields begin working their way through the crowd, an additional seven wraiths appear. Cian makes a run for it, leaping over them to face the death-goddess herself. As she appeared in Scandshar, she is resplendent: a lovely dark elf wielding a wicked-looking dagger and adorned only in sheer veils and silver jewelry. He feels his life force begin to ebb as he approaches, but his rage drives him to mercilessly attack her. Soon, the Shields begin punching through the defensive line, discorporating enough of the wraiths so that Torinn can rush the goddess, his axe screaming in triumph.

The Shields and their allies manage to filter into the throne room, still beset on all sides by hungry ghosts. But Gerald and Peren join the fray, rushing into the combat with the goddess herself, hammering her under unrelenting weapon blows while the surviving bard and druid endeavor to hold off the last of the ghosts. As Bosabrieln appears increasingly decrepit from repeated enervation by hungry wraiths — he would swear the wraith sucking his essence whispers in Vianibrar’s voice — Torinn finally lands the crucial blow. His axe cleaves through the goddess as she screams and erupts into motes of black energy, shreds of sheer fabric, and a clatter of silver jewelry. His axe screams in jubilation.

No more ghosts emerge after that, and the remaining ghosts seem confused and lessened. The Shields quickly pacify the throne room, and all is still. Torinn collapses, sitting when the last wraith discorporates.

Exhausted, the Shields have only a few minutes to rest. Peren sets about gathering Bezaldooz’s ashes for resurrection, and gathering his equipment. Time passes — maybe five minutes, maybe fifteen, maybe thirty, it’s hard to tell — before they hear the sounds of battle drawing closer to their location. The dwarves finally push through the disorganized ghosts in the Great Hall. The city is far from pacified, but at this moment, the hardest part of their labors are complete.

Exhausted and bloodied, the Shields of the Sorrowfell spend the next hour or two assisting the dwarves in driving away the remaining ghosts from the Great Hall and any other critical areas before the dwarves begin to secure a perimeter and make camp. The dwarves tap kegs and begin singing low dwarven songs as the camp erupts in celebration. Not knowing how much longer they have, those summoned by the snailstone partake briefly but begin saying their farewells. Gerald performs a final coin trick — modestly impressive, although Cian again points out the mistake. Boudica and Cian, siblings reunited by the snailstone, say farewell, and Boudica expresses that she hopes to find him again. (Cian does not speak, only pressing a strange iron coin into her hands. She notes the weight of the coin seems heavy in a way she cannot fully describe.) Bosabrieln embraces Boudica, telling her that if they meet again, they simply must go shopping.

Before long, the snailstone shimmers and Boudica, Cian, and Gerald are summoned away again from whence they came. As the party continues, Bosabrieln begins preparing a ritual space to return Bezaldooz to life…

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Final Arrangements, Part 6

Starday, Fireseek 22, 553 CY (51 AN)

When morning arrives, Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, Peren, and Torinn make their way to Tetposmeton’s gambling house in The Hive. As usual, Torinn stays outside while the others enter.

Tetposmeton is pleased to see the Shields of the Sorrowfell, as always, and he and Bosabrieln start negotiating. To inform them of the resting place of the axe of the dwarvish lords, Tetposmeton wants the following: 20% of the take, which includes the estimated monetary value of magic items although Tetposmeton must keep the items whole and cannot do something underhanded like sunder a magic item and claim that as his cut; all soul coins the Shields might find, as they have no use for them and so should not rightly be considered part of the take; Testposmeton wants a private conversation with Regthor Longbeard within three hours of this conversation, and while the Shields can escort him here, they cannot be present; and the Shields need to slay Etunildelan (before he sets foot on Guldor) and deliver his soul to Tetposmeton either through Peren’s helm or the imprisonment spell (and Tetposmeton is willing to deliver the latter at no additional charge). And they’ll have to put their souls up as collateral in case they breach the contract. (Torinn, not being present, is ostensibly not included in this transaction.)

When Bosabrieln balks, Tetposmeton reminds him that the Shields have never been to Avernus and don’t know where this place is. On the other hand, Tetposmeton has spent extensive time in Avernus, used to command legions there, still has legions there, and knows exactly where this place is. And his legions have almost a day’s headstart on the Shields of the Sorrowfell. While he is certain the Shields would find it eventually, will they get there before he does? Are they willing to leave the axe of the dwarvish lords to the Nine Hells?

