Chronicles of Khaldun: Crux of Eternity

Truth or Consequences, Part 9

Earthday, Sunsebb 13, 552 CY (50 AN)

After several teleportation circles, Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, Peren, and Torinn arrive in Argent. They are accompanied by the 60 freed slaves from Caveghost Clan, as well as Obash, Hurm da Wurm, and ten recruited orogs. Argent is not fully restored to its previous glory, but it is a more lively and bustling city than before, managed by the returned torrians.

The assembled party sleeps for the night. The next day, Sunsebb 14, the ten orogs Obash recruited begin grumbling about taking orders from elves, keeping the conversation to Orcish so that they will not be understood. (Although Bosabrieln and Peren both understand Orcish, unbeknownst to most of them.) Obash tells them they are more than welcome to fight Peren; he probably wouldn’t even need elven magic to fight them.

As he’s saying this, Peren hears the conversation and storms over while unsheathing his swords. Although he is a mighty warrior, the lone elf is trapped in the throng of ten powerful orcs — before he falls, he manages to decapitate the first one to speak out of turn, an aggressive male orc named Radbul. When he falls, the rest of the Shields of the Sorrowfell intervene: Torinn starts cleaving his way through them, decapitating a second (a female orc named Luga) and injuring a third while Bosabrieln sings a song of healing to return Peren to health. Bezaldooz launches magic missiles at the rest of the orogs, and they are appropriately cowed.

Obash and Peren drag the bodies out into the woods near Argent; Obash apologizes, as he thought Peren could do it without difficulty.

Later that day, Bosabrieln receives word from Headmaster Jepson that the missive to Barnabus Sleet has been dispatched. He is also cornered by Obash, who asks about slavery — Why are the Shields going so far out of their way to save these slaves? Should not the strong dominate the weak? Why do the races of Men consider slavery “wrong?”

Once Bosabrieln realizes that Obash is earnestly asking these questions, and asking things that Bosabrieln merely takes for granted, he says he’ll have to get back to the orog. Obash accepts this.

Bosabrieln receives word from Headmaster Ebenezer on Sunsebb 15 that contact was made: he’s to meet Barnabus Sleet at The Addled Alchemist tomorrow at noon.

Throughout the day, he also receives other sending reports from Headmaster Ebenezer and Vianibrar that Banda and his pirate band from ’Ichi have apparently agreed to take their pirate ships and blockade the Sorgforge harbor. Any slave ships coming through will be relieved of their cargo and sent away, the crew unharmed and the former slaves repatriated to their homelands.

With the exception of some isolated slaver bands, the combination of the blockade and the destruction of the slaver tribes should almost totally eliminate the slave trade in the Sorrowfell Plains.

Likewise, there was apparently an incident in Cillamar, one of the outlying villages near Scandshar. A pair of elves — one dark-skinned elf with a side cut, and one fair-skinned elf with tattoos — apparently killed an enforcer for the Illustrious Menagerie of Peacocks, one Noraver “The Meathook” Wyvernjack. His body is missing, and the two elves have not subsequently been sighted.

Bosabrieln conveys these incidents to the rest of the Shields for their interest.

Bezaldooz also summons Bonatos back to him. Bono seems annoyed at the inconvenience of being slain and sent back to the Abyss, but accepts these matters and settles into his normal place on Bezaldooz’s shoulder.

With the Headmaster’s message, Bosabrieln parleys with him the following day. And so, on Sunsebb 16, Barnabus Sleet is drinking in The Addled Alchemist, aware that the bar has largely cleared, when Bosabrieln — appearing via project image — walks inside. They give greeting.

Down to cases: Barnabus Sleet is concerned about one of his friends, Pete Loudly. Pete Loudly is a more potent sorcerer than Sleet, and has capabilities that could potentially end their world. He similarly suspects that Loudly lacks the morality to avoid using these things if pressed; Barnabus notes that Loudly’s plan is to hide scrying compounds in drugs and then get large swaths of the population addicted to spy on the Shields and others.

However, if they can somehow fake the Shields’ deaths and get the reward, Pete Loudly is likely to leave this plane once he has his fun.

