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Dreams of Erthe



PC Roster:
Alewyth Putterpye, dwarf priestess of Aerik 4​
Thurloe Pulver, human fighter 4​
Wakuren, half-orc cleric of Cal 2/paladin 2​
Xandro Silverstrings, human bard 4​
Zander Quilson, elf sorcerer 4​

Game Session Date: 18 September 2021

- - -

"So where is this next dreamer supposed to be?" asked Zander Quilson, astride his horse Eddy. He was riding directly behind the mule-driven wagon, since the forest path they were traversing wasn't wide enough to accommodate riding beside it.

"Somewhere in a clearing here in the Darkwood Forest," replied Xandro, who had paid attention last night during their dream session when Mogo explained where they'd be heading next. "An area where two of these roads cross each other, leaving a wide area in the middle. We're apparently on the right road, so we shouldn't be able to miss it."

Up ahead of the wagon, with Wakuren the only one riding in it now that Alewyth had her dire goat Pyrite, Thurloe Pulver sat astride his own hastily-named horse, Horse. He scanned the sides of the trees as they ambled along, his ever-cautious nature making him the perfect point guard to check for an ambush. But it wasn't an ambush the group ran into - not at first, in any case - it was a dire wolf, crouched as bold as you please in the middle of the road ahead. His muzzle was covered in blood as he looked up from the body of the dead deer he'd been eating, locking eyes with Thurloe and growling a warning not to approach any further and try to take the wolf's meal from him. Thurloe brought Horse to an immediate halt and held his hand up to signal Wakuren to do the same; the half-orc pulled on the mules' reins and brought them to a stop, veering them to the left in case any of the others behind him might need to pass. From his vantage point he couldn't see why Thurloe had stopped them, but he assumed it wasn't on a whim.

And Thurloe would have simply had the group turn around and find a side road past the dire wolf and his deer feast had it not been for the humanoid figure lying sprawled on the ground beside the deer. It was the size of a gnome, although beyond that it was hard to make out any features, for the figure was either covered in branches and leaves or else had them growing out of his body. But from the distance between them, Thurloe couldn't tell if the little possible-gnome were even still alive or not. And, of course, Thurloe being Thurloe after all, part of his mind measured the possibility that the gnome guy was in league with the dire wolf and this was some sort of trap.

In one smooth motion, Thurloe dismounted from Horse and brought his bastard sword out from its scabbard over his back. He stepped slowly towards the humanoid figure, sword out and readied but not in an offensive stance; at this point he just wanted to get close enough to see if the gnome guy was still breathing or not. "Easy, big guy, we're not here to hurt you," he said to the dire wolf, hoping the tone of his voice if not his actual words would convey his non-threatening posture.

The dire wolf was having none of it. Standing over his meal, if not technically his kill (for he had come across the three-foot-tall humanoid and the deer shortly after the deer had been brought down by a well-thrown javelin), his growl deepened and his body tensed as if ready to pounce. And it was at this time that Wakuren walked up to see what was going on, tensing at the sight of the downed humanoid and ready to go provide aid to him if he could. Instinctively, he used his paladin training to sense the taint of evil among any of the present group and saw none; the dire wolf was merely a hungry predator attending to his needs and the humanoid was either still alive and not evil or already dead, in which case there would be no evil emanations from him even if he had habitually slain babies and bathed in their blood every day - a corpse was just a corpse.

Since Wakuren had pulled the mules over to the side, beneath the overhanging branches of the trees flanking the narrow road, Alewyth had enough room to ride Pyrite up to see for herself why they'd stopped. Seeing the dire wolf, she cast a bless spell on the group, just in case it was needed. And it most certainly was, for there were now far too many enemies for the dire wolf's liking, too many who might try to take his meal for themselves. He sprang forward, sinking his teeth into the nearest of these enemies. Wakuren had tried to block the lupine head with his shield but merely shunted the beast's muzzle to grip his upper arm; fortunately for the half-orc, his armor held against the wolf's jagged teeth and he managed to keep his balance.

Thurloe was beside Wakuren in a heartbeat, his bastard sword swinging down upon the wolf's flank, causing it to howl in pain and release Wakuren's arm from its grasp. Behind the wagon, Xandro and Zander slipped off of their horses and ran up to see what was going on - some sort of combat, it sounded like. The bard pulled his lute from his back and started the chords of his song of inspirational courage, while the sorcerer cast a mage armor spell upon himself.

And then an unseen attacker entered the fray from an unseen vantage point, attacking an unusual target: from somewhere overhead up in the trees came a flaming javelin to pierce none of the current combatants but rather the downed figure that lay unmoving by the slain deer. The flames on the weapon's tip started the leaves and branches covering the figure ablaze.

And then more of these flaming javelins started raining down from the treetops, two of them hitting Thurloe and Wakuren, causing the fighter's suspicions about an ambush to harden in his mind, although he wasn't sure why the little gnome guy would have been the first target of the attack, since he was probably already dead and thus couldn't have been in on it. Oh well, time enough to figure out the whys and wherefores after combat had been completed - right now, it was more important to stay alive!

Wakuren concentrated his attacks on the massive dire wolf before him, trusting in his plate mail armor to keep him relatively safe from the fire-tipped javelins from above. He brought the bottom edge of his shield crashing down upon the wolf's head, cutting it open with the point. Then he stepped back out of immediate range of his snapping jaws and dared a quick glance up at the trees, unable to see any enemies at all up there but distinctly seeing the evil auras of five different individuals.

Alewyth cast a protection from evil spell on herself as she rode Pyrite closer to the dire wolf, her warhammer Sjondra gripped in one hand. The dire wolf changed targets suddenly and nipped at Thurloe, biting him on the leg but failing to pull the fighter to the ground, where he'd likely have an easier time of killing him. Thurloe retaliated with another swing of his bastard sword, cutting a deep gash in the wolf's shoulder. And now he could hear Xandro's tune behind him, inspiring him to greater acts of courage.

Zander cast a ray of enfeeblement spell at the wounded wolf, draining off a bit of the massive brute's impressive strength. The wolf, at this point, was starting to look very much the worse for wear, but he wasn't the only foe the group had to worry about for another wave of five flaming javelins came streaking down from the treetops; this time they had been better coordinated, with each of the five heroes being targeted by his or her individual missile.

Squinting up into the trees, Wakuren spotted a wooden face among the branches, with twigs and branches growing out of it from all sides. He tried to recall if there were any fey creatures fitting that description and why they might be attacking him and his companions; in the meantime, on a more practical front, he cast an entropic shield spell upon himself, hoping to deflect a couple of those flaming javelins being hurled his way.

Alewyth was also peering up into the treetops, trying to spot who it was hurling flaming javelins down at them. She didn't have much in the way of ranged weaponry - just her sling - and preferred using her spellcraft in any case, but when she saw a wooden face peering down at her she cast a doom spell on him, hoping to mess up his aim at least. Unlike Wakuren, she had no idea how many of these hidden foes were up there, but there had to be at least five, given five javelins had been hurled almost simultaneously.

The dire wolf made a half-hearted snap at Thurloe's leg again and the fighter brought his blade down upon the beast's neck, killing it. Then he looked up into the tree branches above him, trying to pinpoint who these hidden enemies might be. In the meantime, Xandro cast a cure light wounds spell upon Zander Quilson, as the elf was their physically weakest member and was easily taken out in combat, but he was also their most powerful source of offensive combat spells and it was always a good idea to keep him in the fight for as long as possible.

There was a sudden startled cry from behind the wagon and Zander thought it sounded like his horse Eddy. Sure enough, there was another wolf back there attacking his mount! The sorcerer wasn't sure if this was just a normal wolf or perhaps the offspring of the dire wolf but it didn't really matter; that was his horse the wolf was trying to kill! Zander ran toward his horse and raised his hands, channeling a scorching ray through his fingertips and sending the blazing flash of fire cascading into the startled predator. Eddy took the opportunity to flee in terror down a side path, while beside him Xandro's horse White did the same thing. The worg, in the meantime, snarled in fury at the sudden magical onslaught; he'd been trying to pace his master as he went scurrying about in the tree branches and hadn't expected to encounter spellcasters when he came across a pair of what he had thought were unprotected horses!

Another wave of flaming javelins came flying down from all directions above them and this time Wakuren, having spotted one of their tree-borne tormentors, had been able to see how that process worked: the wooden faces all had pipes in their mouths and dipped the tips of their javelins - no doubt coated in some type of flammable oil or something - into them to set them ablaze before hurtling them down at the adventurers. Activating his ring of invisibility, Wakuren vanished from sight and took a few steps to the side so their assailants wouldn't know his exact location.

Sudden inspiration hit Alewyth and she cast a spiritual weapon spell, causing a warhammer of solid force to materialize in the air above her. She had spotted one of these tree-pests and could send her spiritual warhammer to go deal with it while she sought out future targets for it to smash. The force-hammer went streaking into the trees, hitting its target square on and causing it to plummet lifelessly from the branch upon which it had been perched to the ground below. One down: a start, at least!

Thurloe sheathed his blade and brought out his bow, notching an arrow into place and looking up into the trees for a suitable target. Once he spotted movement he shot at the tree-bound foe but failed to bring him down.

Not wanting a repeat of the fire magic that had seared his fur, the worg went sprinting at Zander Quilson, biting down hard up the elf sorcerer's leg and trying to bring him crashing to the ground so he could rip out his throat. But even slightly off balance, Zander had no problem targeting another scorching ray spell directly at the worg at that distance and the creature died immediately, its corpse ablaze.

Four flaming javelins came flying out of the trees above, this time focused solely on Thurloe and Xandro. Wakuren, seeing the success Alewyth was having with her spiritual weapon, cast one of his own, his taking the form of a heavy mace, the weapon the god Cal wielded. It went flying straight for the wooden-faced foe Wakuren had spotted among the trees, killing him instantly and dropping his body to the ground in a heap. In his aura-sensing vision, the half-orc saw one of the remaining sources of evil scampering deeper into the clump of trees from which they had attacked their foes on the ground - he was apparently heading back the way they had come, paralleling the road the adventurers had taken.

Alewyth's force-hammer swung at another of these arboreal foes, smacking it good but failing to drop it. She took the time to lean down and channel a cure light wounds spell on Zander, healing up the jagged gash on his calf where the worg had bitten him. But with the priestess's spiritual warhammer all but pointing at a potential target, Thurloe had no trouble slaying it with his next arrow shot. The dead enemy crashed through the branches to fall to the ground to the accompaniment of Xandro's courage-inspiring tune.

Zander saw a brief flash of light up in the trees and realized it was another javelin being lit on fire right before being thrown; now that he could make out the creature's shape up there, he cast a magic missile spell flashing up there, slaying the assailant before he could let fly with his javelin. Both body and javelin fell to the ground below.

There was now only one of these arboreal enemies left and he was in fast retreat. Knowing he had to get word back to the tribe, he sent his owl familiar on ahead so that if he didn't make it back at least one of the other adepts could learn of this team's slaughter, for the loyal bird would easily be able to lead them back here and if the old stories were true, human marauders just left their slain enemies to rot where they fell.

But as this last survivor leaped and skipped from branch to branch, he didn't realize he was being tracked from the ground. Wakuren was tracking the retreating figure in the branches through his aura of evil, which glowed in the cleric-paladin's vision like a beacon. And that was enough to allow the half-orc to send his spiritual heavy mace slamming into the fleeing figure. In the meantime, the armored half-orc bent down over the burning form of the body by the slain deer the dire wolf had been eating. Wakuren was intrigued by the thought this might be a humanoid plant of some type, like those needlefolk they'd met up in that old abandoned mine. But no, the branches and leaves that had covered the form, now that he had a better look at them (and many of them had been burned away), had merely been sewn to the leather armor of the figure, whose "wooden face" was nothing more than a mask. Flipping the body over with his shield and stamping out the flames still burning the body, he bent over and pulled off the mask, revealing the face of a green-skinned goblin. That was a surprise, for as far as Wakuren knew there weren't any more goblins living out among themselves, they'd all been civilized and could be found as servants in the larger cities. How strange to see a band of goblins running around in the trees, of all places!

Alewyth, in the meantime, had spurred Pyrite to enter the forest proper, skirting around the trees so she could keep her spiritual warhammer actively attacking the last of the assailants; she caught a glimpse of the fleeing figure and her force-hammer gave one final blow before it winked out, the duration of its magic having expired. But that last blow was all that had been necessary, for the tree goblin adept went tumbling off the limb he'd been traversing, falling in a lifeless heap upon the ground. And just that quickly, the attack was over.

The group searched the bodies and found these odd tree goblins had nothing worth taking, merely a handful of javelins each, a lit corncob pipe, and that weird leather armor with leaves and branches interwoven in as camouflage. The wooden masks they wore were crudely made, but the overall effect certainly did what it was supposed to: help them blend into the background while leaping from branch to branch and hiding the fact that these "tree-people" were in fact goblins. The adventurers gathered up their mounts, Alewyth and Wakuren cast healing spells on those who needed them, and then the group moved on, back in the direction they had started, seeking out the crossroads opening in the Darkwood Forest where they were to find the next trapped dreamer.

An hour later they were certain they'd come to the crossroads, for it fit the description Mogo had given them precisely. However, there were no buildings in the area at all to be seen. "Tree house?" guessed Alewyth, shielding her eyes from the sun and scanning the trees for any signs of habitation.

"Watch it's one of those tree goblins, sitting up in a nest at the top of the trees or something," joked Zander.

"Better not be," replied Thurloe, dismounting from Horse and leading him in a clockwise direction around the edge of the clearing; maybe the house was camouflaged or something. The others dismounted and did likewise, with Wakuren pulling the mule-wagon over to one side. Thurloe saw a bunch of prints in the dirt of the intersection, mostly those of a horse without horseshoes and the bare feet of what was likely a young woman, given their size. But no dwellings of any kind that he could see.

In was Xandro who first made contact, although in reality he was the contact recipient, not the instigator. "Hello?" said a shy voice from the other side of a clump of broad-leafed plants. "Have you come to help my friend Belisandre?"

Xandro peered between the leaves and saw the face of a beautiful young woman staring back at him, although it was one seemingly made of living wood. "Well, hello," he said. "Yes, we're here to help your friend - if she's been trapped in a dream, that is. Can you take us to her?" The young woman nodded shyly and stepped forward.

"What is your name?" asked Xandro, looking at the lovely vision stepping from between the undergrowth. It was a woman of his own size and age, although her smooth, brown skin held the lines one found in the rings of trees; her head had a handful of branches erupting out of it in all directions like a crown and green growths of ivy cascaded down from her head like hair. "My name is Nyla, she said, adding (perhaps unnecessarily), "I'm a dryad."

"My name is Xandro," replied the bard, taking her hand and bringing her out into the open to meet his friends.

After introductions had been made, Nyla told the group what she knew. "Belisandre is a dryad, like myself. She has been asleep inside her tree for three weeks now and I have been unable to awaken her." After Alewyth explained how they had been able to help others who had been stuck inside their dreams, she asked if it was possible for Nyla to take them inside Belisandre's tree. "No, I am afraid that is not possible," Nyla said with regret. "As a dryad I can enter her tree as well as any other, but I cannot take others in with me to anywhere but my own tree."

That didn't seem like too much of a problem, though; Alewyth handed over a leather headband holding a dreamstone and asked Nyla to place it around Belisandre's brow, with the dreamstone aligned in the middle of her forehead. "Once that's done, the five of us will sit around her tree and enter the dreamscape, rousing her from her dream. We'll need you to stand watch over our bodies while we do that, though, because here on the Mortal Plane we'll be asleep." Nyla instantly agreed, took the proffered headband, and walked into an oak tree at the edge of the clearing.

Zander activated his figurine of wondrous power and instructed the cooshee to wake him if any danger approached while they were sleeping around the oak tree. Alewyth brought her dire goat over as well, and while she had no way of communicating any instructions to him that he would be able to understand, she was comforted knowing he would be nearby while she slept.

"It is done," Nyla said as she stepped back out from the tree. "Now what?"

"Now," replied Xandro, wearing a headband identical to the one they'd given the dryad, "the five us go inside your friend's dream and bring her back." He flashed the young dryad a smile and received one in return. "I will watch over you," Nyla promised.

One by one, the five dreamwalkers slowed their heartbeats and breathing and entered a dream state. Their minds went immediately to the dreamlands, where they were each met up by their personal moogle guide who led them to the Hall of Dreams. And there, as usual, hovered Mogo, his hand on one particular door in an endless hallway with doors all side by side for as far as the eye could see. "Good luck in there, kupo!" Mogo called as the five dreamwalkers entered the open doorway.

None of the heroes had ever been inside a dryad's home in the middle of a tree before, but they judged that was likely where they were now, for the room they were in had no straight lines or right angles, just a flowing, organic shape. But what was surprising - and not at all what they'd expected to see inside a dryad's living space - was all of the fungus sprouting all over the place. White puffballs grew out of the walls, tangles of bluish-green tendrils dangled from the ceiling like the tentacles of a giant jellyfish, and blobs of green and brown and black mold and spores grew along the floor like overripe melons. Large toadstools were growing all around the edges of the room, some of them extending purplish growths that swayed as if in an unseen breeze. In the middle of the floor lay a pile of hardened growths in the vague shape of a humanoid figure.

Realizing this was all just a dream, Thurloe stepped forward and gave the lumpy growths in the middle of the room a hard kick with his booted foot, receiving a muffled grunt of pain from within the human-shaped mass. "What are you doing?" demanded Alewyth. "That's probably Belisandre in there!"

Zander closed his eyes and concentrated, trying to force the hardened growths to dissolve away with the sheer force of his will. Mogo had told them that with sufficient training, a dreamwalker could eventually shape any dream to suit his own desires - and right now the elf desired the hardened fungus to get off of Belisandre, if that was indeed her underneath all of that. He opened his eyes again and looked down at the vaguely humanoid shape, trying to see if his attempts to alter the dream had had any effect. Maybe? It was kind of hard to tell.

"I'm going to try treating this as a disease," Wakuren decided, casting a cure light wounds spell on the pile of fungus before him. Touching the fungus burned his fingers, but the healing energy of the spell seemed as effective against the intrusive fungus as if it had been undead. Great clumps of it blackened and fell away, exposing a good portion of the sleek, wooden body underneath.

Xandro, in the meantime, had taken his rapier out of its scabbard and was going to town against the puffball fungus. It crumbled and flaked away at the touch of his blade, causing great clouds of choking spores that didn't seem to affect the dream other than making it harder for them to breathe. He quickly stopped doing that.

Then a pair of the toadstools shambled forward, slapping out with their violet tentacles at Xandro and Zander. Alewyth came immediately to Zander's aid, slamming the violet fungus that had been attacking the elf. Thurloe, who had been attacking some of the dangling tendrils (to little effect), saw the commotion and chopped his blade into the "head" of the fungus attacking Xandro. Zander cast a scorching ray at the violet fungus attacking him and it was immediately set ablaze, its violet tendrils waving around feebly as whatever strange life it possessed burned away.

But by now Wakuren had figured that completely freeing the imprisoned dryad was the key to waking her from her ongoing nightmare of decay and suffocation, and he cast another healing spell on the fungus still covering her body, this time using a more powerful cure moderate wounds version. That had the remainder of the rot sloughing off her and crumbling away to nothingness. He held out a hand and helped her to her feet and the room around them started dissolving away as the dryad began to wake up for the first time in three weeks....

One by one, the five dreamwalkers willed themselves back awake (Xandro breathing a sigh of relief at finding out this time there were no difficulties) and back outside the dryad's oak tree. "You did it?" asked Nyla. "You were successful?"

"She should be awake now," Xandro answered, but before the dryad could reply Thurloe interrupted her. "Uh-oh," he said.

"What?" demanded Alewyth, getting to her feet and lifting her warhammer into a defensive stance. She didn't see anything to startle the fighter.

"Thought I saw some movement in the trees across the way,' Thurloe replied, pulling his bow from his back. "Might be nothing but the wind..."

"...or it could be more of those tree goblins," finished Zander. A flaming javelin came streaking across the way to hit him in the arm as if to settle the matter; the elf slapped the weapon away before the flames could catch his robe on fire.

"Back here, by me!" Thurloe commanded, for he was on the far side of Belisandre's oak tree from where the javelin had been thrown. Zander hurried to comply while his cooshee barked his displeasure up at the trees. He raced across the intervening road, barking up at the unseen menaces as if he'd just chased them up there himself, his tail wagging as if complimenting himself upon a job well done. Nyla, in the meantime, raced around the oak tree and hunkered down beside Zander.

But then Belisandre sauntered out of the tree, directly in the line of fire of the tree goblins. "What's going on?" asked the young dryad. "I just had the strangest--"

Her words were cut off as a flaming javelin stabbed her in the stomach and took root, the flames trying to catch hold of her smooth-barked body. With a shriek of surprise and pain, Belisandre tugged the burning weapon from her body as Wakuren pulled her to safety, then activated his magic ring to fade from view. He moved over by Zander to see if he needed any healing from the attack and decided it was probably worthwhile to heal him up while he had the chance.

Xandro had, by this time, pulled out his crossbow and tried to hit one of the well-camouflaged enemies. The bolt skewered its way through numerous leaves but there was no cry of pain by the time it had finished its flight path. Alewyth spotted a tree goblin and instinctively cast an innate ray of frost at it with one hand while she unpacked her sling from a pouch at her belt with the other. The ray struck but didn't do enough damage to slay the tree goblin.

Thurloe's first arrow managed to hit one head on, though, causing it to plummet to the ground with a shaft piercing its wooden mask and the middle of its head. But more incoming javelins came aimed at Thurloe and Xandro; once again the humans seemed to be the goblins' primary targets. Zander cast a magic missile spell at a tree goblin as soon as he could make it out among the surrounding trees, causing the second death in this wave of arboreal attackers.

On the adventurers' recommendation, Belisandre ran back inside her oak tree, while Nyla followed suit. Off in the distance, Wakuren saw one of the tree goblins drop to the ground and run across the dirt road to the clump of trees off to the west. As he didn't have much in the way of ranged attacks available, the half-orc sprinted in the direction of the tree goblin, hoping to catch him while he was still on the ground. The cooshee had also spotted him, it seemed, and was racing over to catch him as well. Wakuren put on a burst of speed and slammed at the fleeing tree goblin with the edge of his shield, missing him but popping back into visibility as he made the attempt. Xandro, seeing the commotion there on the ground, shot at the fleeing goblin as he scampered his way up the nearest tree, but the bolt embedded itself in the tree's trunk, having missed the fleeing creature entirely.

Alewyth sent her sling spinning over her head to build up speed and then sent the stone flinging across the road up into the trees, towards the tree goblin she'd spotted moving among the branches. It didn't sound like she hit him, though - a pity. But Thurloe spotted another one among the branches and took him down with another well-placed arrow. Beside him, Zander scanned the trees, looking for another tree goblin to shoot a spell at, but he couldn't see any. Thurloe and Alewyth had each taken down another tree goblin before the elf found one he could target with a magic missile spell, slaying it instantly. Zander nodded appreciatively to himself, glad to be pulling his own weight in this fight.

The cooshee snapped at the tree goblin rapidly climbing up to the safety of the higher branches over across two dirt roads from Belisandre's oak tree. But from his lofty perch, the tree goblin adept looked down upon the scowling half-orc that had chased him and sent a scorching ray blazing down into its ugly face. That caught Wakuren completely by surprise - he hadn't been aware these little pests could cast spells! Angered beyond measure, Wakuren vowed he was going to climb up that tree and drag the goblin spellcaster down where he could give him the proper beating he deserved. Tree climbing wasn't something Wakuren did often, and certainly not while in plate mail armor and with a heavy steel shield strapped to one forearm, but the cleric-paladin somehow managed it and pulled himself up onto a thick branch.

Of course, by that time, the nimble tree goblin adept had leaped over to a nearby adjoining branch from higher up in the same tree. But Wakuren wasn't going to allow that to stop him; judging the distance between them, he leaped up at the goblin pest, hoping to topple him out of his perch even if it meant taking a tumble himself as well. Unfortunately, tree combat was not the half-orc's forte and he went plummeting face-first back to the ground, without having managed to get a grip on the tree goblin adept who was now calling insults down at him in his Goblin language.

Xandro, having given up on trying to pick off tree goblins he could barely see with his light crossbow, had switched over to his lute and was beginning the song of inspirational courage - if he couldn't take them out himself he'd do what he could to provide magical assistance to those who were having better luck at it than he was. But Alewyth's next sling bullet went wide and she saw why: the tree goblin was scampering away from her, apparently having come to the decision to live to fight another day rather than throw its life away in a battle it couldn't win. After all, by this time there were half a dozen tree goblin bodies scattered beneath the clump of trees by which they approached their targets, and not one of their ground-borne foes had been taken down.

Thurloe shot at another departing tree goblin but missed. Zander saw it just in the nick of time and managed to bring it down with another magic missile spell, but he was about out of those and would soon be limited to his absolutely least powerful combat spells. He sighed; it looked like the battle was just about over.

But over at the clump of trees to the west, battle was still raging. The cooshee was still barking at the tree goblin adept, who seemed to enjoy taunting the elven dog below him. However, at Zander's urging, the cooshee used Wakuren as a springboard and leaped up high enough to get its teeth on the surprised goblin spellcaster, magically ripping a spell from the adept and then running back to his master to infuse it into the sorcerer, tail wagging furiously at what a good boy he was. Zander patted the dog's head and felt the spell energy seep into his being: power enough to fuel another magic missile spell! Now, if he could only find an appropriate target....

There was no movement within the original clump of trees, the few remaining goblins from the assault force having retreated. That left only the spellcaster, but he too had retreated deeper into the clump of trees and Zander couldn't spot him. But Alewyth and Thurloe were determined to bring him down, racing over that way and searching above them for telltale movement. Xandro continued his song, hoping they'd be able to find their foe, while Wakuren cast a badly-needed healing spell upon himself - he'd nearly broken a tusk from his fall! "There!" Alewyth called, sending a sling stone flying to cut a swath through leaf after leaf, to no avail. But Thurloe spotted the fleeing spellcaster, sighted his arrow on him carefully, and let fly. With a cry of pain, the tree goblin adept fell lifelessly to the ground below.

Alewyth and Thurloe exchanged congratulations as the heroes all regrouped. Seeing it was now safe to do so, the dryads exited their tree homes and Belisandre was able to express her thanks for having rescued her, as Nyla had filled her in on what all had happened over the past three weeks. Belisandre gave the group three doses of a healing paste, potions of barkskin, lesser restoration, and remove paralysis, as well as a vial of stone salve and a magical silver dagger with the holy symbol of Feron engraved on the pommel, the latter a gift from a passing druid.

And then the group was back in the saddle, heading off to the location of their next dream victim. "It's a shame we couldn't stay with them for a bit longer," sighed Xandro as they made their way back onto the road they'd been following. "I wouldn't have minded getting to know Nyla a bit better. She seemed nice." Plus, as a bard, Xandro Silverstrings was always looking for ideas and new experiences that could be turned into new songs or ballads - it never hurt to expand one's repertoire.

"Bad idea," called back Thurloe from astride Horse at the front of the expedition. He waited for the bard to object or ask why, and when he did neither Thurloe provided the answer anyway. "You'd get splinters."

- - -

Having finished up "Forest Dreams" in a little over two and a half hours - about half the time we allow ourselves for a Saturday afternoon session - we decided to plunge ahead and go through the next adventure immediately afterwards, as that one was about as long as this one and I figured we could get through it in time.

- - -

T-shirt worn: My "Hanes Moore Family Reunion" T-shirt with the silhouette of a tree, representing the oak tree of the dryad Belisandre.
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PC Roster:
Alewyth Putterpye, dwarf priestess of Aerik 4​
Thurloe Pulver, human fighter 4​
Wakuren, half-orc cleric of Cal 2/paladin 2​
Xandro Silverstrings, human bard 4​
Zander Quilson, elf sorcerer 4​

Game Session Date: 18 September 2021

- - -

"Really? Breaking into a crypt so we can steal a dreamstone?" demanded Alewyth. "I hardly think that would be the best use of our resources - nor is it respectful to the dead entombed in their hallowed resting place."

"You didn't mind gathering up those other dreamstones before, kupo," pointed out Mogo. "And they've been very helpful in freeing all of those people you've already rescued from their dreams, kupo!"

"That was different," argued Alewyth. "Those were just lying about with those flumphs. Here we're talking about breaking and entering--"

"You don't necessarily have to break anything, kupo..."

"--into a family's crypt, to steal something that doesn't belong to us--"

"We could leave behind an equivalent amount of gold equal to the value of the dreamstone," suggested Xandro.

"--and it's something we don't really need," Alewyth finished. "We already have dreamstones - twelve of them."

"Eleven," corrected Thurloe. "We left that one back with the dwarf we were unable to rescue, remember? With the dream about the three-headed dragon that continually kicked our--"

"Yes, I remember," interrupted the dwarven priestess.

"Well, we could very well come across a few more people we're not strong enough to rescue just yet," Thurloe continued. "If we leave a dreamstone behind every time that happens, eventually we're going to need more dreamstones. And it's not like the things grow on trees. We should probably take whatever opportunities there are to harvest more."

"The Queen of Dreams suggested it, kupo. Somebody was dreaming about a large dreamstone on the end of a sword-pommel and she traced it to somewhere there in the forest you're already in, not too far from your present location, kupo."

"It wouldn't hurt to at least check it out," Zander suggested.

Alewyth looked over to Wakuren, a cleric like herself. "What do you think, Wakuren? Are you up for some grave robbing?"

The half-orc frowned and wondered how best to voice his thoughts. "While I can certainly understand your hesitancy to break into a family crypt," he began, "at the same time I agree that if the dreamstone is being used as simple ornamentation on a sword we can put it to much a better use. We will, of course, do whatever we can to make amends to the family, perhaps by leaving behind coins of equal or greater value, like Xandro suggested."

"I didn't suggest greater value," muttered Xandro.

Alewyth's eyes narrowed into slits as she reassessed her feelings towards the half-orc cleric-paladin, having fully expected he'd take her side of the argument. She hoped he wasn't starting to become as gold-greedy as some of the rest of the guys in their little band seemed to be, and then gave a grunt at the thought that it was the dwarf in the party arguing against going after the valuable gemstones...so much for racial stereotypes. "Fine," she finally assented.

"Okay then, if that's settled, I think you should take the rest of the night off so you can be well-rested in the morning, kupo!" suggested Mogo, dismissing them from their dreamwalker training for the rest of the time they were asleep. They were each sent to their own private dreamscapes, where their minds did what all minds did during sleep time, the only difference being these five would wake up the next morning remembering all of their dreams of the night before, unlike the vast majority of the members of the Waking World. That, after all, was what made them so valuable as potential dreamwalkers.

And so the next morning the group packed their gear back up and resumed their trek through the Darkwood Forest. Mogo had explained how to get to the tomb, which was at the northern edge of the forest, closer to the main road ranging from east to west. The crypt, when they got to it, wasn't particularly impressive: a single story tall, 15 feet on a side, made of stone but with no visible seams as if the entire building had been carved from one giant slab of stone. ("Probably built using wall of stone spells," offered up Thurloe.) One side held a set of metal doors; all four sides were covered in ivy growths. It proved necessary to hack away at the ivy obscuring the door, revealing the Tannenheim family emblem engraved into the metal and a keyhole below one of the metal handles.

"Great - anybody got a key?" asked Thurloe. "Lockpick? Knock spell?" Nobody had anything of the sort, including him (as he'd studied Mistress Jandoval's beginner spellbook enough he had mastered some of the easier spells she'd provided him, but knock was not among their number). He looked over to Alewyth. "...Warhammer?" he added, wincing since he knew what her reaction was likely to be.

