3.5 The Kordovian Adventurers Guild - Page 8
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    ADVENTURE 59: TEN LORDS A-LEAPING

    PC Roster:
    Binkadink Dundernoggin, gnome fighter 16
    Darrien, half-elf ranger 16
    Finoula Cloudshadow, elf ranger 16
    Gilbert Fung, human wizard 16
    Hagan, half-orc sorcerer 16

    NPC Roster:
    Malrin Ivenheart, elf druid 10
    MARCI, humanoid construct

    Game Session Date: 16 February 2019

    - - -

    Gilbert Fung passed a pouch of coins to the scroll merchant. "It all there," he announced and was slightly disappointed when the wizard-scribe insisted on counting it all out for himself. As if Gilbert Fung, the premiere wizard in the kingdom of Kordovia, would be the type to short-change a creator of arcane scrolls!

    "It's all here, all right," the wizard nodded to Gilbert, passing over the scrolls the heavyset mage had requested.

    "Of course it all there! I already say it--" but then suddenly Gilbert's tirade stopped abruptly, for he felt the tingling sensation at the base of his skull that warned him an imminent message spell. Sure enough, while the scroll merchant looked on expectantly for Gilbert to finish his thought, a couple of brief sentences imprinted themselves directly in Gilbert's mind: "Rale Bodkin in trouble. Need full team in Greyhawk City immediately. Seek Thunderwolf at Adventurers Guild Headquarters for details. Hurry!"

    "Ah, crap!" Gilbert swore to himself. Without another word, he scooped up his new purchases and rolled them up all together - he'd have to sort them out later. He looked around, visualizing where he was in the city. Since he was closer to Ivenheart Manor than Battershield Keep, he swung there first to alert Malrin to gear up and meet them at the keep. Then he huffed off across town, his earth elemental familiar Mudpie keeping pace behind him. Once they got out of the city proper things went better for the portly wizard (if not for poor Mudpie), as he had the elemental sink down halfway into the ground and support Gilbert's weight in his outstretched hands, which he kept over his head while earth gliding through the dirt. Frankly, Gilbert needed the break; he was winded from what little running he'd done thus far.

    When they arrived at Battershield Keep to rouse the other heroes, Gilbert was surprised to see them already assembled and in full gear. He was about to ask how they knew to make their preparations - and then he saw a familiar owl perched on Finoula's shoulder - Malrin had obviously geared up herself and then wildshaped into an owl to fly the distance to Battershield Keep. Malrin couldn't speak while in owl form, but the others knew enough that if the young elven druid had flown to them as an owl, there was adventuring to be done.

    "We're all ready," teased Binkadink. "What took you so long?"

    Ignoring the question, Gilbert looked around at the assembled heroes and asked one of his own. "Where Castillan?"

    "We haven't seen him all day," admitted Darrien. "He said he was going to hit the taverns last night and try his luck at cards. Presumably it's going well and he's still at it, or he was up all night and is crashing in an inn somewhere." This wasn't unusual behavior for Malrin's oldest brother; Castillan often made a bit of money on the side playing cards at all hours of the night. However, he made it a habit to try his hand at all of the local gambling establishments rather than pick a favorite; as a result, he could be in any of a half-dozen locations.

    "Well, we leave without him," Gilbert decided. He briefly explained the message spell he'd received. "You remember location of Greyhawk Adventurers Guild?" he asked Hagan.

    "I do," replied the half-orc. The group had visited there once before, after having rescued Thunderwolf and what was left of his Guild from slavery on the Elemental Plane of Earth. Thunderwolf's Adventurers Guild was hidden away in an extradimensional pocket in the slums of Greyhawk City - at the insistence of the Lords of Greyhawk, after the original building (and several others on either side of it) had been destroyed by a rampaging black dragon the Guild had managed to irritate. The Lords allowed Thunderwolf to start up a new Adventurers Guild, but its new location was not to be public knowledge. "I can teleport us to the alleyway behind the building where it's housed," Hagan promised. "Who all's going?" He looked expectantly at the group of animals surrounding the heroes.

    "I'm taking Wrath," Finoula decided, indicating her timber wolf. "Not much sense in bringing Daisy, though. She can stay here."

    "I'm bringing Grumps!" Darrien announced. The half-elf ranger had recently become a great fan of the animal growth spell that made his dire bear cub expand to the size of an adult grizzly and he hadn't been able to use that stratagem for awhile now.

    "Obvious is coming along," Binkadink said from the jackalope's saddle. Given his position, that was rather obvious.

    "Okay, then, gather around," Hagan said, his own weasel familiar Wezhley in his customary place on the sorcerer's left shoulder. With the utterance of an arcane syllable the assembled heroes and animals disappeared from Battershield Keep and appeared in a back alleyway of the Styes, Greyhawk City's slums. "The Guild Headquarters is this way," Hagan said, pointing with his thumb. But before they could open the door to the decrepit-looking building that served as a front for the Greyhawk City Adventurers Guild, the door opened and an armored warrior stepped out. He wore a large sword strapped to his hip.

    "Thanks for coming so quickly," Thunderwolf said to the group. "Come on - Rale's this way." And he led them away from the Guild Headquarters, across the street and down a few buildings to an equally questionable-looking structure. He opened the door and stepped inside, beckoning for the others to follow. The building was rather like a small barn or large shed, all one big chamber but for a smaller room off in one corner. Thunderwolf opened the door to this smaller room, and there, on a cot along the back wall, sat Rale Bodkin, one of the Guildmasters who also served as a Lord of Greyhawk.

    Rale looked up at the group's approach, and the first thing the Kordovians noticed was that the Guildmaster's left eye was particularly bloodshot. But then, upon closer inspection, that wasn't the case at all: rather, the white part of his eye was entirely red and the iris a deep violet - in stark contrast to Rale's brown right eye.

    "What happened to you?" Finoula asked.

    "Well, that's a story," Rale admitted, looking up at the elven ranger with his mismatched eyes. He still couldn't get over how much she looked like her little sister, Feron Dru, who had been part of the same Wing of the old Greyhawk Adventurers Guild with the rogue, some twenty years back or more - long before he'd taken over as the leader of the Guild of Thieves and become one of the ten Lords who kept the city functioning.

    "So here's the short version. I'm walking down the street, minding my own business, when I feel a sting on the back of my neck. I pull out a dart, see the tip's covered in some sort of poison, and then that's pretty much all I remember until waking up in some underground lab, strapped to a table. I was in and out of it for awhile, but I remember seeing this red and purple eye" - here he indicated his left eye - "floating in a jar of bubbling liquid. Then I blacked out again for awhile, and when I woke up again the jar was empty and my left eye was hurting me something fierce."

    "Somebody removed your eye and replaced it with that one?" Finoula asked, aghast at the very concept.

    "Whatever for?" asked Darrien.

    "Beats me," Rale admitted. "But I wasn't gonna stick around to find out. I managed to free myself from the table and staggered out of the room - and that's when I found myself in the sewers."

    "This story just gets worse," Finoula commented to herself, her nose wrinkled in disgust.

    "About that time, I felt this...presence in my mind," Rale continued. "It was like a bunch of voices, all trying to tell me what to do. I wasn't having none of that, so I found a ladder up to the surface and figured out where I was. It was near here, in the Styes. I found my way to this antimagic field room we set up for such occasions as this, and as soon as I entered the field the voices - and the attempts at dominating me - stopped at once. But I've tried stepping outside the field and as soon as I do the voices return."

    "So he's stuck here for now," Thunderwolf cut in. "We've got Desdemona leading the Collectors in scouring the city for any leads as to who might behind this. And my Guild members will stay here guarding Rale, because we don't know if the telepathic presence trying to dominate Rale is aware of his present location. If it is, they could be coming here for him, as we speak."

    "So why we here?" asked Gilbert, cutting to the chase.

    "I want you guys to see if you can track down the lab in the sewers," Rale repied. "See if you can find out where the operation was done, who was behind it, and put a stop to it. And if you can find my own eyeball, that would be great."

    "I take it, then, you're not sure where in the sewers you were?" Finoula prompted.

    "No idea. I can direct you to which manhole cover I popped up out of - that should give you a good idea of where to start. But I was too busy fighting off the attempts at mental domination to keep track of every twist and turn I took in the sewers. Hey, whatcha doing?" As Rale had been answering the ranger, she had brought Wrath over to sniff Rale's boots. She also lifted them up to get a good look at their soles, the better to recognize any tracks he might have left - judging by the muck on the bottoms of his boots, there was a good chance she might be able to spot his tracks and backtrack from there. And having Wrath get the Guildmaster's scent would only help in the endeavor. Rale gave them verbal directions to the manhole cover he used to exit the sewers and the Kordovians were off.

    But while following Rale's instructions, Darrien came to a sudden realization. "How are we going to get Grumps down through a manhole?" It was a good question; there was no way the dire bear cub would fit through a hole just barely big enough to allow a human - Gilbert was going to find the process a pretty close fit as it was. The group took a side path into a dark alley so Binkadink could unroll the carpet of teleporting he kept in the group's portable hole. Laying it out flat in the alley, Darrien and Grumps stepped onto it and disappeared. The ranger returned a few minutes later, having put his cub in the animal pen inside the lower, extradimensional deck of their dragonfly spelljamming vessel. "He's fine," Darrien reported back. "I gave him some food from the larder." Looking at the gnome, he asked, "Do you want to do the same with Obvious?"

    But Binkadink had been talking it over with Finoula during Darrien's absence. The gnome wanted to bring his jackalope along in the sewers, but given Obvious was the size of a full-grown horse that was going to be a problem. Finoula was the one to suggest a reduce animal spell, which would shrink Obvious to human size - small enough to squeeze through a sewer opening and yet still big enough for his gnome rider to be able to fit in the saddle. She cast the spell on the jackalope once they found the correct manhole and Binkadink climbed back into the saddle. "Is that going to work?" Finoula asked.

    "The saddle's kind of a tight fit," Binkadink complained, "but yeah, this'll work. Thanks, Finoula."

    Gilbert cast a Rary's telepathic bond spell that encompassed all of the heroes, linking them together in a mental connection that allowed them to communicate to each other without actually speaking. With Castillan absent, Gilbert could actually affect the entire assembled group, which was a welcome change.

    "Are we ready?" asked Binkadink, climbing back down from the saddle and lifting the manhole cover up and to the side. An unpleasant odor wafted up from below, and the gnome wrinkled his prodigious nose in disgust. Obvious would now fit through the opening, but not with the gnome on his back - he'd have to climb back on once they were both in the sewers below.

    "One minute, gnome," Gilbert responded, pulling a vial of some potent-smelling unguent from a pouch and dabbing it under his nostrils. "Don't want to smell sewers." That was too good an opportunity for Binkadink to pass up: using his racial ability to cast prestidigitation, Binkadink altered the scent of the unguent beneath Gilbert's nose to mirror that of the stench rising from the sewers below. "Guh!" Gilbert complained, looking suspiciously at the bottle before he put it back in his pouch. He suspected he'd been had by the merchant he'd purchased this gunk from - it didn't seem to be working worth...well, crap. Binkadink suppressed his smile and looked the other way, the very face of innocence.

    "I'll take Wrath down first," Finoula offered. Leaning down, she scooped up her timber wolf and stepped onto the ladder leading down into darkness. Once fully below the surface of the street, she stepped off the ladder and onto the wall, shifting her weight as she did so, and walking down the rest of the way, courtesy of her boots of spider climbing. The everburning torch tucked under her arm provided enough light for her to see when she got to the bottom - it was about 30 feet or so below the street above. Once reaching the bottom, she gratefully set Wrath down - he was heavy! The wolf snorted at the unpleasant odors in the sewers but sniffed about, seeking Rale's scent. Malrin alit upon Finoula's shoulder, still in her owl form. The owl's smaller size would likely come in handy while maneuvering through the cramped tunnels; this tunnel was circular in cross-section but only about 5 feet tall, forcing most of the adventurers to have to hunch forward when passing through them.

    Obvious scrambled through the opening next, wriggling through head-first and dropping the full distance, landing easily on all fours and then waiting patiently while Binkadink climbed down the ladder at a much slower pace. He was glad to leap into the saddle, though: looking at the foul-smelling liquid trickling along the floor, it looked like the little gnome was going to be the only one who wouldn't need to wash his boots at the end of this particular excursion!

    The others climbed down after the gnome, leaving MARCI to follow once everyone else had made it down below - they weren't sure if the construct's metal construction would be too heavy for the aging metal ladder, and thought it best not to have anyone standing directly beneath her when she climbed down. But the medical construct made it to the lower level without incident. She scanned about with the red beam from her single eye.

    "Rale's boot print," Finoula pointed out to the others. She was able to backtrack his path to an open room, where at least the ceiling was 10 feet tall and she could stand up straight. "He came from this direction." But there were several branches from this central chamber, one being a winding passageway that meandered in a southerly direction, with a larger, circular side-tunnel, some 10 feet in cross-section, leading from east to west. Darrien took a southern side tunnel that broke off from the central tunnel before even hitting the larger chamber and decided to explore it. He saw the larger east-west tunnel before him, but other than the occasional rat he saw no signs of life. Still, he held his Arachnibow at the ready, an arrow nocked and ready to fire should the need arise.

    Wrath and Finoula had gone south along the meandering route, reaching the western edge of the east-west tunnel. She could see Darrien's head peeking out from his side tunnel east of her position, and beside him looked to be a larger opening in the side of the tunnel, this one heading north. She doubted Darrien could even see it from his position, so she alerted him to its presence over the mental link. <I'll check it out!> offered Malrin, flapping off of Finoula's shoulder and flying east down the wide tunnel.

    Gilbert, in the meantime, had gone to the western edge of the initial chamber and saw a passageway to the north. It made an almost immediate left turn to the east, which, surprisingly, led to a set of wide stairs leading up to another level 10 feet higher. He was about to check out these stairs when his eye was caught by a dot of red on the filthy floor ahead of him - it was a drop of blood, likely Rale's. Behind him, Mudpie and MARCI followed, keeping close to the man each considered his or her master. Binkadink followed behind on Obvious; it was easier to stick to the taller passageways while mounted, and the way Gilbert was exploring had the advantage of containing 10-foot-high ceilings.

    Malrin reached the passage by Darrien - her silent flight causing several rats to scurry away in panic, apparently not having expected to have to worry about owls in the sewers - and flew through it. It, too, opened into a set of stairs leading up, so the druid followed, providing a running narrative of what she saw to the others over the telepathic link. Her owl eyesight could see the passage ahead took a turn to the right, and she mentally envisioned it likely meeting up with the set of stairs Gilbert had announced he'd found - and then Malrin's owlish hearing picked up a slight buzzing from just ahead. She didn't have time to puzzle over its likely source before a mass of tentacles dropped down upon her.

    Malrin felt a sudden pain in her side and realized she's just been stabbed; looking down, she saw a tentacle-tip had impaled her, and while the appendage had wrapped around her, keeping her imprisoned, its tip was draining blood from her body. She screeched instinctively in pain, but also called for help over the telepathic bond.

    Binkadink and Obvious were the first to respond. Scampering past Gilbert, they raced up the steps, down the corridor, and turned the corner ahead to find themselves facing a floating, pale-skinned orb, from which sprang nearly a dozen tentacles. Obvious bit down on one of them with his lupine incisors, while Binkadink stabbed his glaive's blade deep into the thing's body. They could both hear the same buzzing sound Malrin had heard before the death kiss dropped down on her.

    Darrien splashed into the east-west tunnel long enough to turn the corner and race up the stairs. From his vantage point, he could see a blood-red eye in the middle of the spherical body from which the tentacles sprang. He shot his readied arrow at the eye, but the body swerved in midair at the last moment, causing the arrow to strike the body to the side of the unblinking eye. Behind him, Darrien could hear Finoula and Wrath splashing down the wide tunnel and bounding up the stairs. Farther back, Hagan followed in the ranger's wake, Wezhley still perched nervously on his shoulder.

    Gilbert ran up the stairs behind Obvious and Binkadink, casting a resist electricity spell upon himself and his familiar as he ran. MARCI followed, not to leap into battle but to stay near the only true human in the vicinity. She had been built to aid humans, and even though she had been ordered by Gilbert to treat the others as "honorary humans," she knew he was her predominant concern.

    Malrin struggled feebly against the strength of the tentacle wrapped around her and constricting her like an anaconda - and then she changed tactics. Willing the change in her body, she wildshaped from an owl to a grizzly bear. The tentacle binding her was forced to loosen its grip as her body expanded, but not enough to allow the druid to escape its clutches. Worse, the tentacle's tip was still embedded in her side and it still sucked up her blood, pulling it through the hollow appendage and into the death kiss's spherical body.

    But Malrin wasn't a sufficient meal to the death kiss, especially with other perfectly suitable morsels at hand. It floated toward Darrien, close enough that three of its needle-tipped tentacles could swing at him while six more could still reach out to attack Binkadink and Obvious on its other side. The gnome was hit by two of the tentacles, but fortunately his armor prevented them from getting enough of a hold on him to allow blood drain; Darrien and Obvious weren't as lucky, and they found themselves in Malrin's unenviable position as blood snacks for a hungry death kiss.

    With a mighty surge, Darrien managed to extricate himself from the tentacle grappling him. He staggered back, away from the floating beast; Finoula helped pull him back out of range. Binkadink, fearing being caught up in the tentacles wrapping around Obvious, abandoned the saddle and leaped to the floor - but he didn't abandon his mount and friend, instead bringing the glaive cutting deep into one of the tentacles pinning Obvious's limbs and preventing him from escaping. The blade severed through the tentacle entirely, causing its end to drop to the ground, spilling jackalope blood from its hollow length. Obvious, although still pinned, managed to bite into one of the tentacles grappling him, causing his mouth to fill with his own siphoned blood. Then Binkadink's glaive severed that tentacle and the jackalope fell to the floor, no longer attached to the death kiss. But Binkadink's attack had come at a slight cost, for a surge of electricity came channeling down his blade, shocking the gnome. Still, as he saw Obvious extricate himself from the severed tentacles and back away from the floating aberration, Binkadink considered it a price worth paying.

    Finoula had her lightning bolt amulet in hand and was about to turn herself into a living blast of electricity to go jolting through the death kiss, but Binkadink called out through the link, <It's got an electrical zap! The thing's probably immune to electricity!> "Well, shoot!" said Finoula aloud, dropping her amulet and pulling out Tahlmalaera from its scabbard as she ran up to the death kiss. A tentacle stabbed out at her as she approached the floating monster, but she slapped it away with her left hand before it could attach itself to her skin, and then she stabbed deep into the monster's core with her longsword, unleashing a wave of sonics through the embedded blade.

    Instinctively, the death kiss floated away from Finoula's painful sword, spinning around to face Obvious. With the bleeding jackalope right before it, the creature sent several of its remaining tentacles stabbing at the pony-sized, antlered rabbit, siphoning the jackalope's blood through its hollow tentacles. The death kiss used the blood to heal some of the wounds it had already sustained thus far in fighting these creatures from the world above. It also levitated higher, so it could enjoy the two morsels it had already captured and imprisoned within its coiled appendages.

    Even without being mounted on Obvious, Binkadink's glaive could reach high enough to stab up at the death kiss, but before the gnome could strike Gilbert stepped up behind him and cast a flesh to stone spell at the death kiss. The monster's writhing tentacles ceased moving immediately, as its pale coloration darkened to a medium gray. Then the creature plummeted back to the floor below, its stone tentacles snapping off as they impacted the solid floor. Malrin, still in bear form, and Obvious felt the thud of sudden impact with the floor, but as it freed them from the abomination in whose blood-draining clutches they had been trapped, neither complained. Malrin staggered away from the death kiss's shattered body and resumed her normal elven form. Then, with her staff of healing at hand, she liberally applied healing spells to those who needed them - primarily herself, Obvious, and Darrien.

    <So now what?> asked Binkadink, looking up at the ceiling. <There's a tunnel up there, directly above, where the monster dropped down from. Do we try to get up there?>

    Finoula had spent some time investigating the floor along the upper level where they had fought the death kiss. <There's no trace of Rale having been this way,> she said. <I want to go check out that area where Gilbert found drops of blood.> So saying, she backtracked the way Gilbert had come, going down the western steps back to the area by the original main chamber. Hagan and Wezhley volunteered to accompany her.

    <I want to check out this way,> Darrien decided. With Obvious's permission, he climbed up onto the jackalope's back, then stepped onto the top of his head and from there onto his branching antlers. It still wasn't enough to get him to the top of the tunnel, which he could see from this distance turned to the east and leveled out. But that was easily fixed by a shot from his Arachnibow, the ranger causing the arrow to become a strand of sturdy spider-silk that instantly adhered to the top of the wide, vertical tunnel. Climbing up its length, Darrien pulled himself onto the vertical part of the tunnel - this, like the wider sewer tunnel below, was circular and about 10 feet wide in cross-section - and peeked down into the room beyond once he got to the passage's end and saw it veered downward.

    The chamber below was a sphere, the tunnel Darrien was in dropping down onto its topmost pole. Looking inside the hollow sphere, Darrien could see another circular tunnel at the chamber's equator, but there were smaller niches all along the inner surface of the hollow sphere, each one holding a humanoid skull; the half-elf ranger could pick out those of elves and dwarves as well as those taken from humans. There were others that were either halflings or gnomes or - worse yet - children.

    This all seemed somehow vaguely familiar to Darrien, but rather than try to figure out where he'd seen such an architectural configuration before he shot another silk-thread at the top of the tunnel and lowered himself down into the empty chamber below. He wasn't sure if he could run up the slope to the side tunnel, but he didn't have to; another strand from the Arachnibow aimed at the top of the side tunnel and he could easily pull himself up.

    Gilbert, in the meantime, cast a fly spell upon himself and Mudpie. Turning to MARCI, he said, "Go follow Finoula. Stay with her in case she need any healing." Once he saw the medical construct follow his orders (it seemed simpler to send the metal automaton on the path that didn't require extensive climbing), he and his familiar flew up the ceiling shaft to follow Darrien's path. Malrin wildshaped back to owl form and followed.

