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Dreams of Erthe



PC Roster:
Alewyth Putterpye, dwarf priestess of Aerik 2​
Thurloe Pulver, human fighter 2​
Wakuren, half-orc cleric of Cal 1/paladin 1​
Xandro Silverstrings, human bard 2​
Zander Quilson, elf sorcerer 2​

Game Session Date: 9 January 2021

- - -

The five adventurers stood in a forest clearing, the full moon shining down upon them. Dark shapes loomed overhead on either side of them, ancient trees pooling shadows on the ground below their branches, leaving the dirt path standing out in the moonlight.

Suddenly, a man turned the corner on the path just ahead. He wore the robes of a wizard and had a look of abject terror on his bearded face. "Run!" he cried as he veered off on a side path before the fledgling heroes. "It's coming!"

Thurloe stood in the front of the group's huddled formation, his bastard sword out and in a defensive position before him. He heard a rustling in the woods to his left and then suddenly, appearing as if by magic before him on the moon-lit path, stood a fox. It cocked its head as if surprised to see the heroes, then surged forward with remarkable speed - one moment it was a good twenty feet away and then the next it was leaping up at Thurloe and clamping its jaws around the startled fighter's throat. Belatedly, Thurloe swung his sword at the fox but by then it had released its grip, dropped back to the forest path, and dashed off to the pool of shadows beneath the trees to Thurloe's left.

Xandro had his lute out and immediately began singing his most inspiring song, hoping to give the members of his team a much-needed boost of courage when fighting against such a supernatural foe. He hung back a bit from the others, realizing his song was effective as long as the others could hear it, which meant he didn't need to be in the front lines. Zander saw a blur of motion as the fox darted from one group of trees to another and cast a magic missile spell at the swift form. He thought he heard a faint, barely audible yelp of pain and surprise but couldn't swear it was more than his hopeful imagination.

Alewyth said the words to a bless spell, granting the group Aerik's combat blessings, hopefully helping to protect them in the most direct fashion possible: by aiding them in defeating their enemy quickly. The fox dashed by Wakuren and the half-orc scrambled to bring the bottom edge of his shield crashing down upon it, but his foe was too quick for him - and too quick for Thurloe's reflexes as well, for his bastard sword came slicing down on the space the fox had inhabited a fraction of a second before its jaws were clamped on the fighter's left arm, causing blood to run down his forearm. In the span of a few heartbeats, Thurloe Pulver - perhaps the group's toughest member - had been brought down to staggering about and trying to remain standing upright. And the fox had once again dashed off into a stand of trees, its reddish fur obscured by the deep shadows beneath the oaken branches.

Zander turned his head, straining to hear the fox among the undergrowth and hoping to be able to pinpoint its location. In the meantime, Alewyth stepped up to Thurloe and cast a healing spell upon him. Glad at receiving the dwarven cleric's healing, Thurloe opted to enhance it even further by drinking down one of his own healing potions, recently purchased from his gnomish supplier, Aenus Feysputter, when back in Port Duralia. Wakuren, in the meantime, went sprinting off on his own, chasing after the fleeing wizard who had warned them of the fox's coming approach. "You can help us to defeat this foe!" the half-orc called into the trees. "Fight against it!"

In a blur of motion, the fox sprung out from a stand of trees and ripped Zander Quilson's throat out, dashing back to the safety of the shadows as the elven sorcerer fell to the ground, blood spilling down the front of his robes. That was enough for Xandro to stop his song of courage; he put the lute back over his shoulder by its strap and pulled out his rapier; it seemed weapons would be more useful than any inspiration he might be able to give. Alewyth gripped her own warhammer tightly, coming to the same conclusion. They needed to kill this damned fox - and the sooner, the better!

Wakuren caught up to the panicked wizard. "Why is this fox after you?" he asked.

"I've no idea!" gasped the mage, stopping to catch his breath, bending forward and supporting himself with his hands on his knees. "It just came after me, out of nowhere!"

"We'll protect you," Wakuren promised, unaware that one of their number had already been slain.

But that number almost immediately rose to two, for the fox dashed out from beneath the undergrowth and ripped out Xandro's unprotected throat before he even had the time to raise his rapier in a defensive position. He fell backwards, smashing the lute he'd no longer be able to play as he landed lifelessly on the forest path. Alewyth was the next to fall, the fox leaping out from behind her and dropping her prone to the ground, where it snapped at the back of her neck and severed her spine, dashing off back into the trees before Thurloe could hit it with his bastard sword. The fighter fell next, the fox exploding from the trees with a grin on its muzzle - as if enjoying taking these heroes down, one by one - to leap straight at him, twist in midair as Thurloe brought his sword to bear, dash away, and somehow get behind him before he could spin about to face his foe again. The fox knocked Thurloe's feet out from beneath him and he landed hard on his back. His throat was exposed for just a moment - but a moment was all the fox needed.

Wakuren and the unknown wizard stood side by side in a clearing when the fox ambled up, no longer needing to use its impressive speed, a bloody grin on its muzzle. It faked to the half-orc's left, Wakuren held up his shield to ward off the attack, and then the fox was suddenly there at the cleric's right, snapping at his arm and dragging him to the ground. Wakuren struggled to breathe as his throat was suddenly filled with blood, and then--

--Wakuren sat upright in bed, a scream strangled in his throat. He was covered in a sheen of sweat and it felt like his heart was going to explode in his chest, but after a few moments of quiet, calming breaths and a repetition of a mantra the dream-guide moogle Mogo had taught him, he settled down enough to be able to lie his head back down on the pillow of his room at the inn and will himself back to sleep.

His personal moogle guide, Kupek, was there to meet him. "How'd it go, kupo?" he asked Wakuren.

"Got myself killed," the half-orc grunted.

"Yeah, that happens sometimes, kupo," the moogle agreed and led the cleric back to meet up with the rest of his group in the dreamlands. The rest of his team had each been met in the dreamlands by their personal moogle guide - Alewyth by Calliope, Thurloe by Doc, Xandro by Mogchamp, and Zander by Moki - and taken to Mogo, the moogle assigned by the Queen of Dreams to train them in dream manipulations.

"Well, that wasn't very impressive, but it hopefully taught you all two things: that dying in a dream doesn't really cause you any physical harm, and that there could be times when you might want to wake up at will on your own, right, kupo? Let's work on that second point first, okay, kupo?" The rest of the night's lessons consisted of the moogle training his proteges how to force themselves awake, then use the training they'd learned earlier to force themselves to fall back to sleep. As a result, none of the five got a very good night's sleep that night, as it came in small chunks. Their training ended with another session in the same dream in which they'd all been killed: it even started off in the same way, with the five heroes on the forest path and the frightened wizard warning them that "it" was coming and to flee. He gave no indications of recognizing any of the heroes - and didn't even acknowledge the fact this time there was a bat-winged kitten hanging in the air beside them.

"See, kupo?" asked Mogo. "The dream just starts over again each time - it's been about a month now, kupo!" He gave a heavy sigh. "It looks like we're going to need those dreamstones after all, kupo."

In the morning, Thurloe was awakened by a knock on the door to his room at the inn where they were staying. He opened it to see one of the messenger boys who earned a bit of coin delivering letters around the city. The lad held out a piece of folded parchment, sealed with a blob of wax. "Got a message for you, if you're Thurloe Pulver," the boy said.

"I am - give it here," Thurloe demanded, reaching for the message.

"It's traditional to tip your messenger," the boy pointed out, holding out his other hand expectantly. Thurloe well knew the lad had likely been paid by whoever sent the message, but he dropped a silver coin into his hand and snatched the message away before there could be any further argument. The boy frowned at his meager reward but turned away, realizing that was all he was likely to get from the cheapskate. Thurloe closed the door and looked at what had been brought to him.

The emblem embedded in the wax looked familiar, and it took the fighter a moment to recall where he'd seen it before: it was the Theringold family crest, the same one they'd found on the ring worn by Bertram Theringold, the poor sap who got his throat slit while trying to rescue his sister Teresa from the thieves guild who had kidnapped her and imprisoned her inside the scriptorium building. He broke the seal, opened the letter, and read:

I beg of you – please come to the Theringold estate at once. I have immediate need of your services. Please hurry – my brother's life is at stake!

Teresa Theringold

Another brother in trouble? Thurloe thought to himself as he went outside to the hallway and pounded on the doors of the rooms his friends had taken.

Everyone gathered together in the fighter's room and read the letter. "Could be a trap," Thurloe warned.

"That is the Theringold crest," Xandro pointed out. "Although..." The bard rubbed his chin in silent thought.

"What?" Alewyth prompted.

"I don't recall for sure," Xandro admitted, "but I'm fairly certain Teresa only had the one brother, Bertram." As a bard, Xandro made it a habit to learn as much as he could about the local nobility in whatever city he spent any amount of time in, and Port Duralia was no exception.

"The dead one."

"Yep," the bard replied to the ever-suspicious fighter.

"Let's go see what the story is," suggested Wakuren, and the group gathered up their armor and weapons and departed for the Theringold mansion. Despite having learned the Theringolds were having some financial difficulties, none of that was evident in the appearance of the manor, which was in one of the higher-class sections of the city. However, upon knocking upon the mansion's sturdy wooden double doors, it was somewhat telling that Teresa herself answered the door, not a servant - for the Theringolds had been forced to let all their servants go recently, not that that was common knowledge around town.

"Thank you all so much for coming so promptly," Teresa Theringold said, ushering the group inside and leading them to the library, where there were enough seats for them all to talk comfortably. "You were so very helpful in rescuing me from those kidnappers, and bringing Bertram's body home after he'd been slain. Now I must ask for your aid again, if you are willing to help me."

"What seems to be the problem?" asked Wakuren.

Teresa explained that despite the current state of her family's finances, she had managed to scrounge up 5,000 pieces of gold and used it to purchase fine diamonds, which Father Bones, the head cleric at the Temple of Akari, God of the Dead and Undead, had assured her was required to be able to raise her brother from the dead. But there was a catch: he had to be raised soon, for there was a limit in how long after death a body could be restored to life. His body was currently stored under the effects of a gentle repose spell at the Temple of Akari, but she'd need to get the diamonds there in the next two days or it would be beyond the clerics' abilities to raise Bertram.

"I had finally managed to purchase enough diamonds last night," Teresa explained. "I was going to bring them to Father Bones this morning - but when I awoke, they were gone!"

"Where were they kept?" Thurloe demanded.

"In my top dresser drawer, in my bedroom," Teresa explained.

"In your--?" the fighter spluttered, aghast at the carelessness and stupidity of aristocrats. But Wakuren put a warning hand on the fighter's shoulder and addressed Teresa. "Perhaps you can show us?" he suggested.

"Certainly," agreed the young noblewoman, leading them to the back half of the manor house where her bedroom sat, sandwiched between those of her late brother and her father. While Alewyth examined the stonework of the outer wall and Zander made himself busy searching for possible secret doors, Teresa explained further. "I turned to you because my father has forbidden me from alerting the city guard of the theft - he doesn't want our current situation to be made public knowledge. But I thought I could reach out to you, as you already know about our current financial difficulties."

"Who knew you had the diamonds here?" queried Thurloe.

"No one, not even my father," Teresa replied.

"Well, the Temple of Akari knew you were raising the money to have your brother raised, so they could have suspected you'd have the money on hand," Thurloe theorized. "They could have sent someone to burglarize your bedroom last night...."

"What's this?" called out Wakuren suddenly. He'd been searching Teresa's dresser drawers and was holding up what looked to be a playing card. But instead of any of the traditional cards of a standard deck, this one had what looked to be a paw print drawn on it in black ink.

"Let me see that," Xandro asked. Wakuren handed it over. "I found it in her top drawer, where she said she had kept the diamonds overnight," the half-orc explained.

"What's it mean?" Alewyth asked.

"It's the paw print of a fox," Xandro explained. "This is a calling card - these have been left at the sites of burglaries all around the city, usually among the nobility," he added. "They call the thief 'The Fox,' but nobody knows what he looks like. He's never been spotted, let alone caught."

"The Fox, huh?" replied Thurloe. "You think this has anything to do with that fox we fought in the dreamscape? Maybe he takes human form or something."

"That seems unlikely," Zander contributed.

"It's a theory I'm still working out," replied Thurloe. "Lemme think on this some more."

"Well, somebody - presumably this Fox character - snuck in here and stole the diamonds, that much is obvious," reiterated Wakuren. "The question is: why here? And why now? Was this random, or is someone out to harm your family?"

"Does your father have any enemies?" suggested Zander.

"Well, my father's never been the most pleasant person to deal with," admitted Teresa. "And he's been increasingly stressed out of late. He seemed in something of a panic this morning: jumpy and jittery, looking all around him as if for enemies. I imagine he's worried that somebody got into the house - what with my own recent kidnapping, he's likely worried someone will do the same to him. But actual enemies? None that I can think of. Just a few people at his club he managed to get mad at him."

"Where is he now?" demanded Thurloe.

"At his club," Teresa replied. "He spends quite a lot of time there - too much, if you ask me, because he gambles a lot there and that's been the cause of our change in fortune." She looked down, embarrassed to have admitted this to mere adventurers, but knowing that providing them with everything that might have any bearing on the theft might be necessary for her to recover the stolen diamonds in time. "He had run up quite a gambling debt there, but I think he's made good with all of his debts thus far."

"Where is this club?" asked Xandro.

"It's the Black Eagle - it's within walking distance, but it's for members of the nobility only. Men only, though; I wouldn't even be allowed in."

"No, but they might let an enterprising young bard in who was angling for a job as a musician," Xandro guessed. "Let's go!"

The group set off, leaving Teresa behind; she didn't want to run into her father at the club and have him raise any questions about her presence there. Fortunately, he'd never met the adventurers when they brought Bertram's body back from the alleyway outside the scriptorium where he'd been slain. They approached the building, saw a fine-dressed doorman standing outside and realized he'd never let the likes of them in, so they skirted around the building to find a back door. There was one - there would almost have to be one, Xandro realized, to allow for deliveries and the like, as well as a means for the workers to arrive without getting in the way of the aristocracy. He knocked loudly on the door. Wakuren, on a sudden impulse, activated his ring of invisibility and disappeared before the employee manager opened the door and asked the group their business.

"I was wondering if you might be hiring musicians," Xandro said, giving the manager his best smile and pulling the lute from his back.

The manager thought it over. "Well, we are a man short today," he admitted. "Tell you what: we'll try you out on a provisional basis. You go on in and play quietly in the background. No singing, though: the noblemen don't want to be disturbed at their business with a bunch of tawdry tavern songs!"

"Very well," agreed Xandro, and was ushered through the door into the lounge. Unseen, Wakuren snuck in behind him before the door closed. As Xandro headed east to the roaring fireplace, playing a quiet tune upon his lute, Wakuren went the opposite direction, over by the bar where he could stand in the corner and hopefully not get bumped into by anyone. They were both well aware that at the table in the middle of the room, one of about four, sat none other than Berthold Theringold, playing cards with another nobleman. The dark scowl on his face told he wasn't having much luck at the game. Both listened intently to hear what they could of any discussions; maybe they'd pick up something worthwhile.

Thurloe, however, was ready for a more direct approach. "I understand Lord Theringold is a member of this club," he said to the employee manager.

"That is correct."

"We've done some work for him in the past," the fighter admitted, not bothering to go into details. "He's quite the character." He smiled and shook his head, as if in disbelief. "Is he as bad at cards as I've heard he is?"

Jumping at the chance to engage in some gossip about the members of the upper class, the manager led the three heroes into a side room - a storage closet, where they could talk more privately. "You don't know the half of it!" he smirked. "He's lost quite a considerable sum to Lord Baskindale over the past several weeks. He finally threatened to have Theringold barred from the club if he didn't pay up what he owed, and he finally did that just recently."

"You'd almost be forgiven for assuming he wasn't a noble at all!" Zander suggested.

"I know! Have you seen the state of his clothing? His clothes haven't been pressed in some time, and he's gotten stingy in his food and drink purchases here at the club - almost like he's suddenly become hard-pressed for money. There's even a rumor," the manager said, his voice dropping down to a mere whisper, "that Lord Theringold has been spotted at a lesser gaming establishment, open to commoners! It seems he's become somewhat desperate of late to gather up some extra coin! In fact--" but then the manager caught himself, as if wondering whether spreading gossip about the members of the club for which he worked was in his best interests.

Thurloe saw his hesitation and reached into his coin purse, holding out five gold pieces. "I'm really interested in hearing what you were going to say," he told the manager. "Please, this has been most interesting - I'd be willing to pay you to hear more."

The manager snatched up the proffered coins and had them tucked away in the pocket of his jacket in a well-practiced move, continuing on with his gossip as if he hadn't interrupted himself. "Word is that Lord Theringold lost several thousand pieces of gold to Lady Arabella Vulpina at that very establishment just yesterday! She's every bit as good at cards as Lord Theringold believes himself to be - why, if the Black Eagle allowed women members, she'd likely clean up in here, or that's what I've been told. But in any case, there was a bit of a scene when he decided he'd finally had enough and didn't have the cash on hand to pay what he had wagered. She chewed him out but good, and he promised her he was good for the money, but it didn't look like she was very impressed with his promises."

Xandro returned to the employee back area soon thereafter, his lute back in place over his shoulder. Wakuren, seeing the bard head for the door to the back area, quietly approached behind him and slid through the open door as well. "I'm afraid I broke a string," the bard apologized to the employee manager. "Another day, perhaps." The group went back outside the Black Eagle Gentlemen's Club and compared notes. "Sounds like the Vulpina Estate is next on our list," Xandro said. "I know where it is - it isn't far. Lady Arabella lives there with her parents."

"Let's swing by and fetch Lady Teresa," suggested Alewyth. "We might do better with her with us. They'll be more likely to let us enter the mansion if we have a noblewoman with us."

Twenty minutes later, the group of six was knocking upon the front doors of the Vulpina Estate. "'Vulpina' means 'foxlike,'" pointed out Zander. "I'm just saying."

Before anyone could respond, the doors opened and a servant stood there, asking them their business. They asked for an audience with Lady Arabella if she was available, and the servant ushered them into the library to wait. This library was easily twice the size of the one in the Theringold manor, and the books here were all top quality volumes (whereas Berthold Theringold purchased his books in quantity, not quality - he was more interested in having shelves of books visible in his home than actually reading any of them). A maid brought in a tray of fruit, cheeses, and tea and said Lady Arabella would be there shortly.

"You think Lord Vulpina's the Fox?" asked Thurloe once they were alone again in the library.

"No reason it has to be the father," pointed out Alewyth. "If nobody's seen the Fox, they couldn't say if it was a man or a woman. For all we know, Lady Arabella herself--" she stopped herself in mid-sentence as the library doors opened and Lady Arabella Vulpina stepped into the room. She was a young woman in her mid-twenties, perhaps a half decade or so older than Teresa, with a striking head of red hair. She wore an elegant gown and took a seat at one end of the table.

"How may I help you?" she asked, looking around the table at her visitors. She focused on Lady Teresa, who made the introductions, and who let on that the adventurers were her personal bodyguards. Lady Arabella was silent throughout the introductions, but once they were done she got straight to the point and asked, "Are you here about the money your father owes me?" Her face was flushed at the memories of what she considered to be boorish behavior: gambling without being able to immediately pay his losses. To her credit, she allowed Teresa to tell her full story, about her recent abduction, her brother's death in trying to rescue her, the group now serving as her bodyguards having rescued her, the theft of the diamonds she had collected to have her brother restored to life, and the time limit before the raise dead spell would no longer be a viable option.

"How much were the diamonds worth?" asked Lady Arabella. Upon being given the figure, her eyes flashed in anger. "You mean Lord Theringold had five thousand pieces of gold in diamonds and refused to pay me the three thousand he owes me?"

"No, I had the diamonds," corrected Teresa. "He didn't know I had purchased them. I used my own money, selling some of my own possessions."

"And why are you here, then? I am sorry to hear about your brother, but do you expect me to pay for the return to life of the son of the man who has swindled me?"

"Oh, no, not at all!" assured Teresa. "I just thought...we were looking into who might...." Her voice gave out, clearly embarrassed to be seeming to accuse Lady Arabella of any wrongdoing.

Xandro came to her assistance. He pulled out the fox print card that had been left behind in Teresa's dresser drawer. "This was left in place of the diamonds," the bard explained.

"And?" prompted Lady Arabella. "Are you insinuating there's some connection between that card and my family?" A dawning look of comprehension crossed her face. "Ah! 'The Fox,' is it?" She stared at Xandro, the fierceness of her gaze seeming to bore a hole through him. "If you are implying this 'Fox' is in any way associated with the Vulpina family, I do hope you have some proof to back up your baseless accusations, because that kind of scurrilous talk against a noble family could quite easily land a person like you in jail!"

Xandro quickly placed the card back into his belt pouch. "No, my lady - nothing like that," he hastily assured her.

However, a smirk crossed Lady Arabella's face. "However," she said, "all this talk of cards has given me an idea. We'll let Fate decide." She rang a bell sitting on an end table and a maid entered the room. "Bring me a deck of cards," she told the servant, who nodded her head and hurried off to comply. Upon her return, Lady Arabella handed the deck to Xandro. "Please: shuffle it and cut the deck."

"What are you proposing?" the bard asked as he did as she requested.

"One round of cards, between Lady Teresa and myself. If she wins, I will forgive the money her father owes her, and pay for her brother's restoration to life as well." Teresa's eyes lit up at the offer.

"And if you win?" asked Teresa. She was no gambler, although she knew the basics of a number of card games.

Lady Arabella smirked all the harder. "Should I win, I shall want your bodyguards to picket outside the Black Eagle Gentlemen's Club - naked - carrying signs stating 'Lord Berthold Theringold is a welcher.'"

"That'll likely get us arrested!" pointed out Alewyth.

"I'm not stripping down naked for anyone!" Thurloe announced. "I'm not part of this bet!"

Wakuren silently removed the ring of invisibility from his hand and palmed it, passing it over to Thurloe in the act of shaking his hand. "Then maybe you had best wait for us outside," he suggested. Thurloe felt the ring and immediately guessed the half-orc cleric's intentions: that he wear the ring and observe the hand of cards without Lady Arabella aware of his presence. He thought the cleric of Cal might have been suggesting he use his invisibility as a means of reading Lady Arabella's hand of cards and somehow passing that information to Lady Teresa without being detected, but he wasn't sure how exactly he was going to do that - it would have been nice if they had had time to plan this all out ahead of time! But he found himself being ushered outside by a butler and just barely had time to activate the ring when the man's back was turned and sneak back in through the door before it closed. Then the fighter waited for the butler to leave the entry hallway and go about his duties before he tiptoed back over to the library, glad for the sound-dampening carpet in the room.

By then, the other four heroes had convinced Teresa to take the bet. She didn't like the fact that they were taking all of the risks, but it warred with her obvious desire to be able to have her brother raised from the dead. "Go ahead," pleaded Alewyth. "We'll all be watching, to make sure there isn't any funny business." If Lady Arabella took offense at the suggestion she might somehow try to cheat, she didn't let it show on her face.

"All right," Teresa said.

Everyone leaned forward as Lady Arabella dealt out a hand of cards to the two noblewomen. Wakuren had been studying Lady Arabella and had a good feeling about her; it was hard to put his finger on it exactly, but she somehow seemed to be like one of them...sure, she was a member of the nobility, but she seemed more down-to-earth than some of the stuffed shirts in the upper classes. Much like Lady Teresa, the Vulpina daughter seemed like she was okay.

Alewyth had been studying Lady Arabella closely, but with a different purpose in mind: she wanted to make sure she wasn't doing anything with the cards as she dealt them out. The cleric frowned; it had almost looked like Lady Arabella had done some fancy finger-work when dealing. Had she pulled a card from other than the top of the deck while dealing? It was hard to tell for sure. Belatedly, the dwarven cleric wished she knew more about card games; such things weren't really part of a hard-working dwarf's background.

But any worry Alewyth had about any sleight of hand shenanigans the noblewoman dealer might have tried to pull were unfounded; flipping over their cards, Lady Teresa had easily won the hand. "Very well," Lady Arabella replied, if anything smirking all the harder. "Congratulations, Lady Teresa. You have won, but I have bought with my money a quite vivid and amusing mental image. I will have the monies delivered to your family's estate this very afternoon - and you will find the Vulpina family pays its debts." With that, she stood, an indication that the visitation was over. A servant escorted the group back to the front door, an invisible Thurloe following behind.

"Whew!" sighed Teresa Theringold upon standing back outside on the street. "I'm glad that's over! Could I prevail upon you to wait with me for the delivery, and then escort me to the jewelers and the Temple of Akari? I'd hate for anything to happen to the money in the meantime!" Wakuren assured her that they'd be happy to help her.

While waiting in the much less impressive Theringold library, the six made small talk among themselves and found out Teresa had gone to Kerndell Lapidarius to purchase the diamonds that had been stolen. "I wonder if that idiot Jorndell is involved in this somehow?" Thurloe mused aloud.

"You like throwing accusations all over the place, don't you?" asked Zander. But then, before the fighter could answer, the elf asked, "What was that?"

"What was what?"

"I thought I heard something. A door opening." He turned to Teresa. "We're here alone, aren't we?"

"Yes," Teresa relied, looking frightened - understandable, given she'd been kidnapped not too long ago.

Thurloe pulled the bastard sword out from its scabbard on his back and advanced down the hallway to the west, where Zander said he'd heard the noise. There was another hallway perpendicular to the one leading from the library, with the southern end of that one leading to the front doors. Thurloe verified they were still both closed and locked, as Xandro exited the library, his lute out and ready to support his magic.

A door straight ahead - which according to Teresa led to the kitchen area and a side door to the manor house - suddenly opened and a pair of dark forms stepped forward, each holding a shortbow at the ready. They matched gazes with Thurloe and Xandro and the two heroes identified them immediately as kenku, just like the pair of thieves they'd fought in the basement level of Sandoval's Scriptorium. (They didn't realize it yet, but this pair was indeed the two kenku whose lair nests the heroes had plundered after slaying the other two kenku and their mongrelmen associates.)

Xandro ducked back around a corner and began playing an inspiring tune upon his lute, as the kenku both fired their shortbows at Thurloe. The fighter tried to dodge, but the arrows went whizzing by, slicing lines of blood across his left arm as they passed. Worse, the heads had been envenomed, but the fighter was able to shake off whatever effects the poisoned arrows might have had.

Hearing sounds of combat, Wakuren activated the ring of invisibility - Thurloe had returned it after they had left the Vulpina estate - and strode down the hall. Zander popped his head out of the library doorway, saw the kenku pair, and fired off a magic missile spell at one of the dark-feathered bird-men. Then two more figures approached, a man and a woman, both wearing black combat leathers and wielding short swords in their hands. "What the Hell?" complained the male rogue, seeing the heroes assembled before him. "Theringold's hired bodyguards now, has he? Bad enough he sold us his daughter and then had her stolen back from us somehow, now he's trying to keep us from what's rightfully ours?"

"We'll add him to our list," promised his female counterpart. "Let's take these hirelings out, get the girl back, and then we can deal with him!"

Alewyth had been in the middle of casting a bless spell upon her team when she heard the rogues' chatter. A look of fury crossed her dwarven features and she practically snarled in rage. Her warhammer gripped in one fist, she stormed forward, ready to deal some serious damage to these kidnapping thieves. But Thurloe was there before she was, swinging his bastard sword for all it was worth. The male thief ducked back beneath the swing, though, the blade passing by him and leaving him unharmed. Thurloe swore in irritation.

Both kenku fired their bows again, this time aiming at Alewyth and Zander. Of the two, the one striking Zander was a slightly better aim, hitting the sorcerer squarely in the shoulder and getting the venom coated liberally on the arrowhead well within his system. A combination of a slightly less centered hit and the cleric's rugged dwarven constitution ensured the venom did nothing to hinder Alewyth's steady progress down the hallway, her eyes blazing in fury.

Wakuren cast an obscuring mist spell centered in the area where the two perpendicular hallways met, then stepped into the edge of the spell's area of effect. He wasn't concerned that the mist would give away his location; although he was invisible and thus was forming a humanoid shaped "gap" in the swirling mists, anyone looking at him would see straight through his invisible body and the mists on the other side of him, effectively shielding him. He was pleased with his strategy, for now the archers couldn't fire their arrows at anyone, not being able to see their targets.

Of course, this meant Zander couldn't see his targets either, but he took a moment to pull the arrow from his shoulder first in any case, grimacing in pain as he did so. Then, unable to do much else at the moment, he cast a mage armor spell upon himself, hoping the protective spell would shield him from any further arrows that might end up heading his way. Thus girded, the sorcerer braved the mists ahead.

The human rogues inched forward cautiously in the thick fog, both catching sight of Thurloe when they were almost upon him and stabbing out straight with their blades. Thurloe grunted in pain as their attacks pierced through his armor and he counterattacked the male rogue. Hitting only air with his strike - the nimble bugger had ducked back in time again! - he backed up around the corner, headed north, directly away from the front doors. Off to his left, Alewyth advanced, her warhammer ready to strike as soon as she could find a target, for her innate darkvision wasn't able to pierce the obscuring mist spell any better than could the eyesight of a human.

Xandro continued playing his tune upon his lute, the bardic magic aiding his companions in their combat efforts. The kenku advanced slowly through the dark mists, one of them obliviously passing right beside Wakuren. The half-orc raised his shield and brought it crashing down upon the avian rogue, the attack undoing his invisibility but well worth it, Wakuren thought. The other kenku advanced until he and Alewyth almost ran into each other; both attacked immediately but Alewyth's warhammer caught the kenku a second before his own blade could stab out at her, for in the dark mists the avian rogues had both realized their shortbows were all but useless. Wakuren spun about and brought his shield crashing down upon the first kenku's head, staggering him where he stood.

Both of the human rogues stepped forward, side by side, their blades slashing out at Thurloe now that they knew where he was. The numerous cuts were starting to take their toll, blood now dripped from several wounds the fighter had taken and he could feel his strength starting to wane. He backed up further, suddenly finding himself completely out of the radius of the obscuring mist spell. Hurriedly, he fumbled at a healing potion from his belt and guzzled it down while the rogues were still stepping cautiously forward, unsure yet of exactly where the spell's effects ended.

Alewyth slammed the kenku before her again with her warhammer, enjoying the solid connection of her metal weapon against the bird-man's feathers, flesh, and bone. Beside her, Xandro stepped forward, his lute now swapped out for his rapier, trusting in the ongoing effects his bardic music would sustain for a bit longer even after he had stopped playing. He found the male rogue and thrust the point of his weapon into the leather-clad kidnapper's body until it exited from the other side; when he pulled it back out, the man fell to the floor, dead.

The kenku backed furiously away from the crazy dwarven woman before him, stepping deeper into the obscuring vapors and making a bee-line for where he believed the front doors to be. But he ended up right next to Wakuren, and the half-orc brought his shield down upon this kenku's head in the same fashion as he'd done to his partner. Zander, hearing the commotion in the darkness of the spell's effects, started cautiously heading that way as well.

The female rogue stepped out of the obscuring mist, saw Thurloe before her, and charged him. Despite having healed some of his earlier wounds by drinking down a potion, her newest attack sent the burly fighter falling backwards, unconscious and bleeding out, the hilt of his bastard sword spilling from his unfeeling fingers. Afraid of allowing any of the other heroes to get the drop on her, she spun in place and faced the swirling mists blocking the rest of the hallway before her, ready to attack any who might follow her back into an area of full visibility. As it turned out it was a good call, for Alewyth came stomping out of the mist, warhammer in hand, and headed her way. The rogue charged at the dwarven cleric and their weapons came striking out at each other, but at the end of the encounter Alewyth had gained a new cut in her side - easily healed - while the rogue had taken the worst of the deal, barely managing to stay on her feet. Zander stepped out of the mist behind Alewyth and finished the rogue off with a magic missile spell.

Xandro stabbed at a kenku he had nearly bumped into while searching for enemies inside the obscuring mist. And then, in the midst of battle, there was an incongruous knock upon the front door. The kenku raced towards the sound of the knock - for it indicated the way to freedom - but Wakuren caught up with him and brought him down with another smash of his shield. Then he opened the door, dark mists spilling out of the doorway as he saw a liveried servant standing before him, holding a small box. "I have a package for Lady Teresa Theringold," he announced.

"I'll send her right out," Wakuren promised. "Please wait here - we're in the middle of something." Then he closed the door and started feeling his way down the hallway, finding his way back to the library. "Anybody still in combat?" he called out, for he couldn't hear the clash of weapons anymore. After hearing that the four rogues had all been slain, he escorted Teresa out of the library and over to the front door, steering her around the dead bodies in the hallway. As expected, the package was from Lady Arabella, which included a note explaining she'd opted to pay her in diamonds, knowing that was Lady Teresa's final intentions. She thanked the servant and sent him on his way.

By then, the obscuring mist spell had run its course and the group told the young noblewoman what they'd learned: that she hadn't been kidnapped, her father had actually sold her to the rogues in a desperate bid for money to pay off his gambling debts. "I don't think you're safe here any more," Alewyth advised. Zander ran back to fetch the mules and wagon while the others helped Lady Teresa pack up her meager belongings. Then, her bags of clothing loaded onto the wagon, the group took her to the Temple of Akari to have her brother raised.

Father Bones himself presided over the ceremony. He was a strange figure: a walking skeleton wearing black robes and a black top hat. Word was he was a lich, a type of undead spellcaster who continued serving his god after his own mortal life had come to an end. He accepted the pouch of diamonds and had several of his clerics wheel the preserved corpse of Bertram Theringold out on a cart.

"My Lord Akari does not idly allow the dead to return to the lands of the living," Father Bones intoned. "Two deaths in exchange for one life - that is the tally He demands in this case." He nodded off to the side and two prisoners were escorted forward, each wearing shackles and leg-irons. They stared fearfully at Father Bones as he lifted a black-bladed sacrificial knife from the proffering tray held by one of his clerical subordinates. With a practiced efficiency, Father Bones slew the prisoners, who slumped to the ground. Almost at once, Bertram's wrist started flickering with movement and he soon after sat up, dazed at his current surroundings. Teresa ran up to her brother's side, hugging the one family member willing to risk his life to see to her safety - as opposed to sell her off to pay his gambling debts.

Father Bones nodded to the small group who had assembled and stepped back inside the temple. His aides followed.

"You did a good thing here today," said a voice behind them. Turning, the heroes saw none other than Lady Arabella Vulpina, dressed all in black and raising a veil from her face. "I will keep your names in mind should I ever find myself in need of capable adventurers. In the meantime, please accept these as retainers." She passed over a series of small envelopes, smiled a farewell, and walked away. Opening them, the heroes saw each contained a small gem valued at a thousand pieces of gold.

"What are we going to do about Lord Theringold?" asked Zander.

"Us? Nothing," replied Xandro. "We're not nobles. We can't go accusing a nobleman of selling his daughter into slavery, especially without any proof but the word of a member of a thieves guild. But don't worry, I'm sure things will take care of themselves." The bard looked over at the adult Theringold children and the looks of astonishment and then burning anger crossing the face of Bertram.

- - -

Eventually, Teresa was brought to Kerndell Lapidarius and the dwarven gemcutter agreed to hire her on as an assistant housekeeper, under the tutelage of Mrs. Applegate.

We had enough time to squeeze in a second adventure during this game session (knowing full well this was it for our group until May or June), so we pressed on immediately with the next one.

- - -

T-shirt worn: My blue shirt that reads, "Dad: cleverly disguised as a responsible adult." I picked it for several reasons: Teresa's dad played a prominent role in this adventure, plus there's the whole "disguised" aspect of the notorious thief, "the Fox."
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PC Roster:
Alewyth Putterpye, dwarf priestess of Aerik 2​
Thurloe Pulver, human fighter 2​
Wakuren, half-orc cleric of Cal 1/paladin 1​
Xandro Silverstrings, human bard 2​
Zander Quilson, elf sorcerer 2​

Game Session Date: 9 January 2021

- - -

The five adventurers stood in a forest clearing, the full moon shining down upon them. Dark shapes loomed overhead on either side of them, ancient trees pooling shadows on the ground below their branches, leaving the dirt path standing out in the moonlight.

Suddenly, a man turned the corner on the path just ahead. He wore the robes of a wizard and had a look of abject terror on his bearded face. "Run!" he cried as he veered off on a side path before the fledgling heroes. "It's coming!"

To the five adventurers, this was an almost identical repeat of the dream sequence they'd been in earlier, but the frightened wizard seemed to have no recollection at all of ever having seen them before, nor did he pay any attention to the moogle fluttering beside Thurloe's shoulder. In a panicked frenzy, the wizard darted off along a path to the group's right, just as the dream fox came popping out of the forest undergrowth ahead at such a speed as if suddenly appearing by magic.

"It's the same thing, over and over again, kupo," observed Mogo as the dream fox tilted its head curiously - it, too, apparently had no recollection of meeting up with the group of dream explorers before. "You can try killing him again, but it won't do any good - the dream just always starts over, kupo. But now that the dreamstones have been carved and are ready to go, if you show up at the side of the sleeping wizard having this dream and enter the dream from there, you'll have a much better chance of waking him, kupo!" Quick as a wink, the fox darted forward and snapped at Thurloe's unprotected neck; the fighter swung his bastard sword at the beast but it had already dashed off to the forest shadows beneath the overhanging branches to the fighter's left.

Mogo waved a paw and the dreamscape vanished, to be replaced by a richly-furnished study. The moogle indicated a map on the table before them. "Here's where he's located, kupo," Mogo said, indicating a point on the map in the mountains several days north of Port Duralia. He then explained how the group should approach the dreamer and enter his dream: by placing a dreamstone upon the sleeping wizard's forehead to help him focus and then surround the dreamer on all sides, in a circle, with each of the adventurers holding a dreamstone in his or her hands to help focus their own power over the dreamscape. "That ought to give you enough of an edge to slay the dream fox, hopefully for good, kupo!" Mogo informed them.

As to what they'd try next if that failed to wake the wizard, Mogo was silent - hopefully the plan would work as envisioned.

Upon awakening in the morning, the group saddled up their horses and hitched the two mules to the wagon, then headed off to the north with their provisions and gear. Thurloe spent a good part of the time sitting in the back of the wagon reading through the beginner's spellbook his arcane instructor had left with him, practicing the hand gestures needed to cast the most basics of cantrips. It soon became apparent to the young fighter that mastering spellcraft was going to be as difficult, if not more so, than mastering the use of his bastard sword.

The three days passed by rather uneventfully - save for a curious dire badger poking about looking for food on the second night's camping out - and in the late afternoon of the third day the group saw a stone structure ahead on the mountain pass they'd taken, the building long and low for most of its length save for a two-story tower off to the right. Two sets of double doors to the far left hinted at stables and possibly wagon storage or the like, but the front door was right in the middle of the structure. Glad to be done with traveling for now and eager to put her dreamwalker training to good use, Alewyth strode boldly to the front door and pounded upon it with her fist. It took nearly a minute before the door was opened, revealing a rather rotund halfling dressed in a butler's finery. "May I help you?" he asked.

"It's possible we may be able to help you - or rather, the wizard who dwells here. Has your master been in a state of sleep for the better part of a month, by any chance?"

The butler gasped, surprised at the dwarf's knowledge. "Why--why, yes," he exclaimed. "How ever did you know?"

"It's been happening all across the continent," Alewyth explained as the butler stepped back and bid them to enter. "We've been sent to try to free the dreamers from their sleep."

"Have you had any success?" asked the butler, one Humberto Bugcatcher who went by the nickname "Humbug".

"Not yet - but this is our first case," Alewyth informed him.

Humbug led the group down a hallway, into a small library, and from there into a bedroom, in which slept a bearded human the adventurers immediately recognized as the wizard being chased by the dream fox they had met up with several times already in the Dreamlands. "My master, the wizard Grimboldt," Humbug announced.

"We should pull the bed into the middle of the room," suggested Wakuren, grabbing the foot of the bed. Thurloe took the head of the bed and they did just that. Alewyth opened the bag of dreamstones and pulled one out, placing it onto the center of Grimboldt's forehead. The wizard whined in a low tone, frightened of something he was experiencing in his dream - but being constantly stalked by a vicious fox for four weeks was likely to do that to you. Fearful that his movements might dislodge the stone from his head, Alewyth wrapped a piece of cloth around his temple like a headband, binding the dreamstone in place. She then passed a gem to each of the four men beside her.

"What should I do?" asked Humbug, looking nervously around at the five strangers who had showed up out of the blue and were apparently about to work some magic on his employer. He belatedly began worrying that he only had their word they were trying to aid Grimboldt - perhaps he shouldn't have let them into the manor so quickly, as that half-orc looked particularly fearsome.

"You can make sure nobody bothers us," Thurloe replied, as the five strangers each took a seat around the bed, sitting around it at the five points of a star. They had their eyes closed and looked as if they were meditating.