Wakuren also knew the dwarven priestess of Aerik was not going to be happy about breaking into the crypt in this manner. "I'll do it, if you'll let me borrow your hammer," he offered, holding out his hand.

"Nay, step aside, I'll do it meself," Alewyth frowned. "In fer a penny, in fer a pound." The others couldn't help but notice how her dwarven accent became more pronounced when she was upset. But in her mind, if she was willing to be talked into breaking into a tomb she might as well go in whole hog - it wasn't like she was sinning any less by going along with somebody else breaking into the tomb...plus, it was her warhammer.

Taking a deep breath, Alewyth Putterpye hefted Sjondra and brought it slamming into the metal doors of the crypt. A loud reverberation echoed across the forest but the door held. It held up against her second blow, and against her third...but by her fourth blow the locking mechanism inside the doors gave way and she was able to pull the doors outwards, revealing but a single stone sarcophagus at the back of the room's interior. By its construction she could see the lid hinged upwards to the right, which was no doubt where they'd find the Tannenheim buried with a sword that had a dreamstone attached to its pommel. "Aerik fergive me," she muttered as the others went inside.

Wakuren and Thurloe were standing on the other side of the coffin from the hinges and trying to lift the lid, but it wasn't budging in the least. They strained until the cords in their necks stood out and Thurloe's face turned a bright shade of red, but they couldn't even lift it an inch. Xandro, however, was examining the doors. Along the bottom of each door was a metal arc, more or less showing the path of the doors' edges as they were opened, forming a sort of curved "V" shape that met in the middle and connected in the side of the stone below the level of the floor. The bard experimented and confirmed that the metal arcs were preventing the doors from being opened more than 90 degrees...and, he was fairly sure, was probably latching the coffin lid shut. "Wait a minute, guys," he said, pulling each of the doors closed, the metal arcs disappearing below the floor. With the doors closed it was pitch black inside the crypt until Zander pulled out his everburning torch. "Now try it," Xandro suggested. The lid, much to Thurloe and Wakuren's embarrassment, opened right up. Xandro just grinned at them.

The coffin interior, however, held neither body nor sword but rather a set of stairs leading down into darkness. "Prep spells before we go down there," Thurloe suggested. He'd purposefully left his buckler in one of Horse's saddlebags and cast a shield spell upon himself to compensate. And Mistress Jandoval's notes in the margins had been correct: it was tricky casting spells while wearing his armor! Alewyth cast a trio of spells: protection from evil and detect undead spells upon herself and a bless spell upon the entire group. Wakuren cast a hide from undead spell on himself, Xandro, and Zander, warning them that should any of the three of them attack an undead creature it would cause the spell to dissipate upon all three of them. He then followed up with a shield of faith spell upon himself. Zander Quilson was content with just his standard mage armor spell.

"Is everyone ready?" asked Wakuren. He got nods to the affirmative and then climbed inside the empty coffin, taking the steps down to the true crypt hidden some dozen feet or so below the surface of the forest ground. One by one the others followed him, the passageway too narrow for any to traverse save in single file.

At the bottom of the stairs the passageway opened up into a square room, fifteen feet on a side, with passageways continuing on perpendicularly on either side. But Wakuren's attention was drawn to the niche in the back wall where a throne of sorts had been carved out of the solid rock, upon which was seated a skeletal being in rotting robes. He was covered head to foot in spiderwebs. Instinctively, Wakuren knew this wasn't just a skeleton left in place where he had died, but rather an undead guardian of some sort. Instinctively, he used his paladin training to scan its aura and was surprised to see no tell-tale taint of evil. Perhaps he was wrong, and this wasn't an undead creature after all?

But once Wakuren stepped foot into the room the skeletal being lurched forward in his seat, ripping through the delicate webs and sending a small flurry of tiny spiders scurrying in all directions. Surprisingly, its aura was just as free of evil as it had been before it had animated. "Halt!" the thing cried out. "Who would enter the Tannenheim Crypt?"

"My name is Wakuren and I serve Cal, God of the Air and of Healing. We seek only to fetch a dreamstone mounted on the end of a sword stored somewhere in this crypt, that it can be used to free many people currently trapped in their dreams. In return, we would offer coins of equal or greater value."

"I never said greater!" hissed Xandro.

"Leave this place and never return!" commanded the undead being. "I care nothing for your trapped dreamers - this crypt is for the Tannenheim family and their loyal followers only and you are trespassing upon their property!"

"I'm a member of the Tannenheim family!" called out Thurloe from the fourth spot in the single-file line. He wasn't a Tanneheim by any means but he thought he might have found a loophole that would allow them entry without further questions.

"Liar!" accused the crypt thing, rising now from his seat and sending the spiders scurrying even faster as their webs were torn asunder. He rose an accusing finger at the intruders and a flash of light exploded all around him. In an instant, both Thurloe and Aelwyth (who had been standing directly behind Wakuren) had vanished, leaving the other three to deal with the enraged undead.

In a blink of an eye, Alewyth suddenly found herself elsewhere. Gifted with dwarven darkvision, she could see perfectly fine in the pitch blackness of her new location, which was a wide hallway of sorts with alcoves of crumbling skeletons at waist level against the far wall. There was a sort of splorching sound coming from her right; turning in that direction she saw a smaller tunnel running at a right angle from the larger corridor with the skeleton alcoves. Peering inside, she saw an armory of sorts, with but a scant few weapons; one, a sword, lay in a pool of water in the middle of the room, its blade bubbling as if being eaten by acid. (So maybe that isn't water, the dwarf amended.) She turned back to the larger corridor and found another smaller tunnel some 25 feet or so away, and in the small room it led to she saw Thurloe standing with his back to her. However, while the human could see nothing of the room into which he'd just been teleported, Alewyth could see the stone coffin in the room's center, covered to the top with soil. The stone coffin's lid was off, leaning against a side wall, and the clumps of dirt on the floor by the coffin attested to the fact that whatever was in there occasionally got out.... There was another short tunnel on the far side of the room leading to another room with a sarcophagus in the middle of it - this one with its lid closed - but the dwarven priestess wasn't overly concerned about any other rooms just yet.

"Thurloe - it's Alewyth!" she called into the room. "We've been teleported away from the others!" Thurloe responded by casting a protection from evil spell upon himself, one he felt was even more appropriate as Alewyth started describing what was in the room with them and his mind started filling in all sorts of nasty ideas about what might be in that dirt-filled coffin....

Back on the entry stairs behind Wakuren, Xandro unpacked his lute and started playing his song of courage - in the cramped passageway, it wasn't like he could push past the half-orc and get into the room himself just yet. Wakuren began combat against an undead creature with a tried-and-true combat strategy, casting a cure light wounds spell whose positive energy could knit up cuts and bruises suffered by a living being but which acted like corrosive acid against the undead. Sure enough, the crypt thing's bones started sizzling at the half-orc's touch.

But now that Wakuren had entered the room fully - he'd had to touch the crypt thing to channel his positive energy through it - Xandro and Zander stepped into the room and took position in opposite back corners. The elven sorcerer cast a scorching ray diagonally past Wakuren, hitting the crypt thing square on. Zander knew many skeletal undead creatures were immune to cold energy but he'd never heard of one immune to fire, and indeed this one's bones started charring and burning from the heat of the blazing spell. Wakuren kept his shield arm busy, smashing the metal shield into the crypt thing's body, while Xandro's tune fueled both of his friends on. The crypt thing fought back with its claws, its magical offensive teleport something it could only do but once a day - it just hoped the two trespassers it had managed to send away deeper into the complex were being taken out by the other guardians the Tannenheims had put into place.

Clumps of dirt fell aside from the open coffin as a skeletal figure rose up - a figure only Alewyth could see, for Thurloe was literally in the dark in the lightless chamber. The dwarf saw right away it was some sort of animated skeleton, but one with some sort of weird hair...? No, on second look the dwarven priestess realized that wasn't hair on the top of the creature's skinless skull, it was a mass of writhing earthworms. But Thurloe was closer to the rising grave medusa than Alewyth, and thus it was the fighter who received the undead thing's horrific gaze. Still not aware of what he was facing, Thurloe felt a cold aura wash over him as he was caught up in the grave medusa's unblinking gaze and all of a sudden he felt his limbs grow heavy.

And unseen in the next room over, the gray ooze that had been dissolving the weapons it had discovered in the armory started heading out of the short tunnel to the larger corridor but found its way blocked by something else oozing past. Undeterred, it returned to its metallic meal and blobbed over the sword, its acidic body dissolving the weapon's metal.

Alewyth pushed past Thurloe and sent Sjondra crashing into the side of the grave medusa. The sound of warhammer on bone gave Thurloe an idea of where the enemy was in this lightless room and he brought his bastard sword crashing down upon the location, trusting Alewyth, with her darkvision, would be able to see the blow coming and get out of the way. It also helped that part of the initial sword training he'd received from Dougal Garabedian involved fighting in conditions of absolute darkness. He felt the impact of sword upon bone but was struggling to bring his blade to bear with his usual swiftness - something was slowing him down considerably!

Back in the front chamber, Xandro switched to his light crossbow and sent a bolt twanging at the crypt thing, as Wakuren cast another cure light wounds spell on it, taking it down with positive energy. Zander Quilson blasted it with another scorching ray spell, hoping that would be enough to take it down but the crypt thing fought on, seemingly trying to push its way past the half-orc and escape to one of the side chambers but unable to push Wakuren out of its way. It clawed at Wakuren's face enough that the half-orc finally stepped back and cast a spiritual weapon spell, sending a heavy mace made of pure force enemy to do his close-in fighting for him. Zander pressed on with his spellcasting, now down to magic missile spells, while Xandro peppered the thing with crossbow bolts. Finally, the trio's efforts brought the undead thing down, collapsing into a pile of bones where it stood.

The grave medusa turned its gaze upon Alewyth, hoping to start a transformation in her body in the same way it had done in the human's. But dwarves were made of pretty tough stuff and the gaze attack had no effect. Surprised at the lack of effect, the undead thing took an instinctive step backwards. Alewyth followed, her warhammer swinging in for another powerful blow. Thurloe could hear they had stepped away and reached into his backpack, feeling around for a sunrod. Upon finding one, he activated it at once and was relieved to be able to see what it was they were fighting. Then, once he'd gotten a good look at the grave medusa, he looked back upon the simpler time in life five seconds ago when he'd been blissfully unaware of such creatures. Fortunately, he didn't have to look at it for much longer, for a final blow from Sjondra crushed the creature's ribcage and it fell backwards, its bones clattering against the stone floor and back wall. The worms crawling over its skull were still squirming around, though, and with a disgusted frown on her face Alewyth brought her warhammer up over her head and crushed skull and earthworms flat.

"Are you okay?" Alewyth asked Thurloe, whose limbs by this point were incredibly heavy - he could hardly even lift the weight of his bastard sword. "I--think--" he began, but his sentence was cut off as his skin and armor started turning the same shade of gray. In a matter of seconds he had become a stone statue, the light winking out from the sunrod as it and the fighter's bastard sword likewise petrified. Alewyth was surprised at the light going out and looked over at the fighter - she'd been wiping worm squish from the head of her weapon on the back wall - to find him now a motionless statue. She ran up to him, unsure of what to do...until she recalled the dryad Belisandre had thanked the group for rescuing her from her dream by giving them a small handful of potions and concoctions, one of which had been a vial of stone salve. Opening the little box they'd gotten from the gnome wizard Grimblegrack Fishmelon, she put her hand into its extradimensional space and pulled out the vial of stone salve, rubbing it all over the petrified form of Thurloe.

"What happened?" Thurloe asked, once he'd been restored to his normal flesh and blood. "What was that thing?"

"No idea," admitted Alewyth.

Wakuren walked over to one of the side rooms off the chamber in which they'd just slain the crypt thing. There were three skeletons on each side of the room, lying in state in full plate armor, each gripping a longsword. A quick perusal verified that none of the sword pommels had a dreamstone at the end of it and none of the skeletons gave off any evil auras to the cleric-paladin's senses. Still, Wakuren was all but sure that as soon as they'd traversed the length of the room (or maybe got halfway through it) the half dozen would animate and attack. So he walked the length of the chamber, exited into a wider corridor, then walked back to meet back up with Zander and Xandro. "Seems safe," he said, surprised. Just to be sure, he went in the other direction and saw an identical-looking chamber, also holding six armored skeletons lying in burial niches along the walls, the only difference being which way they were facing.

Still, curiosity compelled Wakuren to experiment further. Walking back to the first chamber, he touched one of the skeletons on its armored chest plate. The reaction was almost instant: it sat up, gauntleted hand gripping its longsword as it swung its feet over the edge of the niche and stood up, swinging its blade at the startled half-orc. Wakuren caught the blow on his shield, noted the aura of evil blazing forth now that the undead skeleton had been brought to unholy life, and then Zander Quilson slew the thing with a magic missile spell. Wakuren spun to face the other skeletons in the room but they remained unmoving in their burial berths.

"Don't touch any of them," he advised the others.

"Wasn't really planning on it," replied Zander.

The three moved into the larger corridor, noting the skeletons lying in niches along the far side. These skeletons were in much worse condition than the heavily-armored dozen in the two mirror-image halls of the honored dead behind them; these wretches must have been the low-ranking soldiers hired by the Tannenheim family, worthy only of short swords and leather armor that had not aged well over the many years they'd laid here in the tomb. But Zander, holding his everburning torch, pointed down the corridor and shouted, "Look out - some kind of bug coming our way!"

"That's Zander!" cried Alewyth, standing in a T-section of narrow passageways leading into two separate rooms each holding a stone sarcophagus, although the one at the bottom of the "T" also held a gargoyle bent over the stone coffin that the dwarf couldn't determine as being either an unliving carving or a living creature waiting to strike. But hearing the elf's call to his companions made her decide to come back to that room later on; in the meantime, she ran through the other sarcophagus room - this one's stone coffin holding a carving depicting a noblewoman - and popped out in the same hallway that Zander was in, casting an aid spell on herself in the process. He was pointing behind her, so she whirled around and saw a carrion crawler almost upon her.

Thurloe stuck his head (and sunrod) out enough to see the advancing grub-thing and called, "Back!" to the dwarven priestess. They raced back into the lady-sarcophagus room, each readying their weapon of choice. And sure enough, the carrion crawler, which had seen Zander and had been heading his way when Alewyth and Thurloe made themselves a closer-to-reach meal, altered course to pursue them instead. Xandro got in a shot at the carrion crawler with his crossbow before it exited the larger corridor, and then Thurloe and Alewyth brought their weapons to bear. The caterpillar-monster died before any of its eight writhing tentacles could try to get a grab on any of its intended prey.

Wakuren went in the other direction, following the wider corridor as it made a right angle and went back, under the entry stairs if the half-orc had his directions correct in his head. He heard the same splorching sound Alewyth had heard earlier, immediately after having been teleported, and he managed to spot the gelatinous cube heading in his direction. He sent a spiritual weapon spell to go slam into it, knowing a floating weapon made of force energy couldn't be dissolved in the cube's acid. Fortunately, while the cube continued its approach without slowing it wasn't traveling at a very fast pace and Wakuren got in a couple of good attacks with his spiritual heavy mace before it winked out, its spell duration having run through its allotted time.

Zander cast another magic missile spell at the approaching gelatinous cube. "Borrow your crossbow?" Wakuren asked, and the bard gladly handed it over while he went back to his lute and his song of courageous inspiration. It took several crossbow bolts and a few more magic missiles (and steadily backing up so the slow-moving cube wouldn't catch up to them), but they finally slew it and it started its slow discorporation as its gelatinous body started losing cohesion.

Alewyth, in the meantime, had found another room from further down the larger corridor and, peeking inside, saw three large chests lined up against the far wall. However, her innate stonecunning ability - an ability shared by all dwarves - warned her that the middle of the floor wasn't really stone. She approached it cautiously and determined it was this wood painted to match the surrounding stone; she'd bet everything she had that anybody steeping foot on that patch of fake stone would be plummeting to a spike-filled pit or something. But as there didn't seem to be any active threats in the room she decided to leave it for later, if at all.

Eventually, all five adventurers stood outside the room with the sarcophagus of what they assumed must be Lord Tannenheim's sarcophagus, given the image carved into the stone lid was that of a man in plate armor wielding a longsword and it had a gargoyle (that Alewyth still glared at suspiciously) bending over from the wall above it.

"I still think that thing's alive," Alewyth insisted.

"Is it breathing?" asked Xandro.

"No, but I'm not sure if that means anything."

"Well, the dreamstone's probably on the hilt of the sword of the main guy in this twisted family, which means the guy who has a gargoyle standing watch over him, which means it's probably inside his coffin with him," reasoned Thurloe. "Zander, you still got any magic missile spells on hand?"

"Just a few, but yeah."

"Okay, keep 'em ready. Wakuren and I will enter the room and lift up the stone lid. Alewyth, you get ready to smack the gargoyle with your hammer if it even twitches. Xandro, you're on grab-the-sword-as-soon-as-we-lift-the-lid detail. Everybody got it?" Everybody did.

Peering warily at the gargoyle the whole time, Wakuren and Thurloe entered the chamber which, fitting the head of the family, was slightly bigger than the other chambers in this crypt. And while the crypt thing had activated as soon as a living person stepped foot into the room, the gargoyle remained perfectly still. Thurloe shrugged; maybe it was just a statue after all.

Alewyth wasn't so sure - she held Sjondra over one shoulder, ready to strike if necessary.

But the gargoyle was tricky; it waited until the half-orc and the human had their hands full lifting the heavy stone lid of Lord Tannenheim's coffin before darting forward. It focused its attacks upon Thurloe, the less-heavily-armored of the two of them. But while it managed to get in a few good strikes with its claws, teeth, and horn against Thurloe who was pretty much stuck in place without the ability to dodge before dropping the lid, it did so at the cost of an immediate magic missile spell in the face - and then Alewyth had leaped up onto the coffin lid (just as Wakuren and Thurloe dropped it back into place to deal with the gargoyle) and swung Sjondra into the winged guardian's face. That made him back off enough that Thurloe was able to grab his bastard sword back up and for Wakuren to place his shield into attack configuration, and then the gargoyle found itself in a three-against-one melee combat with an elven sorcerer lobbing magic missiles at it and a human bard shooting it with a crossbow. Just to shake things up, Zander tried a ray of enfeeblement at the gargoyle, siphoning off some of its strength and diminishing the power of its own attacks. The gargoyle continued focusing its attacks on Thurloe, apparently deciding to bring one foe down before attacking another one, but Alewyth slew it with a final blow from Sjondra before it could take the fighter down.

"I knew it was just faking!" Alewyth swore at the dead guardian. Then Thurloe and Wakuren - after a few moments of the latter casting healing spells on the former - resumed their positions and lifted the stone coffin lid up. Xandro grabbed up the longsword held in the grip of the long-dead Lord Tannenheim and they let the lid crash down back into place. Sure enough, there was a sizable dreamstone on the edge of the sword's hilt.

"Well, we got it," Wakuren said. "Let's get out of here."

"Wait," replied Alewyth. "There's a treasure room just around the corner."

"Wait, what?" Thurloe gasped. "You mean you're okay with looting this crypt now? And not just of the dreamstone?"

Alewyth nodded. "This family, anyone willing to bind their loyal followers into undead forms like that worm-medusa thing or that skeleton in the throne when we came in, they're just plain evil! I've got no qualms about tearing this place apart and stripping it of anything we can use."

"Well, now you're talking!" Thurloe whooped. "Let's go!"

Alewyth not only led the group to the treasure chamber and warned them of the pit trap in the middle of the floor, she personally broke through the locks on the three chests. There wasn't anything in them but coins and gems - to the value of several thousand pieces of gold, in all - but that wasn't too big of a disappointment; Alewyth poured each and every bit of treasure into their extradimensional box.

"Okay," Alewyth said once the last of the coins had been dropped into their box and she'd closed and latched the lid. "Now we can go."

"May I say, you have never looked lovelier than you do right now," pointed out Thurloe, more than a little pleased at her new attitude. Then, recalling how she'd restored him to flesh and blood using the stone salve, he turned to the others and said, "Did I mention she rubbed her hands all over my body when we were separated from you guys?"

"Enough of that!" snarled Alewyth. Thurloe was pleased enough at the extra money they'd snagged from this little plundering session that he gladly let the teasing drop.

- - -

This adventure took about two and a half hours to run through, or maybe just a little over. Joe got a call around 4:50, right as they were about to go into the chamber with the gargoyle; it was his boss, calling to see if Joe would come in to work at 5:30. So then this turned into a speed session, with everybody rolling their attacks and damage dice together and doing everything possible to speed up the combat. I offered to let Joe take off right then and there (he'd have to go get changed at home before going in to work) and I'd drive his parents home (and then they said they could just walk home; it's only like a 10-15-minute walk from their house to mine), but Joe said his boss was cool if he was a little late since it was such short notice.

The grave medusa was a creature I made up after imagining what a skeletal medusa would look like and then realizing earthworms would be more thematically appropriate than skeletal snakes to an undead skeleton who could slowly turn people to stone over the course of three rounds. (And to be clear, a grave medusa isn't an undead medusa but rather something a human can be turned into after death with the appropriate necromantic rituals.) In fact, when creating the grave medusa's stats I realized it was too powerful for this adventure and then made up stats for a lesser grave medusa.

- - -

T-shirt worn: Still my "Hanes Moore Family Reunion" T-shirt with the silhouette of a tree, since it was the same game session as "Forest Dreams." But this time the tree was representing the Tannenheim family tree.
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PC Roster:
Alewyth Putterpye, dwarf priestess of Aerik 4​
Thurloe Pulver, human fighter 3/wizard 1​
Wakuren, half-orc cleric of Cal 2/paladin 2​
Xandro Silverstrings, human bard 4​
Zander Quilson, elf sorcerer 4​

Game Session Date: 2 October 2021

- - -

"I have to turn in my spellbook?" demanded Thurloe. He wasn't particularly thrilled with the idea of releasing custody of the spellbook Mistress Jandoval had given him to practice his novice-level spells, especially now that he'd actually started making sense of them.

"It's the rule," Xandro explained. "Anyone entering Baron's Haven has to turn in all spellbooks and magic scrolls."

The group was far enough back in line that Zander felt he could still pass on his thoughts without being overheard by the armed warriors - hobgoblins, by the look of them, and wearing the tabards of the High King of Armaturia, no less! - who were interrogating everyone passing through the city gates. "Would it fit inside the candy dish?" he asked quietly, referring to the extradimensional chest they'd received from the gnome wizard Grimblegrack Fishmelon. When opened, it gave the appearance of holding nothing more substantial than hard candy.

"Nah," Thurloe answered. "It's too big." Zander had a handful of magic scrolls that would easily fit inside the extradimensional opening but he figured he'd follow Thurloe's lead. Finally the fighter-wizard shrugged and said, "Okay, fine, I guess. I assume we'll get them back when we leave?"

"They'll give you a receipt when you turn them in," Xandro reassured him. He'd been through the city before and knew its ways - in fact, he even knew the innkeeper of the Merry Minstrel, the location of the next dream victim they were to rescue. So when they got to the front of the line, Thurloe handed over his spellbook without argument and received a receipt so he could pick it up when he left the city. Zander did likewise with his arcane scrolls. The hobgoblins informed the group - as they told everyone entering the city - that unauthorized spellcasting was not allowed within the confines of the city's walls, by order of Baron Korvail Devlin himself. Spellcasting could be performed under the supervision of one of the clerics of Delphyne, the Goddess of Magic, or at any of the various temples under proper observation. But any other spellcasting would have consequences, from simple fines to immediate incarceration and confiscation of all worldly goods, permanent banishment from the city, or even death.

"Good to know," Thurloe observed as the group entered the city gates. Then, once they were out of earshot of the hobgoblin security forces, he asked Xandro, "What's the big fear about people casting spells?"

"Nobody knows for sure," the bard replied. "Some say the Baron has had his future foretold, in which it was determined he would most likely be slain by a spell. Others claim he's plagued by recurring nightmares of someone killing him with a spell and has chosen to take matters into his own hands. But I wouldn't want to push the rule - best if we refrain from spellcasting if we can help it."

"They'd seriously kill us for casting a healing spell on someone?" asked Alewyth. That made no sense to the priestess of Aerik.

"Well, obviously the spell being cast would have some bearing on the punishment you receive. I imagine you wouldn't get in as much trouble for having cast a cure light wounds spell on an injured orphan as you would casting a fireball into a crowded marketplace."

Xandro led the group through the winding streets of Baron's Haven until they reached the Merry Minstrel Inn, a large, single-story structure in the better part of the common sector of the city. There was a reliable stable next door where the group's mounts could be cared for and their wagon stored until needed. Then the heroes entered the inn and were met by the white-haired owner, Jorbalee Bennicut. "Xandro Silverstrings!" she said with real delight in her voice. "As I live and breathe! It's been a while since you've been out this way! Are you up for providing some entertainment in the evenings during your stay?"

Xandro agreed at once and then explained the reason for their visit. Jorbalee expressed amazement that they knew of her sleeping guest and had a means to try to wake her from her weeks-long slumber. "You're welcome to give it a shot," she told the group, "but we had a cleric of Cal in here to try to revive her and none of his spells had any effect."

After entering their names into the guest book and handling over their keys, Jorbalee led them to their individual rooms to drop off their gear and then took them to where the dreamer lay. "She's a pretty well-known bard, a traveler like yourself," Jorbalee told Xandro. "Name of Carmen Melodius."

"I've heard of her," Xandro replied. "I've heard she's good."

"Well, I couldn't say as to that," Jorbalee sighed. "I showed her to her room and then sent one of the maids to fetch her when she never showed up for her first session at evening meal. She was passed out cold on her bed and we tried everything to wake her, to no effect." She put the key into the lock of a small room, the size of the rooms each of the heroes had chosen for their own overnight dwellings: a small, square room with walls 10 feet to a side, which contained a single bed and a large chest for holding one's gear. Opening the door, the group got their first look at Carmen Melodius. She was a young woman, with chestnut brown hair that came to the middle of her back. She was human, but with delicate features hinting at the possibility of some elven ancestry somewhere in her family tree. She lay upon her back, breathing quietly. Xandro noted the lute propped up against the room's storage chest; it was nicely made, no doubt of masterwork quality.

"We put her here in one of the smaller rooms once it was obvious she wasn't waking up any time soon," Jorbalee admitted. "And that was nearly a month ago."

Alewyth explained the procedures the group would be using to try to revive the dreamer. "You won't be casting spells, will you?" Jorbalee asked, a note of worry in her voice.

"Not at all," assured the dwarven priestess. "But we'll need a larger room for us to make our attempt, as it works best if we sit around her in a circle and this room is kind of small for that. Is there another room we could use?" Jorbalee offered up a currently vacant room some 15 by 20 feet. "That will do nicely," Alewyth agreed and Wakuren scooped the sleeping bard up in his arms to carry her to the new location.

Once in the larger bedroom, Wakuren laid Carmen on the bed and then he and Thurloe pulled it into the middle of the room. Alewyth placed a leather headband around Carmen's head, in the center of which lay a dreamstone, which she positioned to sit in the middle of her forehead. Then each of the group pulled out their own headband and tied it into place. They took their places around the bed, sitting cross-legged with their backs straight in a meditation posture. "What should I do?" asked Jorbalee.

"If you don't mind, you can stay here and watch over us as we sleep," Wakuren answered her. "And please feel free to wake us up in an emergency." The innkeeper agreed and watched as each of the five closed their eyes, slowed their breathing, and eventually fell asleep in a sitting position. She wasn't quite sure how they accomplished it; that didn't look to be particularly comfortable and she doubted if she'd be able to sit in such a configuration herself at her age.

Carmen's dream was somewhat unusual in that she didn't seem to appear in it; while this wasn't unique in the dreams of the people the five heroes had rescued thus far, in most cases they'd appeared in their own dreams. But the five stepped into the dream side by side, finding themselves in a strange jungle, with trees overhead covered in silvery-green leaves, while two suns beat down overhead in a purple sky.

"Weird place," muttered Zander, looking around.

A sudden crashing sound brought everyone's attention to a section of jungle up ahead and to their right. Trees were being uprooted and tossed aside, while a deep roar echoed from all directions. In a moment, a massive ape stepped into a clearing, contemptuously tossing aside a tree he'd just pulled from the ground for the crime of being in his way. Then he roared again, beating his chest with hands that were each much larger than any of the heroes.

"Weaken him!" suggested Thurloe, holding up a dreamstone in his hand before him as if it could ward off the giant gorilla. The others followed suit, each doing their level best to try to weaken the dream-ape, either by shrinking him down or siphoning off some of his impressive strength. It was difficult to see whether their attempts were having any success, and then the 50-foot-tall gorilla locked eyes with Alewyth and rushed forward, running on his back legs and the knuckles of his enormous hands. He crossed the clearing before Alewyth could even bring Sjondra up to try to ward him off and his closed fist came crashing down upon the dwarven priestess, crushing her flat in one blow.

The others instantly panicked, dropping everything they held in their hands and fleeing at top speed as far away from the ape as they could. But he was too big, too fast - one by one, he scooped them up and crushed them in his hands or stomped them into a pile of shattered bones and torn flesh beneath his feet. In each case, they were snapped back awake as they "died" in the dream.

"Is everything okay?" Jorbalee asked nervously, seeing them flutter their eyelids and snap awake (often with a gasp or a stifled scream).

"It's gone better," admitted Thurloe. Looking around the room and seeing everyone was now awake, he said, "Okay, that didn't work. Let's go in again and this time we'll try to show up at different points in the jungle instead of all clumped together like we were last time." Based on their past experiences, when they went into the same dream on subsequent attempts it would have "reset" to the same point it had been at when they'd first entered.

It took minutes of resettling themselves to readiness for sleep, and then one by one they each arrived back in the Dreamlands. "Didn't work out so well, huh, kupo? asked Mogo.

"We have a new plan," Thurloe assured him as he stepped through the dream doorway and back into Carmen Melodius's dream.

Sure enough, the jungle had been restored and the dream-ape was just now destroying the northeastern section of trees as the other dreamwalkers popped into the jungle at various different points. At least it would take longer for the ape to chase them all down this way - and now that they were prepared, Thurloe hoped they wouldn't be affected by the sudden panic the first sight of the massive ape, ten times taller than a man, had fostered in their hearts.

The ape beat its chest in the clearing and roared its defiance as the five dreamwalkers each tried using their lucid dreaming training to somehow weaken the beast. The ape looked all about him, finally spotting Thurloe and racing his way. "Oh, sh--" the fighter got out before the ape's massive fist crushed him into paste.

Alewyth decided to try a different tactic. Lucid dreaming wasn't always as successful in every dream, as each dreamscape seemed to have its own set of rules, its own internal logic. So she decided to treat this not as a dream to be manipulated to her own desired end state but rather to act as if it were happening in the Mortal World. Thus, she fought it here as she would have fought it there, by casting a spiritual weapon spell. A dwarven warhammer formed of solid force materialized beside the startled gorilla and smashed him in the face. He roared in anger and instinctively swatted at it but it dodged in the air and avoided his grasp.

Wakuren followed Alewyth's lead and a second spiritual weapon took shape, this one a heavy mace, the weapon favored by Cal, God of Air and Healing. It too slammed into the giant gorilla, while Zander tossed his figurine of wondrous power over by the ape. The cooshee took on full-sized elven dog form - and was crushed underfoot almost immediately by the massive simian. Then the dream-ape ran over to Alewyth, scooping her up in one hand, biting off her head, and then spinning and throwing her headless body at Zander Quilson, snapping his neck by the speed of his throw.

Wakuren had activated his ring of invisibility and crept up behind the ape, wondering if it might be possible to somehow crawl up his leg and back, so he could attempt a shield-strike against the back of the ape's skull. But the creature spun around and snatched up the half-orc, who apparently hadn't been as invisible to the ape's senses as he might have hoped. The cleric-paladin was crushed between the ape's hands and his crumpled body tossed to the ground, while the ape looked about until he found Xandro.

