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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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Episode 29: 7/31/10

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

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

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

Next, we come to a short hallway with several small rooms adjoined to it. We poke around, making our way through the small labs and finding small treasures: mysterious ampules, a bracer, a belt, a sphere, and a torc. As we're rummaging, we start to hear the damp rustling of zombies! We try to talk him out of it, but Haroldur charges forward and throws open a door to one of the labs at the end of the hallway, which is full of zombies! Sarek blows up most of the zombies, and Nineve and I hack through the rest. When we're finished being heroic, we look around and find a few more ampules.

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

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

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

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

Then, grotesque, bloated zombie-like things emerge from the filthy water to join the party. A rusted cage encloses each withered face and unnameable implements pierce the thing’s sodden flesh. Its clawed hands reach for us, dripping filth and dark fluids. Delicious. I move to deal with them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Episode 28: 7/17/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"The area you are in is 98.2% non-functional. Activating the terminal has extended my awareness within the facility, but that is all, none of the primary systems are functioning. Currently you are above one of the low security laboratories. I will guide you. The laboratories indicate a fluid containment failure, but otherwise appear to be undamaged.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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