The Fall of Civilization - Page 3




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  1. #21
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  • #22
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    The kobolds rush towards our heroes. In response, the party roars collectively and (mostly) charges forward to meet them.

    Kobolds running towards a fight? Ridiculous, bad judgment- and, as our heroes are convinced they’ll see in just a moment, lethal. Sta’Ligir- who did not move to meet the advancing dog-lizard-men- takes a deep breath and chants the words to a spell. An instant later, a scorching burst explodes in the midst of the kobolds. Two of them fall instantly. The third one squeals and keeps running, passing through and past the party with the best speed it can muster.

    Cook whacks it with a frying pan on the way past, and although it stumbles, it keeps moving- and swiftly escapes back the way the party came. Sta’Ligir sends a magic missile after it, but to no avail.

    “Well, that was easy,” remarks Torinn.

    Nixie replies, “If kobolds were all the Hand had to offer, we wouldn’t be having anywhere near this kind of trouble.”

    Kratos nods. “Unfortunately, they do have a lot of other resources as well.”

    “These kobolds aren’t Six-Fingered Hand, anyway,” Heimall announces, squatting next to the bodies of the burnt kobolds. “Look- no uniforms. Very crude weapons- these spears are improvised, without metal or even stone tips. And collars around there necks- look here, this one even has part of a chain hanging from it.” He stands up and turns around to face his friends. “I think these are escaped slaves.”

    Just then, a high-pitched voice cries out from further down. “Sventi oi vrogahast! Axafarhl sventul taxjack!”

    “Ooi, what was that?” exclaims the Cook, as small blue-skinned humanoids begin to charge up the hall into sight towards our heroes. If only any of our heroes could speak a smattering of the Xvart language, they might catch the gist of the newcomer’s words: Hey, those guys are killing our slaves! That’s our property- they owe us replacement slaves!

    The leading xvart pulls a pair of manacles out of his belt and whirls them over his head. With a wild cry, he whips them forward at Vann-La. The binders wrap firmly around her waist and legs, leaving her unable to move! “Hey!” she cries. Meanwhile, a small horde of rats runs towards the party. Sta’Ligir slows their progress with a scorching burst- one of the rats catches fire and dies in a greasy flash and a loud squeal- but the rest move up on Vann-La, who lays about her with her warhammer as she struggles to escape the manacle-bola holding her.

    There are four xvarts. Three of them throw their manacles at the party and then move in, snaring Cook, but the other one stays back. This one is covered in rats. They climb all over the small blue figure with sickening familiarity. The xvart raises a hand and points at Kratos, and a wriggling horde of filthy vermin rushes from the blue figure towards Kratos. The warlord cries out as they crawl all over him, biting and tearing at his skin!

    The xvarts that have moved into combat, meanwhile, prove annoyingly elusive. They make cowardly strikes and then dance away, while Vann-La and Cook are both still caught in the manacles. The dwarf whips his frying pan down onto another of the rats, and its head cracks and bursts. “Ooi, save that one for later, he’s juicy!” the cook exclaims with a laugh. Then he hurls a meat cleaver at the xvart ratkeeper with a sly flourish. The ratkeeper tries to dodge, but the cleaver still slices a bloody line on his leg. With a snarl, he shakes himself, and a huge mass of rats pours off of his body and rushes all about, pouring all across the ground and making movement difficult.

    Kratos grits his teeth. “I’m not going down like this!” he declares, madly brushing the rats (which are still biting him) off of his body. “I can take this!”* Then his eyes widen as he sees one of the xvart slavers smack Torinn in the head, stunning the dragonborn! He staggers back, and the ratkeeper directs a group of rats to attack him. They tear at him and pull him down! “No, Torinn!” Kratos yells. “Don’t let them take you down! You can stand against them- you must!”** Torinn’s eyes flutter open. With a groan, the dragonborn shakes off the effects of the xvart slaver’s blow.

    Cook, meanwhile, has finally managed to wiggle out of the manacles entrapping his legs. He reaches into a pocket inside his shabby coat and pulls out a handful of shuriken. With a single motion, he throws them all at a handful of xvarts nearby in a blinding barrage, and the attack sinks shuriken into two of them right above the eyes!

    However, this seems to trigger a particularly cowardly reaction in the wounded xvarts, and they both begin to withdraw!

    This seems to be enough to turn the tide. The rats are all gone by now, and Sta’Ligir blasts another of the xvarts with an acid arrow. It squeaks and begins to retreat as well. Vann-La, still trapped by the manacles, has taken quite a beating by now; she takes a moment to get her second wind, and then slams into another of the xvarts like a tide of iron. Even though she can’t follow them, she can certainly push them around!

    Meanwhile, the retreating xvart slavers seem to have run into some kind of complication. They’re out of the light, but the party can hear some kind of further engagement down there. Sta’Ligir decides to help light this situation up magically, and once he does, it becomes apparent that there is a tiefling down there, blocking the xvart retreat! He is armed and equipped, but a broken chain dangles from a collar around his neck. Clearly, he is another escaped slave- and thanks to him, the xvarts are flanked.

    The ratkeeper snarls and unleashes a squeaking horde, which rushes all over Kratos, Vann-La, Torinn, Cook and Sta’Ligir, biting and crawling all over them all. Torinn heals himself as he tries to slay some of the rats covering him, but he is badly wounded. Sta’Ligir, too, is barely standing, even after using his second wind. A moment later, he collapses, with rats still chewing on him! Vann-La, too, goes down.

    The ratkeeper grins, but then falters as Cook and Kratos begin moving towards him. Giving them all a dirty look, he turns to flee.

    The stranger has taken care of one of the escaping xvart slavers, though the other two slipped past him. Now, as the ratkeeper attempts to slip past him, he tries to stop the ratkeeper in turn, and manages to wound him! But the ratkeeper is beating a hasty retreat, and-

    “Git!” cries Kratos to the stranger.

    The stranger hurls a shuriken at the escaping ratkeeper, and it sinks into the xvart’s blue throat. Without a word, the rat-covered villain falls.

    Those who are still standing work quickly to clear the rats from those that are not, and to stop them from bleeding to death. It is only after they have successfully ensured all of their companions’ survival that they turn to the newcomer.

