8/1/50 – 07:00 - It has taken the group a couple of days to fully deal with the worst of what happened in Virian, their confidence somewhat shaken by the brutal might of the Count, the repulsive transformation of his brother, and most of all, the weird absence of Ferrous. During this time, the Glorious Brick has carried them deep beneath the surface of the sea, and begun to head southwest, towards the southern waters of Tritul's Reach.
Late on the same day that they leave Virian, Ramannum contacts the group, and tells them that she has found the rune sequence for a portal directly into the tower of the elusive Imbuers Collegiate. However, she is far from happy.
“The mages of the collegiate are well known for their insular and avoidant natures. Normally it would be incredibly difficult to locate their tower, let alone to obtain a piece of sensitive information like this. Something must be wrong, and I urge you all to consider taking the longer route towards them. I can give you directions by which you can sail to their isle.”
“And how long would that take?” Asks Ormid.
Rammanum is silent a moment.
“By my reckoning, it would leave you only two days to complete your mission at the tower, and to return to the site of the ancient weapon.”
A deep intake of breath amongst the party members able to do so.
“That doesn't sound like a good idea to me.” Grumbles Veteran.
“Me either.” Agree the Helldazzler and shadeling together.
The air shimmers with the diviner's power, and after a moment she speaks again.
“We have also determined that there is a severe disturbance within the Imbuer's tower, who's exact nature is unclear to us. This by itself speaks of terribly potent sorcery. Although we cannot be sure, as best as we can tell, there is either a being or are multiple beings of incredible power loose in there, a direct planar intrusion of some kind, or, a disruptive artefact of truly formidable might unfettered. We feel that it would be foolhardy in the extreme to simply plunge into the midst of whatever has been unleashed within the tower, without knowing exactly what you face, and would put it to you once more that you would be safer and more likely to succeed if you physically travel to the island and scout out the area first.”
A moments silence, apart from the groans and creaks of the submarines walls and the constant, subtle purring of its engines.
“We can't risk missing the moment in which we need to fire the weapon.” Whispers Ormid. “If we don't take the risk and jump straight into the tower, we could easily put all the work we have done at risk.”
“Not to mention,” chirps up the rogue, “the entire world if the Ziggurat is allowed to fully come into this plane.”
Everyone nods, and Ramannum sighs.
“Very well.” she wearily transmits, “Please be careful.”
And so, two days later, the Artificer begins to enact the ritual needed to open a portal to the rune circle within the Imbuer's Collegiate's tower, a haunted look on his face. Everyone stands silently around him, pointedly trying not to think about their missing friend, and awaits the moment in which the gate opens.
07:10 – The portal snaps open, and at once the stench of blood, faeces and madness drifts through, curdling the air in the vessel. Everyone gasps as they peer through, seeing a vast, once splendid chamber, now defiled; it's grey and white swirled marble floor covered in gore and waste, the filthy mix used to depict over and over again a vaguely familiar symbol. At first they take it to be a crescent moon, broken by zig-zag lines. However, after a moment they realise what they are looking at – a stylised interpretation of an insanely grinning mouth – the symbol of Xix, God of madness and inspiration.
Each adventurer looks at each other before passing through the portal, their stomach's tightening at the stench coming from the beyond, the sharp, tainted breath of chaos infusing the heavy, bloody air.
07:01 – 07:03 – As one they leap through the gate...and arrive somewhere else...
The sky races with thin, high clouds, its dismal light a bruised blue-yellow. Gardens stretch away from the group over a gently rolling landscape, filled not with plants but with neatly set rows of forearms, hands raised to the skies, their fingers waggling in waves that silently mime the motion of wind passing through leaves. Other “plants” grow in these gardens too - “flowers” who's petals are tongues, and who's central structures are glistening eyeballs, madly twitching as they try to take everything in at once.
The group are standing on a crazed circle of nauseous green stone, the symbol of Xix depicted in a mosaic of purple and grey beneath their feet, its teeth edged in blood red. Three wide, meandering pathways lead from this area, each one filled with strange beings.
Two of them are host to vaporous, barely real things; skeletal, insect-like shadows with malformed heads, bulging compound eyes, and wide, fanged maws. Their slender, oddly jointed legs fade below the knee, giving the impression that they are floating. In all, each path holds about five of the things, and for now they merely hang there, silently, twitching now and then.