    <What do you think, Obvious?> Binkadink asked his jackalope friend in the language of burrowing mammals they both spoke. He was back in the saddle again and ready to follow either Darrien's way or Finoula's - but Darrien's seemed more intriguing. <Can you make it up there?>

    "<Just watch!> replied Obvious eagerly, readying himself for a vertical leap. He made it through the opening, and some mad scrambling with his powerful legs once he got up there got him up to the level section of the tunnel. He then dropped easily into the lower sphere, and from there leaping up into the side tunnel was child's play. By then, Darrien was walking down this side tunnel's length, turning to the right when the tunnel did so. It was then that he recalled where he'd seen spherical rooms connected by circular tunnels before: in the lair of Gzornyx the Evil Eye, a beholder he'd helped Lord Cavelthorne's adventurers fight.

    Of course, the beholder floating in the back of the spherical, domed chamber down the passageway around the bend of the side tunnel might have helped Darrien make the connection.

    The beholder wasn't alone, either; standing before him were an elf wizard, Felforan the Gray; a dwarven fighter, Captain Ironbull; and an elderly human cleric, Davinda Solarus, who wore the sun-symbol of Pelor upon the tabard over her armor. Darrien gave an involuntary bleat of surprise before backing up back around the corner, casting a spell as he went. A constrictor snake suddenly appeared before him, which coiled and struck at Captain Ironbull, who wore the symbol of the City Guard on his armor. The snake didn't last long as a distraction, though, as the burly dwarf decapitated it with a single blow from his axe. Severed head and headless serpentine body both vanished.

    The elderly cleric stepped forward, just enough to be able to see Darrien around the corner. A ray flashed from her left eye, striking the surprised half-elf in the torso. Darrien had submitted himself to magical healing many times during his adventuring career; this felt quite the opposite, as healing energy was drained from his body. He briefly wondered how a cleric of Pelor was able to do that with her eye, and that's when he noticed her eyes weren't both the same color.

    But then Felforan stepped around the corner. He lashed out with a chain lightning spell, targeting Obvious as the primary and sending arcs of electricity to strike at Binkadink, Darrien, and Malrin. The elicited cries of pain indicated the spell had had its desired effect upon the intruding heroes.

    <We're fighting a beholder and three cohorts!> Darrien called over the link, to let Finoula and Hagan in on what was transpiring on this side of the sewers. Finoula, however, had just discovered a secret door along a slightly discolored span of bricked sewer wall; pushing along the right side caused the section of wall to hinge inwards. Stepping into the narrow passageway thus exposed, the elven ranger noted the handle on the other side of the door - it was a "secret" door only from the rest of the sewers; from this side, it was perfectly obvious there was a door there.

    <I've just found a secret door!> Finoula explained over the mental link. <Do you want us to come help you guys?>

    Gilbert gave it a moment's thought. <No, you check out your way. Maybe it a way to sneak behind beholder.> That decided, Finoula pressed forward, Wrath, Hagan and MARCI following behind her. The passageway kept going north for a ways before turning west and leading up a short flight of stairs. The passageway seemed to come to a dead end there, but based on her previous discovery, Finoula imagined if she pushed along the right side of the wall any secret door hidden there would open - and she was right. The trio stepped into a crude bedroom, with a cot along one wall and a crate and barrel serving as a makeshift table and chair. A wooden coat rack in the corner held several robes and bloody aprons. Finoula frowned in distaste but pressed on through the room. There were doors to the south and west; she chose the western door as that was the one most likely to lead to the other heroes.

    Malrin flapped around the corner and cast a flame strike at the assembled enemies; the way they were distributed she had to ignore the dwarf in order to get the beholder, the elf, and the human. As the flames erupted down from the room's ceiling, she was glad the beholder's central eyelid was closed; she'd heard a beholder's big eye sent out an anti-magic ray that would have negated her spell. But the spell went off without hitch, and with any luck the druid's enemies would assume she was just a harmless familiar or pet, not the source of the spell.

    Vrgolkryn kept his central eye shut despite the pain of the spell; as things stood, he had no other option, for his three hivemind minions were in the path of his central eye's range - and in any case, he could see perfectly fine around him with the ten eyes on his eyestalks. Most of the intruders were still around the corner, so there wasn't much he could do offensively with his eye rays at the moment, so he called upon their newest power: three of the eyes shot beams of energy in the corner of the tunnel, and in the areas where they hit three more of his hivemind minions popped into view. The first of these was a powerfully-built dwarf, Borrin Stonefist; the next was a half-elven woman in a flowing dress, Jillianna Vanderblaine; the third was a big-bellied human man, Robun Krendlemann. Like the first trio, each had a pair of mismatched eyes, the left eye being a graft from tissue from the end of one of Vrgolkryn's own eyestalks. Also like the first trio (and Rale Bodkin before them), each was also one of the secret Lords and Ladies of Greyhawk. Vrgolkryn's charmed assistants had abducted each of the Lords in turn, allowing them to be ocularly modified and joined into the hivemind which allowed the elder orb to control their actions - all but Rale, who had somehow managed to overcome the attempted domination, even now.

    Captain Ironbull turned the corner to face the enemies, taking the opportunity to slice the head of his axe into the owl flying nearby. Malrin called out, <I'm hit!> over the Rary's telepathic bond spell, adding <I'm playing dead!> for the benefit of the rest of the team as she dropped to the stone floor and remained motionless. Hopefully, the beholder and its dominated foes would assume she was dead and leave her alone, for she was seriously hurt by the axe's blow - but she was equally sure she could surreptitiously cast a healing spell upon herself without being noticed.

    Felforan rounded the bend, stepping beside the dwarven Guard Captain and casting a flesh to stone spell at Darrien. The half-elf ranger was struck square-on by the spell, and only just managed to shrug off its intended effects. But then Davinda stepped up behind the elven wizard and targeted Darrien with a slay living spell, and this time the half-elf's fortitude was not up to the task of fending off the spell. His heart exploding in his chest, Darrien keeled over where he stood, his mental cries of pain diminishing to nothing over the Rary's telepathic bond spell.

    Borrin raced forward, stepping on Malrin's fallen form (it was all she could do not to cry out in pain as he did so) on his way to Obvious. Once he got to the jackalope - he endured a slap of the flat side of Binkadink's glaive to do so - he punched the surprised riding mount in the face, hard. Jillianna, not looking at all like a combat enthusiast, send a beam from her eye lancing out at Binkadink, hoping to cause him to be charmed into her service. Fortunately for the little gnome, he was able to fend off the spell's effect. Robun did the same thing, sending a charm monster ray from his left eye to strike Obvious, hoping to get the jackalope to buck off his armored rider - but Obvious's mind was as firm as Binkadink's had been.

    Binkadink assume these people they were fighting were all charmed and, like Rale, had not been willing participants in their eye upgrades. Thus, disinclined to meet them in combat, he pulled the horn of goodness from his belt, brought it to his lips, and blew for all he was worth. The note he sounded caused Borrin Stonefist to blink rapidly and look around in surprise at his surroundings. As Binkadink had hoped, the magic circle against evil created by his horn had unlinked (even if only temporarily) the dwarf from the beholder's mental sway.

    "By Moradin's beard!" cried the dwarf. "Where th' bleedin' 'ell am I?"

    "You were being controlled by a beholder!" Binkadink cried as he urged Obvious forward - not far, just enough for the spell effect to encompass Captain Ironbull, Felforan, and Jillianna while still keeping Borrin well within the spell's radius. These three also snapped immediately out of the beholder's hivemind, looking about them in bewilderment. The half-elf diplomat held a hand to her nose, finding the stench of the nearby sewers unbearable.

    But while Vrgolkryn was having four of his hivemind minions stolen from his grasp, his as-yet-unseen ally opened wide the double doors behind the elder orb and stepped forward at the beholder's side. This was a bloodstained human wearing a leather apron over his clothes, a wizard going only by his title: the Chirurgeon. It had been he who had performed the arcane surgery upon the Lords of Greyhawk, to create the hivemind that was to allow Vrgolkryn to be the secret ruler of the city of Greyhawk, by making its ten Lords his mental puppets. And best of all, the Chirurgeon didn't need to be charmed by Vrgolkryn; he was doing this of his own free will, in part because he wanted the experience of performing such an elaborate arcane experiment, and in part because having the secret ruler of all of Greyhawk in his debt could only be advantageous to the Chirurgeon.

    Seeing the benefits of Binkadink's magic circle against evil, Gilbert cast the same spell upon himself and stepped forward, catching first Borrin and then the others within his spell's radius. <Go ahead, Bink!> the wizard called to the gnome, knowing the mounted fighter was eager to take the fight to the beholder itself. Seeing she was now surrounded by allies, Malrin raised herself to a standing position and cast a summon nature's ally spell, bringing an ogre-sized earth elemental into being just beside the beholder. Vrgolkryn reacted immediately by backing up, through the doors opened by the Chirurgeon; the elemental swiped at the elder orb with a massive fist but failed to connect. Then Vrgolkryn shot a disintegrate ray at the earth elemental, causing him to dissipate into dust, while simultaneously catching Felforan the Gray in the back with a telekinesis ray. The elf was dragged toward the beholder, taking him out of the area of effect of the two magic circle against evil spells and back into the hivemind - and thus under the beholder's mental domination. A third eye ray shot out, the flesh to stone ray striking Davinda Solarus (Vrgolkryn was more interested in taking her out of the fight for the moment - he could always have the Chirurgeon restore her once the beholder had defeated these intruders and was ready to add her back into his hivemind) - but the cleric managed to avoid petrifaction by mere force of will, perhaps bolstered by the will of her patron deity.

    Then, to the beholder's surprise, Captain Ironbull came around the corner. He was too far away from the beholder to attack with a weapon unless he was willing to throw his battleaxe, but rather than do that he shot a ray from his left eye - the effrontery! Vrgolkryn was being attacked by a slow ray that Ironbull wouldn't even have had had it not been for the Chirurgeon's actions! Fortunately for the elder orb, the spell had no effect on him.

    But now his other former minions were attacking their former hivemind master. Davinda cast a flame strike down at the beholder, quite accidentally catching the Chirurgeon - who she couldn't even see from her angle - in the spell's area of effect. Robun used his charm monster eye ray on Vrgolkryn, thinking how delicious the irony would be if the monster who had taken over his will would now fall under the Merchant Lord's own mental sway. Unfortunately, Vrgolkryn's will was powerful enough to overcome the attempt.

    Felforan, now back in the hivemind, used his own disintegrate eye ray on Binkadink, who managed to shrug it off. Jillianna, in turn, used her charm person eye ray on Felforan, hoping to use enchantment magic to pull the elven wizard out of his mental dominance. It, too, had no effect. Binkadink decided he'd do better staying in the midst of the former hivemind-slaves rather than move forward, so he pulled his seldom-used sling from his belt and sent a stone flying at the elder orb's massive, spherical body. It hit, but did little damage.

    But then Finoula opened the door from the Chirurgeon's bedroom and found herself standing behind the beholder, with the Chirurgeon also within view. Hagan didn't even bother entering the room; he cast a feeblemind spell at the beholder. Perhaps because of the unexpectedness of the attack, the spell overcame Vrgolkryn's mental defenses and his mouth gaped open. Furthermore, as at that point Felforan shared the beholder's mind through the hivemind, he too was affected by the half-orc sorcerer's spell and he, too, ceased all attacks and just looked about him in a stupified daze.

    Finoula held her amulet aloft and activated it, becoming a sizzling shaft of lightning that burned through the beholder and set her standing before it in her elven form in the space of a fraction of a second. Startled, and having taken a severe amount of damage from Davinda's flame strike spell earlier, the Chirurgeon ran his likelihood of defeating these interlopers when his beholder ally was now a drooling idiot and found his likely success rate staggeringly low. He thus began the words to a dimension door spell, hoping to vanish in the sewers and relocate elsewhere - preferably in an entirely different city. Finoula reacted to the wizard's spellcasting, bringing Tahlmalaera slicing across his chest. She saw his leather apron start to fall forward, its straps severed by her attack and a line of blood well up through his shirt beneath - and then he was gone, his spell apparently having worked.

    Gilbert stepped forward, forgetting to keep Borrin Stonefist within the bounds of his magic circle against evil spell, and as soon as the dwarf was outside of its protection Vrgolkryn's feebleminded hivemind kicked in, subjecting the dwarf to the spell's effects. His mind was too shaken at this point to ward off any further mental attacks, and he too lost the ability to reason or do much more than stand about with a dazed look on his bearded face.

    "Oops," said Gilbert belatedly. But then he did what he had stepped forward around the corner to do: cast a flesh to stone spell at the beholder. The spell was a success, and for the second time that day Gilbert brought a hovering stone creature falling to the floor and shattering into dozens of pieces.

    The beholder slain, Davinda looked worriedly at Captain Ironbull and then both stepped away from Binkadink's magic circle against evil, seeing if the hivemind effect had ended with the elder orb's death. Both were relieved to see that it had - their minds were their own again.

    Malrin resumed her elven form again and used her staff of healing on those who needed it. "I'm afraid I can't cast a heal spell on those who were affected by Hagan's feeblemind spell," Malrin apologized.

    "Never you mind, dearie," reassured Davinda Solarus. "I'll take them with me to the Temple of Pelor - we'll get them the healing they need."

    "Nice spellcasting there, Hagan!" congratulated Finoula. "You took the fight right out of them!"

    "What the--?" sputtered Robun Krendlemann suddenly, as he was unceremoniously shoved up against the wall by an unseen force. Borrin Stonefist approached with a sheepish look on his face. "Sorry," he said. "I were just tryin' sumthin' - didn't think these eye rays'd still work once th' beholder were dead an' all - but it looks like they do!"

    Experimentation showed that the same held true for the other Lords of Greyhawk. "I say," remarked Captain Ironbull, thinking of how easy it would be catching fleeing criminals with a slow ray always at the ready.

    "Shall we get out of the sewers?" asked Hagan. "I can teleport us all back up to the surface, although it will take a few trips."

    "Yes, get us out of here!" groused Gilbert. "This place smell awful - and that unguent I use to block smell worthless!" Binkadink remained silent and successfully kept his smirk at bay.

    - - -

    This took a surprising turn right from the beginning, when I learned Jacob wouldn't be playing with us after all: he'd forgotten an appointment that lasted until 2:30 PM (we start gaming around noon), and as he lives 45 minutes away he'd likely spend more travel time than actual game play by the time he got here. So he had authorized Dan to run Castillan in his place, but I opted to forgo anyone running the bounder at all, simply having Castillan unavailable at the start of the adventure. (As I usually do, I decided he'd have an "off-screen adventure" that kept him at the same XP level as the rest of the PCs.)

    I also didn't anticipate the PCs turning Vrgolkryn's hivemind minions against him that easily, but that's what makes this game so fun, even for the DM who knows what all's going on in the background. So we finished this session around 4:15 PM.

    Harry excused himself from game play about halfway through the session, complaining of a stomach ache; he went upstairs to go lie down and rest. As a result, Joey ran Hagan for the rest of the session, which actually turned out okay once Darrien got killed - at least this way Joey had a PC to run. And it was Joey's brilliance to have the half-orc sorcerer attack Vrgolkryn with a feeblemind spell; had Harry still been running his own PC, he'd likely have stuck to his usual chain lightning, polar ray, and disintegrate spells - he's all about the damage dice, that one.

    Fortunately, I had built in variable treasure for this adventure: the Lords of Greyhawk would reward the PCs with 10,000 gp per Lord rescued from the hivemind without being slain; since they managed to do so without a single Lord's death, that netted them a cool 100,000 gp. Even after paying for a true resurrection spell for Darrien, that left everyone sufficiently rewarded that the players are all going to be thumbing through the DMG to see what their PCs might wish to purchase before leaving Greyhawk City.

    - - -

    T-Shirt Worn: My plain grey T-shirt, to represent Greyhawk City.
    XP SolitonMan gave XP for this post

  2. #72
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    ADVENTURE 60: A FRIENDLY GAME OF TITAN CHESS

    PC Roster:
    Binkadink Dundernoggin, gnome fighter 16
    Castillan Ivenheart, elf bounder 16
    Darrien, half-elf ranger 16
    Finoula Cloudshadow, elf ranger 16
    Gilbert Fung, human wizard 16
    Hagan, half-orc sorcerer 16

    Game Session Date: 9 March 2019

    - - -

    The day began on a rather interesting note: shortly after breakfast, a giant humanoid standing some 25 feet tall walked up to the drawbridge of Battershield Keep. He appeared unarmed, wearing only a simple white toga and leather sandals with crisscrossing straps rising up to just beneath his knees. "I would speak to the team of adventurers within," he bellowed.

    Castillan was the first to approach, as he was the closest to the drawbridge when the visitor arrived. He looked up at the massive form, seeing a clean-shaven face looking down at him. Unlike many of the giants the bounder had seen, this fellow seemed perfectly-proportioned, as if a human being had suddenly been grown to nearly five times his own normal height. "Um, hello," said the elf. "Can I help you?" Castillan didn't appear to be armed, either, but he knew all it would take was a snap of his fingers and his blades would instantly appear in his hands, if it came to that.

    "I am the titan, Leandros. I have been challenged by a rival, War Titan Takhios, to assemble a team of six proxies to compete in a friendly game of Titan Chess. I have heard good things about your group and wish to hire you on as my team."

    Hagan stepped out of the main building in the keep's interior and saw a pair of giant legs on the other side of the lowered portcullis. He instantly cast a dimension door spell that sent him - and his weasel familiar Wezhley, perched in his usual place upon the half-orc's left shoulder - to the top of the northwestern tower, where he looked down at the titan outside the keep and could cast spells down upon him if needed. But it didn't seem likely; Leandros looked up at the half-orc sorcerer's sudden appearance and gave him a wide smile.

    "You need not have played Titan Chess before," Leandros assured Hagan, addressing his comments to him now instead of Castillan. "The rules are simple and straightforward. But there is a prize up for grabs that I would claim as my own: Frostreaver, a 20-foot-waraxe. It cannot be purchased directly, merely won as a prize, but I will pay each of you 2,000 pieces of gold simply to represent me in the game – and I will increase that amount tenfold should you win." Castillan practically salivated at the thought of being paid 20,000 pieces of gold merely to join in a chess game. The rest of the team had just made a lot of money down in Greyhawk without him; this was a chance for him to earn a sizeable amount for what didn't seem like a whole lot of work.

    "I'm in!" he said enthusiastically.

    "Me too!" added Binkadink, who had sidled up during the conversation. Behind him, Finoula and Darrien warily approached the portcullis, hands on weapons if not actually drawing them.

    "Team of six, you say?" asked Gilbert. "Me and Mudpie in as well!"

    "By all means, I would have a wizard of your power on the team!" boomed Leandros. "But your elemental must stay behind, as must all animals, be they riding mounts or familiars, or...whatever that metal woman might be." He looked down at MARCI in puzzlement as she approached Gilbert Fung; the automaton tended to follow the human wizard around to see to his needs.

    "So I can't take Obvious?" Binkadink asked, crestfallen.

    "The team I have in mind will consist of you, Binkadink Dundernoggin; you, Hagan; you, Castillan Ivenheart; you, Finoula Cloudshadow; you, Darrien; and you, Gilbert Fung. Those six, and those six only. If you all agree, we will be off immediately. By my word, I will have you returned safe and sound to your home by this time, two days hence. What do you say?"

    Gilbert looked at the others as Hagan ran with Wezhley to the stone steps at the back of the Keep so he could join the others in the courtyard. "We in," the portly wizard announced.

    "Excellent!" beamed Leandros. "Then gather your weapons and armor, that we might depart!" The heroes dashed into their individual quarters to gather up any needed equipment, then Gilbert sent MARCI to go explain things to Helga while Binkadink pulled the chain that raised the portcullis. The group of six stepped across the lowered drawbridge as MARCI and Helga approached to see the group off. "Ye take care, all of ye!" admonished Helga. "I'll have pies waitin' for ye when ye return!" she promised. MARCI, in the meantime, lowered the portcullis back into place. Mudpie lowered himself into the ground, determined to enjoy his "time off" from wizard's-familiar duties; Wezhley opted to sulk in Hagan's quarters. It simply wasn't fair, and if the half-orc sorcerer returned to find weasel droppings on his pillow, then maybe next time he'd think twice about leaving his familiar behind!

    Leandros passed his left arm before him and a shimmering field of energy took form outside the keep - a sparkling circle of silver motes. The titan strode purposefully through the field, disappearing from view. The others followed suit.

    The other side of the gate spell was another world entirely. This was made evident by the floating islands off in the distance; with a shock, the group realized they were standing upon another of these islands, this one perhaps a half mile in diameter. It was a world on the edge of winter and spring – there were buds on the trees and remnants of snow on the ground. Leandros didn’t seem to feel the cold despite his minimal garb.

    "There," he said, pointing to a large, open field of assembled stones, each 5 feet to a side, forming a grid 24 squares wide and 30 squares long. Eight of the squares were brightly colored: two each of green, yellow, blue, and red, forming a sort of crooked "X" along the central area of the rectangle. "That will be your battleground, where you will face a team of six opponents, striving to win Frostreaver for the War Titan. But I would see the weapon in more deserving hands!"

    There were two long, single-story buildings nearby, one on either side of the combat arena. "You will sleep here tonight," Leandros declared, pointing to one of them. "We will go over the basics of Titan Chess, you will eat heartily and sleep well, that you will be refreshed for tomorrow’s game!"

    "Are we talking a fight to the death?" asked Finoula. Twenty thousand pieces of gold was a significant amount of coin, but her life meant more to her than mere money.

    "To the death, aye," agreed Leandros. "But fear not: I have declared you will return to your homes as hale and hearty as you are now, and I intend to keep that promise!"

    "Our souls still inside our bodies when we return home?" Gilbert pressed, trying to find any hidden loopholes in this deal.

    Leandros laughed heartily, clearly not offended by the wizard's mistrust. "Indeed, Gilbert, just as you are now! Now then, gather around and I will explain the rules of the game."

    As it turned out, "Titan Chess" really had very little to do with chess at all - it was just a fancy term for a specific type of arena battle. The teams could be of any size; Takhios had challenged Leandros to a competition between six-person teams, which is how the team of Kordovians had been chosen. Of course, there was no specific requirement to choose a group already consisting of six members; Leandros could have just as easily chosen six individuals who had never met each other before, but he preferred fielding teams with a previous history of working together.

