Chronicles of Khaldun: Crux of Eternity

Final Arrangements, Part 6

Waterday, Readying 5, 553 CY (51 AN)

When morning arrives, Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, Peren, and Torinn make their way to Tetposmeton’s gambling house in The Hive. As usual, Torinn stays outside while the others enter.

Tetposmeton is pleased to see the Shields of the Sorrowfell, as always, and he and Bosabrieln start negotiating. To inform them of the resting place of the axe of the dwarvish lords, Tetposmeton wants the following: 20% of the take, which includes the estimated monetary value of magic items although Tetposmeton must keep the items whole and cannot do something underhanded like sunder a magic item and claim that as his cut; all soul coins the Shields might find, as they have no use for them and so should not rightly be considered part of the take; Testposmeton wants a private conversation with Regthor Longbeard within three hours of this conversation, and while the Shields can escort him here, they cannot be present; and the Shields need to slay Etunildelan (before he sets foot on Guldor) and deliver his soul to Tetposmeton either through Peren’s helm or the imprisonment spell (and Tetposmeton is willing to deliver the latter at no additional charge). And they’ll have to put their souls up as collateral in case they breach the contract. (Torinn, not being present, is ostensibly not included in this transaction.)

When Bosabrieln balks, Tetposmeton reminds him that the Shields have never been to Avernus and don’t know where this place is. On the other hand, Tetposmeton has spent extensive time in Avernus, used to command legions there, still has legions there, and knows exactly where this place is. And his legions have almost a day’s headstart on the Shields of the Sorrowfell. While he is certain the Shields would find it eventually, will they get there before he does? Are they willing to leave the axe of the dwarvish lords to the Nine Hells?

The Shields excuse themselves for a moment to confer with each other and Torinn in private. (Peren notices an imp follow them out, but once it’s clear that someone is watching, the imp wanders away.) Nobody is happy with this deal — particularly since it seems largely motivated by Bosabrieln’s personal benefit — but they recognize that they lack good options. The obvious choice seems to be to negotiate Tetposmeton down as much as possible. They head back inside and manage just that: 10% of the take, including magic items and soul coins; Etunildelan’s death (but not his soul); and a meeting with Regthor Longbeard in which the Shields can observe but not interfere. (The last point regarding Regthor is the hardest piece to get Tetposmeton to alter, and is likely the lynchpin of his contract.) Both parties ultimately agree. Tetposmeton snaps his fingers and the floor cracks as lava wells up from the fissure. As it begins to rapidly cool into rock, the writing of the contract appears on it in Infernal. Tetposmeton tells them to insert their left hands; the heat will not hurt them. Bosabrieln does so, followed by Peren and Bezaldooz before Tetposmeton presses his hand into the rock and it disappears.

The Shields return to The Silver Tankard, and after briefly explaining that Regthor Longbeard has to meet with this entity, they bring Regthor and Travok Dankil to The Hive. Tetposmeton leads the five of them (sans Travok, who is not included) into a backroom. His proposition for Regthor is simple: he will grant any resources he requires to fulfill his goals; money, magic, legions of the Nine Hells. He can ensure the victory of the dwarves’ enterprise and the freedom of Regthor’s people.

All it will cost is his soul.

Regthor, having spent decades imprisoned by the drow and their agents with the knowledge that what few of his people survived suffer the same fate, readily agrees. (He considers his own soul in exchange for the freedom of his people to be a fair trade.) Tetposmeton again summons a slab of rock, they press their hands into it, and the deal is done. Tetposmeton tells the Shields that they may return at their leisure; he has access to a portal to his old fortress in Avernus, and it should be roughly three days’ journey from there to their destination. The Wraithsmasher family piloted a dwarven citadel — a sort of large spelljammer, powered by the work of the dwarves within and large enough to contain a small dwarven settlement — into the Nine Hells at the behest of their demonic allies. Tetposmeton’s legions, in tandem with yugloth irregulars, sacked the place. He granted the crashed citadel to the yugoloths as payment, for his forces had little need of it as a strategic site. One of his servants can grant them transport to their final destination.

With that, the Shields and Regthor take their leave. Travok asks what was discussed, but everyone refuses to speak of it. They return to The Silver Tankard, ensure that Regthor and Travok are secure, and prepare themselves to depart for Avernus tomorrow.

On Earthday, Readying 6, the Shields return to Tetposmeton’s gambling den. He leads them through a tangle of corridors — the place appears to be larger on the inside than the outside would suggest — before leading them to a hallway that terminates in an old archway from an alley, clearly brought here from somewhere else. Tetposmeton leads them to it, and it activates, looking out over a military encampment beneath a reddish sky. The Shields enter.

They find themselves in a fortification managed by fiends. Within the walls are some permanent stone structures interspersed with tents. The air is heavy and reeks of sulfur, while also being suffused with a reddish glow that seems to emanate from everywhere at once. Occasional streaks of fire appear, no doubt to land somewhere in the endless waste. The place is covered in reddish sand and dust that somehow seems to get everywhere.

The Shields are swiftly met by an armored woman with alabaster skin and reddish-black feathered wings, a horned helm upon her head. She seems to be expecting them and leads them to a hangar in which infernal war machines are kept. She introduces them to Belich, a barbed devil wearing polarized goggles who apparently maintains and pilots these machines. After confirming that he’s driving them to the Wraithsmasher citadel and they do not require a return trip, he says he is ready to leave at any time. They indicate they are ready to leave now.

Belich leads them to a war machine that is called “a Demon Grinder,” a device which looks like some manner of large industrial thresher, the front of which is festooned with gnashing metal blades. The entire device has been plated in gold, evidently as some manner of armor, and in addition to the blades, has three additional weapon stations: a wrecking ball on the back, a hose connected to a tank on the lefthand side, and a limbless wax effigy of a man’s torso and head on the righthand side. Belich explains that these are weapon stations, and should be relatively self-explanatory once accessed: the thresher grinds anything in front of the vehicle, the wrecking ball swings from side-to-side, the torso screams and hurts the minds of any it targets, and the pump delivers water from the River Styx. Belich is driving (which explains why his seat has holes, to accomodate his barbs), so the Shields are free to operate any of the weapon stations they choose. Bezaldooz takes the wrecking ball, Bosabrieln takes the screaming effigy, and Peren takes the thresher; Torinn, quite displeased at this whole affair, deigns not to take any of the weapon stations, instead sullenly sitting in his seat.

The trip is a jostling ride through badlands and dust-ridden flats. At one point, a humanoid figure upon a burning horse gives chase to the Demon Grinder, but Belich has no real desire to deal with it. (As it approaches, it is clearly a humanoid creature wrapped in chains, riding a wyvern.) Belich asks for someone to grab one of the canisters under his seat, but Torinn refuses to budge, forcing Bezaldooz to leave his seat and hand the canister to Belich. He sprays some black sludge into the engine, and the Demon Grinder’s speed increases to worrisome levels for about it a minute — although Belich nearly flips the machine, he keeps it under control and on track. The chain devil eventually gives up pursuit. (Belich explains that this is demon ichor, sometimes used to boost engine performance, although its effects are sometimes unpredictable.)

Shortly thereafter, they pass the camp where Tetposmeton’s legions are on the move. Belich gives a friendly wave as they pass.

The rest of the day passes uneventfully. The travelers make camp and decide to use Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion, but leave the door open and take watches to keep an eye on the Demon Grinder in case someone attempts to steal it.

In the late night — a relative term, since there does not appear to be a day and night cycle here — during Torinn’s watch, he spies someone approaching on the horizon. As the figure approaches, it is humanoid and clad in plate mail. It is limping, a blood leaks out of a wound in the figure’s side. It removes its helmet and is revealed a red-haired human woman, who asks if Torinn can help. He’s still in a foul mood, so he speaks little, telling her that it is not his concern. He then summons Bosabrieln by kicking his door to awaken him. Bosabrieln calls out, but receives no answer as Torinn is still not speaking overmuch. When he comes to the door, Torinn leaves, only indicating that there is a matter that requires his attention. Bosabrieln wraps a bedsheet around himself and comes to the door. The woman indicates that she and her fellow travelers originally came from Baldur’s Gate in Toril, hoping to save souls and all that sort of thing. But one of their members was driven mad by the pervasive evilness of this place, and killed the others. She is being followed and needs help.

Bosabrieln still won’t let her inside, but invokes a song of healing to heal her wound. Over the course of the conversation, he notes that there is something off about her story, and so inquires further. However, before he can inquire too much, another figure approaches. Although Torinn tells her to run, the knight ducks down behind the Demon Grinder, hoping to avoid notice, pleading with Bosabrieln and Torinn. (By this time, Belich has been awakened, and says he can offer her help if she’ll sell her soul. When she refuses, so does he. Bezaldooz and Peren have also awakened to watch the proceedings.) When the figure comes into view, it is also a human woman, clad in tattered robes and chain shirt. The knight tells her to approach no further, and invokes a spell, launching two crimson blasts of energy that hit the robed woman, staggering her as she lurches forward. As the knight begins to circle the Demon Grinder, the robed woman — evidently a priestess by the holy symbol around her neck, and given its sun shape, likely a priestess of Lathander, the sun god of Toril — takes cover by the front, begging the Shields that this place has influenced her friend’s mind. She killed the rest of their party, but if she can be helped, she can be restored to herself—

She does not have time to finish her thought. The knight, having circled around the Demon Grinder, invokes another spell and conjures a wave of fire from her hands. The priestess is instantly reduced to a charred ruin. The knight chuckles, sardonically noting that they could have helped. They tell her to move on and she begins walking away from Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion, into the wastes.

With the excitement over, the Shields return to sleep.

The next two days are uneventful runs through this broken land. On the late afternoon of Starday, Readying 8, the travelers see a shape begin to crest the horizon. As they approach, it becomes clear that it is a massive slab of rock carved into the shape of a stern and sinister dwarf’s head. A wicked crown rests upon its brow, suggestive of a set of horns. Four creatures fly around the crown in a lazy patrol. Belich pulls around back, where a spelljammer dock would have once rested roughly 150-200 feet off the ground. The Shields will have to climb or fly to reach it. Once he has confirmed they will not need a ride back, he lets them out and drives away to find a spot to camp for the night.

The Shields use Peren’s carpet of flying to ascend the slab of rock, finding that the four guardians are axe-wielding bat-creatures, each twice the size of a regular human. (It looks to be the same manner of hulking bat-creature as was with The Hades Nuts in the Chimeric Amphitheater.) Recalling that yugoloths are always business-minded, Bosabrieln invokes parley and says they wishes to discuss a business transaction. One of the creatures leaves to fetch a representative, and returns with another creature of roughly the same size. This yugoloth is muscular, with reddish scaled skin and ears shaped like bat wings attached to its skull-like head. It carries a book at its belt and wears a cape over its left arm, which is noticeably larger than its right arm. It speaks with Bosabrieln, indicating that it is empowered to act as a representative of Karn Gax, the ultroloth commander of this citadel. (The leader of The Hades Nuts was one of the grey-skinned ultroloths, as the Shields recall.)

Bosabrieln explains that Tetposmeton’s troops are headed in this direction and seek to retake this citadel. Bosabrieln would like to negotiate this information in exchange for the axe of the dwarvish lords. The representative argues that Bosabrieln’s information was freely given before any such deal was struck, and so nothing is owed. It only shows goodwill on the Shields’ part. If they have something else of value, or could help defend this citadel, however, perhaps some manner of arrangement could be struck.

Bosabrieln insists on seeing the axe before any such deal is determined, and the representative says he will see what can be done. He returns inside, leaving the Shields waiting outside for almost an hour before he returns. Once he returns, he says Karn Gax will see them, and Bosabrieln manages to convince him that it is only fair to be brought inside with their equipment. They creature leads them inside.

It leads them through hallways where strange, insectile humanoids walk. It eventually brings them to a very long set of spiral stairs which ultimately lead to another set of hallways and finally some manner of throne room or audience chamber. Inside are a handful of doors, as well as two guards (strange, eyeless quadrupeds clad in leather); another one of the bat-eared creatures with one arm larger than the other; a misshapen robed humanoid covered in oozing boils; a robed figure with a fox’s head (no doubt one of the arcanoloths, as was The Hades Nuts’ mage); and finally, sitting upon a throne, is a dwarven monarch. In addition to his kingly raiment, he wears a skull mask, a jeweled gold crown and a jeweled platinum ring. On the armrest of his chair sits a gold cup set with emeralds, and at his belt is a drinking horn with gold filigree. In his hands, as a badge of office, he holds a gold-bladed and bejeweled axe: the axe of the dwarvish lords.

Bosabrieln opens negotiations, but they abruptly end when one of the bat-eared creatures sees Bezaldooz reaching into his pocket and retrieving an iron bottle of some kind. As the yugoloths move to investigate or apprehend, Peren and Torinn leap into the fray as Peren moves to engage the fox-headed arcanoloth and Torinn engages the two bat-eared giants. The dwarven king — evidently the ultroloth Karn Gax, even though he looks like a dwarf rather than a standard ultroloth — fixes his gaze upon Torinn as his eyes shine with opalescent energy. Torinn resists the effect, and then Karn Gax hurls his axe at Torinn. It glances off the dragonborn’s armor, but the axe returns to his hand, and so he throws it two more times; although it glances off of Torinn’s armor another time, the third strike grazes an unarmored spot under his armpit. However, before anyone can retaliate, Bezaldooz uncorks the iron flask and speaks its command word, drawing the shocked Karn Gax into the bottle.

The battle does not last terribly long after that. One of the bat-eared giants slams Bosabrieln with its giant arm, sending him reeling as the two quadrupeds move into position and pull him toward them with their barbed tongues. The arcanoloth manages to hex Peren with banishment for a brief period before it is discorporated by Bezaldooz, while Torinn makes swift work of the bat-eared giants. The pox-marked figure sends the stunned Bosabrieln into diseases spasms with its virulent touch, and the quadrupeds tear into his bleeding and unconscious body with their tongues, but Bosabrieln’s death makes little different: the Shields make short work of the remaining yugoloths. Recognizing that they are down one member and have little time before reinforcements arrive, they grab the dropped golden chalice, do a quick sweep for anything else of value, stuff Bosabrieln’s battered corpse into Peren’s portable hole, and return to Sorgforge via plane shift.

After a brief discussion, the Shields decide to return to The Silver Tankard, given that they recall Aratha can cast raise dead (and do so without needing diamonds). The trip through Sorgforge, the privy, and towards the Lady’s Ward is uneventful. When they arrive back at The Silver Tankard, they find Aratha and ask for audience. (She quickly surmises that something is wrong when Bosabrieln is nowhere to be found.) They produce Bosabrieln’s body, so she utters a quick prayer over it and touches him. His body knits back together and he again draws breath, but as Aratha is laying on hands, he begins yelling at the rest of the party for not following his lead and drawing everyone into a big fight rather than using parley, or just grabbing the axe and retreating.

Aratha manages to calm him, and after she manages to learn what is preying upon the Shields — namely, that they and Regthor made a deal with Tetposmeton — the Shields rest for the evening. It is only in the morning that he realizes why he was so angry the day before — he, too, succumbed to the mind-warping effects of Avernus, and probably had been under the plane’s sinister influence ever since the knight visited their campsite. He apologizes to the others for his behavior while they were in Avernus.

The Shields return to plan their next move. The plan seems to run thusly: wait a few days for Bosabrieln to fully recover, set up a meeting with Etunildelan, kill him (probably with the aid of the bound Karn Gax), retrieve the axe, and deliver their spoils to Tetposmeton. Although still weakened from his death, Bosabrieln establishes contact with Etunildelan and they agree to meet in a neutral location: the town known as the Death of Innocence in Niflheim, Hades. His agents will meet in the Bar Formerly Known as the Smoldering Corpse Bar and lead them to the gate.

The Shields rest until the morning of Earthday, Readying 13, when they are to meet Etunildelan’s representative. They encounter a black robed tiefling with a symbol of Orcus around his neck. He leads them to the back of an alchemist’s shop in the Market Ward, and when he produces a skull, a backdoor deposits them just outside the town gate of Death of Innocence.

