Chronicles of Khaldun: Crux of Eternity

The Crux of Eternity, Part 4

Moonday, Fireseek 17, 553 CY (51 AN)

Bosabrieln finds himself in a field, amidst a copse of trees. (Although he cannot see himself, he feels he has once again returned to his non-polymorphed male form.) It’s chilly, probably autumn based on the leaves, and a light drizzle is falling. Before him is a shallow grave, crudely opened to reveal two badly-decomposed corpses within: one an adult, the other a child. Kneeling before the grave is a raven-haired woman in a tattered white prisoner’s robe. She is covered in mud and grime, and the dirt caked upon her fingers suggests she unearthed this grave with her bare hands.

Bosabrieln knows, in that strange, dream-like way, that this is Morana van Aalsburg, also known as Morana the Forsaken. He also knows that this depicts the moment of her transformation, the moment when her heart hardened and she started walking her lonely road to becoming a lich.

He also realizes that he recognizes her. He has seen her mortal face before, outside the Chateau of Silent Lasses. She was flanked by robed figures as she passed on the street just before Dr. Dagger Nazareth crash-landed in Scandshar.

She asks if Bosabrieln lost someone, and fixing Bosabrieln with her piercing blue eyes, she admonishes him to not make the same mistakes she did. Had she let go and accepted their deaths sooner, she could have joined them all the sooner rather than making such a huge mess of everything.

She asks if Bezaldooz made it after she slew him, and the question seems genuine. Bosabrieln replies that he is alive again.

Morana explains that, based on the charts, they were perhaps thirty miles north of Dawnslight when she died. She knows that several of the castle’s inhabitants could potentially survive a crash. Assuming they took time to rest and recover, and then required a day to march to Dawnslight, the Shields of the Sorrowfell can stop them from razing the village if they go now.

She also suspects they might find something — or someone — who can assist in their quest if they investigate the crash site of Aalsburg Castle.

She finally notes that while she is dead, her minions don’t know that yet. She has been searching for the Crux of Eternity for quite some time, and while she doesn’t know its precise location, she knew it was in Sorgtomb, in the Shadowfell. She doesn’t know what her agents will do if they find it and learn she is dead, nor does she know how close they were to finding it before she died. If the Shields inquire with someone called the Marquis d’Ennui in Sorgtomb, this person probably knows where to find the Crux.

As for anything that might have survived the castle’s wreck, Morana notes that her flying sentinels would have been airborne when the castle fell. (She also makes reference to an “outside observer,” although she suspects it will not be with them. Perhaps that is what they are to seek in the ruins of Aalsburg Castle?) The only thing inside the castle that is likely to have survived was one of her knights, a Lady Echis. She would need time to recover, but would likely be able to survive the crash, especially given that she is already dead.

Morana apologizes again for all the trouble she’s caused, noting that she has not been herself lately. Bosabrieln replies, “Grief fucks you up.” Bosabrieln steps next to Morana, looking into the grave, before brushing away some of the dirt from her forehead. He kisses her forehead and tells her to rest.

Bosie awakens in Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion, next to “Mad Dog” Eddie as she ended her night.

She quickly awakens Eddie before fetching the servants to awaken the others — Bezaldooz, Peren, Torinn, as well as the rescued captives from Aalsburg Castle: Aldric Teuber, Durnhelm Teuber, Engelbrecht Veit, Father Heinfried Ohrsten, and Mike Dyer. She does not fully describe her dream, instead describing the highlights: a surviving army from Aalsburg Castle is marching on Dawnslight, information regarding their quest may be found in the castle’s ruins, and Morana the Forsaken’s agents are still potentially seeking the Crux of Eternity.

With that, a plan is hatched: they will take the refugees somewhere safe in the city, and then teleport to Dawnslight to meet the approaching army. Father Heinfried Ohrsten seems to worship an unknown deity — one he only names as “god,” or alternately “Jesus Christ” — so Bosabrieln decides Pelor is a safe bet. Leaving Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion, in the pre-dawn hours, they make the trek to the Temphill District and the Cathedral of the Dawning Sun. A tiefling novice greets them, and quickly overwhelmed when she surmises that these must be the Shields of the Sorrowfell. She says she will fetch the Hierophant at once.

