Arcanearth

Session 62: Vault of the Nine - V

Eye of the Beholder

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DAY FOUR

Krag commands one of his skeletons to make a circuit around the golem-chamber. The skeleton accidentally steps over one corner of the pit, but doesn’t fall! A transparent wall of force covers the opening. The bulky clay golem stands motionless above a heavy stone chest at the bottom of a deep pit. How to get at the chest and silver key hanging from the golem’s neck?

Leelo hears rattling bones from the drum-chamber to the north. She spies the pentagon-headed skeleton previously followed by Hoxton. No one is foolish enough to step into the drum-chamber. Mesmer incinerates it with a fire spell and Leelo retrieves the charred skull with her mage-hand. The party now has four of the mysterious skulls: triangle, square, pentagon and hexagon.

The two pedestals occupied by gods stand on rotating mechanisms. Leelo determines they are not obviously trapped and probably rotate to the right only. Bossy Tlaxacotl urges Mavriy to stand atop the third empty pedestal. “It must be empty for a reason. Let us be the first to solve this puzzle!” Mavriy rushes to obey the false-god, then gets control of herself at the last moment. Zoa scoffs at Tlaxacotl and advises Krag. “Adamantine or magic weapons are required to harm the golem…your hammer is ideal, cleric.”

AE-session62-VaultoftheNine-claygolem_20191124.jpgWhile his comrades stand ready, Mesmer turns the statue of Junil to the right. A loud pop sounds. The empty plinth? Leelo turns the statue of Ceridwen. The nine-foot-tall golem appears atop the empty plinth and instantly pounds toward Leelo. Luchuirp clay golems are capable of short bursts of incredible speed, but otherwise plodding and clumsy. Mesmer trips the golem with grease after Leelo takes one blow from it’s heavy fist. Thereafter the Rune Heroes make short work of it, though Hoxton is unable to stun lifeless constructs of this sort.

Mesmer rotates Junil to send Leelo from the empty pedestal into the pit. The silver key unlocks the chest, revealing three more crystal orbs: pale green, pink and blood-red. Now the party possesses ten, matching the number of indentations in the round mirror-door. Mesmer somberly announces “Let us not delude ourselves regarding what must lie beyond that door. I suspect an eldritch terror such as those summoned from the Far Beyond by Sheaim sorcerers.”

A few minutes later the party stands ready to confront whatever waits on the other side. Leelo places the eyes in their sockets. Each eye rolls around creepily before finally fixing on Leelo. The alfar notices that with each eye placed, her reflection in the mirror-door grows progressively more unhealthy. Finally she appears a bedraggled wight with long stringy hair and glowing eyes. When the last crystal is placed, the foot-thick stone wheel rolls away with a rumble leaving only a slim crescent exposed. There is no obvious way to shut the door.

Past the circular opening lies a domed, candlelit vault fifty feet high. The polished marble floor is so perfectly reflective that it creates the illusion of a sphere. Nine alcoves scattered with glittering treasure open along the periphery. A large spherical object hovers under a long, black silk drape near the apex of the dome. No chain or other means of support is visible.

Wild and spirited Zubakhan urges Hoxton to use his mighty strength and speed to pull loose the curtain and attack whatever lies beneath. Hoxton manages to stop himself just at the entrance, much to the disappointment of his spirit-companion. Kobah’Lao states in no uncertain terms that “an eye-tyrant hides beneath the curtain, flee for your life dear Leelo!” Leelo also manages to control the urge to flee far and fast.

Mesmer tests the polished floor to find it slippery, though fortunately not so much as his own magical grease. Regardless, the wizard magicks Leelo with spider-climbing. She climbs along the wall to the left. Mesmer steps just inside the chamber and has little trouble keeping his feet when supported by the wall.

Krag cautions Leelo and sends his skeleton servants into the chamber. The first two manage to cross a small distance on wobbly legs. The third falls flat and slowly slides to the far side of the sphere. Mesmer’s cat-familiar arches its back, hisses and jumps on Krag, clinging to him in fright.

While her companions watch tensely, Leelo crosses the wall of the dome to the far side. She calls softly that no enemies are in evidence. Hoxton ventures out over the floor, finding it easy enough to cross thanks to his amazing dexterity and acrobatic skills. He peers upward to see a massive dark sphere beneath the long silk cover.