    "You've played this game before, then?" asked Darrien.

    "Yes, many times - but never for a prize as vaunted as the Frostreaver! Now, see that row closest to your longhouse? Each of you will start the game on one of those squares. You may bring as much of your normal gear as you wish, but you may have no spells cast upon you before stepping onto the board. Cast all the spells you wish, but only once the game has begun, and by all means only when it is your turn."

    "Explain," commanded Gilbert.

    "As with normal chess, each team moves one of their pieces in alternating turns. You will be ranked in order, as will the six on the opposing team. If we are to move first, then the combatant designated the first on our team will move where he will, then the first of the other team, then the second of our team, then their second, and so on."

    "How we know whose turn it is?" prompted Gilbert.

    "The square beneath the person whose turn it is to move will light up. Now, I assume you are all familiar with walls of force?" Upon their acknowledgement, Leandros continued. "Each of the squares on the arena-board before you will be bounded on all sides - and 10 feet above the board - by walls of force. Thus, each of you will be imprisoned on a single five-foot square until it is your turn, at which point the square you're standing on will light up and the walls of force touching the corners of your square will drop. This will allow you to move onto another square and as you move, the walls of force will drop or snap back into place around you. Thus, when it's your turn, you will have access to the square you're on and the eight squares surrounding that square - unless you're on the edge of the board, in which case you'll have less than eight. And as you move from square to square, the walls of force will turn on and off such that you are always surrounded by open squares on all sides to which you can move. Is that all clear?"

    "So far," replied Finoula.

    "When you advance to a space adjacent to another piece, you may interact with that piece, as the wall of force between your two squares will be down. If it's an ally, you can cast a spell on him, pass him a potion, or whatever. If it's an enemy, you can attack. But - and this is important - you cannot take an action unless it's your turn, or the turn of another piece adjacent to you. It is your turn only when the square you're standing on is lit up, and as you move, so will the stones you step upon light up and those you leave stop glowing. When the time you've been given to take your turn is over, the square will stop glowing. So you, Binkadink: if an enemy moves past you and you'd normally be able to strike out at him as he passes, you would be able to do so. But do not try taking any other actions when it is not your turn. You may have taken a grievous blow and be bleeding out, but do not try to drink down a healing potion unless it's your turn! Failure to comply will cause the judges to smite you with a lightning strike from above - and you don't want that!"

    "So you can only attack when the square you're on is lit up, or if an enemy whose turn it is is adjacent to your square," repeated Castillan, getting it straight in his mind.

    "Correct. You will note, however, that this makes ranged combat all but impossible save for but the shortest distances. Likewise, attack spells are limited to, at most, a distance of ten feet: the square you're on and one adjacent to it. This is bad news for you, I fear, Darrien, for it limits the effectiveness of your bow."

    "I have my scimitar," the archer replied. Indeed, he'd just paid a weaponsmith in Greyhawk City part of his earnings to increase the blade's sharpness with a keen effect and the ranger had been practicing with it of late.

    "Good man!" Leandros beamed. "Now, note also that most spells cannot pass through a wall of force. Gaze attacks will work, as will teleportation effects, but summoning spells can only be used if the summoned creature will fit on a single, adjacent square to the spellcaster. For that reason, Darrien, you could activate your opal frog, for he is about the size of a man, while your praying mantis and giant fly are both too large to fit on one square. It is for that same reason," Leandros added, looking over at Binkadink, "that your jackalope was not included on this team." He looked over at Gilbert. "And while your earth elemental friend is small enough, to bring him along would have taken up one of my six slots - and I'd rather the six of you."

    "What is the purpose of the colored squares?" asked Hagan.

    "Ah, that's what makes each game of Titan Chess unique!" replied Leandros. "Each team captain - Takhios and myself - are in charge of two of the colors and what effects they have on the game. We have been given the yellow and green squares. When you go into battle, you will know that stepping onto one of the green squares teleports you instantly to the other green square, and stepping onto one of the yellow squares will cause a heal spell to activate. None of Takhios's forces will know what the green and yellow spaces do, until they observe them in use. However, we will have no idea what effects Takhios has assigned the red and blue squares until we likewise see them in use."

    "Can we use their squares? And they ours?" asked Hagan.

    "By all means! In fact, you need not know what the effect will be to step onto a square, but be warned: some team captains set their colored squares up as booby-traps: you might find it's a disintegrate spell waiting for some foolish victim to step upon it."

    Finoula looked over at the arena-board, and at the other longhouse on the far side of it. "When we will meet our counterparts?" she asked.

    "Not until the game," Leandros answered. "In fact, when you're all in your starting stations, the walls of force surrounding your squares will be blue to anyone looking at them, although you'll each be able to see through your own as normal. Likewise, the enemy pieces will all be obscured by red walls of force. Only when two enemy pieces are brought onto adjacent squares and the walls of force are lowered will those pieces by revealed - and indeed, from that point on, those particular combatants will be visible by all concerned."

    "So only way to find out who we fighting is go fight them," Gilbert summed up.

    "Indeed!" And then Leandros left the group to plan their strategies, after assuring them the longhouse contained not only ample food and drink, but a game table with the arena-board in a smaller scale so they could work out their plans. Gilbert went page by page through his Omnibook, looking at each spell with new eyes - how would the constraints of Titan Chess affect the casting? Hagan, as a sorcerer, had many fewer spells to worry about; he just noted that fireballs would be a bad idea unless he was amply protected from fire energy, whereas chain lightning and polar ray spells (his other two favorites) would still work, but against many fewer opponents at a time than he was used to.

    But while Gilbert was fussing over his spell selection, the others made a few plans of their own. Darrien agreed to pass his opal frog to Binkadink for the duration of the game, since the little gnome was better suited to mounted combat. The archer opted to rely upon his magic scimitar as his primary weapon, but he also planned on bringing his Arachnibow and quiver of Ehlonna - you never knew when the opportunity might arise where he'd wished he'd brought them. Finoula practiced using her whip in closer combat than she was used to, realizing she couldn't extend it to its greatest distance during the game. In this way, the day passed in eager anticipation, and by the day's end the adventurers were all ready for their beds.

    Morning came with the sounding of three great horns, the signal that the game would begin in an hour's time. The group rose, dressed, and ate a quick breakfast. Then, at a summons from outside the longhouse by Leandros, they exited the building and walked over to the arena-board.

    "What, no cheering crowds?" asked Castillan. He'd expected they'd be fighting in front of an audience.

    "None but the unseen judges presiding over the contest," Leandros replied.

    The group could only see half of the arena-board, for the walls of force along the center were all black. "That's to prevent you from seeing the other team members as they assemble," Leandros explained. "And them, you. Now then, take your positions."

    "You don't care how we line up?" asked Finoula.

    "Do as you see best. I leave such decisions to you."

    The group had already come up with their plans for their starting lineup. Although there were 24 different squares along the first row of the board and only the six of them, they chose to huddle together in the center of the row, with Gilbert in the middle. They had decided they would remain together until it was Gilbert's turn, then he could move along the entire row and cast a Rary's telepathic bond spell on the entire group. It would use up his first turn, but they hoped it would give them an advantage over the long run.

    There was another triple-blast of unseen horns and the blackness separating the halves of the arena-board faded away, allowing the two teams to see their enemies' starting positions, if not the individuals themselves. Unlike the blue team, the members of the red team were spaced equidistant along the back row, with three squares separating each piece from his nearest neighbors. Then the square beneath Hagan's feet lit up, shining a bright blue, and the friendly game of Titan Chess was underway!

    The heroes had been told their relative sequences in the turn order, so Hagan had purposefully put himself at one end of the group's lineup of starting positions. For his first turn, he moved from one end of the group to the opposite end, each square he stepped on glowing blue in turn, and cast a greater invisibility spell on Gilbert as he moved to an adjacent square to the portly mage and the wall of force between them was temporarily lowered. Then the square beneath his feet stopped glowing and one of the red pieces - the leftmost combatant, indicated only by his position, for the four walls of force around him moved as he moved - charged straight ahead. He managed to move forward 16 squares in the time he'd been allotted for his turn.

    Castillan was next and he followed Hagan's pattern: moving from one side of the huddle along the first row to the other, the better to align himself for Gilbert's spellcasting. Then the rightmost red piece moved straight ahead, also moving forward by 16 squares. The red team seemed eager to advance into battle, whereas by all appearances the blue team members huddled as far from combat as they could.

    But this was just to allow Gilbert to cast his Rary's telepathic bond spell on the assembled group once it was his turn. <Everybody hear me okay?> Gilbert called over the mental link once it was established and everyone chimed in. Gilbert finished his turn at the other side of the huddle, having backed into the first row again - and was now the leftmost blue piece from their vantage point of the arena-board.

    Another red piece moved forward, this one apparently not as fast as the first two members of his team, for he only made it 12 spaces forward before stopping. Then Finoula advanced forward 6 spaces - as far as she had time for after casting a quick barkskin spell upon herself, as was her general routine when anticipating combat. But at least she showed their opponents the blue team wasn't going to stay back in the first row all game.

    Another red piece advanced 12 spaces straight forward, leaving the red team perfectly symmetrically aligned with only their two center pieces having not yet moved. Darrien followed Finoula's course of action, casting a barkskin spell and moving forward. Then another red piece advanced 12 spaces forward, making it Binkadink's turn. He dropped the opal frog onto the square ahead of him, leaped upon its back after it had achieved its full size, and then the gnome urged him forward, extending his retractable glaive to about an 8-foot length, the longest he'd be able to swing it comfortably in these confined areas. The final red piece finished the first round of turns by moving forward 12 squares.

    Hagan cast another greater invisibility spell, this time upon himself (for he could see the advantage in having their primary spellcasters still hidden from view when the blue shielding was eventually extinguished), and moved forward beside Binkadink and the frog. That made it the first red piece's turn again, and he moved straight forward, all the way to the blue team's starting row, then turned and made a bee-line for Gilbert, the closest piece on the left side of the arena-board. <We got incoming!> Gilbert announced over the link, as if the others on his team weren't all watching to see the first enemy revealed. As the red piece made his final move, the blue and red colors surrounding Gilbert and his enemy disappeared, revealing an empty space where Gilbert was standing (for he was under the effects of Hagan's greater invisibility spell), and what at first glance appeared to be a gargoyle on the square right next to him.

    <Gargoyle!> announced Binkadink, but Gilbert wasn't too sure. Superficially, it had the standard gargoyle's physiognomy, but there were obvious differences, mainly in the coloration: true gargoyles could pass for stone creatures and thus had skin tones reminiscent of stone, whereas this creature had a reddish-brown skin. Gilbert could also see it breathing, something nearly imperceptible in true gargoyles. He wished he had the time to consult his Omnibook to be sure, but he hazarded a guess over the mental link. <Think that a nabassu demon!>

    Fortunately, the nabassu had used up its full turn just in getting adjacent to Gilbert's square, so the square beneath its taloned feet stopped glowing before it could put its teeth or claws to good use - it didn't carry any weapons, not that Gilbert guessed it needed them. Demons often had a wide array of spell-like abilities they could employ, and Gilbert hurriedly tried recollecting what nabassus could do. They had a gaze attack, he was pretty sure, but good luck using a gaze attack on an invisible opponent!

    Castillan moved over to attack the nabassu, revealing himself as he attained an adjacent square. He only had time for a single strike with his vampire's fang dagger, recently traded by Gilbert for an adamantine dagger; the wizard had figured the bounder could put that weapon to better use than he could, for in truth the wizard was hardly ever reduced to using a hand-held weapon, whereas those were Castillan's stock in trade. The vampire's fang dagger slid into the nabassu's flesh, siphoning off some of the demon's life energy and temporarily imbuing the elf with its stolen power. For the next hour or so, Castillan would enjoy a slightly greater amount of vigor, which he figured could certainly come in handy when fighting for his very life in a combat arena.

    Another red piece initiated combat, revealing a raging bugbear barbarian in full battle frenzy. He swung his morningstar in a two-handed grip at Binkadink; if he was surprised to see his suddenly-revealed enemy to be a gnome on a man-sized frog he gave no indication of it. But Binkadink ducked beneath the blow and the morningstar whizzed harmlessly over his head; when the bugbear's stone square stopped glowing, the gnome could see it took considerable effort for the barbarian to momentarily cease his attack.

    <A demon and a bugbear so far,> Finoula pointed out. <I think we're fighting a team of evil!> That was actually a relief to the elven ranger; she'd been worried about having to kill unknown enemies who might have been completely innocent. And while she assumed War Titan Takhios would see to the resurrection of his slain troops, that wasn't necessarily a given.

    But now it was Gilbert's turn, and with a suppressed chuckle of glee he cast an Otto's irresistible dance spell on the nabassu, eagerly awaiting the look on the demon's face when it started capering around against its will. But Gilbert was denied his glee, for the spell failed to take effect. In fact, the demon just grinned at Gilbert, and the wizard got the sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach that the nabassu hadn't just been grinning in his general direction, but at him specifically. Belatedly, Gilbert recalled that many demons had an innate sense of true seeing; if such was the case here, Hagan's greater invisibility spell was no protection at all!

    Another piece came close to Finoula but stopped short, preventing the heroes from determining just what they were facing. It was a spellcaster of some sort, though, for the space between it and Finoula was suddenly occupied by a deinonychus, which attacked the ranger with the talons on one hind leg. Finoula jumped back in time to avoid being eviscerated and was pleased to see the dinosaur didn't press its attack once the square beneath it stopped glowing - either it was well-versed in the rules of Titan Chess or its spellcaster was controlling its movements.

    Finoula was up next and decided she wanted to see this hidden spellcaster for herself. She needed only to move one square away, diagonally across from the deinonychus, to do so, and then the dinosaur's master was revealed: a lizardfolk with stripes of colored paint dabbed on its face and arms, likely a cleric of the lizardfolk deity. Finoula stabbed at the lizardfolk's belly with Tahlmalaera and sent her flaming burst whip of thorns (recently upgraded in Greyhawk City) striking at his legs. Both weapons struck true and the lizardfolk hissed in pain.

    But now another red piece initiated combat, attacking Finoula from another side. The githzerai monk, now revealed, connected with his punch, sending Finoula momentarily reeling but fortunately remaining on her feet.

    Darrien moved forward, scimitar in hand, and attacked the lizardfolk cleric and revealing himself to the other team in the process. It was starting to be a scrimmage there in the middle of the arena-board, with Darrien and Finoula fighting off a lizardfolk cleric, a summoned deinonychus, and a githzerai monk, while not too far away Binkadink and his borrowed frog battled a bugbear barbarian. Another red piece moved forward a bit but refrained from entering combat just yet, choosing instead to cast a defensive spell upon himself and thus remain cloaked in obscuring walls of red.

    Binkadink sent his glaive crashing into the bugbear, drawing a line of blood across his shaggy torso but eliciting only a growl of irritation from the hearty barbarian. The toad snapped at the furry foe as well but failed to connect, although the gnome got in another good strike while it was still his turn. Then the square beneath them stopped glowing, and he too felt the irritation of the artificiality of this game format - he wanted to just keep fighting his foe for as long as it took, not having to wait for his turn again. The barbarian obviously shared the gnome's view, gripping his morningstar and eager for his turn to strike.

    One of the last two pieces still shielded in red moved forward to attack Finoula, revealing himself as a hobgoblin in heavy armor, wielding a greataxe. His weapon struck Finoula a glancing blow on the shoulder, but it was enough for her whole arm to go numb; she barely kept her grip on her whip. While surrounded on three sides by enemies, she tried finding the nearest yellow square in the corner of her eye, realizing she'd likely need healing soon.

    Hagan approached the bugbear and let loose with a polar ray spell, causing considerable pain to the shaggy barbarian - and some amount of confusion, for despite the blue shielding dropping away from Hagan's square, he was still invisible. Not able to see this invisible attacker, the bugbear opted to concentrate his attention on the gnome until he'd been slain, then worry about the spellcaster he couldn't see.

    But now it was the nabassu's turn and Gilbert's worst fears bore fruit: the demon, imbued with true seeing, sent his death gaze at the heavyset wizard and Gilbert felt the life drain from him. His last thought before he toppled over was, <Wait! The ring! I should have used the ring....> Forgotten in the excitement of the battle was Gilbert's ring of arcane supremacy which, had he activated it, might have caused the Otto's irresistible dance to affect the demon after all. But then all the others felt over the link was Gilbert's mental death gurgle.

    <Gilbert!>

    <Gilbert! Answer me!>

    <Guys, I think he's dead. But watch out, or we'll be next! Whose turn is it?>

    It was Castillan's, and he was too busy attacking the nabassu with his short sword of wounding and his vampire's fang dagger to comment over the link, dealing the demon considerable damage in retaliation for having slain Gilbert Fung. The nabassu roared in fury and reflexively spread his wings as if to fly off before realizing he'd be punished by a lightning strike if he moved from his allocated square, as it was no longer his turn. Then Castillan's square lost its glow and the bounder had to cease his attack; the elf and the demon glared at each other, although the latter was careful not to activate his gaze attack on Castillan.

    The bugbear's square had just barely started to glow when he was swinging his morningstar for all he was worth. He connected with Binkadink's dragonhide plate armor but it absorbed most of the damage of the blow. And then, Gilbert having been slain, the turn went to the next red piece in the rotation: the lizardfolk cleric. He stepped back, away from Finoula, and cast a spell resistance spell on himself as a protective measure, perhaps thinking the deinonychus would make up for any lost attacks the lizardfolk himself might have made on his turn. Then the dinosaur was allowed to attack and it went after Finoula, raking her with its claws and snapping at her with its razor-sharp teeth. The elven ranger found herself even more in need of healing than before. It being her turn next, she fled from the clump of combatants, passing onto and then over the yellow square which healed her completely - but she was clever enough to continue on the charade of being heavily injured, the better to conceal the yellow square's secret power. The githzerai monk followed Finoula and sent a fist streaking straight at her face. Fortunately, he avoided the yellow square and thus its secret remained safe - at least for now.

    Darrien was tempted to attack the deinonychus, but the others advised him over the telepathic link to ignore it; as a summoned creature, it only had a limited presence in the game before it would return from whence it came. <Focus on the enemy pieces!> Finoula called to her fellow ranger, and Darrien attacked the lizardfolk with his scimitar. The reptilian humanoid looked ready for some healing of his own by now.

    But now the last shielded red piece revealed himself by moving to a square adjacent to Finoula. She assumed it to be a kenku at first glance; she was familiar with these crow-men since Rale Bodkin had several of them in his service. However, this one had a pair of glossy, black wings rising from his back. The tengu shugenja cast a chain lightning spell at the ranger, thinking to take her out of the picture, perhaps believing she still suffered the wounds inflicted upon her earlier in the combat. Finoula endured the temporary pain of the electrical assault, thinking only how glad she was the walls of force prevented the spell from targeting any of her companions as well - they were all too far away for the secondary arcs of electricity characteristic of that spell to reach them, given the walls of force in the way.

    Binkadink slew the bugbear barbarian with three rapid strikes of his glaive on his turn, the little gnome putting the full force behind each strike. With the bugbear's death, it was still nominally a tie game, although the deinonychus was temporarily tipping the scales in the red team's favor.

    The hobgoblin fighter attacked Binkadink just as the gnome finished his killing blow on the bugbear; the hobgoblin had been eagerly anticipating it to be his turn and brought his weapon to bear against the frog-mounted gnome as soon as it was legal to do so.

    Hagan moved up and cast a chain lightning spell at the hobgoblin; like the tengu before him, he had to settle for but a single target when using a spell usually brought to bear against multiple enemies clumped together. That ended up being Hagan's last act in the game, however, for the nabassu ignored Castillan before him and focused his deadly gaze upon the half-orc sorcerer, ending his life as he had just ended Gilbert's; apparently the demon was tasked with taking out any obvious spellcasters first. Hagan's last thought was relief that Wezhley hadn't come with him after all.

    Castillan furiously attacked the nabassu, wanting to take him out before the demon's turn came up again. His blades slid into the demon's sides, but the bounder failed to slay him outright. <Crap!> he called over the link. <We gotta take this demon out before he kills us all, one by one!> But then it was the lizardfolk's turn, and seeing how close Castillan was to one of the blue squares, he decided to try a double-whammy: casting a harm spell on the elven bounder while simultaneously stepping onto a blue square and activating its power. He had to step next to Castillan to do so, and the bounder, remembering it was legal to attack an opponent whose move brought him adjacent to your own square, stabbed out at him with his short sword of wounding before the cleric was able to finish the spell. The harm fizzled out as the lizardfolk dropped to the ground, his throat slit, but the blue square's powers activated, sending an electrical arc of energy - like that of a secondary arc from a chain lightning spell, crashing into the bounder's body. Castillan staggered under the electrical assault but remained standing.

    The deinonychus bit and slashed at Darrien, but the ranger avoided the worst of the dinosaur's attacks.

    Finoula lashed out with sword and whip at the tengu, hitting the bird-man with both. Then the githzerai tried pounding her with his fists, but the nimble elf was able to avoid his blows. Darrien ignored the deinonychus and moved over to attack the githzerai with his scimitar, drawing blood. The tengu cast another chain lightning spell targeting only Finoula, but paid for the act with a slash across his chest from Tahlmalaera. But then Binkadink led the frog in a spirited charge that ended up cutting the very life from the tengu spellcaster, who was nearly cut in half by the gnome's glaive.

    That maneuver put the two teams at an equal footing with four combatants each, but now the blue team had the slight advantage, for one of the red team's "pieces" - the deinonychus - was a summoned creature and would disappear from the arena-board in a set amount of time without the blue team having to do anything about it. The hobgoblin fighter tried to even those odds by cutting down Binkadink, but his weapon was not up to the task. The nabassu focused his death gaze on Binkadink, apparently figuring him to be the most powerful remaining enemy, but the gnome's strong fortitude prevented the attack from slaying him. The demon moved up in any case, approaching the cluster of combatants in the middle of the board.

    Castillan opted to use his magic ring to dimension door all the way across the board, ending up in the last row where the red team had begun. He was interested primarily in putting distance between him and the demon who could kill with but a glance; hopefully Binkadink could handle him while the bounder dealt with foes more his speed.

