Therendor 1, 1001 YK
The Eclipse Collective is stunned for several hours while the “operation” apparently proceeds on Iadoes Lunaformer, though the ulitharid Quasator reveals little of its nature save for some images projected to Zil’dejin’s mind. It seems quite gruesome, but attempts to recover Iadoes are unsuccessful for the time being. Quasator promises he will be returned more or less intact.
The ulitharid also requests the party’s aid in clearing the 9th floor of the pyramid of Vult, which is occupied by enemy mind flayers (though he does not elaborate on their nature and refuses to say their name). In exchange, he will give back Nimozaran the Green’s brain. The party reluctantly agrees and goes back to the cargo bay to await docking at the pyramid, during which time they witness the destabilization of the clones as the majority of them die in pastiches of their real-world deaths.
The Nautiloid docks at the huge pyramid of glass, steel, and crystal. During the docking, the clones of Cecil and presumably Stahlstrauss die as well. They are followed by mind flayers accompanying slaves, which nearly drives Zil’dejin into a frenzy, though he resists the temptation to attack. Quasator gives them a choice of two paths to the next level up: through the slave district, or through the dangerous “Custodians’ districts”. They choose the latter to stop Zil’dejin from killing the mind flayers out of rage, and they head there after being given some strange stimulant injectors by the mind flayers. The follow into the Custodian district, repel an ambush by the elf-like Custodians (featuring the “Derli bomb” combo attack), and prepare to enter the next district when there is another Custodian ambush. Both mind flayer escorts are killed and the party is taken to meet Yaun Vax, their leader, who offers to guide them through the upper levels if they defeat the illithids’ leader on the second level, Verioth the Voiceless, who plots something involving the “Furnace,” a structure in the basement levels of the pyramid. The party agrees, but Yaun Vax cautions them against attacking the creature who is supposedly very powerful.
The Custodians guide the party to the “Grav Tubes,” allowing them to reach the pyramid’s second level, which appears also residential but of higher quality than the level below in terms of architecture. Here, Derli confronts Verioth and against several warnings and chances to leave, including an offer for Verioth to help the party in exchange for defeating a lunar dragon in the Furnace called “Tsaokeckos,” Derli challenges Verioth to combat. The battle is long and bloody, in which Derli dies twice. The first, he is raised by the Oinodaemon with substantially more corruption (making him more warlock than paladin and giving him a terrifying appearance), and the second he is revived by clone-Derli taking his place by absorbing his soul through the Blade of Greed. Derli rips off the head of the dragon after Zil’dejin wounds it to near-death.
The party rests for a moment. Zil’dejin has suffered a concussion and a broken arm, Derli is frighteningly corrupted, and both Rilic and Zil’dejin have sustained some psychological damage from the brainstealer dragon’s psychic intrusions. While they rest, they hear the Grav Tubes activate, and several mind flayers appear, called by Verioth’s psychic death-scream.
Therendor 1, 1001 YK
Zil’dejin arrives in the ulitharid’s quarters just as the door is opening to begin Iadoes’ “operation.” Time then appears to skip forward, and Iadoes is no longer in the room, while the party has only vague recollections of him being there in the first place. Further, the door that opened when the operation was to begin is nowhere to be seen. The ulitharid at first denies Iadoes’ existence but, on realizing that whatever he attempted to do did not completely succeed, acknowledges that there may have been a “hypothetical tiefling” who will become “somewhat less of a tiefling” after the operation. He tells the party that the effects will be temporary, and that they will have him back soon enough, but Zil’dejin demands his return. He attempts to open the door where it once was and realizes that the wall where it originally stood is illusory, and that the door is still there. Rilic is able to see through the illusion, and guides Zil’dejin to forcefully open the door while the ulitharid watches.
Beyond the door is a very small room with a bloody table and a fierce-looking (but inactive) construct covered in surgical implements of various kinds. Zil’dejin asks the ulitharid to transfer images of the operation into his mind, and sees flashes of a gruesome procedure involving dismemberment and reassembly of limbs, the extraction and modification of Iadoes’ brain, and the replacement of all parts where they belong… more or less. He then sees images of Iadoes being taken away in some kind of pod.