"Very well," answered Humbug, closing the bedroom door behind him as he stepped back into the library. He supposed this ritual - or whatever it was - would take a bit of time to complete; perhaps he should use that time cleaning up the mess in the master's arcane laboratory. After all, four weeks with a comatose master had given him plenty of time to root around in the wizard's lab, experimenting with his various arcane items of power....

One by one, the adventurers succumbed to sleep, their training coming into play. As each entered the Dreamlands, he or she was met by their assigned moogle guide, who led them to Mogo. "Is everybody ready, kupo?" he asked, standing in a hallway of doors and opening one door in particular ushering them in. "Good luck, kupo!"

The five adventurers stepped through the doorway and into a forest clearing, the full moon shining down upon them. Not surprisingly, dark shapes loomed overhead on either side of them, ancient trees pooling shadows on the ground below their branches, leaving the dirt path standing out in the moonlight.

On cue, Grimboldt turned the corner on the path just ahead. He wore the robes of a wizard and had a look of abject terror on his bearded face. "Run!" he cried as he veered off on a side path before the fledgling heroes. "It's coming!"

The heroes already had their weapons out and spells at the ready, but even here in Grimboldt's recurring dream they each also wielded the dreamstone they held back on the Material Plane in their hands. They held these stones up as protective wards when the dream fox made its sudden appearance on the path before them.

Once again, it cocked its head in puzzlement at the sudden arrival of these strangers, but this time it was more than just their unexpected intrusion into the dream; it was also the strange sluggishness that was passing over its body. Without any discernable source, the strength seemed to drain from its limbs, its unnatural quickness depleted somehow, leaving it hardly any faster or stronger than a normal fox of its size. Soundlessly, it shook its head as if trying to dissipate the weakness by waking up from a dream of its own, but the attempt was fruitless.

While it was puzzling out its new state of being, Thurloe dashed forward - he was now about as quick as the fox - and sent his bastard sword crashing down upon its fur-covered body, the blade drawing a line of red pain across its back and side. It yelped and dashed off into the undergrowth, giving Alewyth the time to cast a bless spell upon the group. "We got first blood this time," she pointed out. "Surely that's a good sign!"

The fox dashed out at the heroes again, noticeably much slower than in previous visits to this particular dream, and Zander was ready with a magic missile spell that struck it in its vulpine muzzle. Xandro stabbed forward with his rapier, piercing its shoulder as Wakuren cast a doom spell upon their foe. He wasn't sure exactly how the fox had kept Grimboldt imprisoned here in his own nightmare for a month, but so far things were looking like they'd be able to defeat the fox in combat without any difficulties. This belief of the half-orc cleric's was only reinforced when the fox snapped its jaws at Thurloe and the fighter managed to successfully dodge out of the way. That certainly beat having your throat ripped out! the fighter thought to himself as he brought his bastard sword crashing down upon the fox for a second time.

Alewyth attacked the creature with her warhammer, but the bedraggled beast managed to avoid her blow. There was no dodging another magic missile spell from Zander, however, although the fox just barely avoided subsequent attacks from Wakuren's shield and Xandros' rapier. In a sudden panic, the fox looked all about him for a way out of this fight, dashing at its best current speed past its attackers in an attempt to hunt down Grimboldt, its original target. It snapped at Zander when he cast a third magic missile spell at him, the time it took for the fox to do so allowing Alewyth's hammer and Thurloe's sword to deal additional harm to the beast. Seemingly on its last legs, it leaped up at Zander as if determined to bring at least one of these heroes down with it before it fell, but the elf was still on his feet - if wobbling somewhat - when Alewyth's warhammer crushed the fox's skull, slaying it at long last.

Everyone immediately assumed a defensive position, looking about to see if the dream would reset again as it had in the past. Thurloe looked ahead at the path, half expecting Grimboldt to run towards him warning that "it" was coming. But instead, the moonlight intensified as one by one the trees of the forest started fading away to nothingness. Then the stars started going out as the rest of the dreamscape surrounding them vanished, leaving the heroes standing once again in a hallway filled with doors as far as the eye could see. "Great job, kupo!" Mogo said in uncommon praise.

The heroes each put one of their latest lessons to good use and concentrated on waking themselves up. One by one, they snapped awake, finding themselves back in Grimboldt's bedroom, where a rather puzzled-looking wizard sat up in bed, looking at them. "You were there," he said. "I saw you, in my dream!"

"That was quite a dream, too," Wakuren agreed, standing up and making the introductions as the others joined them in wakefulness. The bedroom door opened and there was Humbug, alerted by the unmistakable sound of his master's voice. "You're awake!" he gasped in surprise. These strangers had done exactly as they had said they would.

"Humbug: make preparations!" Grimboldt exclaimed. "We're having guests over for dinner!"

Over dinner, Wakuren described the sleeping sickness beginning to spread across the land and how they had been recruited to try to put a stop to it. Grimboldt exclaimed once again, "I cannot thank you enough!" But over the course of the meal - which was quite excellent, considering Humbug had had little advance notice that not only would his master be awakened but they'd have five additional guests - it became quite evident the wizard was exhausted by his ordeals. "I know it doesn't make a whole lot of sense," he admitted, "but despite having been asleep for the better part of a month, I'm wiped out!"

"It makes perfect sense," Alewyth replied. "Being hunted by a dream fox does not make for restful sleep at all."

"I will have Humbug put you up in the guest rooms in the tower," Grimboldt declared. "In the morning, I insist upon rewarding you for what you have done for me this day! In my earlier days I, too, was an adventurer and I have some items I think would suit you all well. I'll have Humbug help me find them - they're packed away. But if you will please excuse me...?" The halfling butler helped his master out of his chair and back to his bedroom. "I'm actually a little afraid of falling back asleep," Grimboldt added as he was led back into his room.

"We'll be here in the morning to help you if you have any troubles waking from your dreams," Alewyth promised the wizard.

There were only four guest bedrooms, each with a single bed, so Humbug insisted upon giving up his own room upon the second floor. "I will be fine on the sofa in the library for one night," he insisted. "It's the least I can do to express my thanks. I've made the beds with fresh linen. If you need anything, please just call me - you all know where the library is located." And with a smile, he bid them a good night and headed back down the stairs.

Humbug's bed was fitted for a human or a dwarf, in any case - the only halfling-sized furniture in his room was a desk and a chair - and the dwarven priestess volunteered to take his bedroom for the night. "I'll see you all in the morning," she said, closing Humbug's bedroom door while the others all picked their own rooms and got ready for sleep themselves.

As expected, they were in for another night of training during their own dreams. After reporting their first success to the Queen of Dreams and having her congratulate and thank them for their initial efforts, she released them to Mogo for the night's instruction. "Tonight we're going to learn how to enter the space between dreams, kupo!" the moogle exclaimed. He then showed them the different ways the individual dream-bubbles could be visualized: either as open space, as they saw when the Queen of Dreams flew her butterfly throne through the cloud of dream-bubbles, or as the series of hallways filled with doors Alewyth herself had accidentally discovered before first encountering a moogle. "Eventually you'll learn how to differentiate which dream is which before entering it, but that's for later, kupo!" Mogo told them. The rest of the night's dream-time was spent going from a random dream back to the space between dreams - sometimes in the endless hallways of doors, sometimes in what seemed like in a cloud of bubbles. But eventually the night's training session came to an end and Mogo released them to continue their own individual dreams until they woke up on their own - naturally, or in the manner in which they had learned they could force themselves awake. None of them chose to force themselves awake; it had been a hard three days of travel and they luxuriated in the opportunity to sleep as late as they wanted in Grimboldt's guest bedrooms.

However, when they did awaken on their own, things were not as they had expected them to be.

Zander awoke with a strange feeling in his head, almost as if he had been drinking heavily the night before. But that made no sense - they'd each had but a single glass of wine with the evening's dinner, nothing more. Sitting up groggily, the elf was surprised to find himself on the hard floor, in a room he didn't recognize at all. That wasn't all that was unrecognizable, either, for the sorcerer was clad in a poncho-like garment, a white square with a hole in the center where his head stuck out, the rest of it folded around him and tied at the waist like a toga. "What...?" he croaked to himself, thoroughly confused.

He wasn't the only one to awaken in such a state, however; in separate rooms in this strange building with no furniture, each of the other adventurers woke up in a similar state, all dressed in the same manner. Alewyth's hand went to her throat at the realization she was in a strange garment; her holy symbol of Aerik, God of Protection, which she habitually wore around her neck since the day she had been confirmed as a priestess, was missing! Looking around at the otherwise empty room, she saw no sign of her other items: her armor, her warhammer, her pack - all were missing as well.

None of the rooms had doors, merely doorways. As one, the group stumbled out into a larger, central room and took stock of the situation. "Anybody know what happened?" Thurloe asked the room at large.

"I don't think we're on the Material Plane anymore," Wakuren theorized, lifting his arms and letting them fall. "The gravity seems different."

"What plane are we on, then?" asked Xandro - as a bard, he focused his area of expertise upon the cities and towns he visited, not on any of the myriad other planes of existence that were said to abound outside the Mortal Realm.

Thurloe had his eyes closed and was concentrating hard. He opened them back up and looked around. "I don't think we're dreaming," he said. "At least, if we are I can't seem to wake myself back up."

"You don't think we're all stuck inside a dream, like Grimboldt was, do you?" gasped Alewyth. She too tried using the training she'd received from Mogo to try to wake up, to no avail.

But then a voice boomed from outside the building. "ARISE, MORTALS!" it demanded. "EXIT YOUR DWELLING AND STAND BEFORE THE TITAN KORDIAN!"

"The who now?" asked Thurloe, but he led the group outside the front doorway and got a good look at the local area outside the building they'd all been in when they awakened. Seated before them, across a wide plane of stone, was the titan who had called out to them. This Kordian was an imposing figure, seated upon an elaborately carved wooden throne, wearing a toga of much more intricate design than the simple tied-off ponchos the adventurers wore. His muscular legs were wrapped in leather straps leading down to his sandals; upon his brow he wore a wreath of leaves. His every feature was of utmost perfection as he looked down upon his audience of five. Behind him, a massive stone wall encircled the floor in all directions, leaving an open sky of vivid blue with white clouds drifting lazily by. Thurloe took his best guess at the distance between the titan and them, then used that to try to gauge Kordian's size. He had to be at least 25, maybe even 30 feet tall! He looked over at his companions, a "What's going on?" expression plastered on his face.


Everyone looked expectantly at Xandro. "I don't have my lute," he choked out.

"Can't you summon one?" hissed Zander. "Let's not get the giant guy mad at us!"

Xandro cleared his mind and activated a summon instrument spell, which would in theory cause a lute to appear magically in his hands. He'd never had cause to cast the spell before since becoming an adventurer, but it was one of the first bard spells he had learned and had used it several times before initially meeting the others. However, to his surprise, nothing happened. Embarrassed at his failure, he turned to Kordian and admitted, "I don't have my lute with me, nor can I seem to summon one."


"I, uh, I'm afraid I don't know any songs...about you," Xandro replied.

"WHAT?" boomed Kordian, a stern look crossing the perfect features of his face. "DO YOU NOT KNOW HOW I SLEW THE MONSTER-GIANTS, PAVING WAY FOR THE GODS WHO CAME AFTER ME? OR HOW I CRAFTED THE SHIELDWALL MOUNTAINS, RISING THEM UP TO KEEP THE MORTAL RACES SAFE FROM THE INVADERS ACROSS THE SEA? OR HOW I--AAAH! KILL IT! KILLITKILLIKILLIT!" These last instructions were given as Kordian leaped up from his seat and jumped up to stand upon the throne, pointing in panic at the ground between him and his five new worshipers. There, wandering absently was a fat-bodied spider, maybe three feet around, counting its leg-span. It seemed to notice neither the five assembled heroes nor the panicked titan, who was still pointing down at it and demanding the spider be killed at once.

None of the heroes had their weapons or armor at hand; none of the spellcasters had any of their component pouches or holy symbols. Still, Thurloe decided he'd rather fight a three-foot spider barehanded than a titan who could easily stomp him underfoot. He sprinted forward, catching up to the plump arachnid from behind and slamming his fist into its bloated abdomen with every ounce of strength he could muster. He found Alewyth had come to the same conclusion and sprinted forward beside him, adding her own dwarven fist to the mix. Zander, however, did a quick mental inventory and realized most of the spells he was able to cast required only the correct verbal and somatic components, and thus cast a detect magic spell on his eyes, examining the spider intensely. Was there something special about this arachnid, to put so much fear into a titan? But despite his scrutiny, there was nothing inherently magical about the eight-legged creature. The elf shrugged to himself - this day was turning out to be all kinds of weird.

Xandro, worried about not getting the titan any angrier at him than he had already seemed to be, ran up beside Thurloe and Alewyth and likewise punched the spider, wishing he had some kind of a weapon - any kind, really. But Wakuren was there beside the bard punching at the arachnid's bloated abdomen as well, and the spider's legs faltered as the beast fell over to its side. Not ever having been this close to a giant spider before, Xandro wasn't sure if it was dead or merely stunned, but he was willing to bet it was just the latter, for the four heroes had only been able to punch it a couple times with their fists - surely that wouldn't have slain it, would it have?

Still, dead or only knocked out, the motionlessness of the spider was enough to get Kordian to step down from on top of his throne. "DRAG IT AWAY!" he demanded, pointing off to the side of the dwelling from which the heroes had emerged. The four each grabbed a spindly leg and lugged the arachnid away as indicated.

But that was apparently it for the day's titan adoration session, for Kordian immediately ordered everyone back into the house. They obeyed at once, barely making it into the central chamber before the whole structure dipped to the side, spilling several of them to the floor. There was a weird sensation in everyone's stomach as the house was lifted into the air and carried away.

The house trembled and shook as Kordian walked away with the structure in his hands; inside, it felt very much like the heroes were experiencing an earthquake. But finally there was a soft thud as the house hit ground - again spilling everyone to the floor - and all movement stopped. They could hear the sounds of footsteps echoing away; after several minutes of relative silence, Wakuren dared to peek his head out the front doorway to the exterior of the building.

They were no longer in the stone receiving area with the open skies above; now they were in a field of dirt, with several leafy plants towering above them. Exploring the area, they found they were imprisoned in a rectangular box of invisible walls on three sides, with a solid wooden wall behind them. Looking up, they could see no sky overhead but rather the faraway ceiling, a slanted structure made of metal struts and enormous panes of glass. Xandro made a go of trying to climb up one of the plants and it supported his weight just fine, but it wasn't anywhere near tall enough for him to reach the top of the walls, which the bard could see were topped with a walkway of sorts or what might be wood - it was too far away to tell for sure.

"You know where we are?" Thurloe asked the others. "We're in a terrarium!"

"But how'd we get here?" Alewyth demanded. "That titan couldn't have taken us like he said he did, could he have?"

"I really don't think that was a titan," Wakuren pointed out. "Scared of what would have been a little spider to him? I doubt it."

"So if that wasn't a titan, who was it?" asked Zander. "What else is that big? A cloud giant? A giant wouldn't be afraid of a little spider, either, would it?"

"I don't think he's that big at all," Wakuren said. "I think we're small!" He turned around, indicating the terrarium all around them. "And I don't think this is a giant terrarium, either - it's probably no bigger than any other terrarium you've ever seen before. I'd bet we're all probably just a couple inches tall." He held his arms out to the side and let them drop. "That would explain the funky gravity, too," he surmised. "It would feel different at this size."

Some time later, after Xandro had pulled a couple of leaves off one of the plants and tossed them down to the others, deciding they looked safe enough to eat, there was a thunk as something hard hit the rooftop of their building. Looking up, they could see there was now some sort of giant wooden pole - rather like an uncarved totem pole, Xandro decided - lodged diagonally from the rooftop to the upper edge of the front wall. "Hey!" he called to the others. "If we can get to the rooftop, we can climb up that pole and get to the top of the terrarium!" Wakuren and Thurloe helped the lithe bard climb up onto their shoulders and he grabbed hold of the top of the roof. Then he struggled to pull himself up - until he saw the face of a giant, white-furred rat looking down at him from the top of the pole. Then he scrambled back down to the ground as quickly as he could go.

"Giant rat!" Xandro said, pointing up at the top of the pole. The others backed away so they could see, but there was no rat visible. "It was right there!" the bard insisted.

Zander, being rather slender himself, was the next to try to climb to the rooftop once Xandro declared he wasn't going up there with a giant rat somewhere about. The elf cautiously grabbed the top of the roof and pulled himself up. He stood up, looking up along the edge of the terrarium wall - no rat. "It's clear!" he called down to the others, just seconds before the giant rat reappeared. This time it had several slender bits of metal in its mouth. Scurrying along the top of the terrarium wall, it peered down at the heroes and scampered along the pole onto the roof - causing Zander to leap back down to the safety of the ground just as Xandro had done. The rat poked his head over the side of the roof, opened his mouth wide, and allowed the metal rods to fall over the roof's edge, landing in a loose pile in the dirt. It then waited patiently as the group cautiously approached the metal rods. Each was the size of a shortspear, with an oblong hole in the side opposite the pointy end.

"These...are needles," Alewyth said, lifting one and feeling its heft. "Yep, we've been shrunk, all right." She passed the weapons out to each of the other heroes, not at all surprised to see there were exactly five needles in all. She looked back up to the rooftop and said, "And that's not a giant white rat. I'll bet that's a little white mouse - probably Grimboldt's familiar." She waved up at the white-furred rodent; after a moment, Squeaky Cheeser waved back. Then he busied himself tugging the pole down from the edge of the terrarium wall until it angled down from the rooftop to the ground below. Everyone backed away and gave the mouse plenty of room as he scampered down the pole's length and plopped down on the ground.

"Can you understand us?" Alewyth asked, her needle-spear held at her side in a nonthreatening way. Squeaky Cheeser nodded in reply. Then, hesitantly, he approached the group and began drawing figures in the dirt. The first was a simple stick figure of a man, then an arrow leading from him to a much smaller stick figure. "We were shrunk," Alewyth guessed. The mouse nodded again and resumed drawing.

His second drawing was of a stick figure reclining in bed. "That's us, sleeping," Xandro guessed. The mouse then added a blanket over the sleeping figure, then pointed back to the shrunken stick figure from the first drawing. "The blanket shrunk us," Wakuren guessed. "But who did this?"

Squeaky Cheeser began another stick figure drawing; this one had a beard. "Grimboldt shrunk us?" snarled Thurloe in disbelief. Of all the ungrateful...!

But the mouse was shaking his head vigorously from side to side. Next to the stick figure of his master he drew another one, this one about half the size. This one he circled.

"Humbug!" the heroes cried out as one.

"I'll bet that was him disguised as the titan!" Zander added. "All it would take was an alter person spell - not even a spell, he could have just drank down a potion. Why, that little weasel!" He silently kicked himself for not focusing his attention on the "titan" when he'd cast his detect magic spell activated to check out the spider.

"Where's Grimboldt?" Alewyth asked. "Is he okay?" That led to another drawing, this time of just a stick figure head - complete with a beard, indicating it was the familiar's master - sticking his tongue out. Then Squeaky Cheeser drew a slash across the tongue before erasing it by rubbing his front paw over the part of the dirt in which it had been drawn. He drew another tongue off to the side of Grimboldt's head.

Thurloe caught on at once. "Humbug cut his tongue out, so he couldn't cast spells," he told the others. "Was he shrunk as well?" The mouse nodded in the affirmative.

"Where is he now?" Alewyth repeated. In response, Squeaky Cheeser drew a rectangle in the dirt, then another beside it, and another. He pointed to each of the group in turn, then stuck his paw on the first rectangle. Then he pointed to the Grimboldt stick-figure head and over to the farthest rectangle. "...He's in a terrarium two over from the one we're in," she translated.

"We need to go get him," Wakuren said. "But then what?"

Squeaky Cheeser answered with more drawings in the dirt. He drew a hand, then put a ring on one finger, and then drew a bookshelf filled with books. Pointing to the ring and then a book on the top shelf, the group figured out there was a magic ring hidden in one of the books in Grimboldt's library. When the mouse pointed to the ring and then drew Grimboldt's tongue back in his mouth, the group figured the ring would allow the wizard to be restored, after which time he'd certainly be able to undo the size reduction to which the heroes had all been involuntarily subjected.

Done with his stick-figure drawings, Squeaky Cheeser pushed Alewyth's needle-spear in the dirt touching the tip of the wooden pole leading up to the roof. Then, motioning for Zander to follow him, he scampered up the pole. Once the elf had followed, the mouse pointed out a series of letters carved into the side of the wooden pole. When Zander spoke the word thus formed aloud, there was a zap of energy and Alewyth called up to him that her needle was glowing slightly. It didn't take Zander long to work out that the "pole" was a wooden wand of magic weapon and that Squeaky Cheeser had not only found a way to arm the miniscule heroes, but to provide them magic weapons as well - even if the magic had a time limit. Zander tossed his own needle-spear back down to the others and then used four more charges from the wand to enhance all five of the makeshift weapons. Then, one by one, the heroes climbed up onto the roof and helped maneuver the wand back up to the edge of the terrarium wall.

The view from the very top edge of the terrarium helped the group see exactly where they were. It was a long greenhouse of sorts, filled with a row of terraria on either side of the long, central aisle and a large fish tank at the far end. They could even see some of the creatures in the glass cages on the other side of the aisle from them: a trio of cows and a bull directly across from them and what looked to be a black bear in the one beside that. The animals looked to be "normal" sized to the shrunken heroes, meaning they too had likely been reduced in size by whatever magic Humbug had employed during the night while the heroes slept.

Crossing from one terrarium to another wasn't that difficult due to their close proximity; Squeaky Cheeser had managed it without any makeshift bridges. The edge of the glass wall was as wide as a balance beam - easily crossed if you didn't look down or think about what might be down in the terrarium below you. (Thurloe peeked: it was a boar, not something he'd want to fight with only a needle-as-shortspear, magic weapon spell notwithstanding.) One by one they made their way across the boar's glass prison and over to the next one after that. This one had a lot of plants in it, but close scrutiny allowed the group to spot not only Grimboldt, perched in what looked to be a small tree (but which had to be some kind of smaller plant, likely a fern or something), but also the crocodile waiting for him at the bottom of the plant should he - or any of them - happen to fall. Grimboldt looked to be unconscious, with a smattering of blood smeared around his mouth.

"He's too far down for us to reach him from here," Thurloe pointed out. "Suggestions?"

"We need rope or something," Wakuren suggested. He looked down at the belt holding his poncho-toga closed. "Do you think if we tied these together...?" he hazarded.

"What is this anyway - thread?" asked Alewyth, examining her own "belt." "Do you think it would be strong enough?" But Squeaky Cheeser, hearing their requests, scampered off the way he had come, along the edges of the terraria. Several minutes later, he returned - this time with a length of yarn in his mouth; apparently he'd partially unraveled a scarf or something. But Zander, being the lightest of the group, was lowered down with his foot in a loop at one end of the yarn until he was level with Grimboldt; then, stepping off onto the plant's branches beside the wizard, he carefully woke him up and tied the yarn around the wizard's waist. The others heaved him up to their level, then lowered the yarn loop back down to Zander and helped pull him back up as well.

"Now we need to get down off of here and over to the library," Xandro said. "Any ideas?" Squeaky Cheeser had the answer to that as well: skirting over to the front of the terrarium, he pitched himself over the ledge, landing on the floor below. While from this height it looked like several stories down, Thurloe figured he was only at about shoulder height at his normal size - maybe four feet? Less than five, in any case. Shrugging, he tossed his needle-spear down before him and then followed the little white mouse over the edge and rolled when he landed.

"It's okay!" he called back up to the others. "At this size, it's not as bad as it looks!"

The others leaped over the edge as well and everyone made it in one piece, Grimboldt included. Then Squeaky Cheeser led the group back toward the rest of the manor - for the greenhouse area had been tacked on to the dwelling years after its initial construction - and through a hole in the wainscoting, into the wizard's arcane lab. From there they were able to squeeze beneath the door and make it into a hallway leading to Grimboldt's bedroom. Then it was a simple matter to crawl under the door into the library.

"We're here," Xandro announced. "Now, where's that book with the ring?"

There were several bookshelves in the room; Grimboldt pointed to the leftmost one of a set of three set side by side. The shelves were each a bit taller than twice the size of any of the heroes in their current size. "How are we going to get up there?" Zander asked.

Thurloe gave it some thought. Climbing up onto the bottom shelf, he examined the sides of the bookcase. They were in luck: the shelves were adjustable, each wooden shelf balanced on four metal pegs placed in holes along the inner sides; the unused holes would make it easy to climb, using them as hand- and footholds - at least until they hit the shelf above. But Thurloe figured out the best way to approach that hazard as well: if two people climbed up one side, one behind the other, the bottommost could help steady the topmost while he released the holes with his hands and got a good grip on the edge of the shelf to pull himself up. Then, once firmly on the ledge, he could reach down and help pull up his climbing partner. Thurloe was the group's best climber so he was definitely going to make the ascent; Wakuren volunteered to go with him. Alewyth and Xandro opted to give it a go on the other side of the bookshelf, with Zander staying with Grimboldt and Squeaky Cheeser to keep watch.

The bookcase they were climbing had six shelves; the ring was hidden in a hollow book on the top shelf. (Grimboldt had never imagined he'd only be several inches tall when he'd need to fetch it.) Thurloe and Xandro had made it to the third shelf from the bottom and were leaning over to help Wakuren and Alewyth up when Zander gave a startled cry from below. He, Grimboldt, and Squeaky Cheeser had climbed up onto a footstool across the room so they could see better and they had spotted an intruder enter the library on a multitude of legs: a centipede, probably a normal one but much longer than the heroes in their current state.

The centipede didn't seem to notice the trio on the footstool, but made a beeline for the bookshelves and started climbing up the front of the bookcase the other four heroes were ascending. Warned by Zander's frantic cries, Alewyth and Wakuren were pulled up onto the shelf and the four grabbed up their needle-spears. Looking over the edge, Thurloe saw the shiny, black head of the centipede as the otherwise red-bodied creature scampered up the side of the bookcase. He stabbed at its head with his needle as soon as it got within range and it stiffened and dropped to the library floor. The fighter was surprised at how easily he'd slain it, unaware that Zander had brought it down with a magic missile spell from his footstool perch. Despite his current size, he channeled as much energy in a magic missile spell as he did at his normal height and the centipede hadn't been able to survive the arcane assault.

Seeing no other threats at the moment, the four heroes continued their bookcase ascent.

Once all four of them had made it to the top shelf, Grimboldt pantomimed whether they needed to go left or right until they hit the correct book. Thurloe boosted Xandro up to the top of the books, where he helped wrest it free from its place on the shelf. Alewyth, Thurloe, and Wakuren managed to turn it in place and set it down flat; then, opening the top cover, they saw the pages were blank but a hole had been cut into the pages, creating a space for a ring to be hidden. The ring was the size of a dinner plate, but knowing it had to be magical in nature and most magic rings resized to fit the wearer, Wakuren stuck his finger into the middle of the ring's interior and smiled in satisfaction as the ring shrunk down to fit his tiny finger. Once in place, the magic of the ring revealed to the half-orc its true power: it wasn't a ring of regeneration as he had at first thought, but a ring of three wishes with but a single wish remaining.

Immediately, thoughts of other potential wishes crossed the cleric's mind - but then he brushed them off. Better to stick to the original plan, he decided. "I wish Grimboldt's tongue was restored," he said. The four on the top shelf looked down over the edge at the trio on the footstool.

"Thank you once again," Grimboldt called up to them. "Climb on back down, and we'll see about getting ourselves restored to our original size."

Climbing down carefully - for none of the heroes was willing to risk what looked like an eight-story drop - the four made their way back down the bookcase and gathered together with the others once back on the library floor. "We'll likely have a difficult time with the stairs," Grimboldt advised, saying the words to a teleport spell. Immediately, the group found themselves in one of the guest bedrooms.

"Humbug used the sheets of shrinking I used to create my minimals - minimized animals, the creatures I keep in the terraria in the greenhouse - to reduce us to one-twelfth of our normal size," Grimboldt said. "One at a time, I can restore us all to our normal sizes. Climb up underneath the sheet and remove this...toga-garment thing, for the size change only affects living tissue." Alewyth volunteered to go first and was restored to normal size. She wrapped herself in a blanket and lifted the next person onto the bed to be restored, then went off to get dressed in her normal clothes and armor. Fortunately, all of her gear was still in place in Humbug's room; the halfling butler apparently hadn't gotten around to going through their stuff yet.

Once restored to normal and geared back up, the group made their way back down the stairs, where they could hear whistling coming from the kitchen. Humbug was in the midst of kneading a ball of dough, no doubt the beginnings of a halfling bread loaf, when his wizardly master and the five visitors stepped into view. Humbug's eyes grew wide with shock as he realized the jig was up.

Xandro couldn't help saying, "Hello, Kordian - how are things in the Overworld?"

"I--" Humbug began, but couldn't think of anything to follow; there was really no excuse he could give for the things he had done to his master and the five guests who had come to aid him. But then Grimboldt touched the halfling butler on the shoulder, invoking a few choice arcane syllables. The halfling found himself suddenly being reduced in size - not only that, but changing his physical shape as well during the process. By the time Humbug had reached his new size, he'd attained his new shape as well: that of a bullfrog, which Grimboldt scooped up before he could hop away. "I think you'll go into one of the plant terraria for now," he told his erstwhile employee. Then he smiled. "It would seem 'Bugcatcher' was a somewhat prophetic surname," he said.

Returning from the greenhouse, Grimboldt led the heroes back into his arcane laboratory. "It would seem Humbug was playing about in here while I was trapped in my dreams," he said, looking around the lab and seeing how things had been moved around during his recent absence. "Nonetheless, I have a few items I would like to pass on to you." He gave Alewyth a lesser metamagic rod of silent spells, explaining its use to the priestess. To Thurloe he gave a torc of the titans, a thick metal band worn about the neck that would allow him to channel extra power through his sword-strikes several times a day (and, the fighter considered, protect him from having his throat ripped out by dream foxes...). Wakuren received an item once used by one of Grimboldt's adventuring cleric friends, a ring of mystic healing that allowed a cleric to channel more healing energy through his cure spells. Xandro was given a pair of true strike gauntlets that would guide the point of his rapier when he absolutely needed it. Zander was given a scout's headband, which enhanced the wearer's eyesight in a variety of possible different ways. He also gave them each a small pile of gemstones valued at 2,000 pieces of gold.

"I can never thank you enough for what you've done for me, literally saving me twice in less than 24 hours!" he said. "If you ever pass this way again, by all means stop by - you'll always be welcome here." He turned to Thurloe. "And if you ever decide to spend some time delving into arcane spellcasting and would like a mentor, I will make myself available."

"I'll keep that in mind," Thurloe promised the wizard. "For now, though, I think my sword is of better use to the group at large - we've got the elf for arcane spells."

"And the bard!" piped up Xandro.

"Yeah, and the bard," agreed Thurloe.

- - -

Knowing this was going to be our last gaming session for several months, after we finished up running through "Fox Hunt" we decided to plow through the next adventure as well. However, with time as an issue, I kind of fast-forwarded through some of this adventure. There was a travel encounter with a dire badger I just hand-waved away; it had been intended as a combat with something they hadn't fought before but had no real bearing on the adventure as a whole.

The sheets of shrinking were a standard magic item in earlier versions of the game; for whatever reason they seem to not have made it to 3rd Edition. (Neither, incidentally, were minimals, which originally appeared in the AD&D 1E Monster Manual II.) But I liked them enough to build a whole adventure around them. In fact, "With Minimal Danger" was originally an AD&D 2E adventure I wrote up for submission to Dungeon magazine, but it didn't make it past the query stage, especially when it became apparent to the editors that the spellcasters would be seriously nerfed once they'd been shrunk and would lose the ability to cast any spells requiring material components. (By the way, the reason Xandro's summon instrument failed was the spell would have summoned a full-size lute into existence, which at Xandro's current six-inch height was more than he could manage.) But I no longer had any of the work I had done on the original version, so I rewrote the adventure (and redesigned the maps) from scratch.

There would have been Balance checks to avoid falling into a terrarium, but I hand-waved those away in the interests of saving time. I also made Grimboldt's location in the crocodile terrarium closer to the PCs' terrarium than originally intended, again just to speed things up. So nobody had the opportunity to fall into a terrarium and have to fight the "minimals" kept there, which could have been the crocodile, timber wolves, boars, a black bear, cows and a bull, or light horses. (Some of the other tanks just had plants in them.)

For the bookcase climbing section, I passed out some of Harry's Marvel superhero action figures to represent the PCs (Black Widow for Alewyth; Punisher for Thurloe; Iron Man for Wakuren; Hawkeye for Xandro; Doctor Strange for Zander) and had them stage their exact locations on the bookcases in the man-cave where we play. The action figures were all more or less the "actual size" of the PCs at that point in time. (The ring of wishes was stashed inside Scott Adams's Dilbert book, "The Joy of Work.")

By the way, Humbug's cooking expertise allowed him to add a slow-acting poison to the meal he served, causing a deep slumber several hours after having been imbibed. That allowed him to shrink each of the heroes (and his master), dress them in his modified handkerchiefs, and place them in the "travel house" where they woke up the next morning without any worries they might wake up earlier than he had anticipated. The "Overworld" was just the roof of the tower of Grimboldt's dwelling. And had Alewyth investigated Humbug's desk (she didn't), she'd have found a book on the titans, whom Humbug revered for their power and size.

And now we're back on COVID hold until May or June. But at least the heroes have one dream-success under their belts; for the next big chunk of the campaign, I envision them roaming the continent helping dream victims escape from their dreams, while they slowly try to figure out what's causing this unusual plague.

- - -

T-shirt worn: My blue shirt that reads, "Dad: cleverly disguised as a responsible adult," mostly because we played this adventure immediately after the previous one, but it was also thematically appropriate in that Humbug was "cleverly disguised" as the titan Kordian.
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PC Roster:
Alewyth Putterpye, dwarf priestess of Aerik 2​
Thurloe Pulver, human fighter 2​
Wakuren, half-orc cleric of Cal 1/paladin 1​
Xandro Silverstrings, human bard 2​
Zander Quilson, elf sorcerer 2​

Game Session Date: 5 June 2021

- - -

The group had been on the road for several days, but at long last they passed a wooden sign at the side of the road welcoming them to the small farming town of Moon Creek. This, they well knew, was the location of the next dream victim they were to rescue, according to the instructions they'd received in the dreamlands from the Queen of Dreams herself.

Unfortunately, while the Queen could sense the locations of each of the dreamers entering her realm - and could step into any dream she chose to observe it playing out - not even she could always get a good look at the actual dreamer or learn his or her actual identity. "Our best bet's to check in at the local tavern," suggested Xandro, astride his black horse White, named perhaps because of the white patch on the beast's muzzle but more likely because the bard had an unusual sense of humor.

His strategy paid off, though, for the tavernkeeper was indeed well aware of someone in town who had fallen asleep weeks ago and had not been able to be awakened since. He gave Xandro directions to the home of one Olliffer Pelham and the bard thanked him for his time, tipping him a silver piece and returning to tell the others what he'd learned.

The door to Olliffer's home was answered by a good-looking young woman of about twenty summers; she introduced herself as Olliffer's granddaughter, Jervilla. "He's back here, in his bedroom," she told them, leading them down the short hallway in the rear of the small dwelling after they'd explained why they'd come. There in bed lay a man in his early sixties, tangled in his bedsheets and blanket. "He tosses and turns quite frequently," she informed the group. "And sometimes he lets out this weird moan. But he's been asleep now for...it must be four weeks by now! He's had nothing to eat and nothing to drink in all that time, but he doesn't look to have lost any weight at all. I try moving him from one side of the bed to the other on occasion, so he doesn't get sores, but other than that there's not been much in the way of caring for him. Just, you know, keeping his house and his farm in order while he sleeps. Did you say you thought you could wake him up?"

Wakuren smiled his best smile at the young woman - he'd practiced it quite often in the mirror, hoping to lessen the impact of his bestial features - and explained how they'd already rescued a wizard from a similar situation several days back. As he recounted to Jervilla what they'd be doing, the others pulled the old man's bed into the middle of the room while Alewyth set about affixing a dreamstone to his forehead, binding it in place with a bandana. Then she passed a dreamstone to each of her companions as they took up positions around the bed, at the five points of a star.

"What shall I do?" Jervilla asked.

"Just see that we're not disturbed, please," Wakuren replied. The young woman nodded her agreement and stepped back into the doorway, watching as the five adventurers crossed their legs where they sat and closed their eyes, their hands each cupped around a shiny stone. Their breathing slowed and silence covered the room, broken only by Olliffer's occasional grunt or moan.

In the dreamlands, each of the adventurers suddenly manifested in their own individual dreamscapes and were met by their own private moogle guides. "Hey there, kupo!" called out Doc as Thurloe Pulver suddenly appeared before the flying kitten-thing. How Doc knew exactly where the young fighter would show up was a mystery to Thurloe, but he'd learned things were often pretty strange in the dream-lands. "Lead on, Doc," he said and without any further discussion the moogle spun about in mid-air and started flapping off in a random direction. Thurloe followed.

Eventually, all five of the dreamwalkers met up with each other as their five moogle guides brought them to the endless hallways of doors - where each door opened to a specific dream currently being played out. There was another moogle waiting there for them and with a nod of his fuzzy head (which set the pom-pom at the end of his antenna bouncing) he dismissed the other moogles, who each then flapped away down the hallway, chatting with the others.

"This dream's in a kind of continuous loop, like the last one with the dream fox, kupo!" said Mogo, their primary dream instructor. "But the people keep changing around - you'll see, kupo!" Mogo opened the door and ushered the five inside.

"Aren't you coming with us?" Xandro asked as he followed the others into the dreamscape of Olliffer Pelham, practically walking straight into Zander Quilson, who had stopped short at what he saw before him.

"I'll wait out here, kupo!" Mogo replied, closing the door in the bard's face.

Xandro turned around at the sound of Alewyth's stifled gasp of surprise - and found himself stifling one of his own. There, standing before him, were twenty beautiful young women, all human but otherwise looking nothing like each other, for there were blondes, brunettes, redheads, and those with raven-black hair; a bevy of various skin tones; some wearing elaborate makeup on their faces and some with faces as natural as the day they were born.

And not a one of them wore even a scrap of clothing.

Xandro turned away, embarrassed. The women were grouped in a tight circle, watching in awe and anticipation at the coupling going on in the center of their ring; Thurloe immediately recognized Olliffer's grunts and moans as the old man got about to the business at hand. None of the figures seemed aware of the entrance of the five dreamwalkers into their midst.

Wakuren was the first to snap out of the sudden shock of the dream orgy going on before him. Focusing his vision as he'd been taught back at the temple of Cal, he did his best to try to discern any evil in the auras of those assembled before him, worried at the possibility these women might actually be a score of succubi or something similar. But while he detected no evil emanations coming from them, he also knew he could not count on these senses giving him accurate readings while in the midst of a dream, for each dream had the opportunity of making up its own rules on how exactly things worked - in a dream, a succubus might truly seem as innocent and pure as she wanted others to believe.

Thurloe unsheathed his bastard sword, just in case (idly recalling having his throat ripped out by a dream fox), and started circling the group of women in a counterclockwise direction. He tried to see if any of them were identical, but each of the twenty seemed to be a unique individual.

Alewyth was the first to try to break up the dream. "Excuse me," she said to Olliffer. "Olliffer Pelham? We're here to--"

She was cut off in mid-sentence. "You'll have to wait your turn, just like the others!" Olliffer called back to the dwarven priestess, not even once glancing in her direction - focused, instead, on the rhythmic coupling with the gorgeous redhead currently beneath him. A beautiful brunette at his side could no longer keep away from the sixty-something man before her, rubbing her hands over his bony shoulders, as if encouraging him in his efforts.

Zander finally stepped forward and tried to pull the woman away from Olliffer. To his surprise, as soon as he touched her she popped like a bubble, much in the same way he'd read happened when one dealt with an illusory mirror image from the spell of the same name - one moment she was bending over Olliffer Pelham, stroking his shoulders, and the next it was as if she had never existed. Zander stumbled, nearly falling over at the sudden disappearance of the woman he thought he'd be pulling away from the sixtyish grandfather.

"What the--?" exclaimed Thurloe, who had seen the woman disappear. He touched the shoulder of the blonde standing before him and she too vanished without a trace. Alewyth stepped forward and touched the two women to either side of her, popping them out of immediate existence as well. She nodded in appreciation; it would be very useful indeed, she thought, if she could get rid of irritating people in the real world as easy as it was in this particular dream.

But now the remaining women finally broke away from their fascination at Olliffer's sexual exploits and noticed the strangers standing among them. With a unified shriek of terror and surprise, they backed away and started running in all directions. Neither Olliffer nor his current partner seemed to notice their distress, however, their focus solely on each other for the moment.

Zander dashed forward and popped away another two women, causing the others to veer away from him, shrieking all the while. Thurloe thought about giving pursuit but then decided he'd do what he could to get Olliffer's attention; this was, after all, the old man's dream and as such he should be their main focus. Thinking it the best way to get Olliffer to shift his attention to Thurloe, the fighter bent over and touched the woman beneath the old man on the head. She vanished at once and Olliffer collapsed in a heap on the ground, no longer supported by a young, supple body bearing his weight.