    The dinosaur chased after Darrien, as if upset at having been ignored by the half-elf ranger who had sought more important foes. The dinosaur's attacks failed to connect as Darrien nimbly moved aside on his square. Finoula chose the githzerai as her next opponent, not because he was the most powerful but because he was right there by her and she could get in more attacks against him by staying on the square she already occupied rather than wasting time moving elsewhere. Tahlmalaera got its first taste of githzerai blood and the flaming burst whip of thorns caused a small, fiery explosion upon striking the monk's legs. The githzerai followed the elf's logic and made a full attack upon Finoula, not causing near as much damage as she had just given him.

    Darrien swapped his scimitar for his Arachnibow and practiced a move he'd been working on: shooting more than one arrow at a time with one shot. The arrows streaked at the nabassu, several of them striking the demon, although others just bounced off his thick hide. Binkadink joined in the battle, trying to take out the demon before he could use his deadly gaze attack again, and despite opening several new wounds on the demon, it refused to die.

    The hobgoblin ran up to attack Binkadink again, but the ease with which the gnome evaded his blows only infuriated him all the more: it was as if the gnome - the gnome, by all that was unholy! - saw him as beneath his contempt and ignored him almost completely while he focused his attention on the demon.

    The nabassu hopped onto a nearby red square, causing it to explode in a fireball that engulfed its own square and the eight adjacent ones all around it - including the one Binkadink and his odd mount were on. At the same time, he focused his deadly gaze upon the gnome again, irritated that his most powerful attack hadn't worked on Binkadink the first time he'd tried it. This time he had better luck, though, for Binkadink gave a startled cry and fell lifelessly from the frog, which had been staggered to near-unconsciousness by the exploding fireball.

    Castillan, ashamed at his earlier "escape move" now that it may have cost Binkadink his life, moved back towards the combatants. He got in a strike with his dagger at the githzerai, the only foe he could reach within the time limit of his turn. Then it was the deinonychus's turn, and it dashed straight for Finoula, dug a series of jagged gashes across her side with its sharp talons - and then vanished, the limit of the spell that had summoned it having expired.

    Finoula, bleeding heavily from her side, moved up and stabbed the nabassu with Tahlmalaera, driving the blade all the way up to the hilt deep into his back. The demon tried spinning around to face this foe, but a trickle of blood spilled from his lips and he fell forward, dead; Finoula had to give a mighty tug to prevent her longsword from being pulled from her grasp as he collapsed.

    The githzerai turned and faced Castillan, fending him off with a stunning blow that left the bounder staggering. Darrien switched back to his scimitar and stepped behind the monk, slicing him across the back as the githzerai was faced with two opponents, each on opposite sides. Darrien's opal frog tried getting into the action, snapping at the githzerai as well, but the attempt overtaxed his already strained body and that was enough for it to revert back to statuette form, effectively taking it out of the fight.

    And then the hobgoblin, having been one of the least successful members of the red team thus far, redeemed himself by swinging his greataxe into Finoula's abdomen, causing the elf to drop to her knees - at which point the hobgoblin ended her life with a downward swing.

    Had there been an audience watching this friendly game of Titan Chess, they would probably have been on their feet, cheering, by now. As it stood, the only spectators were Leandros and Takhios, who stood impassively watching the battle unfold, and of course the unseen judges overseeing this fight. But now the opposing teams of six were each down to their last two members, and the match seemed like it could go either way.

    <Let's pick off the hobgoblin!> decided Castillan, moving into a flanking position with Darrien - one which, not coincidentally, put the bounder on a yellow square. As healing energy course through his body, closing all of his cuts and wounds, the bounder struck at the armored foe before him with his magical short sword and dagger. The hobgoblin spun to face the elf while the githzerai did his best to take Darrien out of the fight, to no avail. But now the four remaining combatants were all lined up in a row: Castillan on a yellow square (no longer providing healing energy until he stepped off it and back on, but at least preventing his enemies from using it as a resource), then the hobgoblin, then Darrien, and then the githzerai monk.

    With blinding swiftness, Darrien dropped his scimitar to the ground and grabbed arrow after arrow, sending them flying from the Arachnibow's string into the hobgoblin at near point blank range. The hobgoblin's expression said he couldn't believe he'd been brought down by a half-breed elf, but he had: arrows sticking through rents in his armor, he crashed to the ground, dead. Castillan, on his turn, abandoned his yellow square to race around to the githzerai's back, so he and the half-elf ranger could flank him from two sides.

    The githzerai got in several powerful blows on Darrien, who had perhaps neglected his own defenses in taking out the hobgoblin, but he remained standing after the monk's time was up. Then it was Darrien's turn again and he sent a handful of arrows at the monk, who managed to knock the first one out of the air but got hit with two of the following three. And then Castillan sent his short sword of wounding through the githzerai's body, its bloody blade sticking out of the monk's belly as Castillan's final blow lifted his foe off his feet. He lifted one of his feet to the monk's back and kicked, pulling his blade out of the corpse and allowing it to fall to the ground.

    <Is that it? Did we win?> asked Darrien, looking around in a daze for any other enemies on the arena-board. There were none; Castillan and Darrien were the only remaining pieces still alive.

    War Titan Takhios gave a sour-faced nod of congratulations to Leandros, then turned on his heel and stomped away. Leandros stepped onto the board and bent down to pick up the slain heroes, one by one, and lay them carefully on the ground just off the arena-board. He posed each, lying upon their backs with their arms crossed on their chests.

    "You promised we'd all make it back home in perfect health," Darrien reminded the titan.

    "And so you shall," promised Leandros. "But that will be tomorrow. Tonight we feast, and drink to the glorious deaths of your companions!" He stood to his full height and held out his right hand; immediately, a 20-foot-tall waraxe materialized in Leandros's hand - the Frostreaver, the game's coveted prize. Neither Darrien nor Castillan felt much like celebrating; they worried that Leandros might not keep his promise, and without Gilbert the two heroes had no way of returning to their own plane.

    But they needn't have worried for in the morning, Leandros led them back out to the arena-board, where the slain heroes were rising as if having just awakened from a long sleep. "This is Ysgard!" boomed Leandros. "On this plane, those slain in combat rise the next morn at their full strength, ready for another day of glorious battle!"

    "No more battle for me!" insisted Gilbert Fung. "We not paid yet for chess game! We win?" he asked Darrien and Castillan; seeing as they had approached the board from the longhouse and not woken up on the ground like the others, he assumed they had survived the game - and surviving blue pieces could only mean a victory for the blue team.

    "We won," Castillan reassured the wizard. Leandros led the newly-resurrected heroes into the longhouse for a quick breakfast before opening a gate that returned them, as promised, back to Battershield Keep. And he had their payment for them as well; even Gilbert wasn't sure how the titan had done it, but upon their arrival there were six large chests of coins, one for each of the heroes, sitting just outside the moat of the keep, by the drawbridge. "Well earned, my friends!" boomed the titan, still glowing at their recent victory on his behalf - and his successful procurement of the Frostreaver. "I will remember you well, should I find myself in need of a mighty team of mortals again!" And then he stepped back into the silvery gate behind him, which disappeared as soon as he had vanished through it.

    "Let's lug these inside," suggested Binkadink, heading for the nearest chest. And then a female voice called from inside the keep.

    "You're back!" cried Helga. "Who wants pie?"

    - - -

    I've wanted to try a "living chess battle" adventure for some time - decades, really, since reading "The Chessmen of Mars" back in junior high. This is where I finally put the idea into action, although the first thing I abandoned was the notion of chess pieces and their different ways of moving across the board, followed swiftly thereafter by the concept of two chess-playing opponents moving their pieces around based on which moves made the most sense - that would easily get boring fast for someone whose PC was a seldom-moved game piece. So the adventure ended up being not very chesslike at all, but still a great deal of fun - even though the way the adventure was structured meant that as soon as a player's PC was slain in the game, that was it for them for the whole session.

    In fact, that was also a bit ironic: Dan plays Gilbert Fung, one of only two primary spellcasters in the game (and the other is Harry's Hagan, who as a sorcerer doesn't need to prepare his spells). Dan spent a good 20 minutes or so of session time going through all of Gilbert's spells, deciding how each would work based on the wall of force limitations of Titan Chess. He had several plans lined up, too - so it was doubly ironic that Gilbert was the first one slain. Dan was the one who remembered Gilbert's ring of arcane supremacy, too - about a half hour after his PC's death, and much too late in the adventure to retroactively give him another shot at making the nabassu dance uncontrollably. Had that spell worked, the game might have played out very differently.

    Still and all, this was an interesting experiment and a fun change of pace - and those walls of force really did make for a different gaming experience. And after the adventure was completed, everyone sat down and leveled up to 17th as a result of the experience gained in playing a friendly game of Titan Chess.

    Now all they have to do is decide how to spend their 20,000 gp.

    - - -

    T-Shirt Worn: My Dalek "Exterminate!" T-shirt, given that each team was attempting to kill the other members of the team.
    Last edited by Richards; Wednesday, 22nd May, 2019 at 03:58 AM.

  3. #73
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    ADVENTURE 61: VERMINUS

    PC Roster:
    Binkadink Dundernoggin, gnome fighter 17
    Castillan Ivenheart, elf bounder 17
    Darrien, half-elf ranger 17
    Finoula Cloudshadow, elf ranger 17
    Gilbert Fung, human wizard 17
    Hagan, half-orc sorcerer 17

    NPC Roster:
    Malrin Ivenheart, elf druid 10
    MARCI, humanoid construct

    Game Session Date: 4 May 2019

    - - -

    The Vistani wagon slowed as the garrison building came into view. Aithanar brought the two black draft horses, Castor and Pollux, to a full halt before lines of armed and armored men being given weapons instruction by a large, burly half-orc with a vast assortment of weapons hanging on his belt and strapped to his back. Aerik Battershield leaped from the seat of the wagon at Aithanar's side as Gilbert, Mudpie, Malrin, and Hagan opened the back of the wagon and exited, eager to see what it was the dwarf had brought them to see. Castillan and Darrien slid down from the wagon's roof while Finoula dismounted from Daisy's saddle, carrying the basket of loaves of bread Helga had baked earlier that morning, while Binkadink likewise dropped down from Obvious's saddle and joined the others.

    "Slayer!" Aerik called over to the assembly of fighting men as the heroes gathered around him. "Brought th' men some loaves, an' I wantcha t' meet some o' me friends!" The half-orc approached, streaks of gray at the temples of his dark hair. The heroes easily recognized him as the former King Galrich but he seemed not to recognize them. Aerik started the introductions but Slayer went immediately to Finoula, approaching her with his burly arms held out wide.

    "Feron!" he cried with a wide grin, grabbing the elf in a bear hug that would have caused her to drop Helga's basket if not for Aerik's timely assistance. "Glad to see you! What brings you to this part of the world?"

    "Uh," replied Finoula, unsure of what to say. She knew she and her half-elf sister Feron bore a remarkable resemblance to each other, but she also knew King Galrich's mind was no longer all it had once been and his memory of recent events was all but shot. Was it better to correct him or to play along with his assumption?

    "She's helpin' out th' kingdom, same as you," interjected Aerik, leaving the elf's identity up for the half-orc's own determination. He then introduced the rest of the heroes to the man who until recently had served as their king, referring to their former liege only as "Slayer." They played along with the introductions, neither of them giving any indication that they had known him for years - or that he was personally responsible for their status as Kordovia's adventuring group in the first place. Aerik waved one of the men over to take the basket of baked goods and then allowed Slayer to get back to training the men stationed at the garrison.

    "'is mind's deterioratin' fairly rapidly," Aerik confided to the others, once back out of earshot of the former king. "'e don't rightly recall most o' th' last twenty years or so - but his weapon prowess's as good as it ever were. I talked it over with th' Queen, an' she agrees 'twere best if 'e finishes out what days're left 'im as a mercenary. Most o' th' men here know who 'e really is - or at least suspect it - but they're a good lot and they'll not be lettin' th' secret out t' any outsiders. An' 'e truly enjoys leadin' these warriors; 'e still got plenty 'e c'n teach 'em. And nothin'll give 'im greater pleasure than leadin' these men into battle against th' next wave o' orcs 'n' goblins what decide t' show their ugly faces 'round these parts!"

    "He's quite the fighter," observed Binkadink, watching Slayer demonstrate a move with a greataxe that likely weighed more than the little gnome, swinging it easily in wide arcs before him. Galrich might not have any memories of being king, but his days as a barbarian adventurer were obviously still fresh in his mind.

    "That 'e is," agreed Aerik. "Anyway, I thought ye'd best be knowin' what's up with 'im. Ye get on back now; I'll be stayin' th' day with 'im, make sure 'e's okay. I'll catch up with ye tonight."

    The group returned to the Vistani wagon, Aithanar climbing back up to the front seat and picking up the reins; Darrien and Castillan climbing back up onto the roof; and Hagan, Malrin, and Gilbert - along with their familiars, Wezhley and Mudpie - took their seats in the wagon's interior. Binkadink climbed back onto his jackalope's saddle and Finoula remounted Daisy, her timber wolf Wrath climbing back out from the shade beneath the wagon to trot alongside his mistress on the way back. Then, with a final wave to Aerik and the garrison men, they retraced their way back to Battershield Keep.

    "It's sad to see King Galrich in such a state," Finoula said as they approached the keep. The drawbridge was still down, as they had left it; at Gilbert's instructions, MARCI had remained behind and could raise it in a moment at the first sign of danger.

    "I don't know about that," countered Castillan. "He seems happy enough training with the other warriors. It sure beats lying in a sickbed, waiting for old age to take him."

    "What's that?" Darrien interrupted, shielding his eyes and looking up to the sky. It was a cloudless day, yet a shadow had fallen over the Vistani wagon and its passengers. At the same time, the ranger became aware of a droning sound. Squinting into the overhead sun, he could make out a dark cloud of flying bodies swooping down from one of the keep's towers and seemingly heading right towards him.

    From her vantage point, Finoula could see better than Darrien what was heading his way: a swarm of flying insects, beetles of some type, by the looks of them. Tapping into the magical energy of nature all around her, she caused a wall of wind to wrap around the approaching swarm, spinning around in a cylinder she hoped would keep them immobilized in place.

    Castor and Pollux slowed as they approached the lowered drawbridge, bothered by the droning of the beetle's wings. Aithanar pulled back on their reins; if this was some sort of attack - perhaps by some as-yet-unseen summoner - it would be best if the group had the maneuvering room outside the keep rather than being boxed in. Once the wagon stopped its forward motion, Hagan and Gilbert exited the vehicle via its back door, Mudpie following after his portly master and Wezhley perched on the half-orc's shoulders. Gilbert immediately frowned upon seeing the black beetles flying higher and higher, seeking a way out of Finoula's wind wall spell, for his magically-enhanced vision identified the insects as undead creatures.

    Castillan wasted no time; he leaped off the top of the wagon and raced into the keep; once there, he ran up the northeastern tower, pulling himself up over the ramparts and looking about in all directions, seeking a potential wizard enemy directing the swarm's movements. He saw none but that meant nothing, for he'd been up against invisible foes many times before in his life.

    The swarm spilled out over the top of the wind wall spell, flowing over the outer edge and heading straight for Darrien once again. Realizing how useless his primary weapon - the Arachnibow - was against a swarm of flying scarabs, Darrien plucked a crystal from his necklace, aimed it at the center of the swarm's mass, and activated it. Instantly, the crystal vanished, becoming a lightning bolt that burned its way through the the midst of the scarabs, sending empty husks falling to the ground. Seated on Obvious's saddle, Binkadink did the same using his own necklace of lightning crystals, as his own glaive would likewise be all but useless against a bunch of undead insects each no bigger than his thumb.

    However, despite their best efforts, the swarm - somewhat diminished in numbers - engulfed Darrien in its midst. The half-elf ranger found himself coated in a layer of crawling, biting insects, the ones skittering onto his face blinding him and trying to burrow into his nostrils and mouth.

    Standing up on Obvious's saddle, Binkadink didn't dare use another lightning crystal for fear of hitting Darrien, and, realizing his weapons were useless against the beetles, he decided the best thing he could do was try to collect one for further study; maybe Gilbert would know something about these black scarabs - he had an eerie knowledge about undead things. The gnome leaped from the jackalope's saddle onto the top of the Vistani wagon by Darrien, grabbed a beetle and hugged it close to his chest - and then promptly fell off the side of the wagon's curving roof, landing hard on the dirt road leading to the keep. He at least had the presence of mind to keep the beetle pressed closely to the chestplate of his dragonhide armor; no sense in letting his captured "prisoner" escape after all he'd gone through to catch him in the first place!

    Darrien, hardly able to see through the layers of undead scarabs covering his face, knew the general location of the wagon and ran along the roof, leaping blindly at the end and hoping he'd accurately aimed himself for the moat spanning the keep and not the lowered drawbridge - if he'd guessed wrong, he was in for a world of pain! But the cooling waters encompassed him as he sank into the moat and he figured the beetles would soon either be fleeing back to the surface or drowning where they were; either was fine with him! He felt his hidden gill-slits open at the sides of his neck and breathing became that much easier, despite the scarabs covering his nose and mouth.

    Topside, Hagan had been about to cast a lightning bolt spell at the beetle swarm when they unerringly dived into the moat, following after Darrien. "Well, that's weird!" the sorcerer exclaimed - in his experience, flying insects usually avoided going underwater.

    "They undead," Gilbert explained, cautiously approaching the moat and preparing a spell for when the beetles returned to the air. He wasn't overly concerned about Darrien being underwater this long, the ranger's father had been an aquatic elf and Gilbert knew the half-elf could pretty much stay down there as long as necessary.

    Darrien felt the beetles skittering all around him, but they weren't evacuating as he had expected: they were crawling over to the front of his body and somehow merging into themselves. Hidden from view from the rest of his friends, Darrien saw a horrific form materialize before him: a skeletal face with skin stretched tightly across the skull, brown teeth providing the rictus of a grin as the mummy slammed his bony fingers around the ranger's neck. Darrien gave a wordless scream as his mind froze into panicked paralysis, the two bodies floating slowly together to the bottom of the moat.

    But while Gilbert, Hagan and the others couldn't see what was going on in the moat, Castillan had a much clearer view from his perch at the top of the keep's northeastern tower. "There's someone in there with him!" he cried out, not being able to make out much of the other figure besides the fact that he seemed to be moving behind Darrien, who wasn't putting up any kind of a fight. The bounder wasted no time; leaping over the side of the tower, he dove headfirst into the moat, straining to see who was attacking Darrien and in what manner. It was some sort of undead, that was clear: a lich, maybe, or a mummy. Regardless, seeing that Darrien was unmoving, Castillan decided that the first goal was to get the ranger away from his attacker, so he grabbed hold of Darrien's arm with one hand and activated the power of his ring.

    In an instant, Castillan had dimension doored back up to the keep's interior, just inside the raised portcullis beside MARCI. By holding onto Darrien's arm, Castillan had brought the half-elf along for the ride; the paralyzed ranger fell to the ground upon his return to solid ground, his legs unable to support him in his current state. And then the bounder got a good look at the mummy who had also come along for the ride, by dint of holding tightly to Darrien's back as he was whisked away by the dimension door spell from Castillan's ring. The mummy ignored Castillan completely as he rolled Darrien over onto his front and bent over his still form, fiddling with the ranger's Arachnibow on his back.

    Finoula had dismounted Daisy and had been trying to see over the edge of the moat when she saw the trio suddenly appear in the open entrance to the keep. An undead figure was bending over Darrien; instinctively, Finoula touched her lightning amulet and sent herself - in the form of a lightning bolt - across the span and through the mummy, to reform in her normal elven body on the keep's open grounds. The mummy had been aware of the blast of electrical energy coursing through his undead body, but it didn't deter him from his task: pulling the Arachnibow from Darrien's back.

    Hagan cast a polar ray spell at the undead thing bending over Darrien, but the mummy had some sort of spell protection in place, for the ray of frozen energy fizzled away into nothingness upon impact.

    "At last!" the mummy cried in glee, raising the Arachnibow above his head in triumph. The bow writhed in his hand, reshaping itself into a living spider; as Darrien was the bow's true owner, anyone else attempting to wield it caused it to transform into a spider the size of a small dog, who would have to be slain first before a new owner could be established. If the mummy was concerned about this he gave no indication; still laughing, he snapped out a single word of power and vanished from view, taking the spider with him.

    Finoula rushed to Darrien's unmoving form and was relieved to see he was still breathing, but his skin had taken on an unhealthy tone. With a sudden realization, she cried out, "Mummy rot! MARCI -- is he okay?"

    MARCI bent over the half-elf, the red beam from her sole eye scanning Darrien's body from head to toe in a long sweep. "Inconclusive," the construct replied. Malrin raced up as well, her staff of healing in hand. "If it's mummy rot, I should cast a remove disease spell on him," she declared.

    "Stand aside," commanded Gilbert, pushing the others out of his way as he flipped to the back inside cover of his Omnibook, then started pushing aside images of scrolls until he got to the one he wanted. "He need break enchantment spell first," the wizard declared, beginning the words to the spell. Once finished, he turned to Malrin and indicated she should cast her spell now. Soon after, the paralyzation effect ran its course and Darrien sat up under his own power.

    "Who was that?" he asked. "What did he want with me?"

    "He was after your Arachnibow," Castillan answered. "Got it, too - although he was fighting it in its spider form when he teleported out of here."

    "Well, he not keep it for long," vowed Gilbert Fung, pulling his crystal ball from a pocket of his robes. "We find him quick, then we go get your bow back." He passed a hand over the globe and it suddenly turned black. Gilbert, holding the undead beetle Binkadink had provided as a close tie to the mummy - something that should have made it easier to scry upon the undead form - frowned at the lack of an image. "It not working," he grumbled. "It supposed to show me mummy man - all I see is shadowy outline, nothing else."

    "What are you talking about?" asked Hagan, looking over the portly mage's shoulder. "He's right there, in some kind of cavern, bending over a dead spider. You're probably seeing his outline due to the detect undead spell effect on your eyeballs." Hagan was well aware of Gilbert's arcane upgrade he'd performed upon himself years ago.

