Sunday, Planting 2, 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 Starday, Planting 8, 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 Earthday, Planting 13, 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 Sunday, Planting 16. 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, Moonday, Planting 17, 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.