Freeday, Fireseek 14, 553 CY (51 AN)
As Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, Peren, and Torinn sit in The Addled Alchemist, considering their future plans, Peren receives a sending in his head, apparently from Tetposmeton. He says, “Your carpet of flying is in. You can come pick it up whenever you want.” Peren replies, “Be there soon. Might need a few more items.”
Peren informs his comrades, and so they decide to teleport to Sorgforge and travel to Sigil to make contact with Tetposmeton. Arriving without incident, the Shields of the Sorrowfell find the day is uncharacteristically clear, allowing them to see the curving streets of Sigil with city incongruously surrounding them not only on the sides, but also above. (As per normal, cranium rats begin following them shortly after they arrive.) The Shields head from the Lower Ward to the Hive, where it appears Tetposmeton’s security is waiting for them. Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, and Peren enter, and Tetposmeton beckons them to his court.
He explains that he acquired a large carpet of flying, but it took him some effort to obtain. Bosabrieln and Peren also explain that they are looking to delve into a toxic, airless environment, and so need a solution for such things. Tetposmeton recommends Ioun stones for this purpose — iridescent spindles can sustain creatures without air — as well as bottled breath as backup. (Ioun stones can be knocked away from a creature’s head and deactivated, so it’s good to have something for emergencies.) All told, he’ll charge 150,000gp for the lot, although this can be paid in installments or favors instead. Bosabrieln can’t haggle him down — Tetposmeton is a very skilled negotiator — and after some deliberation, Peren decides to go for it. He buys the carpet of flying, and the Shields collectively purchase three iridescent spindle Ioun stones and five jars of bottled breath. (Torinn’s armor doubles as an environmental protection suit, so he doesn’t anticipate needing an Ioun stone.)
Having paid an exorbitant amount of gold, the Shields then head to The Silver Tankard to plan their next move. After deliberation, they decide to avoid the Cult of Vecna, instead trying to gain answers and access from Acererak’s necromancers in Skull City. After spending the night at The Silver Tankard — with Bosabrieln emerging from Aratha’s chambers in the morning apparently having polymorphed himself into the form of a woman — they head out into the city to find a tout and a potential way to access Acererak’s cult in Skull City. They eventually find a young boy — light-skinned and mostly human, although he has six fingers on each hand and a rat’s tail emerging from his breeches — who appears to be acting as a tout. When asked about Acererak, he asks which one they mean, as there are evidently multiple Acereraks spread across a multitude of worlds. (One of the vagaries of the planes, to be certain. There’s the Tomb of Horrors, the city of Moil, the Tomb of Annihilation… The tout says he gets his name from there, as he’s called Tom of Annihilation.) They explain they seek the Acererak of Khaldun. Tom says to wait here and he goes running into the Sigil crowds.
He returns, and after receiving 100gp payment, he reveals that Acererak’s cult resides in Skull City, a shantytown that grew around the Tomb of Horrors. A portal to Skull City is found in The Hive, specifically in an archway in the alley where they first encountered Olga. In order to access the portal, they must be holding a cambion’s skull as they approach, and the portal will open.
Peren then asks about the cranium rats that follow them as they travel through Sigil. Tom of Annihilation doesn’t know why that might happen, or why the rats were accompanied by a larger-than-normal mind flayer, but he seems freaked out enough that he takes his leave.
After Bosabrieln chides Peren for giving away too much information, they decide to split up to locate a cambion skull: Peren and Torinn will look for available bounties on potential cambions, while Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln will speak with their mechant contacts and see if they can acquire a cambion skull.
Peren and Torinn don’t find any cambion bounties, but do encounter a street preacher who claims the nature of reality is illusory; Torinn seems taken with this theory and engages the man in debate before Peren finally drags him away.
Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln head to the Market Ward to speak with Keboak the Mercane. On the way, they encounter heavily-armed guards trying to break up a dispute between a hulking demon and an equally-large greyish toad thing. The two creatures are yelling at each other in different languages. Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln decide to avoid this fight, although Bezaldooz intercedes to cast counterspell when the greyish toad thing unleashes a bead of force that might well have been a fireball. Arriving at Keboak’s shop, they find that he thinks he might be able to lay his hands on a cambion skull within the next couple of days, and says he will contact them if he sources one.
Reconvening at The Silver Tankard, the Shields decide to wait until they hear from Keboak.
The Shields only have to wait until Sunday, Fireseek 16, when they encounter Tom of Annihilation early in the morning, evidently here on behalf of Keboak. He does not stay long, just informing them that Keboak has the item they seek. The Shields all decide to visit him, and he produces the skull — a skull that looks roughly human, save for the two small, horn-like protrusions issuing from the forehead. He says it will run them about 3,000gp, and Peren ultimately trades his gauntlets of blood for it.
Armed with the skull, the Shields head to The Hive. Before entering the alley — now largely bereft of people, only containing a few, sleepy, homeless drunks — Bosabrieln casts seeming to make them appear as noble travelers. (The shield guardian appears as an ogre porter.) Their plan is to pose as aristocrats seeking thrills and potent magic as cover to inquire about Morana the Forsaken. With that, they approach the archway, skull in hand. The alley beyond the arch changes, revealing a decrepid settlement currently in nighttime. In the distance, a hilltop shaped like a skull looms over the town. The Shields step through the gate.
Arriving on the other side, they begin walking deeper into this wretched city, hoping to find some measure of life. They are quickly spotted by denizens who begin following — two leather-clad gnolls, a halfling skulking from rooftop-to-rooftop, and two black-robed figures, each carrying a staff. As they reach a ruined fountain, they are intercepted by a large goliath clad in only a mask and loincloth but carrying a wicked-looking greatsword. He demands their money or their life.
As usual, the Shields choose neither.
Battle is swift. The halfling assassin tries to rain death upon them from the rooftop, but finds himself pummeled by the shield guardian. Bosabrieln stuns the gnolls with a hypnotic pattern, while the others quickly advance and take out the masked leader. The robed figures begin to gesture and chant; while Bezaldooz halts one with a well-timed counterspell, the other spell activates, enervating a wide swath of this neighborhood and nearly killing the gnolls. The wizards then flee as the gnolls give chase on one of them, but both wizards manage to flee the battle by some manner of teleportation.
With that, the Shields quickly defeat the gnolls and the wounded and hiding halfling. Peren takes one of the gnoll’s leather jackets while the others largely ignore the pile of greasy copper and electrum coins the thugs carried.
Deciding they don’t want to traverse Skull City and be assaulted every few minutes for their coin, Bosie again casts seeming to appear as rough-and-tumble mercenaries (with the shield guardian as a hill giant porter). They then head toward the center of the city, seeking an inn.
Finding a dingy tavern called The Drunken Cunt, they enter, finding a few desperate patrons and a tiefling barmaid, scantily-clad in leather. She serves drinks and answers a handful of questions; they learn this city is largely the refuge of criminals and thieves, but the core power here is the Bleak Academy, necromancers who came here to learn the art of necromancy. They are largely cultists to Acererak there, but will probably take any students serious in necromancy. Mistress Ferranifer is the headmistress of the place, and what nominally passes for government here.
However, the tiefling woman seems very doubtful that the Shields will survive Skull City, as they seem to be out-of-town rubes with no real knowledge of how this city works. She propositions the group, and while Bosie pays to sleep with her, he doesn’t collect — the Shields ultimately decide they need to plan further, so they leave the tavern and find an alley to summon Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion.
Once there, Bosabrieln casts legend lore three times to learn further information about the mysterious Mistress Ferranifer. He learns the following:
- “Headmistress of the Bleak Academy and ruler of Skull City, Ferranifer seeks the blood of the living to survive.”
- “A potent necromancer and master plotter, the Headmistress is every bit as cunning as Acererak himself.”