    "You see all that through blackness?" demanded Gilbert, amazed that the half-orc's darkvision worked so well through the arcane sensor tied to his crystal ball. "You be able to teleport us all there?"

    "Sure, no problem," muttered Hagan, still watching the darkened image in the sphere only he could see. "It's turned back into the bow again," he said, narrating the undead figure's moves. "Now he's picking it back up. Sorry, Darrien - it looks like he's got your weapon attuned to him now."

    "Let's go!" snarled Darrien. He wanted his Arachnibow back.

    "Prep spells first," admonished Gilbert, casting a magic circle against evil spell upon himself and Mudpie, then following it up with a stoneskin spell. Mudpie received a mage armor spell from his master while the two rangers each cast barkskin upon themselves. Then Gilbert finished their preparations off with a Rary's telepathic bond spell encompassing all of the heroes but Malrin. "You stay out of fight with mummy," Gilbert admonished the elven druid. "Your job heal us as needed. We take care of mummy."

    "You're welcome to him," Malrin commented before wildshaping into an owl and alighting upon her brother's shoulder; the decreased size and weight made it easier for Hagan to teleport everyone in at one time. For the same reason, Gilbert used his slingshot of rock shrinking on Mudpie, diminishing him to the size of a small pebble and depositing him into a front pocket of his robes. MARCI stepped into the extradimensional space of the portable hole, Binkadink and Obvious following only after each taking a big breath of air. Then Hagan scooped up the hole and said the words that should have teleported the group inside the dark cavern the half-orc had seen through the crystal ball.

    However, instead, the group was suddenly standing outside at the base of a mountain with a wide cave opening yawning before them. "Wait--this isn't right!" observed Hagan at once.

    "Mummy probably got protections around lair," Gilbert mused. "We probably lucky it redirect spell just to outside lair, not into lava pit or something."

    Castillan immediately started looking for a way into the dungeon cavern complex Hagan had seen in Gilbert's crystal ball. The cave before them was only about 20 feet deep, but there was a glowing rune of some type carved into the back wall. Curious, the bounder cautiously approached. Some sixth-sense warning alerted him to danger immediately upon brushing up against some webbing and he jerked back before getting stuck. "Invisible webs of some sort," he told the others.

    "We see about that!" Gilbert said, casting a see invisibility spell upon his eyes. Then he confirmed, "Sure enough. Invisible spider webs all along back of cave. Not sure why, though."

    Hagan, in the meantime, had dropped the portable hole to the ground and let Binkadink ride Obvious out into the open air. MARCI stepped out behind them. "What's up?" the gnome asked.

    "Who are you? What do you want?" asked a voice from behind them. Turning, the group of heroes saw a human villager approach, staggering like he was drunk. "Who are you? What do you want?" he repeated.

    "We're a group of adventurers--" Finoula began before getting cut off by another approaching stranger, who seemed to have just staggered out of the mountainside a dozen feet or so behind his companion. "It's a good thing you happened by," he said.

    Another figure stumbled out through the mountainside wall - obviously a permanent illusion of some sort. This one was an elf, dressed in finery. "No! No! Nooooo!" he cried.

    The heroes closest to these drunks exchanged dubious looks among themselves. Then, as one, they took up defensive stances, wepaons out as the strangers staggered slowly in their direction. "Who are you? What do you want?" asked the first one for the third time. "It's a good thing you happened by," observed the one behind him, while the elf continued screaming "No! No! Nooooo!" Gilbert loaded Mudpie into his slingshot and fired him at the ground before him, restoring the earth elemental to his full size: all of four feet or so. Still, the familiar stepped protectively before the wizard, defending him from these potential foes.

    As they got within reach, the staggerers attacked, their fingers curved into claws. Binkadink had his glaive at the ready and sliced at the first one in line, catching it right at the base of the neck. Blood spurted in a high arc from the wound, but the victim, nonplussed, continued its queries as to the heroes' identities and desires. "Who are you? What do you want?" he asked as his body fell forward to collapse onto the ground.

    The head, however, did not follow the same path. Instead, it lurched at Binkadink, the head followed immediately by a segmented body with far too many legs which crawled out of the neck-stump of the slain figure. The human-headed centipede-thing continued chattering, "Who are you? What do you want?" as the gnome gave a bleat of surprise (and no small amount of terror) and took an involuntary step backwards.

    Mudpie slammed into the one closest to him, feeling ribs crack from the force of his punch, but all the swaying fellow could say was, "It's a good thing you happened by." Finoula stabbed out with her longsword Tahlmalaera at the elf who continued screaming.

    Darrien had been busy removing his cloak of protection, folding it up into his backpack, and putting on his cloak of the white spider in order to try some experiments with the invisible webbing at the back of the cave when he saw the commotion off to his right. Stepping to the side of the attacking trio, he activated another crystal from his necklace and sent a bolt of electricity coursing through all three. But now he could see another three or four stepping out from the illusory wall shielding another cave opening into the mountainside. These figures also stumbled about, speaking nonsense ("By Pelor's grace!" "What the Hell is that?" "We'll have you out of there in a jiffy"). Castillan dodged past the one fighting Mudpie to stab his short sword into one of the new arrivals, and it showed no sign of the pain its body must have felt judging by the spray of blood.

    Hagan cast a fireball spell directly into the mass of shambling figures, burning away the host bodies and forcing the human-headed centipedes out into the open. The sorcerer noted their insectoid bodies were covered in spines and that stabbing one with a handheld weapon would likely deal a bit of damage to yourself. Binkadink noted the same thing and extended his glaive to its full length, cutting through three of the abominations in rapid succession. Finoula slashed at the horrors with her flaming whip of thorns, trusting in the weapon's great reach to protect her from any spine damage.

    The nonsensical mutterings came to a sudden stop almost all at once, as the centipede-things each opened up their mouths wide and sent acidic fluids spewing at the heroes. The attack was as disgusting as it was unexpected, but it was the only time the hybrid creatures would get to perform such an attack, for Hagan slew several more with a chain lightning spell, leaving Binkadink to pick off the others with his glaive.

    "Those things were disgusting!" groused Finoula, wiping acidic spew from her face and flinging it to the ground. Malrin provided healing to those who had taken the worst of the damage from the acid and the spines of their attackers, and then Castillan opted to take point to see what was behind the illusory wall. With the others following behind him, he entered a narrow tunnel that widened out on one side, the wider section filled with barrels and crates looking to have been looted from passing caravans. But there was a closed door at the back of the passageway, and that's where Castillan focused his attention.

    Observing no obvious traps, the bounder silently opened the door and found a large cavern, in the back of which looked to be some sort of bloated ankheg, in the process of laying eggs. The enormous, chitin-covered monstrosity looked directly at him, and he immediately activated his ring, casting a dimension door spell that took him clear across the cavern behind the insectoid monster.

    Darrien was the next to react, pumping a barrage of arrows at the thing using his spare (and nonmagical) longbow. The thing hissed in irritation and pain, then scrambled over to the door on her insectoid legs with surprising speed. She caught the half-elf ranger in her mandibles, crushing him tightly but unable to maneuver him further into her mouth so she could swallow him whole. Finoula rushed forward to aid her friend, using Tahlmalaera to carve a deep groove into the chitin protecting the monster's side. From further back, Gilbert cast a vampiric touch spell on Mudpie and commanded his familiar to earth glide below the ground to activate the spell on the insect-thing.

    Hagan was also further back in the line and unable to reach the monster insect. But all he needed was to see her to be able to cast a spell at her, so he sent a polar ray shooting past Finoula's head. Unfortunately, through some unknown set of circumstances the spell was reflected right back at the half-orc sorcerer and he got the full force of his polar ray right smack in the kisser. Growling in irritation, his anger sent Wezhley scurrying from shoulder to shoulder in agitation.

    Malrin, still in owl form and not wanting to rush into battle, landed on Binkadink's shoulder briefly, spending her time there casing a bear's endurance spell on the little gnome. After all, if she knew Bink, he'd be eagerly trying to find a way past his friends so he could wade into battle with the deviant ankheg-thing.

    Darrien wriggled from the beast's mouthparts and skipped to her right as Finoula stabbed at her from the left. The thing responded by snapping her mandibles at Finoula, catching the ranger in her mouth but once again having trouble swallowing her prey. Finoula didn't make it any easier for the insect, slashing at the delicate mouthparts with her longsword. And then Mudpie popped up from the ground below her, touching her bloated abdomen and discharging the vampiric touch spell Gilbert had infused in his familiar. Castillan stabbed the creature from behind, his short sword going in deep and releasing a yellowish ichor.

    Unable to reach the battle from his jackalope's back, Binkadink dropped down to the floor before Obvious and stabbed through the doorway with his glaive, the blade slicing into the top of the creature's head. Then Obvious ducked his head, catching the little gnome under his antlers, and flipped him into the air, sailing over the insectoid enemy. Binkadink just barely landed on his feet behind the creature, right beside Castillan.

    Not wanting to risk having another target-specific spell reflected back at him, Hagan cast a wall of fire spell just past the doorway in the cavern beyond, catching the insect across the middle. (The spell also caught Binkadink and Castillan in its heat effect, but the gnome's armor absorbed the damage; Castillan had no such protection but was willing to put up with a little pain to get this guardian beast slain.)

    It was getting crowded in the front of the cavern, so Darrien activated one of the powers of his robe and spider climbed up the cavern wall, where he could shoot down at the monster with his arrows. Gilbert called Mudpie back to his side and loaded his familiar up with another vampiric touch spell, pleased with the results of the tactic the first time it had been employed. But before Mudpie could earth glide back to the chitinous foe, Castillan had slain her with his blade. Her insectoid legs buckled, her mandibles opened slackly, and Finoula was able to crawl back out of the slain beast's mouth.

    Hagan dismissed his wall of fire now that it was serving no purpose and Binkadink stepped further into the chamber, looking for other exits. There were two: one was a door along the back wall, the other a natural tunnel leading into a larger chamber. Peering down this tunnel, Binkadink was rewarded with the sight of their foe: the mummy who had stolen Darrien's Arachnibow. But the gnome was a tad too late in discovering the undead foe, for the mummy had the Arachnibow up and aimed in his direction and by the time Binkadink realized he was in danger the arrow had already been loosed and was protruding from the shoulder-joint of his red dragonhide plate armor. The gnome staggered backwards from the force of the blow while the undead mummy proclaimed, "I love this bow!"

    MARCI had stepped up to Hagan and was injecting him with a healing fluid to restore the worst of the effects from his own reflected polar ray spell when Obvious leaped forward, Binkadink leaped into the saddle (pulling the arrow from his armor and tossing it to the side in contempt as he did so), and then the two hippity-hopped their way down the narrow tunnel, racing toward their undead foe - hopefully before he could get off another shot.

    Hagan extracted himself from MARCI's attention, stepped to the front of the tunnel, and saw the mummy standing holding the Arachnibow and aiming it at Binkadink and Obvious. He cast forth another polar ray, sending it past the jackalope's flank to strike the undead archer. However, Verminus was no mere mummy but a mummy lord, dedicated to the worship of Vecna, the God of Secrets. As such, he had spells of his own at hand, and several such were already woven around the undead thing's form, protecting him in a number of ways. Once such spell was the spell reflection which sent Hagan's polar ray right back at him, for the second time in as many minutes. Wezhley held his ears in his front paws to block the sound of his normally good-natured master cursing in fluent Orcish.

    Finoula used her lightning amulet to convert herself into a blast of electrical energy which passed harmlessly through Verminus. When she reformed into her elven body behind the mummy lord, she was surprised to see no reaction from him; the protection from energy spell he had cast upon himself before fetching the Arachnibow was still in effect.

    Feeling protective of his fellow elf, Castillan used the last daily charge of his magic ring to dimension door himself to Finoula's side; he knew the undead couldn't be dealt particularly damaging blows to critical points like a living foe could, but perhaps he could still get in a surprise attack before the mummy lord registered his presence.

    Gilbert approached down the tunnel, casting an undeath to death spell from a scroll stored in the back of his Omnibook. He had hoped to destroy Verminus in one fell swoop, but on that front he was unsuccessful, for the mummy lord was far too powerful to be affected by such a spell. However, the same was not true of the hundreds of undead scarab beetles Verminus had pocketed in shallow holes all along this central cavern of his, waiting to be summoned to battle. But now it was too late, for undead insect husks rained down from all sides of the cavern, crunching beneath the feet of the approaching heroes.

    Darrien was still back in the cavern with the slain ankheg-thing and decided to give the closed door in the back of the room a try. It opened at his touch, revealing a square chamber carved out of the stone of the mountain. Runes inscribed in the floor indicated this was some sort of ritual chamber; Darrien dropped his ebony fly into the room to see if it would activate anything; it didn't. Darrien cautiously stepped into the room, ready to race back if he triggered anything. But the magic in the room was inert and he walked its length to the short corridor he found on the other side. This way was blocked by a large boulder, and at this point the half-elf decided he'd best not do any further exploring on his own; if there was something he couldn't handle by himself on the other side of the the boulder, he'd have no way to quickly put it back in place (assuming he could even budge it on his own in the first place). He mounted the fly and sent it speeding down the corridor to just behind Gilbert, Mudpie, and MARCI.

    <Found a back door,> he announced over the mental link.

    <Kind of busy here!> was the brusque reply.

    Verminus spun about and cast a slay living spell on Finoula, indicating he had been aware of her presence all along. Fortunately, she gutted out the spell and avoided the worst of its effects. But by focusing on the elf, the mummy lord had turned his back on Binkadink and Obvious - a bad move! Binkadink's glaive pierced all the way through the mummy lord and only fear of hitting one of the elves prevented the gnome from slamming it further through the mummy's undead flesh. But he swung the glaive to the side, dragging Verminus with him, away from the others. That set up a perfect shot for Hagan, who took an educated guess on what he knew about spell reflection spells - that they could only cast back a certain amount of spell energy before they fizzled out - gritted his teeth, whispered "Here goes!" to himself, and cast another polar ray spell at the mummy lord. He winced immediately thereafter, half expecting it to bounce back in his face, but it didn't; instead, Verminus took the full force of one of the half-orc sorcerer's most powerful spells. He dropped off the end of Binkadink's glaive, collapsing to the cavern floor in a pile of bones and funeral wrappings.

    "Finally!" Hagan said, glad to not be the victim of his own spellcasting for once. Darrien flew up to Verminus and bent to pick up his Arachnibow, noticing at once that it looked different. "He's put rubies into some of its eyes!" he exclaimed, aghast that someone would have altered his primary weapon against his wishes.

    "They magical," Gilbert announced after casting a quick detect magic spell. Of course, the entire Arachnibow was magical, but he could see auras of transmutation magic emanating from the ruby eyes on the spider-head that formed the middle part of the longbow.

    "Let' see what all he's done to my bow," Darrien said, fully expecting the Arachnibow to transform into a spider the size of a small dog when he tried picking it up, now that it had been reattuned to Verminus.

    It didn't. It transformed into spider bigger than a draft horse. But it was still no match for Darrien and his magic scimitar, and after the ranger had slain it and it had transformed back into a longbow, he found he was able to pick it up without further incident.

    That wasn't the only change Verminus had made to the Arachnibow. Based on notes they found in a back room (and subsequent experimentation), Darrien found he could now not only turn an arrow into a strand of spider-silk in mid-flight, he could optionally turn it into a full-fledged web spell at the point of impact. He could also shoot an arrow at a foe and have the arrow transform into a tiny spider after it had hit. Furthermore, as long as Darrien was holding the bow, he could walk unimpeded along any of the webs he had created with the Arachnibow, as if under the effects of a freedom of movement spell.

    "Stupid mummy do you favor, stealing your bow," observed Gilbert.

    "It would seem so," agreed Darrien.

    - - -

    The group explored the rest of Verminus's lair, finding his treasure without having had to do much in the way of fighting to get it. (I had a cool Colossal monstrous scorpion Verminus could have summoned besides the four undead scarab swarms hidden in the pockmark-cavities in his main cavern, but the PCs killed him off before I could get to any of that.)

    Poor Harry was majorly bummed about his spells getting reflected back at Hagan, not only when fighting the mockery monarch bug but then immediately again from Verminus himself. I took pity on him and told him that Verminus's spell reflection spell had been burned off reflecting the last spell (as it had) so it was safe for him to attack him again. I think it helped that his final spell finished off the mummy lord; he was getting pretty frustrated up to that point.

    And this was the first time we've played in this campaign for seven full weeks! I hope we can avoid such lengthy gaps in the future.

    By the way, I had several possible alternate titles for this adventure. One was "Taking a Bow," which is exactly what Verminus did. Another was "Spider-Man vs. the Beetle," since Darrien's becoming somewhat of a spider-themed character (he not only wields the Arachnibow but also has a cloak of the white spider) and Verminus was a mummy lord swarm-shifter capable of becoming a swarm of undead scarab beetles. But I ultimately just named it after the villain - in part so I could "leak" the hint about the next adventure to the players that the last seven letters of the adventure's title were "-E-R-M-I-N-U-S." That got Vicki worried that her old friend Malaterminus might be making a quite unexpected return appearance.
    Last edited by Richards; Sunday, 12th May, 2019 at 01:44 PM.

  4. #74
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    ADVENTURE 62: RAVAGER LODGE

    PC Roster:
    Binkadink Dundernoggin, gnome fighter 17
    Castillan Ivenheart, elf bounder 17
    Darrien, half-elf ranger 17
    Finoula Cloudshadow, elf ranger 17
    Gilbert Fung, human wizard 17
    Hagan, half-orc sorcerer 17

    NPC Roster:
    Jinkadoodle Dundernoggin, gnome illusionist 6
    Malrin Ivenheart, elf druid 11
    MARCI, humanoid construct

    Game Session Date: 9 June 2019

    - - -

    Castillan stood on the top of the northeastern tower of Battershield Keep, looking out over the battlements. It was a sunny, peaceful day - or it was, until the dragonfly vessel came plummeting down out of the sky. It slowed at the last moment and came to a rough landing in the clearing just outside the stone keep. The elven bounder knew something was up at once, for Jinkadoodle normally parked the vessel on the floating sky-island of a cloud giantess friend of theirs, Zaralia, and used the teleport runes hidden in one of the extradimensional lower deck rooms to transport himself instantly to the keep. The fact that the gnome had brought the dragonfly vessel here surely meant something was up.

    Sure enough, Jinkadoodle popped up onto the upper deck of the wooden ship and flipped the rope ladder down over the sides, starting to climb down before it had even completely unfurled. "Guys!" he cried. "Guys! There's trouble!"

    Castillan leaped over the battlements, using his bouncer training to slide down the front side of the keep's walls and slow his fall. He hit the ground before Jinkadoodle did and ran across the lowered drawbridge to see what the problem might be. Behind him he could hear somebody - Binkadink, likely - raising the lowered portcullis so the other adventurers could follow him outside the keep.

    "What is it? What's the matter?" prompted Castillan once the gnome pilot had leaped to the ground. The others raced up behind him while the little gnome paused to catch his breath.

    "Blood - blood everywhere!" he cried. "And bodies; I think Zaralia's dead, and there's a dead dragon up there as well! I was gonna land at the edge of the cloud island like normal, only I saw the carnage - I didn't want to leave the ship up there in case whoever did that is still up there!"

    "Good call," agreed Gilbert Fung. "Come on - we go check it out!" And then he turned and started back into the keep.

    "Gilbert -- the ship's this way!" Castillan called after him.

    "I know - I not climbing ladder if I can help it! I take carpet, meet you inside!" And while some of the others followed Jinkadoodle back up the rope ladder to the dragonfly vessel's upper deck, the portly mage went over to where the carpet of teleportation lay over by the stables in the courtyard of Battershield Keep. Darrien, Finoula, and Binkadink opted to take the carpet so they could bring along their animal companions; after a moment's hesitation, Malrin followed suit with Taihar, her dire fox. Once Grumps Junior, Taihar, Wrath, and Obvious had been teleported to the ship's interior, Binkadink rolled the carpet up and took it with him up the dragonfly vessel's rope ladder so they'd have it with them up on the cloud island; it was the easiest way for the animals to disembark.

    Once everyone was on board Jinkadoodle brought the dragonfly ship up off the ground and flying into the clouds. It was the matter of less than ten minutes of flying before he approached Zaralia's cloud island. The first thing they noticed was that one of the two enormous apple trees - which grew apples the size of pumpkins - had been knocked over on its side. Near the tree was the sinuous body of Gozragoth, the cloud dragon who laired in the lower levels of Zaralia's island. And closer to the main building lay Zaralia herself, as evidenced by the blue tint to her skin. But the white cloud-stuff all around them was stained reddish-brown, the color of dried blood.

    The dragonfly vessel made a perfect four-point landing on its leg-struts in its usual position (the far side of the island, opposite Zaralia's dwelling and observatory) and Castillan dropped the rope ladder over the side. The heroes disembarked, Jinkadoodle following worriedly in their wake.

    As Hagan and Darrien approached the body of the cloud dragon, the half-orc sorcerer gave a sharp intake of breath as he noticed something he hadn't seen from the ship: the dragon's head was missing! Judging from the jaggedness of the neck-stump, it looked as if it had been chopped off with a bladed weapon. MARCI approached the headless draconic corpse and shone her red scanner-light over the creature's body. "This creature has been dead for several hours," she announced.

    Darrien, in the meantime, stopped to examine the bloody footprints all over the area. "Humanoid prints," he observed. "Bigger than a man, but smaller than a hill giant."

    "Trolls?" guessed Hagan.

    "No, they only have three toes," Darrien answered. "And trolls usually go without shoes. Whoever made these were wearing either soft boots or moccasins." He absently scratched Grumps Junior's head as the bear ambled over to sniff the bloody footprints.

    "Hey! Zaralia's missing her head, too!" called Castillan from the side of the fallen cloud giantess. It looked like her head had been taken off with a single strike from a bladed weapon - and likely after her death, given the pool of blood staining the cloud-stuff around her neck. The bounder noted several stab wounds on her body; Gozragoth had quite a few wounds on him as well. It looks like their heads had both been harvested after they had been slain.