    ”Who are you?” Kratos demands.

    “My name,” says the newcomer, “is Nowhere Jones. Thanks for helping me kill these guys- they were slavers, and they’d taken me prisoner. Some of their other slaves escaped, so they parked their wagon while they pursued them. I managed to get free while they were looking for the kobolds, and I wanted to get back to the surface and escape this area.”

    “Where did they take you prisoner?” asks the warlord. “What were you doing down here?”

    “I was part of a band of adventurers. We were exploring the passage under the mountain- we’d heard there’s often a lot of treasure to be found down here. The xvarts came on us, and most of us got slain. They stunned me, though, and put me in chains.”

    “They’re slippery,” Cook comments.

    “Yes, once they are badly wounded it seems that their cowardice kicks into high gear,” Kratos agrees. “What do you know about their city?”

    “Not much. I was only taken recently- I think we were on our way to their city, but when the kobolds got away, they changed direction.”

    “Probably safer together,” Cook says.

    Kratos nods. “You helped us fight the xvarts; I see no reason why we couldn’t join together, at least for now.”

    “Where are you headed? What are you doing down here?”

    “The Six-Fingered Hand is assaulting the east,” Kratos says. “We are trying to get word to Fandelose before they, too, come under attack. We plan to pass through Xvaangensleff, as it is the most direct route.”

    “All right,” Nowhere Jones pronounces. “I’m in.”

    And I sure wouldn’t mind getting my revenge on the xvarts while I’m in their city.

    Next Time: Our heroes traverse a dangerous zone and find a dark lake!


    *This was an inspiring word, naturally.

    **This was another inspiring word, of course.
    Last edited by the Jester; Wednesday, 12th November, 2008 at 02:13 AM.
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  • #23
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  • #24
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    Oops!

    One of my players pointed out to me that I misidentified Nowhere Jones; he is actually a tiefling. Fixed above, but I ought to point it out to those that have already read my msidentification.
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  • #25
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    Nowhere Jones leads the rest of the party deeper into the caves. “The xvarts had a wagon,” he explains. “It’s back here.”

    “And you don’t know where the xvart city is?” Sta’Ligir asks.

    Nowhere Jones shrugs. “They hadn’t gotten me there yet. I imagine it was in the direction we were headed, but I can’t know for sure.” The passage opens up on a huge cavern. To either side a stone path stretches into the darkness. Directly ahead of them is a vast, quiet underground lake.

    “Whoa,” says Nixie. “That looks big.”

    “Let’s not go for a swim,” suggests Vann-La.

    “This way.” Nowhere Jones turns to the right and begins down the path. The others follow him uneasily. In only about a minute, the wagon comes into view: two linked carts, with a pair of great beetles harnessed before them. The lead wagon is more comfortable; the rear wagon has benches and rungs set into the floor. “That’s where the slaves rode,” Nowhere Jones nods at it. “We were chained to those rungs by our necks.”

    “How did you get out?” asks Heimall.

    “Once the xvarts left to pursue the kobolds, I managed to do a combination of squirming and breaking my way out, as well as picking the lock with some improvised tools.”

    “Well done,” nods Nixie. “And thank you for your help.”

    The group inspects the wagon and the beetles. They decide to detach the slave wagon; it will only slow them down, since they can all fit in the front car and have no plans on taking slaves. The cook carefully inspects it for anything that seems like a mark of ownership that might give away its origin, but finds nothing. Thus, drawn by a pair of slow but steady beetles, the party begins a more luxurious stage of their journey. At last they are able to get off of their feet, for the first extended time in days for most of them. It is a joy to simply ride.

    After a time, they come to a wide area, big enough to park the wagon and comfortably camp out. They are all tired, and soon they have set a watch and most of them are drifting off to sleep. Each of them takes his or her turn on watch, keeping an eye out for trouble. Most of them do it in pitch blackness.

    Sta’Ligir, however, has the means to make light. His magical skills are not yet as powerful as they could be- as they will be, he tells himself- but they are powerful enough to give him a little illumination. As his companions snore around him, he keeps looking for any signs of trouble or anything to be concerned about.

    Anything to be concerned about? We’re underground! That’s certainly cause for concern. He scowls to himself. At least we have a goal. This city, Fandelose- if we can reach it, warn it, perhaps it can stop the Hand.

    What’s that?
    He peers out across the surface of the dark lake. He heard something in the lake- but what was it?

    Something in the water moves.

    Sta’Ligir puts a magic missile into it. “Hey! Wake up! I think we have trouble!” he shouts. The others wake and begin to scramble up.

    Three crabs crawl out of the water, swiftly moving to engage the party. Clack! Their huge claws snap together. They are about three feet across, and stand about two and a half feet tall.

    Sta’Ligir drops a scorching burst in the middle of them. There is a sizzle-BOOM! and the smell of burning crab. Two of them squeal and advance, but the wizard backs away. Heimall, who by now has managed to get to his feet and pull out his glaive, stabs at the lead crab, but his weapon rebounds ineffectually from its shell.

    The two crabs that were moving on Sta’Ligir now scuttle in on Torinn, who is still on the ground. “Wha?” the dragonborn says, and then the crabs fall upon him, slicing him up badly. The dragonborn gives a scream of pain. Blood flies everywhere. His screams stop, but the crabs don’t look like they are going to.

    The others try to come to Torinn’s rescue. Vann-La charges in, while Nixie fires off her eldritch blast; each draws one of the crabs off of the downed cleric, at least for the moment. Sta’Ligir, meanwhile, blasts the unwounded crab with an acid arrow. It ignores the wizard, continuing its assault on Heimall, who struggles to defend himself as a claw almost breaks his thigh and leaves his leg raw and bleeding profusely. These things deal serious damage, he thinks, grimacing through the pain and attempting to use the famous White Raven onslaught technique. The pain prevents him, however, and the blood all over his arm and hand makes his blade nearly slip from his hand. It is all that he can do to keep his feet.*

    Sta’Ligir casts another scorching burst. He is trying to keep a careful distance- close enough to cast his spells at the enemy, but far enough away not to be an easy target for the crabs. Then, suddenly, something incredibly bright happens, and Sta’Ligir can’t see anything at all. “Hey!” he screams. “There’s something else out there!”