"Uh oh," gulped Xandro as the ape sped in his direction. Using the training he'd received by his moogle instructors, the bard willed himself awake before he got to experience "death" again at the hands of the bloodthirsty ape.

"Well, that's no good," Thurloe complained when everyone was back awake. They talked it out among themselves and decided this was another dream well beyond their present ability to handle. Xandro explained their failure to Jorbalee. "We've encountered this once before," he told her. "We'll do with Carmen what we did with the other dreamer we were unable to save: leave a dreamstone in contact with her forehead so she can attune with it over time, and we'll be back later after we've had additional training. Would it be okay if she stays in that other room where her gear was placed?" Jorbalee agreed that would be fine and a dejected Wakuren picked Carmen back up in his arms and carried back to her own smaller room.

That done, the heroes decided to do some shopping now that they were in a decent-sized city, for most of their travels thus far, besides an excursion into a pair of dwarven Underdark cities, had been among smaller villages. They'd each amassed a fair amount of coin and were eager to spend some of it, hopefully on magic items that would make their combats that much easier. But other than a few scant potion shops, they were disappointed to find Baron's Haven hosted no major magic shops at all. Wakuren stopped by the local Temple of Cal and spoke with the clerics there, paying them in advance to craft him a wand of cure light wounds. Thurloe likewise ordered a wand of magic missiles from the wizards at the Temple of Delphyne, who advised them they could craft the wand but would need to deliver it to him outside the confines of the city. In each case, it would take three days of crafting to have the wands ready. Figuring there wasn't a real rush to get to the next dream victim (and with Xandro eager to earn some extra coin playing for the guests at the Merry Minstrel Inn), they agreed to stay in town long enough to take delivery of the wands.

At dinner time that night, the other four were sitting at two tables facing the corner of the dining area, where Xandro played the lute and sang on a raised stage. Jorbalee was bringing over a basket of rolls when all of a sudden she teetered, her eyes rolled up into her head, and she collapsed forward onto the floor, the dinner rolls bouncing along the floor. Zander was the first to notice and he jumped up from the bench to see to her. "She's not responding," he said when he tried waking her up by slapping her gently.

Xandro announced a brief intermission and joined the others in seeing to Jorbalee's condition. It was just like all of the other dream victims they'd dealt with so far, although this was the first time they had heard of someone being affected while awake. But they got one of the servers to fetch them the key to the larger room where they'd tried waking Carmen and Wakuren placed her on the bed, which was pulled back to the middle of the room. With hungry guests to attend to, the server couldn't stick around so Zander activated his figurine of wondrous power and commanded his elven dog to wake him up if there were any disturbances here in the room while the five dreamwalkers tried entering Jorbalee's dream to pull her back to wakefulness.

This time the dream almost seemed familiar, for it took place in some underworld lit only by the streams and rivulets of magma - very similar to the dream of Lady Camilla Middlewich, only instead of the dream-victim being suspended in a web-cocoon and being menaced by a giant spider, Jorbalee's wrists and ankles were bound and she had been thrown over the back of an ebon-skinned horse who was rapidly carrying her away. This was no ordinary horse, though, as evidenced by the flames it had in place of a mane and those encompassing its hooves as it raced across the hellish landscape.

"Weaken it!" Thurloe commanded for the second time that day, raising the dreamstone he held in his hand like a magic talisman. The others did the same, doing what they could to try to weaken the nightmare bearing Jorbalee away from them. And this time it seemed to have an effect, for the creature, who had been running through the air several feet above the surface of the magma-cracked stone beneath it, was forced back down to ground level and its speed noticeably decreased - enough so that Wakuren and Thurloe were able to chase after it, even though that meant jumping across ever-widening streams of liquid magma. Alewyth cast a bless spell on the group and Xandro began his song of courageous inspiration, until the half-orc was close enough to slam his shield against the nightmare's flank, just as Thurloe cut it with his bastard sword from the other side. Zander cast a ray of enfeeblement spell at the hell-beast, weakening it even further. The nightmare lashed out with his flaming hooves, but before too long the heroes had slain it. It vanished immediately upon death, leaving a bound Jorbalee to fall to the ground - but not before Wakuren could leap below her and prevent her from getting burned by the magma. She landed awkwardly upon the cleric-paladin's armored back, as his face was pushed into the burning lava...

...and then the dreamscape vanished all around them and everyone woke back up. They were back in the inn, the cooshee wagging its tail at seeing them back to full wakefulness, Wakuren instinctively feeling his face to make sure it hadn't been burned. "What happened? Why are we here?" asked the innkeeper, a puzzled frown on her face as she tried to recall the dream that was even now starting to fade now that she was back awake. She had been bringing out a basket of rolls, she remembered that....

Alewyth filled her in on what had transpired and then Jorbalee leaped to her feet and rushed back to see to her guests, embarrassed to have fallen asleep on the job as she had. Thurloe and Wakuren pushed the bed back up against the wall while Xandro went back to finish his musical set back in the dining area. The others followed and the rest of the evening was uneventful. And Jorbalee returned the fees for the rooms overnight, furthermore insisting that their dinners were on the house.

It was the next morning, with the group at one of the dining tables eating a decent breakfast, when the next bit of excitement made itself known. Thurloe was devouring his fourth piece of thick bacon when he heard a commotion just outside the inn. There was a crashing sound, the unmistakable sound of horses crying out in fear, and a roar of anger and pain that sounded very much like that of the dream-ape they'd fought - twice - to no avail in the dreamscape of Carmen Melodius. Thurloe leaped up from the bench and ran to the inn's front door, standing on the porch and looking to see what was going on. There, on the street in front of the inn was an overturned wagon, with the enormous wooden crate that had been lashed to it laying in the street with a good chunk of the back side smashed open along the top. The four horses that had been pulling the wagon were in distress, the rear two struggling to get back up onto their legs after the wagon - which looked to have overturned after one wheel hit a rut in the road - had pulled them over as it spilled on its side. The wagon's driver had been thrown some distance and was holding his head in one hand as he struggled to stand up without falling over. And running up from behind the wagon were two men and a mastiff dog. The smaller of the two men was completely bald, carried a wooden staff, and wore a green hooded robe and laced sandals. But he was by no means a small man, only seeming so in contrast to the hulking brute who came up behind him with his mastiff dog, for this hairy peasant looked to be nearly seven feet tall, with thick sideburns.

The bald man ran up to the crate making soothing noises while the large peasant approached the inn, where the other heroes had joined Thurloe to see what was up. "Everything's okay," boomed the peasant. "Sorry for any disturbance, but everything's under control now. Please go back inside - there's nothing to see here."

That seemed particularly fishy to Zander, for everything did not seem to be under control: whatever was inside the wooden crate was still roaring and trying to pound its way out and the horses were still succumbing to panic. On a hunch, the elf activated the true seeing aspect of his scout’s headband. And what he saw surprised him beyond all belief, for under the effects of the headband the elf saw not a towering peasant but a massive gorilla, and not a mastiff dog but a baboon. Both wore collars and the gorilla was still talking, trying to convince everyone that there was no need for anyone to render any assistance.

Wakuren stood right behind Zander and he was using his paladin training to try to detect any evil in the area. Sure enough, he was able to sense a source of evil, and while it would take him a moment's concentration to determine its exact location he was pretty sure it was going to be focused on the bald man over by the crate, who wasn't the least bit concerned by the cries of the horses or the bleeding head of the driver but was instead focused on the creature trying to break out of the crate - and just about succeeding, by this time.

Xandro pulled his lute from his back and began a tune quite different from the ones he usually played in combat; rather than inspiring courage in his friends, the better to aim their strikes with weapons and spells, he played a tune designed to fascinate those who might otherwise wish to do him or his friends harm. And the tune worked, almost instantly, for the large peasant stopped talking and the mastiff sat down on his haunches, mesmerized by the bard's tune.

"That big guy's a gorilla," Zander whispered to the others. "And that dog's a baboon."

"I'm going to go check on the driver," Thurloe announced, heading towards the horses, all four of which were now back up on their feet. The driver was on the other side of them, so the fighter was going to have to skirt around them.

"Bald guy's evil!" Wakuren announced, having by this time discerned that he was indeed the source of the emanations of evil he'd been picking up. He wound his way around the fascinated apes in the collars that cloaked them in illusions so they could fit in among the people in a large city without drawing any attention to themselves. The half-orc still wasn't sure what that was all about, but he was more interested in confronting the bald man at this point. As Wakuren approached, Zander stepped down off the porch and threw a thunderstone at the bald man, having assumed he was a spellcaster and hoping to mess up his ability to cast spells by deafening him. The stone exploded in a cacophony of noise but it failed to deafen the bald man, who merely looked annoyed at the attempt. He moved his hands and spoke something that Wakuren, who was fast approaching him at this point, could tell was some sort of spellcasting, although he couldn't determine the exact spell being cast. It wasn't directed at him, in any case, rather at the creature inside the crate.

Only the creature wasn't inside the crate for very much longer. With a final punch, the crate's side gave way and out stepped a dire ape - not as big as the dream-ape in Carmen Melodius's dream, but standing a good nine feet tall. The bald man pointed at Wakuren and the dire ape obliged, smashing a simian fist into the half-orc's face and sending him reeling back. Alewyth stepped down from the inn's porch and almost cast a spell to aid her friend, but looked around warily and saw a number of bystanders accumulating in the area (although one look at the loose dire ape in the city generally spun them about and had them fleeing at top speed). She didn't dare risk it. Instead, grumbling to herself, she fished her old sling from a belt pouch and started making her way towards the brawl.

Thurloe had gone around the horses and was now approaching the bald man from the west. He pulled the composite bow from his back and readied an arrow as he moved forward. Xandro continued his song, knowing full well his power to keep the two apes fascinated would only continue to work for so long - still, it was a way to keep them out of the fight for a bit, so he was determined to make it last as long as he could.

With a look of irritation, the bald druid cast another spell, not in the least bit concerned about who might see him do so. Immediately, thick briars rose up from the ground, forming a full wall of thorns in the street blocking the overturned wagon from the inn. Wakuren was already on the inner side of the curved wall and Thurloe was approaching from the west, but it would keep the others at bay, for it stood 5 feet tall and was twice that in thickness. Alewyth, her path blocked by the thorny barrier, started heading east to go around it. She loaded a thunderstone into her sling instead of a normal sling bullet.

Then the dire ape stood to his full height and Alewyth had a perfect shot lined up even despite the wall of thorns between her and her target, who was pulling the bald druid up onto his shoulder. She wound up and released her thunderstone, which struck the ape's back and exploded in sound, but likewise failed to deafen either the ape or the druid. Still, it had been worth the attempt.

Wakuren, anger stoked, cast a spiritual weapon spell, not caring if anybody saw him do so - this was obviously in the best interests of the city at large and he was sure he could talk his way out of any kind of penalty if it came to that. A heavy mace of solid force manifested by the dire ape's back and the half-orc caused it to go slamming towards the bald spellcaster who was obviously behind this whole situation somehow. But Manu the Awakener dodged the incoming blow and looked contemptuously down at the half-orc. "Do not waste time trying to stop me!" he yelled down to Wakuren at a volume much louder than needed; perhaps the thunderstones had had some sort of an effect after all.

The dire ape roared in pain as it moved away from the overturned wagon, taking a moment to pull out the arrow Thurloe had just sent streaking into his side. Then a cooshee suddenly sprang into being at the dire ape's feet; Zander having just thrown the figurine of wondrous power over the wall of thorns. The elven dog barked furiously at the dire ape, stopping only long enough to bite at a hairy ankle. But then Manu cast another spell and suddenly there was an entire swarm of spiders crawling all around - and over - both the cooshee and Wakuren. Both felt the pinpricks of innumerable bites on their flesh as spider venom started coursing its way through their veins.

But by now Alewyth had reached the eastern end of the wall of thorns and had pulled a tanglefoot bag from her pack. Winding up for a good throw, she hurled it at the dire ape's foot and it exploded in a puff of dust that quickly hardened in the air, adhering the ape's foot and leg to the cobblestone street. With a grunt of surprise and dismay, the dire ape realized he was stuck in place!

Manu looked down to see what was preventing his dominated riding mount from making any progress and in doing so got clobbered by Wakuren's spiritual heavy mace. The half-orc had been chasing after the retreating dire ape, swatting away stray spiders and he ran, and had caught up to him now that the simian's forward progress had been halted. Thurloe shot another arrow at the ape, causing it to roar in fury. By then, Xandro's song had run its course and the two apes who had been fascinated by it snapped out of their lethargy and looked about them at the chaos that had arisen while they hadn't been paying attention. The gorilla - to all but Zander, a large, heavyset peasant - spun about and chased after Wakuren slamming him in the back of his head with a massive fist. Zander chased off after Alewyth, heading for the eastern edge of the wall of thorns.

The cooshee exited the pile of spiders, took a moment to shake off most of the ones crawling in and on his fur, and then bounded after the stuck dire ape, snapping at his other leg as the giant simian broke free of the hardened goo by a massive effort.

And it was at this point the four hobgoblins showed up.

"What's going on?" one demanded as he approached Xandro, who was still over on the front porch of the inn where he'd been playing his lute. "Who's responsible for these thorn bushes?" Another approached Alewyth, stopping her from advancing past the wall of thorns and demanding answers to the same question. Both the bard and the priestess of Aerik gave the same answer, pointing at the bald druid riding on the shoulder of a dire ape - and then, as if to prove his own guilt, he blatantly cast another spell: an animal growth spell that caused the dire ape to expand to twice his already considerable height. With longer legs and a longer stride, it continued its flight from the others and had soon scrambled out of view, taking a corner onto a side street.

Looking back and seeing the hobgoblin guards, Wakuren quietly dismissed his spiritual weapon spell, hoping it hadn't been noticed, and turned to face the peasant who was hitting him in the back. The half-orc knew Zander had said this was really a gorilla, but if it was the illusion was very well crafted, for Wakuren would never have guessed he was fighting off anybody other than a very large human. He brought his shield smashing into the ape's side, and then the baboon - still to all appearances a large mastiff dog - raced up and started biting Wakuren as well.

Thurloe had continued his advance and even though the dire ape and the bald spellcaster had gotten away, he now had two other targets within range. Firing an arrow at the mastiff, he got it in the throat and it fell over, dead. Even in death, though, it retained the illusion of being a large dog.

"Bongo!" cried the "peasant," enraged at the death of his companion. Thurloe was still too far away to punish, but the half-orc was right here so Ngoto continued pummeling Wakuren with his gorilla fists.

"Those two are really apes," Zander explained to one of the hobgoblins, and when the guard looked skeptical the elf took off his magical headband and handed it over. "See for yourself," he offered. The hobgoblin put it on and cried out a crude exclamation of surprise. "He's right!" he called to his three companions as the cooshee helped Wakuren fight off the gorilla as best he could, even though it meant being one of the closest targets to the swarm of spiders, which quickly encompassed the elven dog, Wakuren, and the gorilla - the spiders gave no preferential treatment to the allies of the man who had summoned them here. That was enough for the gorilla, who decided it was time to high-tail it out of here and try to catch back up with Manu; unfortunately, to do so he ran close enough to Thurloe to give him time to pull the bastard sword from his back and bring it swinging down upon the "peasant's" head. He fell to the ground, dead from the fighter's blow - and the illusion-dampening powers of the sword caused it to be revealed as the simian creature it really was.

After that, the hobgoblins started taking statements from the eyewitnesses. Fortunately, nobody had seen any of the heroes casting spells, although there were plenty of eyewitnesses to Manu having done so. Thurloe bent over the body of the "mastiff" and removed its collar, revealing its true baboon form. Once the hobgoblins were satisfied they had enough information, they offered up a reward of 50 gold pieces for slaying the dire ape and 100 pieces of gold for bringing in the bald druid, dead or alive. "We're on it!" answered Thurloe, eager for a second chance of taking the bald guy down.

The heroes headed out in the direction the dire ape had last been seen, picking up sightings by eyewitnesses who eventually led then to the edge of the city, where a bystander had said the ape climbed right over the city walls and was heading into the Darkwood Forest. "We've likely lost them, then," lamented Alewyth.

"Not necessarily," remarked Zander. "Cooshees are excellent trackers."

That certainly ended up being the case. The group headed back to the city gate by which they had entered the previous day and Thurloe and Zander retrieved their spellbook and scrolls, respectively. Then they walked along the outside of the city wall until the cooshee picked up the dire ape's scent - and then he was off like a shot, with the others racing to catch up with him. The ape wasn't particularly difficult to track, either, for his greater weight meant he left quite deep footprints in the dirt and had left a distinctive trail of broken branches and pushed-aside smaller trees in his wake. Eventually, they tracked the dire ape into a clearing after a mere 20 minutes or so of following the trial through the forest.

Zander grabbed his cooshee and held him at bay so the elven dog wouldn't go rushing right up to the bald druid before the others had had time to prepare for combat. But in the meantime, they were puzzling over what he was doing, for the dire ape - now at its original size, a still-respectable nine feet tall - was stretched out on his back upon the forest floor and the druid was in the process of attaching heavy manacles to each limb. The chains connected to the manacles had been fastened to the trunks of sturdy trees. "This is necessary," the druid told his compliant dire ape (for the dominate animal spell he'd cast upon the simian earlier was still in effect), "for the spell I must cast upon you to awaken you to your full intellect takes a full 24 hours. But then you will have gained your full birthright and will join your brothers as one of us." He snapped the third manacle in place around the dire ape's right wrist and moved over to do the same with the creature's other hand. The heroes, watching silently at the edge of the clearing, decided not to do anything until the dire ape had been fully restrained.

Alewyth scanned the area for any other potential allies the bald druid might have hanging around but saw none. There was a simple tent over by a clump of trees, small enough it would only hold the druid and no others. She spotted a few nests on the ground, one large enough for the gorilla and a smaller one likely belonging to the baboon, but they had both been slain in the city and the lack of any other such nests bode well that there weren't any other awakened apes in the vicinity. Over on the other side of the clearing was a mound of dirt with a flat rock somewhat askew at the top of it, but no indications of anyone but the druid that they'd be facing.

In the meantime, Thurloe quietly cast a shield spell upon himself, since he'd left his buckler back in the inn. Then, once the dire ape had been fully chained in place, the fighter gave a nod to Zander and he cast the spell he'd been waiting to use. Instantly, the scorching ray leaped from his fingertips to strike Manu the Awakener, who cried out in pain and surprise at the unexpected attack. Seeing that battle was now on, the cooshee darted forward and bit at Manu's leg. Then, sensing uncast spells in the druid's prepared repertoire, the dog snatched one of them up and ripped it from Manu's inventory. The latent spell energy, he knew, could be converted to be used by his sorcerer master.

Xandro had unpacked his lute during the wait for combat to begin and now he started strumming the chords to his most commonly-used tune, the one inspiring his friends to greater heights of courage. Thurloe had his composite bow out and sent an arrow flying over to strike the druid before he could retaliate with a spell. So far, the three attacks - Zander's spell, the cooshee's spell-ripping bite, and Thurloe's arrow - had all happened in a matter of mere seconds, before the druid had even realized the danger he was in.

But now a flash of movement caught Thurloe's eye. Off to the right, a pair of burly figures stepped into view. The fighter recognized them as bugbears right away, for they'd tangled with one of them back at the old abandoned silver mine where he had ended up taking his bastard sword Spellslicer from the hands of its previous owner, who'd been transformed into a yellow musk zombie. This pair had solemn faces that turned to anger as they looked down at the pile of dirt and the misplaced stone at their feet. Then they stepped forward and each let a javelin fly, one aimed at Thurloe and the other at Zander. Whatever had angered them, they had apparently decided the five heroes were a part of it.

Alewyth cast a bless spell on the group, glad to no longer be under the ridiculous restrictions of Baron's Haven. Wakuren cast a spiritual weapon and sent it hurtling at Manu's head, then activated his ring of invisibility and faded from view. The heavy mace struck the druid on the side of the head, causing him to topple over on his side, unconscious, with his life's blood dripping onto the leaves of the forest floor below him. Behind him, the dire ape struggled against his bonds, but the manacles and chains had been made thick enough to keep him bound. He roared in fury, struggling to free himself to no avail.

But even though Manu, the man they'd been sent to take down, was out of the fight it looked like the two bugbears had stepped up to take his place. Zander, not liking having been targeted by a bugbear javelin (even if it had just barely missed him), cast another scorching ray spell, this time targeted against the one who had thrown his javelin at the elven sorcerer. The bugbear erupted in flame for a brief moment, but luckily for him it hadn't lasted long enough to start his fur blazing.

The cooshee ran up and almost tackled his master in his exuberance, tail wagging furiously as he transferred the spell energy into Zander's frame. The elf knew instinctively that he now had more spell energy than he'd had a moment before, and also how powerful a spell it would allow him to cast. He smiled at the thought that he could now cast one more scorching ray than he'd have been able to cast normally. "Good dog!" he called down to his canine companion.

Xandro was continuing his lute playing when all of a sudden he was attacked from an unexpected direction: a small monkey dropped down from the branches overhead and started clawing at the young bard's face. "Hurt master!" the monkey snarled. Alewyth and Thurloe found themselves in the same predicament, with a snarling, shrieking monkey dropping on their heads and scrambling all around their shoulders and backs, pulling on their hair and scratching them with their claws. Thurloe's adversary bent over and bit him on the ear.

Thurloe wasn't having any of that! Realizing it was a dangerous maneuver and one likely to cause him a rather embarrassing self-inflicted wound if he missed, he dropped his bow at his feet and brought his bastard sword out of the sheath on his back. Then he brought the sharp side of the blade up against the monkey, with enough force to poke into its furry body but not enough power behind it to continue on into the side of his own head. It was, he thought to himself, somewhat like shaving, only he was trying to scrape off a deranged monkey from his face instead of several days' worth of whiskers. Sadly, the monkey was too nimble to have been brushed away with such a slow attack and he perched himself on the top of the fighter's head, one hand pulling on the ear he'd bitten.

Alewyth, with Sjondra in hand, wasn't foolish enough to use it to try to strike the monkey plaguing her - she knew she'd likely only bonk herself in the head in the process. She instead tried grabbing the monkey with her free hand, but it was able to scramble out of the way, scampering across her back and ending up on the other shoulder. It howled profanities in her face, something the dwarven priestess had never before in her life experienced.

Wakuren redirected his still-active spiritual weapon at the bugbear Zander had fried with his spell, and the heavy mace bashed in the side of the creature's skull, slaying him instantly. Zander cast another scorching ray at the other bugbear, but unfortunately for the elf his target managed to duck under the fiery blast at the last moment. But the cooshee snapped his jaws at the bugbear's leg, getting a good grip on his left leg. He tried toppling the bugbear onto his back, but the foe had too stable of a footing for that to occur. Instead, he brought his morningstar crashing down on top of the cooshee's head, causing him to howl in pain and instantly release his grip upon the goblinoid's leg.

Xandro dropped his lute to the ground and tried grabbing the monkey biting his face. He was unable to catch the nimble foe and reached to his belt for the dagger he wore there in a sheath, at this point willing to risk a self-inflicted wound if it would get the hairy enemy to leave him alone. Thurloe was able to catch his monkey with the blade of his sword, causing it to howl in pain. Alewyth had likewise managed to clock her monkey a good one with a dwarven fist, then grabbed an arm and got a good grip on it. But the monkey similarly had a good grip on her hair and wasn't about to be pulled off his victim that easily.

Wakuren had by this time positioned himself behind the remaining bugbear, noticing absently there were words carved into the lopsided stone on the raised pile of dirt. He slammed his shield into the unsuspecting bugbear's back, popping back into visibility as he did so. Zander, deciding the bugbear was likely being sufficiently taken care of by Wakuren and his own elven dog, decided to help the others who were being savaged by the little monkeys. A magic missile spell had three missiles streaking from the elf's fingertips, two of them hitting the monkey on Thurloe's head and killing it outright, the other one hitting the monkey on Xandro, causing it to squeal in outrage and hold still long enough for the bard to get a good grip on it and fling it away. He then pulled the light crossbow from his back and - tempting as it was to target the little tormentor-monkey - sent a bolt crashing into the remaining bugbear.

Heavily wounded, the loyal cooshee snapped at the bugbear again, receiving for his efforts another blow from the bloody morningstar that almost killed him outright. Xandro shot the bugbear again and Thurloe ran up to him and sent a powerful swing of his bastard sword slicing into the goblinoid's side. This was enough to finally kill him; blood spilled from his lips along with some incomprehensible curse in the Goblin tongue.

Zander took care of the remaining two monkeys with another magic missile spell. Scorching ray was a nice spell to have added to his repertoire but sometimes it was best to stick with the classics.

A quick check of the bugbears' bodies revealed they carried nothing on them but their own weapons and armor. However, curiosity compelled Thurloe to pull the flat stone with the writing on it - the characters were in the Goblin tongue, although he couldn't read what it said - and saw a short, vertical shaft leading down to a small chamber where the bandaged body of another bugbear-sized figure had been laid to rest. However, the wrappings had been cut away at the corpse's neck, no doubt to have gained the tomb desecrator access to whatever amulet or necklace had been buried with the body.

"What's that all about?" Alewyth asked.

"I got a feeling our bald guy there's been robbing bugbear tombs," Thurloe answered. "These two have probably been tracking him and just assumed we were in with him when they showed up and found us here with him." He dropped the heavy stone back into place at the top of the vertical shaft, sealing up the burial site of the bugbear entombed below.

Xandro had been checking out the body of Manu and found the key to the manacles on a thin chain around the druid's neck. Thurloe investigated the druid's tent and found a bunch of fruit, which he carefully fed to the bound dire ape - who was hungry enough to be fed by a stranger. Then, having established he was a friend - or at least not an enemy - Thurloe took the key and unlocked the manacles around the dire ape's ankles.

"There's a 50-gold-piece bounty on the big guy," Zander pointed out.

"Yeah, but he's just a dumb animal," Thurloe countered. "He wouldn't have fought us in the city like he did if baldy here hadn't made him." He released one of the dire ape's wrists from the manacle, ready to jump back out of range if the simian took advantage of his near-freedom to attack the fighter. But when he failed to do so, merely held out his manacled other hand, Thurloe approached, unlocked it, and stepped away. The dire ape got on all fours, rubbed each wrist in turn, and then knuckle-walked away.

"And it's not like we're in desperate need of the 50 gold, either," Thurloe observed. "We're already getting 100 pieces for the druid."

"We should probably heal him," Wakuren offered.

"Nope," Thurloe insisted. "He brought all of this on himself. And since he's a druid, we'll let nature decide if he lives or dies." He scooped up the unconscious figure and transferred him to one shoulder. "You guys lead on: I'll take the rear. I don't want any of you healing him when I'm not looking."

And thus, half an hour later, the five heroes returned to Baron's Haven with the corpse of Manu the Awakener.

- - -

This was a rather lengthy session, going almost five hours. I used a King Kong figure I picked up recently (when Godzilla vs. Kong was in the theaters) for the dream ape in Carmen Melodius's dream. And the second dream caused Joe (Zander's player) to speculate that if there was a Queen of Dreams, there might also be a King of Nightmares as well. (An interesting premise, even more interesting in that I already have a "King of Nightmares" initiative card in my inventory for use in an upcoming adventure....) And I had a blast with those awakened monkeys at the end, doing my best howler monkey imitation at full volume to those whose PCs had been targeted by them.

- - -

T-shirt worn: Lacking any shirts with monkeys on them, I wore a "Spider-Man" T-shirt to represent the spider swarm Manu the Awakener cast inside the city to help try to escape his attackers.
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PC Roster:
Alewyth Putterpye, dwarf priestess of Aerik 4​
Thurloe Pulver, human fighter 3/wizard 1​
Wakuren, half-orc cleric of Cal 2/paladin 2​
Xandro Silverstrings, human bard 4​
Zander Quilson, elf sorcerer 4​

Game Session Date: 16 October 2021

- - -

It was noon in the Merry Minstrel Inn and the five adventurers were enjoying a hot meal. Jorbalee Bennicut, the innkeeper herself, was bringing another basket of rolls to the table when she saw a young boy of perhaps eight summers enter the dining area of the inn and approach her guests' table.

"Are you the people who can wake people up who won't wake up by themselves?" he asked, tugging on Xandro's sleeve. The bard couldn't help but notice the boy's eyes kept darting to the food on the table before them.

"Yeah, that's right," he said, handing a roll over to the boy, who grabbed it up and started eating it at once. It was apparent he hadn't eaten in a while and the state of his raggedy clothes hinted at a life at or below the poverty level. "Do you know of someone who needs help waking up?"

"My mom," replied the boy between bites of the roll. "She fell asleep two days ago and I can't wake her up."

"What's your name, honey?" asked Alewyth.


"Well, why don't you come sit over here by me and have some lunch, and then we'll go see about waking up your mom, okay?" That sounded like a great idea to Tommy, who climbed up on the bench beside the dwarven priestess and grabbed up a slice of cheese. He ate remarkably well for someone his age and asked Alewyth if it would be okay of he brought some food back for his mom. The dwarf pulled out a handkerchief and helped him wrap up a nice lunch for Tommy's mom. Then, after paying Jorbalee for the meal and promising to be back in time for dinnertime - during which Xandro would be providing the entertainment with his lute and his songs - they let Tommy lead them back to where he and his mother, Greta, lived.

This turned out to be in the poorer section of town, where the good buildings were made of thin wood and the less sturdy were little more than patchwork tents. Grubby faces stared out at the heroes as they walked beside Tommy; they got the idea the local inhabitants didn't often see anyone with such fine clothing and equipment wandering around in the low section of town. Thurloe stared belligerently at the curious locals, daring them to try anything. Xandro kept a smile on his face so as not to look threatening but made sure his hand was close to the hilt of his rapier, just in case.

Eventually, Tommy led them to his home, a one-room structure of wooden struts, canvas walls, and a roof of thatch. "She's in there," he said, pointing to a thin blanket hanging from a rope strung across the room to form a makeshift wall. Thurloe couldn't help noticing the landfill next door, where all sorts of accumulated refuse had been tossed. Hell of a place to grow up, he thought to himself, but that didn't stop him from giving the place a good once-over to make sure this kid wasn't leading them into an ambush.

Wakuren moved aside the hanging sheet serving as a front door and likewise pushed the hanging blanket aside so he could see to Greta. She was lying motionless on a pile of rags in the corner which apparently served as her bed. In the dark of the room (once the blanket fell back into place) Wakuren knelt beside her and placed a hand on her forehead. He was immediately aware of several things: she was cold to the touch, had apparently been dead for two days, and yet occasionally twitched slightly. He imagined this slight movement had convinced Tommy that his mother was still alive.

"Keep Tommy away from here for now!" Wakuren called to the others and Thurloe dropped a hand on the boy's shoulder and led him off to the side of the hovel. None of the others knew the specifics but the worried tone in the half-orc's voice caused Zander to cast a mage armor spell upon himself and Alewyth to cast a bless spell on the group, each of them anticipating the possibility of combat.

"What are you doing?" Xandro hissed to the two spellcasters. "You're going to be seen!" Belatedly, Zander and Alewyth recalled the prohibition against casting spells within the city of Baron's Haven and guiltily looked around to see if anyone had seen them. Xandro, in the meantime, took out his lute and started the tune that inspired courage.

"Is everything okay?" Tommy asked Thurloe.

"It's going to be," promised Thurloe, "one way or the other."

Inside the building, Greta suddenly lurched upright to a sitting position, her glazed eyes focusing on Wakuren as she pulled herself to a standing position. Then, lurching and staggering as if in a drunken stupor, she slowly headed his way, an arm reaching out to the half-orc as if pleading for contact. Wakuren stepped back, holding forth his holy symbol of Cal and channeling a blast of positive energy through it, hoping to turn the zombie away. Surprisingly, it had no effect, as Greta stepped forward and slammed a stiff arm against the half-orc's armored chest.