Alewyth tapped him on the shoulder as he struggled to his hands and knees, indignant at the interruption. He whirled around, caught the dwarven priestess in his sight, and demanded, "What the Hell, woman? Why ain't you nekkid? Get to it!"

Zander, Wakuren, and - at the urging of the other two - Xandro chased down the remaining women, popping them into nonexistence with a mere touch, while Thurloe and Alewyth confronted the furious Olliffer. But before he could get out a word, the last of his dream harem disappeared and just like that his dreamscape started disappearing around him as well. "He's waking up!" Thurloe warned the others. "Let's go! Awaken, everyone!"

Using the dream training they'd received from Mogo and had practiced ever since, the five dreamwalkers awakened themselves from the vanishing dream and found their consciousnesses back in their bodies in the mortal world, sitting in a ring around Olliffer Pelham's bed. "Grandfather!" exclaimed Jervilla, beaming with joy. "They did it! You're awake!"

That was certainly the case, for Olliffer Pelham was now sitting upright in his bed and staring down at the five interlopers blinking awake all around him. "You bastards!" he screamed. "What in the--? Why the Hell did you--? Of all the--!" He sputtered over his words in his anger, unable to complete a sentence so great was his fury.

"Grandfather!" chided Jervilla, then turned to the five heroes as they stood up. "I'm so sorry," she apologized to them. "I don't know why he's like this! He's usually very soft spoken...."

"Get the Hell out of my house!" roared Olliffer, his fury giving him the voice of a man half his age. "If I ever see you again, I'll string you up myself! Of all the--! I was--! Now I--!" He started sputtering again as the five heroes got to their feet and with a look askance at each other, wordlessly slid out of the old man's bedroom, Alewyth taking the opportunity to slide the bandana off the old man's head as she passed and recovering the dreamstone in that fashion. Then they were out of the old man's house and leaping back onto their horses, Alewyth and Wakuren climbing up onto the mule-driven wagon instead.

"Now where?" asked Zander. They hadn't had the opportunity to pin down their next dream victim yet; they'd expected to do that this coming evening, perhaps at the tavern in the center of Moon Creek whose owner had helpfully directed them to the Pelham house. But not now; now it seemed best to put as much distance between themselves and Olliffer Pelham as possible.

"Let's keep going on down the road in the direction we were heading," Thurloe suggested, leading the way astride his horse, Horse. "I doubt if the Queen would have us backtracking. We'll hole up in the next town and get directions to our next assignment from there."

The fighter mused silently to himself for a bit, then threw out the following question, which had been bothering him since exiting Olliffer's dream: "Why would somebody want to trap an old man in a dream about having as much sex as he wants with a whole ton of hot women? That doesn't make a whole lot of sense."

"You're assuming somebody's doing this purposefully," pointed out Wakuren. "It could be something that occurs naturally."

"What, like some sort of weird disease?" asked Thurloe. "Nah, can't be - the Queen of Dreams already said you can't catch it from somebody else."

"'Don't seem to be able to,' you mean," corrected the half-orc. "So far, I don't think that's definitely been proven."

"Well, whichever, we now have two data points," Alewyth interjected. "As we rescue more people from their dreams, maybe some sort of pattern will emerge."

"Give me a choice between being chased by a dream fox and being surrounded by a bunch of naked women, I know which dream I'd want to get stuck in!" added Zander, turning to the bard. Xandro's face just reddened and he remained silent.

Before the group made it out of town, they were hailed by a man approaching them from the side of the road. He had jet-black hair just starting to gray at the temples and introduced himself as Counselor Lugendorf. "I was told we had visitors," he said, being drawn to the emblem on Wakuren's shield. "A cleric of Cal?" he asked. "Are you here to follow up after the other one who was by here last week?"

Wakuren admitted he was unaware of any other members of his order in the neighborhood and Counselor Lugendorf filled him in. A week or so ago a cleric of Cal came into town, accompanied by a fighter; both were human and fairly young. The Moon Creek Council hired them on the spot to deal with their recent needlefolk problem, for in the prior several weeks a few of these strange, cactuslike plant-people had wandered into some of the fields and attacked the farmers working there on several occasions. In the week since the two men had gone off to deal with the needlefolk, sightings of the creatures had greatly diminished, although every couple of days one or two of the plant-men had still been spotted. "Seems like they must have gotten most of the pack, but they never came back for the reward yet. I figure, good folk that they are, they want to make sure they've taken care of every last needlefolk before they return for their earnings."

"Out of curiosity, how much were these earnings?" asked Thurloe. He was already working out a way to get the five heroes tucked into the agreement as an auxiliary needlefolk eradication force, but Wakuren nipped that in the bud by reinforcing they had not been sent by the other two, merely crossing paths out of sheer coincidence. Thurloe fumed silently at the half-orc's irritating default of full-fledged honesty; he'd have to have a talk with him later about not turning down lucrative opportunities that insisted on just throwing themselves in their way.

But Counselor Lugendorf volunteered the information anyway. "It was 50 pieces of gold, about all we could afford," he said. "Like I said, we still see the occasional needlefolk, so maybe those other two fellows could use your help - I'll leave it to you all to decide how to split up the payment. But every encounter with them plant-people has started with them coming from the direction of the old silver mine." He gave them directions to the mine, long since abandoned after the veins of ore dried up.

Wakuren had one additional question before they left. "What were the names of the two men?" he asked.

"The cleric was Peter Dublinson," Counselor Lugendorf replied, "and the other one just went by Gryff." At that, Wakuren's face froze in a grin, the half-orc not wanting to let his true feelings to show. Instead, he smiled at the town councilman and thanked him for the information. Then they turned their wagon and horses and headed off towards the old silver mine.

"Those names mean anything to you?" Alewyth asked. She'd caught on to the half-orc's sudden facial paralysis as he held back a grimace.

"Not the Gryff guy," replied Wakuren. "But Peter Dublinson was one of the adepts who beat me up and got me kicked out of the temple right before we were to all have become ordained as clerics." He didn't mind helping out the Moon Creek Council - or even Peter - with their needlefolk problem, but he planned to have a few choice words with his fellow cleric when he saw him!

The mine was easy to find, about forty minutes of riding down the end of a little-used road now becoming clogged with weeds as nature slowly took back what had been hers. There were several sun-bleached, wooden buildings scattered around a dark opening into the side of a hill, what could only be the main mine entrance. Off to the side of the entrance was a statue of a dwarf, much taller than any dwarf or any human who had ever lived. Alewyth halted the mules off to the side of the road and the others dismounted their horses, leaving them tied to nearby trees with plenty of lead so they could graze contentedly while the adventurers checked the place out on foot.

Zander headed over to the well to see if it still had a bucket at the end of the rope dangling down its shaft, for he was thirsty from the ride. The others spread out, each heading to a different building. But before any of them reached their intended destination a group of four bodies entered the area, each slipping around the edge of a different building. These were skeletal-thin bodies wrapped in hard, green flesh, from which protruded hundreds of spikes and spines of various sizes: the group was meeting up with their first needlefolk!

Almost as one, the plant-men stiffened, turned their heads to face Zander Quilson, and then started sprinting in his direction. Their faces held no expressions but the elf nonetheless got the impression they wanted him, specifically, dead.

Zander ducked as one reached within striking distance to the elf and brought a spine-covered hand swiping at him in a lateral swing. Another ran up beside the first and tried bringing its two fists crashing down onto the elf's head. Zander scrambled backwards and quickly cast a mage armor spell on himself, wanting the extra protection it afforded, as Thurloe stepped forward, bastard sword in hand, and interposed himself between the two needlefolk and their intended target. He wasted no time in bringing his blade swinging forward and slicing through the torso of the first needlefolk, ripping it open and letting a fibrous filling spill out, as well as watery juices no doubt serving the plant as some sort of blood equivalent. But even split open as it was, the creature retained its footing and clawed feebly at the fighter, trying to rip out his eyes with the thick thorns at the end of each finger.

Xandro, seeing combat was already in full swing, brought out neither of his primary weapons - the rapier he wore at his hip nor the light crossbow he wore on his back - but instead brought his trusty lute to bear. He began the words to a song of inspiration, knowing the subtle magics he wove into his song would aid his fellows in their combat endeavors, allowing him to contribute to the entire group's success in an almost background fashion.

And it worked; Alewyth felt buoyed by the song's magic as she brought her warhammer crashing down upon another of these needlefolk who seemed so intent on slaying Zander. (Why him? she wondered briefly in the back of her mind, before dismissing her curiosity as a needless distraction.) Her weapon crushed the spines of the plant-monster she fought, cracking open its hardened outer shell and causing it to likewise leak its watery life-fluid.

Wakuren stepped beside Zander and cast a virtue spell on the frightened elf, hopefully keeping him in the fight just that much longer. The elf stepped behind the powerfully-built half-orc, feeling safer now that there were two of his friends these plant-things would need to get past before they could get to him.

The two needlefolk who had originally tried killing Zander were now both focused on Alewyth and the dwarf grunted in pain as thorns cut the flesh of her hands where she gripped her weapon. The other two tensed their bodies and suddenly flung needles at Thurloe, but those which hit glanced off his armor to little effect.

Zander spoke the words to a magic missile spell and slew one of the needlefolk fighting Alewyth, the one Thurloe had cut wide open with his blade. Thurloe closed the distance between him and one of the needlefolk who had just flung needles in his direction, getting in a glancing blow that nonetheless had spines and quills flying off to the side from the strength of his blow. But seeing as how these creatures could throw their needles about, Xandro walked cautiously behind a weathered building, still playing his tune - but out of direct line of sight of any of the plant men.

Alewyth's warhammer slew the other needlefolk attacking her and as it collapsed in a heap she looked about her for new foes. Wakuren slammed his shield into one of the two remaining needlefolk and in return it staggered backwards and launched a volley of needles in his direction, most of which the half-orc cleric blocked with the shield that was both an important part of his defenses and also his primary weapon. The other one shot more needles at Thurloe, but was subsequently blasted by a magic missile from Zander's fingertip and then taken down by a final blow from Thurloe's bastard sword. The last one still standing was soon thereafter slain by Alewyth's warhammer and the five heroes looked about them to see if there were any more of these cactus-people wandering about. It didn't look to be so.

Xandro finished up his tune of courage as Wakuren and Alewyth applied healing spells to those needing them. Then they split up again, wanting to check out the various abandoned buildings. Zander went back to the well and was pleased to see it was in fact fully intact; he applied himself to the hand-crank with full vigor, raising up a bucket of cool, clear water. While Xander poked at the needlefolk corpses, Thurloe opened the door to what must have once been a shed full of tools but was now home only to a few dismal spider webs and the long-since-drained carcasses of flies. Alewyth walked over to examine the statue outside the mine entrance, confirming to her satisfaction this was a depiction of her god, Aerik. It made sense to her, for Aerik was the god of both protection and of earth and stone, a fitting patron guardian for a mining expedition. She idly wondered if it had been dwarves involved in this mining endeavor; the statue of Aerik definitely sported dwarven features, but that in and of itself meant nothing, for Aerik was often thus depicted even by members of other races and she hadn't seen any dwarves in the small farming village of Moon Creek or anywhere along the road to the mines. The carving had been nicely done, though, with a fine attention to detail.

A brief motion caught the corner of Alewyth's eye and she looked down the dark shaft of the mine, seeing something she hadn't expected to see: a flowering shrub of some sort, deep within the shadows of the mine. There was a human-sized figure even further back, behind the plant, but he shifted to the side and was lost to her view. "Hello?" she called out tentatively to the figure she'd seen, but got no reply. Behind her, Zander was trying to open a door to a building off to the left of the mine entrance, but the wood had warped in place and he was having a difficult time forcing it open. Seeing the dwarven priestess's attention at something down the mine shaft, he cast a dancing lights spell that lit the place up, revealing the yellow-flowered plant whose fronds waved back and forth as if in the wind, although there was no wind present the elf could detect.

Wakuren, in the meantime, had been about to open the door to a weathered building when a horse suddenly rounded the corner from behind it. The horse was saddled and ready for riding and, incongruously, seemed to have a row of yellow flowers pleated into its mane - not something he would have expected either Peter or his fighting partner to have spent the time doing. Then the half-orc noticed something that has escaped his initial notice: one of the flowers was not poking out between the hairs of the creature's mane like the rest of them but was actually growing out of the horse's neck.

"Guys?" Wakuren called to the others. "Weird horse over here!" Then he activated the ring of invisibility he wore and faded from view.

Thurloe had sheathed his bastard sword and gotten out his bow, an arrow nocked and ready to shoot. Seeing the horse as it approached from behind the building, he raised his bow, took aim, and sent an arrow flying into the creature's neck, striking within inches of where the flower's stalk erupted from the equine flesh. The horse barely even noticed, but Wakuren could clearly see a greenish sap oozing out of the wound instead of the red blood he'd expected. Whatever this thing was now, it was clearly no longer a horse!

Xandro started playing his song of courage again, seeing as how combat had apparently started back up around him. The horse-thing continued its approach, bumping into the invisible half-orc. Wakuren replied with a bash of his shield, returning to visibility as he did so. The horse lashed out with a sharp hoof in retaliation, but it was a half-hearted assault the cleric of Cal easily avoided. But as the yellow-flowered plant didn't seem to be doing much in the mine shaft and the hidden figure behind it gave no indication of wanting to come forward, Alewyth left the mine entrance and headed over to help fight this odd horse Wakuren was going on about.

By the time the dwarven priestess had made it over that way, though, the creature was dead, brought down by a second arrow from Thurloe's bow, this shaft going straight through one of the horse's eyes. Alewyth noted with puzzlement the flowers growing directly out of the slain horse's body and the greenish sap oozing from its wounds. "Is this some sort of needlefolk thing?" she wondered aloud. The horse's body didn't seem to have any thorns or quills growing out of it, just those few stalks ending in the yellow flowers. But she explained to the others the plant growth she and Zander had found inside the mine entrance and everyone headed back that way, this time as a group. Xandro, not trusting that combat was truly over, continued the tune upon his lute as he took up position behind the building with the stuck door.

The door didn't remain stuck for long, though, as Wakuren's broad shoulders were more than up to the task of bursting it open. Inside, the building proved to be one large room - no doubt the main office when the mine had still been in operation, for there were a few desks and chairs, a cabinet for notes and reports and whatnot, and - most importantly to Wakuren - a map of the mine nailed to the back wall on yellowing paper. Most of the mine consisted of parallel and perpendicular shafts carved into the hillside, but a natural chasm had been pierced at two points by tunnels that broached the diagonal structure at its westernmost end and about three-fourths of the way down its eastern side.

While Wakuren and Zander examined the office interior, Alewyth returned to the front of the mine entrance, peering mistrustingly at the yellow-flowered plant that had no business growing deep in the dark of the mine shaft, for it was a good thirty or forty feet back from the tunnel entrance, where no sunlight could ever reach it. She also kept an eye out for the figure she'd seen behind the plant, but he made no attempt at stepping back into view.

Just then another figure came darting into view, popping around a side corridor branching off from the main shaft. This was an armored human wearing a chain shirt and wielding a sword as long as the one Thurloe wielded. Saying not a single word, the figure brought his bastard sword crashing down at Alewyth, who managed to deflect the majority of the blade's momentum off the side of her own armored forearm, raising a clatter of metal on metal as she did so.

Zander stepped back out of the doorway to the mining office and wasted no time in firing off a magic missile at the man attacking his dwarven friend. Alewyth responded with a strike at the armored foe with her warhammer, catching him in the chest with a blow powerful enough, the dwarven priestess hoped, to break a rib or two. But no expression crossed the man's face at the wounds he'd just received, nor did it change in the slightest as his shoulder suddenly sprouted one of Thurloe's arrows, the arrowhead finding its way between the chain links of the fighter's armor. Wakuren stepped up to the man and slammed his shield into his side, the blow spinning him around and revealing the yellow flower growing out of his lower back, just above his belt. Not sure if this man had been transformed into a plant or some undead mockery of life, the half-orc raised his holy symbol of Cal and channeled a blast of positive energy at it. The man gave no reaction, leading Wakuren to believe whatever it was, it wasn't some strange sort of undead.

His song finished - and its magic still certain to buoy up the heroes' efforts for a bit longer after the bard had finished playing - Xandro pulled the light crossbow from his back and set a bolt into place. But before he could fire, Zander finished the man off with a second magic missile spell. He collapsed face-first onto the ground, the bastard sword spilling from his unliving fingers. Thurloe couldn't help but notice the sword's fine craftsmanship and bent over to retrieve it; after a moment he sheathed his own sword and hefted this new one, liking the feel of it.

Zander was intrigued by the plant's role in all of this and stepped forward to get a better look at it. He crossed some sort of proximity trigger in doing so, however, for the plant responded by turning one of its flower-fronds over in his direction and disgorging a long stream of yellowish pollen, causing the elf to double over, coughing. Alewyth stepped up beside him, putting a hand on his shoulder and asking if he was all right. Zander didn't answer, continuing to cough and sputter. Alewyth started to try to pull him back and then noticed the plant's roots, which weren't sunken into the stone of the mine interior but were instead sunken into the festering corpses of several people all piled in a heap at the creeper's foot, while various vines and fronds branched out from the plant's core, terminating in thick, dark leaves and the occasional yellow flower.

"We ought to burn that thing," Wakuren suggested, lighting a torch with a tindertwig. He used it to light another torch, passing it to Alewyth. But as the dwarf turned to take the proffered torch from her fellow cleric, Zander shrugged his shoulder out from beneath Alewyth's hand and wandered slowly down the mine tunnel, headed directly for the plant, which almost seemed to quiver with anticipation. Before the others had noted his disappearance, he had made it to the side of the plant and it had dropped a frond onto the elf's face. Zander stood motionless and unconcerned as it drained away part of his own intellect.

And now the figure stepped from behind the plant, its last line of defense: a man Wakuren recognized immediately as Peter Dublinson, wearing full plate armor and holding a heavy mace and a shield bearing the image of Cal's holy symbol. Peter, Wakuren recalled, had been from a wealthy family and apparently only the best was good enough for their son, even if he was entering service as a cleric and should have been above such things as material wealth.

"We got t' get Zander out o' there," Alewyth said to the others, her dwarven accent coming to the forefront as emotion roiled over her - she wasn't sure what exactly the plant was doing to the elven sorcerer, but it couldn't be good! She cast a bless spell over the group in readiness for a concentrated assault.

Thurloe charged forward down the mine entrance tunnel past Peter - who swung at the fighter with his mace but missed - and used his new bastard sword to slice down through the frond connecting Zander to the yellow musk creeper. No longer tethered to the creeper, Zander nonetheless stood there in a dazed stupor. Seeing this, Wakuren ran past Peter as well and grabbed up Zander in his arms, dragging him back out of the mine - for Peter had stepped forward to engage Alewyth in battle and the dwarven priestess had strategically stepped away from the mine entrance, luring the yellow musk zombie that had once been one of Wakuren's tormentors out into the sunlight and open air.

The creeper hadn't been inactive during this time, however: sensing another potential recruit within range, it blasted a puff of musk into Thurloe's face, causing the fighter to bend over, choking and coughing. When he stood back fully upright, though, he felt much better: not a care in the world bothered him, now that he was in the presence of his new master.

Alewyth seemed to be handling the plant-zombie-thing okay and Wakuren had pulled Zander back to safety, so Xandro decided to take out the root cause of this fight and sent a crossbow bolt flying directly into the center mass of the yellow musk creeper. But then Wakuren cried out in alarm, for as soon as he'd gotten Zander to safety outside the mine and released him, the elf started wandering back towards the plant. Seeing this, Alewyth backed off from combat with Peter, pulled at a tanglefoot bag from the back of her belt, and hurled it at Zander's feet. It burst as it hit and exploded in all directions, covering the elf's boots and pants with a sticky substance that quickly hardened in the air, cementing the elf in place - she didn't have time to deal with him, as Peter was once again bringing his heavy mace down upon her.

Wakuren sighed in frustration: they had just rescued Zander and now it looked like Thurloe had fallen sway to the yellow plant's mental influence. He pulled the cloak from his back as he raced back down the mine entrance, setting it ablaze with his burning torch as he did so. Then he flung the entire burning mass onto the yellow musk creeper, right as it had been about to attach a frond to the unmoving fighter's head. The fiery cloak began burning the creeper's leaves but it wasn't out of the fight just yet, blasting another stream of pollen-spores into the half-orc's face. A few moments of choking and coughing and Wakuren had joined Thurloe among the ranks of willing victims to their new vegetable master.

"Crap!" Xandro cursed, firing another bolt into the yellow musk creeper. They had to take this thing out - and fast, if they weren't going to all fall under its dominance and become no better than this half-plant thing currently trading blows with Alewyth.

Fortunately, Zander soon regained his senses and was able to rejoin the fight - although he had to do so from where he was standing, for he seemed to have been glued into place by a hardened shell around his legs! He fired the last of his magic missile spells at Peter, hoping to take him down so Alewyth could go rescue Thurloe and Wakuren. Alewyth mirrored Wakuren's attack, faking a strike with her warhammer just to get her burning torch into play, setting fire to the tabard Peter wore over his armor. But she also realized the urgency of the situation, for even now the creeper was placing a frond onto Thurloe's forehead, draining him in whatever way it did.

Xandro cursed as his next crossbow bolt went flying over the yellow musk creeper without so much as parting a leaf. But while he was doing his best to take down the creeper, Alewyth and Zander were still concentrating their attacks on Peter, although the elf sorcerer was now out of magic missiles and was resorting to acid splash spells instead.

Finally, Alewyth realized they were running out of time and taking down Peter Dublinson was taking far too long. Pushing her way past the cleric (who swung at her one last time with his mace as she sped past him), Alewyth tried to tackle Thurloe, hoping to pull him free from the frond still draining his intellect. Behind her, Peter's tabard was now burning fiercely, engulfing him in a cloak of flames, but he hardly noticed, following the dwarven priestess back towards his master to protect it as best he still could. Alewyth had knocked Thurloe aside and was doing her best to pull the fronds from his face when she too succumbed to a musk puff from the still-burning creeper, not even her dwarven constitution tough enough to withstand this big of a dose from this close of a range.

Back outside the mine, Xandro fired a final bolt at the creeper before deciding he'd have to go into the mine himself and try to save the others. Zander had no better way of extracting himself from the hardened tanglefoot bag than to wriggle out his boots and climb out of his pants, leaving behind the lower half of a bizarre sculpture as he ran toward the mine entrance in his bare feet, his short robe flapping behind him. The sorcerer sent another acid splash spell into the back of Peter's head, hoping to take him out before he could put out the fire that would eventually (or so Zander fervently hoped) engulf the yellow musk creeper.

The creeper was slowing down now, as more of its body was engulfed in flames. It was still attached to Thurloe and it concentrated on making him one of its minions before trying to attach one of its remaining fronds to the other two potential slaves standing patiently before it, awaiting their turns at transformation into plant creatures focused solely upon the creeper's survival. But the connection was suddenly severed as Xandro's rapier cut the frond connecting Thurloe to the yellow musk creeper, and shortly thereafter the fighter regained his own mental freedom, although his mind was fuzzy and he had no idea exactly what was going on all around him. Had he been drinking again? It was hard to remember.

Peter was now a blazing inferno, his hybrid body - part plant but still partially animal - all but consumed in the flames. It approached the creeper, trying to find a way to put out the flames consuming its master without making matters even worse by the touch of his own blazing body. Zander sent another acid splash spell his way, as Thurloe suddenly cut loose and raced down a side corridor, to the east. Once out of spore range, he shook his head, frantically trying to recall where he was and what he was doing, when his attention was diverted by a commotion behind him. He recognized several of the figures as his friends; the dwarven woman was standing unmoving while some burning plant thing attached a frond to her forehead. Thurloe couldn't remember why that was a bad thing but he was pretty sure it was, so he went racing back the way he'd come, bastard sword held over his head in both hands for an overhead blow. A man he remembered was called Xandro was stabbing at the plant mass with his rapier.

Zander, now out of even his least powerful spells, threw a dagger at Peter Dublinson's burning form - why the Hell wouldn't he just die already? But then the thing that had been Peter did finally collapse to the floor, although whether it had been the result of Zander's thrown dagger or the fire finally engulfing him totally was difficult to say. He dropped his mace and his shield, the fire not having done anything to either yet beyond warming them up considerably.

With a roar of fury, Thurloe charged into the yellow musk creeper, his new bastard sword slicing it from top to bottom, cleaving it in twain as half of it burned away to nothingness. Upon its destruction, Alewyth and Wakuren snapped back to full consciousness, shaking themselves out of their stupors. "Let's get out of here!" suggested Xandro, leading the way back south to the open air. The others followed suit, Wakuren taking the time to grab up Peter's fallen shield on the way - no reason for a shield of such quality workmanship to go to waste!

Once back outside, the five heroes took stock. Both Zander and Thurloe had been drained of a portion of their intellect, the elf having fared much better on that front than the human, while Alewyth had been completely able to resist the creeper's efforts even after it had attached a frond to her face. After having examined the two of them, she announced it was likely they'd gradually be restored to their normal level of mental acuity, although it was possible the recovery time would be measured in days. "There are spells that can speed up the process, but they're currently beyond my ability to cast," she explained, and Wakuren admitted they were currently outside his own spellcasting abilities as well.

As a group, they decided to give the outer buildings a thorough exploration, partly because they had yet to hit them all but mostly to allow the yellow musk creeper and its minions a chance to burn fully to the point there'd be no chance of any of them reviving. There wasn't much to see, though; the unexplored buildings proved to be the abandoned remains of a bunkhouse, a mess hall (with attached kitchen and pantry, both bare save for some old stains), and a latrine pit. Zander discovered a deck of playing cards tied together with a bit of twine and was pleased at his discovery, pocketing them into his robes.

"Do you want to take time out to go get some pants?" Alewyth asked, and the elf looked down at his bare legs. "Oh yeah, good idea," he answered, trotting back to the wagon to fetch a spare pair of trousers from his gear. He didn't have any spare footwear, though, so he'd have to go barefoot until they could find a pair for purchase somewhere. Wakuren set down his old shield, wielding the one Peter Dublinson had carried; it was of much finer craftsmanship and the half-orc considered it just payment for the treatment he'd received at the hands of Peter and his band of like-minded bigots who couldn't stomach the idea of a half-orc mongrel being initiated as a cleric of the All-Father.

Once Wakuren and Alewyth had seen to any necessary healing spells, the group opted to check out the rest of the mines, just in case there were any needlefolk still about - or worse still, any other creatures hanging about with yellow flowers growing out of their bodies. But once at the ashes of the yellow musk creeper, Thurloe opted to go to the right - the same way he'd run when first freed from the creeper's embrace - while Alewyth, Wakuren, and Xandro wanted to check out the natural chasm. Zander opted to go with Thurloe, despite being warned it would be better to stick together.

As a result, while the other three climbed down into the lower chasm that had been breached by the mine tunnels, Thurloe and Zander struck off on their own, going first east and then north along another perpendicular tunnel. This one would have also pierced the natural chasm had it extended another 20 or 30 feet or so, but it came to an abrupt dead end, the vein of silver apparently having given out there. And thus it was they were off by themselves when the two intruders who had made the abandoned silver mine their temporary lair came to see what had been causing all of the racket here at the front of the mines.

Thurloe and Zander were facing the dead end when they were made aware of the presence of the other two by a javelin crashing against the dead end wall, missing Thurloe's ear by a matter of inches. Spinning around to face this new threat, the sorcerer and fighter saw a strange sight indeed, for blocking their way out of the dead-end tunnel was a hulking bugbear, morningstar in one hand and another hand raised at shoulder level. Behind him, riding in some sort of leather harness, was a green-skinned woman of hideous countenance, passing another javelin to him from a quiver she wore on her back. The bugbear took the proffered javelin and readied his arm for another throw. Thurloe couldn't reason why this should be - it was so hard for thoughts to flow since he'd been fighting that plant thing! - but both the bugbear and the hag on his back had a stripe of thick paint or something down their foreheads.

But although Thurloe's reasoning capabilities were currently hampered, his combat instincts were still very much in place. Before the bugbear could throw his second javelin, Thurloe had charged down the tunnel and sliced down the bugbear's torso with a sword-strike that cut him diagonally from chest to hip, blood spurting from the wound like a fountain had just been activated. He stepped back, not wanting to be painted in the bugbear's blood or slip on it beneath his feet, and as he did so a dagger came flying from behind him to strike the bugbear in the throat. Just that quickly, Skullcleaver fell onto the stone floor of the mine, quite dead.

Over in the chasm, the other three heroes were exploring; Alewyth's keen darkvision had picked up a natural pool of water and they were heading over to check it out, when all of a sudden the ground before them split silently open and a strange monstrosity was vomited forth from the earth. The squat thing was built like a barrel, with three thick legs, three sturdy arms, three eyes spaced equidistantly around its body, and a single, gaping maw filled with sharp, almost crystalline-looking teeth at the top of its body. Its dark eyes gleaming in the light of the clerics' torches (for Xandro, being a mere human, lacked the darkvision both of the clerics enjoyed as part of their respective racial heritages), it bent towards them and rasped in a barely-discernable version of the common dialect, "Eat you? Eat you leg?"

"No, you may not eat my leg!" Alewyth replied, but Xandro wasn't in the mood for any discussions; he let fly with a crossbow bolt that bounced harmlessly off the xorn's thick-plated exoskeleton. Wakuren crossed the distance between them and tried bringing his new shield crashing down upon the xorn's head, but the odd creature was surprisingly spry for having such a squat, bulky build and it easily dodged out of the way. "Eat you shield?" it suggested, perhaps thinking the half-orc's actions had been nothing more than the offering of a snack. Xandro shot another bolt at the thing but missed it entirely.

Grindelzia the green hag looked up from the harness on the back of her just-slain bugbear companion and complained at Thurloe and Zander, "You little idiots! You just killed my riding mount! Which one of you two is going to take his place?" And it was at that moment the two heroes looked down at the hideous crone's legs and saw both ended just below the knees.

Thurloe's instincts kicked in again; in some ways the lack of being able to overthink things was almost an advantage. Without fully processing the concepts that hags were generally of an evil bent, Thurloe decided this one needed to die and he brought his sword crashing down upon her. But the leather harness had a quick-release strap and Grindelzia had it in hand as she'd spoken; quick as a wink, she had scrambled across her slain mount's body and Thurloe's bastard sword did nothing more than further desecrate Skullcleaver's already sliced-up body.

Thurloe hefted his sword back over his shoulder for another overhand swing when he saw the green hag was no longer anywhere to be seen. Instead, there on the floor before him was a little girl of maybe eight years. "Oh, thank goodness!" the little girl cried. "I thought that big, hairy man was going to eat me! He put some kind of spell on me to make me look scary, but you saved me from him! Thank you, oh, thank you!"

Zander scowled down at the little girl and pointed a thumb at Thurloe. "He may have lost most of his marbles," the elf said, "but I've got enough common sense left to know you're not pulling a fast one on us that easily, witch!"

"Yeah, and even I know you're the witch!" Thurloe added, before turning to the sorcerer and asking, "She is, right?" Zander nodded in response. "I knew it!" Thurloe declared triumphantly.

Back in the chasm, Wakuren had come to the realization the xorn wasn't trying to eat them, it was just hungry - and hungry for metal, not for flesh. Alewyth pulled a handful of silver coins from her purse and tossed them to the xorn, who gobbled them up greedily. "Silver good," it enthused. "Gold better," it added, hoping these fleshy beings could take a hint. It turned out they could; Xandro and Wakuren each fished out four pieces of gold and tossed them at the xorn, making themselves its new best friends in the process.

"I'll bet you this guy's the reason the mine closed," Wakuren opined. "He probably ate the veins of ore!"

"No," the xorn answered. "Flesh things gone, I come. Scraps left only. Lost, no home." The xorn's vocabulary was limited, but it managed to get across the idea it had come to this world by accident (probably through a temporary rift between the planes, Alewyth suggested) and that the mine had already been abandoned when it arrived. It survived by eating the unmined scraps left behind when the miners shut down their operations. Wakuren decided he didn't like the way the xorn kept looking at his and Alewyth's metal armor or his new shield, and offered up there was a set of armor available on the body of Gryff, if the xorn was interested in a little variety in its diet. "It's steel, not silver," the half-orc promised.

"Steel good," the xorn agreed. The trio returned the way they'd come, their new friend in tow.

Zander, in the meantime, had tried slipping past the "little girl" but Grindelzia was having none of it. She swiped at him with her ragged claws, her body dropping the illusion she'd summoned. Not only did her claws strike true, but Zander felt the strength draining from his body. "You! The other one!" Grindelzia called to Thurloe. "I'll gut your pal here if you don't do as I say!"

But Thurloe was beyond simple reasoning at this point and answered with the blade of his weapon. "You wouldn't hit a poor, defenseless cripple, would you?" pleaded the green hag, putting every ounce of pathos into her voice as she could.

"Yep, I would," Thurloe replied, raising his sword for another strike. Zander took the opportunity to scramble backwards out of range.

"Wait!" called Grindelzia, scrambling for another tactic. "If you kill me, you'll never find the hidden treasure!"

"What treasure?" Thurloe asked, curious despite himself. Even with his limited intellectual capabilities at present, he recalled very distinctly that money was a very good thing to have.

"Thousands of gold pieces! All buried away where you'll never find it! But I know where it is, and I can get it for you! But I can't do that if I'm dead, can I?" Thurloe gave it some thought and try as he might, he couldn't dispute that logic at all.

"Where is it?" Thurloe demanded.

"It's at the bottom of the xorn's pool of water!" Grindelzia explained, wanting more than anything to gain the freedom of the pool of water, where she knew they wouldn't be able to follow but where she, with her waterbreathing capabilities, could easily wait until they went away, frustrated. But first she had to explain to these two idiots what a xorn was and how to get to the pool of water. "One of you will have to carry me, though," the green hag added, putting all the sadness and helplessness she could into her voice.

Fortunately, although it was hard to say whether the mentally-drained pair of heroes were about to be convinced to follow the green hag's scheme, the other heroes (and their new xorn friend) arrived on the scene. Alewyth scowled in puzzlement at the sight of the crippled green hag - surely Thurloe and Zander hadn't done that to her? "What's going on here?" the dwarf demanded.

Zander had his dagger out, having retrieved it from the bugbear's throat. "This witch is trying to trick us," he said almost nonchalantly, before advancing upon Grindelzia with his dagger in hand.

"Wait!" demanded Grindelzia. "Let me say one last thing in my defense!" When the heroes hesitated, the green hag smirked and called out, "Aktivatikus! Destroy every living thing with feet in the mine complex!"

"What's that?" Alewyth cried out, hearing the heavy tread of footsteps echoing from behind her. Then, sudden realization dawning upon her, she ran back to the intersection where the side tunnel hit the main entrance and sure enough, the statue of Aerik had come to a modicum of life, clomping down the tunnel to slay all within - all but Grindelzia, that is, who had no feet and could easily prove it. "That's just not right!" the priestess swore, as Xandro fired a crossbow bolt at the animated statue of Alewyth's god.

"Give me safe passage out of here and I'll shut it down," the green hag promised. Wakuren activated his ring of invisibility and started a slow and careful approach towards the green hag. Thurloe advanced upon the green hag with sword held high, but a swipe at his ankles with her jagged claws kept him at bay. "Ah-ah-ah, naughty boy!" Grindelzia chided. Then, not wanting to wait for these clowns to realize their best interests led to keeping her alive, she started crawling in the direction of the natural chasm and the pool of water that would likely become her only salvation in this situation.

"I can't keep it back!" Xandro called to the others as the animated statue reached the ashes of the yellow musk creeper. The bard backed away as the Aerik statue stomped into view.

"Make it stop," Thurloe told the green hag. "We'll agree to your truce."

"I don't think so," Alewyth interrupted, casting a sanctuary spell upon herself. The spell, she realized, had one chance to work upon anyone wanting to attack her - it could work fine on one person but be completely ineffective against the next. But if it held against any one individual wanting to cause her harm, that person would be unable to attack her from that point on until the spell's full duration ran out. Of course, if she herself attacked anyone while the spell was still in effect the magic drained away at once, but Alewyth wasn't planning on attacking anyone.

Instead, she stepped directly into the path of the animated statue of Aerik, God of Earth and Protection, her patron deity. In her heart, she was certain her god would not let a dutiful priestess in His service die in such a manner. And in that she was correct, for the statue was apparently unwilling to strike at her as it had been commanded to do, and with Alewyth standing in the middle of the tunnel it was unable to get by her to get to the others it could clearly see behind her. Unable to follow its instructions, it remained motionless before the priestess wearing the same holy symbol around her neck as the statue had carved into his stone armor.

"Uh oh," Grindelzia said, knowing what this event presaged. And she was right, for Thurloe's bastard sword came crashing down, slaying her instantly.

"The armor's out there, outside of the mine," Xandro told the xorn. "You'll need to get past the statue thing, though." Without another word, the xorn slipped into the rock at its feet (and the stone floor sealed up seamlessly above it, the bard noticed with puzzlement), and the xorn earth glided its way beneath the Aerik statue, not rising until it had found it way outside, where it happily began dismantling Gryff's charred chain shirt armor one bite at a time.

Alewyth, knowing the limited duration of her sanctuary spell, volunteered to lead the animated statue on a merry goose chase if the others wanted to give the rest of the mine a quick check-out to ensure there were no other needlefolk about. She ran back towards the natural chasm, secure in the knowledge that as the person currently closest to it, it would naturally come after her first. She slid down the side of the chasm, hearing the statue clomping behind her as she ran down the length of the chasm. She scrambled back up the rise, knowing her weight was nothing compared to that of the statue, which she hoped meant it would have a slightly more difficult time in climbing back up out of the chasm, as the sloping rock face broke away beneath its greater weight. Sure enough, events played out as she'd envisioned and she met back up with the rest of the group some scant minutes later.

"Let's go!" Xandro enthused, eager to be back out in the sunshine.

"Find anything else?" Alewyth wanted to know.

"The hag had some stuff," Wakuren answered as they exited the mine.

"What's going to happen to the statue?" Xandro wanted to know.

"Eventually, it'll get out of the chasm, discover there's nothing inside the mine with feet, and it'll resume its post outside the mine," Alewyth answered, hoping she was right. She hated the idea that she'd been responsible for trapping an animated statue of her deity inside the chasm. Even if the mine was no longer in use, a statue of Aerik deserved to be stationed outside the area it was protecting.

"Now where?" Zander asked as they returned to the horses, mules, and wagon. He was hoping the next town over would have a place he could buy another pair of boots, or failing that, at least some sandals.

But even Thurloe's currently diminished intellectual capabilities weren't enough to allow him to forget something as important as money. "No!" he called out. "We have to go back to Moon Creek - they still haven't paid us for taking care of their needlefolk problem! That money's all ours now!

- - -

Ah, it was good to be back to our gaming sessions! Now that school's out and we've all been vaccinated, we're going to try for a weekly schedule as the default, skipping weeks as needed as events come up. (Case in point: while we're planning on gaming next Saturday, on the one after that Dan and Vicki will have relatives visiting so we'll skip that weekend. And Logan's "Raiders of the Overreach" sessions will start back up this Wednesday, but then skipping the week after that because I'll be out of town on a trip for work.)

Much like I did in the "Kordovian Adventurers Guild" campaign, I decided I wanted each PC to have a sort of "signature magic item" fairly early in this campaign. Thurloe's +1 bastard sword and Wakuren's +1 heavy steel shield are the first two such items, with others to follow in the next couple of adventures. And all five of these items will increase in powers and abilities over the course of the campaign.

This was a fun adventure to run to get us back into the swing of things after a five-month break. I was somewhat surprised that the yellow musk creeper and zombies gave the PCs as much of a problem as they did, and then that the bugbear and green hag combo went down without much effort at all. But we all had a good time with the adventure, even if Thurloe ended up with a 5 Intelligence and Zander had a 10 Intelligence and a 7 Strength after running up against not only the creeper but the green hag as well. Still, despite not having access to restoration spells, the way this campaign is set up we can easily fast-forward a sufficient number of days having passed before the next adventure for everyone to be restored to their normal ability scores.

Incidentally, the stripes on the foreheads of the bugbear and green hag were made up of an alchemical paste that granted them the equivalent of a hide from undead spell effect that worked against plants instead of undead. Thus, with their paste in place, they could pass right by their yellow musk guardians without triggering any attacks. The PCs gathered up a jug of the stuff; we'll see if it comes into play at all in the future. They also gathered up the hag's notebooks, where she'd been working on a regenerative formula she hoped would grow back her legs, which had been bitten off by the bulette that wiped out her covey, leaving her as the only survivor. Some of the ingredients were needlefolk plant matter and the remains of a human slain and subsequently transformed into a yellow musk zombie, that had subsequently collapsed into deliquescence. I doubt that's going to be of much use the PCs, but if they ever need a yellow musk creeper there's one growing, unnoticed, out of the corpse of the horse the PCs slew....

