s morning arrived and our heroes awoke from their camp the previous night, a feeling of unease came upon them. The day had come and the time was almost at hand in which they would have to attempt to claim the central eye of a beholder. Before leaving the campsite to head out towards the monster in question, the team decided to reinforce the area that they were in. The campsite served as a good location, close as it was to both the beholder’s lair and the purple worm nests; coupled with the fresh water running through the cavern, it seemed the ideal place to set up a small defensive outpost. With everyone pitching in, it did not take long to clear away a suitable area of the cave and, using what bits of scrap wood and stone they had to hand, the rudimentary stronghold soon began to take form. With the knowledge that Karazikar had a large number of slaves which he had collected over time, the heroes were conscious that these poor beings would need a safe location to move to once the battle was over.
The stronghold they constructed took them fifteen hours to complete. It wasn’t much to look at, nor would it stand up to to a concentrated attack, but it did provide shelter against most things that may have been lurking in or passing through the local area. At least, that was the hope, for who truly knew what might be lying in wait out there in the dark abyss?
Once they were certain their work was done, they left the three remaining helpers from Gauntlgrym in the stronghold to defend it. In the meantime, they made their way out towards the beholder’s domain. They knew they were getting close to Karazikar’s lair, exactly how close was largely indeterminable but with every step they took the feeling of being watched from somewhere in the distance grew ever stronger. As they travelled the party began formulating a cunning plan to ensure they could quickly dispatch the beholder without putting themselves in too much danger. Their scheme would incorporate a fancy new piece of weaponry that Eran had been constructing on his travels using his smithing tools. He had been hard at work, slaving over hot irons to smelt a sharp new hook into the end of a kukri blade. With this new form of savage knife, they hoped to embed the weapon into their target, making it both extremely difficult and painful to remove.
The plan was to give Eran and Ilia the ability to fly, and complement this by turning them invisible. They would circle around the beholder in an attempt to flank it and once in position, they would plunge the barbed kukri into the beholder’s back. Once the kukri was securely embedded in the flesh of the aberration, Eran would cast the darkness spell on the blade itself, plunging the area immediately surrounding the beholder into an almost impenetrable blackness. The hope was that if the beholder was blinded by the magical darkness, killing him and retrieving his malevolent eye should then be fairly simple. As ready as they would ever be, the party ventured out to see if their plan would indeed give them the edge against this beholder and pave the way towards collecting all of the ritual ingredients.
The party continued on through the tunnels and cave systems for hours, steadily making their way down winding passageways and getting deeper and deeper into the underdark. The sense of being watched continued to grow, becoming an almost tangible sensation as they crept ever closer to their objective. Eventually, the tunnel they were in opened up before them, becoming a large, cylindrical corridor that began ten feet below their position and climbed vertically away from them, reaching to a point beyond where the eye could see. Scrambling down the small ledge, the party could see that from their current position, the tunnel opened up into two directions, left and right. They had taken their first steps into Karazikar’s halls.
Faced with the imminence of the coming battle, the group set about quickly putting the final touches upon their plan. In order to make certain that the beholder would be facing away from Eran and Ilia when they made their move, Lael took Valdasar and headed into the tunnel first. Valdasar himself took up the demeanour of a weak and frail old man, indicating to Lael that she was free to be rough with him to further their ruse. The scheme was to have Lael present Valdasar to the beholder as a gift or sacrifice, depending on the aberration’s preference. If all went well, Lael might be able to keep the creature focused on her and Valdasar long enough for Eran and Ilia to reach their ambush positions.
As the two decoys began to move forward, Eran and Ilia set to poisoning their weapons. Ilia makes use of drow poison, while his half-elven comrade chose carrion crawler mucus, items which had been acquired in Gauntlgrym. As the paladin and her dragonborn captive turned to the left tunnel, they were briefly startled by the sudden appearance of a humanoid figure. Lael’s keen drow eyes quickly made out a thin, bald, human male with a slight hunch, standing in the hallway.
As Karazikar came into view Lael gave Valdasar a swift kick to the back of his legs, forcing the old dragonborn onto the floor before her. “Kneel, fool!” she hissed.
