Thread: The Fall of Civilization
Saturday, 19th December, 2009, 07:12 PM #131
The Grand Druid (Lvl 20)
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Waghalter (Lvl 7)
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The Grand Druid (Lvl 20)
- Join Date
- Jan 2002
- Shingletown, CA 96088
ø Ignore the Jester
Whatever the freakish, elf-like creatures are, they move with impressive speed, slashing at our heroes with the spurs on the back of their hands. These spurs prove to be fairly deadly; but when the greyish-silver creatures manage to flank or otherwise gain combat advantage, they become significantly more deadly. Worse yet, the things are able to blink out of existence and then reappear a few moments later, and- as Vann-La has already learned- when they reappear in the same place as one of our heroes, the consequences are painful for both of them.
The fight is on-again, off-again as the two creatures appear and disappear over and over again. Two more of the things enter the room, drawn by the sounds of the combat, and our heroes are suddenly having twice the fun with the damned elusive creatures.
Yet while the strange elves are present, our heroes do manage to land a few blows here and there, wounding the four creatures. Soon Vann-La, angry and frustrated, starts to use a new tactic: when one of the creatures vanishes, she moves to its last location and waits for it to reappear.
This strategy, while fairly effective, is also painful.
However, Torinn and Heimall are there to help absorb the worst of it. With their healing and inspiring words to help make the damage manageable, a few more of our heroes start to do the same.
Finally, the tide has turned decisively in their favor! But, sensing the danger, one of the elf-things instead elects to flee. Our heroes, still bogged down with the other two surviving enemies, cannot pursue quickly enough, and the creature escapes. The other two, meanwhile, are finally cut down.
“They didn’t bleed,” Heimall notices at once.
”Maybe they are some kind of undead,” Torinn says, “but if they are, I’ve never heard of them.”
The party rests for a few moments, recouping their strength and doing some healing. They then send Cook down the passage that the second pair of bad guys had emerged from. He reports back almost immediately: “Just around the corner is a room with a most clever dwarven innovation in it. My people sometimes enclose a room with a heated pool of water in it. Both the water and the steam are very soothing, and you go in there for purposes of relaxation. It is called a sauna. There are no exits from it, either.”
“It might be a good place to rest,” Heimall suggests.
The party goes into the sauna and conducts a thorough search. It is as Cook told them: a steamy room, about 20’ by 30’, dominated by a shallow, hot pool of water. Some discussion ensues about the merits of resting in the sauna versus spending precious reagents to use another linked portal to return to the circle outside of Fandelose. At this point, they are close enough to the circle that they arrived in that it would be easy to use it to transition home; but, as Torinn points out, that won’t always be true.
The party collectively shrugs. No need for a final decision until the time comes, after all. They return to exploring.
There is still another exit from the room in which they fought the strange (possibly undead) elf-things: a short passageway ending in a door. They throw it open, and find themselves looking in at an empty, disused classroom. The room is full of chairs that sit alongside long tables. The professor’s desk is at the head of the classroom. There is a large chalkboard covering most of the southern wall, and upon it are sketches of several strange-looking creatures: a sort of lumpy, trilaterally symmetrical creature, shaped vaguely like an inverted pyramid with three arms and legs, whose mouth is stuck on the top of its head; a more-or-less tube-shaped creature with fins and eyes all around its circumference, with little boring claws sticking out from the sides; a red-hot worm; and a humanoid creature consisting completely of stone. A few very basic notes are under each- the first is called a xorn, and the notes indicate that it eats metal and gems. The second creature, a khargra, “swims through earth like a fish”. The notes beneath the worm call it a thoqqua, and note that it is a combination of fire and earth, and that it can burn its way through solid bedrock. The final creature is apparently an earth archon- which, according to the notes, is a “Primordial elemental soldier from the early epochs of the multiverse”.
The party searches the area. The desk proves to hold a bunch of academic records as well as a smooth piece of blue and white rock. This does not appear to have any special properties, but our heroes take it nonetheless.
Time to start opening doors.
The classroom has a total of five doors leading into it. The party came from one; they open the door to its left. This opens on a long hallway leading off into the dark.
“We might as well look behind the other doors first,” Cook suggests.
The next leftmost door opens onto a small office. A plaque on the desk reads “Professor Hammerhead.” The room has a small chair and desk, but much of the area is hemmed in by shelves covered in rocks and stones, each meticulously labeled. One shelf holds a small collection of books, which Ligir goes to examine while everyone else looks at the desk and the stones.
“Hmm,” Cook says, “I do not think that there is much value in these stones, compared to their weight. We might be able to get twenty gold for them, but...”
Heimall nods. “It’s not really worth the effort.”
The desk holds mostly more academic papers, including grade books, and a few more stones and papers about stones.
“This is interesting,” Iggy remarks, from the area of the books. “These are mostly geology, but this one is about some supposed elemental plane of earth. I mean, only earth.”
“Weird,” says Torinn.
Hkatha rubs his chin. “I guess that must be an antiquated, disproven theory.”
“Yeah,” nods Iggy. “But you’d think they would have known it wasn’t right. Even back in those days, they knew how to plane travel.”
“Weird,” Torinn says again.
The next door opens to a 20’ square room with only two noteworthy features: a lever, and strange metal tracks on the walls in the four corners.
“A lever!” exclaims the dragonborn.
“Don’t pull it yet,” Heimall cries.
“I won’t- but I will pull it eventually.” Torinn grins a toothy grin.
The lever is in the upward position; the party examines it closely, but cannot tell what it does. After some debate, everyone else steps out of the room while Torinn remains inside and pulls the lever downward.
The door swings closed and locks.
Torinn tenses, but nothing further seems to happen. He easily switches the lever back up, and the door unlocks and swings open.
“Huh,” he says, puzzled.
The party discusses the strange lever. “We could all stay inside, and see if we can tell what’s happening,” suggests Torinn.
“Before we do that, I will try to disable the door,” Cook says. “That way we have a way to escape.” The dwarf sidles up to the door and examines it for the closing mechanism. Soon he is working merrily on it with his picks and tools. A few moments later, he announces, “The door will no longer close.”
The party- albeit with some misgivings- throws the lever again.
Nothing visible happens.
“Wait for it,” Heimall urges.
“Hey!” exclaims Vann-La. “Look!”
“What is it?”
“The room is moving downward, but very slowly.” She points at the entryway. “There is a very slight lip there now.”
Everybody looks, and she’s right. They stare fixedly for a few moments, and can detect their downward motion.
“We shouldn’t do this yet,” says Heimall. “We’ve barely begun exploring this place, and we don’t even know where we are. We’re underground on Tirchond somewhere; we could be miles, or even hundreds of miles, from Arawn.”
“Good point.” Torinn throws the lever back up, and the room very gradually rises back up. “But at least we know the way down, now.”
The final door out of the classroom leads to another hallway. They close it and return to the first door that they checked. Vann-La had seen another door down that hall, and so it seems ever so slightly more promising.
That door, placed in the right-hand wall only a few feet down, proves to lead only to an old storage closet holding brooms, mops and other cleaning supplies. With a shrug, they continue on.
Ahead, the hall opens into a room. As they approach, the chamber lights up, as if by magic.
“Whoa,” says Heimall, “what is all that?”
“It looks almost like an art gallery,” suggests Hkatha.
Indeed- but what strange art.