The Shields excuse themselves for a moment to confer with each other and Torinn in private. (Peren notices an imp follow them out, but once it’s clear that someone is watching, the imp wanders away.) Nobody is happy with this deal — particularly since it seems largely motivated by Bosabrieln’s personal benefit — but they recognize that they lack good options. The obvious choice seems to be to negotiate Tetposmeton down as much as possible. They head back inside and manage just that: 10% of the take, including magic items and soul coins; Etunildelan’s death (but not his soul); and a meeting with Regthor Longbeard in which the Shields can observe but not interfere. (The last point regarding Regthor is the hardest piece to get Tetposmeton to alter, and is likely the lynchpin of his contract.) Both parties ultimately agree. Tetposmeton snaps his fingers and the floor cracks as lava wells up from the fissure. As it begins to rapidly cool into rock, the writing of the contract appears on it in Infernal. Tetposmeton tells them to insert their left hands; the heat will not hurt them. Bosabrieln does so, followed by Peren and Bezaldooz before Tetposmeton presses his hand into the rock and it disappears.

The Shields return to The Silver Tankard, and after briefly explaining that Regthor Longbeard has to meet with this entity, they bring Regthor and Travok Dankil to The Hive. Tetposmeton leads the five of them (sans Travok, who is not included) into a backroom. His proposition for Regthor is simple: he will grant any resources he requires to fulfill his goals; money, magic, legions of the Nine Hells. He can ensure the victory of the dwarves’ enterprise and the freedom of Regthor’s people.

All it will cost is his soul.

Regthor, having spent decades imprisoned by the drow and their agents with the knowledge that what few of his people survived suffer the same fate, readily agrees. (He considers his own soul in exchange for the freedom of his people to be a fair trade.) Tetposmeton again summons a slab of rock, they press their hands into it, and the deal is done. Tetposmeton tells the Shields that they may return at their leisure; he has access to a portal to his old fortress in Avernus, and it should be roughly three days’ journey from there to their destination. The Wraithsmasher family piloted a dwarven citadel — a sort of large spelljammer, powered by the work of the dwarves within and large enough to contain a small dwarven settlement — into the Nine Hells at the behest of their demonic allies. Tetposmeton’s legions, in tandem with yugloth irregulars, sacked the place. He granted the crashed citadel to the yugoloths as payment, for his forces had little need of it as a strategic site. One of his servants can grant them transport to their final destination.

With that, the Shields and Regthor take their leave. Travok asks what was discussed, but everyone refuses to speak of it. They return to The Silver Tankard, ensure that Regthor and Travok are secure, and prepare themselves to depart for Avernus tomorrow.

On Sunday, Fireseek 23, the Shields return to Tetposmeton’s gambling den. He leads them through a tangle of corridors — the place appears to be larger on the inside than the outside would suggest — before leading them to a hallway that terminates in an old archway from an alley, clearly brought here from somewhere else. Tetposmeton leads them to it, and it activates, looking out over a military encampment beneath a reddish sky. The Shields enter.

They find themselves in a fortification managed by fiends. Within the walls are some permanent stone structures interspersed with tents. The air is heavy and reeks of sulfur, while also being suffused with a reddish glow that seems to emanate from everywhere at once. Occasional streaks of fire appear, no doubt to land somewhere in the endless waste. The place is covered in reddish sand and dust that somehow seems to get everywhere.

The Shields are swiftly met by an armored woman with alabaster skin and reddish-black feathered wings, a horned helm upon her head. She seems to be expecting them and leads them to a hangar in which infernal war machines are kept. She introduces them to Belich, a barbed devil wearing polarized goggles who apparently maintains and pilots these machines. After confirming that he’s driving them to the Wraithsmasher citadel and they do not require a return trip, he says he is ready to leave at any time. They indicate they are ready to leave now.

Belich leads them to a war machine that is called “a Demon Grinder,” a device which looks like some manner of large industrial thresher, the front of which is festooned with gnashing metal blades. The entire device has been plated in gold, evidently as some manner of armor, and in addition to the blades, has three additional weapon stations: a wrecking ball on the back, a hose connected to a tank on the lefthand side, and a limbless wax effigy of a man’s torso and head on the righthand side. Belich explains that these are weapon stations, and should be relatively self-explanatory once accessed: the thresher grinds anything in front of the vehicle, the wrecking ball swings from side-to-side, the torso screams and hurts the minds of any it targets, and the pump delivers water from the River Styx. Belich is driving (which explains why his seat has holes, to accomodate his barbs), so the Shields are free to operate any of the weapon stations they choose. Bezaldooz takes the wrecking ball, Bosabrieln takes the screaming effigy, and Peren takes the thresher; Torinn, quite displeased at this whole affair, deigns not to take any of the weapon stations, instead sullenly sitting in his seat.

