11:27 – 13:30 – The group are tended to by the mages of the Circle, all of whom appear more than a little amazed at their abilities. The Synd whom they first met, now introduced as Aerrynai Ssaerhaan, remains aloof; speaking about them as if it must be some kind of fluke or mistake that they survived. However, true to his word he sends a request to their governing order, and within the hour is informed that the group may speak with Master Vujan Rothian – a creature that Ormid was warned by Rammanum, must not be trusted.
13:50 – 17:00 – The group are teleported by Aerrynai to a huge hall of impressive and unnatural architecture. It is vast; its vaulted ceiling arcing easily 200' overhead, its far end too far away to be seen immediately. The ceiling is forged from some kind of glassy crystal that allows the alien vistas beyond to be clearly seen – a universe of flames; some dense and dull, others energetic and agitated, roiling and writhing away into infinity. Great pillars of black marble, swirled with gold and red line a central walkway, and beyond them rise curious “aquariums”, suspended spheres of water alive with otherworldly fish and crustaceans, “aeroriums” orbs of swirling air, filled with song birds, and “terrariums” dense geodes of earth alive with glittering elemental bugs.
Between the rows of pillars, like a faint blue cloud, hangs a dense line of slightly bitter smoke, which leads along and away from the group further into the chamber.
Aerrynai gestures towards the far end of the huge chamber, a vague look of horror on his fabulous face. “Don't think for a second I'm coming with you. Vujan gives me the cree- err, a headache.”
He makes a “go away” gesture, and withdraws back through the luminous pearl doors that lead into this place, the beautiful portal swinging silently shut behind him, leaving the group alone.
They spend a moment looking at each other, still a little giddy from the trials they have been through. Then, with a shrug, Veteran begins to walk forwards between the pillars and elemental spheres, following the smoke towards the end of the chamber.
It takes them a good while to reach their destination, and no one really needs Ormid to point out that the entire chamber must exists within a pocket dimension, though he tells them anyway. As they move along the smoke thickens, and soon they spy a group of strangely coloured palms up ahead; planted between the pillars in a wide circle around a sunken area from which comes the smoke.
Moving closer, they suddenly sense an altogether too familiar pressure - the unmistakable aura of a daemonic entity – and at once they Slow their pace, preparing for trouble. Edging closer to the palms, the artificer suddenly becomes distracted, for to his delight he realises that they are apparently machines of some kind, though he can see no obvious signs of manufacture. The same goes for the delicate whirring dragonfly like things that flit amongst their arcing coppery leaves – tiny, perfect and apparently living machines.
“Oh my!” he breathes, “Could these be...”
“Creatures from a machine reality, yes.” Comes a sneering voice from beyond the artifice plants, “Please don't stand there for much longer, you are making the place look untidy.”
The group jump a little, and carefully pick their way past the softly whirring palms, to stand at the edge of the area beyond – a circular, wide stepped recess filled with plush cushions. At its centre an ornate ivory table, carved with lurid depictions of daemons performing carnal acts, serves as the resting place for a huge and fabulously ornate hookah – the source of the smoke.
Using the hookah is a figure straight out of the ancient daemonomicons – a being that wears the form of a humanoid tiger, dressed in a luxurious smoking jacket and fez, who's hands appear to have been attached backwards, palm facing upwards, thumbs on the outside. His long, muscular tail twitches slightly, and as the group approaches he takes the pipe from between his white, sharp teeth, and places it on the table before him.
“A Rakshasa!” Breathes Ormid, his eyes wide, “A shapeshifting daemon renowned for their cunning and trickery.”
The Veteran gives a low growl, which is echoed by Ferrous. Vladislav takes a step back, twinned lines of arcane plasma suddenly crawling over his spiked gauntlets. Shadevia remains perfectly still, though the air around her grows dimmer as if agitated.
The Rakshasa Vujan simply sits there and answers the artificer's statement, in no way apparently intimidated by the formidable party.
“Indeed. You should be honoured that I am allowing you to see the splendidness that is my true form. Now then, did you want to discuss access to my esteemed Lords, or are you going to just stand there looking like you just caught your parents in the act of copulation?”
