Chronicles of Khaldun: Crux of Eternity

Final Arrangements, Part 6

Waterday, Readying 5, 553 CY (51 AN)

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

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

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

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

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

All it will cost is his soul.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With the excitement over, the Shields return to sleep.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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