105 - THE LABYRINTH

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105 - THE LABYRINTH

Post  Admin on Sat Feb 04, 2012 9:57 pm

The Zephyr Breeze descends and waits out the powerful storm. The following day, after the screeching and howling winds subside, Ahlissa commands her crew to avoid the fortress of Maruk Dar and they eventually reach The Labyrinth.

Waiting out the storm

The Zephyr Breeze descends to avoid the swirling scorching wind and punishing lashing sandstorm. It navigates below the maelstrom and the crew quickly identify a crevice within a rocky outcrop that offers refuge. The airship's shield is fluctuating wildly as they move into the gap and, to everyones relief, the vessel has entered a wide cavern where it touches down for a full battle damage assessment to be conducted.

Aidan overhears the conversation between Ahlissa and her crew … “four wounded” … “hull breaches below on decks 2 and 3” … “dragonshard energy depleting faster than expected” … “the men are worried”

Ahlissa speaks with Aidan.

“We will rest and repair until the storm passes.” she informs Aidan. “Your valiant stand was unexpected, for one who seemed to be afflicted with troubles when the attack began. Jillian tells me you were more proficient with your sword than you give yourself credit for. She also tells me that your spellcraft was exceptional when your help was needed below.”

… “That may be because I felt empowered. I don;t know why. It might be the dragonmark. I did feel it.”

“This dragonmark is a curiosity indeed. When it emerges on your body then I think we will all be very interested to see what it looks like. As you know it will most probably be considered an aberrant dragonmark, but be rest assured I and my people will protect you secret if you wish it to remain as such.”

“Yes, I do. And its only aberrant in the monds of those who have decided it will be so. One could say every dragonmark is aberrant.”

“Ahh yes,” she muses. “But for the dragonmarked houses and The Twelve who decide such matters and enforce control, they would have the final word if your mark is discovered. The thirteenth house, House Tarkanaan, may also hold an interest in you if your mark became known. I have had some limited dealings with that House, under the table of course, and I can tell that for the most part they are quite ruthless and unsavory people. A lot of humanoids are represented in their numbers, as are absolute monsters. I am not suggesting that this is what you will become, but still for those fear an unknwon mark that will be the association in their mind when they meet you. ”

“If it does come to be that my dragonmark makes me a monster then I expect you and your crew to deal with that.”

“You have my word,” she says.

“I would not like to endanger the crew,” Aidan replies. He turns to leave and says, “I will go and see if I can help repair the ship.”

Jillian speaks with Aidan

Aidan goes below decks to the second level and he find Jillian assisting two crew members with repairing a damaged piece of the hull. She appears to be manufacturing fasteners using magic that he has never seen before. “Oh hello, Aidan,” she acknowledges him.

“Hello, just seeing if I can be any use.”

“Maybe you can, just help those two hold the wood in place while I complete this task.”

Together you all repair a section then stop for rest.

“I am really proud of you. You held your composure well during the battle. I apologise for having not told you sooner of my own capability, but then I assume you had guessed I had some specialities of my own? As a Kalashtar I am able to create my armour and weapons, using my mind.”

… “You looked good,” Aidan says with a smile.

She regards him with a look of amusement. “Why thank you, you seemed to handle yourself well also. Not bad for someone who would rather prefer to read a scroll than pick up the sword. But then these are testing times for all of us.”

Aidan nods. “Yes, indeed. Just don't expect me to be that good all the time.”

They talk for a while and help out other crew members where they can. Wait out the storm, retiring to private quarters for a rest until early evening. Then there is a knock on Aidan's door. He answers.

A member of Ahlissa's crew infomrs him that the representative from Shae Mordai wishes to see you, if you would be so willing. He adjusts his clothing and dons Xanthars robe for the meeting.

Athovar speaks with Aidan

Aidan is escorted to see the Deathless One. The air grows noticeably colder as he walks down the corridor and the door opens silently, automatically as he approaches revealing once again the distinguished elderly elven man in flowing blue and silver robes.

… “We meet again,” the representative regards Aidan with his piercing sapphire coloured eyes. “I gather we experienced some difficulty on our arrival. Ahlissa has informed me you were instrumental in the airship's defence when it was boarded. It would seem you do have a Valenar warrior's spirit flowing within your veins after all”

… Aidan remains silent. “I think the yet to be revealed dragonmark assisted me. It empowered me.”