    "I'm going to see if there were any eyewitnesses, as it were," announced Finoula before casting a speak with plants spell. As she did so, targeting the still-standing giant apple tree, she noticed there were no apples remaining on the lower half of the tree. Looking over at the fallen tree, she saw almost no apples on it, either. "What happened?" she asked the tree. "Who killed the giant and the dragon?" She refrained from using their names, not knowing whether an apple tree would have known them by name.

    "Elves," replied the apple tree. "Big elves." That sent Finoula thinking furiously: were there such things as giant elves? "Where did they come from?" she asked the tree.

    "The sky," came the answer. That immediately put the thought of avariels - a rare race of winged elves - into her mind, but they were no larger than the standard elf, just with feathered wings growing from their backs. They couldn't have been responsible for the large footprints all over the cloud island.

    "How did they get here?" Finoula prompted. "Did they come in a flying ship, like ours, or maybe just suddenly appear out of thin air?"

    "They walked," the tree replied. Finoula repeated her conversation to the others, since her spell allowed only her to speak to the tree and understand its replies. "Air walk spell," Gilbert suggested.

    "I'm checking inside," Castillan announced, opening the human-sized door embedded in the larger, giant-sized door leading into Zaralia's home. There was a pot of water over the remains of a cook-fire; it looked as if Zaralia had been in the process of making tea when she was interrupted by the violent intruders - whoever they might be. But no sooner had the elven bounder walked inside the structure then a shriek split the silence of the cloud island. Darrien was the first to notice a draconic form streaking down from overhead, but before he could warn the others it had opened its mouth wide and spewed forth a cone of freezing-cold ice particles, catching Hagan and Wezhley, Taihar, and MARCI in the frigid blast. The dire fox dropped to the ground immediately, frozen stiff and robbed of his consciousness by the power of the dragon's breath weapon.

    Hagan turned immediately up to retaliate, the words to a disintegrate spell ready to spill from his lips, when Gilbert cried out, "Wait! It probably his mate!" The wizard had noted that this newcomer, like the late Gozragoth, was a cloud dragon. "We no kill the dragon!" he called out in Draconic to the furious creature, still aloft just above the island with the flapping of her powerful wings. Darrien, having been taught the Draconic language by the sorceress Caliandra, added "We just got here and found the bodies! They were both friends of ours!"

    The dragon's eyes narrowed at these protestations of innocence, but then she saw the bloody footprints all around the area and noted they were much too big to have been made by anyone present. "Then who is responsible for my son's slaying?" she demanded.

    That at least explained her relationship to Gozragoth. "We not know, but we find out and gain vengeance for slaying!" promised Gilbert. Darrien couldn't help but notice that the portly wizard affected a pidgin way of speaking no matter what language he happened to be using.

    "See to it!" demanded the cloud dragon. "I will ensure Gozragoth's lair is still intact!" And with that, she flapped her wings and dropped below the top of the island, flying down to the bottom where the opening to her son's lair lay. "Figures!" muttered Gilbert. "Son killed, but she more interested in his hoard. Dragons!"

    Malrin ran over to the frozen Taihar and cast a healing spell upon him, one of the few she had prepared that day. The dire fox shivered but sat up.

    "How are we going to find whoever did this?" Darrien asked Gilbert.

    "We familiar with both Zaralia and Gozragoth," Gilbert answered, pulling the crystal ball from a pocket of his robes. "I bet we--"

    "Shhh!" silenced Finoula. "Do you guys hear that?"

    "Hear what?" scoffed Gilbert. But Finoula moved over to the fallen apple tree, where she could have sworn she heard a groan. Bending down beneath the fallen limbs, she saw an arm sticking out from beneath the foliage. "Help me lift this!" she called, pulling a thick branch off the woman trapped beneath the tree. Binkadink and Obvious added their strength to the task, allowing Finoula to pull the pinned victim from beneath the fallen tree. Once free, they could see it was Tanabelle, Zaralia's remaining human servant, and Finoula mentally scolded herself for having forgotten that Tanabelle still lived up here with her cloud giant mistress.

    Binkadink poured the contents of a healing potion down the young woman's throat - after first ensuring it wasn't one of the ones doctored by Jinkadoodle with a magic mouth spell calling out embarrassing phrases when the potion was imbibed - and Tanabelle stirred. She gave a gasp of fear as she recalled what she'd seen before the tree had been uprooted in the struggles of combat, but Finoula helped her through her fear and assured her she was safe. When asked to tell them what she had witnessed, she gave her story.

    "It was last night, when they came," she began. "I was out in the moonlight, enjoying the night sky by the grapevines, when the raiders came walking out of the sky. I've never seen anything like them before! They looked like elves – only they stood a good nine feet tall! They wore animal skins and wielded greataxes – is that what you call them? Really big axes, in any case. I ran for the trees when I saw them, and climbed up into the lower branches to hide. Zaralia came outside and they attacked her, and she must have called Gozragoth for help because he came to help fight them off. But there were close to a dozen of them, and the mistress, she--she didn’t really stand a chance. Gozragoth was fighting off most of them, but there were still three or so who concentrated their attacks on the mistress. I saw them--they cut off--” Tanabelle broke down in tears at the memory of her mistress’s beheading.

    "In any case," she continued after a moment, "the tree I was in got toppled over during the battle, and I was knocked out, I guess, until you came here and found me. And that’s all I know.”

    "Giant elves?" Hagan asked Gilbert as Malrin and Finoula comforted the servant girl. "Is that even a thing?"

    Gilbert was flipping through the pages of his Omnibook, looking for a particular passage. He'd recently added the books from Lord Darborel Ivenheart's library to his Omnibook and there was something familiar about all of this.... "Got it!" he cried, finding the page he'd been looking for. "There rumors of elf-like fey, nine feet tall, called lunar ravagers. They live in hunting lodges among clouds, hunt mortal animals - and men - for sport. Come out during moonlight...this them, I bet."

    Finoula had beckoned Jinkadoodle over and passed Tanabelle into his care. "Take her back to the dragonfly vessel for now," she told the gnome. "We'll figure out how we're going to track down who did this."

    "Found 'em!" called Gilbert in triumph. He'd returned his attention to his crystal ball and brought up an image of the item he'd been looking for: Zaralia's severed head. If the image in his crystal ball was accurate, the cloud giant's head was inside a bloodstained sack sitting up against a wooden structure. Another sack next to it was filled with oversized apples and grapes from Zaralia's cloud island.

    "Pull back the sensor," Hagan suggested, looking over the heavyset wizard's shoulder. Gilbert complied and another building came into view, this one much bigger but made of the same wooden construction as the first. "That must be their hunting lodge," the half-orc sorcerer deduced.

    "You get good enough look to teleport us there?" Gilbert asked.

    "Oh, yes. Just let me know when you're ready."

    Gilbert cast a Rary's telepathic bond spell on the group, while Malrin and each of the rangers cast a barkskin spell upon themselves, toughening up the surface of their skin the better to ward off attacks. Hagan cast a mage armor spell to protect him and Wezhley, while Gilbert cast a stoneskin spell covering not only himself but Mudpie as well. Then, all preparations complete, Hagan had everyone gather up around him and said the words that teleported the group across the unknown miles to the cloud island containing the lunar ravagers' hunting lodge.

    They appeared at the side of an enormous set of wooden steps leading up to a roofed porch, in the center of which was a set of double doors, each over 10 feet tall and nearly as wide. Looking all around, Darrien saw no sentries; apparently the lunar ravagers thought themselves secure enough atop a cloud island that they didn't need to worry about security all that much. The ranger walked silently up the steps and approached the door, placing his head against the wooden surface to see if he could hear anything from within. When that came up negative, he pulled on the leftmost door and it opened without a sound.

    There was no interior light within the lodge save the remains of burning embers in the massive stone fireplace on the far side of the massive room. A long, wooden table with benches sized for giants sat in the feast hall directly across from the front doors; to the right were numerous closed doors leading, presumably, to various bunkrooms, while to the left was an open area whose outer walls contained a wide variety of ferocious-looking beasts, each the product of a skilled taxidermist (and each no doubt the result of a previous moonlit hunt). Darrien saw a remorhaz rearing up in the corner, a metal-skinned bull gorgon, a griffon whose white fur blended seamlessly into equally white feathers, a giant owl with wings outspread as if in flight, and even a three-headed chimera; idly he wondered if the chimera had been stuffed as it had been in life or if the taxidermist had taken liberties with the body parts of different beasts, stitching together something that had never existed in real life. Regardless, there was real skill on display, not only in the full-bodied animals along the walls but also the numerous heads mounted behind them - including, Darrien realized with a shock, several human and elven heads; no doubt he had found the reason for the decapitation of Zaralia and Gozragoth.

    The door now open, Binkadink rode Obvious into the building, the little gnome steering his jackalope mount off to the right to investigate the doors; anyone who popped out of the nearest door was going to get a gnomish glaive in the face! But upon their entrance into the building's interior, a warning alarm - in the form of a loud, avian shriek - echoed throughout the lodge, no doubt alerting everyone within that there were intruders within. That helped explain the lack of sentries on the cloud island!

    Castillan followed Binkadink and Obvious into the lodge but while the gnome and his jackalope readied themselves at the closest door to the front of the building, the elven bounder readied himself around the corner from the closed door at the back end of what he assumed was the sleeping areas of the lodge. Hagan followed into the feasting hall, Malrin following cautiously, and then Finoula coming in behind her with both primary weapons out and ready.

    Then Finoula ran afoul of the lodge's alarm system, which turned out to be nothing more than the giant owl in the display area, which turned out not to have been stuffed after all but a convenient place for the lunar ravagers' sentry beast to keep a watch on the sole entry into the building. The owl flew across the room on silent wings, reaching out with his talons to catch Finoula on both shoulders before her elven senses could determine he was even there. However, Darrien was still in the doorway and saw the bird's approach, peppering him with arrows before he could attempt to lift Finoula from the floor. The bird crashed lifelessly to the floor, nearly knocking Finoula from her feet.

    Then the door to one of the bunkrooms opened up and Binkadink and Obvious got their first good look at a lunar ravager. This was Anzairian, the leader of this particular band of hunters, but save for his slightly larger build he was fairly typical of his race: light of skin, blond of hair, with elven-looking features including delicately-pointed ears. Somewhat incongruously - at least when compared with the elves of Binkadink's acquaintance - he wore armor composed of thick, tanned hides and overlapping layers of various animal pelts. In his hand he held a massive greataxe.

    Binkadink wasted no time on an apprasial of his foe's appearance, however: he brought his gnomish glaive crashing down on Anzairian's head. Or at least he tried to; the ravager demonstrated a remarkable agility and ducked to the side at the last possible moment, which, while it didn't prevent him from taking any damage - the gnome's blade bit deep into the furs and sliced into the lunar ravager's shoulder - it did at least prevent him from being slain outright. He swung his greataxe around for a powerful blow of his own, and while he was thus engaged Obvious stabbed at him with the sharp points of his antlers. Anzairian roared, and with blood dripping down his face, sent his blade crashing into the jackalope's left shoulder.

    Off to Anzairian's right, three of the doors were swung open at almost the same time and half a dozen lunar ravagers, each wearing similar garb as their leader, spilled into the open corridor between the bunkrooms. They roared in eager anticipation of the battle to follow.

    However, Gilbert stepped into the room, saw the approaching ravagers all bunched up, and cast a quickened Evard's black tentacles spell that caught five of the barbarians in their ebon embrace. He followed up with a shield spell on himself and Mudpie, in case any of the axe-wielding ravagers got loose from the rubbery appendages trying to keep them in place. Behind the portly mage, MARCI stepped into the room, scanning the area with her single red eye.

    Two of the lunar ravagers, despite being among the writhing tentacles of Gilbert's spell, were in position to attack the gnome and jackalope fighting off their leader and did so with gusto. And then the final door opened, revealing a female lunar ravager armed with a javelin as well as a greataxe. She hurled the javelin at the back of Binkadink's head before sprinting over to face the heroes bunched up at the side of the long table in the feast hall, giving a cry of anguish and hatred when she saw the corpse of her trained giant owl Maithi with five or six arrows sticking out of his back and side.

    Binkadink leaped from his mount's back and concentrated on Anzairian, judging him as the greatest threat since his armor was so much more elaborate than those of the other barbarians and the fact that he stood nearly a foot taller than the next-tallest ravager. While the gnome fighter traded blows with the lunar ravager leader, Obvious scampered after the female ranger about to bring her greataxe down upon Finoula's head. The jackalope bit into Garthalia's arm, then leaped up into the air to take the female ravager off her feet. He managed, on the way down, to force her face-first to the floor, while he landed on her back with all of his not-inconsiderable weight pressing down upon her. Finoula took full advantage of the situation, snapping her flaming whip of thorns at the woman's face and then stepping closer to bring Tahlmalaera stabbing into her neck and shoulder.

    Castillan approached the closest of the barbarians struggling to get free of the black tentacles. There was one right at the edge of the spell effect, slowly making progress to freedom; the bounder chose him as the obvious target and stabbed at him, careful not to get close enough to get pulled into the tentacles' embrace himself. And then Hagan cast a chain lightning spell that targeted all of the lunar ravagers he could see: the five caught in the writhing tentacles and another stuck in the doorway of a bunkroom, unable to get to the battle himself because of the way being blocked by the Evard's black tentacles spell. The lunar ravagers struck by the half-orc sorcerer's spell cried out in pain, music to Wezhley's ears, who bounced up and down on Hagan's shoulder in delight of his master's spellcasting prowess.

    While Darrien pumped arrow after arrow into the ravagers he could see (some were now almost entirely encompassed by writhing, black tentacles), Gilbert continued his spellcasting. The barbarian just about to escape the tentacles received a quickened ray of enfeeblement immediately before Gilbert treated himself to a see invisibility spell - he didn't want anybody sneaking up on him if he could help it, and he had no idea whether these lunar ravagers could cast spells or if - they were fey, after all - they had any innate powers that could shield them from normal sight. MARCI stepped up behind Binkadink, who was still trading blows with Anzairian and injected a finger-needle into the back of the gnome's neck, sending a burst of healing fluid into his system. Then she stepped back again to give him room, all the while noting that her healing fluids reserves were getting dangerously low. And she hadn't seen any of the raw ingredients she normally harvested to manufacture the fluid within her own internal laboratory, either - that could potentially be a problem....

    With guttural cries of triumph, two of the lunar ravagers finally escaped the confines of the writhing appendages of Gilbert's spell and looked about for immediate targets upon whom they could vent their wrath. One attacked Binkadink, whose attention was still focused on the ravager leader, while another brought his greataxe crashing down to split Castillan in two. Fortunately, the bounder dodged at the last moment, not avoiding damage altogether but at least preventing his immediate evisceration. Unseen in the rooms behind the Evard's black tentacles spell, the three lunar ravagers trapped and prevented from striking out at their enemies had accepted their situations and were actively doing something about it: by the act of concentration, their bodies were becoming translucent, fading slowly from view.

    Garthalia tried extricating herself from underneath Obvious's bulk, to no avail - the jackalope continued jumping up and down in place, fracturing her bones with each landing. Binkadink, in the meantime, was stabbing Anzairian with his glaive, and the lunar ravager barbarian leader did not have a medical construct inject healing fluids into him as needed. It was starting to look like the battle between him and this ridiculous little gnome in the stilt-boots was going to be won by whoever could hold on the longest from blood loss from the wounds being inflicted by the other - and that was a contest Binkadink was probably going to win!

    Castillan turned and stabbed at the ravager who had attacked him, getting in under his guard and thrusting his blade deep into the barbarian's lower torso. Hagan stepped around Obvious and Garthalia to position himself such that he could cast a chain lightning spell that would encompass the ravager attacking Castillan, the one attacking Binkadink, those entangled by the tentacles, and the barbarian leader all at once; at the last moment, he decided to include Garthalia in the mix, even though it looked like Obvious had that battle all but already sewn up. The spell just about finished her; Finoula made the killing blow to the enemy ranger with a throat-thrust by Tahlmalaera's gleaming blade. Malrin, standing behind the half-orc sorcerer, followed his spellcasting example with an ice storm spell centered on the Evard's black tentacles spell's area of effect, since she already knew there were only enemies caught within the constricting appendages.

    Darrien could no longer see much of the lunar ravagers still being constricted by the tentacles, but he could see their locations by the thickened bands of rubbery, ebony tendrils all but encasing them. He plucked a crystal from his necklace of lightning crystals and fired it off, sending a lightning bolt blasting through three of the harried barbarians. Gilbert then followed Malrin's tactic of overlapping spells with the same area of effect by sending an acid fog spell centered in the middle of the tentacle-mass. Crushed by rubbery appendages, blasted by lightning, and now covered in dripping acid, the lunar ravagers howled in pain and hatred.

    The two barbarians free of the tentacles attacked their targets - Binkadink and Castillan - again, the former forcing the gnome to drop his guard momentarily from Anzairian to focus on this new threat. Anzairian, naturally, took advantage of the gnome's split focus, bringing his greataxe down on the gnome's red dragonhide armor. But then Obvious, his ranger foe having been slain, came to his rider's assistance by leaping at the younger ravager, allowing Binkadink to renew his focus against the ravager leader. Castillan did his best fending off the attacks of his own dedicated foe, but he usually did better striking from an unexpected direction and he didn't have that opportunity with this one facing him and giving him his full attention.

    Unseen in the back, the three lunar ravagers forced to stay out of combat thus far had fully vanished. Hagan sent another chain lightning spell arcing off to all the combatants he could see, even those who were at the moment almost entirely covered in strangling tentacles.

    Seeing her brother start to stagger from his wounds, Malrin instinctively wildshaped into an owl and flew up to his shoulder, intending to fire off a healing spell, but then belatedly recalled that she had no more such spells at hand. The best she could do was to use her staff of healing - and that had been subsumed into her owl form as soon as she wildshaped. Cursing her stupidity, she flapped away from Castillan, giving him room to maneuver as she resumed her elven form. But MARCI, seeing the situation, stepped boldly up to the bounder and injected him with the last few ounces of her healing mixture; she had calculated he was unlikely to survive long without such assistance on her part.

    Finoula raced up to assist Obvious with his foe, while Darrien switched to his scimitar and did the same to help fight off Castillan's current enemy. Binkadink was still fighting off Anzairian, who throughout the battle thus far had yet to make it fully out of the doorway of his bunkroom.

    Gilbert was just about to cast a fire shield spell on himself when he got a surprise from a sudden direction: the front door to the lodge building! In raced the three lunar ravagers who had been trapped in the back rooms by the portly wizard's Evard's black tentacles spell, having teleported to the front of the building when it was apparent they weren't going to get to fight anyone any other way. Two greataxes came crashing down on the startled wizard and another caused sparks to fly from Mudpie's rocky hide; fortunately, the two were both covered by Gilbert's stoneskin spell and thus neither blow did as much damage at it would have otherwise. But now there were many more active combatants on the field, three more than to Gilbert's liking!

    Castillan's opponent got in a good blow, sending the bounder staggering backwards again; had he not just been healed by MARCI it's likely he would have dropped by the force of the lunar ravager's attack. But now his sister met him, touching her magical staff to his shoulder, and he felt the cooling flow of healing energy course through his body. "Thanks, sis!" he called behind him as he leaped forward to the attack once more.

    Hagan sent another chain lightning spell doing the rounds; he liked to stick with what worked and this particular spell was working just fine, especially against those caught in the embrace of the black tentacles and thus unable to spread out beyond the range of the half-orc's spell. Malrin, seeing the three newcomers attacking Gilbert and Mudpie, cast a summon nature's ally spell that brought a 16-foot-tall earth elemental into being behind the trio; it smashed a rocky fist down upon the head of the middle ravager, clocking him but good. That got Finoula's attention, and, seeing them all lined up as they were, she activated her lightning amulet and blasted through all three of them, reverting to elven form at the far end, by the beginning of the trophy section of the lodge.

    Darrien resheathed his scimitar and brought his Arachnibow back out, now that he had three more targets out in the open to hit. Five arrows protruded from the chest of the nearest ravager in as many seconds, and blood spilled from the astonished fey's mouth.

    Gilbert, in the meantime, was kicking himself that he hadn't prepared any spells that would increase Mudpie's size; the poor earth elemental was a mere three feet tall and was greatly outmatched by the lunar ravagers surrounding him. So Gilbert cast the spell he did have available, a quickened version of Otiluke's resilient sphere, encasing his familiar in a virtually unbreakable globe of force which would take Mudpie out of the fight - but see to his continued survival. Then he cast his most powerful spell to date, one he'd never yet cast in combat: time stop. Immediately, everything seemed to freeze in place around him. Realizing this bubble of frozen time would last a mere few subjective seconds, Gilbert put the borrowed time to good use, drinking down a healing potion while he moved across to the other side of the massive feast-table and out of immediate reach of any of the current combatants; then cast the fire shield he was about to cast when the trio came bursting in on him; and then cast an invisibility spell on himself. As the world around him snapped back into real time, he chuckled quietly to himself, thinking nobody would be able to target him now: from their reference point, he would have just vanished from sight in the blink of an eye and nobody would have any idea where he had gone!

    Binkadink was feeling the effects of his combat with Anzairian; he desperately needed some healing but didn't dare take the time to grab up a potion from his backpack. MARCI analyzed the situation, internally switched mechanisms in her fingers, and protruded a different needle from her finger, stabbing it into the back of the gnome's neck. It wouldn't heal damage from the inside of the body like her healing mixture would, but this would at least reduce the gnome's ability to feel pain; as such, it would prevent the distractions that might make the difference in battle. Despite the hard metal of MARCI's construction, she didn't once consider joining the battle herself (it's likely she could pack quite a wallop with fists of metal!); she hadn't been built for that purpose. But the injection did the job, for shortly after, Anzairian fell over, slain at last by the little gnome in what had to have been one of the longest battles of his life.

