Moonday, Fireseek 24, 553 CY (51 AN)
Over the course of a half-hour, Bosabrieln casts legend lore three times while Bezaldooz, Peren, and Torinn guard him: twice about the Chimeric Amphitheater, and once about the Khan of Nightmares. He learns three things:
- The Chimeric Amphitheater is a place of glory and gold, of battles lost and won. It is impossible to reach by walking, but some visit it every night.
- The Chimeric Amphitheater is but the heart of the Coliseum Morpheuon, built upon an isle amidst the Slumbering Sea. Be wary of the secrets of the Khan of Nightmares, and the Voracious Visitor who guards the island.
- The Khan of Nightmares discovered the island upon which he built the Coliseum Morpheuon eons ago, and made it the grave of his secrets. Hark and be wary, for the lord of Morpheuon has two faces.
Given this information, they expect the Chimeric Amphitheater resides on the Plane of Dreams. After some discussion, they decide the best way to reach it is probably to acquire the appropriate tuning fork for plane shift, and they suspect they will be best poised to purchase such a thing in Sigil.
Once they are certain they are ready to go and that the witch’s bower has mostly burned down, Bezaldooz invokes teleport to transport the Shields of the Sorrowfell to Sorgforge. After a brief wait at the privies — where they are mobbed by an adoring public — they assume the hand signal to activate the portal to Sigil and make their way to the Lower Ward.
They decide to take a brief jaunt to the Market Ward to make contact with agents of the Planar Trade Consortium, and after checking in with Estevan — business appears to be going well — they purchase a tuning fork that is supposed to lead them to the Plane of Dreams if used as the material component of a plane shift spell. After making their way back to the Lower Ward — and wading through a gaggle of tourists, a handful of touts selling their wares, and a train of nobles in palanquins — they return to Sorgforge and find a secluded alley so that Bezaldooz can cast plane shift.
The transition is strange and immediate. The Shields are overcome with a disconnected feeling — that weird, warm, cocooned, sensual feeling in the transition between waking and sleep. They find themselves in the midst of a vast marketplace, beneath a strangely-hued sky filled with stars, broken moons, and the watercolor splash of morning light. A creature strongly resembling an oceanic whale “swims” across the sky, heedless of the hustle and bustle below it. A black shape also hangs in the sky, like a second moon, although the shape is so dark that it is unclear whether it is a circle or a sphere.
Getting their bearings, the Shields of the Sorrowfell also notice a large building to the… west? (Directions are a little hard to fathom since they have only just arrived.) It is large and tiered, some manner of stadium resembling a nautilus shell. Floating in the sky somewhat near it is a hoop that looks like it may also be an amphitheater or some sort — there is clearly an aerial contest occurring within, and the distant roar of crowds may be heard rumbling below the din of the marketplace.
The Shields begin heading west, reasoning that the building is likely the Chimeric Amphitheater. They pass through crowds before arriving at it, and finding a couple of vendors and advertisers outside, they inquire with a satyr wearing a sandwich board. He indicates that this is indeed the Chimeric Amphitheater, although those who seek to enter it must purchase tickets and wait until the doors open in the evening. If, as Bosabrieln asks, they wish to gain audience with the Khan of Nightmares, participants and sponsors are likely to gain some level of access, but given their equipment, they would likely be seeking to enter as participants. That route requires them gaining sponsorship by competing in the Theater of Triumph, which is where most gladiators start their careers.
When Bosabrieln mentions that they have arrived to free a companion imprisoned in the Coliseum Prison, the satyr indicates he doesn’t know how that would work. He does warn them not to get any bright ideas about staging a prison break, as that is unlikely to go the way they expect — he then gestures to the black spot in the sky, something he calls “the Voracious Visitor.”