- - -

T-shirt worn: Lacking anything more appropriate, I went with my "Chaotic evil means never having to say you're sorry" T-shirt - it meshed well with the bugbear and green hag that were the main opponents in this adventure.



PC Roster:
Alewyth Putterpye, dwarf priestess of Aerik 2​
Thurloe Pulver, human fighter 2​
Wakuren, half-orc cleric of Cal 1/paladin 1​
Xandro Silverstrings, human bard 2​
Zander Quilson, elf sorcerer 2​

Game Session Date: 12 June 2021

- - -

Life as an adventurer was beginning to show it wasn't all daring exploits and violent combat - there were, on occasion, weeks-long stretches where nothing much seemed to happen. This was especially true when you were a dreamwalker dealing with a dream plague that was spread across a continent and you traveled only at the speed of your mule-driven wagon. It had been over a week since the group of dreamwalkers had dealt with the plant monsters - the needlefolk, yellow musk creeper, and the shambling monstrosities it had made of those who had first tried to slay it - in the abandoned silver mine outside of Moon Creek. In the days since, it had been a steady trek along various northbound roads, the westernmost peaks of the Shieldwall Mountains always within view as they camped each night in a different inn or tavern, just to head out again the next morning.

Part of the problem, as the Queen of Dreams explained during one of their nighttime training sessions, was that while the adventurers could access any dream they wanted while in the dreamlands, experience had shown they weren't going to be able to awake the dreamer from his slumber unless they were there at hand, using the dreamstones they'd gathered and had had shaped into focus items by the dwarven gemcutter Kerndell Lapidarius while back in Port Duralia. Otherwise, the heroes' task would be greatly eased, for they could simply flit from dream to dream and deal with each in turn. Stuck having to go to each dreamer on the Material Plane meant the task took that much longer. All the Queen of Dreams could to was to track each dreamer back to his or her point of location on the Material Plane, and while she had no way of determining who exactly was having that particular dream she could at least steer her team to the location of the next-nearest dreamer. Fortunately, the continent of Armaturia was more heavily populated along the edges, near the Shieldwall Mountains that ringed most of the land mass; much of the continent's interior was unpopulated. That meant the team could make a clockwise circuit around the continent, rescuing those people trapped in their dreams in a somewhat orderly fashion.

At the moment it was nearing midnight on the group's eighth day of travel since the silver mines and each was fast asleep in a separate room in an inn nestled just inside the border of the small town of Bastlethorpe. But though their physical bodies were resting, their minds were fully active, currently housed in dream-bodies made of the same stuff forming all dreams, and they were receiving their nightly lesson from Mogo, the moogle who was their primary dreamwalking instructor.

"Okay, listen up, kupo!” said Mogo to the five heroes assembled together in the Dreamlands, each in a body looking identical to their real bodies back on the Material Plane. "Tonight we're going to learn to do something one of you has already done once by accident, kupo!" He took the group through a door and ended up in a long hallway filled with closed doors butted one right next to each other. Indeed, Alewyth instantly recognized this as the area she was lost in when her moogle guide Calliope first found her and introduced her to the Queen of Dreams.

"Remember when the Queen flew us to the field of floating dream bubbles on her Butterfly Throne, kupo?" Mogo asked his students. "Well, that's only one way to visualize the dreamfields and this is another way, kupo. Behind each of these doors is an individual dream, kupo!"

At Mogo's urging, each hero opened a nearby door and saw a different dreamscape beyond the doorway. "Finding how to get to the hallways is the easy part, kupo!" warned Mogo. "Tonight we're going to learn how to navigate through the hallways to find individual dreams, kupo!"

And that's what the group did for the next hour or so: trudged endlessly up and down various hallways, learning how to find specific dreams based on a number of things: the general type of dream, or the origin of the dreamer (Thurloe was surprised to learn there were entire hallways of doors dedicated to dreams from people on entirely different planes of existence), the emotions behind the dream, or even some of the primary aspects of the dream. The hallways were sometimes - but not always - marked; Alewyth furrowed her brow as they took a shortcut through the Hallway of Dreams About Penguins to get to the Hallway of Dreams Where You Forgot To Study For Your Exam. The locations of the hallways compared to each other didn't seem to make a lot of sense but Mogo explained the hallways could be reordered however you liked with a strong enough will behind it. He demonstrated by having the Hallway of Sexy Dreams fall away and be replaced by the Hallway of Dreams of Dancing Animals. Xandro caught himself looking wistfully for where the old hallway might have had gotten off to, then started blushing fiercely.

And then, just that quickly - he vanished.

"Hey, kupo!" Mogo complained. "We're not done with the night's training, kupo!"

Alewyth opened her mouth to offer a word of defense for the young bard but then vanished before getting even a single word out.

"Oh, I see what's happening, kupo!" Mogo sighed. "Something's waking you up in the Mortal World, kupo! Oh well, I guess that's all for--"

Thurloe didn't get to hear the rest of the moogle's sentence, for he found himself back in his small room in the inn, being awakened by a frantic knocking on the door. He threw off his bedsheets and unlocked the door, after ensuring his bastard sword was well within reach should he need it. "What's the bother?" he grumbled at the panicked-looking man standing in the doorway before him.

"You're the adventurers, right – the ones with the clerics?" the man asked frantically. "You gotta head on over to the graveyard – there's a sinister-looking fellow down there, breaking into the Scarsdale Mausoleum, and he's got some kind of bone-dog with him! I dunno what all he's up to, but it can't be good – don't nobody goes into the Scarsdale Mausoleum in the dead of night without a member of the family present, and this guy's no family member I ever seen before!"

Thurloe buckled on his armor as the man woke the rest of the team. It turned out the man, Jurgas Gremblin, earned a little extra money on the side tending to the grounds of the graveyard. He had heard there were adventurers in town and figured the clerics would want to know about someone trying to disturb the dead. The graveyard was merely a few blocks away from the inn, so the group didn't bother with their mounts or wagon, merely gathered up their gear and let Jurgas lead them to the graveyard. On the way there, he explained the Scarsdales were an old family that had been founders of the town; most of their dead were buried in their own mausoleum at the graveyard, and that there were no longer any Scarsdales living in Bastlethorpe; Jurgas thought there might be some distant cousins living in Baron's Haven who came and paid their respects when they were in the area, but that was about it. Once the graveyard was within sight Thurloe thanked the groundskeeper for alerting them to the situation and warned him he'd best hang back, out of trouble. Jurgas was only far too willing to agree.

The moon was hidden behind a thick bank of clouds, leaving most of the graveyard in darkness. Of course, this meant nothing to Wakuren or Alewyth, whose racial heritages allowed them to see perfectly fine even in the darkest of environments, but Zander pulled his everburning torch out of his pack and gave it to Xandro, knowing the human bard's vision wasn't anywhere near as capable of seeing in areas of poor lighting as the elf's own low-light vision. Plus, the elven sorcerer wore a scout's headband; he could activate its powers and grant himself full darkvision for an hour if he wanted to.

"Anybody see anything?" Xandro asked as he tucked the everburning torch behind the strap holding his crossbow in place across his back; the flames were pressed flush against his shoulder but couldn't possibly burn him, being merely illusory in nature.

"I see the bone-dog," Alewyth replied, squinting ahead into the darkness. "He's standing at the foot of the steps leading down into the large building at the back of the graveyard, what must be the Scarsdale Mausoleum."

"Is he doing anything?' the bard pressed.

"Nope, just standing there. Moving his head back and forth - keeping guard, would be my guess."

The team moved forward as one, taking it slow and cautious in case there were any other potential foes about. Once he could see the "bone-dog" - a skeletal wolf with the odd scrap of muscle or skin hanging off its otherwise stripped-clean carcass - he pulled the crossbow from his back (shifting the everburning torch to the strap holding his lute on his back in the process), and sent a bolt flying at the undead guardian. It hit the skeletal wolf in the base of its cranium but bounced off, seemingly without causing the undead guardian any concern. But the wolf had already seen the approach of the five, for the gaze of twin red lights in its otherwise empty eye sockets were already focused in their direction.

Alewyth continued advancing along with the others, her warhammer gripped in both hands and ready to bring to bear as needed, but she let the prayers of a bless spell spill from her lips as she stepped forward. "Aerik the Ever-Watchful, guide us and watch over us as we willingly enter ourselves into unknown dangers," she intoned.

As if triggered by the priestess's spell, the skeletal wolf sprinted forward, jaws snapping at Alewyth. But the dwarven cleric easily dodged the incoming attack, pivoting off to the side so the lupine teeth clamped onto nothing but air.

Zander Quilson hung back from the others as combat commenced, taking a moment to cast a mage armor spell upon himself as he had no illusions about his own capabilities as a front-line combatant. At his side, Thurloe Pulver dashed forward, his bastard sword swinging in a graceful arc as he ran, ending in a powerful stroke that chipped bone as it hit. The wolf involuntarily slid back from the blow, even as Wakuren ran up from the beast's other side and tried sending his new shield slamming into the undead thing's side. But the undead wolf skeleton ducked low beneath the half-orc's strike, the shield's bottom edge making a scraping noise across the wolf's spinal column in passing.

Another twang from the side indicated Xandro's next crossbow attack, but this bolt got caught up between the wolf's exposed ribs to little effect. Alewyth sent her warhammer crashing down towards the wolf's head, hoping to crush its skull, but it was a nimble little thing despite being dead and all. It snapped at the priestess again but Alewyth showed the undead thing it wasn't the only one capable of dodging from incoming attacks.

Another bolt came streaking in from behind the combatants, this last one a magic missile hurled by Zander Quilson, opting to remain far away from the snapping jaws of the undead wolf. But he needn't have worried, for Thurloe made quick work of the thing with another swing from his new magic bastard sword, Spellslicer. Alewyth and Wakuren glanced around in all directions, making sure there were no other undead abominations about, the dwarven priestess even making a circuit around the Scarsdale Mausoleum to ensure they were still alone; such seemed to be the case. Wakuren cast a virtue spell upon Zander, as was becoming his habit when anticipating further combat. Then, activating the power of his ring, the half-orc disappeared from view and stepped invisibly down the steps to the below-ground doors to the mausoleum.

The twin doors were made of thick wood bound in heavy iron and Wakuren found them to be locked. Zander stepped forward to investigate, wondering if there might not be a secret way into the building. Alewyth made another circuit around the building, this time examining the marble walls of the structure itself, seeking a hidden way within. When her excursions brought her back to the building's front, she shook her head. "Looks like just the one way in or out," she told the others.

"There's a keyhole here," observed the still-invisible Wakuren. "Anybody have any skills in picking locks?" Everybody looked around to their neighbors, but lockpicking was a skill none of them possessed. "Knock spell?" Wakuren asked Xandro and Zander, the only two who might be able to cast the arcane spell. They shook their heads in negation. "Chime of opening?" Wakuren added, having heard of such magical devices. Again, nobody had anything of the sort.

"Well, this is ridiculous!" snorted the half-orc, pounding a gauntleted fist on the doors three times in rapid succession. Then he bent his head forward, an ear to the thick wood. He smiled an unseen smile as he heard the sound of metal on stone - possibly a crowbar dropped in surprise or something similar - and a muffled voice on the other side of the door asking something that sounded very much like "Um, you want me to get that?" Wakuren warned the group there was more than one person inside, then called for Alewyth to smash down the doors with her warhammer, stepping to the side as he did so to give the dwarf room.

Alewyth gave it her everything and the warhammer crashed into the door, sending it rattling in place but holding firm. Still, she reasoned enough blows would eventually allow her to gain entry and she set herself to the task, realizing whoever was in there was now well aware of their attempts to break their way in and the longer it took for her to smash in the doors, the longer they'd have to make their preparations. Indeed, Gnoxos the Ossophile took the opportunity to cast a wide variety of spells in the time it took for Alewyth to finally burst her way into the mausoleum.

Inside, the heroes could see the mausoleum was a single, large chamber the size of the entire building above, with a 20-foot ceiling. Double doors stood along the middle of both the east and west walls. Each of the four walls in the chamber held memorial plaques with the names of the Scarsdale family members entombed behind that wall. Directly ahead, a stone sarcophagus stood on a raised platform at the back of the room, behind it standing a 12-foot-tall statue of a rearing griffon. The entire place was lit by torches in sconces along the walls.

But the five heroes were not alone in the mausoleum. Standing along the west wall was a man in black robes, Gnoxos, bending over a row of skeletons laid out on the floor beside their coffins, recently pried free of their burial niches. A large, sealed urn stood on the ground beside the man. Two other men looked up at the newcomers over the coffin they'd just now pulled from another niche in the eastern wall. At their feet were the crowbars they'd used to pry open the sealed hole in the wall where the coffin had been entombed.

Worried about possible invisible enemies in the mausoleum with them, Zander activated his magic goggles and allowed his vision to gain true seeing. He gave the place a quick scan but the only invisible entity that showed up was Wakuren.

Thurloe raced into the mausoleum, charging directly at the nearest figure: one of the workmen lugging the latest unearthed coffin to the floor. His bastard sword cut the man down before he even fully registered the fighter's presence. And Thurloe had no qualms against slaying the worker in cold blood, as in his mind anyone willingly desecrating a place of rest of those who had passed on from this mortal coil deserved a quick push off said mortal coil themselves.

Invisible, Wakuren slowly stepped into the room, looking all about him intently. His ability to detect evil came in handy, as not only the auras of the black-clad spellcaster, the sole remaining worker, and the six human skeletons even now rising up from beside the spellcaster reeked of evil - as fully expected - but strangely, the head of the griffon statue itself. Squinting as he focused his darkvision, the half-orc cleric realized the evil emanations weren't coming from the carved griffon's head (one eye of which, he noted, was the center of three parallel grooves as if the claw-marks from a distant combat) but the skeletal bat perched upon it. That in itself was telling, implying the spellcaster was more likely a wizard or a sorcerer than a cleric and the skeletal bat his familiar. Wakuren informed the closest members of his group of his findings, then became fully visible as he channeled positive energy through his holy symbol of Cal.

The effects of this latter action were instantaneous; as one, the animated skeletons turned and fled away from the outthrust amulet holding the icon of the All-Father. They bunched along the western wall, getting as close to the far corner as they could.

Alewyth's dwarven vision gave her a good look at the necromancer at the far side of the mausoleum and she didn't like at all what she saw, for the man's skin was an unhealthy pale. "We might be up against a vampire!" she warned her companions, causing Gnoxos the Ossophile to smirk quietly to himself. He knew perfectly his complexion was due to keeping nocturnal hours and not any undead status, but if these interlopers were going to ascribe vampiric powers to him, he for one was not going to disabuse them of their foolish notions. After all, he'd much rather they try coming after him with cloves of garlic or hand mirrors than, say, that fighter's impressive-looking bastard sword that had already slain one of the men he'd hired on to do the heavy lifting in this midnight venture of his.

Xandro got a good feel of the group's overall discomfort at the thought of coming up against a vampire this early in their adventuring careers and switched from his light crossbow to his trusty lute, singing loudly his song of brave inspiration. He was pleased at the acoustics in the large, open chamber, backing himself into the open doorway as he sang, keeping away from the potential melee combatants.

Gnoxos spoke some arcane syllables and made a summoning gesture with his hands. Almost immediately, the sound of the flapping of numerous leathery wings came from behind the heroes. Then, with a series of high-pitched shrieks, a swarm of bats erupted through the smashed-open doors of the mausoleum and flapped around Alewyth, Xandro, and Zander, needle-sharp fangs piercing exposed flesh as the creatures dashed in and flitted about all around them. "Vampire!" Alewyth cursed, swatting at the bats and now suddenly sure of her initial declaration. She mentally tried recalling the various ways vampires could be permanently slain; exposure to sunlight was one of them, she knew, but she realized that option wouldn't become available to them for another four or five hours or so. Unseen by the priestess, the skeletal bat on the griffon statue took flight as well, but not to join its living brethren - rather, it landed upon the left shoulder of its master, Gnoxos.

Alewyth ran forward out of the swarm of flitting bats, casting a protection from evil spell as she did so - it certainly couldn't hurt when facing a vampire! Zander stumbled forward as well, temporarily escaping the bats long enough to cast a magic missile at Gnoxos; vampire or not, he knew the spell would affect him regardless. The necromancer winced in pain as the arcane missile hit home.

Thurloe ran across the open room, swinging his bastard sword at the last skeleton cowering in line; as he understood it, they were fair game so long as Wakuren, the cleric who had turned them, didn't attack the skeletons. It practically exploded beneath his blow, the various bones making up its animated body falling away from each other to clatter along the floor. Wakuren reactivated the power of his ring and faded from view, stepping forward so Gnoxos wouldn't know his exact location. If Alewyth was correct and this was a vampire, they'd need every advantage they could get in this fight!

It took extreme effort on his part, but Xandro resisted the urge to swat at the bats flitting all around him, dipping down below the majority of them and stepping to the side without breaking the flow of his magical song. He looked over at Gnoxos as he did so, wanting to keep what he assumed was their primary enemy well within view. The necromancer cast some sort of spell upon the skeletal bat on his shoulder, then stepped forward and stood beside the sealed urn on the floor before him. Following his master's whispered orders the undead bat familiar, Vespertilio, flew directly at Thurloe. swooping down at his head and triggering the vampiric touch spell Gnoxos had imbued upon him mere moments earlier. Life energy leeched out of the fighter, flowing through the undead bat's skeletal body and channeling directly into the black-clad necromancer. Zander, however, broke ranks and dashed back up the stairs to the surface, fleeing the numerous bats and their wicked fangs. He fished a healing potion from his pocket as he ran, unstoppering it once he got back out into the open air and he verified none of the bats had followed him back outside. The, swigging back the potion's contents, he sighed as the dozen or so wounds all over his exposed flesh healed up.

The swarm of bats flapped around in the same general area for a bit before heading over to Alewyth, the physically closest target. By now she had blood dripping down from a dozen tiny wounds, mostly on her face, neck, and hands. Once again racing from her leathery-winged tormentors, the dwarven priestess cast a doom spell upon Gnoxos, certain that such a spell would be just as effective against a vampire as it would be had the necromancer still been counted among the living.

Thurloe, angered at the life-draining spell triggered on him by the skeletal familiar, raced up to the necromancer (who was bent over the urn now, unscrewing its top for some reason) and attacked him with his bastard sword. Gnoxos looked up in time and managed to avoid the worst of the blow, but still his left sleeve was nearly sliced off his robe and his left arm now trailed a line of blood. Alewyth looked at the spellcaster's bleeding arm in puzzlement; was it possible he wasn't a vampire after all?

Wakuren decided he was going to take the necromancer's familiar out of the picture and swatted at the thing as it flew overhead. As his fingers brushed the bat's bones, he channeled power through the other ring he wore - a ring of mystic healing - and flooded the beast even with more positive energy than the cure light wounds spell he used as the basis of his attack. But surprisingly, even this surge of positive energy wasn't enough to slay the familiar - both it and its master were much more powerful than the half-orc had anticipated! Seeing the bat survive Wakuren's attack - for the cleric popped back into visibility as he channeled energy into his foe - Xandro stopped playing his lute, pulled the rapier from the hilt at his hip, and slashed at the skeletal bat. It dodged the bard's blade, aided no doubt by its erratic aerial weaving immediately after the half-orc's attack.

In the meantime, the other hired hand, seeing himself being temporarily ignored, took the opportunity to slink along the eastern wall and over to the open doorway, where he hoped to escape into the night. It was one thing to break into the Scarsdale Mausoleum for a bag of coins but he wasn't willing to give his life for what was to have been a quick night's work and some easy money. Unfortunately for him, right as he got to the doorway leading up to the graveyard above he was noticed by the bats summoned by Gnoxos's summon monster spell. He screamed as the bats covered his body, nipping at him with their sharp fangs. The worker collapsed to the floor and the bats dropped down upon him, feasting for all they were worth.

Thurloe pulled his bastard sword up over his shoulder for another downward slice, but before he could complete the attack the necromancer pulled the lid off the urn and stepped back - and the fighter was momentarily shocked into temporary immobility at what crawled out of the container. It was human in both form and coloration, but it slithered out of the top of the urn with the sinuosity of a serpent. The thing was bald, with human facial features - two holes where the eyes would be, a gash of a mouth, a nose, two ears - but it was ridiculously thin, more like a human costume somehow brought to life. As the boneless creature slithered all of the way out of the urn, it flopped onto the stone mausoleum floor with a wet plop, then pulled itself forward with rubbery arms ending in wayward fingers sticking out in random directions. There was a slit down the creature's front, from neck to crotch; not only its bones were missing but all of its internal organs. It pulled itself forward, a baleful moan emanating somewhere from the creature's hollow interior.

While Thurloe stood aghast at the sight of the horrific creature before him, Vespertilio tried flying back to its master. One skeletal wing entered Thurloe's field of vision and it snapped him out of his trance; with a crash of metal on bone, he brought his sword down upon Gnoxos's undead familiar, nearly shearing off an entire bony wing. Wakuren finished it off with a bash of his shield, individual bones scattering across the floor as its corporeal body shattered. Outside, Zander gathered up his courage and sprinted back down the stairs, straight through the flock of bats, and re-entered the mausoleum.

Not having any idea what might affect the boneless undead thing, Alewyth tried the inherent ray of frost ability with which she'd been born but missed entirely. The boneless splortched forward, making a swipe at Thurloe. He stepped backwards - quite involuntarily - then steeled himself and swung at it, his blade slicing across the thing's chest and carving a horizontal gash along its front. The thing had no blood to bleed, but now its front gaped open even further as it crawled across the floor. Thurloe's face drained of color as he imagined the thing getting a hold of him and wrapping itself around him like an undead cloak, until he was wearing the boneless monstrosity. The very thought made him cry out in anguish.

Wakuren likewise wasn't sure of what to make of this unusual and unknown undead, but he figured positive energy was the way to strike it down, so strike it down he did: channeling another bit of enhanced positive energy through his ring of mystic energy, he cast a cure light wounds spell through that hand and touched the flopping skin before him. Its undead flesh burned at his touch, falling to the floor and lying there motionlessly as flakes of its burning skin dissolved away, leaving little more than a puddle where it fell.

Gnoxos screamed at the thing's death, all of his plans here having been dashed upon its destruction. After all, Gnoxos had specifically brought the boneless - formerly a form of undead called a necropolitan - to this mausoleum with the specific intention of fitting it upon one of the animated skeletons of the entombed Scarsdales to grant it greater mobility. Gnoxos longed to join the necropolitans in their undying forms and had hoped by gaining the boneless's favor he'd be well on his way to immortality.

Now all of those hopes were dissolving on the floor before him.

Xandro stabbed out with his rapier at the black-clad necromancer standing dazed before him. He hit solid flesh, causing a rent in the necromancer's robes and another bleeding gash in his torso. Gnoxos barely felt the pain in his mortal form; instead, he glared at Wakuren and promised, "You'll pay for what you've done this night, half-breed mongrel!" Then the words of a dimension door spell spilled from his snarling lips and he was gone (but not before Xandro gave him another poke with the tip of his rapier for good measure). The others looked around to see where he might have gone to, but saw nothing. Zander looked around with his true seeing goggles and announced the wizard was not anywhere within the confines of this chamber.

Outside in the graveyard, Gnoxos stormed off into the night, vowing revenge on the half-orc cleric who had not only slain his familiar but the boneless necropolitan as well.

The bat swarm dissipated soon thereafter, each individual bat making its own way back up the entry stairs and out into the night. They left behind the body of the second worker, his lifeless form bleeding from dozens of wounds. That left nothing in the mausoleum chamber to fight but the five remaining cowering skeletons and Alewyth took care of them with a single blast of positive energy from her holy symbol of Aerik. The skeletons exploded into bone dust.

Wakuren and Alewyth took the time to cast healing spells upon those who needed them as Thurloe bent over one of the coffins and pulled out a ring. "What have you got there?" Alewyth asked suspiciously, hoping she wasn't going to have to talk her fighter friend out of looting the coffins of those who had been put to rest.

"Signet ring," Thurloe answered, putting it on his finger. The fact that it didn't automatically resize indicated it wasn't magical in nature. It did have the Scarsdale crest upon it, though: the head of a griffon, upon which three parallel scratches could be seen across one eye.

"I hope you aren't planning on keeping that," the dwarf cautioned.

"Not forever," Thurloe replied. "But this is where the Scarsdales are buried, right? So if there are any traps laid out to guard against tomb raiders and the like, it stands to reason they might be magically warded not to activate by someone identifiable as a Scarsdale - like, say, someone wearing the family signet ring." Even Alewyth had to admit the fighter's logic was impeccably sound, so she said not a word as the others rummaged through the rest of the exposed coffins, finding enough rings for each of the heroes to wear one. Alewyth slipped a ring over her own finger, reminding everyone that these were just being borrowed and would be returned upon their exit. "Works for me," Thurloe replied.

With two sets of double doors to explore and the necromancer possibly behind either set, the group randomly selected the pair to the west. Like the main doors to the mausoleum, they were locked. "We're going to have to restore these doors, too," Alewyth sighed as she got a grip on her warhammer and prepared to bash her way through.

"I know the mending spell," Zander reassured her.

Once Alewyth's hammer-blows had shattered the doors, the group saw the room on the other side - and it was not at all what they had expected. The necromancer was not there, for one thing, but neither were there coffins or tombs on display in the small room just beyond. Instead, there was merely an open toybox filled with various dolls and stuffed animals, with a dark-haired human girl sitting on the floor before it, a mangy-looking stuffed bear cub grasped in one hand. The bear only had one button eye; the other was missing.

"Do you want to play with me?" Eva Scarsdale asked, tilting her head to one side and putting her hands behind her back - but not before Alewyth's dwarven eyesight picked up the dried bloodstains from fingertips to elbows.

The torchlight didn't reach all the way into the room but Xandro had seen and heard enough to be wary; he held his rapier out towards Eva in case she came too close. Thurloe did likewise with his bastard sword - no sense in talking any chances in this place of the living dead.

But Eva didn't seem to notice the heroes' distrust. Her eyes gleaming mischievously, she said, "I know lots of good games!" as she rose to her feet and advanced towards the group. At the last second she darted forward in a burst of incredible speed, getting past Thurloe's defenses and calling out "Tag!" as she touched him on the leg with a bloodstained hand.

Thurloe said nothing in response but it wasn't from lack of trying. Of the group, only Zander saw the spooky mist spilling out of Thurloe's mouth and cascading down to Eva, who slurped it up between her dainty teeth. Not sure what was happening but convinced it couldn't possibly be good, the elf sorcerer cast a magic missile at the little girl and the slaymate hissed in anger at the attack. Wakuren used the final daily charge from his ring of mystic energy to channel an extra-strong cure light wounds spell on Eva, pushing her away from Thurloe while calling out, "She's evil!" to the others after having read her aura. Alewyth ignored the fact that this particular undead thing took the form of a little human girl and swung her warhammer at Eva with all of her strength. Eva's dainty little upturned nose shattered in her face as she staggered backwards from the power of the dwarf's blow. "Let's leave her alone and get out of here!" called out Thurloe's voice - but little Eva wasn't fooling anyone, for the fighter's stolen voice had come from her own mouth. Xandro stepped forward and finished off the slaymate, the undead body of an eight-year-old girl whose family used her toys to lure her here to the mausoleum so she'd stop haunting them. Upon her destruction, Thurloe's stolen voice went floating from Eva's mouth and back into his own.

"Ugh," he said, clearing his throat. "Let's get out of here, for real!"

"Not all the way out of the mausoleum, surely?" asked Zander. "That necromancer guy could still be behind the other set of doors." He stepped inside Eva's playroom and did a quick circuit of the room, until he was convinced there were no secret passageways out of the chamber.

Alewyth was prepared to bash through the pair of doors to the east but upon checking them Thurloe found they were unlocked. Opening them, he saw a mirror image of Eva's room, only this room had a set of leather-bound books on a long table across the back wall and niches in the walls to the north and south. These niches all held smaller urns, much too small to house a boneless undead but the perfect size to hold the ashes of someone who had been cremated. Wakuren examined the name plates beneath each urn and suggested these were likely the remains of the servants who had worked for the Scarsdale family over the years.

Thurloe looked up from the book he'd been examining - it was a history of the Scarsdale family - and grunted. "Nice. The Scarsdales get buried in fancy coffins and the servants get burned to ashes. That's typical."

Alewyth was examining another of the tomes at the fighter's side when she suddenly felt a bite upon her leg. She and Wakuren gave identical cries of pain as the two tomb motes bit them on the ankles. Wakuren instinctively set the bottom edge of his shield crashing down upon the head of the creature biting him, squashing it almost flat. But as the half-orc stepped back, the tomb mote crawled up from its hiding place under the table and the cleric could see its vaguely humanoid body was made up of dust, ashes, and dirt - and a squashed-in head made little difference to a creature not truly alive.

Xandro's blade went stabbing into the tomb mote's chest with little effect, while Zander Quilson sent a magic missile spell flying into the one that had bitten Alewyth. Thurloe proved the creatures could be killed with a single swipe of his bastard sword, causing the body of the mote fighting Wakuren to explode into its component parts. Alewyth swung her warhammer down upon the remaining mote but it dodged around the weapon and darted forward again to bite the dwarf a second time. Out of magic missile spells and not wanting to resort to acid splashes, Zander threw his masterwork dagger at the remaining mote, hitting it where one of its eyes would be if it had any. But that was enough to cause the tomb mote to discorporate, falling into a heap of detritus. Zander retrieved his dagger, sheathed it, and gave this small room the once-over as well, for it too looked like it had no other exits.

But unlike Eva's playroom, this one did have another way out: a section of urns to the south could be pulled forward and then moved aside to reveal a narrow passageway leading down several steps to a lower elevation.

Wanting more than an everburning torch to light their way, Thurloe activated a sunrod and tossed it down the narrow steps, illuminating the room below. He started down the steps and was immediately surprised at the blast of cold emanating from below; he warned the others and took the time to put on the fur-lined cloak from his cold weather gear before continuing. Even thus protected, Thurloe could tell the temperature decreased with each step downward.

"Let me see," Alewyth commanded, calling the human back up the steps so she could check it out for herself. Sure enough, she immediately saw and recognized the culprit: "It's brown mold," she told the others. Having grown up in a subterranean city of dwarves, the priestess was well acquainted with brown mold, a fungus which often grew in large patches in hidden corners of the Underdark. There was a large patch of the stuff on the floor, immediately before three closed chests ringed with frost from the mold's heat-draining abilities. On the wall above the chests hung a longsword, a battleaxe, an exquisite-looking warhammer, and a heavy steel shield bearing the Scarsdale family crest.

"How do we get rid of it?" Xandro asked.

"Cold'll kill it," Alewyth replied, "but I don't think we have anything that'll freeze it, do we?" She'd already cast her daily ray of frost and she doubted a spell of that low power would have been strong enough to slay the mold. The rest of the group acknowledged their lack of cold-based attacks. "Then we'll just have to scrape it away," she decided.

"I can do that," Xandro offered, using his own dagger and a mage hand spell to scrape the offending mold away to the far corner of the treasury. Once it was safe to do so, Alewyth stepped forward and pulled the warhammer from its support hooks on the wall, marveling at its fine craftsmanship. It felt perfectly balanced. She peered at the writing in the middle of the hammer's weapon-head - in Dwarven script, no less! - and read "Sjondra, the Sunderer." Alewyth stepped to the side to marvel at the weapon, allowing the others into the room to check out the rest of the treasury's contents.

Xandro used his mage hand spell to open each of the three chests, triggering a fire trap spell on the first and a poison needle on the second. Each of these chests held golden coins, likely numbering into the thousands. When the bard opened the third chest in the same manner, though, a moaning erupted into the room and a score or more of pasty-white, wriggling worms crawled out of the chest. Disturbingly, each maggot-thing had a human face.

Thurloe wasted no time bringing his bastard sword to bear upon these writhing larvae. But his blade had no sooner touched one of them than the whole bunch disappeared from view with an audible pop. "I'll be darned," the fighter commented to himself. "The whole thing was just an illusion." His new bastard sword, he knew, had the ability to slice through illusions upon a single touch.

"What's inside?" Zander wanted to know.

"More coins," Xandro replied, "and this." He pulled out a jade carving of an animal - a dog, it looked like, with pointed ears and a curving tail.

"It's a cooshee!" the elf exclaimed. "We used to have a pet cooshee when I was a kid!"

"So what do you say?" Thurloe asked Alewyth. "Are we keeping this stuff? We did kind of earn it." He hoped he'd be able to convince the stubborn priestess that when something good came your way, it was foolish to turn your back on it.

But he needn't have bothered. "We were meant to have this," Alewyth replied. "A cooshee statue for an elf who had a cooshee, and a warhammer of dwarven build for a dwarven priestess whose martial training was focused upon the warhammer? Aerik must have set things in motion for us to find these items."

"Including the money?" Thurloe pressed.

Alewyth gave it a moment's thought. "It was all found together - I suppose it only makes sense that we were meant to take it all." Thurloe's mouth gaped open at the dwarf's uncharacteristic reasonableness, but then he broke out into a broad grin. "Now you're thinking straight!" he approved.

- - -

I wrote this adventure after having realized I had two clerics in the party and they had yet to meet up with much in the way of undead, with the exception of a few skeletons and zombies in the sewers under Port Duralia. I decided I might as well throw in a few oddball undead to keep things interesting - and did I ever succeed on that front! Harry was unnerved by Eva the slaymate (I guess he's encountered plenty of creepy little girls in the anime shows he and Logan watch at night) and the whole group was freaked out by the boneless. They wanted that thing dead quick, before it could get it into its floppy head to make one of them wear it like a second skin. (As a mini, I simply cut a human-shaped blob out of paper and drew on a pair of eye-holes and a mouth, then bent it into shape so it was kind of supported by its arms. They hated it!)

And, quite unintentionally, I got a big plot hook out of how this adventure worked out, for Gnoxos the Ossophile ("Bone-Lover," heh) now has a two-fold reason to hate Wakuren. I'm not sure when or how, yet, but I'm almost positive he'll need to make another appearance at some point in this campaign.

Sjondra and the jade cooshee (the latter a figurine of wondrous power) were intended as Alewyth and Zander's signature items, and had Vicki not come to the conclusion she did I was going to have a friendly apparition of a Scarsdale elder appear before them and hand over the contents of the treasury in any case. Harry's only slightly miffed that he's now got the only PC without a signature item, but I told him there's a very good chance that his own item might be appearing as early as in the next adventure (as indeed it will be).

- - -

T-shirt worn: My "WWDD?" T-shirt with Daryl Dixon from "The Walking Dead" pointing his crossbow and ready to shoot - it's one of my go-to shirts for adventures which feature fighting the undead, since that's what Daryl does (living as he does in a zombie apocalypse).
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PC Roster:
Alewyth Putterpye, dwarf priestess of Aerik 2
Thurloe Pulver, human fighter 2
Wakuren, half-orc cleric of Cal 1/paladin 1
Xandro Silverstrings, human bard 2
Zander Quilson, elf sorcerer 2​

Game Session Date: 26 June 2021

- - -

The sun had set over an hour, perhaps even closer to two, before Alewyth pulled the mule-driven wagon into the village of Potter's Creek. Somewhere in this small village, she knew, they would find the next person who had been trapped in their dreams, unable to escape without help. But that would likely have to wait until morning, for this looked to be a small farming village and there probably wouldn't be a whole lot of people up and about to ask if there were anybody around the area needing the special kind of assistance only a dreamwalker could provide.

So the best course of action would be to head for the nearest inn or tavern, for in such a building would they not only find the most likely source of information about the location of any trapped dreamers, but also some overnight lodging. Alewyth's darkvision allowed her to see fine even in the dark of the cloudy night and she spotted a sign ahead above the door to a sturdy wooden building. "'Smokey Joe's Tavern,'" she read to the others. "Looks like we found our rooms for the night."

"If they still have any," grumbled Thurloe. He'd been all for making camp an hour back, even if it meant sleeping in the back of the wagon again; he didn't much like riding by moonlight, where the everburning torch Zander Quilson held for the benefit of the horses and mules made them a target for any bandits who might be lying in wait. But Alewyth had held firm, certain the directions given to them by the Queen of Dreams herself would get them to Potter's Creek and a decent bed for the night. The dwarven priestess didn't mind roughing it now and again, but she'd had far too many days sleeping in the back of the wagon and wanted the comforts an inn or tavern could provide. Plus, in an inn you didn't need to set a watch all night; you could lock your doors and sleep in relative safety and comfort.

"We'll find out soon enough," Alewyth replied cheerily, refusing to succumb to the fighter's grumpy mood. She steered the mules, Wakuren's Perseverance and her own Mica, to a halt before the building and leaped down from the driver's seat, Wakuren stepping down beside her.

"Stables across the road," pointed out Zander Quilson. "We can probably keep our wagon there overnight as well."

For now, Thurloe stayed with the horses while the others stepped inside and made their inquiries. Alewyth was pleased to learn there were three rooms still available, two doubles and a single. "Well take them," she said, calling dibs on the single room as was only fitting for the sole female member of their little troop. She passed over the payment from a small pouch of coins at her belt; the rest of their money was stored in a large chest out in the wagon, the main reason Thurloe had opted to stay behind and keep an eye on it. It was hidden beneath a woolen blanket, but it was much better to be safe than to be sorry in the fighter's estimation.

"I'll bunk with Wakuren," Zander decided, leaving Xandro stuck with the grumpy Thurloe for the evening. Xandro said nothing about the sleeping arrangements, for his focus was centered on the man playing the lute in the corner of the tavern. It seemed Xandro had been beaten out this evening, for he often picked up some spare coin providing entertainment in the inns and taverns where they stayed during their travels. But Xandro wasn't overly disappointed, for the bard - a human looking to have seen forty summers or more - was quite good. Right now he was playing a wordless melody while the few customers drank their ales at the bar or dined upon the evening's fares at one of the long tables.

"You come with me to see about the wagon and mounts," Wakuren said to Zander, nodding him back outside. The two of them and Thurloe made arrangements for the overnight care of their mounts and the owner of the stables agreed to let them keep their wagon off to the side of the stables. Once that had all been taken care of, Wakuren hoisted the chest up onto a burly shoulder and activated his ring of invisibility, both he and his heavy burden fading from view. "Let's go," he said to Zander. "You open the doors for me - I don't want anybody seeing this chest going inside to our room."

Once everyone had gotten settled into their rooms, they all agreed to meet in the common area and see about some dinner. There were three barmaids tending to the customers' needs and they brought out a thick venison stew and some hard rolls. While the others sat at one of the few tables for four, Thurloe went across the room and sat down at a long table and bench, next to a good-looking woman with flowing blond hair. He introduced himself and asked if she minded if he sat there; she waved him to the bench beside her, giving her name as Valoria Costernackle. She was just passing through town on her way to visit a cousin, several villages to the east. Thurloe had hoped she might have been a local, for he had wanted to ask her about any potential sleep victims in the area, but now that he was seated here beside her he decided it would be rude of him to leave. So he started plying her with his best stories of his exploits, hoping to impress her. She smiled at his tales but seemed rather distracted, her eyes darting away from the young fighter. With a frown, Thurloe realized she kept looking over at the bard in the corner.

Turning to see what all the fuss was about, he looked at the bard playing the lute. Okay, so he was a fairly good-looking sort, with a dashing mustache and a goatee that came to a point, and he had a nice singing voice - for he had now started upon a popular ballad about the far-reaching love between a princess and a commoner from the next kingdom over - but dang it, Thurloe was a fairly good-looking sort as well, even if his face was shaved smooth and he couldn't sing worth a darn. With a sigh, he realized any hopes he might have had at any dalliance with Valoria were unlikely to materialize. Instead, he dipped his fingers into his bowl of stew, pulled out a decent-sized chunk of venison, blew on it to cool it off, and whistled for the dog sitting by the fire along the eastern wall, on the other side of a suit of full plate armor on display. The dog trotted over and accepted the treat with a wag of its tail. Thurloe noticed the dog had several scars on its muzzle; it had seen some combat of its own in previous years. He gave it a good scratch behind the ears.

"His name's Devil," supplied the tavernkeeper, a grizzled old sort who introduced himself as the eponymous Smokey Joe. "We been together since my own adventurin' days, but that's a younger man's game. Now runnin' this tavern's all the adventure we need, ain't that right, boy?"

Taking advantage of a conversation with the man most likely to know about the local inhabitants, Thurloe asked him if he knew of anybody who'd been stuck asleep for any amount of time. Smokey Joe scratched his balding head, moved his cigar from one side of his mouth to another, and shook his head. "Stuck asleep? Naw, I haven't heard nothin' like that. Closest I can figure is the old Widow Greene - she been taken to bed for some months now, but then she's gettin' on in age. Her niece looks after her, so I hear." Thurloe asked how to find the Widow Green's house and was given directions.

