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  1. #31
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    I have a question:

    Did you use the 2nd level Corruption Corpses, or the 4th level ones from the MM? I threw a couple of them at my group recently and they struggled quite badly against them with the weakened state they add on, and I was wondering how your group found them.

    Good to hear your Dragon fight went well - I haven't had one myself yet but I'm looking forward to unleashing the Green one in Thunderspire Labyrinth.
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    DM of 4e Adventure Path Story Hour - last updated 8th June 09, game now ended.
    Sadly, neither link now works but you can search for either game in the forum itself.

 

  • #32
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tallarn View Post
    I have a question:

    Did you use the 2nd level Corruption Corpses, or the 4th level ones from the MM? I threw a couple of them at my group recently and they struggled quite badly against them with the weakened state they add on, and I was wondering how your group found them.
    Yep, they were quite a chore to fight- I used the 4th level ones in the MM. The weakened condition that they throw on enemies is certainly a chore- but by this time, at least one of the party leaders had taken a "give ally a save" power, so that really helped. (I want to say Kratos with Shake It Off?)
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  • #33
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    I just finished catching up with this story hour. It's been a fun read even if I don't understand all the 4e-isms.

    Good stuff.
    Robert Blezard

  • #34
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    This is prolly well past due...

    PARTY ROLL CALL
    Nixie- eladrin fey warlock 2
    Kratos Aurainn- half-elf warlord 2
    Torinn Dzekrasode- dragonborn cleric 3
    Vann-La- (Kree) elf fighter 3
    Sta'Ligir- eladrin wizard 3
    Cook- dwarf rogue 2
    Heimall Heinrickson- human warlord 2
    Nowhere Jones- tiefling rogue 2
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  • #35
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    That's a big party - or two small parties. Ours is 7, and big parties definitely change 4e a little. What's your experience dealing with 8 PCs?

    Is one warlord inspiring and the other tactical?
    Action points must really be something...

  • #36
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    Quote Originally Posted by the Jester View Post
    Torinn Dzekrasode- dragonborn cleric 3
    Heh.
    "People need vision.
    Sometimes you just have to add spices without a recipie."
    - My wonderful wife.

  • #37
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tony Vargas View Post
    That's a big party - or two small parties. Ours is 7, and big parties definitely change 4e a little. What's your experience dealing with 8 PCs?

    Is one warlord inspiring and the other tactical?
    Action points must really be something...
    Yes to the warlord question.

    My experience is, it makes fights take longer if you account for it when building encounters, and you really need to. My notes are filled with things like "this is a level 5 encounter for five pcs, a level 6 encounter for four pcs and a level 4 encounter for 6-7 pcs..."

    I have a long tradition of parties with nicknames like "the adventuring 30" and stuff. My game pretty much always has mad numbers of players in it, and I have a bunch of other people who would love to get into it, as well. Although, with a number of my players having moved away or gotten newborn children in the last year, it's cut down on the press a little bit.

    When we play with a smaller party, things move a little faster, but we're pretty quick at full strength, too. We're almost always missing at least one person at any given time, though. A quorum is the dm (me) and three players. "The game goes on" is an important principle to maintain with a large group. While a smaller group can afford an "everyone has to be here to play" philosophy, it's simply hard to get 9 grown up people with lives together to play a game for six to eight hours once a week. We all have other, outside things going on sometimes; if we waited for everyone to be free, we'd have to cut a couple hours off the front and back of the game due to work schedules and we'd miss six out of seven weeks. Screw that! The game goes on.

    Another good thing to remember with a large group is, I can't predict the party. I mean, I have a pretty good idea of what the pcs are going to do in the next session- but I could be wrong. Moreover, usually there's a debate in the party at major forks as to which one to choose; and if they make a decision at the end of the game, that decision could change if a different group of players is present at the start of the next game. This has led to hours of wasted prep in the past... I had about a game's worth of stuff done up for when they were going to take the alternative route out through the dragon's tunnel and make rafts, but they changed their minds at the start of the next game and went back towards the xvart city, cleverly avoiding my cool "build a fungus raft" skill test, as well as the cool "ride a fungus raft down the rapids and an Underdark waterfall" skill test.