The Shields thank him and proceed to the Theater of Triumph, an amphitheater near the Chimeric Amphitheater. A pleasant woman mans the scribes’ booth, and while she seems human, her makeup and hair are styled in a way suggestive of a snail, as her makeup incorporates spirals and her pompadour suggests a snail’s shell and body. (While subtle, they are pervasive enough that it begs the question as to whether or not she is actually part-snail herself.) She gives greeting, and explains that shows are free, and the scribes only require a 2gp entry fee. When the Shields inquire about entering a gladiatorial bout, she says that the Theater appears to have an entry this afternoon, around 4 PM. Would they be available?
The Shields pay their entry fee (declaring their name only as “The Shields”), and acting on the snail-woman’s recommendations, they return to the vicinity of the Tarnished Souk (as the marketplace is evidently called) to seek an inn called The Silver Key. (Curiously, rather than an inn sign, a plaque above the door bears a tarnished forearm gripping a large silver key.) They arrive for drinks and Bosabrieln plays for the amusement of the crowd — and what amusement it is, for he inadvertently attracts quite a crowd, stretching around for blocks in the hopes of hearing a few snatches of his transcendent playing.
The innkeeper, a gnome named Candolph, gladly waives the Shields’ room fee for bringing so much business to his establishment.
As the time draws near, the Shields leave The Silver Key to head to the Theater of Triumph, now having attracted quite a large crowd in tow. (Bosabrieln continues working the crowd, hyping them for the show they are about to see.) When the Shields and their entourage arrive at the Theater of Triumph, they see they are to be pitted in combat against “The Four Seasons.”
They make their way into the participants’ entrance while their entourage heads into the stands. After some preparation backstage, it is time: the Shields step into the light of the arena to the roar of the crowd. The Four Seasons have already stepped out, apparently being four eladrin — two men and two women — each in a different season. The caller announces and begins the match.
Winter drops a sleet storm on the Shields, but they quickly move out of it as Bosabrieln binds them with a hypnotic pattern; only Spring is able to free himself from its effects, and so the Shields concentrate on him. Once Peren and Torinn move into melee, Peren’s vorpal blade takes Spring’s head with a snicker-snack. They methodically move from combatant-to-combatant, first dropping Summer, then Winter, careful to knock both unconscious. (They reason that it’s better to leave them alive and possibly leave as friends, with the added complication that the Four Seasons will need to determine some way to resurrect Spring.) When they begin fighting Autumn, she misty steps away from them, drops her bow, kneels, and surrenders. While Bosabrieln addresses the crowd, Torinn roars and spits lightning into the sky, much to the crowd’s amusement despite the match lasting mere seconds.
The Shields return backstage, and after some deliberation and discussion with the stagehands, they are directed to speak with the Jack of Diamonds, a benefactor with known ties to the Khan of Nightmares. The Shields find him in the stands, a hulking construct of angled stone. When Bosabrieln makes introductions, the Jack of Diamonds indicates that it is suitably impressed with their performance to take a risk on them. It asks why they are so impatient to get to the Chimeric Amphitheater, to which Torinn responds that glory doesn’t wait. The construct seems suitably impressed, and tells them to report to the Probationer’s Park tomorrow morning for a more challenging contest.
That evening, the Shields pay the entrance fee and attend a show at the Chimeric Amphitheater. (Bosabrieln is a little surprised that there is only general admission, but someone explains, “You’ll see.”) They are first led to the opulent receiving halls of the Pagoda of Patricide to wait before the doors open. (Those who can read Draconic note the symbols above every door, reading, “Shamed by failure before the eyes of others, You slay thy Father.” The place and its servants are faintly tinged with fear, almost as a palpable presence in the walls.) To his surprise, Bosabrieln learns that he cannot gain entry to the private chambers in the Pagoda of Regicide, nor to the Khan’s own private chambers — most of the people who might be in a position to make those introductions are clearly too intimidated of both the Khan and the Voracious Visitor to defy him by bringing uninvited guests into the Chimeric Amphitheater’s backrooms without his express permission.