An older human, Hierophant Gyleon Kelley arrives, greets them, and says he will gladly watch over the off-worlders while the Shields of the Sorrowfell run their errand. He bids the acolyte, whom he addresses as “Novice Debauchery,” to assist. Bosabrieln donates 10pp to the church, and gives 100gp to Eddie and Mike in case they need anything while the Shields are away.

Once they exit the Cathedral, Bezaldooz uses the jar of Dawnslight dirt that Torinn collected as a sympathetic link to Dawnslight for the teleport spell. Dawn approaches as they arrive in the village, and are met by a guardsman who quickly recognizes them. They explain that an army is coming, and the people of Dawnslight should be ready. The guard says he’s off to alert the rest of the guard and Leogold Spiritforged, and the Shields begin marching out of town.

In a field north of the village, most of the Shields can spy black shapes — large, flapping beasts — silhouetted against the early morning sky. They are slowly making their way towards Dawnslight, pinwheeling about a much slower-moving point on the ground.

They seem to be following something.

After a brief debate as to whether or not they should simply meteor swarm the lot of them, the Shields decide to err on the side of caution — this might not be the army they seek.

However, as they approach, they note that the eight mounted riders are skeletal figures with scythes, riding lizard-like flying beasts — the same mounted riders they encountered in the dracolich’s lair in Aalsburg Castle. Marching on the ground ahead of them is a black-clad knight in full plate, with glowing red eyes visible through the helm’s visor. The mail-clad knight unsheaths a sword whose keen edge glitters in the low, dawning light — it frees itself with a loud snicker-snack.

The Shields decide that no good can come of this.

Bezaldooz drops a meteor swarm on their formation, and when the dust settles, only two of the original formation remain intact — the knight, badly wounded, and one of the skeletal riders, fallen upon the ground with a broken leg. Peren and Torinn move in for the kill, and in a moment, the deed is done. Torinn knocks the skeletal rider to the ground, digging his axe into its back, while Peren decapitates the black-clad knight and claims her sword.

The Shields are still concerned about the approaching army, so they decide to scout the location and head north on Peren’s carpet of flying with the shield guardian following behind.

It takes them only a moment to realize that was the army. Hardly a match for them, they follow the knight’s trail north toward where the ruins lie.

The journey is largely uneventful. They note a pride of twelve lions crossing their path sometime around hour seven, but the great cats give the flying carpet and the shield guardian a wide berth.

Towards the end of their eighth hour, they find it — a mound of earth and shattered stone where the castle fell, formed into a low hill. Peren and Torinn take to the ground while Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln stay on the carpet, so the two flying sorcerers are the first to full see the hill and notice the round hole at its top. The smell of stone is heavy in this area, and occasional smoke wafts from the hole. As the Shields approach, Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln are the first to see something rising from the hole, but the others soon notice it — a giant, leering skull with a single eye. About the crown of the skull float ten motes of red light.

In an urbane voice, the creature calls for parley.

Over the course of the conversation, the creature offers to exchange information for its continued freedom. It proceeds to explain that, should this discussion come to blows, it will be forced to either kill the Shields or flee, and if it flees, its information goes with it. Likewise, it will inform its superiors as to all it has learned about them in the ensuing confrontation.

The Shields reluctantly agree to its terms, with Torinn being the least happy about such things.

Introducing itself as Lord Sepsis, it explains that it was a member of the Illustrious Menagerie of Peacocks, although it chafes under the direction of a beholder hive-mother — in this case, being the Esteemed and Omniscient Peacock Lord. Lord Sepsis proceeds to explain that this is not the first world they’ve colonized: the Illustrious Menagerie of Peacocks searches for worlds that have some kernel of their autocratic worldview, and then exploit that to make an environment which best suits them.

