Chronicles of Khaldun: Crux of Eternity

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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The Crux of Eternity, Part 2

Freeday, Fireseek 14, 553 CY (51 AN)

As Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, Peren, and Torinn sit in The Addled Alchemist, considering their future plans, Peren receives a sending in his head, apparently from Tetposmeton. He says, “Your carpet of flying is in. You can come pick it up whenever you want.” Peren replies, “Be there soon. Might need a few more items.

Peren informs his comrades, and so they decide to teleport to Sorgforge and travel to Sigil to make contact with Tetposmeton. Arriving without incident, the Shields of the Sorrowfell find the day is uncharacteristically clear, allowing them to see the curving streets of Sigil with city incongruously surrounding them not only on the sides, but also above. (As per normal, cranium rats begin following them shortly after they arrive.) The Shields head from the Lower Ward to the Hive, where it appears Tetposmeton’s security is waiting for them. Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, and Peren enter, and Tetposmeton beckons them to his court.

He explains that he acquired a large carpet of flying, but it took him some effort to obtain. Bosabrieln and Peren also explain that they are looking to delve into a toxic, airless environment, and so need a solution for such things. Tetposmeton recommends Ioun stones for this purpose — iridescent spindles can sustain creatures without air — as well as bottled breath as backup. (Ioun stones can be knocked away from a creature’s head and deactivated, so it’s good to have something for emergencies.) All told, he’ll charge 150,000gp for the lot, although this can be paid in installments or favors instead. Bosabrieln can’t haggle him down — Tetposmeton is a very skilled negotiator — and after some deliberation, Peren decides to go for it. He buys the carpet of flying, and the Shields collectively purchase three iridescent spindle Ioun stones and five jars of bottled breath. (Torinn’s armor doubles as an environmental protection suit, so he doesn’t anticipate needing an Ioun stone.)

Having paid an exorbitant amount of gold, the Shields then head to The Silver Tankard to plan their next move. After deliberation, they decide to avoid the Cult of Vecna, instead trying to gain answers and access from Acererak’s necromancers in Skull City. After spending the night at The Silver Tankard — with Bosabrieln emerging from Aratha’s chambers in the morning apparently having polymorphed himself into the form of a woman — they head out into the city to find a tout and a potential way to access Acererak’s cult in Skull City. They eventually find a young boy — light-skinned and mostly human, although he has six fingers on each hand and a rat’s tail emerging from his breeches — who appears to be acting as a tout. When asked about Acererak, he asks which one they mean, as there are evidently multiple Acereraks spread across a multitude of worlds. (One of the vagaries of the planes, to be certain. There’s the Tomb of Horrors, the city of Moil, the Tomb of Annihilation… The tout says he gets his name from there, as he’s called Tom of Annihilation.) They explain they seek the Acererak of Khaldun. Tom says to wait here and he goes running into the Sigil crowds.

He returns, and after receiving 100gp payment, he reveals that Acererak’s cult resides in Skull City, a shantytown that grew around the Tomb of Horrors. A portal to Skull City is found in The Hive, specifically in an archway in the alley where they first encountered Olga. In order to access the portal, they must be holding a cambion’s skull as they approach, and the portal will open.

Peren then asks about the cranium rats that follow them as they travel through Sigil. Tom of Annihilation doesn’t know why that might happen, or why the rats were accompanied by a larger-than-normal mind flayer, but he seems freaked out enough that he takes his leave.

After Bosabrieln chides Peren for giving away too much information, they decide to split up to locate a cambion skull: Peren and Torinn will look for available bounties on potential cambions, while Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln will speak with their mechant contacts and see if they can acquire a cambion skull.

Peren and Torinn don’t find any cambion bounties, but do encounter a street preacher who claims the nature of reality is illusory; Torinn seems taken with this theory and engages the man in debate before Peren finally drags him away.

Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln head to the Market Ward to speak with Keboak the Mercane. On the way, they encounter heavily-armed guards trying to break up a dispute between a hulking demon and an equally-large greyish toad thing. The two creatures are yelling at each other in different languages. Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln decide to avoid this fight, although Bezaldooz intercedes to cast counterspell when the greyish toad thing unleashes a bead of force that might well have been a fireball. Arriving at Keboak’s shop, they find that he thinks he might be able to lay his hands on a cambion skull within the next couple of days, and says he will contact them if he sources one.

Reconvening at The Silver Tankard, the Shields decide to wait until they hear from Keboak.

The Shields only have to wait until Sunday, Fireseek 16, when they encounter Tom of Annihilation early in the morning, evidently here on behalf of Keboak. He does not stay long, just informing them that Keboak has the item they seek. The Shields all decide to visit him, and he produces the skull — a skull that looks roughly human, save for the two small, horn-like protrusions issuing from the forehead. He says it will run them about 3,000gp, and Peren ultimately trades his gauntlets of blood for it.

Armed with the skull, the Shields head to The Hive. Before entering the alley — now largely bereft of people, only containing a few, sleepy, homeless drunks — Bosabrieln casts seeming to make them appear as noble travelers. (The shield guardian appears as an ogre porter.) Their plan is to pose as aristocrats seeking thrills and potent magic as cover to inquire about Morana the Forsaken. With that, they approach the archway, skull in hand. The alley beyond the arch changes, revealing a decrepid settlement currently in nighttime. In the distance, a hilltop shaped like a skull looms over the town. The Shields step through the gate.

Arriving on the other side, they begin walking deeper into this wretched city, hoping to find some measure of life. They are quickly spotted by denizens who begin following — two leather-clad gnolls, a halfling skulking from rooftop-to-rooftop, and two black-robed figures, each carrying a staff. As they reach a ruined fountain, they are intercepted by a large goliath clad in only a mask and loincloth but carrying a wicked-looking greatsword. He demands their money or their life.

As usual, the Shields choose neither.

Battle is swift. The halfling assassin tries to rain death upon them from the rooftop, but finds himself pummeled by the shield guardian. Bosabrieln stuns the gnolls with a hypnotic pattern, while the others quickly advance and take out the masked leader. The robed figures begin to gesture and chant; while Bezaldooz halts one with a well-timed counterspell, the other spell activates, enervating a wide swath of this neighborhood and nearly killing the gnolls. The wizards then flee as the gnolls give chase on one of them, but both wizards manage to flee the battle by some manner of teleportation.

With that, the Shields quickly defeat the gnolls and the wounded and hiding halfling. Peren takes one of the gnoll’s leather jackets while the others largely ignore the pile of greasy copper and electrum coins the thugs carried.

Deciding they don’t want to traverse Skull City and be assaulted every few minutes for their coin, Bosie again casts seeming to appear as rough-and-tumble mercenaries (with the shield guardian as a hill giant porter). They then head toward the center of the city, seeking an inn.

Finding a dingy tavern called The Drunken Cunt, they enter, finding a few desperate patrons and a tiefling barmaid, scantily-clad in leather. She serves drinks and answers a handful of questions; they learn this city is largely the refuge of criminals and thieves, but the core power here is the Bleak Academy, necromancers who came here to learn the art of necromancy. They are largely cultists to Acererak there, but will probably take any students serious in necromancy. Mistress Ferranifer is the headmistress of the place, and what nominally passes for government here.

However, the tiefling woman seems very doubtful that the Shields will survive Skull City, as they seem to be out-of-town rubes with no real knowledge of how this city works. She propositions the group, and while Bosie pays to sleep with her, he doesn’t collect — the Shields ultimately decide they need to plan further, so they leave the tavern and find an alley to summon Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion.

Once there, Bosabrieln casts legend lore three times to learn further information about the mysterious Mistress Ferranifer. He learns the following:

  • Headmistress of the Bleak Academy and ruler of Skull City, Ferranifer seeks the blood of the living to survive.
  • A potent necromancer and master plotter, the Headmistress is every bit as cunning as Acererak himself.
  • Ferranifer has grown increasingly reclusive of late, withdrawing to her crypt in the midst of a terrible and deadly labyrinth.

After further discussion, the Shields decide that an ill-considered delve into the Bleak Academy to try to gather information is probably too complicated, and they already have all they need to breach Morana’s lair. They rest an hour and then leave the mansion. Bezaldooz collects a vial of dirt from the ground here, lest they decide to return, and then uses the dirt from the Barony Aalsburg crater to teleport there.

The Shields arrive in the daylight of late morning — quite incongruous from the night-shrouded skies of Skull City — but find that the scintillating colors of the prismatic sphere are illuminating two guards. They appear to be armored tieflings, both identical twins carrying glaives. Strangely, Bezaldooz and Peren think the recall them, although they do not quite remember where.

Torinn, however, recalls why they seem so familiar. They both look exactly like the tiefling boatman in the Black Moor, the one who mans the wharf between the swamp and the Terrible Old Man’s hut.

He does not have time to relay this to the others, however. The tieflings immediately begin asking questions, and Bosabrieln feigns that they arrived in the wrong place. (Torinn begins asking the tieflings philosophical questions of the sort he heard yesterday in Sigil.) One tiefling orders the other to fetch help so they can sort this out. The tiefling heads into the village.

While the other tiefling still seems confused and increasingly agitated. He tells the Shields to keep calm, that he just needs to get someone to sort this out. The other tiefling returns to the crater with a ghoul, and the pair keep walking towards the prismatic sphere.

All at once, the Shields realize that they are going to have to stop these creatures from entering the portal to Morana’s flying castle, and while their bluff worked, it will not hold if anyone knowledgeable returns.

As Bosabrieln casts a hypnotic pattern to stop this tragedy in progress, the ghoul slips into the prismatic sphere, already out of sight. Bezaldooz moves, aligning himself to catch both tieflings with a lightning bolt. It does not kill them, instead shocking the one from his stupor and allowing him to flee past the prismatic sphere.

The other tiefling drops his glaive and begins crying.

This is already not going to plan.

There is a brief deliberation, but the Shields decide this tiefling must probably be killed despite his sorry state. When they finally slay him, he collapses into mirror shards and scraps of flesh that resemble something like onion skin.

They organize and begin slinging spells at the prismatic sphere, using one of their bottles of bottled breath as necessary. Peren runs to grab a zombie, dragging the struggling undead back to the crater as he and Torinn remove its limbs so that it may be used as a key without fighting back. Within seconds, they breach the prismatic sphere, finding the stone menhir beyond. The runic gate is open, revealing a room beyond. The ghoul and tiefling stand before a strange, cylindrical door, no doubt one of the airlocks the skull lord mentioned. To the right of the door stands a lever, currently in the “down” position.

From the walls, the sound of grinding machinery can be heard.

The undead and the tiefling appear to be waiting.

The Shields are somewhat confused by this display, but they barge through the portal, destroying the ghoul and stunning the tiefling.

Before they can determine what to do next, dark, wispy, humanoid forms filter through the ceiling and begin touching them with icy, spectral limbs. All told, twenty of the wretched things comb filtering into the room, eyes burning with hate, their touches sucking the vitality out of those they caress. While some of the Shields are weakened, Bosabrieln collapses, unconscious from the onslaught. Although Torinn is untouched, it looks grim for the others before Bezaldooz unleashes a sunburst, discorporating most of the ghosts and reducing the tiefling to mirror shards and scraps of strange flesh. The last ghost manages to flee through the wall before being discorporated. The Shields manage to stabilize Bosie and pour a potion of healing down her throat. She stands and begins casting healing magics as the cylindrical door slides open.

Beyond is a ten-foot-diameter chamber that seems as though it rotates. The click of machinery in the walls is regular and does not grind and churn in the same sound as before.

It sounds almost like a timer.

The Shields have time to regroup and enter the airlock, but there is no way to activate it. They try to mage hand the lever, but to no avail. They must only wait.

