Trial of the Pendulum
...As the party passes through the threshold onto a floor of white and golden sand, they become sonically assaulted by clicking clocks and grinding gears. Across this massive room, they see immediately a giant grandfather clock with a pendulum, locked in place. Spider cracks of conduits and etchings of gold and silver spread across the walls from the clock, and form fissures of energy that run along the floor toward three structures. One is a familiar thing; a giant book, somewhat mechanical, locked shut by some invisible force, a black cube of glass resting upon its cover. The other two appear to be dome-like chambers with four quadrants on each - cells, protected by thick glass and dark inside. It appears as if these domes are "settling" into place.
And as the doors shut and fall away to a sandstone wall, the domes click into place, and the clock, minute by minute, rapidly resets to noon. At this point, each cell illuminates, and the party sees a variety of creatures inside most of them. In the left dome, in order: 1) A powerful woman in black and red armor, black leathery wings, a vicious whip at her side, and a long, angry sword in one hand; 2) seemingly empty; 3) A small toad; 4) a dwarf-sized creature in dark leathers, with beard and hair of flame. In the right dome, continuing in order: 5) a unicorn; 6) also empty, but with broken bits of furniture within, and as the party watches, there is an angry torrent of wind that slices a chair in half; 7) a human carpenter, measuring and cutting wood to make a table; 8) a copper dragon wyrmling. Upon the book: 9) a Satyr dances with a fife, happily playing away.
As the party attempts to discern what to do, the grandfather clock begins to tick forward and the domes begin to rotate opposite directions (left, clockwise; right, counter-clockwise). Over the time, the party tries to figure out what to do:
Roze takes stock of who is where, trying to track the rotations.
Flynwick tries to judge connections, and he and Brenna notice writing wreathing the clock face in many languages: "The pendulum swings."
Nikz moves toward the giant book, attempting to read the spine, and becomes a little distracted by the fine white sand under him. A short investigation later, and he discovers that this is indeed not sand, but ground bone ash. Checking the spine of the book, it reads: "True Balance." Still trying to figure things out, Nikz takes his new gauntlet (a gift from a god), and presses it to the book, attempting to communicate. He hears, "Let it happen."
Quinn studies chamber #6 and recalls that there are creatures that like to stalk and are invisible. Alvus, using his goggles, sees the Invisible Stalker angrily writhing around. Chamber #2 is actually empty.
Brenna takes a deep breath, seeing now that the clock is a quarter-past, and steps into the empty chamber, no wall to stop her. Immediately, the copper dragon breathes fire angrily at its wall, to no effect, then settles down. Brenna does notice that there is a pile of ashes scattered around the chamber that used to be something living...
Realization dawns on something and yells to the group: "True balance, the pendulum swings, consider the creatures! Consider their alignment!"
Darrak steps into the same chamber, "I am." and kicks Brenna out. Immediately, the Invisible Stalker goes ballistic in its chamber. Flynwick then steps in, and the human begins to look around curiously, then gets back to work. Slowly, the party members begin to experiment with stepping into the open cell, taking note to what reacts. At the same time, the clock continues to tick by, at faster intervals.
Darrak tries to sunder the glass surrounding the human carpenter, sending a crack across the glass...and sending an identical crack along ALL of the other cells too. It seems that if they wanted to break out one, they'd need to break them all.
Flynwick and Alvus take note of two swirling purple vortexes on one side of each dome. Curious, Flynwick dives into one...
...and is flung out the other. Patting himself down, he looks no different, but a maniacal grin stretches across his face, a small trickle of blood leaking from his ear. He has the want to hurt others, and immediately heads toward Xavvan. Xavvan takes the hint, insulting and guiding him to the cell, then dodging out of the way before Wick can get his hands on him. The cell door shuts, and Wick spins around, suddenly unable to hear, or see, the party; lucky for them, Nikz can read lips.
Now the clock speeds up, the domes rotating faster in short spurts, sometimes changing direction sporadically. Quinn, in a moment of brilliance, puts a few things together: Koda and others have mentioned the Pendulum already, and the idea of it needing a push if it swings too far in one direction; also, based on the state of the room, the cells, and floor of bone ashes, whatever happens when the bell tolls won't be very pleasant for anything in those cages...
Darrak decides to also jump through a vortex...and emerges exactly the same, so he steps between the two rotating domes, waiting for the two vortexes to meet.
With only minutes remaining, Roze, Boom, Brenna, and Notloc rush toward the grandfather clock. Climbing underneath its massive base, Brenna finds a huge keyhole, and though Roze is not confident, she tries the Conduit Key in the hole...and nothing happens. Meanwhile, Notloc does his best to climb up the side of the clock, positioning himself to face the swinging pendulum. Below, the domes begin shifting erratically, slowly lining up with the purple smoke holes. In a desperate maneuver, Notloc unleashes a huge gust of wind, targeting the pendulum.
The clock strikes 1:00.
The vortexes connect, sending a shockwave of violet electricity into each other.