The Shields find themselves in a thick wood, shrouded by mist. The settlement behind them is largely obscured by wooden palisades, mortared with a red viscous liquid that strongly resembles blood. Only the snapping, colorful pennants of Death of Innocence are readily visible. Before them is Etunildelan and his retinue: two robed figures (including the tiefling with whom they traveled), a humanoid figure obscured in black armor, and a host of ravenous ghouls.

There is little point to a prolonged deception. Bezaldooz uncorks the bottle, releasing Karn Gax, and battle is joined. The clash of blade and spell is sudden, unrelenting, and swift, particularly since the Shields have a fair amount of experience with death knights, necromancers, and the undead. In seconds, the bloody task is complete, and Etunildelan’s forces are shattered.

Turning to Karn Gax, they ask him to turn over his valuables and the axe of the dwarvish lords, which he does. They then ask if he wishes to join them in their quest, given that he is now a dwarf, and he also agrees with that. (Although Torinn is swift to point out that he cannot rightly refuse a request, as he is still under the influence of the iron flask.) When asked, he also reveals that the axe of the dwarvish lords is what turned him into a dwarf, although it does not do it all at once.

Still, given that information, they plane shift back to Sorgforge, and from there, return to Sigil and The Silver Tankard. After discussing for some time, the lingering effects of the iron flaskbanish wear off, and Karn Gax is displeased with what has transpired. He asks for his axe, offers to stay if they pay him, and then finally throws a punch before being swiftly discorporated by Aratha and the Shields of the Sorrowfell.

After the patrons are calmed and the Shields have spoken with the Sons of Mercy, they return to The Hive to settle their debt with Tetposmeton. He takes the valuables as his 10% fee, leaving them with the axe of the dwarvish lords. And for settling their debt, he again summons their stone contract, bids them to place their hands in it again, and it cracks and dissolves. After their debt is settled, Bezaldooz engages in one last bit of business: purchasing a scroll of the demiplane spell and a small carpet of flying about which he inquired a few days ago. With their business complete, they return to The Silver Tankard and present Regthor Longbeard with the axe of the dwarvish lords, marking him as the force to unite the dwarf clans scattered across the planes…

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Final Arrangements, Part 5

Moonday, Readying 3, 553 CY (51 AN)

Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, Peren, and Torinn sit in The Silver Tankard, discussing their future plans. Torinn becomes aware of a presence attempting to probe his mind, and then it speaks. Identifying itself as “The Us,” it indicates that it is responsible for keeping the cranium rats away from the Shields of the Sorrowfell for their past couple of jaunts into Sigil. (Apparently, the rats seek to ascertain what they know over some slight months ago.) The Us indicate that it would be able to permanently guard against such intrusions in exchange for a task: there is a mind flayer elder brain that they would see destroyed, and the Shields of the Sorrowfell could trivially accomplish such a thing.

Torinn informs the others, and over the course of the conversation with The Us, the Shields agree to participate in this endeavor. (They are originally concerned that they won’t have the time, but The Us indicate they can directly lead them to a backdoor into the mind flayers’ lair.) While conversing, Tom of Annihilation enters, explaining that he knows the wizard who will sell them the enchanted knives Peren sought. However, they discuss their plans in front of him, and while doing so, they mention their assault on the elder brain. A couple of the Shields notice him twitch, something of a nervous tic. They tell him that they will retain his services on the morrow and send him away.

Realizing that they have potentially been made by minions of said elder brain, they decide they ought to leave straight away. The Us informs them that there is a butcher shop in the Lower Ward, and the gate lies in a nearby alley. Mammalian brains are the key required to enter. Bosabrieln asks if The Us might be able to procure a guide into the Demonweb Pits, and while the entity indicates that it might be difficult, that is within their power. If they accomplish their task tonight, The Us will send someone tomorrow morning.

The Shields head to the Lower Ward, make their purchase at the butcher shop, and head into alley. Before doing so, they prepare to move by stealth. Bezaldooz decides to dismiss Goruthrel, but before she leaves, she recommends he use mind blank as protection to fight the elder brain. He uses the mind blank scrolls they purchased as part of their gambit to enable Barnabus Sleet to claim their bounty, and the group steps through the portal.

They arrive in a cave network, and Peren scouts ahead, noting two mind flayers in communion with an enormous, tentacled brain in a fetid pool of liquid. When he reports back, the Shields move into the cave, preparing for battle. The engagement is shockingly swift — the elder brain summons five more mind flayers into the fracas as Peren moves, cleaving into the enormous brain with his swords. After Peren retreats, the elder brain erects a psychic barrier around itself, but the mind flayers are barely able to affect the Shields, protected as they are by mind blank. (Apart from some psychic stuns here and there, they aren’t able to cause any psychic injury, and the elder brain can barely even perceive them.) Bezaldooz recognizes the psychic barrier as being similar to wall of force, and after the mind flayers are defeated, Bezaldooz destroys it with a disintegrate spell (also keeping the elder brain from teleporting away with a well-timed counterspell), and Torinn hacks it apart in its pool.

Satisfied that there is nothing here of significant value, and wanting to leave before reinforcements arrive, the Shields exit the way they came.

On their way back to The Silver Tankard, they are again contacted by The Us. This time, they spot the entity — more cranium rats. Reacting to their surprise, The Us ask if they thought there was only one warren of cranium rats in Sigil. Still, they thank the Shields for their assistance, and indicate they will make good on their promise: no cranium rats will molest the Shields while they are in Sigil, and they will send a guide for the Demonweb Pits tomorrow morning.

When the Shields return to The Silver Tankard, they find the Four Seasons have arrived in the interim. However, before they have the opportunity to converse with them, the Shields are met by Tom of Annihilation. He regrets to inform them that he hasn’t had much luck finding enchanted daggers, whereupon they inform him that he was likely mind-controlled by mind flayers and was going to lead them into a trap. (Sure enough, when he confirms the current date with Aratha, he finds that he’s missing several days.) He asks if Peren still requires his services, and Peren declines. He wanders back into the city.

Autumn of the Four Seasons approaches their table, introducing herself as Fanyeira. Bosabrieln bids her to sit, and the rest of the Four Seasons join them. Bosabrieln explains the plan, but also that it has been revised and will likely be farther in the future — the Shields have some preparations to perform first. Fanyeira tells him that they are in the Shields’ debt for sparing their lives in the Chimeric Amphitheater, and so they will make themselves available when the time comes.

Since the Shields now know that they plan to infiltrate the Truegard mines on the morrow, and that they (allegedly) have a guide, they travel to The Bar Formerly Known as the Smoldering Corpse Bar to inform Travok Dankil that they will leave on the morrow to undertake a rescue mission for Regthor Longbeard. He is thrilled, and agrees to meet them at The Silver Tankard in the morning.

As antipeak approaches and whatever passes for twilight falls over Sigil, another figure enters The Silver Tankard to speak with the Shields of the Sorrowfell. A tall figure in horned, black armor festooned with skull motifs enters, the spurs on his boots jangling. His eyes glow a baleful red from the shadows of his helm. He introduces himself as Etunildelan, a servant of Orcus, and that he wishes to join the Shields’ cause. He can pledge an army of undead in the battle against Kiaransalee, and requires no payment. (Torinn is preturbed not only by his obvious evil, but by the fact that he is joining the cause for ideological reasons rather than material gain. People who want things are more trustworthy.) Bosabrieln repeats that their expedition is likely to be delayed for a handful of weeks, but they can contact him when the time comes. Etunildelan is pleased, as this will give him additional time to gather recruits and servitors for the battle to come. He takes his leave with acknowledgement that they will be in touch.

Once he leaves, Aratha approaches the Shields’ table, noting that they will likely betray him, correct? Bosabrieln agrees — to Torinn’s chagrin, as they never seem thrilled when he posits such a thing — but he will have to think about the best time to do such a thing. If Etunildelan has time to raise an army of undead, and if he raises additional undead during the battle, will they be in any position to move against him?

They expect they have several weeks before they have to determine what to do about it, however.

The morning of Readying 4, the Shields return to the common room to find two new faces within. Torugar is sitting at the bar. An unknown dark elf woman, dressed in clerical vestments, sips coffee at one of the tables. However, they quickly note that she does so robotically, in a repeating pattern every few seconds. (And she continues to do so when her mug is emtpy.)

Bosabrieln greets Torugar first. Torugar says he has heard a rumor of something they’re planning, and notes that the gods and their servitors cannot assist, given that aiding deicide would go against certain protocols. He further notes, pointedly, that assuming the rumors are true, the dwarves’ enemies (namely the duergar and drow) would claim that the dwarves are a proud, stubborn people who would require grand gestures to unite the disparate clans under a single banner. Under these slanderous claims, something such as the fabled axe of the dwarvish lords might rouse the clans from their torpor. Torugar once heard a rumor that the axe landed with the remnant of Rockulon Prime’s Wraithsmasher Empire that emigrated to Avernus. He suspects, if one were so inclined, that the Shields’ infernal contacts down in The Hive might know where to locate such things.

Torugar then takes his leave.

The Shields then decide to greet the one whom they suspect is their new friend. Introducing herself as Zesstra Phomdorn, a drow priestess of Lolth, they quickly surmise that she is under heavy mind control, radiating strong enchantment magic to detect magic. She seems a pile of nervous tics delivered with an entirely-too-earnest demeanor, but she claims that she can guide the Shields through the Demonweb Pits to the Truegard mines of Guldor.

Travok arrives and learns of this new development. While none of them are terribly happy about it — Travok notes that he might hate what this priestess represents, but finds no solace in her being so horribly ensorcelled — this is the tool they have at their disposal, so they’re going to use it. Bosabrieln casts seeming to disguise the lot of them as dark elves, with Bosie being a high priestess of Lolth, and they give Zesstra explicit instructions to not talk to anyone. She leads the way to the Weaver’s Guildhall in the Clerk’s Ward. Peren casts pass without trace before the travelers enter the portal, and Zesstra withdraws spider eggs from a pouch and crushes them in her hand as they cross the guildhall threshold.

The travelers arrive on some manner of edifice, an altar of sorts festooned with bones. This is evidently the portal from Sigil. The air is acrid, and the sounds of the city have given way to an eerie silence. Tunnels lead in either direction, and Zesstra beckons the Shields to follow.

She leads them through twisting passageways of spider silk, bypassing several monstrous spiders that ignore the pilgrimage of this group of “dark elves.” After roughly an hour of wandering, she brings them to a gateway of transparent metal revealing a scene of spindly mountains. She reveals that these gateways must be opened with blood sacrifice: the lifeblood of a sapient being must be painted upon them in a simulacrum of the spider symbol of Lolth. She happily volunteers for this purpose, leading to a bit of discomfort among the travelers. They wonder how they will proceed without their guide, but she reveals that she has never been here, so she would be of limited utility anyway. As they hesitate, she presses her dagger into Bosabrieln’s hands.

He plunges the dagger into her belly. She hardly reacts as her life ebbs; only in her last moments does the enchantment break, and she transfixes him with her gaze, whispering a single, accusatory, “YOU.” He quietly acknowledges her dying rage before painting the symbol upon the gateway.

It opens, letting a cool breeze flow into the Demonweb. The travelers step through.

They are met with an alien landscape. The mountains in this place are tall and spindly, like stalagmites of enormous size. Despite the daylight hours, the stars hang lazily in the sky, dully shining orbs the size of clenched fists. Travok is overcome with emotion, as he did not know whether he would ever return to his home of Guldor. He quickly regains his composure, as there is work to be done.

Nearby are two human-sized, tree-like entities composed of greenish slime: yochlols, the handmaidens of Lolth. They guard what appears to be a mine entrance flanked by a steam engine. The Shields quickly surmise that they will not be able to sneak past without further chicanery, and Travok informs them that it will be a long lift ride down the mine shaft into the earth, so they decide to use their disguises to their advantage and enter. The two yochlols give greeting and ask their business: Bosabrieln replies that they are here to engage in an examination of the mines and further interrogation of their most important prisoner. The yochlols were not aware of any such update, but accept this and ask if they require an escort. Bosabrieln declines, and they board the lift — a massive wooden palette suspended by chains and operated by the steam engine outside. They activate the machine and it descends into the earth.

They look for weaknesses, knowing that disabling the lift would delay reinforcements should any unrest happen to occur in the mines. Given the metal and mechanical pieces, it would likely be vulnerable to all manner of sabotage, but they will worry about such things on the return trip. After several minutes, the lift lands in a mine tunnel. Driders — dark elf spider centaurs — and additional yochlols meet them, and they repeat their business and again decline an escort.

They wander through miles of nearly-lightless tunnels, taking the occasional lift to lower levels. Despite the lack of signs and their refusal of an escort, they find their way through the mines without incident. Driders and yochlols oversee groups of dwarf miners, enslaved to lives of endless toil beneath the earth. (No dwarf wears a beard down here, as all have been forcibly shorn of hair.) The conditions are horrific, but the overseers defer to the visitors and allow them to pass unmolested. The Shields finally arrive at a prison block and seek audience with someone in charge: Yscolene, yochlol cleric of Lolth. (As was noted earlier, it seems as though Lolth’s minions run the mines down here. Lolth evidently does not trust Kiaransalee with these delicate operations.) Yscolene is shrewd and suspicious of this new group, given that she is completely unaware of any additional interrogation set with her valued prisoner, but she seems to accept their imperious explanations without resistance. (It would not do for one such as her to countermand a direct order from Lolth’s priesthood, given as it is with Lolth’s blessing.) Yscolene grabs a set of keys and leads the Shields to a prison cell, deep within the bowels of the facility. She unlocks it, and Bosabrieln dismisses the cleric. Yscolene says she will be right outside, and that they may knock on the door when they are finished.

They enter the cell, and Yscolene locks it behind them. Inside is an older dwarf, likely in his second century or so, his head and face shaved and his body clad in a filthy prisoner’s smock. This must be Regthor Longbeard, last of the Truegard Empire. He asks what fresh indignities they seek to foist upon him, and they indicate they are there to rescue him. He is skeptical, but when the Shields begin bickering about their exit strategy, he recognizes the half-assed plans of adventurers are trusts their claims are genuine.

However, as deep in the mines as they are, Bosabrieln and Travok realize that there is no sense in attempting to start some manner of insurrection with a defenseless Regthor among their ranks. The other dwarves must remain enslaved for now, and they will leave with the dwarf prince for Sorgforge, and from there, Sigil.

All parties agree. Bezaldooz gathers them together to cast plane shift, and the last thing they hear is Yscolene’s panicked fumbling of keys when she hears the syllables of active magic use.

They arrive in the teleportation circle in Sorgforge’s market. Bosabrieln drops the seeming, and they lead the exiled prince toward the privy that connects to Sigil. On the way, Regthor asks them why the stars are not out, and Travok explains that they are in a different world, one where the asters are small and do not shine by day, one where the granite of the mountains does not grow in crystalline structures as it does back home. Most worlds are like this one; Guldor is truly one-of-a-kind. Bosabrieln notes that Sorgforge was founded by dwarves in antiquity, so it is appropriate that Regthor would arrive on Khaldun in such a place.

Passing through the privy, the Shields arrive in the Lower Ward. They make their way to The Silver Tankard, where Aratha seems surprised that they have returned so quickly, mere hours after they left.

She likely notes that they are now accompanied by an unfamiliar dwarf rather than the dark elf with whom they left this morning, but she is too polite to ask.

Once the Shields have discussed matters with Aratha, ensuring that Regthor and Travok have a safe place to stay, they have one last bit of business today: the Shields head to The Hive to speak with Tetposmeton.

As usual, Torinn stays outside while Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, and Peren enter. Tetposmeton is pleased to see them, and the lot of them get down to business. (Tetposmeton laughs, indicating that he’s old friends with the Khan of Nightmares, and heard about their rivalry. He is certain to mention that he commands legions of Hell and still wouldn’t go up against the Khan with them.) Bezaldooz seeks a scroll of demiplane and a carpet of flying; Tetposmeton says it will require a couple of days, and he will charge a comparatively low 100,000gp for these items. Bosabrieln explains their greater mission: does Tetposmeton know anything about the axe of the dwarvish lords among the Wraithsmashers of Avernus? He laughs, saying he knows of the Wraithsmashers — or did, as he killed them all. Had he known they had the axe of the dwarvish lords among them, he would have engaged in a more thorough search of their domain. He says he will have to do some research and determine his terms; he bids the Shields to return tomorrow when he has had a chance to determine what this information is worth.