Finally, after perhaps half a minute, the walls rotate again, closing the room. The machinery resumes its churning, and a vent in the walls begins hissing as it begins siphoning the air and replacing it with poison gas…

View
The Crux of Eternity, Part 1

Waterday, Fireseek 12, 553 CY (51 AN)

As Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, Peren, and Torinn stand outside the Hall of Champions in Argent, finishing their conversation with Bryant, a shimmering, rainbow-colored light emanates from Bosabrieln’s backpack. In the midst of this light, two figures appear. One is muscular with skin in earthen tones but covered in a strange latticework of patterns. His features bear a measure of the etherealness of the fey. He wears little armor and carries a greataxe. The other is largely unseen beneath heavy armor and a helm fashioned from a stag’s skull. Of the latter, only his hair is visible, which is covered in ash.

The Shields of the Sorrowfell immediately pull their weapons and prepare for battle, knowing that the last time figures emerged from the snailstone, a death-goddess stood astride the world. The strangers prepare likewise, not knowing why the others are ready for battle.

When it is clear nothing untoward is happening, they finally make introductions. The one of earthen skin, evidently one of the genasi, introduces himself as Roxador, a somewhat taciturn wanderer. The other — an eladrin by his mode of speech, and his features once he removes his helm — is a much more jolly fellow by the name of Gwythir. (It seems as if he is currently in his autumn season.) The Shields of the Sorrowfell inform them of the current situation, that they seek an infamous lich by the name of Morana the Forsaken. Bryant takes his leave and the others go to the tavern to drink.

Once there, among the torrian barkeep and the orcs sitting and drinking, they discuss matters as Gwythir orders a feast to share with everyone. (Roxador keeps stealing specifically from Gwythir’s plate despite his persistent claim that he and Gwythir aren’t friends.) Bezaldooz, Peren, and Torinn catch them up on current events. (Obash, for his part, is also caught up on current events as he has not had much time to talk with the Shields since they left on various errands.) Meanwhile, Bosabrieln meditates in the corner, casting spells for additional information on their target. He sends a sending to the Headmaster, saying, “Seeking information on Morana the Forsaken and her castle, we can come to you if need be. Give the word.” The Headmaster replies, “I’ll see what I can do.

Bosabrieln then casts legend lore for additional details about Morana the Forsaken, scion of Barony Aalsburg. He first asks about the location of her flying castle, he learns, “Loosed of its moorings, the castle moves across the Sorrowfell Plains, between Material and Ethereal.” A second casting reveals, “Fed by souls, the engine that powers its flight transmits it across planes and provides proof against sorcery through the protection of the Bifrost.” A third casting, asking about Morana herself, reveals, “Her desire for death is so great she powers her edifice with the very thing that sustains her.

With Bosabrieln having spent roughly a half-hour casting legend lore, he returns to the table and explains what he has learned. The Shields decide to rest for the rest of the day so that Bosabrieln may again prepare his spells and await the Headmaster’s next communication. Peren and Torinn fall into their standard bets about arm wrestling, and when Gwythir suggests Roxador ought to join their mirth, he agrees. The genasi shouts and invokes his rage when arm wrestling Torinn, displaying a fearsome strength that is a match for Torinn’s own. Peren is also surprised when he asks Gwythir if he has a sun sword, and the eladrin reveals that he does, conjuring it and casting its light throughout the bar.

They do not wait long. It’s early afternoon when Bosabrieln receives a sending from the Headmaster, summoning the Shields to Duchy Jepson. The Shields and their companions travel by teleportation circle to Duchy Jepson, and then join the Headmaster at the Wizard’s Tower. He gives greeting, initially asking about Gwythir and Roxador (and he is surprised to learn that the Shields have a legendary snailstone).

He has not learned much in the intervening time, but notes that Barony Aalsburg was alleged to be cursed by the gods, although current information suggests the lich Morana the Forsaken was instead responsible. He confirms that which was learned in the legend lore, indicating that it would require enormous power to keep the castle aloft and able to travel between plane. Assuming she somehow tied her phylactery into it, it would require a steady stream of souls to power. (Where does she get the souls? Why aren’t there mass abductions across the Sorrowfell Plains? The Headmaster doesn’t know, although he suspects she might be acquiring souls from extraplanar sources, depending on how often she must feed the phylactery-engine.)

They have been puzzling over the line regarding “the protection of the Bifrost” for much the morning, although Goruthrel helpfully suggested that it might be metaphorical. The Headmaster notes that, if it is indeed a metaphor, it might represent a prismatic sphere. A mighty expression of magic, prismatic walls and prismatic spheres require mastery of the Ninth Circle of magic to conjure and are usually only stable for about ten minutes. To keep one as a permanent ward would require enormous amounts of energy.

Given how little information they currently have, the group suspects they must travel to Barony Aalsburg next to determine further information. The Headmaster says he will continue to perform research, and the Shields and their allies rest at the Addled Alchemist for the evening. Bosabrieln plays to a packed house, and Gwythir has had plenty of time to observe the bard and note his sorrow. Between sets, Gwythir asks Bosabrieln about his troubles, but Bosabrieln does not elaborate much beyond the fact that he recently lost someone close to him.

The next day, over breakfast, the Shields and their allies discuss their plans. (Knowing that they prepare for battle, Gwythir has transitioned to his summer season.) Bezaldooz borrows a map and Peren’s crystal ball to perform a scrying upon Barony Aalsburg. He sees largely what they might have expected: crumbling villages sprawling out from a central, walled town, evidently once part of a motte-and-bailey castle before it fell to ruin. Where a stone keep would once have stood upon the motte, the hill bears no castle, and the hill appears to be planed flat. (Indeed, rather than a plateau, Bezaldooz suspects there is a bowl-shaped impression in the hill where once the castle stood.) A light snow clings to the ground, and the place swarms with shambling dead. His vantage point is somewhat distant from the town, so he also notices a simple hut or tent made of grasses. The lone occupant appears to be a dark-skinned elf, her head shaved and covered in tattoos, sitting cross-legged in meditation. He cannot determine if she is friend or foe, but she appears uninjured. Since the others are ready to go, he casts teleport while scrying on the scene so that he has the best chance of landing on his target.

Much to their chagrin, they emerge in the middle of a snow-dusted plain. They quickly surmise they are in the middle of nowhere, with minimal features to determine their distance from Barony Aalsburg. Gwythir summons a griffon — no doubt kin to the fey, as its antlers and strange coloration suggest — as a steed and scout, and the group begins marching south.

Their travel is unremarkable for three hours, at which time they see figures on the horizon. They finally grow close enough for Gwythir to shout greeting in the fourth hour. The figures hesitate before approaching; Peren tries to stalk low to the ground and move in a wide circle around the approaching figures while the others continue to walk forward. Soon enough, the figures resolve into a small warband of orcs: three soldiers and one eyepatch-wearing orc, evidently some manner of priest. Although the orcs seem displeased to encounter such a large number of elfin humanoids, they quickly surmise that they are outmanned and deign to give answer. When questioned about Barony Aalsburg, they say (with no small amount of fear) that the Dead City lies several days to the south, and while the orcs fear nothing, no orc will sensibly approach. They warn the Shields that it is their lives to lose if they wish to travel there. The Shields thank them and continue onward.

As the orcs leave, Peren emerges, and speaking Orcish, cracks a joke about elven magic, spitting on the ground as Obash does. The one-eyed orc looks at him with no small amount of amusement, as he recognizes an elf who has learned the ways of orc-kind.

When the orcs have passed beyond the Shields, they agree to attempt teleport a second time so they can actually reach it sometime today. Bezaldooz invokes the syllables of teleport, and they successfully arrive outside Barony Aalsburg, just behind the elf’s hut.

When they give greeting, she rises from her repose, somewhat surprised that such a large group of travelers appeared behind her without a sound. In the light, she is more easily-seen: thin and wiry, she wears a simple vest and baggy pants with cloth wrapped around her hands and feet, a necklace of prayer beads her only ornamentation. Suspecting she is trained as a monk, the Shields explain that they arrived here through a teleport spell, as they seek to cleanse this place. She does not think that is possible, as the dead here are endless, but she appreciates that someone might try.

They make introductions. She indicates she is Ellalas, and she is here as a meditation. (“I fight against the undead as a meditation upon sin. In the light, when things are pleasant, we are untroubled by our sins. In the dark, however, our thoughts are troubled, and we must steel ourselves against our worst impulses. This process is unending, as is the battle in this cursed place.”) They explain their mission, and ask if she wishes to accompany them. She agrees. So that they may better approach Barony Aalsburg through stealth, they deign to leave the shield guardian and the griffon behind.

They march toward Barony Aalsburg, trying to keep out of sight of the hungry dead. They are largely successful, noticing a handful of things as they approach. For the most part, the dead shuffle about, although a few act in mockery of their lives: attempting to sweep a stoop with improvised tools, or moving the same few stones in a field over and over again. Additionally, as they approach, it is clear the motte has a depression at its top, and a shimmering light can be seen within. (It would no doubt be more visible at night, but it looks like light reflecting upon waves, or perhaps a shimmering rainbow color.)

As they slink through the dead town, they see one more strange sight: a skeleton with three heads, clad in plate mail, patrolling the town. Its three heads seem to be muttering among themselves, complaining about being stuck here on patrol. One of the heads glances toward the alley in which the Shields are hiding, but they keep silent and it does not notice their presence.

Briefly conferring, they think they recognize the creature as a rumored necromantic construct called a “skull lord.” Often used as the general of an undead army, they originated when Vecna gathered up his traitorous lieutenants and bound them in threes, cursing them to fight amongst themselves forever. Other necromancers have subsequently determined the secret to their creation, and Bosabrieln strongly suspects that this skull lord comprises the three traitorous brothers who slew Morana the Forsaken’s family centuries ago.

The Shields and their allies silently make their way up the overgrown road ascending the hill until they arrive at the lip of the crater. It appears as though an area maybe 100-200 feet in diameter were scooped out of the earth. In the middle of the crater stands a majestic and fearsome figure, a massive red-skinned, scaled humanoid with horns, wings, and a tail. It stands sentinel, holding a mace in its massive hands. Maybe thirty or so yards behind it stands the source of the light, a thirty-foot-diameter sphere of scintillating colors, casting the immediate area in some eldritch, electroradiant glow. The sphere appears partially-recessed in the ground, but most of it stands above ground.

The Shields are fairly certain they have the necessary magics to bring the prismatic sphere down — although nobody can generate wind to bring down the orange layer, Peren thinks he can improvise — but they probably need to take down the fiendish guardian first. With nothing further to be done, they charge over the top of the crater lip and begin their descent.

When the fiend sees them, it steels itself for battle. Ellalas, Gwythir, Peren, and Roxador rush forward as Bezaldooz drops his staff to activate his portal gun, opening a gateway between the lip of the crater and a few feet away from the fiend. (Gwythir also mentally summons the griffon to join him in battle, although it will likely take at least a minute to approach.) Torinn jumps into the portal, but is stunned as he reaches the other side and finds a wave of fear wash over him at the sight of the blasphemy before him. Bosabrieln casts a glamour upon the fiend, but it seems unaffected. As Gwythir, Peren, and Roxador approach, Roxador throws javelins at the creature — one of which turns into a bolt of lightning that strikes the beast — and those seem to have some effect. Peren zips forward to strike it with his swords before retreating to a safe distance, somewhat close to Gwythir. The fiend then invokes a circle of flame that appears around it, obscuring it from view and trapping Torinn inside the circle with it. Torinn retreats through the portal, leaving the fiendish creature time to prepare.

