08:30 – 08:35 – The air trembles as the last of the Ifrit fades, screaming, out of existence, the stench of brimstone and a dusting of fine ash the only hint of its presence in this plane. Everyone has taken a few good licks, and most of them bear raw patches of burned skin from the fire-genies' lambent attacks.
“Hmm, the shutters are still down.” muses Llewellyn, rapping his knuckles of one of the durium alloy sheets that descended when the protective mechanisms were triggered.
“Of course they are idiot!” Snaps Ormid, already shifting his awareness into the arcane spectrum, “Now shut up whilst I try to find a way out of here.”
The group wait as the artificer moves round the corridor as if in a dream, his eyes unblinking, his lips moving slightly as if he is talking to himself. A cold sweat beings to shimmer on his brow as he perceives not only the gossamer cloak of enchantments laid upon this corridor, but the writhing, glutinous energies that shudder and reach upwards from far below. After a moment or two, he spots several motes of light that are almost certainly the delicately balanced points upon which the spells holding the shutters down are pivoted. Looking closely at these, Ormid spots that a number of trembling lines of energy are wrapped around them in a way that would suggest they are triggers of some sort, and he realises that there are deadly sub-systems of enchantments woven around the primary wards, which will, if triggered by errant tampering with the primary defences magics, send a second wave of death into the physical world. Silently cursing the paranoia of mages, he spends a moment psychically tasting the energies there, his mind flooded by sharp metallic tangs and acrid, dirty aromas.
A conjuration to summon corrosive blades of force eh? I need to be damn careful here, or we could all be in trouble.
Reaching out with his powerful psyche, the artificer begins the manipulation of the magics, the entire weave of energies trembling like a spider's web around him as he applies delicate, but definite arcane pressure to the appropriate areas...
...Back in the physical world, the group are tending to their wounds, and trying to ignore the waves of pressure that seem to pulse from the artificer. All keep their weapons to hand, and Vladislav, perhaps, a little more sensitive to what is going on, keeps a shroud of killing power sizzling over his massive, spiked gauntlets.
Sudden however, there is a vague sensation of release, and with a shriek, all the durium alloy shutters fly back into their hidden slots, revealing that some other power has whisked the potent items away to a safe area. Ormid's tampering has also awoken several other systems of spells set into the chamber, which had malfunctioned with the first Xixian intrusions soaked the area, and soft blue lights silently awaken in the arched ceiling of the corridors, casting their starlight glow over everything.
08:36 – 08:41 – The group carefully move towards the end of the corridor, and find that it does indeed link to a corridor that circles the entire exterior of the tower. The corridors are both made of the same polished stone, and bear similar alcoves to the ones the group just raided (also emptied of their contents). The right hand corridor is empty. The other however has an inhabitant; an individual wearing the hooded pale robes of the collegiate, sat hunched up against a large alcove set midway along the outer curve of the tower, head down. Their features are hidden by their hood, and the group can see that they are soaked in blood, which shines black in the blue glow of the lights. It seems to drip down their arms and off their elbows, the mage's hands being hidden in the folds of the hood, apparently holding whatever they are eating.
Gristly squeaks and loud chomps issue from the hidden mouth of the figure, and Llewellyn, his stomach lurching slightly, moves slowly towards them, crouching to give himself a better view of what they are eating. His nose scrunches up as he comes within a few feet of them, the sharp reek of emptied bowels mixing with the rich coppery stink of freshly spilled blood, and suddenly the rogue isn't too sure he wants to see what is going on.
“Hello?” He asks hesitantly, “Are you okay?”
His voice is thready, his mouth strangely dry, and he is almost glad when there is no reply. He edges forwards, bending over to look under the hood, and immediately wishes he hadn't, leaping back with a gasp.
“Vaenya wept! He's eating his fingers!”
It's true. The mage has chewed the tips off the fingers of both hands, the squeaking being the sound of his teeth slipping over the bones as he gnaws still further along his digits. Between noisy bites, he is breathing heavily, and whispering to himself, a wide, bloody grin stretched across his face.
08:42 – 08:45 – The group move around the mage, deciding to let him live, and regard the alcove. Almost at once they all realise that it is some kind of lift; a fabulous construct of expert artifice. Ormid is particularly taken by its “exquisite” architecture, and eagerly enters its cage of wrought vothniir, tutting loudly as his companions follow and crowd him.