The trip is a jostling ride through badlands and dust-ridden flats. At one point, a humanoid figure upon a burning horse gives chase to the Demon Grinder, but Belich has no real desire to deal with it. (As it approaches, it is clearly a humanoid creature wrapped in chains, riding a wyvern.) Belich asks for someone to grab one of the canisters under his seat, but Torinn refuses to budge, forcing Bezaldooz to leave his seat and hand the canister to Belich. He sprays some black sludge into the engine, and the Demon Grinder’s speed increases to worrisome levels for about it a minute — although Belich nearly flips the machine, he keeps it under control and on track. The chain devil eventually gives up pursuit. (Belich explains that this is demon ichor, sometimes used to boost engine performance, although its effects are sometimes unpredictable.)

Shortly thereafter, they pass the camp where Tetposmeton’s legions are on the move. Belich gives a friendly wave as they pass.

The rest of the day passes uneventfully. The travelers make camp and decide to use Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion, but leave the door open and take watches to keep an eye on the Demon Grinder in case someone attempts to steal it.

In the late night — a relative term, since there does not appear to be a day and night cycle here — during Torinn’s watch, he spies someone approaching on the horizon. As the figure approaches, it is humanoid and clad in plate mail. It is limping, a blood leaks out of a wound in the figure’s side. It removes its helmet and is revealed a red-haired human woman, who asks if Torinn can help. He’s still in a foul mood, so he speaks little, telling her that it is not his concern. He then summons Bosabrieln by kicking his door to awaken him. Bosabrieln calls out, but receives no answer as Torinn is still not speaking overmuch. When he comes to the door, Torinn leaves, only indicating that there is a matter that requires his attention. Bosabrieln wraps a bedsheet around himself and comes to the door. The woman indicates that she and her fellow travelers originally came from Baldur’s Gate in Toril, hoping to save souls and all that sort of thing. But one of their members was driven mad by the pervasive evilness of this place, and killed the others. She is being followed and needs help.

Bosabrieln still won’t let her inside, but invokes a song of healing to heal her wound. Over the course of the conversation, he notes that there is something off about her story, and so inquires further. However, before he can inquire too much, another figure approaches. Although Torinn tells her to run, the knight ducks down behind the Demon Grinder, hoping to avoid notice, pleading with Bosabrieln and Torinn. (By this time, Belich has been awakened, and says he can offer her help if she’ll sell her soul. When she refuses, so does he. Bezaldooz and Peren have also awakened to watch the proceedings.) When the figure comes into view, it is also a human woman, clad in tattered robes and chain shirt. The knight tells her to approach no further, and invokes a spell, launching two crimson blasts of energy that hit the robed woman, staggering her as she lurches forward. As the knight begins to circle the Demon Grinder, the robed woman — evidently a priestess by the holy symbol around her neck, and given its sun shape, likely a priestess of Lathander, the sun god of Toril — takes cover by the front, begging the Shields that this place has influenced her friend’s mind. She killed the rest of their party, but if she can be helped, she can be restored to herself—

She does not have time to finish her thought. The knight, having circled around the Demon Grinder, invokes another spell and conjures a wave of fire from her hands. The priestess is instantly reduced to a charred ruin. The knight chuckles, sardonically noting that they could have helped. They tell her to move on and she begins walking away from Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion, into the wastes.

With the excitement over, the Shields return to sleep.

The next two days are uneventful runs through this broken land. On the late afternoon of Godsday, Fireseek 25, the travelers see a shape begin to crest the horizon. As they approach, it becomes clear that it is a massive slab of rock carved into the shape of a stern and sinister dwarf’s head. A wicked crown rests upon its brow, suggestive of a set of horns. Four creatures fly around the crown in a lazy patrol. Belich pulls around back, where a spelljammer dock would have once rested roughly 150-200 feet off the ground. The Shields will have to climb or fly to reach it. Once he has confirmed they will not need a ride back, he lets them out and drives away to find a spot to camp for the night.

The Shields use Peren’s carpet of flying to ascend the slab of rock, finding that the four guardians are axe-wielding bat-creatures, each twice the size of a regular human. (It looks to be the same manner of hulking bat-creature as was with The Hades Nuts in the Chimeric Amphitheater.) Recalling that yugoloths are always business-minded, Bosabrieln invokes parley and says they wishes to discuss a business transaction. One of the creatures leaves to fetch a representative, and returns with another creature of roughly the same size. This yugoloth is muscular, with reddish scaled skin and ears shaped like bat wings attached to its skull-like head. It carries a book at its belt and wears a cape over its left arm, which is noticeably larger than its right arm. It speaks with Bosabrieln, indicating that it is empowered to act as a representative of Karn Gax, the ultroloth commander of this citadel. (The leader of The Hades Nuts was one of the grey-skinned ultroloths, as the Shields recall.)