No doubt, the Shields of the Sorrowfell wish to stop them from completing this task. And given their success rate since killing Lord Oculus, it seems as if they have some chance. However, while there are many such leaders of the Peacocks still about, such as Lord Candle, Lord Cognate, Lord Key, Lord Manyhands, and Lord Zrak, they no doubt wish for the master, the hive-mother itself: the Esteemed and Omniscient Peacock Lord. (And assassinating the Peacock Lord is the best way to throw the others in disarray.) Lord Sepsis does not believe that they have the strength to face this being in combat — it is possessed of power enough to disenchant their magic items — but if they wish it, they may find its lair at the bottom of the Chasm of the Cogitovore. There exists a permanent and open gate to the Far Realm, and it connects directly to the Esteemed and Omniscient Peacock Lord’s lair.

Strangely, they have traveled close to it: according to the tales, they traversed the secret, twisting paths beneath Scandshar when hunting Lord Oculus, and they no doubt found themselves in an immense cavern with one side descending into a deep cavern beyond the reach of their light. This pit leads to the Chasm of the Cogitovore.

When asked about Lord Candle, Lord Sepsis suspects he still lairs in the gladiator pits, as that is one of the best-defended locations in the city, and has been his lair for quite some time. He is unlikely to have moved.

Torinn especially is interested in what retirement looks like for an undead beholder, and Lord Sepsis says it merely wishes to carve out a lair here, probably drilling into the Underdark to explore and expand its domain. It does not have plans so petty as to attack Dawnslight or any other surface settlement.

Despite their misgivings, the Shields fully agree to the terms. Lord Sepsis returns to its hole, and after a brief discussion, they decide their best course of action is to teleport back to Scandshar.

It is approaching dinnertime, after all.

Bezaldooz moves the assembled party back to Scandshar, and over dinner at The Troll and FishScarlet Jax gives greeting and indicates that she could be killed for serving them here, although she largely leaves them to their devices — they decide the order of operations is to take the off-worlders to Sigil to attempt to return them to their native planes, and then head into the Shadowfell to secure the Crux of Eternity from any lingering elements, whether from Morana the Forsaken or otherwise, who wish to steal it.

However, before they leave, they are interrupted by an out-of-place elven woman who enters. Carrying a staff and dressed as a traveling scholar, her gaze settles on the Shields and she approaches their table. Introducing herself as Renthiruhar, she explains that she was sent here by Bree Goldenear and Gloomblight Spellweaver. Bree had one of her visions, as she sometimes does, and directed Renthiruhar that she could find the Shields here. Renthiruhar is an expert on ancient artifacts, and has been instructed to help them find and secure the Crux of Eternity. They explain that they have to travel to Sigil to help some off-worlders return to their home planes, but they will start on this task shortly.

Once they leave The Troll and Fish, they head to the Cathedral of the Dawning Sun. Once there, they learn that Eddie and Mike stepped out, and the Hierophant sends Novice Debauchery to go find them. (Which works particularly well, as she apparently makes the other four off-worlders quite nervous.) Once the group is back together, Bosabrieln thanks the clergy for their assistance, and the Shields head to the Market Square to purchase a desert rose. They then head to the Plum Blossom Inn, and with the desert rose in hand, the gateway into Sigil opens.

Emerging in Sigil in the late afternoon, they happen to run into a group of touts, chief among them Tom of Annihilation. Bosabrieln asks Tom of Annihilation about their charges, and Tom asks for a little more information. Aldric explains that they’re from Earth, October 1631, from the Empire, near Karlstadt, although the group nervously qualifies that they probably don’t want to be too close to where they left. Eddie says they’re also from Earth, but January 2012. They were in Threed, in the United States, when they were transported here. Tom says he will look for the appropriate information, and clarifies that they will be at The Silver Tankard. He says he will get back to them in a day or two.

When the Shields and their retinue arrive at The Silver Tankard, Aratha greets them warmly, and when they explain their problem, she also offers to look for the travelers’ respective homes using her contacts. Peren also hires a messenger, as he’s looking to purchase more magic items. He makes arrangements to have any potential items sent here.