    Big groups kick ass, though. Lots of awesome personalities lead to lots of awesome roleplaying leads to lots of awesome plot hooks and adventures. I've had small groups, too, and those are cool, too; but massive groups- damn, but I love them.
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  • #38
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    After they finish resting, the party presses on. It does not take long at all for them to run into trouble- trouble in the form of a group of mixed orcs, kobolds and goblins.

    The Six-Fingered Hand!

    The party falls upon them, engaging them with a vengeance. They have a lot of frustration and anger at the Hand, and this is one of their first opportunities to vent it. The orcs pull out sunpowder pistols and open fire, filling parts of the battlefield with ephemeral clouds of smoke and sending balls of lead at the heroes, but the party quickly overwhelms them, slaying the orcs and kobold (who seems to be the leader, strangely) and capturing the goblins (whom they tentatively plan to pretend to have as slaves while they travel through the xvart city, adding legitimacy to their presence). Torinn is dubious about the entire slave idea, as is Heimall. They turn to Nowhere Jones for support, but he just shrugs. “They’re goblins.”

    “We can always let them go on the other side of the city,” says Nixie.

    “Let them go?” exclaims Vann-La. “We’re at war with them. We should kill them.”

    The party argues for a time, and finally decides to keep the goblins alive, as slaves, or at least as presumptive slaves, for the moment. Nixie names the goblins Iris, Daisy, Posy, Sodomy, Snapdragon, Laura and Chrysanthemum.

    ***

    The party continues moving slowly through the Underdark beneath the mountains. Finally, they rest again, setting a careful watch and ensuring that the goblins are kept securely bound or chained.

    During the night, the party is assailed by a collection of Underdark reptiles, beginning with several crocodiles from the dark waterway that our heroes are traveling beside. Towards the middle of the battle, more lizards come from down the hall; these prove to be blue shocker lizards. The battle is neither quick nor easy, as the attackers try to eat the beetles hauling the party’s wagon. Nixie effects a quick rescue of it, mounting up and flicking the reins; and the party manages to slay the hungry lizards and crocodiles before anything worse than a few wounds happens.

    The party finishes their rest and then moves on.

    ***

    Meanwhile, behind a cleverly-constructed fake section of wall, small grey eyes watch the party. Dry, leathery lips purse. The viewer moves aside, and another takes his place, peering out to observe the group as they move out.

    Silently, the first taps on the second’s arm, his fingers making complex rhythms and patterns. An interrogative. Marks?

    The second figure nods and taps back: The Twists.

    ***

    Vann-La cocks her head. “Hey,” she calls out. “Hold on, do you hear that?”

    Everyone stops and listens intently. “Is that- music?” asks Torinn.

    Heimall frowns. “What would music be doing down here?”

    “Oi, could be anyone,” says the cook. “Dwarf, gnome, goblin, giant- everyone needs music. Drumming travel long way in Underdark, long range communication. Music very common.”

    “Who cares?” Kratos barks. “We’re not here for music. You’re letting yourself get distracted. Let’s go.”

    “He’s right,” agrees Nixie. The others murmur assent and the party continues on its way. But about ten minutes later, they happen upon something even stranger: a glimmering, shimmering curtain of light.

    “Now what do you suppose that is?” wonders Nixie.

    Sta’Ligir hops off the wagon and strides over. “Let me see.” He studies it, then shrugs. “Some kind of fey magic, looks like.”

    Torinn whistles. “Hey, I can see through it. There’s some kind of passage...” Experimentally, the dragonborn pokes his hand through the shimmering field. No harm seems to come to him, and he is able to pull his hand back free easily. With a shrug, he steps through the gossamer curtain. “You should check this out,” he calls out. Movement in the corner of his eye catches his attention, but when he turns his head, nobody is there. He frowns. Slowly, he moves in the direction in which he thought the movement might have been going.