Bosabrieln explains that Tetposmeton’s troops are headed in this direction and seek to retake this citadel. Bosabrieln would like to negotiate this information in exchange for the axe of the dwarvish lords. The representative argues that Bosabrieln’s information was freely given before any such deal was struck, and so nothing is owed. It only shows goodwill on the Shields’ part. If they have something else of value, or could help defend this citadel, however, perhaps some manner of arrangement could be struck.

Bosabrieln insists on seeing the axe before any such deal is determined, and the representative says he will see what can be done. He returns inside, leaving the Shields waiting outside for almost an hour before he returns. Once he returns, he says Karn Gax will see them, and Bosabrieln manages to convince him that it is only fair to be brought inside with their equipment. They creature leads them inside.

It leads them through hallways where strange, insectile humanoids walk. It eventually brings them to a very long set of spiral stairs which ultimately lead to another set of hallways and finally some manner of throne room or audience chamber. Inside are a handful of doors, as well as two guards (strange, eyeless quadrupeds clad in leather); another one of the bat-eared creatures with one arm larger than the other; a misshapen robed humanoid covered in oozing boils; a robed figure with a fox’s head (no doubt one of the arcanoloths, as was The Hades Nuts’ mage); and finally, sitting upon a throne, is a dwarven monarch. In addition to his kingly raiment, he wears a skull mask, a jeweled gold crown and a jeweled platinum ring. On the armrest of his chair sits a gold cup set with emeralds, and at his belt is a drinking horn with gold filigree. In his hands, as a badge of office, he holds a gold-bladed and bejeweled axe: the axe of the dwarvish lords.

Bosabrieln opens negotiations, but they abruptly end when one of the bat-eared creatures sees Bezaldooz reaching into his pocket and retrieving an iron bottle of some kind. As the yugoloths move to investigate or apprehend, Peren and Torinn leap into the fray as Peren moves to engage the fox-headed arcanoloth and Torinn engages the two bat-eared giants. The dwarven king — evidently the ultroloth Karn Gax, even though he looks like a dwarf rather than a standard ultroloth — fixes his gaze upon Torinn as his eyes shine with opalescent energy. Torinn resists the effect, and then Karn Gax hurls his axe at Torinn. It glances off the dragonborn’s armor, but the axe returns to his hand, and so he throws it two more times; although it glances off of Torinn’s armor another time, the third strike grazes an unarmored spot under his armpit. However, before anyone can retaliate, Bezaldooz uncorks the iron flask and speaks its command word, drawing the shocked Karn Gax into the bottle.

The battle does not last terribly long after that. One of the bat-eared giants slams Bosabrieln with its giant arm, sending him reeling as the two quadrupeds move into position and pull him toward them with their barbed tongues. The arcanoloth manages to hex Peren with banishment for a brief period before it is discorporated by Bezaldooz, while Torinn makes swift work of the bat-eared giants. The pox-marked figure sends the stunned Bosabrieln into diseases spasms with its virulent touch, and the quadrupeds tear into his bleeding and unconscious body with their tongues, but Bosabrieln’s death makes little different: the Shields make short work of the remaining yugoloths. Recognizing that they are down one member and have little time before reinforcements arrive, they grab the dropped golden chalice, do a quick sweep for anything else of value, stuff Bosabrieln’s battered corpse into Peren’s portable hole, and return to Sorgforge via plane shift.

After a brief discussion, the Shields decide to return to The Silver Tankard, given that they recall Aratha can cast raise dead (and do so without needing diamonds). The trip through Sorgforge, the privy, and towards the Lady’s Ward is uneventful. When they arrive back at The Silver Tankard, they find Aratha and ask for audience. (She quickly surmises that something is wrong when Bosabrieln is nowhere to be found.) They produce Bosabrieln’s body, so she utters a quick prayer over it and touches him. His body knits back together and he again draws breath, but as Aratha is laying on hands, he begins yelling at the rest of the party for not following his lead and drawing everyone into a big fight rather than using parley, or just grabbing the axe and retreating.

