Sunday, January 09, 2011

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 the 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. 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 boot 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 Uloloch. 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 we got what we needed to trap him.

He was convicted, and his sentence carried out. He’s been here for nearly 3 months.
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 Uloloch to the safekeeping of the vault. 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 Uloloch, 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 Uloloch). 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 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 you. 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 ever 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 of 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 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.

Cowering in a corner, near some crates, is 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 down 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!)


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Thursday, November 04, 2010

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. 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 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, 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

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 - 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 out of the ballroom and onto a long grass-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. 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 to 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.


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Tuesday, November 02, 2010

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 and 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 canister and examine it. Then, I shake it experimentally and get horribly nauseated.

It takes 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 the Imperial Palace in Istivin is in fact the Imperium's Grand Terminus. Since the Imperial Palace 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, I get him to agree that if his superiors are not at the Grand Terminus, he will return the Rod fragment to us. It's a bit harder to convince Haroldur to hand the fragment over to 31E, even under these conditions, but I talk him into it by reasoning that if the automaton refuses to cooperate when faced with the truth about the Imperium, we can take it from him by force 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, Zolara 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 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 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 me 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 x 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. However, he does return the Rod of Law, much to our relief.

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. Perhaps fueled by angst at his sudden unfortunate discovery, 31E is a robot ninja whirlwind in this battle. Dog is also epically heroic.

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.


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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Episode 30: 8/28/10

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

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 you 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 black; 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 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 down 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 you, “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 directly 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.”

we set upon W4Nk3R, cannibalizing him for spare parts for 31E. Nineve and I are delighted to find that W4Nk3R does in fact have an expression upgrade - 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.”


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