Rays of lethal magic dart through the doorway an instant later; a crackling black beam, edged in blood red luminosity striking the warforged, its foul energies corroding at his life force, and a pencil thin beam of dazzling emerald light, brighter than the midday sun, hitting Shadevia, her flesh immediately beginning to crumble to ash.
The seeker responds by unleashing a storm of tenebrous bats at the vague shadow of the Beholder, still wrapped up in the sparkling, billowing vapours of the Guards and Wards ritual, a grim smile lighting her face as she hears it bellow in outrage as it is battered by the swarming tenebrous conjurings. Llewellyn, reluctant to expose himself to the deadly eyes of the Xareth'Chelde, cartwheels past the door into the chamber, flinging a dagger at the monster as he goes, the blade bouncing harmlessly off its armour plated bulk, whilst the warforged desperately asks his colleagues if they have a plan that will allow him to get close enough to the floating enemy to hit it.
And this is how the battle opens; the party almost helpless, whilst the Beholder lashes them with an overwhelming array of deadly beams.
The Xareth'Chelde is forced closer to the doorway in order to avoid the cloud of bats conjured by the seeker (who screams and moans as its initial eye beam continues to eat away at her flesh, a fine ash falling constantly as her body is eroded away), and the party, reluctant to get too close, try to strike at him from a distance or focus on the nearest living spells, their blows hugely addled by the magical mists.
It rapidly becomes clear that the Beholder is every bit as terrible as the stories portray them. Its eyes unleash death in many flavours. Ardwaine is repeatedly put to sleep by one eye, the enchantment so strong that even a near punch from Ormid's artifice arm fails to rouse her. Blinding beams of agitated energy, wounding necrotic power and petrifying magic stab repeatedly from the monster's twitching eye-stalks, almost all finding their mark. And then it unleashes a wave of dispelling power from its central eye, preventing those caught in it from using anything other than their most basic, simplistic attacks.
For a while it seems that the group have met their match, especially as, despite attempts by Ormid to prevent it, the disintegrate beams effects continue to devour Shadevia. After the first minute, most of the living spells have been blasted out of existence, but the group have yet to even scratch the deadly aberration. Then the warforged, realising that he must do something, gives a bellow and charges into the chamber beyond, ducking under the Beholder's floating bulk. Once past, he leaps onto a pillar that rises from the edge of the pit, and scrambling up it, he launches himself, eye rays stabbing at him as he flies, onto the top of the Eye Tyrant, slap bang in the middle of its writhing eye-stalks. The Xareth'Chelde gives a bellow and drifts back over the dizzy drop of the pit, where it begins to shake like a wet dog, trying to dislodge the warforged. Veteran takes the opportunity to land several powerful strikes against the monster, ripping away plates of chitin and exposing the thick, stony flesh beneath. Several times he is forced to drop to his knees or to grab hold of a tentacled eye in order to prevent himself being shaken free, but he manages to stay firmly in place. This becomes more difficult however when he feels an invisible field of force surround him, trying to move him forcibly from the monsters “back” - a telekinesis ray! Panicking slightly, he manages to resist being thrown into the void, but his place is lost a moment later when another ray – this one charged with terror – fills him momentarily with an overriding irrational fear, forcing him to leap off and to run and hide behind a pillar.
Back in the other room Shadevia continues to fire arrow after arrow at the aberration; some finding their mark, most missing. She does this despite the spreading dismay of the disintegrating magic, which eats away at her flesh and bone like the glowing embers of a smouldering piece of parchment in a breeze, revealing glistening entrails and steaming loaves of internal meats. Pus and other foul corruptions also pour from her wounds – the legacy of one of the monster's rotting beams - her life drawing to a close, the seeker having long ago run out of her own resolve to ignore the deadly magics, and having exhausted Ormid's ability to heal her. Realising this Llewellyn, disgusted at his inability to hit the Beholder and eager to do something useful, runs over to the unconscious cleric and begins to look through her packs for a healing draft or anything that might help Shadevia. He moves as fast as he can, but unfortunately as he finds her backpack and flips it open, Shadevia gives a sigh and collapses unconscious, the dark magics continuing their insidious work on her remains.
“Go laddie!” screams Ormid, now focusing some of his powers upon the shadowy figures of the Xareth'Cheld, the warfoged, and Ferrous, the iron Defender now duelling with a particularly lucky living magic missile swarm to the left of the great pit, “Quickly, before she enters the Weeping Angel's domain!”