Aratha manages to calm him, and after she manages to learn what is preying upon the Shields — namely, that they and Regthor made a deal with Tetposmeton — the Shields rest for the evening. It is only in the morning that he realizes why he was so angry the day before — he, too, succumbed to the mind-warping effects of Avernus, and probably had been under the plane’s sinister influence ever since the knight visited their campsite. He apologizes to the others for his behavior while they were in Avernus.

The Shields return to plan their next move. The plan seems to run thusly: wait a few days for Bosabrieln to fully recover, set up a meeting with Etunildelan, kill him (probably with the aid of the bound Karn Gax), retrieve the axe, and deliver their spoils to Tetposmeton. Although still weakened from his death, Bosabrieln establishes contact with Etunildelan and they agree to meet in a neutral location: the town known as the Death of Innocence in Niflheim, Hades. His agents will meet in the Bar Formerly Known as the Smoldering Corpse Bar and lead them to the gate.

The Shields rest until the morning of Sunday, Readying 2, when they are to meet Etunildelan’s representative. They encounter a black robed tiefling with a symbol of Orcus around his neck. He leads them to the back of an alchemist’s shop in the Market Ward, and when he produces a skull, a backdoor deposits them just outside the town gate of Death of Innocence.

The Shields find themselves in a thick wood, shrouded by mist. The settlement behind them is largely obscured by wooden palisades, mortared with a red viscous liquid that strongly resembles blood. Only the snapping, colorful pennants of Death of Innocence are readily visible. Before them is Etunildelan and his retinue: two robed figures (including the tiefling with whom they traveled), a humanoid figure obscured in black armor, and a host of ravenous ghouls.

There is little point to a prolonged deception. Bezaldooz uncorks the bottle, releasing Karn Gax, and battle is joined. The clash of blade and spell is sudden, unrelenting, and swift, particularly since the Shields have a fair amount of experience with death knights, necromancers, and the undead. In seconds, the bloody task is complete, and Etunildelan’s forces are shattered.

Turning to Karn Gax, they ask him to turn over his valuables and the axe of the dwarvish lords, which he does. They then ask if he wishes to join them in their quest, given that he is now a dwarf, and he also agrees with that. (Although Torinn is swift to point out that he cannot rightly refuse a request, as he is still under the influence of the iron flask.) When asked, he also reveals that the axe of the dwarvish lords is what turned him into a dwarf, although it does not do it all at once.

Still, given that information, they plane shift back to Sorgforge, and from there, return to Sigil and The Silver Tankard. After discussing for some time, the lingering effects of the iron flaskbanish wear off, and Karn Gax is displeased with what has transpired. He asks for his axe, offers to stay if they pay him, and then finally throws a punch before being swiftly discorporated by Aratha and the Shields of the Sorrowfell.

After the patrons are calmed and the Shields have spoken with the Sons of Mercy, they return to The Hive to settle their debt with Tetposmeton. He takes the valuables as his 10% fee, leaving them with the axe of the dwarvish lords. And for settling their debt, he again summons their stone contract, bids them to place their hands in it again, and it cracks and dissolves. After their debt is settled, Bezaldooz engages in one last bit of business: purchasing a scroll of the demiplane spell and a small carpet of flying about which he inquired a few days ago. With their business complete, they return to The Silver Tankard and present Regthor Longbeard with the axe of the dwarvish lords, marking him as the force to unite the dwarf clans scattered across the planes…

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Final Arrangements, Part 5

Earthday, Fireseek 20, 553 CY (51 AN)

Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, Peren, and Torinn sit in The Silver Tankard, discussing their future plans. Torinn becomes aware of a presence attempting to probe his mind, and then it speaks. Identifying itself as “The Us,” it indicates that it is responsible for keeping the cranium rats away from the Shields of the Sorrowfell for their past couple of jaunts into Sigil. (Apparently, the rats seek to ascertain what they know over some slight months ago.) The Us indicate that it would be able to permanently guard against such intrusions in exchange for a task: there is a mind flayer elder brain that they would see destroyed, and the Shields of the Sorrowfell could trivially accomplish such a thing.

Torinn informs the others, and over the course of the conversation with The Us, the Shields agree to participate in this endeavor. (They are originally concerned that they won’t have the time, but The Us indicate they can directly lead them to a backdoor into the mind flayers’ lair.) While conversing, Tom of Annihilation enters, explaining that he knows the wizard who will sell them the enchanted knives Peren sought. However, they discuss their plans in front of him, and while doing so, they mention their assault on the elder brain. A couple of the Shields notice him twitch, something of a nervous tic. They tell him that they will retain his services on the morrow and send him away.

