Sunday, Flocktime 2, 553 CY (51 AN)
The Shields of the Sorrowfell only have a scant few days before they receive a sending from Tetposmeton, asking them to reconvene at the Fortress of Doldrums in the Elemental Chaos. And so Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, Peren, and Torinn again find themselves in the meeting room with the Solstice King and Tetposmeton to discuss plans for the upcoming raid on the Coliseum Morpheuon.
All are disappointed that the Solstice King’s dog is not present.
The Solstice King and Tetposmeton explain that they have been reviewing battle plans and realize there is an as-yet unconsidered complication to the plans as discussed last time. While the original plan is to ambush the Voracious Visitor and then assault the Coliseum Morpheuon, that is likely to hit a significant issue in that the Khan of Nightmares built the Coliseum Morpheuon as a fortress, one whose shape and layout he can control at will. If they destroy the Voracious Visitor, the Khan would no doubt lock down the fortress, giving the attackers the unenviable task of breaking into the fortress. This is made even more difficult by the fact that the more time it takes to besiege the Coliseum Morpheuon, the more likely it is that the Khan summons allies to outflank the attacking force.
In essence, a protracted siege benefits the defenders rather than the attackers. They need to complete this quickly or not at all.
Complicating matters is the fact that the Khan of Nightmares no doubt has contingencies in place to save himself. They suspect he can teleport to his own private sanctum if he gets in trouble, and the thing about his private sanctum is that it is nearly impregnable. There is only one door in the Coliseum Morpheuon that leads to the Khan’s private sanctum, but it is hidden, its location changes daily, and it can only be safely opened by those who have been invited inside as the door kills anyone else who tries to enter. Given his connection to the Coliseum Morpheuon, Akinshata can likely open the doorway for anyone if he is freed, but as previously noted, that requires a short ritual performed on the arena floor.
Given these parameters, the Solstice King and Tetposmeton have contemplated a couple of solutions. The Shields are welcome to offer their input or determine plans of their own.
First, the “less” dangerous solution: Tetposmeton has contacts in the Domains of Dread, in an arctic land called Isiksivik. According to them, the local government has been working on a project to create some manner of “dream key,” a device that allows the user to enter and manipulate dreams. A magically-advanced society, the folk of Isiksivik and its capital of Golova have created many such wonders, and it would no doubt be a simple matter for the Shields to infiltrate the castle of Khan Yemur — the ruler of Golova and Isiksivik, and the darklord of the domain — and steal the artifact. However, while that is ordinarily well within the Shields’ abilities, this particular heist comes with a significant complication. According to Tetposmeton’s contacts, Isiksivik is currently overrun by some manner of magical, memetic plague. The Solstice King knows it as the Idea of Thorns, a mysterious fey ailment that first appeared when the primordial elves of Ynn accidentally created or summoned it through unknown means. The Idea of Thorns was thought to be quarantined in the elves’ demiplane known as the Gardens of Ynn, but has now appeared in the Demiplane of Dread. Since it passes among infected individuals by talking and art, the Shields of the Sorrowfell cannot let it escape into the Material Plane and cannot allow themselves to be infected with it — if, say, a teleporting and plane-hopping wizard or cosmically-renowned bard were to become infected and began spreading that infection, it could easily bring the entire multiverse under the Idea of Thorns’ sway.
That’s the easy option. However, it means they can fight the Voracious Visitor outside on their own terms and then likely use the dream key to enter the Coliseum Morpheuon and move in a relatively straight line for the center. While that’s likely to still be a difficult fight, at least they don’t have to fight everyone at once.
The harder option involves disguising as combatants and fighting in the Coliseum Morpheuon. The Solstice King often acts as a patron to fighters in the arena, so it would be an easy matter to enter the competition. However, this would mean that the Shields of the Sorrowfell would have to fight everyone at once — in addition to the ongoing competition, revealing themselves on the arena floor would likely summon the Voracious Visitor. If they manage to kill the umbral blot, that might goad the Khan of Nightmares to confront them, but he always travels with his captain of the guard, a golem known as the Master of the Hounds, and his majordomo, a powerful bard known as the Queen of Thistles. They would likely be in for a very tough fight as every available defender converges on the arena, but they wouldn’t have to fight their way inside.