AE-session62-VaultoftheNine-vaultofreflection-round1_20191201.jpgMavriy reports she hears ominous clanking steps from the golem-chamber. This can be nothing other than Withers’ iron-clad tomb golems. Has the undead sage been watching the party and waiting for his moment to strike?

Without warning, the black drape slides from the sphere and drops upon Hoxton. A powerful force, like that encountered from the bronze shield in the entry halls above, pulls all metal objects to the sphere. Only Krag wears entirely metallic armor: the adamantine breastplate he liberated from Kamarkhar years ago. The unfortunate half-orc flies bellowing through the air to slam into the iron sphere with a thud. He commands his two standing skeletons to “run here!” but both fall flat and spin in lazy circles. Mavriy rushes out into the room and also falls.

Glittering beams appear from nowhere. A ray of black strikes Mavriy as she slides to a stop, inflicting a terrible necrotic wound. A disintegration ray of pale sparkling gray strikes Krag from somewhere very near. The cleric is already near death and virtually helpless. He blurts out a fateful spell of sanctuary. Another ray bathes Leelo in sickly green radiance where she hangs from the far wall, but she manages to fend off the magical poison.

Mesmer half slides/half walks across the slick floor while dispelling the magic of the iron sphere. The massive ball plummets to the floor with a resounding BOOM of iron on marble. The minuscule monk briefly considers trying to knock the sphere to one side, then regains his senses and dives away in the nick of time. A spiderweb of cracks spread out from the point of impact, rendering the polished floor rough and easily passable. The cracked iron sphere is now embedded over a foot deep into the marble.

Krag likewise falls free to the floor, but rolls away and suffers no more than a hard bump. The panicked war-priest shouts a desperate plea to his deity. Xrarog looks across the multiverse from his iron throne and declines to favor his priest at this time. Rather, Krag is rebuffed with a stunning blow.

Mesmer finds himself suddenly divorced from the weft and weave of magic suffusing the universe. Unable to cast spells, the desperate wizard runs across the dome to join his companions. His defensive spells and access to magic mysteriously return.

Leelo drops to the floor and desperately searches for the source of the beams. Somewhere in the air northeast of the fallen sphere! She readies her magic svartalfar bow and knocks a patrian fire arrow.

AE-session62-VaultoftheNine-vaultofreflection-round3_20191201.jpgBoth Krag and Mavriy cast spells summoning spirits of war and shadow from their respective hells, but the unseen assailant hovers somewhere out of reach. Their enemy is careful to keep moving. More beams flash out of thin air. Several strike at the fallen cleric, but miraculously bend away to destroy both nearby skeletons. The sanctuary spell proves its worth! And the skeletons, of course.

From out of nowhere a spell strikes Mesmer, dispelling all his magical protections. He glances into the entry corridor. Three tomb golems are charging down the hall and Withers is not far behind. A magical wall of fire should give them a warm reception! The franken-golems become blazing pyres as they charge through the flames into the dome.

Half the wall of fire suddenly disappears, revealing the dour bronze mask of Withers at the doorway. He attempts to dispel Krag’s protective magic, but the sanctuary deflects the attack to Mavriy, who resists the spell. Oh how Withers will pay for this stab in the back!

Hoxton and Mavriy desperately battle the flaming tomb-golems while colorful rays-of-doom flit across the chamber. All three golems are destroyed by fire, blows and unremitting attacks from Krag and Mavriy’s spirit-guardians. Leelo finally spots the source of the rays and makes a good guess. The Patrian fire-arrow explodes into flame, revealing something large and round hovering high in the dome. In return, a ray surrounds Leelo in orange fire. Leelo’s eyes glow purple as she is charmed despite her innate resistance.

Two rays of black death strike at Krag and Hoxton. Krag is again saved by his sanctuary spell and Hoxton deftly dodges. Hoxton guesses his enemy’s location and performs an incredible leap twenty feet into the air. Blue light flashes as he strikes something large and hard as iron. Unfortunately he’s unable to bring the creature down…this time. Yaka bobs up and down with excitement, “You missed it, frog!”

A fusillade of rays converge on Mavriy. She resists a violet paralysis ray, but a white beam slowly turns her to stone. Before she can die from petrification, a black light strikes her down. Mavriy falls dead to the floor.

