Chronicles of Khaldun: Crux of Eternity

In Our Dry Cellar, Part 6

Moonday, Harvester 17, 552 CY (50 AN)

Having rested, the Shields of the Sorrowfell decide to press onward into the lightless tunnels beneath Scandshar in the hopes of finding Darstina Tallcrippler.

During the long walk, the Shields hear noise from Bosabrieln’s backpack. When they check, a voice is hailing them from the Sending Stone. Bosabrieln responds, and the person says he’ll put on his boss.

Lord Oculus addresses the Shields.

He tells a tale he claims to have heard in Sigil, a story about a mongoose hunting a cobra. The relevant quote, he says, notes that “very few mongooses, however wise and old they may be, care to follow a cobra into its hole.” Divinations have determined that they are inside the tunnels beneath Scandshar, and having crept into the location, it means that there are guards at either end who will trap them. He notes that they were clever to warn their comrades about the Peacocks’ approach, although they did not warn one — Bezaldooz’s undead lover. Lord Oculus notes that such may be a conversation they will want to have with Bezaldooz in the near future. Lord Oculus further states that the Illustrious Menagerie of Peacocks is so named because they have eyes everywhere. The Peacocks’ gaze is inescapable. He ends the discussion by asking if they know why he is called “Lord Oculus the Beautiful,” and indicating that they will find out.

The group walks for about an hour, encountering old caverns and tomb complexes before finally coming to a set of wooden double doors beyond which they hear talking. Peren listens and definitely hears one familiar human voice and another set of voices, not human. After listening for a couple of minutes, it is clear that the one human and the two inhuman things are brokering a deal over slaves. It is also clear that the human is greatly intimidated by the things, likely because they seem just as interested in eating their slaves as utilizing them.

After some deliberation, the Shields decide to knock. After a moment, a man answers the door. The Shields recognize Lamont MacBeth, the barrister present at last night’s primero game. Behind him, the group sees a room with tables, torches, and stone walls, evidently forming some manner of underground tavern. The Shields also see two large, hulking, armored creatures in the room — umber hulks. Lamont seems a little surprised to see the Shields, but tells his unseen companions that it’s nothing and closes the door.

Peren decides to open it.

As the group walks into the room, they see Lamont’s two companions: two small creatures appearing almost as tarantulas with moray eel heads emerging from their thoraxes. The group recognizes them as neogi — a vile, slaving race of aberrants, served by trained Umber Hulks — although these two are significantly smaller than most neogi known in the world. Their fur is dyed to resemble peacock feathers, and a shaved patch on their left shoulders reveals a spiralling, fractal tattoo with a peacock motif. A bartender is also visibile behind the bar at the far side of the room.

The two neogi threaten to eat Lamont after they kill the interlopers, and battle is joined.

The bartender hides behind the bar as Lamont dashes across the room, trying to hide from the combat. Peren leaps into the fray, jumping onto a table and knocking one of the neogi across the room. The other neogi scurries next to the umber hulks in an attempt to spur them to action. Torinn leaps into that front of the battle, wading into combat with the massive umber hulks. Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, and Valna stay back, casting spells from a safe distance. One of the umber hulks is temporarily blinded in the chaos, preventing the Shields from being subjected to its befuddling gaze.

As the neogi retreat to torment the Shields with psychic blandishments, the Shields focus their attention on the more dangerous umber hulks. The beasts grasp at Peren and Torinn with savage claws, but Peren is far too quick for them to find purchase. Torinn, on the other hand, is caught, but his armor is too tough for the creatures to crack, allowing him to free himself before they tear into him. They stay in the thick of melee with the creatures, as Valna repositions herself, dashing through the melee to help the others. As the beasts are pressed by the onslaught of Peren and Torinn, they manage to stay in the fight by catching many of the Shields’ beneath their enchanting gazes. Confused and staggering, the umber hulks manage to remove Peren and Torinn from melee a couple of times, enough time for a similarly confused Bezaldooz to stagger into the thick of battle. Bewildered, he does not quite know what is happening as one of the umber hulks latches into him with his claws. He starts struggling and flinging spells and Peren and Torinn rush to engage the creature, but it is already too late. The umber hulk pulls him apart in a gout of blood and a noise of tearing sinew. It drops Bezaldooz in two pieces at its feet.

Despite the loss of their comrade, the Shields fight vigorously; indeed, it appears as though the death rallies them. The umber hulk that slew Bezaldooz breathes its last within seconds, and the second is not far behind. With their umber hulk guards gone, the neogi are quickly slain.

Valna sets about performing rites, wrapping Bezaldooz’s body in a shroud, and placing the corpse in her bag of holding. Peren and Torinn catch the bartender’s attention and get to drinking. Bosabrieln calms Lamont MacBeth and starts questioning him.