    What was that? wonders Heimall. He looks out across the water. For a moment, a beam of brilliant light had pierced the darkness, shooting right into Iggy’s eyes. Now he doesn’t see any sign of its source, but- there had to be something!

    Nixie, meanwhile, has passed her crab on to Vann-La, who seems unstoppable. Then she drags Torinn back out of the fray. Torinn abruptly groans and shakes his head, then stands up. “You bastards!” he cries, and whips his spiked chain around over his head, then brings it down towards one of the crabs. It almost seems to burn with a white-hot flame as it comes down- and the crab scuttles aside and snaps its claw at Torinn’s side, taking a chunk of flesh out. The dragonborn shouts in pain, and though he almost collapses, he remains standing.

    “Keep it up, Torinn!” shouts Heimall. “Don’t let this beast take you down!”

    The dragonborn grits his teeth as the crabs tear into Heimall. “Lester, heal this adventurer companion of mine!” he intones, and his healing word keeps Heimall on his feet.

    Another brilliant shaft of light stabs out and blinds Sta’Ligir. The wizard screams out a series of Elvish obscenities. This time, Nixie manages to see its rough location- enough to fire an eldritch blast in its general direction, but not enough to hit it.

    At this point the party is holding their own- giving as good as they are getting, and with both Torinn and Heimall in the fight, they are able to keep enough of a stream of healing going that the party can take the outlandish amounts of damage the crabs can deal. The only question is, what will run out first- the party’s healing, or the crabs’ ability to sustain damage?

    Vann-La proves to be the answer to that question when she finally brings down one of the crabs. Sta’Ligir is flailing about blindly, however, much to his chagrin. “Damn it!” he shouts. “What is this damn thing?” As his vision clears, he notes the direction and distance to a series of columns, and immediately heads for them. Come and get me, you bastard, he thinks as he ducks behind them.

    A moment later, it does: a small, frog-like humanoid, with big yellow eyes. It leaps forward and bites Sta’Ligir; then its eyes fire a shaft of brilliant light.

    But Iggy is ready for it. He ducks and squints and manages to avoid being blinded!

    Nixie hits the frog-thing with curse of the dark dream, and it staggers around drunkenly for a moment, reeling away from Sta’Ligir. The wizard doesn’t waste an instant; he pursues and magic missiles it. Suddenly it is the frog-thing that is in retreat, and then both he and Nixie bracket it, firing arcane energies at it! It blinds Nixie momentarily and darts around a column, just as Sta’Ligir did, to gain a momentary bit of cover. The wizard glances over his shoulder; seeing an opportunity, he fires another scorching burst at the crabs, and flames lick out over the two remaining ones again.

    But both of them are up on Vann-La, and though she pauses in her assault on them long enough to gain her second wind, the crabs are unrelenting. Both of them claw the Kree defender, and she collapses in a bloody heap. One of the crabs veers away, snapping its great claws at Heimall, who fends it off and backs up, his hands sweaty on the haft of his glaive.

    “Damn it!” curses Nixie. “Where’d that frog thing go?”

    There! thinks Sta’Ligir, and fires another magic missile at it. “It’s trying to get back into the water!” shouts Iggy. “Stop it!!” Desperately, he focuses his mind on his Art, and manages to cast another missile at it before it reaches the water’s edge.** This one blasts it right in the center of the back, and it is momentarily transfixed- and then it collapses.

    “Nice going!” Nixie grins enthusiastically.

    Vann-La, on the ground, cracks an eye. The blow that took her down- that seemed almost lethal- turns out to be milder than it looked; she grimaces, but she’s still in the fight!*** One of the crabs is directly above her, and it has already taken a morsel-sized bite out of her side. “Hey, a little help here!” she cries.

    Heimall, still defending himself desperately, nonetheless grins. “Vann-La, destroy our enemies!” he cries. “Git!”

    Vann-La lashes out, cracking her warhammer against the crab atop her. She knocks it back and then leaps to her feet. Smash! Again, her hammer falls- and this time, so does the crab!

    This leaves only one, and now that our heroes can do so, they fall upon it en masse. Its shell is tough, but it cannot withstand all the blows that our heroes deliver.

    Then it’s over.

    “Good gods!” exclaims Vann-La. “Those things were tough!” The others nod agreement.

    “Now we take meat,” says the cook. “These things, good eating! And legs from frog thing!”

    “I don’t know,” Heimall replies dubiously. “They could be diseased, or poisonous...”

    “Nah, we be okay. I show you,” the dwarf responds. “Come on, help!” He starts cracking crab shells. With a shrug, Vann-La chips in, and soon the party has managed to pull out a good amount of crab meat. The party draws the line at the strange, frog-like creature, however. Examining it reveals that its huge eyes have a second inner eyelid, and even now the eyeballs emanate a dim- and fading- light.

    Nixie yawns. “Interesting, but weren’t we resting?”

    ***

    The rest of the party’s rest is undisturbed. When they rise, the eyes of the frog-creature no longer have any glow whatsoever. “Who knows?” shrugs Nixie. The party moves along, heading deeper and deeper into the tunnels beneath the mountain. Soon enough, the group move into an area thick with strange growths. At first only a few grey fans of fungus and strange wet things on the floor, but before long the area is replete with fungus and stranger things. Toadstools high as a man’s waist and the color of old bone; warty, hairy blue things shaped like an elephant’s ear; something squat and globular, that oozes and pops sickening white pus; things that look like root systems clinging to bare rock, giving off a strange brimstone stink. The place is weird and grotesque, though wondrous in a bizarre way. But before long, Vann-La calls out a warning.

    “Hold up, this looks dangerous ahead.”

    “What do you mean?” asks Nowhere Jones.

    “Some of those liquids oozing from the fungi up there. The rocks are discolored- almost as if those fluids were changing or damaging them. And some of those things are probably toxic if we touch them.”