Three large alcoves each have their own display; four more displays are set about the floor. The first alcove has a plaque that reads, “Dwarven art tends to be long-lasting and practical. To a dwarf, excellent engineering is art. Dwarves excel at working with metal or, especially, stone, and include great works of art as part of massive bridges, stone cathedrals or defensive works.” The objects on display include bricks fashioned to appear as a series of overlapping hammers and anvils, a shield with a fierce dwarven face upon it whose eyes are set with chips of granite and whose beard is beaten iron, a crossbow with exceptionally fine engineering, composed entirely of stone (even the string!), a mug etched with gems and gold on one face and a fierce dwarven thane on the other and a mosaic scene of a dwarf hero slaying a dragon, made all of chips of stone of different colors.
The second alcove has clearly been defiled and obliterated by magic. Fused wreckage is all that remains, with several objects collapsed into ruin as if they were of extreme age. In other areas, piles of dust are all that remain.
“Someone,” says Hkatha, “was a very harsh critic.”
Ligir leans down and stirs the dust with his finger. “This looks like it was magically disintegrated, whatever it was.”
“That’s pretty powerful magic.”
The third and final alcove is dedicated to kuo-toa art and has clearly been looted. A plaque reads, “Kuo-toan art is usually religious in nature. Almost all kuo-toans revere Blibdoolpoolp, their dark goddess of underwater evil. Thus, kuo-toan art shows themes of the ancient glory days when they ruled the seas, their vengeance upon the creatures of the upper world, their return to power, and, of course, the cruelty and majesty of their goddess.” Most of the display is gone, not destroyed, but removed or stolen. Only one item remains, a giant sheet of polished rock 3’ thick and 10’ on a side- it nearly fills the back wall of the alcove- carved with glyph-like images of evil kuo-toan armies overrunning both aboleth and sea elves and returning to the surface world, while their weird lobster-headed goddess Blibdoolpoolp gloats in the background.
The four displays on the floor are weirder. The first is a curved piece of bone almost 15’ in length that has been smoothed and worn with strange bumps and whorls. The plaque next to it reads, “Aboleth art is usually incomprehensible to non-aboleth. Furthermore, those with active psychic abilities sometimes find aboleth art to induce megrims.”
The second display is on the east wall and consists of two poles of bone lashed together with skulls atop them, forming a ‘gate’ shape. A skull with the lower jaw distended downwards, painted in vivid red, tops the display. The accompanying plaque reads, “Grimlock art is strange, as they are blind and yet it incorporates vivid pigments. The answer to this mystery is simple: the pigments, while nearly scentless to elven or dwarven noses, have a very strong scent to the grimlocks. The vivid color is a simple coincidence.”
The third floor display includes some crude dolls, as well as wooden shields splashed with bloody, six-fingered hands. The plaque reads, “Goblin art is usually not very sophisticated, though there are exceptions. Shields are usually painted with the clan’s image, such as the Bloody Eye or Broken Tooth. However, there are exceptions, such as the Six-Fingered Hand shields seen here. The Six-Fingered Hand was a group of various types of humanoids that joined forces to fight against the elves and dwarves of Tirchond, but their alliance could not outlive their leader’s destruction.”
“What the hell?” says Heimall.
“That sounds like Arawn is already dead,” Vann-La says.
“More weirdness. This place is kind of weird,” Torinn declares.
The final display is a large piece of stone, flat on the ground, that has been artfully sculpted. Most of the sculpture is abstract, adding strange patters or scales to the stone; in ten places, little miniature beholders have been sculpted. The plaque reads, “Powerful eye tyrants use their disintegrating eye rays to sculpt the stone around them into pleasing shapes. They can thus configure their lair to look like whatever they desire. In combination with their ability to fly, this makes beholders VERY DANGEROUS opponents in the field. Even in the case of a neutralized beholder held in captivity, such as we have here, one should always maintain a posture of EXTREME CAUTION when dealing with a beholder.”
“Such as we have here?” Heimall says. “They have a beholder captive here??”
“That’s not good,” remarks Vann-La, “since this place seems abandoned and haunted by monsters. And something disintegrated the art in that alcove.”
Next Time: Our heroes keep exploring... and their worries have just begun!
The Grand Druid (Lvl 20)
- Join Date
- Jan 2002
- Shingletown, CA 96088
ø Ignore the Jester
Our heroes have gleaned all that they can from the art gallery. There are yet more exits from it, and they have not explored everything behind them yet.
“This place must be pretty big,” remarks Iggy.
Cook nods. “Oi, my people sometimes build complexes that fill entire mountains- and this place is dwarf work.”
The party returns to the classroom that they had previously seen. They still have one door that leads to an unexplored area to check. While they are there, they stop to eat lunch, since there are an abundance of chairs and desks. It makes for a comfortable meal; while they are there, Vann-La pokes through more of Professor Hammerhead’s papers and notices that the last entries in any of the dates material are from roughly ten years ago.
“So this place was some kind of college,” muses Hkatha, “and something happened to it a decade ago that shut it down.”
“Yeah,” says Iggy, “but what kind of college is underground?”
“A dwarf one,” answers Cook.
Once they are ready, the party moves on. The final door out of the classroom leads to a hall that opens onto a large area whose far and side walls are unworked. The natural wall is striated in colors, with nodules of crystal and the nubs of stalactites growing from the ceiling near it. Water trickles down from the ceiling 20’ overhead in many places.
Iggy draws and fires.
Near the center of the chamber are three creatures that the party recognizes as xorn from the sculptures in Professor Hammerhead’s office. Up on a ledge 10’ above floor level is a creature that looks more or less like a walking boulder. It is this that Ligir fires at, and the bullet hits. The creature gives a surprised grunt.
”Galeb duhr!” he cries. And launches a fireball into the xorn.
“Right,” sighs Hkatha, “let’s make sure we piss them all off so that we can’t talk to any of them.”
”There’s another one,” says Vann-La, “on the ledge at the far end of the room. But I can’t tell what it is- it’s low to the ground.” And she draws her sword and charges forward alongside Summer and Torinn. They start to duel the strange, trilateral monsters; but the elf keeps one eye on the other ledge.
Rocks start to slide down it- a swarm of rocks? wonders Vann-La- vibrating and rattling. They roll towards Vann-La, and she can feel the ground vibrating around it. “It’s some kind of living tremor!” she cries, and as it moves near her, the trembling ground slides beneath her feet. She pinwheels her arms and manages to avoid being moved too far; but even so, she can feel the shaking ground all around her, and realizes that it will be very difficult to move too close to it.
Meanwhile, two of the xorn each take a bite at Torinn. Each misses. The third one seems to try to bite his armor, but it also misses.* “Hey!” he cries out. “Watch out, they eat armor!”
Summer thunder steps over to the living tremor and attacks. Sudden frost erupts in the air around her as she assumes the form of winter’s herald, jabbing her spear into the pile of rocks. “I hurt it,” she announces. “It doesn’t seem resistant to weaponry- or cold!”
The galeb duhr, meanwhile, remains on its perch. It gestures, and a great hand erupts from the earth in front of Heimall. The galeb duhr clenches its fist, and the earthen hand grabs the warlord. He struggles valiantly, but every time he frees one limb, a great finger of rock folds over it. All he can do is curse.
Vann-La turns and charges towards the galeb duhr, rushing up to the ledge. She engages it with her sword, and Heimall cries, “Vann-La- git!” She strikes again; Heimall keeps struggling to get free to no avail. “Git!” he cries again.
