Chronicles of Khaldun: Crux of Eternity

The Crux of Eternity, Part 3

Sunday, Fireseek 16, 553 CY (51 AN)

As Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, Peren, and Torinn stand in the airlock, awaiting its cycle to complete, they suddenly all feel a sense of vertigo.

They all suddenly find themselves somewhere else.

They are in an ornate meeting-hall, bearing a marble floors, walls of platinum, and windows of cut gems. More than ostentatiousness, this place gives a feeling of majesty while also being somehow soothing.

The Shields of the Sorrowfell find themselves without their accompanying shield guardian as they adjust to their surroundings. At the far end of the hall is a throne, upon which sits an old man in white robes, seven golden canaries fluttering around his head and shoulders. Next to him is an old woman, hunched and robed, wearing a headband with an eye emblazoned on the front. She has a book, The Ballad of Fallen Sorg, tucked under her arm.

As the Shields pay their respects, the man — whom they recognize as the same avatar of Bahamut they met in the Black Moor some five-and-a-half months ago — begins to speak.

“Hello, again,” he says. "How long has it been since we met in the Black Moor? Five, six months?

“My, how you lot have grown.

“Time is short, and I do not wish to delay you more than I already am.

“Everything matters, from the raging stars in their distant orbits to the minuscule thauma of the Tapestry. The details matter. Every person, every rock, every tree… they all matter. We are all bound by these chains of destiny — even the gods, although we are sometimes too prideful to admit it — but some destinies cast wider ripples in the pond.

“You have no doubt noticed that Fate’s plans for you seem… different than the plans it has for most mortals.

“You may have been set on your current path by the context of the world, but your teleology is written in the heavens. For this, I am truly sorry, as it means the cosmos keeps asking of you.

“Such is the burden of the Paragon Compact. Although, you shall soon find respite from your labors.”

The old woman looks at Bahamut and scoffs, saying, “Don’t tell them that before they war with The Blasphemer. It sounds ominous.” She turns back to the Shields. “He means that in the good way. She frowns. I think. Your destinies are bright, if hazy.”

Bahamut resumes, saying, "Regardless, the You-That-Is-To-Be calls to the You-That-Was. For the trials ahead, the Fates have seen fit to unfetter you, to initiate you into a larger world. When you return to yourselves, you will find yourself changed.

“Empowered.

“Fear not. You are still supported by fortune, and help is on the way.”

The vision fades, and the Shields find themselves back in the airlock, still-weary but emboldened. As they fully return, rainbow light emanates from Bosabrieln’s backpack, and a figure appears in the cramped airlock with them. The figure is cloaked and armored, wearing a horned helmet and carrying a metal shield emblazoned with an eye, as well as a glowing mace that resembles a scepter. In addition to its pack, the figure also has a sheathed sword at its side.

The Shields quickly realize that the figure is not wearing form-fitting armor, but is a metal man, no doubt some manner of warforged. Unlike most warforged bearing mechanical jaws, this one only has a caged hole where its mouth should be. It asks if they are preparing for battle, and what manner of creature they are hunting today. When the group answers, “undead,” its eyes glow a baleful red and its voice drops several octaves, gaining a hollow metallic quality as it says, “Excellent.” It asks if there are any civilians — the Shields aren’t sure — and it says to inform it if they encounter any. The warforged also notes that, should it fall, there are a dozen healing potions scatted throughout its pack, so they should grab them if they need them.

Bosabrieln asks what it is called, and it refers to itself as The Redemptorist. Noting their injuries, it lays hands on Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, and Peren to partially restore their vitality before the trials ahead.

By the time this brief interaction finishes, the airlock has fully vented poison gas into the room, and the airlock opens.

Before they can register the scene before them, they are immediately hit with a strange sound, a terrible cacophony of wails that fills the air and grates on their nerves. Torinn’s axe Drusilla immediately responds to it with excitement, projecting to all present that those are gods, and she will taste of them.

On either side of the now-open airlock are two alcoves, allowing access to some sort of service panel for the mechanical workings of the airlock. A short hallway extends before the Shields, leading into a large room. Corridors stretch off to the left and right, while several tables are set around the room. Eight robed figures, all humanoid but obviously some manner of desiccated undead, work around the tables, although they look as the airlock opens. In the middle of the room, sitting upon a stone throne, is a robed skeleton. It is standing as the Shields exit the airlock, and it gives greeting in a strange, shrill cadence. It wastes little time, however, the group feels a force move through all of them — they all manage to resist it, and the skeleton shrugs before battle is joined.

