09:57 – 10:05 – The huge double doors leading into the edifice are warded by a powerful trap. This is discovered by Ormid and Llewellyn, the lines of its casting faintly gleaming beneath the surface of the stone and coiling around a large carving of the Crown of Merriel worked on the doors' surface. The artificer deduces that it is primed to unleash a vicious blast of chaotic energies if triggered, and also that its energies need to be redirected into the doors' opening spells to activate them.
Telling the party to back off, he and the rogue set to work, gently manipulating the delicate strands of magic within the trap, easing their energy into the door's inner workings. Every ounce of the artificer's ability and skill is required to do this without setting the trap off, the rogue working to keep his subtle castings in line. It takes time, but eventually the trap grows still within, and the internal mechanisms rumble suddenly to life, the doors seeming to vanish as they snap open.
10:06 – 10:16 – Beyond the door, a steeply slanting corridor of grey-blue marble bends upwards into the edifice's belly. It is dimly illuminated with flickering magical radiance, which seems slightly unstable, and the air is filled with the savage swoosh of the deadly blades that fill it; stabbing up from hidden slots in the ground, sweeping out in slashing arcs from the walls, and jutting downwards from ceiling compartments. The timing of the blades means that at no time is any part of the corridor completely free of slashing steel. The parties teeth ache with the mechanical resonance of the multitude of lethal devices ahead, and they realise that no matter how they approach the task ahead, they are going to suffer.
Llewellyn, held aloft by the warforged peers into the rippling sea of blades, and scans the stonework for any signs of a control panel, weakness or other way of disabling the traps' mechanisms. He spots, 10' away, in the midst of the maelstrom, a section of the floor that seems “off” somehow, and decides that there is probably a well concealed depression there, locked away beneath a stone lid. He tells the group what he thinks, and the Veteran states that he will brave the blades to try and open the hidden compartment.
The warforged strides into the field of blades, and the air is immediately filled with the harsh shriek of metal on metal as they bite deep into his plating, throwing sparks and small shards of metal across the corridor. He reaches the area pointed out by the vyrleen, and with a heavy punch, smashes the floor, revealing, as predicted, a small access panel, filled with whirring cogs and tiny magical capacitors. Struck several times more, the last few causing him pain, the warforged thumps his way back to join the others.
“Be my guest.” he rumbles to the vyrleen.
Llewellyn grits his teeth and tries to time his movement so that he stands a good chance of dodging the ubiquitous blades. Ormid enhances his defences with a minor work of artifice, wrapping the rogue in a thin layer of sonic energy before he leaps forth, but several blades manage to slash him before he can work on their mechanism, denting and slicing his armour but not drawing blood.
Despite the adrenaline running through his system, the vyrleen is able to quickly discern the mechanisms of the trap, and with a few deft twists of his tools, is able to deactivate the blades in a 15' x 15' area. The rest of the party shuffle forwards warily, and the whole process is repeated again for the next section of corridor; Veteran and Llewellyn both taking several deep cuts from the blades before the section is disabled, the warforged stepping back to join his allies after opening the control panel, to let the rogue do his thing.
However, as this section is disabled, the previous area re-activates the blades viciously wounding Ormid, Ardwaine and the Veteran, whilst Shadevia and Ferrous, who have stayed back by the great double doors, are suddenly cut off from the rest of the party by the writhing mess of blades, their view obscured. Spinning round in shock, the vyrleen can only gape at the spectacle of the reanimated trap.
As his bleeding allies stagger forth into the disabled zone, Llewellyn returns to look at the guts of the mechanism he just disabled, and with a second examination spots a sub-system of spools and runic locks. Growling with frustration and quietly commending the designer of the trap, he reaches in and ensures that this section will not return to life when another is halted.
And so onto the next section. Once again the warforged, now patched up a little by Ormid, strides into the swooping, stabbing sea of blades, and punches the lid of the control panel in. However, as he is about to turn around and leave the area, two spikes of crystal, seething with blindingly bright runes of power thrust down from hidden compartments in the ceiling, each alive with crackling magic. A moment later and a silent wave of magical energy erupts from them, and two bizarre creatures appear at their tips; serpents of living lightning, with fangs of arcane venom. The warforged immediately remembers seeing Sadran casting a spell on several occasions that created an identical effect, only in those instances it lasted a few seconds, and realises that these are more spells given the semblance of life by unknown magics.
At once both living spells leap forth and attack, somehow immune to the slicing blades of the trap. They bite with unreal fangs that inject a magical venom that burns through its host, and repeatedly arc between areas leaving dazing blasts of lightning in their wake and on their arrival. When missed, they seem to ride the inertia of the failed blow and dance with it, teleporting away from their foe in a burst of burning sparks.
They have a brief but vicious life, and manage to inflict some real harm to the party before they are unravelled by the blades, invocations and bolts of the party, leaving behind the sharp tang of ozone and the reek or burned magics.
With the living spells removed, Shadevia and Ferrous catch up with the group, the former stepping through reality to teleport to her companions' side, the latter running full pelt through the blades, dodging each and every one of them.
10:17 – 10:30 – The group slowly advance up the corridor, the warforged and vyrleen disabling each section as they go, the rogue careful to fully sabotage the mechanisms so's to prevent another incident like the one before.