“Interesting,” Athovar says. “But it is not uncommon for a dragonmark to augment the abilities of its possessor. It made you strong?”

“Yes. It empowered me, gave me the confidence to go and fight.”

The representative nods in understanding then Athovar fixes Aidan with a stern look. “What do you know of the Demon Waste?”

“I know very little but I believe that the Umbragen had a city here and I believe that I did encounter a Le Shay outpost at the Star Haunt where its guardian permitted me to enter. I think perhaps that Izendraazt might be Umbragen, or was, and perhaps became corrupted or became more corrupted. The Umbragen are what the Le Shay became after their city sank beneath the surface. I know some left and I once saw a vision of the Le Shay when I was at the Star Haunt (shows a picture from his notebook) and that's really what I know.”

“Yes, I can see the past has been blurred and parts may still remain obfuscated in your own understanding. The Le Shay did become Umbragen, that much is known and true. The symbol is interesting, it is not one that I have seen before, I wonder what its power will bring … be wary of the Demon Waste, it is a permanent remnant of a time that existed long ago, an age where man held no mastery over the world. This is a place of horrors and a place that will place its hold over all who enter, given its chance. The influences of Mabar and Dollurh are very prevalent here, as are the flames of Fernia. There is a chance that this domain will entrap you, by binding your mind and spirit and dulling your senses and desires to return to mortal lands. This is the nature of regions where chaos and great evil have reigned. There are great rifts that connect the wastes to Khyber and undoutedly it will be within one of those that the city you seek will be uncovered. As I understand it, Qualtesh fell into an abyss when the land on which it once stood was sundered. Its population was either slaughtered in that upheaval, or they survived and adapted to being emtombed far beneath the surface world, giving rise to their change from Le Shay to Umbragen, in which they gave up the forces of light to wield the power of the dark.”

“I sense that you have gained your dragonmark and I sense that it feeds on fear and forboding. Both a blessing and a curse it would seem. For to gain its strength you must be bound to horrid places, such as this and the city you are sworn to find. And there is a further curiosity … I sense that the dragonmark you now wear is also bound to another being, one of true evil, one of the demons of old, one who bears the name … Izendraazt. I have heard of this demon on a few occasions … he is ancient, tremendously powerful … an enslaver and a destroyer. Its name is not one that is uttered lightly and in most learned circles wisdom tells us not to utter its name at all. My understanding is that you have dealt with this demon before, or have at least been witness to its arrival when Zanarkand fell?”

“Yes, how can I be bound to him? You are saying that I am going to become evil myself. I don;t really like that idea.”

Athovar considers this and then says “Evil you are not to be. The circle has joined as do all wheels within wheels of the prophecy as it unfolds and thus reveals itself to us. I, Athovar, am proud to bear witness to its passing. In Qualtesh I am sure that more answers will be found. But evil you will not be. Touched by evil you are and have been.”

“I know that and I am not afraid to admit so. I do not shy away from the fact that I am tainted to some extent but admit that it has given me access to knowledge that could provide answers. It has also helped me to identify or reveal those that use the dark language, especially the vampires Lord Khannay and Mhorvaeus.”

“Gifts of the darkness can serve well in the light, as you have found Aidan.”

“That is the way I see it too. But how did Izendraazt do what he did to bind him to me? Was it when I first saw him? I know it was the unseen servants at the library who I found out were servants of Mabar. They were inducing the taint while I slept. Also … the Le Shay symbol is connected to Mabar as well.”

“Yes, this is all true. You were prepared. You were the first mortal he came into contact with when he stepped into this world. A part of him has been bound to you. He knows who you are and will do everything he can to ensure the connection is not broken. You are his unwilling servant but not his puppet. Your desire to sever the bond will set you free.”

“That is a comfort to me,” Aidan says. “Thank you.”

“You are most welcome Aidan of the Valenar. We will speak again. But go now. Rest. You will need it.”

Aidan leaves wondering if the dragonmark has alreaduy emerged, for he thinks Athovar has given him that impression. Perhaps it is a dragonmark that does appear physically at all?

Everyone retires to rest as the storm rages outside above the cavern in the rocks.

Aidan's Dragonmark Emerges

Aidan finds it difficult to rest easily. He tosses and turns constantly and feels distressed. There is a lot to think about. A painfully burning sensation erupts across his body, centred on the lower back.

FORT 18. The pain is so terrible he takes 12hp damage. FORT 16. 12 hp damage. Aidan is convulsing. FORT 19.