Roxador is the one to respond, screaming and charging heedlessly through the circle of flame. There is the sound of a brief scuffle and the curtain of fire falls, revealing Roxador cutting into the creature — now having fallen on the ground and desperately trying to block Roxador’s blows with its mace — again and again with his axe.

Ellalas, Gwythir, and Peren fall upon the beast then, raining blows upon it with blade, sun sword, and bare hands. It struggles to rise beneath their blows, its voice echoing in their minds and offering an opportunity for parley; when it is clear the Shields and their allies have no intention to speak with this creature, it begins savaging Gwythir, who is able to block most of its blows save a whip from its tail. Ellalas knocks the mace out of its hand, and it attempts to flee, but a final volley of spells from Bezaldooz finally discorporates it. Its mace disappears when it does.

With that, the assembled group begins investigating the prismatic sphere. As they start to hear commotion from the ruined town, they move quickly, casting spells to peel back the seven layers of the prismatic sphere. (For the orange layer, Peren uses his boots of speed to run around the barrier, using the wind in his wake to open the layer.) The griffon arrives as they pelt the barrier with spells. When the barrier finally falls, it reveals an indentation in the ground. In the middle of this indentation stands a large menhir, its face bearing a circle of runes. Bezaldooz notes the runes seem to mark this as a portal that only opens for those “both living and dead.”

As they debate the best way to breach this portal (with the simplest option seeming to involve grabbing a random zombie and shoving it through the portal), the source of the commotion in the town becomes apparent — the armored, three-skulled skeleton approaches the lip of the crater, along with a small army of skeletons and zombies. The skeletal warlord implies that they are doomed and cannot breach the castle, while the Shields attempt to goad him into the crater. As the army prepares to move, Bezaldooz conjures a meteor swarm to destroy the approaching horde. The skeletal warlord, standing at the front, is the only one to survive the onslaught, rolling out of the cloud of dust that arises when the meteors land. One of its heads seems to realize that the Shields mean to use him as a key to open the gate, and so he flees. The Shields and their allies give chase, with Gwythir sending the griffon after him. The griffon swoops upon the skeletal warlord, scooping him in its claws. The skeletal warlord, in turn, strikes the griffon with his skeletal staff, discorporating it. As he tumbles to the ground, Peren falls upon him, but the warlord casts a spell and disappears.

As the Shields and their allies move after him, searching the immediate area for him, they are frustrated to find that he cannot be found. Then they look back to the crater and notice the shimmering light has returned. (It was probably only down for about ten minutes.) Finally, the rainbow light issues forth from Bosabrieln’s backpack, and Gwythir and Roxador disappear.

The Shields and Ellalas are disappointed, as that could have gone better, but now they have time to perform a little more research. The dead largely seem to be avoiding the northern side of town where the hill lies, and the fiend does not return, so Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, Ellalas, Peren, and Torinn decide to camp in the crater for the night, to return to this problem in the morning. Bezaldooz takes a bit of dirt from the crater so that future transit will be easier, and Bosabrieln conjures Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion. The quintet retires for the night.

The night is relatively uneventful (apart from Torinn asking for a demonstration from Ellalas to break a table with her hand, followed by him attempting to do the same in his room), and the crater is still abandoned on the morning of Freeday, Fireseek 14. The Shields decide to capture the skull lord, break the prismatic sphere, and use him to open the portal to Morana’s castle. So, they get to work.

Peren is the one to scout and attempt to find the skull lord. While invisible, he successfully does so, seeing it keep its vigil, but is surprised when it apparently heard his location, as it turns and invokes a finger of death upon him. He survives the blast of necrotic energy, but this begins a game of cat-and-mouse through the ruins. While Peren keeps the skull lord busy, the others have retrieved a zombie, severed its limbs so it can no longer attack, and begin dragging it back to the prismatic sphere. However, given the sound of commotion, they decide to help Peren against the skull lord, marching back into town. Having spoken with him yesterday, they are aware that the three heads disagree on matters, so Bosabrieln and Torinn begin shouting taunts designed to get the heads fighting. After the better part of an hour, and a small host of slain ghouls, skeletons, and zombies, the Shields manage to corner the skull lord and convince him they can help restore him to life if he assists them against Morana the Forsaken.

Although it takes the Shields a while to pull the information out of his arguing heads, he notes that only undead can breach the portal. (It seems as if Morana allows any of the undead in her employ to freely bypass the prismatic sphere, so they may come and go as they please.) The dungeons beneath her flying castle are not terribly extensive, but to keep the living out, most of the hallways are flooded with poison gas. There are airlocks to keep the gas inside the hallways; passages connecting to the outside or for receiving visitors are not flooded with gas, but the arcane laboratories comprising most of the dungeon space certainly are. Bosabrieln inquires about the visitors, but the skull lord knows little about them, only knowing that there is an internal teleportation circle for receiving visitors. Outside the dungeon, the castle is home to several sentinels to repel attacks from the surface, including mounted flying cavalry and a dracolich. The permanent prismatic sphere around the flying castle is connected to the one guarding the barrier, so she definitely noticed that it fell.

Realizing that they currently have no way to navigate hallways full of suffocating, toxic gas, the Shields realize they have to perform more preparations before making a second attempt on the castle. They also realize that they cannot trust the skull lord with the information they have given him in their inquiries, so they quickly slay him, and Bezaldooz destroys his remains with two disintegrate spells.

Certain that they must perform more research and preparations, the Shields teleport back to Ellalas’ camp to retrieve the shield guardian. She says she will stay here, and the Shields teleport back to Duchy Jepson. They approach the Wizard’s Tower to inform the Headmaster of their progress, and he says he will continue his research. They then acquire rooms at the Addled Alchemist to plot their next move. They consider whether to blow the airlocks and vent the place, or to acquire gear to navigate the toxic maze. Bosabrieln also thinks the key to infiltrating the dungeon is to pose as visitors; he casts another legend lore spell to inquire what sorts of visitors Castle Aalsburg receives, learning, “They are many, but commonly the servants of the Crimson Devourer and Servants of the Maimed God.” Bosabrieln suspects the “crimson devourer” is none other than Acererak, sometimes called the Devourer and once known as Acererak of the Scarlet Robes, while the Maimed God is no doubt Vecna, the undead god of secrets.

View
Recognition of a Man, Part 2

Moonday, Fireseek 10, 553 CY (51 AN)

After a brief conversation, Aratha and Bosabrieln retire to Aratha’s chambers while Bezaldooz, Peren, and Torinn continue to drink and talk briefly before retiring to their own rooms.

The next morning, the Shields of the Sorrowfell prepare to travel to Dominia. Olga and Vata meet them at The Silver Tankard. Before they leave, a small fiendish winged creature with a scorpion tail flies into The Silver Tankard, carrying a bag almost as large as it is. It looks around and its eyes settle on Peren. It asks if he is, indeed, Peren, and says it has a delivery from Tetposmeton. He happened to have a Daern’s instant fortress on hand; waiting for a carpet of flying will take a little bit longer, but Peren should check back with Tetposmeton in a couple of days. He’s charging 10,000gp for Daern’s instant fortress, although if Peren can’t pay, there’s a contract he can sign.

Peren deigns to pay.

With that bit of business complete, the Shields and their companions prepare to leave Sigil. Olga recommends setting out for Dominia from a mundane port, so they head to the Lower Ward, and from there, to Sorgforge. They gain audience with representatives from the Ulyan Merchant Company to acquire a keelboat — the merchant families of Sorgforge still owe them for their discretion in handling the whole business surrounding Demise — and head to the docks. To make room for the shield guardian, they store the construct in Peren’s portable hole for the journey. Vata pilots the boat, Olga acts as navigator.

As they leave the port of Sorgforge upon a choppy sea, Olga begins chanting quietly, watching their trajectory. Before long, a fog rises out of the sea, and they find themselves in this thick mist for an undetermined period of time. They eventually emerge on an open ocean before a small island, largely comprising a forested plateau with sheer cliffs. Vata sails for that island.

They arrive at a rocky beach. The smell and mountain of refuse suggests this is a garbage dump, and a small, winding path leads up the cliffside. They quickly review the plan before disembarking:

  • Bosabrieln will cast seeming, giving the illusion of the group being shipwrecked sailors. (Bosabrieln specifically appears as a girl masquerading as a young man, in case he can better seduce Dr. Daclaud Heinfroth in that guise.)
  • They will approach the asylum, playing the potential infiltration by ear as they don’t fully know what to expect.
  • If something goes wrong, they will attempt to signal Olga to leave.
  • If Olga hasn’t heard back from them in a day, she and Vata are to leave the island.
  • If Dr. Heinfroth learns there are infiltrators on the island, he will likely close the borders. Then, nobody can leave unless they convince him to open the borders or kill him.

With that, the Shields head up the path into the forest.

As it appears the island is no more than a few miles across, they expect it won’t take more than an hour or two to reach the asylum, depending on where it is. As they ascend the path and slip into the deep woods, they see a distant curl of smoke, no doubt from a cook-fire or chimney. As they walk, they hear the distant howls of wolves somewhere in the forest.

The howls slowly approach as they walk.

Before long, the Shields hear growling nearby. Shapes move through the woods — two enormous wolves, easily twice the size of a man, alongside two normal-sized wolves. Torinn recommends they act concerned and try to run, lest they’re being watched, but Peren draws his swords and prepares for battle. While Peren manages to slay one of the large wolves, Bezaldooz strafes the surviving wolves with magic missiles, killing the other three. Bosabrieln and Torinn try their best to look shocked at the proceedings.

As the Shields recover, two robed and masked figures arrive, jogging down the path. Their robes are a dull grey, and their masks are featureless white clay masks with red smiles painted upon them. One speaks — they are evidently orderlies from Dr. Heinfroth’s Home for the Mentally Ill, and they came when they heard the commotion from the wolves. Bosabrieln repeats their cover story as shipwreck survivors, and the orderlies say they will get them to the asylum.

On the walk there, the orderlies answer a couple of questions:

  • There is a ship that comes around to deliver supplies and patients to the island, and it is expected in a couple of days, so the survivors will be able to leave then.
  • The orderlies wear the outfits due to Dr. Heinfroth’s program of treatment; he would have to fully explain it to them.
  • The inhabitants of Dominia have never been able to remove the wolves from the woods of the island, but the orderlies don’t have much trouble with them.

When they arrive at the asylum, there are two orderlies standing guard by the main gate. A handful of patients, also in the same robes and masks as the orderlies, lounge by a badminton net, while another group set about gardening. Their movements are slow, deliberate, and robotic — the Shields suspect they may be zombies under their concealing clothes.

The Shields are led through the main entrance, through a featureless foyer, and into a central gathering area. It seems uncomfortably hot here due to the roaring fire in the fireplace set in the middle of the area. A patient sits, staring into the fire, while another mops the floor nearby. Several doors exit this gathering area, but they are led to the first on the left, evidently a guest room. (It’s more spartan than a barracks, featuring only some meager bunks.) They are told to wait there for a moment while Dr. Heinfroth is informed of their arrival. Torinn feigns nervousness, but the orderlies try to reassure him that all is well. One of the orderlies returns with a set of robes and masks, and gives them a few minutes to dress, saying that Dr. Heinfroth will meet them for lunch.

Once alone, they briefly discuss their options, but stick to the general, “let’s see where this thing goes.”

In about fifteen minutes, one of the orderlies knocks at their door, then leads them north to the dining hall. There is a long table complete with several chairs. The candelabra looks like a large, mechanical spider, and the way the shadows play from its light give the impression of a web. Momentarily, six servants — it is difficult to tell if they are patients or orderlies under the robes and masks — arrive with food and drink. It is simple fare: trays of breads, fruits, cheeses, and vegetables, and two pitchers of water. The servants then slink to the sides of the room, heads bowed. There is a pause before a figure throws open the doors and dramatically enters the room. With piercing eyes, a slate-grey suit, and bushy black beard, the imposing figure can only be Dr. Heinfroth.

