1/8/1472; 02:51 – 10:00 (contd..) – The freed slaves are brought to the Ravager, and allowed to seek a place to rest. The rescued sailors agree that if the party wish to keep the vessel, they would be willing to serve as crew (as long as they can expect fair pay).
The party then spend time searching the ship from top to bottom. Despite its small size the Ravager is a potent vessel, designed to ride high on the waves, enabling it to make use of its manoeuvrability to bring its 16 broadsides (8 on each side) against enemies. Its versatility is enhanced by its magical sails, which have air elementals bound to them, allowing them to be filled with wind even on the calmest days.
By far the grandest room belonged to Santhiel. The poison needle trap on the door is easily spotted and disable by the assassin, and within the group find a lavishly decorated room. Amongst the many keepsakes on display in this chamber are three suits of scale armour. Closer inspection shows them to be complete skins taken from some aquatic humanoid, and Grigori realises they could be used to make fine armour if enchanted.
Behind an oil painting (done in the style of Lower Malgoroth's artistic elite, which depicts Santhiel heroically stood at the prow of his vessel, a fleet of burning ships slumped in stormy waters behind him), the assassin finds a hidden vault built into the wall. In this is a large book filled, (they find once Grigori has enacted a ritual that lets him read Dohr'Khustan) with information on what ships the Ravager has taken out, various hostages the crew have taken over the years, a number of bribes that have been paid to officials in the Feyan city of Jadasvere, as well as information about a slave ring operating in the same city, who took many of the pirates unfortunate guests. Also in the vault is a huge bronze coffer. Within this lie several healing potions, three ritual scrolls detailing a spell that can, for a while, protect an individual against drowning and being crushed by deep water, a small fortune in gems, carved Anzotè shells and precious metals, and most interestingly of all, an ancient wand that Grigori believes pre-dates the third age (a curious thing that is not an implement, but a repository for actual castings of magic, just waiting to be unleashed with the right magical or artificer's manipulation).The coffer also hold a fine pistol decorated with pearls and abalone shell, as well as several rounds of ammunition (the assassin claims these).
With the ship secured, and further attack apparently not forthcoming, the group take a long overdue rest...
10:01 – 10:40 -The group awaken, and turn their thoughts towards facing a Xareth'Chelde. No one is able to remember anything other than the common tavern tales about the feared Eye Tyrants, and even Shnecke seems a little worried about facing one.
The group leave the Ravager, telling those on board that if they are not back within two days, the ship is theirs, and they should leave. They step onto shore, trying not to breathe too deeply (the many bodies from the day before are already bloating and leaking, their stench filling the air, and swarms of slugs and pale centipede like things cover them, feasting on the rotting fare), and head back towards the garishly decorated chamber, where the secret way to the Maw lies.
10:43 - In the altar room, Skull is covered in fresh blood, and four more cultists lie broken at its feet – apparently having come to worship at some time, unaware of the situation in the shrine.
10:46 – 10:55 - The group arrive at the garish chamber, the roars and bellows of the Gulguthydra echoing along the sloping tunnel. Spending a few moments searching his memory, the priest locates the hidden switches, and places his fingers in the three eye carvings. Pressing, there is a click, and a finely worked doorway swings wide in the wall, revealing a curving stairway of truly ancient construction, which, like the chamber they stand in, is swarming with noisome carvings.
The group allow Varracuda some time to try and sense what, if any, magics lie ahead. After a few moments of concentration, he reports that there are several columnar sources of potent energy, which seem connected to another source of magic, which lies between them. These, he states, seem to be linked to a less obvious energy source a little way away.
10:56 – 10:59 - With Jaeger checking the way ahead for traps, the group carefully move down the stairs, trying not to look too closely at the insane carvings that sprawl across the ancient, blue-grey stone of this area.
At the bottom of the stairs is a lozenge shaped chamber, roughly 60' long. Sections of its monstrously decorated wall have given way and collapsed, spilling rubble and mouldering rock across the floor, and it feels oppressively claustrophobic thanks in part to the crushing weight of mad carvings (mostly teeth, eyes and tentacles) that cover every inch of its decrepit stonework, and in part to the wet, fishy air. Moisture sweats from the surfaces of the walls and ceiling, dripping onto the group, and a greasy miasma hugs the floor, coating everything in a shimmering mantle of slimy mist. At the far end, a pair of heavy, stone, double doors (the source, the genasai realises of the weaker source of magic) blocks further passage, it's surface covered in more insanity provoking symbols and designs. The four sources of magic turn out to come from four columns of grey stone, which have been carved with bands of alien eyes. These surround, in a square, another carving, this time on the floor.
The group can't help but think of it as an altar of sorts, for it seems to incorporate the symbol of Shadrakuul, but horribly modified with eyestalks, monstrous mouths and veiny, grasping tendrils. Varracuda confirms that the carving was another of the magic sources that he sensed, and that is is linked to the columns in some metaphysical manner.
11:00 – 11:15 - A careful inspection of the chamber reveals that a series of powerful and active wards guard the doors. It also reveals that on each of the pillars, one of the bands of eyes is carved into an articulated ring of stone, which allows them to be moved around. Realising that this could be some way of safely opening the doors, Lia suggests they take a closer look, and it quickly becomes apparent that the eyes on the mobile bands are subtly different.
“So, we need to match the right eyes up to something, and the door will open?”