Quasator attempts to change the topic by demanding the reason they are on his ship. They explain that they want the sages back, but Quasator insists that the Sequencer cannot be disrupted. He offers them the return of Nimozaran the Green‘s brain if they perform a service for him: clearing a rival faction of mind flayers from the pyramid’s laboratory, where the cloning device is kept. He will not elaborate on who these mind flayers are and refuses to say the name of his enemies, but he tells them that the laboratory is on the 9th floor. The party reluctantly agrees and goes to the cargo deck to await the Nautiloid’s docking at the moon — apparently, they were stunned for several hours during the “operation,” and the ship has traveled a considerable distance in that time.
Back in the cargo bay, the clones are, in Quasator’s words, “destabilizing.” Mikhal’s clone has smashed his head into the wall repeatedly claiming he is “on a quest,” Morgue’s has died by carving the words “Kill Morgue” into his flesh until he bled out, Typhus’ by spontaneous combustion, Garmeth’s by some sort of aneurysm after being convinced the floor was eating him, and Lucan’s by suicide. The clones of Cecil, Lythanis, and Stahlstrauss still stand, as does Derli’s, and these join the party as the vessel docks with one of the Nautiloid’s “tentacles” attaching to Vult’s pyramid. As they pass through the tube of flesh, Cecil begins to exhibit distress and regret over “nagging the dwarf to death,” and breaks open the tentacle, ejecting himself outside the ship and onto Vult’s surface. Several mind flayers are taken with him until Stahlstrauss moves to hold the gap shut, insisting everyone else proceed.
They leave the tube of flesh and enter through a glass-like tunnel, witnessing for a moment a huge pyramidal structure of glass and steel capped with a huge blue crystal against the field of stars. They enter and are met with mind flayers, who hold them where they are until Quasator arrives with an accompaniment of new slaves from the lowest deck of the vessel. The lowest floor of the pyramid appears to be some sort of residential area, containing (by Quasator’s account) six separate districts of mostly-identical buildings, which are squat, hexagonal structures, most of which are only a single floor. Zil’dejin nearly snaps on the mind flayers as the slaves are brought to a district apparently reserved for slaves, but resists. Quasator informs them that they must proceed upwards, and tells them they must go to the administrative district, found on the opposite end of this level. He gives them a choice: pass through the Custodians’ districts, or pass through the slave district and “cafeteria.” Zil’dejin decides he does not want to kill all the mind flayers (yet), and to save his sanity the party agrees to go through the so-called Custodians’ district, despite warnings of danger by Quasator. Before they leave, he gives them two strange devices apparently meant to inject the user with a faintly luminous blue fluid. Zil’dejin and original Derli each take one. They then meet with an escort of two mind flayers and leave the district through an iris-door controlled with a glass control panel activated by one of the illithids.
In the next district, they take a complicated path, apparently to avoid traps set by the Custodians Quasator mentioned. Though they are told to be stealthy (and Rilic is just that), Zil’dejin and Derli ignore the warnings and proceed at full tilt, attracting the attention of the Custodians and prompting an ambush. The Custodians appear to be elves or at least related to them, though they are completely hairless and augmented with magic technology in their own bodies, much like Zan-kyri. They wield “force lances” which blast them from the rooftops, so the party takes the fight to them. Notable highlights of the combat include clone-Derli launching classic Derli with his shield to the rooftop, Zil’dejin forcing the temporary surrender of several custodians, and the “Derli bomb” in which Zil’dejin drops Derli into their enemies while he launches a spell that appears as a giant golden hammer, shattering one of the buildings and blasting the area with gold fire. When the fight has ended, the party moves on with the mind flayers, who emerge from hiding to continue leading them.
As they are about to enter the second Custodian district they are ambushed again, though this time the Custodians seem primarily interested in the illithids. They kill one, and then to curry favour with them, Zil’dejin knocks out the other mind flayer (which is soon after killed by the Custodians). The Custodians then order them to follow, and though they are not able to understand the words, the party understands the gesture. They follow into the second district and into one of the buildings, where they meet the apparent leader of the Custodians, Yaun Vax. Yaun Vax possesses some kind of magitech translator, and speaks with the party. He tells them he can escort them to the laboratory if they slay the leader of the illithids, a creature named Verioth the Voiceless who dwells on the second level of the pyramid. Verioth, Vax explains, is less interested in what happens above and maintains a strong interest in the “Furnace,” found in the basement levels of the pyramid. The Custodians know little about the Furnace, however, or at least they will not share much, except that they are forbidden from entering it. The party agrees to defeat it, though Yaun Vax repeatedly warns them that Verioth is incredibly strong.