Lamont indicates that he merely works for the Peacocks as a lawyer, and doesn’t necessarily know much. With regard to the neogi, they were meeting with him on behalf of their master, a Lord Vau. Lord Vau was apparently attempting to renegotiate the details of their slave trade agreement. For his part, Vau is not in Scandshar; there is a portal to his native realm of Rockulon Prime, although Lamont does not know where it is located.

Lamont does not know too much about the guard patrols, but he does tell the Shields about the layout of the place. He indicates that a relatively straight walk of old temples, tombs, and aqueducts will eventually give way to a fork in the road; left should go to the brig, right should lead to an underground smuggler’s dock. Bosabrieln tells him to not mention this conversation to anybody who comes looking for them, and Lamont says he will not. He is then allowed to leave, and deigns to enter the kitchen behind the bar.

Peren and Torinn question the bartender, asking him about his boss. He indicates that the man’s name is Xannan Dragonsbane, although he really just gives him his pay. Upon request, the bartender draws a rough map of the rest of the underground complex.

The group decides to use the Sands of Time to properly rest and recover for the battles ahead. They sprinkle the sands, and when the circle is closed, they realize that the torches stop flickering and the bartender freezes in place. Only the Shields appear mobile. They rest.

Upon awakening, they break the circle and quickly clean the sand. Then they continue through the lightless tunnels.

When the Shields are once again alone, Bosabrieln sings the song to Veil the group as Scarlet Jax and her boys. When they come to the fork, they turn left to investigate the dungeons.

As they enter, they see a small, dark-skinned halfling woman standing over a dead guardsman, cleaning a dagger. She appears to have torn her prisoner’s robe to make it shorter and allow more maneuverability, and she used the extra pieces to make a sash into which she is stashing her found daggers.

When she sees the Shields entering the room as Scarlet Jax and her boys, her eyes grow wide and she immediately flings a dagger at Bosabrieln’s head, thinking he is Scarlet. Bosabrieln manages to duck out of the way and drops the enchantment, explaining that they’re the Shields and they’ve come to rescue her. Darstina asks what took them so long, and joins the group.

The group rushes toward the smuggler’s dock, but as they enter a large, vaulted chamber with statuary and a pit in the floor, a voice booms throughout the chamber.

It is Lord Oculus.

He indicates that he is called Lord Oculus the Beautiful because beauty…is in the eye of the beholder.

On cue, three thugs emerge from a hallway, followed by a giant, floating head covered in eyes. The Shields recognize the creature as an Eye of Flame beholder, and given its voice and demeanor, it appears to be Lord Oculus.

The group immediately moves into battle formations and begins taking positions. Peren and Valna move to meet two of the thugs while Bosabrieln, Darstina, and Torinn brace themselves to encounter the remaining thug and Lord Oculus. As battle is joined, Peren and Valna engage the two thugs. Darstina keeps the other one busy while Bosabrieln starts singing, slinging spells at Lord Oculus. As Lord Oculus positions himself near the pit, so as to keep Bosabrieln, Darstina, and Torinn in range of his eye rays, Torinn conspires to get him into the pit. Lord Oculus repositions over the pit to keep everyone out of range. Heavily armored enough to withstand the constant, searing heat of Lord Oculus’ gaze, Torinn activates the jump jets on his powered armor, and engages Lord Oculus in battle in mid-air. With a mighty blow of his axe, he sends Lord Oculus tumbling to the hard, stone floor of the pit. When Lord Oculus rises, Torinn does it a second time.

Meanwhile, though Lord Oculus’ men are skilled combatants, they show signs of fatigue and wounds. As one falls and another shows signs of weakness, Torinn rushes over to him, hefting him with his new Giant’s Gloves and bodily throwing him at Lord Oculus. The impact kills the brigand immediately, and sends Oculus tumbling back into the pit. He does not rise again.

As Peren and Valna finish the last of Oculus’ men, Torinn moves to the pit to investigate. Lord Oculus is still alive, plotting his next move from within the pit. Torinn leaps down to confront Lord Oculus, and Peren swiftly follows. Darstina attempts to jump into the pit, but loses her footing and falls. Bosabrieln and Valna stay outside the pit to menace Lord Oculus with spells.

Bleeding from multiple wounds, the Peacock Lord does not last terribly long. He issues one, last, convulsive blast from his eye rays before shuddering and falling to the floor in a heap.

Lord Oculus lays still.

The group severs a few of Lord Oculus’ eyestalks as trophies, and Peren sets about curing them for preservation purposes. The group searches for anything of value, and finds that one of Oculus’ henchmen is carrying the lost Sending Stone, thus completing the pair. The group rests, and after making their investigation of the chamber, they decide to press onward.