    The party proceeds very carefully. Torinn uses some of the fungus on the walls, as well as some materials in his healing kit, to create an ointment to help protect the heroes from any ill effects. Sta’Ligir uses his knowledge of the dungeon environment to help Vann-La pick the best path through the dangerous zone, with Heimall using his glaive to destroy particularly foul-looking stuff before the group approaches it. Soon the party is through the zone, and the amount of fungi in evidence decreases to a sparse scattering of occasional clusters of a few mushrooms.

    Then Vann-La tenses. “Hold on, guys,” she says.

    “What do you see?” asks Heimall.

    “There’s some kind of building ahead.”

    Next Time: The hermit! More frog things! And- Chagmat!


    *Rolled a 1. Shrug. Happens. It’s a shame, though; White Raven Onslaught is one of the best powers evar imho.

    **Action point, in other words.

    ***Natural 20 on a death save. Which, no doubt, really helped- the party was in very rough shape at the end of this fight, with 3 pcs at 1 hit point. Incidentally, Heimall didn’t hit once this entire encounter. So far, each pc has had at least one session with terrible dice luck.
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  • #26
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    The hut is made of large slabs of hard fungal material. It’s about 15’ square, with a door shorter than most of our heroes could comfortably fit through. Just about the right size for a xvart. Behind the hut is a garden of strange underground growths- fungi and lightless plants. Sta’Ligir glances over the garden, and then gasps. “Be careful,” he tells his companions, “there are some assassin vines in the garden.”

    “What’s an assassin vine?” asks Nowhere Jones.

    “It’s a vine that assassinates you,” Heimall replies. “Let’s just be careful.”

    “Are we trying to befriend whatever is in the hut?” asks Nixie. “Or are we going in weapons drawn?”

    “If we have to go through a city of xvarts, we have to deal with them sometime. I say we take a peaceful approach,” the warlord answers.

    The others agree, though Nowhere Jones is plainly not happy with the idea of spending any more time around the xvarts than he must. I’ll be glad to cut every one of their blue throats, though, he thinks, rubbing the still-chafed spot where the slave collar had rested around his neck.

    Heimall calls out to the hut. “Hello? Is there anyone in there?”

    There is no answer, but the more perceptive members of the party can hear something moving inside. After a moment, Torinn shrugs and walks up to the little door. He lifts a hand to knock, but the door opens before he can, and a cantankerous-looking old xvart, covered in wiry white hair, peers suspiciously at them from within. Rats crawl everywhere in the hut behind him. A crude table, with some kind of letter open on it, is behind him. “Svarti kefl hoof javaselflehl,” the xvart says, and launches into a brief, babbling, questioning-sounding rant.

    The party tries their collective languages, but nobody can make themselves understood by him. The xvart starts to grow foul-tempered, spouting off more hostile sounding noises, until Nixie pulls out some travel biscuits and begins breaking off bits to feed to the rats. This catches Svarti’s eye (not that anyone knows his name is Svarti, but hey), and he seems somewhat appeased. Heimall follows suit, and Svarti seems more mollified. He makes shooing gestures, but at least he doesn’t attack.

    The party moves on, having made friendly contact with their first xvart.

    As they walk on, Kratos mutters under his breath, trying to figure out what bits of the Xvart tongue that he can.*

    ***

    The party travels on, the dark lake to their left. After about an hour, a beam of light in the darkness alerts the party to another blindheim nearby. They prepare for battle, and sure enough, before long an attack comes. This time the blindheims are accompanied by giant poisonous frogs, which seem almost like pets to them. The battle rages, and before long a group of darkmantles joins the fray, attracted by the noise! By the end of it, a bat swarm has been spooked into action by the bright lights of the blindheims, and they swirl about, blinding Torinn and flapping about confusedly; but our heroes manage to fight off all of their opponents, disperse the bats and win the day without any losses to their party.

    They continue onward, traveling along the lake’s edge, for about two hours. Then they stumble upon what seems to be a campsite of some kind. “Looks like xvarts to me,” Nowhere Jones says. “Everything’s pretty small, and pretty messy. Look, there’s garbage everywhere.”

    “I hear something,” Vann-La interrupts him. “Fighting ahead.”

    “Want me to go check it out?” Jones asks. “I can be pretty stealthy.”

    “All right,” says Sta’Ligir.

    “But we’ll be right behind you,” adds Vann-La.

    ***

    Nowhere Jones creeps forward, sticking to the shadows. He can hear the sounds of fighting up ahead now himself, and before long, a scene comes into view, lit by flickering torches that are discarded on the ground. A band of xvarts is in combat with a strange group of enemies- weird, spider-like beings, most with two shields and two swords in hand. There are several dead xvarts on the ground already. The whole dance seems to be taking place in front of a large cave mouth.

    Boy, do I hate xvarts, thinks Nowhere Jones, and he pulls out a shuriken and throws it at one of them. He misses, but this results in the xvart whirling and hurling a javelin at him. And then the frenzy of battle takes over, as the party charges into the fray and a swirling, chaotic, three-way mess develops. One by one, xvarts and spider-folk drop, but the xvarts definitely drop faster. And the spider-folk show no sign of taking it easy on the adventurers; as they squeal with joy and try to take all the warm-blooded creatures down, our heroes get the creepy feeling that the spider-folk simply view them as food.

    However, our heroes are no easy pickings. Already damaged from the xvart attacks, the spider-folk are soon slain, and the party stands triumphant. “What were those things, I wonder?” muses Torinn.

    “Chagmat,” replies Sta’Ligir.

    ”Bless you,” says Torinn.

    “No- those things are called chagmat.” The wizard pokes one of the corpses with his foot. “They sometimes war on surface folk, trying to take us as food. They’re a pretty gruesome kind of folk, from what I’ve read.”

    Everyone looks at the cave mouth.

    “Let’s check it out,” suggests Vann-La.

    Next Time: Against the Chagmat!


    *He took Linguist as his feat at 2nd level, and Xvart was his first new language.
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  • #27
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    This is a short update, because it ends at a particularly dramatic moment. I hope to post a followup tonight or tomorrow or, at the least, before too long.