Realizing that they have potentially been made by minions of said elder brain, they decide they ought to leave straight away. The Us informs them that there is a butcher shop in the Lower Ward, and the gate lies in a nearby alley. Mammalian brains are the key required to enter. Bosabrieln asks if The Us might be able to procure a guide into the Demonweb Pits, and while the entity indicates that it might be difficult, that is within their power. If they accomplish their task tonight, The Us will send someone tomorrow morning.

The Shields head to the Lower Ward, make their purchase at the butcher shop, and head into alley. Before doing so, they prepare to move by stealth. Bezaldooz decides to dismiss Goruthrel, but before she leaves, she recommends he use mind blank as protection to fight the elder brain. He uses the mind blank scrolls they purchased as part of their gambit to enable Barnabus Sleet to claim their bounty, and the group steps through the portal.

They arrive in a cave network, and Peren scouts ahead, noting two mind flayers in communion with an enormous, tentacled brain in a fetid pool of liquid. When he reports back, the Shields move into the cave, preparing for battle. The engagement is shockingly swift — the elder brain summons five more mind flayers into the fracas as Peren moves, cleaving into the enormous brain with his swords. After Peren retreats, the elder brain erects a psychic barrier around itself, but the mind flayers are barely able to affect the Shields, protected as they are by mind blank. (Apart from some psychic stuns here and there, they aren’t able to cause any psychic injury, and the elder brain can barely even perceive them.) Bezaldooz recognizes the psychic barrier as being similar to wall of force, and after the mind flayers are defeated, Bezaldooz destroys it with a disintegrate spell (also keeping the elder brain from teleporting away with a well-timed counterspell), and Torinn hacks it apart in its pool.

Satisfied that there is nothing here of significant value, and wanting to leave before reinforcements arrive, the Shields exit the way they came.

On their way back to The Silver Tankard, they are again contacted by The Us. This time, they spot the entity — more cranium rats. Reacting to their surprise, The Us ask if they thought there was only one warren of cranium rats in Sigil. Still, they thank the Shields for their assistance, and indicate they will make good on their promise: no cranium rats will molest the Shields while they are in Sigil, and they will send a guide for the Demonweb Pits tomorrow morning.

When the Shields return to The Silver Tankard, they find the Four Seasons have arrived in the interim. However, before they have the opportunity to converse with them, the Shields are met by Tom of Annihilation. He regrets to inform them that he hasn’t had much luck finding enchanted daggers, whereupon they inform him that he was likely mind-controlled by mind flayers and was going to lead them into a trap. (Sure enough, when he confirms the current date with Aratha, he finds that he’s missing several days.) He asks if Peren still requires his services, and Peren declines. He wanders back into the city.

Autumn of the Four Seasons approaches their table, introducing herself as Fanyeira. Bosabrieln bids her to sit, and the rest of the Four Seasons join them. Bosabrieln explains the plan, but also that it has been revised and will likely be farther in the future — the Shields have some preparations to perform first. Fanyeira tells him that they are in the Shields’ debt for sparing their lives in the Chimeric Amphitheater, and so they will make themselves available when the time comes.

Since the Shields now know that they plan to infiltrate the Truegard mines on the morrow, and that they (allegedly) have a guide, they travel to The Bar Formerly Known as the Smoldering Corpse Bar to inform Travok Dankil that they will leave on the morrow to undertake a rescue mission for Regthor Longbeard. He is thrilled, and agrees to meet them at The Silver Tankard in the morning.

As antipeak approaches and whatever passes for twilight falls over Sigil, another figure enters The Silver Tankard to speak with the Shields of the Sorrowfell. A tall figure in horned, black armor festooned with skull motifs enters, the spurs on his boots jangling. His eyes glow a baleful red from the shadows of his helm. He introduces himself as Etunildelan, a servant of Orcus, and that he wishes to join the Shields’ cause. He can pledge an army of undead in the battle against Kiaransalee, and requires no payment. (Torinn is preturbed not only by his obvious evil, but by the fact that he is joining the cause for ideological reasons rather than material gain. People who want things are more trustworthy.) Bosabrieln repeats that their expedition is likely to be delayed for a handful of weeks, but they can contact him when the time comes. Etunildelan is pleased, as this will give him additional time to gather recruits and servitors for the battle to come. He takes his leave with acknowledgement that they will be in touch.

Once he leaves, Aratha approaches the Shields’ table, noting that they will likely betray him, correct? Bosabrieln agrees — to Torinn’s chagrin, as they never seem thrilled when he posits such a thing — but he will have to think about the best time to do such a thing. If Etunildelan has time to raise an army of undead, and if he raises additional undead during the battle, will they be in any position to move against him?