With Vann-La gone for the moment, Torinn finds himself the only one attacking the xorn. At least Summer is close enough to soak up some of their attacks, the dragonborn cleric thinks wryly.
Indeed: one of the xorns bites her, while the others attack him, each making three attacks- one with each of its claws. He replies with a righteous brand, while Summer unleashes another frenzied attack on the tremor that knocks it askew.
To top it off, Heimall finally manages to break loose of the earth hand, which recedes back into the ground. The galeb duhr is clearly not happy with this, nor is it happy with Vann-La in its face. It tucks itself into a ball and rolls down off the ledge, bouncing into Torinn with a loud Crunch!
Meanwhile the living tremor manages to shake the ground sufficiently to knock Summer from her feet. Vann-La rushes in, but not too close, and then tosses her head and cries, “Come and get it!”
The xorn, tremor and galeb duhr all advance towards the blue-skinned elf.
BOOM! Iggy tosses a force orb right into the middle of the bunched-up bad guys, and Heimall calls out, “Surround the foe!”
The party has achieved a sudden and deadly advantage. Their wizard hammers the group of earth creatures with spells, while Vann-La, Summer, Torinn and Heimall all rain blows on the creatures. The galeb duhr falls first, followed by the living tremor. The xorn elect to flee down into the ground, but Vann-La even manages to slay one of them with a deadly blow as it tries to escape. The other two, however, get away.
“That tremor thing was tough,” Vann-La exclaims.
The party looks around the chamber for anything of worth or interest. There are a lot of stalagmites, but nothing else. A second passage leads from the room, and they follow it to where it turns left. At the elbow of the corridor is a door. They first follow the initial hall around, finding that it connects with the magic circle room; then, opening the door, they find two passages, one to the right and one heading straight ahead. They choose to move forward first.
The hall spills out into a large, deep alcove in a larger room to the right. However, it appears that the larger area has sunken into a mudpit. The party cannot see the bottom from their location.
Summer edges forward to get a closer look, the others moving close behind. Torinn strides to the edge just after her.
The bottom is filled with muddy water. The warden studies it for a moment, and suddenly a large head pops up- and lets out a terrifying, ear-splitting roar.
“Aargh!!” cries Summer, reeling.**
Then what the party at first took to be a simple muddy rock starts to writhe, and tentacles lash out, one grabbing Torinn most forcefully.
“That’s a roper!” shouts Heimall, appalled.
“Not for long,” Vann-La says, and hacks at the tentacle holding onto Torinn. It jerks and withdraws; below, the roper snarls angrily.
“What’s that other thing?” asks Torinn, casting weapon of the gods on Vann-La’s sword.
“It’s a dire bunyip,” Summer groans, shaking her head-
And it roars again. This time, Vann-La, Summer and Torinn are all caught by the roar, each screaming in pain.*** The roper lashes out at Vann-La with a pair of tentacles, bloodying her and dragging her into the pit. “Uh oh!” she cries. “A little help?” She starts up her rain of steel, and as the dire bunyip lunges at her and attempts a drowning worry, she instead manages to pull off a disruptive strike that spoils its attack!
Summer, meanwhile, is barely still standing. She holds back, catching her second wind, and Torinn, recognizing a good time to use one of his newer powers, casts mass cure light wounds. Thus bolstered, the party starts to strike back, largely leaping into the pit to fight in terrain that heavily favors the enemy.**** It is what they have to do, though, if they don’t want to just feed the monsters Vann-La.
A terrific struggle ensues, with the dire bunyip tearing into our heroes, trying to force them under the water to drown and ducking under the water to escape the worst of their blows. The roper lashes and bites at our heroes, tearing open great wounds. The water and mud turn red with all the blood being spilled.
But as always, Heimall and Torinn keep the party members on their feet, and soon Torinn lashes his chain out one last time at the dire bunyip, smashing its head and brains to bits.
The roper, clearly seeing which way things are going, cries, “I yield!”
“It speaks?” exclaims Torinn, swinging at it.
“Apparently so,” Vann-La says, as she smashes it across the eye with the flat of her blade. The roper sags, unconscious.
“You didn’t kill it?”
“It yielded,” the elf explains, “and we need information. We don’t know what’s going on here, where to find Arawn, or how to get out.”
“You’re going to trust that thing?” asks Iggy.
“No- but I am going to question it.”
“We have already shown that we can kick its ass,” Torinn points out. “When it wakes up, if it gives us any trouble, we’ll just kill it.”
“Fair enough,” nods Ligir.
The roper is very helpful when questioned. It tells the group that the dungeon they are in is called the Terran Undercollege, but that it has been a dangerous area out of so-called civilized control for about a decade. “There are two wizards that are fighting over this place, but I don’t know much about that,” it claims. “I came in from the Underdark, and the bunyip you slew came in separately, but we worked well as a team when it came to killing prey.”
What it tells them jives with what they already know, and even if they don’t learn much, the bit about the two wizards contesting the area is something.
“Do you know of the Six-Fingered Hand?” Heimall asks.
“Never mind.” Interesting. It seems that our concerns are not as widespread as we had assumed.
The party leaves the roper alive, and continues exploring.
*These are xorn of my design, from before the MM2 came out, and they have an attack that can damage or destroy your metal gear.
**That’s 56 points of aargh, to be precise. Oh, and have some dazed (save ends) with that, will you?
***53 points each this time. For the record, I just got lucky: the dire bunyip’s roar is a recharge 6 ability, and I rolled a 6 on round 1 (vs. round 0, the surprise round).
****Each mud pit square cost 3 squares of movement to enter unless you have swamp walk or a swim speed- neither of which our heroes had. The dire bunyip is all good in the water, and the roper doesn’t really need to move- it has a reach of 10, for Christ’s sake!
The Grand Druid (Lvl 20)
- Join Date
- Jan 2002
- Shingletown, CA 96088
ø Ignore the Jester
The other hallway quickly leads to doors and more passageways. Our heroes take to the right and find another bunch of the silver-skinned elf-things guarding a stairway up, alongside a terrible dwarven construct called a slaughterstone eviscerator. After a fierce battle, joined by a night hag from a neighboring room, the party overcomes their adversaries.
But it is a way up, and presumably out! The party heads up- but, to their disappointment, it leads merely to another dark chamber.
“Wait,” says Cook. “There is too much unexplored behind us. We should make an area safe in case we must rest here.”
This seems logical, so the party descends and goes back to the strange art gallery in order to follow the other passageway, one that they have not yet explored, exiting the chamber. This proves to cross over a large cavern below the passageway- it functions as a bridge. The ceiling is 10’ above the walkway, which is 40’ above the floor of the chamber itself, visible in the glow of Torinn’s sun rod. Bats hang above the party; below them, our heroes can hear the buzzing of strange, subterranean insect life. A rich rotten smell rises up from the lower area. Strange fungus grows abundantly on the floor of the cavern. A pool of water completes the chamber. Water drips down into it from the ceiling above.
The passage continues into the wall beyond the great cavern, and our heroes march out. After roughly another hundred feet, the passageway T’s; the right hand branch thrusts out about 10’ into another huge open chamber, and again the passage is located 40’ up in the air. Since it is so close (the left-hand passage turns right in the distance), the party steps out to the hallway’s final span and looks into the chamber.
Below, faintly lit by phosphorescent fungi, is a vast cavern. Milling restlessly around at the bottom is a mass of something... Torinn moves forward, casting light from the rod down below. It is a thick herd of bison-like beasts: rothe. The room is covered in fungus of all kinds. Moreover, half-devoured, rotting rothe corpses are spread throughout the room in about a dozen places.