And so the Shields of the Sorrowfell return to The Silver Tankard to rest for the afternoon.

View
Final Arrangements, Part 4

Sunday, Readying 2, 553 CY (51 AN)

Having arrived in Duchy Jepson late in the night, Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, Ekaterina, Peren, and Torinn decide to rest. Torinn recalls the shield guardian, and the Shields of the Sorrowfell find a place for Bosabrieln to cast Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion. As it has been a long day, the Shields quickly retire to bed, although Ekaterina notes her equipment is still in Khuragzar.

That night, Bosabrieln has a dream. He finds himself in the Chimeric Amphitheatre, faced by the Khan of Nightmares, no doubt summoned by some variant of the dream spell. As always, the Khan of Nightmares is pleasant, but over the course of the conversation, the thrust of his proposal runs thus: based on how their attitude when they left, the Shields clearly seem to have vague plans to seek retribution for the Khan’s treatment of them. If they are willing to cease any hostilities — whether perpetrated by themselves or others on the Shields’ behalf — he will offer them any information he has on the Hendiatris, their cut of the take (as-yet uncounted, but probably totaling a few thousand gold pieces) from the past two evenings’ festivities “for being such good sports,” and help on a future errand of their choice. He hasn’t counted the take yet but suspects their share would be in the hundreds of thousands, and while Bosabrieln is cagey about the potential future help he might accept (likely dealing with Kiaransalee), he keeps it in mind. He says he will present it to the rest of the Shields, and the Khan of Nightmares will speak with him tomorrow evening to learn what they have decided.

In the morning, Bosabrieln gathers the rest of the Shields to discuss these matters. (Torinn awoke early to fish, but learned to his regret that only Bosabrieln can open the door to Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion.) Torinn is pretty firmly against dealing with the Khan, while Peren thinks Bosie should at least try to negotiate for him to give information on the Hendiatris. (Ekaterina notes that working with the Khan of Nightmares seems to go against the Shields’ stated anti-slavery stance.) With that, it is decided that Bosabrieln will reject the Khan’s offer, but will attempt to get information regarding any surviving members of the Hendiatris.

Apart from that point of order, the general plan seems to involve talking to the Headmaster about these developments, as well as any further development of Bosabrieln’s plan to confront Kiaransalee. (Torinn still plans on fishing once the mansion is open.) At some point, they will likely return to Khuragzar to retrieve Ekaterina’s things, assuming they’re still there.

With that, the group leaves the mansion. Torinn and the shield guardian go down to the river to fish while Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, Ekaterina, and Peren go to the Wizard’s Tower to speak with the Headmaster. Upon arrival, he gives greeting, pleased to see that they retrieved Ekaterina safely. He and Bosabrieln address the business at hand: while there aren’t many people here willing to assist with Bosabrieln’s errand against Kiaransalee, the Headmaster has apparently spoken with Moridal Delhig and Galothel, both of whom are willing to render aid. Additionally, the Wizard’s Tower has a few contacts in Sigil, and that led them to speak with Bosabrieln’s friend Aratha. She is willing to help, and also has a list of contacts she can recommend.

With that business complete, Peren notes some business of his own: he wants to organize a contest for the students of the Wizard’s Tower to make an airship, specifically one better than Gloomblight Spellweaver’s spelljammer. He notes that he would put up the money to commission three airships; he would retain two, the school could keep one, and there would be a cash prize involved to the teams that make the best ship. The Headmaster notes that they are ill-equipped to act as a shipyard — not even Scandshar has the space or resources to build airships — and The Pentad is the fastest ship around. Outside of an atmosphere, spelljamming speeds are among the fastest possible, and the knowledge required to make spelljamming helms has largely been lost. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, of course, merely that it would take some organization for them to figure out the logistics of such a thing. Peren asks if it would just be better to commission them to build an airship for him, and the Headmaster says yes, although they would still need to figure out the best usage of space for a shipyard. Still, hold onto that idea: the Headmaster will think about it some, as he likes the idea of a contest.

With that, Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, Ekaterina, and Peren take their leave. Peren goes to find Torinn, while Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln try to find a wizard who knows the teleportation circle key to return Ekaterina to Khuragzar.

Once those tasks are complete, the Shields reconvene. (During the quick jaunt to Khuragzar, Ekaterina is relieved to find that her equipment was still at the seedy, dockside inn where she left it.) It seems as though they will depart for Sigil on the morrow, and given how dangerous their current goals are, they decide Ekaterina ought not to join them. She agrees, although will likely be staying here since the vampire problem seems to have left for the moment.

Wanting to recruit all possible allies, Bosabrieln also contacts Lord Maervik via sending, saying:

No plan yet, but interested in the aid you offered. Meeting in Sigil tomorrow to scout other potential assistance.

Lord Maervik responds, “I’m more than happy to send the Four Seasons your way, but ‘in Sigil’ is frustratingly vague. Do you have a more precise location?

Bosabrieln casts another sending, saying:

Of course, just checking availability on relatively short notice. Silver Tankard. Throughout the day. Aratha, the tavern-keeper, knows us well.

He receives the response, “A district or even a Ward might be helpful, but I can make do with that. I’ll send the Four Seasons your way.

That night, Bosabrieln is again contacted by the Khan of Nightmares via dream. Bosie delivers the news that they have turned down the Khan’s offer. (The Khan, unsurprisingly, does not give any information regarding the Hendiatris if the deal is off the table.) Bosabrieln hopes that they may continue to have a friendly relationship, but the Khan notes that without some manner of non-aggression pact on record, any future visit from the Shields of the Sorrowfell will be considered an act of war and will handled accordingly.

With that, Bosabrieln awakens.

The Shields all awaken on the morning of Moonday, Readying 3. Before they leave Duchy Jepson, Torinn gives the shield guardian control necklace to Ekaterina. She protests, saying she doesn’t need it, that anybody who has managed to capture her in the past couple of months has kidnapped her in her sleep, but he says it still ought to help.

The Shields then take their leave, traveling to Sorgforge by teleport, and then accessing the privy to Sigil. On the walk between the teleportation circle and the Sigil portal privy, they encounter one bit of strangeness: as they pass an alleyway, they spot the hovering Voracious Visitor as it passes on the next block.

A warning.

They make their way into Sigil and then walk to The Silver Tankard. (The Shields notice that they are not followed by cranium rats. In fact, to the best of their recollection, they were not followed by cranium rats the last time they arrived in Sigil, either.) Aratha greets them warmly, and after catching up, they discuss business. She notes that Tom of Annihilation has been around, looking for Peren because of whatever errand he last requested. She also describes some of the people she might recommend for Bosabrieln’s errand (in addition to herself, of course):

  • Atagone of the Lostpride. She and her mercenary band live in a tenement block in the Shattered Temple District in Sigil’s Lower Ward. They are known to hunt extraplanar creatures, and have an ancestral grudge against the gods.
  • Beyanae Ssarra, the Omen-Bringer, former cleric of Kiaransalee. She runs a shop called “Not Knowledge” in the Lower Ward’s Shattered Temple District.
  • Izera, a githzerai monastic who runs a monastery of gith in Goatswood just north of the Ditch in The Hive. They sometimes seek out great challenges to test themselves.
  • Travok Dankil, said to be a dwarf of Guldor, the domain Kiaransalee took for her own. He’s often found in the Bar Formerly Known As The Smoldering Corpse Bar, between the Mortuary and Madhouse districts in The Hive.

The Shields decide the best course of action is to speak to Beyanae first. Then, based on their location on the map, talk to Atagone, then Izera, then Travok.

The Shields have an uneventful jaunt to the Lower Ward, and they find Not Knowledge to be a small, hole-in-the-wall shop. Entering, they find a cozy little establishment. Apart from a counter and some chairs, it is largely devoid of furnishings or merchandise, leading one to question just what it is that the proprietor sells. Behind the counter is a well-appointed dark elf. She gives greeting, but swiftly surmises that her current customers are the Shields of the Sorrowfell, and immediately grows defensive. However, when she realizes they mean her no harm, she is willing to get down to business.

When Bosabrieln explains his desire to approach the domain of Beyanae’s former master, she says there are three possible approaches. The first (and simplest) is through the Demonweb Pits. The Demonweb Pits change at the whims of their mistress, and so are only really traversable by natives. (However, those of the Shields’ stature can no doubt find a guide, or summon a demon native to the plane, or engage in some other ploy to find their way.) Deep within the Demonweb, there is a gateway to the prime world of Guldor, where Kiaransalee currently lairs. She stays in the city of Maldev, only a scant few miles away from the gate to the Demonweb Pits.

Any tout in Sigil can probably give the Shields enough information to find that route. But if they plan on doing this in a more efficient fashion, she can grant additional information.

Beyanae knows the location of a couple of hidden gates to Guldor, no doubt in the region of Sigil. One deposits travelers near the gate to the Demonweb Pits, completely bypassing Lolth’s web. However, letting that information go incurs a certain level of risk, so Beyanae is charging 1,000,000gp for it.

The other location, a secret backdoor into Kiaransalee’s stronghold, is a different matter. As it stands, Beyanae defected from the dark elves, so they don’t like her, but she’s not important enough to hunt. Sure, she gets the occasional dark elf with something to prove, but no sustained pogrom. If she gave that information, however, she would have to leave her business and her current residence for somewhere where she would never be found. Her public life would be over, and she would have to find someplace to retire.

That will cost them 5,000,000gp.

Beyanae also notes that she does not recall these paths herself, as she had the memories removed and placed elsewhere for safekeeping. Just in case they get the bright idea to drink her heartsblood or devour her memories or some such.

Bosabrieln drops a handful of gold on her for her assistance, but that the Shields will need to discuss their best course of action. They will return when they have decided.

They make their way a block or two over, where they find a couple of leonine humanoids guarding a tenement building. Bosabrieln speaks with them briefly and manages to negotiate for a meeting with Atagone of the Lostpride. They are left waiting for a handful of minutes before she will see them, beckoning them to enter. Peren stays outside, hidden and keeping watch, while Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, and Torinn accompany her into the building.

Once upstairs — and it appears she and her pride number roughly two dozen from what the Shields are seeing — they discuss business. She listens to Bosabrieln’s desired goals, and notes that while they specialize in extraplanar threats, they have certainly never faced an incarnate deity before. Still, she is interested. She would either take shares, or if there is no treasure to be had, some manner of flat fee. She will likely need some time to determine what her rates might be, however, as she and her pride have never done something like this before. Bosabrieln says the Shields will be in touch.

Once they leave and reunite with Peren, they travel to the Bar Formerly Known As The Smoldering Corpse Bar. When they inquire with the barkeep about Travok Dankil, they are directed to a hooded dwarf drinking in the corner. Bosabrieln again initiates conversation and explains his desire. Travok notes that he escaped from the mines beneath Guldor, making his way through the Demonweb Pits before finding his way to Sigil. He is more than willing to help in Bosabrieln’s quest, but he has some terms. There are still some living dwarves held as slaves in Guldor, and he would want them to be safe. Likewise, the treasures of the dwarf kingdoms of Guldor are still likely intact. As such, he wants them to remain unmolested: no looting. (He acknowledges that he makes his living as a thief, so that seems odd, but those are his terms. Let the treasures of his ancestors rest.)

He does note that there is possibly another way: the last heir of the Truegard Empire, Regthor Longbeard, is still being held in Guldor. He would be interested in saving him, as the drow and their demonic servitors are using him as leverage to keep the rest of the enslaved workers in line. If he could be saved, he could no doubt gather allies and support to help retake Guldor, and he would likely be willing to issue treasure as reward.

The main downside is the added risk of sneaking in and out of the Demonweb Pits an additional time, and the fact that they will lose the element of surprise. Then again, returning to Guldor with an army of dwarves potentially outweighs the loss of stealth. In any case, Travok wishes to be apprised of what they will do, and wishes to help.

With those negotiations complete, the Shields travel around the Ditch into the chaotic warzone of southern Goatswood. They make their way to the walled compound which they presume to be Izera’s monastery. When they ring the bell, they are greeted by a githzerai monk who grants one of them entry. (Bosabrieln enters.) He is led to a room where a githzerai woman is meditating, floating above the ground in lotus position. The monk leaves and she addresses Bosabrieln, asking about his business and attempting to ascertain his devotion to his cause. When he explains his purpose, she questions why he should seek to do something so foolish as this and disrupt the natural order of the living and the dead. However, Bosabrieln notes that it is something he must do, a guilt he must exorcise from himself. Izera seems to accept this, and says she would be willing to assist the Shields’ mission as a training exercise for her monks.

When Bosabrieln reunites with the rest of the Shields of the Sorrowfell, they begin making their way back to The Silver Tankard. Along the way, they come to the conclusion that they may wish to revise their plan. Originally, they hoped to take a moderately-sized team into Kiaransalee’s domain, hoping to have the benefit of surprise. But given what they have learned today, they can probably assemble Beyanae’s million gold piece price and learn of a way to enter Guldor while bypassing the Demonweb Pits. If they take the old Truegard Empire mines by stealth to rescue Regthor Longbeard, use his influence to raise an army of dwarves, and then use the Sigil portal to Guldor with an army in tow, they feel better about their chances.

It seems the Shields will be very busy in the coming days.

View
Final Arrangements, Part 3

Waterday, Fireseek 26, 553 CY (51 AN)

Over the course of the day, Bezaldooz is out shopping for spell scrolls while the others discuss plans. Torinn is vehemently opposed to dealing with the Khan of Nightmares, while Bosabrieln thinks it represents their easiest option. Peren just doesn’t like the idea of their souls being collateral.

Over the course of the conversation, they decide to renegotiate. Bosabrieln sends a message, saying that he wants to see Ekaterina, as proof that she is alive and well. The Khan of Nightmares will allow him to do so, if he is nude and consents to having his hands and tongue removed; they will be replaced immediately afterward.

After some more of this back-and-forth, the Khan of Nightmares invites Bosabrieln to discuss terms with him in the afternoon. The rest of the Shields of the Sorrowfell accompany him to the Chimeric Amphitheater, and he meets the Khan in another meeting room. This time, they get down to cases: as per the Shields’ discussions earlier today, they want to remove the potential that they will be forced to serve in perpetuity, instead returning at some future date to participate in more bouts. The Khan of Nightmares agrees, but along with a couple of minor stipulations, he presents a major one: if they agree to this deal, they can never move against him, nor can they incite anyone else to move against him on their behalf. Bosabrieln says he will need to discuss these matters with the rest of the Shields.

When he takes his leave and reports back to the others, the Shields agree to the original contract, operating on the idea that they can then return and move against the Khan if they win. They review the instructions for the original contracts and mix in a little blood with the ink as requested. (Being intensely irritated with the whole affair, Torinn stamps his contact with his genitals. In a similar vein, Bosabrieln cuts his lip to incorporate his blood into a lipstick print.) The Khan’s messenger retrieves the contracts and presumably takes them to the Chimeric Amphitheater. (The Khan must have received them, because he sends a fruit basket later in the day.) Bezaldooz is also certain to summon Goruthrel again and inform her of what has transpired while she was away.

The next two days are largely uneventful. Bezaldooz finally tracks down a merchant in the Tarnished Souk who happens to have a couple of spell scrolls: continual flame and scorching ray. (Locating said merchant and purchasing the scrolls costs 110pp.) And so the Shields find themselves waiting in the Chimeric Amphitheater on the evening of Freeday, Fireseek 28. The Jack of Diamonds is assisting them with anything they need, as well as informing them that each bout will have an hour to rest between them rather than a back-to-back gauntlet. However, the particulars of each match will not be revealed until the actual event begins.