In that event, they may also want to consider options for keeping the Khan of Nightmares from fleeing to his sanctum. Keeping him stunned or using a wish to duplicate Mordenkainen’s private sanctum are decent options, but again, it is up to the Shields of the Sorrowfell.
After discussion, the Shields decide they would prefer to keep their options open. They will likely do both: the Solstice King should enter them into the competition, but they will also retrieve the dream key so that they have a fallback option should they need it. Or so they have an exit plan if the plan falls apart. All present agree, and the Solstice King says he will make the appropriate arrangements. They need to decide on their team’s name and what they will resemble when they arrive so he can give an appropriate description to the event organizers.
With that, the meeting adjourns. The Shields return to Argent so that they may prepare for their return to the Domains of Dread in two days, once Bezaldooz has altered his spell selection and protected everyone with mind blank. The following day, Moonday, Flocktime 3, Bosabrieln sends a sending to Olga of clan Zivkovic, asking for her aid. Olga and Vata arrive in Argent and Bosabrieln asks for her help in traveling to Isiksivik. She demurs, indicating she has been there comparatively recently — Olga and Vata apparently emerged there after leaving the Shields in Dominia. She notes that it is a terrible place, and obliquely references the ongoing plague. (When everyone stares at her expectantly, she indicates she and Vata were not infected.) If the Shields need to go, she is happy to help her cousin, but she recommends against it and hopes she doesn’t have to stay long. She further notes that Khan Yemur usually keeps the borders closed, so they will no doubt have to defeat him to leave. Bosabrieln doesn’t think that will be a problem.
With travel plans set, the Shields prepare to leave the following morning on Godsday, Planting 4. Bezaldooz casts three mind blanks that evening, waiting to cast the fourth the next morning. Having been warned that this is an arctic landscape, the travelers equip their winter clothing, whereupon Olga and Vata lead the Shields into the nearby wilderness. They are walking for several minutes before they are enveloped in a sudden fog, emerging from an alleyway in what appears to be a large city at night, illuminated by an arctic aurora. What little they can see is impressive, as illusions mark the city streets as street signs and building adverts. A frozen lake stretches to the west, while a castle looms closeby.
The streets are largely empty, save for the warforged soldiers standing guard outside the castle. Olga and Vata take their leave, hoping to find some place to hunker down while the Shields finish their work. The Shields approach, as Bosabrieln answers the warforged soldiers’ remarks about why they are outside after curfew by announcing the Shields as traveling researchers specializing in dream research. One of the warforged goes inside to check on their status, and though they do not have an appointment, they are allowed inside to wait.
They are forced to wait the better part of an hour — Peren is asked to keep his owl under control when he lets it fly laps around the waiting area — before being allowed into the reception hall. A satyr opens the double doors at the opposite end of the waiting room, dressed in the garb of the Isiksivikians and wearing a lute slung across his shoulder. He introduces himself as Mizaiq and announces the travelers to those within. Inside, there are a couple of warforged guards and a dark-skinned human dressed in finery sitting at the throne at the far end of the room. Mizaiq announces the travelers as they enter, and the man introduces himself as Khan Oyuchan Yemur, instructing those present to call him Oyuchan. (He seems surprisingly insightful and jovial for the alleged darklord of this Dread Domain.) Once introductions are made, the Shields get down to business. Bosabrieln begins by explaining that they are researchers from The University for the Study of the Arcane Arts and Sciences in Duchy Jepson, and they were enticed here by the glory of Golova and the Khan’s commitment to arcane research. Among other topics of interest, they are interested in dream research — having had experience in the Plane of Dreams themselves — and heard there was some manner of dream research presently ongoing here.
Khan Yemur is apparently impressed with their initial presentation, as he explains that they are currently undertaking dream research to treat the memetic plague that has fallen upon their land, and he invites the travelers to stay in the guest wing of the castle. He will speak to Rereti of Har’Akir, the lead researcher on the project, and prepare a second meeting with him later this evening. If the travelers wish, Khan Yemur will invite them to a late dinner. The Shields agree.
Mizaiq shows the travelers to their rooms, ensuring that they have all they need. Before the satyr leaves, Bosabrieln asks if he may examine the instrument strapped to his back, briefly playing a tune upon it. Mizaiq is suitably impressed by the display, and after asking about Bosabrieln where he learned music, he takes his leave, saying they should reconvene in an hour or so.