“Cheerful,” comments Heimall.
Something in the shadows moves- and takes flight!
Suddenly the ground pitches, hurling those close to the end of the hallway to their feet and nearly tumbling them off the edge!
“What just happened?” exclaims Hkatha.
Vann-La cries, “Gargoyles!”
“Those aren’t gargoyles,” says Ligir, “those are margoyles! Except for that one wearing a cape- and I think it somehow made the ground quake!”
Indeed. The cape-wearing gargoyle hurls stone bolts at the party, and periodically it makes the ground twist and buck beneath them, trying to push them off the edge. The margoyles fly in and try to mash our heroes into the ground, attacking with tremendous fierceness. Both Shakgar and Heimall end up pitched down to the ground below, and the herd of rothe spooks and begins stampeding around them.
The fight is fraught with danger; the enemy can fly about the room, easily evading the party’s melee attacks. Even so, our heroes eventually prevail, slaying the gargoyle and margoyles. They take the cape- which Iggy, after a few moments, proclaims to be a cloak of resistance +4- and search the ledge that had been the lair of the monsters. There they find 1450 sp and 285 gp. Not bad for half an hour’s work!
“We should probably search down below as well,” comments Shakgar.
“All we’re going to find is dead rothe,” says Iggy.
“It’s worth a look,” opines Summer.
Their search actually turns up a secret door. “Told you so,” Shakgar says with a chuckle.
The secret door leads to a narrow passage that ends in another secret door. This opens on the floor of the other huge cavern that they passed over. So they return, then get back up on to the passageway and follow it back the other way.
The passage turns and empties into a room with a large number of beautiful crystal formations growing in it, resembling nothing so much as a bed of flowers. Then it connects to the night hag’s room.
“Now what?” wonders Summer.
“We can go up those stairs,” says Iggy.
“We still haven’t fully explored this level,” notes Vann-La.
“Do we need to?”
“Oi, before we do anything,” Cook declares, “we should freshen up. Iggy and Hkatha, do you not have the magical ability to remove the dirt and grime from us? Would it not be better if we smelled more pleasant?”
“Good point,” nods Hkatha. The two wizards use their prestidigitation to clean everyone up; only Shakgar does not seem refreshed by the act.
“Where,” wonders Torinn, “is Arawn? Do we need to go up- or down? Is he in this dungeon?”
The discussion resumes. Hkatha states, “If we go up, maybe we’ll be at the surface and will be able to tell more about what’s going on.”
“I bet he’s at the bottom of this place,” says Heimall.
“I wonder what this place was.”
Torinn cocks his head. “You know, it kind of reminds me of tales of Lester’s old School of Adventures. Maybe this whole place is a testing ground for adventurers.”
“It’s possible. A strange concept, but possible.” Iggy strokes his chin. “Why don’t we check and see whether the way up gets us anywhere? We know where it is, and it’s got to be faster than that elevator going down will be.”
“Let’s do something,” growls Shakgar.
Up the stairs it is, then. The party goes back to where they fought the slaughterstone eviscerator and its fellow guards and ascends. At the top, they find themselves in a 30’ square room. The walls resemble a concrete of soil, stone, clay and pebbles mixed together, along with bits of other stuff, including bones and tattered bits of leather.
“Ugh,” comments Torinn.
”This place has been reshaped by magic, I can sense it,” Iggy mutters. Torinn and Hkatha nod agreement. “And it seems... distasteful to me.”
Then, suddenly, the walls to either side bulge- and gruesome grey arms extrude from both of them! Rotten and foul, clearly not alive- a terrible stink now bubbling from the walls themselves-
“Ware the walls!” shouts Vann-La.
“They’re undead,” shouts Torinn. “So-called living walls!”
Something steps through each wall: a hulking abomination of fleshy parts sewn and bolted together.
“Crap,” moans Iggy. “Flesh golems.”
Next Time: Our heroes try to fight their way up!
The Grand Druid (Lvl 20)
- Join Date
- Jan 2002
- Shingletown, CA 96088
ø Ignore the Jester
Imagine the sight: a grotesque figure composed of mismatched body parts riveted together to make a hulking figure. One arm came, perhaps, from an ogre, while the other is scaly and clawed. Flesh golems- automatons, magical constructs energized by powerful dweomers. And behind them, from the horrific living walls, arms reach out, clawing, grasping, imploring; all the while the charnel stench gags our heroes and makes them want to vomit.
A grey arm locks onto Cook’s wrist. He shrieks in fear. “Oi, no!!”
Then another clamps on his ankle. They pull him towards the wall- and inside. His cries cut off.
“COOK!!” shouts Vann-La.
Others pummel Heimall and Torinn, and then the walls start to move inward, closing in on our heroes behind the golems.
“All right, you bastard!” the Kree warrior howls. “COME AND GET IT!!”
The enemies close, and she hacks about her with brutal efficiency, slicing all of them.
But there isn’t a drop of blood. None of the ghastly things are alive.
Heimall hollers, “Beat them to the ground!”
The party is a well-oiled machine. Walls? We don’t care if they look like walls. We’ll bowl them over just the same! In seconds, both walls and both golems are sprawling on the ground, and then our heroes attack with all their might. Cook manages to escape the grasp of the wall that has him in time to avoid a fate worse than death, and then our heroes thoroughly turn the tide.
Once they have the advantage, they are certainly not giving it back.
Soon their unliving foes have been slaughtered, but not without cost. All of them are wounded except for Summer. They gather about while Torinn and Heimall administer some healing, and then decide to look around a little. The chamber that they are in has a single exit (not counting the two alcoves that the golems were in, previously hidden by the living walls, or the stairs back down): a hallway that almost immediately branches into a four-way intersection. The right hand way ends in a door after about 20’; the left hand and forward paths each lead out of sight.
Summer says, “Let’s do the door first.” Vann-La nods. The two of them- in the lead- approach the door, intending to simply throw it open, but they find that it has a label on it, both in Dwarven and in Elven.
“CAUTION!” it reads, “Do not enter when equipment is in use! Always wear protective gear when operating equipment.”
“Interesting,” mutters Ligir.
“What do you suppose is behind there?” wonders Vann-La.
“There’s an easy way to find out,” Heimall replies.
They open the door and find themselves looking into a large chamber dominated by some sort of great machine. Off to the side is a control panel; Torinn, spying the levers upon it, makes an immediate bee-line for it.
The machine itself is huge; in all, it is nearly 40’ long and nearly as wide. The front of it faces the wall, and consists of three humungous piston-like devices about 15’ long and nearly 5’ in diameter. These connect to some sort of metal box that is in turn connected to a large glass tub that makes up the majority of the machine. The tub is full of what appears to be water. From the bottom of it, three glass pipes about 10’ across seemingly feed more water in from somewhere beneath the floor and double as supports. A metal valve, roughly 4’ in diameter, is set into the floor below the glass tank.
“That can’t be real glass,” declares Hkatha. “How could it support all that weight?”
Iggy examines it closely and tries to scratch it with a dagger. “Glassteel,” he says in wonder. “I thought that secret had been lost.”
“Not to these guys, apparently,” replies Torinn from near the control panel. Surprisingly, he hasn’t touched anything, and when the others take a closer look, they can see why. He is still studying it.
