11:16 - ??? - Once the initial shock has passed, the group realise that they must somehow navigate the fiery crevasses and frozen wastes to reach the red tower. Unfortunately, the landscape is ever shifting, and without any fixed landmarks, and only maddening, alien constellations in the black sky, the group struggle to keep any sense of direction.
Their first mistake is to listen to Ormid as he assures them that he “can feel” the flow of the planes' magic, and so can lead them to the tower without error. This sees the group almost burned to death after they follow the distracted artificer into a region of towering columns of screaming blue flame - the souls of damned travellers weeping and cursing within their infernal depths - and almost into a canyon who's glassy black walls radiate raw necrotic energy. There are some strong words amongst the group – especially from Vladislav (who is almost on the verge of tears) and the vyrleen (who simply wants to forge ahead through the valley to climb the blackly luminous cliffs in order to “get a better view” of the land), and It takes the level heads of those not affected by temporary insanity to get the group back on track.
It takes them a small eternity to move towards the tower. The ubiquitous flames burn with a cold, unnatural radiance, and everyone feels their life force being drained by this wretched, hungry dimension. Almost as bad, the massed screams of tormented anguish from the fiery spirits contained in the blue flames drain the resolve and the nerve of everyone, making thinking clearly almost impossible.
Ormid surmises that the plane as been “folded” into the fabric of the physical plane, and that although they are technically “within it” (where ever “it” is), they are also still resident in some space on the physical, “prime” plane. No one knows what he is talking about, or particularly cares – especially as he is muttering to himself like a ghaerduun on a bad day.
With Vladislav - motivated by his despair and overwhelming urge to be rid of this foul place - using his own arcane senses to guide the group, they begin to make headway. Slowly, painfully, their limbs heavy with drained fatigue, they plod across the treacherous hellscape, the slender spire of the tower slowly looming larger and larger before them. After what seems like an eternity of stumbling, cursing and wearily sleepwalking in this nightmare realm, they find themselves almost at the foot of the glassy, nighted cliffs upon which the tower stands. Joy sweeps through the group (save poor Vladislav, who whimpers with fear), and they move to begin scaling the cliff...
...Only to find a wall of planar static – an interference pattern where the two “folded” dimensions agitate one another – blocking their way. Running into it is like running into a wall of “pins and needles”; a shocking wave of prickling discomfort running through each of them, and sending them back on their heels. Worse, as they make contact with the wall, the terrible screams behind them suddenly rise in volume and pitch, taking on a furious, despairing note. Spinning round the group find that the dead within the flames have been set free – hundreds of them – drifting towards the group, blazing claws outstretched, tortured features warped by the unholy fires that devour them and their eternal torments.
“I can do this!” Exclaims Ormid brightly, apparently unaware of the deadly tsunami of flaming spectres drifting towards him, “This should be an absolute piece of cake!”
“We're doomed!” Wails the Helldazzler, soiling himself.
“Fuck that!” Replies Llewellyn, a feral smile, all sharp teeth and fey quickness, flashing across his face, “The only doomed ones are those undead bastards stupid enough to pick a fight with me!”
“Steady on.” Growls Veteran, “There are enough of them to end us if we make a slight mistake.”
Shadevia says nothing, an arrow of flickering elemental power manifesting like condensing smoke between her fingers as she draws he bow back and takes aim...
??? - ??? - The battle that takes place at the foot of the wall whilst Ormid - constantly distracted by the “amazing” ideas in his fractures mind, fails time and again to straighten out the planar interference - is almost beyond the group. The spectral undead come in waves and crash against the group, searing flesh and soul alike. Even the mighty Veteran is opened up to his internal mechanisms, only his artificial fortitude and powerful will preventing him from falling unconscious, and by the time Ormid (with the help of a panicking, and almost mortally wounded Vladislav) manages to lower the barrier, every member of the party is close to death; burned, frozen, drained and torn.
11:16 – 11:20 – The hellscape falls away from the party, leaving them shivering and swaying dizzily in the crisp, cold air of the Clouded Hills, at the foot of the Circle's tower.
“My goodness, they made it!” Exclaims a tall, slender, hooded figure, dressed in flowing robes of pale silk, their voice mellifluous even as it efficiently expresses utter disdain.
“W-Who...are....you?” Gasps the Veteran, his internal mechanisms steaming in the frigid air.