The cages simultaneously superheat or chill to the point of shattering. Flynwick looks out at nothing, unable to see or hear his friends, as his body is turned to ash. All at once, each creature is frozen or immolated.
And there, between the two domes, a confident Darrak is surrounded by the amethyst energy, and watches in disbelief as his body turns to ash...
...But the clock does not chime. The gust from Notloc holds the pendulum at bay, as the clock twitches 1 minute to toll, then clicks, and resets.
A moment passes.
The gnome's ashes pulse with radiant light, and Flynwick is reconstructed, returned to his Neutral/Good state. He breathes a sigh of relief, lying on his back in the now-open cell.
Between the two domes, Darrak's ashes remain, unmoving...
But with another pulse of purple light, Darrak's form returns from death, reconstructed and very sore. While he recovers in the sand, the two domes sink rapidly below the sand, as a gigantic treasure chest rises from the depths where the door once was.
Flipping it open reveals a glowing, painted door within, and as the party makes their way towards it, the chest flips onto its side, righting the door. Opening it reveals a massive cavernous chamber full of discarded artifacts, treasure, clocks, mechanisms, and ancient weaponry and armor, deposited there like trash. Looking through the doorway, Nikz spies a draconic statue, gray slate and marble, with sapphire accents upon the scales of the chest and tail. One wing is broken, but the base looks solid, encased in sapphire and topaz.
One by one, the party crosses the threshold and enters their final test.
The Sheathe and The Sky
The party enters a large, deep, mostly hollow cavern. There are mounds of earth and buried treasure that dot the landscape. A shattered pirate ship, a mound of gold, a sundered clock, or set of swords embedded in a stone; but it is the dragon statue that catches their eyes. Alvus and Notloc, using their Goggles of the Night and Pale Wing Telescope, respectively notice a small mote of magical energy in the chest of the dragon statue.
Nikz decides, and walks toward the statue. As he does so, Roze, Nikz, Brenna, and Quinn notice glowing, golden etchings begin to follow him along the walls and ceiling. They write in a thousand languages, they recognize a few, but there are thousands more.
They read: "When enough lights go out, my beacon will ignite. It shall pierce the storm, and no creature will deny its brilliance - not even a god."
This glowing script overlaps hundreds of times, wreathing the room and filling it with golden light. While Roze searches for infernal artifacts and others try to fill their pockets with gold, Nikz continues forward, saying "For Io and the Balance" and reaches toward the dragon. The scales shift aside and bright white light spills from within the statue, revealing a long white hilt. Without hesitation, Nikz reaches out and grasps it...and his whole body goes limp, his hand remaining clenched to the hilt.
Notloc sends a healing word. Nothing happens. Brenna attempts a Mage Hand to pry his fingers away. The spell ends before it reaches the hilt.
At this moment, all the script along the walls shifts. A thousand languages, a thousand times saying, "HE IS NOT WORTHY. HE IS NOT WORTHY." Over and over again, spilling over each other. HE IS NOT WORTHY. HE IS NOT WORTHY. Until one line is different, settled just over the statue and Nikz's dying form. "Is he worthy?"
Roze steps forward immediately, puts a hand on Nikz's shoulder, and says, "Yes."
A heavy impact shatters the wall behind the group as the undead face of green dracolich smashes through snarling, a sea of wyrmlings behind it wrestling with hundreds of warforged. It lets out a guttural roar, and the party dives for cover.
Having faced this creature before, the party moves fast. Darrak clicks his greaves of haste and rushes up to the dracolich, punching it to no effect...then runs the opposite direction. Alvus dives out of the way, loads his hand crossbow, and fires upon the creature. The arrow shatters against it, then Alvus hides behind a pile of gold. Roze holds strong to Nikz, but tries to communicate with the Conduit - which responds with a prompt to pull Nikz's soul into the Ring of Mind Shielding held in its pommel. Roze agrees, only as a last resort.
Flynwick protects Notloc from Evil by smacking him on the forehead, and Notloc runs toward Nikz's form, holding the rest of his turn. Quinn runs like hell, dragging her husband, Xavvan, with her. Now further out of reach, she unloads a few arrows at it, shattering against its scaly hide. Xavvan slides over to Nikz, inspires Roze, and grabs onto Nikz, saying "He is worthy." At this point, Xavvan and Roze look up at the wall and notice that two of the previous phrases have changed to the question, "Is he worthy?"
Brenna realizes there is a dragon behind her and notices that the script illuminating the room has begun to disappear, darkening from the destroyed wall and moving slowly toward the base of the statue. She steps to face the dragon, pulling out her wand of magic missiles, and unloads nearly all the charges into it and hexing it on top of that, then uses her Instant Transmission to teleport over to Nikz, grab on, and say that he's worthy. (another bit of script changes as more light leaves the chamber) Boom, the last one near the dragon, casts another fireball on it, charring bits of its already broken flesh off, then casts Sanctuary on himself and RUN! The dragon leaps onto Boom...and is unable to hit him.
Alvus, looking past the dragon, sees a fire elemental form through the wall and something serpentine and feminine slithering over the rocks, dragging six swords and a spiked tail.