Zander could see a little of what was going on inside the hovel through the gaps between the doorway and the sheet hanging in it, enough to determine it might not be a bad idea to activate his figurine of wondrous power. Pulling the statuette from a belt pouch and dropping it to the ground, an elven dog sprang up in its place. The cooshee needed no urging or instruction; it stuck its head into the doorway of the hovel, intrigued by the scent of dead flesh. He bit at Greta's leg as she stumbled by but the woman didn't even seem to notice.

Alewyth stepped past the hanging curtain, saw the zombie attacking Wakuren, and brought her dwarven warhammer Sjondra swinging into Greta's side. And then, to everyone's surprise, a form burst out of Greta's chest, dark and wet and aimed in Wakuren's direction. The half-orc bleated in terror and bashed the giant worm aside; it dropped to the ground and he slammed the edge of his shield down upon the dregworm, crushing it to death.

Tommy was getting worried about all of the screaming and yelling inside his house. "Tell you what," said Thurloe, pulling a silver coin out of a pouch at his belt. "Why don't you take this and go buy some garlic from that marketplace we passed, okay? We'll need it to go help your mom wake up." Glad to have something to do to help his mother, Tommy grabbed up the silver piece and sprinted off.

Greta, now with a gaping hole in her chest, swung a feeble arm at Wakuren but failed to connect; the sudden movement almost sent her crashing to the floor. But then another dregworm came leaping out of the hole to slam against Wakuren's shield, while a separate hole burst open in Greta's side and a third dregworm leaped out at the cooshee. Zander, not worrying at all if anybody was watching, cast a magic missile spell at the slime-coated worm biting at his elven dog, and the cooshee finished the dregworm off with a snap of his teeth.

Alwyth swung Sjondra at the shambling corpse and Greta sprawled in a heap onto the floor of the hovel, still as dead as she had been but now no longer moving. Wakuren crushed the last remaining dregworm with the edge of his shield and then looked over at Greta to see if any more would crawl out of her body. It didn't seem like there were any left.

"Where's Tommy?" Alewyth asked, stepping back out of the dwelling. After Thurloe told her of his ploy with the garlic purchase, she grimaced and asked, "What are we going to tell him when he returns?"

"How about, 'Sorry kid - your mom's dead. Let's go check out the orphanages,'" Thurloe suggested, which got him a lot of "What's wrong with you?" looks.

When Tommy returned with the garlic, Alewyth took him aside and said, "We weren't able to wake up your mom just yet, sweetie. We're going to still try a few things, but do you have any relatives you can stay with in the meantime?" Tommy thought it over and revealed he had an Uncle Willick, his mom's brother. "But we don't see him very much. I don't think he and Mom get along."

"Do you know where he lives?" Alewyth prompted.

"I know where he works: in the temple."

That gave Alewyth a little bit of hope. "Which temple?" she asked.

"The one with the lady." Tommy wasn't able to elaborate any further, but he said he could take them to where his Uncle Willick worked. Alewyth wondered whether it might be the temple of Delphyne, Goddess of Magic, or maybe that of Feron, Goddess of Nature. Either one would be a good environment for a young orphan to be raised in, she mused. And in any case, she'd find out soon enough when they got there.

But they didn't head over to the Godswalk, where the majority of the temples and shrines were to be found in Baron's Haven. Instead, Tommy led them to a run-down brick building in the low part of town. "There's Uncle Willick!" he said, pointing to a fat-bellied man standing outside the building.

"You wait here," suggested Wakuren, walking up to Willick. Thurloe decided he didn't want to miss out on this and went with the half-orc.

"Are you Willick, brother of Greta?" asked Wakuren.

"Yeah, maybe," answered the heavyset man. Wakuren noted he had about three days' growth of beard on his face and smelled heavily of alcohol, despite the early hour. "Who wants to know?"

Wakuren introduced himself and Thurloe and pointed over to Tommy, waiting by the others across the street. "I'm afraid your sister is dead," Wakuren said. "Dregworms - there were probably a few eggs in something she ate. In any case, I assume Tommy's father is no longer around?"

"Died years ago," confirmed Willick. Then sudden realization dawned on him. "Wait -- you're not trying to pawn the kid off on me, are you?"

"I understand you might be his only living relative," Wakuren pointed out.

Willick scratched his stubbly beard as he thought aloud. "Well...yeah, I suppose I could use him here at the temple. I reckon he's old enough to stop shirkin' and start workin'. Yeah, okay, I guess I can make this work."

Wakuren's eyes narrowed. "This...is your temple? Here?" he asked.

"Sure," Willick replied. "We gotta tend to the needs of them what don't got lots of coin. Best way to do that's to serve 'em where they live." At this observation, Thurloe left the others behind and approached the shabby brick building. There was no door on the front face of the structure; he found the sole entrance at the back end of a narrow alley, between it and the neighboring building. There was no writing on the door, merely the silhouette of a well-endowed woman, which Thurloe recognized as the holy symbol of Desdemona, Goddess of Fertility.

Stepping into the building, Thurloe was met by a dark-haired woman in well-worn clothes that were somewhat fashionable years ago, standing behind a wooden counter. The dim lighting in the room was provided by a pair of red-glass lanterns. "Welcome to the Temple of Desdemona," Maria Cuescu greeted the fighter. "Have you come to perform a sacrament in the name of the Lady?"

"I'm here to warn you that a relative of one of your workers was just killed by dregworms," Thurloe answered. "Any of your employees feeling sick or anything?"

"All of our priestesses are clean," Maria replied, brows furrowed in irritation.

"They all willing?" Thurloe pressed.

"I don't think I like your attitude," Maria answered, giving a shrill whistle between her teeth. A pair of hanging curtains parted in the wall behind her and a pair of hungry-looking dogs slinked out into the reception room. "If you're not here to receive the Lady's blessing, I suggest you go elsewhere to stir up trouble."

Thurloe gave her a sarcastic salute and left the way he'd come, wondering what kind of legitimate house of worship kept their guard dogs underfed to increase their aggressiveness. He returned to Wakuren and Willick. "Place is a whorehouse," he announced without preamble.

"It's a legitimate temple of worship, providing a much-needed service--" sputtered Willick.

"We're not interested in hearing your excuses," Wakuren interrupted him. "The boy's not coming to work for you. He'd be better off in an orphanage."

"He's my own flesh and blood," Willick argued. "I'll decide what's best for him."

"You're not pimping out an eight-year-old boy!" snarled Wakuren, his orcish nature getting the better of him despite his best efforts to remain calm. Then he took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and slowly counted to three. "All right," he said. "We'll buy him from you. You get a sum of cash up front, and he gets to go on to live a better life than the one you can provide for him."

"I dunno," Thurloe said. "This chump's likely to take your money and then hunt Tommy down anyway."

"There ain't a place in this city I can't get to," promised Willick. "And I got connections - I'll find him if I want to." Then he rubbed his bristly chin again. "But out of curiosity, how much money are we talking?"

Wakuren suddenly strolled away from the two men, walking up to the building, seeming to give the bricks a close inspection. But it wasn't the bricks he was concentrating upon: it was the emanations of evil he was picking up from the other side of the bricks - three separate ones, in fact. He'd already determined Willick's own aura reeked of evil and if anything it was the strongest of the four, although that may have simply been because Wakuren was able to get closer to the man without any intervening walls in the way.

When Wakuren returned, he'd made up his mind. "Okay," he said. "I think we can come to an arrangement. Let's all go inside and work out the details." He motioned for the others to accompany him. Seeing this, Zander pulled out a copper penny from his pocket and gave it to Tommy. "We have to talk with your uncle inside, okay? I'll pay you this coin to stay out here and watch over my dog." In reality, the elf knew it was the other way around: his cooshee would be watching over Tommy to make sure nothing happened to him.

"Okay," Tommy agreed, snatching up the coin before the sorcerer could change his mind. "What's his name?"

"I'm still working on that," Zander admitted. "Maybe you can help me come up with a good one."

Alewyth and Xandro were already walking down the narrow alleyway with Willick, Thurloe, and Wakuren; Zander hurried to catch up. Thinking he had a pretty good idea what Wakuren had planned, Thurloe surreptitiously cast a shield spell while in the alleyway, feeling pretty sure nobody would be able to see him do so.

Once everybody had made it inside the crowded reception area, Wakuren made a quick demand. "I want any 'priestesses' not here of their own free will released immediately," he said.

Maria Cuescu took exception to that. "What gives you the right to just barge in here--" she sputtered, then cut herself off short when Wakuren wheeled on her and bared his teeth. He was not in the mood for any arguments. Cowed, the temple's "house matron" closed her mouth and instead reached down below the counter for something. Wakuren half expected she'd bring out a weapon of some sort and was somewhat curious as to what she thought she could do to him, but to his surprise all she held in her hand was a metal bell. "You'll be sorry, you self-righteous, half-breed bastard!" she sneered, clanging the bell back and forth for all she was worth.

That was apparently an alarm signal, for the door in the back of the room burst open and a pair of burly dwarves stepped up, each clad in studded leather armor and wielding a heavy mace. This was no doubt the "temple's" security force, ensuring the clients didn't sneak off without paying and the "priestesses" didn't try escaping their employment. "Kill them!" demanded Maria and the dwarves just grinned, having been given permission to do their favorite part of their job. Wakuren was not in the least bit surprised to see the dwarves were responsible for two of the auras of evil he'd sensed in the building; more surprising was the fact that Maria's aura barely held any taint of evil - she no doubt believed she was truly taking care of those who worked in her temple and protecting them from intruding interlopers.

Safely inside the building with no witnesses they intended to let live, Zander Quilson felt it safe enough to cast a scorching ray across the room to strike Willick. The pervy lech already had his short sword out and was stabbing it at Thurloe, but the fighter had his bastard sword unsheathed and deflected the smaller blade away from him. A furious growling presaged the appearance of the guard dogs from their curtained cubbyhole, but Xandro's magic longsword - taken from the Tannenheim crypt - stabbed at the first canine to poke his head out. Alewyth likewise felt it safe enough for spellcasting and threw a cause fear spell at Maria Cuescu, but the house matron shrugged off the worst of the spell's effects. Still, possibly out of a sense of self-preservation, she backed out of the reception room through the door to her own private room and pulled the door shut behind her. The sound of latching made it fairly obvious she was locking herself in where she hoped it would be safe while her security forces dealt with this threat to her temple.

Thurloe slashed his blade along Willick's arm, slicing through the man's leather armor and the flesh and muscle of his upper bicep. Willick cursed aloud, making quite specific observations about Thurloe's likely ancestry. The first dog dashed forward and clamped its jaws around Wakuren's leg, trying to topple the half-orc, while the other one maneuvered to get out of their small living area, given as how Willick was blocking the way. But as Wakuren was the closest to the back door, he was also the target of both dwarven guards, and while he caught one heavy mace with his shield the other one got past his defenses and went crashing into the side of the half-orc's armor. Shaking his foot to free it from the guard dog's mouth, Wakuren sent his shield slamming into the face of one of the dwarves.

It being fairly crowded in the reception area, Zander scrambled up onto the counter and over to the other side, where he was nicely lined up to send a scorching ray spell straight at the dwarven guard who had hit Wakuren. The guard cursed aloud as his beard was set ablaze, but then Alewyth sent a spiritual weapon spell his way and the floating warhammer put the flaming dwarf out of his misery. Willick stabbed at Thurloe with his short sword but was then immediately downed, the victim of Thurloe's bastard sword.

Xandro's longsword came slashing down and slew the first of the guard dogs. The other rushed out of its chamber and snapped at Wakuren but failed to catch the half-orc's leg between its jaws. The other dwarf managed to connect with his heavy mace, sending Wakuren reeling from the force of the blow. But then he shook it off and gave back as good as he had taken, slamming his shield into the side of the dwarf's head.

Zander tried opening Matron Maria Cuescu's door but it was firmly locked. Hoping there weren't any other exits from the room she was in, he tossed a tanglefoot bag at the door, gumming it up and with any luck preventing her from being able to open it back up. That, he figured, ought to keep her out of the picture while the heroes dealt with what remained of her security forces.

Xandro tried stabbing the remaining dog but it dodged the point of the bard's blade, growling at the attempt. Instead, it noticed Zander Quilson with his back turned, messing about with the Matron's door. That looked like a much easier target for the vicious dog so he started heading towards the elf - but was then cut down by Xandro's blade, it having been a foolish tactic to give the bard a chance to strike.

Alewyth redirected her spiritual warhammer at the other dwarven guard, who was still concentrating his attacks on Wakuren. She pushed her way to the back of the room with Sjondra in hand, eager to join in the melee herself if possible. But with Willick now dead, Thurloe was able to turn his attention on the remaining dwarven guard as well and the look in the burly bouncer's eyes said he didn't particularly like the way the odds were turning against him. But he swore to Thunderwolf, God of Battle, that he'd go down fighting if that was His will and he swung another blow at Wakuren's head; the half-orc just barely blocked the swing with his shield in time.

And then all of a sudden the dwarf had a combat partner at his side, appearing out of thin air! This was a thick-bodied snake, easily 12 or 15 feet long, with reddish-black scales and a pair of small horns at the top of its eyes. The fiendish constrictor darted out at Wakuren but the half-orc dodged the strike at the last moment. He in turn kept his focus on the dwarf, preferring to concentrate on the already-wounded foe before turning his attention to a creature who had to have just been summoned via a spell and thus whose presence had a definite time limit, depending upon the spellcasting power of the person who had summoned it forth - presumably the other source of evil Wakuren had detected from outside the building. With his paladin training he could detect the aura of evil emanating from the serpent; with his nose, he could detect the sulfurous stench coming off the snake's body.

But Wakuren didn't need to worry about the dwarven fighter for too much longer for a magic missile spell from Zander brought him down, allowing Wakuren to turn his attention to the fiendish serpent. Hoping the snake didn't have a means of detecting him, he activated his ring of invisibility and vanished from view.

Seeing how crowded it was in the back of the reception area, Xandro opted to sheathe his longsword and pull the lute from his back. He began the initial chords of his most common fighting tune, the one that magically inspired his compatriots to greater acts of courage in combat, deeming it the best way for him to contribute to the current fight. Alewyth sent her spiritual warhammer over to swing at the fiendish constrictor, then stepped up to mirror its actions with her own weapon. But it was Thurloe who landed the killing blow, slicing its head from its body with a side-swipe of his bastard sword's blade. Upon its decapitation, both head and body dissolved into stinking mist and dissipated; Thurloe wasn't thrilled by the smell but wished all of the bodies of those he slew cleaned up after themselves in so efficient a manner.

Thurloe crossed the hallway beyond the guards' station and positioned himself on the far side of the door, the logical place for an allied temple spellcaster to have cast the summon monster spell that brought the serpent across the myriad planes and into existence here. He held his sword at the ready, waiting to bring its blade down upon anyone stepping out of the room. Wakuren stepped closer, making sure not to get in Thurloe's way, as he was quite aware the fighter couldn't see him in his present state. Zander stepped through the doorway from the guards' station and readied a thunderstone for throwing, hoping to take out the spellcaster's ability to cast spells if he couldn't accurately hear himself speak. Xandro continued playing his tune of inspirational courage, well aware this fight was not yet over.

Inside the bedroom, Lenulus had taken the time to prepare himself for combat, casting magic circle against law and shield of faith spells upon himself and readying his few combat spells as needed. But Alewyth opted to put her spiritual warhammer to good use before its duration expired and had it smash against the locked door. Once it winked out, she completed the job with Sjondra, stepping through the remains of the shattered door. There wasn't much to the room: a bed, a wooden chest, and a silver mirror and holy symbol of Desdemona hanging on the wall. But standing there in the back corner was the spellcaster they'd been seeking, wearing nothing more protective than woolen robes.

Thurloe rushed inside with his bastard sword swinging, catching Lenulus as he tried stepping to the side to avoid the blade. Zander's thrown thunderstone exploded by the cleric's head but he managed to avoid being deafened more by simple luck than anything else. But then he cast the spell he'd had prepared, sending Thurloe jolting as if struck as the hold person spell took effect (but not before the fighter was able to slash at the cleric again as he cast the spell). Lenulus then used Thurloe as a human shield, hiding behind him as he readied his next attack spell.

However, Lenulus hadn't counted on an invisible half-orc cleric-paladin and Wakuren's shield slammed into the cleric's side as both he and his defensive weapon returned to visibility concurrent with the attack. Zander cast a scorching ray from outside in the hallway, and that was the end of Lenulus. But he died with his greatest secret intact, for none of the heroes bothered disturbing the holy symbol of Desdemona hanging on the wall of his room; had they examined it, they'd have found an unholy symbol of Gareth, God of Betrayal on the other side.

A quick search through his room revealed a minimal amount of coins; what little Lenulus had was added to the silver pieces they took from the bodies of the slain dwarves and given to the six unwilling "priestesses" of the temple of Desdemona, who were each offered the opportunity to leave the temple if they wished to do so and to a woman they took the heroes up on the offer.

"What are we going to do about the woman who ran this joint?" asked Zander now that the security forces had been dealt with and the six young women freed.

"She's not evil," pointed out Wakuren. "A little twisted, perhaps, but not evil - not yet, in any case." Eventually, they decided to leave her where she was, trapped in her room by dint of the hardened tanglefoot goo sealing her door shut; she'd either work her way out or maybe be rescued by the clients who normally attended this "temple" - and her fate, after they found out there were no "priestesses" on hand any more, would be left in their hands. Given the treatment she'd provided to her imprisoned "priestesses" - and her half-starved dogs - none of the heroes gave any further thought to her predicament.

Leaving the "temple," the group caught up with the cooshee, who was heavily invested in a stirring game of "fetch the stick that Tommy throws and bring it back to him" - and judging from the elven dog's wagging tail and the smile plastered on the boy's face, it would be difficult to decide which of the two was enjoying the game more. "Let's go," Thurloe said in his usually brusque manner.

"Where to?" asked Tommy. "I thought I was going to stay with Uncle Willick until you can wake up my mom."

"Yeah, about that--" Thurloe began but Alewyth cut him off before he could spill the beans on either front.

"We're going back to the inn where we got the food," the dwarven priestess said. "I think we can get Jorbalee - the nice lady who brought the meal to our table - to let you stay with her until we get everything figured out." She glared at Thurloe, mentally warning him not to tell Tommy about the deaths of his mother or uncle until they could find a way to do so gently. Thurloe just raised his hands in surrender and let the soft-hearted dwarf have it her way. Sheesh! The mollycoddling Alewyth could perform was almost nauseating! Hell, Thurloe's parents had been killed when he was little and he grew up just fine; he didn't see why telling the kid the news straight out was such a bad thing. But he let the dwarf do it her way.

- - -

It looks like I can add dregworms to the list of monsters my players absolutely loathe (along with the boneless from the adventure "No Bones About It" and the grave medusa from "Down Among the Dead Men"). And now that Willick's not around any more to bother Tommy, he'll be left with Jorbalee to be raised; the elderly widow was more than happy to take in an eight-year-old apprentice, since she and her late husband had never had any children of their own.

- - -

T-shirt worn: My white "Walking Dead" T-shirt, to represent Greta, whose dead body was being piloted by the dregworms.
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PC Roster:
Alewyth Putterpye, dwarf priestess of Aerik 4​
Thurloe Pulver, human fighter 3/wizard 1​
Wakuren, half-orc cleric of Cal 2/paladin 2​
Xandro Silverstrings, human bard 4​
Zander Quilson, elf sorcerer 4​

Game Session Date: 16 October 2021

- - -

"I think you'll be pleased with the way they turned out," said Iriadorrista, the elven gemcutter selected by the group to perform the necessary carving that turned the solid dreamstone they'd taken from the hilt of the longsword buried with Lord Tannenheim in his crypt into the smaller pieces needed to upgrade the heroes' signature items. "If you have the selected items with you, I can get them mounted properly," she added with a smile.

Wakuren smiled back at the young-looking elf, wishing he wasn't as fearsome-looking as he knew he was to most people. But whether through not wanting to insult a paying customer or simply due to an overall pleasant demeanor, the lovely elf didn't seem at all disturbed by having a half-orc in full armor in her shop. At her request, he handed over his shield and watched as she attached a narrow sliver of carved dreamstone, oval in shape but pointed at top and bottom, to the upper part of its front surface. "It won't get jostled off?" he asked warily.

"Sovereign glue," explained Iriadorrista. "It'll take much more than a weapon strike to dislodge it."

In turn, the elven gemsmith attached all of the smaller dreamstone pieces she'd carved from the larger whole into the items as had been directed by the Queen of Dreams. Zander Quilson's figurine of wondrous power, a jade cooshee, had a pair of tiny dreamstone eyes glued into place. A round dreamstone was attached to either side of Alewyth's warhammer Sjondra, on the longer sides where they wouldn't interfere with the business ends of the weapon. Thurloe's bastard sword Spellslicer received a dreamstone along the bottom of the blade, right above the cross guards. And a final dreamstone, cut into the shape of an oval, was mounted at the bottom of Xandro's lute, just below the strings. Well and truly satisfied with the work that had been done, the heroes happily paid over the money they owed Iriadorrista and the elf said she hoped they'd keep her in mind if they ever had any similar gemcutting needs. That had been the last of the day's purchases, for earlier that morning they'd swung by the Temples of Delphyne and Cal and picked up the wands Thurloe and Wakuren had ordered three days ago, a wand of magic missile for the neophyte wizard and a wand of cure light wounds for the half-orc cleric-paladin.

As they exited Iriadorrista's shop, Thurloe almost collided with a man in a hooded robe headed his way. He looked at the group - two humans, a dwarf, an elf, and a half-orc - and nodded to himself as if he'd found the right group. But just to be sure, he asked them, "Excuse me, but are you the dream-wakers?"

"Never heard that exact term before," admitted Thurloe with a smirk, "but yeah, we're them. Why? You got somebody needs waking?"

"Yes, yes we do!" the hooded man exclaimed with relief in his voice. "The head of our temple had heard of your exploits and asked me to find you and bring you back with me. We've had a visitor collapse into sleep and we cannot awaken him."

"Which temple is this?" asked Alewyth. She wouldn't be thrilled to find herself entering another Temple of Desdemona anytime soon.

"The Temple of Akari," the man replied, leading the way and making sure the others were following. The group had worked with the Temple of Akari back in Port Duralia, where they'd overseen the return to life of a member of the minor nobility. Their leader had been a rather impressive sort: "Father Bones," a walking, talking skeleton of a type they called a "lich," as was perfectly reasonable given Akari was the God of Death and Undeath. He wore a distinctive black top hat as a badge of office.

"So what can you tell us about this dreamer?" asked Thurloe as they headed over to the Godswalk, where the majority of the city's shrines and temples were located. "He a regular in your temple?"

"No, quite the opposite: he'd come in once or twice in the past week, but before that we hadn't seen him before. And he never came in during the normal services, just sat himself in a pew and prayed quietly to himself." The Akari cleric provided a description of the man, although he was fairly nondescript: light hair, gray eyes, average build, wearing dark clothes and a hooded cloak.

When they got to the Temple of Akari the cleric led them straight through the chapel and into the rooms in the back. There was an office area off to the left at the back of the building and sitting behind the larger of the two desks was none other than Father Bones himself. "What are you doing here?" sputtered Alewyth despite herself.

"My child, I am the head of this temple," Father Bones replied. Then he realized her confusion. "You have met another Father Bones elsewhere, haven't you?"

"In Port Duralia," the dwarven priestess replied.

"'Father Bones' is a title bestowed upon the head cleric of the God of Death and Undeath," the skeletal being explained. "Every major temple of Akari will have its own Father Bones. But thank you for coming." He stood up from his desk. "We took the sleeping parishioner downstairs so he'd be out of the way. If you'd like to follow me?"

Father Bones led the group through a back door and down a set of winding stairs leading to a level beneath the temple. Wakuren couldn't help himself; while it would have been rude to try to detect evil in the presence of Father Bones in his office, the half-orc cleric-paladin felt more comfortable doing so when the lich's back was turned. As he'd hoped, there was no telltale taint of evil in the head cleric's aura; Wakuren had heard there were good liches as well as those turned to the ways of evil and was pleased this Father Bones was of the former persuasion.

"He's in here," Father Bones said, stepping into the church's morgue. There were four wheeled gurneys in the room, all of them empty. "What?" gasped Father Bones. "Where did he go?"

The others piled into the room. "He was there, on that slab," Father Bones said, pointing to the gurney in the far corner. "I saw him myself not half an hour ago!"

"Are you certain he was asleep?" asked Zander. "Maybe he just woke up."

"He was fast asleep, and we tried everything from remove paralysis to neutralize poison to heal - all with no success."

"Where did you first find him?" asked Thurloe.

"Upstairs, asleep in one of the pews," replied Father Bones. He turned to the cleric who had brought the "dream-wakers" here to the Temple of Akari. "Go back upstairs and see if anyone saw him back awake - and have the brothers search the temple for him." Turning back to the five adventurers, there was an apologetic tone in his voice - Alewyth got the idea he'd be blushing if he'd had any skin on his skull. "I'm terribly sorry about this," he apologized. "I didn't mean to bring you here for nothing."

"Let's look around," suggested Thurloe, looking tellingly at Alewyth and Zander. As a dwarf, Alewyth Putterpye had a preternatural understanding of stone construction and would have a pretty good chance of finding out if the stone walls in the room held any secret passages. And with his keen elven senses, Zander Quilson was also their best bet at discovering any hidden doors in the area - although it was unlikely the room held any hidden passageways unknown to the head of the temple. They found nothing and expanded their search out into the hallway.

"Found something," Alewyth called out at the bottom of the spiral steps.

"Hidden door?" guessed Thurloe.

"Blob of something," Alewyth replied, lifting a dab of something white she'd picked up with her finger. Holding it up close, she grimaced. "It's bat guano!" she complained, wiping it back on the edge of the step where she'd found it.

That got Thurloe thinking. "I think bat guano's used in casting the fireball spell," he said, recalling what he'd read in Mistress Jandoval's beginner's book of spells.

"So what are you thinking, that a wizard came in here and stole the sleeping guy?" asked Xandro.

"It's possible," Thurloe replied.

"It's also possible the wizard has a bat familiar who took a dump on the stairs," added Zander. "That makes more sense than him dropping the spell component to a fireball spell - which he'd have no need of casting in here."

"Nonetheless, it suggests an intruder was present in our temple," said Father Bones. "I will cast a commune spell and see what I can find out." As the casting time for that spell took a good ten minutes, the others had plenty of time to talk among themselves and come up with ten good questions they wanted answered, ten questions being the limit to Father Bones' spellcasting abilities. During that time, the results of the search throughout the temple came back negative: the missing dreamer was not anywhere within the confines of the building, on either of its two levels.

Casting the commune spell was kind of creepy in any case, Alewyth and Wakuren knew, for during the spellcasting the cleric asked his questions and then another entity took temporary control over his body and answered using his own voice. The creepiness factor only intensified when the caster was already an animated skeleton wearing a black robe and a tall, black top hat with a pair of crossed bones on the silk ribbon along its brim.

"Was the sleeper really asleep?" asked Father Bones, reciting the first of his questions. Then he answered himself in a much deeper, booming voice: "YES." Xandro jotted the answer down on a piece of parchment he'd prepared to record the results of the spell interrogation.

"Was the sleeper affected by the dream sickness?" Father Bones asked next, as it was possible he'd just been in some other type of heavy sleep from which waking him was difficult. There was a moment's pause, and then the answer, "YES."

"Is the missing dreamer currently awake?" Again, there was a moment's pause and then Father Bones answered "NO." Xandro jotted down the answer as the head cleric asked his next question.

"Is the missing dreamer within the city of Baron's Haven?" If this had been a simple kidnapping, there was every chance he was still here within the city, given the limited time the kidnapper would have had to work. "NO." Well, that meant there was probably some kind of magic at work - and in a city where unauthorized spellcasting was prohibited.

"Is the missing dreamer still on the Material Plane?" If extraplanar travel were at play here, it would be very difficult to track the hapless dreamer. "YES." That made it somewhat easier.

"Was the missing dreamer forcibly removed from the Temple of Akari?" This was a logical assumption, but it was always a good idea to confirm one's initial beliefs. "YES."

There were four questions remaining to the spell. "Was the missing dreamer taken for nefarious reasons?" Again, it was likely that he had been but it was nice to confirm. "YES."

The next question was a follow-on from the third, which had confirmed the dreamer was no longer asleep, and it had particularly importance to Father Bones. "Is the missing dreamer still alive?" Alewyth found herself leaning forward in anticipation of the answer. "YES." Well, that was a relief!

"Was the missing dreamer taken by a living being?" If they were up against the undead, that would be worth noting. "YES."

For the final question, Father Bones asked, "Did the missing dreamer and the one who took him teleport out of the temple?" After a pause, he answered in the deeper, foreign voice, "NO." The head cleric's skull slumped in weariness as the spell finished, as if it had taken a toll on him.

Xandro read back the questions and answers to the others. "Now what?" asked Alewyth.

"Now we go see if anybody in the local area saw anyone walking out of the temple with a sleeping figure over their shoulder," suggested Xandro. It helped that the Temple of Akari had but the sole entrance, leading out onto the Godswalk. And sure enough, they hit pay dirt almost immediately, for across the street sat a homeless man in the shade in the span between two buildings.

"Yeah, I seen a guy carrying another guy out of the temple," replied Gilfrey. "I seen where he took him, too. What's it worth to you?"

Zander sighed and pulled out a gold coin. "Uh uh uh," Gilfrey replied, shaking a finger at the elf. "You pay me in coins, I get robbed before I can use 'em. Tell you what: I got a craving for some meat. You go take that coin and buy me a pair of chicken legs, and I'll tell you what I know."

"I'll do it," offered Alewyth. Gilfrey gave her directions to a local vendor who sold chicken from a hand cart a few blocks away. When she returned, she had four chicken legs wrapped in a cloth. She handed a pair over to Gilfrey, who gobbled them up as if his life depended on them. And he ate his way down to the bone of each chicken leg, not letting a scrap of edible matter go to waste. Then he wrapped the bones up in a dirty handkerchief and stuffed them in his pocket.

"Okay, then," Gilfrey said, his meal completed. He pointed down the street. "The guy took the other guy there into the Shrine of Delphyne. And there ain't but the one way in or out of the shrine and I haven't seen 'em come back out, so they're still in there, far as I can tell." He gave them a quick description of the man who had been carrying the missing dreamer - dark hair and beard, black clothes with silver skull symbols on his shoulders and knees, dark cloak - and then the group was off towards the Shrine of Delphyne, Alewyth lagging behind just long enough to pass over the other two chicken legs. "You've been very helpful," she told Gilfrey.

The Shrine of Delphyne was fairly small - square, only about ten feet to a side, but two stories high due to the black marble statue of Delphyne in the back of the building. The Goddess of Magic was on her knees before a magic circle inscribed on the floor before her, with a staff in one hand. The statue was about 15 feet tall and floating around in the air before her were several driftglobes, providing illumination as they flitted about (out of range of any would-be thieves). The entire shrine was just one big room with a single open doorway providing access, and it was empty.

"There's nobody here," said Zander, pointing out the obvious.

"Maybe they teleported away," suggested Xandro. "All we know from the commune spell is that they didn't teleport from the Temple of Akari."

Wakuren stepped inside the magic circle to see if it would teleport him somewhere, with no luck. Perhaps it needed a command word or phrase? "Teleport," he tried. "Delphyne. Magic." He tried another couple of words but quickly realized he was grasping at straws.

