Chronicles of Khaldun: Crux of Eternity

Final Arrangements, Part 5

Moonday, Readying 3, 553 CY (51 AN)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Torugar then takes his leave.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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