After he makes introductions, they start eating. (Heinfroth has one of the attending servants bring a garlic press and add more garlic to his own food.) Peren and Torinn continue to feign nervousness, while Bezaldooz eats and Bosabrieln pretends to eat, slipping the food down his blouse. During the course of conversation, Heinfroth answers a few questions, namely about the robes. He treats some violent patients here, so he tries to keep things very calm and uniform. He dresses the patients and orderlies in the same uniform so as to avoid the patients seeing someone whom they perceive as being above them in station — all are on the same level here. The only exception is himself and the other doctors, whom he feels must be seen as authority figures by the staff.

During the conversation, Heinfroth remarks on the fact that Bosabrieln appears to not be eating, after which he starts to genuinely consume the food. Heinfroth also tells them the Mercy ought to return in a couple of days, whereupon he will see to their return to the mainland. When he inquires about the wreck, they explain they set sail from Sorgforge. The doctor is unfamiliar with Sorgforge, although remarks he knows Sorgtomb.

During the conversation, Peren has been waiting for an opening when he can strike. (He has a moment of doubt when Dr. Heinfroth speaks of his patients, wondering if the doctor is, in fact, just a sin-eater trying to help his patients find mental peace. Nonetheless, he decides to complete his plan.) He finds it when Bezaldooz asks about wine with dinner; Heinfroth again notes that he tries to avoid anything too exciting for the patients, although he might see if he has a bottle of something once dinner is finished. When Dr. Heinfroth leans over to conspiratorially speak with Bezaldooz on the subject of wine, Peren grips his swords and stands suddenly, striking out at Dr. Heinfroth.

All hell breaks loose. There is little room the maneuver in the close quarters, but Torinn leaps across the table to further assault Dr. Heinfroth. He starts pinwheeling back, only to quickly fall before the onslaught of blades — surprisingly, he does not collapse, instead dissipating into a mist. Two of the robed figures reveal themselves as orderlies, both superhumanly strong, with fangs bared. They leap into the fray to defend Heinfroth, but Bosabrieln halts their advance with a suggestion to stand guard while Bezaldooz illuminates the room with a sunburst. The two orderlies collapse into a greasy ash while the other four robed figures collapse, horrific burns flashing across their bodies. Torinn manages to keep the mist-that-was-Heinfroth cornered with his magic axe before Bosabrieln casts another suggestion to get the Heinfroth-mist to lead them to their quarry, Bryant Goldenear. The mist seeps out of the room.

As they follow it into the common area, the mopping robed figure gives them a nod while the Heinfroth-mist leads them to a door to the west. They open it to find four robed figures cooking food; a stairwell leads to the basement, and Heinfroth seeps through the doorway. Torinn finds it locked, and the door refuses to budge when he tries to force it.

Then, the four orderlies leap upon the Shields.

Battle is swift. Peren summons a wall of fire on the other side of the room, keeping the four orderlies trapped in the flames. However, the four orderlies manage to grab Peren and drag him to the other side of the room, evidently trying to feed from him and subject him to his own inferno. While they are unable to feed upon him, they do force him to drop his own wall, but they are quickly brought low by spells and blades.

With the orderlies dispatched, and nothing thus far having budged the door, Bezaldooz carves his way into the basement with a passwall spell. The Heinfroth-mist patient awaits them. When they are ready to proceed, the mist continues into the basement. The Shields follow.

The mist leads them through a door on the east side of a cellar, down a corridor, past an intersection, and finally to a T-intersection. A door stands at the end of the T, along with other doors along the perpendicular hallway. The mist stops, indicating the door directly ahead, and then quickly flows right, to the south. Peren and Torinn arrive at the door in time to see the mist seeping under a doorway at the end of the hall. They decide to give chase while Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln go to work on the indicated door.

While Peren and Torinn try to force the door at the end of the hall, Bosabrieln hears a noise back from the west where they came. He calls out, going to investigate while Bezaldooz finally just casts passwall on the door.

Inside is a bent and wizened old man, deathly pale and painfully bow-legged. His hair and beard are long and white. He cowers in a corner, feebly attempting to make sense of the situation.

Meanwhile, to the west, Bosabrieln emerges to find himself face-to-face with five of the orderlies, hiding in the cellar and in a doorway to the south. They grab him and he yelps as three of them pull him into the southern door, into a room that appears to be some manner of infirmary. Five patients are strapped to beds here, and the orderlies close the door behind them.

Peren and Torinn hear Bosabrieln’s yelp as they bash open the door, finding five terrified patients huddling within — two human women, a human man, and two elf men. There is no sign of Heinfroth or the mist, but it does look as though there might be some manner of ventilation in the ceiling through which the mist could escape.

Their escape gets messy after that. Bezaldooz rushes down the corridor to investigate, pelting spells at the orderlies he finds lurking there. Torinn runs to try to engage the orderlies in melee combat while Peren stands in the doorway, shielding the old man. He tries to convince the old man that they’re here to rescue him, but something about a tall, sword-wielding elf with a skull mask seems less than friendly, and the man starts going into cardiac arrest. Peren takes a moment to treat the man with a healer’s kit before rushing into the melee down the hall.

When Torinn finally arrives and the Shields dispatch the two orderlies in the hallway, he kicks open the door to find an unnerving sight — three orderlies, crowded around Bosabrieln, taking turns biting the back of his neck and draining a bitter, yellowish fluid from his spine. Bosabrieln seems completely insensate at this point, dazed by whatever strange thing they’ve done to him. Bezaldooz and Torinn make short work of the three orderlies, with help from Peren as he rushes between his sentry point and the melee.

They briefly consider doing more in this place before deciding to leave with what they have. Assuming the borders to Dominia have fallen with Heinfroth’s defeat, Torinn grabs Bosabrieln’s prone body and they all retreat to the old man’s room. There, Bezaldooz casts plane shift, returning the Shields to Argent.

Arriving at the teleportation circle on the Argent mall with a stunned Bosabrieln and a stabilized old man, they ask one of the passing torrians to get Valna. The torrian returns with her, and she investigates both of them. The old man is stable, so she will treat him later; she inspects Bosabrieln’s wounds, and says he will recover naturally in time, although she can do something for him now. She prays for healing, and he recovers from his confusion, although he seems to have no memory of his surroundings or the people around him. As he is about to speak, Valna says she’ll have to get diamond dust, but Peren has some on hand; retrieving it from his portable hole, she invokes another prayer, fully returning Bosabrieln to his right mind.

Once Valna is certain Bosabrieln is back to himself, she hefts the old man over her shoulder and takes him away for further treatment.

Recalling that Olga is still in Dominia, Bosabrieln sends her a sending to inform her that they have left, and she should also leave. She acknowledges.

All told, their whirlwind journey was maybe three hours, more like four or five counting the trip to acquire the boat. They decide to spend the rest of the day resting — especially Bosabrieln, who is still weakened from the creatures’ feeding. Nobody seems to know what these strange vampires might be, which they dub “brain-vampires.” Many of them go fishing and drinking around Argent.

The next day, Waterday, Fireseek 12, Valna informs them that Bryant Goldenear has recovered, and is ready to speak. They find him outside, sitting on the ground with a cane by his side, a cloak around his shoulders and a broad-brimmed hat upon his head to shield his eyes from the sun. They can see now that his features are those of natives to the Kharha desert, although his skin is washed out and bears little of the natural swarthiness of the desert inhabitants.

He indeed introduces himself as Bryant Goldenear, saying he probably does not deserve to be freed, although he appreciates it all the same. (He recognizes that they only recovered him to learn the information in his head.) He used to be Lord Wheel of the Illustrious Menagerie of Peacocks, many years ago, before the Purge. He was privy to some of their plots at the time, largely in his role as liaison to various groups in the area. He was one of the people assigned to assist the gnolls during the Cackledread War — the Illustrious Menagerie of Peacocks granted them portal keys to strategic teleportation circles across multiple settlements, allowing them to teleport into the midst of cities and bypass their defenses, wreaking havoc during the war. (Apparently, the Peacocks destroyed a Scandshar noble house using this technique.) He also acted as liaison to members of the Broken Chain, specifically so Peacocks could infiltrate it and use it as a deniable assassination tool — after all, if somebody dies in a random terrorist attack, authorities are less likely to connect the murder to organized crime. Bryant indicates the Broken Chain began as a cult of personality that developed around Morana the Forsaken, the undead scion of Barony Aalsburg. The tales record her as dying with the rest of her family, but she persists as a lich, no doubt still attempting to raise her long-dead family from the grave. The “curse” on Aalsburg is likely only her summoned undead that terrorize the lands around that fell place. Apparently, she keeps her company in a flying castle of her own, which gets Peren and Torinn’s attention. Morana the Forsaken is willing to shake the world apart to complete her goal, and Bryant knows she seeks the Crux of Eternity to complete her goals, a god-wrought artifact of unimaginable power. The Shields cannot allow her to find it, and indeed, probably ought to oversee its destruction lest it fall into the wrong hands. (It has long been rumored to be buried in Sorg’s tomb, although no such place has ever been discovered in Sorgforge. If it is buried with Sorg, it likely exists in Sorgtomb, the Shadowfell reflection of Sorgforge.)

Finally, Bryant speaks of the Esteemed and Omniscient Peacock Lord. Bryant has never met this entity, but ranking members of the Illustrious Menagerie of Peacocks are not human. Lord Oculus and Lord Zrak are both beholders, and many high-ranking members are dedicated to fell powers. Bryant suspects, under the circumstances, that the Esteemed and Omniscient Peacock Lord is a beholder hive-mother, the only creature powerful enough to force the notable xenophobic beholders to work together. He does not know this for certain, but that would be his best guess. He expects it lairs in some fell space connected to the Far Realm — indeed, there are rumored to be such gates beneath Scandshar.

Peren briefly worries Pete Loudly is seeking such a gate in his spelunking expedition beneath, but the rest of the Shields expect Pete is just dungeon-delving, and is not specifically seeking any Far Realm gates.

Armed with this information, the Shields plot their next move, with an eye toward ruined Barony Aalsburg, and the flying castle of Morana the Forsaken.

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Recognition of a Man, Part 1

Godsday, Needfest 4, 553 CY (51 AN)

There is a brief moment of confusion where Bosabrieln looks around for Vianibrar, having just heard him a handful of seconds ago. It isn’t long before his gaze settles on the coat settled over Vianibrar’s harp and rapier that his mind finally parses what he’s seen. He bundles the coat and Vianibrar’s things, careful not to shake out the dust, raises his face to the sky and howls, tears streaming down his face.

The others are kind enough to give him a minute, but there’s still more to be done. Moridal puts a hand on his shoulder and brings him back to the present, and the group sets out: Ashurta, Barnabus, Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, Gloomblight, Moridal, Peren, the Shield Guardian, Torinn, and Torugar fan out into the city.

It takes several hours, but they manage to slay or chase away the dark elf invaders. (The invaders are clearly demoralized by the coming of the sun; they know something terrible happened at city center, and their ability to creep through shadows is curtailed by the dismissal of their goddess.) The Shields of the Sorrowfell run into a guardsman — Torinn recognizes the man who left the note at their inn room several weeks ago — who indicates that he has not heard from Captain Bole, but he expects the Shields will be exonerated in the aftermath of this. He’ll keep in touch as the week proceeds.

