“Mr. Gaeta, spin up the FTL drive for a series of blind jumps . . .”
Brianne Byderath offered to teleport the party to the Warlock’s Crypt if they were insistent upon following Artor’s lead to solving their dragon eye orb karma problem. She also provided a few warnings regarding the risks of looking for and dealing with the ancient, powerful, and insane Larloch, but the party decided to go anyway.
They quickly started to question that decision when they arrived outside the Warlock’s Crypt. A veritable city teeming with undead “life” nestled between the Troll Bark Forest and the Troll Hills, south along the Sword Coast near Baulder’s Gate, the Warlock’s Crypt was anything but a welcoming sight. As they hid outside the circular city wall, the party witnessed undead creatures like an enormous NightWalker milling about. They decided their best approach would be to send a message, by carrier raven, to the tallest tower in the city in hopes that they might contact Larloch without actually having to set foot inside the Crypt. In a stroke of insight that might have also belied their simple intentions of talking, they decided to attach a scrying pin to the raven along with their message, so they could communicate with Larloch should he be interested in hearing their plea for help with gate travel to the Clockwork Nirvana of Mechanus.
The pin gave them a fleeting glimpse of what may be the oldest and most powerful being on Faerûn studying and making notes from a scroll, before Larloch the lonely, lunatic Lich Lord launched their little raven from the lofty ledge only to land limply at their location in a smoldering but salvageable lump.
Moments later a lich lieutenant of Lord Larloch materialized, musing why mere mortals mustered the motivation to message his mysterious master.
The party explained their intentions, excessively name-dropping Artor Mortis, whose mention seemed to provoke a strong but not necessarily desired reaction, and as they hummed the undead song they had learned from Artor, the lich utilized a telepathic web to consult with Larloch before ultimately granting the party’s request, for reasons that they may never know.
In an instant they found themselves transported to another plane of existence, where they stood on what appeared to be a vast metal plain that extended as far as they could see. The sterile and cold place left the more chaotic members of the party feeling rather ill. The horrifying realization was dawning on all of them that they were now very far from home and had traveled with a one-way ticket. Alexander took to the sky on their dragon mount figurine, and quickly ascertained that they were on an enormous metal gear miles in diameter, slowly rotating, and that what could only be described as a massive metallic anthill fortress proved to be the only significant landmark in the vicinity.
Grateful they weren’t dropped on a smaller gear or torn in the teeth of several interlocking ones, the party decided to head to the fortress and upon approach, discovered formian guards and saw sufficient formian foot traffic to assume the hive was home to many hundreds of such creatures.
With surprising confidence that lawful creatures would have no reason to attack them unprovoked, they decided to talk to the guards and ask for directions or information about the magical orb they sought. With the help of a comprehend languages spell cast by a Karina, and a common-speaking myrmarch senior formian who happened to be conversing with the guards at the time, they were able to communicate.
The guards had very little information, and even less that they were willing to share, but the party was able to glean some important details: the queen of this colony was actively collecting magical artifacts, and so they might have the orb. Further, though the party couldn’t quite determine what it was, there seemed to be something wrong within the colony, perhaps an ongoing formian civil war. They developed a working theory that perhaps the orb they were looking for was causing these formians bad luck, and perhaps they could negotiate a trade for it, offering something of their own in exchange.
The formians indicated that their queen was uninterested in exchanges and simply took what she wanted, but the party wanted to speak to her in person and inquired about the circumstances under which the guards might allow that to happen. The guards said they would do so only if the party surrendered all of their weapons, equipment, and magical items to formian custody during such an audience, for the safety of their queen. The party debated the offer and attendant risks, decided to take some time circling the anthill and considering sneaking or fighting their way inside instead, had a hero’s feast from the boonbag, and then ultimately accepted the offer. They entrusted all of their possessions to the formian myrmarch upon his word of honor as a lawful creature that he would return their property. The party entered the hive under heavy formian escort.
No sooner had they wandered too deep into the bowels of the complex to hope to find their way out alone, then they heard the telepathic commands of the queen that they surrender or die, and either way she was claiming their magical items as her own. The party decided to fight, even completely unarmed, and the myrmarch who had given his promise that he would return their property (and who the party had affectionately nicknamed “Clickity-clack” because of the sound of his mandibles as he tried to convert his name into common) seemed to be having a crisis of conscience. The other formians immediately obeyed their queen and attacked the unarmed party. Alexander and Corwin were able to do some series damage unarmed, but Gofarian and Bren found themselves in an awkward situation, pleading with the myrmarch to help them.
Clickity-clack tossed the sack containing the party’s equipment back to them, and several of the formian guards tackled him as the party fought off a swarm of the creatures and Bren and Gofarian dug through the bag searching for their equipment, trying to find weapons and untangle a shield from several cloaks.
Clickity-clack took a formian spear to his chest, and the formian guards started tearing out the corridor supports in an effort to collapse the tunnel on top of the party! Karina healed and saved the myrmarch, who apologized to them for the actions of his queen, gave them rough directions to reach a prison part of the hive, and told them to run and find another myrmarch there who may help them, one that they could recognize because he had no antennae. He then plunged the spear back into his own chest, driving it right through his heart.