The figure reaches up and pushes back the hood revealing coldly beautiful features; alien and fey, unearthly in their luminously delicate perfection. Too perfect, too alien to ever be seen as “right” by humans or other “younger” races.
An Aelwyn – a Synd'Aelwyn.
He is male, and has large, luminous eyes of pale silver. His hair is long and appears to be woven from spun smoke and moonlight. A quiet aura of power surrounds him. A little behind him stands another robed and hooded figure. This one's face is hidden by a simple mask of pale bone, a circular sigil burned onto it where a nose slit would normally be. It is clearly human, and says nothing in response to the Synd's comments.
“We need to see your leader.” Whispers Shadevia, her black eyes fixed with vague hate upon the Synd.
“Do you?” He replies, his voice dripping with amused scorn, his delicate eyebrows almost flying off his head, “We thought you might. A little dicky-bird told us of your mission to seek us out.”
The group, almost on the verge of collapse look at each other with concern.
“Told you we were doomed.” Mumbles Vladislav.
“I suppose you could see our council's representative, if you were able to prove yourselves to be..ahem...an equal.”
The group stand there, glaring at the Synd, their blood dripping vividly into the snow, their breath and wounds steaming in the cold air.
“But first, I think you should have those nasty wounds seen to. Greith, attend to them would you.”
The silent figure moves towards the party, and without waiting for any further assent raises his gloved hands, and begins a droning, resonant chant. At once the air around the group shimmers with golden radiance, and they feel a great warmth and strength flowing into them. Small ghostly flames of healing light play about them as the ground begins to shine up onto them; as if it has become a window and a restorative sun shines on its other side. After a few moments all the groups wounds and weariness has fled.
“Much better. The trial that awaits is unfair enough for the likes of you. No sport in sending you in there half dead!”
Whilst the group have been enjoying the ministrations of the silent figure, the Synd has effortlessly woven a hovering triangle of sullen purple light into existence – a portal.
“Pass through the gate, and emerge from the other side alive, and you may speak with the council's voice.”
From his tone of voice it is clear the Synd does not expect the group to pass the test. He gestures impatiently towards the gate, and as the group pass him by, leans in towards Ormid, and says in a loud whisper. “You already know how to do this easily by the way.”
11:21 – 11:26 – They pass through the portal...
...Evil. Chaos. Raw and overpowering. The crushing horror of purest diabolical malevolence, given palpable, deadly form....a daemon major....a terrible, impossible foe.
The group almost stagger under the weight of malevolence that falls upon them on the other side of the portal. Vladislav wails with horror at sight of what waits there, and for once, no one can blame him.
It is a conjuration of epic power – a towering daemon of such raw horror that only a great and terrible sacrifice or the combined efforts of numerous arch-mages could hold it in the physical plane for long. Luminous with the billowy power of its conjuration, it is an 18' tall, muscular humanoid with skin the colour of spoiled milk. Rippling with muscles, its small head has no neck, and bears three blazing, pink eyes. Its wide mouth is filled with overly long tusk like teeth, and from its broad shoulders sprout feathered wings – reminiscent of those of an angel, though tarnished and oily, as if burned.
Its arms are massively muscled, and end in prodigious hooked claws, each of which is every bit as oversized and grotesque as the brutes fangs.
“Zovvut!” Breathes Ormid, all colour leaving his face.
The greater daemon is bound within a cage of runes, with five resonant crystals forming the outer frame. At once the artificer realises that they are how such a catastrophic being could be kept in this world for so long, and with a yell to the Helldazzler, his mind suddenly clear, he runs over to the nearest one and begins to try and pick apart its energies. However, before doing this, he pours every last ounce of his magic into the forged's axe, coating its deadly blade in a dazzling, snarling, vicious mantle of magics. He also calls upon his fey power, changing the materials in every allies weapons and implements, so that they resonate with the same dimensional frequency as cold iron – a material particularly good at dispelling the conjured forms of daemons.
It roars – a sound so massive that it displaces the air in the chamber, and seems to physically punch the adventurers – and then moves to attack, its speed impossible for a monster of such massive bulk. The vyrleen manages to hit it with a dagger, slightly scratching it before it attacks, but this only seems to enrage it further. With two blows too fast to see, their passage through the air leaving a shock wave in their wake, it sends Llewellyn sprawling back against the walls of the conjurary, his ribs shattered, a pink, tongue like lobe of lung hanging wetly through the almost deadly single wound that starts in between his shoulders and ends deep within his belly. The Veteran is almost cut in half by a similar attack, his heamolymph spilling in oily spatters at his feet. However, his axe flashes out almost as fast, and strikes the Zovvut in its armpit, the spell-laden blade cutting a huge wound, sizzling with corrosive magics, into the daemon's flesh.