After hours pass and their bloody work is done, they leave one dark elf assassin alive to be questioned by the authorities. They also divide some of the things they found, including some ritual components and a handful of riches. They give most of the assassin’s gear to Moridal, while Sleet takes her boots of elvenkind (as well as the goddess’ silk, for which he pays). Torugar takes the goddess’ dagger, Cold Heart, as well as a few other items for safekeeping or disposal. Sleet flies off to try to organize disaster relief — he ends up bringing food and Vonseloth clerics throughout the following week — while Gloomblight leaves to complete reports and other business. Torugar wanders off into Scandshar, but says he will no doubt return later in the week.

The Shields of the Sorrowfell and Moridal wander towards The Troll and Fish to go drinking. When they arrive, they see Jax’s goliath and minotaur associates dumping dark elf corpses outside the bar. When they enter, it seems Jax’s gang is all here, including Scarlet Jax herself. Bosabrieln was worried she didn’t make it, but she says they didn’t stick around; they fought their way through dark elves and started trying to evacuate. When it was clear the emergency was over, they returned.

Over drinks, the group discusses matters. Scarlet Jax makes several jokes about turning in the Shields for the bounty. Bosabrieln asks Moridal if Vianibrar ever discussed funerary plans. Moridal responds that he said they should bury his body in the square of Nainimdul and erect a stone obelisk over it, a middle finger raised against Nainimdul and the world. Bosabrieln agrees.

The group drinks and talks until the Shields decide to head to bed. Moridal heads off to find Gloomblight while the Shields find a vaguely secluded spot in the street to cast Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion and sleep for the night. (For the most part. Bosabrieln doesn’t sleep all that well.)

The next morning, and throughout the next week, the Shields of the Sorrowfell are called into meetings in front of Parliament to determine what just transpired. (In addition to the deaths of Bonatos and Vianibrar, other notable casualties include Captain Evell Bole, Count Finlay Brissot, Darstina Tallcrippler, as well as the surviving members of The Platinum Claws: Sariel, Cliff, and Blank.) Key players are the Countess Saoirse Brissot (abolitionist and wife of the late Count Finlay Brissot), Lady Victoria Loveless MacBeth (leader of the Scandshar branch of the Illustrious Menagerie of Peacocks under the name “Lord Key”), and a surprising showing from Vicomtesse Laughter Markosian Helltalon. While the Helltalons are known for supporting the clerics on Temphill, Laughter specifically makes an ecclesiastical argument for the Shields’s actions: they are too powerful for a mere mortal city to regulate, and we must trust in the gods to have the people’s best interests at heart.

Speaking of the gods, Laughter Helltalon also notes that a literal goddess of slavery has walked the streets of Scandshar, so it seems a prudent time to revisit the slavery question. If they are so corrupt a drow death goddess can walk their streets, is that not a message from the gods? In addition to the general opposition of House MacBeth, House Kardec and House Silversgleaming also seem to be generally opposed, but the idea of emancipation has gained a significant amount of traction.

Meanwhile, during the week, Bezaldooz summons a new familiar: a familiar spirit from the Feywild, taking the form of a strange little spider named Goruthrel. It is a much kinder and gentler presence than Bonatos for certain.

Bosabrieln organizes a feast to meet up-and-coming minstrels in the city, as well as various notable personalities in Scandshar. The Shields pitch in and he ends up having an attendance of about 1,000. It’s a wild time.

Torinn also purchases more pitch to blacken his armor. He also notices rumors on the street, the occasional onlooker calling his axe “Drusilla God-biter.” He cannot remove the black stain of blood from the blade where he struck the killing blow to Kiaransalee, no matter how hard he tries. (For that matter, is the stain spreading?)

During the week, Torugar finds the Shields of the Sorrowfell to exchange some of their goods for coin. He likewise delivers something — he apparently spoke with the storm giant Dessa and somehow smoothed things over, so he presents her belt of storm giant strength to Torinn. Likewise, Moridal informs them that there is to be a wake for Darstina Tallcrippler and Vianibrar in Duchy Jepson next week, once the Shields’ tasks in Scandshar are complete.

On Moonday, Fireseek 3, Bosabrieln finds himself ambushed in a temple of Corellon by a random, frizzy-haired human woman. He sends his guard contingent away to speak with her, and the group eventually reconvenes at The Perfumed Garden. The visitor inadvertently introduces herself as Ribbon, a compatriot of Barnabus Sleet and Pete Loudly. She has apparently been trying to track the Shields of the Sorrowfell — first for the bounty, then when she realized they were also anti-slavery and trying to dismantle the Illustrious Menagerie of Peacocks. Ribbon has apparently been trying to infiltrate the Illustrious Menagerie of Peacocks and assassinate Victoria MacBeth, with mixed success. (Bosabrieln, for his part, reveals his own personal aspirations to have sex with Barnabus Sleet.) During the course of the conversation, Ribbon speaks with a companion on her magic ring to join Bosabrieln and Ribbon; within a half hour, a slender, silver-haired elf woman named Sapphira joins them. She seems a little perturbed that Ribbon used her real name and didn’t warn her to come in disguise, but her irritation soon passes, and she is pleased to meet Bosabrieln.

Towards the end of their meal, Ribbon invites Bosabrieln back to their inn room, and he agrees. However, the drunken Bosabrieln falls asleep in short order, and his guard contingent eventually comes to take him to his own bed, leaving Ribbon and Sapphira to their own devices.

By the end of the week, Parliamentary inquests are ongoing, but the Shields of the Sorrowfell are allowed to leave, and their names are cleared. Their bounty will be redistributed to public works and the rebuilding effort. (It sounds as though the bounty on the Scandshar Six will similarly be redistributed, although their legal status is a little murkier.) Bosabrieln has plans to perform some manner of ceremony for Vianibrar in Nainimdul, but first, they will attend the wake in Duchy Jepson. (They want to speak with Lord Key, or assassinate her, or whatever the case may be, but they decide that can wait for now.)

With that, the Shields of the Sorrowfell disembark for Duchy Jepson on Earthday, Fireseek 6, arriving at the teleportation circle. Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, and Peren check in with the Duchess while Torinn goes to investigate the secret sanctum in the basement of the Wizard’s Tower.

Once finished, Peren heads to the Headmaster’s office to examine the spelljammer parked outside. Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln arrive shortly thereafter to catch up with the Headmaster and exchange news. When they exit, they run into Torinn and reconvene, eventually heading to The Addled Alchemist. Meanwhile, Peren manages to determine the workings of the spelljammer helm, and suspects he could attune it and operate it.

Since Ekaterina has not been seen since Torinn told her to leave, Bosabrieln contacts her by sending, saying, “Mayhem in Scandshar over, names cleared. Your choice, come back when you feel it is time.” She merely responds with a simple and noncommittal, “Noted. My condolences.”

The next evening, Freeday, Fireseek 7, the Shields gather at The Addled Alchemist with several of the faculty and staff from the Wizard’s Tower. There is one face they have not seen before, a halfling dressed as a farmer or shepherd. Bosabrieln makes introductions, and she introduces herself as Myrtle Manygoat. Over the course of the conversation, he learns that she was friends with Darstina Tallcrippler (he suspects they were lovers), and that Darstina left instructions with Myrtle a couple of weeks ago should something happen to her. Myrtle was to direct the Shields of the Sorrowfell to a Chernog Bogdanović in The Lady’s Ward, Sigil. She gives an apartment address.

The wake is as raucous as one might expect, with people trading Darstina and Vianibrar stories. Despite the sorrow, it’s a fine time, and many baudy stories tumble out as the drinks flow.

The Shields leave early the next morning, Starday, Fireseek 8, arriving at the teleportation circle at Vianibrar’s house. Torinn waits behind with his Shield Guardian while Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, and Peren begin the short trek to Nainimdul.

When the trio reaches the town square, Bosabrieln takes up an old Elvish hymn. Many of the townsfolk come to his beautiful singing and join in, clearly understanding why he’s here. Once a large segment of the town has arrived, he takes the opportunity to chide them for not recognizing Vianibrar — regardless of their attitudes toward the cities of Men, this problem would have come to them eventually, and so they should be thankful that someone out there was paying attention. This lecture loses the crowd, but he manages to gain audience with Simsel, a representative of the Tree Council, the governing body of Nainimdul (and one with which outsiders and halfbreeds are not allowed to meet; Bosie has never even seen the Tree Council, and he used to live here). Bosabrieln discusses plans for Vianibrar’s monument, but Simsel refuses a stone obelisk. He is willing to allow Vianibrar’s remains to be interred in the town square, outside of tradition, but the monument must be living wood. Bosabrieln tries to make demands to make it notably phallic, but Simsel refuses. Bosabrieln finally concedes a pine tree, to which Simsel agrees. He says the arrangements should be complete in a day or two. As for Vianibrar’s house, they will let the forest overtake it in time. The teleportation circle is to be dismantled, which Bosabrieln says he will do; Simsel grants his request.

The Shields spend the next couple of days at Vianibrar’s house. While Bosabrieln still conjures Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion, he deigns not to sleep within it while they’re here, instead staying in Vianibrar’s house. Simsel summons the Shields on Sunday, Fireseek 9, for the ceremony. A couple of elf women — shamans or druids by their mode of dress — sing to the dirt to move it, and inter Vianibrar’s clothes, caked in the dust of his remains. Bosabrieln says a few words, the women cover the clothes, and they then plant a couple of seeds over the site. They begin singing to the seeds, and over the course of an hour, they grow into a twisting, intertwined pine tree.

Satisfied, Bosabrieln takes his leave, as do the rest of the Shields. Back at Vianibrar’s house, they spend one more night before Bosabrieln locks the door, and they discuss what to do next. The Shields decide to investigate this Chernobog fellow, so they teleport to Scandshar, and use the (now somewhat wilted) desert rose to access Sigil.

Arriving in Sigil, early on Moonday, Fireseek 10, they decide to head for The Lady’s Ward. They quickly surmise they are again being followed by cranium rats, but after some deliberation, decide to proceed with meeting their contact anyway. They arrive at a nicely-appointed apartment block, complete with a doorman. Bezaldooz sends his spider to scout, but with the blinds drawn, it is able to discern very little. Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, and Torinn go upstairs while Peren waits outside and tries to hide in an alley using materials at hand. Torinn waits on the stairwell while Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln go upstairs. They knock on the door and are greeted by a staid tiefling dressed as a butler. As they are circumspect about their names, he tells them to wait a moment and closes the door. They wait; the peephole briefly darkens, and Bosabrieln feels something probe his mind. The door then opens revealing a red-haired nobleman with a pointed goatee. He apologizes for the spellcraft, but notes that one cannot be too careful. He would take it they are the Shields of the Sorrowfell, and invites them inside. They call up Torinn, who sends a message to Peren, summoning the surprised Peren inside the apartment.

Before long, they are all in the man’s apartment. He introduces himself as Chernog Bogdanović, and before they proceed, he asks if they were followed. They explain their cranium rat problem, and while he doesn’t think it’s connected, he performs a brief gesture and incantation before he seems to “skip,” as if he gained a few extra seconds the rest of the room did not. He says they should be reasonably secure, and Bosabrieln offers to use Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion as a secure meeting place. They agree.

Once within, Chernog Bogdanović explains that is not his real name; he is instead Bogdan Dorgumir, a name Peren recognizes as an old member of the Illustrious Menagerie of Peacocks — no longer with the organization — whose name is only occasionally mentioned, and usually with a degree of hushed disdain or loathing. (Or perhaps, fear?) Torinn pointedly asks if Bogdan is a vampire, to which he replies that is a complicated question: he is vryloka, a living vampire so turned by the Red Witch. A vampire as Torinn means, however? Likely not.