Wakuren was giving the common area a good look-over as well, but in his case he was focusing upon the auras of the people around him. The bard playing the lute in the corner seemed a decent sort, as did the woman seated by Thurloe and the few late-night visitors to the bar, engaged in drinking and tale-telling. The tavernkeeper's aura was a bit dark, though, as if evil wasn't anything with which he was unfamiliar; the half-orc vowed to keep an eye on him. Having been raised in the temple of Cal in Port Duralia, Wakuren knew that simply detecting the presence of evil in a person's aura didn't give one the right to accuse that person of anything, but it was a good indicator of who you might not want to turn your back upon.

Alewyth chatted up the barmaid who brought them their food and drink and got pretty much the same answer Thurloe had received: she wasn't aware of anyone stuck in their dreams, but she did know that Lavinia Greene's elderly aunt, Hortence Greene, had been bedridden for some time now. That seemed like their best bet, so Alewyth vowed to track down this Hortence Greene in the morning and got directions to her house.

Xandro excused himself when the lute player took a break and grabbed a glass of mead. He went over and introduced himself, shaking hands with the man who gave Scandolucio as his name. He was a traveling bard, much like Xandro had been before being trained as a dreamwalker and sent across the continent to rescue those who couldn't escape from their own dreams. "That's a marvelous instrument," he said, looking at the lute Scandolucio had been playing.

"This," said the older bard, pulling the lute's strap from over his shoulder and passing it over to Xandro, "is the Dardolian lute. Elven make, several centuries old. Magic woven right into its wood, or so the legends say; I've been working for years plucking at some of its hidden abilities and figuring out how to make them work." Xandro gave the strings a few strums, closing his eyes and listening to the perfect tuning each had received. He handed the instrument back to Scandolucio wistfully.

"I've been enjoying your performance," Xandro said.

"That's good to hear - it's the only reason I perform in the first place," Scandolucio replied. "Well, that and the occasional free room and board. And the odd fringe benefit now and again," he added with a slight smirk, making eye contact with the good-looking blonde wearing the travel cloak, sitting by some goof feeding a dog. They chatted a bit longer, Xandro learning the older bard had also just gotten in that afternoon; he planned on staying a few more days in Potter's Creek before moving on.

Xandro returned to the table and finished his stew when Scandolucio's break was over and he resumed his music. But eventually the set was over, the food had been polished off, and it was time to hit the sack. The five heroes said their goodnights and wandered off to their rooms.

Alewyth removed her armor, set her warhammers by her backpack, and sat on the edge of her bed saying her bedtime prayers to Aerik, God of Protection and Earth. She asked Him to look over their little band and to keep them safe in their travels. Then she set her head down upon the comfortable pillow and was fast asleep.

"Are you seriously going to sleep in your armor?" Xandro asked Thurloe, who had laid down upon his bed holding his bastard sword in a two-handed grip, the blade's scabbarded tip between his still-booted feet. He looked, the bard decided, like the ornamental carving one found on the stone coffins of rich warriors. "That can't be comfortable."

"You know what else isn't comfortable? Getting stabbed in your sleep because you decided comfort was more important than protection," Thurloe retorted.

"You really need that much protection? In a room with only one entrance, that locks from the inside?"

"You get as comfortable as you like. I prefer not slipping into bad habits, that's all." And with that, Thurloe closed his eyes and refused further conversation, determined to go to sleep with armor on and his weapon at the ready. Xandro shrugged, slipped off his own armor, got himself nice and comfortable and blew out the candle on the nightstand beside him.

In the room between Alewyth and the other two men, Wakuren had likewise removed his armor and crawled into bed. Zander sat on his own bed, his back against the wall, and closed his eyes. Elves often slept fully and in such cases usually laid down when doing so, but every once in awhile they preferred entering a reverie, where they could sort through their memories and put them into some sort of order. Wakuren mentally shrugged and went to sleep.

All was quiet in the tavern until the screaming began. Xandro awoke at once, sitting upright in the dark of his room. The snores coming from Thurloe's bed told the bard the fighter hadn't heard anything, so he shook him awake. The next door over, both Zander and Wakuren snapped out of their own night training (all five had been put to work practicing finding specific dreams inside the endless hallways of dreams). Wakuren grabbed up his shield while Zander buckled his belt with the dagger sheaths around his waist, over his robes. One room further down, Alewyth was asleep by herself when she found her consciousness all alone in the hallways of dreams, where only a moment ago her four fellow dreamwalkers had been beside her. She knew what that meant, though - something had awakened them and it was probably in her own best interests to wake up immediately as well. Putting to use the training she'd practiced for weeks now, she did just that, found herself back in her room, and grabbed up the first warhammer at hand, not wanting to waste time bothering with her armor.

Zander opened the door, stepped into the hall, and pulled a jade figurine from his pocket. There was a narrow window above the door at the far end, which the elf knew led outdoors to the two outhouses and could only be opened from the outside with one of the room keys. As expected, the door was closed and didn't look to have been disturbed. But the screams were coming from that direction, at the far eastern end of the hallway. Zander dropped his figurine on the floor before him and the canine carving grew in size, becoming a full-size, living cooshee. The elven dog looked ready and eager for action, its pointed ears erect at the sounds of the screams ahead.

Behind the elf, the door to Thurloe and Xandro's room opened and the fighter stepped into the hallway, fully armored and lighting a torch the better to see by. Wakuren entered the hallway behind Zander and immediately faded from view, activating his ring of invisibility. He passed by Thurloe and Xandro's room and tried the door at the end, the door to Room 5, where it sounded like the screaming was coming from. But the door was locked.

Xandro had taken the time to gear up if not don his armor; he had his lute and crossbow over his back, his quiver of bolts at one hip and his rapier belted at the other. He pounded on Alewyth's door as he passed, just in time for it to open up and the priestess join their hallway procession. "We know what's going on?" she asked.

"Door at the end," was all Xandro could offer her. But that was all Alewyth needed to know; skirting past the others, she brought the head of her old warhammer crashing into the wooden door, near the knob. The wood splintered but the door still held firm. Behind her, Zander stiffened: among the screams - which definitely seemed feminine, and filled with pain and terror - he thought he could hear crunching sounds and a masculine moan.

"Go get Smokey Joe!" Thurloe called to Zander, pointing to the door at the other end of the hall, where the tavern owner slept in a room with his dog. While the elf hurried to comply, Thurloe tried opening the door to Room 4 and the knob turned without hesitation; from the light of his torch the fighter could see it was unoccupied, the bed not having been slept in. Leaning against one wall was a backpack, though, and the Dardolian lute sat perched on the middle of the small wooden table within the room. This, then, was Scandolucio's room.

The elven cooshee sat crouched on his haunches, head aimed at the door to Room 5. Thurloe readied an arrow, its head also pointed in the same direction, as Wakuren shouldered the door open and spilled inside, still invisible. He gasped at what his darkvision let him see of the room inside.

There were two figures on the bed, although in the bed was probably more accurate, for only Valoria's top half still emerged from the bed, while a pair of hairy legs and arms were all that could be seen of the other figure. Blood stained the sheets and blanket on the bed...which Wakuren was surprised to see had somehow sprouted teeth and was using to try to chew up the two people caught inside its body-wide mouth. A word popped into Wakuren's mind: mimic, a creature capable of changing its shape into any of a number of innocuous shapes, a bed apparently one of them. But how in the name of Cal did a mimic get inside the tavern? the half-orc wondered.

Wakuren didn't let his puzzlement slow him down, however. Dashing forward, he grabbed Valoria by the shoulders and pulled, the body of the man beneath her preventing the mimic's teeth from getting too much of a purchase on her. That's what happens when you chew with your mouth full, Wakuren thought to himself as he dropped Valoria over a shoulder and started backing out of the room, his first thought getting the young woman to safety.

Xandro stepped into the room beside what he assumed was an invisible Wakuren - it was the only explanation the bard could come up with as to why there was a naked woman floating, bent over, through the air - and stabbed the tip of his rapier at the "bed" that was busy chewing up another body. The mimic didn't particularly like that and sent a hastily-formed, sticky pseudopod slamming into the bard, pulling him forward to be crushed against the mimic's body.

Alewyth then stepped beside the bard, her warhammer crashing down upon the mimic as it pulled the naked man further into its gullet. Her hammer almost got stuck in the mimic's adhesive, but she gave it a good tug and it pulled away.

Zander, in the meantime, was pounding on the closed and locked door to Smokey Joe's quarters. "Something's going on in the room at the end of the hall!" he shouted through the wooden door.

"Probably just somebody havin' a bad dream," Smokey Joe's voice came from the closed door. "Not my problem. I ain't responsible for people's dreams. Just leave 'em alone and they usually go back to sleep soon enough, that's my advice." But Smokey Joe was sweating at the fact that the five overnight adventurers were apparently all awake and investigating the mimic in Room 5, and just how was he going to explain that? He'd assigned Valoria Costernackle to Room 5 because she was just passing through and her garments said she was fairly well to do; likely she'd have some cash or jewelry on her and she likely wouldn't be missed. And he could always claim she'd taken off early the next morning if anyone here asked about her. But somehow these adventurers were now in the thick of it, and that wouldn't do at all. With nervous fingers, Smokey Joe grabbed the amulet he wore around his neck and summoned the dread guard he kept out in the common area, where everyone just assumed it was a suit of decorative armor. Upon hearing the mental summons from its master, the dread guard sprang to a semblance of life and started clomping its way through the dining hall, heading for the residential quarter of the tavern.

Back in Room 5, the cooshee had entered the room and bitten the edge of the blanket hanging over the bed, pulling on it as if trying to remove it from the structure. But as bed and blanket were both part of the same living creature, the cooshee's efforts were for naught. Thurloe shot another arrow at the mimic, missing again; the arrow stuck into the back wall above the ersatz bed.

Wakuren opened the side door and dropped Valoria to the ground. He examined her wounds briefly, coming to the conclusion they were mostly superficial; apparently the mimic couldn't do too much damage to her with a mouthful of 40-year-old bard already taking up space. He cast a quick healing spell on her and suggested she go wait in one of the outhouses, out of harm's way. Valoria hastily agreed to the idea, slamming the outhouse door behind her and latching it into place.

Xandro struggled to pull himself away from the mimic's embrace, but the adhesive was too strong and the pseudopod had too strong of a grip upon him. In response to the bard's struggles the mimic tightened his grip even further, expelling the breath further out of Xandro, to the point it was getting difficult to get in a decent breath. Black dots started forming along the edges of Xandro's vision - that couldn't be good!

Alewyth swung again at the mimic, striking a solid blow with her warhammer and pulling it back before it could get enmeshed in the creature's sticky adhesive coating. And down at the opposite end of the hallway, Zander gave up trying to convince Smokey Joe to come check on his guests and returned back to where the action was happening. He cast a mage armor spell upon himself for good measure as he did so.

The cooshee kept his teeth clamped on the "blanket" in his jaws and scratched the mimic's surface with its front claws. It was getting crowded in the room, so Thurloe pulled back rather than risk hitting one of his friends with his next arrow. Instead, he headed down the hallway and aimed his arrow at the door to Smokey Joe's room, for the fighter had at this point figured out the tavernkeeper had to be complicit in the mimic's attacks. As soon as Smokey Joe made an appearance in his doorway, Thurloe intended to send an arrow shooting at his center of mass.

Wakuren stepped back into the hallway and from there into Room 5. It was too crowded to be able to be able to do much in the way of fighting the mimic, but he could easily reach out and touch Xandro, so he did just that - sending Cal's healing energy into the beleaguered bard through a cure light wounds spell. If he couldn't help kill the mimic, he could at least prevent Xandro from being its next victim! With renewed energy from the burst of healing, Xandro tried pulling himself away from the mimic, but he seemed to be stuck fast. And by now the beast had completely swallowed up Scandolucio, so his mouth was empty enough for the next victim in line; Xandro only hoped the first meal had put off the mimic's appetite for any additional food for some time.

The mimic didn't try biting Xandro, which was a definite plus in the bard's view, but it continued squeezing him, apparently trying to at least kill him and perhaps set him aside as a future meal. Alewyth attacked again with her warhammer, this time not pulling it away in time - it was stuck fast! Snarling at her misfortune, she realized her other warhammer, Sjondra, was still back in her room. But by that point Zander had made it back as far as the doorway to Room 5 and was able to cast a magic missile spell directly at the mimic, despite the other combatants there in the room between him and his target. That was the good thing about the magic missile spell, the elf decided: you just had to be able to see even a portion of your target for you to be able to strike true.

The cooshee continued biting and clawing at the mimic, dealing enough damage to have pierced the beast's flesh in several places, assuming the blood dripping down wasn't Scandolucio's. Wakuren grabbed Xandro at the shoulder and tugged with all of his might, but even the half-orc's strength wasn't up to the challenge of freeing the bard from the mimic's embrace. As if finally realizing the futility of trying to escape from a creature much larger and stronger than himself, Xandro suddenly switched tactics altogether. He got the tip of his rapier aimed directly at the core of the mimic's body (still more or less in the semblance of a bed), and leaned into it. If he couldn't pull away from the mimic, he'd put all of his strength and effort into pushing toward the mimic as far as he could - with the point of his rapier leading the way!

Alewyth tried futilely to pull her warhammer free of the mimic, but it just wasn't going to happen. She gave it one final tug and when that didn't do anything she gave up the effort as a waste of her time. Instead, she cast a cure light wounds spell on Xandro, who was continuously getting crushed by the mimic's pseudopod. Another magic missile spell went crashing into the mimic and for the first time Zander felt they had a decent shot of slaying the shapeshifting beast before it killed Xandro. Hopefully, once it was dead it would be much easier extracting the bard - and Alewyth's warhammer - from the fake bed.

But then the door opened at the end of the hallway - not Smokey Joe's door, but the one leading out to the bar area. Into the hallway stepped the suit of armor that had been on display by the fireplace earlier that night. It turned the corner and started walking at its unhurried pace down the hallway. Thurloe released the bowstring of his composite longbow, sending the arrow flying down the hallway to strike the dread guard's armored chest, for he had seen the animated armor draw the sword from the scabbard at its hip and knew it had been sent here to slay those who had witnessed the mimic scam.

Zander cast yet another magic missile spell at the mimic as the cooshee, perhaps sensing the creature's imminent demise, pulled back from the room and ran down the hallway toward the dread guard, whose pace had not slowed after having been shot by Thurloe's arrow. Wakuren cast another healing spell on Xandro, who was putting his full weight onto his rapier, slowly stabbing it deeper into the mimic's bulk. In desperation, the mimic formed another pseudopod and slammed it into Wakuren, sticking to the half-orc and pulling him in tighter for a crushing embrace - and away from Xandro, so he couldn't keep supplying him with healing energy. It might be necessary to kill the half-orc before it could kill the bard, although by this point the mimic was up against far more than it could eat at one sitting; it would have to have the tavernkeeper hide the bodies somewhere before the mimic could dispose of all of them.

Wakuren let out a grunt of pain as the mimic's crushing embrace forced the air from his lungs and his ribs started to feel like they were beginning to crack. Alewyth, unable to free her warhammer, followed Wakuren's previous strategy and cast a cure light wounds spell on the half-orc, keeping him alive enough he'd hopefully be able to cast his own spells upon himself while the dwarven priestess of Aerik moved over to take over "keep Xandro alive" duties. Behind her, Zander cast another magic missile spell at the mimic, slowly but surely inching it forward to its eventual demise.

The dread guard kept moving forward and attacked the closest enemy at hand - which turned out to be Zander's elven dog, the as-yet-unnamed cooshee. It let out a yelp of pain as the construct's longsword cut a gash across its fur-covered back. Thurloe got in one last shot at the dread guard before dropping his composite longbow in the hallway and advancing, pulling his enchanted bastard sword Spellslicer from his back.

With a roar of defiance, Wakuren broke free from the mimic's adhesive embrace and then - seeing the mimic just about dead by this point - backed away from the room, activating his ring and running invisibly past Thurloe and into his own quarters in Room 2. He hoped to let the dread guard pass by his doorway and then he'd be able to attack the construct from behind, hopefully catching him in a pincer maneuver with Thurloe and the cooshee.

Xandro continued leaning into his rapier, stabbing it deeper into the mimic's flesh. At last it realized this was a fight it could not win and it did something it didn't do very often: it spoke, in a deep, halting voice: "Stop. No fight. Release you." Xandro found himself no longer sticking to the mimic's pseudopod and pulled himself and his rapier away from the shapeshifting monstrosity. It also spit out Alewyth's warhammer and the dwarf stepped forward to grab it. "Go now," the mimic suggested.

"Got one wee thing to do first," Alewyth replied, bringing the warhammer swinging up over her head to crash down into the center of the mimic's mass, breaking off a tooth or two in the process. It was as she had suspected: the mimic's sudden willingness to let them all go was prefaced by its nearness to death - and the dwarven priestess was more than happy to push it over the edge into whatever waited beyond. The mimic died instantly, its faux-bed form losing cohesiveness upon its death, slowly flowing outwards as if melting into a featureless, sticky mass of goo.

"You okay?" Alewyth asked Xandro and he nodded in the affirmative, too winded from being crushed to catch his breath. "Then let's go!" the dwarf replied, running back into the hallway to see what the others had been fighting, for she'd heard the unmistakable sounds of combat coming from the hallway behind her. Xandro followed.

The dread guard swung its longsword at the cooshee again but this time the dog backed off in time, barking furiously at the animated enemy. But it had continued advancing down the hallway as it attacked, and now Wakuren popped back into view as he brought the bottom edge of his shield crashing into the dread guard's lower back. He caused the magical construct to lurch forward and almost lose its footing, only to be struck by Thurloe's sword in a sideways swing to the chest. As it tried swinging its sword at the fighter in return, the cooshee darted back in underfoot and set the dread guard toppling backwards in the hallway, where Wakuren crushed the front of its helmet with his shield and Thurloe stabbed down into its chest plate, piercing the armor. Together, this assortment of attacks caused whatever magical powers were animating the armor to dissipate away and it lay unmoving on the hallway floor, the longsword dropped from its gauntleted hand.

With nobody visible to fight anymore, Thurloe and Zander made a dash for it down opposite ends of the hall. The elven sorcerer dashed out the exit door into the crisp night air, heading over to the outhouse to make sure Valoria was still okay. "I'm fine," she reassured the elf, "but could you bring me my clothes?" Zander returned to her room to grab up what he could find.

Thurloe, in the meantime, sped through the open doorway to the bar area, verified it too was empty of enemies, and spun about, ready to attack Smokey Joe when he exited his bedroom - for in the young fighter's mind the tavernkeeper had to be the one behind all of these attacks.

Wakuren took a more direct approach. Stepping up to the tavernkeeper's door, he knocked politely. "Smokey Joe?" he called. "We've slain your mimic ally and destroyed your animated armor. Would you care to come out here and explain yourself?"

There was a moment's hesitation before Smokey Joe answered. "Mimic? What mimic? I dunno what you mean - I don't got no mimic. And if you're talking about that armor over by the fireplace, it don't move! Unless maybe there's an invisible wizard mucking about with us! Yeah - that's probably it! An invisible wizard!"

"Very well!" Thurloe called out. "Then we'll just have to spike closed all of the doors to this tavern and burn it to the ground!"

While all of this shouting back and forth was going on, Xandro decided to check out Room 4. It was unlocked, and sure enough, there against the wall was Scandolucio's traveling pack but more importantly, lying upon the wooden table was the Dardolian lute. Xandro picked it up tentatively, realizing its excellent craftsmanship marked it as a masterwork instrument - even magical, if what the elder bard had said was true. He put the strap around his shoulder, held it in place, and began strumming the strings with his fingers, beginning the song of courageous inspiration.

Alewyth returned to her room as well and grabbed up Sjondra, stuffing the pieces of her armor into her own pack - it sounded like that fool Thurloe was planning on burning this place down and she didn't put it past him to set it on fire before they had a chance to talk him down.

Wakuren was still holding a conversation with Smokey Joe. "If you choose not to open this door and come talk with us, then I'm afraid I'll have no choice but to smash down the door and drag you out," he warned the tavernkeeper.

"No, no need for that," Smokey Joe's voice came from inside. "Hang on, I'm coming out!" By this time Smokey Joe had gotten his old adventuring gear on, the studded leather armor a lot tighter than it used to be back when he was a full-time adventurer, many years ago - back when he still had a full head of hair. He made a point of noisily putting the key into the lock and twisting it, then swung open the door and falling back, his short sword in hand as he called out, "Kill them, Devil!"

Devil had been well trained by his master. He leaped forward, biting down on Wakuren's leg and nearly bringing the half-orc crashing to the floor. But just as quickly the cooshee darted forward, snapping at the guard dog without having even been instructed to do so, for Zander was outside handing Valoria her clothes through the outhouse door. Thurloe finished off the dog with a powerful downward stroke of his bastard sword, wistfully recalling that a scant hour or more ago he'd been feeding this same dog scraps of venison from his bowl of stew. Then, a fierce scowl on his face, he stepped through the doorway to Smokey Joe's bedroom, looking for blood.

Wakuren followed Thurloe into the bedroom, swinging around the tavernkeeper and dodging a strike from his short sword as he did so. The blade glanced off Wakuren's shield, and then he struck that shield smartly into Smokey Joe's face, breaking his nose in the process. Behind him in the hallway, the sounds of Xandro's tune continued, the bard doing what he could to aid his friends in their fight against the true evil in this tavern. Alewyth exited her own room and went to see what this latest commotion was all about.

Seeing Wakuren held no weapon, Smokey Joe assessed Thurloe as his biggest threat and tried to take him down fast. But the years had not been kind to Smokey Joe, nor had the smelly cigars he habitually smoked, and the much younger fighter had no trouble avoiding the older man's slow stab forward. But the tavernkeeper was focusing on Thurloe while trying to keep Wakuren in his field of vision, and thus missed seeing the cooshee dart forward around Thurloe's feet and snap at Smokey Joe's ankle. He fell to the floor with a crash, knocking his head against the side of the hard wooden bed on the way down. It was no trouble at all for the heroes to overpower the overweight man and truss him up with rope fetched from Thurloe's pack.

"Now then," Thurloe began, sticking his snarling face into that of his overweight captive, "let's see about getting some answers. Start spilling your guts, tubby, or I'll be more than happy to spill them for you." He hefted his bastard sword to make sure Smokey Joe didn't fail to catch his meaning.

"I don't know what you think I've done--" the tavernkeeper started to sputter, but Wakuren cut him off. "You're a murderer!" the half-orc spat out.

"I never killed nobody!" Smokey Joe pleaded, then saw that Thurloe wasn't buying his act for a moment. "It was the mimic what killed them! And they was only ever vagrants what was just passing by and wouldn't be missed, anyways!" He gulped and decided to try his luck with a false equivalency. "And you killed my dog, so that makes us even!"

"Can you believe this crap? Let's just kill him and be done with it!" suggested Thurloe, raising his bastard sword. Wakuren placed a hand over the fighter's trying to calm him down. "We do not slay helpless captives," he cautioned Thurloe.

"Maybe you don't," Thurloe argued and would have gone on had Alewyth not entered the conversation at that point and impressed upon the hot-headed human that they were not killing Smokey Joe in cold blood and that was the end of the discussion. Thurloe gave the dwarven priestess his very best scowl (and it was, if truth be told, a very impressive-looking scowl indeed) but backed down, sheathing his bastard sword. Smokey Joe let out a breath he hadn't been aware he'd been holding - maybe he could talk his way to freedom after all!

But no luck on that front; Alewyth insisted they'd stay watching over their bound captive until morning, when they'd have one of the local townsfolk fetch the sheriff, or whoever represented the forces of law and order in these parts. That turned out to be a sheriff over in the next village, who was responsible for six or seven villages in all, according to the first of the barmaids who showed up for work the next morning. Alewyth sent her to go have somebody go fetch him and they all waited for his arrival. And when he did show up, they were able to give him plenty of evidence as to his past behavior, having spent the evening scouring the entire tavern for evidence - and finding the hidden storage space behind a false crate in his wine cellar where he put the belongings of the people he fed to his mimic. (Of course, despite there having been dozens of leather and silk coin purses in with the previous victims' clothes in the secret storeroom, Smokey Joe kept the coins he took from his victims in a strongbox under his own bed - a strongbox the heroes had broken into and whose contents they'd taken as their own. They reasoned it was a way for the previous victims to posthumously thank them for their assistance in ensuring the mimic would take no further victims - and it wasn't like they had any use for the money themselves, nor would it be easy - if even possible at all - to track down the identities of the mimic's prior victims, to see if they had any relatives. This way was easier and it was logical enough reasoning for the heroes to take the money as their own without any feelings of unease.)

That, plus Valoria's testimony and the body of the mimic was all the sheriff needed to see. He took custody of the bound tavernkeeper and promised the heroes he'd pay dearly for his crimes. "I'll have him before the judge in less than a week, and he'll likely be hanged before the week's out," he told them.

"Well," Wakuren said, "I supposed we'd better gather up our mounts and wagon and go check out this Widow Greene's place."

They had no trouble finding the place; the barmaid's directions had been spot on. Knocking on the door, Alewyth was greeted by Lavinia Greene, who expressed surprise at the heroes' presence but admitted that yes, her elderly Aunt Hortence had been bedridden for months, but several weeks ago had fallen into a deep sleep and she'd been unable to awaken her since. "She's been no bother at all to care for," Lavinia admitted. "She doesn't even wake to eat or drink, or to use the chamber pot. You say she's stuck inside a dream?"

Alewyth explained the situation as best she could and told Lavinia what they planned to do. The young lady agreed to let them go about their business, more than happy to see her Aunt Hortence back awake again after all these weeks. A dreamstone was fastened at Hortence's forehead by a bandana and each of the five dreamwalkers sat around her bed in a circle, clutching a dreamstone in their hands. "We'll meet up in the Dream Hallways, as before," the dwarven priestess told the others. Then they each closed their eyes, calmed their spirits, and one by one went to sleep.

"Hey, kupo!" greeted their individual moogle guides as they entered the dreamlands. "Here's the dream you're looking for, kupo!" they said, opening one particular doorway in the endless Hallway of Doors.

Stepping inside Hortence's dream, the group was surprised to see Lavinia there, sitting in a fancy gown at an elegant table with a finely embroidered tablecloth. Hortence was sitting beside her young niece, pouring tea from a swan-necked teapot into a dainty cup. She too wore an elegant gown, much fancier than the simple homespun nightgown she wore back on the Mortal Plane.

"Good day to you," Hortence said, inviting the heroes to take a seat. "You are more than welcome to join us...although I don't recall ever having met you before. It seems odd that I would be dreaming about you."

Alewyth's brow furrowed as she took a seat beside the elderly woman. "You are aware this is all a dream?" she asked, puzzled. She'd never encountered anyone who was aware they were in a dream while dreaming; most people threw themselves fully into whatever dream they might be having.

"I have suspected it for some time, yes," Hortence replied. "But I am also aware that I'm dying. I have a weak heart, you see, and it's been doing its job for quite a few years now. All of this," she said, waving her hands to indicate the elaborate tea room around them, "I know quite well this is all just a dream. And I know I'm really back in my bedroom, fast asleep – in what is no doubt my deathbed. What I don't know is who any of you are, or what you're doing here, or why I should be dreaming of such complete strangers... unless you're the representatives of Death, Akari's foot soldiers, come to tell me my time is up. But you're welcome to stay here with me if you like as I say my final farewell to Lavinia, even if it is only here in a dream. I fear if I wait until I wake up I shall have put it off until too late. And perhaps you can help me to help my niece in some small way after the dream is over."

Hortence described to the group the location of a small wooden barrel of money buried in her back yard and asked that they dig it up and give it to Lavinia – it was all she had to pass on to her for her years of taking care of her as her health declined. "It isn't much," Hortence said, "merely 68 pieces of gold, but that's quite a lot to mere commoners like ourselves." Alewyth agreed they'd do as she asked and explained about the dream plague and how they'd been helping people out of their dreams.

"Very well, then," Hortence agreed. "Let us finish our tea and then we can go." She passed tea cups to the others, who all took a seat at the table and spent a few moments in conversation with her. When all of them had finished their tea, Hortence nodded her acceptance. "What do we do?" she asked.

Alewyth took her by the hand. "Just come with us," she said, "through this door." Xandro had concentrated on making the exit door to the dream visible and he opened it for the elderly lady. One by one, they exited the dreamscape. Wakuren was the last to leave and he hung around a bit, wondering what would happen to the dream when the dreamer herself left it. As expected, it started fading away until he stood in a vast, white emptiness. Nodding to himself, he stepped through the door as well. The others were already gone, so he concentrated on waking himself up - and soon found himself back in Hortence's room, sitting in a circle around her bed with the others.

Lavinia was there in the doorway, looking in at the group as they rose to their feet. "Is she--?" the young woman asked.

"She's passed on," Alewyth informed her. "She was ready to go but unable to do so on her own. We merely helped her on her way."

Lavinia looked over at the body of her Aunt Hortence. A thin smile lie upon the older woman's face. "She'll be reunited with her dead husband, then," Lavinia said. "She'll be glad of that."

Thurloe walked outside without a word. Concerned, Zander followed him. Sure enough, the fighter grabbed a shovel from their gear in the wagon and went straight to the spot in the back yard where Hortence had told them her treasure was buried. "Um, what are you doing?" the elf asked.

"Digging up the old lady's treasure," Thurloe answered him, proceeding to do just that.

"You're not thinking of helping yourself to her 68 pieces of gold, are you?" accused Zander.

Thurloe's brows dropped into a scowl. "Just what do you take me for?" he asked, pulling up the buried wooden barrel and popping off the lid. Sure enough, the bottom of the container was filled with gold coins. Thurloe then carried it back to the wagon and dropped in enough coins from his own stash to top the barrel off at an even 300 pieces of gold before placing the lid back on and taking it in to Lavinia.

"You really surprise me sometimes, Thurloe," Zander told him.

"Yeah?" grunted the fighter. "Best way to prevent that is not to make assumptions ahead of time."

- - -

This adventure was fairly short, but that was okay because immediately after it had finished we leveled everyone up to 3rd level. And Fate decided it wasn't done with Joe just quite yet, for his elven sorcerer, who started game play with 4 hp at 1st level and advanced all the way to 5 hp at 2nd level, now managed to get stuck with 6 hp at 3rd level when Joe once again rolled a "1." "That's it!" he declared. "I'm taking Toughness as my 3rd-level feat!" So Zander Quilson now has all of 9 hp and is guaranteed to definitely hit the double digits on the hit point front...after five more adventures. I helpfully pointed out that this was simply karmic fate for his PC in "Raiders of the Overreach," a 12th-level (at the time of this adventure) dwarf barbarian with 204 hp, thanks in part to his whopping 29 Constitution.

- - -

T-shirt worn: My red "Coke" T-shirt. I didn't have anything particularly relevant to this adventure so the best I could come up with is Coke is a refreshing drink and the bulk of the adventure takes place in a tavern, where they serve refreshing drinks. Plus, one particular Coke slogan is "It's the real thing," which exactly what the mimic disguised as a bed wanted everyone to believe.



PC Roster:
Alewyth Putterpye, dwarf priestess of Aerik 3​
Thurloe Pulver, human fighter 3​
Wakuren, half-orc cleric of Cal 1/paladin 2​
Xandro Silverstrings, human bard 3​
Zander Quilson, elf sorcerer 3​

Game Session Date: 7 August 2021

- - -

"You folks headin' into the barony?" asked the merchant, walking beside an overburdened mule pulling a cart loaded down with merchandise.

"We are," Thurloe Pulver replied from astride his horse.

"First time?" pressed the merchant.

"Yes," Thurloe admitted.

"For the rest of them," Alewyth corrected. Having been born in an Underdark city beneath the mountains to the north and west of their present location, she'd passed this way once before in delivering the keystone carved by her Order to the Pantheonic Temple in Port Duralia, where she first met up with the others in her group of traveling dreamwalkers. And the only reason they were heading back the way she'd originally come was that the next person trapped in a dream was down there in the Underdark, in the sister city to the one in which she'd been born and raised.

"Well, word of advice, then," suggested the merchant. "Once you get into the first town - Maluka - head on over to the Temple of Farthingale and get some of your coins changed over to the local currency. Baron Franco Kornak, he's got his own currencies in place in his lands. He'll accept foreign coins, but they'll charge you a good 20% over and above the cost of things. Over at the temple, they'll convert your coins for a mere 5% charge. Save you some money - and hassle - in the long run." He gave the group directions on how to find the Temple of Farthingale once they arrived in Maluka.

The group thanked the old merchant and he bid them a good day, leading his mule south while they followed the road north. Before too long they passed a sign denoting the border to the Barony of Kornak and not soon after that the city of Maluka became visible. Sure enough, the Temple of Farthingale was right where the merchant had said it would be: a stone, single-story structure, built in a completely circular shape - just like a coin. The holy symbol of Farthingale hung just above the pair of sturdy-looking iron doors, a pile of loose, golden coins. "They've got gold coins as part of their building?" marveled Zander Quilson.

"Not necessarily real gold," pointed out Thurloe.

"Plus, who'd be dumb enough to try to steal coins from the outside of a holy temple?" Xandro mused. Thurloe just smirked at the young bard's naivety. He knew plenty of folks who'd think nothing of scaling the wall with a pry-bar to see if they could get a few gold coins out of the deal, holy temple or no. He figured either the gold was fake - there were plenty of ways he knew of to give something the appearance of being solid gold, and not all of them relied upon magic - or the temple had ways to protect its holy symbol from theft. In any case, he didn't give it any further thought, merely dismounted from Horse and tied his reins to one of the many posts outside the temple for that very purpose.

Wakuren parked the wagon and tied the reins of the mules to a post, while Xandro and Zander did likewise with their own mounts. "We're not thinking of converting all of our money, are we?" asked Zander.

I figure 100 pieces of gold ought to last me for awhile," Thurloe answered. Seeing the elf's attempts at processing that information he offered up, "That'll cost me 5 gold." Zander nodded as if having come to the same conclusion and started counting out 105 pieces of gold. The others rummaged through their own sacks of money, coming to their own decisions of how much money to convert to the Kornaki currency. Once they'd all made their decisions, they strode in through the double doors.

Immediately inside the temple doors was a short hallway, some 15 feet long and 10 feet wide. There was another set of double doors at the far side, but before they got there Thurloe couldn't help stopping to stare at the pair of daggers hanging, by no apparent means, to the wall. "Weird," he declared.

"Not so weird if you read the signs," Alewyth pointed out, indicating a sign on the opposite wall that directed all weapons were to be left along either of the two side walls. According to the notice, only those who placed their weapons there would be able to retrieve them. The notice also helpfully pointed out that no weapons of any kind were to be permitted inside the temple proper.

Thurloe, of course, was skeptical of the claim but he removed his bastard sword and placed it up against the wall. Once he had Wakuren try to remove it and fail, and then only after Thurloe had easily removed his blade from the wall did he trust that this wasn't some type of trick. "Okay, then, I guess this makes sense - no weapons inside where they keep all of their money." He removed the rest of his weapons and adhered them to the wall as the others followed suit. Wakuren just watched, smiling slightly.

"What about your shield?" Alewyth asked the half-orc.

"Not a weapon," Wakuren answered her politely. Alewyth only snorted and pointed out she'd seen him use it as a weapon on many an occasion. "True," admitted Wakuren, "but then anything can be used as a weapon - your fists, for example. I don't imagine they want us all to leave our hands here on the walls while we head inside."

"Eh," Alewyth shrugged, as close as an agreement as the half-orc was likely to get. Then, all weapons stowed, the five adventurers stepped through the inner doors.

Inside, the Temple of Farthingale was less a temple and more of a bank. The building's interior was one large, open circle, spanning a good 50 feet across. There were a few wooden benches along parts of the wall, while off to the left was a spraying fountain, behind and above which rose a statue of Farthingale, Demigod of Wealth, counting his vast fortunes. Four wooden doors along the curved inner walls led to elsewhere in the building, while straight ahead stood a bank of four teller's windows, two of them manned by young female acolytes earning their way up the ranks of the order.

"May I help you?" asked another young woman in the robes of the order.

"We're looking to convert some of our coins to the local currency," Xandro explained, smiling at the young woman. She directed them straight ahead, where the two tellers were each already helping a customer. Xandro thanked her and went to stand behind the man in the left line, while Wakuren went over to the line on the right. Alewyth meandered, following them but doing so slowly, looking around at all of the finely-built construction of the building. As might have been expected for a temple to the Demigod of Wealth, they had spared no expenses in the building of their temple, for the woods used were exotic, the fountain quite cleverly constructed, and the statue elaborately carved.

There was a man standing beside the fountain and Thurloe and Zander wandered over to see what he was up to. He had tossed in a few copper pieces, watching each of them plunk into the scant few inches of water at the bottom of the fountain, at the bottom of which could be seen several dozen similar coins. "It's said to bring luck," the man offered, smiling over at Thurloe.

"Well, I'm always willing to have some good luck head over in my direction," the fighter replied, fishing a few copper pieces from the coin purse on his belt. He was pretty sure Farthingale wouldn't care that these weren't Kornaki coins he was tossing in as an offering; the Demigod of Wealth, no doubt, had interests spanning the entire globe, not just this one small barony on the small continent of Armaturia. Zander tossed in a copper penny or two himself.

Just then, an unseen voice from the middle of the ceiling called out in an ominous voice, "Weapons detected!" From his own magical readings, Thurloe surmised it was likely a magic mouth spell or something very similar. Spinning about to see what had caused the sudden announcement - as was just about everyone inside the temple - Thurloe saw a group of five rough-looking customers enter the temple. Sure enough, they were all brimming with weapons, from the short sword in the right hand of the leader (his other hand covered in what the fighter assumed was some sort of brass knuckles), to the greatclub perched on the shoulder of the hulking brute, nearly seven feet tall, who simply had to have some ogre blood in his ancestry. Another man held a pair of leather whips at the ready, a fourth held a pair of sharp-bladed daggers, and the last carried a wooden quarterstaff above which floated a burning flame.

"Everybody stay where they are!" called out the leader. "You behind the counters: hands in the air where we can see them! Everyone else: down on the floor, face down, hands extended! This is a robbery, but if everybody does as we say there's no need for anybody to get hurt!"

As he was giving his commands, a man stepped out of one of the doorways leading into inner offices or whatever. Apparently on hair-trigger alert, the man with the staff, Heindrich Snyder, flinched and a bolt of energy went blazing from the fire at the tip of his staff straight at the newcomer stepping into the lobby. He was instantly engulfed in a bright light and then was gone before he'd even had a chance to utter a sound, leaving behind only an ashy stain on the floor where he'd stood.

"Well, there's a fine example of what happens when you don't do as we say!" roared Zeke Decker, the bandit gang's leader. "Now, everybody DOWN ON THE GROUND!" The customers at the heads of the lines before Xandro and Wakuren hurried to comply, as did the young woman who had greeted them as they entered.

Thurloe, however, wasn't in much of a compliant mood. Disgusted that the temple's "defenses" seemed to be a verbal announcement of something that was already all too apparent, he decided he'd have to do what he could to take out these clowns - only without his own weapons at hand, thanks to the temple's ridiculous policy that only disarmed the law-abiding. Fortunately, he'd taken Wakuren's conversation about what constituted a weapon and what did not to heart. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a thunderstone - not technically a weapon, he'd decided, as it wasn't used to inflict physical harm - and hurled it at the middle of the group of robbers. Alewyth was standing right before them, but he hoped he'd be able to hit the floor with his thunderstone far enough back that she wouldn't be affected. And if not, too bad, because the main thing was to take out that spellcaster with the staff of disintegration or whatever it was, before it could be used to kill anybody else.

Thurloe threw the thunderstone - and overshot his mark by a great deal, sending it far too high, to crash against the back wall by the front doors. Still, judging from their confused expressions and attempts to unblock their ears after the cacophonous explosion of noise caused by the thunderstone exploding, the leader and the guy with the whips at least had been deafened. Thurloe sidled sideways, hoping the waters of the fountain would shield him from view.

Snyder, still holding his staff in one hand, saw the dwarf woman in front of him hesitating and helped her with her decision. "On the ground!" he snarled, grabbing her shoulder and giving her a push. Alewyth complied for now, wishing she had her warhammer Sjondra in hand. A black form dashed from Snyder's shoulder; it was a raven, his familiar Stygian, who flew across the room and perched at the top of Farthingale's bald head behind the water fountain, keeping watch over the proceedings and ready to warn his sorcerer master from his aerial view of any shenanigans the temple's victims might be plotting.

Wakuren, like Thurloe, had decided instant compliance with the robbers' orders was not the right call for the situation. He likewise came to the conclusion that the sorcerer wielding the dangerous staff was the primary threat and, with a roar, charged at Snyder. One half-orcish hand covered the sorcerer's mouth in an effort to keep him from spellcasting while the other tried yanking the staff from Snyder's hands. Together, they struggled to wrest the staff from the other's hands, although the sorcerer realized the weapon's only true power was in the belief it generated to those who saw it that it was deadly; in actuality, the person suddenly stepping out of the doorway to get instantly obliterated was part of the same minor illusion that made it look like a blast of energy had fired from the tip of the gnarled piece of wood in the first place.