Bosabrieln, meanwhile, is concerned about the news that Sleet is going gather forces and take over Scandshar as governor. Sleet notes that despite his army of demons, he’s trying to talk to other settlements in the hopes that revolution can be totally bloodless. Maybe we can institute democracy in the bargain?

He also brings the threat of the drow and the Illustrious Menagerie of Peacocks to Sleet’s attention. Bosabrieln has heard a low-level enforcer of the Peacocks was recently killed in the outskirts of Scandshar; evidently, the deed was done by a dark-skinned elf with a mohawk. Sleet recognizes the description of one of his companions, Ribbon, but can’t figure out when she ever killed some random guy.

They’ve killed a lot of slavers, though: Pete Loudly bought a castle on the outskirts of Scandshar, and there are layers upon layers of slavers operating out of it and in the tunnels beneath. They’re slowly working their way through.

With a modicum of trust achieved, and both sides reasonably certain the other is earnest about their desires and concerns, Sleet again invites the Shields to his flying castle (although he notes that there’s going to be a fight with Torinn, for sure) to discuss plans against the slavers and various other threats in the Sorrowfell Plains.

With that, Barnabus Sleet flies back to his flying castle while Bosabrieln disappears, returning to his body in Argent.

Bosabrieln conveys his discussion with Sleet to the rest of the Shields. Based on Bosabrieln’s conversation, Sleet seems moderately trustworthy, and his goals seem to align with their own, so they agree to work with him. They plan on meeting at his castle in a few days’ time to discuss future plans.

Their discussions are briefly interrupted by a messenger angel arriving to tell them that something has happened — an incarnate demon lord has come to Khaldun, and those of the Paragon Compact are being summoned to deal with the threat.

However, the angel barely gets to explain before it looks confused, and tells them to wait a moment. It disappears for a minute or two, reappearing to tell them that there has been some sort of misunderstanding and the situation is resolved. The angel departs without further fanfare.

Preparations continue until the night of the Sunsebb 18 when there’s trouble at the Hall of Guardians. As the Shields are preparing for bed, Bosabrieln is disturbed by a strange scuffling noise, and he wraps a blanket around his waist to peek out of his room. He catches sight of a large, hairy beast running down the hallway and down the stairs. Curious, he follows it. The beast is fast; when Bosie hits the common room, it’s already on the street, and has begun to attack the few torrians nearby. An enraged beast, it appears as some manner of humanoid wolf, savaging the few torrians in the vicinity.

The shouts awaken Bezaldooz and Torinn. Bezaldooz leans out his window while Torinn grabs his axe and casts expeditious retreat to be on the street in a flash. Bosabrieln runs back in to dress and grab an instrument.

Bezaldooz begins pelting spells at the monster while Torinn and his shield guardian corner it. Torinn swiftly determines what happened when he notes that Peren isn’t out on the street yet, he is the only one among the Shields to have been bitten by a presumed werewolf in the past few weeks, and the streets of Argent are flooded with the full moon’s light. They manage to knock the beast unconscious — Bezaldooz finally fells it with a barrage of magic missiles — and as suspected, the beast transforms into Peren, now nude and covered in wounds. Bosabrieln, having gone upstairs and only retrieved his viol, returns just in time to see this scene develop.

Torinn takes Peren upstairs while Bosabrieln sets about gathering the dead torrians outside — three, all told — and bringing them inside to revive them and remove any potential curse of lycanthropy that might be upon them.

Meanwhile, Torinn returns Peren to his room and binds him. He finds Peren’s gear strewn about, as if he removed whatever he was wearing when he transformed and fled his room.

The victims are restored to life and cured of potential lycanthropy, shaken but understanding of what has transpired. Bosabrieln cures Peren’s lycanthropy and heals him, prompting the Shields to explain what happened to him.