Bogdan explains that the Illustrious Menagerie of Peacocks performed a purge of its ranks about fifty years ago, right around the Cackledread War (the Peacocks call it, appropriately enough, “The Purge”). Apparently, anyone who had sensitive information but was not trusted to keep it was violently purged from the Peacocks — disappeared or mind-wiped as so often happens to their enemies. Bogdan caught wind of this and thought himself to be on the list, so he proceeded to engineer his own disappearance. He created the persona of Old Tom, and relied on the fact that the Peacocks were disorganized enough to each assume the other took care of him. The gambit paid off, and he has been invisibly roaming the streets of Scandshar as Old Tom for fifty years, quietly building his own information network in that time.

Darstina Tallcrippler apparently learned of his information network and pulled at that thread, working her way up the food chain until she surmised his secret. Of course, by the time she made it to him, he had thoroughly investigated her and was certain she was someone he could trust. Knowing that the Shields were like-minded souls, they both decided to bring them into this secret, as Bogdan has relevant information.

A moment of panic: Bosabrieln tells Bogdan that the Esteemed and Omniscient Peacock Lord apparently perceived him when he performed a legend lore spell on the creature. He does not know if he is being watched. Bogdan says he will deal with that, as there is little that can be done about it now.

Regardless, Bogdan has information that may be of interest to the Shields. The Shields are no doubt familiar with Bree and Eric Goldenear, members of The Law of Fives during the Cackledread War. They apparently had a third sibling, a Bryant Goldenear. While Bree and Eric joined a wizards’ cabal and became war heroes, Bryant joined the Illustrious Menagerie of Peacocks. He was a somewhat ruthless sort, deadly with a blade. When the Purge came, he disappeared.

In the fifty years since the Purge, Bogdan has located him, possibly the only other living member of the Purge. The Peacocks apparently had him imprisoned in the Asylum for the Mentally Disturbed managed by one Dr. Daclaud Heinfroth in the land of Dominia. He has resided there for the past fifty years.

Of course, it’s hardly as simple as all that: Dominia is located in a distant reach of the Shadowfell known as the Domains of Dread. Dread Domains are strange places, prisons designed for the most wretched monsters the multiverse has to offer. However, when they are imprisoned, the Domains of Dread drag their whole domain into the Shadowfell, residents and all. Those for whom the place is a prison become darklords, veritable masters of their domain but unable to escape. It is notable that such a place is truly a prison — difficult to enter, but even more difficult to exit. A darklord can seal the domain against intrusion, and more importantly, against anyone leaving. They are effectively cosmic roach motels.

It is worth noting that Bogdan has performed a fair amount of research about the Domains of Dread, but has never personally visited one. That’s why he’s been seeking a group he can trust: he does not think he could infiltrate the Asylum by himself, but a crack team like the Shields probably could do so and retrieve Bryant Goldenear so that they may learn his secrets — secrets so important that he could neither be allowed to walk free nor could he be killed. He likewise notes that he does not know in what state Bryant might be found; he could be dead by now for all he knows, although he suspects he is still around.

As for infiltration, Bogdan knows of three routes, in addition to anything the Shields might be able to devise. A ship called Mercy travels on a circuit of the Shadowfell, traveling from port-to-port to pick up those being sent for treatment at the Asylum. It is entirely possible the right tout in Sigil might know a portal allowing access to the Asylum, if one is diligent enough to find the proper portal. Finally, the Vistani are said to know the secret ways in and out of the Domains of Dread, so it is possible they could convince a member of the Vistani to lead the way.

Unfortunately, once one gets inside, it is entirely possible that one must fight one’s way back out again. Darklords frequently know if someone arrives in their domain, especially by use of a spell, and so can close the borders. In that case, the darklord must be slain to reopen the borders, although they do not have to be permanently slain — if a vampire darklord is defeated and takes two hours to reform, for example, then they have two hours to leave the domain before the creature closes the borders again.

Bogdan doesn’t have any more information, although he requests they inform him of anything they learn. Likewise, he would be interested in seeing Bryant again, assuming they are able to retrieve him.

For further information, Bosabrieln casts legend lore on Dr. Heinfroth, receiving the following: “Heinfroth, darklord of Dominia, monster of his own making. His sorrow in Gundarak made a creature never before seen.” Of that information, Bogdan recognizes Gundarak, another Domain of Dread ruled by one Duke Gundar before being overthrown by one Dr. Dominiani and eventually annexed by Barovia, ruled by the infamous Count Strahd von Zarovich. Armed with that information, the Shields decide to take their leave.

After discussion — including a side discussion as to whether they ought to hunt and kill these damn cranium rats — the Shields decide to forgo further research in lieu of action. (They’re unlikely to infiltrate the place quietly after all, so they might as well plan for stealth but assume they’re going to go loud in the Asylum eventually.) Since Bosabrieln is blooded into the Vistani and has Vistani contacts, they decide to go that route. Bosabrieln contacts Zinnauvial Zivkovic, the matriarch of his family, with a sending, saying, “Long time, sister. We’re in Sigil. Need family contacts. If there’s anyone you know, names would be appreciated.” She responds, “Be safe, brother; the reading from seven months ago nearly comes to pass. Olga Zivkovic is telling fortunes in The Hive, the Slags.”

They start walking. While walking through the Guildhall Ward, they are interrupted by a parade of 50-some people, women wearing mourning veils with signs proclaiming they are commemorating the Battle of Widows on some unrecognized, backwater plane.

They eventually make it through the Guildhall Ward and the Clerk’s Ward, finally reaching the outskirts of The Hive. The Slags are a blasted mess, appearing like a warzone. They find two fiends scrapping in an alley and decide to not get involved. Shortly thereafter, an angel wreathed in black flame takes on an entire pack of gnolls; the Shields again wisely decide to avoid getting involved. (Although Peren decides he likes this lawless place.) Searching eventually yields a tent city in an alley, and quiet inquiries lead them to Olga Zivkovic, a young Vistana with a cigar in her mouth reading tarokka for one of the desperate souls at her table. Her left eye is light, the other is dark.

When she finishes her reading, Bosabrieln approaches, explaining his plight. She says she will do it, but she has a task she wishes to complete before she leaves Sigil. Her brother, Vata, fell into gambling with a powerful devil called Tetposmeton — an Amnizu, usually leading legions of Hell, this one is cutting deals with the desperate in Sigil. He apparently bet his soul, lost, and was slain. She requests they retrieve his soul from the devil so that he may avoid the clutches of Hell. Bosabrieln agrees. Tetposmeton apparently runs a gambling den in the Shattered Temple District, on the outskirts of The Hive.

Before leaving, Peren asks for his fortune to be told. He pays 10gp and she flicks ash into her ash tray, reads it, and informs him, “You will see a criminal die with fruit in his mouth.” The Shields take their leave to find Tetposmeton.

They wander the rough-and-tumble streets of The Hive for a time before arriving in the Shattered Temple District. This place looks burned and blasted, apparently being several blocks of bombed-out ruins. A few furtive souls wander here, grabbing building materials before quickly leaving. As the Shields walk toward their destination, one of the following cranium rats attempts to contact Torinn’s mind. As the Shields decide they have had enough of this and proceed to massacre the rats, another couple of hordes of rats boil up from the cracks in the buildings. More startlingly, Torinn feels something else contact his mind, asking in an even voice, “What do you know about the rats?” Bosabrieln and Peren notice someone large — twice the size of a normal man — and robed creeping in a nearby alley. When Torinn runs to engage the hooded figure, he finds himself staring into the face of a massive mind flayer, easily twelve feet tall. As the Shields lay waste to the rats and the mind flayer, the wounded creature projects into their minds, indicating it just wishes to talk. Peren refuses and deals the killing blow, kicking off a wall to sever the beast’s head.

With the rats and mind flayer dead, the Shields continue on their way. They eventually reach a building with some activity centered around it. Out front, three figures guard it, acting as bouncers: they are scaly, simultaneously dragon-like and fiendish. Two are green and carry swords, while the blue one carries a staff. They speak in Draconic, and when the Shields state their business, they seem skeptical, but the blue one sends the green one inside. After a moment, he returns and says the boss will see them.

Inside, the dingy environs look like a drug den, full of desperate people trying to make deals and win money. Holding court at the far end of the room is a grotesquely fat devil with stubby wings and a wide, toothy grin. He waves the Shields over to him, and in an overly-friendly voice, gives greeting: he is Tetposmeton, and has apparently heard of the Shields. Bosabrieln matter-of-factly explains their business, but Tetposmeton is already wheeling and dealing. They disagree with his price of 10,000gp for the boy’s soul, thinking it excessive (although as Tetposmeton notes, despite their claims to the contrary, the boy clearly means something to them, otherwise they would not be here). He offers to trade the boy for the seven souls in Peren’s helmet, and after some discussion, they agree. He has one of his servants fetch a “hag bag” (whatever that is), and uses it to retrieve the souls from Peren’s helmet after a bit of study. He hands over the boy’s soul coin for the Shields to do as they like with it.

Bosabrieln leaves, with a disgusted Torinn leaving shortly thereafter, but Peren remains to ask what else Tetposmeton can offer. As he has access to all manner of things, Peren asks him to acquire a carpet of flying and a Daern’s instant fortress. Peren notes he will not be staying in Sigil, but he plans on returning here, so Tetposmeton ought to go ahead and collect those objects anyway; they’ll fully agree on price when Peren returns.

The Shields leave the Shattered Temple District without further incident — apart from Peren spearing an errant cranium rat when they inevitably return to tail the Shields, this time traveling high upon the buildings to avoid the Shields’ offensive capabilities — and they quickly arrive back in the Slags. Olga is surprised to see them return so quickly, and when Bosabrieln reveals Vata’s soul coin, she asks if it is possible to restore him to life. Bosabrieln agrees, undertaking the rites to break the enchantment on the coin and then casting resurrection over the meager remains Olga has on hand. A surprised and bewildered Vata appears from the remains, thankful to be back and released from the nameless torment of the coin. Olga gives him a blanket and thanks Bosabrieln profusely.

With that, she says she will need a day to prepare, but should be ready to leave tomorrow morning. Bosabrieln tells her he will be staying at The Silver Tankard if she wishes to meet up with them tonight.

Satisfied, the Shields head to The Silver Tankard. Aratha greets them heartily, but quickly surmises that all is not right with Bosabrieln. The pair adjourn to a table to talk while Bezaldooz, Peren, and Torinn all get a table together and prepare to rest for the evening.

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Truth or Consequences, Part 10

Godsday, Needfest 4, 553 CY (51 AN): The Battle of Scandshar

The change is abrupt as Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, Peren, and Torinn leave Sigil with Bono and the Shield Guardian in tow — the air is cold, and the cosmopolitan sounds of Sigil abruptly die as the Shields of the Sorrowfell arrive in an alley next to The Plum Blossom Inn in Scandshar. The sky is darkened by storm clouds, ominously hanging high above, and reflecting the dying sun to cast everything in a hellish, red glow. Carrion birds pinwheel high above central Scandshar as ash dances in the air, coating everything in a dusting of macabre snow. If the Shields lost track of the date, tinsel, holly, and candles still decorate the streets, reminding everyone that it’s the Winter Solstice. Whatever happened, everyone would have been celebrating in the public squares.

The assembled party is dimly aware of screams in the distance, echoing between the buildings, but Peren says the screams are the wrong way. There is a silence toward city center, a terrible psychic weight that drags the Shields in that direction. Every time they glance towards Parliament, they feel the urge to stop, to lie on the ground and die.

They jog through city streets, nearly desolate save for the occasional corpse brought low by stab wounds and crossbow bolts. There is a brief moment of gallows humor when Bosabrieln receives a sending via sending stone from Barnabus Sleet, informing them they have two hours to hide before he turns their heads into the city guard for the bounty. Bosabrieln responds with, “Fucking look outside. Get your ass to Scandshar, while there’s still time.” Bosabrieln recounts Sleet’s message to the others, a problem that seemed very important an hour ago.