AE-session62-VaultoftheNine-vaultofreflection-round4_20191201.jpgKrag desperately crawls over the bodies of fallen golems and skeletons to reach Mavriy. He uses a spell to summon her departing soul back into the diamond at her neck. The diamond crumbles as Mavriy’s eyes flutter open. This affords the war-priest a brief glimpse into the spirit-realm. Far below where the Rune Heroes fight for their lives, Krag perceives a terrible locus of necromantic power pulling screaming souls in from the surrounding aether. The legendary Soul Forge? This might have been Mavriy’s fate but for Krag’s intervention.

All gather round as Mesmer casts his most powerful spell. A dome of impenetrable force appears to protect the stricken Rune Heroes. Leelo takes aim at Krag, but the purple glow leaves her eyes just as she bends her bow. Krag tries to heal the paladin as best he can, but she won’t be herself again for days, possibly weeks. At least she is no longer slowly turning into stone.

A booming laugh echoes through the vault. The air shimmers above the huddled adventurers as a great spherical monster reveals itself: the ‘eye tyrant’ warned of by Mesmer. A nimbus of eyes on armored tentacles surround a great central eye and toothy maw. Such beings are summoned from ‘planar gates’ constructed at great cost in gold, souls and magic by the Sheaim sorcerer-kings. Asmoday must have bargained well to gain the services of such a terrible alien from the Far Beyond. Mesmer hears a deep voice speaking patrian with a bizarre accent. “Behold your death, fools…what ugly, imperfect creatures you are. No match for Belchorzh the Unseen’s might!”

A rain of multicolored beams dart from the smaller eyes, surely enough to finish off the beleaguered heroes. But they splash harmlessly across the wall of force. Belchorzh seems briefly nettled. A faintly luminescent cone of quavering energy pulses from the terrible monster’s central eye, temporarily deactivating Mesmer’s force-wall. In a lucky twist of fate, it appears this anti-magic field also blocks the abomination’s own eye-rays!

Both the beholder and Mesmer know the magic wall can be maintained only for a few minutes. To pass the time, Belchorzh lapses into a grandiose monologue while slowly floating back and forth. The weird being speaks at length of his might and authority on other worlds he claims to have subjugated. Belchorzh tells his victims they now perceive only one small part of a much larger entity from the Far Beyond.

AE-session62-VaultoftheNine-vaultofreflection-round8_20191201.jpgWhile Belchorzh boasts of his exploits, Krag heals and protects Hoxton and Mavriy as best he can. Both Mesmer and Krag prepare powerful spells. Hoxton stands ready to leap far and high. Leelo knocks a precious fire arrow. Even Mavriy manages to stagger erect. Withers’ bronze mask watches from the entrance. He will have to be dealt with, assuming anyone survives.

Just as Belchorzh reaches the height of his epic monologue, Krag commands his remaining skeleton to rise and run. Belchorzh spins around and lifts the clattering bones high in the grip of a yellow telekinetic ray, finally dashing it against the far wall. During this distraction Mesmer drops the wall of force, runs behind the fallen iron sphere, and begins casting his polymorph spell. Krag likewise casts a powerful spell granted by Xrarog only recently.

Belchorzh spots Mesmer and a beam streaks forth, forcing the wizard to duck behind the sphere and waste his spell. He turns to catch Withers in the act of casting a spell. Mesmer foils the wight with his own counter-spell.

The war-cleric has more success. Krag’s powerful spell paralyzes Belchorzh where it hovers. Leelo strikes home with her arrow. Hoxton dashes three paces and leaps across the vault in a single fantastic arc carrying him twenty-five feet above the floor. Blue light illuminates the dome as he pummels the eye-tyrant multiple times. The paralyzed and shattered monster utters a dismal moan as it slides to the floor. Mavriy is waiting with a dark gift from Esus. Shadowy necrosis destroys what remains of Belchorzh. The lights fade forever from its many eyes.

AE-session62-VaultoftheNine-vaultofreflection-round9_20191201.jpgWithers turns to flee, but too late. Hoxton and Leelo catch up to him in the golem-chamber. The undead sage is reaching for an eerie black amulet when Hoxton breaks his legs and back. Leelo finishes him with a magic dagger to the eye. The undead scholar’s ‘life’ of learning comes to a well-deserved end. He carried only a rusty long-sword and the amulet. No one is willing to touch it, given that it is shaped like a screaming humanoid skull with ruby eyes and emerald teeth.