They expect they have several weeks before they have to determine what to do about it, however.

The morning of Fireseek 21, the Shields return to the common room to find two new faces within. Torugar is sitting at the bar. An unknown dark elf woman, dressed in clerical vestments, sips coffee at one of the tables. However, they quickly note that she does so robotically, in a repeating pattern every few seconds. (And she continues to do so when her mug is emtpy.)

Bosabrieln greets Torugar first. Torugar says he has heard a rumor of something they’re planning, and notes that the gods and their servitors cannot assist, given that aiding deicide would go against certain protocols. He further notes, pointedly, that assuming the rumors are true, the dwarves’ enemies (namely the duergar and drow) would claim that the dwarves are a proud, stubborn people who would require grand gestures to unite the disparate clans under a single banner. Under these slanderous claims, something such as the fabled axe of the dwarvish lords might rouse the clans from their torpor. Torugar once heard a rumor that the axe landed with the remnant of Rockulon Prime’s Wraithsmasher Empire that emigrated to Avernus. He suspects, if one were so inclined, that the Shields’ infernal contacts down in The Hive might know where to locate such things.

Torugar then takes his leave.

The Shields then decide to greet the one whom they suspect is their new friend. Introducing herself as Zesstra Phomdorn, a drow priestess of Lolth, they quickly surmise that she is under heavy mind control, radiating strong enchantment magic to detect magic. She seems a pile of nervous tics delivered with an entirely-too-earnest demeanor, but she claims that she can guide the Shields through the Demonweb Pits to the Truegard mines of Guldor.

Travok arrives and learns of this new development. While none of them are terribly happy about it — Travok notes that he might hate what this priestess represents, but finds no solace in her being so horribly ensorcelled — this is the tool they have at their disposal, so they’re going to use it. Bosabrieln casts seeming to disguise the lot of them as dark elves, with Bosie being a high priestess of Lolth, and they give Zesstra explicit instructions to not talk to anyone. She leads the way to the Weaver’s Guildhall in the Clerk’s Ward. Peren casts pass without trace before the travelers enter the portal, and Zesstra withdraws spider eggs from a pouch and crushes them in her hand as they cross the guildhall threshold.

The travelers arrive on some manner of edifice, an altar of sorts festooned with bones. This is evidently the portal from Sigil. The air is acrid, and the sounds of the city have given way to an eerie silence. Tunnels lead in either direction, and Zesstra beckons the Shields to follow.

She leads them through twisting passageways of spider silk, bypassing several monstrous spiders that ignore the pilgrimage of this group of “dark elves.” After roughly an hour of wandering, she brings them to a gateway of transparent metal revealing a scene of spindly mountains. She reveals that these gateways must be opened with blood sacrifice: the lifeblood of a sapient being must be painted upon them in a simulacrum of the spider symbol of Lolth. She happily volunteers for this purpose, leading to a bit of discomfort among the travelers. They wonder how they will proceed without their guide, but she reveals that she has never been here, so she would be of limited utility anyway. As they hesitate, she presses her dagger into Bosabrieln’s hands.

He plunges the dagger into her belly. She hardly reacts as her life ebbs; only in her last moments does the enchantment break, and she transfixes him with her gaze, whispering a single, accusatory, “YOU.” He quietly acknowledges her dying rage before painting the symbol upon the gateway.

It opens, letting a cool breeze flow into the Demonweb. The travelers step through.

They are met with an alien landscape. The mountains in this place are tall and spindly, like stalagmites of enormous size. Despite the daylight hours, the stars hang lazily in the sky, dully shining orbs the size of clenched fists. Travok is overcome with emotion, as he did not know whether he would ever return to his home of Guldor. He quickly regains his composure, as there is work to be done.

Nearby are two human-sized, tree-like entities composed of greenish slime: yochlols, the handmaidens of Lolth. They guard what appears to be a mine entrance flanked by a steam engine. The Shields quickly surmise that they will not be able to sneak past without further chicanery, and Travok informs them that it will be a long lift ride down the mine shaft into the earth, so they decide to use their disguises to their advantage and enter. The two yochlols give greeting and ask their business: Bosabrieln replies that they are here to engage in an examination of the mines and further interrogation of their most important prisoner. The yochlols were not aware of any such update, but accept this and ask if they require an escort. Bosabrieln declines, and they board the lift — a massive wooden palette suspended by chains and operated by the steam engine outside. They activate the machine and it descends into the earth.