“Shedrak welcomes you to the halls of The Great Karazikar!” the man declared with a bow. After a closer look at the creature that was was bowing before them, Lael and Valdasar saw that just above his eyes was a repeating pattern of eye shaped tattoos that spanned the entirety of his reflective, dark skinned head. The thin man who called himself Shedrak straightened, holding in his right hand a tall wooden staff with a bronze eye housed atop it. The metal eye pointed directly at the decoys. “Have you come to offer something to The Great Karazikar?” he asked.
“Yes,” Lael quickly answered, giving Valdasar a shove toward the monk that stood before them. “Who are you in relation to the beholder?”
“Shedrak is a humble servant to The Great Karazikar.” Shedrak answered while kissing his hand, which he then touched to a scar shaped like an eye in the centre of his forehead.
“Well, take me to your Master then,” Lael commanded with her familiar air of importance. “I will not deal with his underlings.”
“What is it that you bring for The Great Karazikar?” Shedrak demanded, seemingly unfazed by the paladin’s apparent sense of nobility.
“I bring a slave for him,” she replied, looking at Valdasar, “he has something of mine which I want returned and in exchange I will offer him this.”
“What is it that The Great Karazikar has that you believe to be yours?”
“A drow, a drow of House Mizzrym, and I want it back.” Lael stated. As she spoke her demands, she reached up to remove her helmet, revealing plainly to the personage before her that she too was a drow.
“Shedrak will take you to worship The Great Karazikar, but Shedrak can assure you that there are no drow here in the servitude of The Great Karazikar.” The stoic monk responded, seemingly unaware that the drow before him held some modicum of significance.
“Are you certain of this?” Lael asked quizzically.
“Yes, yes, Shedrak does not lie. Come, The Great Karazikar bids you welcome to this domain.” Without another word, the monk turned and began walking north along the long, circular corridor, away from the rest of the party.
Back in the entryway into the tunnels Loic turned to Raddan. “That Shedrak fellow is concerning.”
“Just a little bit,” came the response from the masked individual, “I wonder how many more little fan boys this beholder has?”
“Do you think he will try to stop us if we dash forward to attack his master?”
“Clearly, although since he is walking away with Lael, maybe we have a chance to sneak by; he can’t see in two places at once.”
Lael and Valdasar moved along the corridor until it turned right, and then they began to move closer to the centre of the lair. Before them they could see a one-hundred foot long corridor which slowly rose in height until it reached another hundred feet above the ground at the centre of the lair. Similar tunnels stretched out in other directions from this central chamber, obviously connecting the inner sanctum with the outer ring. The entire chamber and its corridors had been so cleanly carved out that not a single shadow was cast within this entire area. The chamber was lit by bright crystals which circled a dark hole in the ceiling at the centre of the sanctum. Far below the ceiling the floor separated and the area immediately below the crystals appeared to be almost an island, floating in nothingness. The gap between the corridors and the floor of the central chamber was separated by a twenty foot chasm. The only way to cross the dark pit was using six rope bridges, one connected to each corridor. The bottom of the chasm lurked too far down to be seen, even by Lael’s dark-elven eyes. She and Valdasar followed Shedrak across one of the bridges, stepping out over the deep chasm. As they did so a mental message, almost like a whisper, came to Lael. It was the voice of Raddan.
“Is that fellow still with you? Cough once for yes, twice for no.”
There was but a single cough in reply.
Back at the entryway, the rest of the party made ready to enact the rest of the plan.
“Right lads, looks like that monk is still occupied, this is probably as good a time as any to move out.” Raddan informed the rest of the group.
They began to make their way around the corridors, Loic casting the fly spell on Eran and Ilia and the pair quickly took off into the dark corridor. Now was the time. The attack would begin in earnest soon.
Stood beside the pair of decoys, Shedrak raised his arms high up towards the ceiling. “Oh great Karazikar, bless us with your presence.” His voice echoed throughout the cave and the crystals high above began to vibrate. Something was coming.
Moments later Lael and Valdasar were staring up at the gaping hole in the ceiling to be greeted by the sight of an eye stalk peering out through the gap. A second stalk joined it, followed swiftly by a third. A moment later, the entire body of the beholder began to slowly make its way out of the hole, floating high up in the chamber with its central eye fixed firmly on the new visitors.
Valdasar grunted, but did as he was bid, intent on keeping up the ruse. As his scaly knees met the ground, Shedrak spoke.