- “Ferranifer has grown increasingly reclusive of late, withdrawing to her crypt in the midst of a terrible and deadly labyrinth.”
After further discussion, the Shields decide that an ill-considered delve into the Bleak Academy to try to gather information is probably too complicated, and they already have all they need to breach Morana’s lair. They rest an hour and then leave the mansion. Bezaldooz collects a vial of dirt from the ground here, lest they decide to return, and then uses the dirt from the Barony Aalsburg crater to teleport there.
The Shields arrive in the daylight of late morning — quite incongruous from the night-shrouded skies of Skull City — but find that the scintillating colors of the prismatic sphere are illuminating two guards. They appear to be armored tieflings, both identical twins carrying glaives. Strangely, Bezaldooz and Peren think the recall them, although they do not quite remember where.
He does not have time to relay this to the others, however. The tieflings immediately begin asking questions, and Bosabrieln feigns that they arrived in the wrong place. (Torinn begins asking the tieflings philosophical questions of the sort he heard yesterday in Sigil.) One tiefling orders the other to fetch help so they can sort this out. The tiefling heads into the village.
While the other tiefling still seems confused and increasingly agitated. He tells the Shields to keep calm, that he just needs to get someone to sort this out. The other tiefling returns to the crater with a ghoul, and the pair keep walking towards the prismatic sphere.
All at once, the Shields realize that they are going to have to stop these creatures from entering the portal to Morana’s flying castle, and while their bluff worked, it will not hold if anyone knowledgeable returns.
As Bosabrieln casts a hypnotic pattern to stop this tragedy in progress, the ghoul slips into the prismatic sphere, already out of sight. Bezaldooz moves, aligning himself to catch both tieflings with a lightning bolt. It does not kill them, instead shocking the one from his stupor and allowing him to flee past the prismatic sphere.
The other tiefling drops his glaive and begins crying.
This is already not going to plan.
There is a brief deliberation, but the Shields decide this tiefling must probably be killed despite his sorry state. When they finally slay him, he collapses into mirror shards and scraps of flesh that resemble something like onion skin.
They organize and begin slinging spells at the prismatic sphere, using one of their bottles of bottled breath as necessary. Peren runs to grab a zombie, dragging the struggling undead back to the crater as he and Torinn remove its limbs so that it may be used as a key without fighting back. Within seconds, they breach the prismatic sphere, finding the stone menhir beyond. The runic gate is open, revealing a room beyond. The ghoul and tiefling stand before a strange, cylindrical door, no doubt one of the airlocks the skull lord mentioned. To the right of the door stands a lever, currently in the “down” position.
From the walls, the sound of grinding machinery can be heard.
The undead and the tiefling appear to be waiting.
The Shields are somewhat confused by this display, but they barge through the portal, destroying the ghoul and stunning the tiefling.
Before they can determine what to do next, dark, wispy, humanoid forms filter through the ceiling and begin touching them with icy, spectral limbs. All told, twenty of the wretched things comb filtering into the room, eyes burning with hate, their touches sucking the vitality out of those they caress. While some of the Shields are weakened, Bosabrieln collapses, unconscious from the onslaught. Although Torinn is untouched, it looks grim for the others before Bezaldooz unleashes a sunburst, discorporating most of the ghosts and reducing the tiefling to mirror shards and scraps of strange flesh. The last ghost manages to flee through the wall before being discorporated. The Shields manage to stabilize Bosie and pour a potion of healing down her throat. She stands and begins casting healing magics as the cylindrical door slides open.
Beyond is a ten-foot-diameter chamber that seems as though it rotates. The click of machinery in the walls is regular and does not grind and churn in the same sound as before.
It sounds almost like a timer.
The Shields have time to regroup and enter the airlock, but there is no way to activate it. They try to mage hand the lever, but to no avail. They must only wait.
Finally, after perhaps half a minute, the walls rotate again, closing the room. The machinery resumes its churning, and a vent in the walls begins hissing as it begins siphoning the air and replacing it with poison gas…