    ***

    Some of our heroes- Kratos, Vann-La, Nowhere Jones and Torinn- advance into the cave, weapons drawn.* The mouth of the passage is about 20’ wide; as they move forward, our heroes quickly come upon more xvart bodies, lying before a pair of barricades. A chagmat corpse is sprawled near one wall as well. Clearly, the battle that the party came upon was just one skirmish in a larger conflict. The chamber is obviously a guard chamber. A narrow path is open between the two barricades; behind the barricades are a long, narrow table surrounded by a host of stools, some of which have fallen over. Behind that, you can see that there is a drop-off or descent of some kind. Meanwhile, on the east side of the easternmost barricade is another tunnel that snakes away.

    The party starts to check the corpses for loot, but Vann-La’s keen ears prick up. She frowns, and gazes up at the ceiling.

    “LOOK OUT!” she shouts, her sword coming free from its scabbard with a rasp.

    Two spiders the size of a human are up on the roof, and they begin scuttling forward.

    “Yuck!” exclaims Nowhere Jones, and hurls a shuriken. But he is still recovering from the surprise, and he misses.

    The spiders leap. Death hurtles in at our heroes from above. One of them lands squarely on Torinn, knocking the dragonborn prone and sinking hairy fangs into his shoulder. He gives a shout of distress as poison pumps into him, and his arm begins to throb. He struggles to his feet and pulls his spiked chain; he aims a blow at the spider but misses. It springs aside as he focuses all his might on a second swing, and he misses it again!**

    The other spider comes down square on Nowhere Jones, knocking him from his feet. The tiefling tries to scramble away, but fangs sink into his buttocks. “Aargh!” he screams, as poison taints his blood. He whirls around, bringing his dagger across the spider’s head, and springs back away. Meanwhile Vann-La steps up and gets in the spider’s way, preventing it from effectively pursuing. The first spider bites Torinn again, hitting him in the chest, right over his heart. The dragonborn wails in pain.***

    The party tries to rally and focus their attacks. Torinn staggers and almost drops, but takes a moment to catch his breath and get his second wind. Kratos steps up with a furious smash, a guarding strike, but he just can’t seem to connect. The spiders are too cagey- dodging one way and then the other, leaping over the party’s attacks, returning to the ceilings... they are quick and dangerous, and their poison leaves our heroes unable to move quickly. Many of the party are suffering from it as the spiders leap back into the room beyond the barriers. Both spiders are wounded, and one of them is wounded badly, but neither one is ready to flee.

    Vann-La takes a deep breath and focuses her mind. I am unstoppable, she tells herself, and charges forward through the barriers.

    Right into a trap.

    She hears a ‘click’ as her foot hits a pressure plate between the barriers. Uh-oh, she thinks, as a thick boulder on a long strand of webbing drops pendulum-like from the ceiling, plowing into her with crushing force and knocking her back and from her feet. It smashes into Torinn, as well, rendering the already badly wounded cleric almost unconscious.

    It also makes a hell of a racket- a terrifically loud grinding noise.

    She sees stars for a moment, and when her vision clears, Vann-La can see the pendulum boulder swinging rapidly through the passage between the barriers.

    “We can go over the barriers!” shouts Kratos.

    Indeed. Kratos and Vann-La start climbing up and over, and the spiders scuttle around the ceiling menacingly. But Torinn and Nowhere Jones keep up a flurry of missile fire that prevents the spiders from fully taking advantage of the situation. The more badly wounded spider attempts to escape them, but Kratos and Vann-La both hit it as it flees, and it drops from the cave ceiling, curling its legs up in the classic pose of a dead spider.

    “Let’s go!” cries Torinn. “Up and over and in!” He and Nowhere Jones clamber over the barricades, joining the melee, and deliver a torturous strike and a righteous brand to the spider- and both blows are perfect, catching it in the head and the guts! The spider is cut into a mess of pieces!****

    “Whew,” Torinn gasps. “Those things sucked! We should rest for a few minutes and-”

    Two chagmat rush into the room from the downward sloping passage, making weird, moist, sucking sounds from their spider mouths.

    “Lester’s arm!” shouts Torinn. “More of them!”

    The party turns and begins to engage the chagmat. Behind them, cutting off easy escape, the pendulum still swings. Each chagmat wields two swords and bears two shields, and puts up a flurry of offense and defense. The first one wounds Kratos, and the second one stabs Torinn in the chest. It’s a terrific wound, and the dragonborn gasps, transfixed, and then collapses to the ground.

    “Oh crap!” cries Nowhere Jones. He dances in to flank one of the chagmat with Vann-La, but his dagger is covered with spider ichor. It slips in his hand, and he misses.

    “There’s only two of them,” Kratos roars. “We can take them!”

    “No there aren’t,” says Vann-La grimly.

    Indeed, two more chagmat enter the fight from the other passage.

    Suddenly the fight is looking uglier. When one of the chagmat hacks Vann-La down with a pair of cuts, it starts to look even worse. Torinn manages to stabilize Vann-La before she dies, but while he is doing so, one of the chagmat double hits Nowhere Jones and knocks him unconscious as well! Then it is three to two- somehow, our heroes have managed to slay one of their attackers- and then, as Torinn falls, three to one.

    And it’s over.

    Next Time: What about the rest of the party?


    *We had less players present than usual that night.

    **That was an action point that, sadly, didn’t do much.

    ***That was a critical hit.

    ****Both were crits. This was a wonderful finish to a combat in which the pcs had frustratingly bad dice luck almost completely.
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    “I wonder what’s taking them so long?” sighs Nixie.

    “Oi, they have to investigate!” the cook says. “They look all around, all around. Sneaky, very quiet! Take time.”

    Suddenly a tremendous, loud grinding noise starts to rumble from within the cavern.

    “Uh-oh,” says Heimall. He readies his glaive. “It sounds like trouble. We had best see what is going on in there. The others might need our help.”

    The three of them tromp forward. They halt upon sighting the xvart bodies scattered before the barricades, with the immense pendulum boulder swinging to block easy entrance into the room beyond.

    “We could climb over the barricades,” suggests Heimall. He sets to it immediately, while Nixie looks dubious.

    “Climbing? I don’t know about that...”