The Shields are eventually led through a back way into the arena — Bezaldooz leaves Goruthrel behind in the hopes that she can map this place while they’re competing — to the arena floor. They find themselves in what appears to be a cavern, marked with side passages and doors. Although the cavern roof is above them, they can hear the roar of the crowd and can see the Khan’s skybox floating above the arena, strangely superimposed over the cave ceiling.

It is difficult to see from this angle, but it appears others are in the box with the Khan. Peren’s sharp eyes suggest they might be the hags of the Hendiatris that have been antagonizing the group thus far.

The Khan of Nightmares addresses the crowd, explaining that the Shields of the Sorrowfell are here for love, attempting to rescue a friend whom they believe was wrongfully imprisoned. He notes that the Shields of the Sorrowfell are newcomers to the Chimeric Amphitheater, but on their home plane they are renowned for having slain a manifestation of the drow death-goddess Kiaransalee. An inquisition of Kiaransalee seeks revenge, and will be granted the opportunity tonight.

Tonight’s contest is a two-minute bout: whichever team can score the most kills against the other team wins. The Khan will be resurrecting fallen participants constantly throughout the bout, so it will be a grand melee until the contest ends.

When the gong sounds, the Shields of the Sorrowfell begin moving forward, looking for their opponents. Peren is the first to make contact, as he scouts ahead, finding an armored female dark elf in a breastplate accompanied by a giant spider. As he withdraws, Bezaldooz drops a delayed blast fireball near the mouth of the passage in which the drow reside, but the breastplate-clad drow manages to sidestep the defenses, and shout a warning back to her fellows. Bosabrieln sends her running down a side passage with dissonant whispers as Torinn moves to engage the giant spider, noting that there is a male dark elf wielding a shadow-wreathed sword behind the spider. Peren attacks the breastplate-clad drow one more time before retreating to assist Torinn while Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln focus on the breastplate-clad drow, slaying her. She stands as the Khan resurrects all participants, but Bosabrieln hits her with a terrible psychic resonance and Bezaldooz picks up the glowing bead of force that represents the delayed blast fireball and throws it at her, sending her flying back and into death again.

The battle against the spider and the swordsman is similarly productive, as the spider is slain and turns into a slight drow woman. However, Peren finds out the hard way that the swordsman can summon shadows to terrible effect. Bosabrieln manages to daze the participants in that melee with a hypnotic pattern, including his allies, but he does not have a chance to shake his comrades out of their stupor; Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln are too focused on the melee to notice the breastplate-clad inquisitor as she returns to life, cursing at the Khan for not allowing her vengeance. (He shrugs, as if to say she need only be strong enough to take revenge.) She stands, steps forward, and invokes a spell to summon a carpet of biting spiders on her enemies and allies, awakening everyone subjected to the hypnotic pattern. Although this is effective, the tide turns as Bosabrieln casts hold person on the two drow while Peren — realizing that he has the perfect tool to end this contest — rushes forward, burning two souls in his helm to heal himself. He then slays the breastplate-clad elf, stealing her soul and trapping it in his helm.

She cannot be resurrected until her soul is freed.

Realizing that the battle is largely over, Torinn sits in protest while Bosabrieln begins playing music for the crowd to keep them entertained for the remaining minute or so. Peren makes short work of the swordsman, also stealing his soul and trapping it within his helm, while then borrowing Torinn’s manacles to bind the surviving dark elf woman. When she finally shakes free of the hold person, she is pinned on the ground. The gong sounds shortly thereafter, and the Khan gives the Shields an opportunity to slay her, which they gladly take in the hopes of avoiding her in the future.

The Khan seems pleased with their progress, and does not resurrect her after that.

The Shields then return to the Pagoda of Regicide to rest for an hour before their next bout. Goruthrel says she was unable to make sense of the layout in this strange place, although she will continue to investigate during their next bout.

After resting and binding their wounds, the Shields of the Sorrowfell return to the arena, finding themselves in another cavern accompanied by the sound of running water. The Khan announces that the Shields have returned after their triumphant inaugural bout to face the Rolling Stones, pride of Fantasy Toril’s Chaos Stadium. When the gong sounds, the Shields begin moving forward, noticing a stone fortress in the gloom, a pair of double-doors facing them across a bridge over the cavern stream. As fast as he is, Peren is first to make contact, dashing across a stream to climb atop the fortress. He finds no trapdoor, but notes one of the walls is partially collapsed. He drops down to see four squat figures, likely dwarves, crouched inside of the fortress — they each wear leather armor festooned with metal spikes, and they each carry two shields similarly covered in spikes. He immediately summons a wall of fire to harry them before retreating.

The dwarves open the main door and step out of the inferno, arriving on the scene. As the one in the front is hammered with spells, they say in unison, “A rolling stone gathers no moss!” pointing at the Shields in challenge. They launch into battle, but are instantly frozen with a well-placed hypnotic pattern. However, when Peren and Torinn begin focusing on one of the dwarves, that one begins throwing javelins at his fellows, attempting to knock them from their stupor. When he succeeds, that dwarf awakens the others, one of whom attacks Peren by somersaulting into him with his spiked body. Peren is grievously wounded and quickly retreats, but not before making short work of the heavily-wounded dwarf.

The fight comes to an abrupt end when Bosabrieln freezes them with a well-placed hold person, and the dwarves cannot break free. As such, the Shields of the Sorrowfell make short work of them, moving from man-to-man and slaying them one-by-one.

The Khan congratulates them on their continued victory, and tells the crowd that the Shields of the Sorrowfell will return on the morrow. They return to The Silver Key to sleep for the night.

The next day, Starday, Readying 1, Bezaldooz spends his day scribing his new spell scrolls into his spellbook while Bosabrieln plays music for the crowd in The Silver Key, holding court with his newfound fans. Peren and Torinn largely rest.

Bosabrieln does have one interesting encounter: a burly man cuts through the crowd, and Bosabrieln realizes he recognizes him. Lord Maervik of the Court of Fallen Leaves is present, and indicates that he is actually dreaming at the moment; he is currently negotiating with the Jarlkona, and so is actually in the far north of Khaldun. (Jarlkona Ragnhildur Brimirsdóttir sends her regards, by the way.) Lord Maervik happened to see the fight last night, and congratulates the Shields on their victory, also thanking them for sparing the Four Seasons — it seems those four eladrin warriors are allied with Lord Kaerwyn, so their continued service is appreciated. Lord Maervik notes that if the Shields need anything, they should be free to ask. Leaning in conspiratorially, Lord Maervik also notes that the Court of Fallen Leaves is friendly with someone named Auberyon, another one of the sponsors in the Coliseum Morpheuon. Lord Maervik heard a rumor that the Shields have access to a talisman of the sphere. If that’s true, they might want to attune it between the second and third bout today. It should help.

With that, Lord Maervik wishes them well and takes his leave.

That evening, the Shields return to the Chimeric Amphitheater to compete. Before the first bout, the Jack of Diamonds challenges them to a dice-off, indicating this will determine whether or not they have a slight advantage or disadvantage in the upcoming trial. Bezaldooz has a reputation for being lucky, so he takes the challenge, but he unfortunately loses the roll.

When the Shields are led into the arena, they see why: they are led to a large step-pyramid, decorated with a spiraling staircase that leads to the summit. They are placed just behind the rival team, a group of six armed and armored githyanki. The Khan re-introduces the Shields of the Sorrowfell as well as their rivals, the Stardock Six, and then announces the challenge: king of the hill. Whichever group has at least one representative that can stand atop the summit for a consecutive thirty seconds will win the contest.

However, when the gong rings, Bosabrieln is ready for it, immediately conjuring a hypnotic pattern. The githyanki at the head of the Stardock Six, an armored woman with a longsword and wand, invokes a sigil in the air with her wand, attempting to counterspell. However, Bezaldooz counterspells her counterspell, and the hypnotic pattern erupts forth over their heads. The scintillating lights enthrall the entire Stardock Six, and so the Shields quickly climb the pyramid to the summit and wait. (Bosabrieln again plays music for the amusement of the crowd.)

Despite the lack of action, the Khan is still quite amused. The Shields and the Stardock Six are led offstage. After the show, the leaders make introductions: the gish is named Marmayah while her warlord companion is Kranod. They are suitably impressed with the Shields’ conduct, and tell them to give greeting should they ever find themselves in Toril.

After the hour rest, the Shields return to the field. They are again led into a cavern, this one filled with stone statues, some of them in various states of shock. The Khan announces that they are to face Syntyche of the Stone Garden in a battle to the death.

When the gong sounds, the statues briefly come to life, screaming and moaning and clawing the air. One next to Peren grabs him, prompting the Shields to begin moving through the complex, smashing statues as they go.

Expecting to find a medusa of some sort, they move very carefully, attempting to focus on their feet in the hopes of not being surprised by whatever they find. Peren is the first to make contact, sighting the creature in an alcove. She is enormous, easily twice the size of a mortal woman, a serpent’s tail where her legs out to be. Rather than a crown of writhing serpents, she instead has flowing and slithering tendrils atop her head. Peren reflexively invokes a wall of fire. She screams, and then the place falls deathly silent.

The Shields begin searching the cave, smashing statues and probing for their foe. As the most mobile, Peren dismisses the wall of fire and begins searching her alcove and the rest of her den. As he passes by an alcove featuring a desk and a statue, he realizes only too late that her enormous bulk was hidden within as she dashes out, clawing at him, grasping him in her muscular coils, and whipping him with her tentacle-like hair. He notes that her burn scars are turning grey, like stone. He shouts that contact has been made as she summons a horde of serpents, boiling up from the ground, which begin biting at Peren. Despite the poison he feels coursing through his veins, he continues carving into her with his swords as the rest of the Shields arrive. (But again, any wounds he carves into her flesh become similarly ossified.) The combined onslaught of the Shields take her down, but when she appears to breathe her last, she turns to stone and collapses into rubble — only to reveal herself as the dust settles, as her old layer of stone gives way to new, undamaged, unblemished skin. She flees down the corridor, taking a hard right.

While the Shields move to cut off her escape, she returns. Despite being hammered by blades and spells, she pushes her way down the corridor invoking those same spectral snakes again on Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln, and then dashing forward to grab Bezaldooz in her coils. Bosabrieln gets the clearest view as she begins undulating her coils, turning Bezaldooz toward her and looking at him directly in the face. However, Bezaldooz, dazed by the spectral venom of the summoned serpents, seems to have trouble focusing on her face, and so is unaffected by her horrible gaze.

It is her last major action, as the combined might of the Shields falls upon her, truly slaying her.

The Khan again applauds them for a job well done, and informs the audience that they will see the Shields of the Sorrowfell for their last bout in an hour.

The Shields return to the Pagoda of Regicide and rest. As instructed, Bezaldooz dons the talisman of the sphere and prepares to use it in the upcoming bout. The Shields then make their way to the arena one final time. When they do, they emerge from a portal onto a sports field. It looks like a standard football or soccer field, similar to that used for the Trials of Blood on the Sorrowfell Plains. The other side of the field also has a stone gate leading to some planar portal, clearly to be used as some sort of goal. The other players are a group of fiends: a hulking, bat-winged creature with an axe, twice as tall as human; a smooth-skinned, grey, largely featureless humanoid with a sword; a loathsome toad-like creature; and a robed humanoid resembling a fox.

In the center of the field floats a two-foot-diameter black sphere, a sphere of annihilation. The Khan announces that this is the final contest, a football match like the Trials of Blood of the Shields’ native Sorrowfell Plains. They are to compete against The Hades Nuts; whomever manages to first push the sphere of annihilation into the opposing team’s goal wins the bout.

When the gong sounds, Bezaldooz is ready. He immediately asserts control of the sphere and launches it almost the entire length of the field toward the opposing goal, sending it downfield so quickly that the grey-skinned creature barely has time to get out of the way of the sphere. Peren and Torinn immediately rush the opposing team. Torinn invokes an expeditious retreat to enter into melee, making short work of their grey-skinned team captain while Peren pulls forth the horn of Valhalla and summons twenty berserkers who immediately bind the opposition. The loathsome toad does something which makes Torinn forget himself and how to speak, and the fox-headed humanoid attempts to assert control of the sphere of annihilation, failing to wrest it from Bezaldooz’s grasp. As such, Bezaldooz is able to effortlessly push it into the goal, where it is reduced to wisps of shadow and dissipates.

The Hades Nuts move to congratulate their rivals, and fox-headed creature briefly converses with Bezaldooz, asking where he retrieved a talisman of the sphere. He replies that they retrieved it from a lich’s lair before The Hades Nuts take their leave of the field. The Khan then announces that there is one more bit of business; there is a commotion from the skybox, the sound of a couple of spells being cast, and then a night hag gets thrown over the side, falling to the ground. The Shields and the berserkers descend upon her, making short work of her.

The Khan then announces that he is true to his word; the portal from which they arrived flares open, and Ekaterina steps out, wearing a shabby white prisoner’s robe, but otherwise appearing largely the same as before. Content that they have all they need, the Shields note that they will see the Khan again soon — he retorts that he’s sure they will — as Bezaldooz pulls the tuning fork from his pack and casts plane shift to travel to the teleportation circle in Duchy Jepson.

View
Final Arrangements, Part 2

Godsday, Fireseek 25, 553 CY (51 AN)

While Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln are attempting to catch up, Torinn makes short work of the strange cat-beast, severing its head with his axe and taking the head for himself. The remaining Shields of the Sorrowfell regroup and press forward in the direction they suspect Peren went, only to run into a small horde of the animated suits of armor. They carve their way through them with blade and spell — to his chagrin, Bosabrieln finds himself in their midst, attempting to fend off sword blows — and press forward to see what happened to Peren.

To his surprise, Torinn rounds a corner just in time to see Peren reappear, his swords sheathed and the rod of paradise in his hand.

The Shields regroup and begin back-tracking, as Peren reveals that was a deadend. There is a brief discussion about playing to an audience wherein Torinn kicks the cat-beast’s severed head into the ceiling with a loud CRACK! Afterward, the Shields continue on their sweep of the maze. While Peren scouts ahead, Bezaldooz hears the faint sounds of combat deeper in the labyrinth, in the direction from whence they came. Bosabrieln calls out to recall Peren, and they begin swiftly moving back through the labyrinth, attempting to find their opponents.

(When Peren rejoins the others, he describes that he reached a large room in what is likely the center of the labyrinth. He suspects the eyeball cat-beast was lairing in the center of the labyrinth. There was one other exit to the south.)

As they make their way through the labyrinth, they eventually begin reaching opposition in the form of more of those armored constructs, but as they reach those, they can also clearly hear the sounds of combat ahead. (Bosabrieln thinks he recognizes the accent of the lion-folk of ‘Ichi, although he can’t be totally sure amidst the chaos.)

The Shields finally press forward and make contact. A lion-man and an elephant-man — both clad in plate, with the elephant-man having the bearing of a priest — charge out of the darkness. Behind them, lurking in the tunnels, are two bird-like humanoids: a slight, stealthy creature of crowlike bearing, no doubt a kenku, and a taller, robed figure of eaglelike bearing, likely an aarakocra. Bosabrieln invokes a hypnotic pattern, which binds the lion-man, the elephant-man, and the crow-man, but leaves the aarakocra wizard free. He invokes a spell, immediately appearing behind the group as he finishes casting another spell, causing Torinn to disappear with a faint popping sound.

(Torinn appears in a middle-class apartment, unable to move, as a woman is dressing for her day. She is shocked by the sudden intrusion, and begins shouting, whacking at him with a nearby implement and asking for him to leave.)

Despite the loss of Torinn, the others continue their assault. The aarakocra, now locked in melee with Peren, invokes another spell to teleport back with his comrades, whom he begins awakening. The aarakocra then flees into the darkness. Although the combatants shake each other out of their stupor, it does little good as Bezaldooz moves into their ranks and Bosabrieln invokes another hypnotic pattern. As Bezaldooz is bound, Peren begins cleaving his way through The Rule of Beasts, and Bosabrieln can finally step forward and shake him out of his stupor. When they collectively slay the aarakocra, Torinn returns, and with the Shields returned to full strength, they make short work of their opponents.