The control panel has several gauges, levers and wheels on it. At the top, repeated in three places, are two signs. The first is a red sign that reads, “CAUTION! Always use protective gear when operating the Pounder. DO NOT APPROACH the Pounder or its accessory components while in operation or after operation for at least one hour!” The second reads, “TRAINED OPERATORS ONLY!” There are three gauges, labeled (in Dwarven) “water pressure”, “temperature” and “steam pressure” (all have red zones at the high end of the scale). There is a small wheel, labeled “Stage 1”. (This opens or closes the valve.) There is a large lever and a button, labeled “Stage 2”. (The lever opens the door into the steam chamber and the button activates the fan that helps drive the steam into the chamber.) Finally, there are three levers, which activate the three pistons; these are labeled as “Stage 3”.
“Hey,” says Iggy, “maybe you shouldn’t touch anything there...”
But Torinn is speaking too, calling out to the party, “Hey, everyone move away from that thing...”
And he reaches over and turns the small wheel.
The metal valve beneath the glass tank swivels open. Immediately, a whistling starts up and the party can feel the air in the chamber start to move.
Simultaneously, there is a flash of golden light and several creatures appear. Torinn immediately recognizes seven of them as angels; Iggy pegs the last two as a type of elemental consisting of ice with a fiery core- chillfire destroyers. And before our heroes can react-
The lead angel- An angel of protection, realizes Torinn- speaks from its faceless head, its voice somehow emerging aloud nonetheless. “Good afternoon. You are in a restricted area. Please show your student or faculty identification cards immediately.”
“We have our faculty cards, but we left them back at the office,” Hkatha bluffs.
“Surely one of you must have at least a student ID.”
From the now-open valve, a stream of superhot air emerges, blasting the tank of water. Everyone in the room can feel the air warming pleasantly. Torinn, at the controls, notes that the water pressure and temperature gauges are starting to climb.
“We all do, they are just not handy,” Hkatha says.
“I’m sorry, but as you know, this is a restricted area,” the angel replies. “That is not acceptable. Please produce appropriate identification.”
“I’m an administrator,” Cook says. “There is no need for trouble. You do good work, but now it is time to go. These people are okay, I say so.”
“Please produce appropriate identification,” the angel persists.
The gauges on the control panel continue to climb. The temperature gauge seems to stop rising a little below its red zone, but the pressure keeps rising. Hmm, thinks the dragonborn.
The angels and elementals attack. The chillfire destroyers pile on Summer, while the angels rush at Torinn, catching him slightly off guard. He was, after all, trying to monitor dangerous equipment!
The battle is fierce and violent; Torinn annihilates an angel of valor almost immediately, and Heimall and Vann-La rush to aid Summer before the warden is overwhelmed.
“No need to worry!” she assures them, lashing out with a thorn strike and pulling one of the chillfire destroyers closer to her before assuming the form of winter’s herald and bashing it again.
“Vann-La,” cries Heimall, “strike down the enemies of the Empire!”
“But we don’t have our student IDs,” the Kree protests.
The sound of clashing swords is backed with the screaming whistle of superheated air. Torinn stays near the control panel, using both his priestly powers and his vicious pit fighter tactics to keep the enemy from overwhelming his position. When he sees the pressure gauge hit the red zone, he spares a moment to reach over and yank the lever marked “Stage 2” down, then press the stage 2 button.
Vann-La bloodies one of the chillfire destroyers, cracking it open, and waves of blazing heat roll out around it. She grimaces and crashes into it with a tide of iron, knocking it back into the control panel. “Hey, watch it!” cries Torinn, but then he gets distracted by an angel of battle, which actually lands on the panel.
Naturally, in doing so, the angel kicks something, but Torinn isn’t sure exactly what. So, as soon as Vann-La pushes it off the panel, the dragonborn takes another look- it was the lever! He throws it again.
The steam pressure gauge hits the red, and he pulls one of the stage 3 levers for good measure.
With a tremendous boom, one of the pistons hammers forward, smashing into the wall. It retracts and strikes again in an instant, and again, setting up a punishing rhythm loud enough that our heroes can barely hear themselves fight.
Iggy casts Bigby’s grasping hands and starts grabbing angels all over the place even as Torinn, beset by an angel of battle on one side and a chillfire destroyer on the other, is knocked unconscious. But even so, soon the last angel of battle drops to Heimall’s guileful strike while Summer pulls their injured comrade out of the thickest part of the fray and away from the baking heat radiating from the elementals.
The angel of protection dies trying to bull rush Cook into the pistons, and then it is only a matter of slowly grinding the elementals down. Finally, the grasping hands slay it, and our heroes pull back out of the thunderous noise of the room.
“We should probably go somewhere a little quieter and rest,” yells Vann-La. “Or maybe turn that machine off.”
“What?” shouts Torinn.
That noise is bound to draw some attention, thinks Vann-La, and she’s right, for at that moment, a group of eladrin and a dragonborn with three drakes come into view, weapons at the ready.
Next Time: Our heroes take a captive and learn a thing or two!
The Grand Druid (Lvl 20)
- Join Date
- Jan 2002
- Shingletown, CA 96088
ø Ignore the Jester
“Who are you?” Heimall blurts out.
Two of the eladrin exchange a glance. One says, “We're students.”
“Well,” amends the other, “we were. But who are you?”
“We're from far away,” Heimall begins.
The dragonborn signals to his drakes and they leap to the attack. The eladrin are taken off-guard by this, but quickly recover, two of the three of them assuming a dance-like stance that Iggy recognizes immediately.
“Bladesingers!” he exclaims.
The two swiftly move in and begin a series of cuts and thrusts at Vann-La. She roars in defiance as one blade slices her forearm open, and then the Kree springs into action, lashing out all around her. General chaos ensues as the two sides clash.
But of course, nothing is ever that simple.
Although it isn't apparent at first, the eladrin and the dragonborn are just barely on the same team at all. They are working together, but they are hardly what one might call chummy. In fact, they don't usually help each other out at all. As one falls from one side, those on the other almost cheer.
There is another hidden factor, too: the third 'eladrin' is nothing so simple. Instead, as he draws his sword and strides into the battle, he stands revealed as some kind of undead eladrin. Even when Torinn strikes his body down with a righteous brand, the creature's spirit rises, refusing to stay dead!
But between the mighty blows of Shakgar, Summer, Heimall and Vann-La and the powerful prayers of Torinn, the enemy cannot withstand our heroes' furious assault. Soon Shakgar unleashes a feast of violence that slays the spirit, and all of the enemy lies slain, save for the dragonborn, whom our heroes take alive.
“These are students?” exclaims Summer. “I'd hate to meet the teachers!”
“Yeah,” mutter Heimall. “Except, why the heck are students still here at all? We need to question that prisoner.”
Indeed- for our heroes know, really, nothing of what is going on here. They have deduced that they are in some kind of university or college, and that they are underground; but from all appearances, the place has been overrun by monsters. How deep are they? Even when they find their way out, where is Arawn? They have many questions and little to go on. On the other hand, the party's ritualists have a number of methods of divining guidance. Even so, what method of supernatural vision could be superior to a first-hand account of the events leading up to the current... situation? Even if a ritual could answer a few questions, surely it would leave as many, if not more. Questioning a prisoner, on the other hand, could produce prodigious amounts of intelligence- and any new questions that arise can simply be asked of the same subject. Thus it is that our heroes revive the dragonborn after Hkatha and Torinn shut down the immensely loud machine in the room nearby.