    And the floor drops out from under him.

    For a moment, Torinn wheel in the air before landing on a steep ramp; and a moment after that, he spills out onto a great pile of sand.

    Zing! A shortbow arrow whizzes past him arm, barely missing.

    Almost half a dozen xvarts begin to fire their weapons at Torinn.

    “Hey guys, you should come down here!” he yelps in pain. There is a noticeable hint of panic in his voice. “This is fun!”

    The xvarts rush in towards him.

    ***

    From behind a wall, Zelcair the svirf watches through a peek hole as his xvart allies quickly bring the dragonborn intruder down. He lets out a long breath and then hurries off to his right, following the secret passage behind the wall of the Twists of Zelcair towards the entry from which he can go to, and examine, the intruder that his xvart allies have taken.

    The Twists are only augmented and enhanced by his, and his folks’, talent for illusion. When the party had advanced beyond the first lure, he had been surprised. When the dragonborn had fallen into the second, he had been gratified. It had been a while since the last time he had met someone new. Someone who wouldn’t suspect Zelcair’s cruel jokes. Zelcair smiles a ghastly smile. Oh, yes; he has a few interesting pranks to try out. To refine. Let’s see if the dragonborn can puzzle his way out of the Bear Trap!

    As long as he is quick, he can spirit the dragonborn away before his friends have a chance to rescue him. As long as they aren’t moving quickly- and when last seen, they seemed more prone to move on a little and let Torinn catch up later.

    ***

    They were indeed. The wagon is slow but steady; the party lets it move forward, driven by Kratos, while Torinn investigates the passage. His first cry makes the others exchange a few glances amongst themselves. The following sudden scream of pain from below is all the summons that the rest of our heroes need. They move in to the passage that Torinn had entered a moment before and find the pit trap; below, they can see that it hits a steep slide.

    Heimall brings out a rope and starts to tie it off. Vann-La readies her shield and hammer and simply jumps into the pit and onto the slide. She shoots downward and shoots off into a great pile of sand, landing on a xvart and knocking him down.

    “Xvarts!” she shouts. “They’ve already gotten Torinn! You’ll land in a sand pile!” She struggles to her feet before the xvart by using him to push herself up. Then she pounds her hammer into him, then staggers around and smashes another of the blue-skinned little humanoids!

    The xvarts crowd around Vann-La. The one that she knocked prone stabs her deeply; she twists away and manages to fend off the attacks of the other two already on her.

    Then Heimall shoots down into the room, dropping down the rope very quickly, and bowls another xvart over!

    The party starts to drop in in force, and Kratos manages to immediately slay one of the wounded ones. Iggy, in the middle of things, fires magic missiles to cover Heimall, as he shouts, “ON YOUR FEET, SOLDIER!” Torinn groans as the warlord roughly pulls him up and shakes him. “You can’t give up! The Empire needs you!!” Torinn’s eyes open and his jaw sets.

    “Thank you,” he gasps, taking inspiration from Heimall’s words. He stands firm, whipping his spiked chain about.

    Now that the party has come to his rescue, the battle swiftly turns one-sided. It’s a slaughter.

    Nobody sees Zelcair slip away in the shadows.

    ***

    “Now what?” asks Nixie.

    “We could explore...” Torinn begins, but Kratos cuts him off.

    “This isn’t helping us achieve our goals.”

    There is a general consensus that he is right. Using the rope, our heroes escape the xvart trap (actually, though they don’t know it, a svirf trap) and continue on their way.

    Next Time: Our heroes navigate the Crystal Gallery and to Xvaangensleff at last!
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  • #39
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    Into Xvaangensleff!

    After leaving the Twists of Zelcair behind (albeit never knowing what a gnome-strewn mess they almost strayed into), the party continues along. However, they are confronted by a mystery.

    Two of the goblin slaves have been murdered.

