Episode 30: 8/28/10
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.
Suddenly, 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 insist 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 hostile 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.”
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.”