Chronicles of Khaldun: Crux of Eternity

The Crux of Eternity, Part 6

Starday, Fireseek 22, 553 CY (51 AN)

While Peren investigates the burial chamber, Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, “Mad Dog” Eddie, Mike Dyer, Renthiruhar, and Torinn are still in the forge. Renthiruhar asks where Peren went shortly before he returns, having investigated the room and spiked the doors open. The group heads to the burial chamber and takes position around the sarcophagus, suspecting they will find something within. Eddie and Torinn take positions to open the lid.

When Torinn wrenches open the lid, he finds a large, iron automaton inside, sword in hand, ready to attack. The melee is short but fierce, and after a tense exchange of blows and spells, the construct falls back into the coffin, partially falling apart from Bezaldooz’s casting of Melf’s acid arrow. (Notably, the travelers discover that Eddie’s blade and Mike’s arrows have no effect upon the construct.) Torinn removes the head with his axe, placing it in his pack as a keepsake.

The coffin contains a crossbar set with gems, but it is a mere simulacrum of the Crux of Eternity and bears no magic.

This is a false tomb.

They wander back to the forge and begin investigating for any secrets they might find; Bosie is the first to suggest the giant anvil makes sense, while Peren is the first to notice very faint drag marks in the floor, indicating it can be shifted. Torinn unscrews the massive bolts holding it into the floor, and he, Eddie, Peren, and the shield guardian begin to push; Peren having assistance from an enhance ability spell from Bosabrieln. With a terrible wrenching sound, the anvil is pushed, revealing a locked trapdoor. The trapdoor accepts the large key Peren retrieved from the secret room, and as he opens it, stairs descend into darkness, betraying only a faint sulfur smell.

The Shields of the Sorrowfell descend into the dark.

The stairs spiral downward as the sulfur smell intensifies. As they spy an opening in the hallway, leading to a larger cavern, they hear the clanking of plates as another automaton moves to engage. It sounds as if others are moving in the darkness.

Bezaldooz throws a fireball down the stairs, only to watch in horror as the construct absorbs it. Torinn and Peren move down the stairs to engage, while the casters stay back on the stairs to hammer the constructs with spells. Eddie and Mike hang back, as they are less effective. Although Torinn suffers under the construct’s heavy blows, he manages to hold the line as the Shields work to destroy it.

Two additional constructs move into position behind it. Although they are just as powerful and resistant to damage, they are quickly destroyed, albeit after hammering Torinn with blows and blades, and spraying a poisonous mist over Bezaldooz and Peren.

The cave bears hot sulfur springs, the source of the stench. Although Torinn can lower the visor on his helmet, the others must make do — the smell is nearly overwhelming, and while they do not think they can linger long here, the Shields continue undaunted. Renthiruhar takes the worst of it, feeling sickened and nauseated.

After passing the sulfur springs, the travelers find themselves in a large chamber, the ceiling held aloft by rock pillars. At the far end of the room lies a stone dias bearing an enormous stone coffin bound with iron bands. The coffin is etched with Celestial runes; Bosabrieln reads them as a litany of Sorg’s deeds and the tale of his death, ending with the refrain, “The traitor-god lies here in eternal vigil.”

As they approach, there is a rumbling from the sarcophagus, and the lid is thrown aside as a massive giant emerges — a bearded man in a ragged blacksmith’s apron, his eyes milky and his skin rent and rotting. He holds a massive hammer, and an obsidian spike pierces his chest.

Renthiruhar yells that they must force him to leave his coffin.

As he lurches forward, he invokes a spell, which Bezaldooz prevents. He then slams his hammer to the ground, knocking down everyone except Peren, who is hiding behind a pillar, invisible. The Shields begin their advance, peppering him with spells as Peren and Torinn begin to move into melee. To force him to move, Renthiruhar casts a spell, vomiting forth a cloud of black scarabs that envelop him. He ignores them at first, but as they bite his flesh, he begins to leave his coffin.

He is quickly felled after that, brough low by blades and spells. His body collapses upon the stairs leading to the dias where his sarcophagus lies.

The Shields begin to investigate as Peren and Renthiruhar climb into Sorg’s sarcophagus, aware of the crystalline cross, roughly the size of a human’s forearm, lying at the bottom of the coffin. They approach, and Renthiruhar asks if she may examine it. Peren says she may, and she gathers the Crux of Eternity.