    “Well, it’s no great loss,” reasons Nowhere Jones. “They’re just goblins.”

    “But we might need them to get through the xvart city,” Sta’Ligir hisses in frustration. “And the last thing we need is a murderer among us!”

    “It’s not murder if they’re goblins,” Jones maintains stubbornly.

    Nixie only shrugs. “Who cares? Let’s just get out of this underground hole.”

    “Remember,” Torinn points out, “we only have so much food, and we can’t just starve them.”

    Vann-La nods. “Half rations for them, then. They won’t starve- but it will help keep them too weak to try anything.”

    ***

    Deeper under the mountain the group goes, the steadily-plodding wagon moving slowly but able to navigate most terrain obstacles that they come into. Finally, after three days, the long, narrow passageway that they have been following for what feels like forever opens up in a highly reflective, chilly cave lined with ice.

    The Crystal Gallery.

    As they move through the Gallery, they pass along a long corridor where vague shapes seem trapped deep within the ice. Peering at them, Vann-La thinks that at least some of the forms are humanoid. She shudders, imagining a slow, freezing death, trapped in a block of ice. Large crystalline “flowers” of ice dot the floor, sharp and jagged as caltrops. Areas of the floor are raised or lowered from the main level of the path.

    Uneasily, the party continues along. The dark forms in the ice hang immobile, but everyone is very nervous about them. Some of the rises and ice flower fields look dangerous to the wagon, so Sta’Ligir decides to use a series of scorching bursts to melt a clear path. However, after the first one, the sound of cracking ice resonates all around, and some chunks of ice and water slough from the ceiling.

    “Hmm,” muses Sta’Ligir, “not much structural integrity...”

    “Oi, I got a bad feeling about this,” Cook mutters.

    “I got a bad feeling about that chili you made,” retorts Iggy. “But I think we’d best avoid any further fire in the ice cave.”

    Carefully, the group picks its way forward. The beetle hauling the wagon seems confused by the ice flowers, but gradually feels its way around them. The tension is high, and the dark figures still loom on either side, but gradually, the party proceeds towards Xvaangensleff.

    “Wait!” says the cook suddenly. “Look! Listen!”

    There is a low sound, like ice cracking from within. Our heroes stare, aghast, as the walls of ice surrounding them begin to show the cracks that they can hear.

    And in an explosion of frosty shards, the dead burst from the wall.

    Rimed with ice, the bones of almost a dozen humanoids tear their way free and begin to lurch towards the party. For a moment, everyone stares rigidly and slack-jawed at the undead forms coming through.

    Then they spring into action.

    Sta’Ligir bites back the words to his scorching burst spell, and instead begins casting magic missiles about. Torinn whips his spiked chain around him, smashing into undead form after undead form as he seeks the middle of their group. One of them describes a long, shallow cut on his arm. Heimall, seemingly intimidated by the skeletons breaking free of their icy prisons, retreats, hands shaking on the haft of his glaive. It slips in his grip, and he cannot seem to launch an effective attack. Gritting his teeth, he firms up his grip and tries again, this time smashing a skeleton’s skull in and knocking the unliving horror to the ground. Kratos charges in, missing, while Vann-La lays about her with sweeping blows, keeping her foes from effectively attacking her allies. Nowhere Jones and the party’s dwarven cook lay about them with daggers and frying pan, striking down skeletons with lethal skill.

    Then Torinn raises one hand high, his symbol of Lester clutched in his fist, and turns undead.

    There is an explosion of holy energy. Radiance bursts out, emanating from the symbol and from Torinn himself, and all around him, skeletons are blasted apart. Those that survive are transfixed, and Kratos, Nowhere Jones and Vann-La quickly finish them off.

    Just in time, for the sound of tittering laughter comes to our heroes. Two more forms- small humanoids made of ice, with large noses and cruel expressions, are coming down towards the party. They chatter in strange, tinkling voices. They stop some distance from our heroes, making little taunting noises and obscene gestures at them.