The skeleton is quickly dispatched as the fighters move into the room, and Bosabrieln quickly mesmerizes four of the robed undead on the right side of the room with a hypnotic pattern, so the Shields begin flooding into the left side of the room. One of the robed undead summons a black, void-filled gate to a distant plane, filling the right side of the room with cold and the sensation of writhing tendrils. Undaunted, the Shields begin moving out of the inky void, and the undead is quickly dispatched, forcing the gate to collapse.

The Shields destroy the undead one-by-one, and the room is still.

After a brief discussion as to where to go next — the passages to the left and right lead to additional airlocks, while the hallway straight ahead bears stairs leading down while also seeming to lead to the source of the noise — the Shields decide to move ahead. Moving down the stairs and into the next room, they find a massive, octagonal chamber. A desk is against the right wall, and another one of those robed undead stands at it. The desk bears several papers and mundane objects, although these are hardly what attracts the Shields’ attention. Floating throughout the room are three enormous creatures, resembling giant necrotic fetuses with dangling umbilical cords: the source of the unearthly cries. The Shields prepare for battle again.

The godlings’ unearthly wails seem to sap the Shields’ strength, but they continue into the room, undaunted. The robed undead falls first; although more resilient than the others, he is still easily cornered and dispatched. The undead godlings are more troublesome, as they seem to radiate cold and enervate with their cries, all the while summoning ghosts with their horrific presences. Still, the Shields pick them off one-by-one — with The Redemptorist slaying one with his glowing mace, and Torinn slaying the other two with his god-killing axe. They quickly find that the ghosts dissipate with their summoners, and so quickly learn to ignore the spectral forms in favor of the larger prey.

Although the fight is difficult, the Shields emerge victorious, and the cries cease to echo throughout the facility when the last of the malformed god-fetuses fall. The Shields continue onward, down a flight of stairs, and find a T-intersection that branches to the left, leading to another airlock, as well as a stone door straight ahead. The Redemptorist asks if anyone else feels the breeze emanating from the right, and they reply negatively; when they check, it is some manner of rotating panel, leading into an alcove with another airlock. They enter and replace the panel, with Peren using rope trick to grant them an hour’s rest. Once the hour is finished, the Shields emerge from the extraplanar space and head to the airlock to investigate.

Emerging on the other side, they find themselves in another hallway with stairs leading down. These lead into an octagonal chamber, the far wall of which seems to have partially collapsed into a cave. The scintillating, electroradiant colors of the prismatic sphere are visible through the cavern, giving this room a dim but sickly illumination. In the middle of the room, sitting atop a pile of gold and gems, is an enormous, skeletal dragon, scraps of tattered black flesh still clinging to its frame. As the Shields move into the hallway, it spits a stream of acid at them.

The undead dragon manages to douse them in acid a second time before they can flee the narrow hallway, scattering into the larger room to better position themselves. Although the dragon is mighty, and dishes out some grievous injuries, the Shields of the Sorrowfell are triumphant, and manage to fell the creature through force of arms and magic. After scooping its treasure pile into Peren’s portable hole, the Shields debate whether they ought to rest here — as they are all tired, bearing various minor wounds, and have forgotten many of their prepared spells — or move onward. (Among the money, they also find a scroll, as well as four potions. Examining the potions suggests they are two potions of storm giant strength and two potions of superior healing. The healing potions are quickly distributed and consumed, while Peren and The Redemptorist take the two strength potions.) The overwhelming vote is that it is likely not safe to remain here, particularly once they notice some leather-winged creature swooping outside. Since it has spotted them, they make their way to the airlock and activate it with haste.

While they are waiting, two of the leather-winged creatures swoop into the cave to investigate. The Shields note they are monstrous, a mix of bat, lizard, and cadaver, bearing cadaverous riders wielding scythes. While waiting for the airlock, the Shields move to engage the creatures. The riders seem to be able to emit some psychic blast that unbalances some among the Shields, and they also frequently dismount and attack with scythes before teleporting back to their mounts to resume their strafing run. Still, despite their growing fatigue, the Shields manage to slay the mounts and destroy their riders with great haste. When the airlock opens, the Shields are glad to enter it again.

Returning to the interior of the lich’s dungeon, the Shields move through the secret panel. After taking a moment to magically heal and distribute their precious potions of healing, they decide to head toward the door.

Upon opening the door, the Shields find another octagonal room bearing tables around the periphery. Two of the robed undead work here, and the far side of the room is dominated by some apparatus with a glowing sphere atop it, radiating with colors similar to those of the prismatic sphere. As Peren and Torinn step into the room, they see the figures on the far side — the tattered form of the ghost who fled the battle earlier in the day, and a tall, robed figure with an ornate staff and bearing a veil with crimson trim. Her robe is a deep black, and bears various runes upon, looking similar to the black robe Bezaldooz used to wear as a vampire, and having some resemblance to the white robe he currently wears.