"Found something!" Alewyth said, examining the back wall of the shrine. "There's a secret passage here - you can see the seam where this wall opens!" However, try as she might she couldn't find the opening mechanism. But after a few moments Zander had found it: a fake brick which hinged open, allowing the secret door mechanism to be activated. The room beyond wasn't very big, though: not even three feet deep, although it spanned the full ten-foot width of the building. It was pitch black inside, save for what light from the temple spilled through the hidden door.

Wakuren went in, as he had no difficulties seeing in little (or even no) light. "There's a book on a pedestal at the end of the passageway," he called back to the others. "Pages are made of metal. There's a picture of a statue of Delphyne - just her head and shoulders - and some words carved above them. He flipped through the book, keeping his finger in the place where it had been left open so he wouldn't lose his place. "The whole book's that way," he said. "Different statues, different words on each page."

"It's a means of teleportation!" hazarded Alewyth. "Bring the book out here, so we can all look at it!"

"I can't," Wakuren explained. "it's chained to the pedestal. Hang on, though, I'll copy the words from the page it was open to." Borrowing parchment and ink pen from Xandro, Wakuren meticulously copied the inscription on the page and brought it back for the others to see. It read:


Wakuren tried reading the words aloud (with several different possible pronunciations, just in case) and got nowhere. "Maybe you have to be touching the book when you say the command phrase," Thurloe suggested, so Wakuren tried that but it didn't help. He tried saying the words backwards, but that was even harder to pronounce.

"We're missing something," Thurloe observed.

"Obviously," added Xandro.

"What are we missing?" the fighter-wizard mused. He tried counting the number of letters in each word and then going to that letter in the alphabet, but that ended up with unpronounceable gibberish. "That alphabet's got to be there for a reason," he thought aloud.

"Delphyne's the Goddess of Magic," Zander observed. "Maybe we need to apply some magic to the puzzle." He cast a detect magic spell on Wakuren's hand-written copy and saw nothing, then realized it would make more sense checking out the original book itself. Bringing along a lit sunrod so he could see better, he looked over the open page and called out, "Hey! Some of the letters are just illusions - they're not really on the page at all! Somebody bring me the parchment!"

Scribbling through the illusory letters - all of which had been in the alphabet section - the parchment now looked like this:


"So..." prompted Thurloe, not seeing how this was any better.

"So if we get rid of the illusory letters in the message below," offered Zander, scribbling through the appropriate letters, "We might get the command phrase!" It looked like he was on to something, for the parchment now read:

-APPA PORT-- --DESTI-- ---LEY -TWO--- --SEVEN--​

"Let's try that!" Zander said, taking the parchment back into the narrow passageway. It looked plausible, for he knew "appaport" was an archaic word for "teleport" and "ley two seven" sounded like a coordinate on a ley line network. "Appaport desti ley two seven" he called out with his hand on the book chained to the pedestal.

Instantly, all five of the heroes disappeared. The hidden door silently slid back into place and locked. To all appearances, nobody had been by to disturb the Shrine of Delphyne.

From the heroes' point of view, however, the Shrine of Delphyne disappeared around them, to be replaced by a similar building. This one, despite having the same basic floor plan, was only a single story tall for the statue of Delphyne in the back was merely a bust, depicting the Goddess of Magic from the shoulders up. It was planted in place on a raided pedestal. Alewyth, Xandro, Wakuren and Thurloe were inside the shrine in the same places they had occupied in the shrine in Baron's Haven they'd just departed; Zander, however, was no longer in the hidden space behind the shrine but in the street just outside the open entrance.

There was a moaning sound behind him. Looking back, he saw a zombie lurching in his direction, a look of undying hunger in the dead thing's eyes. From the moans emanating all around them, the elven sorcerer guessed this wasn't the only zombie stumbling around in this city of the dead. But it made sense that the necromancer who'd stolen the missing dreamer (for whatever unknown purpose) would make his headquarters in a place surrounded by undead forces.

"Guys?" Zander called out to his friends. "We've got a problem...."

- - -

Since "Dregs" had been a short adventure, I figured we would get this far into the adventure that followed and then call it a session. The reason: the rest of this adventure involves exploring a city of the undead, because not only do they need to hunt down the necromancer and the missing dreamer but also the book of teleport command phrases because this Shrine of Delphyne is missing its copy. (The players don't know this for sure, but the necromancer took it with him and has hidden it somewhere nearby to ensure only he can use the teleport network hidden in select Shrines of Delphyne.) I figure this second part of "The Missing Dreamer" will likely go 4-5 hours. Plus, as this is the last planned 4th-level adventure for this campaign; after we finish the adventure next session we'll follow up by advancing the PCs to 5th level.

- - -

T-shirt worn: My white "Walking Dead" T-shirt, to represent the undead in the Deadlands - but mostly because I was still wearing it from the last adventure.
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PC Roster:
Alewyth Putterpye, dwarf priestess of Aerik 4​
Thurloe Pulver, human fighter 3/wizard 1​
Wakuren, half-orc cleric of Cal 2/paladin 2​
Xandro Silverstrings, human bard 4​
Zander Quilson, elf sorcerer 4​

Game Session Date: 20 November 2021

- - -

The corpse shuffled slowly as it meandered over towards Zander Quilson, its rheumy eyes never once dropping from the elf's direction. "Guys...?" the sorcerer repeated, not sure if his friends had heard him the first time.

But they most certainly had. Stepping out of the small Shrine of Delphyne - a completely different one than the one they'd stood in moments before, until the correct passphrase teleported them across unknown miles to this new location - Thurloe saw the zombie staggering towards Zander, its rotting teeth snapping as its gaze refused to leave the elf's neck and the life-blood coursing beneath its surface. Casting a quick protection from evil spell on himself as he stepped forward and unsheathed the bastard sword from his back, Thurloe readied himself for the zombie's approach. He had plenty of time before it would reach them.

Zander wasn't willing to wait, however. Saying the words to a magic missile spell, he pointed at the approaching undead form and a pair of glowing darts burst from his fingertip to streak across the distance and explode into the zombie's chest. It didn't even seem to notice, although there were burn marks where the missiles had struck its undead flesh.

Xandro Silverstrings saw the zombie and while he had full faith in Thurloe's ability to cut it down with his bastard sword, the bard knew where there was one zombie there was likely to be more and he also realized the group he was with tended to dislike fighting the animated remains of dead beings - not that he could blame them! As a result, he pulled the Dardolian Lute from his back and started strumming the strings, beginning the words to a song he'd use to magically inspire courage in his friends, that their blows would strike true and their determination remain strong.

Alewyth took a step outside the Shrine of Delphyne and stood transfixed at the sight immediately before her. Not the combat with the zombie; the others seemed to have that well in hand. No, it was the other open-air shrine directly across from that of Delphyne, Goddess of Magic. If there had ever been any doubt the statue before her, carved as if wearing dwarven armor and gripping a dwarven warhammer in one hand and a raised shield in the other, had originally been a depiction of Aerik, God of Earth, Stone, and Protection, the caption carved along the front face of the platform upon which the statue stood left no room for disbelief. The legend "MAY THE GOD OF PROTECTION PRESERVE THIS CITY AND ALL THOSE WHO WORK AND LIVE WITHIN IT" was carved in the Dwarven runic alphabet for all to see. However, the statue had been defaced - quite literally - in the days since its original erection in the shrine, as evidenced by the pile of gravel on the floor before it; somebody had taken a hammer and chisel to the statue and carved away Aerik's beard and facial features, leaving the semblance of a crude skull in its place. Whoever had performed this act of vandalism had no doubt intended to repurpose this shrine to the worship of Akari, God of Death and Undeath - and he likely didn't read Dwarven or he'd no doubt have defaced the inscription at the bottom as well.

Wakuren ran forward to aid in fighting off the zombie, noticing his paladin ability to detect the auras of evil beings was being overwhelmed by a miasma of evil covering the entire area. He slammed into the bloodthirsty zombie with his shield held before him but while his impact pushed it back a step or two, the half-orc's attack didn't seem to do much to the undead flesh holding the corpse creature mobile. Then Thurloe stepped up beside Wakuren and brought the blade of his bastard sword crashing down on the zombie's head, splitting it open like a ripe melon. It collapsed to the street and moved no more.

But just as sudden, another zombie stepped out between two buildings, perhaps attracted by the noise of the fight against the first one. It bit at Thurloe's arm but the fighter twisted away at the last moment and the rotting teeth merely clacked noisily against each other. Deciding he had no idea how many zombies might be about in this strange city and he'd best conserve his spells for as long as possible, Zander pulled out his wand and activated it, sending a single magic missile streaking into the zombie's chest. He could send two missiles by casting the spell himself, but he had many more charges left in his wand than the number of spells he could cast in a single day.

Having started his song and hopefully filled his friends with enough combat assistance to let them "coast" for awhile, Xando drew his rapier from the scabbard at his belt and stabbed at the zombie. Alewyth, in the meantime, had stepped away from the makeshift Shrine to Akari and saw an abandoned potion shop across the street. Looking over at the others, who seemed to be faring fine with their second zombie, the dwarven priestess stepped inside the potion shop and gave it a quick perusal. The dust on every surface showed there had been nobody in here for some time; passing through a door to the back of the building, she scooped up a handful of finished potions and placed them in her belt pouch before stepping back outside. Then, gripping her dwarven warhammer Sjondra, she sent it crashing into the zombie's head, crushing the rotting flesh and bone to a pulp.

"We had it taken care of," commented Thurloe as he stepped forward, looking down a side street that went from north to south. He saw no other undead forms but he could hear their moans and the sounds of feet shuffling through the dirt of the streets and alleys some distance away. There were apparently plenty more undead they'd need to take care of in this place.

"Didn't mean to imply you hadn't," Alewyth replied. "Just figured I'd land a hand." As she said that, another zombie shuffled forward into view from further south down the main street. With a look of determination, Thurloe stepped forward to meet it. Zander followed but made sure to allow the armored fighter-wizard plenty of lead space so he'd be the zombie's primary target. Thurloe seemed to enjoy hand-to-hand combat; Zander Quilson most adamantly did not. Wakuren followed, casting a spiritual weapon spell that took the form of a heavy mace, the chosen weapon of the half-orc's deity Cal, God of the Air and of Healing.

Xandro continued the tune of courage on his lute, having re-sheathed his rapier now that his own immediate combat was over. He moved forward as well but continued east, heading for the corner of what was apparently one ward of a larger city. He was sure a lone zombie wouldn't cause the others too much trouble and it seemed the sooner they searched this undead city the sooner they'd eventually stumble across the necromancer who had kidnapped the dreamer they were supposed to rescue - and hopefully the missing book from the Shrine of Delphyne which would allow them to teleport back to Baron's Haven. Without it they were screwed, for they had no idea where exactly they were or how to get back to the city they'd left. Xandro didn't want to leave his horse White behind and he knew the others would hate being permanently separated from their own mounts, especially Alewyth, who had developed quite a bond with her new dire goat mount Pyrite.

The lone zombie snapped at Thurloe, seemingly eager to chew the living flesh from his bones, but the swordsman was having none of that. Zander fired another magic missile from his wand at the undead thing as Thurloe's blade sliced into the zombie's side. The floating heavy mace slammed into the zombie's head and Wakuren was pleased to see a magical weapon created of pure force energy seemed to deal much more damage to zombie flesh than did his shield. But he slammed his shield into it regardless once he'd reached the hungry undead and the shield-strike permanently took the creature out of the fight.

Xandro, in the meantime, checked out an oblong building and a smaller one the size of a shed beside it. Neither held the missing necromancer; one was a long-unused bathhouse and the other a place to store towels and various soaps and powders. Alewyth ambled up behind him, curiosity compelling her to check it out. There was a trio of buildings across the street from the bathhouse and she headed over that way to give them a once-over, figuring as long as everyone stayed within shouting distance of each other they should be fine. She put an ear to the door of the building before her and heard the shuffling and moaning that hinted at a zombie inside; leaving that one be she stepped up a short flight of stairs to listen at the door at the top of the steps, another one-room dwelling for rent, it seemed, directly above the other. This too had the earmarks of a single zombie inhabitant no longer containing the intellect to operate the door knob and let itself out into the streets of the city. Alewyth opted to leave both rooms alone, confident that what they were looking for would not be found in a pair of one-room dwellings each with a single zombie inside.

Two more zombies ambled out of a side street, heading toward Thurloe and the other pair of adventurers stepping up behind him. He rushed forward to charge into the first zombie, leading with the blade of his bastard sword. It ripped through the zombie's chest and stuck out its back, sending a wave of gore out behind the thing to spray upon the other approaching zombie. Thurloe kicked his boot up against the zombie's chest to help tug his sword out of the thing's torso. It snapped its teeth at the fighter's foot while it was within range but undead reflexes are notoriously slower than those of the living, at least among corporeal undead with bodies composed of rotting meat.

Zander cast a mage armor spell upon himself, not wanting to take the chance one of these rotting zombies might manage to get up close and personal to the elf. Wakuren managed to swerve his spiritual heavy mace into the side of the first zombie's head before it winked out, the duration of the spell having run its course. Wakuren then led with his shield, using the edge of the metal bottom as a rather dull blade instead of slamming its flat surface against the undead flesh of his opponent. But it was Thurloe's bastard sword that drove in the killing blow, if the term can be truly used against a foe already quite dead at the start of the fight.

The other zombie shambled forward and tried grabbing Thurloe in its bent fingers to pull him in for a bite at his neck, but the fighter easily extracted himself from the creature's grasp before it could sink its rotting teeth into his flesh. Zander abandoned the combat to go check out the door to a large building - a barracks, by the look of it - recalling their real reason for being here was not to rid the city of every wandering zombie inhabiting its streets. The sooner they could find the missing dreamer and be about their normal business the happier the elf sorcerer would be. The heavy door was locked and looked like it hadn't been opened for some time, judging by the dirt and leaves piled up against the door by the wind. Zander opted to leave the barracks doors alone and cast an expeditious retreat spell upon himself, then hurried to catch up with Thurloe and Wakuren.

The northeastern corner of the city ward having been a bust, Xandro and Alewyth started back the way they came and headed south down the street the others had taken. Wakuren opened the large doors to a stable while Thurloe slew the remaining zombie with his blade. Not surprisingly, the stables held a trio of ponies, each stinking of rotting meat and mostly skeletal in nature; they'd apparently been starved to death in the stables and remained here waiting for someone to open up the doors to their individual stalls. Wakuren chose not to be that someone and closed the door to the stables back up. Another nearby building held similar results, this larger construction holding eight horse stalls, half of them containing undead horses mostly skeletal with but a few scraps of flesh hanging down from their bones. The nearest moved its head over the door of its stall and snapped at the half-orc but then Wakuren slammed the stable door back shut and moved on further south through the city.

"This looks more promising!" Thurloe declared upon seeing a large building just ahead, its construction of solid stone rather than the flimsy wood of most of the other buildings in the neighborhood. The door was of sturdy wood with iron bands across the top and bottom. Trying it, Thurloe confirmed it was locked. "Over here!" Wakuren called to Xandro and Alewyth, hurrying to catch up. Then, realizing he was also probably alerting the necromancer with his calls - if indeed this was the building in which he'd taken residence, a likely supposition given it was the largest and most solidly-constructed they'd seen thus far - the half-orc added, "You six cast invisibility spells on yourselves before we break in!" Hopefully that would give the necromancer something to worry about! Then Wakuren applied himself to bursting through the door, slamming at it again and again with his shield. The wood creaked and groaned with each burst.

The others were focused on Wakuren's steady - and rather noisy - efforts, and thus they almost missed spotting the shadowy figure rise up out of the street's surface at the edge of the keep. The ethereal being drifted over towards the group and Zander called out a warning as the shadow closed the gap between them. He fired off a magic missile from his wand, secure in the knowledge that force energy should affect the incorporeal shadow.

Xandro had reached the others by then and still had the Dardolian Lute in hand, playing his song of courage. He altered the lyrics, using one of the magical lute's secret abilities, allowing the bard to weave actual spells into his melodies. A cure moderate wounds spell was infused into the lute and Xandro pushed the instrument's neck into the body of the insubstantial shadow, the positive energy of the spell firing into the undead form and weakening its necromantic structure. Alewyth, still catching up, cast a protection from evil spell upon herself as she ran.

Seeing the efficacy of force energy against the shadow, Wakuren took time out from his door-smashing and cast a second spiritual weapon spell, sending the heavy mace crashing into the shadow's weakened structure. That was enough to dissipate it into nothingness. "Nice job!" enthused Thurloe, then picked up where the half-orc had left off on gaining them entry into the stone keep. He kicked at a weakened spot with his hard-soled boot and the door splintered inwards.

There were two skeletons inside waiting for him, clad in rusty mail and wielding longswords. They sped forward at once, springing to the attack, but Thurloe managed to fend them off with his bastard sword. Zander blasted one with another charge from his wand of magic missile, while Xandro, unable to get through the broken door (there was room enough for but one and Thurloe was currently occupying that space) contented himself with hanging back and playing his song of courageous inspiration. Wakuren likewise couldn't fit through the partially-shattered door with Thurloe in the way - but he had no problem sending in his spiritual heavy mace. It flew in over Thurloe's head and came crashing down on the first skeleton, obliterating it to a pile of clattering bones.

Thurloe stepped fully into the room and brought his bastard sword in at the skeleton in a sideways slash. Wakuren entered behind him, slamming the skeleton with his shield now that he had room to do so. But it was Thurloe's blade which destroyed the skeleton warrior with a final slice that severed its spine. Then the fighter went south into what looked to be a kitchen, Zander following in his wake. The elf sorcerer opened a door to a pantry and noted the foodstuff stored there was all in edible condition, with a barrel of fresh water sitting upright on the floor. This was all a good sign that there was somebody alive in the keep, someone still taking regular meals.

Xandro entered the building and headed north into a dusty living room that gave the opposite indication: it didn't look as if anybody had spent any time in here for months, if not years. Wakuren and Alewyth went that way with the bard, crossing over to an arcane library whose walls were covered in shelves containing all manners of tomes and volumes detailing a number of arcane topics: the outer planes, various summoning rituals, and other magical esoterica. Alewyth made a note to point out what looked to be a set of spellbooks to Thurloe after they'd done what they came here to do; maybe he could use them in his own magical self-tutoring.

Thurloe passed through an unlocked door in the back of the pantry and found himself in a bathroom, complete with a privy and a small metal tub. A door on the far wall entered into a bedroom with an unmade bed and a closet filled with a variety of black robes. He smiled to himself at this discovery, as these were exactly the types of garment likely to be popular with a necromancer.

The other three, in the meantime, left the library and entered an arcane laboratory, with several tables containing a variety of magical projects in various stages of completion. Xandro headed toward a cabinet to take a peek inside when a voice suddenly exploded into his head. It was Father Bones casting a message spell: <Undead creation scrolls stolen from temple. Possible missing dreamer was involved. If found, return immediately. Do not allow them to fall into the hands of evil.>

Before Xandro could tell the others about the message spell a door at the far end opened, but it was only Zander; the two groups had made a circuit around the keep's rooms in opposite directions and now there was only the middle of the building yet to be accounted for. The elf stepped into the lab and opened the door leading into the center of the keep and there he found what the group had been seeking.

The center of the room contained a magic circle inscribed in silver on the floor, in the center of which lay a black-clad adult male human, fast asleep. In a corner of the room stood the necromancer Vargendraal, frantically flipping through a book he held in his hands and muttering to himself. Belatedly, he noted the door opening and saw an elven face peering into the room from the arcane laboratory of the keep's original owner, an unknown wizard who had likely died when whatever event transformed the city into a dwelling-place of the undead.

"How did you get in here?" demanded Vargendraal. "My skeletons--" He was cut off as a scorching ray spell blasted him in the front of his robes; Zander wasn't in the mood for answering questions or asking any of his own. Vargendraal snarled in pain and retaliated with a vampiric touch spell, siphoning off some of the elf's life energy and using it to heal up the wounds the necromancer had just received as a result of the sorcerer's fire-based spell attack. Zander staggered on his feet, weakened by the draining attack. Vargendraal cast another quick spell upon himself and it wasn't until Thurloe entered and swung his bastard sword into the necromancer's body that anyone learned what exactly it was: a burst of necromantic energy was channeled through Vargendraal's death armor spell, down the length of the sword, and into Thurloe's body. It was difficult to see which of the two had suffered more from the result of the sword-strike.

But Zander wasn't done with casting scorching ray spells just yet. Stepping fully into the room and stepping around the still-sleeping body of Pietro Manicaldrian, he sent another blast of fire energy at Vargendraal. The necromancer's stolen energy was depleted in the attack and he too found himself woozy on his feet. Surprisingly, it was Xandro who slew the evil wizard with a quick thrust of his magic longsword; Vargendraal had turned to face Thurloe and Zander and hadn't even noticed the bard's entrance into the summoning chamber.

Thurloe was quick to examine the necromancer's corpse for potential magic items, removing a ring that looked like it might hold some sort of arcane effect. Alewyth examined the book Vangendraal had been referencing, finding a diagram of a skull-shaped pendant that matched the one the sleeping thief had around his neck. Reading through the pages of the text, she explained what the necromancer had been doing. "That skull pendant on our dreamer is linked to an extradimensional space," she explained. "To retrieve whatever was placed in it, you have to touch one of the rubies in its eyes and say the command word. The problem is, if you touch the wrong eye gem, whatever's in the extradimensional space gets dumped into the Astral Plane instead."

"So the wizard had a 50-50 shot of getting it right," Zander said.

"Must have been something important enough to not want to take the chance," Thurloe mused. Then he started chuckling. "That's probably why he came to fetch this guy in the first place: he was probably hired to steal something and stash it away, and then got caught up in the dream-plague before he could return with his goods. That must have been irritating for our necromancer friend!"

"I wonder what's in there?" Alewyth asked.

"I think I know," replied Xandro and filled the rest of the group in on Father Bones' message spell.

"Well, let's tie him up," decided Thurloe, pulling the skull pendant from around Pietro's neck and placing it in a belt pouch. "We'll bring him back to Father Bones, give him the pendant, and try to wake Mr. Sleepy from there."

"You're forgetting: we have no way to get back until we find the Book of Delphyne," Wakuren chimed in. So while Thurloe busied himself binding Pietro's arms and legs to his satisfaction, the others searched the keep for the missing Book of Delphyne. They eventually found it in a desk drawer. Wakuren flipped to the page with the statue from the shrine in Baron's Haven and read the inscription beneath it. It read:


"Make anything of it?" Alewyth asked as she packed up the spellbooks of the necromancer they'd just slain and also those of the keep's original wizard inhabitant. Wakuren traced the letters with his finger and finally exclaimed, "Got it! You just bounce up and down between the two lines, from right to left and then back again from left to right. 'Baron's Haven Ley One Eight.' It must be some sort of ley-line coordinates or something."

"Good," replied Thurloe, stepping into the library with a tightly-bound Pietro tossed over one shoulder. "Let's get back; this guy's kind of heavy."

There were two zombies just outside the keep but the group made short work of them. They made their way back to the Shrine of Delphyne without any serious opposition, and then everyone touched the shoulder of the person in front of them while Wakuren pried open the secret door and placed the Book of Delphyne on its dais. "Baron's Haven Ley One Eight," he intoned...and the group was instantly teleported back to the Shrine of Delphyne in the city in which they had started. The homeless beggar Gilfrey was still sitting in the alley across from the Temple of Akari where they'd left him. "Got your guy, I see," he said.

"Thanks to you," Alewyth answered, slipping him a few coins.

Father Bones was overjoyed to see the adventurers again. "Yes, he's the parishioner who fell asleep in our pew," he said upon seeing Pietro. "Did you happen to find the Black Scrolls?" Thurloe passed over the skull pendant while Alewyth explained its workings. "I'm sure a divination spell will tell you which eye gem is the right one to touch," she advised her fellow cleric. She then explained what all would be required for the group to rescue the thief from his dreams and Father Bones immediately agreed to stand watch over their sleeping bodies as they entered Pietro's dreams. He had a few of the other clerics join them to ensure there were no interruptions.

Alewyth placed a dreamstone headband around Pietro's brow as the five adventurers sat around him in a circle, each wearing their own similar headband and carrying a second dreamstone in their hand. Then, one by one, they slowed their breathing and entered a dream state. Their moogle guides were there to meet them in the Dreamlands and escorted them to the Hallway of Dreams. "It's this one, kupo!" explained Mogo, opening a particular door.

Stepping through the dream-door, the five entered a dusty plane of whipping winds. They could see Pietro quite clearly, running across a dusty field in a panicked frenzy. The reason for this was quite evident, for following behind him was a pile of bouncing bones. It was a strange thing to be worried about, but by now the group understood that while inside a dream, logic often took a backseat.

"How do we wake him?" asked Zander. "Defeat a pile of bones?"

"Look!" Alewyth said, pointing to the bones trailing the fleeing thief. As they bounced around in a line behind him, occasionally two bones would bump into each other and remain attached. This happened more and more as time went by and soon the loose pile of bones had organized itself into the skeleton of a giant cat.

"Let's go!" commanded Thurloe, in pursuit of the skeletal cat. He raised the dreamstone in his hand and focused his will through it, attempting to weaken the skeletal cat. The other four followed his lead and the cat, which had picked up quite a burst of speed once fully assembled into skeletal form, slowed down considerably, to the point Pietro was able to maintain his distance. "That's better!" Thurloe said, pulling his bastard sword from the scabbard on his back. "Now let's go get it!" Not wanting to wait until he reached the cat he dredged up the spellcasting abilities he'd been working on and sent a magic missile spell streaking to hit the feline skeleton. Despite it not having any vocal apparatus, it yowled in pain at the attack and whirled to face the five adventurers running its way.

But then it hissed its annoyance at them and returned to its original goal of running down Pietro. The thief had turned to see what the commotion had been about and was amazed to see five rescuers in his dream; in his amazement, he stopped running until he saw the skeletal cat bearing down on him once again. Turning to flee, he tripped and landed face-first on the ground and the cat pounced upon his back, raking him with its foreclaws.

Zander cast a scorching ray spell at the cat, causing it to spin about again; Pietro took the opportunity to pull himself to his feet and resume his panicked flight. "Over here!" Alewyth called, indicating he should run to them so they could better protect him; her dwarven legs were never going to allow her to catch up with him otherwise. (How she wished Pyrite was here with her in the dreamscape!) In the meantime, she cast a spiritual weapon spell and sent the force-warhammer flying over to strike at the skeletal cat.

Xandro used a stratagem he'd just used for the first time in the city the group had taken to referring as "the Deadlands" - using the Dardolian Lute as a means of channeling a cure moderate wounds spell through his music. The healing energy of the spell acted like acid against the undead cat, causing its bones to blacken and blister. Wakuren cast a cure moderate wounds spell directly from his fingertips to the skeletal cat's bones, furthering the damage.

Then Thurloe brought his bastard sword into play and was disappointed to see a skeleton in the dreamlands was as difficult to hurt with a blade as it was in real life. But if nothing else it focused the cat's attention on him, for its claws scratched furrows across the chest plate of his armor and it caught the fighter's left arm in its teeth. With the cat focused on these intruders to the dreamscape, Pietro made it successfully to Alewyth, panting from his exertions. "Th-thank you," he gasped, bending over with his hands on his knees and trying to catch his breath.

Zander finished off the skeletal cat with another scorching ray spell, and this time the blackened bones collapsed back into a pile but did no further dancing about. He turned to look over at Pietro, but the thief was already fading away like a ghost. "That did it - he's waking up!" the elf announced to the others.

"Yeah, no kidding," replied Thurloe, sheathing his sword as the dreamscape started fading around them. One by one, the dreamwalkers woke themselves up and were back in their normal bodies, sitting in a circle around the bound - but quite awake - Pietro Manicaldrian.

"What's happening? What's going on?" demanded the bound thief.

"You have been a very naughty boy," replied Thurloe, bending over Pietro who was struggling to get out of the ropes binding his ankles and wrists. "Stealing from a church...very, very naughty indeed."

"Hey, no offense intended," Pietro whined. "A job's a job, right? Gotta go where the money's at, you know?"

"Oh, I know exactly what you're talking about," cooed Thurloe. "The problem is, you didn't steal from me -- you stole from him!" And he stood back up and pointed over to Father Bones. Pietro's gaze followed to where Thurloe was pointing and he saw a skeletal being clad in black robes bending over him.

"I am Father Bones," intoned the temple's leader in as deep a voice as he could muster. "You have stolen from the God of Death and Undeath! Do you know the punishment for such a deed?"

"Think we're finished here," Thurloe said to the others in his group. "We'll leave the lich to deal with his scroll-robber."

"I don't envy him," said Zander, his face drained of blood.

"Good thing we don't cross those in charge of the afterlife," Wakuren observed. "You really don't want to get on their bad side." Pietro's screams of terror only emphasized the half-orc's point.

- - -

And it doesn't hurt getting on the good side of those in charge of the afterlife, either; Father Bones rewarded the PCs with 100 gp and a potion of cure serious wounds each.

This ended up being a much shorter session than I had anticipated, in part because I had built a random encounter table for the wandering undead in the the Deadlands and then scrupulously adhered to the die rolls at the start of each round. That gave the group quite a breather when I rolled "no encounter" like three rounds in a row. In hindsight, I should have piled on a nice group of 5-6 bloodthirsty zombies all at once; if you're going to have a custom-made city overrun by undead you probably should take advantage of the opportunity when you have it. Oh well, maybe later in the campaign there will be another reason to enter the Deadlands.

The PCs all reached 5th level at the end of this adventure. Wakuren took another level in paladin, Thurloe took his second wizard level, and Harry - getting a little bit bored of the "support role" of the bard - decided he'd start multiclassing Xandro Silverstrings into a bard/rogue. Alewyth and Zander are now our only single-classed PCs.

- - -

T-shirt worn: My white "Walking Dead" T-shirt, as that seemed the most appropriate for the adventure - and due to scheduling constraints, it had been five weeks since we played through part one of the adventure, plenty of time for it to have been through the laundry in the meantime (as I had also worn it during our previous game session).
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PC Roster:
Alewyth Putterpye, dwarf priestess of Aerik 5​
Thurloe Pulver, human fighter 3/wizard 2​
Wakuren, half-orc cleric of Cal 2/paladin 3​
Xandro Silverstrings, human bard 4/rogue 1​
Zander Quilson, elf sorcerer 5​

Game Session Date: 4 December 2021

- - -

"All rise! The Honorable Magistrate Jondir Duprayne presiding!"

Everyone in the courtroom immediately stood up as Magistrate Duprayne entered and took his seat behind the desk on the elevated platform at the back of the room. He banged the gavel three times in rapid succession on the desk before him. "This court is now in session," he intoned. "Who's first this morning?" he asked his bailiff.

"These five, Your Honor," replied his bailiff, a burly-looking man who looked like he could handle his own in a fight. He indicated the five adventurers who had been taken away from a hearty breakfast at the Merry Minstrel Inn that morning by a band of hobgoblin city guards. They'd been escorted into the courtroom, where a page had explained to them the courtroom had a permanent zone of truth spell effect cast upon it, preventing anyone within its confines from telling a lie. "They were observed casting spells within the city limits on several occasions."

Magistrate Duprayne glared down at the five. Then his attention was diverted to Wakuren. "Did you steal that armor?" he demanded.

"No, sir," Wakuren replied.

"You will address the Magistrate as 'Your Honor,'" chided the bailiff.

"No, Your Honor," amended Wakuren.

"Then you're really a cleric of Cal?" The symbol of the High-Father was prominently displayed on the half-orc's armor and shield.

"Yes, Your Honor."

"Hmm. You don't see that every day." Then he turned back to the group as a whole. "When you first entered the city, were you briefed on the prohibitions against spellcasting within the city walls unless under the direct supervision of one of the city's clerics?"

Thurloe took it upon himself to answer for the group. "We were, Your Honor."