She looks distant for a moment, then touches the necklace at her throat and begins invoking a spell.

Peren, suspicious of the proceedings and seeing what’s happening, rushes forward to grab the Crux of Eternity from her hands.

As he touches it, Peren finds himself somewhere else.

He is standing in a hall, clearly a forge of some kind, with a burly, kindly man with a large beard hunched over an anvil, hammering a weapon. He smiles at Peren, and says his own vigil is ended — the Crux of Eternity is to be guarded by the Shields of the Sorrowfell for the moment, another step in its journey before it finds its final rest.

He also notes that Renthiruhar’s intentions are impure, that he needs to get the Crux away from her and ensure that she does not retrieve it at any cost.

Peren asks where Sorg will go now that his duty is discharged, and he shrugs. He says he is not a death god, and knows not where souls go afterward. Into the afterlife, he supposes.

The vision fades, and Peren finds himself back in the sarcophagus, wrestling with Renthiruhar. He wrests the Crux away from her and rushes to the far side of the coffin, shouting a warning to the others. She mutters something about, “That damn quasit had one job,” as the Shields approach.

Bosabrieln, near the sarcophagus, climbs the side and balances on the lip, invoking a power word: stun, but it has no effect on Renthiruhar. Torinn joins the fray, gliding into the sarcophagus, to prevent Renthiruhar from escaping. She pulls an iron bottle from her pack and uncorks it, conjuring a massive, red-skinned, winged, horned brute wielding a fire whip and a sword crackling with electricity. Bosabrieln keeps it bound with a hypnotic pattern__ while Torinn begins hacking at Renthiruhar, quickly discovering that she is not as she appears — when his axe bites into her, it cuts normally through her clothing, but only injures her slightly as it cuts into her, as her body twists and writhes to avoid the brunt of the blow.

Black, biting scarabs boil out the wound, making it apparent that she comprises a colony of the things.

Still, she does not last long as Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, and Torinn turn their full attention to her. She swiftly collapses into a pile of beetles.

Rather than fighting the demon, the group decides to beat a retreat and trap the creature in Sorg’s tomb, closing and locking the trapdoor before pushing the anvil back into place. They can hear the demon below, roaring and banging against the door.

Their task complete, the Shields return to the surface. The skeleton activates the lift, returning them to the main floor, and after wandering through hallways, they are met by another one of the strange, wizened elves of the Sorgtomb Citadel. They explain their purpose, and the elf asks if they need to speak with the Marquis d’Ennui. They do not, although if he wishes to speak with them, they will wait out front. The elf guides them to the main entrance and sends them on their way.

After waiting for ten minutes or so, content that they will not be summoned before the Marquis, the Shields agree to plane shift to Scandshar, operating on the idea that they may investigate the Chasm of the Cogitovore when they’ve rested. Bezaldooz casts the spell, and the Shields arrive in the Scandshar market, quickly finding a place for Bosabrieln to cast Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion.

Once inside, however, they discuss their options. Bosabrieln wishes to invade Kiaransalee’s domain, freeing the souls she has slain and restoring Vianibrar to life. As it seems that their destinies are leading them to confront the Illustrious Menagerie of Peacocks, the Shields don’t seem to have a pressing timeline on confronting the Peacocks, and the Far Realm is dangerous enough that they don’t know what will happen upon their return, the Shields decide that they will ask the Headmaster about their god-fighting options tomorrow. Examining the objects they recovered from Sorg’s Tomb, they find that Renthiruhar held an amulet of the planes and an iron flask. While the Crux of Eternity seems as though it is too potent for mortals to use, the Shields suspect they can use its godlike power, albeit at a cost of a curious sort of weakness, only to be undone by the intervention of a deity.

It seems too powerful for them to use and too dangerous to carry, so before they travel to Duchy Jepson, they decide to head to Argent first thing in the morning.