This, then, must be Morana the Forsaken.

She has little time to react before battle is joined. Torinn moves into combat with one of the corpses while Peren blows the horn of Valhalla and summons almost a score of berserkers. The berserkers are unable to harm Morana the Forsaken with their axes, but they do quickly surround her, as does Torinn. She counterspells Bezaldooz’s lightning bolt as he enters, and then smites him with a killing word — which he also attempts to counterspell, but her sorcery is too potent — prompting his lifeless body to fall to the ground. The Redemptorist, having entered the room to deal with the other robed corpse, grabs diamonds from his pack and moves over to Bezaldooz’s body, while Torinn slashes at her with his axe while Peren invokes a silence spell to prevent her casting.

In seconds, it is done. As Torinn cleaves deeply into her with his axe, Bosabrieln speaks the same killing word in turn, and her body collapses into dust, leaving only her robe and staff behind.

The berserkers quickly sicken and die in the poison gas, and The Redemptorist invokes revivify to bring Bezaldooz back from the dead. (He recalls only a brief vision of a pale woman upon a throne, clad in raven feathers and telling him it is not yet his time.)

Injured and fatigued, the group decides they must rest, even though Morana may soon be returned to life near her phylactery. (All agree the engine must house it.) Peren uses his rod of security to create a safe place for the Shields to recover. They find themselves inside the woodland paradise created by the rod, and their injuries swiftly heal. Given several hours to recover, they agree to return to the lich’s lair.

Once Bosabrieln’s seeming drops, they also notice they all look different now that they have the gods’ blessing. The gradual assumption of symbolic forms.

Returning where they left, they begin searching through Morana’s papers in the hopes of finding some clue that would reveal her weaknesses. It sounds as though all of her experiments obliquely involve attempting to somehow resurrect her family. As the wish spell has been lost to Khaldun for centuries, she has been seeking a way to receive it or a power similar to it. (This is no doubt why she has sought the Crux of Eternity for so long.) As for the undead godlings in the euphemistically-termed “nursery,” she thinks if she can raise them to adulthood under her control, she might be able to express dominion over them, or otherwise unlock the secrets of divinity to make her desires manifest. Through the examination of the convergences, she hopes to do much the same, or possibly discover another world where things (or her own capabilities) are different.

As for the layout of the dungeon, in addition to the areas they have already explored, it sounds as though the airlock before this room leads to some manner of research library. Back where the Shields entered, the lefthand path leads to prison cells and some manner of “convergence laboratory,” while also leading to the castle above this dungeon. The righthand path leads to guest rooms and some “nightwalker experiment,” whereby some of Morana’s agents are attempting to use sacrifices and a sphere of annihilation to summon a nightwalker — a terrible undead creature of Negative Energy — under their control.

Based on how she references the sphere of annihilation, Bezaldooz suspects it might be enough to destroy her phylactery.

Heading back to the first room they explored, they cut right towards the airlock leading to the guest rooms. Once the airlock cycles and grants them access, they emerge in a hallway. To the left is a closed door. To the right is a portcullis, guarded by two of the robed undead, which leads to a room bearing a teleportation circle. Straight ahead is an octagonal room bearing more of the robed undead, as well as several unconscious humans, silver wire threaded through their skins. A jet black orb hovers among them: the sphere of annihilation the Shields of the Sorrowfell seek.

Battle is instantly joined as the robed undead notice the Shields’ approach. A robed figure opens the lefthand door, shouting profanity and warning those in the guest rooms that the Shields are here. Torinn sends his shield guardian to guard the door while Bezaldooz launches a fireball into the testing room. Realizing at the last moment that the six figures on the floor are still alive, he sculpts the spell around four of the six figures, which is the best he can do. He destroys most of the robed figures in the room, although one remains, and he kills two of the unconscious figures on the floor.

So it goes.

The robed figures by the portcullis manage to paralyze Peren and Torinn while Bezaldooz and Bosabrieln continue slinging spells, and The Redemptorist starts moving into the room. Meanwhile, in the guest rooms, another robed figure runs into the room, followed by a woman’s voice who shouts that they’re just wasting their time, as the Shields are going to kill them all. Two more figures also emerge from the guest rooms — one is a tall, slim, robed figure with a greatsword whose head has been replaced with a giant eyeball, and the other is a stout, armored figure with two short swords whose head has been replaced with a giant hand.