The group do eventually sit down, and all except for Vladislav (who grumpily refuses) are soon sharing in the hookah (all handle this well, save Shadevia, who finds the psychoactive smoke too much to bear, and spends the time feeling uncomfortably like she is falling backwards through her own body. In truth, the drug has no effect on the Veteran).
A little addled, the group arrange with Vujan to approach the mysterious ruling circle of the order, in order to petition their cause. Despite his caustic, superior nature, the rakshasa is actually quite helpful, and after leaving them alone to enjoy the drugs, he returns after a couple of hours with good news.
“The council will send a mage to help you aim this Settari weapon. We shall dispatch them as soon as you send word.”
Three down, two to go.
1/1/50 – LOREHAVEN (Unnaturally wintry weather continues).
The group spend the first day of the new year (for the second time) resting in Ormid's home. They decide that the next morning they shall visit the Disciples of Change - transmuters who dwell in a stronghold of shifting stone within the risen city of Virian; capital of the Western Isles.
07:00 – 07:40 – The group awaken, eat and prepare for another stressful day of trying to get the mages on board.
07:41 – 08:00 – Gathering in Ormid's subterranean lab, the party wait for the artificer to open the portal. By now the once wondrous ritual has become a rather mundane thing, so it is almost a pleasant surprise when it fails utterly. There is a low hum, a sudden papery crackling in the air, and the portal simply fails to open.
Ormid scratches his head, frowning.
“I swear that never normally happens.”
08:00 – 08:05 – A presence enters the chamber, and Ormid recognises it as a psychic sending from Rammanum. With an effort of will he lowers the wards preventing it from fully manifesting, and allows her in; the air shimmering as her thoughts boom into the chamber.
“My apologies master artificer, but it seems that the Disciple's have deactivated the portal who's coordinates I gave you, we sense, in reaction to the riots happening in the capital.”
“Riots!” Exclaims Llewellyn.
“Indeed. The people have risen up again the Conseil Gardien, a council ostensibly created to protect them, which has become corrupt and greedy. This has lead to widespread rioting and civil unrest, and we suspect that the mages have closed their doors whilst the trouble rages.”
“Scared leetle girls.” Growls Vladislav with a sniff.
“Or clever political animals.” Muses Shadevia, “Seeing who is coming out on top, waiting to offer them support when it is clear, and earning a place of authority by their side.”
“Whatever,” snaps Ormid, ”we need a rune sequence if we are going to get there before summer. Can you help Rammanum?”
Rammanum's response is purely psychic, and all feel her trepidation as she answers.
“I do. It is an ancient rune circle that once stood within sunken Crowns Port. However, it now lies beneath the waters under the land, and is surrounded by... alien presences... though even my spells have been unable to tell more.
“In the very least, I would ensure that those of you that need air to breathe have some means of surviving under water, for I sense you will be forced to spend a lot of time in the crushing black below Virian.”
Everyone save the Veteran and Ferrous looks uneasy.
“My thanks Rammanum.” Mumbles Ormid as the psychic connection ends.
08:06 – Rest of Day – The group stand down, save Ormid, who sets to work in creating some elixirs that will allow himself, Shadevia, Llewellyn and Vladislav to breathe under water.
3/1/50 – 07:00 – Prickly with anxiety and the thoughts of what they must do, the group drink the salty sparkling blue fluid Ormid has made, gagging as they feel its magic coursing through their lungs, making them feel unpleasantly greasy inside their chest; wet and frothy.
07:01 – 07:11 – Ormid enacts the ritual needed to open the portal, and all watch as the gate is coaxed into existence; a misty hole in the air that suddenly snaps wide, allowing the stink of rotten fish, seaweed, and decaying stone to pour into the labs.
The Veteran is handed another potion (a blood coloured brew that Ormid tells him will boost his incredible strength still further), and then they party step through...
07:12 – 07:17 – SOMEWHERE BENEATH VIRIAN (hopefully) – The group find themselves on a crumbling island of ancient, waterlogged masonry, within a dank cavern, dripping with luminous fungi and hanging strands of thick, clear mucus. Dirty, frothy water laps thickly at its edges, and the stench in this place is almost overwhelming – not that the party get much chance to take note of it.