    “Screw these guys,” Kratos growls. The party begins to move up, but as they get within about 30’, the ice creatures create fields of snow before them, making it difficult to advance. Torinn almost loses his footing as he moves across it. Vann-La raises her shield just in time as the two things breathe little blasts of frost at her. Sta’Ligir frowns, hanging back behind the snow packs, and keeps blasting at the creatures with magic missiles.

    “What are these things?” wonders Nowhere Jones.

    “They’re mephits!” Torinn replies. “I’ve read about them in the Chronicles of Lester! They’re elemental creatures, but not very powerful ones.”

    “Not for long,” Vann-La snarls. She leaps forward off the patch of powdery, impeding snow, and swings her hammer with telling force, annihilating the lower part of the first mephit’s head. It collapses in a pile of jaggedly-broken ice.

    The other mephit squeals in fear. It starts to back away, but Heimall charges, his glaive crashing into the frozen chest of the ice mephit. The creature’s torso explodes like an ice cube thrown against a wall.

    Our heroes check themselves. Though they have a few bruises and cuts, they are in pretty good shape. They take a few minutes to catch their breaths and search, and they find that one of the skeletons wears a suit of chain mail that is in good shape. They take it as spoils and move on.

    ***

    The far side of the Crystal Gallery is only a few minutes from the scene of their most recent battle. It ends at a narrow stairway that descends. Their wagon will fit, but only just. They proceed cautiously, descending for several hundred stairs before they spill out on a wide ledge on the edge of a huge cavern.

    A small amount of illumination reaches them from innumerable patches of phosphorescent fungi scattered about. More light comes from the city itself. The cave is immense enough to hold the entire city of Xvaangensleff- and more. It is literally miles across. The party is on what they first take for a ledge, but slowly realize is actually a terrace. The entire near side of the cavern has been shaped to cultivate immense fields of edible fungi. Near the party is a milling herd of shaggy, bison-like creatures that are called rothe (at least, that’s what Cook calls them). There are about six more terraces before the bottom of the cavern, but a section of the wall has been converted to a road leading into the city. Near the top of the far side is a cavernous exit- heading upwards still.

    The city- it is huge. There must be a couple of thousand inhabitants.

    Our heroes stare at the walled Underdark city in wonder for a few minutes before getting down to business. The far side of the cave is a long, shallow slope heading back up, and the city adorns it like a skirt.

    “Before we go in there, we need to have our story straight,” Vann-La says firmly.

    The others nod, and the party starts to put their tale together. Remembering what they were told by the Hammersell dwarves that they met, they know that they must appear tough and ruthless if they do not wish to be hassled. They decide to pose as slavers, selling the goblins, and to simply pass through the city. Again, an argument breaks out over the merits of selling the goblins into slavery, but it ends inconclusively. They touch up the dragon parts on the wagon, re-mounting the head and wings so that they look as fearsome as possible, and then they head in.

    A cluster of squalor is around the exterior of the city walls. A collection of all kinds of creatures of the Underdark, including gnomes, goblinoids, dwarves, kobolds, orcs and, of course, the blue-skinned xvarts swarm throughout the slum, transacting business and performing nefarious acts upon one another in a desperate struggle to crawl their stations in life into the city proper. As the party passes through the slum, they can see many different businesses being run. Everything from slave gear (though not slaves, at least as far as our heroes see) to excavation tools to beetles is available. They hurry past, wanting very badly to get out of this place as quickly as possible.

    Entry into Xvaangensleff itself is through a large purple gate. At the gate, they join a line of creatures entering the city.

    “They’re paying to get in,” Nixie says. “I hope it’s not too much...”

    When they get to the front of the line, a foul-tempered cluster of xvarts at the gate house demands their business.

    “We’re here to sell these goblin slaves,” says Kratos. “And maybe buy some other slaves.”

    “Very well. Bring your slaves forth.”