The group decide that the eyes should stare at the carving on the floor, and Grigori is asked to remember what the eyes of the Great Maw look like. Taking his time, the priest quickly identifies that the Xareth'Chelde has cruciform pupils, and sure enough, an identical carving is found on each of the moveable bands.
Gripping weapons, and using the pillars as cover, the group carefully move the eye carvings around until all of the cruciform pupilled eyes are staring towards the carving. A subtle tremor shivers through the air, and a series of loud pops are heard from the doors. For a moment nothing else happens, before, with a low rumble and a rush of air, the doors grind open...
11:16 – 11:30 - Beyond is a vast cavern, too large for even the assassin to see its boundaries. A single, rickety wood and rope bridge stretches out across a great gulf of blackness, though from the powerful smell of seaweed and salt that rushes from below, and the distant sounds of slapping waves, the group know that sharks and water lurk far below it. This bridge links, it seems, to a pillar of dark stone, which rises some 80' away from the depths. From the doorway, they can see that this is covered in many layers of dried blood, and Grigori realises that this is where Santhiel was kneeling in the vision.
A strong wind breathes through the cavern, and no one is eager to step onto the swaying bridge.
“We'll be sitting ducks.” Growls the barbarian, tightening his grip on his axe.
“Beholder's are able to fly,” muses Thatari, scratching his chin, “we would be at a significant disadvantage if we are forced to fight it on the bridges.”
A thought occurs to the Ulnyrr, “Hey! I won't even be able to hit it with my axe! This is stupid!”
A rumbling roar of rage – a glutinous, slobbering bellow – suddenly pounds from the darkness 50' above and over 90' away from the doorway, and a strange constellation of strangely coloured lights can be seen moving towards the group.
“Whhuyt tayshtuy mooorsuuls have cuoome to muy lair? Theesh, urr thurr onesh thuyyt huff sluyne maynuy oorv muy shuurvunts.”
It takes the group a few seconds to sort through the drooling accent of the gravelly, sludgy voice, which comes from the dancing points of light, and with horror, they realise that it is really happening – they are about to fight a Xareth'Chelde – the “lights” its burning, deadly eyes...
Shumeth'Dour, the Great Maw of Shadrakuul, has lived for over 40 years in this place, having taken control of a standard shark cult, and warped it into a cult of personality that worships him. In it's 90 years of existence, it has never come across anything that it could not bully into servitude, charm with its magic or blast into ashes.
That ends on this day.
Overconfident, Shumeth allows itself to be lured into the lozenge chamber, thinking that it can easily destroy the invaders. However, surrounded and restricted, it quickly realises its catastrophic error, and is soon fighting for its life. It is an epic battle, which sees the party land some of their finest blows, their terror at what they face crystallising their focus to a deadly edge*, and very soon the oily gore of the monster is pouring in mucus like ropes from his mouth and split body.
Varracuda is momentarily turned to stone, only a saving prayer from the priest managing to avert his permanent petrification. An eyestalk flashes, and Lia is almost devoured by blindingly bright, green energy, which turns her flesh and bones to dust where it touches. Wounds that would kill most men are sliced open by a snarling beam of black energy that flashes from the Xareth'Chelde towards the Ulnyrr, whilst more subtle magics – fear and charming – work their own insidious effects.
However, with its way back blocked, and the group using the cover of the pillars to hide from his attacks, the Beholder is doomed. It roars and bellows in frustration, unable in its supreme arrogance and agony to understand that it has finally picked a fight it cannot win. Time and again, the party find their abilities hampered by its flashing central eye, their minds and energies scattered by its power, but still they strike...still they wound...and with a loud, flat, fart like wail, the huge monster crashes to the floor, its chitinous armour splitting open to allow a flood of stinking guts and strange, alien organs out into the chamber...
...Trying not to choke on the putrid aroma from the aberration's steaming guts (fish and silage), the group stand a moment, gulping air and taking in what they have done...
11:31 – 12:10 - With the Great Maw slain (Grigori casts a preserving ritual on the remains, as it is decided that despite its value as components, it would make an excellent figurehead for their newly acquired ship), the group turn their attention to the chamber beyond. They find the Xareth'Chelde's lair (a fang studded cavern that opens into this vast place some 40' above the level of the bridges), and in a far corner, finally, find the source of the Green Dust – a curious growth of unusual black metal, quite unlike anything anyone has seen before...
“Hang on a minute.” Breathes Grigori quietly as he helps the others scrape the residue from the surface, “Is it me, or is this a...”
He takes a step back, shooing the others away.
“By the immortals.” Breathes Lia, suddenly shivering as she sees the same thing as the undead.
“It's a finger tip.” Grigori looks at his allies, his eyes shining in the half-light, “This huge chunk of metal is somethings' finger tip, which means...”
“That there's something we need to check out behind this caverns wall?” Finishes Thatari nodding.
“Once we've checked out the Maw's lair of course.” Adds Jaeger, who sits nearby, polishing his crossbow, “Beholders are supposedly great hoarders of magical items, and I intend to get some new gear out of this little escapade”...
“It's a plan”.
* In reality, we had an incredible run of critical hits in this game. Every player managed to land at least one crit against poor Shumeth in the first couple of rounds, with one round seeing three crits in a row. The Beholder took over 300 points of damage in those opening rounds of combat – though he was still far from bloodied!!!