Pathfinder Greycloak Campaign

Episode 33

Episode 33: 10/31/10

The Party:
Ashelia Raminas, elf ranger 6/rogue 3
Nineve, human knight/9
Xicar, human cleric 7/entropomancer 2

After the party is over, we reunite with 31E and Dog and gather our belongings. The Palace guards escort us through the great gilded doors of the Silverspire, and out onto a wide terrace overlooking the snow-frosted and foggy city far below. Fog is everywhere. Fog along the river, where it glows orange, lit by streetlamps; fog rolls among the tiers of towers and tenements, and the polluted streets of a great and dirty city.

A short distance ahead is a sort of staging area for small, personal airships. A few seem to be available for hire, but most are elegant and ornate affairs that are certainly the private conveyances of wealthy individuals. After a brief discussion with an airman, we board a small airship. It begins its decent toward Dura, and the Tower Macabre far below. The airship resembles a cross between a carriage and a longboat, with a comfortably appointed cabin. Outside we can see the fog-enshrouded city growing slowly nearer as we descend.

Suddenly, the airship lurches alarmingly, free-falling for a few heart-stopping seconds before returning to its previous controlled descent. Outside the cabin the airman begins shouting, obviously frightened by the strange turn of events. That’s not a good sign!

The airman explains that occasionally the magic that suspends an airships fails, but it’s really rare. We press him about emergency procedures, you know, just in case. He tells us that normally he carries a supply of Tokens of Featherfall, but most of his went “missing” and he never replaced them. He currently has 2. He insists on keeping one for himself, but that only leaves 1 for all of us! As we’re arguing with him about it, the airship simply begins falling. The sudden roar of rushing air is nearly deafening as the airship lists to one side, pitching us into empty space over the great city!

Nineve begins gently floating downward, thanks to her Featherfall ring. I hear Xicar casting Air Walk and I quickly lose sight of them both as a bright flash catches the small part of my brain that isn’t wholly consumed with the rapid approach of the unforgiving ground. A blinding bolt of energy leaps from the strange bronze canister, striking Haroldur in the back, and he stops plummeting! The intricate metal wings he has worn for so long have somehow become a pair of broad and graceful white-feathered wings! Lucky bastard.

Clutching a very tense Dog close to my chest, I turn my attention back to my impending doom. I know there’s no way I’ll survive the fall, but I begin to brace for impact anyway. Suddenly, I feel someone grab me from behind – It’s Haroldur! With the combined weight of all three of us, he can’t completely control our descent, but his powerful new wings turn a lethal plummet into a tumble we all walk away from with not so much as a sprained ankle. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so relieved to see him, and with our history, that’s saying a lot!

We land roughly on street level and collect ourselves. Surprisingly, we managed to avoid being scattered too widely. After a few moments, Nineve and the airman touch down nearby – the airman wisely takes off at a sprint. Xicar finishes his descent down the AirStairs a few seconds later, breathing heavily from the excitement and exertion. However, there is no sign of 31E anywhere. Above us, we hear a faint whistling that rapidly grows louder. Looking up, we see a golden object tumbling out of the sky toward us! It strikes the pavement near us with a tremendous crash, throwing stone and dirt high into the air, along with a blinding shower of… rose petals of all things.

As the dust settles we recognize the familiar shape of the bronze canister we recovered from the Starry Mirror half-buried at the bottom of a shallow crater. As I climb down to retrieve it, I realize with a sinking feeling that 31E might well be in pieces at the bottom of a similar crater. Suddenly, I notice that my companions have turned away from my rescue effort. I grab the canister and vault over the lip of the crater to see 31E approaching! He’s holding a feather token! He explains he found the “curious object” under his seat and was examining it when the airship malfunctioned. We’re all thrilled to see him in one piece.

It is now very late at night, and there’s no way we can make it back to the Cabal at this hour. We’ll need to find a place to stay for the night. We’ll be unable to leave our current district (wherever that may be) until morning anyway.

I use my extensive local knowledge to lead us to the Duck and Goose, a six-story tower converted into an inn and tavern. We raise the sleepy innkeeper, who lets us two rooms. Nineve somehow intimidates him into providing us with hot baths in the middle of the night. We clean up and go to sleep.

A little while later, I’m pulled from my trance by a loud noise. Nineve is awake and bleeding from the head, and the Ulolock is rolling slightly on the uneven floor. It must’ve somehow fallen and hit her on the head. Then I notice something else that’s strange…the inn is on fire! We wake the men and make our way out of the inn, and find that the rest of the staff and guests are also fleeing the burning building. We step outside just as part of the inn collapses and the fire rages out of control. We work with the innkeeper and other citizens to put out the blaze. Hours later the fire is extinguished with little damage to nearby buildings. Thin fingers of grey stretch across the sky, heralding the coming dawn. Just before we leave, I Sift the ruins of the inn:

I see a cook loading the stove, knocking some coals onto the floor. Then a scullery maid accidentally sweeps a large coal through a doorway, where a sandal just like Xicar’s kicks it down a stairwell to land in a pile of straw. It smolders for some time, before bursting into flames.

My companions are curious. I dust the ash from my hands and shoot Xicar a look, but chose not to share my findings with the innkeeper.

As we start for home, Haroldur calls an informal meeting which turns into a minor argument. He points out that we’ve had nothing but trouble lately: the airship’s failure, the fire at the inn, and blames our misfortune on the Ulolock. He thinks we should get rid of it or leave it here, because it’s too dangerous to take with us back to the Cabal. Nineve agrees, rubbing the large knot on her forehead. I point out that the Ulolock has saved our lives twice, once by giving him wings (which, disappointingly, have turned back into his familiar mechanical accessory overnight), and once by waking us up, which alerted us to the fire. Furthermore, if the canister really is dangerous, leaving it anywhere but the Cabal would be completely irresponsible. No one seems to have a retort for this, so we continue on with the Ulolock in tow.

As a foggy dawn breaks and the legitimate portions of Istivin wake, we begin the last leg of our journey home. Before we really have an opportunity to look for a hire carriage, one drops its first hire of the day directly across the street. As the wealthy-looking passenger disembarks, the driver glances toward us and indicates that his carriage is now available.

As Xicar finds a seat within the carriage, he sits upon something wedged between the cushions. He finds an unmarked coin pouch with a handful of coins within. A quick count reveals 40 platinum pieces! We glance about for the carriage’s previous occupant, but he’s already gone. Xicar shrugs and happily tucks the pouch into his pack.

A short while later a loud crack interrupts our journey. The carriage lurches violently, nearly throwing a couple of us from our seats and comes to an abrupt halt. The driver quickly explains that one of the coach’s wheels has broken, and he’ll be unable to take us any further. He apologizes excessively for the inconvenience.

Back out on the street, it takes us a few minutes to secure a new coach, but soon enough we are under way again. The coach continues for several hours uneventfully, as I reflect upon the relative peace of Istivin. A panicked shout disturbs my reverie.

A moment later the coach is full of dust and noise as something large crashes through the roof into the passenger compartment! The coach comes to an immediate stop. After a second or two, we determine that a worker has somehow fallen from his perch on a ladder far above the street, and into our carriage! Lucky for him, the coach broke his fall, and he is completely unhurt, although a little shaken.

The startled driver explains that he will be unable to continue your journey. He apologizes for the inconvenience.

As we make our way towards Dura on foot for a while through the crowded and foggy streets, we are once again interrupted. A young man rushes up to us, carrying on at some length about his day-long search for a Greycloak such as ourselves. He explains that recently, the Cabal helped him sort out a tangled legal affair involving his inheritance. Extremely grateful, he has been searching for a Greycloak to whom he can pay the legal fee. Luckily, we came along when we did. Unfortunately he knows nothing about the Cabal member who aided him, but he seems sure we can
locate them. He hands Haroldur a small pouch containing several gems, and seems content that that should cover the fee.
A quick count values the gems at about 1,200gp!

The young man shakes hands with all of us vigorously, and turns to leave. As he is crossing the street, he turns to wave to us, again shouting his thanks. Tragically, he doesn’t see the heavily loaded wagon that plows into him before any of us can react, despite the driver’s attempt to halt his draft team. After doing what we can to help clean up the mess, we continue on our journey.

The remainder of the trip back to the Cabal can only be described as strange. Several more peculiar and unlikely events punctuate the bizarre journey home. Needless to say it takes far longer than it should, but eventually we make our way through the long rows of mausoleums that encircle our home, and arrive at the Tower Macabre.

When we arrive it is late evening, but the familiar faces of Legionnaires and acolytes greet us warmly. Apparently Marten has told the Cabal staff to expect our return. We are shown to our old chambers; although spartan, they are familiar and comfortable. Clean clothes and a simple meal awaits each of us, as well as a note from Mossad requesting a word once we’ve settled in. Dog jumps onto my bed, turns around a few times, and immediately falls asleep. It’s not a bad idea.

I take a long, relaxing bath, thoroughly soaking the dust, sweat, blood, and grime from my hair and body for the first time in months. Why is it the road to adventure is never lined with saunas and spas? I’m not given to vanity, but I revel in the thought that good personal hygiene is once again a luxury I can afford.

I slip into clean clothes, climb into bed around the immovable weight of Dog, and drift into a deep, restful trance.

In the morning, we visit Mossad. Though normally quiet and reserved, he is clearly happy to see us. Mossad’s office is covered with maps of Istivin. Each is marked in red with circles and numbers, although what they indicate isn’t clear. We inquire, and Mossad explains that there have been a couple outbreaks of undead throughout the city. At first they seemed unrelated, but the increasing severity of the outbreaks has raised concerns. Also, the alchemical nature of the undead in each of the outbreaks provided a common thread.

The first outbreak, which happened over two months ago, wasn’t very bad. There were less than 200 casualties. Most were simply killed by the rampant undead, but a few awakened as undead and continued the outbreak for a short time before it burned itself out.

A little over a month ago there was another outbreak. This one was worse. With the help of several other Churches, the outbreak was controlled after several days, but with nearly 1000 casualties. Many of the victims rose as undead to spread the problem, more than with the previous outbreak, but most of the victims were simply killed. The undead were mindless, like zombies, but quicker, and dripping with caustic alchemical fluids.

We get the feeling we’ve seen something like this before. Our thoughts turn to Filge as Mossad drops the subject and asks us about our long travels. We give an informal explanation, trying to hit the important highlights without taking all of his time. We leave out the part about Lazare turning into a copper dragon…

Mossad tells us that Marten is already expecting a full formal report of our actions since leaving the Cabal nearly 3 months ago, and notes that he’ll be glad to have 31E returned.

We show him the Rod of Lawsome and the Ulolok. Mossad is impressed and intrigued by the Rod Fragment, and handles it reverentially. However, he is visibly concerned about the Ulolok, and recommends speaking to Advocat about it.

Mossad also jokes with us about the incident at the palace and the play we put on, asking that we perform it one day for the members of the Cabal. We politely decline.

As we are about to leave, our attention is once again drawn to the maps of the recent outbreaks. Xicar brings up the name which has been on all our minds: Filge. Mossad gets up, and gesturing with his remaining hand, leads us out of his office. He guides us to a portion of the Tower that we have rarely had reason to visit: the Feeble Rooms.

Within, dozens slack jawed men and women stare at us with blank eyes as Mossad leads us onward. Here and there an acolyte will occasionally wipe drool from a chin, or carefully spoon food into the open mouth of one of the pitiful wretches. As I suppress a chill, Mossad explains that we are walking among some of the most dangerous and notorious necromancers in Caledon. That they no longer have the power to harm is a blessing of the Lady.

With a dismissive gesture he indicates Tares, the young acolyte we captured in Diamond Lake so long ago. Curious, I look at him intently. The change which strikes me most is in his eyes: where there was once a bright, hard gleam reflecting madness, desperation and hate, there is now nothing. Looking into his eyes is like looking into an empty grey fog. I feel myself begin to pity him, and immediately stiffen. I force myself to recall his undead horrors, the Caller-in-Darkness which he was protecting, and to imagine the terror and suffering he would have unleashed on the world if given the chance. I turn away from him abruptly, as one would from a discarded object, and continue down the corridor.

A little further, Mossad stops before another of the drooling, mindless animals, and turns to us expectantly. It takes a second, but recognition dawns on us. Sitting before us, staring blankly off into space is Filge, the necromancer who plagued our early steps as Greycloaks.

Mossad tells us he was captured shortly after we left Istivin. The Church had a Seeker infiltrate what was left of Filge’s organization. It is suspected that Filge turned our agent against the Cabal, or killed him, but not before Mossad got what he needed to trap Filge.

He was convicted, and his sentence carried out. He’s been here for nearly 3 months. He points out that the outbreaks have been occurring much more recently than that. We thank Mossad for the tour, and take our leave.

In need of a lift, we decide to check in with Hezzrak. He isn’t in his small chamber when we arrive to speak with him. Life seems to be going well for the conniving little devil, however. Ostentatious displays of wealth are everywhere within the small room. Suddenly and with great fanfare, an opulently dressed but grubby young man steps into the chamber carrying a diminutive golden throne atop a glittering miniature platform. Wrapped in lavish finery, Hezzrak glares at us contemptuously and gestures with a jeweled scepter for his porter to bring him closer.

Hezzrak can’t keep up the charade for long. Soon he breaks into gales of impish laughter, tumbles off of his throne, and tries to catch himself with his wings. They get tangled in his miniature cape and he falls to the floor with a smack. We try to suppress our laughter. He continues cackling madly until his porter reaches down to place him back upon his platform. “Don’t touch me, urchin!” the little devil snarls as he bats at the boy’s hand.

Smiling, he starts chattering to us as he climbs back up onto his seat. “It sure is good to see you again. Things haven’t been dull since you left, but they’re bound to be much much more exciting now that you’ve returned!” Proudly gesturing at the lavish, gaudy surroundings, Hezzrak explains that he and Advocat have collaborated and created a lucrative trade in information (“And the occasional soul!” he whispers). He has contacts throughout the city, and so long as he gives Marten a 40% cut, the Cabal doesn’t get in his way.

We take a few moments to collectively grumble about Marten and insult his parentage. Then Ninenve, whom some might consider a connoisseur of enslaved help, gestures to the ridiculous footman and says “Who’s the kid?”

Hezzrak explains that the “urchin” is his familiar. He decided that someone as mighty as Hezzrak the Shadowmaster (I raise an eyebrow) needed a loyal servant, and what is more loyal than a familiar? He cast the spell, and this street urchin turned up. Hezzrak seems to find this quite fitting and begins muttering and cackling to himself about human wizards having imp familiars, and how he’s shown them! We excuse ourselves and make our way to Dr. Morgus’s lab.

The doctor is in and grumpy as ever. For a change, the lab seems to be focused on a single pursuit. The corpses of several humans lie in various stated of dissection, and the rest of the Doctor’s experiments seem to have been pushed into one corner. Dr. Morgus barely acknowledges our presence, and indicates that unless we have something important (or very interesting) to discuss, he really has essential work to get back to. I hand over our vials of Nineve-eating Cthulu goo samples from the Nexxus. He actually looks at them before shooing us out of his lab to continue his work. As we’re opening the door to leave, he mutters that he might be able to actually study those “interesting new samples” if Marten would back off and give him some breathing room.

It’s late afternoon when we decide to drop in on Tamclar. He grins widely and hugs our knees in the crushing embrace only a dwarf is capable of, and we all laugh and exchange greetings. Despite the happy reunion, Tamclar has changed since we last saw him, and not for the better. The left side of his face is badly scarred, and his left eye is cloudy and sightless. Tamclar also seems more care-worn, like he has aged decades in the 3 months since our parting. Something seems to be troubling him.

Tamclar explains that he got most of the people out of Diamond Lake safely, and had them scatter in small groups throughout the countryside to escape the dragon. His group was briefly attacked by the dragon, and he fell in the skirmish. Some of the townsfolk carried him to safety, and somehow he survived, but not unscathed.

While he was unconscious he had a vision of Wee Jas which he credits with his survival. Since then he has dedicated himself fully to the Cabal, and wholly embraced their teachings.

We chat about our adventures for a time, and eventually work around to If asked about what’s troubling him, Tamclar asks that the party come speak with him once they’ve ‘made the rounds’ and settled back in to life in the Cabal.

After dinner, we are asked to surrender the Rod and Ulolok to the safekeeping of the Cabal’s vaults. Haroldur is bereft at the loss of his favorite accessory, so we leave him to pine for it alone.

The next morning, we are summoned to Marten. He greets us coolly, and then expresses interest in reading our complete report, especially the part that explains how we ended up on stage at the Prince’s celebration. Gods, he’s such a douche.

Then, adopting his usual haughty manner, he says “About the Ulolok, I’ve spoken to Advocat and Mossad about that, and the Rod. It disturbs me that they fell unheralded from the sky into your hands. You have been rather foolish to bring something so powerful into this place. At least together they seem to conceal each other in a way.” He holds up his hand, dismissing any further discussion of the topic.

“Additionally, I expect your report within a week. When you are not compiling your account, I expect you to confine yourselves to the Chapel, and meditate upon your departures from the Ruby Lady’s teachings. I sense that the seeds of Chaos have taken root within each of you.” He waves his hand dismissively and turns his attention back to the papers on his desk. As we’re leaving, I mention Dr. Morgus’ unusually organized and focused lab. I toss in that he seemed overworked when we spoke yesterday, and hint that pushing an unstable personality like Morgus can backfire if not handled delicately. Marten responds with a non-committal “Hmph”. We leave, each of us fighting a mental battle to contain our seething hatred for the pompous ass.

At Haroldur’s request, we head to Mossad to ask about the Rod (and the Ulolok). Mossad tells us the Legionnaires have secured the canister and the Rod in the Cabal’s vault for the time being. He says that according to Advocat, it is a battery, storing vast amounts of chaotic energy and influencing events around it. The Ulolok could prove devastating in a large city like Istivin. It seems to be stabilized somewhat by the presence of the Rod fragment. For the time being, they should remain in close proximity. He firmly adds “In the Cabal’s vaults” with an emphatic glance towards Haroldur, who looks positively crestfallen.

In the hall, we run into Arrad. His scarred face contorts itself into a rare smile as he stops to greet us. He seems genuinely pleased that the rumors of our disappearance were exaggerated, and makes it a point to observe that he was confident in our safe return as long as we have Nineve at our side. He mentions that if we get time, he would be happy to train with the party, and see if we’ve learned any new tricks. He adds he might also show us a few tricks of his own, if we’re up to snuff.

We settle into Cabal life, writing our reports, meditating in the Chapel. 31E retires to a storage room and asks to be left alone while he “runs internal processes”. We even preside over a funeral, and for once, NOTHING HAPPENS!

One morning at breakfast, a junior acolyte informs us that Mossad would like a word with us in his office.

Mossad greets us warmly, but immediately gets down to business, occasionally pausing to take a bite from a tray of glazed cinnamon rolls on his desk. “You handled that funeral well, but there’s no rest for the weary. A local tax collector by the name of Blinder, was found dead yesterday evening, a hazard of the profession, I’m afraid.” Mossad pauses for another bite, then continues, “Evidently he left 3 children, and no mother. With his profession being a rather unpopular one, his children are at a considerable disadvantage.” Mossad seems somewhat troubled as he continues, “The man was necessary, and did no harm through his trade. Taxes, though an evil, are a necessity, and he maintained his children with his wages. I would like you to go to his residence and look in on his children, and make sure they are being cared for.”

Following Mossad’s directions, we soon arrive at the base of a run-down tenement tower in one of Dura’s poorer areas. Upon going to the entry and ringing the bell, a very ugly young boy comes out of a sort of office, and looks at us over a spiked fence. “What do you want?” says the boy, fitting his chin between two of the spikes.

We start politely, inquiring after the childrens’ address, but the boy is being unnecessarily evasive and difficult. It’s not long before Nineve loses her patience with the brat, roaring at him that if he doesn’t cooperate, she will teach him to know fear. He wets himself and gives us directions.

As we step into what passes for the tenement’s lobby, an unpleasant-looking woman with a case of dropsy or asthma or perhaps both gestures us over. “Whatcha want?” she asks, rather rudely. She suddenly seems to notice our dress and markings, and looks startled. “Oh, begging your pardon!” she says, then leans forward conspiratorially, “Has someone died? No one’s told me, I assure you.”

We ask her about Blinder and his children. She seems to relish her momentary usefulness and chatters on "Blinder? Neckett Blinder? His children? Yes, 3 of them, if you please. Five floors up, #7 on the left, opposite the stairs.” She slides a key across the counter, and looks at us expectantly. Xicar picks up the key, flashes one of his trademark megawatt smiles, and we head up the rickety stairs.