    Cook scrambles up and over. “Okay, you go through rock trap,” the dwarf answers with a grin. Nixie sighs and does her best to get over. She manages, though it is an awkward process for her. She grumbles as she rights herself within the room- and then gasps.

    There are dead monsters everywhere- the xvarts, some chagmat, some spiders all curled up on the ground. And blood- blood all over.

    Spiders and chagmat don’t bleed; they ooze ichor. Nixie’s blood runs cold at the implication.

    “Look,” says Cook. “Drag marks.” Bloody drag marks, leading from the room. “Ohh, no! Our friends! We have to try to rescue!”

    The marks lead out the more level of the two exits from the chamber. The party follows as quietly as Heimall’s armor will allow. The passage curves to the right and then splits in a Y. The party stops to listen, and Cook points in one direction. “I hear hissing noise,” he whispers.

    ”These guys are stupid,” Nixie grumbles.

    Three chagmat hove into view, two of them already wounded. Heimall springs forward, jabbing his glaive into one of them, and the three chagmat draw weapons and begin an attack of their own! Fortunately for him, Heimall’s armor turns most of the initial thrusts and cuts, and he parries one with the shaft of his glaive.

    Then Cook darts to the front and unleashes a blinding barrage of shuriken, catching two of the chagmat in the eyes and leaving them momentarily unable to see! Nixie takes advantage of the moment to curse the most badly wounded chagmat and hurl an eldritch blast at it. She misses, but a moment later, Heimall slashes into its neck and slays it. Nixie sniffs in disdain at the chagmat and curses the other pre-wounded one. The party presses their advantage; when Nixie blasts the cursed one with witchfire and it dies, she turns to a stream of mist and flows to a position that is further from the chagmat but with a better angle of attack.

    The chagmat that remains is now wounded, but still standing. It turns to flee, but Heimall wounds it, and a terrific blow from the dwarven cook finishes it off.

    Quickly, the party backtracks the chagmat. They halt as they enter a chamber with a number of webbing cocoons of various sizes and shapes in it, stuck to the floor, ceiling and walls.

    “It’s a larder,” Nixie realizes, feeling slightly queasy.

    “Let’s hope our friends are in some of these cocoons,” says Heimall. Cook is already starting to cut some of the webbing open. In a few moments, they have opened up all the cocoons, and though most of the inhabitants are dead corpses sucked dry of their vital fluids, the rest of the party is still alive!

    Heimall grasps Torinn by the shoulders. “Torinn,” he says. “Torinn! You can’t go down like this, soldier! You have to get up! Get up and help your companions!”

    Torinn groans. His eyelids flutter, and slowly they open. “What?” he croaks. His friends help him to his feet. “I thought we were dead,” he groans. “I can barely move. They injected us with some kind of paralytic poison.” He slowly starts to shake out his tingling limbs, and together, he and Heimall start working to revive the other wounded and paralyzed heroes. Meanwhile, Nixie (and the others, as they come around and are able to move and help) starts looting the corpses in the other cocoons. When all is said and done, the party has found 140 gold pieces, three packets of some kind of white, chalky substance and a pact blade. This goes to Nixie once the party has identified it- she is their only warlock, so there isn’t much debate.

    Finally, once everyone feels ready to go on, the party assesses their options. The chagmat larder has another exit out of it, and the passage that led to it continues beyond the chamber as well. They decide to head that way first, since the other exit leads back in the direction that they came from- perhaps, they speculate, to the other branch of the Y.

    Forward it is, lit by a sunrod, through the natural caverns that the chagmat have claimed as their own. After only about 20’, the passageway ends abruptly at a precipitous drop. A bridge of thick strands of webbing leads away across the chasm. It is narrow enough that passing by one another on the bridge would be tricky. The chasm is 30’ deep and about 50’ across, and at the bottom the adventurers can see the discarded husks of creatures sucked dry of their fluids by these spider-like monsters, along with a few pieces of trash and debris. At the far end of the cave, across the web bridge, is another passageway.

    “Well, what do you guys think?” asks Vann-La after a moment.

    “This place looks like an ambush to me,” replies Nixie.

    “Well, if it’s a trap, we’d better spring it,” says Torinn.

    “Oi, I look it over for traps first,” Cook interrupts him, stepping in the way. “Hold on.” Torinn moves back, and Nixie moves up to help examine the bridge. It looks sturdy, doesn’t seem sticky, doesn’t seem trapped...

    And then a hairy spider the size of a desk crawls up from underneath it. Before they have a chance to move, it sprays a blast of venom at Cook and Nixie. The two of them scream in pain, but Torinn has already invoked divine aid to help Nixie, and Cook, as a dwarf, is highly resistant to toxins. The party attacks, pressing the spider, but two chagmat warriors emerge from the passage on the far side of the bridge and begin to make their way forward. One of them stops long enough to make gross, wet, hissing noises back in the direction from which it came.

    ”Great,” grumbles Vann-La, “we’re gonna have more of these things coming soon!”

    The party and the spider-folk clash, but when the spider itself manages to bite Vann-La, things get weird. Suddenly the Kree, with gritted teeth, begins to dance madly. “I can’t stop!” she yells. “Help!”

    Kratos rushes forward and tries, but there doesn’t seem to be much he can do. Meanwhile, the cook duels one of the chagmat, while Heimall and Torinn deal with the other. In a few moments, Heimall’s glaive takes that one own, while the spider keeps trying to bite the dancing elf, whose erratic movements don’t much help her defend herself. Poison is burning in her body, ravaging her; “Help!” she cries again.

    Cook finally finishes the second chagmat warrior with a sly flourish, but the spider scurries back to the far side of the bridge. And another chagmat emerges.

    This one looks different, however; he is dressed in armor made from spider hide studded with stone and bone. A weird headdress in upon his head. A strange symbol that Torinn recognizes as being the unholy symbol of the spider god Chag-Ma, a bloodthirsty god of captivity, helplessness and horror is clutched in his hand. As he appears, he gestures and utters a hissing prayer to his dark god- and a mass of poisonous webbing explodes all over the heroes!