Seeing his fellow adventurers were giving a go at taking down these bandits, Xandro pulled the lute from his back and started strumming, beginning the words to his magical song that inspired courage in his compatriots. He too sidled over by the fountain as he did so, the better to remain out of view from the rough-looking would-be robbers with all the weapons. His song, however, reverberated across the circular lobby, adding strength to his friends' limbs and accuracy to their blows.

From her prone position on the floor, Alewyth cast a bane spell, hoping to have the exact opposite effect on the other half of the active combatants: while Xandro's magical tune gave aid to the five heroes, her spell sought to decrease the fighting abilities of the bandits here to rob the temple. She couldn't see the results right away, but Snyder was affected by the priestess' spell, as was Mando Fozzlewith, the rogue with the long sideburns wielding the twin daggers. Mando was approaching Wakuren with both daggers out, ready to stab at the armored half-orc grappling with Heindrich Snyder. But Wakuren saw the approaching rogue from the corner of his eye and spun the sorcerer about, using Snyder's body as a shield instead of the one held in place on his own right arm. Mando was too far into his swing to make any course corrections and the blade went deep into Snyder's back with a wet thuck! Wakuren merely grinned a tusked grin at the hapless rogue who had just backstabbed his own partner in crime.

Zeke Decker wasn't sure who had thrown the thunderstone that had robbed him of his hearing, but he knew the direction it had come from and there in that direction stood a robed elf - more than likely the culprit. Not able to even hear his own words as he yelled them, he called out again for the elf to drop to the floor. Zander calculated his best chances for survival and did just as the furious fighter had directed, laying flat on the floor beside the fountain.

Bussard "Lash" Badlander was currently deafened from the thunderstone explosion but he went over to the front desk and shrugged out of the wooden box that he'd carried on his back by means of a pair of ropes. "Fill it up with coins!" he commanded to the terrified acolyte behind the counter, and if he couldn't hear his own words it was apparent that she could, for she bent over and hurried to comply.

And that left only the tallest of the bandits, the half-ogre who went by the name Gronk. Stepping over to Alewyth, laying prone on the floor, he bent over her and said, "I like your necklace."

The priestess of Aerik wasn't sure she'd heard him correctly, or that he was even speaking to her among all the confusion. Gronk made sure his meaning was clear by kicking the dwarf in the side with his booted foot. "Hey! You! Dwarf. I like your necklace. Give it here."

Alewyth looked to her side and saw her holy symbol of Aerik was lying on the floor, although still connected to the chain around her neck. "It's the symbol of my god," she told Gronk. "I cannot give it to you."

That was not the answer Gronk wanted to hear. Grabbing the dwarf by the shoulder and lifting her off her feet as easily as if she weighed no more than a kitten, he reached out with his other meaty hand and imprisoned the holy symbol within his massive fingers. One quick tug and the chain snapped. "Said I wanted it," he explained.

Looking up to see the deafened fighter wasn't watching him now that he had seemed to comply, Zander did a few quick rolls off to the side and tossed out his figurine of wondrous power, calling out its command word. Immediately, the statue disappeared and was replaced with a living, full-size cooshee, the green-and-brown mottled fur identifying it immediately as one of the fabled elven dogs. "Sic him!" Zander commanded, pointing at Zeke. With a snarl, the cooshee complied, crushing the fighter's leg between his powerful jaws. Zeke screamed in pain and swatted at the elven dog with his short sword.

One of the doors along the front of the lobby opened, and Foster Shillingsworth popped out his head. Seeing the melee going on in the lobby as several of his temple's customers fought off a band of thugs, he called out a command word and then signaled for the young acolyte, Chandra Coinbee, to crawl over to the relative safety of the conference room. She hurried to comply. "We'll let things sort themselves out," the heavyset cleric promised his employee, the woman who had greeted the adventurers upon their entry into the temple.

But Father Shillingsworth hadn't meant he'd let the adventurers handle the robbers, although he was perfectly willing to let them lend what aid they could. Instead, his command word activated the temple's true protective measure: with a sudden spurt, the fountain hiccupped and then the water cascading down started taking on a humanoid form. The water elemental gathered up all of the water at the bottom of the fountain, increasing its size, and then stepped out onto the lobby floor with righteous intent. Zeke Decker was the closest armed person in view, so the water elemental stepped over his way and the deafened fighter had no warning when a watery fist suddenly clubbed him from behind.

Thurloe saw Alewyth's predicament and realized without her holy symbol she'd be unable to cast many of her spells; he also recognized in himself a latent chivalry in the realization that the sole woman on their team was in trouble. Since Zeke seemed to have his hands full fighting off the cooshee and the water elemental that had just erupted from the fountain, Thurloe deemed it safe enough to brush past him to go try to save Alewyth. That was a mistake on his part, for Zeke was wary enough to stab out at Thurloe with his short sword as he passed, cutting him along the arm. But Thurloe ignored it, channeling his own inherent magical energy in his hand and slamming his open palm onto Gronk's broad back, hoping to siphon off some of the brute's strength with his touch of fatigue. But no luck on that front: the half-ogre didn't seem the slightest bit fazed by the fighter's attack, other than to identify Thurloe as a more fitting opponent than a little dwarf woman.

With a snarl, Snyder tried breaking free of Wakuren's grasp but the burly half-orc was more than a physical match for the frail sorcerer. As they each tried pulling the staff from the other's grasp, Wakuren suddenly changed course, smashing the staff forward into the sorcerer's face with the satisfying crunch of bone as it broke Snyder's nose. Blood rushed down out of his nostrils and over his lips, then a head-butt from Wakuren sent him slipping away into unconsciousness. Wakuren looked at the staff in his hands and waited to see if it would fill him with a sudden understanding of its powers (as he had heard sometimes happened with powerful magic items), but when it didn't he tossed it aside, well aware that the water elemental - obviously part of the temple's defenses - was targeting those with weapons. Best he not be wielding a weapon, then, he decided, especially since it seemed the sorcerer he'd just knocked out was the only one of the five bandits likely to be able to use its disintegrate powers.

Using one of the powers of his Dardolian Lute, Xandro altered the words to his song of courage and interwove a charm person spell aimed at the ranger with the two whips. Lash, still deafened, couldn't hear the words to the bard's song but he felt the mental intrusion and the attempt to take over his will, and he knew someone had been trying to capture him in some magical enchantment. He spun about, made direct eye contact with Xandro, and headed his way, whips whirling about in readiness for some retribution. Zander saw the whips slash forward with blinding speed and strike the young bard (who, to his credit, took the blows without altering the cadence of his song which he knew was aiding his friends) and responded with a magic missile spell that sent a pair of missiles streaking across the lobby to strike the ranger full in the chest. Lash snarled and turned to fix the sorcerer with a look that promised vengeance in the very near future.

Alewyth was still dangling in Gronk's meaty grip. In an effort to extricate herself, she kicked out at him, the toe of her boot hitting him in one of his tree-trunk thighs (which was almost where she'd been aiming). Angered, Gronk threw her to the ground and then brought his greatclub swinging down at her head - but her dwarven training against fighting giants kicked in and she just narrowly avoided getting the side of her head caved in.

Mando stabbed at Wakuren again with one of his daggers, catching the half-orc in the side of the hand and drawing blood. Zeke stabbed his own blade at the cooshee snapping at him, likewise drawing blood that matted the animal's mottled fur. The fighter then stepped back from the elven dog, practically bumping up against Wakuren as the cleric of Cal fended off Mando's quick attacks. But the cooshee was single-minded in his attacks, biting at Zeke and clawing at him with his front paws. Of all the potential results of robbing a temple of Farthingale, getting into a life-or-death battle with an elven dog was not anything that Zeke had even considered as a possibility.

The combatants having shifted around during their various fights, Gronk was now the closest armed figure to the water elemental, so he became the aquatic being's next target. A watery fist hit the half-ogre in the side of the head and even Gronk was surprised at how much a slam from a fist made from water could hurt! Thurloe, at his side, grabbed up the staff Wakuren had dropped to the floor and wielded it in a two-handed grip, bringing it crashing down upon Gronk's head - only he was careful to keep the half-ogre between himself and the water elemental, realizing that by wielding a weapon he was likely being added to the elemental's mental list of potential foes to be brought down. Down on the ground where Gronk had thrown her, Alewyth darted forward and brought her arms around the half-ogre's ankles, hugging them to her and hoping to topple the giant to the ground. But a swat from his greatclub sent Alewyth reeling and her grip subsided. Gronk stepped free, turning to face the water elemental fully.

Wakuren, at this point, was quite tired of the rogue stabbing him with his daggers. With a roar of rage, he sent his shield crashing into Mando's face, sending the dark-clad sneak-thief staggering off to the side. Over by the fountain, Xandro continued playing his song and the half-orc realized it was having an effect upon his combat prowess. Mando kept himself from falling over and slashed at the half-orc with a wide arc of bloodied blade, but Wakuren easily dodged the frantic swing. Behind him, Zeke was stabbing at the cooshee again, who didn't allow a few stabs here or there to stop him from continuing to bite his opponent.

Lash lashed out with his whips, this time aiming at both Xandro and Zander Quilson but only hitting the elf. Zander accepted the blow and cast another magic missile spell, not at the whip-wielding ranger but rather at the hulking half-ogre who at this point was looking rather winded. The elf's assessment had been quite accurate, for the pair of zinging missiles was all it took for Gronk to be felled like a tree.

With the half-ogre out of the picture, the water elemental found itself more or less equidistant from two potential targets: Thurloe Pulver and Zeke Decker. For whatever reason it went for Thurloe, who ducked beneath the elemental's blow and then immediately dropped the staff he'd been wielding. "I surrender my weapon to the temple of Farthingale!" the fighter called out to let there be no misunderstanding and the elemental turned away. But then Thurloe decided enough was enough and he turned back to the front entrance to the temple - and its only direct exit from the lobby. Pushing his way through the doors, he grabbed up his bastard sword and it pulled away from the wall without any resistance at his touch. "Now that's more like it!" the fighter enthused, turning back to face the lobby.

Wakuren hit the rogue with his shield again, the blow in tune with Xandro's inspiring music. Alewyth reached over the unconscious Gronk and pulled her holy symbol from his unfeeling fingers. She'd have to get the chain repaired, she frowned to herself, but in the meantime she had the divine focus for her spells back! Just to test the waters, she cast an inflict minor wounds spell on the rogue Wakuren was fighting and was pleased to see it take immediate effect.

And now it was Mando's turn to decide enough was enough. He pushed open the doors to the exit and saw Thurloe standing there with his bastard sword in hand, blocking the way. Mando pulled back and let fly with one of his daggers, hoping to impale its blade through one of Thurloe's eyes, but the young fighter dodged his head to the side just in time and the weapon flew harmlessly over his shoulder. Behind Mando, Zeke called to the rest of his team still standing, "Let's go - this isn't worth it!" Retreating now meant leaving Snyder and Gronk behind to be captured by the authorities, but better that than all five of them getting caught - he honestly hadn't expected there to be this much resistance in this podunk little town. He gave the elven dog before him a final stab with his sword, then turned to flee. The cooshee was having none of that, clamping onto his leg again with his teeth and pulling the fighter back.

Lash couldn't hear anything Zeke was saying but he saw him turning and heading for the door. Grabbing up his box from the teller - it wasn't all the way filled but it would have to do - he closed it up and started shrugging it over his shoulders. However, before he got it fully settled Zander cast another magic missile spell his way and the ranger was immediately knocked out, falling to his face on the floor.

The water elemental looked about him, saw Zeke was the closest armed target, and stomped his way. Still kicking his leg free from the cooshee's mouth, Zeke turned to face the oncoming elemental and Wakuren managed to bash his shield into the fighter's back, propelling him forward, straight into the water elemental's rushing fist.

Alewyth channeled her own inherent bit of magic and sent a ray of frost at Mando. It struck him in the back but had no immediate effect, other than convincing the rogue his only hope was to somehow get past the fighter's bastard sword and out into the open air. He faked a stab at Thurloe with his remaining dagger, feinted to the left, and then tried rushing past him to the right. But Thurloe wasn't tricked, and his blade cut the rogue down in a single strike. There was no doubt about it: Mando Fozzlewith was dead, his life's blood seeping out onto the floor of the entry hall to the temple of Farthingale.

That left only Zeke, the leader of the bandit gang only now without any followers to lead. He backed up, grabbed Lash's box of coins (no sense in not making it out of here without some payment for all the pain he'd endured), and cautiously made his way around the periphery of the lobby, headed for the exit door while trying to keep an eye on each of the adventurers there in the room with him. The bard was still strumming his lute; no problem there. The dwarf woman was fumbling with the holy symbol necklace, trying to tie the ends of her chain together; no immediate threat there, either. The half-orc stood between him and the door, but he didn't look to be armed and would likely be no problem. Zeke had lost track of the fighter, who had probably made it back outside; okay, a problem to be dealt with once he got back out of the lobby. And that left only the skinny elf - where had he gotten to?

Zander's magic missile spell hit Zeke square in the chest, answering his last mental query as the consciousness left his body and he slumped to the floor.

Wakuren took charge of the cleanup. "Minimal healing," he suggested, casting a cure minor wounds spell on the fallen bandit leader. "We don't want them to bleed out, but we don't need them waking up, either." Alewyth dealt with Gronk and Lash while Wakuren tended to Snyder. Thurloe poked his head back into the lobby, saw the others had been dealt with, and reattached his bastard sword to the wall before joining the others. "The one out here won't need no healing," he announced. "He's dead."

The attempted robbery having been halted, the water elemental returned to the fountain and discorporated. Seconds later, the fountain started back up, as if nothing had happened. Stygian shrieked and flew from his perch, hoping to flee, but Zander put an end to that with one final magic missile spell of the day, killing Snyder's familiar outright. The raven plummeted to the floor.

"Well done, well done," enthused Foster Shillingsworth, stepping back out of the conference room. "I'm prepared to offer you a reward of 100 pieces of gold for each of these bandits, for the service you have provided to this temple!" He paid out the reward in Kornaki currency, alleviating the need for the group to convert any of their foreign coins which had been their only reason for entering the temple of Farthingale in the first place. And as it turned out, there was an even bigger reward for bringing in the gang, once they had been bound with ropes from the wagon and the authorities had been summoned, for Zeke Decker's gang had amassed quite a reputation as wanted criminals for similar crimes in other towns and cities in the area, as well as for preying upon travelers along the roads.

"Not a bad start to our time in Kornak," Xandro observed, putting away his lute.

- - -

Besides the monetary awards, Wakuren ended up with a pair of boots of striding and springing he stripped off of Mando Fozzlewith and Zander inherited a +1 ring of protection and a wand of magic missiles he took from Heindrich Snyder, whose "staff of disintegration" turned out to be nothing more than an impressive-looking length of wood atop which had been planted an illusory flame.

Also, the water elemental hadn't been the temple's only defenses. As the acolyte had been filling Lash's box with coins, she'd activated a bestow curse effect that would have kicked in once the coins made it outside: for each 20 feet away from the temple, the weight of the coins would have doubled, so the robbers weren't going to have been able to get very far. (In fact, I had anticipated them getting outside the temple and the PCs fighting them out there, but I failed to recognize the fake "disintegration" of the illusory victim wouldn't cow the players so much as spur their PCs into immediate action.)

This was a short adventure, lasting less than two hours of our normal 5-6 hour Saturday session. I was willing to let that be an end to the session - Dan and Vicki's 24-year-old son Jacob had recently broken his leg and was at their place and I knew Vicki was worrying about him. But she was game with pressing on with the next planned adventure immediately after this one was finished up (after texting Jacob to make sure he was okay - he was fine), so that's what we did.

- - -

T-shirt worn: A Mello Yello T-shirt, one of two that I own. It's kind of a stretch, but I wore it because of the admittedly tenuous connection between the "yellow gold" of the standard gold piece that played a major role in this adventure and the golden-colored soda, a favorite at the Richards household. (Not all of my T-shirt match-ups are particularly strong; this was one of those cases.)
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PC Roster:
Alewyth Putterpye, dwarf priestess of Aerik 3​
Thurloe Pulver, human fighter 3​
Wakuren, half-orc cleric of Cal 1/paladin 2​
Xandro Silverstrings, human bard 3​
Zander Quilson, elf sorcerer 3​

Game Session Date: 7 August 2021

- - -

"Hold it right there!" commanded the dwarves, stepping into the path of the mule-driven wagon. Wakuren brought the draft animals to a halt, while beside them Thurloe, Xandro, and Zander Quilson likewise pulled on the reins of their horses, bringing them to a stop just before the entrance to the dwarven city of Stonehold, dug deep into one of the Shieldwall Mountains.

"What seems to be the problem?" asked Alewyth, who had been born and raised in Stonehold. She well knew her people were often standoffish and many preferred to stay among their own kind, but they had plenty of trade with the human cities and towns in the Barony of Kornak just outside their own mountain dwelling.

"He is," one of the dwarven guards said, pointing a stubby finger at Wakuren. "Surely you weren't planning on allowing an orc into the city?"

Alewyth looked over at the half-orc sitting beside her at the front of the wagon. Wakuren was certainly a fierce-looking specimen, with seemingly more of his unknown orcish father in his facial features than those of his equally unknown human mother, who had abandoned him at birth to be raised in the Temple of Cal in Port Duralia. But in the months that she'd known him, she saw in him a gentle spirit - one so willing to do everything he could to overcome his fearsome appearance that he refused to carry a weapon upon his person, relying solely upon his shield in those cases where a fight was unavoidable. But she realized not everyone knew Wakuren as well as she did and the racial animosity between orcs and dwarves ran deep on both ends.

"I vouch for him," Alewyth declared. "He has received training as both a cleric and a paladin of Cal and will cause no trouble while within our city."

The guards looked at each other, then at Alewyth (and the holy symbol of Aerik on her armor and on a chain around her neck), and finally back at Wakuren, who likewise wore the symbol of Cal on a chain around his neck and on the large steel shield he carried at his side. Finally, they relented. "Fetch the symbol of acceptance," one of the guards said to another behind the massive doors that could close the entrance to the city in case of attack. While a dwarven guard of lower rank went to do what he had been commanded, the one who had given him his command turned back to Alewyth with a solemn expression on his face. "You will be personally responsible for the orc's behavior," he warned her.

"Half-orc," Wakuren corrected gently. "And half-human." When that got him nothing more than a glare, he added, "It's not like I had any say in my heritage." He held out one arm to the guard. "But if you like, you may cut my arm and watch as I heal it, channeling power from the God of Healing."

By that time the lower-ranking guard had returned with a circlet of burnished bronze. The holy symbol of Aerik, God of Earth and Protection, was etched in its front. The dwarf handed it to Wakuren. "You will wear this while inside the city of Stonehold," the dwarf commanded. "It will show everyone that you have been properly vetted and allowed into the city."

Wakuren placed the circlet upon his brow. "As you wish," he said, knowing his own patron god would have no issue with him temporarily wearing the holy symbol of an allied god upon his head while visiting the dwarven city for whom Aerik was its patron deity. Without another word, the two guards stepped aside and allowed the five adventurers to enter Stonehold.

The first thing Wakuren noticed about Stonehold was that just past the gates a massive crevice in the mountain formed a sort of natural central square, with doorways carved into either side of the gap. Above were other openings carved into the stone at higher levels, some of them serving as windows for the rooms carved within and others as doorways leading to stone bridges which spanned the crevice. He knew, from Alewyth's description of the city, that the majority of Stonehold had been carved by the industrious dwarves directly into the stone of the mountain; this central crevice was one of the largest natural openings to be found within the entire city. And it was as wide as several streets side by side, allowing for easy travel via horses and a mule-driven wagon. But they would need to be stabled inside one of the structures adjacent to the crevice, for the majority of Stonehold was accessible only to those creatures not much larger than a dwarf. Alewyth found the close quarters comforting; to the other adventurers, it was a bit claustrophobic once they had stabled the animals, left the wagon behind, and were prowling the narrow tunnels on the way to the home of Alewyth's parents.

Alewald and Edgyth Putterpye welcomed their daughters' companions - even Wakuren, after an initial shock at his orcish appearance. Alewyth's father was a gem miner and cutter, while her mother was a baker. They made room for the four guests in their home, although it meant two of them sleeping in a small guest bedroom and the other two camping out in the living room, for living space was at a premium when every square inch of it had needed to be carved from the stone of the mountain. It made for somewhat cramped quarters, but the guys were polite enough not to mention it and Alewyth was oblivious to what to her was completely normal.

The next morning, after a fantastic dwarven breakfast, the adventurers did a bit of quick shopping, Zander picking up some scrolls, Thurloe and Alewyth each buying some potions, and Wakuren putting in an order for a suit of magical plate mail, ostensibly for Thurloe since he figured the dwarven armorsmiths would have less qualms about crafting magic armor for a human than they would for a half-orc, and the crafty cleric knowing full well the magical nature of the armor would allow it to resize to fit his build despite it allegedly having been built for Thurloe. Then, their purchases completed, Alewyth led them through the city and out the back gates, following a tunnel she said would lead to the location of the next dreamer: Deepshaft, the neighboring dwarven city to Stonehold. Deepshaft, as the name indicated, was a mostly vertical city that plunged half a mile or more down both sides of a wide chasm; it was situated much deeper into the mountain than was its sister city, with more of its populace involved in mining than held true in Stonehold, many of whose citizens spent the majority of their lives on the surface of the mountain, farming and raising goats.

The group got its first bit of excitement several minutes out of Stonehold, when a choker dropped silently down behind Thurloe, who had agreed to bring up the rear as the tunnel had narrowed to where only two could comfortably walk side by side; as the only two with darkvision, Alewyth and Wakuren were in the lead with Zander and Xandro just behind them, the elf carrying an everburning torch for the benefit of those who couldn't see perfectly fine in absolute darkness. The lanky being, half-starved and desperate for a meal, slipped its boneless fingers around Thurloe's face, hoping to both prevent him from crying out and choke him into unconsciousness so he could scurry off with his meal before the others were even aware of the fighter's abduction. Unfortunately for the dark-skinned abomination, Thurloe wore a metal torc around his neck which had been given to him by the first dreamer they'd rescued, a wizard by the name of Grimboldt, and it was this metal torc that no doubt saved Thurloe's life, for the choker found it hard to crush a windpipe so protected. Unable to drop his prey as quickly as he had hoped, the choker's desperate gamble cost him his life as Thurloe wrenched away from the creature's grasp, spun about, and cut him across the torso with a swift swing of his bastard sword's blade. On the plus side, the choker wasn't hungry anymore - nor would he ever be again.

"What--?" sputtered Zander, spinning around to see what the commotion was behind him and surprised to see Thurloe Pulver standing over the corpse of a creature the elf had never seen before in his life - nor had he heard its stealthy approach.

Alewyth walked over to examine the body. "Choker," she said matter-of-factly. "Fortunately, they tend to be solo." She and Wakuren gave their surroundings a quick scan in case there might be others about, but it didn't look like such was the case. "Let's keep moving," she suggested, and Zander was only too happy to put the creepy-looking thing behind him.

Another hour later, though, they ran into their second ambush of the day. The tunnel they were traversing had dropped in elevation several times and sometimes had widened and others had narrowed; they were currently walking single-file through a narrow section where doing so was pretty much their only option. Wakuren had volunteered to take the lead after Alewyth had informed him the tunnel wasn't going to branch off for a bit yet. There was the sound of running water just ahead and the cramped tunnel opened into an oblong cave, the floor of the tunnel becoming the top of a natural stone bridge traversing the open space of the cave above and below them. A rather quick-moving stream ran from right to left some 20 feet below the bridge.

As Wakuren described the scene to the others behind him, he stepped out onto the bridge - only to see a form pop up out of the stone itself, directly before him. This was a squat, bulky creature made of solid rock, vaguely humanoid in shape with two arms and two legs, although what served as a head mostly grew out of the torso without the benefit of a neck. The half-orc recognized it as an earth elemental right away and instinctively raided his holy symbol of Cal before him, for as an adherent of the God of the Air, Wakuren was capable of turning away creatures made of earth as easily as most clerics could likewise turn undead creatures from their path. "Begone with you!" Wakuren called out, channeling a blast of energy through his holy symbol as the creature raised a stony fist to strike the half-orc. It just barely finished its swing before turning about and fleeing back the way it had come, sinking back into the stone of the bridge seemingly without affecting the natural structure in the least by its passing through it.

"It was probably summoned," Wakuren warned the rest of the group behind him. "That probab--" But the rest of his sentence was cut off in mid-stream as the silence spell took effect, confirming Wakuren's suspicions there was likely a spellcaster nearby, for he had no doubt the earth elemental's sudden appearance wasn't just an unfortunate happenstance but rather a deliberate act by someone hoping to benefit from travelers being tossed down into the underground stream below. And in this supposition he was absolutely correct, for off to his right, on the ground beside the stream, a troglodyte cleric had just cast the silence spell after recognizing the emblem on the half-orc's shield marking him as a spellcaster; with the spell focused on the far end of the bridge, the troglodyte had just ensured there would be no spellcasting at all by anyone up on the bridge, without impeding his own ability to cast spells down at the bottom of the cave.

Nor was the troglodyte cleric alone down there; further downstream from the cleric were two others of his race, armed with javelins and clubs, as well as a monitor lizard the trio used as a guard beast and tracker. The closest of the troglodytes cast his first javelin up at Wakuren, the point of the weapon being silently deflected by the half-orc's shield. The other troglodyte and the monitor lizard both moved up, alerted to the presence of potential prey.

Alewyth couldn't see what was going on but she had seen the javelin bounce off Wakuren's shield, noticed the lack of sound, and deduced it had been a silence spell that had cut off Wakuren's warning. She began the words to a bless spell and was pleased to hear her own words being vocalized normally; she was apparently outside the area of effect of the silence spell, then - good to know. Behind her, Zander cast a mage armor on himself while he still could.

Thurloe raced past Wakuren and high-tailed it to the far side of the bridge, standing just inside the cave tunnel formed by the far wall rising up from the cavern below. He pulled out his composite longbow and scanned the shadows for signs of the enemy below, using only the flickering light of Zander's everburning torch by which to see. Spotting movement below, he shot an arrow down at the second troglodyte, even though he wasn't entirely sure what it was he was attacking at this point. Wakuren followed suit, crossing the stone bridge to squeeze past Thurloe, knowing he'd need to get past the silence spell's area of effect if he were to be able to cast any of his spells, which were his only means of ranged combat since he refused to carry any weapons.

Below, the troglodyte cleric cast a shield of faith spell upon himself, readying for battle with these interlopers, for he could see these were likely surface people having come down into the Underdark. While he cast his spell, Xandro stepped out onto the bridge and fired his light crossbow down at the same troglodyte Thurloe had shot, his bolt catching the reptilian humanoid in the head just above his eye, killing him immediately.

The other troglodyte threw a javelin up at Thurloe, causing the fighter to duck back into the safety of the cave. In the meantime, the monitor lizard crossed the stream to get to the side of the dead troglodyte, where it wasted no time biting off hunks of the creature's flesh and gorging himself. The lizard played no favorites; this meal was as good as any other it might expect to find.

Alewyth and Zander crossed the bridge quickly, squeezing past the others to get to the safety of the other cave tunnel and, more importantly, to an area where they could hear noises once again and were therefore assured of being able to cast their spells as needed. Wakuren decided Thurloe was sufficient to provide for the group's defenses against any threat coming from the direction of the stone bridge and continued on down the tunnel to see if there were any dangers to be had from this direction. A set of natural stone steps dropped off to his left where the tunnel widened out and he could hear the sounds of rushing water coming from that direction. Carefully making his way down the uneven steps, he saw before him a wide cavern where a waterfall cascaded into a pool of water that covered more than half of the back end of the cavern. Facing the waterfall were three more troglodytes, javelins at the ready to throw at anybody who might fall down the waterfall - no doubt expecting the earth elemental to have been able to toss in a few potential meals by now. Due to the sounds made by the cascading water, they didn't hear Wakuren's approach. Sensing it was safe to do so, Wakuren cast an entropic shield spell upon himself, hoping to deflect some of the damage those javelins might do to him.

Back at the first cavern, the two remaining troglodytes rushed to the back wall and tried climbing up to the stone bridge; of the two, only the cleric was successful on his first attempt, the other one losing his footing and sliding back to the ground level. Thurloe shot an arrow at the troglodyte cleric, who hissed in silent pain at the wound, his own spell absorbing the sounds he made.

In the waterfall cavern, Wakuren rushed at the three troglodytes, slamming the closest with his shield as he spun to face the charging half-orc, having heard his clomping boots over the sounds of the waterfall at the last moment. Alewyth mentally calculated the distance involved and planted a sound burst spell far enough behind the troglodytes that it should affect two of them without encompassing Wakuren as well; fortunately, her aim was true and the cleric of Cal was not hit with the cacophonous burst. Then Zander stepped into visual range and sent a magic missile spell streaking over to hit one of the reptiles Alewyth had just hit with her own spell and it was enough to slay the troglodyte outright. As the other one seemed to have gotten the worst of the sound burst spell - and was momentarily stunned into immobility - Wakuren spun about to face the third troglodyte, who at this point had not been targeted at all, neither by spell nor by blow.

By this time, the physical combat had stirred whatever glands were responsible for the troglodytes' unholy stench and Wakuren was easily close enough to detect it. His face wrinkled in disgust but he managed to overcome the worst of the effects, as did Alewyth, who was further back and just barely in range to even detect the foul odor; Zander was still far enough back that he didn't have to worry about it just yet. And now Xandro stepped into view, his crossbow stowed on his back and his lute out, as his fingers began the first strumming chords of his song of courageous inspiration.

Back in the first cavern, the troglodyte cleric had pulled himself fully up onto the bridge while Thurloe readied another arrow into his bow and pulled back the drawstring. The reptile charged forward silently, dodging the arrow as Thurloe released it. Behind him, the other troglodyte ran up the wall and pulled himself up onto the bridge as well.

Wakuren found himself surrounded by a troglodyte on either side of him, slamming him with their stone clubs. He brought his shield around to block one of them, but that only left him wide open to the attack from the other one. Alewyth, seeing his predicament, raced forward and brought her enchanted warhammer Sjondra to bear, bringing it crashing down upon the skull of one of the troglodytes - and getting a much bigger whiff of the creature's stench at this closer range; fortunately, dwarves were made of stern stuff and she managed to resist its debilitating effects. But at this point Wakuren had held out for as long as he could and he felt the strength pour out of his limbs as his stomach rolled and turned at the vile stench filling his nostrils. He slammed again at his reptilian foe but his shield bash was not at its full force.

Thurloe dropped his bow and took several steps back, trying to keep as much distance as he could between himself and the charging troglodyte cleric, at least long enough for him to pull the bastard sword from the sheath on his back. By then, Zander had brought down one of the two remaining troglodytes fighting Wakuren and Alewyth with another magic missile spell, and hearing Thurloe's warning cry - for the fighter had backed out of the area of effect of the silence spell - he turned to face the threat approaching from the bridge. Xandro turned to face that way as well, still playing his lute and empowering the limbs of his friends as they fought off the troglodyte menace.

Wakuren had taken quite a beating by now and felt the need for some quick healing but knew that doing so while standing too close to the remaining troglodyte was just asking to be bludgeoned again by the reptile's club. With nowhere else to go (at least if he didn't want to risk tripping over the corpse of a slain troglodyte), he stepped into the pool of water, casting a cure light wounds spell upon himself while keeping a wary eye on his foe. Fortunately, said foe was concentrating on Wakuren as well and stepped into the pool after him, learning only too late that it wasn't a smart idea to turn his back upon Alewyth Putterpye. Sjondra crushed his skull as well and he fell face-first into the water, sending a wave splashing over Wakuren. But the half-orc was fine with getting a little wet if it meant not being attacked any longer. He cast a divine favor spell upon himself and started wading back to the shore.

The troglodyte cleric went all primal on Thurloe, slashing at him with his claws and snapping at him with his teeth. Thurloe's nose wrinkled at the stench of his foe and his stomach churned, threatening to release Edgyth Putterpie's wonderful breakfast back out into the wild. But the fighter swallowed down his gorge and sent his bastard sword glancing off the cleric's scaly hide. The reptile snarled at the blow, looked about him, and saw far too many enemies and far too few of his allies. He turned, bumping into the troglodyte that had just made it across the stone bridge and spun him about, the two of them racing back across the bridge the way they had come. Unlike with the choker, food had not been so scarce lately that winning this fight was a matter of life or death and the cleric chose to flee and survive to spring other ambushes on other days in the future.

Thurloe, however, was a firm believer in making sure your enemies never got a chance to attack you again on a different day in the future. He raced after the fleeing reptiles, scooping up his abandoned longbow in passing and then taking careful aim as the troglodytes scurried down the sides of the cavern wall. Neither made it down to the ground level alive and the monitor lizard had himself a choice of banquets that day.

After regrouping, assessing their wounds, and casting healing spells upon those who needed them, the group pressed on.

They reached the outskirts of Deepshaft less than an hour later. As Wakuren still wore the circlet with the symbol of Aerik on his brow, the dwarves of Deepshaft barely gave him a second glance, accepting that if their Stonehold brethren saw fit to let him into the dwarven lands then he must have already passed muster.

Naturally, Alewyth took up the role of party leader when dealing with her fellow dwarves. "We're lookin' fer someone caught up in 'is or 'er dreams," she told the guardsdwarves, and the other dreamwalkers couldn't help but notice her dwarven accent was more pronounced when among her own people.

"Ah, yer after th' lazy one," one guard snickered. "Ye c'n find 'im in th' 'ospital tent, down on level two o' th' southern mines. Bjuennar 'ere c'n take ye, if'n ye like."

Bjuennar, a scar-faced veteran, was more than happy to escort a pretty young dwarven cleric of the God of Earth and Stone (and her four companions, although he barely gave them a glance) to the southern mines. He took the group straight to see the foreman of the mines, who was intrigued when Alewyth told him of their plans to try to wake him. "Well, ye're welcome t' try," he offered. "Feller's name is Altum Deepdelver, 'e just fell over asleep on th' job one day and we've not been able t' wake 'im since. Nobody had any better ideas, so we drug 'im over t' th' 'ospital tent and th' clerics've been lookin' after 'im since. Most o' th' miners figger he's just fakin' and lazin' about, th' slothful bugger."

"I c'n assure ye, we've met up with others caught up in this dream sickness," Alewyth replied. "We still don't know what's causing it, but we've been able t' rescue three others before 'im." The foreman just shrugged and led them to the hospital tent, where he left them in the care of the two dwarven clerics tending to the medical needs of the miners. After explaining the situation and what they intended to do, the group was allowed to drag Altum's cot into the open where there was more room, wrap a dreamstone in a bandanna and tie it around Altum's head, then sit around his sleeping form in a circle, each dreamwalker holding a dreamstone of their own in one hand. The two miner clerics watched them for a bit, but when it became apparent all these five strangers were going to do was fall asleep sitting upright, they quickly lost interest and went about their other duties.

"Hey, kupo!" Mogo greeted them in the dreamlands when, one by one, each of the five fell asleep and sent their dream-forms out of the Mortal Plane altogether. "Is everyone ready, kupo?" Mogo fluttered in the air beside one of the seemingly endless doors in the Hallways of Dreams. At their acknowledgment of readiness, the moogle opened the door and ushered everyone into Altum Deepdelver's personal dreamscape. "Good luck, kupo!" Mogo called, closing the door behind them and then looking through the window he'd caused to materialize in the top half of the door so he could monitor their progress.

The quintet stepped onto a flat, desolate land with only the blackened, burned remains of trees and shrubs scattering the otherwise lifeless ground. "Not much here," Zander observed. "Where's Altum, and how are we supposed to wake him?"

"He won't necessarily be present," Alewyth pointed out. "Haven't you ever had a dream about other things, when you didn't even appear in them?" Zander shrugged his acceptance of the possibility.

"Still, it's not really apparent what all we're supposed to do," Thurloe observed.

Suddenly, the flapping of powerful wings alerted the group to a presence dropping down from the skies above: a massive, three-headed dragon with twin, spiked tails trailing behind him. With a roar of challenge coming from three separate throats, the dragon landed on the desert ground, causing a small explosion of dust and grit as he landed.

"I think that's a gorynych!" exclaimed Xandro, identifying it from tales he'd heard as a child. "But I didn't think they got that big!"

"Maybe not in real life, but this is a dream!" Alewyth reminded him, raising the dreamstone she held in her right hand. She presented it to the massive gorynych as she'd raise her holy symbol of Aerik to an undead being she intended to turn away. Had it been her holy symbol, she'd have channeled positive energy through it; on the dreamscape, she merely used it to focus her will as she imagined the gorynych being reduced in size and strength, hoping to make it a much more manageable foe like they did with the dream fox, the first dream-foe they had overcome with their dreamstones. Beside her, the four other dreamwalkers did the same.

It made not a lick of difference. With a three-throated roar, three draconic heads opened wide three enormous mouths and sent forth three bursts of lightning. Alewyth, Wakuren, and Xandro, standing in the middle of the group of five, were each instantly obliterated, their dream-bodies dissolved into nothingness in the blink of an eye.

"Run!" Thurloe cried, taking off at full speed to the left as Zander likewise fled to the right.

That also made no difference, other than causing the gorynych to have to track them down one at a time to slay them. It hopped towards Thurloe, its wings gliding it to an easy landing as it bent forward and snapped at him with three sets of teeth. The fighter's body was pulled apart into three messy chunks and each head swallowed down its own morsel before spinning in place and setting its triple gaze over at Zander. It then repeated its performance, gobbling the elven sorcerer down before roaring its defiance to the sky above.

"Kuuuuuupo!" swore Mogo, his eyes as wide as saucers as he watched the five dreamwalkers get killed in a matter of mere moments.

Fortunately, the only effect their dream-deaths had was to force each of the five back into wakefulness on the Material Plane. Zander, as the last to have been slain in the dream, was the last to wake back up in his real body.

"What the Hell was that?" he demanded.

"I told you: a gorynych," Xandro explained. "A really, really big one."

"Did anybody feel like they were successful in weakening it in any way?" Alewyth asked the others. The universal feeling was that their dreamstones had been useless. "Try it again?" she offered. Enthusiasm wasn't particularly high but failing anything else, they decided to give it a go. It took them a while to calm their heartbeats down and get themselves composed to where they could fall back asleep, but eventually they all managed it and met back up in the Hallway of Dreams.

"Holy crap, kupo!" Mogo exclaimed once they were all five back in place.

"Yeah, tell me about it!" Thurloe agreed. "So how come our dreamstones aren't helping?"

Mogo had no idea. "Maybe concentrate on weakening the creature before you even enter the dream, kupo...?" the moogle guide suggested, but it was fairly obvious he was just clutching at straws here. Still, they followed his suggestion - and it made no difference. The gorynych ripped them apart just as easily as it had before.

So the next time they entered the dream, they started running off in five different directions so it would be harder for the three-headed dragon to blast as many of them at one time. It landed in the middle of them, while they formed a five-pointed star around the creature in much the same way they were surrounding the sleeping form of Altum Deepdelver on the Material Plane. It did no good, the only change being it took the three-headed dragon almost a minute to slay them.

At Mogo's suggestion, the next time they entered the dream they were each wielding two dreamstones, one in each hand. That gave them a valuable piece of information: two dreamstones were just as useless against the gorynych as one had been. Their dream-deaths were just as swift that time.

"I'm getting kind of tired getting killed over and over!" complained Thurloe Pulver as the group met up in the Hallway of Dreams yet again.

"Yeah, this obviously isn't working, kupo!" agreed Mogo.

"Any ideas why?" asked Alewyth. Mogo just shook his head, sending his pom-pom antenna waving back and forth. "No, kupo. I have an idea, but you're probably not going to like it, kupo." He looked at each of the dreamwalkers in turn. "This dream-dragon is much too powerful for you now, but if you leave the dreamstone on the dwarf's forehead, over time he will bond more strongly with it and maybe that will help you to tap into your own dreamstones, kupo."

"You mean just give up?" asked Thurloe. "Walk away, after all the time we spent to get to this Altum guy, and come back later on?" Mogo just shrugged and nodded, sending his pom-pom antenna fluttering about again.

"Works for me," Zander offered.

"Me too," Xandro admitted. "We can always come back later, after we've gotten more powerful and more used to dream combats. After all, this is only, what? - our fourth dream battle."

Thurloe sighed. "Yeah, all right - I just hope that thing doesn't get any stronger over time than it already is."

"Then I guess you guys can wake back up and go back the way you came, kupo. You'll need to head back out of the mountain and travel east; the next dream victim is that way, kupo."

It was a dejected group that woke back up around the still-sleeping Altum Deepdelver. "I guess we can't win them all," suggested Wakuren. But the dwarven miner clerics weren't at all disappointed in the lack of results, for nothing they had tried had worked, either. Alewyth instructed them to keep the bandanna in place on Altum's forehead, so he could better attune to the dreamstone, and promised they'd be back later to try again.