10:31 – 10:32 – At the top of the corridor is a blank wall of grey-blue marble – to all appearances a dead end. However, the group are far too experienced to believe this to be the case, and Ormid spends a moment allowing his consciousness to expand and shift, the weave and nature of the magical energies in the area becoming visible to him as an impossibly complex pattern of luminous strands and pulsing lights. Ormid deduces that a source of terrible deadly magic lies beyond what he now sees to be an illusory wall. He also senses two hulking, stable masses of magic beyond that, one either side of the corridor (which he senses widens considerably), each wrapped around a writhing mess of furious energies. He recognises these as binding spells holding enslaved spirits in place – the signature configuration of powerful constructs animated by bound spirits. Returning his attention to the dark power beyond the wall, Ormid deduces that it is some kind of trap, almost certainly a powerful warding symbol. He examines the magics weave, and realises that it is triggered by sight, and is designed to snuff out the life force of whoever is exposed to its power.
He also realises that it is tied to the constructs, and that the whole thing is beyond his considerable ability to undo safely.
10:33 – 10:38 – Ormid reports back to the rest of the group, and grimly fetches his figurine of wondrous power from his backpack, a plan forming in his mind. He runs his fingers over the curves of the dog statuette, and placing it on the floor, calls out its command phrase. At once a ripple fills the air around it, and the form of the dog spirit bound to it takes on physicality. It barks at the artificer, wagging its tail, and awaits his orders.
Ormid warns the party to cover their eyes and to not look ahead until he tells them. He closes his own eyes, then sends the dog up towards the wall, before collapsing it with a wave of unravelling will. There is a horrible fizzing wail, and the dog gives an agonised yelp, the statuette immediately becoming limned with black frost. A foul energy washes harmlessly past the group, unable to find them without access to their eyes, and the way ahead is cleared.
Ormid tells everyone the coast is clear, and looks up the corridor. From beyond the vanished wall can be heard the deep roar of awakening machinery as several tons of metal begins moving. However, a clear view is not possible, for it seems that the collapse of the symbol of death has spawned another living spell; a vertical slash of smoking nothingness from which protrude coiling, shadowy tendrils of nighted energy.
10:39 – Groaning with bone weariness, the group prepare to meet these latest foes head on. The day's frantic pace, the cumulative effect of their many wounds and the knowledge that they may yet have a long path ahead of them, weighs down on them heavily, but they have no choice, and so must press on.
Two hulking 15' high iron golems, monstrous humanoids with murmillo type helms and huge, razor edged greatswords, stride out behind the living spell, pale whitish-green light spilling through the circular holes in their face plates, each quivering with apparent eagerness to kill. They are deadly, unflinching foes, without fear or weakness, but Ormid recognises that they are based on a familiar dundorin design, and so may contain a specific core of crystals to which their animating magics are bound. He knows that if these can be recovered undamaged, they could be used to pour restorative energy into the party – a vital boon after the days' manifold trials, and possibly the difference between life and death.
10:40 - 10:42 – Ferrous is the first to act. He charges forth and spews a blast of corrosive oil across the corridor, forming a slippery puddle that the golems will have to cross to approach the party – a tactic they know from the battle earlier this day can be most effective. Alas, in this battle the fight is constrained by the massive bulk of the golems and the clutching tendrils of entangling magic emanated by the living spell, and it stays firmly entrenched in the wider area at the top of the corridor. Despite this, It takes the party surprisingly little time to reduce the golems to scrap metal (within which, as the artificer surmised, gleam pale shards of energised crystal), and although the living spell is a nightmare thing of necrotic energy that drains vitality and numbs the senses, it is soon brought low. This is not to say that heroes do not escape unscathed however. All bear either terrible toxic burns from the golem's horrific exhalations, rotted wounds, festering with decay from the spells' touch, or deep, spurting slashes from the constructs monstrous blades. It seems very likely that if they are unable to harness the energy within the shards, they will not make it much further into the edifice, for they are fading fast.
10:43 – 10:48 – Following Ormid's instructions the energy crystals are harvested from within the fuming scrap of the golem's shattered bodies. Each sizzles with power, and Ormid warns that they will soon become unstable and slough into residuum if not used quickly. The crystals are shared out, and with the artificer explaining how to access their power, each member of the party allows it to flow through them; mending all their wounds, restoring their minds and granting them the same level of refreshment as a good night's sleep. Silent prayers of gratitude are offered to various deities, and with the group restored, the remaining crystals are allowed to decay, the sparkling, dark indigo dust shimmering with coruscations and sparkles of colourless magic, carefully gathered by Ormid for use in his rituals later. They then turn their attention to the great door at the end of the corridor, revealed with the removal of the illusory wall, but until now, of minimal importance.
10:49 – 11:00 – Llewellyn casts his expert eyes over the doors lines. Like those before it is a double door of gothniir and marble, imbued with powerful warding spells. However, to the likes of the vyrleen, it may as well be unlocked, and with a few flicks of his tools, and a whispered counter-spell or two (simple but very effective chants known by most experienced rogues), he has them open.
11:01 - As soon as the door is open the air temperature drops significantly, and a strong wind sucks past them and into the chamber beyond, howling with a low, ominous note. Peering in, the group can see little, for a wall of magical fog (the product Ormid realises of a Guards and Wards ritual) blocks any clear line of sight into the chamber. However, they can see several dim points of light floating in the vapours depths at various heights and distances beyond, each surrounded by a halo as their light is scattered, and the shadowy bulks of numerous bookshelves can be seen along the sides. However, their attention is drawn almost exclusively to the horror that floats about 60' away above some kind of large bright space in the middle of the floor ahead; a vast shadowy form - spherical and sporting ten waving eye-stalks. Details are obscured, but all know what this thing is, and all feel their bowels wither with horror as this realisation sinks in, for the Xareth'Chelde – the Beholders, Eye Tyrants or Death Gazers – are enemies from the most terrible tales.
A thick, bassy voice, full of slobbering consonants and drooling vowels rings out from beyond; clotted and sticky with contempt and alien disdain.
“Ah, so you made it this far. You cannot be allowed to interrupt the Aethran. You die now!”