When we reach the second floor, we find that we’ve disturbed a man who was standing there, looking out of his room. “Is it Gridley that’s wanted?” he says, fixing his eyes on us with an angry stare. He is a tall, sallow man with a careworn head on which little hair remains, a deeply lined face, and prominent eyes. He has a combative look and a large and powerful build, though evidently in its decline. He blocks our path up the stairwell, and shows no sign of moving as he fixes the same angry stare on each of us in succession.

We spend a few minutes explaining our business, with Xicar attempting to placate the old codger, but without much success. This man is impossible! I could slip past him, but he’d still be a problem for everyone else. Just as Old Man Gridley starts in on yet another rant, Nineve steps up to him, a shade too close. In a quiet, even tone she explains that as Greycloaks, we help people complete their journey to the Ruby Lady. And sometimes, we help them start it, too. Gridley seems suddenly aware of the contrast between Nineve’s imposing form and shining full plate, and the thin rags clinging to his aging body. Squinting at us, he tightens his grip on the moth-eaten blanket wrapped around his shoulders, and then turns into his apartment and slams the door.

When we come to the correct door and knock, a little shrill voice inside says, “We are locked in, the Land Lady’s got the key!” Xicar unlocks it.

Inside is a poor room with a low ceiling and containing very little furniture. A mite of a boy, some five or six years old stands near the door nursing and hushing a heavy child of about eighteen months. There is no fire, though the weather is cold; both children are wrapped in some poor shawls and blankets. Their clothing is not so warm that their noses are not red and pinched, and their small figures shiver occasionally.

We swiftly learn a few relevant facts. The boy’s name is Tom, the little girl’s name is Emma. “Charley”, apparently also called Charlotte and presumably the third orphan, has locked them in the room. Also, Charley is out “a-washing”.

Just then, there comes into the room a very little girl, childish in figure but shrewd and older-looking in the face, drying her bare arms on a womanly sort of apron. Her fingers are white and wrinkled with washing, and here and there some soap-suds are yet smoking in the cold air. Apparently she had come running from some place in the neighborhood, and had made all the haste she could. Consequently she is out of breath, and cannot speak at first, as she stands panting, wiping her arms, and looking quietly at us. The small child in the boy’s care stretches its arms and cries out to be taken by Charley. The girl takes the small bundle in a womanly sort of manner, and stands looking at us over the burden that clings to her most affectionately.

Once Charley has recovered from her dash up the stairs, we question her as well. She goes out washing as often as she can, and proudly states that she “earns six copper a day!” She says she comes back when she can, and Tom doesn’t mind being locked in. Tom nods emphatically in agreement. Charley tells us also that Mr. Gridley and the landlady check in on them (Tom & Emma) when she’s out.

Charley sits on one of the unsteady chairs, and soon Tom lays his face among the scanty folds of her dress and passes from smiling to crying quietly. While Tom cries, although she sits quite tranquilly, looking quietly at us, not disturbing a hair of the head of either of her little charges, several silent tears fall down her face.

Panting and gasping, the landlady bursts into the crowded room. “Really, it weren’t much to forgive them the rent, sirs. Who could take it from them?” She leans in the doorway, regaining her heavy breath by painful degrees.

It is obvious to me that we can’t leave these children here. The spartan room is without light, heat, or food. It is obvious young Charley, whom I estimate to be about 10, cannot continue the pace she has set for herself, and even if she could, six copper a day is not a sufficient income to provide for three people. The drafty room is uncomfortably cold. With the approach of winter, I doubt the two younger children could survive the environmental conditions, even if they had enough food, which they don’t. I make this case to my companions, who are at first disinclined to intervene. I point out that prisoners are treated better, and express my astonishment that humans take such poor care of their young. No wonder they’re so short-lived!

At last, their guilt pushes them to action. As it’s getting quite late, we decide to take the children back to the Cabal for the evening and figure out more permanent arrangements later. Xicar carries Emma, and I distract Charley and Tom from a potentially scary situation by pointing out tracks and telling them stories on our walk back to the Cabal.

The acolytes who greet us express reluctance to take the children in. We explain that it’s just for one night, and we will personally see to other arrangements for them in the morning. We see the children to a simple guest room and put them in the charge of a matronly acolyte. I instruct her to ensure they are bathed and well-fed this evening, and to watch over them and tend to their further needs, if any.

Before retiring to our chambers, we drop in on Mossad and bring him up to speed. He’s not happy we brought them here, as the Cabal is no place for children, but understands that we were doing the best we could under the circumstances.

In the morning, I use my encyclopedic knowledge of the area to locate a reputable orphanage. We take the orphans with us to check the place out. The place is well-built and clean (though worn), and the proprietress is a plump, cheery looking woman with curly red hair and rosy cheeks. She was obviously born to work with children. She greets us skeptically (people tend to get intimidated when a squad of Greycloaks in full regalia drop in unexpectedly), but relaxes a bit when she notices the children. We have her show us around the place, which she does with pride. It is obviously a well-run operation. The children in her care are healthy, happy and clean. She speaks at length about the “betterment program”, under which the older children learn skills or trades of their choosing, so that they may be be prepared to make a life for themselves outside the orphanage.

Xicar asks Charley and Tom if they would like to stay here instead of going back to their old apartment. They enthusiastically agree and beg us to let them stay in the orphanage. With the children agreeable, we enter negotiations with the proprietress. She takes some convincing, but after a compassionate speech from Xicar and some bombastic religiosity from Nineve, she agrees to take them in. We see the children settled in and the proprietress shows us out. As thanks, and to defray the costs of their care, I donate 30 pp to the orphanage from party funds.

As we turn down a deserted alley on the way back to the Cabal, Zolara appears!

The Choosing:

Nineve – The Wax Works
Ashe – The Desert
Xicar – The Brass Dwarf

The Spread:

The Theater The Lost The Brass Dwarf
The Tangled Brier The Owl The Sickness
The Eclipse The Beating The Uprising

“The Theater represents both your position in the greater scheme of things, and your recent moment of triumph on stage. Although Lost for a time with in the Tangled Brier, you have emerged, with new knowledge and hope for the future, despite the dangers you may never really forget. The Eclipse reveals self-doubt and loss of purpose. It also represents losing one’s way along a path. The Eclipse overshadows your most difficult trials, but thus far you have overcome every one.

“Here, the Lost has finally been made whole, although now he is lost in a different way. For him, the word makes no sense. The Owl represents the harsh reality of the natural order. The Owl’s needle binds life together, but can just as easily pick it apart. It is a card of life and death. The Beating warns of coming under attack from all sides, but also indicates the dissolution of a greater whole. Strength – no matter the source – dissolves under the relentless attack.

“The Brass Dwarf represents surviving a grave danger. He also warns of a possible dark fate for one, which may save others from danger. The Sickness warns of corruption, in this case of a multitude of souls, and is influenced by the Uprising. The Uprising represents a powerful force of overwhelming strength, that if not brought under control could spell disaster, especially being under the influence of the Sickness. I fear a terrible riot or plague looms in your futures.”

On that cheerful note, we stop by Tamclar’s house and invite him out for a drink. We get settled with our cups, and Tamclar tells us that he has a personal matter that has been distracting him lately. “I never spoke to you about my life before we met in Kolbenborg. I moved there to escape my past.” Tamclar rolls up his sleeves to reveal two tattoos: one a pair of crossed claw-hammers, the other, the dwarven characters HFLLFH.

Xicar recognizes the tattoos. The hammers indicate membership in the notoriously violent dwarven syndicate the Hammerheads. Infamous for numerous criminal activities in predominately dwarven lands, the Hammerheads have a presence in most cities with a significant dwarf population, especially among the underprivileged in dwarven communities. The runes stand for “Hammerheads For Life, Life For Hammerheads.”

Tamclar continues “I made a name for myself in the Hammerheads; that was when I was a lot younger. Then I got married, and had a son. I decided it was time to get out. I left the Hammerheads quietly, and settled in Kolbenburg, made a living as a miner. Things weren’t great, but we got by. Then my wife took ill. Later the goblins came, and you know most of the rest. A lot of the survivors of Diamond Lake made their way to Istivin, and I, uh, became something of a local hero in the dwarven community."

Attracting attention to himself was the last thing Tamclar ever wanted to do. He worries that his unintentional notoriety will put him back on the mafia’s radar. Nothing’s happened yet, but he wanted to come clean about his past and voice his present concerns. We tell him we’ve got his back, and head back to the Cabal after finishing our drinks.

The next day, Mossad calls us into his office. He greets us warmly, but immediately gets down to business, occasionally pausing to take a bite from a tray of cookies and dried fruit on his desk. “From your report, the situation with the tax collector’s children was a rather difficult one. I’m glad you handled it so well."

Mossad pauses to select a cookie from his tray before continuing, “A wealthy patron of the Cabal contacted me. It seems she has a servant that has failed to report for her duties for several days now. She fears the worst, and would like the body collected and laid to rest appropriately. Here’s the address, and name. Try to be quick about this one; I’ve got more for you after lunch.”

The carriage drops us off several blocks from Mossad’s address, at the edge of a particularly poor slum. A street urchin, in exchange for a silver piece, guides us to the houses we seek. It is one of a cluster of wretched multi-story hovels, with cramped pigsties close to the broken windows and sad little gardens near the doors growing nothing but stagnant puddles. At the doors and windows some men and women lounge or prowl about, and take little notice of us, except to laugh to one another or to say something as we pass about gentle folk minding their own business and not muddying their boots with coming to look into other people’s.

The urchin guides us to a three story cottage at the farthest corner. The door squeals loudly as our group nearly fills the otherwise empty ground-floor room. The room is surprisingly dark, barely illuminated by the light from the doorway. The damp weather has reduced the floor to a sticky morass of smelly mud. The building is silent, except for the creak of floorboards above us. The whole pace smells foul; it’s not a scent we can put our fingers on, but it’s definitely unpleasant. I hear the faint sound of dripping water from somewhere above us.

The stairs creak loudly as we climb them. Near the top of the stairs, something black scuttles out of the shadows and races across the floor! Nineve startles a little, but I notice it’s just a rat. It’s got something in its mouth, but I can’t tell what it is. A strange, flickering light, like that of guttering candles, leaks out into the hall from a door only slightly ajar. The foul smell is stronger here, and we can clearly hear the sounds of dripping water.

We go through the door into the room. Besides ourselves, there are in this damp, offensive room a woman with a black eye, holding a little bundled baby by the fire; a man, all stained with mud and clay, lying at full length on the ground, smoking pipe; a powerful young man fastening a collar on a dog; and a girl doing some kind of washing in very dirty water. They all look up at us as we come in, and the woman seems to turn her face towards the fire as if to hide her bruised eye; nobody gives us any welcome. “There ain’t,” growls the man on the floor, “any more of you to come in, is there?” A pause. "Because I thought there weren’t enough of you, perhaps?” This elicits laughter from the man and the washing girl. The young man with the dog echoes the laughter noisily.

Nineve “Ahems” loudly. The sprawled man says “So what is it you want with us, other than crowding our cozy abode, that is?” Using as few words as possible, we explain we are inqiring after a missing servant girl. He answers, “Her? Ha! I been drunk for 3 days, and I’da been drunk for four if I’da had the money. She’s been here ta whole time. That’s her, by the fire. And how did she get that black eye? Why, I give it her; and if she says I didn’t, she’s a-lying!” We’re a little taken aback by this, and stand in stunned silence for a moment at the candidness of this drunken lout.

Impatiently, he continues “I suppose you’re done now? You’ve done what you came for, its time you went.” This seems pretty reasonable. Nineve tells the servant she should report back to work or send word to her employer. As we turn to leave, I glance at the child held by the woman near the fire. She only looks at it as it lays on her lap, and she moves to cover her discolored eye with her hand when she feels my eyes upon her. I notice with a shock of dismay that the little baby is quite dead, and has been for some time.

The woman meets my gaze and she knows I know. At first she stares at me in astonishment, and then bursts into tears.

This is clearly the reason for the servant’s absence. She refuses to relinquish the deceased infant, or accept its pitiful fate. Perhaps we can help her move on with her life, as well as provide the child with a proper burial. Strangely, the rest of the family, particularly the abrasive man still lying on the floor, are silent as I speak to the woman by the fire. The others quickly realize the situation and join me.

I visit with the woman for a few moments, gaining a little insight into her misery. I learn that her name is Jenny, and this is the 4th infant she has lost. Xicar carefully explains to the woman, and the rest of the family, the gravity of the situation, and the importance of moving on, and letting go. He finds a particularly moving passage in the White Book to relay to the woman and her family. They seem to find the words of Wee Jas especially comforting in this dark time. Building on this, he begins an impromptu sermon, conveying the message of Wee Jas in such a way that the woman finds a great deal of comfort in his words. After we at last convince the woman to relinquish the deceased infant (to Xicar, the baby-carrier), Nineve takes the opportunity to lambaste them for their putrescence. In a powerful speech about the physical dangers and moral degeneracy of filth, she intimidates them into cleaner living conditions. Even the drunk on the floor is up and cleaning the hovel by the time we leave.

As we leave the pathetic scene behind us, we realize that it has grown quite late, evening is near, and a red, fierce glow spreads through the all-pervading fog that swirls around the city so that all seems like a waving, hazy sea of blood.

Mossad won’t be happy that we’ll be returning so overdue, but given the circumstances, he should understand. As we walk toward the closest area that we can reasonably expect a carriage to be available, we can’t help but notice several plumes of dark smoke rising above the hovels and towers nearby. It is not the smoke of chimneys, but of large fires burning.

Nearby, a sudden commotion breaks out as a handful of dirty vagabonds come flying toward us out of the fog, like wisps of straw blown by the wind, their eyes wide with fright as they sprint past. A thin, high-pitched scream cuts through the air as a young girl, clad in a torn and blood-stained frock stumbles out of the heavy mist. The girl falls at Xikar’s feet with a wail and a sob, and lays clutching at his ankles. She lays still, and a quick examination shows that she seems to have only fainted.

Although we are used to grotesque sights, the figures that appear next cause a slight coldness to travel down our spines. Two men have emerged from the fog and stand before us in silence. They are tall and gaunt, and their clothes hang from them in bloody tatters. Blood and other fluids streak their faces and dribble from their slack-jawed mouths; their eyes are inhumanly large and inhumanly red. As they stand there, it seems that only their burning eyes live.

Several similar figures shuffle out of the obscuring fog, and stand for a moment, regarding us with their hideously red eyes as their torn lips and jagged teeth suddenly gape in a series of horrid, dripping grins.

In this silent moment of dread, it dawns on me: Oh my god, it’s the Zombie Apocalypse!

Suddenly, the girl a Xikar’s feet leaps up, her talon-like nails tearing at his face, the hideous red eyes staring into his with a terrible threat, noxious fluids pouring from her nose and mouth!

As if responding to a cue, out of the mist they are swarming, the terrible, tattered shadowy shapes in the fog; out of the alleys they come charging and down the street they clamber, and their red eyes and dripping mouths are all turned toward us, the figures who stand alone in the street. The fog belches them forth in an unholy torrent.

Nineve bisects the girl clinging to Xicar and prepares to fight, but I know we have no choice but to RUN. I drag them after me, my mind racing through all the possible avenues of escape. As we flee into the fog the dead hands are close at our backs. We keep running. Gradually I realize that it has become silent for a moment. I look around to realize with growing dismay that we’ve become separated in our flight; my companions are gone. I am alone in the oppressive fog and growing darkness.

As I wander, I come upon, cowering in a corner, near some crates, a young boy. Standing protectively over him is a large dog, his fur and jowls smeared with gore. He growls deep in his chest as several lurching corpses approach. Reuniting with my companions is my priority, but I can’t abandon these two to their fate. Dog, whom I have named Furmis’ul, seems to share my thoughts, and we leap to their aid. I notice the zombies do not attack animals; they seem to only be interested in humanoids. I tell the boy not to be scared, and the two dogs and I tear through the approaching knot of zombies with a smooth efficiency.

When the immediate danger has passed I check the boy for wounds. Convinced he is unharmed (and thus uninfected), I tell him and his dog to come with me if they want to live. I know that mobility is our best defense. We stick mostly to the rooftops, leaping between buildings and balancing on ledges rather than risking confrontation on the ground. I take the time to frequently check for any sign of my companions, but the city is a maze and they are lost to me in it. Fortunately, I know we are all heading to the same destination: The Cabal.

Wholly in my element, I dance over obstacles and skirt the roving undead mobs as if it were child’s play. I’ve trained my whole life for exactly this eventuality, and it’s immensely satisfying to see my long preparations serve me so well. I reach the Cabal swiftly, with Furmis’ul, the boy and his dog in tow, all of us completely unscathed. The look on the faces of acolytes who quickly usher us in reminds me that I should probably not be grinning. I regain my stoicism and inquire after my companions. I’m apprehensive but not surprised to learn that I am the first to arrive back. Despite my fervent protests, Mossad forbids me from going out after them. I wait in the entry hall, pacing like a caged lion. After what seems like an eternity, Nineve staggers into the tower, barely alive and sentient, a shattered husk of her former self. There is no sign of Xicar.

In the morning, however, Xicar strides into the Cabal having somehow survived, “Courtesy of the Brass Dwarf”, he says.

As we tend the wounded and work to come up with a plan for this new crisis, we are interrupted by a courier from one of the secure areas. It’s a package from the orphanage! Inside is a note from the children and a doll for each of us, which they made as a thank-you for rescuing them and bringing them to such a nice place to live. The gift warms the cockles of our hearts (and we get a permanent +1 morale bonus to Will saves as long as the dolls are in our possession!)

~Ashe

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Episode 32

Episode 32: 9/18/10

The Party:
Ashelia Raminas, elf ranger 6/rogue/3
Nineve, human knight/9
Xicar, human cleric/9
Haroldur, human fighter 1/cleric 5/divine knight 3

After we close the portal, we go back to the stinky chlorine room and find 31E has somehow been interfacing with the obelisk. As we approach him he morosely mentions that this chamber would have once housed a reflecting pool, but gesturing to the sludge, it has obviously been contaminated at some point. Still facing the obelisk, he says “This is a Beacon. It is a self-sufficient … recording device.”

31E turns to us, and I swear, if a machine could show emotion, the only one that would describe 31E now would be despair.

“I am forced to face the possibility, however remote, that the Imperium is no more.
I have followed my directives to their termination. Without directives I have no … direction. I am unsure how, or even whether, to proceed.”

His world is obviously shattered. We assure him that he’ll always have a place with us. We also toss in the idea that there is no greater authority than religion, and at least in the Cabal, new directives aren’t hard to come by. At the very least, we convince him to stop being a Melancholy Man-Bot and come with us as we try to find a way out of here.

The smashed doors we found earlier lead to a masonry wall, of fairly recent construction. A large hole has been smashed through it, leaving a litter of rubble along the floor. On the other side of the wall is a storage room. It appears to be little used, but in nothing like the neglect we have seen thus far. Clothing of a staggering variety of shapes, colors and styles litter the room, many of which have been shredded by bestial claws; blood splatters many of the articles. Armor and weapons stand against the far wall, but a cursory examination shows that it would not stand up to simple sparring, much less a life and death struggle. A spreading pool of blood oozes toward us from the other side of the weapon racks.

After a careful examination, we are fairly certain that half a dozen bodies lie in a twisted pile here. They have all been horribly dismembered, in many cases, heads and limbs are dozens of feet away from the rest of the body. It’s pretty obvious the blue slaad I saw when I Sifted the doors did all this, probably right before he attacked us in the chlorine room.

We do a cursory check for valuables, but nothing here seems to actually be worth anything. It’s like everything in this room is a replica of a useful or expensive object.

Leaving the storage room we enter a narrow corridor. Burning torches light the passage and leave sooty stains up the walls. As we proceed, a pudgy man in an ornate and gaudy jacket rounds the corner ahead of us.

There’s no time to hide. To our shock, when he sees us, he shouts, “Finally! Finally, did you get lost? What are you doing down here? The show starts in a few minutes! This way! This way! What kept you? The prince won’t tolerate a delayed performance! Quick, quick, this way!”