A single control orb, resembling a smooth ceramic egg on a pedestal rises from the middle of the cage, and although it is clearly the control mechanism for the lift, the artificer is unable to see any clear activation mechanisms. Llewellyn however, shaking his head at Ormid's failure, manages to slightly lift the orb's shell up, and after a quick peek at the folded mechanisms within, gives a grin and asks to be held up so he can access its top. Vladislav obliges, and with a wink, Llewellyn swipes his hand over the surface of the egg, top to bottom, a line of pale green light appearing where he leaves it.
“I'm assuming we are going to the bottom, where the icky energies are at their thickest?”
Ormid nods, and everyone takes a deep breath, realising that they are likely to be in the thick of danger sooner rather than later.
The doors slide smoothly shut with a slight click, and the lift begins to silently glide downwards, entering a brightly lit shaft of carved pale marble, the bass reliefs worked into it apparently showing schematics of some kind. Ormid is very interested in these as they appear to show alternate methods of constructing and awakening Iron Golems; a construct that normally takes a long time and a lot of resources to build.
The lift picks up speed, and as it moves deeper, so the air begins to shiver with growing malevolence; a choking weight of confusing leaden wrongness that seeps into each adventurer's mind and leaves greasy, spoiled thoughts in its wake. Everyone begins to feel fear growing within them, their faces growing pale, their mouths dry, and Ormid gives the control panel a quick look, as if expecting something to happen.
The control orb suddenly begins to glow with a greasy light, as if the mechanisms within had suddenly become infested with foxfire, and the lines of an insanely grinning mouth are clearly depicted in what looks like bloody finger daubings on the interior surface. A jolt of horror shocks through everyone as they see this, growing to near panic as the lift suddenly gives a wild jerk, and begins to hurtle at breakneck speed down the shaft; a banshee like wailing keening from the bearings as they are almost torn from their moorings.
“Stop this damn thing!” Screams Shadevia, gripping the walls of the cage with manic strength.
“Shit” Screams Llewellyn as he rips the cover off the control orb to get at its workings, “what the hell is this?”
What it is, is a brain – a mottled human brain, covered in bloody slime, connected to the column by a length of grey spinal column. Maggots of dark energy writhe below its surface, making it deform and warp before the sickened vyrleen's eyes.
Choking in the dense, putrid energies into which they hurtle, Ormid grabs his newly acquired staff, and tries to ram it into the stone walls outside the cage, hoping to slow the cage enough to reduce the impact. As he raises it, the light begins to fade, and everyone becomes aware of voices that begin to echo in their minds – braying, gibbering, singing, swearing, howling voices that snarl obscenities, give praise and advice, or simply shout inane nonsense. A stench that none can define chokes the air, and each adventurer feels their terror rising around them like water, their sanity drowning under its suffocating weight.
Ormid plunges the staff out with his massive mechanical arm, bracing himself for the ripping impact, and praying that the spells within it gives it the supernatural strength needed to withstand the forces it must surely bear. As it thrusts out however, it meets little resistance, and with sickened revulsion, Ormid watches as it tears into the “stone”, ripping a spurting, stinking wound into it. His gorge rises as he realises that the shaft is actually some kind of gullet, and feels his mind melting under the crushing horror of their situation. Around him, his allies mewl and moan, soiling themselves in primal dread, and it takes the artificer a moment to realise that the sobs he can hear (over the cacophony of voices screaming in his mind) are his own.
However, suddenly, a thought springs into being; This cannot be! This surely isn't real? Even with the power of the source of this madness, this seems...too much. Could this be....
08:46 – Ormid convulses, and before the disbelieving eyes of his comrades perishes, his eyes erupting from his face in a burst of pus and steaming gore, his tongue leaping as if yanked from his mouth to stretch obscenely around this throat, where it tightens like a noose. He makes only a choking gasp as his life ends, his body twisted and warped by the seething insanity that now engulfs everyone like a corrosive fluid.
The lift hits the bottom.