The burning sensation subsides and a writhing movement can be felt beneath the skin of Aidan's lower back. He is horrifed. He sits up and activates the cabin light, then pulls back his tunic to look into a wall-mounted mirror to see what is happening. The symbol that has appeared has the appearance of a living tattoo, which feel hungry, like it needs to feed on something. WILL 34. DARK KNOWLEDGE 30. The hunger is unnatural, it is certainly not normal for a dragonmark to require sustenance. Something tells him that seems to feed on dark energy … the taint that Aidan has gained is consumed by the dragonmark and the urge to be obsessive and compulsive has lessened. He also notices that the minor disfigurements he had suffered from receiving taint have vanished; his complexion appears refreshed. The writhing movement ceases and you regain his compsure. The mark is serpentine in nature and bears some similarity with the symbol of Mabar and the hieroglyphic writings he observed in the Star Haunt when he confronted the guardian in those ruins. Memories and knowledge fill his mind, like a flood of sensation.

Dragonmark abilities
Darkvision 3/day 60 ' 3hrs duration - DC 13 + CHA modifier (Will)
Darkness 3/day 20' radius 20 min duration – DC no saving throw
Shadow Missile – at will – 9th lvl caster - x5 missiles that each do 1d4+1hp force damage – no saving throw

Disturbed by this, he gets up and goes to find Ahlissa. She is in her private quarters but on hearing that Aidan needs her she admits entry.

“Ummm … it's happened.” Aidan tells her after the door has closed and he recounts what happened.

Shocked and concerned, Ahlissa asks “Can I see it?”

He lifts his tunic and she looks and traces her finger over the raised skin over the pattern. “Remarkable,” she says. “And creepy. I swear the symbol moved just then when I touched it. It seems alive. Most dragonmarks are simple magical tatoos. Some will glow, others simply radiate magical energy. Yours is something that I've seen before. “

“Perhaps we should see your guest. He told me it had emerged but it was only after I returned to my chambers that it began. It feeds on dark energy. I know this. It has consumed my taint.”

“Yes, I had noticed your skin improved. Athovar has the gift the seeing into the future. It is something to do with his study of the draconic prophecy. When he told you your dragonmark had emerged it most likely that he saw it coming. He quite often tells us the future as if it was now or past. “

“That is a rare gift indeed.”

“One thing he did say is that whatever the dragonmark is, it will not make me evil. I am relieved for I do not know how I am going to keep it fed with dark energy. I do appreciate if we keep this absolutely to ourselves. I would probably find my life very short ineed if word got out. And I do not like the prospect of the Twelve finding me.”

“Your secret is safe. We will not disturb Athovar with this. I believe he has already seen it. When the time is right he will summon you to discuss it. Thank you for sharing this development with me. Keep me informed if any other difficulties arise. So long as the dragonmark does not require you to consume the flesh of living people, I'm sure we will be safe.”

“Yeah … it seems to want dark energy. Unless it only wanted it at that initial point. Let us hope that is what it is.”

“Do not fear. At least for the time being it is almost a certainty that the environment we are travelling in will provide all of the dark energy your dragonmark may possibly require.”

Aidan thinks yes, but what happens when we get out of here?

Aidan retires to his quarters and tries to sleep, but remains distracted by his thoughts.


A New Day

The Zephyr Breeze ascends from the cavern the following day. The storm has passed, leaving an arid and barren landscape that is a mixture of red, orange, yellow, black and gray rocky badlands, rocky chasms and lava flows.

“We track north-west,” Ahlissa tells him. “Then we hook back eastward and enter the canyons. This path will avoid Maruk Dar and hopefully any further significant encounters or detection. But we will remain on high alert for this is a treacherous place. It may surprise you to know, but there are some humans who live here. But they are savage barbarian tribes and they inevitably worship the evil that dwells here. It is said they are cannibals. I do not intend to find out if that is true. But I do intend to make sure we reach our destination. If Qualtesh exists then we will find it.”