"Possibly much later," piped up Thurloe.

After getting the clerics to promise to send word to the Temple of Aerik in Stonehold if there was any change in Altum's status - especially if he happened to wake up on his own - the group took their leave of Deepshaft and returned back to Alewyth's family home in Stonehold. Fortunately, their way back was much more uneventful than their trek to Deepshaft had been. They spent the evening with Alewyth's parents and hunkered down to another claustrophobic night sleeping in their cramped quarters.

The next morning had the benefit of starting off with Edgyth's marvelous pastries as a major part of their hearty dwarven breakfast. But before they could say their goodbyes to the Putterpyes - and Wakuren could fetch the armor he'd ordered - there was a knock on the door and a sheepish-looking Priest of Aerik asked to see the five adventurers. "I hate t' bother ye, but there's a matter that might be could use yer expertise..." he began, before explaining that one of the dwarves in the city had been unable to be awakened this morning.

"Th' lad's name's Brokar Herdson," the priest of Aerik explained, "an' 'e normally tends t' th' rothé 'is family raises in th' city." He led the five heroes to the Herdson residence, where the non-dwarven among them got their first whiff of "stench kow" - not as pungent as troglodyte stench, but not far off. Alewyth took charge, handing out a dreamstone to each of the dreamwalkers (and noting they were now down to eleven) and setting them up in a circle around Brokar's sleeping form.

"Oh, good, kupo!" Mogo exclaimed upon seeing the five appear at the Hallway of Dreams. "We just got a new dreamer stuck right by your present location, kupo! I was afraid we'd have to send you right back there when you reported in tonight, kupo!" As creatures that existed only in the dreamlands, the moogles - and the Queen of Dreams who ruled over them - had no way of communicating with the dreamwalkers except when they were asleep. Mogo led them to another door and activated the window that allowed them to look into the dreamscape before entering it.

"Oh, no!" exclaimed Thurloe.

This dreamscape looked very much like the one in which they'd fought - although "been slain by" was a more apt description - the gorynych in Altum Deepdelver's dream. Fortunately, there were a few differences: while this was also a desolate landscape, it came complete with scattered boulders of various sizes. It was also apparently underground, as opposed to the open-air desert of the gorynych's home ground.

"There better not be any damned three-headed dragons in here..." muttered Thurloe as the five dreamwalkers entered the dream. As before, Mogo's touch attuned them to the dream so they'd be able to interact with it.

They heard a muffled cry from the left; looking that way, they saw a dwarf - easily identifiable as Brokar Herdson - scrambling back to his feet after a fall. He looked in panic over his shoulder at whatever it was that was after him.

His pursuer was quite distinctive. Towering as tall as a storm giant, he had the build and garb of a rather thin hill giant: hard, firm muscles instead of sloppy fat, and wearing a wrap of cured animal skins around his hips and leather sandals upon his feet with criss-crossed straps reaching up his calves. The biggest difference was his head, or rather his lack thereof, for sprouting up from his neck was an oversize hand, its fingers curled in an attempt to grab onto the fleeing dwarf.

Expecting trouble of the same sort the gorynych had given them, each of the dreamwalkers had a dreamstone clenched in their hands, even here in the dreamlands. As one, they raised their dreamstones and pointed them at the nightmare hand-beast, using their limited powers of dream manipulation to will the creature to become weaker.

Surprising all five of them, it worked.

The hand-beast shrunk in stature as it chased after a panicked Brokar. The fleeing dwarf passed them by, and by the time to pursuing monstrosity caught up to where the heroes were standing it was little taller than an ogre. "That's more like it!" enthused Thurloe before cutting down the beast with his bastard sword. Upon the nightmare hand-beast's passing, the dreamscape started fading out of view as Brokar Herdson began waking up. Hurriedly, the dreamwalkers followed him into wakefulness.

"Ye did it!" cried out Brokar's parents, Hilda and Hongar, upon seeing their son arise from his too-long slumber. "We were worried about ye, son!"

"What happened?" asked Brokar, rubbing his eyes and stretching. "What time is it?"

A grateful family of rothé herders rewarded the group with a bag of fermented stench kow milk. Alewyth accepted it in gratitude on behalf of the group before anyone could decline and embarrass the family. Once they had left the Herdsons, the Aerik priest passed over a bag of coins to his fellow adherent. "This's fer doin' what th' others in our order could not," he told Alewyth. "Use it as ye need, and no arguments." Alewyth thanked the elder and they returned to her parents' dwelling to fetch their belongings. There she said a tearful goodbye to her folks, gathered their mounts, and went to fetch the magic armor Wakuren had ordered. Thurloe took custody of it for the time being to foster the illusion it had been made for him and stowed it in the wagon. As they left Stonehold, Wakuren returned the circlet he'd been ordered to wear while within the dwarven Underdark lands.

"I thank you for the temporary use of your token," he said, handing the circlet to one of the guards. "May Aerik bestow His blessings upon you."

"Hrrmph!" snorted the guard, not sure of what to make of a civilized orc.

- - -

Once outside the city, Wakuren switched over to his new +1 full plate armor, something he'd been itching to buy as soon as he had the cash. He passed his old armor - a +1 chain shirt - to Alewyth, as it was better than the armor she'd been wearing, and since we're using the rules that magical armor shifts and alters to fit the body of whoever's wearing it (as long as they're the correct size category). In addition, Vicki had stated a desire to have Alewyth purchase a dire goat as a riding mount, and I had told her the best time to do that was when she was back at home in Stonehold. I also suggested that the prices for a saddle, saddlebags, barding, etc. would be the standard prices from the Player's Handbook in Stonehold, but if she waited until she was back in the "human lands" she'd have to pay the "exotic" prices as dire goats aren't quite as commonly seen there. So she opted for a military saddle, bit and bridle, and saddle bags for her dire goat, which she decided to name Pyrite.

Joe, in the meantime, is still deciding on a name for his cooshee. He...tends to take his time coming up with names.

- - -

T-shirt worn: This was the same game session as "Farthingale's Fortunes," so I was still wearing my Mello Yello T-shirt. Lame tie-in: the Ghidorah figure (from my Godzilla figures collection I have displayed in my man-cave and the bookshelf in the hallway just outside it) has golden scales, not unlike the golden color of the soft drink. Tenuous, yes, but a tie-in nonetheless.
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PC Roster:
Alewyth Putterpye, dwarf priestess of Aerik 3​
Thurloe Pulver, human fighter 3​
Wakuren, half-orc cleric of Cal 1/paladin 2​
Xandro Silverstrings, human bard 3​
Zander Quilson, elf sorcerer 3​

Game Session Date: 28 August 2021

- - -

Alewyth was getting used to riding on her new dire goat Pyrite; it was quite different than sitting beside Wakuren in the front of the mule-driven wagon, that was for sure! The group was three days out of Stonehold and had perhaps another half-day before reaching the small village of Pendlewick, the location of the next dream victim they'd try to rescue.

As the group ambled down the road on their respective mounts they saw ahead of them, off to the side of a road, a canvas tent: large, circular, with a pointed top, of the types often used in circuses. A young man in the robes of a wizard stood just outside it, holding a rather elaborate-looking staff with a large lens on top. The staff had several small projections sticking out of it, giving it the appearance it wasn't quite sure if it wanted to be a wizard's staff or a coat rack for dolls.

"Come one, come all!" the young wizard called out to the group as they got nearer. "For the paltry sum of five silver coins, you can see strange beasts from exotic lands, all in the safety and comfort of a shaded tent! Do not pass on the opportunity of a lifetime! What do you say, my lady, good gentlemen – will you enter the tent and be astounded by the creatures I will show you?"

The adventurers looked among themselves to discern the level of interest. "What do you think?" asked Alewyth. "We're making good time, and it's not likely to be that long of a diversion."

"The price is pretty low, too," agreed Thurloe. "Sure, why not?"

"You guys go ahead," replied Xandro. "I'll stay out here and look after the animals."

Wakuren had the mules pull the wagon off to the side of the road and Alewyth, Thurloe, Xandro, and Zander followed suit with their own riding mounts. The three horses and the dire goat were given free rein to take the opportunity to graze among the grasses and plants along the side of the road; Xandro pulled the waterskin from his belt and helped himself to a long drink. The young wizard, in the meantime, was collecting silver coins from the other four and ushering them inside the tent. "Are you sure you will not reconsider, my good sir?" he asked Xandro. "Inside you will see wonders nearly beyond belief!" Xandro merely shook his head and waved him off, turning to give his horse White a good rubdown.

"Very well then, come inside, line up along the edge if you please," the young wizard said to the others. "Form a single row, so everyone can see the wonders to come!" There were already ten people lined up along the inner surface of the canvas tent, mostly farm-folk by the looks of them, although there was at least one traveling merchant among them, which explained the small pony and cart parked outside on the other side of the tent. Thurloe noticed there was no central tent pole, the outer poles each angling up and meeting in the middle at the top point. There was an easy eight-foot clearance along the edges of the tent, while the middle had to be around 12 feet high.

Once everyone had been positioned to his satisfaction, and after having peeked back outside to see there was nobody else within view who might be coaxed inside, the young wizard began his spiel. "For those who do not know me, I am Dolmarr Vingerman," he said, "apprentice to the local wizard here in the village. I have learned the ways of mighty magics, which allow me to summon forth visions of faraway lands and the strange and exotic denizens that exist therein!" As he was saying this, he was peering through the lens at the top of his odd little staff, concentrating on tweaking a few of the knobs and projections. And suddenly, there in the middle of the tent, an image began to form. With the flaps closed, it was already dark inside the tent but the image taking shape was darker still, as if capturing the picture of a landscape seen at nighttime. It wasn't anything particularly interesting, though, merely a collection of broad-leafed plants, quite low to the ground.

"Pfeh!" snorted one of the farmers. "For this I paid five silvers?"

"One moment please, while I focus in on a few of the wonders I have promised," replied Dolmarr, peering through his lens and twiddling knobs. The plants in the circle at the center of the tent whisked forward and out of view, being replaced by others who seemed to slide sideways into the circle. Zander realized this was probably some sort of scrying device that projected the image of the area upon which it was focused. He squinted down at the floor of the tent and saw no runes or glyphs, no magic circle, merely the dirt of the surrounding area. So the image was being projected from the staff somehow.

But while the sorcerer was puzzling out how the staff might work, a sudden gasp from the rest of the audience brought his attention away from Dolmarr and the staff and back toward the dark image in the middle of the tent. There were more of the broad-leafed plants in view, but more importantly, there was now a hideous, reptilian monster standing in the middle of the tent eating them.

The creature stood on a pair of powerful hind legs with a tail sticking out behind it for balance. From head to tail it had to measure close to 15 feet long - and what a head it had! Its cranial dome was covered in thick warts and protrusions, rather like the head of a heavy mace. It placidly continued eating its meal, ignoring the people surrounding it and staring at it in wide-eyed fascination.

"It can't see us, can it?" whispered a frightened old farmer.

"Not in the least," reassured Dolmarr. "It is far away on the continent of Talonia, where it cannot harm us."

"It's so dark," complained another observer. "Can't you make it lighter, so we can see it better?"

"I should be able to," mumbled Dolmarr to himself, fiddling with some of the knobs on the staff. He now wished he'd had more time to practice with the staff (although since his master hadn't realized Dolmarr had "borrowed" it for this money-making venture and he'd need to return it before its presence was missed, it wasn't as if he'd had a lot of time to figure out all of its workings) and that he'd factored in the nighttime status of the continent of Talonia. Still, one of these switches ought to be able to cast some more illumination on the scene....

Dolmarr Vingerman never did realize what exactly he'd done that got the image focused so much better, but all of a sudden the dinosaur before them was in much clearer detail; it was much easier to make out the banded patterns on the creature's scaled back and the intricate veins on the leaves it was eating. Of course, the sudden sounds of insects buzzing and the grunt of astonishment coming from the pachycephalosaurus standing in the middle of the tent was an indicator that the reason for the image's much-clearer focus might not have been the one Dolmarr had intended. There was now an earthy smell in the tent as well that hadn't been there a moment earlier.

With a bleat of panic, the knobby-headed dinosaur raised its head from the plant it had been eating and looked about him at the strange creatures who, in its mind, had suddenly appeared in a ring all around it while it ate. This caused the villagers to panic in return, and several of them yelped aloud; those closest to the tent flaps made a hurried dash toward it while Dolmarr frantically started flipping switches trying to undo whatever he'd done to project the creature across the miles to end up inside the tent with them.

Zander had no idea what kind of creature this monster was, but he didn't like being trapped inside a tent with it. He pulled the figurine of wondrous power from his pocket and dropped it to the ground in front of him, calling out the command word that brought the cooshee to full size and apparent life. Thurloe, beside him, pulled the bastard sword from the scabbard on his broad back and readied his blade for action. Alewyth started the words to a bless spell, realizing combat was likely imminent with this unknown monster. Wakuren tried the opposite approach, casting a bane spell upon the monster, hoping to lessen the impact of any attacks it might make upon those trapped inside the tent with it.

But panic was now underway: the villagers were screaming in terror, some making a mad rush towards the closed tent flaps and others trying to climb underneath the bottom of the canvas walls. The pachycephalosaurus was in just as much of a blind panic and it lashed out in the way it knew best, by lowering its head into battering ram configuration and dashing forward. Its thick skull crashed into the skull of a commoner who had dropped to his knees in an attempt to scramble under the tent and he was slain instantly, the entire side of his head caved in from the impact. Naturally, this caused the villagers to scream even louder in terror, which put the pachycephalosaurus into even more of a panic....

From outside the tent, Xandro heard the screaming and rushed over to the tent flap to see what was going on. He was nearly bowled over by the sudden exit of a townsman who had found his way to the flap and wasn't going to let anything get in his way of an immediate exit. As the light from outside momentarily illuminated the scene inside the darkened tent and the bard saw some sort of lizard-monster in there with his friends, he pulled the lute from his back and started his song of courageous inspiration, knowing from past experience it was one way he could aid all of his friends at once while they faced danger.

The cooshee darted forward and snapped his teeth at the pachycephalosaurus, getting no purchase on the reptile's thick hide but attracting its attention. Zander cast a mage armor spell upon his elven dog, hoping to protect his combat avatar - for the delicate sorcerer had no desire to wade into combat with the dinosaur himself! Thurloe stepped over and, while the creature's focus was on the cooshee, brought his bastard sword down in a two-handed blow upon the scaled back of the mighty lizard-thing, but it swerved at the last moment - an accidental repositioning to better face the cooshee, nothing it had done on purpose - and the fighter's blade skittered off the creature's scales at an angle, deflected off to the side. Over by the tent flap, Dolmarr continued trying to fiddle with the staff, desperately attempting to undo the damage he'd done and send this monster back to Talonia. His face was white with terror and disbelief that things had somehow gone so wrong.

Alewyth cast another spell, this time a doom spell focused on the pachycephalosaurus which she hoped would lessen its combat prowess. Wakuren also cast a spell, a divine favor on himself, in preparation for him wading into battle armed only with his shield. By this time, about half of the farmers had escaped the tent, a few by the tent flaps and the rest by scrambling underneath the canvas walls on their stomachs.

The panicked dinosaur focused on the one foe that best fit its preconceived knowledge of a predator species, striking the cooshee with its knobbed skull. The dog yelped in pain at the blow and darted off to the side, then rushed in and snapped at the reptilian beast with its teeth again, slashing a set of front claws at it as well for good measure. Zander cast a magic missile spell at the dinosaur, the twin blades of force striking unerringly into the beast's shoulder. Another farmer went racing out through the tent flap and this time, giving up on figuring out the staff's workings in time, Dolmarr went with him, fleeing to the relative safety of the world outside the canvas tent, whose interior now included a 30-foot-diameter patch of the continent of Talonia. The wizard's apprentice started sprinting as fast as he could back towards his master's cottage; maybe Grimblegrack Fishmelon could find a way to put this whole fiasco to rights!

Activating the power of the magical torc he wore around his neck, Thurloe brought his bastard sword crashing into the scaled body of the pachycephalosaurus and this time he was rewarded by the sudden appearance of a large gash across the creature's broad flank and the welcome gushing of its life's blood spattering across the broad leaves of the plants underfoot. That answered one of the fighter's questions, for he knew the power of his sword Spellslicer would dissipate the monster had it been nothing more than an illusion. Alewyth, too, had decided on joining the fight in person, having cast the spells she had on hand that were likely to be of use; now, she brought her warhammer Sjondra crashing into the side of the dinosaur's head. Behind it, Wakuren's shield went slamming into the base of its tail. But the simple-minded dinosaur was still focused on the cooshee, butting its head in the canine's direction while the elven dog ducked under the blow and scooted off to the side again.

But now the cooshee was getting new orders from his master, for Zander had seen Dolmarr flee the scene and realized that weird staff was the key to getting the dinosaur sent back to where it had come from. "Go get the staff, boy!" he called to his elven dog, and in an instant the cooshee had darted out of the tent, running down Dolmarr before he had gotten too far down the road. He snapped his teeth over the end of the wooden staff and tugged it out of Dolmarr's grip; in truth, the wizard's apprentice wasn't willing to put up much of a fight. He continued his staggered run back toward Grimblegrack's cottage, while the cooshee, tail wagging, trotted back with the staff held proudly in his grip, realizing he was indeed a very good boy.

A final magic missile spell from Zander's fingertips finished off the pachycephalosaurus and it collapsed to the ground on its side with a solid thud. Seeing it lying lifelessly on the tent floor, the elven sorcerer backed out of the tent flaps to meet up with his eager cooshee. Back in the tent, Thurloe and Alewyth held their weapons at the ready, not sure if the danger was indeed over with, for they could still hear the sounds of unseen buzzing insects emanating from the parts of the Talonian jungle they still couldn't see. That idiot wizard had somehow turned a scrying device into a teleportation circle and as far as anybody could tell the circle was still in effect.

The last of the panicked villagers finally fled the tent, bumping straight into Xandro in his haste and falling backwards to land on a displaced Talonian plant. And it was at that moment that Thurloe and Alewyth's fears were proven to be valid, for suddenly manifesting along one side of the circle of vegetation came three more dinosaurs, creeping stealthily.

These three had the same general build as the pachycephalosaurus - bipedal, with a tail held aloft behind them as a counterbalance - but there were several differences. These three were much smaller than the knobby-headed monstrosity they were hunting, each with a mouth of sharp teeth denoting their carnivorous nature. In addition, a large, curving talon rose from each foot like a displaced scythe.

The body of the pachycephalosaurus was over on the other side of the tent, but there was other living prey much closer at hand. While two of the velociraptors snapped their wicked teeth at Wakuren, who was hard-pressed to keep them at bay behind his shield, the other darted forward and ripped the throat out of the prone villager lying on his back near the tent flaps. This was the second death brought about as a result of Dolmarr Vingerman's ill-advised moneymaking scheme.

Wakuren went immediately on the offensive, slamming his shield into the side of the head of the first velociraptor to try to take a bite out of him. Thurloe stepped forward and attacked the same one with his bastard sword, thinking to try to focus all of their attacks on one dinosaur at a time the better to take them out of the fight as quickly as possible. Alewyth, however, was closer to the middle of the three velociraptors and chose to attack that one with her dwarven warhammer. Shrieking in fury, the two dinosaurs snapped and clawed at Wakuren and Alewyth, the third one wandering back over to help his hunt-mates by attacking Thurloe instead of dining upon the villager whose throat he'd just ripped out.

Zander examined the staff his cooshee had just obediently dropped at his feet. He'd seen a variety of magical devices in his lifetime and this one was without a doubt of gnomish design, for it lacked the sleek elegance of elven workmanship or even the detailed and no-nonsense deliberateness of those crafted by dwarves. This, however, had "gnome" written all over it, from the short knobs that stuck out at the staff's top near the wide glass lens (some of which twisted, some of which could be pulled into different positions, and some of which could be pushed in or pulled out to different lengths) to the gems embedded at seemingly random places along its length and which glowed to different degrees when the various knobs and levers were fiddled with. None of it made any sense to the elven sorcerer, who realized it was probably going to have to be a process of trial and error to figure out how to reverse the teleportation circle effect or at least shut it off.

Wakuren sent his shield slamming into his velociraptor foe once again, eliciting a hiss of pain from the dinosaur. He barely registered the sound of Xandro's tune of inspiration, as the bard had continued his performance-enhancing magical song to aid his friends in their various combats and had managed to keep playing even after having been nearly run over by the fleeing villager who had become prey to these savage dinosaurs.

Zander decided it would be best not to experiment with the staff until all of his friends were outside the current circle of effect; he didn't want to send them over to the savage continent of Talonia with no way to get them back. With that thought in mind, he called out another order to his cooshee and the elven dog immediately complied, grabbing up the side of a tent flap in his teeth and pulling it aside so his master could see inside the tent's otherwise unlit interior. Seeing the three small dinosaurs snapping at the other three heroes, Zander cast a magic missile spell that finished off the velociraptor Wakuren had been fighting. Thurloe activated another use of his torc of the titans, feeling the added strength flow through his limbs as he brought his blade slicing into the side of the velociraptor he'd been fighting off. Alewyth sent Sjondra slamming into the side of her own reptilian foe, which clawed back at her and tried grabbing her arm between its pointed teeth. Wakuren brought the side of his shield slamming into the ribs of the velociraptor biting at Thurloe.

A whine from the cooshee denoted his desire to join in the fray, but Zander cautioned him to stay in place holding open the tent flap and fired off another magic missile spell, slaying the second of the sleek predators. Thurloe, no longer under attack, spun about and brought his bastard sword crashing down into the skull of the one attacking Alewyth, cleaving the beast's head in two. Then, the current batch of reptilian monsters slain, Zander called for everyone to exit the tent so he could see about reversing the teleportation circle's effects. Staggering back outside, Alewyth and Wakuren took the opportunity to cast cure light wounds spells upon themselves, healing up the worst of the bites and scratches they'd received during combat with their prehistoric foes.

But before Zander could even begin to try his experiments with the oddball staff, another figure came bursting into the circle of vegetation - and reptilian corpses - currently covering the tent's interior. This was another dinosaur, smaller in size like the velociraptors but lacking their fearsome teeth and scythelike claws; this one was built more like a sleeker version of the pachycephalosaurus, likely also a planteater by nature. However, this particular dinosaur was mounted by a strange-looking humanoid the heroes immediately mistook for a gnome, for he was the same general size and build of a gnome but with features (especially the nose) more to scale with that of a human or elf. He was dressed in combat leathers and had some sort of face-paint covering his exposed skin, while his hair was entwined in thick clumps more than a little bit reminiscent of tentacles. "Bondo quintessy?" the startled halfling called out as his riding mount slammed into the canvas tent, rebounded off, and started circling the interior looking for a way out of this structure that had suddenly sprung up around it.

"Hang on, we'll try to get you back!" Zander called to the little fellow, but the halfling gave no sign of having understood. While Zander poked about with the staff, the halfling ranger tried to warn the strange elf (whose skin was much lighter than any elf he'd ever seen before in his life) of the danger rapidly approaching. "Ziggurakk!" he cried. "Bantu nobishky!"

Despite the unbridgeable gap in their respective understanding of foreign languages, the halfling's desperate warnings soon became evident when another pair of dinosaurs rushed onto the scene. This was the pair of deinonychi who had caught the scent of the halfling's mount and had been chasing after them. The deinonychi were in all respects save size built along the same frame as the velociraptors had been, right down to the curved toe claw sprouting up from each foot, but they towered over the halfling and his pony-sized dinosaur mount; they towered over even Thurloe, the tallest of the heroes.

Their momentum sent the deinonychi crashing into the same patch of tent wall the halfling's mount had ran into, but the predators' claws made quick work of the canvas and they popped out the side of the tent and in the midst of the horses and mules grazing contentedly while waiting for their trip to resume. Pyrite saw the vicious carnivores and dashed off behind the wagon, while Horse, White, and Eddy ran off it different directions at top speed, one deinonychus snapping its wicked teeth at White as he passed but fortunately catching nothing more than a clump of mane as the panicked horse fled. The mules, Mica and Perseverance, were still hooked up to the wagon and they started trying to flee in opposite directions, but fortunately they soon came to an agreement about which way they were going and the wagon lurched off to the left, across the road they'd been traversing and then onto the adjoining field on the other side.

Thurloe sighed in frustration at this fourth wave of reptilian intruders from afar, this pair the most dangerous-looking of the bunch. He charged forward with his sword raised, channeling the last daily use of his magic torc to put as much power into the blow as he could. The sword's blade sunk deep into the dinosaur's flesh, causing it to cry out in a roar of pain that could easily have been mistaken for the cry of a dragon.

Alewyth cast a spiritual weapon spell and a hammer, very similar in size and shape to Sjondra but composed entirely of force energy, manifested in the air before her and at her mental command went streaking to slam into the ribs of the second deinonychus. Wakuren dashed back inside the tent to attack the first dinosaur - the one who had snapped at the horses - to hopefully draw its attention to him instead of their beasts of burden. His shield slammed into the creature's tail, right where it joined the beast's torso. Xandro's eyes bulged at the size of these new attackers but he steadfastly continued playing his melody, inspiring the others to greater and greater acts of heroism.

The cooshee dropped the tent flap from his mouth and darted forward to snap his teeth at the tail of the second deinonychus. Zander cast another magic missile spell at the same creature, hoping to bring it down quickly. But the deinonychi had each decided upon a primary foe among these strange creatures attacking them in this strange land where suddenly it was full daytime, with one focusing on Thurloe and the other spinning about to snap at Wakuren, still back in the ripped tent.

Thurloe's blade and Alewyth's summoned spiritual warhammer crashed into the same deinonychus at the same time, the dwarven priestess following up her mentally-controlled attack with a solid blow from Sjondra after she charged at her reptilian foe. The combination of attacks slew the massive dinosaur, who collapsed in place half outside the ruined tent. Wakuren didn't notice the creature's demise, intent upon fighting off its partner without getting bitten in half. The cooshee came to aid him, biting and clawing at the dinosaur's nearest leg while the massive beast snapped its jaws at the half-orc combatant before it. And then Thurloe's blade struck it from the other side, as Alewyth redirected her spiritual weapon before it blinked back out of existence after having struck a final blow at the remaining deinonychus's head. Sjondra went slamming into the monster's leg and Xandro, seeing that this was the last remaining foe and it looked to be losing steam quickly, set down his lute, pulled out his rapier, and charged it. He buried the blade into its body up to the hilt, pulling it back out just in time to see it fall over like a felled tree.

The halfling and his dinosaur mount had made it outside through the tent flap and the little humanoid was babbling excitedly in his strange language. "Anybody got a means of translating what he's saying?" asked Xandro. "Or making him understand what we're saying?" The spellcasters among them all searched their spell inventories and came up short.

"You got that blasted staff figured out yet?" called Thurloe, wanting to shut the teleportation circle before anything else got shunted over. Zander was having no luck with it; what probably seemed completely straightforward to a gnome wizard was nowhere near to being obvious to the frazzled elven sorcerer.

But then a pair of figures approached from the north. One was an angry-looking gnome stomping down the road with one arm raised above his head; the other was Delmarr Vingerman, hobbling in a bent-over posture but only because his master had a death grip upon his right earlobe and was dragging him along. Fluttering beside the gnome was his familiar, a hummingbird who flitted about this way and that in apparent agitation.

"What the Hell is going on over here?" demanded Grimblegrack Fishmelon upon seeing the shredded tent and the corpses of various dinosaurs laying strewn about on the dirt. Alewyth veered over to fill him on his apprentice's role in accidentally bringing a series of dinosaurs across from one continent to another. The gnome wizard looked at the carnage - including the two dead villagers - and closed his eyes, holding his fingers at the bridge of his prodigious nose as if fighting off an extreme headache. "Okay, you, elf: give me the staff," he demanded, holding out a hand. Zander passed the staff over to Grimblegrack without a word. The gnome held it up, focused it on the circle of vegetation and dead dinosaurs, and started pulling levers and twisting knobs. Various gemstones lit up and blinked on and off, and with a pop of compressed air the center of the damaged tent was once again as it had been. One of the velociraptors, and both of the deinonychi, however, were still lying where they had fallen as they were outside of the circle.

The heroes were quickly dispatched to fetch their fleeing animals and bring them back, in part so the horses and mules could be used to drag the bigger deinonychi into the center of the tent so Grimblegrack could reverse the teleportation circle effect and send them back to Talonia.

"What about the other gnome?" Alewyth asked.

"What other gnome?" Grimblegrack demanded.

"The one on the dinosaur," the dwarven priestess replied, pointing at what she considered to be a gnome in dreadlocks.

"That's a halfling!" sputtered the gnome wizard, clearly offended that these heroes couldn't tell the difference between a dinosaur-riding savage and a noble gnome schooled in the wizardly arts. But through a series of pantomimes they convinced the halfling to enter the tent. In a flash he was gone, returned to his home continent once more. "I'd've thought the nose was a dead giveaway," grumbled Grimblegrack to himself.

In the end, though, he thanked the heroes for their assistance in taking down the dinosaurs his idiot apprentice had inadvertently brought over, and in keeping the subsequent deaths to a minimum. "You realize we're going to have to pay to have them both raised if we expect to keep your neck out of the hangman's noose," he said to Delmarr, who blanched visibly.

"Can you use that staff to teleport anybody anywhere?" asked Thurloe, already thinking of a way he might wheedle the gnomish wizard into helping them along on their way.

"Within some limits," Grimblegrack answered. "I'd need to scry on the other end of the teleportation circle first to establish the link. Why? Do you need to be somewhere?"

In the end, Grimblegrack agreed to set up a teleportation circle the group could use to travel immediately to the outskirts of the village of Pendlewick, where their next dream victim was supposed to be. There was no real hurry, but Thurloe was eager to shave off any time he could from the trip. And the gnome gave them another token as thanks for their assistance in slaying the dinosaurs and helping to clean up the mess afterwards: a small metal chest, the size of a loaf of banana bread. Opening it, Thurloe saw it was filled with an assortment of hard candies that had apparently been there for so long they had fused into one connected mass. "Uh, thanks," he said to the wizard, not wanting to offend him.

That finally brought a smile to the sour gnome's face. "The candy's an illusion," he said, chuckling. "It's an extradimensional space inside. It won't be useful in carrying any large items you might have, but I've found it to be a good method of transporting large quantities of coins and gems." The fighter's eyebrows raised at that; it would be much easier carrying around their collected treasure in such a small chest than the larger ones they had in the back of the mule wagon.

"And I believe my idiot apprentice Dolmarr has the first of the coins you might wish to take with you," prompted Grimblegrack.

With a sheepish look, Dolmarr reached into his coin purse and returned the twenty pieces of silver he'd collected from Alewyth, Thurloe, Wakuren, and Zander as payment to see the wondrous creatures he'd promised to show them from inside the tent.

- - -

We had some scheduling issues with this session; Harry had a school chorus picnic from 11:00 to 1:00 and Dan, Vicki, and Joe had a birthday party they needed to hit in the early evening so they wanted a "no later than" finishing time of 4:30. So, rather than run the original adventure I had planned for this session, in which they'd meet up with the next dreamer trapped inside their own dreams, I swapped it for this one which was to have taken place after that one. I knew this adventure was a much shorter one, basically one extended encounter stretched out in waves at a single location, and figured we should be able to finish it off in about two hours. I was pretty close: we started at 1:30 and finished up at 3:35. So the next time we play - in two weeks, as both families will be out of town next Saturday - we'll run through "Middlewich Manor," the adventure I had originally intended to be adventure #13.

- - -

T-shirt worn: My "Duck Dynasty" T-shirt, if only because it shows four bearded faces, any one of which could have stood in for the gnome wizard Grimblegrack Fishmelon, if you squinted hard enough.
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PC Roster:
Alewyth Putterpye, dwarf priestess of Aerik 3​
Thurloe Pulver, human fighter 3​
Wakuren, half-orc cleric of Cal 1/paladin 2​
Xandro Silverstrings, human bard 3​
Zander Quilson, elf sorcerer 3​

Game Session Date: 11 September 2021

- - -

Riding their various mounts and the mule-driven wagon through Grimblegrack Fishmelon's teleportation circle, the group of adventurers found themselves miles ahead down the road and just outside the edge of the village of Pendlewick. "Ah, good," observed Thurloe with a sense of satisfaction (and not a little relief) in his voice; the fighter tended to be distrustful of people he didn't know well and wouldn't have been too surprised if the gnome's magic had ended up sending them far off their intended course.

But such was not the case; this was indeed Pendlewick and now the only problem was in finding the sleeping victim Mogo said was isolated somewhere in the village. They stopped in at a local pub, not only because it was usually a good source of gossip but also because the team was ready for a hearty lunch. Talking to the regulars there, though, produced no specifics, for nobody was aware of anyone in town who'd been asleep for a span of time and couldn't be awakened.

The team expanded their circle of inquiries as they explored the village, getting no definite answers. Eventually Xandro expanded their questions to see if there was anyone in town who hadn't been seen for some time; after all, a dream coma would be a possible explanation for someone's sudden removal from daily life. That got some supposition, if nothing else: there was a widow woman, Lady Camilla Middlewich, who lived in an old run-down manor at the far edge of town who didn't get out much; she lived there in her husband's estate with a housekeeper and small handful of maids. "Come to think of it, I know a few of them maids by sight, and none of them have been around the marketplace for some time now," recalled an elderly merchant running a vegetable cart in the market.

"That might be worth checking out," agreed Alewyth. They got directions to the Middlewich estate but then Thurloe suggested they check it out the next morning. "It's getting late, we're all tired, and you spellcasters would be better off getting a good night's sleep and having a fresh batch of spells in the morning - you never know what we might meet up with." Reluctantly, Alewyth agreed with the fighter; she'd cast most of her most powerful spells in fighting off those dinosaurs earlier that morning and Zander was in no better shape. They found an inn, got rooms for the night, and started out fresh the next morning heading out to Middlewich Manor.

The manor house had seen better days, for there were shingles missing from the roof and the place could use a fresh coat of paint. What had once been a lovely bed of flowers on either side of the front steps were now starting to be overgrown with encroaching weeds. Still, Wakuren had high hopes that this would be an easy mission; he strode up the steps to the front door and boldly knocked four times, standing in the alcove and waiting for the door to open. He stood there waiting for some time before knocking again, holding his ear to the door to see if he could hear any signs of life inside the manor. "Anything?" asked Alewyth.

"Nothing," admitted the half-orc. "Doesn't sound like anybody's home."

"Maybe they're all in a dream coma," suggested Xandro, only half seriously.

"I'm sure Mogo would have noticed that," Thurloe replied, kicking his horse Horse into moving around the manor house; maybe they were out back or something. There was a vast, open field behind the manor house and Thurloe spotted a deer over by the small forest at the edge of the field. But after having determined the deer was no threat, he focused his attention back to the manor house - and immediately saw one of the two ground-level windows leading into the basement was broken.

Dismounting from Horse, Thurloe hunkered down and peered in through the broken window. The basement level inside was unlit but for the light streaming through the two windows, and it wasn't much at that for not only was Thurloe blocking most of the broken window with his body but the other one was streaked with dust and dirt. He could make out a small pile of crates and boxes stacked up between the windows and some sort of shelving off to the left, and that was about it. Still, it provided a means of entering the manor house; walking Horse around the rest of the dwelling Thurloe found another door - opening into a kitchen, from the looks of it - but it too was locked. He returned and met back up with the others, still waiting at the front door. "No answer?" he asked, realizing after he'd said it that the answer to that question was patently obvious. Before anybody could respond he told them about the broken window he'd found out back.

"Well, I suppose if we're going to break in it makes sense to go in the same way somebody else has already broken in," Wakuren opined. He wasn't exactly thrilled with the concept of entering a house uninvited, but now there was a bit of concern about what might have happened to the ladies living inside this house.

"I hope everyone's okay in there," Alewyth worried, echoing Wakuren's concern.

The group tied up their mounts to trees flanking the walkway to the manor house and Thurloe led everyone to the broken window. Zander squatted down, stuck his head inside, and his keen elven vision picked up a few more details that Thurloe's limited human vision hadn't been able to make out. "Racks of wine bottles off to the left," he said. "Covered in dust and cobwebs. But it looks to be deserted." He began pulling shards of broken glass from the window frame in preparation of climbing into the basement.

"Window was broken into, not out of," observed Xandro, noting the lack of glass shards in the dirt outside the house and the glint of broken glass on the basement floor. But then the elven sorcerer had cleaned out the window frame to his satisfaction and slipped inside, dropping down into the dark basement. He immediately detected movement off to his left. Looking down, he was startled to see what he first thought to be a length of intestine crawling his way. Involuntarily stepping back away from the animated organ, he saw another one creeping forward on his right. Suddenly the steps away from the crawling creatures was no longer involuntary; Zander ran to the other end of the basement, away from what he now realized were some kind of worm-things, rather like a carrion crawler without the writhing tentacles around its mouth. "Look out - some kind of giant worms in here!" he called back to the others.

Thurloe fished a sunrod from his backpack - if he was going to go fight giant worms in a damp basement, he was going to go in at least able to see his foes. But Xandro shimmied into the window, dropping down to his feet and pulling the rapier from its scabbard at his hip in one fluid motion. One of the gutslugs was practically at his feet so he stabbed forward, piercing the tip of his weapon into the gastropod's side. A wide maw opened at the front of the thing, revealing rows of sharp teeth, but it made no sound.

With a much louder noise, Wakuren dropped down from the window opening. He saw Xandro fighting one of these slug-things and spun around to try to find the other, his darkvision allowing him to see just fine even in the dim lighting. Spotting it, he slammed the edge of his shield down upon the second gutslug, cutting a gash along its top that oozed some sort of blood or ichor. But when he raised his shield back up, the gutslug darted forward with a greater speed than the half-orc would have credited it with; he dodged the strike at his legs and stepped over the thing, only to have it bite him from behind, catching him in the gap just below the bottom of his upper armor. With a sickening feeling, Wakuren felt the rows of sharp teeth pierce through his skin as the vile creature began sucking out his blood.

The second gutslug had similarly bitten at Xandro but the nimble bard managed to back off before the vile worm could get a firm grip on him. But then Alewyth dropped into the basement through the window and saw Wakuren's predicament: he was thrashing about but unable to strike a creature adhered to his own back. She swung Sjondra at the vile worm but the half-orc's wild thrashing around caused her to miss completely. Fortunately, Zander had by this time conquered his fear and stepped forward, casting a magic missile spell at the gutslug adhered to Wakuren's back. And then a lit sunrod was tossed into the basement, followed almost immediately by Thurloe, bastard sword in hand. One careful stab with his blade cut through the gutslug without piercing Wakuren as well. The creature fell to the ground in a pool of blood, some of it no doubt Wakuren's.

Xandro managed to pin the other gutslug in place with his rapier and cut through it with a twist of his wrist. It too died, lying motionless on the basement floor as Thurloe cleaned his blade and retrieved his sunrod. Then the group gave the basement a cursory examination, finding no additional gutslugs crawling around anywhere. Wakuren opened a door leading to shelves of canned goods and rotting vegetables, a root cellar of sorts. Alewyth stepped up beside the half-orc and pointed out the footprints in some spilled flour on the floor. "Rats, by the look of it," she said.

"Lovely," replied Wakuren. "This is quite the manor house so far."

There was a set of stairs over on the side of the basement across from the windows. They led up into the kitchen, which both looked like it had seen plenty of use but at the same time not very recently, judging by the light scattering of dust covering the counters and the table. "The maids haven't been doing their jobs," Wakuren pointed out. Then he led the group into a dining room, a living area, and back to the front door just to make sure they'd covered the entire ground floor before taking another set of stairs up the second floor. The layers of dust on everything told that nobody had been here recently to disturb anything.

"This is kind of creepy," Alewyth admitted, gripping her warhammer Sjondra tightly.

Heading up stairs, Wakuren in the lead, the first door they came to was an empty bedroom. The bed had been made and once the half-orc peeked inside a closet and found a series of dresses and aprons, they deduced this had been the housekeeper's room. But it was as empty and dusty as the rest of the house. Wakuren moved on.

The next door down the upper hallway seemed to be stuck, and when Wakuren forced it open he saw why: it had been trapped, causing a full-length mirror to be pulled from the wall to come crashing down upon his head. He shook his head, flinging shards of broken mirror in all directions. "Great: now I have seven years of bad luck," he commented wryly.

"Who would have done that?" asked Zander, puzzled.

"Yeah, and why?" added Alewyth.

"More importantly," pointed out Wakuren, "how did they get out of the room after setting the trap -- or are they still here?" He entered the room cautiously, shield held before him. But after finding two single beds (both made) and maids' uniforms hanging in the closet, Wakuren had no idea what was going on. He examined the twine that had been attached from the doorknob to the mirror and asked Zander to step inside with him. "There aren't invisible creatures in here with us, by any chance, are there?" he asked the elf in a quiet voice, recalling there were pixies or some other type of fairy that could turn themselves invisible and had a penchant for playing tricks. Zander activated his magic goggles as he pulled them over his eyes, giving the whole room a quick scan. "Nothing," he reported back. As long as the see invisibility powers of the goggles were active, he backtracked into the housekeeper's room as well but found nothing there either.