The Custodians take the party to the administrative district, where a dozen or so glass tubes rise up through the ceiling a couple dozen feet above. They refer to these as “Grav Tubes.” The party is prompted to enter and levitate up to the next floor, which also appears residential but with larger and nicer buildings. Here, clone-Derli has some sort of seizure and goes catatonic while clutching his head. Soon after, they re-encounter the missing Lythanis clone, who is covered in blood. Classic Derli speaks with him while Zil’dejin and Rilic hide in empty buildings with an unconscious clone-Derli. Lythanis warns that “it is coming” and pleads with Derli to hide, but he refuses to do so.
An immense creature resembling a dragon with the head of an illithid comes into view, speaking in Derli’s mind to identify itself as Verioth. While interacting with the creature, Verioth reveals that he has a rivalry with a “lunar dragon” named Tsaokeckos in the Furnace, and will permit the party to ascend to the upper levels if they defeat the dragon. Derli refuses repeatedly, and though he is offered a chance to leave with his life (and that of his companions, which Verioth can evidently sense despite their hidden positions), he continues to refuse and chooses instead to fight the brainstealer dragon.
What ensues is a relatively long and difficult battle, lasting several tense minutes. Early in the combat, Zil’dejin charges the dragon, but Verioth knocks him away with a powerful swipe of its tail, breaking Zil’dejin’s arm. Zil’dejin responds by cutting off its tail. Soon after, Verioth entangles Derli and extracts his brain, killing the dwarf outright and sending him back to Gehenna in Mabar, where he speaks again with the Oinodaemon. The Oinodaemon offers to raise him from the dead, but claims the price will be “extremely high.” Derli demands to know what the price is, but the Oinodaemon claims he cannot ask that question. Derli sighs and says that his “journey is not over,” and the Oinodaemon raises him, but not before replacing all of his extremities with limbs like his arm, turning his skin to an ashy tone, replacing his teeth with fangs and his tongue with something like that of a serpent, and replacing his eyes with golden orbs. Derli is changed before the eyes of Zil’dejin and Rilic (as this happens in the space of seconds in the mortal world), and steps back into combat. He is less paladin than Hexblade now, distancing himself further from his mortal soul and his oath to his god with the latest resurrection. He must now sustain himself with the eating of souls, but can physically see gold and wealth with his new eyes through a certain volume of material.
They are repeatedly assaulted by blasts of psychic power that alter Zil’dejin’s mind, making him somewhat more paranoid, and also temporarily fracture Rilic’s psyche, compelling him to touch random objects. The hurricane-like wings from the creatures wings additionally keep knocking them back, eventually knocking Zil’dejin unconscious with a concussion.
Soon after, Verioth lifts Rilic off the ground in its tentacles and claws Derli several times, but before it can extract Rilic’s brain, the counterfeit mage escapes. Derli attempts to shift his axe into a larger weapon and prepares to leap onto the dragon’s back to execute it, but Verioth instead grabs Derli and again kills the dwarf, dropping the body to the ground. Rilic attempts to flee, stopping briefly to inject Zil’dejin with the stimulant given to them by Quasator, bringing him temporarily back to consciousness. Verioth demands their surrender, ordering them to become his thralls, but they adamantly refuse (though clone-Lythanis suggests they do so). Verioth prepares to kill them but is repelled, and Zil’dejin is able to cut the dragon down to an inch of its life, partially assisted by his ring to turn back time and correct a deflected blow (during which time he sees a strange black silhouette appearing to watch him until the rewinding is complete) before clone-Derli appears and grabs Derli’s Blade of Greed, transferring Derli’s soul into himself and effectively reviving Derli again, at the sacrifice of his own life. Derli drops the axe and steps forward, ripping the head off of Verioth with his bare hands.
After the party takes a moment to regroup, they hear the Grav Tubes activate as more mind flayers appear in panicked response to the psychic death-cry of Verioth…