They travel several blocks before a flash of heat washes over them, revealing a white-bearded dwarf appears in the street, clad in resplendent dwarven plate, carrying a runic shield and ornate warhammer. He is Torugar, the exarch of Moradin whom the Shields rescued in Flamefall Tower. “You saved my life once,” he says, “Figured I’d return the favor. The gods haven’t abandoned you yet.”

There is no time to stop, so they talk on the run. He thinks everyone was played, part of the dark elves’ shell game that started when the Broken Chain stole the first piece of the divine engine. There have been so many near-misses lately, so many almost-apocalyptic events that the drow were hoping this would get lost in the shuffle, hidden from the gods’ eyes. They were clearly right. He asks the question, “I bet Scandshar could field a single million-gold bounty, but two? Who do you think paid the balance on that bounty, anyway, kept you on the run?”

They can clearly see the dome of the Parliament building when they start to perceive the sounds and smells of engagement: shouts, the clashing of blades, the ozone of spell discharge, the coppery smell of blood. Underneath, a low dirge in the guttural Elvish of the drow. A moment later and they arrive close enough to hear two familiar voices resolve above the din — Gloomblight Spellweaver, desperately intoning syllables of power while Vianibrar sings Elvish battle hymns in the midst of combat.

Seconds before the Shields hit Parliament Square, there are two sharp incantations and most of the sounds of battle abruptly end. Only Gloomblight’s chanting continues, as do the exertions of a small contingent of warriors in combat. The Shields run into the square to find the advancing press of the invaders. At their head, strange and awful and beautiful, is a mostly-nude dark elf woman, clad only in sheer black veils and silver jewelry, a cruel black dagger resting in her hand. To gaze upon her is to know the source of the awful cacophony in everyone’s heads, telling them to submit, to serve the dark elves or die, and perhaps even both at once. Bosabrieln recognizes her awful majesty as that of Kiaransalee incarnate, the drow goddess of death, slavery, and vengeance. She is flanked by two hazy, indistinct figures — perhaps vaguely humanoid — and four massive robed skeletons, each approaching twelve feet tall and with long, apelike arms ending in savage, scythe-like claws, the latter being boneclaws like those fought in Acererak’s tower in the distant past. By Kiaransalee’s side is a robed skeleton, eyes glowing red, a few scraps of blackened skin clinging to slender, delicate bones: the lich the Shields first encountered in the giants’ tomb. Trailing behind is a giant skeleton, the last of those raised in the giants’ tomb. Of the four death giants previously encountered in Stronmaus’ tomb, there is no sign.

Giving that contingent a wide berth are three other dark elves, taking up the low funerary dirge previously heard by the assembled party. One is the wizard whom they previous encountered in the giants’ tomb, the one who teleported the death giants to safety after spending much of the battle blind. The other two are the surviving Lolth priestesses, armed with swords and shields, currently engaged in combat with a wounded yet still-nimble light-haired dwarf: Moridal Delhig, Vianibrar’s old friend, fighting a losing battle against the two priestesses.

Only one other figure still stands before the throng, a strange flickering shadow whose left arm blazes forth with crackling runes of power, wreathed in flame and frost. It is only by the voice, intoning spells, that he is recognizable as Gloomblight Spellweaver. The wrappings binding his arm are gone, although the blaze seems to consume him even as it reaches out to hungrily devour the others.

As for the defenders’ companions, four dwarf warriors clad in the livery of Khuragzar lie dead in the street, cut by cruel blades and devastated by punishing spells. Near the deific avatar are the arms and armor of two more dwarves, surrounded by a nimbus of grayish dust. Their collective gazes finally settle upon a fine brocade coat fluttering in the wind, ash drifting out of the sleeves and neck as it settles atop an elven rapier and an ornate harp, with no further sign of the elf who once owned them.

As the Shields and their allies prepare to leap into the fray, there is a shuddering from Bosabrieln’s pack as a rainbow-colored light suffuses the area. A hulking hobgoblin, proud in battle and clad in burnished armor, appears in their midst, coalescing from the light of the snailstone. He looks familiar, although the Shields cannot immediately place why. Without hesitation, he draws his longsword and begins barking orders.

As the Shields rush into the fray, the two ghosts sweep forward to antagonize Gloomblight Spellweaver as Moridal retreats from combat, falling back on the Shields’ position. Six dark elf assassins pop up from their positions atop the roofs, firing poisoned crossbow bolts into the fray, although their attempt is thwarted from an eerie sensation among the Shields, a momentary awareness of the impending assault emanating from Moridal’s shortsword. The goddess herself steps forward, intoning syllables of power and pointing at Torinn as her ritualist does the same. He feels his heart stutter from the potent necromantic energies they wield, but he refuses to drop. He sends his Shield Guardian forward to attack the goddess, but its fists do nothing to her. The dark elf priestesses move, attempting to bind Bezaldooz, and although one of their prayers is unraveled by a counterspell, the other strikes home, holding Bezaldooz fast. The four boneclaws wade into the fray, teleporting through shadows to take up offensive positions across the battlefield. Peren blows the horn of Valhalla, summoning over a dozen warrior spirits into battle, as he hits the goddess with a flyby attack and runs to a defensive position behind the stage set up in front of the Parliament building. The hobgoblin warlord — now fully revealed as Ashurta, the warlord whose tomb they investigated several months ago — shouts orders, trying to keep everyone alert and tactically aware. The berserkers wade into the fray, taking positions against assassin, wizard, and god alike. Bosabrieln tries to fall back to a more defensible position, intoning Elvish war ballads and confounding several of his foes, as Gloomblight teleports to safety away from the press of ghosts and skeletons attempting to destroy him. Bonatos is obliterated by the goddess’ aura, flaking into a grayish dust, and Bezaldooz shakes free of the paralysis just in time for the lich to intone a single syllable and slay the gnome wizard outright — Bezaldooz’s lifeless body crumples to the ground, only for Torugar to utter a prayer to Moradin and return the gnome to the land of the living. A giant skeleton, still clad in stolen grave goods from the giants’ tomb, runs into the thick of battle and conjures an electrical storm around itself, shocking many present (including its own allies). Torinn wades into combat against the goddess Kiaransalee, his axe biting deeply into her flesh.

There is a swift rush of air as one of the boneclaws’ jaws cracks, its head snapping back — the muscular form of Barnabus Sleet appears in the midst of the battle, and with his voice strange and swift from the lingering effects of a haste spell, he asks, “Who needs punching?” Bosabrieln and Torinn both shout, “The goddess!” as Sleet gets to work, raining blows on the boneclaw and Kiaransalee faster than the eye can track. With the last strike to each, he sends electricity surging through them, blasting them back thirty feet. The boneclaw is sent sprawling into the square while Kiaransalee is blasted through a tent and into the corner of a building, her body hitting with enough force to splinter the wood. The ghosts and boneclaws swarm Sleet as Moridal and the berserkers enter into the fray with the dark elf assassins. The goddess herself again moves to menace the Shields, but Torinn and the Shield Guardian again move to meet her. The drow priestesses are beset by berserkers and attempting to grapple with the lingering effects of Bosabrieln’s glamour, a confusion that renders them largely ineffective for the remainder of the battle. Bezaldooz stands, moves out of the goddess’ enervating aura, and prepares to invoke a meteor swarm — only to be hit with so many counterspells that the spell never materializes. The boneclaws begin carving at berserkers with their bony claws, while one or two of them move through shadows to better positions, with one attempting to close Gloomblight’s escape. Peren rushes into melee with the dark elf lich, retreating before the wretched spellcaster can do too much injury to him, while Ashurta and the berserkers move against drow priestesses and assassins. Bosabrieln ensorcells the drow ritualist with a power word stun, and the drow lich responds in kind, freezing Bosabrieln in place with another blasphemous word. Gloomblight sends the boneclaw before him to sleep by invoking eyebite, and teeters on the brink of unconsciousness as his cursed arm nearly devours him. Torugar invokes prayers while Torinn wades into battle with Kiaransalee. Although she is mighty, the bleak goddess has been slowly worn beneath an onslaught of spells, punches, and blades. Torinn’s axe cleaves deeply, and she discorporates, her dagger and jewelry and silks falling to the ground.

The horrible psychic weight fades. Within a few seconds, the clouds begin to break.

Although the fight is still desperate, the tide definitively turns. Sleet continues his press against boneclaws and ghosts while Ashurta and the berserkers continue to wear away at the dark elf assassins. One, apparently the leader, slinks away to Gloomblight’s position, dropping out of nowhere and slitting his throat. He falls, dead before he hits the ground. The Shield Guardian and Torinn move into combat against the lich, while Peren again tries hit-and-run tactics. The lich uses another power word stun on Peren to freeze him in place, but the distraction allows Bezaldooz to finally fling a fireball into the fray. The drow assassin attempts to flee the berserkers chasing her, trying to make her way to the stunned Peren. A boneclaw similarly grabs a berserker and teleports to Peren’s location. Torugar flings his hammer at the lich, scattering its bones across the square before they crumble to dust and disappear.

With the goddess and lich discorporated, the drow and their allies swiftly begin to fall. The stunned ritualist is surrounded by berserkers and cleaved apart, the confused priestesses are slain by Ashurta and berserkers, the assassins in harlequin masks are killed by berserkers, and two the boneclaws are discorporated by magic and blades. Sleet punches the ghosts off this plane of existence before destroying the boneclaw menacing him. The assassin attempting to reach Peren is overwhelmed by berserkers and magic before she makes it there.

Finally, the field is still. Only one boneclaw remains, asleep near Gloomblight’s corpse, and the Shields surround it and destroy it. Torugar prays to revivify Gloomblight, and the assembled party helps rebind his blazing arm. As the clouds part and the setting sun again shines over Scandshar, Ashurta, Barnabus, Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, Gloomblight, Moridal, Peren, the Shield Guardian, Torinn, and Torugar survey the damage before moving into the city to pacify any remaining drow legions and assassins within.

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Truth or Consequences, Part 9

Earthday, Sunsebb 13, 552 CY (50 AN)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Truth or Consequences, Part 8

Freeday, Sunsebb 7, 552 CY (50 AN)

Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, Peren, Torinn, Obash, Hurm da Wurm, and the two remaining goblins (Tobg and Gark) continue down lightless tunnels. After roughly an hour, they see the flickering of torchlight ahead. As the figures approach, the Shields of the Sorrowfell can tell it is a group of tanned humans, bearing the javelins and piecemeal armor of orcs. Most of the Shields and their associates hide, while Bosabrieln steps into the middle of the path and calls out just before the torchlight falls upon him.

The group falls into a defensive position, but quickly surmises the lone half-elf is no threat. The leader, a dark-haired woman named Citlali, indicates she and her band are trying to flee the Underdark. It swiftly becomes apparent that she and her associates are the last of their tribe, no doubt captured as Caveghost Clan passed through the Feywalk Woods. (Although Citlali and her band do not know the woods by that name, and so the two groups have difficulty relating their positions.) Caveghost Clan recently started traveling faster and is clearly heading somewhere; the confusion allowed Citlali and the last of her warband to make their escape.

Citlali estimates Caveghost Clan’s numbers to be roughly 500, with a couple of ogres. They carry roughly 60 slaves with them. The leaders are the orcish warlord, his mate who is missing an eye and is perhaps some manner of priestess, and a shaman who never communicates, only speaking to cast spells. Bosabrieln gives them 100gp and instructs them where to find the sinkhole leading up into Heathwood. From there, she may either travel south across the plains to find her homelands, or travel northeast to find the town of Beeheath. She thanks them and both groups continue on their way.