Jillian looks from the bridge and seems fearful. “My people's land is scarred from the invasion of the Quori and they have transformed it with crystal spires which they use to dominate my peoples' minds. But it is beautful evil. This place is full of despair and loathing. I feel its hatred for life. I feel it draining hope.” She looks to Aidan, her eyes have changed in the red light, more luminous and silver, something he has not seen before. “Never had I believed such a cursed environment, other than my homeland, could exist. But now, having seen this with my own eyes, I can see that Khorvaire is so lucky to have survived. If the Age of Demons had prevailed and not given sway to the Dragons and Giants, then our races would never have had a chance to raise themselves above servitude. I hope now that we find Qualtesh and leave this place quickly. A part of me worries that this wasteland will consume us. I am afraid.” She looks to Aidan momentarily for comfort. Ahlissa just rolls her eyes.

… Aidan smiles “It will be alright,” he tells her. “the worst thing we can do is surrender ourselves to this place. We are here together and shall succeed together.”

She holds him briefly and says “Thank you. I feel better now.”

Ahlissa just smiles in the background.

The final checks of the airship are made and the crew confirms all is well to proceed. “Make haste,” Ahlissa commands as the Zephyr Breeze sets off.

Hazardous canyons

A massive scar mars the otherwise flat plains that stretch beyond the Shadowcrags. Like wounds gouged out of the earth by fierce talons of gigantic size, the twists and turns of the canyons and depressions form a barrier separating the Shadowcrags from the western plains. This is the Labyrinth, where the Dragon Below meets the Dragon Between in a land of ruin and desolation.

This vast network of canyons and mesas forms a natural maze of stone. The wind in the canyons sounds like the keening of hundreds of ancient banshees, and sometimes the air inexplicably fills with the smell of fresh blood or the bitter tang of sulfur. Rockfalls and flash floods can make short work of unwary travelers, and it is all too easy to get lost in the twisting channels of these badlands. In addition, cracks and crevices sometimes open that drop into the very heart of Khyber itself, and fiery rivers of molten lava flow haphazardly within the winding depressions. Fiends and other foul creatures wander the canyons, engaged in activities that most sane minds would rather not examine too closely.

The Zephyr Breeze is dwarfed by the mighty canyon walls as it glides among them in its search for the fallen city.

At one point of the voyage there is another minor skirmish with airships like those they encountered on entering the region. Ahlissa decides that it would be better to fight another day and commands that the ship outrun its enemy, which they do so easily but much to the chagrin of the host of Valenar warriors.

… Aidan tells Jillian of the dragonmark during the searching. She is equally shocked and awed, as was Ahilssa, and she expresses genuine concern for you. “This is like the possession of my people by the Quori. It is a hold over you. One that is impossoble to be broken. How will you resist?”

“The Deathless one has said it can be broken. And that the dragonmark is not necessarily associated wkith Izendraazt, but more likely the Le Shay. He has also assured me I will not become evil.”

“Then that is good. I would heartbroken to see you fall to the will of an entity, such as has happened to my own people. You have much to live and fight for in Khorvaire. I would not like to see your dragonmark ruin you.”

She comforts him and equally Aidan reassures and comforts her.

A rift into khyber

After seven days of searching, a wide gaping maw that extends deep into the earth is discovered. Aidan gets a strong sensxation that is whwre they should go. He signals that to Ahlissa. Ahlissa commands the Zephyr Breeze be flown into the wide space and its shield and magic light beacons illuminate the interior as they enter. Large hulking shapes move and skitter into crevices as the light reaches out and touches them.

The cavern is of sufficient dimensions to permit airship travel up to two miles, at which point it lowers and narrows and the decision is made not to take the airship in any further. A camp is set up. Aidan and Jillian assist with that. Athovar remains on board in his quarters.

There is also evidence of the shattered remains of what may once have been man-made buildings. Aidan assists with the investigation of the ruins. INT 26. Thousands of years old, which gives hope that the quest is on the right track. Perhaps guard-houses, an outpost or a small settlement of some kind.

“Could this be the entrance point to your legendary Qualtesh?” Ahlissa asks Aidan.

“Yes, it would seem so. These buildings are of the right age.”

“Good. Then we will establish our own outpost and camp atcthis location and then explore further within.”

The camp is constructed around the ruined structure.

Qualtesh

Initially investigation of the surrounding cavern and ruins is carried out. Many old inscriptions are uncovered. The language is unfamiliar to the elves but Aidan DECIPHER SCRIPT 26

“A bastion of hope and light among the dark and unliving”

“the path of light was lost to us”

“we will again rise to reclaim our true world”

“we are lost to our brothers, our kin of the surface world”

After the inscriptions are deciphered and all clear is given for the cavern, the group presses inward. A small force of crew (x20) remains behind to protect.

x50 warriors, x40 crew, x2 elven mages, Ahlissa, Jillian, Aidan proceed inward.