Bosabrieln attempts to lock down the room with a hypnotic pattern, but only succeeds in stunning the acolytes. The eye-headed being does something to the shield guardian, drawing forth its animating essence into its eye and causing it to collapse, inert. Peren throws off his mental confusion and slays the robed figures while beginning to move into the laboratory. Similarly shaken from his stupor, Torinn clambers over his shield guardian as Bezaldooz slings spells behind him, slaying the two acolytes and injuring the eye and hand creatures. Torinn quickly dispatches the eye and hand creatures while Peren and The Redemptorist make short work of the last robed undead.

Peren and The Redemptorist set about unspooling the silver wire from the prisoners and retrieving the black sapphire they appeared to be using as a focus (with Peren taking the strange necklace the main robed undead in this room wore) while Bezaldooz activates the portcullis and begins examining the teleportation circle sequence for this circle. Bosabrieln and Peren speak to the surviving cultist, a pale human woman with raven hair, her eyes strangely colored with yellow-green irises and black sclera. Introducing herself as Ormen Bel, she indicates she is with the Bleak Academy in Skull City, and she is well-acquainted with the Shields’ reputation — after all, they apparently fought Acererak long ago, and his initial interest in soul manipulation came about from his time trapped in the helm of seven deaths. As for Ormen, she was here to learn more about Morana the Forsaken’s soul manipulation methods, as well as some of her other research. Since the Shields are here, however, she expects that Morana is soon-to-be dead. (The Shields inform her they have already killed her.) She is pleased to take her leave without incident, although Torinn doesn’t feel particularly good about that prospect. There’s some arguing about whether or not she should help activate the teleportation circle, but they finally decide against it.

Meanwhile, The Redemptorist rouses the surviving sacrifices. All are relatively light-skinned humans. Divested of their equipment, there is still some indication as to their places of origin: one wears the tattered frock of a priest, one is slim and seems to bear the manner and clothing of a rogue or thief, and the other two wear leather clothing in strange styles. One of the latter two has a metal hand. The priest and rogue seem frightened, thinking the Shields are demons and they are in Hell, but the other two mostly seem annoyed and take their current circumstances in stride. (They indicate they were escorting someone “in the catacombs beneath Threed, researching Akashic points” when they were captured, and that they won’t get paid if they return without him.) It is clear they have been brought here through convergences, and originate from other planes of existence. Eventually, a plan is hatched: they will wrest control of the sphere of annihilation, give the bottled breath to the surviving sacrifices, walk back to the lich’s control room, destroy the phylactery-engine, and Bezaldooz will teleport them out. They will also take the two dead sacrifices in the hopes of resurrecting them, and once they have left this place, they can find passage to Sigil or somewhere to get these misplaced travelers back home.

Ormen Bel seems to be under the idea that she will use the teleportation circle to escape, but Torinn still isn’t thrilled about the idea. However, when Bezaldooz realizes that he cannot teleport everyone, The Redemptorist volunteers to stay behind, since he is just a projection of the snailstone anyway.

Particularly if he can kill the necromancer while he’s here.

It is agreed. They convince the victims to inhale the bottled breath while Peren drinks one of the potions of storm giant strength (The Redemptorist gives him the other one), and the party heads back to the lich’s chamber, with Peren ripping open airlocks the whole way. Once they arrive in the engine room, Bezaldooz directs the sphere of annihilation to the glowing sphere atop the apparatus.

It makes contact, and there is a flash of light followed by the glowing sphere being sucked into the sphere of annihilation. There is an awful lurching sound and sensation, and then a feeling of weightlessness before the Shields quickly realize that they are not floating, but falling. After a brief argument regarding where Bezaldooz should teleport them, he decides on the Market Square teleportation circle in Scandshar.

Once the Shields arrive in Scandshar, they are shortly thereafter enveloped by a rainbow light from Bosabrieln’s pack. (Bosie surmises this marks The Redemptorist’s return to the snailstone, no doubt caused by the flying castle crashing into its final destination.) They take their accompanying planar travelers into a secluded place so Bosabrieln may access Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion. Once inside, he sets about invoking resurrection upon the two dead planar travelers, using some diamonds Peren keeps in his portable hole. Although the priest and the thief still believe they are in Hell, once revived, the other two seem to be reacting a little better to their current circumstances.

Proper introductions are finally made. The priest is Father Heinfried Ohrsten, his wiry friend is Engelbrecht Veit, and the two resurrected veterans are Aldric and Durnhelm Teuber. As for the other two, clad in strange leathers, the one with the metal hand (who does most of the talking) is “Mad Dog” Eddie, while the other is named Mike Dyer. They all speak of distant realms and places, but seem to find some common understanding. (Even if Eddie decries most of what he sees as “Renn Faire bullshit,” whatever that means.)

With that complete, Shields settle down to rest for the night.

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