They also discuss Renthiruhar’s betrayal. Based on their observations, they suspect she was a deathscarab lamia: strange, fey predators dimly related to worldly lamias. However, they also recall that certain elite members of the race known as “the Chosen of Graz’zt” are servitors of the demon lord Graz’zt, acting as his infiltrators and spies across the cosmos. Her reference to “that damn quasit” likely means Bono, suggesting that he was acting as a spy for the demon lord for his entire service under Bezaldooz. If a demon lord, particularly one so powerful as Graz’zt, desires the Crux of Eternity — and has twice managed to insert spies into their ranks — they must be particularly cautious.

On the morrow, the Shields leave Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion, exiting to teleport back to Argent. Once there, they seek Valna, finding her in the Guardian’s Tower with two torrians, reviewing reports and other notes. After they exchange greetings and introduce Eddie and Mike, the Shields explain their current situation and present Valna with the Crux of Eternity for safekeeping, while also presenting her with an evil-aligned robe of the archmagi they found in Aalsburg Castle and have not yet had a chance to neutralize or study. She takes both, swears the torrians with her to tell no one of this, and leaves to consign both items to Argent’s vaults.

The Shields of the Sorrowfell then visit the tavern to acquire beer. There they introduce Eddie and Mike to Obash and Hurm da Wurm, among others. They inform Obash of current events, and he indicates not much has happened since they last saw one another, other than he and his crew have run a couple of errands for Valna. Peren muses on hiring a wizard to teleport the orc mercenaries back and forth, and they say they’ll keep an eye out as they travel. During the course of the conversation, it becomes clear that the Shields’ work is probably a little too dangerous for Eddie and Mike, so the pair agrees to join Obash’s mercenaries (particularly since that’s the sort of work they’re used to doing).

Once the Shields have had a chance to eat and drink, they teleport to Duchy Jepson to inquire with the Headmaster. The Headmaster is in a meeting with Gloomblight Spellweaver and Uaaru when they arrive, but he welcomes them, saying he has news. Apparently, they have discovered another piece of the Sentinel — they previously had evidence that the Sentinel into which the Shields of the Sorrowfell delved was just a portion of the craft, and the planar craft was designed to break apart during entry into the world, but they have now discovered another piece. They managed to recover several artifacts and a lot of information from the discovery, so they’re all quite excited.

After the Headmaster dismisses Gloomblight and Uaaru, he also notes that they had a spot of bad news. The other day, a redcap came and started attacking outlying farms and slaughtering cattle. (A shame he says, as they don’t have many cattle to spare.) When they took down the redcap, they found it had a note, presumably for the Shields of the Sorrowfell. The Headmaster hands Bosabrieln a small, rolled scroll, and Bosie unfurls it, revealing the following message, written in blood:

SHEELDS
YUR SLAEV IS PRISUNUR UV WASP WICH
SCRY BLUD

After the phrase “SCRY BLUD” is a bloody fingerprint. It would seem some force, presumably the aforementioned “wasp witch,” has captured Ekaterina and provided the means necessary to scry on her.

The Shields agree they need to save her, although Bezaldooz cannot cast scrying until he studies his spells again on the morrow. They reason that she is not likely to be in any more danger tomorrow than she is today, so they can proceed with their activities as planned.

With the Headmaster’s business complete, Bosabrieln asks if this chamber is reasonably secure — the Headmaster says absolute security is hard to guarantee, but his office is warded — and Bosabrieln explains that he seeks Kiaransalee’s domain to find her and destroy her, freeing the petitioners she has bound in death. (He’ll no doubt then use his own resurrection spell in tandem with Vianibrar’s dust to restore Vianibrar to life.)

Can Headmaster Jepson render aid?

The Headmaster says he doesn’t immediately know anyone free to go god-hunting, and most of the people at the Wizard’s Tower are students and sages, but he’ll have to think on it. He’ll do some research and respond to Bosabrieln in a day or so.

In the meantime, Bosabrieln and the rest of the Shields are free to use the facilities to perform research.

Bosabrieln’s inquiry also reminds the Headmaster of something he forgot to mention earlier. Moridal delivered some of Vianibrar’s personal effects and notes to the Wizard’s Tower for study, and over the course of their investigation, they discovered that one of his journals was written in a cipher.

Once decrypted, the journal described a song that is keyed to a specific iteration of the demiplane spell. Vianibrar’s secret library is located on this demiplane, detailing his investigation of the Illustrious Menagerie of Peacocks, among other subjects. They are still investigating the materials, but as his apprentice, Bosabrieln is of course welcome to examine the library.