The rocky underground passageways and cavern give way to evidence of man-made stonework. Incredibly ancient crumbling pillars and broken slabs of paving stone are here.

The Valenar warriors spread out, maintaining a watchful gaze into the darkness ahead. A wide, crumbling stairway with cracked steps and collapsed columns is found here. They advance warily. Suddenly there is a cry of alarm and a commotion. It is difficult to see what has happened.

But then shock and realisation set in; one of the warriors has been struck by something that has attached and pulled him upwards from the ground into the darkness. And then another. And then another.

“Take cover, shield yourselves!” their commander shouts.

Magical light is cast into the cavernous space high above by the two elven mages that accompany Ahlissa's crew, revealing a monstrous sight. Gigantic monstrous spiders scuttle and crawl across the cavern ceiling. But they are not ordinary spiders. As the light illuminates them, four scuttle away and three drop down to the ground while several others seek out darkness within the wals and rocky outcrops.

Jillian transforms into her elven battle armour and produces glowing energy swords from her hands, preparing to fight if she needs to.

INIT 20 Elven Mages
INIT 19 Jillian
INIT 18 Harpoon Spiders
INIT 14 Ahlissa
INIT 13 Zephyr Breeze Crew Members
INIT 12 Aidan
INIT 2 Valenar Warriors

The mages cast more light to brightly illuminate the area.

Jillian runs forward to join the warriors and attacks one pf the three spiders that has dropped dwon.

The spiders surge forward, seeking to overrun the soldiers. One bites a warrior who screams in utter pain and falls down.

Ahlissa shouts commands to her crew members, who form a defensive circle. They raise shields and hold long spears at the ready.

There is a hissing sound and a scraping on the rocks beside Aidan. Turning to look, he sees one of the spiders has come down beside him and in the light he sees its rows of eyes and clicking mandibles as it weighs up the size of its prey.

Aidan fires a flaming arrow at the spider that has dropped down. He strikes easily, doing 23hp damage. The arrow pierces the head of the creature and it momentarily flinches but still advances.

The Valenar warriors engage in combat with the three spiders that confron them.

It springs at Aidan and tries to sink large manbiles into his shoulder. It succeeds 8hp damage. FORT 34. The wound has a burning sensation, most likely from venom.

The close range makes his bow useless so he considers using either his sword or magic. He opts for his sword and hits, doing 14hp damage. The spider is enraged and flails at him, biting and again it strikes. 8hp. FORT 28. It attempts to pick him up and swing him towards its spines, but fails. Aidan again swings his sword. He strikes doing 3hp and avoids the spiders spines as he does so. It misses. He strikes again doing 6hp and avoids its spines. The spider again seeks to bite but misses. Aidan hits for 10hp. The spider bites for 4hp damage. Aidan strikes it in the head and the spider drops dead, quivers in a adeatrh spasm as it does so.

Looking around, Aidan sees that two warriors have fallen. Ahlissa and her crew are unharmed. The mages have unleashed some fireballs and Jillian is also unharmed. The spiders in the cavern ceiling space have fled. The bodies of the spiders that vattacked are inspected by the mages.

“These are harpoon spiders,” one of the mages informas the group. “They have a powerful venom that will make a man lose his balance and sense of direction. Left unchecked this venom will kill with its gradual effect. Has anyone been bitten? “

“Yes, but I have resisted it.”

“Good … but to be safe, drink this potion.”

They give him a neutralise poison potion to be sure.

The two fallen warriors are revived, they were simply unconsious and under the effect of the poison.

The group rests before proceeding further. The cavern and passges get darker the further you go. The mages issues a warning. “We sense that this area has been planetouched. From hereon in we are all at risk of becoming permanently enslaved or bound to this domain.”

WILL 34. Aidan experiences a passing wave of anxiety of despair that washes over you. For moment everything became gray before natural vision returned to him. He also experienced snarling voices in his head.

The mages confer with Ahlissa and then inform the group. “Dollurh is prevalent here. It is calling out, reaching for more souls to join it. This domain is death.”

“This is troubling, but not unexpected.” Ahlissa says. “If any of us succumb to the planar influence then it will be obvious. The mages have told me that an affected individual will grow transparent ands less visible to us. It will mean they are crossing to the other side.”
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