The Shields of the Sorrowfell take this opportunity to discuss their plans. A brief investigation of the room reveals sigils that suggest this whole place is constructed for easy reception of scrying sensors. As they discuss their plans, Torinn even notes the silvery sphere of a scrying sensor appearing in their rooms to observe. Fortunately, as they are all under the effects of mind blank and some of them are permanently warded from divination, they cannot be observed under these conditions.
Currently, they just plan on going along with whatever is to be discussed. Hopefully they’ll wrangle their way to see the dream key, and then they’ll play it by ear.
In about an hour, they are summoned to return to the reception hall. They are asked to leave their gear and weapons behind; their escort will take them to the reception hall when they have properly unequipped themselves. After some discussion of what they wish to do, they decide to go with their host’s request. It’s not as if they are far away from their rooms.
Returning to the reception hall, they are joined by a robed figure with strange, intense eyes. Introducing himself as Rereti of the domain of Har’Akir, he is apparently the architect of the dream key. He explains that his own dream experiments coincide with those of the government of Golova: they sought a way to fight the memetic plague — which apparently takes the form of some manner of entity — by simultaneously entering the dreams of all the infected and fighting the entity there. They had a group with significant experience who agreed to battle the entity, but that didn’t work out as expected and now they are considering possible alternatives. But still, they are developing the dream key in case their original plan can possibly work.
As for the Shields, Rereti is impressed with their experience and knowledge. They have actually been to the Plane of Dreams, while he has not — his knowledge of dream manipulation is wholly theoretical. He suspects that while they have less formal knowledge, their practical knowledge may be invaluable for further development and testing of the dream key. Presently, it is largely complete but untested as they have not yet fully discerned the dangers of sending someone into the Plane of Dreams with this memetic plague on the loose.
Regardless, Khan Yemur and Rereti are pleased with their meeting, and make arrangements to grant the travelers a tour of the lab the next morning. (The precise time will be determined depending on how prepared the arcanists find themselves for an inspection on short notice.) Khan Yemur invites them to dinner after this, giving them an opportunity to return to their rooms if they wish to change into something more formal than their traveling clothes.
The travelers are escorted back to the guest wing and given an opportunity to freshen up before dinner. There they note that someone has searched their bags, although nothing was stolen. After ensuring that their things have not been molested, they set about joining Khan Yemur in the dining room. Servants serve them a sumptuous meal while they take the opportunity to speak to the Khan regarding about the magical research in this place, the wonders of Golova, and the memetic plague. He explains that his ancestors sought to make Isiksivik the most advanced kingdom in the world, and Golova is the final product: a place that prizes arcane learning above all else. (Their meal is primarily cuisine to which they are accustomed, but served in the Isiksivikian style: Khan Yemur explains that they are able to grow crops by magic in this northern climate.) As for the plague, he knows little about it save that it has ravaged his people. When the Shields note that they understand it came from the elves, the mood in the room changes as Khan Yemur perceives that they know more about it, and given that some of their number are elves or elf-kin, he seems to sour quickly. Bosabrieln breaks the tension by asking if he can return to his room to fetch his instrument and play some music, which Oyuchan allows. Bosabrieln returns, playing the simple tune of the lullaby he wrote for his daughter, followed by a sampling of songs from around the Sorrowfell Plains as an example of the local culture.
Khan Yemur, despite himself, is clearly moved by the beautiful song. He does not react, he just seems like he is somewhere far distant for a brief time.
Dinner finishes without further incident, and the travelers are sent back to their rooms. The travelers decide to retire to Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion for the night, and Bezaldooz will again cast mind blank on some party members tonight and some in the morning. Nothing further happens in the night, save for the Shields discussing the fact that while their host is quite personable and their initial impression of him was surprisingly favorable, he clearly runs this place like some manner of police state. Any doubt that he is the darklord of this Domain of Dread has largely left them only through the small interactions with Khan Yemur, his guards, and his staff.
Plus, Rereti seems evil as hell.
The next morning, Peren leaves Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion to find a porter outside, delivering a message that they will be summoned at noon. No weapons or armor. If they wish for breakfast, they need only ask the guards outside their suite of rooms. The servant then rushes back into the main castle, clearly uncomfortable with these strange guests and their vaguely probing questions.