“What's your name?” asks Heimall, once the dragonborn is conscious again.
“I am called Apathis,” the dragonborn groans. He sits up cautiously and finds himself relieved of weapons and armor. Still, he is alive, which is perhaps more than he should have expected.
“And are you a student here, too?”
The dragonborn sneers. “No,” he admits, “I am a mercenary.”
“Then what,” Heimall asks, “are you doing here? Who is your employer? And what's going on here, anyway?”
“For that matter, where is here?” Vann-La throws in.
“And were those eladrin really students?” adds Torinn.
“Talk!” demands Shakgar. “Or Shakgar will dunk on you!”
The dragonborn holds up his hands. “Peace. You have already defeated me and killed my pets.” He glances at the slain drakes spread around the place.
“Yeah, too bad you attacked us,” Vann-La retorts. The dragonborn gives her an even look but says nothing.
“So,” Heimall resumes, “what's going on here?”
“This place is called the Terran Undercollege,” reveals Apathis. “It is a part of a larger university called the Silver College. The Silver College has long stood on this isle as the center of learning, both magical and mundane, for the inhabitants of Tirchond.”
“We already knew what this place is called,” grumbles Torinn.
“I thought they were mostly eladrin,” says Vann-La. “Why are they building underground?”
“Tirchond is populated by a mix of races. Eladrin are in the greatest numbers, but dwarves are not far behind.”
“So they ally?” Iggy asks. “That's kind of...” He stops as Cook clears his throat meaningfully. “Unusual,” he finishes lamely.
“In any event,” Apathis continues, “I am not sure how long ago it happened, but some years ago the college, and especially the Terran Undercollege, became the site of a fierce battle between two wizards.”
“And that's what wrecked the place?” interrupts Hkatha.
“I can only presume; I was not here when it all started.”
“So who are you working for?” asks Summer. “One of these wizards?”
“Correct. Her name is Fray. She is a beautiful eladrin woman. Those students,” he gestures at the eladrin bodies, “were servants of hers as well. They didn't like or trust me, and I returned the feelings in full measure.”
“Tell us more about this Fray person,” Iggy orders.
“I don't know much about her, truthfully. I don't think she is from Tirchond- she has a strange accent that I cannot identify, and I have traveled widely. From what I have seen, heard and deduced, she emerged from the deepest levels of the Undercollege, along with her adversary, who is said to be some kind of shapechanger. It is said that she has rediscovered lost magical powers the likes of which today's wizards cannot emulate, and that she can even be in two places at once.”
“What about her enemy?” asks Summer.
Apathis shrugs. “I don't know much about him. As I said, I gather that he came from deep in the Undercollege somewhere as well, and that he is a shapechanger, but even that is deduction and speculation.”
“What kind of servants does Fray have?” asks Heimall.
“And the shapechanger guy?” adds Vann-La.
“Constructs, hirelings, summoned servants.” He shrugs. “I don't know too specifically- I'm the new guy. Or I was.” He glances at the corpse of the undead eladrin. “I can tell you this much- Fray has more of those undead. They are called fey lingerers. Some of them are spellcasters, some are warriors, but all refuse to die easily. And she also has these things that I have never seen before- grey or silver-skinned elven vampires that she calls deodanths. They have wicked spurs on the backs of their hands and they are able to...” He hesitates, thinking. “It seems as though they can step forward a few moments in time, vanishing from the 'now' and reappearing a moment later.”
“We've met some of those guys,” Torinn comments.
Apathis then shows the party a set of stairs heading upwards in the room that he and his drakes had camped in. “I don't really know the way out, but this is the way up, and that has to help.”
The party asks a few more questions, but it is apparent that Apathis has told them all he knows. Given how cooperative he was, and his willingness to swear an oath to flee the Undercollege (if he can find his way out successfully) and leave the party in peace, they let him go. He vanishes up the stairs he had indicated.
The rest of our heroes discuss this information. Is it possible that answers lie downward? What about Arawn? The dragonborn didn't mention anything about him or the Six-Fingered Hand- is it possible that they aren't here at all?
“Remember the goblin art display,” points out Hkatha. “At the very least, there are clues about Arawn here. And doesn't that very fact seem a little too coincidental, if this place doesn't have anything to do with him?”
“Oi, I say we rest before we go on,” Cook says. “I have many aches and bruises, and am tired and low on energy.”
The group agrees: it is time for an extended rest. They could all use a little sleep somewhere secure. Iggy thus suggests using a ritual to teleport back to the circle north of Fandelose. “That way we'll have men on guard, we'll have beds, and we won't have monsters interrupting us.”
Sounds like a good idea- but when Cook discovers that it will cost the party 100 gp in components, he balks. “A hundred gold!” he exclaims. “That's a lot of money!”*
“Well, but we can sleep comfortably,” says Vann-La.
“But a hundred gold pieces!”
“We won't be interrupted by monsters,” Torinn reminds the dwarf.
“I'm just saying, that is a lot of money.”
“It is a good amount,” Summer nods.
“It's not that much for peace and security,” proclaims Iggy.
Cook peers at him. “Well, if you really think it's worth it... but I'm just saying, that's a lot of money.”
The party teleports home to rest.
Next Time: Back to the Terran Undercollege! Hey look, it's a lich!
*Please note that our heroes are 13th to 16th level now. They are probably overtreasured in magic and undertreasured in gold, but not ridiculously so. 100 gp is pretty much pocket change to them. This was some great roleplaying.
The Grand Druid (Lvl 20)
- Join Date
- Jan 2002
- Shingletown, CA 96088
ø Ignore the Jester
Back to it. Rested, with the dings in their armor hammered smooth and the notches in their weapons whetted away, the party returns to the strange subterranean college that is their path to Arawn.
Once they are in the Undercollege, Iggy spends the time to cast a commune with nature ritual while the others stand guard. He asks three important questions:
- Is there a beholder within one mile of us? Yes.
- Is there a death knight below us? Yes.
- Are the beholder and death knight within 100 yards of each other? Yes.
“That clinches it,” says Iggy. “The beholder is working with Arawn.”
“Of course,” Heimall muses, “it could be a different death knight...”
“What are the odds?” asks Iggy ironically.
“Actually, probably pretty good,” Heimall returns. “We know that he has three more death knight lieutenants still.”
“Good point. But even if it is one of his lieutenants, the beholder is still working for Arawn!”
“100 yards is a huge distance down here,” Hkatha points out. “They could actually be in completely separate parts of the dungeon- maybe even separate levels.”
With a shrug- the ritual is over, after all- the party returns to the room off of the large classroom that they had earlier pegged as an elevator.
It's time to go down.
The elevator is agonizingly slow. With the levers pulled, the door seals shut and nothing seems to happen. Even Vann-La's keen Kree senses barely pick up the vibration of movement. She focuses carefully on it, alert for any sign of trouble; but nothing happens until, after what seems like an interminable period, their motion finally stops.
But the party is not idle during the descent. Iggy communes with nature a second time, following up on what they already learned.
- Is there more than one death knight below us? No.
- Is it Arawn? No.
- Is it affiliated with Arawn? Yes.
- Are there any creatures within 50' of where this door will open once the room stops descending? Creature.
- Is there a doppelganger or shapeshifter of some kind in the levels below us?
Interestingly enough, the ritual cannot seem to answer this last question, which almost seems like an answer in itself.