We ask what we feel are fairly obvious questions, but the fat man rolls his eyes and mutters something about “method actors”. Eventually we determine that he is the Theater Director Darion Averlander. He insists that we are late, and need to get ready for the performance of L. Frank Baum’s Astonishing Magician of Zor. Protests that we are NOT actors are waived off. Apparently no one is allowed in this area of the palace except the theater troupe, so we must be the troupe. (Mentioning the possibility of arriving in this area via a totally forgotten, long-dormant, extra-dimensional transportation device created by an extinct race of technophiles seems like a bad idea.) Darion Averlander also mentions that if we AREN’T the theater troupe, then he’d have to call the guards, and we’d probably all be hanged. We don’t fancy explaining how we really got here, or how the old theater troupe got slaughtered by slaadi, so we decide that under the circumstances, it’s best to just go along with him.

Darion bustles us backstage and yells “Curtain in five!” before slamming the door and leaving us alone. I use my extensive local knowledge to summon to mind the details of the first act – fortunately, it’s a popular story and everyone is at least vaguely familiar with it. Xicar talks 31E into playing along and not killing anyone. Nineve and Haroldur help with the costumes.

The Cast:
Doria – Nineve
The Mechanical Man – 31E37
The Dog – Dog
Sir Lionheart the Cowardly – Xikar
The Harvester – Haroldur
The Astonishing Magician /The Evil Enchantress – Ashe

The play’s action is narrated from off-stage:

“Our story opens with a young woman, snatched into the air by a dragon and dropped into a strange land, waking to unfamiliar surroundings.”

Nineve/Doria gets dropped from a mechanical crane onto the stage, but fails her reflex save and lands in a heap.

“Doria awakes with a shock, catching her breath and wondering what had happened. Dog puts his cold little nose into her face and whines dismally.”

Somehow Nineve and I manage to make Dog do this.

“The girl gives a cry of amazement and looks about her, her eyes growing bigger and bigger at the wonderful sights.”

Nineve hams it up and does a great job of looking confused and astonished. Given the last few weeks, it’s hardly a stretch.

“The dragon had set her down very gently—for a dragon—in the midst of a country of marvelous beauty. While she stands looking eagerly at the strange and beautiful sights, she notices coming toward her a group of the queerest people she has ever seen. They are not as big as she; but neither are they very small. In fact, they seem about as tall as a well-grown child, although they are, so far as looks go, many years older.”

“When these people draw near to where Doria is standing, they pause and whisper among themselves, as if afraid to come farther. Among them is a tall fellow in robes, he approaches and greets Doria, introducing himself as the King of the Pygmies.”

At this point, a bunch of halflings in wild costumes crowd onto the stage, along with a human with really bad fake elf ears.

“Doria explains her plight and need to return home; the robed fellow directs her to the Astonishing Magician in the Sapphire City of Zor, who is said to have the power to grant a person’s fondest wish, if he decides you are worthy.”

“Doria sets off, and on the way, meets a Harvester (Haroldur), tirelessly toiling in his field. They discuss her search for the Astonishing Magician of Zor, and the Harvester decides to join her, as he too has a wish he would like fulfilled.”

Haroldur takes this opportunity to proselytize, and it comes off awkwardly despite his obvious flair for the dramatic.

“The pair continues, and stumbles upon a Mechanical Man, tirelessly felling trees near the path. The pair tell the Mechanical Man of their journey, and he decides to join them, as he also has a wish he would like fulfilled.”

31E somehow manages to convey this through a truly impressive interpretive dance.

“The trio travels on, but find their way blocked by Sir Lionheart, who guards the path. Sir Lionheart turns out to be quite cowardly, and the trio frightens him quite badly. In sympathy, they tell him of their journey, and he decides to join them, as indeed he has a wish he would like fulfilled.”

Xikar really should’ve been an actor. Oozing charm from every pore, his grand gestures, facial contortions, and impressive vocal range totally steal the scene.

“Suddenly, in a flash of fire, the Evil Enchantress appears, and threatens the travelers with a horrible fate if they continue their search for the Astonishing Magician of Zor, and then vanishes as suddenly.”

Of all people in the crowd, I somehow lock eyes with Marten. The wickedly bemused grin on his face unnerves me a bit, and I fumble my menacing entrance. Fortunately, I manage to pull off the scene with some impressive acrobatic stunts on my exit.

The curtain falls on Act I, and we have a few minutes backstage to prepare for Act II. We find a copy of the script and frantically try to familiarize ourselves with the next part of the play. Suddenly, we’re back on stage.

From off-stage, the narration resumes:

“The foursome arrives at the gates of the Sapphire City of Zor, but the Gate Keeper demands to know their purpose before granting them admittance to the Palace of the Sapphire City.”

They plead their case, and in the end, Xicar seals the deal. The Gate Keeper lets them in.

“There are many people in the Palace—men, women, and children—walking about, and these are all dressed in blue clothes and have bluish skins. They look at Doria and her strangely assorted company with wondering eyes, and the children all run away and hide behind their mothers when they see the travelers; but no one speaks to them.
The Guardian of the Gates leads them through the Palace until they come to a great throne room, exactly in the middle of the palace, which is the Throne Room of Zor, the Astonishing Magician.”

“In the middle of the room is a big throne of blue stone. It is shaped like a chair and sparkles with gems, as does everything else. In the center of the chair floats an enormous head, without a body to support it or any arms or legs whatever. There is no hair upon this head, but it has eyes and a nose and mouth, and is much bigger than the head of the biggest giant.”

“The booming voice of Zor demands to know why the travelers seek an audience.”

The onstage props are pretty good, but verbal intimidation has never been my strong suit. I draw on all the haughtiness of my people, but through the voice apparatus the best I can manage is meek defiance. To my dismay, there is snickering in the crowd. To make matters worse, as soon as Dog hears the distortion in the voice apparatus, he startles. For an instant, I’m afraid he’ll run off stage, but Nineve and I manage to keep him where he’s supposed to be. In the end, all his growling and hackle-raising at the fake magician head really works for the performance.

“Each of the quartet then, in turn, explains just what it is that they seek from the Astonishing Magician.”

Xicar and Nineve are turning into full-blown thespians. They eloquently state their cases in heart-wrenching monologues. 31E’s acting is pretty mechanical (har-har), but it works for his character. Haroldur once again manages to turn his part into a pitch for Wee Jas, requesting that the Astonishing Magician spread the word of the Ruby Lady’s ultimate power throughout the Kingdom of Zor. As devout servants of Wee Jas, even we are rolling our eyes at his heavy-handedness. There are a few groans from the audience. This has to stop.

“Satisfied, the booming voice of Zor tells the travelers that he will grant their wishes if they return with the hat of the Evil Enchantress. Dismayed, the travelers leave the Sapphire City to find the Evil Enchantress.”

With Act II behind us, we’ve finally reached the halfway point. As far as I’m concerned, it can’t end soon enough. For elves, art appreciation is innate. I know what good acting looks like, which makes my mediocre performance all the more cringe-worthy. To make matters worse, with my superior elven senses, I’m forced to see and hear everyone in the crowd: watching us, scrutinizing us, judging us. It’s very unsettling. Xicar and Nineve seem to be having the time of their lives, however. We have just enough time to argue with Haroldur about the proselytizing. He’s very stubborn, but we manage to convince him to tone it down a bit because he’s turning people off. Wee Jas or no, it’s within the Prince’s power to execute bad actors. We haven’t survived this long to be sent to Ocanthus for poor dramatic interpretation of a popular children’s story.

We barely have time to get to our places before the curtain goes up for Act III:

“Soon the Sapphire City is far behind, as the travelers near the Yellow Castle of
the Evil Enchantress. Suddenly the gates of the Yellow Castle burst open and a horde of the Enchantress’s slaves, lead by her Champion, rush to defeat the travelers.”

The human with the fake elf ears and the throngs of halflings from earlier have been transformed into the Enchantress’s army. The heroes duck behind a rock, hiding them from the army but in full view of the audience, and pantomime a plan.

“As Doria and the Harvester sneak past, Sir Lionheart and the Mechanical Man face the
Champion and his slaves in a fierce battle!”

Fake fighting is different than real fighting. Xicar fumbles at first, but quickly picks up on how it’s done, thanks to the “bad guy” actors. However, he’s not the one I was worried about. 31E was cutting a swath through the swarm of halflings; his fluid, efficient motions spoke of cold, lethal accuracy. For a moment, I thought he was actually killing the halflings! Then, I noticed he was missing them by the narrowest of margins, as only a machine could have done. I breathed a sigh of relief, and the sound alerted me to the fact that I wasn’t the only one who had been fooled: The audience held their breath, gaping at the Nimblewright’s beautiful and deadly display. There is a stunned silence for a moment after the last of the Enchantress’s minions fall, and then the crowd erupts into applause! After a few moments, the cheers die down and the Narrator continues.

“While the battle rages at the gates, Doria and the Harvester sneak into the Evil
Enchantress’s castle to face the villain. The Enchantress threatens them with her
wicked might, promising them a horrible demise, as the valiant pair and their loyal hound defend themselves.”

We spar back and forth, enjoying the chance to blow off a little steam. We involve Haroldur enough to sell the scene, but the real fight is between me and Nineve. Using the entire stage, we go all-out, her massive defense and hefty blows against my acrobatic mobility and blindingly-fast flurries. We revel so much in this friendly brawl that we momentarily forget that I’m supposed to be an evil old enchantress, not an elven warrior, and Nineve is a dainty young heroine and not an imposing knight. Fortunately, the Narrator snaps us back to reality:

[nervous throat-clearing] “Just as all seems lost, Doria’s faithful hound leaps upon the Evil Enchantress, giving the heroes their chance to defeat her!”

Dog has been following us the whole time, jumping around us in excited circles. We use this to our advantage and manage to get him to “attack” me. He jumps up and knocks me over, and I roll around encouraging him to play-growl at me as I pretend to try to fight him off. We somehow get him to keep the face-licking to a minimum.

The curtain falls and we regroup for Act IV. That last act went really well, and we know it. Soon, we’ll be finished with this nonsense. Time slows to a crawl as we wait for Act IV to begin.

“The heroes, triumphant, return to the throne room of the Astonishing Magician of
Zor, to present the hat of the Evil Enchantress and claim their rewards. The floating head of the Astonishing Magician greets the heroes and congratulates them on
their victory.”

I’m a little more familiar with the voice apparatus now, so I manage to embarrass myself slightly less. Since I’m offstage, I shrug to myself. It’s passable, at least.

“Each of the travelers steps forward to claim their reward and thank the Astonishing
Magician.”

Eloquence all around! Well, except for 31E, but it works. Everyone makes a great show and I only have to give Dog a stern look once to keep him from running over to me. We wrap up the scene. To my incredible relief, the curtain falls, signaling the end of the play.

Then, we hear something I certainly didn’t expect – thunderous applause! The stage manager and other actors bustle us out and back a couple of times for curtain calls, some actually crying with pride at the standing ovation. I’m too dumbstruck to do anything but bow stiffly, but Haroldur, Nineve and Xicar look gratified, bashful, and triumphant, in that order. Dog’s vigorous tail-wagging spreads up the better part of his body.

As we’re gathering our stuff backstage to leave, the Theater Director bursts in, beaming and hugging everyone. The play was a smashing success, and we have been invited to be the Prince’s guests at his Gala Ball & Feast. He hands each of us a formal, engraved invitation, and suggests we change out of our costumes and not keep the Prince waiting. Then he exits stage left.

We look at each other. We’re wearing torn, bloodstained clothes and battered armor. We’re all covered in a mix of blood, dirt and about a dozen other things none of us wants to name. I can’t remember the last time I had a real bath. We don’t have time to solve any of these problems properly, but declining the invitation is not an option.

Nineve gives us a quick rundown of what is expected, namely, no magic, no weapons, bring a gift, and be on your best behavior. She gives me a brief description of appropriate attire, and I quickly rummage through the costumes and props backstage until I find suitable outfits for everyone.

We clean up as best we can and change hastily as we make last-minute decisions about what we have on our person which we can reasonably give to a prince. This is a little dicey since we left the Cabal loaded for bear, and in the intervening time we haven’t exactly been shopping for knick-knacks. We decide to leave 31E behind with Dog and the strange canister – making excuses for him will be easier than trying to explain why he came to the Gala “in costume”. At last, we’re ready.

An armored guard leads us down a richly appointed corridor. Heavy carpets muffle our steps, and exquisite tapestries hang along the walls. The illuminated panels usually found in Imperium structures are missing, replaced with bright lanterns burning perfumed oils. The guard escorts us to a brightly lit and opulent ballroom. The ballroom is full of guests milling about in small groups, talking quietly. Several guests carry wrapped packages cradled under their arms.

During the gift giving the servants flutter about with wine and trays of lightly roasted almond biscuits of exquisite taste. At least, that’s what Xicar says as he gingerly grabs a biscuit from almost every passing tray!
A noble comes up to the group and strikes up a conversation about the play. Nineve and Xicar chat with him, but don’t seem to gain much ground.

After a few minutes the Crown Prince arrives amid great fanfare, with his Jester alongside. The Jester blows on a battered flute to attract everyone’s attention, but it is a needless move, as all eyes are focused on the Prince. The Jester clears his throat, and speaks in a surprisingly strong and deep voice: "My lords, ladies, and other honored guests! Prince Mariss bids you welcome!” The strange little man looks around, leers at some of the guests, and continues, “You may now present your gifts to honor the Prince!” and then steps back, gesturing toward a low table as the other guests reach into folds in cloaks and pockets.

We get in line to present our gifts to the Prince. It seems presentation is just as important as the object presented, and I get a little nervous as our turn approaches. Haroldur goes first, presenting a red Adura crystal he’s had at the bottom of his pack for I don’t know how long. It’s pretty and exotic enough to spark interest; his eloquent pitch makes it seem even more mysterious and practically invaluable. I’m next. I apologize for my ignorance of human customs (this always seems to work), and explain that among my people, a fine weapon is a sacred gift. With a reverence for my blades which comes naturally, I present him with Aernin and Earthdu, the pair of swords I retired when I took up Icosiel’s arms. Fortunately for me, Prince Mariss knows a good blade when he sees one, and I sense with relief that my gift is well-received.

Nineve presents an intricately carved adamantine bracer. Because of her noble upbringing, these social gestures seem to come naturally to her, and she pulls it off with aplomb. Xicar steps up with a twinkle in his eye. He’s in showman mode. With a flourish, he produces a metallic belt we found in the Nexxus. As he recounts in very vague terms it’s mysterious but undoubtedly ancient provenance, he holds it up for inspection, allowing it to jingle faintly. By the time he hands it over, half the nobles in the room are craning their necks to get a better look at this “priceless artifact of a bygone era”… I have to hand it to him, he really knows how to play to a crowd!

We mill about for the remainder of the gift-giving. After the presentation of gifts, the Jester leads the guests to the coat room, and out of the ballroom and onto a long snow-covered balcony, overlooking the great city below. The prince is standing at the far end of the lawn, holding a skull carved from dark, exotic wood, and set with glittering gems. At his feet are numerous differently-colored balls.

The Jester blows on his whistle again, “And now my friends, a brief game as the ballroom is prepared for dinner! The prince shall throw his glittering treasure (whom I call Jack) to the far end of the garden. The rest of you shall toss one of these polished orbs. The thrower who comes the closest to Jack shall be declared the winner, and gets to take him home!”

The Prince makes his throw, and the skull lands near the far end of the garden, about 50 feet away. Each guest that wishes to participate selects a colored ball, and makes their throw, Marten does not participate, actually, he seems to have been avoiding us all evening. During the sport, servants pass around gingerbread men without heads. Xicar mentions a few times that these are also very good. The evening grows late as the game ends, and the sun sinks behind the horizon.

As we’re waiting for our turn to throw, an impromptu round of boasting begins among the nobles. Haroldur, Nineve and Xicar join in, but an old fellow with a large mustache wins hands-down with his outlandish bravado.

The boasting circle breaks up and a pair of handsome (for humans) young nobles approach Nineve and me. We have an engaging and well-informed discussion of the intricacies of criminal justice in Caledon, and the men seem impressed by our understanding of the legal code. At last, it’s our turn to throw.

The distance, and the ball’s awkward balance make it quite difficult to throw accurately. Nevertheless, we all give it a go. Nineve and I get pretty close, along with a handful of other guests. When the measuring sticks come out, it’s determined that Nineve is the winner! She gets to keep the gemmed skull as her prize, and everyone seems very impressed with her.

The evening grows late as the game ends, and the sun sinks behind the horizon. We are ushered back inside.

The grand ballroom has been transformed in our brief absence. A tremendous table of polished wood now dominates the room, and portraits and landscapes of great quality have been hung along the walls. The Jester bids the guests to be seated. Each setting bears a name on a card, and a dazzling array of cutlery, including ten different spoons.

Haroldur and Xicar look thoughtful for a moment, as if trying to remember the proper etiquette. It appears they do. Thanks to her upbringing, Nineve just instinctively knows what each bizarrely-shaped utensil is for. I have no idea. Fortunately, I am able to fake it convincingly by closely observing the people around me.

The Jester makes a jab about Xicar’s poor roll during the Bowling for Heads, but he comes back with such a witty retort that the rest of the room chuckles at the Jester.

As the guests are seated, the servants pass roasted bird glazed in honey and spices amongst the guests. The Jester clambers upon the great table, and tells an amusing tale about a dryad whose tree is unknowingly transplanted into a bitter noble’s garden, and of the delightfully ironic fate she devises for the man. When the tale is done, the Jester bows and takes his seat, at which point the Prince invites any other guests to tell a tale if they wish.

None of the guests do, but Nineve and Haroldur each share an anecdote that is even more engaging than the Jester’s tale. Again, everyone seems very impressed.

For the second course, the servants bring each guest a small and delicately sugared almond pie filled with minced meats, along with vegetables and wine. While the guests are dining, the Jester once again clambers onto the table and plays a jaunty tune on his battered flute. When he finishes, the Prince invites any of the other guests to share a song if they like.

The wine is especially potent, which is probably why Xicar and I decide to each share a song. Xicar sings a sea shanty (where does he come up with this stuff??), and I sing a traditional elven feast song. Neither of us blows anyone away with our hidden musical talent, but we at least manage not to embarrass ourselves.

A noble across from Xikar begins boasting of his amazing accomplishments, much to the amusement of his neighbors. Fortunately Xicar sees right through his claims, and avoids the embarrassment of being strung along by a pompous ass.

As the second course is being cleared away, the Jester decides to pick on Haroldur about his attire. His outfit is the least polished of the four of us, but he is still well-dressed and doesn’t look the least bit out of place. Haroldur brushes off the jab gracefully.

The Jester announces the third course as a recipe of the Prince’s own, delectable bastistirdge for all! The servants bring out steaming plates heaped with a curious dish apparently involving roasted stirge stuffed with ground basilisk steaks. A trio of olives is impaled on each stirge proboscis. A single taste of the dish is enough to realize the entire thing is remarkably foul.

As the course begins we all do our best to cover up our distaste of the dish. Thankfully, the prince also realizes the dish is horrible, and declares the third course finished after only a few bites. The servants quickly clear the failed dish away. I manage to avoid eating any (the smell was enough!), and I don’t think anyone noticed.

The wife of a wealthy nobleman, seated next to Haroldur, begins making awkward advances, as a result of her indulgence in drink. The lady’s husband takes offence, but Haroldur deftly smooths the situation over without insulting either party.

As the fourth course begins, each guest is presented with a crystal bowl. Within shudders a strange purple jelly. The Jester observes that purple worms are infamous for their deadly poison, but there exist recipes for turning that poison into a delightful delicacy. If done correctly, it is delicious, but should the chef make a mistake, the result is deadly. The Jester wonders if any of the guests is brave enough to taste the dish before the prince puts his health at risk for deliciousness. The nobles shift uncomfortably in their seats, but we’re fearless. A little food poisoning never hurt anyone, right? The four of us dig in without hesitation, and the jelly is actually quite tasty and perfectly safe. It is served with a particularly potent iced wine, which I sip nonchalantly as the embarrassed nobles take their first bites of the aspic. They all seem impressed by our bravery; I wonder what kind of lives they must lead if trying new foods qualifies as a brave act!

As desert is being brought out, I look over an notice that Nineve is trashed! While I’m distracted, one of the servants accidentally spills wine into my lap! I chide myself for not dodging it in time, but manage to take the mistake gracefully.

Finally, as the last bowls of purple worm aspic are cleared, the smell of cloves, honey, and cinnamon waft into the ballroom as a troupe of servants enter with a nearly eight-foot-tall cake. The cake itself is shaped like the city of Istivin, but crowned with a figure of the prince atop the tallest tower. Everyone applauds loudly as the cake is levered onto the table, but as they do, the cake begins to fall apart! Large rents appear on the side, and several towers fall onto the table.