    The lunar ravager closest to Finoula got the sudden bright idea to try to grapple her, thinking to pick her up and throw her off the side of the cloud island, but the edge of Tahlmalaera's blade quickly put an end to that notion. The other two turned and attacked the huge earth elemental behind them. By concentrating its attacks upon one of the two, the earth elemental's pounding fists brought one of them to the ground, where a stomp to the head ended his life. Finoula used another charge of her lightning necklace to blast through the two remaining lunar ravager reinforcements, reversing her previous course and ending up back where she had started. That was enough to slay one of them (the one Darrien had previously peppered with arrows), leaving a single foe out by the front doors, who Gilbert killed with the application of a simple magic missile spell. It brought him back to full visibility, but he had seen that his tentacles had slain the ravagers caught up in their embrace; he dismissed the spell and allowed the slain foes to collapse lifelessly to the floor of the lodge.

    Obvious and Castillan were now facing the one remaining foe, and the look on his face told he recognized the futility of his stand but was determined to go down fighting nonetheless. However, Hagan slew him - somewhat anticlimactically - with a polar ray spell.

    "Is that it?" asked Binkadink, looking around for any further enemies. But that was it; the heroes had cleared the lodge out of the lunar ravagers who had slain Gozragoth and Zaralia for sport. Gilbert released Mudpie form the Otiluke's resilient sphere and the group commenced a thorough exploration of the lodge. One thing soon became abundantly clear: these lunar ravagers liked taking more than the heads of their enemies, for their bunkrooms were filled with coins, gems, jewelry, and objects of art from around the globe. Castillan's jaw seemed to keep opening of its own accord with each new chest of treasure they uncovered. Everything was dropped into the group's portable hole for further investigation later; once the place had been picked clean, Hagan teleported the group back to Zaralia's cloud island, where Jinkadoodle had taken Tanabelle for safekeeping.

    "Do you think your mistress would return to life in a different form?" asked Malrin. "I can try casting a reincarnate spell on her, or on the dragon, if you like."

    "That not good idea," countered Gilbert Fung. "Dragons very vain; they see coming back as different type of dragon personal insult, probably attack you for effrontery. Plus," he added, "we don't need Gozragoth - we got his mom! Maybe she stay on as cloud island guardian!"

    "But what about Zaralia?" asked Finoula.

    "I don't think she'd want to come back, either," said Tanabelle sadly. "She's been terribly depressed, ever since she was responsible for Junia's death." Under the control of a cerebrilith. the cloud giant had thrown one of her two faithful human servants off the edge of the cloud island, after having ripped her entire arm off at the shoulder. "I suspect she's happier in the afterlife."

    "Then what about you?" prompted Hagan. "Will you stay here, all by yourself?" Tanabelle looked around and shivered. "I don't think so," she said. "For one thing, I have no way to get about, like Zaralia did. And as much as I loved living here, now it's filled with bad memories."

    "Then you are more than welcome to come home with us," offered Castillan. "We live in a stone keep, owned by a pair of dwarves. They would be more than happy to take you on as a permanent member of their household. They...lost their daughter, some months back." Finoula looked away at the mention of Ingebold Battershield, her beloved Battle-Sister. She, like Helga and Aerik, was still saddened at the loss of the dwarven cleric.

    "And we're still planning on using the island as a landing site for the dragonfly ship," offered up Jinkadoodle. "You'd be more than welcome to come back up here and visit, when you had the mind to."

    "Thank you," replied Tanabelle. "I think I would like that." And then the heroes led her down to the extradimensional hold of the ship, and from there to Battershield Keep and her new home.

    - - -

    This session was somewhat truncated; we normally start play around noon and then let the length of the session be dictated by the events as they play out (but usually anywhere from four to six hours); this time, about 45 minutes into the first hour, Dan suddenly remembered to tell me they had a "hard stop" time at 4 PM. That was a bit of a bummer, especially after having waited several weeks since our last Kordovian gaming session. So the lunar ravagers caught up in Gilbert's tentacles, having failed their initial grapple checks, just got left there for expedience. We ended up slaying the last enemy with mere minutes to spare, and had to worry about treasure allocation over email afterwards (and, when nothing much came of that, we finished up the following Wednesday at the beginning of my son Logan's "Durnhill Conscripts" game session). But we've already scheduled the next session for two weeks from this one, so that's a welcome step in the right direction.

    - - -

    T-Shirt Worn: My Pink Floyd "Dark Side of the Moon" T-shirt, given the lunar tie-in with the main adversaries of this adventure.
    Last edited by Richards; Saturday, 15th June, 2019 at 12:02 AM.

  5. #75
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    ADVENTURE 63: NIGHTWINGS

    PC Roster:
    Binkadink Dundernoggin, gnome fighter 17
    Darrien, half-elf ranger 17
    Finoula Cloudshadow, elf ranger 17
    Gilbert Fung, human wizard 17
    Hagan, half-orc sorcerer 17

    NPC Roster:
    Malrin Ivenheart, elf druid 11
    MARCI, humanoid construct

    Game Session Date: 22 June 2019

    - - -

    The sun was setting as Aithanar pulled the Vistani wagon to a halt at the side of the road. The door opened at the back of the wagon, allowing Gilbert and Hagan to exit, each of the two spellcasters carrying their respective familiars: Wezhley the weasel perched upon the half-orc sorcerer's shoulder and Mudpie reduced to the size of a pebble inside the a pocket of the hefty wizard's robe. Darrien dropped from the top of the wagon, where he'd been sitting in Castillan's normal spot; the elven bounder was off at one of the taverns, no doubt, well into a game of cards and keeping an ear to any scuttlebutt he might pick up. The half-elf ranger hurried to catch up to the other two.

    As they started up the winding path to the garrison keep, they were passed by Finoula on her pony Daisy, with her timber wolf Wrath trotting in her wake, and Binkadink riding his jackalope, Obvious. They made much better time than the three striking out on foot, and by the time the trio made it up to the keep Finoula and Binkadink had already dismounted and were in a discussion with Aerik Battershield, who had asked the group to swing by this evening. Behind him, by the stone keep, Slayer led a small group of mercenaries in weapons practice before they went out on patrol that night.

    "What...all this about?" wheezed Gilbert when he got to the top of the hill. He was quite winded from the hike and had seriously considered using a teleport or dimension door spell to save himself the effort of getting all the way to the top.

    "We've been havin' a problem with retention among th' hired soldiers," Aerik explained in a quiet voice, not wanting to be overheard by any of the garrison troops. "There's been no complaints about th' wages, th' hours, or th' weapons an' armor provided; nonetheless, we seem to have several mercenaries desertin' every week. They just wander off an' are never seen again. I'd like ye t' look into it, if'n ye would."

    "When have they gone missing?" Finoula asked.

    "Always it's when they're on patrol," Aerik answered. "They go off on their patrol schedule, an' they dinnae come back."

    "How many patrol together?" asked Darrien.

    "Teams o' two - a buddy system, t' prevent anyone from gettin' th' drop on a lone soldier. An' it's always both o' the soldiers goin' missin' at th' same time, too. We tried rotatin' th' men around so's they dinnae get to used t' th' same partner all th' time, in case one disgruntled soldier talks 'is buddy into desertin' with 'im, but so far it's had no effect."

    "Maybe need three people together, not just two," suggested Gilbert.

    "Maybe these aren't desertions," pointed out Binkadink reasonably. "Could someone - or something - have been attacking them?"

    "Each o' th' soldiers got hisself a signalin' horn in case o' trouble," Aerik argued. "Nobody's used 'em. An' there's been no signs o' combat on th' patrol routes."

    "Maybe we interview garrison men, see what we learn from them," suggested Gilbert.

    "Be me guest," offered the gruff dwarf. Then his attitude lightened and he called out, "A good evenin' to ye, Mr. Dulorro!" Gilbert turned and watched an elderly man trudging up the path to the garrison keep. He looked to be sixty years old or more and walked with the aid of a cane, but he carried a picnic basket in his other hand and didn't seem nearly as winded walking up the hill as Gilbert had been, despite his advanced years. Gilbert took an immediate dislike to him and glared at the old man with his magically-enhanced vision, trying to see if he were some form of undead. He wasn't - but that didn't let him off the hook, Gilbert decided.

    "Good evening, gentlemen - and a good evening to you, too, young miss!" the old man amended upon seeing Finoula; she just smiled, realizing the elderly human had no idea that the silver-haired elven maiden before him was actually much older than he was. "I brought the troops some baked goods." Aerik called over to the men and Slayer immediately called a halt to their weapons training. One of the soldiers ran into the keep, returning with an empty picnic basket to trade for the one the old man carried. "Just some rolls and biscuits," he apologized, passing the basket over to the eager recruit. "My little way of giving thanks to the troops protecting us from the orcs and goblins of the forest."

    Gilbert insisted on looking at the contents of the basket, lifting the cloth covering the baked goods to do so. To his irritation, there was nothing untoward about the basket's contents - in fact, the biscuits smelled quite good...and was that a scent of baked-in honey? The mage's mouth started watering. "Who you, exactly?" he demanded to the old man.

    "Oh, please forgive my manners - my name is Stefan Dulorro, I live just inside the forest. A retired baker by trade; now I make the rounds among the garrison forts, passing along my good wishes and the occasional basket of biscuits and such."

    "That's very generous of you," said Finoula with a smile.

    "Well, it keeps me busy and gets me out of the house every now and again," Stefan replied, matching the elf's friendly smile with one of his own.

    "I wonder, have you heard anything about any garrison soldiers missing over the last few weeks?" she asked.

    "Missing?" Stefan scratched his head while he thought. "No, but I have heard a few of them wondering aloud what the pay is for a similar post in the kingdom to the south. There was a name mentioned, Lord...Castlethorne? Something like that, in any case. Apparently he's paying top coin for the services of mercenaries."

    "Cavelthorne!" snarled Gilbert. "Little rat buying our mercenaries out from under us!" Aerik confirmed that the missing men had all been posted at the three southernmost garrison forts - those closest to Lord Cavelthorne's kingdom. "Come on - we talk to men while they stuff faces with biscuits!" Stefan waved his farewells and started his trek back down the hill path, while Gilbert led the other heroes in questioning the garrison soldiers.

    The interrogations brought about some useful information. "Yeah, I heard Lord Cavelthorne's paying out a bunch of gold to go guard his kingdom instead of this one. Haven't heard no specific prices, though," said one recruit. "I knew one of the guys who went missing," offered another. "He didn't give any indication he was dissatisfied with the pay for this job." Another insisted one of the missing men had family in Kordovia - there was no way he'd desert his post for more money elsewhere and leave them behind to face the next orc and goblin attack, especially since a recent wave had actually made it into the city proper. "You ask me, there’s somethin' in that forest besides orcs an' goblins pickin' 'em off," mused a grizzled soldier. "Th' other week, I coulda swore I heard leathery wings flappin' – likely a dragon, you just see if I ain't right. Prolly a smaller one, sure, but a dragon's a dragon – wouldn't have to be no bigger'n a horse or so to polish off two soldiers all by itself."

    But the best possible lead came from a rather thin-looking soldier, all but buried under his heavy armor. "I might've been one of the last guys to have seen Horace alive, come to think on it. See this ring here? Ain't worth much, but I won it off him at cards, the night he went missin', right before we was off on our patrols."

    "Lemme see ring!" demanded Gilbert, holding out a pudgy hand. The soldier, at a nod from Aerik, dropped the ring into the wizard's hand. The soldier was right, the ring was practically worthless - but as a physical link to a recently-missing troop, it could be invaluable in determining Horace's fate. Gilbert pulled the crystal ball from his robes and passed a hand over it. It clouded over as he concentrated on Horace, holding the man's ring in his hand.

    Immediately, the crystal ball turned black. "Stupid thing!" snarled Gilbert, shaking it like a snow globe to try to get an image to appear. But Hagan reached over and steadied Gilbert's hand. "It's working fine," the half-orc explained. "Horace is bound, hand and foot, in a cavern of some sort, by a pool of water." This was the second time in recent history that Gilbert had scried upon a scene of utter darkness, leaving his human eyes unable to see anything, while Hagan's half-orc ancestry gave him a full view.

    "You get good enough view you can teleport us there?" Gilbert asked. Hagan examined the image in the dark crystal sphere and nodded. "Sure," he said, "just not all of us at once."

    After some discussion, the group decided to return to Battershield Keep and teleport from there. For one thing, Aithanar would be staying behind with Daisy and Wrath; for another, the carpet of teleportation that linked to their dragonfly vessel was stored there, and it would be quicker for some of the heroes to wait on the spelljamming vessel for Hagan and a small group to teleport over, bringing the carpet with them.

    Gilbert cast a Rary's telepathic bond on the group, then sent Binkadink to go fetch the carpet. While the gnome did that, Gilbert cast stoneskin and magic circle against evil spells upon himself and Mudpie (who was still pebble-sized inside a pocket of the wizard's robes). Malrin cast a goodberry spell, resulting in almost a dozen healing berries, which she placed in a belt pouch at her hip. At Binkadink's request, she cast a reduce animal spell on Obvious, halving his size and making it easier for the jackalope - usually the size of a large draft horse - to be brought along with Hagan when he teleported the group over to the lightless cavern where Horace was being held captive. She followed that spell up with greater magic fang and stoneskin spells on the jackalope, turning him into a pony-sized combat machine. The gnome climbed up onto his mount's saddle and Gilbert noted, "You look less silly on smaller mount, gnome."

    Gilbert stepped onto the carpet of teleportation and over to the dragonfly vessel to wait for the all-clear signal telling him the carpet had been laid out flat in the cavern and it was safe to step through again. He had MARCI come with him, and Malrin followed suit. Then Hagan, standing beside Finoula, Darrien, and Binkadink astride Obvious, cast his teleport spell and the group was instantaneously transported across the miles into a dark cavern, with the flickering illusory flames of the everlasting torches tied to the antlers of the little gnome's helmet providing the only illumination.

    Finoula spotted Horace at once beside her and bent over him to ascertain his condition. His wrists and ankles were tied together by strips of cloth and he was covered in bites and scratches, but he was still breathing and merely unconscious, not dead as she had originally feared. He had been stripped of his armor, but she saw it propped up against the wall on the other side of a pool of water beside him. She felt the pulse at his neck - it was faint, but steady - and saw numerous puncture marks at his throat. "Vampires!" she gasped to herself, and then noticed how close together some of the bite-marks were. If the marks were the work of vampires, then some of them must have been mere babies, given how close together they were!

    As their eyes adjusted to the gloom of the cavern, the heroes could see five human-sized figures scattered around the massive cavern, turning their way in surprise at the sudden influx of light. They hissed and chittered in irritation, and Darrien, assuming that anything guarding a human captive must be in cahoots with the instigator if not the culprit himself, sent a volley of arrows at the dark figure nearest him. He couldn't even see fully just what it was he was shooting at - it was just a shape at this point - but it spread wide a pair of dragonlike wings as some of the archer's arrows struck true.

    Hagan wasted no time in dropping the rolled-up carpet and sending it unrolling with a kick of his feet. <Carpet's ready!> Hagan called over the link. <Looks like werebats - five, at least!> Indeed, the half-orc's darkvision had given him a good look at what they were facing: humanoid bats at least as big as he was, with wings made of leathery flaps of skin stretched tight over oversized fingers. Gilbert arrived onto the carpet at once, having spent the time waiting on the dragonfly vessel casting a shield spell on himself and Mudpie. Gilbert was really only comfortable stepping into combat with as many protective spells as he could manage to cast already in place; to the irritation of his companions, he often spent time in combat providing himself additional defenses instead of taking out the enemy. But he stepped forward at once, if only to allow MARCI and Malrin to follow behind him.

    Binkadink and Obvious could see well enough for the gnome to send his mount hippity-hopping forward in a surge of speed, and he brought his glaive stabbing forward into the chest of a werebat at the far side of the cavern. The creature shrieked in pain, his yells echoing across the cavernous space all around them, almost seeming to increase in volume as they reverberated around the vast, open space - strangely enough, accompanied by the sounds of flapping wings. Then all was made clear as scores - if not hundreds - of bats flapped around the heroes, one group dive-bombing Binkadink and Obvious while another swarmed over and among Hagan, Finoula, Darrien, and the prone Horace. Claws ripped and fangs pierced flesh in a chaotic frenzy of bloodletting.

    While Darrien's attention was thus distracted, the werebat he had shot crossed the gulf between him and bit at the archer as he hovered over the pool of water beside the ranger. Two more werebats raced up to aid the one being stabbed by Binkadink, while another closed the distance between him and Gilbert. But the portly wizard was having none of that; with a few hastily spoken syllables, he brought a quickened wall of force into existence between them, extending all the way across the pool of water to the far wall, effectively sealing Binkadink and Obvious on one side of the magical barrier with four werebats and a swarm of bats, and the rest of the group over in a smaller section of the cavern with but one bat swarm and a heavily-wounded werebat. Of course, the wall of force was only 20 feet high, a mere fourth of the way to the cavern's ceiling, but that wouldn't do much to help those incapable of flight.

    Malrin caused her hand to sprout a ball of fire, courtesy of a produce flame spell, and threw it at the werebat attacking Darrien. Finoula, not liking at all being surrounded on all sides by a swarm of biting bats, activated her lightning amulet and turned her body into a blast of electricity, frying the bats all around her as she blasted straight up at the cavern's ceiling, where she reverted to elven form and stuck to the stone roof by the boots of spider climbing she wore. Below her, scorched bats fell from the air in a rain of death to create a macabre tripping hazard. Darrien managed to keep his footing while he shot at the werebat with his Arachnibow. As the lycanthrope fell dead into the pool of water below him, the half-elf ranger followed suit, seeing the pool as the only way for him to cross over to Binkadink's side of the wall of force.

    Hagan cast a fly spell and crossed over the wall to join the ranger there. But their presence wasn't entirely needed, as Binkadink brought his magical glaive killing the wounded werebat before him, then swung it on either side of him in rapid succession, impaling the two werebats who had foolishly rushed in to aid their comrade. In as many seconds, all three lycanthropes had fallen lifelessly to the stone floor of the cavern.

    That left only one werebat remaining of the original group, the one who had failed to reach Gilbert before the wizard put the wall of force in his way. After convincing himself that he couldn't get to the heavyset morsel, the werebat turned and, seeing his companions all dead, tried to flee only to be gored by Obvious's antlers as the jackalope raced to the only remaining potential threat. The swarm of bats followed, swooping in to bite at Binkadink and Obvious, but the jackalope was protected by the stoneskin spell Malrin had cast upon him earlier. Ignoring the flitting bats all around him, the gnome brought his glaive down on the fleeing werebat, slicing through a wing and shoulder and bringing the beast crashing to the ground, dead. With the last of their masters slain, the bats immediately lost interest in combat and returned to their roosts among the stalactites among the cavern's ceiling.

    With combat behind them, Gilbert dismissed his wall of force spell and strolled over to Horace, indicating for MARCI to follow. Finoula walked down the cavern wall to return to her previous position beside the bound soldier and cut his bonds. As she poured a healing potion down his throat, bringing him coughing back into consciousness, Gilbert instructed MARCI to inject the former captive with a dose of truth serum.

    "Gilbert--what the Hell?" demanded Finoula, astonished at the level of distrust the portly mage had for everyone he didn't personally know. "What did you do that for?"

    "Want to make sure he only tell us the truth," Gilbert answered.

    "You're fat!" exclaimed Horace, rubbing his wrists where the binds had bitten into them. Gilbert shrugged; it was an indicator that the serum was working. "Tell us about other missing soldiers," he demanded.

    Horace told them what he knew. He and his combat partner had been ambushed by a great swarm of rats pouring out of the Vesve Forest; while Horace had been fighting them off, a bald man had stepped forward and apparently put his fellow soldier under some sort of spell. The bald creep drank the soldier's blood until sated, then turned him over to a quartet of werebats. He commanded the rats to leave, then Horace and the other soldier had been flown, each in the grip of two werebats, here to the cavern. There the captives had been used as food sources for the hungry werebats and the bald vampire, who drank their blood and then, upon the deaths of the other captives, had their corpses butchered for meat for the lycanthropes. That would have been Horace's fate as well, had the heroes not found their way here to rescue him.

    "You remember that," Gilbert reminded Horace. "We save your butt. Now we take you someplace safe while we deal with rest of threat." He had Finoula take him to the dragonfly ship via the carpet of teleportation. She returned minutes later, informing the group that Aithanar would look after him until they returned there themselves. Hagan rolled the carpet back up and placed it into the portable hole Malrin kept in her pack.

    "Now what?" Darrien asked.

    "Now we find bald vampire and any other werebats living here," Gilbert replied.

    "Then I'm going to shift into something a little less conspicuous," Malrin announced, wildshaping into an animal form. She often spent much of her combat time as an owl, appreciating its greater mobility (and, truth be told, smaller target space); this time, though, her body shrank down to the configuration not of an owl, but rather of a bat. <I ought to blend in just fine in this form!> she said over the telepathic link Gilbert had set up earlier.

    There was a short passageway carved into the natural stone cavern at the northwestern end, leading to a winding set of stairs heading up. Finoula led the group up the stairs, making a full eight rotations before opening to a room with a closed door. Opening it cautiously, the ranger found herself in a library stocked with books on shelves along the walls. There was a closed door on the walls to the east and west and a set of stairs leading up to a higher level. All in all, this looked like a room in a manor house of at least minor nobility. Finoula listened at the eastern door and, hearing nothing, opened the door. This led to a front room, with two suits of armor along the wall and what must be the front door facing south; the room opened into another room around the corner at the north. Half expecting the armor to animate and attack her, Finoula stepped into the room, her longsword Tahlmalaera in one hand and her flaming whip of thorns in the other, but despite her premonitions nothing untoward happened. With a shrug, the elf returned to the library and checked out the door to the west.

    This led to a kitchen, laid out with all manner of baking supplies. A faint scent of freshly-baked rolls lingered in the air and Finoula groaned inwardly. <Mr. Dulorro!> she gasped over the link. <That nice old man is a part of all of this!>

    <Not necessarily,> argued Hagan, unlike Gilbert willing to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. <Or if he is, it might not be under his own will. Vampires can charm people into doing their bidding, remember.>

    <Why vampire charm baker, force him to give free goodies to soldiers?> demanded Gilbert. <Out of goodness of unbeating heart?>

    <It could be a type of intelligence-gathering,> suggested Darrien. <Find out who's going to be on what patrol routes, that sort of thing.>

    <If anybody here need to start gathering some intelligence...> began Gilbert, before mentally trailing off. <Hmm. Look at books on shelves: Theocracy of the Pale. Lycanthropes. Folktales of the Living Dead.>

    Darrien walked through the kitchen, confirming that it was a dining room connecting to the front-room - all empty of inhabitants - and finding a back door - locked from the inside - from the kitchen before returning back to the library. By then, Hagan and Wezhley had entered from the winding stairs, followed by Binkadink and Obvious - the latter of which wouldn't have made it up the stairwell in his normal size. "I'm going to announce our presence," stated the gnome, lifting his horn of goodness and evil to his lips. He gave the musical instrument a big blow, sending a "BLATT!" reverberating throughout the manor as a magic circle against evil spell took place around the gnome.