Magistrate Duprayne looked down at a sheet of parchment before. "It says you were seen casting spells in the streets outside the Merry Minstrel Inn several days ago, and then again in the poorer section of town over by the dumps. Is this correct?"

Wakuren confessed to having cast a spiritual weapon spell against the druid who had unleashed dire apes upon the city and argued that it was done only in the interests of neutralizing a dangerous threat that could have harmed innocent townsfolk. Alewyth likewise explained she had merely cast a bless spell and Zander had cast a mage armor spell before entering combat with the corpse of a woman who had been animated by a trio of dregworms that had inhabited her body - again, with the best interests of the city at heart. The dwarven priestess felt she had made her case when a balding man in the back row stood up and addressed the Magistrate directly.

"If it please the court?" he asked, waiting for permission to continue.

"Yes?" asked Magistrate Duprayne.

"Your Honor, my name is Byram Herschfeld and I'm a structural engineer for the city. I've been put in charge of clearing out the rubble from the wizard's tower that exploded last week. I have a half-dozen laborers working for me and we've discovered there's a level below the keep. One of the rooms we found down there indicates the wizard may have been associating with devils and now none of my men will go down there anymore. City regulations require at least a two-man team exploring potentially dangerous areas. I could greatly use people with the adventuring experience of these five. Given the nature of the spells they cast - in the defense of the city's inhabitants, it bears repeating - I feel we can trust them into my care. With Your Honor's permission and agreement, I would like to recommend they be sentenced to aiding me in clearing out the underground level of any potential dangers to the city."

"How long do you think it would take?" asked the Magistrate.

"I have no idea how extensive the underground level might be, Your Honor, or if there are any other levels beneath the one we've discovered thus far. I would imagine probably a day or two - three at the very most - would be sufficient."

"Very well." He turned to the five adventurers before him. "You will each have a lesser geas spell placed upon you, the duration to last no longer than a full week's time or until Byram reports back that any dangers to the city in the tunnels below the wizard's tower have been dealt with, whichever comes first. Case dismissed."

"I hope you don't mind me butting in like that," Byram said to his new group of workers as they were escorted to a side room where a cleric would be casting the required lesser geas spells upon them. "Magistrate Duprayne has a reputation for coming down hard on spellcasting offenders - this job is likely a much better deal for you than whatever his original punishment was likely to be. And I get the help I need to check out the lower level beneath the tower."

"Win-win," Thurloe agreed, not without a trace of suspicion in his voice. This Byram fellow was certainly winning, but Thurloe wasn't entirely thrilled with any sort of magical compulsion - especially if it meant potentially being forced to fight devils. He viewed this whole setup as a form of robbery - robbing the dreamwalkers of their liberty - and the fact that the ones doing the robbing were the law of the city didn't make it feel like any less of a violation. Still, what was the option: take on an entire city, just the five of them? Thurloe knew where that particular trail led. Best to just get this whole thing over with and move on to the next town as soon as possible.

By the time they'd had their lesser geas spells cast upon them and Byram led them across town to the site of the collapsed tower, Thurloe was feeling a little better. The wizard's tower wasn't that big: a mere 30 feet to a side and all of two stories tall before the upper level collapsed down onto the ground level a week ago after some sort of explosion in the middle of the night. With a keep that small, maybe the dungeon level would be similarly small and this task would be completed quickly, so the group could be on their way.

The workers were already in place and hard at it, lugging chunks of stone from the site and tossing them onto various piles out on the yard. "How's it going, Toby?" asked Byram.

"We got a mostly clear path off to the room on the right," the worker replied. He looked over at the new recruits, all suited up in their adventuring gear. "You takin' them downstairs?" he asked Byram. Upon his boss's acknowledgement, Toby stared Thurloe right in the eye. "You be careful down there," he admonished. "I don't care what anybody says. I saw that devil move. I saw it move!" And with that, he turned back to his work, lugging a chunk of broken stone out of one of the gaps in what ground floor walls still stood after the collapse of the tower.

"Just exactly what happened here?" asked Alewyth, looking at the rubble and wreckage.

"Not sure exactly," replied Byram as he lit the end of a torch on fire. "Middle of the night a week or so ago, there was a big explosion and the top of the building collapsed down upon the floor below it. Owner was a wizard, an aloof sort name of Revellius Bonesaw, kept pretty much to himself. Nobody's seen him since, so it's possible he was killed in the explosion, not that we've come across his body yet. But if it's under there" - and here he pointed at the piles of collapsed stone still waiting to be removed from the area where the tower once stood - "we'll get to it eventually. It's not like it'll be going anywhere." He picked up a small cage, inside of which sat a canary. "You folks ready to go on down?"

"We'd like to cast a few spells first, if that's okay with you," Thurloe replied. Back at the Magistrate's courtroom, it was explained that Byram Herschfeld, as an employee of the city, was being made their official city representative and had the power to grant permission for the casting of spells as he saw fit in the accomplishment of the task to which he'd been appointed.

"By all means. In fact, consider this an open invitation to cast whatever spells you need while we're downstairs. We get ourselves into any kind of danger, I want you to be able to respond quickly without having to check with me first."

"Well, that's more like it!" Thurloe said and began casting a protection from evil spell upon himself, an eminently practical spell if there was any chance they'd end up fighting devils below the wizard's tower. Zander cast both a mage armor and a bear's endurance spell upon himself, then rifled through his scrolls until he found one containing an expeditious retreat spell and cast that upon himself as well. Wakuren cast a virtue spell on the elven sorcerer, then activated his ring of invisibility and faded from view. Alewyth cast a magic circle against evil spell upon herself and then a bless spell upon the whole group.

"Nothing for you?" Byram asked Xandro.

"I'm good," replied the bard.

"Well, let's head on down then," suggested the structural engineer, lifting the canary cage and holding the torch before him. "I'll lead us down to the room that caused all the fuss - we never did get to explore it very much." He led the group through a clear path in the rubble, heading over to a set of stairs in the back corner of the keep - what was likely once the kitchen. The stairs led down into an alchemist's lab, lit only by Byram's torch. Thurloe activated a sunrod from his pack so he'd have his own handy source of illumination. The lab contained a couple tables with various alchemical apparatus on it, none of it disturbed by the collapse of the tower above. There was another door on the far side of the room and Byram headed straight for it.

"Here you go, see for yourself," he said, opening the door and stepping back.

Wakuren and Alewyth were the first to stick their heads into the doorway, for their darkvision allowed them to see just fine without any illumination. One the floor before them, taking up most of the center of the room, was a silvery pentagram etched into the floor. There was no furniture in the room and only what looked to be a closet door at the south end of the room, but that just made for plenty of wall space to devote to murals. And of murals there were plenty: every available inch of wall-space had been painstakingly painted in exquisite detail, with scenes of leering devils torturing panicked humans and Hellscapes in the background: fire raining down from the skies, lakes of flame, horrible horned serpents and worse crawling in the background. And Wakuren couldn't help but believe he had seen one or more of the devils move in his peripheral vision, as if it had turned his head towards the half-orc and then moved back into place once Wakuren turned his gaze that way. "You see anything funny about these paintings?" he asked Alewyth.

"Funny? Certainly not." She saw nothing but depravity in the scenes depicted on the walls and didn't blame the workers above one bit for not wanting to enter the room.

But Thurloe followed them into the room and caught motion out of the corner of his eye, just as he'd been warned about by the worker upstairs. Zander activated his scout's headband and used up all of its daily power at once to grant himself true seeing for a full minute. "These paintings are all illusions!" he declared.

Thurlough pulled his bastard sword from its scabbard on his back and poked the blade into the middle of the head of a painted devil, one which the fighter-wizard could swear he'd seen move but a moment earlier. One of the properties of his blade was the destruction of illusions it touched, and sure enough when he touched the blade to the devil it not only stopped moving but disappeared altogether. Touching his blade to other parts of the walls caused the images to fade from view as well. "Sure enough: these scenes are all just illusions," he announced.

"To what end?" asked Xandro.

"Who knows? Just for fun? To scare intruders into not wanting to venture any further?" Thurloe hazarded.

"There's not much further to go, though," said Wakuren, still invisible but obviously the one who was opening the closet in the back. Unfortunately, it was filled with shelves containing spell components and a wide variety of small statuettes of various devils. Wakuren tried pulling on the statues, hoping to trigger a secret door release mechanism, but none of the figures were attached to the shelves upon which they were arranged. He picked up a statuette of what looked to be a shapely succubus with feathered wings instead of those of a bat, looking it over; to the others, they saw the statuette rising from the shelf seemingly of its own accord and hovering in the air. Only Zander could see through Wakuren's invisibility, but then he focused his attention on the magic pentagram on the floor, looking to see (as Thurloe suggested) if there might be some secret way to raise it up and find a secret set of stairs below it or something. That didn't pan out, but then Zander looked closer at the closet interior and noticed the thin slots along the floor at the closet's front and back: a sure sign that the whole closet had a way of moving to the side. Sure enough, by merely pushing on the eastern wall of the closet, the whole thing moved about three feet to the area directly beneath the stairs leading up to the ground level.

Scrambling through the opening, Zander saw a corridor heading east almost immediately upon exiting the back of the closet. But there were niches on either side of the narrow corridor about 15 feet down, and in each niche stood a suit of full plate armor holding a longsword pointed at its feet. Zander knew what that likely meant: a pair of guardian constructs that would animate and attack as soon as anyone tried passing between them unless they gave the proper command word or wore the correct ring or something like that. Not wanting to test his theory, he merely backtracked the way he had come and let the others know what he had found.

Thurloe pushed his way through the narrow passageway and advanced up to the suits of armor, examining them with his sunrod in one hand and his bastard sword in the other. Sure enough, there were runes on the helmets, chests, and shoulders of the armor and if the young wizard was recalling his lessons correctly they had something to do with transmutation magic. "These things are gonna attack anyone who tries passing by them," he said.

"Let's test that," suggested the still-invisible Wakuren, still carrying the statuette of the erinyes devil. He passed between the armor without incident, the "floating" statuette seeing to fly right past their heads with no response.

Zander took that as a possible good sign and ran past the suits of armor as well. However, while they hadn't detected Wakuren's invisible form and had dismissed the "flying" statuette as harmless, an elven stranger in the master's secret underground level was enough of a trigger to jolt them to a semblance of instant life. They brought their swords up and out to swing at the passing elf, one of the blades getting in a lucky strike against Zander's shin as he raced by. But then Thurloe was upon them with his own blade, allowing Zander to flee further down the tunnel and out of range of the dread guards.

Alewyth advanced down the corridor behind Thurloe and tried casting a dispel magic spell at the one not currently trading blows with Thurloe (as it was the only one she could see at the moment). Her spell didn't seem to have any effect. Behind her, Xandro sent a crossbow bolt flying over her head to strike the same dread guard in the helmet.

But then the first dread guard stepped out of its niche and blocked any further traffic through the corridor. It attacked Thurloe, standing directly in front of it, but the fighter dodged the thing's blow. Byram entered the tunnel from the narrow passageway in the back of the summoning room's closet, but as instructed earlier he held himself back out of danger, allowing the trained professionals to deal with the real threats.

Wakuren spun around and went flying back down the tunnel the way he had come, slamming his shield into the back of the dread guard facing Thurloe. His shield bash attack returned him to full visibility and it was enough - after Thurloe's successful blows - to reduce the guardian to a pile of loose pieces of armor which spilled apart and rolled around on the tunnel floor.

Despite the combat going on behind him, Zander decided his best course of action was to leave the combat to those better suited to it than the elven sorcerer; besides, he had a clock ticking on his true seeing abilities and he'd best get the most mileage from it as he could! With that in mind, he reached a cross-tunnel just ahead and turned north, poking his head into what could only be a sacrificial chamber - judging from the bloodstained altar in the middle of the room before a life-sized statue of some horned devil in the back of the room - and here he was immediately rewarded for the cleverness of his ploy for he could see the sacrificial dagger lying upon the altar was not just any old dagger but rather a bearded devil polymorphed into that form.

However, since the dagger was just sitting there lifelessly, Zander judged it to be harmless for the moment and retraced his way back to the intersection and this time went south, opening a door into a library. This had shelves of books and tomes, with a jumble of scroll tubes spilling out of a case and statues of devils carved into the very walls between the shelves. But of the more immediate notice was the robed figure slumped over onto a table in the middle of the room, as if he'd fallen asleep reading the tome open before him. However, on closer inspection, Zander could see the edges of the pages in the book the figure - who now that he paid closer attention wasn't breathing - had been reading were blackened and charred. But then all thoughts of the robed man and his possible fate were dashed aside when a glowing figure rose up out of the floor beside the corpse. It wore a robe remarkably similar to the one the dead wizard was wearing, and that told Zander this was probably the man's ghost or spirit or something - nothing he wanted to get involved with, in any case! Hoping the undead spirit would constrain itself to the arcane library, Zander closed the door behind him and ran back to the intersection. There was another door to the east but the elf opted to head back west, closer to his adventuring companions.

There was door there as well, just past the spot where the dread guards had stood their tireless watch and where one even now traded blows with Wakuren and Thurloe. Zander opened the door, saw it was a small room containing three small cells, and deduced this was where Revellius Bonesaw kept his victims before sacrificing them on the altar in the first room he'd unearthed. But as there didn't seem to be anything interesting in the cell room, he turned back without bothering to close the door.

That was a particularly bad idea, for there was an iron cobra behind the door and Zander had basically just set it free to attack him and his companions. It came slithering out of the open doorway and bit at the unsuspecting elf, who at least had the good fortune of hearing the sounds it made as its iron body slithered across the stone floor of the underground level and thus had enough forewarning to avoid its sudden strike.

A dwarven warhammer suddenly manifested in the air above Thurloe's head and came smashing down upon the sole remaining dread guard. While its attention was directed at the spiritual weapon, Thurloe got in another good strike with his bastard sword. Xandro sent another crossbow bolt flying over Alewyth's head into the armored helmet of the guardian construct. It lashed out again at Thurloe, its original target, as Wakuren slammed into its back with his shield.

But then, with everyone focusing on their current foe, the wraith flew out of the wall and sent a clawed hand into Zander Quilson's body, sending a wave of cold coursing through the elf. Zander dropped the figurine of wondrous power from his fingertips and said the activation word, allowing the elven dog to form into its full, living size. "Take care of the cobra for me!" he commanded as he spun to face the wraith. The cooshee leaped to the attack at once, snapping at the serpentine construct's iron body with his teeth.

Alewyth's spiritual weapon drove the final blow on the dread guard and it too fell to pieces on the stone floor of the corridor. The way now clear, she started heading towards the east, for Zander had said something about a sacrificial dagger that needed destroying and that certainly sounded like a job well suited to her dwarven warhammer, Sjondra. Thurloe, in the meantime, had lowered his sword and pointed a finger of his other hand at the wraith, calling out the words to a magic missile spell as he did so. The bolt of force energy hit true - as the fighter-wizard knew it would - sending a flurry of energy erupting through the incorporeal creature's body.

Stuck behind both Thurloe and Alewyth in the narrow corridor, Xandro put away his light crossbow and pulled out his Dardolian Lute, starting the tune of his inspirational courage; it was one way he could contribute to the fights against enemies he at the moment couldn't reach himself.

The iron cobra, metal hood flaring, darted in at the cooshee and caught him in the throat with its envenomed bite. The rank poison started coursing through the elven dog's body, affecting him as it would any other creature of living flesh. The cooshee felt his muscles weakening as a result but determinedly fought on.

Wakuren activated his other ring, channeling an extra burst of healing energy into his hand in addition to the cure moderate wounds spell he called into being. Then he rushed at the wraith, hoping to send a massive burst of positive energy at it all at once. In this he was unfortunately disappointed for his body passed right through the undead spirit without affecting it at the least; always a danger when fighting incorporeal foes. But the wraith darted a hand out and siphoned energy from the half-orc's body, causing an involuntary snarl of hatred to burst from Wakuren's fanged mouth. Fortunately, the soldier of Cal managed to connect with his second strike, sending the accumulated positive energy cascading across the wraith's incorporeal frame, eliciting a howling wail of pain that brought a smile to Wakuren's lips.

The wraith was clearly on its last legs. It dashed at Wakuren again, its face a rictus of hatred. The half-orc felt his body go cold against the undead creature's touch but he fought off the worst of the effects and sent his shield swishing through the wraith's incorporeal body; it didn't do any good but it made Wakuren feel better to do so. And then a second magic missile spell, this one from Zander, sent the wraith's body dissipating to nothingness. Off to the side of the elf, the iron cobra and the cooshee snapped at each other, mostly in vain.

Alewyth redirected her spiritual weapon spell to attack the iron cobra as she entered the sacrificial chamber and scowled at the statue of the leering devil along the far wall. Then she hefted Sjondra, lifted it behind her head for an overhead swing, and brought it crashing down onto the sacrificial altar, right where the dagger had lain...but was there no longer. It was now somehow hanging in the air on the other side of the altar, much like the erinyes statue had seemed to fly when an invisible Wakuren had carried it around. Alewyth scrambled up onto the altar and swung at the dagger again but it dodged in midair, darting around out of the way of the dwarf's warhammer. Wakuren entered the chamber behind Alewyth and saw her predicament; he climbed up onto the altar beside her and tried swatting the flying dagger with his shield.

In the meantime, the battle with the iron cobra was raging and it now not only involved the cooshee and the metal serpent snapping at each other but also Alewyth's spiritual weapon spell, Xandro shooting crossbow bolts at the iron cobra, and Zander casting a shocking grasp spell from a scroll and then trying to touch the rapidly-swaying automaton with no success. As this was all happening in a short side-corridor leading to the room of cells, Byram moved past the commotion to head over towards Alewyth and Wakuren, while Thurloe decided everyone else had their respective battles in hand so he might as well go check out that door at the eastern dead-end corridor.

As soon as he touched his hand to the doorknob Thurloe realized he'd made a mistake, for there was some sort of glyph inscribed above the handle and as soon as he even glanced at it it triggered. The symbol of pain sent a magical wave bursting throughout the underground complex, wracking all but Thurloe and Byram with agonizing pain. The fighter had managed to fight of the worst of the spell's effects and looked back at the others with a half-apologetic grin on his face, then decided he might as well see what was worth protecting with so powerful a ward. The corridor beyond the door continued for a dozen feet or so before spilling into a deep pit; looking over the lip, Thurloe saw half a dozen chests lined up along the pit's edge, in the center of which was a pile of human bones - no doubt the remains of those sacrificed in the chamber Alewyth and Wakuren were in - and a mass of goop that was likely all that was left of them besides the bones. As the pit was a good 40 feet deep, Thurloe decided to leave it for last, as there was no point in climbing down there to check out the chests until all of the other dangers had been dealt with. Therefore, he sauntered back out of the pit room (leaving the door wide open) and headed over to the sacrificial chamber to see if the two clerics needed any help in swatting down a flying dagger.

It turned out they had made almost no progress at all, for it was still doing aerial maneuvers around the room while the two clerics tried hitting it with their shield and with Sjondra, respectively. But then, as Thurloe entered (he had to push past Byram to do so, who had stood in the intersection of hallways as if transfixed), a voice called out from the direction of the pit room, "Infernicus!" This turned out to have been the command word which transformed the flying dagger back into its bearded devil form, and it had been uttered by the invisible imp Thurloe had just released from the treasure pit. Desecrus had been playing his favorite game - taunting the ochre jelly his late master Revellius had placed inside the treasure pit as a guardian - when a stranger had gazed down over the edge of the pit; investigating this intrusion, the imp had been delighted to see a half-dozen strangers engaged in combat with several of the dungeon's inhabitants. This, he thought, was going to be fun!

The iron cobra managed to get past the cooshee's defenses and gotten a firm grip onto Zander's thigh, pumping a dose of its venom into the elf's leg. Zander grimaced but the attack gave him an opportunity to discharge the shocking grasp spell he'd channeled into his right hand and arcs of electricity rippled down the construct's iron body. The cooshee scraped his front claws against the thing's head and Xandro hit it again with a crossbow bolt and eventually their combined efforts took their toll and the iron cobra collapsed to the stone floor to move no more.

But in the sacrificial chamber, things were just heating up. The bearded devil, a crafty smile upon his lips, said aloud the single word, "Agreed" as he swung his glaive at Wakuren, nearly toppling the half-orc from his altar-top perch. Alewyth, now attacking a much larger target than a flying dagger, connected with a swing of Sjondra, hitting the devil in his broad chest. Thurloe, now committed to helping the clerics fight an honest-to-goodness devil, ran around the side of the sacrificial altar and struck at the fiend with his bastard sword. "Alewyth!" he called as he attacked. "Apply the silversheen to your weapon - it's one of his vulnerabilities!"

Zander saw the invisible imp flying down the corridor and hit him with a magic missile spell, causing it to squawk in surprise that somebody had seen it at all. Then the cooshee ran down the corridor, turning to snap at the imp after it had clawed at him and made itself visible in doing so. Now it was trapped with a cooshee on one side and an elven spellcaster on the other. Xandro didn't dare try to shoot at the imp with Zander in the way so he went back to playing his inspirational song of courage - maybe it would help counteract the effects of the symbol of pain Thurloe had triggered.

As if suddenly cold, Byram flipped the hood of his cloak up over his head and retreated to the safety of the library containing the dead body of Revellius Bonesaw, closing the door behind him. Zander thought that was a bit odd but didn't have time to dwell on it as he was still fighting the imp. Its tail stinger hit the elf on the shoulder but it was fortunately a glancing blow and not a lot of the devil's venom made it into the wound, little enough that Zander hoped he could avoid the worst of whatever effects it might bring. But he retaliated with another magic missile spell, then ducked around the corner of the intersection, towards the arcane library, while his cooshee carried on the attack.

The bearded devil stabbed at Wakuren with his glaive, opening an infernal wound in the half-orc's side which hurt almost as much as the agony the symbol of pain had delivered. Alewyth stepped back from combat just long enough to pull out a vial of silversheen from her pack and apply it quickly to the striking surfaces of her dwarven warhammer. Thurloe hit the devil again with his bastard sword and then tried to retreat, forgetting the extra reach the fiend had with his glaive. It was all he could do to avoid the fiendish blade stabbing his way as he retreated to the doorway.

The cooshee suddenly yowled out in pain, for it was unaware of what the imp had seen coming: the ochre jelly had oozed its way up the side of the pit and had entered the passageway through the open door. Its acidic coating burned at the elven dog's feet as it slowly engulfed him like an approaching wave. But with Zander around the corner Xandro now had room to enter physical combat himself and he did so by charging at the imp, leading with the point of his magic longsword. The blade stabbed into the imp's back and skewered him right through the belly, killing him instantly. But unlike summoned creatures whose bodies vanished when they died, Desecrus remained skewered on the bard's sword and he had to take a boot to the little devil's body to pull his sword back out of his nasty little hide.

Wakuren attacked the bearded devil with the bottom edge of his shield, where it came to a point. The blow opened a wound on the devil's frame but he merely seemed amused by the damage. He retaliated with another blow of his glaive, opening another infernal wound in the half-orc's battered body. Alewyth saw her fellow cleric's predicament and rushed in, not to rejoin the combat but to cast a cure moderate wounds spell on Wakuren, which healed all but the two infernal wounds the bearded devil had inflicted upon him. Thurloe took the opportunity to try to cast a shield spell on himself before re-entering the combat but he messed up the somatic component to the spell in his heavy armor and the shield spell dissipated before taking effect. He snarled in irritation but headed back into the chamber, bastard sword in hand.

Zander had popped his head back around the corner and saw the ochre jelly attacking his faithful (although as-yet-unnamed) elven hound. The sorcerer cast a scorching ray at the jelly, burning its acidic body as it had burned the cooshee. Instinctively, the elven dog whirled and bit and clawed at the ooze monster, learning only after the fact that attacking a pliant blob coated in acid burned even when you attacked it.

The ochre jelly repositioned its body mass, forming a pseudopod that lashed out at the beleaguered elven dog, finally killing it. Of course, the cooshee's death merely resulted in it reverting to its statuette form, which plopped into the jelly's mass. Before Xandro even gave it much thought, he darted his hand in and grabbed at the figurine of wondrous power, afraid of having the jade statuette get eaten away by the jelly's acid. He turned to hand it to Zander, but the elf was now following Byram into the arcane library, to see what he was up to. Xandro just gave a cursory wipe of the statue on the leg of his pants and dropped it into a pouch, hoping he'd gotten rid of most of the acid coating it.

Wakuren managed to finally land the killing blow on the bearded devil after a furious three-against-one fight. Then he and Alewyth took a moment to apply healing spells among the three as needed, the half-orc concentrating closely on his spellcasting and managing to seal up the two infernal wounds the bearded devil had inflicted upon him. Then, looking to see where everyone else had gotten off to, they crossed the intersecting corridors and saw the ochre jelly making its steady way in their direction. Alewyth now had a silvered weapon but didn't want to risk using it against an acidic creature so she cast a second spiritual weapon and allowed it to strike the ooze in her stead. Thurloe flung a magic missile at it in passing, then headed to the arcane library where everyone else seemed to have headed. The ooze moved slow enough they could take a moment's breather while it caught up to them.

Inside the library, there was a bit of confusion going on. Byram was frantically searching through the scroll tubes, while Zander was accusing him of something to do with his hair. That was weird; the structural engineer had his hood up but Thurloe could see there was a thick body of hair on the top of the formerly balding man's head, strands of it peeking out from underneath the hood. Zander lifted the corpse of Revellius Bonesaw to get a good look at his face, wondering if maybe the dead wizard had somehow taken over Byram, but while Revellius had a full head of hair and a neatly-trimmed beard, his hair looked nothing like that which Byram was suddenly sporting.

Alewyth stopped at the intersection long enough to see her spiritual weapon tearing into the ochre jelly; it was quivering enough to make her believe the thing was almost dead. Trusting in the temporary covering of the silversheen she'd applied to the weapon's head to keep it safe from acid, she brought Sjondra down in what turned out to be the killing blow. Then she joined the men in the library.

Thurloe had entered and dropped a hand on Byram's shoulder, channeling a touch of fatigue into the engineer's wiry frame. The two were standing next to an intricate carving of an erinyes devil and Thurloe noted there was a seam along one side of the carving that might indicate a hidden door. Byram tore his shoulder from the fighter's grasp and snarled a warning at him; after this uncharacteristic behavior, Xandro aimed his crossbow at the engineer as a warning but held off on actually attacking for now.

It was only when Wakuren entered the library and saw the commotion that he opted to do a quick detect evil check. Sure enough, there was now an aura of evil surrounding Byram Herschfeld - but oddly, the aura seemed confined only to the top of his head. "He's got evil hair!" the half-orc cried out and crossed the room to bring a vicious slap to the back of the engineer's head. Zander Quilson, knowing how precisely a magic missile spell could be targeted, fired a spell at Byram's hair, killing it instantly. It fell forward, dropping past the astonished engineer's face and falling to the stone floor of the library. Byram took a step away from it as if afraid it would try to climb back onto him, but the animated hairpiece was no longer mobile; whatever animating force had given it energy was now gone.

"Oh thank goodness!" Byram gushed, stepping even further away from the now-harmless toupee.

"What in the world happened here?" Wakuren demanded.

Byram only blushed in response. "It was back in the intersection, when you were still fighting the dagger," Byram explained. "There was a voice in my head, offering to give me anything I wanted. I..." He placed a hand on his bald head. "I immediately thought about how I'd had a nice head of hair in my younger days...and then, all of a sudden, there was hair on my head and a new voice in my thoughts, taking full control of my body. I was helpless to stop it!" He looked over at the pile of scrolls. "It was looking for a specific scroll, I think...and it had plans for me to trap you into the secret summoning chamber behind this wall."

"Where?" demanded Xandro.

"Here, I think," replied Thurloe, tugging at the carving of the erinyes in the wall. Sure enough, it hinged forwards, revealing a short passageway into a round room taken up entirely with a five-pointed pentagram inside a magic circle inscribed on the floor. At equal distances around the circle were five carved statues: a barbed devil, a bearded devil, an erinyes devil, a chain devil, and a red abishai, the latter looking rather like a draconic gargoyle. Each of the statues had gemstones in place of their eyes, but were otherwise carved out of black marble.

"So," Xandro said, "now what?"

At Thurloe's insistence, their next move was to go explore the treasure pit, where they discovered Revellius had apparently placed most of his stock in the ochre jelly and the difficulties in even getting down there safely (Wakuren's rope of climbing was put to good use, while Byram theorized Revellius likely used a fly spell) in keeping his treasure secure, for there weren't even any locks on the chests. Two chests contained gold coins; one a bunch of gemstones; a fourth trade bars of silver; and the last two were devoted to miscellaneous magical items and rows of various magical potions and elixirs. Byram made an inventory list of everything but insisted on leaving the items in place. "They'll want to bring the items out under guard, no doubt," Byram explained. "No sense in bringing these all out into the open, to tempt the workers doing all that back-breaking labor hefting away stones."

But upon having Alewyth and Zander give every room a thorough once-over and detecting no other hidden doors or secret passageways, Byram declared the underground level to be free of danger - except for the contents of the arcane library. "We'll have clerics from the Temple of Delphyne come take a look at the magical writings and such," Byram declared. "Some they'll probably want to keep; some will probably be burned. I'm sure Revellius had some rather nasty magics in that library, considering the things he got up to down there."

"So how did he die?" Alewyth asked. "And what caused the tower to explode? A rival wizard or something?"

"Probably explosive runes or some other kind of magic in that book he was reading," Thurloe explained. "And trusting guy that he was, I wouldn't be surprised if he hadn't figured a way of blowing up his tower in the event of his death to make sure nobody got to his stuff. There are contingency spells that can do stuff like that." It was as likely an explanation as any.

- - -

And that ended up that adventure. The PCs were each awarded 1,000 gp by Magistrate Duprayne upon Byram's testimony on their behalf. Xandro opted to spend his reward money on a pair of magic gloves from the treasure pit; they allow their wearer to change the energy type of a magic weapon three times per day. (Xandro recently gained a +1 frost short sword which he can now use to change to deal fire damage, or acid damage, or so on for one round at a time.)

During our last gaming session in this campaign I had told the players the name of this adventure, but they of course had assumed I had said "Hell to Pay," which made sense given the opening sequence was them standing before a magistrate for having broken the city's laws about spellcasting. Then, when there was the whole "trafficking with devils" aspect to Revellius's past, the name seemed even more appropriate. It wasn't until they confronted Byram - now with an inexplicable full head of hair - that I asked them if they remembered what the adventure was called.

"Hell to Pay," they replied.

"What was it?" I prompted, showing them the initial initiative card I had made for Byram Herschfeld and then the other one I had made and switched during gameplay without any of them noticing. When Joe had been surprised at Byram having hair I showed him the initiative card, pretending it was the same one I had started with. When Dan had the same suspicions, I did likewise, playing it off as if they just must not have noticed his hair when they first met him (and when I had showed them the initial card with his bald head featured prominently).

"Hell Toupee," they grumbled, nowhere near as pleased with my trickery as I was.

- - -

T-shirt worn: My "Duck Dynasty" T-shirt with four bearded men - not only to represent the bearded devil, but because together the four beards have the US flag colors superimposed on them and this was a good representation of "strange hair on one's head - like the "Hell toupee."



PC Roster:
Alewyth Putterpye, dwarf priestess of Aerik 5​
Thurloe Pulver, human fighter 3/wizard 2​
Wakuren, half-orc cleric of Cal 2/paladin 3​
Xandro Silverstrings, human bard 4/rogue 1​
Zander Quilson, elf sorcerer 5​

Game Session Date: 18 December 2021

- - -

"Hey, kupo!" said Mogo as the dreamwalkers assembled for their nightly session of training. "Want to see the next dream you'll be entering, kupo?" He led them through a door in the Corridor of Dreams. This latest dream was pretty much absent of background details - as was often the case when a dream was focused solely on what was occurring within - but there was a wide circle on the ground and in the middle of it were two combatants: a trim-bearded human and a black bear, each engaged in trying to wrestle each other into submission.