The figure of the prince topples and tumbles down the side of the cake in an avalanche of frosting. The sugar prince’s head snaps off, and rolls across the table to land in Xikar’s lap! The Prince glares at him, and it’s obvious that he’ll be offended if Xikar can’t come up with some way to redirect his ire at the symbolism.

The irony causes a few stifled chuckles and giggles, but for the most part the guests do an admirable job covering their amusement. We all do our best to hide our reaction, but the anger in the Prince’s eyes is palpable. Perhaps a little humor could defuse the situation?

Xicar announces that the Prince sure seems to be getting AHEAD these days, as he’s always coming out ON TOP. As he tosses the candy head back towards the prince and the jester (who catches it), he remarks that it is truly generous of the Prince to share with us all a little of his good fortune. He ends his little speech with such a winning smile that even the Prince has to shake his head and chuckle. The Jester actually claps.

With the conclusion of the great feast, the Jester calls for a round of dancing. The servants quickly clear the ballroom, the Jester joins several other musicians as the guests pair off and begin a complex series of steps and turns. With a glance, Haroldur, Xicar and I silently agree to seize this opportunity to make a discreet exit. Nineve is too loaded to protest, so we quietly escort her out of the ballroom and head back to the backstage area to join up with 31E and Dog.

~Ashe

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Episode 31

Episode 31: 9/11/10

The Party:
Ashelia Raminas, elf ranger 6/rogue/3
Nineve, human knight/9
Xicar, human cleric/9
Haroldur, human fighter 1/cleric 5/divine knight 3

After a few minutes of interfacing with the Libram control terminal, 31E turns to us. “I have located a… direct route to the Mirror. The Nexus systems should not hinder us further, come, let us waste no more time.” With that the automaton turns and begins walking briskly out of the Libram. His pace quickly increases, until we are nearly sprinting to keep up. Corridor lights brighten at 31E’s approach, doors slide quietly open as he nears them, and nothing seems to oppose us as we follow the tireless construct confidently navigating the featureless corridors. After some time, nearly breathless from the journey, we are finally able to stop running as 31E suddenly halts.

Another double door slides open quietly, “We have reached our destination,” says 31E, “this is the Starry Mirror.” The automaton gestures toward an odd pentagonal mirror set into the far wall of the chamber, from where it casts a dark reflection of the room. The reflection is distorted in an unsettling way, and dotted with shimmering star-like points of white light. A colorful hexagonal diagram is engraved in the floor in front of the mirror.

We ask 31E how it works. He ignores us and steps inside.

Stepping into the mirror after 31E, we find that it is cold, but insubstantial. We have stepped into a pentagonal chamber. Colored light fills the chamber evenly. Each of the five walls features another mirror exactly like the one we’ve just stepped through, save that each is a different color. Every few seconds the light in the chamber flickers and changes hue, the mirrors set into the walls changing at the same time. 31E looks around, apparently puzzled. “This is not normal. We may have been… mistaken in using the Mirror.”

Since the rest of the Nexus has fallen into a state of disrepair, it follows that the Starry Mirror may be malfunctioning as well. Haroldur and Xicar determine that the magical energies within the Mirror are unstable, and that the mirror seems to create a near infinite number of identical temporary pocket planes. These investigations still don’t tell us what’s causing the malfunction or how to fix it, unfortunately. As we’re pretty much out of options, I encourage the party to keep moving through the mirror – maybe we’ll find something that will give us some kind of clue.

We wander around inside the mirror, stepping through numerous mirrors. Growing increasingly desperate, we step into yet another identical pentagonal chamber. Unlike the other chambers, however, there is a stout bronze canister sitting in the middle of the floor. It seems to have seen years of use and abuse, as its corroded sides are pitted, dented and scarred. I pick up the heavy canister and examine it. Then, I shake it experimentally and get horribly nauseated.

It takes us a moment to realize, but the color of this chamber does not seem to be changing like all the rooms we have been in up to this point. According to 31E, this is how the mirror is supposed to work. We suspect it may have something to do with the cylinder.

Intrigued, Nineve tries to pry the cylinder open with her crowbar. A jolt of electricity from the cylinder shocks her and melts her crowbar to slag. She’s upset, but I can’t say I’m sad to see that crowbar go. While we’re expressing our differing opinions on the subject, Haroldur picks up the cylinder and tosses it through the portal and out of our current chamber. The room begins its color-flickering routine, meaning that the mirror is no longer functioning properly, and Haroldur just threw the solution to the problem into a random pocket plane. Genius.

We move through the portals randomly for what feels like forever until we finally come upon the cylinder again. I pick it up and we begin to make progress. As we’re making our way through the mirror’s maze with 31E’s guidance, he stops and says “We shall be within the Terminus shortly. Please surrender the Fragment to me now.” 31E holds out his hand, expectantly. A monumental argument ensues. 31E refuses to go further until we surrender the Rod; Haroldur refuses to relinquish it to a mechanical construct with an obvious screw loose. Things get pretty heated when Haroldur advocates killing 31E or abandoning him here and finding the rest of the way through the mirror ourselves. 31E implies that he will acquire the Rod fragment by force if necessary. Before threats of violence can turn into acts of violence, I remind everyone that we’re ALLIES.

Haroldur makes several excellent points, the most essential of which is that it is irresponsible of us to hand over a powerful artifact to an insane machine. However, I don’t think 31E is insane; I think he’s operating under some very outdated assumptions.

31E firmly believes that the structure we know as Silverspire Palace in Istivin is in fact an Imperium Grand Terminus. Since the Silverspire is indeed a structure which dates back to the Age of the Imperium, it is plausible that it USED TO BE the Grand Terminus. Also, 31E has not yet accepted the annihilation of the Imperium people and culture, something the rest of us know to be an historical fact. His programming REQUIRES that he return the Rod fragment to his Imperium superiors at the Grand Terminus. It is his entire purpose. He refuses to acknowledge that they may not be there anymore. At length, we get him to agree that if his superiors are actually at the Grand Terminus, we will hand the Rod fragment over to him at that time.

After more than an hour of negotiation, we come to an agreement and are finally ready to proceed. However, we’re all pretty tired at this point, so we decide to rest in the relative safety of the mirror before stepping through the last portal into what might be a very tough fight with Palace security.

As we’re settling down to rest, Zollara appears!

The Choosing:

Nineve – The Liar
Ashe – The Marriage
Xicar – The Betrayal
Haroldur – The Unicorn (on the cob)

The Spread:

The Cricket The Queen Mother The Rabbit Prince
The Desert The Empty Throne The Courtesan
The Eclipse The Beating The Unicorn (on the cob)

“The Cricket represents speed and quick passage, a safe journey in other words. The empty waste of The Desert is now behind you, though you will doubtless carry the memory of it with you. The Eclipse is a card of self-doubt and loss of purpose – two trials you have recently overcome.

“The Queen Mother is knowledge personified – though she does not reveal her secrets lightly. The Empty Throne is terrible loss. One of your companions will make a discovery that will cause them to question their very purpose. The Beating aligned as it is warns of an attack from all sides: be ready.

“The Rabbit Prince is a quirky fellow – in this case represents a younger member of royalty. The Courtesan is the card of political intrigue and social grace. Be on your best behavior or the situation may take an unfortunate turn. The Unicorn misaligned warns of a false friend and possible betrayal, although when is not clear.”

We ask Zolara about the cylinder and she tells us it’s called the Ulolok: a legendary item which contains the spawn of a Slaadi and an Inveitable. This somehow leads to a discussion among Xicar and Haroldur about Nineve and me reproducing with 31E to make robot ninja babies. This is followed by a fair bit of lewd commentary, and a great deal of eye-rolling from us ladies. On that note, we go to bed.

After my 4 hour trance, while I’m waiting for the humans to finish hibernating, 31E approaches me and thanks me for diffusing the situation with the Rod fragment earlier. He hands me a collection of metal plates he picked up in the Nexus. It’s some kind of puzzle! Working together, we put it together and end up with a strange dodecahedron. We puzzle over it for a moment and 31E suddenly recognizes it as a Hexametric Folio! Sarek is going to LOVE this!

In the morning, we all feel we have gained from our experiences thus far.

As we follow 31E through the final darkened mirror, we find ourselves standing in a hexagonal chamber, with a faded, but still colorful pattern set into the floor. Dust, rubble and cobwebs litter the room, giving it a run-down and disused feel. Here, unlike within the Nexus, the walls and floor are stone; here and there large cracks mar the stonework. Behind us, the strange pentagonal portal is dull and dusty, a large crack runs diagonally across its surface. 31E explains that important structures in the Imperium were often finished in stone, as it took much longer than metal, and represented more work.

We scarcely have time to notice our surroundings, however, as Haroldur suddenly receives three apparently back-logged sendings from Mossad:

#1: Tamclar returned, brought distressing news. Diamond Lake obliterated. Some refugees survived. I begin to fear the worst the longer I go without word from you.

#2: Marten fears you dead or turned traitor. Now several weeks without report. May the Lady guide you, and keep you, and return you safely.

#3: This will be my last sending if you should not respond. Your fates are in Her hands now. You will be missed. Praise Wee Jas.

Haroldur responds with:
“Rumors of our deaths have been greatly exaggerated. Sorry to make you worry.”

Mossad replies:
“I’m surprised and pleased to hear from you! I await your return, and a thorough explanation. Praise Wee Jas.”

With that taken care of, we look for a way out of our current room. Somewhere in the distance we feel, more than hear, a strange noise like rushing wind or cascading water. It lasts for several moments and is gone with a suddenness that causes us to question hearing it in the first place. The metal double doors leading out of the Mirror chamber do not respond to 31E’s attempts to open them. He suggests they will need to be forced. Nineve and I oblige.

Leaving the Mirror chamber, we enter a familiar Imperium corridor, however, the ceiling panels are dark, and we have to light our own way forward. Fine dust covers the floor, puffing into the air with every step, making our noses and eyes itch. Wispy sheets of cobwebs cling to us as we press forward. Eventually the corridor terminates in another set of the familiar double doors. After a moment of fruitlessly manipulating the controls, 31E suggests that these doors will also need to be forced open.

While Nineve and I are working on that, from beyond the door I hear several loud crashes, and then a cacophonous clatter, as if from a large pile of stuff falling. Curiously, amongst the other noises, I hear a strange croaking, as though from a large toad.

The doors finally slide open with a groan and a reluctant metallic screech. Assorted junk spills into the corridor from the doorway. Cups, battered plates, several rolled tapestries, and various other diverse items clatter to the floor at our feet. There’s so much junk that we have to clear some of it away just to get through the doorway!

After a few minutes, we manage to force a path through the junk. Old chairs, faded paintings, sagging chests and tarnished cutlery make up only a small portion of the assortment. We find ourselves atop a raised platform overlooking a wide chamber. Several dark terminals line the adjacent walls, nearly buried in piles of junk similar to the one we’ve already dug through. Shockingly, the room has several inhabitants: strange stooped creatures, like bipedal toads stare in our direction, croaking to each other. For a moment, even this strange sight is forgotten as our attention is drawn to a swirling vortex in the floor at the far end of the chamber. A roiling soup of the four elements and all their combinations churns inside the vortex in the floor.

Nineve tries to Intimidate the creatures we identify as mud slaadi while Haroldur insults them with random croaking noises. 31E and I skip the pleasantries and just stab them until they stop moving. They die in pretty strange ways, some of them. One turns into a statuette at Xicar’s feet, which he immediately picks up and decides to treasure forever. A few of the slaadi try (and succeed) to call for reinforcements, but we do manage to put them all down. However, there seem to be some chaotic energies which don’t make things easy – at one point, Xicar tries to cast a spell but ends up accidentally creating a blinding rock storm. Eventually we manage to get things under control.

As the last of the strange creatures falls, 31E immediately approaches one of the darkened terminals. After a few moments, he moves to another. This repeats several times, until one of the terminals shows some weak signs of life, lights flickering and clockworks whirring at 31E’s touch. Several silent minutes pass as 31E stands at the terminal.

We decide this would be a good time to check out the portal. Peering in, we see balls of fire, pockets of air, chunks of earth, and waves of water battling for ascendance until they in turn are overcome by yet another chaotic surge. Bits of forest, meadow, ruined castles, and small islands also drift through the chaos, occasionally crashing into each other, or being obliterated by a chaotic blast of the maelstrom on the other side of the portal. It is pretty obvious to us that this is a portal to the Ever Changing Chaos of Limbo. It is where everything and nothing is possible. It is where raw chaos seethes. It is the plane of pure chaos.

Having what appears to be a stable portal to the plane of limbo inside the Imperial Palace of Istivin is probably a very bad thing. It occurs to me that we may not actually be in Istivin – we really have no idea where we are yet. I interrupt 31E long enough to borrow his homing beetle. He hands it to me absent-mindedly and goes back to staring at his terminal. Nineve and I use my ever-handy atlas and the beetle and confirm that we are in fact in Istivin! High-fives are in order. As I go to return the beetle to 31E, he turns to me with a puzzled look.

“I do not understand” he says. “This facility is barely functioning. It is 97.538% non-functional. Power reserves are depleted 98.972%. What records I can access indicate this facility was last accessed 3.78683112 × 10^10 seconds ago. This is the same time as the Nexus at Kadastrey, accounting for an error factor of .127%. I have no choice but to conclude that this Terminus is … abandoned. I do not understand. I … believe I … will remain here. I see no point in … continuing until I can determine the validity of this … data.” If a machine could look bleak and emo, 31E was doing it now.

None of us are shocked by this news – we never expected to find a still-functioning pocket of Imperial overlords in the middle of Istivin. 31E is taking it pretty hard, though. We all try to cheer him up. Haroldur, a.k.a. “Mr. Empathy”, almost blows it by saying “I told you so!”, but the rest of us somehow manage to convince 31E that there’s still a big world out there. I still don’t think he’s completely accepted the disappearance of his creators, but at least he agrees to come with us, if for no other reason than to continue his search for a functioning beacon or portal back to the Imperium.

We’re pretty torn up after the slaad fight, so we heal up before moving on. We also run a few experiments on the Ulolok and determine that it causes some pretty random spell effects in the area around it, but the Rod of Lawsome seems to mitigate this effect.

We press on. The metal doors into the adjoining corridor have been ripped free with great force and lie on the floor several feet away. The dark corridor arches to a height of 40 feet. Delicate stone columns line the wide corridor. Several of the columns have fallen and lie broken on the cracked and dusty stone floor. Wide doorways are set into the walls at regular intervals on either side of the hall. Piles of rubble and debris litter the floor and continue the overall impression of neglect and decay. For a moment, I catch a glimpse of a stooped, hulking shape as it vanishes into one of the doorways.

Out of curiosity, I Sift the ruined doors and witness a blue slaad ripping them down less than half an hour before.

Knowing what we’re in for is always better than being totally surprised. We move deeper into the cathedral-like corridor and are attacked by more mud slaad. Then, a giant blue slaad (Xicar calls them “Battletoads”) lumbers into view. These slaad die in some strange ways, too. As Haroldur Death Knells a mud slaad, it’s skeleton rips out of its skin, takes 3 steps away, and then crumbles to dust quite comically. When I finish off the blue slaad, a rent opens up in the fabric of space and time, sucking the slaad through before vanishing entirely. Nineve kills one that turns into a writhing pile of snakes before evaporating into thin air. Apparently, Nineve really hates snakes.

We heal up and move on. The first thing we notice upon entering the next chamber is the sharp stink of chlorine that fills the air. The room itself has numerous alcoves and doorways leading off in various directions. Directly ahead is an open pit, a noxious green sludge bubbling away at the bottom. At the center of the pit is a raised platform surmounted by a strange silver obelisk. Faintly glowing and shifting runes cover the sides of this bizarre feature at the center of a rather unusual chamber. Dust, debris and cobwebs conspire to give this chamber the feeling of centuries of disuse and negelect. And boy, does it stink!

Standing near the back of the chamber next to the obelisk is a green slaad, which is kind of like a blue slaad but uglier. It immediately tries to fireball us, but Xicar contemptuously counters the spell, negating it entirely with a wave of his hand. Nineve charges forward towards the green slaad as two blue battletoads close in on us. They seem determined to wrest the strange canister from us, repeating the word “Ulolok” over and over. Perhaps fueled by angst at his sudden unfortunate discovery, 31E is a robot ninja whirlwind in this battle. Dog is also epically heroic, taking a blue slaad down just as it makes a charge for the strange canister that we left at the back of the chamber.

Once 31E the Murder Machine has run out of targets, we rifle through the debris. On the green slaad’s body we find a strange key. Consulting with Zolara reveals that it is a portal key, and we can use it to close that stable portal to Limbo. Of course, doing that requires that we throw the key into the portal, losing it forever. Haroldur is reluctant, but we eventually convince him to let it go. We compose an exceptionally rude note, complete with lewd illustrations, which ends in “Wee Jas 4EVA!!!”. We tie the note securely to the key, and toss the bundle through the portal. The portal collapses with a sucking sound.

~Ashe

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Episode 30

Episode 30: 8/28/10

The Party:
Ashelia Raminas, elf ranger 5/rogue/3
Nineve, human knight/8
Xicar, human cleric/8
Haroldur, human fighter 1/ cleric 5/ divine knight 2

We pause to heal up before climbing through the hatch into the unknown. In under a minute, we are forced to access the Tome of Knowledge, which contains the Laws of the Universe.

The hatch leads to a cramped corridor that heads off into darkness in two opposite directions. A metal grate provides a level surface on which to crawl over the tangle of pipes, hoses and tubes that cover the floor, walls, and ceiling. Other than the lights we’ve brought with us, the darkness here is complete. We go left.

Unable to stand, we have little choice but to crawl toward the unknown, hoping that we made the right decision. Here and there other, similar corridors join with the passage we are following; it wouldn’t take long to get hopelessly lost in this maze of passages…

After crawling for some time along the narrow passage, we see a light glowing faintly in the distance. As we approach, I determine that it is a hatch, similar to the one we climbed through previously, although this one has a weakly pulsing green light attached to it. Wary, I check the hatch for traps. Sure enough, I find one, and it’s magical. Xicar determines that the spell is from the Abjuration school of magic. Haroldur then dispels the trap, and Nineve and I force the hatch open with her handy crowbar.

Lifting the heavy hatch, the clatter and whir of machinery from below fills the passageway. I stick my head through and report my findings. About ten feet below, a narrow metal catwalk hangs suspended over a large chamber. Dim red lamps and the occasional shower of sparks are all that illuminate the area. A complicated metal apparatus stands at the center of the chamber, covered with levers, flashing lights and glowing gauges. Numerous piles of metallic parts and apparatus litter the chamber, clearly in various states of repair. I also spot some laser turrets and a few mechanical beetles.

We descend onto the catwalk (which is unstable) with varying levels of grace. Nineve drops down first, causing the catwalk to creak and sway in a manner that is not at all inspiring. Xicar follows. I quickly decide the catwalk was never meant to support several adventurers in heavy armor, so I drop down from the hatch and immediately vault gracefully off the catwalk onto the arcane engine below. Turns out I had the right idea – Haroldur cannonballs onto the catwalk and it collapses underneath the men! Xicar reacts quickly and lands well, but Haroldur crashes to the ground in a heap.

Nineve gets things started by blasting the closest laser turret with her pew-pew gauntlet. Mechanical beetles assembled from a coppery metal clank and hiss as they scuttle toward her, a high-pitched whine emanating from somewhere within their blocky metal carapace. Jagged metal saws protrude from beneath their heads, which vibrate threateningly as they swarm her on the catwalk. Fortunately, she dodges to avoid their lightning blasts. A silvery clockwork beetle clatters as it scurries across the room on thick, heavy legs. A tubular apparatus emerges from its carapace as it settles into a stable position, and fires at dart at a weak point in Nineve’s armor… Only Nineve’s armor doesn’t have any weak points! The dart ricochets harmlessly off her bulwark of defense.

Meanwhile, I am attempting to disable or simply break the arcane engine. I scurry over its surface, prying off panels and interfering with delicate mechanisms while the machine tries to blast me with jolts of electricity. It’s fun!

Xicar and Haroldur are on the ground dealing with a second laser turret. Xicar fires a shard of entropy at the turret and heads to my aid, while Haroldur loads his crossbow (from the ground), avoiding enemy darts in the process.

