Chronicles of Khaldun: Crux of Eternity

The Belly of the Beast, Part 3

??? (date unknown)

Given a quiet moment, Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, Peren, and Torinn proceed to investigate. This apparent warehouse of the Sentinel bears doors ahead and to the left and right. These doors lack handles or knobs, instead bearing boxes with slots where such objects would normally reside. The slots and doors are decorated with colors; the door to the left is brown, while the doors ahead and to the right are violet. The Shields of the Sorrowfell quickly surmise that they are some form of locking system. Approaching the doors also initiates some sort of light effect that briefly shines on them. However, the door beeps and does nothing when this occurs.

Bosabrieln attempts to speak with the four bulky constructs in this room, but they complete their tasks and largely ignore the Shields — Bosabrieln surmises that the constructs recognize them as living organisms, but they do not know one another’s language. (The Shields dimly recall that SENSEI and several of the constructs aboard the Sentinel could speak the common tongue because of their extensive study of the Platinum Claws. Otherwise, the original inhabitants of the ship spoke an unknown language from their home plane.) Torinn theorizes that the constructs can open the doors, so he attempts to shove one of them towards the door; the construct shoots him with some manner of beam that does no injury, but shoves him away. Having noticed that the constructs are attempting to corral the boxes, Peren and Torinn then grab one of the cargo crates and shove it toward the door, but when the constructs approach to replace the box, it still does not yield.

Out of ideas and aware that they probably have a time limit, the Shields decide the most efficient way is to bust through. Peren and Torinn take their weapons to the violet door on the right, hacking through within a minute. (The door issues a sad squeaking sound as it is cut in half, but otherwise does not respond, save for a shower of sparks.) The Shields continue into another warehouse full of crates, clearly still on the outer ring of the vessel. (A brief examination of one of the crates reveals machine parts.) They repeat the procedure, hacking through the next violet door they encounter. This time, the sad squeaking resolves into a blaring alarm of some sort. The Shields realize their time is short before something happens.

Moving into this room, they find another cargo hold with a violet door on the opposite side. They hack their way through it as another alarm sounds, aware that something is coming from behind them. Eager to get away from it, they continue onward, finding another long hallway on the outer ring of the vessel. Halfway along its length, they find an alcove leading to another violet door and ringed with more crates. They decide to use this as a staging area to create an ambush point. They wait a few moments before something else moves around the corner — another metal construct, this one roughly the size of a human. Its head bears an array of lenses similar in fashion to the larger worker constructs, but this one lacks legs, its primary mode of locomotion hidden beneath a flared skirt. It bears two gleaming serpentine tentacles, an arm ending in a pincher, and an articulated, skeletal arm. The Shields quickly hack it to pieces, Peren’s vorpal longsword cutting it in half with a decisive snicker-snack. Curious, Torinn grabs the metal torso and brings it close to the door, which prompts it to slide open, overlooking a hallway. Now armed with a key, they decide to investigate this room further, finding another violet door at the end of it. They decide to stick with the middle doors and the accompanying hallway. Determining that the cyst consuming the vessel is probably their destination, they determine that they need to make their way to the opposite end of the vessel, and so head right. However, they quickly come to a dead end that slopes upward as if it once joined to something else, but has since been sealed away. Backtracking, they come to a series of doors that lack slots or colors, instead having buttons next to them. They decide to investigate; upon pressing the button they find a tangle of doors inside, one of which (to the right) has a brown slot and the others having buttons. They deign to go counterclockwise, starting with the brown door, but they find little of interest: a possible prison with skeletons, a series of pools making awful noises as their water floats in globules above them, a steam room, and a sauna. The Shields hear noises deeper in the sauna and don’t wish to linger long here.

The last door leads to a large chamber featuring tiered stadium seating, various disheveled pads on the floor, and bars with crossbeams in some level of disarray. The Shields surmise this is a gymnasium and are crossing the gym to the doors across the way — albeit awkwardly, given the lack of gravity throughout the vessel due to the Far Realm’s influence — when three humanoid figures enter the gymnasium behind them.

They are armor-clad tieflings wielding glaives, the same identical siblings as the Terrible Old Man’s boatman and Morana the Forsaken’s guards. The tieflings pull shortbows and open fire, prompting the Shields to take cover behind the bleachers; Bezaldooz stays out in the open to cast spells (and because he moves the slowest and so would not be able to reach cover in time anyway), prompting Torinn to interpose himself between the tieflings and Bezaldooz. The tieflings spread out, launching volleys of arrows and trying to dodge whatever the Shields throw at them, only to be vexed by another one of those human-sized, cylindrical constructs of the sort Torinn is carrying. It is clear they are not allied with the constructs native to this place, as it immediately launches a canister at one of the tieflings which issues forth some sort of gas. Torinn lowers the visor on his armor and rushes into melee with the tiefling in the gas, felling the creature and reducing it to mirror shards and scraps of strange flesh. (Now that they have had the opportunity to observe this phenomenon in its native environment, they note that the leftover flesh resembles the membranes separating planes of the Far Realm.) The rest of the Shields, wanting to continue on their way, begin to leave the room, with Torinn acting as rear guard. As he leaves, he closes the door and smashes the door controls with his axe — he can still hear the struggle of the tieflings and the construct inside.