Once finished, there is a pause before an attendant finds them and leads them from the labyrinth, to the roar of the crowds. Backstage, they find the Jack of Diamonds again, who indicates that the Khan of Nightmares will invite them to the Chimeric Amphitheater in three days — but first, he wants to meet with Bosabrieln tonight, around 7 PM.

With the rest of the afternoon to prepare, the Shields discuss their options. They are far from pleased with this state of affairs, but realize they must deal with the Khan of Nightmares, and Bosabrieln’s meeting with him will no doubt bring them further information. Bosabrieln casts another legend lore, learning the following piece of information:

Through ancient rites, the Khan of Nightmares bound the Umbral Blot that lurks above this island. As powerful as he is, the Umbral Blot is more powerful still.

Bosabrieln recalls that an umbral blot, also known as a blackball and considered part of a class of creatures called, “nightshades,” is essentially a sapient sphere of annihilation, a weapon created by a forgotten pantheon of gods. Their creation was so reviled that they were destroyed and wiped from mortal memory, but the umbral blots remain. It is one of the few creatures even the gods fear.

With no further preparations to make, the Shields wait until the evening. Before the meeting, Bosabrieln uses his scroll featuring the glibness spell to prepare for potential negotiations. The Shields wait near the Chimeric Amphitheater while Bosabrieln gains entrance, being led to the Pagoda of Regicide by one of the pale, strange servants of the Chimeric Amphitheater. He is led to a room — an opulent but understated meeting room where the Khan of Nightmares is currently waiting. A servant provides them tea before the Khan dismissed him, and they get down to cases.

After introductions — the Khan of Nightmares is surprised when Bosabrieln introduces himself as “Bosabrieln Peredhel Zivkovic Fenn,” as the Khan was apparently unfamiliar with the surname — the Khan explains his situation. Unbeknownst to them, it seems the Shields are in some sort of rivalry with a coven of night hags known as The Hendiatris. Some weeks ago, the Shields of the Sorrowfell killed a night hag pirate and stole her shield guardian. The Hendiatris is the rest of her coven, and the Khan suspects they are using him to seek revenge. He holds no illusions about this, as he fully realizes the hags are using him as their instrument, but there is a lot of profit to be made. It seems they captured Ekaterina and sold her to him, and while by the laws of Bosabrieln’s land, she was not anyone’s to steal, this is perfectly legal under the laws of the Coliseum Morpheuon. While the Khan recognizes how dangerous the Shields of the Sorrowfell are, and how every additional moment they are in his settlement brings danger to himself and his enterprise, the fact remains that he still seeks the profit the hags have promised. As such, if the Shields compete in his arena in three days’ time — a grand total of five events over two days, with two events on the first day and three events on the second — and win, he will return Ekaterina to them, safe and sound. If they lose, on the other hand, he will retain their services indefinitely. He does not wish to interrupt the call of destiny, of course, so their term of service will only begin after their current labors are complete.

With that, he presents a roll of contracts for each of them to sign, telling Bosabrieln to deliver those to his peers.

Bosabrieln asks for clarification regarding a few things. He also asks how Ekaterina is doing, to which the Khan replies she is being treated “humanely.” When he also notes about the presence of the Voracious Visitor, the Khan of Nightmares summons it: a perfectly black sphere roughly five or so feet in diameter, appearing maybe a foot away from Bosabrieln. Bosabrieln is no fool, and feels the full weight of its presence, especially as it follows his movements while he reaches for the scrolls.

The Khan explains that Bosabrieln is free to leave, and if he has any additional questions or negotiations, there will be a servant at his disposal. As such, Bosabrieln leaves.

Rejoining with the rest of the Shields, they discuss their circumstance. Torinn throws his contract on the ground in disgust, already tired of these games, but Bosabrieln explains that it is either this, or that they must think of an appropriate counteroffer. Given the presence of the Voracious Visitor, he does not feel comfortable assaulting the Khan and rescuing Ekaterina, even though it might be a viable option.

Given that they have three days to prepare, they can likely think of an appropriate counteroffer between now and then.

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Final Arrangements, Part 1

Moonday, Fireseek 24, 553 CY (51 AN)

Over the course of a half-hour, Bosabrieln casts legend lore three times while Bezaldooz, Peren, and Torinn guard him: twice about the Chimeric Amphitheater, and once about the Khan of Nightmares. He learns three things:

  • The Chimeric Amphitheater is a place of glory and gold, of battles lost and won. It is impossible to reach by walking, but some visit it every night.
  • The Chimeric Amphitheater is but the heart of the Coliseum Morpheuon, built upon an isle amidst the Slumbering Sea. Be wary of the secrets of the Khan of Nightmares, and the Voracious Visitor who guards the island.
  • The Khan of Nightmares discovered the island upon which he built the Coliseum Morpheuon eons ago, and made it the grave of his secrets. Hark and be wary, for the lord of Morpheuon has two faces.

Given this information, they expect the Chimeric Amphitheater resides on the Plane of Dreams. After some discussion, they decide the best way to reach it is probably to acquire the appropriate tuning fork for plane shift, and they suspect they will be best poised to purchase such a thing in Sigil.

Once they are certain they are ready to go and that the witch’s bower has mostly burned down, Bezaldooz invokes teleport to transport the Shields of the Sorrowfell to Sorgforge. After a brief wait at the privies — where they are mobbed by an adoring public — they assume the hand signal to activate the portal to Sigil and make their way to the Lower Ward.

They decide to take a brief jaunt to the Market Ward to make contact with agents of the Planar Trade Consortium, and after checking in with Estevan — business appears to be going well — they purchase a tuning fork that is supposed to lead them to the Plane of Dreams if used as the material component of a plane shift spell. After making their way back to the Lower Ward — and wading through a gaggle of tourists, a handful of touts selling their wares, and a train of nobles in palanquins — they return to Sorgforge and find a secluded alley so that Bezaldooz can cast plane shift.

The transition is strange and immediate. The Shields are overcome with a disconnected feeling — that weird, warm, cocooned, sensual feeling in the transition between waking and sleep. They find themselves in the midst of a vast marketplace, beneath a strangely-hued sky filled with stars, broken moons, and the watercolor splash of morning light. A creature strongly resembling an oceanic whale “swims” across the sky, heedless of the hustle and bustle below it. A black shape also hangs in the sky, like a second moon, although the shape is so dark that it is unclear whether it is a circle or a sphere.

Getting their bearings, the Shields of the Sorrowfell also notice a large building to the… west? (Directions are a little hard to fathom since they have only just arrived.) It is large and tiered, some manner of stadium resembling a nautilus shell. Floating in the sky somewhat near it is a hoop that looks like it may also be an amphitheater or some sort — there is clearly an aerial contest occurring within, and the distant roar of crowds may be heard rumbling below the din of the marketplace.

The Shields begin heading west, reasoning that the building is likely the Chimeric Amphitheater. They pass through crowds before arriving at it, and finding a couple of vendors and advertisers outside, they inquire with a satyr wearing a sandwich board. He indicates that this is indeed the Chimeric Amphitheater, although those who seek to enter it must purchase tickets and wait until the doors open in the evening. If, as Bosabrieln asks, they wish to gain audience with the Khan of Nightmares, participants and sponsors are likely to gain some level of access, but given their equipment, they would likely be seeking to enter as participants. That route requires them gaining sponsorship by competing in the Theater of Triumph, which is where most gladiators start their careers.

When Bosabrieln mentions that they have arrived to free a companion imprisoned in the Coliseum Prison, the satyr indicates he doesn’t know how that would work. He does warn them not to get any bright ideas about staging a prison break, as that is unlikely to go the way they expect — he then gestures to the black spot in the sky, something he calls “the Voracious Visitor.”

The Shields thank him and proceed to the Theater of Triumph, an amphitheater near the Chimeric Amphitheater. A pleasant woman mans the scribes’ booth, and while she seems human, her makeup and hair are styled in a way suggestive of a snail, as her makeup incorporates spirals and her pompadour suggests a snail’s shell and body. (While subtle, they are pervasive enough that it begs the question as to whether or not she is actually part-snail herself.) She gives greeting, and explains that shows are free, and the scribes only require a 2gp entry fee. When the Shields inquire about entering a gladiatorial bout, she says that the Theater appears to have an entry this afternoon, around 4 PM. Would they be available?

They agree.

The Shields pay their entry fee (declaring their name only as “The Shields”), and acting on the snail-woman’s recommendations, they return to the vicinity of the Tarnished Souk (as the marketplace is evidently called) to seek an inn called The Silver Key. (Curiously, rather than an inn sign, a plaque above the door bears a tarnished forearm gripping a large silver key.) They arrive for drinks and Bosabrieln plays for the amusement of the crowd — and what amusement it is, for he inadvertently attracts quite a crowd, stretching around for blocks in the hopes of hearing a few snatches of his transcendent playing.

The innkeeper, a gnome named Candolph, gladly waives the Shields’ room fee for bringing so much business to his establishment.

As the time draws near, the Shields leave The Silver Key to head to the Theater of Triumph, now having attracted quite a large crowd in tow. (Bosabrieln continues working the crowd, hyping them for the show they are about to see.) When the Shields and their entourage arrive at the Theater of Triumph, they see they are to be pitted in combat against “The Four Seasons.”

They make their way into the participants’ entrance while their entourage heads into the stands. After some preparation backstage, it is time: the Shields step into the light of the arena to the roar of the crowd. The Four Seasons have already stepped out, apparently being four eladrin — two men and two women — each in a different season. The caller announces and begins the match.

Winter drops a sleet storm on the Shields, but they quickly move out of it as Bosabrieln binds them with a hypnotic pattern; only Spring is able to free himself from its effects, and so the Shields concentrate on him. Once Peren and Torinn move into melee, Peren’s vorpal blade takes Spring’s head with a snicker-snack. They methodically move from combatant-to-combatant, first dropping Summer, then Winter, careful to knock both unconscious. (They reason that it’s better to leave them alive and possibly leave as friends, with the added complication that the Four Seasons will need to determine some way to resurrect Spring.) When they begin fighting Autumn, she misty steps away from them, drops her bow, kneels, and surrenders. While Bosabrieln addresses the crowd, Torinn roars and spits lightning into the sky, much to the crowd’s amusement despite the match lasting mere seconds.

The Shields return backstage, and after some deliberation and discussion with the stagehands, they are directed to speak with the Jack of Diamonds, a benefactor with known ties to the Khan of Nightmares. The Shields find him in the stands, a hulking construct of angled stone. When Bosabrieln makes introductions, the Jack of Diamonds indicates that it is suitably impressed with their performance to take a risk on them. It asks why they are so impatient to get to the Chimeric Amphitheater, to which Torinn responds that glory doesn’t wait. The construct seems suitably impressed, and tells them to report to the Probationer’s Park tomorrow morning for a more challenging contest.

That evening, the Shields pay the entrance fee and attend a show at the Chimeric Amphitheater. (Bosabrieln is a little surprised that there is only general admission, but someone explains, “You’ll see.”) They are first led to the opulent receiving halls of the Pagoda of Patricide to wait before the doors open. (Those who can read Draconic note the symbols above every door, reading, “Shamed by failure before the eyes of others, You slay thy Father.” The place and its servants are faintly tinged with fear, almost as a palpable presence in the walls.) To his surprise, Bosabrieln learns that he cannot gain entry to the private chambers in the Pagoda of Regicide, nor to the Khan’s own private chambers — most of the people who might be in a position to make those introductions are clearly too intimidated of both the Khan and the Voracious Visitor to defy him by bringing uninvited guests into the Chimeric Amphitheater’s backrooms without his express permission.

When doors open, the Shields filter through the Pagoda of Regicide, its walls tinged with sorrow and the many doors into private rooms each labeled with the phrase, “Horrified by failure to your truest self, You slay thy only ruler and greatest governor,” in Draconic. They then approach the door to the Pagoda of Deicide, where the final entry into the stadium is labeled with the refrain, “Terrified that it is all but a dream, You slay the order which begat Heaven itself,” in Draconic.

When they enter into the stadium, they find that it opens beneath a shattered sky despite appearing closed from the outside. They are led into tiered seating, and a single skybox floats above the arena. Shortly thereafter, a figure emerges onto the floating skybox, from a door in the back. (The fact that it doesn’t obviously connect to anything seems perfectly plausible, and fits with the impossible, dreamlike architecture of this place.) An older, kindly man emerges, albeit with the faintest hint of malice: the Khan of Nightmares. As he speaks, an illusion of himself, easily fifty feet tall, appears over the stadium for all to see, and he greets the visitors and announces the night’s games.

The place is impossible. Various contests are held, featuring gladiatorial bouts, sports, and other tests of skill. The contests are each projected as part of the same intricate illusion above the proceedings for all to see, and the stadium changes instantly between contests to take whatever form is needed. The vistas are different each time, and some of the participants seem able to use the environment to their advantage, flying or occasionally projecting bits of dreamstuff as part of the contests. The Shields also notice that the Khan sometimes resurrects the participants, and usually announces if resurrection will occur during or after the event.

Eventually, the Shields decide to retire before their show tomorrow morning, and return to The Silver Key, where they find their dreams to be especially vivid in this place.

The next morning, Godsday, Fireseek 25, the Shields report to the Probationer’s Park where they are led into a backstage or underground area to prepare. When they finally emerge, it is into darkness, a tangled mess of hallways. They hear an announcer indicate that the audience can see them but they cannot see the audience; The Shields, in competition with a group called The Rule of Beasts, are to navigate the maze and defeat their opponents before their opponents defeat them. But they are to be wary, because there are other dangers in the maze, as well.

The Shields immediately move, with Peren dashing ahead to investigate while Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, and Torinn move at a normal pace. Peren rushes along a tangle of passageways to the right, quickly running into a tangle of animate armors; he then doubles back, warning the others while he moves ahead. As he does, he summons a group of four darklings with conjure woodland beings, ordering them to move out into the maze and seek an exit. One is immediately trapped by an animate armor and slain, but Peren uses the confusion to continue onward, attacking as he goes. Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln make short work of those animated armors (although Bezaldooz finds that they do not react to his fireball at all) while Torinn, waiting at their rear, deals with the armored constructs that Peren accidentally summoned.

They begin creeping through the darkened maze while Peren, scouting ahead, runs into something that looks like a massive, muscled wildcat, albeit a hairless one with mottled patterns across its skin. Its tail ends in an enormous, human eyeball. He attacks the beast, but does not kill it, and so flees, lest he become trapped by the beast. Ironically, the creature cannot see him, but it appears able to hear him, and begins slowly padding after him.

As Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln follow after the much faster Torinn, Torinn happens to look and spot a darkling sneaking after the giant cat-monster, which is wounded and clearly following after something. Torinn dashes after the cat and his axe bites deeply into its flesh; as he battles the cat, the darkling next to him disappears, causing him to wonder if Peren is dead.

Meanwhile, Peren dashes forward through the labyrinth, moving into a tangle of hallways, becoming increasingly aware that several of the armored constructs are following him. He lashes out at them, largely as a tactic to keep them off-balance so he can keep moving, and he somersaults over one that has moved to block his escape. As he moves forward, noting the labyrinth twisting in on itself in a spiral pattern, it occurs to him that he is likely moving into a dead end — a fact largely confirmed when he hears the additional clanking of several more animated armor constructs headed in his direction. As the constructs move into position, surrounding him, Peren recognizes his best chance to extricate himself from this situation: sheathing one of his swords, he pulls the rod of security from his pack and activates it, reappearing in a tranquil paradise.

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The Crux of Eternity, Part 6

Starday, Fireseek 22, 553 CY (51 AN)

While Peren investigates the burial chamber, Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, “Mad Dog” Eddie, Mike Dyer, Renthiruhar, and Torinn are still in the forge. Renthiruhar asks where Peren went shortly before he returns, having investigated the room and spiked the doors open. The group heads to the burial chamber and takes position around the sarcophagus, suspecting they will find something within. Eddie and Torinn take positions to open the lid.

When Torinn wrenches open the lid, he finds a large, iron automaton inside, sword in hand, ready to attack. The melee is short but fierce, and after a tense exchange of blows and spells, the construct falls back into the coffin, partially falling apart from Bezaldooz’s casting of Melf’s acid arrow. (Notably, the travelers discover that Eddie’s blade and Mike’s arrows have no effect upon the construct.) Torinn removes the head with his axe, placing it in his pack as a keepsake.