TroubleSuddenly, Nineve swats one of the copper beetles off the catwalk with a mighty blow. This seems to give her an idea. With a maniacal laugh, she overruns the copper beetle in front of her and heroically bullrushes all the remaining beetles off the catwalk!

Unfortunately, all the beetles Nineve punted off the catwalk are now on the ground, menacing Haroldur. He is surrounded and alone and things are not going well. Seeing this, Nineve drops off the catwalk to help him out. Xicar and I continue to fight with the arcane engine, which has been healing the beetles with bolts of electricity. We continue to pound on it, and Xicar manages to finally disable it. We both rush to Haroldur’s aid.

He is immediately threatened by several copper beetles. From across the room, I also spot a golden beetle-like automaton, which darts into the chamber with smooth, precise movements. Arcs of electricity flash across its intricately engraved golden casing, as a circular saw whirrs menacingly beneath its head. I take out two of the copper beetles while my companions manage the rest. Haroldur finishes off the last beetle, and he and Xicar get zapped by a burst of lighting I easily manage to avoid. Undeterred, I rush forward and engage the golden beetle. It wounds me gravely, but the party is right behind me. Xicar heals me and we all beat on it. I land the killing blow and deftly avoid the shower of fire and debris which pelts my companions.

With the clockwork horrors defeated, we rush over to the arcane engine for some kind of clue. A few lights continue to flicker dimly, accompanied by a loud metallic grinding from deep within the apparatus. Soon even those signs of activity cease as the machine gives one final shudder. Silence and darkness descend on the chamber like a thick blanket. Almost immediately, we hear 31E’s voice, although it is distorted and incomprehensible. It seems to be coming from a part of the apparatus, but it is currently damaged to the point of barely functioning.

After fiddling with the remains of the apparatus for some time, 31E’s voice suddenly comes through clearly:

“…abled the Arcane Engine in your sector. Good. I am able to use this connection for communication only; I am unable to perceive anything in your location.

“ROOOF! Your companion animal is… eager for your return. To that end, I will guide you to a less damaged area as quickly as possible.

“After leaving the maintenance facility, follow the illuminated path, it will lead you to a bank of lifts. According to my analysis, one of which should still be functional. One lift has a broken cable about halfway down the shaft, and it is not next to the lift with disabled brakes. The functioning lift is not next to the lift with disabled brakes. One of the lifts has a damaged safety override, and it is next to the fully functional lift. That lift will take you to a lower level; I will attempt to contact you there.”

“It seems you have disabled… ”. The message repeats itself from the beginning.

We all agree that we’re in no condition to explore further at the moment. We loot the room for loot (since we’ve already killed it with HPs), and heal up and rest.

We all have disturbing dreams. In the morning, despite protests from Nineve, Dr. Xicar makes sure we’re all sufficiently healed before we head out.

The door of the maintenance area is locked. Nineve again offers the use of her crowbar, but I Opening doors with crowbarsinsist it’s not necessary. I easily pop open the locked door and we head off into the unknown. As the doors slide open, an intermittent series of lights trails off into the distance down the otherwise featureless corridors we’ve become so familiar with. After following the lights for some time, we cannot help but realize the sheer futility of attempting to navigate these corridors without 31E’s guidance.

A motion amidst the darkness at the far end of the corridor where we entered catches my eye. A huge figure pauses at the edge of the shadows, then swiftly vanishes. We move on quickly.

Eventually we arrive at a circular balcony overlooking a vast atrium. Numerous similar balconies disappear into darkness both above and below. A series of four double doors stand before us, most likely the lifts 31E mentioned earlier.

We spend a few minutes investigating the lifts and trying to figure out which one is functional based on 31E’s enigmatic clues. We narrow it down to 2 possible choices, and then guess. Fortunately, we guess correctly! The lift begins moving smoothly downward as the last of us step aboard. Through the glass walls of the lift we can see the vast interior of the Nexus pass by in its abandoned, silent splendor. After a few minutes the lift comes to a stop, and the doors slide open quietly.

A familiar series of intermittent lights guides us onward for several more minutes as we leave the lifts behind. The lights lead into a wide-open space, and stop.

The air in this massive cathedral-like space is strangely cool. Above us, a series of narrow balconies encircle the chamber, beyond about sixty feet, they disappear into darkness. The chamber walls are carved and polished with exceptional skill to look like cascades of silvery liquid. The eerie effect continues on the floor, giving the impression of walking along the surface of a silvery pool. The floor slopes down into a pool of dark water. A graceful bridge arches out over the pool, ending in a platform and a strange chair with 3 sets of arm-rests. Six similar platforms extend from the balconies on the levels above this one.

Inside the massive chamber, we come to a series of doors leading into a bank of small rooms. We approach the first one. The metal door is covered with a thin rime of frost; a seven-pointed star is carved into the door. Nineve, Xicar and I try the doors to no avail. Suddenly, Nineve remembers seeing the seven-pointed star symbol before – on Haroldur’s Sihedron Medallion! Haroldur walks up to the door and opens it with a touch. I follow him inside while Xicar and Nineve keep watch.

The chamber is empty, save for six faintly glowing, frost-rimed cylinders set into alcoves in the walls. A tangle of cables and hoses is attached to the metal base of each of the cylinders. A vague and unsettling feeling of despair and loss begins to settle upon me, sapping my will to continue. In fact, I feel it might be best to just sit down, forget the horrors I’ve already seen, and the ones I’ve yet to see, and give up. Why continue with this pointless quest? We’re lost here forever, or something will just kill us, picking each of us off, until only one remains, to die forgotten and alone. As I struggle with my thoughts, I absently wipe off one of the frost-rimmed cylinders.

Brushing the frost away reveals the desiccated figure of an elf hanging motionless as if suspended in fluid or encased in glass; hoses, cables, and other unnamable implements pierce the figure’s withered flesh. As I paw at the glass, it jerks violently away, seemingly recoiling from my approach. This unnerves me. I frantically wipe off the other cylinders, looking inside each one with a mounting sense of despair. They are all elves. The next elf’s mouth opens as if in a powerful scream, but I hear nothing. The corpse suddenly pounds violently but silently on the inside of the cylinder. Another desiccated figure begins tugging and tearing at the implements piercing its flesh, but with no apparent effect.

Oh god I’m so emo! I crumple to the floor and begin wailing dirges in Elven, overwhelmed by the suffering of this place and the hopelessness of our situation. The rest of the party engages in a lengthy debate over whether or not the dessicated elves are our problem. Haroldur takes the position that they are not. Xicar and Nineve aren’t sure – shouldn’t these souls be sent to Wee Jas? From the floor, I switch to common momentarily and moan that we don’t even know if they’re alive or dead. This seems to make an impression and Haroldur abruptly smashes one of the tubes, which shatters in a shower of ice and glass. I crouch over the shards and hunt through them; curiously, I find no elf bits. The debate rages while I morbidly examine the frosty remains of the cylinder. Suddenly, I freeze as I hear a sound the humans have missed – the doors to the lift down the hall have opened! I interrupt the debate to announce our doom.

A security detail of Clockwork Horrors has moved in to investigate the activity in this area. Nineve rushes headlong into the fray, with Xicar at her heels. Morosely, I pick up my swords and join the charge. Haroldur rushes in, too, but is attacked by a malevolent noodly appendage which emerges from the murky pool at the center of the room. We fight through wave after wave of clockwork horrors as we struggle to help Haroldur escape the Tentacle. Nineve finishes off the last of the beetles as Haroldur finally breaks free. We decide to move along quickly before something else emerges from the sinister-looking pool.

At the other end of the cathedral-like chamber, we find yet another door. It slides open to reveal a corridor filled with a tangled lattice of icy strands and beams that stretch from wall to wall, floor to ceiling, and everywhere in between. I scout ahead, moving acrobatically through the corridor like a ninja through laser beams. Beyond the lattice is an octagonal chamber. The walls are carved with strange and disturbing runes and images that seem to shift and change. At the center of the chamber stands a narrow pillar composed of grey and necrotic flesh. A deathly chill emanates from the pillar, and now and then a tortured visage forms and then fades away on the pillar’s surface with a faint whisper. I relay my findings along with my strong impression that there is something important here.

Nineve clears a path through the ice lattice the only way she knows how – by bashing. Delicate shards of ice tinkle and clatter to the floor as she crashes through the corridor like an elephant in the underbrush. Haroldur and Xicar follow her swath of destruction to join me in the strange octagonal chamber.

We spend some time trying to decipher the shifting runes on the walls, but their meaning always seems just beyond our grasp. After a while, Xicar examines the strange necrotic pillar, but can’t make much of it, either. Experimentally, he casts a healing spell on it – the pillar crumbles to the floor in a pile of fine dust. Nineve and Xicar decide we’re not getting anywhere and are anxious to leave. I’m hesitant to abandon the shifting runes but agree that we’re not making any progress. Haroldur has to be dragged bodily from the room.

The end of the cathedral-like chamber opens into a long, wide corridor. It is overlooked by small balconies for its entire length, and continues on into the distance. Here and there luminous globes suspended from the ceiling cast the same, familiar, even grey light that we have seen throughout the complex. 31E’s voice seems to be coming from that direction.

After a little while we enter a large, and desolate foyer. This appears to have once been a sort of gathering area, several broad corridors intersect here, and banks of “terminals” seem to have been placed for ease of access. Most of the “terminals” are dark, but several show a ghostly green image of 31E’s faceplate. We can make out 31E’s voice clearly, “I am currently attempting to locate you. Please access the nearest terminal so that I may determine your position.” The message repeats itself every few minutes.

We move towards the terminals when Xicar and I freeze suddenly, throwing out our arms to stop Haroldur and Nineve and gesturing for them to be quiet. At first, it seemed like a blacker shadow in the darkness; a massive, terrible shape, the personification of savage grace. Moving with the slow, easy stride of a great cat, the shape vanishes into the gloom. We wait breathlessly for a few moments until we’re sure it’s gone, then we move on to the terminals.

Xicar accesses a terminal and 31E’s voice comes through: “Ah, I had every confidence you would be able to follow my guidance. We are not far from being reunited. There are two lifts in the large chamber north of your current position. The eastern lift should be able to bring you to my position. However, there may be an… obstacle.

“The lift security protocols show a minor malfunction as a result of operating autonomously. It is possible that the lift will not function without the security node for that sector being shut down. You can attempt to access the lift, or I can give you instructions for locating and shutting down the security node.”

We tell him to give us directions, just in case.

“Very well. The shortest route to the node is through Specimen Containment Theta-7-2. Specimen Containment Theta-7-2 shows an 87.573% specimen fatality rate, but otherwise appears to be secure. I expect doors in the Specimen Containment labs will have to be forced. I cannot open them from here, nor can I determine if they are operational at all.” Nineve pats her crowbar.

We ask him if he knows anything about huge shadow cats stalking us from the darkness. He claims to know nothing and dismisses our concerns, however, we’re pretty worried about it. To emphasize our point, I warn 31E that a shadow cat could attack us at any time, when we least expect it… and then feign an attack, flailing dramatically and sinking below the terminal’s screen pretending to gargle blood. Disappointingly, 31E doesn’t fall for it. We decide he’d be a lot more fun if he were more expressive. Haroldur makes a very popular suggestion and we decide to look into macaroni eyebrow upgrades for him when we get back to Istivin.

As we walk over to the lifts (on the wild chance that they actually work), we discuss the 87% specimen fatality rate in Theta 7-2. What does it mean? I suggest that maybe the 87% aren’t dead – maybe they’ve just escaped containment and are prowling the corridors of the Nexus while the system thinks they’re dead. Xicar posits that perhaps all the specimens in Theta 7-2 escaped containment and that millennia of ceaseless combat has molded the surviving 13% into ruthless, unkillable predators. Since the lifts aren’t working (big surprise), it looks like we’ll get to head to Theta 7-2 to see for ourselves.

We follow 31E’s directions and arrive at a locked door labeled “Specimen Containment Theta-7-2”. Standing in front of it, Haroldur contemplates the choices which have led him to this point in his life: about to force open a sealed door behind which almost certainly lurks violent and Opening doors with crowbars2hostile creatures eager to bring about his unspeakable demise. I stop fiddling with the lock long enough to shrug “Such is the life of an adventurer”. While I’m distracted, Nineve “helps” me open the door with her crowbar.

The doors slide open with a loud metallic screech, revealing a large chamber similar to an amphitheater. Rows and rows of dark glass cylinders stand on curved, raised platforms. Here and there one of the cylinders glows faintly in the dim light from the ever-present illuminated ceiling panels. We identify three intact cylinders containing a human female; a gaunt, humanoid figure with rough yellow skin and large pointed ears, serrated in back; and a human male.

A pair of much larger cylinders dominates a raised platform at the far end of the room. One of these is dark, but the other glows faintly and something massive and revolting occasionally shifts within its confines. As we approach, we see it more clearly. Many-jointed legs and squirming tentacles cloak this horror in a haze of hideousness. A thing from darkest nightmares, it is curled upon itself like a titanic shrimp, half-centipede and half-squid. The thing glistens like a scarab’s shell under the harsh light illuminating the cylinder.

I want to smash the smaller containers and free the “specimens” inside. What if they are tormented souls, like the elves from earlier? And if they are being kept alive by unnatural means, surely Wee Jas resents that their souls are kept from her. No one is buying it, though. Haroldur insists that we’ve gotten ourselves into enough trouble by smashing things, and we need to stay focused on our mission. Reluctantly, I lead the way to the autonomous security node.

The far wall of the security node chamber is dominated by a complex control panel. Dozens of flashing lights, dials, switches, knobs and gauges cover the wall. The whir and clatter of the intricate clockworks fill the air. Shutting the controls down will be as much guesswork as anything else. We struggle with the controls and eventually manage to manipulate a final portion of the mechanism. Suddenly everything goes dark. Somewhere nearby we hear the clatter of clockwork mechanisms, the crash of shattering glass, and then silence.

Concerned, we rush back to the specimen containment area. Although it’s been only moments since we left this room, in the brief intervening time it has changed horribly. Sticky heat and the cloying stink of bile and crude oil now fill the chamber. In the darkness we hear something thick and horrible bubble and splatter as it falls on something hard.

As we advance our light glistens repulsively on sagging fleshy growths that now stretch from floor to ceiling, and seem to pulse and quiver of their own accord. Thick streamers of black fluid slowly creep uphill from a pool of the stuff dripping off the raised platform at the far end of the room. The nightmare creature so recently contained, lies free and loathsome in a growing pool of black putrescence.

A single alien, black eye stares fathomlessly from the thing’s octopoid head, as it bathes itself in an endless flow of oily black fluid dribbling from its hideous mouth. It writhes repulsively within an ever-expanding pool of the same black muck, as it slowly turns its cyclopean head in our direction.

The unspeakable squid-thing seems to be somehow creating minions from the specimens inside the intact cylinders. The human female and the strange humanoid creature are gone – from the sticky pods which covered their tanks emerge dripping black sludge monsters. Nineve calls them bearadactyls.

Haroldur quietly suggests we just skirt along the back wall and leave the containment area – maybe it hasn’t seen us. Nineve apparently disagrees with this plan of action, and immediately rushes forward to engage the squiddy. I move to smash the last cylinder before the human male inside is turned into another bearadactyl. Xicar lays down Order’s Wrath. This really draws the ire of the squid-monster, and it blasts him from across the room with a bubbling acid spit. He collapses just as I finish breaking the cylinder. I grab the human’s lifeless form and sprint to Xicar’s aid, reviving him just in time.

While Xicar recovers, I take a moment to examine the human I rescued. He is dead.

Meanwhile, Nineve has attracted the attention of the squid. It looks at her strangely, then grabs her and uses its horrible tentacles to start pulling her apart, almost out of curiosity. Haroldur savagely attacks the thing to force it to release her, while Xicar rushes to keep her alive. The battle swiftly degenerates into a wild melee, with Xicar and Haroldur trying to kill the squid and keep Nineve alive while it is literally ripping her apart in front of us. I hit the monster with a line of lightning and teleport in to melee range, but my will crumbles under the unspeakable terror of the thing, and I am forced to watch helplessly, dazed. In the end, Haroldur lands the killing blow and Xicar sends the thing to Wee Jas with Death Knell.

Nineve is barely alive, lying in a pool of her own blood and partially eviscerated. It’s obvious she can’t go on like this, and we are all exhausted and no longer have the resources to heal her. We have no choice but to rest. We retreat back to the safest place we can think of – the disabled security node room, and rest for the night. Everyone but Xicar has horrible nightmares.

In the morning, we patch up Nineve and head back to the lifts, which are now working. We ride the undamaged lift up to reunite with Dog & 31E. The lift doors part with a hiss, revealing our missing companions. Dog sits patiently at 31E’s side for a moment, then trots forward to greet me, tail wagging furiously and his pink tongue lolling from his mouth. 31E raises his one hand in his odd, but familiar gesture of salutation (which is not at all a Nazi salute), “It is… very good to see all of you again. Come, the Libram is this way.”

31E strides confidently through the metal corridors, still but for the automaton’s metallic footsteps. Soon he comes to a set of doors no different than any of the dozens and dozens of others we’ve seen in the Nexus. However, when the door slides open silently it reveals a chamber unlike any we have ever seen, or will likely see again.

The chamber is vast and vibrantly lit. The click and whir and hum of machinery fills the immense space. Banks of tall, glossy, black equipment awash in flashing red lights are orderly arranged on the transparent yet reflective floor. Through the floor we can see that the chamber is suspended above a deep gulf, congested with tangles of hoses and cables. At the center of it all is a metallic pillar surmounted by a collection of brightly lit terminals. Standing next to one of the terminals is an automaton very similar to 31E, although it shows none of the wear and degradation of our clockwork companion.

31E and the other automaton regard each other briefly. For a few moments they seem to communicate in a rapid-fire series of clicks and beeps. After a pause, 31E turns to us, “It seems we have a significant… problem. You’re curious about our conversation. Our discussion was wide-ranging. W4Nk3R is considerably agitated regarding your presence this deep within the Nexus, as well as your activities leading up to this point. The facility’s stability has been reduced 2.387% since we became separated, primarily due to your actions.

“W4Nk3R is convinced that there is no higher Imperium authority available, and that it is therefore entitled to the Fragment that you carry. I asked for, and was denied, access to the Libram. We also discussed, very briefly, the ambient barometric pressure.

“I am… conflicted. It is imperative that we deliver the Fragment to the Grand Terminus. But, I am an agent of the Imperium, and aiding, even indirectly, in the destruction of another Imperium agent opposes my root directives. However, W4Nk3R is quite mad, and I cannot progress further as long as it remains functional. It seems the only course of action is a direct confrontation.

“I cannot aid you. Were I to participate in the coming conflict I would be subject to an autonomous process which would have, as its aim, your deaths. However, I can keep an eye on your animal companion. Including him in a physical confrontation with W4Nk3R would be profoundly unwise.”

In an unprecedented turn of events, we take a moment to strategize in the entryway. Buffs are cast and a plan is enacted. Unfortunately, the best laid plans of mice and men fail when W4Nk3R negates our invisibility with some kind of special lighting effect. From his position on the platform, it seems he can control everything in the Libram: the lights, the floor, even the clockwork beetle defenses which are now marching towards us. It becomes obvious to me that we need to level the playing field.

I lightning bolt up onto his platform and he seems very surprised. I manage to distract him from the controls, but he’s so strong and fast that I can’t seem to do much damage. Haroldur uses his clockwork wings to jump onto the platform and help me out. Meanwhile, Nineve and Xicar battle clockwork beetles on the ground.

Realizing his position on the platform is no longer advantageous, W4Nk3R leaps to the ground with the aim of using his superior agility to defeat us. However, he didn’t count on Nineve’s Bulwark of Defense! The tide of the battle turns in our favor as Haroldur, Nineve and Xicar quickly corner him. I Call Lightning and he collapses to the floor in a smoking pile of twitching clockwork limbs. The Libram is ours!

Almost immediately, 31E strides into the chamber, and kneels next to the remains of his counterpart. Quickly and methodically, he begins disassembling the construct, separating its parts into several orderly piles. “This will take me a few minutes, even with Greycloak Sarek’s aid. Then I shall find a route to the Starry Mirror.”

Macaroni eyebrows For the first time, we see a complete 31E37. His movements are much more fluid now, almost predatory. He extends and retracts his twin arm-blades experimentally, obviously pleased with the new parts. Nineve and I are especially pleased about the expressive new macaroni eyebrow upgrades! “I have gained a great deal of information from W4Nk3R’s memory plates, as well as restoring myself to 99.784% functionality. Come let us find a route to the Mirror and the Terminus.”