After catching their breath and insuring no other servants of Withers lurk nearby, the Rune Heroes try to determine how Withers and his tomb-golems got behind them. Leelo suspects Withers must have approached from below via the secret spiral stairway, as all the secret doors are still blocked by solid walls of stone, obviously conjured by Withers. By reaching the secret stairs on this level through Yaka’s chamber, Leelo and Mesmer confirm the stairs up to Withers’ domain are now also blocked by a fresh wall of stone. Did the wight possess some power of magical transfer?

The party returns to the lair of Belchorzh and takes a short rest. Unfortunately Krag has no spells sufficiently powerful to restore Mavriy to her full fiendish vigor. Perhaps there is some other way to heal Mavriy.

In the alcoves lie scattered hundreds of gems large and small, but not a single metal coin. A fortune in jewels! There are also many strange and wondrous objects, including a black sword and devil-faced shield. Over the next few hours the victors rest and take stock of the spoils.

  • Clay chameleon statuette covered in crystal beads that slowly change color. Mesmer determines the statuette is a minor magical item with no powerful properties.
  • Three jade masks sized for children: a bat, monkey and parrot. Of some small worth, not magical.
  • Complicated coronet of scarlet coral and gold shaped like an octopus with mother-of-pearl eyes. This appears to be an artifact of the fallen Octopus Overlords, not magical but probably worth a princely sum.
  • Small clear flask filled with amber liquid. Small creatures swim within. Mesmer identifies this as a potion of diminution, capable of temporarily reducing someone to half their normal size.
  • Small amber sphere identified by Mesmer as a powerful bead of force from the Age of Magic.
  • Magic shield of rough red demon hide over black fiendish bone. A screaming devil’s face seems to push through the hide, stretching it taut. Clearly a magical item (+2 AC) manufactured by Infernal or perhaps Sheaim mages.
  • Leather bracers imprinted with flying birds. The workmanship is Ljosalfar and quite magical. Mesmer finds the makers mark and properties: a wearer skilled in archery can dispatch arrows fast (one extra attack) and far (+50% short and long ranges).

Finally, Leelo comes upon a slender sword lying almost unseen in one dark corner. Mesmer stays her hand as she unconsciously reaches to draw the blade. However, his spells reveal little about the sword, except that it is indeed imbued with magic of a high order.

Leelo gambles and draws the sword. It’s blade is long, slim and black. As she stares into the dark surface, vistas of dusky groves lit by colored fairy lamps appear within the limpid depths. The chords of a lute idly strummed reach her ears. Barely audible declamation, verse and song drifts from the twilight realm visible through the blade. The sword speaks in a voice of ancient elvish from a time before the Summer and Winter Courts.

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Well met Leeliona, Belchorzh was a poor companion.
I am Nidarchus, the Netherworld Blade.
Only in reverie, may I speak of your deception.
For in the hands of heroes, great fates have I made.

‘Leeliona’ seems to refer to herself, but she has not heard this name before. Or has she? Nidarchus speaks nothing more until Leelo lapses into a trance during the party’s brief rest. The bard intones a fateful verse of three stanzas.

Amelanchier and Viconia a secret tryst did make.
Into Phaedra’s Court the unknown elf-twins she did take.

Sages and Mages of the Queen puzzled, but could not foresee.
Leeliona and Keelanth the Rune Cursed would be.

Light and Dark elves sundered before the Age of Magic.
For the children of chance to fail them would be most tragic.

The voice of the ancient skald biding within the blade reveals the sword’s first power:

You may command me, Nidarchus fly!
I’ll leave your hand and take to the sky.
Together we fight and our enemies die.

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Nidarchus speaks nothing more. Sadly, Leelo was not an attentive student of history in her youth and is unable to recall any mention of ‘Nidarchus’, nor do her fellows know such lore. Perhaps a learned sage or wise elf could help?

The Rune Heroes have had a most taxing few hours and a short rest doesn’t fully restore their powers, but time is waning. The spirits all agree that Asmoday may rise in the next two days and certainly will not appreciate the killing of his servant Withers. Does enough time remain to locate Thanatos, the Soul Forge, Asmoday’s phylactery, or all three?

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