The instant they enter the chamber, a silent thrill of alarm resonates like a dog whistles song through the aether, and those who fought Oozulg back on the slaver's ship recognise it as a psionic alert being issued. At the same time, the thick waters boil with activity, and to the parties shock they are suddenly faced by a number of opponents normally quite unsuited to such aquatic environments, who rise with eerie, piscine grace from below.
Six of them are emaciated, pallid humans – four men and two women – naked save for the thick “skin” of wobbling, clear mucus that engulfs them. Each bears a jagged dagger of stone, and gives a drowned snarl of anger as they spy the group. Towering above these, their fur mostly gone, their muscled flesh beneath withered and ghastly pale, stand two Taurag, their horns trailing long strands of the vile slime that also engulfs them. Rusting axes are their weapons, though in truth their horns and sharp teeth are probably more effective, and they roar – a muffled sound that invokes a feeling of choked suffocation in those that listen too long – as battle lust sweeps through their torpid nervous systems, the psychic restraints that normally hold their rage in check, temporarily removed.
Something else also stirs beneath the frothy waters, something that bears cold lights like deep sea fish, and which moves with grim purpose towards the group, but at first it is too deep below the slick water to see clearly.
“They stink!” Yells Vladislav, sheathing himself in a crackling mantle of lightning and fire.
“How can they breathe in that gunk?” Asks Llewellyn, mace in hand.
“I have a horrible feeling that they may be slaves of the so called 'Nameless Race'.” Replies Ormid, his face pale, “The Ab'ur'Leth to give them their Settari name.”
“And?” Snarls the Veteran, his axe igniting with fiery energy, the shadeling moving to stand by him quivering bow in hand.
“Psychic giants like the mind flayers. Slavers like the neogi. Not good. Not good at...”
And then the battle begins.
Gifted with the ability to breathe and swim through water like natives, the humanoids still present little problem to the seasoned adventurer's. Veteran in particular shows himself to be a true juggernaut; decapitating one of the taurag with two almost instantaneous blows, before striding over to the second, and doing the same again. The humans are in poor condition, and although they leave vicious wounds when they manage to land a blow, they are taken down easily and present little real threat.
The other entity however, when it arrives, is something else completely. Each adventurer spends a moment staring in shock when they see it – a crab armoured sphere, with glowing central eye, two eye-stalks, a wide segmented mouth, and massive armoured pincers – and Shadevia recognises it as an “Eye of the Deep”; a degenerate relative of the fearsome Xareth'Chelde, or Eye Tyrants. However, they are forced to move quickly to kill it when its eyes begin to fire sullen rays of light – their touch filling lungs with choking fluids that can drown even those under the effects of Ormid's elixir (this attack almost kills the vyrleen), or holding an individual rigid; muscles locked in place, mind racing to fight free.
The Eye attacks without mercy, and manages to impair the parties fighting prowess quite significantly. As well as almost drowning the rogue, it also manages at once point to blind him and the seeker by unleashing an incredibly bright cone of radiance from its staring central orb. However, it is outnumbered, and soon, with the 'Ur'Leth thralls slain, the entire might of the party is brought against it.
The Veteran unleashes Dracusvir's deadly acid at it, whilst Shadevia tries to pierce its shell with her arrows. Llewellyn hurls daggers from his bracers, as many being turned aside as strike true, whilst Ferrous belches corrosive oils and bites chunks from any appendage that comes within reach. Ormid, as always, takes on the role of healer, lobbing the odd enchantment towards his allies, enhancing their attacks.
Vladislav hauls it from the waters at once point with a crushing hand-like construct of pure force, and is the one who lands the killing blow against it a little later; the waters around it boiling to plasma as he unleashes a coruscating sphere of clashing, shrieking energy straight into its ragged-toothed maw, evaporating its entire back half, and sending it bubbling and blasted, into the crushing deeps.
By the time the short battle is over, the chamber's air is close with steam and the waters resemble a sickening stew of fish and raw meat, the slimy scum a putrid mantle that floats like vomit on top of the greasy, cold waters. The aether now veritably seethes with psionic energy, and the party know that every enemy within the immediate area will be aware that they are here, and will be ready to try and stop them escaping.