~Ashe

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Episode 29

Episode 29: 7/31/10

The Party:
Ashelia Raminas, elf ranger 5/rogue/3
Nineve, human knight/8
Sarek, human wizard/8
Haroldur 2.0, human fighter 1 /cleric 5 /divine knight 2

We exit the acid zombie room and reunite with Nineve, who stumbles into the lab unexpectedly. Apparently she’d gotten separated from 31E and wandered the Nexus for a while, finally being guided by 31E to us. After a brief exchange of pleasantries (difficult in such repulsive surroundings), we wade through the muck to another door.

Nineve and I shoulder it open. Littered on shelves and cabinets throughout this room are shattered glass vials and tubes, corroded metal tools rusted beyond repair, spools of dark thread, and other things we cannot identify. Several tables, still upright, contain a number of humanoid bones strapped to their rusting surfaces. Delightful. We pick up a few interesting looking items, several glass ampules in particular, and move on.

Next, we come to a short hallway with several small rooms adjoined to it. We poke around, making our way through the small labs and finding small treasures: mysterious ampules, a bracer, a belt, a metallic sphere, and a torc. As we’re rummaging, we start to hear the damp rustling of zombies! We try to talk him out of it, but Haroldur charges forward and throws open a door to one of the labs at the end of the hallway, which is full of bloated zombie-like things! A rusted cage encloses their withered faces and unnameable implements pierce the their sodden flesh. Their clawed hands reach for us dripping filth and dark fluids

Sarek blows up most of the zombies with a fireball, and Nineve and I hack through the rest. When we’re finished being heroic, we look around and find a few more ampules.

We move to the end of the hallway and up some stairs, and scrabble for several minutes against two seemingly unopenable blast doors. Thwarted, we backtrack a little and make our way down another corridor. It opens into another larger lab. Things are still gross here. Dark, stagnant water laps against a pair of iron vessels against the nearby wall. A large window, overlooking the open lab area dominates the far wall. I am not surprised to find that these large iron vessels also contain acid zombies. I wonder at the significance of that while we prepare for combat.

Sarek drops another fireball from above and I deftly avoid all damage. Nineve activates the mysterious torc in time to gain sufficient SR so as to be entirely immune to the fireball as well. We hack and slash and Sarek throws around lots of magic missiles and a lightning bolt. I powerfully double-slice into my foe, gracefully ducking as it vomits its toxic payload onto Nineve and Haroldur behind me. It collapses into its barrel. Just then, a trio of zombies come crashing through the window. Sarek drops another fireball on them, totally frying me in the process. Aghast, I charge forward and take out all the wounded zombies in one whirling slash of death!

Then, as Nineve is still struggling with her acid zombie, I rush in to assist. I leap heroically up onto the adjacent barrel, but lose my balance as I try to attack. Fortunately, I manage a graceful dismount and even get a hit in while I recover my composure. Nineve decapitates the acid zombie and we heal up and look around for loot – I find two disc-scrolls and a strange metallic belt.

We heal up a little and the decide our only remaining path is through a large observation window 20 feet above the open lab area. We stand underneath it, hurling projectiles in an attempt to smash the glass, when from the depths of the zombie-chum, a “skuz” appears. It is a vaguely monstrous form of noxious green – a kind of semi-putrid congealed jelly with suggestions of translucency. It rises up from the water behind me, seeming to pull the algae and slime from the surface to constitute its form. As something resembling a head forms, it turns toward me, the jellified jaws opening to spill forth a false tongue of ooze and putrid flesh. It smells just as great as it looks, too. The skuz surges forward, grabbing me and attempts to drown me in the horrid slime. Nineve rushes to my aid and with her help, I escape the skuz’s grasp.

Then, grotesque, bloated zombie-like things emerge from the filthy water to join the party. A rusted cage encloses each withered face and unnameable implements pierce the thing’s sodden flesh. Delicious. I move to deal with them.

Meanwhile, Sarek grapples 2 of the zombies and the scum monster with Tentacles of Forced Intrusion. Never play “Gross-Out Chicken” with a wizard.

I slash through 2 more of the cage-face zombie horrors, felling them, but succumbing to their hideous putrescence. I fall beside my foes into the murky depths. I am told Sarek tried to pull me out of the zombie-chum but instead tripped and fell into the ichor himself. Haroldur heals me, and I stand up to find myself threatened by the skuz yet again. Sarek activates the jade falcon, which goes after the remaining bloated cage-face zombies. Then, he magically transforms into an air elemental and blasts the skuz into oblivion. Nineve destroys the last cage-face zombie and we decide it’s time to rest.

We exit the laboratory the way we came in, and clean up (THOROUGHLY) once we find a safe-looking place to camp. Before we go to bed it is obvious that I (and the rest of the party) am suffering from the effects of Slimy Doom. In the morning, my condition has deteriorated, so Haroldur uses the “Rod of Lawsome” to Heal me, and I am completely cured! The rest of the party finishes healing up as well, and we head back into the lab for another crack at the window.

After a few more tries, we smash the glass and use the handy troll-gut rope with grappling hand™ to climb up into yet another ruined lab. Despite the lack of water in this chamber, the bad smell is even worse here. A raised platform dominates the chamber, where a pair of metal tables surmounted by complex machinery, hoses and other apparatus stand. Patches of strange pale lichen grow along the floor and walls, shedding strange, unsettling light. Nineve is immediately sickened by the horrible stench. We explore the chamber further, when suddenly we notice a strange yellow vapor steaming up from the floor. It materializes into a seething, dimly phosphorescent cloud of fungous loathsomeness, from which a charnel house stench seems to emanate in palpable waves. The caricatured likenesses of legions of screaming faces emerge and dissolve, melting like tallow within the vaporous form.

The monstrosity, a Caller-In-Darkness, radiates a palpable menace. Haroldur uses Amsophar’s circlet to Call Lightning. Then, waves of hate emanating from the Caller wash over us. Nineve becomes despondent as Sarek springs into action as a magic missile machine gun. I throw one of the spheres we found, which turns out to be a holy hand grenade of force damage. Unexpectedly, Nineve cleaves herself in the face with her own sword. Haroldur calls down a bolt of lightning and I am dazed as my mind crumbles under the weight of the Caller’s hatred. Sarek continues his magic missile assault, and Nineve comes to her senses momentarily and hurls her blast sphere at the Caller as well.

Unfortunately, seconds later, Nineve and I are overcome with grief and decide, in our highly vulnerable and emotional state, to kill ourselves. Turns out we’re pretty good at self-destruction. Haroldur and Sarek continue to blast the Caller with their magical attacks as emo-Nineve and I cut ourselves. In the end, Haroldur blasts the Caller from existence. As soon as it is gone, Nineve and I recover from our terrible ennui (but not our life-threatening, self-inflicted wounds). We heal up and move on.

Banks of silent machinery clutter the next room. Here and there a light blinks feebly, or a needle flutters on its gauge. The ever-present fungus has also invaded this chamber, coating the machinery and clogging its intricate clockworks. It’s a pretty safe bet that this is the control room 31E spoke of.

We spot the access hatch 31E spoke of in the ceiling. Wet patches of shiny green goo cling to the seams around the hatch, occasionally dripping to the floor below. The hatch is locked – I unlock it without much trouble. Nineve opens the hatch and narrowly avoids getting a face full of slimy green goo! We carefully maneuver around the goo and climb through the hatch.

The hatch leads to a cramped corridor that heads off into darkness in two opposite directions. A metal grate provides a level surface on which to crawl over the tangle of pipes, hoses and tubes that cover the floor, walls, and ceiling. Other than the lights we’ve brought with us, the darkness here is complete. We pick a direction and head into the darkness.

Unable to stand, we have little choice but to crawl toward the unknown, hoping that we made the right decision. Here and there other, similar corridors join with the passage we are following; it wouldn’t take long to get hopelessly lost in this maze of passages…

~Ashe

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Episode 28

Episode 28: 7/17/10

The Party:
Ashelia Raminas, elf ranger 5/rogue/3
Xicar, human cleric/8
Sarek, human wizard/8
Haroldur, human wizard 3/cleric 4/mystic theurge 1

We barely have a moment to recuperate before we are attacked by another wave of sand wights and ghasts. We dispatch them and proceed to the top of the stairs leading to the entrance to the ziggurat.

With growing excitement and apprehension we cross the paved landing and enter the structure 31E calls a ‘Nexus’. Sand covers much of the floor, and has collected in drifts in the corners and among piles of debris. Despite the obviously catastrophic damage to this part of the structure, most of the nearby passages seem to have been cleared of debris long ago. On the walls and ceilings we see for the first time some traces of the pictorial art of the ancient race that must have inhabited the ruined city; curious curling streaks of paint that have almost faded or crumbled away; and on some walls a maze of well-fashioned curvilinear carvings are scratched into the silver-grey metal.

As we press forward, following a strangely silent 31E, the passages become more obstructed by fallen debris, but they share the same common features: The walls are smooth grey metal, and meet in an arched ceiling about 15’ above. Panels in the ceiling flicker brightly on occasion, but generally remain dark. The halls are still and quiet, although we can feel, more than hear, a faint humming seemingly coming from far below.

This part of the Nexus is in poor repair; multiple damaged passages lead off in several different directions. The passageways are thick with sand and dust, and often blocked with rubble and debris. 31E seems convinced that there is a way deeper into the Nexus, it’s just a matter of finding one.

We turn down a likely looking hallway and come upon strange glittering strands of ice, which criss-cross the passage like a frozen spider web. We carefully navigate around without touching any of it.

A little while later, we come upon an area of unstable magic. The hallway seems fairly normal, but for some reason we feel uneasy; our skin tingles and our vision seems to blur. As we pass through the area, Sarek and Haroldur experience a temporal distortion: Sarek has the sensation of moving much faster than everyone else, while Haroldur feels slowed. My skin reacts terribly, suddenly becoming dry and brittle, cracking painfully with my every movement. Xicar definitely gets the worst of it, however. He begins bleeding from the nose and feels violently ill. Moments later, he vomits uncontrollably for several minutes.

We move as quickly as possible through the strange area, and after a few minutes of rest, we all recover. Anxious to put that awful experience behind us, we turn down a passage onto another area of unstable magic! This time we don’t risk it – we avoid the area all together. We come upon another ice lattice, which we pass without incident. Pressing on, we come upon a large room. The floor here has collapsed, leaving a ragged hole which we climb down into.

The hole empties into a corridor, which continues on to a large, echoing chamber. It has several exits, as well as a catwalk high above. I attempt to climb onto the catwalk, but without success. We move through another exit and are ambushed by ghasts and wraiths, who nearly kill us all. We drive them off and retreat to a secluded, secure-seeming area to rest and heal.

The next day, we continue our difficult journey deeper into the Nexus. We encounter more collapsed floors and unstable magic fields, as well as a few familiar passages. We wander aimlessly all day, but fail to make any real progress.

The following morning, we try yet again. We avoid an area of unstable magic, but our path is blocked by a damaged double door. Fortunately, we manage to force it open. We wander around a little more, but before long we realize we’ve circled back on ourselves and are retracing our steps. We chose a different route – this time a place where the ceiling has collapsed, littering the passage with debris. Not to be deterred, we vault over the blockage and continue down the corridor.

After hours of wandering the silent metal halls 31E speaks for the first time in a long while. “Up ahead, I believe we have found what I have been looking for.” Further down the hallway is a metal double door. The door shows evidence of being forced open at some time in the past. Next to it is a panel with several blinking colored lights, small levers and switches. 31E manipulates a couple areas on the panel, but nothing happens. After a moment, 31E extends his arm-blade, and deftly pries the panel away from the wall in a small shower of sparks. “Greycloak Ashe, I lack the requisite appendage and dexterity to properly manipulate the clockworks in order to bypass them.” 31E indicates a mass of intricate gears, springs and cogs that were previously concealed by the panel. With 31E’s directions, I deftly bypass the door controls.

With a hiss and whoosh of air, the door opens revealing a chamber in much better repair than what we have seen of the complex thus far. Glowing panels in the ceiling illuminate the chamber in even, grey light. Several metal desks stand across the room from us, covered in blinking lights. Dark green glass panels covered in glowing green symbols are set into the walls. Immediately to the left, a portion of the floor has collapsed, leaving metal supports and floor panels hanging over the darkness below. Occasionally a shower of sparks illuminates part of the wreckage below. A few decrepit piles of humanoid remains litter the chamber here and there.

31E immediately strides toward one of the panels covered in green text. After a few moments of pressing buttons, he turns to us, the blue lights of his eyes flaring brightly.

“This facility has not been accessed in over 3.78683112×10^10 seconds. Strange.” He turns back to the glowing screen and starts pressing buttons very quickly, talking while he does so. “The Antiquarian Thinking Engine responsible for system maintenance is barely functioning. Most areas are operating in autonomous mode, if they are functioning at all. However, the security systems throughout the Nexus which remain functional are on full alert. Also, 91.463% of the containment systems have failed. It would be profoundly unwise to simply wander about.” More rapid button-pressing and something that might pass for a robot scowl… “I can’t access a schematic that will show a route to the Starry Mirror from here; most of the records are damaged or no longer accessible. What schematics I can access report all routes to the Mirror as impassible.” Then, his face lights up, as much as that is possible. He says hopefully, “The Nexus Libram is not far. If a route to the Mirror can be found, there is a high probability I can find it there”.

We’ve been poking around the room while 31E looks at his glowing screens. The humanoid remains have been dead for so long, I can’t Sift anything from them. From the looks of it, though, they had their heads blown off, or crushed … I can’t make sense of the text on the screens, either. Because of the Intuit Pattern ritual, I can read the words, but I don’t understand what they mean.

I ask 31E what this place is for – why was it here, in the middle of such a vast desert? He replies, “This facility was located here to study the ruins of a Storm King settlement known as Kaddastrey.” He presses more buttons. “It appears much has been preserved because fortunately, the local barometric pressure and temperature patterns appear remarkably stable.”

“You mean this big desert has been here a long time?”, I laugh. “I could’ve told you that!”.

31E again turns to one of the glass panels he refers to as a ‘terminal.’ He shows us a complicated glowing diagram that he claims is a map of the Nexus. After a few moments of his explaining what different symbols and patterns on the map mean, it is clear that we will just have to follow him to this Libram of his. However, from what I can glean, it doesn’t seem far at all. 31E again turns to the terminal, and a few seconds later the heavy door nearest him slides open with a metallic screech. Gesturing for us to follow, 31E moves to the doorway. Dog darts past him, with his nose to the floor, tail wagging furiously. Zuko and Nineve cross the doorway directly behind 31E, and suddenly the chamber is full of light and sound.

Red light floods the chamber as a glowing blue field appears, cutting us off from 31E, Zuko, Nineve, and Dog. A blaring siren makes communication nearly impossible as 31E turns to us, looking as surprised as his ceramic faceplate will allow. A trio of ceiling panels retract as three strange contraptions like mechanical crossbows descend from the ceiling and point at us menacingly. A pair of panels on either side of the doorway slide aside to reveal two hulking mechanical monstrosities roughly the size of ogres. Each has an arm ending in a massive pincer, the other in an even more massive hammer. Clanking and clattering, they lurch forward and attack!

Fortunately, one of the big constructs shutters and grinds to a halt with a noise that I imagine sounds like a machine dying. Sarek dives for cover behind one of the metal desks and unleashes a wall of fire on the functioning construct and one of the turrets. We all scramble to break or shut down the hostile machinery, but the loud sirens and flashing red lights make it nearly impossible to communicate. Xicar gets careless and falls through the damaged floor. Twice. We all point and laugh. Eventually, we break the machines enough so they stop attacking us. We still can’t get through the glowing blue field, so we indicate that we’ll try the only other exit – climbing down the hole. Hopefully we can meet up with 31E and the others in another part of the Nexus.

Using my trusty troll gut rope & grappling hand, we carefully make our way down into the darkness. We find ourselves in another area of the Nexus, one that is thankfully less full of ice lattices and unstable magical fields. What it is full of, however, are unmarked, identical grey corridors. As we move through them, I become convinced that there really is no way to distinguish one area from another.

A horrible conclusion has been gradually intruding itself upon our reluctant minds, and is now becoming an awful certainty. We are lost, completely and hopelessly lost in the vast and labyrinthine recess of the Imperium Nexus. A nameless air of desolation hangs around the metallic paneling, flickering light-panels, echoing corridors, and such fragments of battered furniture as still remain. The lack of dust and cobwebs adds a further touch of the fearful and strange.

Without 31E’s guidance, turn as we might, in no direction can we seize on any object capable of serving as a guidepost or landmark. The idea that we should evermore wander these strange silent halls is becoming a fixed conclusion in our minds. Hope has departed. Yet, for a moment, we derive no small measure of satisfaction from our unimpassioned demeanors; for although we have heard of the wild frenzies into which were thrown the victims of similar situations, we experience none of these, but instead, for a moment, stand quietly with our companions, confident that we share similar thoughts.

Xicar says “I think we’re lost”. Haroldur waxes poetic about our unswerving devotion to Wee Jas in the face of such hopelessness. Soon, Xicar catches on and the clerics begin to give impassioned speeches (mostly to each other) about tranquility and the inescapable nature of death. Sarek rolls his eyes at them and takes the opportunity to lean against the wall. I listen for a bit, thinking. Then I drop to my knees and start digging through my backpack. I KNOW it’s in here somewhere…

After a solid 5 or 10 minutes of rummaging, I pull out a piece of chalk! Now, we may not know where we’re going, but at least we’ll know where we’ve been! We get going again, this time marking each intersection with an arrow indicating the direction we chose.

After hours of wandering, I hear, in the distance the metallic voice of 31E echoing from within the alien depths of the complex. We head off in the direction I think the voice is coming from, and after a little while we can all make out 31E’s voice clearly, “I am currently attempting to locate you. Please access the nearest terminal so that I may determine your position.” The message repeats itself every few minutes.

We keep moving and eventually find a terminal. A blurry, glowing green image of 31E’s face plate appears on the screen. 31E’s voice seems to fill the chamber, however it crackles and pops, making him a little difficult to understand, but we manage. “Ah, I have found you. Good, the others are with you as well. I was beginning to believe the Fragment had been lost within the facility. The irony would have been … extreme.”

“The area you are in is 98.252% non-functional. Activating the terminal has extended my awareness within the facility, but that is all, none of the primary systems are functioning. Currently you are above one of the low security laboratories. I will guide you. The laboratories indicate a fluid containment failure, but otherwise appear to be undamaged.

“Once within the laboratories, I will be unable to communicate with you. Within the laboratory control room there is a ceiling hatch that will lead you to a maintenance area. That is your goal. Unfortunately, the maintenance area is quite active. At present I am attempting to take control, but the Arcane Engine in that sector is currently operational. It will probably see you as a security threat. I will try to keep it occupied from here, but I cannot guarantee your safety”.

We shrug and look around for some kind of guidance. Suddenly, green lights along the floor flicker to life, illuminating a path down one of the labyrinthine hallways. We follow the lights, which eventually lead us down a stairwell. The stairs terminate at a short hallway and a heavy double door of the same familiar grey metal. A glowing panel in the arched ceiling flickers intermittently. The door is sealed, but with my experience helping 31E unjam one of these earlier, I manage to pop it open. I wished I hadn’t.

As the door finally opens, our senses are violently assailed. A flood of warm, stagnant water streams through the doorway as our nostrils revolt at the stench which suddenly fills the place. A horrible odor, a gagging, eye-watering smell assaults us. Although we are no strangers to the stench of death, the peculiar potency and abruptness of the assault is nearly overpowering. The reek seems to be coming from the chamber beyond, and from the water, dark and opaque, that now covers the floor of the small chamber to a depth of several feet. The filthy water laps up against us. Here and there are ragged bits of something drift in the water as it settles.

Sarek immediately casts Fly. The rest of us aren’t so lucky. I wrap a handkerchief over my nose and mouth and hope for the best. Haroldur mocks me a little, saying REAL adventurers don’t need such nonsense, but as we wade in, he goes a bit green around the gills and follows my lead.

Faint fungal phosphorescence lights the chamber ahead with a yellowish, penetrating force that hints at things more potent than luminosity. A pale lichen like growth climbs up the walls above the water level (which is still 3 feet deep and just as stagnant). An occasional flicker from a ceiling panel adds to the eerie atmosphere of this large chamber. Here and there we spot a rusted table or cabinet leaning against the wall. If anything the stench is stronger here, assaulting our senses with every breath.

