Chronicles of Khaldun: Crux of Eternity

The Belly of the Beast, Part 2

Moonday, Planting 17, 553 CY (51 AN)

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

The Shields of the Sorrowfell are quickly becoming surrounded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Shields agree.

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

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

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

The Shields agree.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This must be a missing section of the Sentinel.