Between the group and the insect-shadows that clog one of the paths stands a woman dressed in stained and ripped robes of pale blue, edged in silver. Upon the robes is depicted a symbol – three silver circles, which overlap in the middle – the standard of the Imbuers Collegiate. Her features cannot be seen, for she wears a strange mask of bone and skin, crafted to resemble a naked eyeball. In one hand she carries an unsheathed dagger, covered in fresh blood. Drops of crimson dot the floor around her feet and stain the bottom of her robes, apparently having fallen from her arms.
“More supplicants, come to sacrifice their sanity on the altar of our Lord Xix! Come my friends! Come give up your will and mind to the Gibbering Father! Come and praise him in madness!” (the air coils and pulses around her head like a transparent serpent as she speaks)
The group stir uneasily as a current of malevolence suddenly runs through the fabric of this world; the same dark pressure that dreams suddenly carry when they are turning inexorably towards nightmare. The insect-shadows murmur and whisper.
“We are not here to worship good Lady, but seek the High Charismacist. Can you show us the way to him?” Asks Ormid.
The shadows begin to shudder like angry flies, a low buzzing filling the air, and the masked woman inclines her head to the left, giving the group the impression of a puppet who's head string has just been severed. After a moment, her head snaps back up, and she replies, the air growing heavier with burgeoning darkness.
(spikes briefly shimmer like heat haze about her head, a halo of of spines) “Hhhhheeeeeeeeessssssss not here any more. He would not worship, and so he had to go.”
“Well, we don't want to worship either”, Growls the Veteran, his axe already in hand, its flames filmy and unreal in this realm, “so I guess we have an issue.” (Spikes of distortion thickly mantle the back and shoulders of the warforged as he speaks, whilst a helmet like distortion briefly envelops his head)
The party attack!
Moments later and the battle is over. The woman unleashed several spells designed to confuse or dominate before a punch from Ormid 's artifice arm stilled her, whilst the shadows simply leapt in, raking with claws loaded with psychic energy. None really stood a chance against the party, and all fell in quick order, the woman's body vanishing without any trace upon death.
One thing that Ormid, Shadevia and Llewellyn all notice, are the strange distortions and warps that seem to flicker through the air whenever anyone – friend or foe – is about to make an attack, is wounded, or sees / hears something that upsets or pleases them, and the artificer quickly realises that the very fabric of this dimension is psychoreactive, and so, responds to focused will, or to strong emotions.
07:04 – 07:30 – As the monsters and the woman fell, so the landscape has changed. Dark clouds, alive with shadowy crow-like things have covered the bruised skies, flickering with odd indigo lightning, and a carrion wind has gusted over the fields of limbs, withering the alien things that grow there into piles of stinking rot and white, jagged bone. The only thing untouched by this decay is the path, which now seems to shine with an unhealthy lambency.
“What now?” Asks Shadevia, her face clearly showing her disgust at the new landscape around her, the air shimmering with her emotions.
“I suppose we should see where these paths lead.” Suggests the rogue, already moving along one.
And so the group begin to travel along the path, the landscape barely changing around them, the air filled with the warped, echoing cries of the cloud birds and the low, stinking moan of the rotting winds. They walk for some time, the starting point vanishing into the distance, and after about 20 minutes or so, spot something up ahead – another junction. Picking up their pace a little, the group move eagerly forwards, the air responding to their hopes with flickering bursts of colourless light. However, their joy turns to anger and disappointment (spikes, blades and strangely folded “holes” in space), as they realise that they have somehow gone around in a huge circle, and returned, once more, to the place in which they arrived.
“Gods curse this place.” Spits Vladislav, his irritation flourishing as a barbed spiral around him, “How can we stop this madness if we can't escape this place?”
Llewellyn snaps his fingers, a burst of light seeming to leap from his eyes, “Got it! If this place is so responsive to our thoughts, can't we just force out way out by imagining a doorway?”
Ormid slaps his huge hand over his face, and Vladislav starts to chuckle.
“Of course we can.” Laughs the artificer, the air cascading with transparent lines of confetti like distortions around him, “It's really quite simple when you think about it...err, no pun intended.”
“Okay then, we need to coordinate our concentration, in order to gather together enough mental energy to punch a hole in this reality. Really concentrate on the place we saw through the original portal, and imagine a doorway leading to it.”
Everyone begins to concentrate, and under the continued, unifying instructions of the artificer, the weight of their imaginings begin to physically affect the dimensional fabric, a tiny mote of shimmering colourless distortion suddenly appearing in mid air before them.
“That's it everyone, keep it up! Really see yourselves stepping through the portal! Imagine not only how it looks, but how the air feels as you pass through it, how the breeze blowing through it smells as it comes into this world, and how you feel as you step from this realm, back into the tower...”