As we’re wading around what must be the main laboratory corridor, Xicar suddenly trips on something unseen and horrible under the surface and falls face-first into the rancid zombie-chum. He gets right up, but I can tell by the look on his face that he will never be the same again. There are some things you can’t un-smell!

Haroldur opens a door and calls for us to follow him. A short flight of steps raises the floor of this new chamber above the level of the rancid water, although the metallic floor is uneven and moist with fungus. Tables here are overturned and broken. Several broken glass cylinders stand against the far wall, and splatters of a strange black fluid stain the wall, floor and ceiling around them. Four large iron vessels leaking a noxious green vapor stand against the opposite walls.

As we enter the room, horrible alchemical waste zombies emerge from the vessels to attack. One more climbs out of one of the vessels, but immediately melts into a stinking pile of goo. Green vapor pours from the open sores covering the flesh of these dead things as they stumble toward us. Their decaying features leer and gibber at us, deformed claws reaching and dripping with toxic fluids… These guys are nasty. They attack Haroldur with their goo-fists! As we soon discover, they also spray a fan of pea-soup green vomit when they drop, and have to be put down twice before they actually stay re-dead. Since we can’t smell any worse, we make a quick search of the room before leaving and come up with some intact ampules and an odd apparatus!

~Ashe

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Episode 27

Episode 27: 6/26/10

The Party:
Ashelia Raminas, elf ranger 5/rogue/3
Nineve, human knight/8
Xicar, human cleric/8
Sarek, human wizard/8
Haroldur, human wizard 3/cleric 4/mystic theurge 1

After a moment of falling through thick, inky blackness, we somehow fall sideways onto a rough stone floor. Darkness so total I momentarily wonder if I haven’t been struck blind greets me as I collect myself. Dust tickles my nose, and all is silent, other than the occasional crash and clatter as the rest of my companions emerge from the portal. Once we’ve activated a light source, we find ourselves in a small chamber, clearly of familiar Storm King stonework. The chamber is in poor repair; rubble and fallen columns litter the floor. At the far end of the chamber a passage extends into darkness.

Immediately, we break out my world atlas and 31E’s scarab to get our bearings. According to the GPS (global positioning scarab) beetle, we’re in the Karach desert, famous for being the site of a cataclysmic battle between two great (now defunct) civilizations, and about a million miles from anywhere.

We find that the passage continues for about 20’ before ending in a pile of rubble and sand. It would appear that not only are we in the middle of a vast and remote desert, we are also trapped. Underground. Sarek casts Elemental Body, and becomes an earth elemental temporarily. He scouts out the passage, and returns to tell us that a couple dozen yards of digging separate us from the outside world. We roll up our sleeves and start digging.

We’ve been digging for several hours when suddenly a bright flash and a sound like ripping fabric fills the small chamber. A strange, yet familiar figure stands bewildered near the back of the chamber. His air of authority and menace is nearly palpable, despite his obvious confusion. The winged archon, known to us as Zasalamel, stares at us with naked surprise. “You! How? Where… No matter, the Time Lord is right, you must pay for your crimes!” He readies a gleaming scythe and strides toward us, his purpose abundantly clear.

A sweaty Nineve holds up her hand and asks if she may have a moment to don her armor and prepare for battle. Zasalamel, take a little aback, readily agrees. It seems, despite being crazy, he’d still prefer a fair fight.

Nineve provokes Zasalamel, and I sneak up and attack – from the shadows! Then 31E joins in and the crazy archon is in the middle of a circle of pain. Crazy Zasalamel keeps going on about the “Mammoth of Discord” and the “Titan of Chaos”, shrieking that we’ve released the “Chaos Engine” or some such nonsense, but by now we know there’s no point in trying to reason with him. Zasalamel sweeps with his scythe and trips 31E, Ninene, and Xicar. I deftly leap over his blade and continue my assault. Xicar recovers and summons a shard of entropy which satisfyingly rips smoking holes in Zasalamel’s angelic form. Sarek unleashes a crippling blast of fire on the enemy as Nineve and 31E regain their footing. There is a little more hacking and slashing, but finally Sarek makes Zasalamel do the Magic Missile Dance and he disappears in a cloud of smoke and blood.

We heal up and get back to digging. That evening, while Lazare sleeps off his dinner, Zolara appears.

The Choosing:

Nineve – The Carnival
Sarek – The Eclipse
Ashe – The Owl
Xicar – The Publican
Haroldur – The Queen Mother

The Spread:

The Brass …. Dwarf The …. Publican The Demon’s Lantern The Dance …. The Desert …. The Lost The Juggler …. The Tangled …. Briar …. The Midwife

The Past: “The Brass Dwarf represents invulnerability and strength. Here, it refers to your recent triumphs. The Dance is the rich and delicate framework that rules existence, and whose rules we must all abide by. The Juggler represents those who play with the lives and destinies of others. Misaligned as he is, we see that the Juggler has failed to keep his rhythm, and the tragedy and loss he has caused has been for naught.

The Present: “The Publican represents fellowship, camaraderie, and a companion’s insight. The Desert is a bleak waste, though the journey through it will lead you closer to your goals. The Tangled Briar is a card of Ancient deeds. It indicates an object or person from long ago will have a great influence on your quest to return home, though that influence may hinder rather than help.

The Future: “The Demon’s Lantern warns against losing your way – although I fear you will regardless of my warning. However, misaligned as it is, the Demon’s Lantern tells us that a guide will arrive to show the way. The Midwife warns of a new discovery that will change everything. Something shall soon be borne into the world that will alter the course of your journey. The Lost is emptiness and madness: For a time, the world will make no sense, until the Midwife’s discovery brings a measure of clarity.”

We visit with Zolara for a little, and learn some of the history of the Rod of Seven Parts from her. We also learn a little about the Karach Desert, but nothing that will really do us any good until we dig our way out of our erstwhile tomb.

The next day we’re back at it, and after many hours of digging in the stifling heat of the chamber, we are all weary, dirty, and tired of choking on sand and dust. Our labors have cleared a narrow passage through the rubble, leading to the first real daylight we’ve seen in what seems like weeks. The searing intensity of the light and heat outside gives us pause for a moment, but the urge to see the sky again is nearly overwhelming.

As we emerge from the rubble-strewn opening our eyes slowly adjust to the sudden glare. We realize that we are standing on a windy bluff overlooking the ruins of a great city at the bottom of a wide valley. Dark mountains loom faintly in the distance. If we didn’t know better, we’d swear we have been here before, though it seems like the valley was green and lush then…

The ruins lie within a parched and terrible valley baking under the blazing sun. As far as we can see it protrudes uncannily above the sands as parts of a corpse may protrude from an ill-made grave. The nameless city lies before us, crumbling and inarticulate, its low walls nearly hidden by the sands of uncounted ages. Some distance away, near the center of the brooding ruins, a strange structure, not unlike a metallic ziggurat, rises stark through the sand to tower over the buildings near it. 31E indicates the ziggurat with his remaining arm, and says “Strange that we should emerge so close to a Nexus. I shall show you that the Imperium is indeed thriving. Come, we must present the recovery of the Rod fragment to my superiors.”

I agree that the ziggurat is as good a destination as any, but traveling through the desert in the middle of the day strikes me as a bad plan. The party agrees with me, and we begin arguing with a very gung-ho 31E to convince him that we should wait until nightfall before heading out. The commotion suddenly ceases when, behind us, Lazare clears his throat loudly.

“My friends, I am afraid it is time for us to part ways.” He holds up his hands, “Now there’s no use arguing, I have some pressing business elsewhere, and I am already late through bothering with this fool’s errand into the Whispering Cairn. I thank you all for the parts you had to play in my coming this far, you’ve been really good sports.”

We press him with questions that can be summed up as “Huh?” Lazare won’t tell us what his objective was in the Whispering Cairn, only that whatever he was doing doesn’t matter any more because he didn’t find what he was looking for and he’s out of ideas. He tells us that the Rod fragment was a fantastic find and one we’ve rightly earned; it’s just not what he was after. He agrees not to spread the news of its discovery, thankfully. He seems disappointed but in good spirits. At least he’s taking this (whatever it is) in stride? I press him about what he was looking for, arguing that since it doesn’t matter anymore, there’s no harm in telling us. He says he was looking for a metal canister, about the size of a large lantern.

“It was supposed to be well hidden, and I’d thought I’d tracked it down. Ah well, half the fun’s in looking, right?”

“Might I trouble you for the return of my trophy?” He indicates the crystal disc Xicar has been carrying. He hands it over. “Thank you. I doubt we’ll meet again, but then again of course we may meet once more before this is all over. Don’t miss me too terribly; think instead on the treasure you’ve recovered, and your long journey home. You’d best be on your way, or I don’t suppose I, or anyone else, will ever see you again.”

“Good-bye!” He turns to leave, but then turns back to us, as if remembering something. “Before I go, allow me to introduce myself, so that my impending transformation doesn’t unsettle you unduly. In other times, and other guises, I have been known as Kroiphrakil’azzare, the Smiling Gambler, Scourge of the Sphinx Lords, Sage of Diamond Lake, and Chess Master of Brux, at your service!” He bows regally in his soiled and tattered robes, then stands, with arms spread and eyes shut, clearly concentrating for a moment, but nothing seems to be happening.

After a few seconds, he opens his eyes, winks at us slyly, “You are all made of sterner stuff than I had thought. That usually leaves folks a little more, well, awed. Ah well, I should be off.” We look quizzically at this skinny, disheveled man in tattered rags, holding his scrawny arms out majestically, like we should be impressed by this. I think of 31E, Nineve, Zasalamel, and now Lazare, and begin to wonder if I’m going sane in a crazy world. Then Lazare glances down at himself and seems genuinely surprised.

“Oh, bother. It has been a while.” A sudden cloud of smoke or dust conceals Lazare for a moment. When it clears, a massive dragon with gleaming coppery scales and long, flat horns towers above us. Sarek wigs out a little, visibly shaken and muttering “I knew it! I just knew it!” The dragon slyly winks one of its glowing turquoise eyes, and in a surprisingly pleasant voice says, “Fare you well then, you’ve been good sports, and really fare-well!” With that, the magnificent creature springs into the air, flaps its powerful wings, and is soon only a glittering speck in the distant sky.

We stand gaping in awe for a moment. Then, we realize that it’s really, oppressively hot out here and go back inside to wait for sundown.

I suggest we rest for the remainder of the day, although with all these new developments I find it difficult to relax. As evening approaches, we gather ourselves and head out into the wastes.

When we draw nigh the nameless ruined city we somehow feel that it is accursed. Fear seems to speak from the age-worn stones and bids us retreat from antique and sinister secrets that none should know.

In and out amongst the shapeless foundations of forgotten structures we wander, finding never a carving or inscription to tell of these men, if men they were, who built this city and dwelt therein so long ago. The antiquity of the city seems unwholesome; there are certain proportions and dimensions in the ruins which seem inhuman, but somehow familiar. Here and there a small sighing sandstorm will gather behind us, blowing over the ancient stones.

The moon shines high and clear over the antique ruins, lighting a dense cloud of sand that seems blown by a strong wind from some point ahead of our group. Glancing about, we see that nowhere else is the sand disturbed by as much as a light breeze. This astonishing discrepancy is soon explained as the forms of emaciated men seem to step out of, or coalesce from, the blowing clouds of sand and lurch toward us, their desiccated faces contorted with inhuman hunger.

Our foes, wights, ghasts, and wraiths, coalesce from the clouds of sand or erupt from the dunes. Sarek controls the battlefield by creating a Wall of Fire between us and our enemies. My intense hatred for undead floods me and I rush forward, slicing through a wraith and banishing it to re-death. Just then, a trio of sand-ghasts claw their way up from the desert floor. Our enemies conjure stinging clouds of burning sand which choke and blind us, but still we fight on. To my shame, I am paralyzed by a ghast’s foul touch, but it is destroyed before it manages to carry me off. At length, Xicar smokes the last sand-wight with his lightning gauntlets.

We decide that these abandoned ruins aren’t as abandoned as the seem. I cast Pass Without Trace as we continue towards the mysterious ziggurat. Through a group effort of skilled navigation, we manage to avoid further contact with the undead as we move through the ruins.

Dawn breaks as we arrive at the massive ziggurat. The entire thing seems to be built from a strange, silvery-grey metal that we can’t identify, and its metallic surface is covered with strange runes and glyphs. From far away the ziggurat appeared to be completely intact, but from here we can clearly see that nearly half the western side is missing. Twisted metal and support beams jut into the sky around a massive hole in the side of the structure. Far above us is a tall spire, leaning dangerously, appearing ready to fall at any moment. Atop the spire is the remains of a massive crystal, now fractured and broken and glittering in the first rays of sunlight.

Along the base of the structure are the remains of many buildings, apparently built against the ziggurat itself. Many of these ruins are grander and more massive than most of the buildings we have passed this far. There appears to be no entrance to the ziggurat from ground level. Some distance to the west is a towering series of stairs and landings, seemingly leading to the lowest point of the damaged section of the ziggurat. Swirling sand blows along the steps and landings, despite the oppressive stillness of the hot air amidst the timeless ruins.

31E pauses for a moment, as if in thought. “I do not fully understand. The likelihood that these structures would permitted to be built against the sides of the Nexus is very near to zero. Also, I do not understand why this damage was not repaired. Most unsettling.”

31E goes on to say that this “Nexus” should contain a “Starry Mirror”, some kind of magical transportation system. 31E is sure this Starry Mirror will be able to transport us back to the “Grand Terminus”, or what we refer to as Silverspire, the Imperial ruin-turned-palace in Istivin.

We begin to mount the broken stone stairs which lead up to the ziggarat’s entrance. I keep a keen eye out for traps and lead us onward and upward. In the eerie silence, swirling clouds of sand coalesce into sand-wights before our eyes! The battle is joined.

Choking sand whips and swirls around us as we battle the fiends. Nineve is blinded and gropes her way further up the stairs. Haroldur bravely faces one wight single-handedly and destroys it with one touch (of Heal) from the Rod of Seven Parts. The wights alternate between their corporeal forms and the swirling clouds of sand, to their advantage. The struggle is bitter, but in the end, Nineve lands the final blow.

~Ashe

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Episode 26

Episode 26: 5/22/10

The Party:
Ashelia Raminas, elf ranger 4/rogue/3
Nineve, human knight/7
Xicar, human cleric/7
Zuko Quartermain, human sorcerer (fire)/7

As soon as she appears, 31E bows to the creature, and drops to one knee. He says something to her in the same crystalline language that makes the peculiar woman smile gently. “I do not know what role you play in this, automaton, but you are welcome.” she says, “As for your companions, we shall see. Either you have destroyed the Shadow Sphinx, or you are here at her behest. Please explain yourselves.”

31E explains that the creature is a Snow Weird, an elemental oracle. He has heard of their kind, who were old when the Imperium was young. Although the Spell Weavers never consulted with the Oracles, they nevertheless held them in great esteem and respect. This one is called Sionsari.

Immediately, we are faced with the challenge of convincing Sionsari that, contrary to appearances, we are not working for Sivit. Without going into too much detail, we explain that we are just looking for a way out. When Sivit proposed a ceasefire we accepted in the hopes of escaping this place with our lives. We’re not happy the Shadow Sphinx is here, but defeating her and all her shadar-kai minions is not in our power. This seems to make sense to Sionsari. We can sense that she wants something from us, so we gently coax it out of her by suggesting that the solution to our problem and hers may lie on the same path. After expressing our willingness to help her (Say you got a problem, yo, I’ll solve it), she agrees with us. “The Guardian”, aka the 40-foot Statue of Doom, has successfully repelled Sivit’s minions thus far, but Sionsari is convinced that eventually the shadow-force will get through. She pleads that we remove the objects in Amsophar’s tomb to protect them from the shadar-kai. She also discourages us from confronting Sivit directly. Sionsari places her mark on us, which will allow us to pass the Guardian unhindered, in addition to permanently granting us 5 points of cold resistance!

In the course of this conversation we hatch a plan for dealing with Sivit. We heal up and Sionsari offers to let us rest in her chambers. This sounds like a great idea, so we head out to the first (slightly less frigid) chamber for a much-needed nap, only to find 2 orogs and a shadar-kai waiting impatiently for us. They insist we go with them. Naptime will have to wait.

The minions lead us to Sivit. She demands to know about our visit with the Snow Weird. Sivit seems convinced that the oracle has imparted us with some knowledge or supernatural ability to bypass the guardian, and that we can transfer this to her and her shadar-kai. She wants answers, and she wants them RIGHT NOW.

We skillfully manage to convince Sivit that we’ve actually done her one better – we tell her we persuaded Sionsari to deactivate the Guardian entirely. She is skeptical, but we play on her greed. We offer to go in first to prove the statue is disabled, and then she can follow us into the tomb of magic and riches! It works. We go to the Doom Room.

The wide, rectangular chamber is exactly as we last saw it – littered with the crumpled remains of Orogs and Shadar-Kai warriors. Their bent and twisted forms speak of terrible violence. Directly across from us stands The Guardian: a titanic golden statue of an armoured warrior towering far above. Its legs and the gigantic hammer it wields are splattered with dried gore. Along the walls of the chamber are a series of immense metal doors. Several doors show evidence of hasty attempts to force them open, as well as sprays of blood and body parts.

With Sivit and her armed guards pressing us forward, we now have no choice but to go through with our plan and hope Sionsari’s blessing works. We try to appear confident as we are half-shoved past the “safe” point. Suddenly, the colossal golden warrior thunders to life, quickly striding toward us with its hammer at the ready. I experience a moment of embarrassment as I realize my last words are “ShitShitShit!”. With a sweeping blow the massive hammer whistles through the air behind us, sending Orogs and Shadar-Kai sprawling and broken!

Sivit shrieks in inarticulate rage as we “Yes!” and high-five each other in a celebration of relief. Sivit begins casting spells, and the shadar-kai attack. We realize we’re not out of the woods yet, as Sivit blinds Nineve with a dreadful word of power. We move hastily to the true entrance to Amsophar’s tomb – not some gleaming door, but an inconspicuous hole in the ceiling. Xicar AirWalks up with my Trollgut rope/grappling hook, intending to pull us after him. Our planning proves to be unnecessary. Seconds later, the titan meaningfully lowers its weapon, placing the hammer’s head on the stone floor before us.

Sivit continues to sling spells, the Shadar-Kai shoot arrows, but none of it matters. I scamper up that statue like a squirrel with Dog and Zuko hard on my heels. 31E grabs Nineve by the cloak and robot-ninja-backflips up onto the safety of the hammer with his blind cargo. As the last of us climb atop the gore streaked weapon, the colossus smoothly raises us toward the opening in the ceiling. The sounds of battle below resume as an unseen force gently lifts us upwards toward a brightly lit chamber far above. The walls of the circular shaft are intricately carved with more scenes depicting the life and triumphs of Amsophar.

The shaft terminates in a small chamber. The sounds of splorching below fade and it’s Camp Time. While we’re getting situated, Lazare un-ferrets himself for the first time in days. As he babbles excitedly about having made it this far, I realize that he’s eaten anything remotely tasty I had in my backpack. Oh, and there’s poop. Fabulous.

Lazare seems a) completely unconcerned about the mess he left in my gear, and b) very excited about uncovering some item of incredible power. He won’t discuss either issue any further, however. Everyone settles down to sleep and I discover that cleaning up ferret-wizard crap is something I can do while I trance. Hooray for multitasking.

In the morning, Xicar restores Nineve’s sight through the grace of Wee Jas, and we divvy loot before continuing our exploration.

A staircase spirals upward along the chamber’s far wall, climbing nearly out of sight toward a bright light above. Detailed carvings adorn the walls as we climb the spiraling stairs, depicting many grieving figures paying tribute to Amsophar as he is laid to rest. In several scenes important looking figures stoop to drink from a shallow basin at the feet of Amsophar’s sarcophagus.

Finally, after a seemingly endless climb, we reach a small platform far above the floor of the chamber. Floating motionless is a massive block of stone with the likeness of Amsophar lying at rest carved into the top. At the feet of the block of stone is a shallow silver basin, filled with clear, still water.

Strangely, when we look into the basin, we see not ourselves, but the careworn face of Storm Kings, and beyond is clear, blue sky, and clouds, instead of the carved stone ceiling of the chamber.

We shrug and drink the water.