    The party is assessed an entry tax of 1 gold piece per free individual and 1 silver per slave. The slaves are then tagged with a locking, non-removable earring. The xvarts explain that this helps to make slaves easily identifiable and to help prevent fraud as to who is a slave and who is not for the purpose of various fees and tariffs. Furthermore, the party is informed that leaving the city costs 1 gold piece per free individual and five gold pieces per slave. This, they surmise, is how the xvart city ensures that it gets its cut of the slave traffic.

    They enter Xvaangensleff through the wide stone gate. On the other side they find a street some 15’ wide, crowded on either side with buildings. Many xvarts are walking about on it, and most of them are attended by one or more goblin or kobold slaves. As the party’s wagon rolls in, many of the passersby stare at them. Obviously, almost everyone in here is either a xvart or a slave, and the party is a most unusual collection of individuals for this place. They see a few other non-xvart creatures- a dwarf, a pair of hobgoblins, a duergar- walking freely as well; they, too, have slaves. Along the sides of the roads are period hitching posts; a few of these have slaves chained to them, presumably while their masters conduct business within one of the buildings. Refuse is scattered everywhere, but thickest along the edges of the road. The place stinks of piss and smoke.

    The buildings near the gate seem to be predominantly businesses. Our heroes spy an inn, whose sign seems to be some kind of drunken mushroom; a place that plainly sells weaponry and armor next to it; an open-air business that seems to specialize in branding slaves and property; a blacksmith- a hobgoblin, by the looks of him- whose shop is hung with manacles and chains; and many more. The street seems to open into a plaza further down, crowded with xvarts.

    The city slopes gradually up ahead, and many areas are lit, so the party can see a great distance. There is a large palace in the densest section of the city, splendid with light and crawling with xvarts. A great monument- a statue of a xvart some 50’ high- is in another section of the city; it looks like the head is being renovated.

    The party moves along the streets as quickly as their beetle allows. Vann-La glares around, kicking garbage aside from her path, hand constantly on her hammer. Kratos listens intently; he has already begun to pick up the Xvart tongue, and he’s trying to learn more as he goes. Groups of xvarts stare at the party, assessing them; when they come to the dragon head mounted atop the wagon, most of them quickly lose interest.

    The party moves into the city’s central plaza. It is obviously a slave market, and several stages are currently hosting slave auctions.

    Vann-La stops suddenly, her eyes widening.

    There is an elf in one of those cages.

    He sees her, and the rest of the party, and reaches an arm out through the cage he is caught in. “Please,” he cries, “you have to help me!”

    Vann-La is speechless. The others hear the elf and turn, spotting him as well.

    “Please- I have information vital to the Empire. Free me!!”

    Next Time: Can our heroes free the elf? Will they escape Xvaangensleff? Find out- next time!
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    Xvaangensleff

    With an angry growl, the xvarts nearest the cage holding the elf smack the bars threateningly with heavy clubs. The elf cringes back. Still holding Vann-La’s eyes, he silently mouths, Please.

    “We have to help him,” Vann-La mutters.

    The party looks around. There are hundreds of creatures thronging the slave market. Obviously, to simply attack would be tantamount to suicide. “Maybe we can buy him,” suggests Nixie. The others nod. It’s worth a try. Vann-La nods slowly to the elf and raises a finger to her lips.

    The party spends some time watching the action, figuring out how the system works. Kratos, who has been concentrating on picking up snatches of the Xvart language, manages to act as a rough translator.* It seems as though there is a slaver’s guild, and any transactions must go through them. There are long lines in front of the guild’s kiosks, but they move fairly briskly. Business is obviously transacted with both regularity and efficiency; the xvarts know what they’re doing, when it comes to the slave trade.

    The party negotiates with the xvarts at the elf’s cage. The xvarts don’t really seem to care why the pcs want the elf, as long as they pay good money. Our heroes bargain with the goblins, and after waiting in line, make their transaction, pay the guild its fees and walk away with a shackled elf. They mutter to him that he must act the part of a slave until they exit the city, and move on as quickly as their beetle can trundle.