    Vann-La struggles valiantly against the web as the spider dashes forward to bite her again. Meanwhile, her limbs keep jerking about uncontrollably. The spider scampers back out of reach again, just as she finally manages to throw off the poison dance! With a mighty effort, the Kree warrior heaves her way free of the web and charges forward. The chagmat priest turns and flees back into the tunnel, with the deadly spider following on its heels.

    Our heroes break through the poison web and push further in, following Vann-La who is herself in hot pursuit of the chagmat. She catches up long enough to cleave on the two, but they continue to flee. Then Torinn and Nixie rush past Vann-La.

    Deeper in the cave, the chagmat priest chitters gleefully. As Nixie and Torinn run after him, they get a look at the monstrous, spider-like idol before him.

    Its eyes suddenly blaze with a sullen, sickly glow. And both Nixie and Torinn are blown back and off the edge of the cliff, into the chasm.

    Next Time: The final battle against the servants of Chag-Ma!
    the Jester

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    For a long, terrible moment as he falls, arms and legs flailing, through the empty air, Torinn thinks he is about to die. He has no idea whatsoever how long the fall is. The moment seems to stretch, stretch, streeeetch until it feels like he must have been falling for seconds, for minutes, for ever-

    And then he hits bottom with a bone-jarring impact that is only partially cushioned by a filthy mass of webbing, the shells of great beetles and other bugs sucked dry by the spider that lurks under the bridge. A few feet away, Nixie groans and rises on shaky legs.

    “The idol!” shouts Torinn to his companions, who he can still here fighting above. “Watch out for the idol! It can... zap you, scare you over the edge of the cliff!”

    ***

    Up above, the situation continues to develop. Vann-La, finally completely freed of the dancing venom (whatever the hell that was), manages to smite the freakish spider and bring it down; and, warned by the shouts of her friends at the bottom of the chasm (or at least, one of them), she steels herself for whatever terrors the great spider-god idol might be able to inflict.

    At the rear of the party, meanwhile, Cook and Sta’Ligir still struggle to extract themselves from the poison web that the chagmat priest cast. Cursing, Sta’Ligir even tries to burn it with a scorching burst, but to no avail. Finally, grunting and ripping out a substantial amount of his hair in the process, the Cook tears loose. Gasping, he staggers forward to the edge of the chasm- and halts, looking down in terror.

    It’s a long way down. Torinn and Nixie are already at the bottom, scrabbling uselessly for purchase. Cook gulps. Across the way, now illuminated by the glare of a sunrod that has been dropped on the web bridge, the spider idol is now visible. It looms over Vann-La like an onrushing monster about to devour her.

    Heimall rushes up next to the statue. Ignoring the chagmat priest, the warlord loops a rope around the statue; the other end is tied to his waist. “Rope up!” he cries. “That way it can’t knock you off the bridge!”

    Hissing angrily at this sacrilege, the chagmat scurries forward to intercede. Unfortunately for it, Vann-La is too fast. She lunges forward and swings her warhammer with chitin-cracking force, and the last chagmat falls!

    The idol’s eyes flash red, but now that Heimall is tied to it- and our heroes can emulate him quickly enough- the gig is up. It takes Cook, Nixie and Torinn a few moments, working together, to disable/desecrate the statue. And then the battle is won.

    If ever they have needed rest more, our heroes can’t think of when. So- setting a careful guard- they rest in the most secure place they can find that is not littered with blood and death. And, as soon as they have rested enough to travel, they leave the now-lifeless chagmat cave behind them as quickly as they can, resuming their journey through the Underdark.

    And, in less than an hour, much to their surprise, the party encounters another small band of travelers. These strangers are dwarves, and they turn out to be four members of the Hammersell clan. They sell arms and armor, and are happy to offer their wares for sale to our heroes.

    A few minutes of conversation reveals that the dwarves are from a clan that mostly dwells and trades underground. They help our heroes with some basic landmarks to guide them towards the xvart city, and they offer the party some advice, as well. When asked how the dwarves would approach Xvaangensleff, one of the Hammersells says flatly, “I wouldn’t. At least, not without a significant bodyguard. You need to look tough to deal with xvarts. You want them to take you seriously- if you look weak, they will try to take what you have by force.”

    “Why would you want to go to Xvaangensleff, anyway?” asks Thorin Hammersell.

    “We don’t, really,” replies Nixie.

    Kratos elaborates, “We are going under the mountain in an attempt to reach Fandelose before the armies of the Six-Fingered Hand. They are on the march... and they are overrunning the east.”

    But these dwarves, having never seen the sun, don’t even know who the Six-Fingered Hand is. Cook shakes his head. Different worlds, he thinks, mindful of just how different his homeland, Muk Nam, is from the Empire.

    “There might be another option for you, though,” Thorin muses.

    Darrel Hammersell speaks gruffly. “There’s a tunnel, but it’s not safe.”

    “What do you mean?” asks Sta’Ligir.

    Zurin speaks up. “That tunnel is cursed. There used to be a terrible dragon that lived in it, Voxis by name. She dripped venom from her maw that smoked and burned the stone beneath her. For a century she reigned over that tunnel, until a group of dwarves went in and finally rooted out her evil. With her last breath she cursed the area, and now, often as not, travelers in there vanish. That was, oh, a decade ago.

    “Now, we’ll be glad to show you to it, but I think you might want some of our wares first.”

    The dwarves offer to sell the pcs weapons crafted with special dwarven lore. “They are more resistant to wear and damage than most weapons are,” explains Zurin Hammersell. Additionally, the dwarves have a small cache of magic weapons for sale; Kratos buys a magical warhammer. It is of the basest magical nature, but that’s okay. He grins as he hefts it. It will help him do the job better.

    Meanwhile, Vann-La and Sta’Ligir try to get more details on the tunnel. The dwarves explain that one of the travelers lost in the tunnel in question was their uncle Klavis. He was in possession of one of the clan’s most prized hammers- a smith’s hammer. The dwarven elders have forbidden any more of the Hammersells to enter the tunnel, but if the pcs could go in, retrieve the hammer and return it, the dwarves would happily trade any one of the magic weapons for it.

    “I think we should do it,” Kratos says immediately. “It could shorten our journey considerably.”