Once they are finally ready to proceed, our heroes push the lever that unseals the door into its upright position, and it hisses open to reveal a passageway running from right to left. Directly across the hall is a wide doorway; to the right, the hall hits a four-way intersection after about 25', while the leftward path turns left even sooner. Another door is visible at the hall's 'elbow'.*
Vann-La strides over to the door opposite the party and pushes it open. It seems like an empty office; to her eyes, there are clear signs that furniture once dominated the room but has subsequently been removed. Another door is on the opposite wall; without hesitation, she steps to it and throws it open as well.
To reveal- something nightmarish.
For an instant it smells of ammonia, then of chocolate. Vann-La sees a momentary swimming face as it blends in with the churning beast before her.
It is indescribable- because it keeps changing, churning, melting and reforming. She is speechless- she has never seen anything like this before.
Before anyone can react, Iggy shoots from the hip.
Then the weird creature flows forward to attack, dozens of claws and tentacles reaching out. For a minute it seems to catch fire, but as quickly changes into a form resembling nothing so much as a tree swarming with wheels. And then-
Vann-La screams as a tentacle lashes across her with hammering force, and she looks down in horror as her legs start to melt- and then to change to fins. Her body starts to boil with changes. She howls in agony and staggers in place, unable to move or defend herself for a moment.
The others rush to her defense. The chaotic monster surges amongst them, its many claws of chaos inflicting horrifying wounds. Hkatha casts a fireball behind it, the flames licking the creature's back end.
But the terrific blows it inflicts are horrible not for the damage they inflict, but for the inchoate transformation that it begins in its victims, leaving them stunned and immobilized.
And yet Vann-La is nigh-unstoppable. Her unfailing resources allow her to rally, throwing off the insidious effects of the chaotic energy and surging to the attack. But the terrain around the terrifying creature is as unstable and changing as the beast itself. It almost throws her from her feet, but she springs over a wave of undulating ground and lands a punishing strike on the monster with an appalling crunch.
The two wizards, meanwhile, unload a barrage of spells at it- flaming sphere, lightning serpent, Bigby's icy grasp- and manage to damage it, keeping it distracted (does it even have a mind? They cannot tell) while Cook keeps his distance and hurls his magical distance shuriken at it again and again.
It is clear that the beast doesn't have a coherent strategy. It moves up and back seemingly at random, occasionally polymorphing into a form with surprising swiftness. It doesn't focus on one victim, either, thankfully; once a target has been infected with the chaotic transformation, the chaos beast seems content to move on.
But eventually the transformations roiling their bodies cease, and our heroes can fight again. Vann-La manages to focus through the pain and turmoil the monster inflicts, and soon she and Torinn are pressing it relentlessly. Finally, Heimall shouts at Torinn, “GIT!” and the cleric lands one last solid blow on the beast, cutting it into two writhing pieces which slowly melt and boil away, leaving only a sticky, greasy residue behind.
“Oi, that thing was nasty,” says Cook. He snorts, looking at the residue. “Even I am not going to try to cook with that!”
“Thank the gods,” mutter four of our heroes at once.
Behind the strange beast, the floor is inscribed with a teleport circle. “Hey,” exclaims Iggy, “now we have choices on how to come back here!”
“There's a secret door, too,” says the sharp-eyed Vann-La. She moves to the back corner of the chamber and everyone gets battle-ready behind her. However, the secret door opens onto some kind of sitting room. A reasonbly-sized stone coffee table has been shaped from the stone of the floor, doubtless by magic, and it is surrounded by rotting chairs that look like they were once quite fine. There is a door on the right; Vann-La spies another secret door to the left.
“One thing at a time,” cautions Heimall. They check the door first; it opens on a hallway that leads to a four-way intersection. The party quickly heads to the crossroads to verify their suspicion that it is the same intersection they saw from the elevator. This proves true- but also reveals something else interesting. Down the hall straight through the intersection (as they are facing it from the sitting room) are some statues of dwarves. Very lifelike statues of dwarves.
“Funny place for a statue, isn't it?” comments Vann-La.
“They're awfully lifelike, too,” remarks Heimall.
“I like the poses,” Hkatha says. “Running up the hall towards us, almost as if they were being pursued by, say, a medusa or something that might petrify them.”
“Oi, that is very scary!” exclaims Cook. He starts to blubber loudly.
“Cook, don't worry,” says Iggy. “We'll take good care of you.”
“But I don't want to be a statue!”
“None of us do.”
“Well,” suggests Vann-La, “in that case, let's go kill the medusa.”
Cook blanches, but trails along as the party heads down the hallway, passing a pair of the statues before spilling into a large room. The room has another pair of the lifelike statues in it, and about three quarters of it is set about 10' lower than the rest, adjoined to the higher area by means of a ramp.
In the room's lower section is something both terrifying and hilarious at the same time.
A ragged figure in rotting finery- clearly an undead bugbear of some kind- is grooming what looks like a large bull made of rocks. It is using a garden trowel to scratch the bull-thing and feeding it from what looks like a bag of gravel.
“DEATH KNIGHT!” roars Torinn.
The undead bugbear glances calmly at the party and shakes its head. “No,” it croaks out in a voice like dry wood, “I am no death knight.
“I am a lich.
“Although,” it adds, leaping atop its gorgon's back, “I do ride.”
Next Time: Our heroes fight Dasmodel the bugbear lich, and its gorgon!!
*Map attached- the elevator is room 25, and I leave the rest for you to figure out.
- Join Date
- Jul 2004
ø Ignore Brain
That Chaos Beast fight was pretty intense - if I recall correctly it got 1d6 attacks or something and each of them could do something nasty. Unfailing Resources certainly did save Vann-La's butt on that and many other occasions (Dreadnought paragon path power to take 10 damage to end any effect that a save can end).
Also I definitely recognize the map, although I never saw the official version. I was mapping the dungeon so it's quite familiar.
Fun times indeed
The Grand Druid (Lvl 20)
- Join Date
- Jan 2002
- Shingletown, CA 96088
ø Ignore the Jester
Brain's right- the chaos beast got 1d6 attacks per round, and they stunned on a hit. It was a bad ass. Stats here, from my Monster Project.
But I digress; how about an update?
Iggy casts a prismatic burst down at the lich and its gorgon mount. It detonates with incredible brilliance. Before the dazzling radiance has faded, Summer shifts into the form of an eagle and flies, shrieking, to the attack, raking her claws across the lich's face.
Vann-La charges forward, her sword whisking free of its scabbard. She rushes the mounted lich and swings, but the gorgon rears back and her blow catches only empty air. She curses, and then the gorgon's forehooves smash down onto the rock before her and it bellows like a bull.
Then gray gas billows forth from its mouth and flaring nostrils. Summer flies out of the way, but Vann-La is caught! She feels her body start to stiffen as it starts to petrify- but once again her unfailing resources allow her to shrug the effect of the breath weapon off.
Hkatha chants eldritch words, and a serpent made of lightning appears and lunges for the gorgon. Its crackling jaws hit it, sending lightning into the beast's huge frame. It bellows. The serpent wraps around it, holding it place and pumping venom into it!
“Vann-La!” cries Heimall. “GIT!!”
This time her blow slices into the lich's arm. It feels like cutting into dry wood- but much harder. In reply, the lich slashes its claws at her in a mocking attack, chiding, “Is that the best you can do? You'll never get anywhere like that!” But Vann-La catches the claws on her shield and turns them.
“You won't either!” the Kree warrior growls back.