If it noticed, it barely shows it.
An arrow sprouts suddenly from the brutes back, sinking up to its fletchings in unholy meat. Ferrous darts in and takes a bite at the daemon's ankle, allowing Vladislav to make his way to one of the resonant crystals, and to start his own work unpicking their power.
Through his fear, and the discomfort that his rebelling, nerve wracked stomach has unleashed with his robes, the Helldazzler manages to decipher the matrix of energies within the crystal, and with an effort of will, he undoes them, the shard immediately going dark. The daemon is immediately wracked by agony, and its screams are loud enough to tear the air apart. It doubles over, and at once, it seems to become less solid, the luminous mass of its spirit partially visible as a maddening kaleidoscope of pink and silver within its body.
Vladislav's bowels empty of their remaining content.
Ormid unravels another of the crystals, and again the daemon roars. Eerie pinkish light; tainted and corrupted, the natural luminosity of another, foul place, oozes from the daemon as its forms becomes less solid. More arrows strike it, and the vyrleen smashes his mace with crushing force into the fiend's ankle, deforming the bones there. The Veteran, Staggering from his wound, hefts his axe up into the monsters groin with terrific force. A small explosion seems to emanate as it bites and slices up into the conjuration's form, and once again the chamber shakes under the overwhelming screams of the enraged daemon. Spurred on by his fine blow, the warforged, manages to land another two vicious strikes into the monster.
The pink hazy radiance grows in brightness, and everyone tries not to look at the lights that coil and shift foully within the now smoky, gusting apparition of the daemon, for to see them too long is to be stricken mad and lost for all eternity.
Once again the claws lash out. Llewellyn is unconscious, his entrails spilling limply from his opened body. Shadevia is almost decapitated, the warforged managing to save her by getting in its way, taking some of the sting out of the otherwise fatal blow by – his own body split wide open, his head hanging on by pipes and gristle, consciousness held on to through sheer bloody mindedness only. Ormid finds himself looking up at the ceiling, unsure of what just happened, his spine exposed, his back opened like the shell of a cracked lychee.
Black lines of draining power lash from the monsters eyes, stealing health and rotting flesh. Ferrous activates his shielding glamer, but is thrown the length of the chamber, his internal machinery spilling with a plink to the ground, and Vladislav, too panicked to be able to focus on the next crystal, is sent spinning like a blood spurting top across the chamber, his heavy armour almost torn from his body by the hooked claws.
Barely able to move let alone fight, Veteran shifts to stand before the daemon, desperate to distract it from the artificer, who has crawled, slowly and painfully, a trail of gore slick behind him, to the foot of one of the active crystals. Confusion races through him as his internal systems desperately fight to repair the damage he has sustained, and as his mind tries to fathom how best to use his almost destroyed body. He raises his axe, and the swirling, roaring daemon turns to regard him with all the hatred of the universe. Realising that the warforged will be shattered beyond repair, the artificer first stabilises the rogue with an alchemical dust, before turning his wheeling mind to the crystal before him. He shrieks as the daemon sends a crackling line of shadowy power towards him, its touch raising pus filled sores and a terrible fever, but focuses on the job at hand, allowing his vision to slip into that realm where magic becomes visible...
...He sees the spells nexus within the crystal and reaches out towards it...
...The Veteran swings his axe, darkness rushing up to take him....
….Llewellyn feebly clambers to his feet....
….Shadevia, in her agony misses with a vermin infested arrow...
...Vladislav fights to summon the state of mind needed to unleash his deadly spells...
...Ferrous pants, stumbling like a broken toy, his fey magic swirling like glassy smoke around him...
….The crystal deactivates....
...The daemon screams, long, loud and with an increasing volume that becomes so loud it becomes not sound....
….The air boils with collapsing magic. The chamber is wracked by a miniature planar storm...
...and with a curiously warped pop, the Zovvut is sent back to its infernal home.
Although all are close to death, each adventurer lives.
They have passed the test.