They look for weaknesses, knowing that disabling the lift would delay reinforcements should any unrest happen to occur in the mines. Given the metal and mechanical pieces, it would likely be vulnerable to all manner of sabotage, but they will worry about such things on the return trip. After several minutes, the lift lands in a mine tunnel. Driders — dark elf spider centaurs — and additional yochlols meet them, and they repeat their business and again decline an escort.

They wander through miles of nearly-lightless tunnels, taking the occasional lift to lower levels. Despite the lack of signs and their refusal of an escort, they find their way through the mines without incident. Driders and yochlols oversee groups of dwarf miners, enslaved to lives of endless toil beneath the earth. (No dwarf wears a beard down here, as all have been forcibly shorn of hair.) The conditions are horrific, but the overseers defer to the visitors and allow them to pass unmolested. The Shields finally arrive at a prison block and seek audience with someone in charge: Yscolene, yochlol cleric of Lolth. (As was noted earlier, it seems as though Lolth’s minions run the mines down here. Lolth evidently does not trust Kiaransalee with these delicate operations.) Yscolene is shrewd and suspicious of this new group, given that she is completely unaware of any additional interrogation set with her valued prisoner, but she seems to accept their imperious explanations without resistance. (It would not do for one such as her to countermand a direct order from Lolth’s priesthood, given as it is with Lolth’s blessing.) Yscolene grabs a set of keys and leads the Shields to a prison cell, deep within the bowels of the facility. She unlocks it, and Bosabrieln dismisses the cleric. Yscolene says she will be right outside, and that they may knock on the door when they are finished.

They enter the cell, and Yscolene locks it behind them. Inside is an older dwarf, likely in his second century or so, his head and face shaved and his body clad in a filthy prisoner’s smock. This must be Regthor Longbeard, last of the Truegard Empire. He asks what fresh indignities they seek to foist upon him, and they indicate they are there to rescue him. He is skeptical, but when the Shields begin bickering about their exit strategy, he recognizes the half-assed plans of adventurers are trusts their claims are genuine.

However, as deep in the mines as they are, Bosabrieln and Travok realize that there is no sense in attempting to start some manner of insurrection with a defenseless Regthor among their ranks. The other dwarves must remain enslaved for now, and they will leave with the dwarf prince for Sorgforge, and from there, Sigil.

All parties agree. Bezaldooz gathers them together to cast plane shift, and the last thing they hear is Yscolene’s panicked fumbling of keys when she hears the syllables of active magic use.

They arrive in the teleportation circle in Sorgforge’s market. Bosabrieln drops the seeming, and they lead the exiled prince toward the privy that connects to Sigil. On the way, Regthor asks them why the stars are not out, and Travok explains that they are in a different world, one where the asters are small and do not shine by day, one where the granite of the mountains does not grow in crystalline structures as it does back home. Most worlds are like this one; Guldor is truly one-of-a-kind. Bosabrieln notes that Sorgforge was founded by dwarves in antiquity, so it is appropriate that Regthor would arrive on Khaldun in such a place.

Passing through the privy, the Shields arrive in the Lower Ward. They make their way to The Silver Tankard, where Aratha seems surprised that they have returned so quickly, mere hours after they left.

She likely notes that they are now accompanied by an unfamiliar dwarf rather than the dark elf with whom they left this morning, but she is too polite to ask.

Once the Shields have discussed matters with Aratha, ensuring that Regthor and Travok have a safe place to stay, they have one last bit of business today: the Shields head to The Hive to speak with Tetposmeton.

As usual, Torinn stays outside while Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, and Peren enter. Tetposmeton is pleased to see them, and the lot of them get down to business. (Tetposmeton laughs, indicating that he’s old friends with the Khan of Nightmares, and heard about their rivalry. He is certain to mention that he commands legions of Hell and still wouldn’t go up against the Khan with them.) Bezaldooz seeks a scroll of demiplane and a carpet of flying; Tetposmeton says it will require a couple of days, and he will charge a comparatively low 100,000gp for these items. Bosabrieln explains their greater mission: does Tetposmeton know anything about the axe of the dwarvish lords among the Wraithsmashers of Avernus? He laughs, saying he knows of the Wraithsmashers — or did, as he killed them all. Had he known they had the axe of the dwarvish lords among them, he would have engaged in a more thorough search of their domain. He says he will have to do some research and determine his terms; he bids the Shields to return tomorrow when he has had a chance to determine what this information is worth.

And so the Shields of the Sorrowfell return to The Silver Tankard to rest for the afternoon.

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