Bosabrieln, for his part, is more than happy to examine the library with Vianibrar once he restores him to life.

The Shields then go their separate ways. Most of the others are resupplying or performing their own research, so Bosabrieln heads to the library. When he is displeased with the little information he finds, he turns to legend lore to try to learn more of Kiaransalee and her machinations. His first casting returns the following information: “Terrible and beautiful, the Vengeful Banshee plots her revenge from the Prime world of Guldor. Cast from her home by Prince Orcus, she has many enemies, and only persists because she knows Death itself.” His second casting, this time to learn of the world of Guldor, returns, “Besieged by dark elves eons ago, dwarfhome Maldev was its last capital, now claimed by the Revenancer. The dark elves won, and the place is now a wasteland, fit only for demons and ghosts. It is trapped in the Spider Queen’s web.

Figuring that these will form good starting points for the time being, he reconvenes with the rest of the Shields of the Sorrowfell, and they eventually retire to the Addled Alchemist for the night.

That night, Bosabrieln has a dream of wandering in a dark wood. Sitting on a stump in the midst of a clearing is a nude woman with red hair, her back turned towards Bosabrieln. He can tell from the color of her hair, her stature, and her tattoos that she is Ekaterina. She is shivering in the cold, and so he approaches, removing his coat — Vianibrar’s coat — to put around her shoulders. He taps her on the shoulder to get her attention, and she turns.

The skin on her front half is gone, revealing muscle and bone slick with gore. Rivulets of blood drip down her front, and as she looks at Bosabrieln with wide eyes, she says, “Your doom is written in the dream that devours.”

Bosabrieln awakens with a start.

He dresses and heads to Peren’s room, knowing that he is likely to be awake. He knocks on the door and reports his nightmare, adding that he suspects it was a usage of the dream spell, meaning that something capable of spellcasting made her transmit, and specifically had her transmit the spell’s attack aspect.

They might as well allow the others to sleep, but they’ll investigate first thing in the morning.

Over breakfast, Bosabrieln recounts his dream, and Bezaldooz takes the bloody note, preparing to scry. When the ritual is complete, he finds himself in a small cabin. Cozy, it is festooned with herbs and knickknacks, the detritus of hedge magic. There is only a single door, and a window whose shutter was long ago nailed shut. A woman — a bald dark elf — tends a cauldron over the cookfire in the hearth, nervously glancing back at her bed beneath the closed window. Lying upon the bed, surrounded by wildflowers, is the slumbering form of Ekaterina, wearing a white robe.

As Bezaldooz watches, the woman finishes her task, emptying the soup inside the cauldron into two bowls. Setting one aside, she takes the other and moves over to the bed, feeding soup to the sleeping Ekaterina.

Bezaldooz, having narrated to the others this entire time, knows the scrying spell is almost done. The others have heard enough and are prepared to go. Noting that the space is small, they leave the shield guardian behind, although Torinn commands it to stand in the vicinity of the Wizard’s Tower. Bezaldooz then casts teleport.

The Shields arrive in the midst of the woman’s cabin, surprising her such that she yelps, spilling soup everywhere. Ekaterina does not react.

Torinn steps forward, axe to the dark elf’s throat. The Shields question her, and she reveals that she is known as the Wasp Witch, a local witch of the woods. (She has a drow name, but rejected it when she abandoned her people and came to live on the surface.) She largely helps local women who need assistance with pregnancies, that sort of thing. Lately, however, she has been visited by an old woman, a witch named Opal who ordered her to care for this woman they see before them. She explained that people would come for this woman, and when they did, the Wasp Witch was to convey Opal’s instructions — the Wasp Witch is to administer a sleeping draught, because the means to save Ekaterina may be found in dreams. She was given specific instructions as to what to do.

She does not know why, nor does she know why she was selected to perform this task. She had never encountered Opal before a couple of days ago.

She suspects, however, that there are other witches with Opal. She could hear them outside sometimes.

Bosabrieln is convinced that the Wasp Witch is, as she says, innocent in these events, but Peren is still suspicious and Torinn is totally unconvinced. Bezaldooz says he will perform a detect magic to determine what manner of enchantment has been placed on Ekaterina. A magical aura blazes around the sleeping woman, and he senses enchantment and necromancy of middling power, and strong illusion magic. He decides to unweave the illusion first, casting dispel magic on it.