The coffin contains a crossbar set with gems, but it is a mere simulacrum of the Crux of Eternity and bears no magic.

This is a false tomb.

They wander back to the forge and begin investigating for any secrets they might find; Bosie is the first to suggest the giant anvil makes sense, while Peren is the first to notice very faint drag marks in the floor, indicating it can be shifted. Torinn unscrews the massive bolts holding it into the floor, and he, Eddie, Peren, and the shield guardian begin to push; Peren having assistance from an enhance ability spell from Bosabrieln. With a terrible wrenching sound, the anvil is pushed, revealing a locked trapdoor. The trapdoor accepts the large key Peren retrieved from the secret room, and as he opens it, stairs descend into darkness, betraying only a faint sulfur smell.

The Shields of the Sorrowfell descend into the dark.

The stairs spiral downward as the sulfur smell intensifies. As they spy an opening in the hallway, leading to a larger cavern, they hear the clanking of plates as another automaton moves to engage. It sounds as if others are moving in the darkness.

Bezaldooz throws a fireball down the stairs, only to watch in horror as the construct absorbs it. Torinn and Peren move down the stairs to engage, while the casters stay back on the stairs to hammer the constructs with spells. Eddie and Mike hang back, as they are less effective. Although Torinn suffers under the construct’s heavy blows, he manages to hold the line as the Shields work to destroy it.

Two additional constructs move into position behind it. Although they are just as powerful and resistant to damage, they are quickly destroyed, albeit after hammering Torinn with blows and blades, and spraying a poisonous mist over Bezaldooz and Peren.

The cave bears hot sulfur springs, the source of the stench. Although Torinn can lower the visor on his helmet, the others must make do — the smell is nearly overwhelming, and while they do not think they can linger long here, the Shields continue undaunted. Renthiruhar takes the worst of it, feeling sickened and nauseated.

After passing the sulfur springs, the travelers find themselves in a large chamber, the ceiling held aloft by rock pillars. At the far end of the room lies a stone dias bearing an enormous stone coffin bound with iron bands. The coffin is etched with Celestial runes; Bosabrieln reads them as a litany of Sorg’s deeds and the tale of his death, ending with the refrain, “The traitor-god lies here in eternal vigil.”

As they approach, there is a rumbling from the sarcophagus, and the lid is thrown aside as a massive giant emerges — a bearded man in a ragged blacksmith’s apron, his eyes milky and his skin rent and rotting. He holds a massive hammer, and an obsidian spike pierces his chest.

Renthiruhar yells that they must force him to leave his coffin.

As he lurches forward, he invokes a spell, which Bezaldooz prevents. He then slams his hammer to the ground, knocking down everyone except Peren, who is hiding behind a pillar, invisible. The Shields begin their advance, peppering him with spells as Peren and Torinn begin to move into melee. To force him to move, Renthiruhar casts a spell, vomiting forth a cloud of black scarabs that envelop him. He ignores them at first, but as they bite his flesh, he begins to leave his coffin.

He is quickly felled after that, brough low by blades and spells. His body collapses upon the stairs leading to the dias where his sarcophagus lies.

The Shields begin to investigate as Peren and Renthiruhar climb into Sorg’s sarcophagus, aware of the crystalline cross, roughly the size of a human’s forearm, lying at the bottom of the coffin. They approach, and Renthiruhar asks if she may examine it. Peren says she may, and she gathers the Crux of Eternity.

She looks distant for a moment, then touches the necklace at her throat and begins invoking a spell.

Peren, suspicious of the proceedings and seeing what’s happening, rushes forward to grab the Crux of Eternity from her hands.

As he touches it, Peren finds himself somewhere else.

He is standing in a hall, clearly a forge of some kind, with a burly, kindly man with a large beard hunched over an anvil, hammering a weapon. He smiles at Peren, and says his own vigil is ended — the Crux of Eternity is to be guarded by the Shields of the Sorrowfell for the moment, another step in its journey before it finds its final rest.

He also notes that Renthiruhar’s intentions are impure, that he needs to get the Crux away from her and ensure that she does not retrieve it at any cost.

Peren asks where Sorg will go now that his duty is discharged, and he shrugs. He says he is not a death god, and knows not where souls go afterward. Into the afterlife, he supposes.

The vision fades, and Peren finds himself back in the sarcophagus, wrestling with Renthiruhar. He wrests the Crux away from her and rushes to the far side of the coffin, shouting a warning to the others. She mutters something about, “That damn quasit had one job,” as the Shields approach.

Bosabrieln, near the sarcophagus, climbs the side and balances on the lip, invoking a power word: stun, but it has no effect on Renthiruhar. Torinn joins the fray, gliding into the sarcophagus, to prevent Renthiruhar from escaping. She pulls an iron bottle from her pack and uncorks it, conjuring a massive, red-skinned, winged, horned brute wielding a fire whip and a sword crackling with electricity. Bosabrieln keeps it bound with a hypnotic pattern__ while Torinn begins hacking at Renthiruhar, quickly discovering that she is not as she appears — when his axe bites into her, it cuts normally through her clothing, but only injures her slightly as it cuts into her, as her body twists and writhes to avoid the brunt of the blow.

Black, biting scarabs boil out the wound, making it apparent that she comprises a colony of the things.

Still, she does not last long as Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, and Torinn turn their full attention to her. She swiftly collapses into a pile of beetles.

Rather than fighting the demon, the group decides to beat a retreat and trap the creature in Sorg’s tomb, closing and locking the trapdoor before pushing the anvil back into place. They can hear the demon below, roaring and banging against the door.

Their task complete, the Shields return to the surface. The skeleton activates the lift, returning them to the main floor, and after wandering through hallways, they are met by another one of the strange, wizened elves of the Sorgtomb Citadel. They explain their purpose, and the elf asks if they need to speak with the Marquis d’Ennui. They do not, although if he wishes to speak with them, they will wait out front. The elf guides them to the main entrance and sends them on their way.

After waiting for ten minutes or so, content that they will not be summoned before the Marquis, the Shields agree to plane shift to Scandshar, operating on the idea that they may investigate the Chasm of the Cogitovore when they’ve rested. Bezaldooz casts the spell, and the Shields arrive in the Scandshar market, quickly finding a place for Bosabrieln to cast Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion.

Once inside, however, they discuss their options. Bosabrieln wishes to invade Kiaransalee’s domain, freeing the souls she has slain and restoring Vianibrar to life. As it seems that their destinies are leading them to confront the Illustrious Menagerie of Peacocks, the Shields don’t seem to have a pressing timeline on confronting the Peacocks, and the Far Realm is dangerous enough that they don’t know what will happen upon their return, the Shields decide that they will ask the Headmaster about their god-fighting options tomorrow. Examining the objects they recovered from Sorg’s Tomb, they find that Renthiruhar held an amulet of the planes and an iron flask. While the Crux of Eternity seems as though it is too potent for mortals to use, the Shields suspect they can use its godlike power, albeit at a cost of a curious sort of weakness, only to be undone by the intervention of a deity.

It seems too powerful for them to use and too dangerous to carry, so before they travel to Duchy Jepson, they decide to head to Argent first thing in the morning.

They also discuss Renthiruhar’s betrayal. Based on their observations, they suspect she was a deathscarab lamia: strange, fey predators dimly related to worldly lamias. However, they also recall that certain elite members of the race known as “the Chosen of Graz’zt” are servitors of the demon lord Graz’zt, acting as his infiltrators and spies across the cosmos. Her reference to “that damn quasit” likely means Bono, suggesting that he was acting as a spy for the demon lord for his entire service under Bezaldooz. If a demon lord, particularly one so powerful as Graz’zt, desires the Crux of Eternity — and has twice managed to insert spies into their ranks — they must be particularly cautious.

On the morrow, the Shields leave Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion, exiting to teleport back to Argent. Once there, they seek Valna, finding her in the Guardian’s Tower with two torrians, reviewing reports and other notes. After they exchange greetings and introduce Eddie and Mike, the Shields explain their current situation and present Valna with the Crux of Eternity for safekeeping, while also presenting her with an evil-aligned robe of the archmagi they found in Aalsburg Castle and have not yet had a chance to neutralize or study. She takes both, swears the torrians with her to tell no one of this, and leaves to consign both items to Argent’s vaults.

The Shields of the Sorrowfell then visit the tavern to acquire beer. There they introduce Eddie and Mike to Obash and Hurm da Wurm, among others. They inform Obash of current events, and he indicates not much has happened since they last saw one another, other than he and his crew have run a couple of errands for Valna. Peren muses on hiring a wizard to teleport the orc mercenaries back and forth, and they say they’ll keep an eye out as they travel. During the course of the conversation, it becomes clear that the Shields’ work is probably a little too dangerous for Eddie and Mike, so the pair agrees to join Obash’s mercenaries (particularly since that’s the sort of work they’re used to doing).

Once the Shields have had a chance to eat and drink, they teleport to Duchy Jepson to inquire with the Headmaster. The Headmaster is in a meeting with Gloomblight Spellweaver and Uaaru when they arrive, but he welcomes them, saying he has news. Apparently, they have discovered another piece of the Sentinel — they previously had evidence that the Sentinel into which the Shields of the Sorrowfell delved was just a portion of the craft, and the planar craft was designed to break apart during entry into the world, but they have now discovered another piece. They managed to recover several artifacts and a lot of information from the discovery, so they’re all quite excited.

After the Headmaster dismisses Gloomblight and Uaaru, he also notes that they had a spot of bad news. The other day, a redcap came and started attacking outlying farms and slaughtering cattle. (A shame he says, as they don’t have many cattle to spare.) When they took down the redcap, they found it had a note, presumably for the Shields of the Sorrowfell. The Headmaster hands Bosabrieln a small, rolled scroll, and Bosie unfurls it, revealing the following message, written in blood:

SHEELDS
YUR SLAEV IS PRISUNUR UV WASP WICH
SCRY BLUD

After the phrase “SCRY BLUD” is a bloody fingerprint. It would seem some force, presumably the aforementioned “wasp witch,” has captured Ekaterina and provided the means necessary to scry on her.

The Shields agree they need to save her, although Bezaldooz cannot cast scrying until he studies his spells again on the morrow. They reason that she is not likely to be in any more danger tomorrow than she is today, so they can proceed with their activities as planned.

With the Headmaster’s business complete, Bosabrieln asks if this chamber is reasonably secure — the Headmaster says absolute security is hard to guarantee, but his office is warded — and Bosabrieln explains that he seeks Kiaransalee’s domain to find her and destroy her, freeing the petitioners she has bound in death. (He’ll no doubt then use his own resurrection spell in tandem with Vianibrar’s dust to restore Vianibrar to life.)

Can Headmaster Jepson render aid?

The Headmaster says he doesn’t immediately know anyone free to go god-hunting, and most of the people at the Wizard’s Tower are students and sages, but he’ll have to think on it. He’ll do some research and respond to Bosabrieln in a day or so.

In the meantime, Bosabrieln and the rest of the Shields are free to use the facilities to perform research.

Bosabrieln’s inquiry also reminds the Headmaster of something he forgot to mention earlier. Moridal delivered some of Vianibrar’s personal effects and notes to the Wizard’s Tower for study, and over the course of their investigation, they discovered that one of his journals was written in a cipher.

Once decrypted, the journal described a song that is keyed to a specific iteration of the demiplane spell. Vianibrar’s secret library is located on this demiplane, detailing his investigation of the Illustrious Menagerie of Peacocks, among other subjects. They are still investigating the materials, but as his apprentice, Bosabrieln is of course welcome to examine the library.

Bosabrieln, for his part, is more than happy to examine the library with Vianibrar once he restores him to life.

The Shields then go their separate ways. Most of the others are resupplying or performing their own research, so Bosabrieln heads to the library. When he is displeased with the little information he finds, he turns to legend lore to try to learn more of Kiaransalee and her machinations. His first casting returns the following information: “Terrible and beautiful, the Vengeful Banshee plots her revenge from the Prime world of Guldor. Cast from her home by Prince Orcus, she has many enemies, and only persists because she knows Death itself.” His second casting, this time to learn of the world of Guldor, returns, “Besieged by dark elves eons ago, dwarfhome Maldev was its last capital, now claimed by the Revenancer. The dark elves won, and the place is now a wasteland, fit only for demons and ghosts. It is trapped in the Spider Queen’s web.

Figuring that these will form good starting points for the time being, he reconvenes with the rest of the Shields of the Sorrowfell, and they eventually retire to the Addled Alchemist for the night.

That night, Bosabrieln has a dream of wandering in a dark wood. Sitting on a stump in the midst of a clearing is a nude woman with red hair, her back turned towards Bosabrieln. He can tell from the color of her hair, her stature, and her tattoos that she is Ekaterina. She is shivering in the cold, and so he approaches, removing his coat — Vianibrar’s coat — to put around her shoulders. He taps her on the shoulder to get her attention, and she turns.

The skin on her front half is gone, revealing muscle and bone slick with gore. Rivulets of blood drip down her front, and as she looks at Bosabrieln with wide eyes, she says, “Your doom is written in the dream that devours.”

Bosabrieln awakens with a start.

He dresses and heads to Peren’s room, knowing that he is likely to be awake. He knocks on the door and reports his nightmare, adding that he suspects it was a usage of the dream spell, meaning that something capable of spellcasting made her transmit, and specifically had her transmit the spell’s attack aspect.

They might as well allow the others to sleep, but they’ll investigate first thing in the morning.

Over breakfast, Bosabrieln recounts his dream, and Bezaldooz takes the bloody note, preparing to scry. When the ritual is complete, he finds himself in a small cabin. Cozy, it is festooned with herbs and knickknacks, the detritus of hedge magic. There is only a single door, and a window whose shutter was long ago nailed shut. A woman — a bald dark elf — tends a cauldron over the cookfire in the hearth, nervously glancing back at her bed beneath the closed window. Lying upon the bed, surrounded by wildflowers, is the slumbering form of Ekaterina, wearing a white robe.

As Bezaldooz watches, the woman finishes her task, emptying the soup inside the cauldron into two bowls. Setting one aside, she takes the other and moves over to the bed, feeding soup to the sleeping Ekaterina.

Bezaldooz, having narrated to the others this entire time, knows the scrying spell is almost done. The others have heard enough and are prepared to go. Noting that the space is small, they leave the shield guardian behind, although Torinn commands it to stand in the vicinity of the Wizard’s Tower. Bezaldooz then casts teleport.

The Shields arrive in the midst of the woman’s cabin, surprising her such that she yelps, spilling soup everywhere. Ekaterina does not react.

Torinn steps forward, axe to the dark elf’s throat. The Shields question her, and she reveals that she is known as the Wasp Witch, a local witch of the woods. (She has a drow name, but rejected it when she abandoned her people and came to live on the surface.) She largely helps local women who need assistance with pregnancies, that sort of thing. Lately, however, she has been visited by an old woman, a witch named Opal who ordered her to care for this woman they see before them. She explained that people would come for this woman, and when they did, the Wasp Witch was to convey Opal’s instructions — the Wasp Witch is to administer a sleeping draught, because the means to save Ekaterina may be found in dreams. She was given specific instructions as to what to do.

She does not know why, nor does she know why she was selected to perform this task. She had never encountered Opal before a couple of days ago.

She suspects, however, that there are other witches with Opal. She could hear them outside sometimes.

Bosabrieln is convinced that the Wasp Witch is, as she says, innocent in these events, but Peren is still suspicious and Torinn is totally unconvinced. Bezaldooz says he will perform a detect magic to determine what manner of enchantment has been placed on Ekaterina. A magical aura blazes around the sleeping woman, and he senses enchantment and necromancy of middling power, and strong illusion magic. He decides to unweave the illusion first, casting dispel magic on it.

Ekaterina turns to snow and quickly begins to melt. The Wasp Witch gasps. Bezaldooz strongly suspects this Ekaterina was a product of the simulacrum spell, so this whole thing was some manner of trick or setup.

