Moonday, Fireseek 10, 553 CY (51 AN)
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.