“I'm doing it!” he snarls, grabbing a stone vial from within the pack and leaping over to the slumping form of the seeker, her body now exhaling a noxious, damp miasma as it slumps and roils into nothingness. Praying quietly to Vaenya, Vyrleen goddess of good fortune, he pops the seal on the potion and begins to pour it onto the bubbling, rotting flesh of his ally. At once there is a reaction; a coiling and writhing of new flesh and corrosive spells working against each other. Energy surges through the unconscious adventurer, and suddenly she sits up, screaming in agony, her flesh still being eaten by the magic, but death, momentarily, held at bay.
“ARDWAINE!” screams both Ormid and Llewellyn, “IN THE NAME OF ALL THAT CRAWLS, WAKE UP!!!”
By a miracle she does, blinking owlishly and asking what time it is.
Meanwhile the Xareth'Chelde has drifted back over the pit, the cloud of bats having dissipated when Shadevia fell unconscious; an inaccessible position perfect from which it can launch its attacks with little chance of retaliation. Bellowing joyfully Its eye rays stab outwards repeatedly, blasting the warforged and confusing him enough that he mistakes Ferrous for an enemy just long enough to try and hack him. The Beholder feels almost invulnerable for although its armour is deeply scored and its stony flesh a little bruised, it has weathered some of the most savage attacks the warforged can deliver without blood being drawn, and even Veteran is starting to wonder how their party will survive this deadly encounter. Spitefully it sends another blast of magic at the warforged, forcing him to leap desperately out of the way, a bubbling laugh gurgling from its guts as it watches, its eyes catching movement in the corridor beyond – the dundorin healer!
Ardwaine climbs groggily to her feet. As she does, a beam of pale yellow light strikes her, paralysing her legs, preventing her from moving over to Shadevia and delivering her most potent healing spell. However, she is able to pronounce a powerful invocation of healing, sending a gleaming wave of power towards the stricken seeker, and at once several of her most terrible wounds are simply erased. Despite this, Shadevia continues to rot and fall apart, and Ardwaine, twisting at the hip, unleashes another potent spell, calling upon dimensional energies to power it. A moment later and frost and death magic lashes from her symbol, boiling the final living spell away to nothingness, and sending deeper cracks through the armour plating surrounding the Xareth'Cheldes body. At the same time, Ardwaine harnesses the life force that flees the monster as it is wounded, and sends it winging towards the archer, further healing her wounds, but still failing to stop the dire energies devouring her.
The Xareth'Chelde's laughter turns to a roar of fury.
Seeing all this, and realising that if the deadly aberration remains floating above the pit deep within the folds of concealing mists, he and most of the party will be unable to land a blow on it, Llewellyn takes action to change this. Scrambling forwards, and taking a blast from an eye-stalk in the process, the rogue activates the Cherished Ring he was given by Julius, captain of the Sky Dancer, sending an invisible wave of friendship towards the slavering nightmare. Desperation drives this, and somehow, despite the monster's formidable psyche, the ring's power takes hold; insane, illogical curiosity briefly filling the nightmare, forcing it to float towards the party. By doing this it not only leaves the safety of the yawning pit, but places itself in the doorway within easy reach of everyone. Even better, at this close range, the magical mists are too thin to grant it concealment.
Grinning, the rogue dodges to the wall to the right of the monster, preparing to leap at the beast as soon as he can. Shadevia, lands another arrow, this one rimed with spikes of frost, into the base of the Xareth'Chelde's central eye, a frozen tear welling up at once, whilst Ormid sends a shockwave of magic into it, smashing more scales but still failing to make it bleed. From behind, the warforged's axe, roaring with fire, bites into the things armoured scales, chipping several free, but dealing no real harm, whilst the Iron Defender rips more off with his adamantine, rune-carved fangs.
In response, it's mind clear once more, the enraged beholder unleashes a frenzy of beams at his tormentors, wounding, burning, and partly petrifying those they hit. However, it suddenly realises that it may have been over confident, and the first seeds of dread begin to take root in its heart.
Gritting his teeth against the searing bite of the wound he just received, the vyrleen prepares to hit the aberration with a lethal attack, having spotted a crack in its armour he feels he can use to deal a deadly blow to its innards. However, just as he prepares to attack, a deep, unnatural sleep fall upon him, courtesy of the Eye Tyrants sleep ray.