At Torinn’s renewed inquiries, she swears she didn’t know what was going to happen, she was merely threatened and given instructions. The Shields plan on tracking these witches in the hopes of finding Ekaterina, and Torinn insists that the Wasp Witch accompanies them while bound. Bosabrieln and the Wasp Witch press for her to go freely, and Torinn says he will kill her if she causes trouble. She agrees. She dons a cloak, peaked hat, and goggles with frosted glass before leaving.

The Shields of the Sorrowfell and the Wasp Witch trek through the snowy woods for an hour, with Peren following the path the witch took into the woods. It appears to be just the one, roughly human-sized, although she is occasionally accompanied by two other sets of footprints. Based on how they come and go, they must be teleporting or otherwise engaging in magical transit.

As Peren is scouting ahead under the influence of pass without trace, he scouts ahead when he sees the witch’s hut, a glorified bower hanging among the branches of several twisted trees. Before he approaches, he returns to the others, and they move together under the cover of pass without trace. When they see the hut, they move inside.

They are greeted by an ancient woman, nude with stringy hair and small, spiraling horns, her orange skin covered in some manner of tallow. Her hut is stuffed with knickknacks and trinkets, and this place smells musty and faintly of death — no doubt from the gristle and bone strewn across the floor.

She cackles, announcing, “The fish is your friend,” as the Shields enter. Battle is short and swift: Torinn moves to engage, hacking at the witch with his axe, while Bosabrieln invokes a glamor and the Wasp Witch invokes a flickering ball of flame and launches it at the horned woman. The strange woman attempts to invoke a spell which Bezaldooz counterspells, and then she calls out for her sisters.

No one arrives. Bezaldooz conjures a ray of frost and freezes the horned woman solid. The forest is still.

Once they are certain no one is coming, they investigate her hut. They find clippings of red hair that are likely Ekaterina’s, indicating she was here within the past few days, and they suspect these remains have been here longer than that.

Ekaterina, then, is nowhere to be found.

Bosabrieln does find two trinkets that he suspects are magical, however. He finds a black lacquered box of moderate size, and a dowsing rod carved with small runes. He takes both.

Once they are certain nothing further of Ekaterina remains, they investigate the trinkets. They open the box at a distance with mage hand, and three figurines climb out — small wooden dolls resembling Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, and Peren. They do not speak, but caper about in mocking fashion, responding to asked questions with rude gestures. After experimentation, they are certain these dolls are not connected to them in any appreciable way, as shaking them does not provoke a reaction in themselves. Torinn asks the Bezaldooz doll if it knows where Ekaterina is, and in response to its gesture, annihilates it with his lightning breath. The two other dolls cower in fear, and Bosabrieln gathers them and returns them to the box.

As for the dowsing rod, it does not guide him to Ekaterina or where she remains, but when he attempts to find water, it begins pulling in a direction. He hands it to Bezaldooz and it immediately stops; Bezaldooz’s analysis suggests that it’s a charm, designed to function one time, and only finding creatures or objects within 1000 feet.

Having completed their investigation, and convinced the Wasp Witch has nothing to do with this, they let her go. She tells them to come visit if they require herbal remedies and are in better spirits, and she trudges back into the woods.

The Shields agree that this bower ought to be burned, and so start that process. Bosabrieln also realizes that there is something else he has not tried, so he casts a sending spell on Ekaterina. He senses the connection across a great distance, and asks, “Ransom note received. Are you safe? Do you know where you are?” Ekaterina replies, “Prison. Don’t know where. Kidnapped by witches? Hags? Threatened with ‘Chimeric Amphitheater’ and ‘concubine to the Khan of Nightmares.’ Suspect I’m bait for you.

Knowing that she is relatively safe, he takes the information he just learned and reports to the others. With no knowledge of these terms, Bosabrieln takes out his incense and ivory strips and prepares to cast legend lore again while the others stand guard.

View
The Crux of Eternity, Part 5

Freeday, Fireseek 21, 553 CY (51 AN)

Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, Peren, Torinn, as well as “Mad Dog” Eddie, Mike Dyer, and Renthiruhar, awaken in Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion. After breakfast, they set out on the road back to Sorgtomb.

Arriving in the city without incident, they plan on returning to the Sorgtomb Citadel to report their success to the Marquis d’Ennui. However, as they move through a downtown street, they are aware of movement and clanking from the nearby alleyways. A knight with glowing red eyes, clad in black mail emerges from the alley and throws a gout of black flame at their party, injuring the Shields of the Sorrowfell, discorporating Goruthrel, and killing several of the townsfolk on the street.

As the knight emerges, several mail-clad soldiers, all in an obvious state of decay, emerge with longbows and open fire.

Under heavy fire, Peren and Torinn move into melee with the knight — noting that the undead knight is accompanied by two of the mail-clad tieflings whom they encountered guarding the crater at Barony Aalsburg — while the rest of the Shields seek cover and begin fighting back with magic. Most of the bewildered townsfolk are too slow to evade the ambush and are cut down; the sole exceptions are two men who stepped out of a nearby inn just before the attack started and quickly retreat to the building. A guard manages to whistle for nearby guards before being slain by the soldiers, and two people who were walking on the street are caught in Bosabrieln’s hypnotic pattern, allowing the soldiers to slay them while they stand transfixed.

Despite the heavy losses on the street, the Shields quickly emerge victorious. Torinn fights the knight and the tieflings while Peren dashes around the battlefield, engaging in melee with the soldiers. The rest of the Shields and their allies take cover — with the exception of “Mad Dog” Eddie, who charges into melee with his bladed prosthetic hand — and eventually manage to wipe them out. Another tiefling emerges, clad in leather like the tiefling they saw yesterday, but is quickly dispatched, falling into mirror shards and scraps of flesh as the others do when slain.

With that done, the Shields check on the men inside the inn, learning that they are Jonas and Silas. Silas runs this inn, called The Creeping Spider, while Jonas is one of his regulars. Shortly thereafter, the guard arrives to inquire as to what happened, and Bosabrieln manages to explain their mission without escalating the situation. (The guard, for their part, has heard of the Shields of the Sorrowfell, even here in the Shadowfell.) The guard continues to examine the scene and move the bodies, also insisting on sticking around while the Shields take an hour to bandage their wounds and recover. Bosabrieln plays music while they rest, and manages to attract a surprisingly large crowd in The Creeping Spider (and curving around the nearby block, away from the recent urban warzone).

Eventually, the Shields are ready to go and are escorted to the Citadel. The Citadel, having been informed of their presence, sends them directly to the Marquis d’Ennui, where Bosabrieln presents the skull of St. Neluthien. The Marquis d’Ennui accepts it, and after asking a bit about the ambush the Shields of the Sorrowfell fought against (he says he will be on the lookout for additional mayhem caused by Morana the Forsaken’s remaining minions, seeking for the Crux of Eternity in Sorgtomb).

The Marquis d’Ennui goes on to say that he knew the Shields of the Sorrowfell by reputation, and suspected they were those fated to claim the Crux of Eternity. He asks if they believe their group is secure, and when Bosabrieln responds affirmatively, the Marquis says the Crux of Eternity is hidden below this Citadel, held within the Tomb of Sorg.

He can show them the way when they are ready.

Bosabrieln says they will return on the morrow, and so the Shields of the Sorrowfell are dismissed.

They find an alley a couple of blocks over and Bosabrieln casts Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion so they can sleep for the night.

The next morning, Starday, Fireseek 22, the Shields return to the Sorgtomb Citadel. Their arrival is expected, and so they are met by two robed, silent, pale, wizened elves who quietly lead them deeper into the Citadel until they find themselves in a room with two lifts. (It is apparent that the lift already down in the pit acts as a counterweight for the other lift.) A skeleton mans the winches and the elf gestures to the lift. The Shields board the lift and the skeleton winches them down into darkness.

A similar winch sits at the bottom, similarly manned by a skeleton. Ahead sits a heavy stone door with few markings. The Shields form ranks and push the door open.

They wander into a silent stone hallway that swiftly turns left. As the Shields turn left, they are led into another hallway. Off to the left is an alcove with two benches. Two pale elves with shaved heads, tattoos, and piercings, wearing studded leather and carrying spiked chains, sit within. They stand and bow, giving greeting. They ask if these travelers are supplicants, and Bosabrieln explains they seek the Crux of Eternity. The two elves — monks of this temple, evidently — indicate that they serve the Raven Queen, and that their reward for loyal service is death. As such, the only way one may take possession of the Crux and end the monks’ long vigil is by slaying the tomb’s guardians. Bosabrieln apologizes that it must be so, as they seem decent sorts, but he accepts. They take a few steps back and teleport to the end of the hallway — right where the hallway turns right — as Peren invokes a spell to turn invisible.

Bosabrieln hits them with confusion as the Shields begin advancing down the hall. Peren rushes down the hallway and sights down the righthand turn, noting two statues in alcoves (they resemble bearded men with hammers, dressed in the manner of a smith) as well as a small congregation of misshapen, humanoid things wandering toward the battle. He retreats and fills the hallway and the righthand turn with fire as he conjures a wall of fire. One of the elf monks shakes free of its stupor and leaps into the fray, but separated from its allies, the monk is quickly slain. As the Shields advance down the hallway, Peren drops the wall of fire, revealing the other monk, still confused and badly burned. He, too, is quickly slain.

When the fires drop, they also reveal that one of the statues is clutching its head and seems quite bewildered — it, too, was affected by Bosabrieln’s confusion spell and has been affected by the flames in the hallway. (The Shields strongly suspect the other statue is also an animate statue, but it remains still.) As they push into the hallway, they destroy the first statue while Bosabrieln forces the other out of its alcove with a dissonant whispers spell. When it moves and blocks the hall, Torinn steps forward to dismantle the creature with his axe. It manages to hit him with some effect that drastically slows him before it is destroyed, and as the Shields of the Sorrowfell begin to emerge into the next hallway, they are faced by the three misshapen humanoids Peren saw before, as well as more of the creatures that begin pouring into the hallway from side passages.

Of the creatures, some appear to be lumpy creatures, weeping black tears and bearing limbs ending in spikes. They seem to primarily attack by launching their spiked limbs at foes, spikes attached to ropy sinews which they then use to pull victims back to them. The others are creatures with multiple spiked arms that seem to try to grab and pierce their foes.

Despite these creatures’ unnatural movements and unrelenting attacks, they are quickly slain. They tear into “Mad Dog” Eddie and manage to menace the still-slowed Torinn, but a fireball and a few seconds of fighting make short work of the lot of them.

When the dust settles, Peren moves to examine the side passages. Apart from a couple of largely-empty rooms, he finds an unoccupied barracks with a bookshelf containing several holy books regarding the Raven Queen and Sorg. When he goes to pull them off the shelf, the copy of The Ballad of Fallen Sorg only budges slightly, activating a panel that slides to the side. Behind the panel is a small room containing several objects associated with smithing: a rusty nail, ancient tongs, and the like. In a place of prominence is a large iron key, about the size of Peren’s forearm. He takes it.

Reuniting with the others, they press deeper into the temple, finding a room divided in the center by a wall, which funnels occupants to a set of two doors: one to the left and one to the right. The left and right walls are covered with curtains, and examination reveals a door behind the curtain on the right side. As the Shields take position, they breach the door.

Inside are four elves, standing guard in what appears to be a storage room. When Peren and Torinn breach the door, Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln also end up investigating the room briefly, at least until Torinn conjures a fog cloud that obscures the room. While most of the others don’t have the space or the senses to get involved, Peren and Torinn manage to keep the room locked down while Bezaldooz throws spells while blinded. (At some point during the fray, Goruthrel is discorporated.) Quickly, the elves are dispatched and the room is still.

Tired from their battles, the Shields and their allies decide to gather in the storage room while Peren uses rope trick so that they may rest and bandage their wounds for an hour or so. There is not enough room for the shield guardian to accompany the group, so they

However, after roughly ten minutes, a group of three armor-clad knights evidently made out of flames, as well as two misshapen creatures with armor, scythes, and wings, enter the room to investigate. They are poised to destroy the shield guardian when the Shields, having witnessed this through the rope trick portal, begin dropping into the storage room.

The battle is short, and intense scrap as the Shields begin pushing back the defenders from the storage room. The winged creatures manage to cloud the minds of “Mad Dog” Eddie, Mike, and Torinn, allowing them an opportunity to glide out of the room while the three flaming knights cover their escape. When Peren gives chase, he finds another person in the hall, a mail-clad pale elf wielding a maul, evidently operating as some manner of priest. Peren flees him while contending with the hit-and-run tactics of the winged pursuers, and when Torinn shakes off the effect, he runs into the hall to face the priest. (Eddie and Mike spend most of the battle trapped in the storage room, frozen by some manner of magical effect.) Torinn manages to shake off some prayer the priest invokes before he and Peren finally slay him.

As the Shields spill out into the hallway, they take the fight to the winged defenders, managing to discorporate one before the other escapes through one of the unexplored doorways. Peren runs ahead and chooses the other doorway, finding that it is trapped with some sort of magical sigil that siphons some of his water, leaving him withered and enervated. Still, he runs into the next room, finding a massive chamber featuring a centrally-located anvil, bolted to the floor, as well as mostly-cold forge at the far end, containing only a few hot coals. At the far end of the room, there are doors to the left and right. Peren starts examining the room as the Shields slowly make their way inside, only to be ambushed by the remaining flying defender as it continues its hit-and-run tactics, emerging from behind a weapon rack.

As it moves into the hall to menace Bosabrieln, however, it is finally slain by blade and spell.

As the Shields make their way into the room and begin investigation, Peren has already opened the doors. He notes the door on the right is weighted such that it will close when no longer held, and that it leads into a hallway that swiftly curves out of sight. When the Shields have arrived, Bezaldooz retrieves a cold coal from the forge as the others examine the tools and such in the room.

Peren decides to use the lefthand door, finding the same manner of curvilinear hallway, and finds an object to wedge the door open. He then steps into the hallway, casts greater invisibility, and follows the hall to the end, opening the door to find an oblong chamber. At the far end is another door — presumably connecting to the curved hall on the righthand side — and against the wall is a raised dais upon which rests a large coffin.

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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.

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The Crux of Eternity, Part 3

Sunday, Fireseek 16, 553 CY (51 AN)

As Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, Peren, and Torinn stand in the airlock, awaiting its cycle to complete, they suddenly all feel a sense of vertigo.

They all suddenly find themselves somewhere else.

They are in an ornate meeting-hall, bearing a marble floors, walls of platinum, and windows of cut gems. More than ostentatiousness, this place gives a feeling of majesty while also being somehow soothing.

The Shields of the Sorrowfell find themselves without their accompanying shield guardian as they adjust to their surroundings. At the far end of the hall is a throne, upon which sits an old man in white robes, seven golden canaries fluttering around his head and shoulders. Next to him is an old woman, hunched and robed, wearing a headband with an eye emblazoned on the front. She has a book, The Ballad of Fallen Sorg, tucked under her arm.

As the Shields pay their respects, the man — whom they recognize as the same avatar of Bahamut they met in the Black Moor some five-and-a-half months ago — begins to speak.

“Hello, again,” he says. "How long has it been since we met in the Black Moor? Five, six months?

“My, how you lot have grown.

“Time is short, and I do not wish to delay you more than I already am.

“Everything matters, from the raging stars in their distant orbits to the minuscule thauma of the Tapestry. The details matter. Every person, every rock, every tree… they all matter. We are all bound by these chains of destiny — even the gods, although we are sometimes too prideful to admit it — but some destinies cast wider ripples in the pond.

“You have no doubt noticed that Fate’s plans for you seem… different than the plans it has for most mortals.

“You may have been set on your current path by the context of the world, but your teleology is written in the heavens. For this, I am truly sorry, as it means the cosmos keeps asking of you.

“Such is the burden of the Paragon Compact. Although, you shall soon find respite from your labors.”

The old woman looks at Bahamut and scoffs, saying, “Don’t tell them that before they war with The Blasphemer. It sounds ominous.” She turns back to the Shields. “He means that in the good way. She frowns. I think. Your destinies are bright, if hazy.”