The Shields ultimately spend the next three days in Sigil. The following day, Tom arranges to take Aldric Teuber, Durnhelm Teuber, Engelbrecht Veit, and Father Heinfried Ohrsten back home. (Once they’ve left, Bosabrieln casts another polymorph to return to his male form.) When Tom returns, the Shields also make arrangements to learn the portal key for Sorgtomb. After another day, Tom delivers, indicating they must travel to Sigil’s Mortuary. In one of the nearby alleys, there is an archway, and someone must think of their worst memory and allow it to make them cry. As long as someone is weeping at their least pleasant memory, the portal to Sorgtomb will open.

However, after waiting a couple of days, neither Aratha nor Tom has had any luck finding Eddie and Mike’s home plane. (Bosabrieln attempts to use legend lore to learn more information about their home world of Earth, but only learns, “Earth, a world caught in desperate struggle between two gods. A world so very far removed from the ones you know.”) Rather than wait longer, the Shields decide to head to the Shadowfell and retrieve the Crux of Eternity. Eddie and Mike are keen on assisting, especially if this sort of thing pays, so the Shields spend several platinum outfitting Eddie and Mike with weapons and plate armor: Eddie already has a blade built into his mechanical arm, while Mike takes a longbow and borrows Peren’s old lifedrinker longsword. Both are given two potions of healing in case of emergency.

With that task complete, Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, Peren, Torinn, as well as their allies, Eddie, Goruthrel, Mike, Renthiruhar, and Torinn’s shield guardian, head towards The Hive. The black, squat, spiked dome of the Mortuary is easy to find, and Bosabrieln needs to take but a moment self-reflect to open the gate to Sorgtomb.

The travelers emerge from a mausoleum in a large cemetery. The area looks familiar — the dim silhouette of mountains to the north resembles the Hoarfrost Ridge, and the general lay of the town resembles that of Sorgforge, but everything is subtly wrong. The thick clouds overhead throw the land into a near-twilight, the mountains look like broken teeth, and the buildings’ architecture trends more Gothic, all angles and sharp corners and threatening spikes. Since Bosabrieln’s instructions suggested they visit the Marquis d’Ennui, they suspect Sorgtomb’s reflection of the Citadel is probably a good target. They start heading west.

Traveling through cramped streets, they encounter a mix of humans, dwarves, and elves, all pale and strange in this environment. They catch glimpses of the occasional thing lurking in the shadows, but otherwise arrive at the Citadel unmolested. They are allowed access, and once inside, the pale elven receptionist asks if they have an appointment. They do not, but he says he will inquire with the Marquis. They are left to wait for a brief while before the receptionist returns, saying they may approach the Marquis’ chambers.

Following the path through the twisted hallways, they arrive at an impressive set of double doors before finding themselves in a large audience chamber. Several pale, wizened elves lounge around, and centrally located in the chamber is a pale elf sitting in lotus position, suspended from the ceiling by hooked chains mortifying his flesh.

This, then, is the Marquis d’Ennui.

After introductions are made, he says he may know how to direct them on their quest for the Crux of Eternity, but first he requires a task performed on his behalf. A day to the southeast is a settlement called Fuilshire. The place has been overrun by vampires operating on behalf of a dragon. In addition to this affront to the cycle of life and death, agents of the settlement have stolen a holy relic of the Raven Queen called the skull of St. Neluthien. The Marquis d’Ennui would like the undead destroyed and the skull retrieved.

With that, the courtiers return to their conversations and the Marquis d’Ennui closes his eyes. The Shields of the Sorrowfell understand they have been dismissed, so they leave.

Despite the comparative lateness of the hour, they decide to undertake their journey to Fuilshire now. On their way out of town, they notice that they are being followed: a leather-clad tiefling that looks to be another one of Morana’s guard tiefling identical twins found at Barony Aalsburg. When they catch sight of it, Bosabrieln addresses the creature, who slinks away, indicating that he was mistaken.

Still, just to be safe, Peren casts pass without trace so they cannot be followed out of Sorgtomb.

They leave the city gates as the sun begins to set, traveling along the southeastern road toward Fuilshire. They shortly pass by a grove of trees crawling with translucent insects that watch their passing with rapt attention. Still, the creatures do not bother them, and they continue on their way.