Another field of dispelling energy sweeps over all the group in the corridor, once more preventing them from using any attacks that draw on magic or need focus to accomplish. However, outside the reach of this attack, behind the monster's bulk, Veteran leaps into the air, and with a metallic roar, plunges the burning razor edge of his blade into one of the Xareth'Chelde's weakened areas, finally ripping through the heavy meats of its body, and drawing a thick spume of dark green gore and whistling, stinking gasses.
Deadly magic sizzles through the air as the monster registers the pain and shock of the wound, and with a rumbling roar it drifts back towards the pit, proclamations of death pouring from its slavering maw like tarry curses. However, its bellows are drowned out by the rage fuelled voice of Ormid, who strides fearlessly towards it, moustache wagging with anger. In a clear voice, layered subtly with magic, he addresses the monster, and in no uncertain terms points out that whilst it may almost certainly be the doom of a few of the party's members (his own body is stiffening with pullulating petrifaction as he states this), they would ultimately slay it, or, in the best case for it, wound it to the point where it has a long recuperation – possibly never regaining its full strength. He puts it to the monster, in mangled Tradespeak (as best as he can manage using his own antiquated common form of language anyway), that it is too potent and brilliant an individual to meet such an ignoble end, or to be condemned to such a grim future. And with this in mind he proposes a truce; the Beholder allowing the party to move on, the party making no further attempts to harm him.
Whilst Shadevia sobs (the magic weakening on her, but still eating away at her substance) and Ormid fights against the leaden creep of the petrifaction, the monster considers. Its massive central eye, bloodshot and oozing, rolls around as it takes in the hulking warforged and his agonising axe, the swift and sneaky vyrleen poised to leap, the resolute artificer, the yawning dundorin, adamant seeker and softly growling Iron Defender. It mumbles to itself in its borborygmic voice, and with a snarl suddenly drops into the pit and out of sight.
Rushing to the edge of the pit, a wave of vertigo assaulting him as he sees the vertiginous drop beneath it, the artificer watches as the defeated Xareth'Chelde – still more than a match for the entire party if the truth be told – squeezes its massive bulk into a hidden tunnel below the pits lowest end, leaving them to their fate...
...Impossibly, words succeeded where lethal force failed.
11:06 – 11:16 – The battle with the Xareth'Chelde may have only taken a couple of minutes, but it feels to the party like all they have ever done is dodge or suffer the effects of lancing eye rays and try to hit a vague, deadly foe through a cloak of conjured mists. With the monster slain, the first order is try and help Ormid and Shadevia to survive their current magical afflictions.
Llewellyn is woken, and Ardwaine uses her poultices and healing arts to halt the petrifaction of the artificer, and then the continued dissolution of the agonised and traumatised seeker. With that done the group spend a few moments simply enjoying being alive.
Once they have caught their breaths, bandaged (and re-bandaged) their wounds and mastered their pain, the group begin to search the chamber. The first thing that Ormid does is work out where the ritual shrouding it in blinding vapours is focused. He then disrupts its casting, and clears the mists away, allowing the party to see that this chamber is lined with ancient, empty bookshelves, and that its marble clad walls bear intricate bas-reliefs depicting earlier times in Laertraine.
On the wall opposite the one they came through Shadevia's sharp eyes spot a slight indentation. Looking closer, she discovers that a portal is described there in arcane glyphs carved into the stone – glyphs that Ormid is able to translate with a little time, discovering that the portal's glyphs mean the following (and are arranged in this manner)
Ardwaine surmises that the symbol at the top (“ice”) is the key to working out which glyphs must be activated, and in what order. Ormid discovers that the glyphs can be activated by touching them and focusing magic into them – something that only he can do – and he realises that if they get the sequence wrong, any consequences will be directed solely at him.
He tries to glean any clues as to which way to go by focusing on the magical energies of the area, and after a few moments of meditation he once again sees the world as a complex, vital weave of energies. The portal (which he now knows is truly what these carvings are) gives nothing away. However, he senses magic elsewhere, and is not surprised when a secret compartment is found in one of the nearby pillars by the pit.
He allows his senses to return to normal, and watches as the compartment is breached, and the various treasures within – no doubt ancient items that have resided in this place for untold millennia – are brought forth.