"You're going down!" promised the man, his biceps bulging as he tried to push the bear back out of the circle and thus win the match.

"Don't count on it!" countered the bear.

"How long has this dream been going on?" asked Alewyth, watching the combatants struggling to no avail - they seemed pretty evenly matched.

"Only a couple of days, kupo. But while there are other dreamers who have been caught in their dreams for longer than this one, the one dreaming this dream is the closest to your present location, kupo." Using his impressive ability to shape dreams, he caused a map to appear out of nowhere and indicated where the dreamer was located: in a cave along the edge of the Darkwood Forest just to the east of the city of Baron's Haven.

"So that's where we'll find him?" asked Zander.

"You betcha, kupo!"

However, the group was in for a bit of a surprise the following morning when they said their goodbyes to Jorbalee Bennicut and her new ward Tommy and departed from the Merry Minstrel Inn. The cave wasn't at all difficult to find, but lounging on a large rock before the cave entrance was a large tiger lazing in the sun. It languidly raised its head at the sounds of the group's approach, then hopped off the rock and ambled into the cave, becoming almost immediately swallowed by the darkness within. As Wakuren brought the mule-driven wagon to a halt, he saw a brief legend carved onto the rock the tiger had been laying upon. It read simply, "THE LEAGUE OF BEASTS." Off to the right about 30 feet or so was a smaller cave opening in which a horse stood eating hay from a pile before him, apparently unconcerned by the nearby presence of a large feline predator.

"What do you think?" Xandro asked. "Druid? Ranger?"

"Let's find out," Thurloe said, dropping down from his horse Horse and pulling his bastard sword from its scabbard - no point in taking any chances with a full-grown tiger in the area. But as the others likewise climbed off their respective mounts (or the wagon in Wakuren's case), a figure stepped out from the cave the tiger had entered. It was, inexplicably, the trim-bearded man from the dream they'd observed the previous night, dressed in combat leathers with a longbow and a quiver of arrows strapped to his back. A golden-feathered owl sat perched upon his left shoulder.

"You're awake!" Thurloe gasped in surprise.

"I...am indeed," admitted the man, puzzled at the stranger's surprise that he should be awake - it was, after all, late morning. "How may Viktor the Beastlord aid you? Have you need of the League of Beasts?"

"We had come to wake you up," admitted Alewyth. "We had reason to believe you had become trapped in your dreams." She gave the ranger a quick explanation of the dream-sickness that had been crossing the small continent and their role in helping awaken those trapped in their dreams. "Is there perhaps anyone else inside the cave that might be asleep?"

"Well, there's Bobo," Viktor admitted. "And yes, a couple of days ago he started a rather early hibernation. I thought nothing of it at the time." He led the group into the cave network, past a timber wolf that looked at them warily and into a back cave where a black bear dozed. After explaining their procedure, the five dreamwalkers wrapped a headband containing a dreamstone around the dozing bruin's temple, then sat around him in a circle. As Viktor and his timber wolf Moonshadow stood guard, the five adventurers slipped into a gentle slumber, their minds slipping through the dimensions to the Dreamlands.

Mogo was there waiting for them and escorted them to the proper door in the Corridor of Dreams. "Good luck, kupo!" he said.

Bobo and the dream version of Viktor were still at it. "You're wearing down!" the ranger taunted. "You're tiring out!"

"That's not what your mom said last night!" Bobo taunted right back. The two figures were engaged in a shoulder hug as each tried dragging the other to the edge of the circle, so they could be thrown out and declared the loser of the match.

"Hey! Bobo! C'mere a minute!" yelled Thurloe, trying to get the bear's attention.

"In a bit!" called back Bobo. "First I gotta throw this fool from the ring!"

"'Fool,' huh?" demanded the dream-Viktor. "It is you who are foolish if you think to vanquish me!"

Alewyth rustled around in her pack, bringing out a few muffins wrapped in a piece of fresh linen. "I've got honey muffins!" she announced. "Come and get them, if you're hungry!" Bobo's head snapped in the dwarf's direction and he was sorely tempted, but at the last moment he concentrated back on the task at hand, pushing Viktor back a few steps towards the edge of the circle. But the ranger turned to the side and they merely pivoted, remaining pretty much in place.

"How do we wake him?" asked Zander.

"It's pretty obvious he's dreaming about winning the match but he's having a hard time of it," Xandro observed. "Maybe we should help him to win."

"That would be cheating!" pointed out Wakuren, frowning.

"It's just a dream!" chided Thurloe, activating his touch of fatigue as he patted Viktor on the shoulder. "Go get 'im, Viktor!" he pretended to cheer as the strength was drained from the wrestling ranger. Following the logic - and seeing that the dream-Viktor hadn't apparently noticed Thurloe's interference in the match, Zander cast a ray of enfeeblement at the ranger, hitting him broadly in the back. Viktor seemed to slump and Bobo took full advantage of his foe's weakness to scoot him closer to the edge of the circle. Wakuren shrugged and cast a doom spell on the ranger as well.

All in all, the attempts at interference piled up and Bobo was able to push his opponent out of the circle, where he fell on his back and didn't get back up. Alewyth at first feared he might have been hurt but then noticed he was fading from view - as was what little background there was in this dream. Bobo was waking up and his dream was dissipating all around them like smoke.

One by one the dreamwalkers awakened back in the cave. Bobo was rousing, although in the manner of most bruins he was taking his time about it. That was perfectly fine for the adventurers, who all got to their feet and readied their weapons in case the black bear awoke in a less than agreeable disposition - it was never safe to assume with wild animals. Zander looked over to the cave entrance for Viktor, but neither the ranger nor his wolf animal companion was there where they'd stood guard as the five dreamwalkers went to rescue Bobo from his dreams. Instead, on the floor of the cave where the ranger had stood, was a piece of paper. Zander picked it up and read it aloud. It read:

Got word of a recent attack - witnesses described a pair of winged lions making off with a couple from the city. They were heading for the mountains to the north in the general area of Windgate Pass. Heading there now - join us if you can.


"Where's Windgate Pass? Anybody know?" asked Thurloe. Everyone looked expectantly at Xandro, as the bard had been a wanderer before being brought into service to the Queen of Dreams. But this was further east than Xandro had ever been and the bard shrugged and shook his head. "Why would he assume we knew where that was?" growled Thurloe, irritated at Viktor for having left them in the dark.

"I think he left the message for me," replied Bobo, yawning and stretching. "Hey! I just had a dream about you guys! ...And something about honey muffins." A few of the adventurers were taken aback that Bobo spoke just as well in real life as he did in dreams; apparently Viktor or someone else had applied the awaken spell to the black bear at some point in the past, raising him up to human intelligence.

"It sounds like Viktor might need our help," Alewyth replied. "Do you know where this Windgate Pass is?" Bobo did and he led the way, giving directions from the back of the mule cart as Wakuren drove the mules forward. Alewyth rode her dire goat Pyrite and the men rode their horses, leaving the dwarf priestess's horse Mica to follow the wagon led by a rope tied to her bridle. They went north along the road, up and over hills that got progressively higher the further north they went.

"I didn't see a wagon or anything when we first approached," Alewyth commented. "Just a horse, and he was gone when we left."

"Yeah, Viktor rides Blaze and the rest of us keep up on foot." He named the other members of the League of Beasts: besides himself and the timber wolf Moonshadow there was Amber the tigress and Celeste the owl. After a few moments, Bobo said, "This is Windgate Pass coming up."

As they climbed the steep road they were met by Amber the tigress coming back down from higher up. "We were ambushed," she said and at this point none of the adventurers was surprised to note she was speaking aloud in perfect Common. "Blaze is dead. Viktor's either dead or captured. The rest of us scattered - we thought it best to escape and regroup; maybe we can attack when they're not expecting it. But they seemed to know we were coming." The tiger had long gashes down the side of her left shoulder, from which a pool of blood had matted her fur. Alewyth immediately dropped from Pyrite's saddle and cast a healing spell on the tigress. Amber told them the winged lions' cave was just ahead and the group decided they could trust the wounded tigress with their own animals while they went to the cave of the winged lions to go rescue Viktor and the couple taken from the road in the first place.

"Prep spells before we go in," cautioned Thurloe, casting a shield spell upon himself. Zander cast a mage armor spell followed by an expeditious retreat spell he cast from a scroll. Wakuren cast the traditional virtue spell upon the frail elf and then activated his ring of invisibility, sliding out of the visible light spectrum. Alewyth cast a magic circle against evil spell upon herself and then a protection from evil spell on Zander, their weakest member when it came to hand-to-hand combat - anything they could do to keep him in the fight they usually did. Then, deciding they were all ready, they climbed up the slope of the mountain from the side of the road, up to where they could see the shadows of a cave opening ahead. Bobo accompanied them while Amber lounged in the back of the wagon, her head up and her ears alert for the sounds of danger.

Alewyth heard a low, moaning sound as they got closer to the cave. It was coming from somewhere either in the cave or nearby but was difficult to pinpoint exactly, for it wasn't constant, but rather started and stopped in random intervals. Thurloe, bastard sword in hand, stepped boldly into the dark cave and as he did so he could see a ghostly form rise up from the floor, a glowing skeleton covered in tattered robes that flapped in a wind that wasn't present there inside the cave. The moaning and wailing continued, but now that Thurloe was inside the cave the wails almost sounded like they were coming from somewhere outside.

As a matter of fact, they were - as Bobo quickly figured out. There was a glass bottle buried in the dirt along the side of the rock wall of the cave opening, and the wind blowing past its narrow lip caused the eerie moaning sounds. Xandro followed the bear and plugged the top of the lip with a clump of dirt. The moaning stopped immediately. "It's a hoax!" he called to the others.

Thurloe had come to the same conclusion himself as the "ghost" rose completely out of the cave floor but then just stood there looking menacing. He stepped right up to it and poked it with the point of his bastard sword and the blade's illusion-dampening properties caused the undead figure to pop like a soap bubble. "Just a triggered illusion," he said. "Probably just meant to keep the locals away." Zander stepped up beside him and activated the full power of his headband, granting him not only true seeing but the ability to see perfectly fine in absolute darkness. Thurloe, not so equipped, lit a torch form his pack; he'd used up the last of his sunrods and hadn't thought to replenish his stock. They could each see there were two passageways lowering down further into other caves in the cavern network, one to the north and one to the west.

But there was also another smaller cave entrance to the north and from it poked a tawny-colored head. Its feline eyes narrowed at the sight of Xandro and Bobo messing around with its master's bottle and just that quickly it was off and running, charging straight at the bard. The mountain lion leaped at Xandro, crashing down upon him in a flurry of fangs and claws. Wakuren popped back into visibility as his shield came crashing down upon the mountain lion's back, allowing Xandro to crawl out from beneath it and struggle back up to his feet. He pulled out his magic short sword and went on the attack. Alewyth, in the meantime, regretted having left her sure-footed dire goat behind and whistled for it to come to her. Pyrite, hearing his mistress's call, departed from the group of riding mounts under Amber's overall protection and the tigress allowed it, knowing the dire goat was a part of this other group in the same way she was a part of the League of Beasts. Once Pyrite ambled up, Alewyth wasted no time leaping back up into the saddle; with her innate dwarven darkvision she'd have no trouble seeing inside the lightless cave network and now she'd be moving at a much faster speed than her own dwarven legs could ever hope to carry her.

The mountain lion had turned its attention to Wakuren but couldn't get a good grip on the half-orc's metal armor, nor could it find a way past the holy warrior's shield. Bobo was adding his own teeth and claws to the mix so Xandro backed off, trading his sword for his Dardolian Lute, beginning the chords to his song of courageous inspiration. Wakuren finally killed the lion by stabbing down upon its head with the pointed bottom of his badge-shaped shield, piercing its skull and slaying it instantly.

Zander started down the natural stone steps to the west, with Thurloe following directly behind and Alewyth astride Pyrite not too far behind them. Xandro, Wakuren, and Bobo in the meantime checked out the mountain lion's cave, finding it too held a sloping passageway in the back that eventually led them to the same cave to which the northern passageway from the "ghost" cave led.

Turning a natural curve down the passageway, a scene of carnage appeared in Zander's magic-enhanced view: a pair of winged lions bent over the dead form of Blaze, Viktor's horse. As they ripped hunks of bloody flesh from the horse's carcass, the elf saw the human features on the lion-beasts; that, plus the batlike style of the creatures' wings and the spikes jutting out from the tips of their tails identified the "winged lions" as manticores. As only one had a shaggy mane flowing seamlessly into a thick beard, the sorcerer took these to be a mated pair. Without making a sound, Zander reached inside a pocket of his robes and pulled out his figurine of wondrous power, dropping it on the soft leather of his boot rather than have it make noise clacking onto the stone steps before him and alert the hungry manticores. The cooshee expanded to its full, living size in an instant and needed no prompting about his role in this upcoming battle.

"I can smell Viktor - he came this way!" Bobo said at the bottom of the natural stone steps leading into the cave to the north of the one currently occupied by feasting manticores. There were two more passageways leading further down from this central cave, and according to the black bear's nose Viktor had been brought down the one to the west. Wakuren and Xandro followed as Bobo sought out the ranger leader of the League of Beasts.

But the manticores by now had noticed the intrusion into their cave network. The male was the closest to the natural steps and leaped up them, eager to tear into Zander. But there was a cooshee in the way determined not to let that happen and the two clawed at each other in wordless fury. Seeing the narrowness of the passageway - there would be no getting past the manticore to enter fully into the cavern where Blaze's body now lay - Alewyth activated the amber amulet of vermin she wore around her neck, causing a giant bee to manifest in the air before her. "Attack!" she called out to the bee and its wings buzzed furiously as it flew over the cooshee to try to impale the male manticore with its stinger. Thurloe didn't care how cramped the fighting space was; he stepped up behind the cooshee, ready to strike with his bastard sword as soon as he found an opening to do so. Zander sent a scorching ray spell over the fighter-wizard's head, crashing into the manticore and eliciting a roar of fury. But Alewyth saw it a lost cause trying to get in there to aid any further in this particular battle and urged Pyrite forward, heading down the northern passageway to meet up with the others.

"There he is!" called out Bobo, rushing over to one of two cages along the back walls of the cave to which his sense of smell had led him. Viktor lay unconscious inside the cage, built of sturdy limbs and branches bound tightly with ropes and vines. Another cage held a human woman, also unconscious but with a manacle around one ankle, binding her to the bars of her cage by a chain. Bobo started chewing at the vines, trying to free his friend. Wakuren approached, somewhat worried that the captors hadn't place a manacle around Viktor's ankle - might that mean he was dead? But then why place him in a cage? He reached a hand in between the bars and touched the ranger's throat, giving a sigh of relief when he felt a pulse. He then channeled a healing spell through his hand, healing the worst of the ranger's wounds. This also had the effect of waking him up and he sat up, confused in the flickering light of Xandro's torch - for of the members of his own group assembled in the cave, the bard was the only one who couldn't see in the dark and had lit a torch to remedy that problem.

"Wha--?" sputtered Viktor, looking around. "Where'm I? Where's Celeste?" Alewyth approached about that time and started breaking through the young woman's cage with Sjondra. After smashing through it enough that she could release that end of the chain, she fed a healing potion to the unconscious woman and learned her name was Jacinda. "Where's Lurec?" the young woman asked immediately, explaining Lurec was her husband and they had both been taken by the winged lions together. Alewyth promised they'd look for him but was silently discouraged that he hadn't been placed in either cage; she wondered if the manticores might have already eaten him before starting in on the horse. Bobo, in the meantime, promised Viktor he'd have him out of the cage soon. "Celeste's out looking for help," the bear explained. "She'll be back soon."

"Want Celeste," Viktor whined. Wakuren frowned, as this was not at all the demeanor of the battle-hardened ranger they'd met earlier that morning.

The male manticore, by this time, was almost dead. He'd been trading claw-scratches with the cooshee and would have already slain the elven dog if he had been the only foe to worry about. But even though getting hit by a few flung spikes from the female manticore in the cave below, Thurloe had been doing a fine job carving up the bearded male with his bastard sword and Zander had been casting ranged spells from far enough back he was in little danger himself. Then there was that blasted bee, flying about the manticore's head and trying to sting him; it hadn't succeeded yet but it was quite distracting. The manticore made the mistake of trying to swat it out of the air with a massive forepaw and while his attention was thus diverted - even just for a moment - Thurloe stabbed his blade into the beast's heart, killing him.

As the male crashed to the ground, Zander had a nice shot of the female manticore and let fly with another scorching ray spell, catching her in the flaming blast straight on and causing her fur to singe from the blazing heat. Without missing a beat the cooshee scrambled over the male manticore's corpse and charged at its mate, his fangs bared. The female manticore found herself grappling with the elven dog as Thurloe ran down the stone steps to join in the fight, the blade of his sword red with the blood of her slain mate.

Zander didn't give the female manticore much time to live and decided he'd likewise do fine to move on, leaving the cleanup of this particular battle to the trained fighter, the elven dog, and the giant bee. He followed the other passageway north and caught sight of the others helping free the people in the cages - and was then hit in the shoulder by an arrow that came whizzing up from another passageway leading north from the cage chamber. With the darkvision provided by his magic headband he could see the sniper was an elf like himself, only one garbed more like Viktor in leather armor. "We've got intruders!" the archer called back in Elven to someone in the cave down there with him.

Wakuren had moved on to explore a farther passageway, turning himself invisible again through the power of his ring. The passageway was narrow, not wide enough to allow two people to walk side by side, and all of a sudden there was a blur ahead of him as a night-black creature came bounding up the stone steps to crash into Wakuren, not even knowing the invisible half-orc had been there. Wakuren brought his shield crashing down onto the back of the summoned yeth hound, bringing himself to full visibility again in doing so. Xandro, alerted to the sounds of combat from that direction, followed Wakuren's path and soon saw the two of them struggling to slay each other.

Alewyth cast a spiritual weapon spell, sending a warhammer of solid force flying down the passageway to crash into the elven archer who had just shot Zander. She slapped Pyrite's flank as she did so, telling the dire goat to return back to the other animals. She'd dismounted to free Jacinda from her cage, but now that there was full-blown combat afoot she didn't want her goat to be slain.

Thurloe finally slew the second manticore after a fierce battle, cutting a sideways gash along the beast's neck that proved to be her undoing. Then, seeing nothing of interest in the manticores' den besides the half-eaten corpse of Viktor's horse Blaze, he followed the side passageway to the cavern with the cages. The cooshee and the giant bee followed. Once there, the elven dog raced down the passageway, eager to tear into the elven archer. However, there was a hidden pit trap on the floor just before where the archer, Randalvael, stood, covered in an illusion that blended seamlessly with the rest of the cavern floor. Landing on a section of floor that wasn't actually there, the cooshee plummet down 20 feet to the bottom of the pit, his fall somewhat broken by the bodies of the swarm of spiders lairing down there. Randalvael hadn't taken any chances on the spiders escaping, either; a permanent repel vermin spell along the top of the pit's interior walls took care of that.

The cooshee howled in pain as dozens, if not hundreds of venomous spiders bit at his flesh; Zander stopped the pain by calling out the command word to revert his trusty elven hound back to his statuette form. He'd have to remember to go pull him back out of the pit after they'd dealt with this elven ranger who was apparently in league somehow with the manticores.

Randalvael shot arrows at Alewyth, trying to either slay her outright or at least prevent her from casting any more offensive spells at him. But in the meantime, his sister Kaernadasha followed the course of the yeth hound she'd summoned and saw Wakuren and Xandro fighting off the ebony canine - and now Thurloe came into view as well, attracted to the sounds of combat. That was too good of an opportunity to miss out on, so she cast a lightning bolt spell up the passageway, over the yeth hound's back but blasting into both Wakuren and Thurloe, the bard having dodged out of range at the last moment. Then, to add insult to injury, the little follow-on arcs of electricity still flashing across his metal armor, Wakuren felt the yeth hound grab up his ankle in its teeth and bear down, trying to trip the half-orc into a prone position where it would have a better time ripping out the cleric-paladin's throat. But Thurloe slew the yeth hound before it had a chance and the summoned creature departed the Material Plane for its own infernal regions. Xandro applied some healing to the fighter, whose numerous bleeding wounds indicated he could undoubtedly use it.

Alewyth's spiritual warhammer continued swatting at Randalvael, giving the dwarven priestess time to approach him with her own warhammer in hand. Keeping mentally aware of the pit trap's location, she brought Sjondra slamming into the elf's side. He grunted, tossed his longbow to the side, and pulled out a melee weapon of his own: a gleaming, black-bladed longsword that somehow managed to look evil. Behind her, Zander read the words to a shocking grasp spell from one of his many purchased scrolls, imbuing his hand with electrical energy he could deliver at a mere touch. He stepped beside Alewyth and lashed out at the enemy elf, but Randalvael easily avoided the sorcerer's touch, bringing his blade into Zander's side as he did so. The elf felt not only the pain of the wound but a familiar energy-sapping sensation as the sword channeled some of Zander's life-energy into Randalvael. The evil ranger's equally evil smile distinctively told what Randalvael thought about having a magic sword that provided him with the stolen life-energy of his opponents.

With the yeth hound gone, there was nothing preventing Wakuren from rushing down the steps and bringing his shield slamming into Kaernadasha. She took the slam with much better grace than the half-orc would have thought possible for a skinny elven wizard, until he realized she'd probably had time to enhance herself with a stoneskin spell. Thurloe was down into the lower chamber right after Wakuren, but he was immediately brought to immobility by a hold person spell cast by the elven wizard.

Knowing his mistress's hold person spell was a temporary measure at best, Podkin stepped through the illusory wall hiding the cave in which the elven siblings stored their treasure and flew up to the frozen fighter's shoulder, biting at his neck and hoping to inject enough venom into Thurloe's system to send him crashing to the floor, asleep. But Thurloe, even immobilized, was made of tough stuff and the homunculus's venom failed to force him into undesired slumber.

Alewyth knew a one-on-one fight against a foe whose life-draining weapon put the odds in his favor was a losing proposition, so she brought Sjondra swinging in against the ranger's vampiric blade, hoping to sunder it away. Her first attempt failed, as did her second, and to make things worse Randalvael not only kept a knowing smirk on his face while he evaded her blows, he got in a couple of hits himself, healing his own wounds from those he was inflicting upon the dwarven priestess. But at least her spiritual weapon managed to clock the arrogant elf a few times before it winked out, its duration spent.

Xandro followed Thurloe's path into the elves' den. Wakuren cast a cure light wounds spell upon himself and maneuvered into position so the bard could catch the wizard between the two of them. But then Kaernadasha cast a Melf's acid arrow spell at the burly half-orc, catching him full-on in the chest and stomach, coating his armor and the skin at his neck in burning acid. Wakuren cried out in agony as the acid burned through his flesh and he hurriedly cast more curative spells on himself in a desperate battle to outpace the damage the long-lasting acid was doing to his skin. This kept him preoccupied long enough that - coupled with Thurloe's inability to overcome the hold person spell by force of will - left Xandro up against the elven wizard and her homunculus familiar all by himself.

Zander finally managed to touch Randalvael and discharge his shocking grasp spell into the evil ranger. However, the vampiric blade flashed out again, drawing sustenance from one elf and channeling it into the other and most of the sorcerer's work had been undone in that short a moment. Alewyth tried swatting the weapon from his hand again to no avail and convinced herself she'd have to take him out the much harder way, by beating him in battle without first depriving him of his vampiric weapon. Disappointed in how quickly his shocking grasp spell had been neutralized - and realized staying in close-quarters combat with the elven ranger was just offering himself up as a source of stolen life energy - Zander backed off, opting to go with much safer strategy of lobbing magic missile spells at the ranger from a distance. But that just allowed Randalvael to concentrate more fully on attacking Alewyth with his vampiric blade.

Xandro dodged around Kaernadasha, getting in a strike from his frost short sword from an unexpected angle and making it through her stoneskin defense. The wizard staggered back and cast a bear's endurance spell on herself, something she'd normally do before entering battle, but this time she'd not had enough forewarning. And to be caught fighting in melee against a hated human, of all things - disgusting! It was bad enough they bred like rabbits and had pushed the other races out of the way when quietly taking over the continent, but having to stoop to combat with what looked to be a human bard, of all things?

Podkin switched over to attack Xandro, seeing him as more of a threat to his mistress than the still-immobilized Thurloe, whose forehead was now dripping with sweat at the attempts to unlock his own mobility from the spell that damned elf had cast on him. The homunculus snapped its teeth at Xandro's throat but the nimble bard managed to duck aside just in time. Wakuren, still staggering from the acid coating him, shambled into a half-hearted attempt to strike the author of his misery with his shield and that allowed Xandro to sneak in again with a rapid thrust of his blade, once again chopping away at the elven wizard's stoneskin defense. At this pace, he hoped to have whittled it away to nothing in no time at all.

Another flurry of magic missiles came flying at Randalvael, who cursed at Zander in their shared tongue, little liking the fact he had no defenses against the spell while still having to deal with the dwarven priestess before him. Zander's magic missile spells were doing a fairly good job at balancing the scales against the ranger's vampiric blade, for the sorcerer's spells were dealing out more damage than Randalvael could replenish through attacking Alewyth with his black-bladed longsword. And over on the other side of the cavern, Wakuren breathed a sigh of relief as the Melf's acid arrow spell finally ran its course, allowing him to concentrate on the attack once again. He brought his shield slamming into the wizard, finally overcoming the last of her stoneskin protection. Wanting now nothing more so much as to escape this horrid melee combat, Kaernadasha cast a fly spell in preparation to seeking safety in the skies outside the cavern network she and her brother had set up as a means of capturing humans and selling them as slaves to races near and far - bugbears, gnolls, it mattered not to the elves. Xandro and Wakuren each attacked her as she flew past them, heading for the passageway her summoned yeth hound had taken. Podkin followed, snapping ineffectually one more time at Xandro as he passed the bard.

But then, just as it seemed they were going to get away, Thurloe finally freed himself from the wizard's accursed spell. She was too far away for him to be able to catch up to her, but she was still within visual range in his torchlight, so he raised a hand, pointed at her flying form, and cast a magic missile spell of his own, to the accompaniment of Xandro's tune of courageous inspiration, for once the wizard had gotten past him the bard decided his best role was to aid his friends who could still fight their attackers. Kaernadasha fell to the stone floor of the cavern in a lifeless heap, much to Thurloe's pleasure. With a gasp, her homunculus followed suit, its unholy life dependent upon the life force of its mistress.

Alewyth was still relying upon Sjondra to try to take out Randalvael, and the elf was starting to look the worse for wear, but then he activated an as-yet-unused power of his vampiric sword and the blade infused his whole body with positive energy, healing him completely. Astonishment - perhaps even bordering closely on despair - crossed Alewyth's face as she realized they were effectively starting their combat all over again, with all the work they'd put into wearing him down having been for naught.

Zander reacted by upping his combat spells from magic missile to his last scorching ray of the day. He howled in disappointment as the rays struck the side of the stone wall of the passageway, missing the ranger entirely. Randalvael laughed aloud at the frustration on the faces of his foes. "What do you expect, hanging out with humans?" he taunted in Elvish, dripping disdain upon the final word in his sentence.

But now that Kaernadasha had been taken out, Wakuren had nothing preventing him from making his way to Randalvael and attacking him from the other side. The evil ranger found himself in the middle of a pincer maneuver, with Wakuren's shield slamming him in his back (and very nearly toppling him into the spider pit, but the ranger kept his balance at the last moment) while Alewyth kept up the assault with Sjondra at his front. And now Thurloe cast another magic missile spell of his own at the ranger. He was still new enough to wizardry that he could only manage a single missile per casting but he deemed it him doing his part from so far away.

Xandro continue playing his lute; it was getting pretty crowded around the ranger slaver. And Randalvael knew just how close he'd been to falling into the spider pit. Wheeling around to face Wakuren, he sent his black blade cutting into the acid-scarred half-orc. "I see the blood of humanity has made you even less worthy of life!" he snarled in the Elven tongue, but his words were meaningless to Wakuren, who didn't even understand the language of his unknown orcish father's people, let alone Elven. He pretty much figured out the ranger's overall meaning, however, just from the look of disgust on his face. He tried grabbing the ranger's wrists to see if he could fling him into the pit, but Randalvael was too nimble for such a slow-moving attack by a man in heavy armor for it to have too much of a chance of success.

But Randalvael soon learned that turning his back upon Alewyth was a bad idea. She lowered Sjondra to her side and charged at the ranger's back, hitting him just above the beltline with her shoulder. He dropped his sword as he plummeted into the pit of spiders and only Wakuren grabbing Alewyth by the shoulder prevented her from falling down after him. He cursed and shrieked as the spiders swarmed over his body, biting him countless times in mere seconds.

"We can throw you down a rope and haul you out of there," Wakuren offered. "But we'll be turning you over to the authorities in Baron's Haven for your kidnapping scheme." He received only Elven cursing for a response. Thurloe wandered over to the edge of the pit and added, "And we killed the woman with you, in case you were wondering." Randalvael's response was cut short by the spiders climbing into his mouth as he tried to talk. Judging by the silence that followed, it didn't take long for the venom to claim his life.

Alewyth picked up the vampiric sword and brought it with her over in the cave the elven siblings had used as their own personal lair, judging from the two cots lined up along the back. She dropped it on the stone floor of the cave, then used Sjondra to sunder it into pieces. The magic warhammer not only shattered the blade into shards, it absorbed them into itself. Alewyth knew that as it absorbed magic weapons it would slowly be gaining in power itself, although the abilities of the weapons it destroyed in that fashion would have no bearing on its own future powers.

Thurloe scraped his bastard sword along the back wall until it found and shut down the illusory wall spell that had been hiding the siblings' treasure cave. While he and Xandro went inside to see what all it might contain, the other three looked at the other few items in the outer cave. There was a small table and two chairs, upon which sat a journal of some sort and a magic wand in the middle of being recharged. The writing in the book was in the Elven script; skimming through it, Zander saw it was a record of transactions the elves had made selling human slaves to various other races - some of them apparently living on nearby islands off the coast of the small continent of Armaturia.

Alewyth, however, was more interested in the small barrel along the wall opposite the cots. Lifting the lid, she was surprised to see it about a third full of water - and half a dozen frogs. A detect magic spell showed the frogs were all magical in nature somehow, which didn't make a whole lot of sense until Zander worked it out from notations in the journal: Kaernadasha used baleful polymorph spells to turn their human captives into frogs, which were then delivered to their new buyers, at which time she would undo the effects of the magic. Among the chests of coins, spellbooks, and the gear just recently confiscated from Viktor (the latter of which would be returned to the ranger), Thurloe and Xandro discovered a transport device made of a wooden bucket with a sealable lid, no doubt the means by which the frogs were carried by the manticore to their new masters before Kaernadasha returned them to human form - and a life of slavery. Unfortunately, while the journal detailed the humans by number and how much they were sold for, no specific names or their current locations were provided.

On the plus side, the wand was able to restore the six frogs back to human form. One of them was Lurec, Jacinda's missing husband. He was the most recent addition to the barrel of frogs; Kaernadasha's current mastery of wizardly spells only allowed her to cast one baleful polymorph spell each day.

By the time the group returned back to the cage cavern - now accompanied by six additional people - Bobo had chewed through the vines keeping Viktor imprisoned inside the cage. He stood dazed and blinking in confusion, until an owl flew into the cavern and alit upon his shoulder. "Celeste!" Viktor cried out in obvious relief, returning to his normal self now that his owl friend had returned. "I found Moonshadow," the owl said and sure enough the wolf trotted into the cavern. "And Amber told us you were already in here." The rescued humans huddled behind the adventurers in fear at the presence of the lupine carnivore, but Moonshadow just sighed. "Quit worrying," he said. "I don't eat people."