Nurtured like a flame under a gentle breeze, the mote quickly begins to grow in size, and soon an unstable, mercury like blob of agitated dimensional energy hangs before them.
Suddenly, with a low “WHOOM”, a portal appears, and the group can see the blood-soaked darkness of the tower beyond it, the body of the slain woman (now without the mask, her face covered in scratches, her eyes staring sightlessly into the dark), visible on the floor. Everyone leaps through, momentarily dazed by the shift from the unreality of whatever world they had just inhabited back into the stark, brutal truth of their own world.
07:31 – 07:45 - “Something terrible has been unleashed here.” Breathes Ormid as the dark, weighted atmosphere of the chamber sinks into his soul. Looking at the state of the place, no one can argue.
They stand in the middle of the rune circle through which the portal had originally been opened, which is carved in the middle of a vast, impressive chamber, worked from grey and white swirled marble, and gold-banded columns of serpentine. Four wide, arched corridors, bearing magnificent ornamentations, lead from the area in which they stand, and between them, in the “corners” of the circular space, loom four huge statues, depicting powerful looking men and women in long hooded robes, each one bearing the symbol of the Collegiate.
The stench of blood and bowels is thick on the air, and group know that although they have just evaded one danger, many others lurk in this place.
“Only a being of incredible supernatural power, a truly potent ritual or an item of otherworldly might could cause the dimensional effects we have experienced.” breathes the artificer, annoyance suddenly flickering through him as he notices the dumbstruck expressions on his companions' faces, “And unless we can find its' source, we will never work out what's going on.”
Everyone nods their agreement, and Ormid rolls his eyes with irritation as they clearly look to him to come up with the answers. “Fine!” he snaps, “I'll try to sense where the energy is coming from, seeing as you all seem too damn busy to do anything yourselves!”
Frowns and shrugs as the rest of the party try to work out what has suddenly come over their ally (and truth be told, the shadeling, who has become – if possible – even more withdrawn since their return from the other realm). Ormid, ignoring the looks, closes his eyes, an almost at once a cold sweat begins to bead on his forehead, his massive hand flexing involuntarily as his opened senses begin to see the lines of energy that weave through this tainted place...
...The air writhes with looping lines of shimmering, chaotic energy; each bundle whipping back and forth like a maggot. Below him, the rancid coils of energy thicken and join, forming a black and crimson morass of painfully throbbing, corrupt power about 60' below the floor on which he stands. A tide of vertigo assaults him as he looks upon the festering mass of dizzying magics, and Ormid can suddenly taste copper...
The pain in his mouth snaps him out of the dangerous state before the chaotic energies draw him in and devour his sanity, and Ormid realises he has bitten his tongue. Taking a deep breath, both disappointment and anger fill him as he sees the rest of the group stupidly moving towards him, apparently overestimating the harm he has done himself.
“We need to get to the lower levels of the tower!” He barks at them, “And soon.”
07:50 – 07:53 – Worried that once more the artificer's fragile mind has cracked, the group try not to wind him up any more than he already is. A few moments are taken working out which of the corridors to check out first, and it is quickly agreed that the one that seems to head north would be a fine starting point.
This corridor is accessed through a partially open pair of massive wooden doors, to which has been nailed an unfortunate mage. Beyond them looms total darkness. Never one to quail from the unknown or the deeply unpleasant, the rogue volunteers to go through the doors are explore a bit, though he quickly realises that he has a severe problem doing this – namely, he cannot see anything beyond the first few feet of corridor, although his sensitive ears pick up whispered conversation and muted chuckling from somewhere ahead.
Unhappy with having the rogue split from the main group, the Veteran lights his axe, and swings the doors open, its flickering light stabbing into the gloom ahead. At once, the sound of rapidly retreating footfalls echoes from the same place the low voices had echoed moments before, and the rest of the party sweep in, ready for a battle. What they find instead is a wide corridor, flanked by six arched alcoves, each flanked by serpentine columns and holding a suit of powerfully enchanted armour, as well as a potent weapon – almost certainly examples of the Collegiate's artificer's skills.
Llewellyn's eyes glow as he recognises the power imbued into each item. However, he manages to hold back, for at the base of each alcove, neatly surrounding each suit of armour, is a carved runic inscription, their purpose almost immediately clear thanks to the dead mage by the second alcove on the right. The deceased lies across the runes, and appears to have been cut in two by the energies they released, the exposed entrails carbonised, the face (blackened and swollen with decomposition), still wearing a grimace of agony. A moment's examination of the runes, and the rogue realises that they are now inert, their not inconsiderable magics having “earthed” through the slain mage, and burned out.