    The elf’s name is Rathagos. “Thank you so much,” he murmurs. “I have nothing, but I promise you, if you can take me to the city of Fandelose, out of the western side of these damned tunnels, you will be rewarded for saving me!”

    “We’re going there anyway,” Heimall says grimly. “How long have you been down here?”

    “A few weeks... we were trying to reach the city via the tunnels, when the xvarts fell upon my squadron. The killed or captured us, and I feared that the information I have would never reach Fandelose!”

    Vann-La and Torinn exchange a glance. “What information?” asks the dragonborn.

    “A ritual, to help defend the city,” the elf says. “The Six-Fingered Hand is not far from striking them, and this will help to strengthen the city’s walls and battlements.”

    “You should teach it to us, if we can learn it,” Sta’Ligir suggests.

    But the elf shakes his head. “I don’t actually know it. It was... planted in my head. I am no ritualist, I am just carrying it.”

    Iggy nods. There must be another ritual, he realizes, to put a ritual into someone’s mind like that. And perhaps yet another, to extract it again. So much to learn...

    ***

    Speaking of rituals, as the party moves through the garbage-filled streets of Xvaangensleff, Sta’Ligir spies a ritualist’s shop. The party debates whether or not to stop. Kratos points out, quite rightly, that if they get into much trouble, they could end up enslaved. But Sta’Ligir and Torinn are insistent: without components, the rituals they do know are fairly useless, but given the material to enact their rituals, there are many advantages the party might be able to employ. “Like speaking to things when we don’t know their language,” Iggy grumbles.

    Kratos snorts. “We can learn their language. I can learn their language.”

    “What if you aren’t around?”

    “I agree with Iggy,” says Torinn, and the party grinds to a halt. They move quickly, buying some supplies and a few books to learn new rituals, including both enchant magic item and transfer enchantment.

    The group keeps moving. Piles of refuse, some of them burning, slow the beetle, but it plods over or around them relentlessly. Finally, they come to the Yellow Gate allowing them to exit the city. They pay their tolls- Rathagos has one of the slave earrings on, so he costs extra- and then they are outside the city, in the slums surrounding it on the far side. The exit tunnel looms ahead and above, and they are now ascending the curving slope of the wall of the gargantuan cavern. Iggy uses a light cantrip, and Kratos cracks a sun rod; they are leaving the city lights behind them.

    The slums here are thin; it is not level enough for easy living. The party leaves them behind in less than ten minutes. Cave formations and fungal growths replace the shabby huts and sheds that they have been passing through.

    “I wonder how much longer to get out to other side of tunnel,” Cook muses.

    “Hold on,” Vann-La says sharply. “Over there...” She points, and the others look. Half-hidden behind some mineral growths are a pile of bodies.

    “What do you suppose that’s all about?” Heimall scratches his beard. None of our heroes have shaved or bathed in almost two weeks, since abandoning Chebonnay.

    “I don’t know,” she answers.

    The party examines the bodies for a few moments. They are uniformed xvarts, killed by blade and arrow and club. They are puzzling over the dead when a sudden hue and cry alerts them to a party of live xvarts and rats- and the xvarts are wearing similar uniforms to the dead.

    An obvious misunderstanding develops. The xvarts sic their rats on the party, and then charge to the attack themselves. Our heroes deal devastating blows, cutting down most of the enemy in a few short moments without any real harm to themselves.

    “Let’s get out of here,” Kratos insists. “Let’s go. We’re almost out of here. No stopping, no searching, let’s git.

    The party marches up into the exit cavern, leaving xvarts behind them. Nixie manages to disengage the slave earring from Rathagos, and they give him one of the xvart shortbows, as well as a set of clothes. He examines their uniforms and announces that he was in the army as an irregular and scout. He thanks them again, and assures them that, upon reaching Fandelose, General Argos will reward them for bringing him to the city.