    "Nice job, stupid gnome!" groused Gilbert. "There go any element of surprise we might have had!"

    "They're going to find out we're here soon enough anyway," countered Binkadink, leading Obvious up the stairs to the second floor of the building. Malrin followed in bat form. There was a doorway around the corner from the stairwell; pulling it open, Binkadink was simultaneously attacked by the three werebats hiding within the room. Hearing the commotion, Finoula bounded up the stairs, followed by Darrien and Hagan, with Gilbert and MARCI bringing up the rear. By the time Finoula had rounded the corner Binkadink had already slain the three werebats; it was so much easier wielding his glaive in close quarters now that he'd had the shaft made to be extendable and retractable with a spoken command word!

    Moving past the gnome and his jackalope, Finoula went around the corner and opened the next door. There was another werebat waiting in that room, and, to the ranger's surprise, yet another one lurking around the other corner of the hallway. Finoula found herself pinned between two heartier werebats than the ones they'd encountered thus far, these two working in concert to ensure one of them was able to plunge its fangs into the elf's throat and suck forth a great quantity of blood.

    A dozen thoughts went racing through the elf's mind at once: she should have checked the end of the hallway before opening the door; these werebats must have had some sort of formal training in their human lives (if they were even human and not, say, elves); was it possible that this bite would spread the contagion of lycanthropy to Finoula, such that she'd transform into a werebat herself on the nights of the full moon? But then she focused on the task at hand: taking these beasts down before they did the same to her. As she was already facing the one standing in the doorway she focused her attention on him, stabbing at him with Tahlmalaera and flicking her whip at him, while trying not to let the other one overbalance her and send her crashing to the floor. She felt another form flick past her, but this was just Malrin, casting a healing spell on her fellow elf in passing, the better to help Finoula remain standing as long as possible. Down the hall, Darrien sent a cluster of arrows bristling into the werebat facing Finoula, causing him to hiss in pain and spill blood from his mouth.

    Hagan and Gilbert were still stuck on the stairs, unable to move further into the hallway by the press of bodies before them. Still, they put the time to good use, Hagan casting a stoneskin spell on himself and Wezhley while Gilbert cast a see invisibility spell on his own eyes, just in case.

    The werebats focused their attacks on Finoula, as she was already at hand. But then Binkadink brought his glaive down on the one in the doorway, practically slicing his head from his neck. Obvious surged forward toward Finoula and the remaining werebat attacking her from behind. A ball of flames suddenly appeared above the wings of the little bat flitting at the end of the hallway, and Malrin sent it flying into the werebat, singeing its fur. Finoula wrestled the werebat off her back and spun to face him, stabbing out with her longsword and piercing one of his leathery wings. Several arrows went streaking past her head, to bury themselves in the werebat's body as he shrieked in pain. Wezhley reminded his master that Hagan still had a fly spell active, and he went soaring over Gilbert's head as the wizard finished up the casting of a fire shield spell that would protect him and Mudpie from cold-based attacks. Hagan landed beside Darrien, who was still pulling arrows from his quiver and loading up the Arachnibow.

    Seeing the number of enemies intent on his death, the werebat rogue turned to fly up the stairs at his end of the hallway - and was promptly cut down by Binkadink's glaive.

    <Thanks, guys!> Finoula offered over the link. Malrin landed on the elf's shoulder and examined the wounds on her neck brought on by the werebat's wicked fangs. <I'm no expert,> the druid explained, <but I don't think there's much chance of the bat-lycanthropy having been spread through the bite.>

    <Let's hope you're right!> replied Finoula, leading the way up the stairs to the third level of the building. There was still no sign of the bald vampire apparently behind these attacks on the Kordovian garrison soldiers.

    There was a door at the end of the third-floor hallway; Finoula stationed herself just past it with her longsword at the ready as Binkadink reached over from his perch on Obvious's back and opened the door. All was blackness within, and the illumination spilling from the gnome's helmet did nothing to dispel it. <Magical darkness,> he reported over the link. <I'm going in.>

    Despite the lack of vision, Finoula could hear the crackling of flames from the room within, as well as various heavy bits of furniture being moved around as Obvious bumped blindly into them. Darrien followed the pair into the room, but while they crisscrossed it looking for hidden enemies, the ranger kept his hand on the wall to his right and followed it to the far side of the room. By the increased sounds of crackling, he deduced the fireplace was just off to his left when he found a doorknob. He tried to turn it, but it was locked. This was a conundrum; even if Castillan had been here, he'd have had a rather difficult time picking a lock in absolute darkness! <Gilbert! You have any way of lighting up this darkness?> the half-elf asked over the link.

    <Hold your horses, I coming,> groused Gilbert. He stepped into the doorway and cast a dispel magic spell targeting the deeper darkness effect. Immediately, the magical darkness was dissipated, allowing the room to be illuminated from the flames of the lit fireplace along the western wall. This allowed the group to see the mess Obvious had made of the furniture - but more importantly, it illuminated the mirror of opposition attached to the wall directly across from the room's entry door.

    Four figures stepped out of the magic mirror, one after another: virtual duplicates of Binkadink astride Obvious, Darrien, and Gilbert Fung. Each was a perfect mirror image of their respective targets, and each wore an expression of abject hatred for their "original model." Before any of the heroes in the room could react, the gnome and jackalope attacked their counterparts, the mirror-Obvious biting at the neck of the real thing while the faux Binkadink brought his own magical glaive down upon the real gnome fighter. Then the mirror-Gilbert, whose mind was filled with the same spells as his original, cast an Otto's irresistible dance at Gilbert; with mounting horror, Gilbert started capering and dancing about, despite his best efforts to stop it and do something useful instead. The counterfeit Darrien sent a flurry of arrows from his own Arachnibow streaking across the room to the real Darrien, who managed to snatch two of them out of the air before they struck thanks to his gloves of arrow snaring, but the others struck true with as much force as the ranger himself would have been able to provide.

    The mirror-Gilbert then stepped forward, wheeled, and cast a maximized cone of cold spell at the real versions of Gilbert, Binkadink and Obvious, Darrien, and even Finoula from through the doorway. The sudden blast of cold energy almost dropped Finoula there on the spot; she staggered to stay upright and only a mass cure light wounds spell from Malrin kept her standing. The spell was a welcome touch to the others in the room as well, all of whom had been greatly harmed by the powerful spell. MARCI then stepped forward beside Finoula. "I am unable to inject the normal healing mixture as I am currently out of stock," she announced. "I can, however, inject you with a stimdose that will aid you in retaining consciousness." She jabbed a needle into the elf woman's neck, injecting a cooled substance that made the her feel more alert and powerful as it coursed through her system. Meanwhile, while Gilbert danced in place helplessly, he seethed at the logical brilliance of this insidious trap, especially assuming it had been put into place by the bald vampire, who didn't even cast a reflection and thus couldn't trigger the trap himself!

    Inside the room, as Binkadink and Obvious traded blows and bites with their counterparts and the two Darriens peppered each other with arrows to see which one would fall first, unseen in the chaos, the locked closet door opened and out stepped the bald vampire. He sent a set of wicked claws scratching at Darrien, whose attention was elsewhere; that certainly got the ranger to stop worrying about what his mirror-clone was up to! With mounting horror, Darrien realized this bald man before him was a vampire - although he didn't look like any vampire the ranger has ever heard of. Despite the complete hairlessness on his gleaming scalp, the vampire made up for it with a pair of the longest, bushiest eyebrows Darrien had even seen! And when he opened his mouth, no doubt in preparation of plunging his fangs into the half-elf's neck, Darrien saw their placement: instead of being sharpened eye teeth, as he would have expected, the bald vampire's fangs were his two front teeth!

    Still shaky on her feet, Finoula activated the heal spell stored in her sword and felt a surge of energy course through her body, unlimbering muscles clenched up by the cone of cold spell Gilbert's mirror duplicate had cast. She stepped into the room, her whip uncoiled in her hand as she prepared herself for some retaliation.

    Hagan followed Finoula into the room and made a tactical decision: taking out the evil Gilbert was currently the top priority. He sent a power word stun spell crashing into the portly mage, causing him to cease all actions and just stand there, dumbfounded. <That's a good look for you, Gilbert!> the half-orc teased, but Gilbert made no reply, his full concentration currently centered on dancing about.

    The mirror versions of Binkadink and Obvious attacked their real-life counterparts, and while the real Obvious followed suit in attacking his duplicate, Binkadink broke with tradition and also targeted the other jackalope, hoping that together, they could bring him down much sooner than the gnome would be able to bring down the fake gnome, who, Binkadink was well aware, had an amulet of health just as powerful as his own likely to keep him in the fight that much longer.

    Perhaps surprised at this unexpected maneuver, the fake Obvious's attention faltered, allowing the real Obvious to clamp down on his duplicate's neck and pull him to the floor, forcing the fake Binkadink to leap from the saddle to keep from falling prone. But even that measure brought with it some peril, for in doing so the fake gnome was unable to ward off the real Binkadink's striking glaive, cutting deep into the fake's red dragonhide armor.

    The nosferatu vampire had failed to grapple Darrien, but now his attention was diverted by the silver-haired elf who had just stepped into the room. A firm traditionalist, the undead beast preferred female victims whenever possible; the soldiers had been exclusively male but this had been balanced by their easy availability. Now, with Finoula standing before him, her lovely neck exposed, the nosferatu turned from Darrien without a further thought and directed his gaze - and the full force of his will - at the female elf.

    It wasn't enough; as lovely as Finoula might be, she was no fragile female victim - she'd proven her ruggedness time after time over the course of her adventuring career. Perhaps aided by her elven heritage, she shrugged off the nosferatu's attempts at mental domination without any seeming effort.

    A flame strike spell suddenly erupted over the mirror-duplicates of Binkadink, Obvious, and Darrien, proof that even while in bat form Malrin could contribute to the destruction of the group's enemies. But even with wisps of smoke streaming from his body, the half-elven mirror image was focused solely on slaying his original form and he continued sending arrows at Darrien. Darrien, for his part, opted to do his best to ignore these attacks for a moment as he brought his own Arachnibow to bear on the nosferatu menacing Finoula (or trying to, anyway, for all the good it was doing him). Then Finoula turned and looked at the undead monstrosity right in the eye, demonstrating her fearlessness or her complete contempt for the threat he posed. She slowly raised a hand to her neck, drawing the vampire's attention, but her fingers stopped at the amulet she wore there; in an instant, her body was a lightning bolt crashing through the nosferatu's undead form. She reappeared beside Darrien, who now felt he could return his attention to his own duplicate.

    Not sure off the top of his head whether the undead could be stunned, Hagan decided to cast his next power word stun on the fake Darrien instead; he, at least, shouldn't be immune! Sure enough, he wasn't - as evidenced by the fact that he froze up immediately, dropping the Arachnibow at his feet. He made a nice, slack-jawed partner to the fake Gilbert standing beside him, while the real Gilbert continued his frantic dancing.

    The Binkadinks attacked each other violently, with the two jackalopes following suit. But one jackalope finally got the better of the other one, causing his enemy to fall lifelessly to the ground, his throat all but ripped open and spilling his life's blood out onto the floor. The fact that the dead jackalope then faded from existence proved that it was the original Obvious who had defeated his foe and not the other way around.

    With a snarl of hatred, the nosferatu sent a fist slamming into Finoula's face, then uttered a guttural word and the room fell once again into darkness. Unseen by the others, his body turned to mist and he wafted back through the open closet door, where there was a narrow slit in the outer wall allowing him access to the open air outside. Once out in the moonlight, he could feel all of the damage he had taken thus far healing up instantly.

    Nobody seemed willing to stay inside a pitch-black room if they could help it. Malrin was the first to exit, flapping her bat-wings to propel her out into the hallway by MARCI, who had been standing by until she was needed - or until she was told what to do by Gilbert, the human whose orders she always obeyed to the best of her ability. Darrien was the next to exit, following along the wall until he found the doorway.

    <Gilbert! Can you dispel the darkness again?> called out Finoula, but there was no answer from the wizard, still dancing away. So the ranger figured a way to do it herself: she'd noted a small globe in the center of the ceiling, like an embedded chandelier; assuming this was the source of the magical darkness, she walked up the wall with her boots of spider climbing, pulling open the bag of holding at her belt as she did so. Then placing the open bag over the ceiling fixture, she stepped onto the edge of the bag carefully with each foot, such that she stood with each boot half on the ceiling and half on the bag. The end result was a cessation of the deeper darkness effect, while Finoula hung upside-down from the ceiling like a bat, her silvery hair hanging down and her flaming whip of thorns snapping again and again at the still-stunned mirror-Gilbert. Realizing this was a magic effect and not a true person, she indulged in a whim and concentrated on flaying the skin from the fat wizard's face with the barbed lash.

    With the darkness negated, it was apparent the nosferatu was no longer present, although where he might have gotten to was anybody's guess. Hagan made the best of it by casting a chain lightning spell on the three remaining mirror duplicates, making the gnome his primary target. The fake Binkadink continued his attack on his gnomish original and was retaliated against in kind not only by the real Binkadink but by Obvious as well.

    But then the nosferatu re-entered the fray, seeping into an arrow-slit in the hallway just before the stairwell leading back down to the second floor and resuming his normal, humanoid form. Darrien was the closest victim at hand, and while he'd rather sip from the silver-haired elf's neck, in a pinch this male half-breed would do. He tried to dominate the ranger but once again, frustratingly, had no success of that front. (Unbeknownst to either of them, Darrien was still standing close enough to the still-capering Gilbert that the corpulent mage's magic circle against evil protected him from all forms of mental domination.)

    <He's here!> came a chorus of voices over the Rary's telepathic bond spell, sounding like Darrien and Malrin in unison. Then Darrien brought his Arachnibow up and the bald vampire with the funny teeth found himself being peppered once again with arrows. This was little more than an inconvenience to the nosferatu, whose undead body could handle most physical strikes as long as they weren't made by silver weapons, but it was certainly irritating! And then Hagan popped out of the main bedchamber, voicing another power word spell. this one of a type the sorcerer was certain could affect an undead creature. With a snarl of hatred, the nosferatu found he had been robbed of his sight; instinctively, he returned to his mist form and flattened himself against the wall until he could find the arrow slit and return to the open air outside, where he would wait out the blindness effect.

    With a sudden gasp, Gilbert stopped his dancing and immediately erected another layer of magical protection around himself: with a quickened mirror image spell, there was suddenly an entire roomful of Gilberts - nine, in fact, if you didn't count the stunned mirror-duplicate getting its face sloughed off by Finoula's whip.

    <What I miss?> he demanded over the link, and once he'd been filled in, he cast another spell, a dimension door that brought him to the bottom of the stairs (the other illusory Gilberts coming along for the ride), just past the sprawled figure of the slain werebat rogue - who, Gilbert noted absently, was now no longer in his hybrid form but was now just another dead, naked human male. He looked all about him, trusting his see invisibility spell would pick up the nosferatu if he had any such shenanigans in mind. <He show up again, we kill him for good this time!> he vowed.

    Back up in the main bedroom, Binkadink and Obvious finally managed to slay the mirror-gnome, who vanished into nothingness as the jackalope duplicate had done before him. Soon after, Darrien slew his own duplicate, and he and his gear vanished without a trace. Bummer, thought the ranger. That would have been an easy way to get a spare Arachnibow....

    Once Finoula managed to slay the mirror-Gilbert - well before Hagan's stunning effect had worn off, fortunately - he too vanished into nothingness and the ranger dropped back down to the floor, taking the bag of holding with her and thereby plunging the room back into darkness. <His coffin's got to be in here, somewhere,> she opined, having made it to the top floor of the building without having found it. There was only one logical place they hadn't explored yet, barring any extradimensional pocket rooms: the closet that the nosferatu had originally popped out of. Sure enough, the entire back half of the walk-in closet was hidden by an illusion, and there lay the wooden coffin, in full view. Finoula pulled back the lid but the coffin was empty save for a covering of grave dirt on the bottom.

    <So now what?> she asked the others.

    - - -

    Hours later, the stalemate was still on: the nosferatu had failed to overcome any of the heroes, and they in turn had been unable to track him down to destroy him. But they hadn't been idle during the long night; Hagan and Gilbert had dragged the coffin down from the third-floor closet (exposing a cache of coins and jewelry hidden under the floorboards beneath - bonus!) to the werebat cavern below the manor house. (Thank the gods for the teleport spell, thought Gilbert - he wouldn't have wanted to lug it down 80 feet of winding stairs!) But the heroes had decided to make their stand against the nosferatu in as wide open a space as possible and the vast chamber where they had rescued Horace fit the bill. Expecting that the undead monstrosity needed to return to his coffin before sunrise - which should be within the hour, likely - this seemed a good way to draw him out into the open. Of course, with so much time having passed, most of the group's protective spells had long since worn off: no more stoneskins or mage armor spells, no fire shields or even regular shields. Even the Rary's telepathic bond spell was gone; the heroes would have to make do with normal speech.

    But the strategy bore fruit soon enough, for the nosferatu strolled into the cave as bold as you please. He had apparently been healed of all of his damage; the same could not be said of the adventurers, although Malrin had done what she could. But he apparently did not want to re-engage combat, either, for he started by calling out, "I wish to talk!"

    "So talk," replied Finoula, both of her primary weapons in hand.

    "I have killed your soldiers. You have killed my werebats. In this we are even, yes? I have a proposal: you leave here, never to return. I, in turn, seek elsewhere for my prey. I will leave your soldiers, the inhabitants of your kingdom, alone - this I swear."

    "Any chance we could get you to feed on orcs and goblins?" asked Darrien.

    "And what about the families of those you killed?" demanded Finoula, anger rising in her voice. The nosferatu brushed the notion off with a gesture of his hand, as if waving away an irritating fly. What were the lives of mere mortals to him, save as prey?

    "I have idea," began Gilbert, turning the rest of his sentence into the words of a prismatic spray spell. Unfortunately, the spell's greatest drawback was its unpredictability, and in this case it was a green ray that struck the nosferatu in the chest, imbuing him with a poison effect to which his undead body was completely immune.

    "I see combat is our only way ahead," sneered the nosferatu, stepping forward. But before he could take more than a single step, a bolt of lightning came crashing down on him, Malrin having cast her prepared call lightning spell. He seemed unfazed by the damage.

    Darrien knew from experience that his arrows were all but useless against the nosferatu's undead flesh, so he moved back by the creature's coffin, the bait that had brought him here to face his assembled enemies. Finoula summoned a fire elemental, who appeared suddenly behind the nosferatu and sent a flaming fist crashing into him. At the same time, Hagan brought a Mordenkainen's sword into being, which flew across the cavern and stabbed at the nosferatu. Gilbert cast a simple magic missile at him and stepped back, while Mudpie - having been returned to his normal size - stepped forward to protect his master.

    And then Binkadink and Obvious raced forward; they had no spells to contribute, but the gnome was pretty sure his magical glaive would be a perfectly acceptable substitute. The nosferatu stepped back toward the stairs as the gnome stabbed at him with his bladed weapon. Malrin repositioned herself so she could still see her foe and brought down another mostly-ineffectual lightning bolt while the fire elemental stepped forward, trying to hit him with its flaming limbs.

    Darrien, lacking anything else useful to do, started hacking away at the wooden coffin with his scimitar. But then the battle came to an abrupt halt as Hagan cast a disintegrate spell at the bald vampire, knowing full well it would affect undead flesh as well as any other nonliving matter. And sure enough, the nosferatu's body was awash in a sudden beam of light, then vanished in a cloud of dry dust that coated the stone floor of the cavern where he had stood just a second ago. Wezhley jumped up and down excitedly on his master's shoulder, proud at the half-orc's spellcasting prowess. The threat averted, Finoula redeployed her fire elemental over to the wooden coffin, setting it ablaze in the time it still had left on this plane. Just in case there was a chance the nosferatu could regenerate, they wanted to make absolutely sure there was no coffin there to allow it to rest.

    After watching the coffin burn to ashes, Hagan ushered half of the group through the carpet of teleportation back to the dragonfly vessel, then cast a final teleport spell transporting the rest of them back to Battershield Keep. They'd bring Horace back to his sentry duties, but not until everyone had gotten a good ten hours of sleep or so - they had certainly earned it!

    - - -

    Boy, were my werebats ever pushovers! The group (mostly Binkadink) plowed through them like they weren't even there. But I made up for it with my mirror of opposition trap. Dan's face was priceless when I asked him to pass his PC folder over my way so I could see which spells his mirror-duplicate could use against him. I tried getting Dan to role-play the dancing in place for 3 rounds, but with five players (one running a second character - the NPC druid) those 3 rounds took the better part of an hour and I don't think he'd have liked gyrating for that long. (Incidentally, it's a good thing Hagan wasn't one of the four people in the room when the mirror of opposition was triggered - I shudder to think of the havoc I could have wreaked had I had the half-orc sorcerer's spell repertoire at hand to use against the PCs!)

    Incidentally, Jacob was unable to attend this session - he's a shift manager at his work and at the last minute he had to cover for somebody who didn't make it in. So rather than have one of the other players run Castillan as well as their own PC, I just decided that the bounder was elsewhere when adventure called this time. He'll share in the XP earned, though - it wouldn't be right to penalize Jacob's PC for something out of his control. (Plus, it's easier when everyone levels up at the same time.)

    - - -

    T-shirt worn: My "WWDD?" shirt, featuring Daryl Dixon from "The Walking Dead." It had two meanings: the TV show was a hint as to the nosferatu's undead nature and Daryl was a good stand-in for the garrison soldiers pulling sentry duty for Kordovia.

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