“Oh Great and Powerful Karazikar, this pilgrim has travelled far and wide to provide you with an offering.” He bowed deeply, evidently he dared not make eye contact with the beholder. The human lowered his arms and gestured toward Lael and Valdasar, intent on presenting them to his master as the ones of whom he speaks.
With the beholder staring down at the newcomers, Lael defiantly stared right back into his central eye, contemplating their potential prize. A tense moment of silence passed before Shedrak whispered intently to Lael.
“Say something, offer him your slave!”
“Mighty Karazikar,” Lael started, “I come to you to offer you a slave, and I wish to speak with you. Will you speak with me?”
With his interest piqued, Karazikar lowered himself 20 feet closer to the pair. At the same time, back in the large circular corridor, Eran and Ilia were making their way around the halls, seeking a good vantage point from which to launch their attack. When Karazikar spoke, it was with a beguiling, ponderous voice. “I have… many slaves… what value… is this one… to me?”
“Given your many wonderful gifts, one cannot give you anything you need, for surely you have more than anyone else. This slave is a seer and his powers of sight can greatly aid you.” Lael said, intent on pandering to the beholder’s ego.
“Mmmm…” all of Karazikar’s many eyes immediately fixed on Valdasar. “What… can you… see?”
Valdasar remained silent, refusing to answer. Seeing his impertinence, Lael tightened the grip of the whip she had around his throat. “You were asked a question, slave. Answer him!”
“Ugghh,” came the pained reply as the barbed whip dug into his skin. “I do not answer to monsters!”
“As you can see, this one is still relatively wilful, perhaps you will have some fun ‘taming’ him?” Lael suggested to the beholder.
“I have… no need… of headstrong slaves. If you… have not… weakened him… why should I… waste my… time?”
“Would that please you to witness?” came the immediate response from the drow paladin.
“Please…” Karazikar answered, evidently eager both to witness the taming of the dragonborn and to see if the drow was up to the task.
Without even a hint of remorse, Lael drew back her barbed whip and cracked it hard against the back of the cleric. The barbs sliced through his robes and his draconic flesh, the poison sweeping through his veins as blood spilled to the ground, greatly weakening the cleric.
“Enough… I will do as you say.” the broken voice of Valdasar reached up towards his apparent new master.
“Ha ha haaaa… beautiful.”
“Very few can resist such drow persuasion, I assure you.” Lael chimed in.
“So… tell me… seer… what can… you see?”
“Come closer, and I will show you.”
Taking the bait, the beholder dropped another 20 feet towards the decoys.
“What… can you… tell me… about the… Maze Engine?”
Valdasar quickly racked his brain for any information he could recall about the Maze Engine, knowing that he had heard that term once before. He did remember that within the halls of the Gravenhollow library, the group had learned that the Maze Engine is an ancient spherical device that can be used to reshape reality. The prospect of such a device in the hands of the beholder was disturbing, to say the least.
“It is a means,” said the cleric eventually, “by which to undo the work of the gods, and shape the world as you see fit.”
“Can you… tell me… where to … find it?” The beholder almost looked excited at the prospect of finally having a location on the device.
Valdasar began to mumble, as if he was losing the strength to speak. “You must… come closer…”
Karazikar, now completely enthralled by the idea of finding the Maze Engine, threw all caution to the wind and descended once more. The beholder was now hovering a mere 40ft off the ground.
Hidden in the darkness, Ilia and Eran took this cue to drink potions of invisibility.
“Do to me what you will, monster! Greater beings than you watch over me, your end is nigh, murderer!” Valdasar screamed, the last word an agreed upon signal to the lurking ambushers.
At that sign, everyone sprang into action. Eran and Ilia took to the air and immediately charged towards the beholder, who currently had his fleshy back exposed to them. The beholder’s eye stalks flared and shook in anger at the deception. Suddenly, all of the bridges leading from the corridors onto the central plinth dropped down into the darkness of the chasm that lay beneath. In one moment, Valdasar, Lael, and Shedrak were stranded on the centre island with Karazikar.
With the beholders anti-magic field focused on Valdasar, the dragonborn knew it would not be wise to attempt magical combat against the beholder. Bereft of options, he charged forward towards Shedrak, trying to push him over the ledge and into the blackness below. Shredrak’s frail body belied a previously unseen agility, and he managed to just shift out of the way of the dragonborn’s attempt.