“This one's dead!” He beams, and Ormid, assuming he is talking about the mage tuts loudly, shaking his head. “I, err, meant the rune circle grumpy bollocks.”
07:54 – 08:06 - Ormid almost swipes at him, but instead stomps over, kicking the lower half of the dead man aside, and begins to examine the armour beyond the wards. For a brief moment the lines of anger on his face fade, and he murmurs softly to himself in appreciation of the expert craftsmanship before him. Meanwhile, the rogue has just retrieved a fabulously well crafted dagger of malachite from the slain mage, its edge shimmering with spectral colours as it cuts the light falling upon it. He also looks over the armour he wears, and realises at once that it, like the armour in the alcove, is of rare quality, being made from woven shadows. It is decided that Shadevia would benefit from wearing it, as its enchantments will greatly improve both her protection, and her ability to use stealth.
Meanwhile, Ormid has identified that the elaborate suit of full plate armour in the alcove is enchanted to not only give its wearer spectacular protection from physical blows, but can wrap them in protective fields of magic at times, shielding them reflexively from the most savage of blows. In the “grasp” of this armour, is a magnificent crimson-bladed flamberge greatsword, who's surface is covered in potent runes of enchantment – a blade that Ormid identifies as a Flame Tongue.
“These items are simply spectacular,” he breathes, “simply amazing.”
The Warforged claims the blade, his hands tingling at its touch.
08:07 – 08:12 – A burst of ripping energy briefly fills the air around the next alcove with silver bulges of sonic energy, and dancing motes of blinding radiance, and Llewellyn is sent flying across the corridor, his skin alive with lingering, corrosive power. Somehow managing not to scream, he writhes on the ground as the energies continues to consume him, and is only saved when Ormid runs over and administers a counter spell, weakening the energies until they fade. Wounded, but not beaten, the rogue leaps to his feet, and a sly grin spreads across his face as he grabs the naked corpse, and begins to shove it towards the warding circle that just blasted him.
“What are you doing you idiot?” Snarls Ormid, bristling.
Llewellyn ignores him, and simply shoves the legs of the cadaver over the warding line. At once the magic within the circle erupts; a dazzling blast of searing flame and choking acidic fluid. For several horrible moments the potent energies rip into the body, reducing it to a pugilistic carbonated statue, and filling the air with a throat grabbing reek of burned meat and bench acids. Then, with a sobbing wheeze, the warding line burns out, leaving the items beyond exposed – a suit of studded armour made from what Ormid recognises as Shift Cat hide, and a beautifully carved rod of some dead black stone, carved with hundreds of tiny open mouths and tipped with a large sphere of flawless jet – A Rod of Absorption.
Still grinning, the rogue makes a “ta-da” type gesture at the potent items, and bows mockingly at the artificer. He then moves over to the alcove across the corridor, and begins to try and disable the guardian circle there...
08:13 – 08:20 - ...failing miserably, and once again bearing the brunt of another burst of devastatingly potent evocatory magics.
However, this second activated circle, awoken within such a short period of time since the last, triggers another defensive mechanism woven into the corridor, and at once, the doors into the corridor (and two sets at the opposite end, which lead to a wide, curving way that circles the tower at this level), lock tight, and the air suddenly crawls with power.
Everyone turns from the screaming, blazing vyrleen, to watch as three points of luminosity bulge and gather half-way along the corridor; two roughly 8' above the ground, which shine with a fiery light, and a brownish-grey one that skips and circles on the floor between them.
“Not good.” Growls the Veteran.
“Err, no.” Agrees Shadevia, bringing her bow to bear.
The shrouding powers tearing at the rogue suddenly vanish, and he springs to his feet, trailing smoke and dripping blood, mace in hand. Ormid moves to stand by him, and Vladislav moves next to the warforged, his hands already covered in crackling power. The three points of energy suddenly blossom, each unleashing a monster.
The two floating motes each bring forth a blazing humanoid with scarlet, bronzed skin, daemonic features (including short horns, fangs and piercings), and where their legs should be, a whirling cyclone of flame. Each wields a huge curved blade of half-molten bronze, and are surrounded by howling gales of searing wind. The grounded mote sinks suddenly into the floor, and the flagstones heave upwards to a height of roughly 12'. For a moment, the mass simply stands there, before collapsing inwards, and creating a blocky, stocky humanoid, which continually sheds chunks of rock and sloughing curtains of dust.
“Ifrit and earth elemental.” notes Ormid clinically, “This could be...”
“Tricky.” Finishes the rogue, leaping forth, trailing smoke.