No further interruptions occur until Shields arrive at Duchy Jepson and then Sleet’s floating castle — a great edifice atop a cloud, surrounded by lazily-pinwheeling demons — on the morning of Waterday, Sunsebb 19. In reference to their previous conversation and Barnabus Sleet’s assertion that they lack access to polymorph, Bosabrieln uses seeming to appear as Sleet himself. They arrive by teleport_, and are welcomed by some programmed messageintro01.wav which Sleet tells them to ignore. (Of note, Sleet appears even more muscular than when Bosabrieln saw him a few days ago.) Leading them to a meeting hall, they get down to cases:

Sleet and his associates arrived on this plane seeking the million gold piece bounty on the Shields of the Sorrowfell’s collective heads, but once arriving, he learned of the depths of the slavery problem in Scandshar and suspects the Shields’ bounty is related to their interference in those matters.

Likewise, Sleet’s associate Pete Loudly has the ability to destroy Khaldun and the ruthlessness to do it if it fits his plans. However, Sleet is reasonably certain that Loudly will avoid doing so if he gets his money; it solves the problem for everyone. And for his part, Sleet doesn’t exactly need the money, so he’s more than willing to split the bounty with them (with the caveat that he cannot give it away — something to do with devouring a dragon’s heart — although he can, of course, exchange it for goods and services). His plan is that he has a series of trees that duplicate any organic object placed within, so he can grow duplicates of the Shields’ heads and present them. If they have access to magic that shields against divination magic, then he should be able to claim the bounty and then they can split it.

Other bits of news: one of his companions — an elf named Ribbon — managed to kill a Peacock and he retrieved the body. They can use speak with dead or some form of raise dead to interrogate him.

They encountered some demon lord whom they accidentally summoned — Sleet euphemistically refers to him as “Juicy J,” which the assembled party takes to be Juiblex. A word of advice: don’t say a demon lord’s name three times. You might summon it.

Barnabus also mentions the Jarrod Memorial Library, his transplanar spell lending library, and invites Bezaldooz to participate.

Negotiations continue over rat steaks, and the Shields agree with this plan. They will duplicate their heads using Sleet’s strange trees, and when he gives the signal, they’ll hide out in Sigil and possibly use other spells to hide themselves.

Sleet also plans on fomenting some manner of populist revolution in Scandshar and assuming the mantle of governor of Scandshar to assist in their abolitionist goals. During this conversation, Torinn gets annoyed with Sleet’s aspirations and rises to challenge him.

When Torinn strides forward and issues the challenge, Sleet also rises. The assembled party steps out into the clouds and battle is joined. As Torinn strides forward, Sleet gestures and incants, and suddenly Torinn’s axe is in his hands. He throws the axe over his shoulder and runs forward, sending a meaty fist toward Torinn’s face. However, Torinn traces a sigil in the air and Sleet’s fist slams against some eldritch barrier; Torinn then invokes another incantation, moving at fantastic speed and running to pick up his axe. The two warriors clash, trading magically-potent punches and withering axe blows. Sleet’s punches send lightning through Torinn and send him flying back, while Torinn’s axe swings cleave deeply into Sleet’s flesh, but Sleet is the one to emerge victorious. When Torinn slumps to the ground, Sleet hefts Torinn’s axe and decapitates him.

As payment for the heads, Sleet gives the Shields of the Sorrowfell a sum of gold and a pouch of diamonds. (Fortunately for them, enough to recoup their losses from several invoked resurrection spells yesterday.) He then takes Torinn’s head and leaves them to use his trees to grow duplicate heads — the process takes eight hours, all told, so they’ll be here a while. Once he has fully sorted his business, he’ll contact the Scandshar Parliament and present the Shields’ heads after giving them ample warning to hide.

The Shields return to Argent on Earthday, Sunsebb 20. Bosabrieln casts resurrection to return Torinn to the land of the living. As a sort of apology to Torinn, Bezaldooz and Torinn use scrying and teleport to find Torinn’s shield guardian. They are successful, finding the construct standing in a field miles from anywhere, facing to the southeast. Moss has started to grow on the feet and a bird has nested on its shoulder. There are remnants of old campfires nearby, although it is clear that the people have subsequently moved on. The shield guardian is otherwise unscathed. Bezaldooz teleports the trio back to Argent.

