Episode 26: 5/22/10
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.