Episode 28: 7/17/10
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!