Having time to discuss their plan, they ultimately decide to stash their bags in Peren’s portable hole which he will hide on his person while Bezaldooz will hide a couple of weapons in his deep-pocket cloak for easy access. Bezaldooz also summons Goruthrel and casts invisibility on the spider so that it can spy for him. Bosabrieln considers using mass suggestion to get the researchers to hand over the dream key without a fight. Everything goes according to plan: the Shields are led to the laboratories, finding themselves in an alchemy lab. In the middle of the room upon a table sits the dream key: a pale, ovoid object like an egg but painted with a singular eye. Notes around it partially describe its construction; Bezaldooz recognizes some alchemical concepts and suspects he could duplicate them. (The notes also suggest that ghosts are somehow involved in the device’s manufacture.) In addition to the Shields, Khan Yemur, and Rereti, two guards and two apprentices are on hand to assist with the demonstration.
Although Khan Yemur is clearly increasingly suspicious of these travelers, they ask their questions of the researchers and Rereti. However, it rapidly falls apart when Bezaldooz sends Goruthrel to get a better look around the laboratories. Khan Yemur lashes out, sending bolts of energy from his hands at the invisible spider and destroying it with the second one. When he starts asking questions, Bosabrieln tries the mass suggestion to calm everyone down and to demand the dream key. Unfortunately, Khan Yemur notices as he starts to cast the spell and orders the others to attack.
The battle is swift and chaotic. The Shields immediately grab the dream key and the research notes, securing them as the fight erupts. Only then does Peren conjure a wall of fire to partition the room. Seeing this display of magic, Khan Yemur and the apprentices flee for the exits while the warforged soldiers move into melee. Khan Yemur attempts to throw a potion at Bezaldooz as he flees, invoking a spell as he does so, but Bezaldooz counterspells firit, causing the liquid to turn into icy shards breaking against an invisible barrier and falling harmlessly to the ground. Bezaldooz retrieves Torinn’s axe while Peren slaps the portable hole against the wall, running inside to gather his swords. Bosabrieln holds his ground, trying to manipulate the soldiers’ minds while Torinn rushes after the fleeing Khan. Rereti also attempts to flee downstairs, but he appears to be somewhat slow, hobbling his way down the stairs. When he realizes he will not escape in time, he changes tactics: to the surprise of everyone present, he turns into a screaming sandstorm and slips underneath a nearby door. The Shields make short work of the soldiers as Torinn and Peren give chase after the Khan: Torinn cuts his way through the fleeing apprentices before engaging the Khan. Holding him fast, he starts attacking him with his axe; weirdly, the Khan’s defensive wounds do not bleed and appear to be the same color all the way through, as if he were cast in a mold. Peren soon catches up, flanking the Khan as they both begin attacking him; the Khan largely defends with his bare hands, generating strange energies to try to defend and attack. Upstairs, Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln note that the warforged soldiers’ bodies are twitching and so he invokes a fireball to make short work of them before Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln flee downstairs.
The battle is over within seconds: another blast from Bezaldooz kills most of the arcanists in the lab, but Khan Yemur manages to invoke a spell that causes Peren and Torinn to hesitate just long enough to allow the Khan to flee. Peren gives chase, dropping a wall of fire ahead of the Khan and finally allowing him and Torinn to destroy the Khan. When Torinn cleaves across his torso, the Khan disappears in a flash of light.
Satisfied that they have everything and with more guards on the way, Bezaldooz retrieves his tuning fork, using plane shift to send the Shields to Argent.
Once returned to the Material Plane, the Shields of the Sorrowfell finally have an opportunity to study the dream key and prepare for their future battle with the Khan of Nightmares. They spend the better part of the next month on this endeavor: Bezaldooz studies the dream key, and takes a sojourn to Sigil to purchase some spell scrolls for transcription in his book. (He purchases antimagic field, enlarge/reduce, and fly.) Bosabrieln accompanies him to spend time with Aratha. Torinn accompanies him to talk to Tetposmeton on an enigmatic errand.
As the date draws closer, the Shields of the Sorrowfell receive word from the Solstice King, informing them of their upcoming bout on Starday, Flocktime 22 (their time). They are evidently going to battle against a group known as the Detroit Dungeoneers. Apparently, the Detroit Dungeoneers have previously made names for themselves on their world in what is known as the Extreme Dungeon Crawl League, a competitive dungeon-crawling sport.
What the Shields choose to do with this information in their remaining allotted time is up to them, of course…