After discussion, the Shields decide they ought to use divination magic to learn more about their enemies and also find some high-octane magic to better hide themselves when the Scandshar Parliament attempts to scry on them. Bezaldooz casts scrying, targeting one of the escaped death giants, and finds the death giants and a contingent of dark elves — most of them recognizable from the ruins near Tovelka, including the drow lich, the drow priestesses, and the drow wizard — enacting some ritual in a dark subterranean ruin. There is some eldritch interference in the scrying, however, and he is enervated by the effort.

While he does that, Bosabrieln casts legend lore to learn about the dark elf city beneath the Sorrowfell Plains. After ten minutes’ effort, the following message appear unbidden in his mind:

Where the tunnels of Torog and the River of Tears meet, buried deep in the Trials of the Chained, lies the metropolis of Cinlu Tlurthei, the dread domain of the Ate’Do’Afin.

With both the legend lore and the scrying complete, the Shields reconvene and compare information. Afterwards, Bosabrieln prepares to cast legend lore again to learn more about the Esteemed and Omniscient Peacock Lord. Another ten-minute ritual with incense and ivory bands, and the following appears in Bosabrieln’s mind:

Many eyes upon Sorrowfell turn’d, from Realms Beyond it came,
The Esteemed, and the Omniscient Lord of Peacocks, the scourge of
Scandshar, the dreaded parasite upon our curséd Khaldun.
It grows and consumes, and even now, it watches and awaits.
It sees you now, Bosabrieln. You are seen, you are noted.

Bosabrieln awakens with a jolt, telling the others that whatever he did with legend lore resulted in him being somehow perceived by the Esteemed and Omniscient Peacock Lord. While they’re all displeased about it, there’s not much they can do about it now. Argent is a reasonably safe place for them to stay, so they will make do.

The Shields briefly muse on sending Obash and his orogs forth to scout or do something on their behalf, but sending them to Cinlu Tlurthei would still likely take months, and they probably don’t have that much time. Bosabrieln gives them a 3,000gp retainer and says they’ll no doubt get some manner of work for them soon.

After recovering, the Shields decide to head to Sigil both as a potential place to hide and to seek scrolls of mind blank so as to hide from Scandshar scrying agents. They decide to access Sigil via the privy in Sorgforge, and given the brief travel time, they will not disguise themselves. As such, they use magic to arrive at the teleportation circle in the Sorgforge market on the morning of Freeday, Sunsebb 21.

Arriving in Sorgforge, the Shields of the Sorrowfell quickly draw a crowd when someone realizes their identities. Bosabrieln answers a handful of questions as they head toward the foundry district, and then tries to distract the crowd as they give the secret sign and enter the privy to Sigil. However, it’s pretty difficult for even Bosabrieln to distract from the large shield guardian attempting to awkwardly enter the privy, so they eventually just exit despite the waiting crowd.

They emerge in the Lower Ward of Sigil, the sky thick with a light, greasy drizzle. They proceed to navigate the claustrophobic city streets. After being assailed by touts offering to show them the way around Sigil — they decline to pay the fee — and a street preacher pontificating to a skeleton that no apocalypse is forthcoming, the world will continue to twist ever-onward in wretched mediocrity forever, they find their way to the Temple District in the Lady’s Ward. The Shields arrive at The Silver Tankard, and Bosabrieln takes the opportunity to speak to Aratha. She is pleased to see the Shields again, and they exchange news. (She has apparently heard about the bounty.) Bosabrieln asks her about finding the shop of Keboak — the mercane who sought them in the Sea of Howling Souls — and she is able to provide directions. It also seems as though the Shields are likely to stay at The Silver Tankard during their stay in Sigil, so Aratha will see to rooms being prepared.

The Shields head toward the Market Ward and the Grand Bazaar, passing by another street preacher — this time, a large, floating brain with a beak and tentacles. One of its tentacles is adorned with an ornate ring. It appears to be telepathically broadcasting to those around it, impressing them on how their slavery and servitude (largely as foodstuffs) to the grell would best benefit them; most of the passing travelers are completely ignoring its pontifications. The Shields do likewise.