The party ran, carrying the bag of their own gear, as the corridor collapsed around them. They hurried to the area the myrmarch had described, and found themselves in a prison, with an antennae-less myrmarch locked in a cell. They slammed and barred the door behind them and began donning armor while talking to the pitiful creature, who told his story:
Once a great warrior and leader to his people, this formian had begun to suspect that an evil artifact was corrupting his queen, driving her on a mad quest to collect all the magical artifacts she could. She was no longer concerned with the laws and order of the colony, the lives of her people, or the expansion and survival that were the way of the formians. She was obsessed with accumulating objects, sending out drones to collect rather than build new colonies, and her people were suffering, stagnating, and slowly dying. Though sworn to absolute loyalty, he eventually began to doubt whether she was really his queen any longer, she was so completely controlled by the evil object that was altering her alignment. So he decided to take action. He found a magical item he called a “rod of return” that would send things back to the “place they considered home,” which he hoped would work on this evil object (a skull), because it seemed to have an intelligence. He cut his own antennae to sever his connection from the hive mind so the queen would not stop him. He planned to fight his way into the treasure vault, intent to send the skull back to its place of origin, but was unable to defeat the guards and was thrown into prison, where his life has only been spared because he was once a beloved hero, and so that he can suffer the shame and guilt of his mutiny and missing antennae.
Perhaps the greatest injustice, though, was that the party quickly dubbed him “Clickity-clack 2.” Alexander busted him out of prison with a shattering utterance, and the party, now equipped, re-opened the door to fight another legion of formians, with much less trouble given that they now had their full gear.
The myrmarch led them through the complex to the treasure vault via an indirect route to avoid any guards still connected to the hive mind. Fortunately, most guards had moved to the queen’s chamber to protect her, so the party met little resistance at the vault itself. The formian army was then alerted to their location, though, so they had to act fast. Corwin picked the lock, and they ran inside, locking and barring the vault behind them.
Clickity-clack 2 quickly located his mystical rod of return and the cursed skull, sending it back to wherever it had come from and giving him the solace he had sought for so long, that perhaps his colony might have a chance to survive, regardless of what then became of him.
The adventurers, on the other hand, were focused on a terrifying construct guardian that looked like a clockwork centaur resting on top of a small chest. When they approached, it rose and spoke with them. It was the very “inevitable” that had hunted down Jerimond for the cosmic crime of creating a second “outlet” orb to dispense the negative consequences of the good luck generating from the black dragon eye orb onto Corril Bynderath’s enemies. The forces of justice in Mechanus had created and programmed this inevitable and given it a magical “void box” to contain the negative energy orb. The void box blocked the functioning of the negative energy outlet orb, causing all of that negative energy to build up in reserve in the lives of those blessed by the “good” orb, and thus causing them to suffer the consequences of their good fortune whenever the orb was no longer with them, a fair result that the forces of Mechanus found acceptable.
The party tried to convince the inevitable to give them the box and let them return with it and put the two orbs together into the box, or perhaps help them acquire a second void box. The inevitable was uninterested in any of the party’s plans or proposals, however. It had had a sole mission, which was to collect the orb, place it in the box, and guard it. Mechanus no longer cared what happened to the other orb, since the scales were in an acceptable form of balance, but the inevitable was not about to let the party take the box anywhere. Even if they promised to keep the scales in balance and just solve the negative karmic energy build-up problem of their own, the inevitable had no reason to risk the possibility that they might be lying, might fail to do so before someone else took the orb away from them, or anything else might happen. It simply was unwilling to let the box leave Mechanus, and was more than content to remain in an evil formian queen’s treasure vault since it was the inevitable’s home plane and offered plenty of additional layers of defense for the magical orb.
The party debated leaving empty handed, since at least now they had new information and ideas about how they might craft a void box of their own for the other orb. Corwin was in favor of the idea, but was out voted, and the party decided that they really needed to collect the orb and box because it was unlikely they would ever be back and might need it if other solutions failed. They decided the inevitable was following set programming and would never deviate, but they could take the risk that Mechanus would not hunt them down if they did in fact keep the balance of justice with whatever solution they found for the two orbs. They engaged the inevitable in combat, who revealed two spiked electrically charged chains from its hands and fought ferociously in defense of the void box and orb. Facing its damage absorption and fast healing, they were fighting a losing cause until Karina cast an alignment-detecting spell and found a chaotic long sword among the other treasures in the vault. With Corwin flanking, Gofarian casting powerful spells, Alexander firing off overcharged Eldritch blasts, and Bren now able to deal out some serious punishment as well, they were able to bring down the inevitable just as the formian army reached the vault and started beating down the door.
As Karina picked up the void box and Clickity-clack 2 rushed over to strike each member of the party with his rod of return to send them home, they were overcome with a moment of greed and decided to raid what they could of the treasure vault. Perhaps it was their brief exposure to the very cursed skull that had plagued the colony, but each of them grabbed a handful of magical items as Clickity-clack 2 invoked the power of the rod to send them all back to Treefall. Their final sight of Mechanus was seeing the formian army descend upon the myrmarch hero who had sacrificed everything to save his people . . .