Ekaterina turns to snow and quickly begins to melt. The Wasp Witch gasps. Bezaldooz strongly suspects this Ekaterina was a product of the simulacrum spell, so this whole thing was some manner of trick or setup.

At Torinn’s renewed inquiries, she swears she didn’t know what was going to happen, she was merely threatened and given instructions. The Shields plan on tracking these witches in the hopes of finding Ekaterina, and Torinn insists that the Wasp Witch accompanies them while bound. Bosabrieln and the Wasp Witch press for her to go freely, and Torinn says he will kill her if she causes trouble. She agrees. She dons a cloak, peaked hat, and goggles with frosted glass before leaving.

The Shields of the Sorrowfell and the Wasp Witch trek through the snowy woods for an hour, with Peren following the path the witch took into the woods. It appears to be just the one, roughly human-sized, although she is occasionally accompanied by two other sets of footprints. Based on how they come and go, they must be teleporting or otherwise engaging in magical transit.

As Peren is scouting ahead under the influence of pass without trace, he scouts ahead when he sees the witch’s hut, a glorified bower hanging among the branches of several twisted trees. Before he approaches, he returns to the others, and they move together under the cover of pass without trace. When they see the hut, they move inside.

They are greeted by an ancient woman, nude with stringy hair and small, spiraling horns, her orange skin covered in some manner of tallow. Her hut is stuffed with knickknacks and trinkets, and this place smells musty and faintly of death — no doubt from the gristle and bone strewn across the floor.

She cackles, announcing, “The fish is your friend,” as the Shields enter. Battle is short and swift: Torinn moves to engage, hacking at the witch with his axe, while Bosabrieln invokes a glamor and the Wasp Witch invokes a flickering ball of flame and launches it at the horned woman. The strange woman attempts to invoke a spell which Bezaldooz counterspells, and then she calls out for her sisters.

No one arrives. Bezaldooz conjures a ray of frost and freezes the horned woman solid. The forest is still.

Once they are certain no one is coming, they investigate her hut. They find clippings of red hair that are likely Ekaterina’s, indicating she was here within the past few days, and they suspect these remains have been here longer than that.

Ekaterina, then, is nowhere to be found.

Bosabrieln does find two trinkets that he suspects are magical, however. He finds a black lacquered box of moderate size, and a dowsing rod carved with small runes. He takes both.

Once they are certain nothing further of Ekaterina remains, they investigate the trinkets. They open the box at a distance with mage hand, and three figurines climb out — small wooden dolls resembling Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, and Peren. They do not speak, but caper about in mocking fashion, responding to asked questions with rude gestures. After experimentation, they are certain these dolls are not connected to them in any appreciable way, as shaking them does not provoke a reaction in themselves. Torinn asks the Bezaldooz doll if it knows where Ekaterina is, and in response to its gesture, annihilates it with his lightning breath. The two other dolls cower in fear, and Bosabrieln gathers them and returns them to the box.

As for the dowsing rod, it does not guide him to Ekaterina or where she remains, but when he attempts to find water, it begins pulling in a direction. He hands it to Bezaldooz and it immediately stops; Bezaldooz’s analysis suggests that it’s a charm, designed to function one time, and only finding creatures or objects within 1000 feet.

Having completed their investigation, and convinced the Wasp Witch has nothing to do with this, they let her go. She tells them to come visit if they require herbal remedies and are in better spirits, and she trudges back into the woods.

The Shields agree that this bower ought to be burned, and so start that process. Bosabrieln also realizes that there is something else he has not tried, so he casts a sending spell on Ekaterina. He senses the connection across a great distance, and asks, “Ransom note received. Are you safe? Do you know where you are?” Ekaterina replies, “Prison. Don’t know where. Kidnapped by witches? Hags? Threatened with ‘Chimeric Amphitheater’ and ‘concubine to the Khan of Nightmares.’ Suspect I’m bait for you.

Knowing that she is relatively safe, he takes the information he just learned and reports to the others. With no knowledge of these terms, Bosabrieln takes out his incense and ivory strips and prepares to cast legend lore again while the others stand guard.

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