Bahamut resumes, saying, "Regardless, the You-That-Is-To-Be calls to the You-That-Was. For the trials ahead, the Fates have seen fit to unfetter you, to initiate you into a larger world. When you return to yourselves, you will find yourself changed.

“Empowered.

“Fear not. You are still supported by fortune, and help is on the way.”

The vision fades, and the Shields find themselves back in the airlock, still-weary but emboldened. As they fully return, rainbow light emanates from Bosabrieln’s backpack, and a figure appears in the cramped airlock with them. The figure is cloaked and armored, wearing a horned helmet and carrying a metal shield emblazoned with an eye, as well as a glowing mace that resembles a scepter. In addition to its pack, the figure also has a sheathed sword at its side.

The Shields quickly realize that the figure is not wearing form-fitting armor, but is a metal man, no doubt some manner of warforged. Unlike most warforged bearing mechanical jaws, this one only has a caged hole where its mouth should be. It asks if they are preparing for battle, and what manner of creature they are hunting today. When the group answers, “undead,” its eyes glow a baleful red and its voice drops several octaves, gaining a hollow metallic quality as it says, “Excellent.” It asks if there are any civilians — the Shields aren’t sure — and it says to inform it if they encounter any. The warforged also notes that, should it fall, there are a dozen healing potions scatted throughout its pack, so they should grab them if they need them.

Bosabrieln asks what it is called, and it refers to itself as The Redemptorist. Noting their injuries, it lays hands on Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, and Peren to partially restore their vitality before the trials ahead.

By the time this brief interaction finishes, the airlock has fully vented poison gas into the room, and the airlock opens.

Before they can register the scene before them, they are immediately hit with a strange sound, a terrible cacophony of wails that fills the air and grates on their nerves. Torinn’s axe Drusilla immediately responds to it with excitement, projecting to all present that those are gods, and she will taste of them.

On either side of the now-open airlock are two alcoves, allowing access to some sort of service panel for the mechanical workings of the airlock. A short hallway extends before the Shields, leading into a large room. Corridors stretch off to the left and right, while several tables are set around the room. Eight robed figures, all humanoid but obviously some manner of desiccated undead, work around the tables, although they look as the airlock opens. In the middle of the room, sitting upon a stone throne, is a robed skeleton. It is standing as the Shields exit the airlock, and it gives greeting in a strange, shrill cadence. It wastes little time, however, the group feels a force move through all of them — they all manage to resist it, and the skeleton shrugs before battle is joined.

The skeleton is quickly dispatched as the fighters move into the room, and Bosabrieln quickly mesmerizes four of the robed undead on the right side of the room with a hypnotic pattern, so the Shields begin flooding into the left side of the room. One of the robed undead summons a black, void-filled gate to a distant plane, filling the right side of the room with cold and the sensation of writhing tendrils. Undaunted, the Shields begin moving out of the inky void, and the undead is quickly dispatched, forcing the gate to collapse.

The Shields destroy the undead one-by-one, and the room is still.

After a brief discussion as to where to go next — the passages to the left and right lead to additional airlocks, while the hallway straight ahead bears stairs leading down while also seeming to lead to the source of the noise — the Shields decide to move ahead. Moving down the stairs and into the next room, they find a massive, octagonal chamber. A desk is against the right wall, and another one of those robed undead stands at it. The desk bears several papers and mundane objects, although these are hardly what attracts the Shields’ attention. Floating throughout the room are three enormous creatures, resembling giant necrotic fetuses with dangling umbilical cords: the source of the unearthly cries. The Shields prepare for battle again.

The godlings’ unearthly wails seem to sap the Shields’ strength, but they continue into the room, undaunted. The robed undead falls first; although more resilient than the others, he is still easily cornered and dispatched. The undead godlings are more troublesome, as they seem to radiate cold and enervate with their cries, all the while summoning ghosts with their horrific presences. Still, the Shields pick them off one-by-one — with The Redemptorist slaying one with his glowing mace, and Torinn slaying the other two with his god-killing axe. They quickly find that the ghosts dissipate with their summoners, and so quickly learn to ignore the spectral forms in favor of the larger prey.

Although the fight is difficult, the Shields emerge victorious, and the cries cease to echo throughout the facility when the last of the malformed god-fetuses fall. The Shields continue onward, down a flight of stairs, and find a T-intersection that branches to the left, leading to another airlock, as well as a stone door straight ahead. The Redemptorist asks if anyone else feels the breeze emanating from the right, and they reply negatively; when they check, it is some manner of rotating panel, leading into an alcove with another airlock. They enter and replace the panel, with Peren using rope trick to grant them an hour’s rest. Once the hour is finished, the Shields emerge from the extraplanar space and head to the airlock to investigate.

Emerging on the other side, they find themselves in another hallway with stairs leading down. These lead into an octagonal chamber, the far wall of which seems to have partially collapsed into a cave. The scintillating, electroradiant colors of the prismatic sphere are visible through the cavern, giving this room a dim but sickly illumination. In the middle of the room, sitting atop a pile of gold and gems, is an enormous, skeletal dragon, scraps of tattered black flesh still clinging to its frame. As the Shields move into the hallway, it spits a stream of acid at them.

The undead dragon manages to douse them in acid a second time before they can flee the narrow hallway, scattering into the larger room to better position themselves. Although the dragon is mighty, and dishes out some grievous injuries, the Shields of the Sorrowfell are triumphant, and manage to fell the creature through force of arms and magic. After scooping its treasure pile into Peren’s portable hole, the Shields debate whether they ought to rest here — as they are all tired, bearing various minor wounds, and have forgotten many of their prepared spells — or move onward. (Among the money, they also find a scroll, as well as four potions. Examining the potions suggests they are two potions of storm giant strength and two potions of superior healing. The healing potions are quickly distributed and consumed, while Peren and The Redemptorist take the two strength potions.) The overwhelming vote is that it is likely not safe to remain here, particularly once they notice some leather-winged creature swooping outside. Since it has spotted them, they make their way to the airlock and activate it with haste.

While they are waiting, two of the leather-winged creatures swoop into the cave to investigate. The Shields note they are monstrous, a mix of bat, lizard, and cadaver, bearing cadaverous riders wielding scythes. While waiting for the airlock, the Shields move to engage the creatures. The riders seem to be able to emit some psychic blast that unbalances some among the Shields, and they also frequently dismount and attack with scythes before teleporting back to their mounts to resume their strafing run. Still, despite their growing fatigue, the Shields manage to slay the mounts and destroy their riders with great haste. When the airlock opens, the Shields are glad to enter it again.

Returning to the interior of the lich’s dungeon, the Shields move through the secret panel. After taking a moment to magically heal and distribute their precious potions of healing, they decide to head toward the door.

Upon opening the door, the Shields find another octagonal room bearing tables around the periphery. Two of the robed undead work here, and the far side of the room is dominated by some apparatus with a glowing sphere atop it, radiating with colors similar to those of the prismatic sphere. As Peren and Torinn step into the room, they see the figures on the far side — the tattered form of the ghost who fled the battle earlier in the day, and a tall, robed figure with an ornate staff and bearing a veil with crimson trim. Her robe is a deep black, and bears various runes upon, looking similar to the black robe Bezaldooz used to wear as a vampire, and having some resemblance to the white robe he currently wears.

This, then, must be Morana the Forsaken.

She has little time to react before battle is joined. Torinn moves into combat with one of the corpses while Peren blows the horn of Valhalla and summons almost a score of berserkers. The berserkers are unable to harm Morana the Forsaken with their axes, but they do quickly surround her, as does Torinn. She counterspells Bezaldooz’s lightning bolt as he enters, and then smites him with a killing word — which he also attempts to counterspell, but her sorcery is too potent — prompting his lifeless body to fall to the ground. The Redemptorist, having entered the room to deal with the other robed corpse, grabs diamonds from his pack and moves over to Bezaldooz’s body, while Torinn slashes at her with his axe while Peren invokes a silence spell to prevent her casting.

In seconds, it is done. As Torinn cleaves deeply into her with his axe, Bosabrieln speaks the same killing word in turn, and her body collapses into dust, leaving only her robe and staff behind.

The berserkers quickly sicken and die in the poison gas, and The Redemptorist invokes revivify to bring Bezaldooz back from the dead. (He recalls only a brief vision of a pale woman upon a throne, clad in raven feathers and telling him it is not yet his time.)

Injured and fatigued, the group decides they must rest, even though Morana may soon be returned to life near her phylactery. (All agree the engine must house it.) Peren uses his rod of security to create a safe place for the Shields to recover. They find themselves inside the woodland paradise created by the rod, and their injuries swiftly heal. Given several hours to recover, they agree to return to the lich’s lair.

Once Bosabrieln’s seeming drops, they also notice they all look different now that they have the gods’ blessing. The gradual assumption of symbolic forms.

Returning where they left, they begin searching through Morana’s papers in the hopes of finding some clue that would reveal her weaknesses. It sounds as though all of her experiments obliquely involve attempting to somehow resurrect her family. As the wish spell has been lost to Khaldun for centuries, she has been seeking a way to receive it or a power similar to it. (This is no doubt why she has sought the Crux of Eternity for so long.) As for the undead godlings in the euphemistically-termed “nursery,” she thinks if she can raise them to adulthood under her control, she might be able to express dominion over them, or otherwise unlock the secrets of divinity to make her desires manifest. Through the examination of the convergences, she hopes to do much the same, or possibly discover another world where things (or her own capabilities) are different.

As for the layout of the dungeon, in addition to the areas they have already explored, it sounds as though the airlock before this room leads to some manner of research library. Back where the Shields entered, the lefthand path leads to prison cells and some manner of “convergence laboratory,” while also leading to the castle above this dungeon. The righthand path leads to guest rooms and some “nightwalker experiment,” whereby some of Morana’s agents are attempting to use sacrifices and a sphere of annihilation to summon a nightwalker — a terrible undead creature of Negative Energy — under their control.

Based on how she references the sphere of annihilation, Bezaldooz suspects it might be enough to destroy her phylactery.

Heading back to the first room they explored, they cut right towards the airlock leading to the guest rooms. Once the airlock cycles and grants them access, they emerge in a hallway. To the left is a closed door. To the right is a portcullis, guarded by two of the robed undead, which leads to a room bearing a teleportation circle. Straight ahead is an octagonal room bearing more of the robed undead, as well as several unconscious humans, silver wire threaded through their skins. A jet black orb hovers among them: the sphere of annihilation the Shields of the Sorrowfell seek.

Battle is instantly joined as the robed undead notice the Shields’ approach. A robed figure opens the lefthand door, shouting profanity and warning those in the guest rooms that the Shields are here. Torinn sends his shield guardian to guard the door while Bezaldooz launches a fireball into the testing room. Realizing at the last moment that the six figures on the floor are still alive, he sculpts the spell around four of the six figures, which is the best he can do. He destroys most of the robed figures in the room, although one remains, and he kills two of the unconscious figures on the floor.

So it goes.

The robed figures by the portcullis manage to paralyze Peren and Torinn while Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln continue slinging spells, and The Redemptorist starts moving into the room. Meanwhile, in the guest rooms, another robed figure runs into the room, followed by a woman’s voice who shouts that they’re just wasting their time, as the Shields are going to kill them all. Two more figures also emerge from the guest rooms — one is a tall, slim, robed figure with a greatsword whose head has been replaced with a giant eyeball, and the other is a stout, armored figure with two short swords whose head has been replaced with a giant hand.

Bosabrieln attempts to lock down the room with a hypnotic pattern, but only succeeds in stunning the acolytes. The eye-headed being does something to the shield guardian, drawing forth its animating essence into its eye and causing it to collapse, inert. Peren throws off his mental confusion and slays the robed figures while beginning to move into the laboratory. Similarly shaken from his stupor, Torinn clambers over his shield guardian as Bezaldooz slings spells behind him, slaying the two acolytes and injuring the eye and hand creatures. Torinn quickly dispatches the eye and hand creatures while Peren and The Redemptorist make short work of the last robed undead.

Peren and The Redemptorist set about unspooling the silver wire from the prisoners and retrieving the black sapphire they appeared to be using as a focus (with Peren taking the strange necklace the main robed undead in this room wore) while Bezaldooz activates the portcullis and begins examining the teleportation circle sequence for this circle. Bosabrieln and Peren speak to the surviving cultist, a pale human woman with raven hair, her eyes strangely colored with yellow-green irises and black sclera. Introducing herself as Ormen Bel, she indicates she is with the Bleak Academy in Skull City, and she is well-acquainted with the Shields’ reputation — after all, they apparently fought Acererak long ago, and his initial interest in soul manipulation came about from his time trapped in the helm of seven deaths. As for Ormen, she was here to learn more about Morana the Forsaken’s soul manipulation methods, as well as some of her other research. Since the Shields are here, however, she expects that Morana is soon-to-be dead. (The Shields inform her they have already killed her.) She is pleased to take her leave without incident, although Torinn doesn’t feel particularly good about that prospect. There’s some arguing about whether or not she should help activate the teleportation circle, but they finally decide against it.

Meanwhile, The Redemptorist rouses the surviving sacrifices. All are relatively light-skinned humans. Divested of their equipment, there is still some indication as to their places of origin: one wears the tattered frock of a priest, one is slim and seems to bear the manner and clothing of a rogue or thief, and the other two wear leather clothing in strange styles. One of the latter two has a metal hand. The priest and rogue seem frightened, thinking the Shields are demons and they are in Hell, but the other two mostly seem annoyed and take their current circumstances in stride. (They indicate they were escorting someone “in the catacombs beneath Threed, researching Akashic points” when they were captured, and that they won’t get paid if they return without him.) It is clear they have been brought here through convergences, and originate from other planes of existence. Eventually, a plan is hatched: they will wrest control of the sphere of annihilation, give the bottled breath to the surviving sacrifices, walk back to the lich’s control room, destroy the phylactery-engine, and Bezaldooz will teleport them out. They will also take the two dead sacrifices in the hopes of resurrecting them, and once they have left this place, they can find passage to Sigil or somewhere to get these misplaced travelers back home.

Ormen Bel seems to be under the idea that she will use the teleportation circle to escape, but Torinn still isn’t thrilled about the idea. However, when Bezaldooz realizes that he cannot teleport everyone, The Redemptorist volunteers to stay behind, since he is just a projection of the snailstone anyway.

Particularly if he can kill the necromancer while he’s here.

It is agreed. They convince the victims to inhale the bottled breath while Peren drinks one of the potions of storm giant strength (The Redemptorist gives him the other one), and the party heads back to the lich’s chamber, with Peren ripping open airlocks the whole way. Once they arrive in the engine room, Bezaldooz directs the sphere of annihilation to the glowing sphere atop the apparatus.

It makes contact, and there is a flash of light followed by the glowing sphere being sucked into the sphere of annihilation. There is an awful lurching sound and sensation, and then a feeling of weightlessness before the Shields quickly realize that they are not floating, but falling. After a brief argument regarding where Bezaldooz should teleport them, he decides on the Market Square teleportation circle in Scandshar.

Once the Shields arrive in Scandshar, they are shortly thereafter enveloped by a rainbow light from Bosabrieln’s pack. (Bosie surmises this marks The Redemptorist’s return to the snailstone, no doubt caused by the flying castle crashing into its final destination.) They take their accompanying planar travelers into a secluded place so Bosabrieln may access Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion. Once inside, he sets about invoking resurrection upon the two dead planar travelers, using some diamonds Peren keeps in his portable hole. Although the priest and the thief still believe they are in Hell, once revived, the other two seem to be reacting a little better to their current circumstances.

Proper introductions are finally made. The priest is Father Heinfried Ohrsten, his wiry friend is Engelbrecht Veit, and the two resurrected veterans are Aldric and Durnhelm Teuber. As for the other two, clad in strange leathers, the one with the metal hand (who does most of the talking) is “Mad Dog” Eddie, while the other is named Mike Dyer. They all speak of distant realms and places, but seem to find some common understanding. (Even if Eddie decries most of what he sees as “Renn Faire bullshit,” whatever that means.)

With that complete, Shields settle down to rest for the night.

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