Wakuren, in the meantime, had come up to the next door in line. It too didn't want to open, but the half-orc didn't feel like having another mirror shatter on his head so he took a step back and kicked the door in with his booted foot. Surprisingly, this only produced a scraping sound from off to the left of the room's interior, as the half-orc noted there was a length of twine attached from the doorknob to a bedpost or something preventing the door from being fully opened. He thought briefly about trying to squeeze in through the gap in the door, then asked for a dagger. Zander passed him over a dagger and Wakuren used it to cut through the twine, allowing the door to open fully.

And that's when the dozen creatures inside the second maids' bedroom attacked.

Scrambling out from underneath the two beds were half a dozen rats, each of them mounted by a wrinkly little man no more than a foot tall. They swarmed up to the surprised half-orc, the rats biting with their wicked little rodents' teeth and the jermlaine in the front ranks stabbing out with their tiny little spears while those behind them threw darts at the follower of Cal. Wakuren staggered backwards a step under the surprising assault, but Zander stepped forward with a scroll in hand and cast a color spray at the assembled horde. The spell took out half of the rats and their riders, the spell's energy both blinding them and stunning them into sudden immobility.

Thurloe, however, was at the end of the single-file line going methodically down the hallway and by now he was bored. There was another door on this side of the hallway and on a whim he opened it. It opened into a sitting room, complete with a comfortable-looking sofa and low table before it, a pair of chairs and footstools, and more importantly to the fighter a well-stocked bar with a dusty bottle of brandy atop it. Thurloe unstoppered the brandy bottle, sniffed it, and took an appreciative swig - not bad! Then he passed through the room and opened the door at the far end.

That was more like it! This next room was the master bedroom and there on the double bed was no doubt Lady Camilla Middlewich herself. Thurloe wasn't sure what he had expected the noblewoman to look like, but one thing he hadn't anticipated was her being completely bald. But bald she was, the skin of her head shiny in the light of Thurloe's sunrod, for the curtains were all pulled on the windows of the bedroom. Thurloe stepped inside and gave a quick check to the two other doors in the room - a walk-in closet and a bathroom, respectively - before absently commenting to the comatose noblewoman, "Well, your hired help seems to have left you to fend for yourself, my lady. Nice bunch, that. But don't worry, we should have you up and about and hiring replacements in no time."

Xandro, in the meantime, had begun playing his song of courage on his lute, hoping to aid those of his friends able to fight of whatever was in the room at the end of the hallway. Wakuren had crushed a pair of both jermlaine and rats beneath his shield, putting all of his weight upon it. Alewyth scooted into the room and used Sjondra to crush another rat and its rider into pulp, while Zander cast a magic missile spell into the room, sending one missile into the body of a fleeing rat and another into the wrinkled body of the jermlaine riding bareback upon it, sending both skittering lifelessly into a heap upon the bedroom floor. That left only two of each remaining, and without any hesitation they made a dash for the far closet, the jermlaine leaping from their rodent mounts' backs and all four squeezing beneath the closed closet door.

Thurloe called down the hallway that he'd found their dreamer, but Wakuren took the time to open the maids' closet door and crush the remaining rats and jermlaine underneath his shield before going to go see Lady Middlewich. The group convened inside the master bedroom, looking down at the bald noblewoman.

"How do we want to do this?" asked Alewyth. "I don't want any more of those little buggers sneaking in here while we're all asleep, getting the Lady Camilla out of her dreams."

"We could take her outside to the wagon," suggested Xandro. "I'm sure the horses and the goat could handle any jermlaine that might show up."

"Nah," scoffed Thurloe. "Close the door and stuff some towels or something underneath the door so they can't get in. It's not like they're tall enough to use a doorknob."

"It's not like they couldn't pull the towels out from underneath the door," countered Alewyth, looking nervously at the noblewoman's bald head. She wasn't particularly vain, but she sure didn't want her own brown locks sheared off like she was a sheep or a rothé!

"Here we go," offered up Zander, pulling out his figurine of wondrous power and activating it with a command word. In an instant the statuette became a full-sized elven dog.

"You ever going to name that thing?" Thurloe asked.

"There's no rush," Zander replied. "Better to wait for the perfect name to come to me." But then, the elf thought, what else could one expect from a short-lived human, who always seemed to feel the need to rush-rush-rush about everything, let alone one with the overwhelming creativity to name his horse "Horse"? "In any case, he can stand watch over us as we go into the dreamlands."

That decided, the group pulled Lady Camilla's bed into the middle of the room while Alewyth tied a scarf from one of her dresser drawers around the noblewoman's head, placing a dreamstone up against her brow. Then she passed a dreamstone to each of her companions and they positioned themselves around the bed in a circle, each sitting cross-legged and slowing their breathing in the way their moogle guides had taught them. One by one, they fell into sleep and found themselves standing in the dreamlands, where their individual moogle guides led them to the Corridor of Dreams. Mogo fluttered in the air, waiting for them.

"In you go and good luck, kupo!" called Mogo, and the five entered Lady Camilla's dream.

"Oh dear," said Alewyth upon seeing this particular dreamscape for the first time. The light was a hellish red, spilling up from a crevasse ahead of them that was apparently filled with molten magma. Hanging on a thin strand of webbing over the chasm was Lady Camilla, her body bound up in a tight-fitting cocoon and hanging from a line of webbing being held by the biggest spider the dreamwalkers had ever seen.

"Don't let it get me!" sobbed Lady Camilla as the spider grabbed up the web in its hindmost pair of legs and began pulling her toward it.

As one, the five dreamwalkers grabbed up the other end of the web-line (which was just sitting on the ground by their feet, in direct violation of normal physics - but dream logic was freed from the realities of the Mortal World) and tugged on it, halting the noblewoman's movement towards the massive arachnid.

"Pull!" commanded Thurloe, in the front of the line of heroes. He realized if they lost this particular tug-of-war he was going to be the first one to fall over the edge of the chasm into the magma below. Sure, he wouldn't actually die if he "died" in a dream, but he still didn't want to experience plunging into lava, dream or no dream.

The heroes strained with all their might and managed to pull Lady Camilla back into the center of the chasm. "We can't use our dreamstones with both hands on the rope!" pointed out Alewyth. In the past, they'd occasionally been able to channel power through their dreamstones to weaken their dream-foes, going all the way back to their first battle against the dream fox chasing down the wizard Grimboldt. But to use their dreamstones they needed to hold them out at their foes, in much the same way a cleric held out his or her holy symbol when turning undead.

Wakuren had an idea. "Zander!" he called out. "You're the weakest of the five of us! Drop the web-line and use your dreamstone to try to weaken the spider!" The elven sorcerer dropped the line and held out his dreamstone at the spider, somewhat embarrassed at having been pointed out as the group's physical weakest member but stoically acknowledging it was the honest truth. He focused his will against the spider but failed to hold his concentration enough; Lady Camilla was yanked closer to the spider.

"Again! Try harder!" commanded Thurloe, tugging at the line for all he was worth. The others behind him did likewise as Zander concentrated on weakening the spider across the chasm from them. This time it worked and the noblewoman was pulled closer to their side of the gap. There was a bit of back-and-forth for a bit, but eventually Lady Camilla was close enough for Thurloe to pluck her cocoon from the web-line and drop her onto solid ground on their side of the magma crevasse. Then it was a matter of cutting away the cocoon before she stood on her own, safe and sound. It was only then that Thurloe realized this dream version of Lady Camilla Middlewich had a full head of white hair piled high on her head in an elaborate style. She was going to be in for a bit of a shock when she woke up....

And she was waking up, for the dreamscape around the heroes started fading. "Back to the Waking World," Thurloe told the others, using the dreamwalker training he'd received to instantly wake himself up from the noblewoman's dream. Around him, the others started blinking out as they forced themselves awake, until finally only Xandro was left standing there by himself. Across the chasm, the spider had turned around and was glaring at him in the fading light, its eyes eight pinpoints of reddish light as the illumination from the dimming magma below started to fade.

"Um guys?" the bard called out nervously. "I can't seem to wake up. I can't wake up!"

The dreamscape went to total blackness all around him, leaving only the faint outline of a doorway in view. Xandro scrambled over to it, pulled the door open, and stepped back into the Corridor of Dreams. "Good work, kupo!" praised Mogo, before a frown crossed his kittenish face. "...but, why are you still here, kupo? Shouldn't you get back to the Waking World with the others, kupo?"

"That's just the thing -- I can't!" Xandro answered, starting to worry about what might have caused him to be unable to leave the dreamlands.

Back in Lady Camilla's bedroom, the elderly noblewoman was quite startled to find herself surrounded by a group of strangers she'd never met before - for the details of her nightmare were starting to fade now that she was awake. "Who are you?" she demanded, a hand raising instinctively to hold the top of her nightgown closed at her throat. "What do you want?" And then she shrieked aloud, having made a disturbing discovery. "And what have you done with my hair?"

"Guys: problems!" Zander warned, looking over at the open door to the bedroom and the statuette of the cooshee lying on its side. He wasn't sure how they'd done it, but apparently the jermlaine had overcome his elven dog and forced it back into statuette form. Then he looked around the room, and added, "Hey! Where's Xandro?"

But Xandro was not in the room with the rest of the group and the hysterical noblewoman. Alewyth did her best to calm her down and catch her back up to speed about how much time had passed while Thurloe sprang into action. "Look: drag marks!" he said, pointing down at the floral carpet in the bedroom and adjoining sitting room. "They took Xandro this way!" And with that the three men were off, leaving Alewyth to promise Lady Camilla that things would be okay and that they'd be back to explain everything. Then she raced off to try to catch up with the rest of the group, realizing wryly she had the shortest legs of the five of them.

Thurloe followed the drag marks down the stairs, across the library and dining room and into the kitchen. From there, he could hear the clunking sounds of something - likely Xandro's head - hitting each of the steps leading down into the basement as he was dragged by his enemies. Damn those wretched jermlaine! The fighter sped on down the stairs, Zander right behind him; Wakuren, in his heavier armor, was falling a bit behind.

Clomping down the stairs, Thurloe saw Xandro being pulled by a rope around his ankles across the basement floor. But it wasn't jermlaine towing him; instead, these creatures were twice the size of the little foot-tall jermlaine, although they hunched forward to the point their clawed pincers nearly dragged on the floor. They had tiny legs and twisted pincers in place of hands, with large eyes and a bristle-headed countenance giving an insectoid appearance. Thurloe had no idea what these creatures were, but they didn't bode well for poor Xandro!

They didn't bode well for Thurloe either, as it turned out. As one, the eight meenlocks turned to face the human fighter and blasted him with their mind-rending attacks. Zander, rushing in behind Thurloe, didn't actually see the eight figures do anything but stare at Thurloe, and all of a sudden the fighter was collapsing into an unconscious heap at the foot of the stairs.

To his credit, Zander Quilson didn't hesitate a moment before leaping into battle against a troop of foes that had managed to take out two of their number already. He dashed to the side of the meenlocks, lined up in two rows of four on either side of the rope tied around Xandro's ankles, and repeated the same tactic that had worked so well against the jermlaine upstairs: reading the words of a second color spray spell from another scroll. This time the effects were even better than they had been against the jermlaine, for a full five of the eight meenlocks froze up, blinded and stunned into temporary immobility.

By then Wakuren had made it to the kitchen stairs and was clumping down the steps. He leaped over the unconscious Thurloe and stabbed down at the closest meenlock, not even wondering why the thing just stood there instead of trying to dodge the bottom edge of the half-orc's shield. The meenlock's skull split open from the force of the shield's blow and it died immediately. Behind him, he could hear Alewyth's booted feet on the floor of the kitchen.

Unable to immediately use their mind-rending attack again, the three still-mobile meenlocks made a rush for Zander, hoping to tear him apart in their claws. Their sharp pincers snapped at the sorcerer's legs, causing the elf to cry out in pain, but he quickly shook them off, took a step back himself, and blasted one of them with a magic missile spell. It fell backwards against one of its still-stunned partners, the two of them collapsing together in a heap.

Wakuren took out another stunned meenlock with his shield when he heard a confused grunt from behind him. Sparing a moment from his frenzied combat, the half-orc saw with some relief Thurloe was pulling himself into a sitting position, one hand holding the side of his head. "Wh' 'appen?" he mumbled in confusion.

Alewyth dashed down into the basement and lent Sjondra to the meenlock-bashing party. The warhammer slammed a stunned meenlock flat against the wall, crushing it instantly. At that point, the two meenlocks still capable of movement made a run for it, dashing into the shadows of the back wall near the rows of wine bottles - where, Zander noticed, there was hole burrowed into the side of the brick. Zander, Wakuren, and Alewyth took out the remaining meenlocks still blinded and stunned from the elf's spell before bringing a befuddled Thurloe up to speed. They tried waking Xandro, but the poor bard was out cold. Alewyth took it upon herself to look over him while the others decided on their next course of action.

Eventually, given the cramped size of the tunnel in the side of the basement wall (which would require a person to crawl forward on his or her belly and which would make wielding a weapon all but impossible), it was decided their best bet was to send in the elf. After all, Zander didn't need a weapon; he could fire off a magic missile spell even inside the cramped confines of a meenlock tunnel. So Wakuren healed up all of the elf's wounds (and even cast a virtue spell on him to give him that extra little bit of staying power), then Zander crawled forth into the tunnel for some solo combat. He was in there for quite a while, causing some initial worry, but when the sorcerer returned it was with a small bit of accumulated treasure, the few valuables he'd found in the small side caverns he'd unearthed after having slain the two remaining meenlocks with his spells. There was a silver ring, a holy symbol of Infernia, Goddess of Love, and a few coins.

"And that's not all," Zander told the others. "I found some rags in their living quarters, from the clothing some of them wore before being transformed into meenlocks. It was maids' outfits, with their aprons and everything."

"You mean...?" began Alewyth, a look of dawning horror on her dwarven features.

"Yeah," admitted Zander. "Lady Camilla's maids didn't abandon her - they were probably taken, one by one, and turned into those...things."

Shortly thereafter Alewyth was successful in finally rousing Xandro, who was as woozy as Thurloe. But they returned to Lady Camilla and Alewyth took the lead in explaining everything to the elderly noblewoman. Lady Camilla's eyes widened in horror at the tale of what had happened to her housekeeper and maids. "Oh, poor Agnes," she said, thinking of the housekeeper who'd been with her since Lord Middlewich had still been alive. "And to think the same thing would probably have happened to me..." began Lady Camilla, running a hand over her bald head.

"Yeah," agreed Wakuren. "But the jermlaine probably fought them off, not wanting to lose their source of hair. You, stuck as you were in a dream coma, were the perfect source of hair for the jermlaine."

Lady Camilla insisted on rewarding the heroes for their help with bottles from her late husband's wine collection - two bottles each and she wouldn't take "no" for an answer. She also gave them two dozen longbow arrows, explaining her late husband had enjoyed hunting but she'd never get any use out of them now. "You might as well have them, if they'll be some use to you."

The heroes opted to spend a second night in the inn, since Alewyth was the only one capable of casting the spell necessary to fully restore Xandro and Thurloe's full faculties and she didn't have any lesser restoration spells readily available at the moment. "It'll probably take a couple castings each to get you both up to speed," she warned them.

"Don' matter," mumbled Thurloe. "Be worth it. Head feels all..." He stumbled to find the right word.

"Mungly," offered up Xandro, feeling quite out of it himself and not really sure what he was saying.

"Yeah," agreed Thurloe. "That."

- - -

Harry was not a fan of Xandro having been drained down to 0 Wisdom (and thus forced into unconsciousness, although that wasn't really noticeable in the dreamscape) by the meenlocks while the PCs were all asleep and basically helpless. (I hadn't counted on the cooshee, but that just meant it took longer for the meenlocks to knock him out first before getting into the master bedroom and picking their next target for meenlock conversion.) I only had them pick on Xandro because he had the lowest Wisdom score and it made sense to me that a group of creatures who drained Wisdom would have some sort of innate sense of who would make the easiest victim. But he was grumbling that he was out for the count for the rest of the adventure because Alewyth, the only cleric high enough to cast lesser restoration spells, hadn't prepared one of those that morning.

So I implemented an impromptu rules change for meenlock Wisdom drains: every round, the unconscious victim got to roll a d10 and if it came up a "0", they would spontaneously "heal" back up to 1 Wisdom, at least allowing them back into the game. (That nicely paralleled the rule for stabilizing when you're at negative hit points and "bleeding out.") But Harry's dice didn't cooperate, and then to make matters worse Dan's did when he soon thereafter found himself in a similar position.

We finished this adventure up in about two hours, so we all opted to press on with the next one as well in the same game session.

- - -

T-shirt worn: My "Red Cross" T-shirt that I got free for donating blood once. Lacking anything more appropriate, I decided the "blood" connection tied in with the gutslugs the PCs fought in the basement at the beginning of the adventure.
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PC Roster:
Alewyth Putterpye, dwarf priestess of Aerik 3​
Thurloe Pulver, human fighter 3​
Wakuren, half-orc cleric of Cal 1/paladin 2​
Xandro Silverstrings, human bard 3​
Zander Quilson, elf sorcerer 3​

Game Session Date: 11 September 2021

- - -

The sound of hooves racing towards them from behind caused Wakuren to lead the mules Perseverance and Mica over to the right hand side of the road, anticipating somebody needed to get by them in a hurry. But as they got closer, the two riders slowed their mounts and matched the group's leisurely pace. Thurloe, Alewyth, Xandro and Zander looked over from the saddles of their own respective mounts and saw the two newcomers were paladins of Telgrane, the God of Fire. This was evident not only by the holy symbols and the fire emblems on the armor they wore and the shields they carried over one arm, but also by their horribly disfigured faces, for paladins of Telgrane found beauty in the marks seared into mortal flesh by the holy touch of fire, and their own healing spells left such burn marks as they were.

"Greetings," one called out to the group at large. "Have you been traveling all this day?"

"Aye, since shortly after sunup," replied Alewyth, "stopping only for meals and the occasional relief break."

"We bring warning," the other replied, looking over at Thurloe with suspicious eyes. "There have been reports of bandits along this stretch of road." Thurloe looked right back at the scarred paladin, not liking the way the holy man was looking at him but not willing to be the first to break eye contact. Eventually, the paladin looked away and the fighter mentally congratulated himself for having won this particular staring contest. "Be alert," cautioned the other paladin, and then with a flick of their reins the pair brought their light horses galloping down the road ahead of the slower-moving group.

"Nice bunch," muttered Thurloe, who hadn't really liked the looks of either of them; choosing to walk around with horrible-looking scars was just weird to him, even if they weren't painful to the paladins - it evinced a particular zealotry the fighter found distasteful. But then they passed a sign advertising it being 10 more miles to the town of Shandoh Valley and his face lit up. "Hey!" he said. "My aunt and uncles live near here! I bet we can stay overnight with them before pressing on in the morning." It was late afternoon and he figured they could make it by suppertime, which would be especially fortuitous because his Aunt Charlotte was an excellent cook.

But the skied clouded over and the rains started not soon afterwards, and the going got slower in the downpour. As a result, it was after sundown by the time the group rode up to the Pulver residence, where Charlotte and Marten Pulver, the couple who had raised Thurloe since he was little and his own parents had been killed, lived in their two-story house. Marten's leatherworking shop stuck out of the side of the building's lower level.

Thurloe slid off of Horse and walked up to the front door, giving it a good solid knocking to be heard over the rain, which fortunately was starting to slow down and become a drizzle. He was soaked to the skin, though, as were all of them, and couldn't wait to get inside and dry off. And knowing his Aunt Charlotte, she'd be willing to whip up some vittles even though dinnertime had come and gone....

The door opened and there stood Uncle Marten. "Thurloe!" he said, surprise in his voice. "I didn't know you were going to be in town!" His eyebrows, which had risen in surprise in unexpectedly seeing his nephew, now furrowed in a frown. "You should have let us know you were coming, boy...this really isn't a good time for a visit...."

"No?" asked Thurloe, his own face taking on the semblance of a frown. "Why not?"

"Well, we've got visitors," replied Marten, stealing a glance over his shoulder. "From out of town. Could mean big business for us, they're looking to order a whole lot of leather goods...say! Why don't you head on over to Claude's and stay the night there? We can meet up in the morning, after our visitors have gone. They'll just be here the one night."

"Yeah?" asked Thurloe. "Okay, that'll work." He turned back and motioned for Wakuren to come over to the front door by him and the half-orc complied, tying the end of the mules' reins to the wagon and stepping down. "Hey, Uncle Marten, you don't think Uncle Claude will have any issues with having a half-orc stay overnight at his place with us, do you? Wakuren here is a good guy."

"What? No, no, of course not," assured Marten. "Claude don't judge a man by his looks, you know that."

"Okay then, Uncle Marten, I guess we'll see you in the morning then. We'll be over at Uncle Claude's."

"Sounds good, Thurloe my boy. We'll talk in the morning."

"That we will," agreed Thurloe, but the older man was already closing the door on him. The fighter turned to Wakuren and asked, "Well?"

"He's not evil, just really, really nervous," the cleric-paladin of Cal replied, knowing full well why the ever-suspicious Thurloe had called him up to meet his uncle in the first place. The half-orc took a step back, gazing up at the house before him, concentrating on detecting the auras of evil as he'd been taught back in the Temple of Cal in Port Duralia. "I am, however, detecting three separate sources of evil inside the house, all on the upper level."

"Okay, then," Thurloe said, heading back to Horse and pulling himself back up into the saddle as Wakuren climbed back into the wagon. "Let's go, guys - Uncle Claude's farm is just over the hill!"

"What's going on?" asked Alewyth from the saddle of her dire goat, Pyrite.

"We're pretending to go to my other uncle's farm," Thurloe replied, leading the group up the hill and around a bend. Once they were hidden behind a grove of trees, he motioned for Wakuren to halt the mules. "But I want you guys to go back there on foot and keep watch on the house. Zander and I are going to go make sure Uncle Claude's okay, then we'll be right back."

"What are we watching for?" asked Xandro, not having heard any of the conversation at Marten and Charlotte's door.

"Those bandits we were warned about," Thurloe answered. "I think there are three of them upstairs in my aunt and uncle's house. You guys see if they stay where they're at or leave on their own - or if any other bandits meet up with them here. Once Zander and I get back from Claude's we'll sneak in and take them by surprise." Then with a kick of his heels he sent Horse dashing forward to Claude's dairy farm, with Zander likewise prodding Eddy forward.

Alewyth dismounted from her dire goat and tied his reins to a tree. Wakuren did likewise with the reins of the mules and Xandro climbed down from White. "Okay, let's go," sighed Alewyth, already missing the warm fire and good food Thurloe had all but promised them would be waiting for them when they got to his Aunt Charlotte's house. She wiped the drizzle from her face and stealthily made her way back down the road to the Pulver place, Xandro and Wakuren following in her wake.

Just up the road, Thurloe and Zander pulled their horses to a halt just outside the farmhouse Thurloe recalled with such fond memories from his childhood. Uncle Claude Pulver, Marten's brother, had been an adventurer for a short while before deciding to settle down and raise cows and he'd filled young Thurloe's head with thrilling tales of his exploits - far too many exploits for them all to have happened in the short time Claude claimed to have been off on the adventuring life, but to little Thurloe at the time they were magical tales so awesome they no doubt led to his own desires to make his own fortune following in his uncle's footsteps. And now here he was, not only an adventurer but a dreamwalker, saving people who got caught up in their own dreams....

Thurloe knocked on the wooden door to the farmhouse and it was answered much more quickly than Marten had managed back at his own home. But then that was to be expected, for the main entrance into Claude's farmhouse was in through the kitchen, where the farmer spent a good chunk of his time when not out dealing with the cows or chickens. "Thurloe!" called out Claude with delight in his voice and an expression of happiness on his face. "Well I'll be! Come on in - you too, you look soaked out in all this rain!"

"I can't stay too long, I just wanted to see if you're okay, then Zander and I are going to go back to Aunt Cheryl and Uncle Bob's house."

"Who?" asked Claude, a look of total confusion on his face. "You got some aunts and uncles I don't know about?" But of course Thurloe didn't; he was just being his usual untrusting self and thought he'd see if he could trip up his Uncle Claude; after all, a simple hat of disguise could easily make any stranger look like the uncle Thurloe had known all of his life.

"No, of course not - I'm just messing with you," Thurloe said. "But we gotta get back to Uncle Marten and Aunt Charlotte's - I think there's a group of bandits holed up there with them and we're gonna go root them out."

"Well, then you just hang on one minute, while I go gear up," Claude replied. "I still got my armor and sword from my old adventuring days - I'm coming with you!"

"That's not necessary--" began Thurloe before getting cut off. "He's my little brother and I'm coming with you, end of story!" Claude admonished. "Now hang on, I won't be but a minute." And with that he passed through the sitting room and into his bedroom, heading over to the closet where Thurloe knew he kept his old adventuring gear; as a child, Thurloe had often marveled over the cool longsword and the leather armor his uncle kept from his "younger days of glory." Zander, in the meantime, stood by the kitchen stove, where the blazing fire dried off the worst of the wetness that had soaked him to the bone.

Claude returned as promised not too much longer, the leather armor perhaps a tighter fit than it had been in his younger days but still functional. He wore his scabbard at a belt on his hip and in a practiced action pulled the length of the blade out with a swish that Thurloe knew so well. "Lead on, my boy," Claude said.

Thurloe turned to face the doorway back into the sitting room and was quite surprised when the point of his uncle's fabled sword went plunging through his back, cutting through his own armor behind him but failing to poke back through the front part; the blade was buried through his midsection, though, and blood welled in the fighter's mouth.

"Urggh," Thurloe said quite involuntarily, causing Zander to look over his way from the warm fire in the kitchen. Seeing his friend under some type of attack, Zander rushed over to him, pushing past the staggering human fighter and into the bedroom, looking for the enemy. By then, Claude had pulled the sword from Thurloe's back and plunged it into the elf's side as he pushed past him and into the room. Zander fell to the floor clutching his side, his own life-blood gushing through his fingers. His eyes rolled back into his head and he passed out from the shock and the pain.

Thurloe spun around and managed to get his own bastard sword in his hand as he faced his treacherous uncle. And then a strange thing happened, causing the fighter to wonder if he was seeing things: the door to the bathroom opened up and out stepped another Claude, dressed in the overalls his uncle had been wearing when Thurloe and Zander first arrived at the farmhouse. "Hey!" complained this second Claude. "I thought we agreed I was going to be the farmer!"

Thurloe put all further thoughts to the back of his mind as he concentrated on one thing and one thing only: killing these imposters. His sword struck out with as much strength as the fighter could muster; fortunately, despite having just been stabbed in the back (which tends to lower one's effectiveness a bit), he had his magical torc to boost his strength as needed. His blade cut through Uncle Claude's armor and the farmer fell back toward his identical twin. That was all Thurloe needed; trusting Zander wouldn't bleed out in the meantime, he staggered back into the sitting room, pulling the door closed behind him. Then he staggered a few paces away, fumbling at his belt for the healing potions he kept there. Flipping the cork out of the end of a potion of cure moderate wounds, he upended it and drank down the concoction, feeling a warmth suffuse through his body as the wounds in his midsection closed up. Then, having gotten his second wind, he stepped forward again and pulled the door back open, having closed it just to slow down what he had assumed was to have been the inevitable pursuit from his two imposter uncles.

But his uncles were bent over Zander's unmoving form. For one ghastly moment Thurloe feared they were slitting his throat to make sure he was well and truly dead, but they were more interested in looting his pockets. The one Thurloe had stabbed in retaliation had pulled a healing potion from the elf's belt and was greedily drinking it down, while the "Claude" in overalls had discovered Zander's jade cooshee and was trying to figure out how to activate it.

Before the armored Claude had a chance to finish the stolen potion, Thurloe's bastard sword had stabbed him through the forehead.

He fell backward, hitting the wooden floor with a solid thunk. But by the time he lay flat upon his back, staring up at the ceiling with unseeing eyes, Claude's features had melded into the creature's face, revealing it to be a gray-skinned humanoid with narrow limbs, a bald head, and no visible nose or ears. "Doppelganger!" Thurloe cried, for he'd heard of such monsters, shapeshifters who took the forms of others for their own benefit.

Now that he knew what he was up against, he turned to face the other "Claude" - and was surprised to see this one had somehow picked up a longsword of his own. He swung his blade at Thurloe, but the fighter caught the strike on his buckler and cut him down with another torc-enhanced strike of his own weapon. This second version of his Uncle Claude fell to the floor dead, its features blurring into another copy of the dead doppelganger lying on the other side of Claude's bed.

But Thurloe wasn't worried about them, sure that if they were both reverting to their normal forms it was probably because they were already dead. Now he just had to make sure the elf wasn't dead as well! Dropping his blade, he grabbed up another healing potion from Zander's belt and propped the elf up on his lap, holding his head back and pouring the contents of the flask down the sorcerer's mouth. Zander swallowed involuntarily, coughed, and sat back up. "You okay?" Thurloe demanded, and when Zander nodded feebly he said, "Good enough - we gotta get back to the other house!" Now that Thurloe knew there were doppelgangers about he was worried those were no ordinary bandits hanging out at his Uncle Marten's and Aunt Charlotte's. He pulled Zander to his feet and the two scrambled back out of the farmhouse and pulled themselves up onto their horses, then turned them back the way they'd come.

Back at the Pulver residence, the other three were not having a good time of it: they were wet (and it was still drizzling out, with no signs of letting up any time soon) and stakeout duty was boring! At least Wakuren could still see the three separate sources of evil upstairs, but they had hardly moved the whole time they'd been watching the house. The half-orc was behind the house, where he could see the kitchen window, while Alewyth was behind a tree where she could see the front door and Xandro was stationed off to the east, keeping a watch on the door that led to Marten's leatherworking shop.

But after a good long while, Wakuren was getting bored, for the sources of evil hadn't hardly moved and he was starting to suspect they were all asleep. If that were indeed the case, then the sooner they went inside and dealt with the situation, the sooner the heroes could get themselves warm by a fire and maybe get some of that food Thurloe was bragging his aunt cooked so well. Sneaking quietly over to the kitchen door, Wakuren tried the handle and just as he had suspected - this was farm country, after all - it was unlocked. He stepped into the kitchen, closing the door quietly behind him.

But the opening and closing of the door hadn't gone unnoticed, for Alewyth had heard it and started creeping along the western side of the building to go check it out, even though that meant abandoning her post at the front door. She didn't think that would be such a big deal, though, for Xandro could see the front door to the house as well as the door to the leatherworking shop from his vantage point, so if there were any changes to the status at either portal the bard should be able to see it.

Fortunately, Wakuren saw Alewyth creeping by the side of the house through one of the kitchen windows and opened it a crack. "Pssst!" he called to her quietly. She veered over to the window to see what the half-orc wanted. "Go get Xandro," he whispered. "I think the three of us can take them." Alewyth gave her friend a silent thumbs up and went back the way she'd come, to signal Xandro to head over her way.

Unfortunately, by the time she got back to her original post she could see the bard had abandoned his; he'd seen her leave and was going to go see what was up, although he'd gone around the eastern side of the house to do so. For a moment, Alewyth envisioned Xandro and herself running around the house in circles trying to find each other, but fortunately when she went over to the back door by the kitchen she could see Xandro approaching from the other direction. "There you are," the bard hissed. "What's going on?"

Alewyth brought him quickly up to speed and then they both silently entered the kitchen through the unlocked door, closing it quietly behind them. The whole downstairs level was dark and quiet; apparently everyone was still upstairs.

By this time, Wakuren had made it up the stairs, activating his ring of invisibility as he did so. There was a short hallway ahead; Wakuren went straight to the closest door, walking slowly so the tread of his booted feet wouldn't be heard by whoever was on the other side of the door, for his detect evil was still "pinging" an aura of evil just ahead. Cautiously turning the doorknob and slowly opening the door, he saw a half-orc wearing leather armor sitting on a bed with a homemade quilt, rubbing his bare feet and expelling a sigh of intense relief. His leather boots sat on the floor before him where he'd apparently kicked them off. After determining the half-orc was alone (and that he was indeed the owner of the aura of evil he had detected), Wakuren closed the door with as much care as he had opened it.

The next door along the hallway was on the other side, and opening it as carefully as he had the first one, Wakuren saw a middle-aged woman sitting upon a full-sized bed. Her head was held at the side at an uncomfortable angle, but this was so the much younger woman bending over her could nestle her face up against the older woman's neck. Years of classroom training about the various types of undead came flooding into the forefront of Wakuren's mind as he realized he was very likely meeting up with a vampire feeding. He assumed that was Thurloe's Aunt Charlotte providing the blood to the young blond vampiress; looking around the rest of the room, he saw Uncle Marten standing just beside the door, staring dazedly off into space. She's probably dominated the two of them, Wakuren thought to himself. But then he silently closed the door and backtracked to the top of the stairs, where he met up with Alewyth and Xandro, who by this time had made their own stealthy way to the upper level of the house. Whispering as quietly as he could while still making himself heard to his companions, Wakuren briefed them about the half-orc in the one room and the female vampire in the master bedroom with Thurloe's aunt and uncle.

Alewyth cast a protection from evil spell upon herself, while Xandro got a wooden torch from his pack and a dagger from his belt and started whittling himself a stake. Wakuren told them to stay where they were while he checked out the third source of evil, in a different room around the corner. Still invisible and as quietly as he could, he opened the door and looked inside, seeing everything perfectly fine with his darkvision despite there being no light source in the room, for the two bedroom windows had their curtains pulled tight across them. This room was a guest bedroom, slightly smaller than the other one, but it also held a half-orc in studded leather armor, only this one had already pulled the quilt over him and was already well on his way to sleep. Stepping slowly inside, Wakuren raised his shield and brought it down with full force upon the half-orc's throat. He made a low gurgling sound as he died in bed, which Wakuren was fairly certain wouldn't have been heard by anyone inside another room with a closed door between them.

Alewyth cast a bless spell upon the three of them after Wakuren reported back that he'd killed one of the bandits. Then he indicated that he and Xandro would go deal with the other half-orc while Alewyth went in to face the vampire, since her protection from evil spell would prevent the vampire from being able to take control of her mind in the same fashion she'd apparently already taken hold of Thurloe's relatives. With that settled, Wakuren reactivated his ring of invisibility (for he'd popped back into the visible spectrum when he attacked the sleeping half-orc) and opened the door to what had been Thurloe's room growing up.

Xandro wasted no time on creeping and silence, feeling fast and deadly was the way to go. With only the moonlight streaming in from one of the windows to see by, he raced into the room, leading with the point of his rapier. The blade caught the half-orc in the side of his neck as he looked up at the sudden noise of the bard's bootsteps on the wooden floor - and he managed to grab one of his throwing axes from his back and made a half-hearted attempt at retaliating against Xandro, but he was already bleeding too much by this point and he staggered forward, collapsing to the floor in a heap. Xandro confirmed the kill with another stab at the back of his neck with his blade. Seeing this, Wakuren changed course and went to go follow Alewyth into the master bedroom to face the vampire.

The dwarven priestess, however, had run into a bit of difficult there, for in opening the door to the master bedroom she'd run straight into Marten, who had apparently been given orders not to allow anyone to disturb his mistress's feeding. Not wanting to hurt Thurloe's uncle, Alewyth cast a cause fear spell at him. His eyes widened in shock and horror and the leatherworker turned to flee - at least as far as the door to his own closet, which was all the distance the bedroom allowed.

But that opened the entryway into the bedroom and Wakuren took it, slipping past the priestess of Aerik and reaching out a hand to push the vampire away from Charlotte Pulver. He had infused his hand with a cure light wounds spell, the most powerful healing spell the cleric-paladin had been able to master thus far, and had further enhanced it with his magic ring. The positive energy burned the vampire spawn, Triska, as if the half-orc's hand had been coated in acid. "Ow!" screamed Triska in a petulant voice, "You little bugger! That hurt!"

Triska pushed Charlotte away from her and the woman fell onto her side upon the bed, twin rivulets of blood leaking from her neck where it had been pierced by the vampire spawn's fangs. The blond woman stared regally down her nose at Wakuren and commanded, "Cease your attacks upon me at once!" But when Wakuren made no indication he was going to obey the undead's wishes she cried out again in her most put-upon whine, "No fair! You half-orcs are supposed to be easy to control!"

Alewyth had seen the effect positive energy had had on the undead monster before her and upped the level of pain by casting a cure moderate wounds spell through her hand, reaching out to touch Triska and dealing twice as much pain and discomfort as Wakuren's lower-level spell had inflicted. "Ow! Stupid dwarven bitch!" Triska whined, pulling her arm away from the dwarf's touch; Alewyth couldn't help but see the smoke pouring out of the area where she'd made contact with the undead thing's arm. And then Wakuren added to her pain, converting one of his prepared spells into healing energy and blasting the positive power into the vampire spawn's body with a touch of his hand. Triska's verbal response - of an even fouler type than she'd managed thus far, the half-orc imagined - was ripped from her lips as she exploded into a cloud of mist.

"You got her!" Xandro exclaimed as he ran into the room to help fight the vampire; he'd gotten there just in time to see her body discorporate into a dark fog. But the clouds of vapor didn't dissipate as the young bard had expected; rather, the mist drifted across the room, where it was siphoned into a small, wooden box lying upon a dresser pushed up against one wall. Xandro examined it and saw it was in the form of a little coffin, about six inches long.

There was a sudden clomping of footsteps upon the stairs and the three heroes whirled to face the doorway, expecting possible reinforcements from among the bandits' posse. But then Thurloe and Zander ran into the room, seeing Marten and Charlotte shake their heads as if coming out of a bout of sleepwalking. "Is everyone okay?" Thurloe asked. Everyone was, although Charlotte expressed surprise to see her nephew there in her house, not having been aware of his arrival earlier that night when Marten had been sent to get rid of whoever was at the door.

"Okay, this is going to sound weird, but now that I know you two are all right we need to get back to Claude's - Zander and I took out a pair of doppelgangers and we need to see if he's okay." That caused all kinds of commotion and questions, but Thurloe said he'd explain everything as soon as they got back and the five adventurers raced back to Claude's dairy farm, where they eventually found him tied up and gagged in one of the cow stalls in the barn. That wasn't all they found, either: inside the shed where Claude kept both his wagon and his horse they found two other horses, horses that looked somewhat familiar. Exactly where they'd seen these two horses before became apparent when they discovered the two sets of Telgranian armor hidden in the back of the wagon.

"Sonnuvabitch!" exclaimed Thurloe. "Those damned doppelgangers were the two paladins we met up with earlier today!" In hindsight, he realized the one that had been staring at him funny had probably been reading his mind and finding out there was a dairy farmer named Claude Pulver whose farm would make a good place to stay overnight and ransack for any goods that might be on hand to steal. Which meant there probably weren't even any bandits on the road as they had claimed, which in turn meant the vampire and her two half-orc bodyguards likely had nothing to do with the doppelgangers in the first place. So what were they doing showing up at his aunt and uncles the same night a pair of doppelgangers decided to rip off a dairy farmer?

Thurloe had never met up with any doppelgangers before (that he knew of, anyway - who could really tell with shapeshifters?) but he decided right then and there that he hated the stupid things with a passion.

"Never you mind," soothed Aunt Charlotte upon their return. "You saved us all, and that's what matters. Now, how about we get you all into some dry clothes - and I bet you could all do with a bowl or two of some hot stew, couldn't you?"

That, at least, was an easy question to answer.

- - -

This adventure I had intended to consist of two nearby locations with two unconnected sets of adversaries, taking advantage of the backstory Dan had given me about his aunt and two uncles. But then the group (mostly Dan) decided it made sense to split the party, and they ended up going through the whole adventure in "hard mode," with two PCs taking on one threat by themselves and the other three taking on a different threat all by themselves, when I had intended for all five PCs to be fighting them one at a time in sequence. But it worked out this way, although there were a couple of moments of nail-biting worry (especially when Joe hadn't been paying attention to who had stabbed Thurloe in Claude's bedroom and basically offered himself up - all 9 hp of himself - to the first doppelganger who took him out with an attack of opportunity). But that's what makes it so much fun as a DM: seeing how the players react to the situations you present them with.

And the PCs are now at 4th level as a result of this adventure. Everyone else took one more level in the classes they've each been advancing in thus far, but Thurloe (who wants to become a spellsword eventually) decided to take his first level of wizard; apparently he's been studying that beginner's spellbook he was given in the first adventure during his off-time.

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T-shirt worn: This was the same session as "Middlewich Manor" so I was still wearing my Red Cross shirt, but the "blood" aspect of it went well with the vampire spawn's blood drain attack, so it was just as appropriate if not more so (because Charlotte, Marten, and Claude Pulver are all Thurloe's blood relatives on top of everything else).
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