Back in the halls, they find another dead end before using the broken construct to enter the brown door they find, leading to another series of storage areas on the outer ring. Traveling clockwise, they come to another brown door and decide to gain entry as they hear something approaching from behind them.

They move into another storage area, but this one is different. The outer hull of this vessel has ruptured, partially eaten away by a fleshy tumorous mass that leads into a hollow cavern made of the same electroradiant-colored tissue. This gateway into the cyst is guarded by a single tiefling. Bosabrieln attempts to parley, but the tiefling is not interested, and the Shields begin to move into position.

As they do, they realize that more of these identical tieflings lurk between the crates. (They also spy that security construct following them before the door closes.) Although the Shields manage to injure several of the tieflings with spells, the tieflings arise in a wave and quickly surround Bosabrieln, Peren, and Torinn. (Bezaldooz, who was hanging back, is not within range.) One of them, evidently some manner of leader, leaps into the fray when he inverts, turning inside out and teleporting across the intervening space. A duplicate remains in the place from whence he left, suggesting that he may be the source of all these identical tieflings.

However, the tieflings’ onslaught doesn’t last long as Bezaldooz rains fire upon the tieflings, reducing several to mirror shards and scraps of flesh. The battle ultimately turns against the tieflings when the construct opens the door, saying something in its alien tongue and firing some manner of area-wide beam that paralyzes most of the tieflings. The Shields quickly recover and defeat the surviving tieflings; of their number, only one of them does not dissolve to mirror shards and onion-skin when he dies. They surmise this must be the original.

After gathering themselves, the Shields delve into the cyst, a series of fleshy caverns that seem to loop in a spiraling pattern. As they move, they hear tittering noises off to a passage behind them, but they continue forward. Moving quietly, they come upon a beholder, floating in a side passage; they are able to make short work of the creature, but face another as the source of the tittering emerges — a swarm of seven tiny beholders, making strange noises and mocking the Shields’ spellcasting incantations. The second beholder opens its central eye just as another eldritch storm hits: Bosabrieln and Torinn took cover from the beholder’s antimagic field before the storm hit, while Bezaldooz and Peren didn’t make it in time. When the energies hit, Bosabrieln and Torinn find themselves on the floor, subject to normal gravity, while Bezaldooz and Peren fall upward, landing on the ceiling but otherwise subject to normal gravity. After leaving the central eye’s energy field, their reality cords assert themselves and they carefully float back to the ground. As the beholder moves into position to menace them with its eye rays, closing its central eye, Bezaldooz uncorks the iron flask to summon the worm creature he captured earlier. He orders it to kill the beholder; seeing an opportunity, the worm moves and casts a suggestion, telling the beholder to entreat with him and plan on how best to kill these meddlesome humanoids. The beholder agrees, and when he comes to the ground, Torinn is able to hold him fast while the others take care of the smaller beholders. In seconds the battle is done, and the Shields continue the spiraling path towards the cyst’s center. (Bezaldooz asks the worm creature a bit about itself, and in its rasping Common, it explains that it is a noble tsochar. Able to cast magic, it would prefer a humanoid body in which to integrate, but it doubts it will find such here. Apart from the Shields, of course.) The eldritch storm quickly passes.

The caverns open, and Peren is aware of the same tittering behind some of the columns. Scouting ahead, he can spy more tiny beholders, so he warns the others and then plans on drawing them out. He slices one of them in two while Bosabrieln mimics the beholder’s voice, telling the tiny beholders to come out because it’s “play time.” Nearly two dozen tiny beholders flood out from behind columns and pillars, prompting the Shields and their tsochar companion to war against the strange beasts. With some effort against the overwhelming numbers, they manage to bring the creatures low with spells and blades before moving onward. In the next area, they hear similar signs and so repeat the procedure: Peren attacks and flushes them out while the Shields kill the survivors. This time, however, two adult beholders emerge from a side passage, launching a flurry of eye rays at the interlopers. Although the tiny beholders panic as their numbers thin and begin to flee, the larger beholders are becoming quite the threat as they stay out of range and fire rays at the Shields. (Both Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln are grievously wounded by necrotic blasts, necessitating the use of powerful healing magic so that both may recover.) Although the beholders slay the tsochar, Peren and Torinn manage to make their way to the beholders and begin attacking them. When another beholder leaves its post to go after Bosabrieln, he manages to entrap it with a hypnotic pattern; after they slay the last active beholder, they make short work of the ensorcelled one.

With their battle complete, they take a moment to recover and find their way to the heart of the cyst. The last bit of solid ground is a small outcropping of the same fleshy substance as the rest of the caves, bearing a teleportation circle. Apart from that, the center of the cyst opens into a tunnel running both up and down and no doubt corresponding to the long tube the Shields saw outside the vessel. It appears to cross multiple levels simultaneously, as evinced by the fleshy membranes running across the width of the tunnel maybe half a mile distant. Given that this is the only place left to go, the Shields prepare to deploy into the tunnel, to face whatever lurks beyond…