In the Market Ward proper, the Shields encounter a large throng of workers protesting the Planar Trade Consortium. Torinn orders his shield guardian to go first and break the picket line, but when confronted with cries of “Scab!” and thrown rotten fruit, Torinn unholsters his musket and fires it in the air, prompting a panic from the workers. The Shields manage to escape largely unscathed, fleeing a couple of blocks over. They hear shouts as something interferes in the would-be riot, and at least one fleeing person claims it’s “the Lady” — no doubt the Lady of Pain, the only thing approaching a master in Sigil. As the Shields leave the scene, a guard notes Torinn reloading his rifle, and asks if he’s the one who caused all the trouble. Bosabrieln manages to defuse the situation with a well-placed glamour, and the Shields find their way to Keboak’s shop.

Although the main purpose is finding scrolls of mind blank, the Shields have other items of interest about which they wish to ask Keboak. Torinn is interested in buying a bag of holding, while Peren inquires about items such as a carpet of flying, Daern’s instant fortress, a ring of water walking, and several magic blades: the luck blade, the sun blade, and the vorpal sword. Keboak has a bag of holding and a ring of water walking on hand; Torinn trades his backpack of concealment for the bag of holding, while Peren purchases the ring of water walking at a good price. The others will take time to find and money to procure: Daern’s instant fortress and the sun blade will probably cost in the thousands, the carpet of flying and the scrolls of mind blank will probably cost in the tens of thousands, and the luck blade and the vorpal sword will probably cost in the hundreds of thousands (assuming they can be acquired at all). The City of Brass probably has a more robust magical artifact market, although Keboak has fewer contacts there. As for Sigil, Keboak can make the connections and give them a list of dealers in such things, although after making introductions, he recommends that they do the legwork themselves as it is likely to be faster, especially if they have the money to throw around.

With that, the Shields take Keboak’s mercantile list and begin seeking out rare item dealers. Bosabrieln and Bezaldooz primarily do the legwork while Peren and Torinn watch their backs and make certain that none of these occasionally sketchy figures try to double-cross them. They focus on the mind blank scrolls first, since they know Sleet is likely to call upon them all-too-soon and they wish to be prepared.

Sleet contacts them within a day or two, but he is not yet ready to deliver their heads to the Scandshar Parliament. Instead, he offers to give them a scroll of nondetection to assist their endeavors. It takes another couple of days for him to procure the scroll, and for Bezaldooz and Sleet to meet, but the exchange is made and Bezaldooz scribes nondetection into his book.

Back in Sigil, over the next several days, Bezaldooz notes the presence of small, white rats watching them. These rats appear to have small, exposed brains. Although they flee if antagonized, there are always a handful of them watching at any given time. Once he points them out to the others, they likewise noticed these strange vermin. They have encountered them once before, in the sewers of Sigil some months back. The Shields try to establish contact, but to no avail — even Bezaldooz’s new potent telepathy spell cannot make contact with them, although they try to establish contact with him after he casts it. He feels their presence in his mind and manages to throw off the worst of it, but they still indicate that they merely observe and do not appreciate his intrusion.

The Shields of the Sorrowfell finally make contact with a seller and purchase their four mind blank scrolls on Moonday, Needfest 3, 553 CY. Working through the night, Bezaldooz records one in his spellbook and retains the other three as scrolls, and so the Shields find themselves in The Silver Tankard on the winter solstice, Godsday, Needfest 4, contemplating their next move.

That’s when Bosabrieln receives the sending in his head, from the Headmaster. He says, “Wherever you are, you need to come back. Something is attacking Scandshar. It’s bad.” Bosabrieln says they’ll be there soon and he informs the others. They engage in a hurried flight to the Market Ward to buy a desert rose, and then back to the Lady’s Ward to activate the portal between the alley in the Lady’s Ward and the alley beside The Plum Blossom Inn in Scandshar.

When they emerge in Scandshar, the streets are deserted. The sky is shot through the ominous black clouds, and the bitter wind swirls with ash and dust. The air has grown cold, and carrion birds flock and pinwheel high above. There are screams echoing distantly throughout the city, but the signs suggest they should head toward the silence at the city’s center.