When doors open, the Shields filter through the Pagoda of Regicide, its walls tinged with sorrow and the many doors into private rooms each labeled with the phrase, “Horrified by failure to your truest self, You slay thy only ruler and greatest governor,” in Draconic. They then approach the door to the Pagoda of Deicide, where the final entry into the stadium is labeled with the refrain, “Terrified that it is all but a dream, You slay the order which begat Heaven itself,” in Draconic.
When they enter into the stadium, they find that it opens beneath a shattered sky despite appearing closed from the outside. They are led into tiered seating, and a single skybox floats above the arena. Shortly thereafter, a figure emerges onto the floating skybox, from a door in the back. (The fact that it doesn’t obviously connect to anything seems perfectly plausible, and fits with the impossible, dreamlike architecture of this place.) An older, kindly man emerges, albeit with the faintest hint of malice: the Khan of Nightmares. As he speaks, an illusion of himself, easily fifty feet tall, appears over the stadium for all to see, and he greets the visitors and announces the night’s games.
The place is impossible. Various contests are held, featuring gladiatorial bouts, sports, and other tests of skill. The contests are each projected as part of the same intricate illusion above the proceedings for all to see, and the stadium changes instantly between contests to take whatever form is needed. The vistas are different each time, and some of the participants seem able to use the environment to their advantage, flying or occasionally projecting bits of dreamstuff as part of the contests. The Shields also notice that the Khan sometimes resurrects the participants, and usually announces if resurrection will occur during or after the event.
Eventually, the Shields decide to retire before their show tomorrow morning, and return to The Silver Key, where they find their dreams to be especially vivid in this place.
The next morning, Godsday, Fireseek 25, the Shields report to the Probationer’s Park where they are led into a backstage or underground area to prepare. When they finally emerge, it is into darkness, a tangled mess of hallways. They hear an announcer indicate that the audience can see them but they cannot see the audience; The Shields, in competition with a group called The Rule of Beasts, are to navigate the maze and defeat their opponents before their opponents defeat them. But they are to be wary, because there are other dangers in the maze, as well.
The Shields immediately move, with Peren dashing ahead to investigate while Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, and Torinn move at a normal pace. Peren rushes along a tangle of passageways to the right, quickly running into a tangle of animate armors; he then doubles back, warning the others while he moves ahead. As he does, he summons a group of four darklings with conjure woodland beings, ordering them to move out into the maze and seek an exit. One is immediately trapped by an animate armor and slain, but Peren uses the confusion to continue onward, attacking as he goes. Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln make short work of those animated armors (although Bezaldooz finds that they do not react to his fireball at all) while Torinn, waiting at their rear, deals with the armored constructs that Peren accidentally summoned.
They begin creeping through the darkened maze while Peren, scouting ahead, runs into something that looks like a massive, muscled wildcat, albeit a hairless one with mottled patterns across its skin. Its tail ends in an enormous, human eyeball. He attacks the beast, but does not kill it, and so flees, lest he become trapped by the beast. Ironically, the creature cannot see him, but it appears able to hear him, and begins slowly padding after him.
As Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln follow after the much faster Torinn, Torinn happens to look and spot a darkling sneaking after the giant cat-monster, which is wounded and clearly following after something. Torinn dashes after the cat and his axe bites deeply into its flesh; as he battles the cat, the darkling next to him disappears, causing him to wonder if Peren is dead.
Meanwhile, Peren dashes forward through the labyrinth, moving into a tangle of hallways, becoming increasingly aware that several of the armored constructs are following him. He lashes out at them, largely as a tactic to keep them off-balance so he can keep moving, and he somersaults over one that has moved to block his escape. As he moves forward, noting the labyrinth twisting in on itself in a spiral pattern, it occurs to him that he is likely moving into a dead end — a fact largely confirmed when he hears the additional clanking of several more animated armor constructs headed in his direction. As the constructs move into position, surrounding him, Peren recognizes his best chance to extricate himself from this situation: sheathing one of his swords, he pulls the rod of security from his pack and activates it, reappearing in a tranquil paradise.