Another two hours pass, and as the Shields are considering whether or not to bed down for the night, Bosabrieln and Peren see a strange glint ahead — the low ambient light reflecting off a wobbling surface. Bosabrieln shouts, “CUBE!” as they prepare for the onslaught — five gelatinous cubes, traveling down the hallway in a moving wall, consuming all in their path. Battle is swift as the air fills with arrows, javelins, and spells. They are hit with one of Bezaldooz’s fireballs as Peren conjures a wall of fire, prompting the things to change direction. As they slowly attempt to flee, the Shields chase them down and destroy them. They find 21cp floating among the cubes, which they ignore, so the goblins gather the coins.

Although they have been traveling for eight hours, Peren can tell they are only a couple of days behind, and gaining on the orcs. (He likewise notes that by the footprints, Caveghost Clan likely numbers 663, along with two larger creatures. Those are probably the ogres. Among the footprints, he thinks he sees the distinctive, rolling gait of a single mind flayer.) He advises everyone to press forward, so they march a couple of hours until Bezaldooz and Hurm the Wurm are too tired to continue. Bosabrieln conjures Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion, and the Shields rest.

The next morning, Waterday, Sunsebb 12, the Shields continue. After two hours of walking, they mark five large, snakelike creatures, softly glowing red. They carry spears, and look to be salamanders of the sort found in Flamefall Tower. The Shields do not parley; Bezaldooz conjures an ice storm, and the others move in for the kill. A few moments’ confusion, and the deed is done; Peren and Obash are slightly burned from close contact with the beasts, but little the worse for wear. They find 81sp among the strange beings, which Obash takes.

Five hours later, they encounter the incorporeal forms of the hungry dead. They barely even break stride to defeat the seven ghosts, as the creatures fall before blade and spell.

After another hour, Peren takes stock of the situation and wants to press onward; they are likely only a day or so behind Caveghost Clan. The Shields all agree. Torinn takes to carrying Bezaldooz so that they can continue on without interruption.

Another three hours, and just as Bezaldooz is musing about being attacked by hook horrors, a pair of large, vulture-faced, hook-handed beasts creep out from among the rocks. Peren summons a group of fey allies — in this case, diminutive, cloaked, goat-legged goblins he recognizes as darklings — who converge on one of the hook horrors upon his command. Although the hook horror kills one of the darklings, Peren and the other three finally kill it. Torinn and the others make short work of the other hook horror. Peren and his remaining darklings spend a half hour or so carving up the hook horror to harvest its hide.

Two hours pass, and as the Shields are ready to collapse and Bosabrieln prepares to conjure Mordekainen’s magnificent mansion for the night, three spindly, black, humanoid beings made of rock creep out of a seam in the earth. Bezaldooz recognizes them as some form of construct, but wants to sleep, so he vaporizes them with a well-placed sunburst. The Shields enter the mansion and rest.

Bosabrieln is awakened in the night by a sending from Headmaster Jepson, saying, “We need to talk about Sleet. Contact me at your earliest convenience.” Bosabrieln replies, “Noted. Talk in morning. Slaves leaving Underdark via Heathwood.” He returns to sleep.

The next morning, Earthday, Sunsebb 13, Bosabrieln gathers the others and informs them of the sending in the night. After some discussion, he notes he will need to leave the mansion so that he may project image and speak with the Headmaster. Peren and Obash stand guard.

When Bosabrieln arrives in the Headmaster’s office, he is sitting at his desk, working. The Headmaster explains that Barnabus Sleet called together a council of various government leaders in Duchy Jepson, explaining his plan to declare war on Scandshar. He is meeting with the other settlements in the region to request aid. Of note, however, he extracted a letter of introduction from Duchy Jepson, and the Headmaster suspects this will be seen as Duchy Jepson declaring war on Scandshar. The Headmaster felt Bosabrieln ought to know this, lest something happen to Jepson in the meantime. But the Headmaster doesn’t fully know the capabilities of this man Sleet, and so no one in town feels comfortable saying, “No,” to him.

He notes that he recommended Sleet head to Kiris Dahn first, so he might still be there. But he does not know where Sleet is now.

Bosabrieln also reports the Shields current activities for the Headmaster’s consumption. Before he returns to his body, he takes a moment to look out the window and gaze upon the sun again.

Upon his return, everyone returns to the mansion to discuss matters. They don’t make a firm decision, apart from finding out whatever Sleet is up to. Once decided, they continue on their way.

They have been walking for roughly four hours when they are ambushed by a group of man-shaped things. These things have ragged loincloths, stone-colored skin, lank black hair, and spiked bone clubs. Of note, they are completely eyeless. They come pouring out from among the rocks, taking up flanking positions and lashing out at the Shields. They manage to kill Tobg and Gark, as well as injuring Hurm da Wurm, but once the Shields figure out what’s happening, a well-placed fireball and Peren and Torinn make short work of the ambushers.

They travel the rest of the day before they hear the murmuring of many voices. They have successfully found the caves where Caveghost Clan is camping for the night.

While the others find hiding places, Peren scouts ahead. These caverns form a tangle of passages and tunnels. The elite troops — outfitted in plate armor, like Obash — guard strategic points, including the entrance. The two ogres are bedding down near the entrance of the cavern, as well. Soldiers and civilians are scattered throughout the caverns, bedding down for the night. They form a general ring around the slaves, whom are kept in the middle where they can be monitored. In a ruined shrine in the back of the cave, the camp’s leaders have placed a pavilion. They — the chief, his mate, and the silent shaman — are currently making the rounds, making certain everyone is situated for the night.

All told, Peren counts twenty-five elites, twenty-five half-orc warriors, and maybe 200-300 warriors. The count of 60 slaves seems accurate.

He returns to the Shields and reports his findings. They agree to wait, sneak into the camp, and attack it from the rear, working their way to the slaves in the middle.

Once they are reasonably certain everyone is settled, they enact the plan. Their group of six manages to easily enter the cave network and make its way to the back. Finding a shadowed corner, they wait for an opening, and then launch out of the darkness.

Battle is sudden, swift, and chaotic. Bezaldooz opens with a fireball directly in front of the ruined shrine so that it will catch the elite guard and whomever is within. The others rush out of the shadows, and as Peren starts carving through guards, he sounds the horn of Valhalla. Twenty-one mighty warriors appear in the entry to the ruined shrine and begin pouring into the gap. Obash and Torinn wade into combat — Torinn having taken an adrenaline pill recovered from the Sentinel so long ago, and so moving at abnormal speed — as Bosabrieln steps forward to begin ensorcelling orcs. Hurm da Wurm starts harrying orcs with arrows.

The berserkers make short work of the chieftain’s mate, while the chief himself lasts only ten seconds against the rampaging horde. Peren rushes into the shrine to confront the shaman, but is surprised to find that there is only the tentacled face of an illithid in his place. The wounded creature is no match for him, as he cleaves twice into it and severs its head.

The orcish forces collapse after that as berserkers start spilling out of the shrine. Bosabrieln begins ensorcelling orcs with mass suggestion, ordering them to protect the slaves in the middle. Mass confusion erupts as conflicting orders begin flying about. The Shields and their allies make their way towards the middle, where a tense standoff emerges: once some of the orcs realize the leaders are dead and a score of their numbers must be charmed, they threaten to begin killing the slaves. Bosabrieln convinces them that killing the slaves will not spare their lives; the orcs relent.

Convinced that a modicum of order is restored, the Shields gather the slaves and bring them to the back of the cavern where they may be better protected. Gathering in the ruined shrine, they discuss their next move: how will they transport the slaves and what will they do with over five hundred orcs?

Their discussion is interrupted when the berserkers bring the broken body of a skeleton, clad in leather armor and wearing a dagger and a backpack. Torinn presents the dagger to Hurm, figuring he’s been through a lot with the deaths of the rest of his warband, while the others investigate the backpack. They find a sending stone within.

After deliberation, Bosabrieln decides to use it. He conveys the message, “You’ve reached the Shields and you have our attention.” Whomever is on the other end conveys, “The Shields? Perfect! Wait there, I have something to discuss.

A tense ten minutes pass before a creature appears, a robed skeleton with pinpoints of red glowing in its empty sockets. It wears an ornate headdress and has the bearing of a wizard. Peren can sense, however, that nothing is there, and stays Torinn’s hand when he moves to strike it with his axe.

It introduces itself as Lazghul, the Opal of Chaos with the Teeth of Jet and the Dress of Silence. Lazghul notes that he’s not supposed to be around these days, but well, he recently met with the Scandshar Six, and he’s sure they told people, so the cat’s out of the bag. This is roughly when Torinn decides he doesn’t want to deal with this, and leaves. Obash and Hurm follow.

The creature indicates that they have a problem in common: several off-worlders have arrived here, including a wizard named Sleet and another man called Pete Loudly. This motley band of adventurers has traveled across many planes throughout the multiverse, and gathered many resources and allies in their travels. Of interest to Lazghul, Pete Loudly has something he does not want to see used — a piece of Perpetual Ice, something that will freeze any water it touches. If introduced into a body of water, it would rapidly spread to every other body of water, bringing Fimbulwinter upon the world. While Lazghul might be interested in the end of the world and the quiet death of everyone within it, for various symbolic reasons, he does not want this particular doom to come about.

And so he has contacted the Shields in the hopes that they have further information, or that they can plan how to deal with this circumstance.

Lazghul notes that Pete Loudly has bought a few properties in and around Scandshar, including Castle Chilikov. He and his associates — Loudly, Sleet, and a group of four elves — have been delving the slave pits beneath Chilikov, freeing slaves and generally making the standard nuisance. They are currently residing in the Bleak Theater on the precipice of the Underdark, staging expeditions throughout the dungeons beneath Castle Chilikov. They have already disrupted the Iron Manacle, a small slaving outfit working in tandem with the Peacocks, as well as the orcs with whom they were dealing.

He further notes that these people have allies: Sleet apparently keeps an army of demons in his castle, while Loudly has a giant flaming skeleton as well as crew and soldiers for his spelljammer. If they mean to take Scandshar, they might be able to do so.

After some back-and-forth, Lazghul notes they do not have to decide right away, as they have a method of contacting him. Peren, however, notes that they can probably help one another now: if Lazghul can help transport the slaves out of here, he can have access to the 500 or so orcs in this cave. Lazghul would have to wait until the morning to make the necessary preparations, but this can be done. They agree, and Lazghul disappears.

Once the Shields reconvene with Torinn and fully discuss the possibilities of this being a trap or doing a lich’s dirty work, their plan changes. They will use a handful of teleportation circle spells to transport the slaves to Argent. They will warn the orcs that the bogeyman is coming, and they should all flee — tonight — if they value their lives. Even though Lazghul might be lying, most of what he told them jibes with the information they already had, so there is likely some earnestness in what he says. Given how things are escalating, they will have to leave the escaped drow for now, instead investigating Sleet first. Bosabrieln has a plan to speak to Sleet, which he communicates in a sending to the Headmaster; the Headmaster says he can pass it along. Their next plan will no doubt hinge upon however that interaction goes.

As such, they tell Obash to take any orcs he wishes to recruit before they head to Argent. They are going to leave the sending stone behind since Lazghul can probably track it. They consider leaving a note, then think better of leaving too many symbolic ties behind for a master wizard; Peren orders one of the orcs to write the note instead, indicating they had other plans, but when the orc balks, Peren slays him and orders the next in line to do the same. He complies, writing a letter about how the Shields have reconsidered their arrangement.

Before leaving, Bezaldooz takes a handful of dirt from the ruined shrine so that he may teleport back to this location.

With that, the orcs prepare themselves to head deeper into the Underdark while Bezaldooz uses his teleportation circle spell four times to teleport the Shields, sixty slaves, and Obash and his recruits over to Argent.

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