The voice scream in triumph as each of the surviving adventurer's are blasted by the unholy, mind consuming midden of putrid wrongness and cosmic madness into which they have plunged; darkness, lit by frantic, horrific sigils of infinite complexity and sanity consuming form, overwhelms them, and they scream soundlessly as it devours them...
08:47 – 08:55
“Get up you fools! It was another illusion! Get up and stop screaming!”
Pain soaks their minds, made worse by the distant angry voice that scratches at their resolve like a cats claw across their minds.
“Come on! You're fine! Well, you are all bleeding from your noses, and I suspect have had your marbles shaken a bit, but come on, you're far from dead!”
That voice....seems familiar.....but....it's impossible, he died in the most horrific way imaginable......it can't be him....
“Seriously you lot, get off your fecking arses and snap out of it. Are you all so weak minded that you truly believed the waking nightmare?”
Each of them opens their eyes, their bodies shaking with adrenaline and shock, their vision blurred. Before them, standing by the control orb is Ormid, alive, and apparently furious with them.
“At last! It was another psychic attack. Some kind of fear ward or maybe even a tendril of Xix's dimension intruding into this world. I realised that a moment before the nightmare reached its crescendo, and managed to break free of it all. Didn't you wonder where I went?”
Vladislav is violently sick within his mask, and the Veteran struggles to adapt to the normal world, his mind still alive with the unfamiliar, and deeply unpleasant effects of being almost lethally afraid. Shadevia simply stares at Ormid, her eyes even darker and larger than normal, her slight frame wracked by jarring shivers. All of them are bleeding from their eyes, ears and skin, their bodies physically damaged by the sheer intensity of their fear a moment ago. By a miracle, all have managed to avoid any deeper mental trauma.
09:03 – 09:05 – It takes the four a good few minutes to process what they just experienced, and a few more to motivate themselves to do anything other than leave this cursed tower, never to return. However, still shaking, they mentally gird themselves, and allow Ormid to activate the lift, the cage, as before, smoothly gliding down the shaft, the same schematics blurring past as they descend. This time however the lift does not take on a life of its own. There is no brain glistening within the orb, and the walls remain solid carved marble.
Five floors pass by – one alive with insane screaming and singing, another pitch black and redolent of burned food. Still another appears untouched (though as the lift descends the air grows more thickly weighted with the presence of tangible madness, and the voices from the nightmare return, mocking and distracting). The fourth floor is sealed off from the lift by heavy vothniir gates, and the stink of sulphur is strong in the air, whilst the fifth floor is dank with pulsing, planar wrongness.
Eventually, the lift reaches the bottom of the shaft, the gates opening. At this depth, the psychic chaos is an almost physical thing, and each member of the party fights to ignore the chorus of voices that intrude into their minds, mocking and cursing them. Their flesh crawls with the intrusion into their psyches, and it is all they can do to keep a lid on their sanity in light of this hideous violation of the sanctity of their selves.
09:06 – A wide corridor reaches away from the lift, splitting off into two diagonal corridors after about 25', one to the left and one to the right. Between them stands a substantial doorway of durium and stone, from behind which can be heard a man singing a banal, vile song in tradespeak, his voice broken and ragged.
”Slice the scalp, and tug the guts,
Boil the fat, and drink it up,
Paint with blood, and wash with spit,
Snap its back to make it sit!”
“Smash its smile, and pop its eyes,
Chew the tongue, for bloody dyes,
Peel the flesh, and smack the bone,
They'll scream out loud,
When you get home!”
“Rip the stomach, Split the spleen,
Punch the lungs to make it scream,
You're my plaything, I'm your God,
Now sit and beg, you naughty dog!”
It carries through the dancing, shivering air with an idiot presence that is both childishly amusing and nightmarishly horrific, and everyone feels again their fear spiking within them. The voices in their minds are a dizzying barrage of distraction and each wonders if they will ever be free of them again.
“Lets' shut him up.” says Shadevia suddenly, her voice firm and determined.
“That sounds like an excellent idea.” Replies Vladislav, the Veteran raising his deadly axe in silent agreement.
“We're gonna' have to get those doors open first though.” Whispers Llewellyn.
“Believe me,” Growls Ormid, flexing his mechanical hand, “If it means shutting that moron up, I'll punch my way through it if I have to.”
09:07 – The group move to open the door...