A Vision of the Past:

As we drink the cool water of the basin, we become overwhelmed by a sudden rush of alien, yet strangely familiar memories. The chamber around us swirls away into a vortex of lightning and wind, snow and rain, ending in the utter darkness of the nothingness beyond the stars. For what seems an eternity, we float adrift in silence, the cold perpetuity of the infinite weighing upon us.

Slowly we realize that we are standing on a windy bluff overlooking the ruins of a great city at the bottom of a wide valley. Dark mountains loom faintly in the distance. We begin to hear something else, besides the sighing wind. We start to make out sounds, and then words, as we realize that we stand among a host of Storm Kings, splendid in their war gear. Amsophar, bloodied from recent fighting, reaches the end of a rousing speech.

The demon Queen of Chaos has fallen, and the war is won. However, the day is lost, and he bids all who can hear him to play out their part in the coming battle with valor and bravery.

The statuesque Storm Kings raise their weapons and their voices in salute of their leader, and then split up, moving off toward pre-determined positions. From behind us, Icosiel slaps me on the shoulder and grins. “We have won, my friends! The Queen has been banished beyond the Void!” His face falls, “However, we must retreat. We do not have the strength to face the Wolf-Spider this day. It is fitting that the last battle of this war will be fought so close to the walls of Kaddastrey, is it not? Our only retreat is through those ruins. For all we know, they may be crawling with Obyrinth. Our patrols have not returned, so we shall serve as the vanguard.” Icosiel breaks into a run and shouts over his shoulder, “Come, mayhap we may find a few lost friends, and send a few of Miska’s minions back to the Pit!”

We head off on a scouting mission for Icosiel. The ruins of the once beautiful city are choked with rubble and debris. The few buildings that are not completely collapsed, are little more than hollow shells. Despite the destruction, the graceful architecture and delicate stonework are moving in their splendor. As we approach a domed building, we begin to see signs of violence: a blood splatter, a broken sword, burnt stonework. Then a piercing scream splits the air, coming from the direction of the domed building.

As we reach the top of a pile of rubble, we see a disturbing sight: amidst the bloody remains of several Storm King warriors is a foul and terrible creature, it constantly melts and reforms, apparently drawing each shape from an ever darker nightmare. It chaotically shifts through a dozen monstrous forms, each more horrible than the last as it consumes the remains of the armored warriors, incorporating them into its heaving bulk.

We attack the Lovecraftian horror, but it proves to be quite tenacious. Its friends, including some nasty gene-stealers (obyrinth demons), join the fray. We cut them all down, but it’s a tough fight. Nineve keeps taunting the gene-stealers, but then fails a few saves and has a demon baby. We kill it.

As the last creature falls, quickly dissolving into a pool of smoking goo, we hear the sounds of a pitched battle some distance away. As we make our way toward the sounds of battle, the sky grows dark and cloudy and the wind begins to whistle through the ruins.

Rounding a corner, we catch sight of the battle: Icosiel and several of his warriors are defending themselves from a writhing mass of demonic forms. Directing them is a tall, gaunt, horned demon. Unless we do something, Icosiel’s forces will soon be overwhelmed!

We rush in to help, but we accidentally pull the boss! Somehow the gaunt demon is aware of our approach long before it should be. It turns toward us, darkest evil is seemingly concentrated into this creature’s lean and hungry frame. Oddly jointed limbs extend from its gaunt bipedal form, ending in twitching, clawed digits. Its alien face is warped in a perpetual howl, a starved visage where empty white eyes stare out over a long, writhing tongue protruding from a toothy, fleshless maw. The thing’s face twists into a mockery of a grin, and it begins to stalk towards us, seemingly content to leave Icosiel to his fate.

We are hosed. We whittle the demon down as best we can, but we’re no match for it. Our only hope is to spread out the damage and keep it off Icosiel until he can get in a better position. We actually manage to make some decent progress on the demon, but we can’t keep up with it’s damage output. Things start to look bleak when Xicar runs out of healing. Just then, Icosiel leaps onto the fiend’s back, stabbing through its heart from behind. Then he vaults onto its shoulders and decapitates it with brutal efficiency, pausing a moment to shear the arching, red-tipped horns from the creature’s head.

The heavy rain soon becomes pounding hail, whipped through the ruins by gales of wind. Icosiel shouts over the tempest: “We must hurry! Miska approaches! You’ve fought bravely, but the time for fighting is over, now we run!”

Icosiel sprints through the driving rain, leaping atop piles of rubble and dancing along crumbling ledges. As the hail pounds against the ancient stone and the wind howls, we distinctly hear Icosiel’s joyful laughter as he runs. Momentarily stunned by the fall of the horned demon, the rest of the demonic horde begins to surge toward us. Time to make our exit.

We careen through the ruins with varying levels of grace. Even in our Storm King bodies, we’re all a little winded when we finally catch up with Icosiel in a wide plaza. The young Storm King turns toward us, grinning.

Strangely, time seems to slow. Each hailstone and every raindrop seems to hang suspended in the air as a robed figure appears, as though from nowhere behind and above Icosiel. A globe of compete blackness hovers over a strange metal box in the figure’s clawed hand. Slowly, the globe begins to float toward Icosiel, drawing light, hail, and rain into the void of its nothingness. That’s no moon! I barely have time to scream “Noooo!”.

Icosiel turns, drawing his swords in a single fluid motion. Too late! The sphere strikes him in the chest and he seems to collapse inward, vanishing in an instant. His weapons fall to the pavement, the tip of his longsword brushing the black sphere, as the suspended hail and rain suddenly crashes down once more.

For an instant, we stand in stunned silence. Then, we notice that the sphere is moving towards Xicar. The charismatic people of the party vie for control of the sphere, largely without success. I try to make my way to the robed figure, but striking him is like cutting through cobwebs. The demon horde descends on us and soon we are forced to give up on strategy and focus on survival. Gene-stealers surround and impregnate Zuko. We kill or chase off most of the demon horde, but in the midst of the madness, Xicar gets eaten by the sphere!!! We don’t even have time to react to the loss before a particularly brilliant bolt of lightning momentarily blinds us.

As our vision clears we see Amsophar standing triumphant over the crumpled remains of the robed figure, his swords smoking in his hands. He picks up the strange box, closing it with a snap that we somehow hear clearly over the raging storm. As he does so, the black sphere vanishes as though it had never been.

Amsophar leaps down from his perch, and approaches Icosiel’s remains. He collects his friend’s remaining possessions as the storm suddenly dies down. Amsophar takes a moment to lament Icosiel’s fall, and then turns to our diminished group. “Take these, and guard them forever. They are all that remains of my comrade, and I would not have them lost to the whims of fate.” Suddenly, he seems to realize that the storm has stopped, he looks around, clearly frightened. “Flee! Flee now! Miska is upon us!”

Across the square a monstrous, shadowy form of horror stalks into view. As our vision fades we see Amsophar draw his weapons and advance toward a creature that can only be described as an enormous armored spider with two sleek and terrible wolf heads flanked by four heavily muscled human-like arms. Our vision goes black, we blink, and find ourselves kneeling over the silver basin in Amsophar’s tomb.

Lazare, 31E and Dog are standing over us worriedly. They’re very relieved that we’ve “snapped out of it” and demand to know what happened. Xicar is with us. We’re all human(oid) again. We give them the short version: we went on a vision quest.

After a few moments, our focus shifts from ourselves back to Amsophar’s sarcophagus. It is now open. With new understanding and respect for this being and his belongings, we take a golden box from the tomb. In it we find a fragment of some kind of rod, Amsophar’s Ring, and his Circlet. Oh god it’s naptime.

We rest and level up. Now that we’re refreshed, we can focus on what to do next. The fragment we found is indeed a powerful artifact – it’s obviously a piece of the Rod of Seven Parts! But somehow, Lazare is crestfallen! He sulks around, clearly disappointed. I guess he was expecting something else?

Our first order of business is figuring out how we’ll get out of here. Xicar has the idea to put the crystal disc in the pool of water…which suddenly turns into an inky black hole! I think it looks a lot like the portal we took to get here. I stick my hand in, and it feels like the portal, too. I glance around at my companions, wearing a mischievous half-grin. Before they can argue, I dive in, taking Dog and all of Amsophar’s stuff with me. The party dives in after me.

~Ashe

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Episode 25

Episode 25: 5/16/10

The Party:
Ashelia Raminas, elf ranger 4/rogue/3
Nineve, human knight/7
Xicar, human cleric/7
Haroldur, human wizard 3/cleric 4

We begin our decent into the pit. As we move down the hole (through various mundane and magical means), we are attacked by waves of wind warriors! Haroldur makes good use of his long-forgotten crossbow, and at one point I manage to leap heroically onto a Wind Warrior mid-flight and stab it in the air. We fight our way to the bottom of the falling river and find ourselves in a large cavern at the base of a waterfall.

The waterfall crashes in a deafening torrent into a pool of jagged rocks and boulders at the bottom of its descent. The water gurgles as it makes its way further into the earth somewhere in the darkness. The cavern beyond is large, and damp with the waterfall’s spray. Strange glowing fungus clings to the damp stone, illuminating the echoing chamber. The greenish light flickers and glitters off tiny crystals in the ceiling far above, giving the cavern the strange feeling of being open to the night sky.

We proceed with caution and I discover a magical trap! I try to disarm it, but I run into some difficulty. With Xicar’s help, we realize that there are in fact three traps. I try to disarm the second one, and meet with success.

We move cautiously past the traps and approach a very incongruous gargoyle statue in the center of the cavern. As I walk up to examine it, it lunges at me with its horrible teeth! Turns out, it is in fact a Nabasu demon! It offers some resistance, and Xicar can’t take it’s terrible gaze and gains a negative level. We finish it off just as a few Shadow Mastiffs rush in and charge us. The mastiffs are followed by some Shadows, more shadar-kai, and Orogs! It’s death o’clock!

We fight a very pitched battle. At first, both sides seem to be evenly matched, but we’re taking heavy damage and their reinforcements keep coming. In the midst of the chaotic din of combat a strange and compelling creature stalks into the chamber. She has the form of a beautiful horned woman from the waist up, and that of a vicious hunting cat from the waist down. Somehow, the look of abject and merciless cruelty in her eyes is more unsettling than the strange combination of woman and feral cat. She raises her bizarre, long-fingered hands in a commanding gesture and speaks several strange words in a ringing voice. Our opponents slowly lower their weapons, eyeing us warily, while also watching the strange horned woman with expressions of fearful respect.

We soon learn that this strange creature, a Shadow Sphinx, is called Sivit. She speaks Undercommon, Draconic, Infernal, and Abyssal. Most of us can understand at least one of those languages – we translate for those who can’t. The situation is tense, but it seems Sivit sees no reason for further unnecessary losses and is willing to negotiate. After a few skillful verbal maneuvers we convince her that we are of the same mind. We reach a truce – she and her shadar-kai will let us proceed unhindered if we will help her with a “situation” they’re having. She explains that she has a problem, and she believes the solution to that problem is nearby. However, the entity who can help her refuses to deal with her. Sivit thinks it may deal with us, however (probably because we’re not obviously evil giant sphinx-women).

She directs a pair of shadar-kai to show us The Problem. They take us down a corridor which branches off from this main room to a long chamber. In the center of this chamber, completely blocking the way through, is a 40-foot tall Statue of Doom. It looks inactive at the moment, but the area around it is littered with bodies of fallen shadar-kai, and the statue’s huge hammer is still glistening with the blood of its foes. By the looks of things, not a single shadar-kai has managed to make it past this obstacle. Our guides indicate to us (through pantomime) that getting any closer to the statue will trigger the “splatting” sequence. Xicar makes a joke about shoving that is not well-received…

We return to Sivit and she escorts us to her potential solution, grumbling to us that this elemental knows the secrets to the chamber but completely refuses to deal with her. It is obviously a sore point. She leads us down another passage and stops suddenly, saying this is as far as she’ll go. Sivit stalks back to the rest of her minions as we press on.

The stony passage twists and turns as we climb upward. Shortly the rough passage opens into a small chamber whose walls are carved with intricate reliefs. The chamber is very cold. Crusted ice and frost cake the floor and walls, and our breath smokes in the air. The frost-covered reliefs glitter in the light, and almost seem to move. They show various Storm Kings, Amsophar among them, paying homage to a strange female figure emerging from a pool of ice and snow.

We continue on to the next room, which is even colder than the last. Drifts of snow cover the floor, and caked frost covers everything else. Cold bluish light fills the chamber and causes the ice and snow to sparkle. A rough, snow-covered stairway winds around the side of this chamber towards the light. A waterfall spills in frozen, glittering beauty from a platform above onto the unmoving surface of an icy pool. As though the chamber weren’t already strange enough, snow falls soft and silent, from somewhere far above. For a moment, the marvel of the strange sight fills us with childish wonder and delight. In fact, Haroldur flops onto the ground and makes a snow angel, and we all laugh (a rare occasion, for us) as we admire his handiwork.

After carefully climbing the rough stairs, we find ourselves atop a platform overlooking the frozen pool below. A pair of frozen waterfalls frame a pool of ice and slush in glistening beauty. As we approach, the icy surface of the pool swirls and churns, forming a column that rises from the turbulent surface. Quickly the column forms into the shape of a beautiful woman composed of glittering snow, her icy blue eyes regarding each of us briefly before she says something in a strange, tinkling language. Oddly enough, we find that we can understand her perfectly, as she bids us welcome to her chambers.

~Ashe

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Episode 24

Episode 24: 12/19/09

The Party:
Ashelia Raminas, elf ranger 4/rogue/3
Nineve, human knight/7
Xicar, human cleric/7
Haroldur, human wizard 3/cleric 4
Sarek, human wizard 7

We spend a day or so resting and recuperating before heading down the elevator to wherever it goes (if it goes anywhere).

Amazingly, despite the obvious age of the ruin, the elevator works perfectly. There is a smooth, gentle falling motion and a slight feeling of weightlessness, accompanied by a soft “whoosh” as we are whisked to the bottom of the shaft. The doors open with a slight hiss into a large rectangular chamber.

Immediately, we freeze. 2 large crystalline creatures, which appear to be ice elementals, stand guard at the far end of the room. They aren’t attacking us yet, but it’s obvious they’ve seen us. They are holding their hands up in an authoritative gesture that obviously means “Come no further”.

Around this time I notice that everyone is fixated on what may be our icy doom except Xicar, who is staring, open-mouthed at a featureless spot in the middle of the ceiling. I nudge him with my elbow – this is hardly the time for daydreaming. He rubs his puny man-arm where I bumped him, then points and says “Look, don’t you see it? The hole?”

No, I do not. I see a featureless ceiling and two very large, very aggressive looking crystal monsters about 40 feet away. A quick pow-wow with everyone else reveals that I didn’t just fail my spot check (like that EVER happens!), there’s really nothing there. Xicar sounds delusional, but he’s so adamant about the “hole in the ceiling”, I can’t just dismiss it. I notice he’s still clutching Lazare’s crystal artifact… Maybe it’s having psychotic effects on him? I get him to hand the disc over.

Suddenly, I see it, too. Or more accurately, I see it and Xicar doesn’t anymore. There is indeed a perfectly circular hole in the ceiling, the interior of which appears to be lined with the starry night sky! It’s really quite beautiful. We pass the disc around so everyone can have a look. We’ve gotta go up there.

Unfortunately, we can’t get to the hole in the ceiling from where we are. Our attempts to communicate with the ice elementals fail, with us addressing them in every language we know and them responding with tinkly, squeaky, cracking noises. Finally, it occurs to someone to ask 31E if he can translate. He informs us that he is fluent in over six million forms of communication. Fortunately for us, Aquan is one of those forms.

Figuring out HOW to talk to the ice elementals took a lot longer than our actual conversation with them. Essentially, they are the guardians of this chamber, they will be forced to attack us if we come any closer, and no, it doesn’t matter that we have Icosiel’s stuff or the weird crystal disc that lets us see the hole in the ceiling. Turn back or die, yadda yadda yadda.

We charge forward. Xicar dismisses one of the elementals immediately, which really helps. The remaining elemental spits ice at us and generally makes things difficult as we slip and slide along the iced-over floor. It cuts and slams us with its cold, crystal fists, but we eventually destroy the creature. It explodes into a refreshing, cleansing mist of snow. Behind an alcove at the far end of the chamber, Xicar the Wanderer finds some:

Boots of the Mountain King!

We heal up and go check out the hole in the ceiling. Standing under it and looking up, we are each lifted up through the starry tunnel into a small, wondrous chamber, as if by a magical breeze. The top of this beautiful chamber is covered with stars, much like the passage leading to it. The air is comfortably warm, with the slightest breeze on which wafts a light scent of roses. The chamber is made to look and feel like a strange and beautiful garden at night. Here and there the walls are carved with love poetry and romantic scenes. After a bit of translation, we come to the conclusion that this chamber is a loving monument to Amsophar’s courtesan. It’s quite touching, but not what we’re looking for. We have to move on.

Out of ideas, we retrace our steps back to the arrow-shaped room where we were attacked by the wind warriors. It’s still a mess. However, this time I look a little more closely and find a hidden door, which leads to a narrow passageway. We head down the corridor and into a dark, sunken room.

The room is full of Orogs and shadar-kai. They appear to have recently emerged from a corroded hole in a large iron plate on the floor of the chamber, and seem pretty surprised to see us. We start to fight, but suddenly, everyone freezes as we all hear a loud click. The passage we came through seals shut, and torrents of freezing water begin pouring into the room. Almost instantly it becomes apparent that death by drowning is a more pressing threat than the Orogs and shadar-kai.

The raging waters finally pull us into the swirling vortex at the center of the chamber, dragging us down into cold, wet darkness. The roar of the crashing water fills our ears as we fight the current and the freezing water takes our breath away.

It seems we’ve been flushed into some kind of magical sewer? I don’t have any time to figure it out. The water is still crashing down from above, forcing me under the surface. I swim hard against the churning water and pop up in what appears to be a giant tunnel. The freezing river’s current carries me on a wild ride, and I twist and dodge as best I can to avoid being smashed against the rocks and debris. Suddenly, I’m holding my breath and swimming for my life as the water forces me into an airless, black tunnel. After what seems like an eternity, I reach the end of the tunnel. I gasp for air and try once again to avoid being pummeled to bits on the rocks as the rushing current carries me downstream at a breakneck pace. The roar of the water is getting louder, and I realize to my horror that I am being carried towards a waterfall. I brace myself. At once, there is a feeling of weightlessness as the torrent pours over a ledge and into blackness…

Slowly, I become aware of a noise, like distant thunder. It is getting closer, louder and louder until I have to see what it could be. I open my eyes and find myself alone in the darkness, lying atop slick, hard stone. The roar of falling water is deafening, and cold spray stings my exposed skin. Memories of my recent terrifying and disorienting experience with the waterfall rush back to me. After a moment, I manage to regain my feet. Nothing appears to be broken, so far; but where is everybody? More alarmingly, WHERE IS MY STUFF?? I do a quick check and realize I am missing both swords, along with my backpack (and everything in it!). This day just keeps getting better.

I pick myself up and start casting about. My companions (or their remains) must be around here somewhere. My keen senses help me somewhat and I locate Haroldur and my backpack almost immediately. I check my backpack – Lazare is still in there, apparently asleep! At any rate, he’s definitely alive. We wander around in the darkness searching for whatever we can find. We come upon a battered-looking shadar-kai here and there, but they assume defensive postures and back away wearily – probably doing the same thing we are.

Eventually, we manage to locate all of our companions and most of our stuff! I’m still missing my short sword, and Haroldur can’t find his mace, but we all emerge from that disaster more or less intact. Xicar the Wanderer even manages to find some extra Gloves of Lightning lying about.

Reunited, we make camp and get bit of a rest. After some discussion, we decide to follow the direction of the river and head downstream. As we proceed, we hear voices ahead and become aware of more shadar-kai in the next chamber. We burst in and they attack us immediately. The roguish shadar-kai set a frenetic pace, but we keep up and soon manage to overwhelm them. At one point, an umber hulk appears and joins the fray! I guess it decides this room is too dangerous, because after a few minutes it turns and burrows into the wall. None of us are inclined to go after it.

One or two shadar-kai escape, but we wipe out most of what appears to be a scouting party. They have set up camp around a large gaping hole in the ground. Ropes, pitons and other climbing equipment are set up in and around the hole. The shadar-kai must’ve just climbed up from there recently. We search the camp, and Xicar the Wanderer finds some Gloves of Repulsion (for Sarek!), but nothing else of use or value.

We stare down into the Pitch Black Hole.
~Ashe

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