With a sneer, the bugbear lich teleports away, its mount going with it. It reappears instantly behind Summer.
“Hey lich, I have something for you!” cries Iggy, directing a spectral ram at the gorgon. Unfortunately, his aim is off, and he misses. “Damn it!” he curses.
The lich sneers. “A poor spell,” it says contemptuously, and unleashes a blast of freezing shadows that wrap around Heimall and Torinn. They cry out in pain as the shadows form into strings that control them like puppets. “Let me show you how it is done! Tremble before Dasmodel!”
“No thanks,” replies Hkatha, sending a shock sphere at Dasmodel. The lich avoids it, but then Summer swoops down in a wildblood frenzy and rips a long furrow in the lich's back!
But it's too late to stop the lich's shadow puppets. Amazingly, none of them manage to land a hit; even Iggy's gun shot goes wide. Then, as the lines of shadow dominating them fade, Torinn swings his executioner's axe in a deadly arc that decapitates the gorgon!
Shakgar and Vann-La rush the lich even as he vaults to the ground. “You'll pay for that!” he cries with a terrifying cackle*, but they aren't having any of it, bracketing the undead bugbear and hacking into him. Shakgar enters the silver phoenix rage and roars in anger as flames lick over him, battering the lich from one side while Vann-La smashes it over and over from the other. Then Torinn and Summer move in, catching the lich quite thoroughly between the four of them.
Still cackling, uttering black reprisals against Hkatha's magic missiles, Dasmodel slashes his claws all around him in a frenzy, but to no avail. Finally, Hkatha invokes a flaming sphere and the lich gives a final howl before collapsing into a heap of charred bones.
“You know,” says Hkatha, “given that he's a lich, if we don't destroy his phylactery, all we've really done is make an enemy.”
“Yeah,” agrees Ligir. “That's part of why I didn't want to mess with the lich in Varelose.”
“Wait a minute. You mean it's not really dead?” Vann-La prods the pile of burnt bone fragments with her foot dubiously. “Looks dead to me.”
“It will grow a new body near its phylactery,” explains Iggy. “The phylactery is where its soul goes when its body dies- that's how liches become liches, is by making a phylactery.”
“So... what does its phylactery look like?”
“It could be anything,” replies Hkatha. “And the odds are really strong that it isn't here.”
“Right,” agrees Torinn. “A smart lich will have its phylactery hidden away somewhere very secure, far from where its body is, so that if it is destroyed, it's just a temporary setback.”
“Well,” Heimall says, “we're kind of busy anyway. Let's just hope that we don't encounter this lich again before we're done.”
The only door out of the chamber leads to a 35' long passage that opens into a large pottery workshop that includes a pool of clay that is fresh, supple, hot and wet. A wheel and chair are near the pool of clay, and a large bucket half-full of water is on the ground next to it. There are no other exits from the area.
The party backs up and returns to the four-way intersection. Vann-La says, “We still haven't fully checked out that direction,” indicating the passage along which the elevator room is. “We might want to look it over, since it's kind of our way back.”
“Or at least,” adds Cook, “a way back.”
The party walks to where the passage turns to the left. A door is at the elbow; a look within reveals this to be an empty chamber with a rotted plush carpet underfoot. A large walk-in closet is attached, as is a bathroom with a long tub against one wall and a wood stove against the other.
“All the comforts of home,” comments Iggy.
“Shakgar doesn't like baths,” the barbarian growls. “They make him smell less manly.”
“That isn't always a bad thing,” mutters Iggy under his breath.
Vann-La suppresses a snicker and points to the wall. “There's another secret door through there.”
“Let's check out the rest of the hallway first,” suggests Torinn.
“Oi, the treasure will be behind the secret doors,” Cook says.
“That's probably true,” answers Vann-La, “but we'll get there soon enough.”
After it turns, the hallway extends a short ways before ending in a door. Behind this is a very interesting chamber indeed; Cook, being a dwarf, recognizes it immediately. “Oi,” he says, “this is where the rune-graver would work.”
“The who?” asks Hkatha.
“The rune-graver. He would work runes into things, to bless them with the powers of stone and iron, or whatever would be appropriate.”
The chamber has a number of chisels and vials of what prove to be slow-acting, stone-etching acid. There are also several jewelers’ rouges of exceptional quality. The chamber is seriously rune-graven- the runes on the walls include symbols of protection, learning, oneness with the stones and earth, and similar themes. A large pile of flat stones suitable for rune-graving is in the corner of the room. More of them- completed- are leaning up against the walls in profusion.
Cook sits down and starts to read. Before long, he says, “These have many answers upon them.”
Everyone turns to listen as he relates what he has found. The graven stones seem to be a record of the last period before the coming of Fray and her shapechanger enemy.
Again, the stones verify that this place is called the Terran Undercollege and it was a center of learning for dwarves and “grey elves”. (Iggy snorts at the term “grey elf” and says, “That's so racist. That's a racist term for eladrins.”) The stones further relate that for about the last nine months of its functional existence as a school, the Undercollege was besieged by the warring forces of two extremely powerful wizards. One of them was a grey elf (Iggy again rolls his eyes) woman of incredible beauty and extraordinary power; the plaques assert that she is not from Tirchond, though they do not suggest an origin for her. They also mention that she has seduced several powerful allies with the promise of help constructing a “Hell’s Eye”, whatever that is.
Hkatha shrugs. “I've never heard of such a thing.”
The other wizard in contention for the college is some kind of shapechanger. The gravings posit that he might be a doppelganger or another kind of natural shapechanger, and describe him as having frustratingly effective information-gathering ability. In fact, it seems that he can steal memories from the dead.
“Whoa,” comments Torinn, “that's pretty heavy information gathering, all right. Why keep an enemy alive if you can learn all they know after they're dead?”
“That's insidiously powerful,” Hkatha agrees.
The Terran Undercollege was a portion of a much-larger university called the Silver University. The Silver University spreads for over a square mile of the city above ground and it has numerous annexes underground “and in other places”.
Vann-La muses, “We know we're under a city now.”
The rune-graven stones have more to tell. The strange, silver undead elves are called deodanths. Again, our heroes already know this, but the stones next make some startling assertions: Deodanths are from another time period, and the plaques assert that there is worrisome evidence of tampering with the time stream by both of the warring wizards. At about this time, the plaques start to be graven with a strange rune, unknown to Cook and the rest of the party. They puzzle over it for a time, but all that they can ascertain is that it has something to do with warding or preservation.
The most recent plaques are the most interesting to the party. They describe a quintet of death knights being dragged from “the portal on the sixth level” and then follow this up with the following engraving: “By the most recent gravings I know the worst to be true. From the past great crimes arise again. These two wizards are too careless for tampering with forces that could erase them. Who are they and from whence do they come, that they dare such madness? My only clue is the rune, given by the Uncaring. Why would he do such a thing? Alas, pursuing this riddle may prove impossible, trapped as I am down here. It is desperate, but I may open the cages and try to escape in the confusion.”
It takes four hours for the party to discern all that they can from the stones. By then, our heroes' mouths have gone dry.
Tampering with time? That can't be good?
They eye each other uncertainly.
“Well,” says Heimall at last, “at least there are still only five death knights.”
“Hopefully four,” amends Torinn.
Next Time: Our heroes find a room full of troublesome temporal traps!
*A close burst 2 minor action at will: +16 vs. Will; target is pushed 1 and has -2 to saving throws (save ends). Good setup for many of Dasmodel's other powers.
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