    The party talks it over for a few moments, with Sta’Ligir arguing for continuing on the route they already know about. But in the end, the party decides to check out Voxis’ old tunnel.

    And her curse.

    Next Time: The Curse of Voxis!
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    The party creeps forward into a large, dank passage. The walls are spotted with weird underground fungi and stained with strange sheets of growth. Stalactites point downward from above, while stalagmites squat grotesquely on the cave floor. This is the path of Voxis. The dwarves of the Hammersell clan had explained to our heroes that the tunnel passes through the old lair of Voxis and then to an underground waterway (another one!) that leads, eventually, out to the sea in another corner of the world.

    We could get away from all of this... the Six-Fingered Hand, this mad war, everything, thinks Nixie.

    It is tempting; yet they all feel some sense of obligation to the people of the Empire, to their comrades in the army and navy, to their home cities and villages. Should they not try to help if they can? If Fandelose can be defended, aren’t they obligated to try?

    It is a question that they wrestle with as they proceed through the tunnel. Eventually, here and there, there start to be phosphorescent gleams from certain of the stranger growths on the walls. After about three hours, the passage widens into a larger cavern, with the ruins of several old wagons strewn about and old corpses lying amongst them.

    “We must be getting close to where they killed the dragon,” Torinn says in a hushed voice.

    They creep forward, but a sudden noise halts them: a rattling, scrabbling sound. And then, the corpses in the cavern begin to stir, rising up in a mass of undead! Skeletons and zombies rush forward; two hang back, throwing hunks of corrupt, necrotic flesh torn from their own bodies at our heroes.

    An intense battle breaks out. Kratos hammers his maul into one of the zombies, shattering its head in a single blow; then he, Vann-La and Torinn form a line of defense, while Sta’Ligir* commences with some blowing up of the enemy from the back rank. The undead are tough and dangerous; but the party uses excellent teamwork, and before long they stand triumphant over the ruin of the undead.

    Grimly, warily, the group moves forward again.

    And then, suddenly, darkness falls on the group.

    “What-?”

    ROAR!!!!

    “Argh!!” Vann-La screams as something tears into her.

    Confusion- movement all over, and a great flapping of wings-

    Torinn stumbles from the darkness and looks wildly around. Whoosh. It swoops past him.

    “Dragon!” the cleric cries.

    It laughs a malevolent laugh as it flies in for another pass, and Torinn ducks behind his shield. The dragon smashes into his shield with its shoulder and bites the dragonborn on the shoulder, delivering a terrible wound. Then, as it passes over the cloud, it vomits a gout of acid that splashes amongst the others.

    Confusion takes over as the party scatters, several of them screaming in agony from the acid searing them. Kratos misses with his eldritch blast as the dragon swoops in again. The dragon screams, “In the name of my mother, Voxis, I will slay you all and eat your hearts!” And then it lands and belches another gout of acid, this one directly at Kratos. The warlord takes it full in the chest and gives a shout of pain. And then he hurls himself forward, smashing his maul mightily into the dragon’s head. It screeches, and the party rallies; if it can be hurt, it can be killed!

    They pour it on.

    The battle is exhausting and vicious, with no holds barred and everyone giving it their all. It goes to the wire; the dragon deals out immense punishment, but Torinn and Kratos keep inspiring and healing its victims as they return the damage to the dragon. Meanwhile it has nobody healing it, and slowly- slowly- the party wins the day- and soon, the son of Voxis is slain.**

    Panting and bleeding, the party spends a few minutes resting and binding their wounds. Both Kratos and Torinn are skilled with healing, and before long the party is back to near full strength. They search around through the debris, especially in the area that Voxis’ son had been lurking, and quickly turn up some money, as well as the Hammersell clan’s lost hammer.

    “Perfect!” exclaims Kratos proudly. “Let’s go return this to them.”

    The group heads back out.

    ***

    The Hammersells are overjoyed at the return of their forge hammer. They thank the party effusively and say that they will spread the word that the party members are duran khazad, dwarf-friends.

    With Kratos holding a new magic warhammer that he bought from the Hammersells, the party discusses what to do next, consulting the dwarves with their questions.

    “What about this other corner of the world thing?” asks Nixie.

    “So we would sail down this waterway, or what?” asks Vann-La.

    The dwarves confirm this, but then explain that the party will have to fashion a raft from fungus. This takes them to a waterfall, and that will eventually lead them out.

    “I don’t know about that,” says Vann-La. “It sounds like an easy way to have things go terribly awry...”

    “There’s a bigger issue,” Heimall declares. “What about our people? The Six-Fingered Hand aren’t going to leave Fandelose alone if we aren’t there. I think we need to make a stand, if we can find a place where it’s viable. Even if Fandelose isn’t that place, it’s our best place to start looking for that place. At the very least, we can warn them that the Hand is coming, and let them know just how bad it looks.”

    “He’s right,” sighs Nixie. “We can’t just run forever.”

    “And this fungus boat waterfall trip sounds like a bad idea,” reiterates Vann-La.

    “It sounds like we’re agreed, then,” says Nowhere Jones. “We’ll keep going the way we were headed- through the xvart city.” And if I’m lucky, maybe I can burn the whole damn place down on our way out.

    “I was thinking about that,” Kratos speaks up. “The dwarves here told us that we need to put on a strong front if we want to pass through the xvart city unmolested, right? Well, we just killed a dragon. Let’s mount its head on our wagon!”

    The party agrees that this is a great idea. They return to the battle site, this time taking the wagon with them, and put as many ominous-looking dragon parts as they can in it. Then they return to the dwarves again, and they make a collective camp.

    In the morning, the party moves on towards the xvart city of Xvaangensleff.

    Next Time: Agents of the Six-Fingered Hand- ahead of our heroes!

    *I just discovered last night that I’ve been misspelling this all along; it should be Sta L’igir. But, as I always do when things of this nature come up, I’ll just explain it away as using the Common spelling, versus the Elven. (Sort of like how Frank is Francois.)

    **This was an awesome, epic, knock-down, drag-out fight. It was not one of those “got really boring” fights I keep hearing about.
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