    What he does not know, of course, is that at that moment, General Argos is being arrested. Within an hour he will be in the infamous Black Tower. Things in Fandelose are, unfortunately, a little more complicated than would be ideal. But our heroes will find out all about that soon enough.

    The passage out of the huge cavern does not, of course, lead directly to the surface, but it slopes so noticeably upwards that it cannot help but be heading in the right direction. The party clambers up an ever-increasing slope for hours. Finally, at the fourth hour, they encounter a crossroads. They pause, gasping, to rest and eat. No signs point the way, but one passage heads clearly upwards. It is this tunnel that our heroes take, hoping that it will lead them to the surface at last. Except for their dwarven cook, who is quite happy underground, all of our heroes crave the sun; it has been a week since they have seen it. Fresh air. Green plants.

    Into a rubble and boulder strewn chamber they go; up and up, but leveling off here, where there is so much scree. And as they traverse it, they are attacked, suddenly, from the darkness, by howling, ursine humanoids wielding primitive stone axes. They hack and hurl them, and attack in a mass, stupidly.

    Our heroes use tactics. Nowhere Jones and the Cook move to flank; Vann-La tangles the mass of the enemy up, while Nixie takes the beetle and wagon to safety, then starts firing eldritch blasts.

    The creatures, once bloodied, become savage, frenzied. Their blows increase in ferocity. But that just means that our heroes start hitting hard as the enemy gets badly wounded. Soon, the last furred humanoid falls.

    ”What are those things?” wonders Sta’Ligir.

    “Oi, they called quaggoths,” Cook answers. “Mean, Underdark bear-man. Very bad.”

    “Well, apparently, we’re badder,” puffs Kratos.

    A long, ululating howl echoes down the cave.

    “They come in waves,” Cook continues. “Strong against poison.”

    “Waves, eh?” Heimall says.

    The party forms a rough circle and continues moving. The second wave comes quiclly, and this time there are more of them quaggoths. Some of them are unarmored, but they can do a terrific job of rending the heroes with their massive, strong, clawed fingers. The battle starts off looking good for the party, but rapidly progresses to a less good-looking configuration when Cook falls, smashed down by a wig-splitting blow from one of the axe-wielding quaggoths.

    “Cook!” cries Torinn. Using the power of Lester, he murmurs a healing word- and Cook groans back to consciousness.

    A quaggoth savages him, and he falls back into unconsciousness. Slavering, the thing howls.

    Torinn smashes its head in with his spiked chain and moves to cover Cook while he uses another healing word.

    The quaggoths are pushed back; pushed apart; pushed to wall, then cut down. Panting, wounded, bloodied, our heroes decide to hurry on immediately, without searching or resting. “If another wave hits us here, while we’re beaten up, we’re in bad shape,” reasons Heimall. “Maybe, if we can get out of their hunting ground...”

    The party moves quickly. No imminent third wave of quaggoths hits them; they hurry onward for about thirty minutes before they find an open area with what appears to be a partially collapsed, partially buried shrine. The cavern it is in is full of rubble and partially collapsed; the entire cave floor is covered in jumbled rocks and scree. A tall tower in the rear of the ruin, whose entrances from outside seem to have been buried by rubble, thrusts up through the low roof.

    The party halts. The tower thrusts up through the roof of the cave.

    “It’s made of wood,” Nowhere Jones says. “It fell from above.”

    “If we go in, maybe we can get out through the top,” suggests Vann-La.

    ”Wait a second,” Heimall says. “We still need to catch our breath. If any quaggoths are following us, better to take them on now than when we might be fighting something else, too, at the same time.”

    They pause, take a few moments to regain their breath, bind wounds, heal a little. Still no third wave of quaggoths.

    Boldly, Vann-La throws open the tower door.

    Next Time: Return to the surface world at last!

    *He took Linguist as a feat.
    the Jester

    The Monster Project

    Buy my first self-published weird sci-fi novel from Amazon here!

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