Nikz, now taking hold of his own soul, finds himself sitting in a tavern at a round table. A man sits across from him in a fine suit and a top hat, holding a watch. For a moment, the man's face is only humanoid, unrecognizable; but then it shifts to a traveler Nikz met while in the Feywild, then shifts again into the face of a werewolf named Arukren, changes again and becomes the mask of Lady Lessai, and finally shifts back to this humanoid face. He checks his watch. "...Now there's the Broken one. Time runs short. Can you make the choices no one else can?" (death save)
Nikz: "I am ready to restore the balance."
The Many: "Can you be my Pendulum?" (death save)
Nikz feels Roze sitting next to him, as well as Brenna, and Xavvan.
Meanwhile, on the outside, the lights continue to fade. Darrak drags Notloc (by slapping him around) to Nikz, putting his hand, and Notloc's, onto Nikz's body. "He is worthy." Alvus sinks more arrows (and sneak attack) into the dracolich, nearly severing an arm, while Boom runs for his life.
"YA-TAAH!" Suddenly, the champion-armored kobold leaps down onto the marilith, cleaving into it, and a heavily-armored Koda, with ballistic arms, appears and punches the jaw off of the dragon.
With reinforcements arriving, Roze feels the sword rise, pulling her toward the wreckage pile beyond the statue. "We are worthy." She then lists off all of Nikz's allies, including Malfurik, Keddigan, and Kincaid. Also, the sword pulses with "Home."
Flynwick, seeing the lights go out, snuffs out any other light sources he can, just to be sure....
Soon, the fire elemental cannot pass beyond the wall's threshold, and steps back, giving Flynwick the opportunity to bear hug Nikz. "He is worthy."
A dark cloud spills forward from the farthest wall, punching through what remains of the citadel, a draconic face billowing forth. With a roar of lightning and death, it cascades over the sea of dragons, flowing quickly toward the cavern. Alvus steels himself...
Notloc uses Greater Restoration on Nikz...and is momentarily transported. Nikz notices Notloc's head sticking through the wall, confused and strange. The Many: "Get. Out." Nikz: "I have very dedicated friends."
Quinn takes the opportunity, takes aim, and impacts the dragon with a devastating arrow attack, severing the dragon's tendons in its neck, and its head falls off...which Koda rushes forward and pulverizes into paste. By now, light is getting very low in the room, the light from the statue's chest growing dimmer and dimmer, fading, fading, fading...
And in the darkness, The Many: "Just one question. ...Where do you find your strength? Your strength to choose? Your strength to defy my will? Where does my Broken Hand find his strength?"
Nikz thinks long and hard before answering: "...Growing up with the will of my father to be peaceful and live in the Wilds with all of the Fey, versus the will of my mother to make me a weapon, I have chosen to make my own path, and will always choose to make my own path. But, I understand balance and I choose to seek it in my own way."
The Many closes his watch, and puts it in his coat pocket. He then reaches out his own hand - one that clicks and whirrs of its own accord - and offers it to Nikz. "The Pendulum swings." (death save with advantage - natural 20)
Darkness takes the room. A roar of lightning rumbles toward the heroes, and waves of death spill into the room. They hear the voice of Narizguun. "I AM THE EYE, THE WILL, AND THE STO-
A blinding column of light punches through from the statue, piercing the dragon storm and dispersing it. The beam burns away the marilith, the dracolich, and all the remaining wyrms. And there, in the column of light, Nikz rises, noticing a small bronze seed taking root in his palm, and forming a tattoo of a hilt...
As the light spills forth, all the random wealth that the party filled their pockets with turns to dust and they see the Darkness, the dark energy that Koda calls the Failsafe, begin to consume the Barrens. They judge they need to move quickly.
Roze lets the Conduit move her, and she is pulled immediately through the debris behind her. The party follows as fast as they can, and notice a large metallic structure shuddering to life under the debris. As it does so, a door opens; a hatchway, and the group dashes inside before it closes again. The druid, with the sword's help, finds her way to a large cockpit, three brazers of elemental energy displayed beyond the wheel. And there, in the terminal, is a slit in the make...like a sheath. "Home." the word echoes in her mind...and she lets go of her companion. The sword fits into the sheath easily, then sinks further in, elemental energy pouring from it. "Goodbye." The red brazer ignites in a ring of fire, and the party feels the structure light from the inside, wings folding out and flapping without lift.
Boom finds a cannon, and grabs on, feeling vicious thorns dig into his tiny hands and feeling blood drain from him into the ship. In the cockpit, the white brazer ignites with life force. Finally, at the basement of the ship, Notloc and Nikz find a lightning rod and Nikz shoots it with a lightning arrow.
With all three brazers lit, the airship lifts off, rising above the Barrens as the Darkness floods over it, driving the civilization down and down into the continent of Erena. Alvus reads the script in Abyssal that runs along the wall: "I have awakened. I, the Skypiercer."
And there, safe for the time being, Roze begins to orient the ship toward Diskana...and the coming storm.
Session end. 2:15am