One of these items is a book bound in green velvet, which holds several ritual incantations, and Ormid claims this, intrigued by the power these spells could grant him. A small carving of a wasp, beautifully worked from what seems to be flowing mercury that somehow keeps its shape when touched, is identified as some kind of wondrous figurine similar to the one Ormid keeps for summoning the dog spirit, whilst three thick potions are identified as regenerative elixirs; potent healing for those that imbibe them. Finally, a rather tacky ring of gold and silver, designed to look as if it made from numerous interlocking stylized bolts of lightning, is identified as a Stormcatcher; a useful item that can be used to turn an enemies lightning spells back on them.
These items are put aside for now, and the group turn their attention back to the portal; everyone except Ormid hiding behind the pillars and shelves, whilst the artificer stands in front of the carvings, ready to awaken them with a touch.
11:17 – 11:20 – By the time the group work out that they need to activate the “Water”, “Draining” and “Fire” glyphs in that order to awaken the portal, poor Ormid has been blasted by two bruising shock waves of magical force, the second loosening teeth and cracking his spectacles. However, as he awakens the “Fire” glyph, so a wave of dimensional magic awakens within the carvings frame, and the wall is replaced by an icy plane of blue-white light; the portal to who knows where.
“Everyone ready?” asks Ormid, his voice weary.
“Here we go then.”
11:21 – The group leap through the portal...
...And reach their goal – and possibly their doom – for the portal leads to the ruined time dilation chambers, which now occupy an open area at the top of the edifice, open to the skies and unbound at its edges by wall or magic. Tearing, icy winds cut across it, and luminous clouds swirl and flicker high above in a funnel, attracted by the potent magics being cast. The very air boils with gathering magic, and the group shiver with its metallic tang.
The first thing the party see is an immense gigorim, twice as large as anything they have met so far. It has flowing white hair and pale purple-blue flesh, every inch of which is tattooed with glowing brands and runes. Power envelopes him, and his deep voice rings out, chanting impossibly potent spells over the shrieking of the winds. He wears shimmering robes of some strange, luminous cloth, and wields a crackling staff covered in blazing symbols over which dances coruscating energy and corposant. The gigorim is clearly involved in some kind of ritual, watched over protectively by the hulking form of a huge warforged great cat – twice the size and quality of the one the group fought on their arrival.
The gigorim stands within a massively complex series of carved channels, which intersect at messy and seemingly random intervals to form a vast, sprawling pattern that must have some dire, elemental purpose. Before it, to the southeast of the area, stands a huge grey-green pillar of what appears to be some kind of metal; 12' high, and carved with incredibly alien hieroglyphs that burn with a sullen green fire. The pillar chimes with a discordant whine, and power ripples from the floor carvings and gigorim and back into the pillar. Above the pillar, the group can see some kind of weird distortion forming; a time portal the artificer realises. A shimmering dome of power; the perimeter of a warding circle, surrounds both monsters, focusing the power being drawn inwards towards the pillar, and forming a potent barrier to anyone trying to stop the brute.
Several blasted corpses lie scattered about the site, their charred features and raiment’s smoking in the tearing winds, and there are signs that horribly destructive spells have not long been unleashed here. Indeed, the gigorim and his pet seem to bear some wounds in keeping with those created by potent spells.
The group stand there a moment almost hypnotised by what they see. Ormid quickly deduces that the gigorim is actually opening the time portal, apparently using the touchstone – almost certainly a fragment from the original chambers – as a focus and amplifier for the epic casting. He also realises with a lurch of horror that the stone is badly weakened, and that the portal, which is a billowing and uncontrolled thing, will not stay open long, and will likely rip this entire structure apart when it shuts due to the backwash of reality distortion resulting from its collapse.
A quick look at the energies of the shimmering dome surrounding the gigorim and his pat, and it is clear that it would reflect any direct attacks, and that in order to bring it down, the magics supplying it must be negated, which would be far easier if the party were not on a time limit (for the portal is clearly gaining substance and stability and will very soon be open) and if not for the the winds, which blast the party constantly as the gigorim's casting cause nature itself to rebel.
Indeed, the only thing the party have going for them at the moment is that the gigorim – an Aethran gigorim – is too busy working his powerful ritual to notice them. At least, until they do what they must and begin to try to lower the protections he has raised about him...