The group finally opens a set of double doors, leading into a loading area with a small dock and a rowboat. Crates are scattered about this dock, and several workers scurry around them while four men play cards at a table. They are playing Three Dragon Ante, and appear to have gold scattered on the table as well as treasures nearby — an open chest glints with gold, and an ornate violin is visible in another treasure chest.

The group starts walking forward, but the dock workers and thugs ask them to halt. Bosabrieln says that the assembled party is the Shields of the Sorrowfell, and they have just killed Lord Oculus. He presents an eyestalk as proof. The air goes out of the room at this statement. Bosabrieln asks for safe passage, and the group makes no move to stop him.

As Bosabrieln, Darstina, and Valna make their way to the boat, Peren and Torinn signal their intentions to investigate the brigands’ treasure. They see two small chests, and think they can make do.

When the thieves determine their intentions, they draw weapons and join battle. Peren quickly attacks before sheathing his weapons and grabbing the chest. He dashes for the boat as Bosabrieln unmoors it.

Torinn, meanwhile, is not nearly as fast. He stands sentinel, axe in hand, waiting for the perfect opening to make his move. As Peren leaps aboard the boat and the room erupts into chaos, Torinn sees his opportunity — several of the thugs slash at him futilely as he activates his armor’s jump jets and begins flying toward the boat.

One brigand rushes the boat and leaps aboard, but Peren handily knocks him into the water. Another, significantly more ill-advised thug runs along the length of the pier and attempts to leap at Torinn and grab him. While she manages to successfully reach him with a leap, her hands cannot find purchase on his armor and she falls into the water. Torinn safely lands in the boat, and Darstina and Peren row upstream, towards the surface.

The boat emerges from an aqueduct in the middle of Scandshar’s Market District. The Shields and Darstina garner a few strange looks, but otherwise, it seems as though people are used to this sort of thing.

As they disembark the boat, they do catch sight of a few reminders of the old regime. Old Tom, an old beggar apparently having been driven mad by the Peacocks for some past infraction and left alive as a warning to others, watches them as they emerge from the boat. Amidst the hustle and bustle of the market, a beggar drags himself in a cart — a bandage covers his eyes and his hands have been amputated, suggesting that he was once a victim of Large LeFarge.

The Shields make their way through the Market District and walk to Count Brissot’s house. The guards give them entry, and a servant fetches Brissot.

Finlay Brissot enters the room a few moments later, congratulating the Shields on their success. Noticing that one is missing, he offers his condolences. He sends a servant to fetch the remaining 7,000 gp he owes the Shields, indicating that he will pay them in platinum.

Darstina then asks to speak with Brissot regarding what she learned; Brissot tells her to speak in front of the Shields, as he does not know whether they may need this information. She indicates that there is a connection between the Illustrious Menagerie of Peacocks and the Broken Chain, although she does not know the extent of the connection. She suspects that the Peacocks have placed plants in the Broken Chain to control their activities; as such, the Peacocks can arrange for the assassination of a target with whom they do not wish to be connected. Ultimately, however, she cannot be certain.

She does note that the Peacocks arrange themselves in a typical criminal hierarchy, but they also have aspects of a terrorist cell structure, as well. Killing Lord Oculus will likely not throw the organization into total disarray, particularly since the Esteemed and Omniscient Peacock Lord is (presumably) still around. They will likely replace the vacancy with another member of the organization.

Darstina makes one final note. Recently, Peacock members and those friendly to them have been receiving notes commenting that, “Ragnarok is in effect. Foss has made the first move. Winter is coming.” She does not know what these slogans mean, although she intends to perform more research.

Once the Shields are paid, Brissot says that they are welcome to anything they need. The group deigns to return to their hotel rooms at the Laughing Maiden. There, they investigate their chests of treasure, finding a gold chalice with moonstones, a gold necklace with garnet gems, six alexandrite stones, and 240 gp. The other chest contains a violin of Vistani manufacture, a holy mace, a miniaturized staff of some sort, and a magic amulet. The group travels to market to sell their gold and gems, and then divides their treasures. While at the market, Valna purchases several pounds of mystic salves to perform the Raise Dead ritual on Bezaldooz.

While waiting, Bosabrieln casts the Sending ritual to send a message to Vianibrar, saying, “Shields victorious. Will stay some in Scandshar to celebrate lavishly. Hope all is well. Oh, had meant to ask about my mother. See you soon?”

Having returned to their rooms, the group rests while Valna performs the Raise Dead ritual. Everyone gathers as Bezaldooz again draws breath. Torinn (falsely) tells him that Valna performed the Speak with Dead ritual on his corpse, and they now know everything. He shrugs.

Reunited, the Shields of the Sorrowfell decide to rest and prepare for whatever comes next on their journey.