Storm clouds gather on the horizon around the halfway point of their journey. By the beginning of the sixth hour, they find themselves in the midst of a persistent thunderstorm, a heavy mix of rain and snow. Around hour seven, they encounter what appears to be a guard post: a group of halflings hiding in the trees, with strange dust storms swirling around them. Although the creatures are attempting stealth, they are easily seen, and the Shields and their allies prepare for combat. The shield guardian also manages to put its foot through a sinkhole, alerting the group that this area is rife with them; Peren and Torinn manage to determine what denotes a brittle patch of earth, and prepare to warn the others should they trod across them. Bosabrieln casts a hypnotic pattern, and to the Shields’ surprise, a group of halflings and even an errant dust storm are enraptured by the effect.

As they close, it is clear the dust storms bear tortured faces in amidst their clouds, and are clearly sentient in some sense of the word.

Within seconds, the ambush is done. The halflings reveal themselves as vampires, hungry for blood, and two strange, cloying mists emerge from the trees, apparently part of this battle. Eddie reveals his weapon — a powered blade with rotating teeth that emerges from his mechanical arm — while Mike takes potshots with his longbow and Renthiruhar conjures blasts of crackling energy with her staff. Peren and Torinn move into melee with their foes, while Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln provide support with their magics.

Soon, all foes are discorporated or returned to dust. Even the strange mists that seem to feed on blood. The Shields continue southeast.

Soon, they reach a halfling shire, a craggy peak looming over the hobbit-holes. The streets are bare, although the chimneys produce smoke and the windows shine with interior lights. As they walk through the empty village, several doors open, revealing more of the halfling villagers. One, a pale-skinned male halfling dressed as a Hussar, with bristling medals pinned to his chest, addresses them, evidently acting as some manner of official in this shire.

Again, the outcome is predictable. When talks quickly collapse, the halfling vampires go on the offensive, attempting to drag down the interlopers and devour them. Although they manage to harvest some blood from the Shields, the vampires are quickly dispatched. The official turns to mist when slain and returns to his halfling hole; Torinn kicks down his door and chases after him, recovering the halfling’s body in its earth-filled coffin and decapitating it with a swing of his axe.

A brief search of the homes reveals a tidy sum of money — a mixture of gold and platinum worth 10,000gp — but little else. So the Shields continue on their journey, preparing to ascend the twisted peak that looms over this village.

A brief ascent reveals some manner of caldera atop this mountain, a place fit for a dragon’s lair. The Shields catch sight of a great shape in a shadowed corner, resting atop a mound of gold. The Shields rush into combat, but quickly find resistance as shadows peel from the surrounding caverns and move into ambushing positions. These shadows seem to leach the strength of those they hit with their sword-like weapons, and pose a dire threat. As Peren and Torinn move to engage the dragon, the spellcasters are left to deal with the shades.

Despite the ferocity of their opposition, the Shields again emerge victorious. The dragon appears partially incorporeal in shadow, but Peren’s potent magic causes his swords to bite deeply into its flesh. Its mighty roar strikes fear in the hearts of Eddie and Mike; Eddie, while attempting to reach the dragon, is forced to retreat when attempting to face one of the shades alone, and it manages to fell him. However, Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, and Renthiruhar manage to repel them as Mike switches to lifedrinker, wading into combat against the shades. The dragon and its shadowy minions are soon slain.

Once that is finished and the combatants are healed, they begin picking through the dragon’s hoard, finding a combination of gold and platinum coins in excess of 200,000gp, as well as various art objects: an embroidered silk and velvet cloak set with moonstones, a jeweled silver anklet, a gold music box that plays a haunting melody, an eye patch with a mock eye set in blue sapphire and moonstone, and a necklace string of small pink pearls. They additionally recover two paintings: one, depicting a black-to-red gradient that looks unremarkable, although it was clearly painted by a master; the other, a painting of the Marquis d’Ennui reclining on a bed of nails. Finally, they also find an elf’s skull, carved with intricate scenes of veneration to the Raven Queen and presumably the artifact they were sent to retrieve.

With their labor complete, and fatigued from the day’s exertions (Eddie in particular was heavily-subjected to the shades’ enervation effect, and can barely lift his metallic hand), they decide to conjure Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion and resume their return journey to Sorgtomb tomorrow.