Eran flew up above the beholder, readying his strike with the barbed kukri. Unbeknownst to him however, Shedrak’s eye tattoos allowed him see things which are invisible, making him fully aware of Eran’s position. He stepped back, away from Valdasar, taking a whipping from the drow paladin as he did so. Angry at the insolence of these people, he cast greater invisibility upon himself and disappeared from view.
Karazikar began lashing out with his eye rays but the agility of the adventurers proved too strong and he was unable to harm them. Seeking sanctuary, he began to ascend towards his hole in the ceiling. As he retreated further upwards his body collided with Eran and the beholder stopped abruptly, unable to see what he had bumped into. Seeing his friend in potential danger, Ilia charged up and sank his dagger deep into the flesh of the beholder, his invisibility wearing off as his stealthy attack hit home. The poison on his blade merged into the creature’s blood stream and started to harm the beholder from within.
Distracted momentarily, the Karazikar barely noticed Eran shoving the barbed kukri into his back. With the kukri stuck in place, Eran held on tight, trying as much as he could to grapple the beholder and keep it from moving away from him. With the blade in place, it was time to attempt the next stage of the plan. With one hand on the kukri’s grip, Eran began to cast the darkness spell on the weapon. Although he completed the spell, nothing happened. No darkness formed. The familiar flare of magic did not appear and his spell failed. Across the cavern Loic, who possesses the ability to see invisible forms, spots out of the corner of his eye the hidden Shedrak. The man was muttering to himself and obviously busy countering Eran’s attempts at spellcasting.
Unaware of the magical failure, Karazikar lashed out at Eran with an eye ray, paralysing him in mid air. His body seized up, unable to respond to his mental commands. Helpless, Eran could only stare at the ceiling of the chamber as he plummeted almost sixty feet to the ground. The next few seconds seem to take an age as the ground came closer and closer. As Eran continued to fall, the rest of the party attacked the beholder with everything they had. Blow after blow, together they managed to whittle away at the beast. Each attack against the creature served to make it angrier and by the time Eran collided with the ground, the beholder was furious. The ranger’s body had barely impacted when the beholder launched a death ray at his the prone form. The green beam of energy struck the half-elf before he’d had a chance to move and in an instant, all the life within him was sucked away, his spirit drawn to some other plane.
Seeing the fallen warrior, Valdasar immediately reacted, running across to Eran to raise him back from the dead. As was the case with Loic, Valdasar received an answer to his prayers as life flooded back into Eran’s being. From the hunter’s point of view, an all-encompassing blackness suddenly gave way to the cleric standing above him, a smile upon his draconic features. A second later, a sickly green light flared behind the cleric, silhouetting the dragonborn’s visage. As the final blast of death magic struck Valdasar in the back, the cleric fell limp atop Eran, his soul called to the embrace of Bahamut.
First Eran had lost his father, Duon, to this beholder and now he had lost Valdasar. The guilt tore through the half-elf like a knife. He gently pushed aside the body of the dragonborn and climbed to his feet, a fury in his eyes. Using his own pain to fuel his strike, Eran charged the beholder and with a yell, drove his sun blade deep into Karazikar’s body.
As the beholder crashed down in a crumple of limbed eyes, a sudden wave of fatigue swept over the survivors. They had survived battle with a beholder and they now had the first ingredient they need. And yet, they had also lost a very valued member of the party and had no current method of reviving him. With few other choices, they carried his body with them as they started to leave the lair, hoping that the old man had found peace amongst the stars.
Intending to return to the troglodyte cavern, they stumbled upon Shedrak who was attempting to flee the scene. Halting him, the team managed to convince him to follow them and gain his freedom. Before they could go any further, a clamour arose from the dark chasm above which they had been fighting. Over a hundred of the beholder’s slaves rose up from the dark pit and, liberated from the tyranny of the beholder, sought sanctuary with the bedraggled adventurers. The emancipated beings were offered shelter in the stronghold that the party had created for this very purpose, a stronghold which they now named Valdasar’s Rest in honour of their fallen companion.
As Karazikar came into view Lael gave Valdasar a swift kick to the back of his legs, forcing the old dragonborn onto the floor before her. “Kneel, fool!” she hissed.