Celeste explained Viktor's condition to the adventurers as the rescued captives gathered together around Jacinda (the young woman especially pleased to see her husband safe and sound) and Xandro removed the manacle from around her ankle with the aid of his newly-purchased lockpicks. Viktor, it turned out, had suffered a head injury beyond their ability to heal properly and since then had suffered from a much diminished intellect. Fortunately, Celeste was not only a celestial owl but had studied wizardry and was able to telepathically communicate with the ranger, feeding him his lines to the point where he seemed almost like he was before the accident. Of course, this was only possible as long as the celestial owl maintained contact with the ranger; once separated, Viktor was without his advisor and reverted to his lower level of intellect.

"I think it high time we returned these good people to Baron's Haven!" declared Viktor, once more seeming like his own self. The group departed the cave network, glad to be out of its shadows and once more under the bright sun. They got a bit of a surprise when the tigress who was supposed to be guarding their riding mounts was nowhere to be seen. In her place was a short-haired blonde woman, wrapped in a blanket. But then she dropped the blanket and pitched forward out of the wagon, landing on all fours and once again resuming her tigress form. Alewyth had heard of druids of sufficient power and training being able to attain the forms of animals - she was pretty sure it was called "wildshaping." The weretiger thought she could guess the dwarf's assumptions about her but said nothing.

The captives were loaded into the back of the wagon and Wakuren turned the mules around back the way they had come, in the direction of Baron's Haven.

- - -

The authorities of Baron's Haven gave a reward of 2,000 gp for the rescue of the captives and the taking down of the elven slavers, which was split evenly between the two groups. Viktor allowed the adventurers to keep the elves' loot taken from their cave as a reward for having rescued him, which contained two vials of Keoghtom's ointment. Zander was also sure to retrieve his jade cooshee from the spider pit, and they also managed to claim Randalvael's boots of elvenkind and cloak of elvenkind. The players haven't decided who gets what yet, but while it would probably cause Randalvael to roll over in his grave if they allowed one or both of the humans to make use of the elven racist's items, Zander will likely end up with both. We'll see.

- - -

T-shirt worn: I have a shirt with a wolf superimposed on an American flag in the background, so that was the one that made the most sense to wear during a session involving a league made up primarily of beasts, especially when one of them was an awakened timber wolf.
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PC Roster:
Alewyth Putterpye, dwarf priestess of Aerik 5​
Thurloe Pulver, human fighter 3/wizard 2​
Wakuren, half-orc cleric of Cal 2/paladin 3​
Xandro Silverstrings, human bard 4/rogue 1​
Zander Quilson, elf sorcerer 5​

NPC Roster:
Calliope, moogle guide​
Doc, moogle guide​
Kupek, moogle guide​
Mogchamp, moogle guide​
Moki, moogle guide​

Game Session Date: 1 January 2022

- - -

As was the norm during their nighttime training sessions in the Dreamlands, as each member of the five-person band fell asleep and had their consciousness make the automatic transition to the Realm of Dreams, they were each met by their particular moogle guide: Calliope meeting up with the dwarven priestess Alewyth Putterpye; the goateed moogle Doc greeting the human Thurloe Pulver, who was versed in arcane magics as well as handy with a bastard sword; Kupek approaching Wakuren as the half-orc cleric-paladin entered the Dreamlands; Mogchamp leading the human bard-rogue Xandro Silverstrings to their normal meeting place; and Moki doing likewise with the elven sorcerer Zander Quilson. However, while normally the moogles would bring their respective charges together to be taught the nightly dreamwalking lessons by the head moogle, Mogo, this time they hung around with the dream versions of the five mortals in the service of the Queen of Dreams.

"Tonight we're going to do something different, kupo!" Mogo remarked once the five dreamwalkers were gathered together with their moogle guides. "Twice now you've come up against dreams that resisted your best efforts to rescue the dreamer, kupo. With any luck, the dreamstones you left on the dreamers' foreheads will charge up, allowing you to go back later on and have better luck - but we can't count on that, kupo! So we're going to try going into the heart of the Dreamlands, kupo!"

Mogo explained that the heart of the Dreamlands lie past the vast ocean of dream-bubbles representing individual dreams of individual dreamers and was a land of fairly stable geography that resisted the reshaping efforts of those entering the land - unlike individual dreams, which could be altered by a sufficiently trained dreamwalker, the heart of the Dreamlands was immutable. Some said this was due to it actually being the dream of a sleeping god, someone much more powerful than the moogles or their trained visitors from the Material Plane. But Mogo hoped the stable nature of the area would work to their benefit, for there was a place there in the heart of the Dreamlands where any individual dream could be called up and analyzed; with luck, by observing the two dreams of giant monsters - a three-headed gorynych in one and a massive gorilla in the other - they might learn how best to overcome the dreams and free the two people trapped by them.

"But because the heart of the Dreamlands is so stable, there's a change I need to make here before you embark on your journey, kupo!" declared Mogo, waving a kittenish paw before the bodies of the five dreamwalkers. As he did so, their bodies changed, altering from their normal mortal frames and taking on the appearances of moogles themselves. Each now sported a humanoid body covered in downy fur, with a pair of batlike wings growing from their shoulders and a single pom-pom dangling at the end of an antenna growing out of their foreheads. They were each now about half their normal height, but with enough wing-flapping they could maintain an aerial position where their eyes were about where they'd have been before their transformations. They found wing-flapping to grow easily tiring, however, and thus frequently dropped to the ground for a rest before trying it again. Their moogle guides all seemed to have no trouble maintaining their altitudes, so apparently with enough training the polymorphed mortals would pick up the hang of it.

"You're going to the land of the wild moogles, kupo!" Mogo informed the group at large. "They're not as smart as we are, but they know enough not to attack a fellow moogle so they should all leave you alone, kupo! But you'll need to be careful, because not everyone in the heart of the Dreamlands is a fan of moogles, kupo!"

"Interesting," observed Xandro, giving his new wings a try. He was glad to see his equipment was all the same; despite now wearing the form of a moogle he still had his Dardolian Lute strapped to his back and his sword belted at his hip. He looked over at the others and saw the same held true for them as well; despite their new forms the bard knew he'd have no trouble telling them apart.

"It'll take forever to go through the oceans of dream-bubbles, so we'll take the shortcut, kupo!" announced Mogo, leading the group of ten other moogles to the Corridor of Dreams. This was a maze of door-filled hallways but the primary moogle instructor had no trouble finding the exact door he sought. He opened it and it led not to a dream but to a set of stairs going down. "It's much quicker if we go through the basement, kupo!"

The basement level was another set of seemingly endless corridors, but Mogo led the group to a dead-end hallway that sported a thick, wooden door looking much older than the others and somehow even a bit weather-beaten. He opened it and flew to one side. "I won't be going with you, kupo - I have too many other duties here - but your guides know the way, kupo! I'll expect you to report back what you find upon your return, kupo!" And with that he ushered the ten moogles through the open doorway, closing it behind them once they had all passed through.

On the other side of the door was an ancient city now in ruins. The ten moogles were at street level among a vast array of crumbling walls and fallen pillars, all of it covered in tangling vines and thick growths of ivy and weeds. The buildings around them were all of a single level; in the distance a few structures of two or even three stories could be seen.

"We need to head toward the mountains, kupo!" said Calliope, leading the way forward through the ruins of the fallen city.

"Hang on," said Zander. "I want to cast a few spells before we go any further."

"Kupo!" cried Moki in a stern voice.

Zander was taken aback. "What?" he asked. "Isn't spellcasting allowed here?"

"KUPO!" echoed all five of the moogle guides. "Remember to say 'kupo' at the end of your sentences, kupo! There's no point in disguising you as a moogle if you're just going to give yourself away, kupo!" chided Moki, before answering his assigned mortal's question. "But yes, you can cast spells here, kupo."

Zander hurriedly cast a mage armor spell upon himself. Xandro cast a tongues spell on himself, not certain what types of creatures they might find in the land of the wild moogles and deciding it would be nice to be able to communicate with whoever they might encounter. Thurloe tried casting a shield spell but fumbled it; he was still getting used to being able to cast arcane spells while wearing armor and this wasn't the first time he'd messed up this same spell. He cursed quietly to himself, then remembered to add a "kupo" at the end. Then the group moved on, the five moogle guides remaining airborne on their tiny little wings and the other five alternately flying and walking in fits and bursts as their wings gave out. Collectively, they decided it would be best if they didn't try to fly too high off the ground until they got the hang of it a little better.

As the ten moogles ambled down the silent streets of the long-dead city, a form strode into the intersection ahead of them. It was simian in shape, maybe a foot and a half or two feet long, and when it turned its head in their direction they saw it looked somewhat like that of a mole with stubby, dangling tentacles hanging from its mouth area. Unlike a mole, its eyes were rather large and they glowed fiercely as the creature gazed at the ten moogles - and then it charged.

"Uh oh - it's a zoog, kupo!" called out Calliope, flying up higher out of reach of the furry creature. It bit Thurloe on the leg and the fighter-wizard in moogle form felt the zoog's unseen teeth dig deep into his flesh - the creature wasn't all that big, but its bite certainly hurt! He kicked the creature away and felt a trail of blood oozing down his leg from the bite wound. He brought his bastard sword out and down upon the zoog's head, cutting it deeply and dealing it much more damage than it had managed to inflict upon him, he felt. But the thing was still in the fight, hissing fiercely. Beside Thurloe, Doc followed Calliope's lead in flying straight up, but he continued on whereas the female moogle had just wanted to avoid the zoog's reach; Doc wanted a good aerial view of the area to make sure there weren't any other threats converging on them. For Doc well knew where there was one zoog there were quite often others around....

Zander cast a magic missile from his wand and slew the zoog before it had a chance to do any further damage. He moved up beside Thurloe, who was reaching down to feel the bite wound on his leg. "Damn thing's still bleeding...kupo," he added at the last moment.

"Might be something in the saliva, kupo," Alewyth added, moving closer to look at Thurloe's wound. Wakuren flew up and landed on the fighter's other side, while his moogle guide Kupek joined Doc in scanning the local area from a high vantage point. Xandro stayed in the back but pulled out his Dardolian Lute and began strumming the opening chords to his song of inspirational courage, for Mogchamp had warned the bard there were probably more of the zoogs around, waiting to strike.

And sure enough there were: eight of the little creatures spilled out of an L-shaped building to the group's left front while another half-dozen came rushing out of a gap in the wall of the crumbling building to their right. They swarmed over Thurloe, five of them biting at him with teeth hidden by their stubbly little facial tentacles while two other pairs bit at Wakuren and Zander, those snapping at the elf fortunately missing entirely. Thurloe's sword stabbed at one of the pests attacking him then took a step back, temporarily out of range. He now had three or four new wounds to add to his original one, blood from all of them flowing freely.

Zander also took a step back and tossed a tanglefoot bag at two of the zoogs, hoping to pin them in place. But the zoogs were quick little buggers and they avoided the bag; it exploded around them and some sticky particles got caught up in their fur, causing them only the minor inconvenience of not being able to move quite as rapidly as before. Alewyth brought Sjondra down on the head of one of the ones biting at Thurloe and it squeaked in pain and irritation.

"I've got a sound burst spell ready if you all step back, kupo!" called out Wakuren, looking around him and worrying that were he to cast his spell right then, in order to affect the maximum number of zoogs he'd have to include quite a few of his friends in the spell's area of effect. In the meantime, he swung the edge of his shield at one of the little pests, striking it a glancing blow.

Xandro continued his song as Thurloe hit another zoog and backed up out of range. Alewyth did likewise, conking a zoog with her warhammer before retreating beside Thurloe. Zander cast an expeditious retreat spell on himself and darted away through a rent in the wall of a building on the other side of the street, putting a stone wall between himself and Wakuren's intended spell-effect area. Then Wakuren cast his spell, the sonic wave blasting through the bodies of all but the two zoogs the farthest away and stunning over half of them - quite effective for a rather low-level spell, the half-orc thought to himself.

Doc and Kupek, however, saw another figure in a street one block over. It was a human girl dressed in rags, looking to be only about six or seven years old. Fearing she might hear the commotion and wander into danger, Kupek flew over her way and landed on the street before her. "Be careful kupo--" he started to say but the sudden appearance of the moogle apparently frightened the girl, who gave a little shriek and then turned and bolted back the way she had come, dodging into a small building through a rent in its wall.

Xandro rushed forward, his frost short sword in hand, and skewered one of the stunned zoogs, killing it. He got bitten for his trouble by another zoog, as a few of those not stunned by Wakuren's sound burst spell likewise snapped at Alewyth, Thurloe, and Wakuren. Now all but Zander Quilson sported bleeding wounds, the nimble elf having managed not to even have gotten bitten once yet. But he sped through the building in which he'd been hiding, popping out of a northern entrance and catching six zoogs in a burning hands spell, frying them all to a crisp. Thurloe and Alewyth each killed another with their respective weapons, as did Wakuren and Xandro a moment later. Then Alewyth and Wakuren backed off, allowing the others to slay the remaining zoogs while they cast healing spells on those who needed them, for zoog bites didn't deal a whole lot of damage at first but the continued blood loss - from each individual wound - certainly started adding up in no time at all.

Kupek reported to the others what he'd seen of the little girl and led the rest of the moogles to the building she'd ducked into. "She went in there, kupo," he said, pointing with a kittenish paw. The building was partially in ruins, with three entrances in all. The moogles spilt up and covered each of the entrances. "Are you okay in there, kupo?" called Thurloe into the darkness within. "We're not going to hurt you - we just want to make sure you're okay, kupo!" There was no answer.

Doc peeked his head inside the ruined structure and didn't see any little girl - but he did spot a spider on the ceiling along the north wall and quickly told the others. Wakuren poked his own head inside and saw the aranea just fine with his darkvision. Using his paladin training to check her aura for evil, he found none. "We'll leave you alone, kupo," Wakuren said. "If you've a taste for zoogs, there's over a dozen dead ones a block or so to the southwest, kupo." And with that, the group continued on their trek.

They made it through the rest of the ruined city without incident, reaching at last the base of the mountains. It would have been an arduous climb ahead of them had it not been for the set of wide stairs carved into the side of the mountain. "It's up this way, kupo!" said Calliope, leading the way.

Of course, even a nice, 20-foot-wide set of stairs started becoming a bit arduous after the first half mile or so. Each of the five adventurers started giving their moogle wings a good workout, if only because the steps had been built at a scale more comfortable for their mortal forms, not these half-sized moogle bodies they were currently inhabiting. Little moogle legs got pretty tired climbing step after step after step. There were statues on alternating sides every 40 feet or so, but these had been subject to the effects of time, for some were missing a head or an arm and others had had their features weathered away over the centuries. There were spaces where the stairs had worn away or had otherwise been broken, making for the occasional patches of somewhat problematic terrain. But that's where moogle wings came in handy.

"Uh oh - look there, kupo!" called out Mogchamp, pointing off to the open air to the right of their position - the mountain they were laboriously climbing stood to their left - where five flying figures could be seen. They were headed straight for the group of moogles.

"What are they, kupo?" asked Zander.

"Nightgaunts, kupo!" answered Moki. As the figures got closer, the group could see they looked somewhat like slender gargoyles - only gargoyles without any facial features whatsoever, their faces as smooth as some of the wind-scoured statues on the steps they'd passed. Each also sported a lengthy tail as black as the rest of the smooth-skinned creature.

"Are they normally found around here, kupo?" asked Alewyth as Thurloe frantically cast an expeditious retreat spell upon himself, wanting the extra mobility and not trusting his little moogle wings to reliably provide it.

"Not until recently, kupo!" Calliope answered, and then there was no more time for further discussion as the five nightgaunts barreled in to the attack.

There were twice as many moogles as there were nightgaunts but despite having no visible sensory organs the nightgaunts seemed to have no trouble at all differentiating which of the moogles before them were real and which were impostors. Without exception, each of the black-skinned gargoyles made a bee-line for the five dreamwalkers in temporary moogle disguise. Each struck out with a clawed hand ending in fearsome talons. Those attacking Alewyth and Xandro managed to scoop their victims into a tight embrace, leaving them all but helpless to attack and unlikely to break free from the much-stronger nightgaunts. Thurloe, Zander, and Wakuren managed to avoid being swept up, but not all avoided the initial talon-swipe that drew first blood in this sudden melee.

Zander managed to stagger to the side away from his attacker and cast a scorching ray spell into it, blasting it in a gout of flame. Thurloe attacked his with his bastard sword, drawing blood but no indication of pain on the nightgaunt's part - without facial features it didn't wince or grimace at the wound inflicted upon it by the fighter's blade. Alewyth and Xandro tried unsuccessfully to wrest free of their abductors' grasp, while Wakuren took a moment to examine the auras of the nightgaunts. Seeing them devoid of the taint of evil, he called out to them, "Can you communicate with us?" He had forgotten to add the "kupo" but at this point it was fairly evident they could tell true moogle from fake in any case. He got no response but when he saw the two embracing Alewyth and Xandro take back off the way they had come, the half-orc realized there would be no point in fighting off the remaining three - best they all stayed together. As a result, he lowered his shield to his side and stood rigid, telling the nightgaunt, "There's no need for us to fight. We surrender. Go ahead and take us where you will." He allowed the nightgaunt to wrap its arms around him and fly off, headed in the same direction as the other two.

Zander looked over at Thurloe, not sure if he liked this idea. "Are we doing this?" he asked.

Thurloe estimated the speed at which the nightgaunts were flying and determined it was faster than the moogles could fly - and he didn't trust either his or Zander's ability to stay aloft for very long in any case, plus it was a long way down to the ground from this altitude. He sighed and sheathed his sword. "Yeah, I guess we are," he said, allowing the nightgaunt to gather him up and fly away with him. Zander did likewise and the nightgaunt he'd burned with his spell wrapped his arms around the sorcerer and flew off with him. The five moogle guides followed at their best speed, and after a little while it became apparent the nightgaunts had slowed their own speed to allow the moogles to catch up with them.

After a brief flight, which the adventurers spent with their faces crushed to the chests of their nightgaunt captors, they were deposited on a ledge overlooking a mountaintop. The five moogles fluttered to a halt beside them as the nightgaunts flapped their leathery wings and took to the air again, their mission complete. They soon disappeared behind another mountain peak, lost to view.

"Hey, wait a minute, kupo!" cried Calliope, looking around. "This is where we were headed in any case, kupo! The dream-viewing pillars are inside that cave there, kupo!" She pointed at a cave opening at the other side of the ledge, a full 15 feet wide and about 10 feet tall, leading into darkness.

And then a figure stepped out of the darkness of the cave opening. As he advanced into the sunlight, all five moogle guides gave a unified gasp of surprise and disbelief. The figure stood a good eight feet tall, with crooked antlers spreading out like a crown of tree limbs around his vaguely bull-like head. He wore metal armor around his massive chest, while the lower part of his body was obscured by cloth robes that reached to his cloven-hooved feet.

"The Nightmare King, kupo!" gasped Calliope.

The antlered figure ignored this outburst, looking over at the five interlopers to the Dreamlands. He waved his hand in the same manner as Mogo had earlier and the moogle disguises were rent asunder; each adventurer now stood looking like they did back on the Mortal Plane. "You work for the Queen," snarled the Nightmare King, a sneer of contempt on his black lips. "Your efforts will prove ineffectual against me," he warned. "But by all means, go inside and see for yourselves. You will at least learn something of what you're up against, for all the good it will do you." And then he crossed his arms against his barrellike chest and faded from view, leaving only a hearty laugh behind which echoed for a moment and then was silent.

"So who's this Nightmare King?" demanded Thurloe.

"He's...we thought he was only a legend, kupo," admitted Doc, gulping nervously. "Every so often, a herd of nightmares - those black horses with the flaming manes and hooves - goes racing through the ocean of dream-bubbles, turning the dreams into frightful, menacing nightmares for the dreamers involved, kupo. There's always been talk that there was a Nightmare King behind it all, but the Queen of Dreams has always believed it to be just that, a legend and nothing more, kupo."

"We'll have to let her know it's more than a legend, kupo," pointed out Moki.

"Definitely, kupo," confirmed Mogchamp.

"Well, let's go see what's in the cave," decided Thurloe. "If we're going to report back to her, it might as well be a full report." He took a step towards the cave and stopped at the entrance, allowing his eyes to adjust to the gloom. Without being asked, Doc cast a dancing lights spell over the fighter's head, causing little balls of illumination to circle in place above his head like a halo. The other four moogles did likewise for their own counterpart dreamwalkers.

Thurloe stepped into the cave, his bastard sword back in hand. Off to his right was a pile of well-chewed bones, while straight ahead the floor dipped in a series of natural flowing steps, leading further down into darkness. "Be carful, kupo," warned Doc, following his mortal partner. Then, his innate darkvision allowing him to see farther into the cave than could Thurloe's human eyes, he called out, "Two wild moogles, kupo!"

"Where?" demanded Thurloe, who couldn't see them in the darkness at the back of the cave.

"There and there, kupo!" answered Doc, pointing with his kittenish paws. "They won't attack us, but you five no longer look like moogles, kupo!"

Zander moved up beside Thurloe, Moki hovering right behind him. The elven sorcerer cast a bear's endurance spell upon himself, anticipating a near-future need. He squinted into the cave, struggling to use his innate elven low-light vision to see further into the cavern than Thurloe could. He could make out some sort of feline form - and then it was upon him!

The two wild moogles - a mated pair - rushed forward, charging into Thurloe and Zander. Each was about the size of a black panther, albeit one sporting a pair of batlike wings and a single pom-pom from a thin antenna sprouting from the forehead. Unlike the kittenish moogle guides, these seemed to be of no more than animal intelligence - and hungry animals at that. Sharp claws ripped across the two dreamwalkers' chests. those ripping through Zander's robes dealing more damage than those scraping across Thurloe's heavier armor.

Alewyth and Wakuren reacted immediately with the same response and a pair of spiritual weapons manifested in the air in front of them and then raced to attack the two feline foes, the warhammer from Alewyth striking the male attacking Thurloe and the heavy mace from Wakuren swinging (and missing) the female attacking Zander. Seeing the somewhat cramped fighting space along the natural stone steps leading down into the larger cavern, Xandro started his song of inspirational courage on his Dardolian lute.

Thurloe's bastard sword swung into the male wild moogle's shoulder, eliciting a yowl of pain from the winged panther. Zander had cried out in a yowl of pain himself from the female's attack with her claws; dropping the figurine of wondrous power at his feet and barking out the command word, he stepped back as the jade cooshee grew instantly to life and protected his elven master.

The male, angered at the sword-slice he had received, batted its claws at Thurloe and bit at him with the impressive set of fangs in its wide mouth. The female did likewise to the cooshee before it, drawing parallel grooves of blood across the elven dog's back and side and clamping down on its neck with its wicked teeth. In a matter of mere seconds the cooshee was already on its last legs.

Alewyth's spiritual warhammer dipped down and struck at the male wild moogle, just barely missing. The dwarven priestess opted to add another spell to the combat, casting a summon nature's ally III spell that brought a celestial black bear into being directly behind the female currently savaging the poor cooshee. The bear swiped its claws against the female wild moogle's flank, causing it to howl in surprise and pain.

Wakuren slipped past the wild moogles, accepting a strike from the female's claws as the price for him to get where he wanted to be: namely, directly behind them. Then, positioned where he figured it would do the most good, he cast an obscuring mist spell, enveloping both wild moogles on the edges of the spell's area of effect. That, he figured, would make it more difficult for the winged felines to see their intended prey. In the meantime the half-orc's spiritual heavy mace swung and missed the female wild moogle for a second time.

Xandro brought out his light crossbow and sighted a shot at the male wild moogle, catching it in the shoulder. Thurloe compounded its pain with another well-placed strike with his bastard sword, then stepped back, forcing the wild moogle to come to him to continue his own attacks with tooth and claw. Zander cast a scorching ray spell at the female who had clawed him up, while his loyal cooshee pressed on with his own attacks despite his terrible wounds. But the elven dog's attacks were his last, as the wild moogle ripped his throat out a moment later and he collapsed back into his jade cooshee form.

Alewyth's spiritual warhammer clonked the male wild moogle but good on the head while she cast a bless spell on the assembled group. "You guys are doing great, kupo!" called out Calliope from the back ranks where the five moogle guides had assembled, staying well out of range of the combat. They, after all, were mere dream guides, not used to having to fight for their lives.

The celestial bear attacked the female wild moogle again, causing her to leap fully out of the area of obscuring mist and whatever unknown creature lived within there. She focused her attacks upon Alewyth, who now stood before her. Wakuren took a moment to heal himself with a cure light wounds spell enhanced by the power of his ring, then dismissed his obscuring mist spell which wasn't quite the impediment he had hoped it to be. With the mist dissolved and his own dancing lights spell orbiting above his head, he could see a pool of clear water off to his right. Thurloe by this time had taken an incredible amount of damage from the wild moogle's teeth and claws and Xandro stepped forward, casting a healing spell though his Dardolian Lute to seal up the worst of the fighter's wounds. Thurloe stepped further back and cast a magic missile spell at the wild moogle while he caught his breath.

Another scorching ray flashed out from Zander's fingertips, hitting the male wild moogle this time. The celestial bear stepped forward, continuing its attacks upon the female wild moogle. Wakuren activated his ring of invisibility and tried slipping past the wild moogles again, hopefully to set himself up for a flanking maneuver with one of his friends. It was then he learned that wild moogles have quite excellent senses, for despite his invisibility the female was able to discern his exact location and claw him along his side as he moved past into position. His spiritual heavy mace swung and missed for a final time before winking out, causing the half-orc to swear at its complete uselessness during this particular casting of the spell.

His healing successfully completed, Xandro stepped back and grabbed up his crossbow again, shooting another bolt into the male wild moogle. Thurloe then struck the killing blow with his bastard sword, glad to have finally seen the end of the vile beast. Zander cast a magic missile spell at the remaining wild moogle while her focus was still on Alewyth, who was now facing the snarling beast with Sjondra while her spiritual warhammer got in a final blow before winking out as well, its duration having expired. Wakuren popped back into visibility as he brought his shield crashing down on the female wild moogle, even as the celestial bear clawed her from the other side. Xandro shot a bolt into her side and then Thurloe once again gave the killing blow, his bastard sword cutting deep into her flesh. She crashed to the stone floor of the cavern as the celestial bear vanished from sight, returning to whatever heavenly plane it had come from in answer to Alewyth's summons.

"Great job, kupo!" enthused Moki as Alewyth and Wakuren cast healing spells upon the wounded. Calliope led the moogles into the lower cavern, where a small opening on the far side of the pool of water led to the cave they sought. Wakuren caused his rope of climbing to attach from a stalagmite next to the pool of water with one end to a hanging stalagmite in the far cave with the other, providing a means of entry for those not currently sporting moogle wings. Alewyth, not trusting herself climbing along a rope, guzzled down a potion of gaseous form, drifting across the pool and sliding through the opening to enter the far cave.

Thurloe and Doc were the first ones into the cave and the moogle gave out a cry of disbelief. "It's been shattered, kupo!" Sure enough, the back half of the cave was covered in shards of broken rock and there were two flat-topped ovals showing where the dream-viewing pillars had once stood. A pair of sheared-off projections from the ceiling directly overhead showed where the pillars once connected. "The Nightmare King made sure we couldn't use the pillars to affect those two dreams, kupo!" Anguish was clearly noticeable in the elderly moogle guide's voice.

And then as Thurloe stepped fully into the cave and Wakuren came in, invisibly, behind him, Doc called out a much quieter warning: "I saw something moving over behind the ruins of the farthest pillar, kupo!" Thurloe looked to where the moogle had indicated and saw the shape of a reptilian head glide to the side. As it slithered forward and raised its head, Doc called out, "It's a hypnalis viper, kupo!" Knowing these to be of mere animal-level intellect as well, Doc used a speak with animals spell to communicate with the serpent. "Why are you here, kupo?" he asked.

"I am the reception committee of the Nightmare King," replied the serpent. "I am here to give the Queen's interlopers the reception they deserve." And then the serpent lashed out, striking forward with such speed it almost seemed to float across the room, snapping its venom-dripping fangs at Thurloe, who only managed to barely avoid the creature's bite.

By then Zander had climbed into the cave and cast a magic missile spell at the serpent. Wakuren leaped forward and brought the bottom edge of his shield crashing down upon the serpent's back, returning himself to visibility as he did so. Xandro entered the cave behind the elf and took up his song of inspirational courage, hoping to boost the combat prowess of those already involved in fighting off the massive snake.

Thurloe felt the bard's magic aim his strike as he brought the blade of his bastard sword slicing through the serpent's scales. But then the snake was upon him, biting his neck and sending its venom coursing through the fighter's blood. Worse yet, it kept its hold on Thurloe's neck and wrapped him up in the coils of its sinuous body, squeezing the very life out of him in the manner of a constrictor snake.

Zander cast a ray of enfeeblement spell at the hypnalis viper, hoping to weaken its grip upon Thurloe, but the ray missed the writhing snake altogether. Alewyth maneuvered her cloudlike body directly over the snake and released the gaseous form spell effect, returning her to solid matter and allowing gravity to boost her swing of Sjondra at the snake's head. It was a good thought, but the warhammer also missed its mark as the serpent thrashed around with its prey.

Wakuren slammed his shield into the snake again and Xandro stepped up to the fight with his frost short sword before the snake's prey simply...wasn't there any more. Pinned tightly by coils of muscle he knew he couldn't overcome, Thurloe had used his magical anklet of translocation to dimension door himself 10 feet away from the serpent. But the serpent wasn't particularly picky about its targets and randomly chose Xandro as its next victim. It struck at the bard with the quickness of a cobra, injecting venom into his neck as it wrapped the coils of its body around the bard and started squeezing the breath from Xandro's body. While part of Xandro's mind was reminding him this was all just happening in the Dreamlands and if he was "killed" here he'd likely just wake back up on the Mortal Plane, it was one thing to know that dispassionately and another thing entirely not to want to panic at the inexorable crushing of the hypnalis viper's sinuous coils....

Zander cast another magic missile at the serpent, falling back on a spell he knew he couldn't accidentally miss with. Alewyth hit it with Sjondra as Wakuren bashed it with the edge of his shield and Thurloe applied his own weapon to the fight. And eventually their combined efforts were successful and the hypnalis viper lay dead before them, its muscles relaxing in death to the extent Xandro was able to pull himself free. He held a hand to the wounds at his neck, where the viper had bitten him and injected him with its venom. "Let me look at that, kupo," said Mogchamp, frowning at Xandro's wounds.

The moogle guides spent a lot of time examining the viper's fangs (and the drops of venom dripping from them), as well as Xandro and Thurloe's wounds, to the point they had Alewyth and Wakuren hold off casting healing spells on the two until their examinations were complete. "What's the concern?' asked Thurloe, frowning in puzzlement.

"This isn't good, kupo," replied Doc. "This isn't good at all, kupo."

Calliope pulled the snake's mouth back so the others could get a good look at its fangs. "Do you have something we can put some of the venom in, kupo?" she asked and Alewyth unpacked an empty glass vial that had once held a magical potion. As the two women busied themselves extracting venom for further study, Moki picked up the discourse. "You know how dreamstones are found on the Mortal Plane but can affect things here in the Dreamlands, kupo? Well, it seems the Nightmare King has found a way to create a creature whose venom, here in the Dreamlands, can affect people in the Mortal World, kupo."

"You mean--?" broke off Xandro, holding a hand to his neck wounds.

"I mean, kupo, that if that venom had run its course there's a very good chance you'd have ended up in a dream coma like the other victims you've been rescuing, kupo," replied Mogchamp.

"Then heal me!" cried Xandro, and at Calliope's nodded acceptance Alewyth cast a healing spell on the bard's wounds. Wakuren meanwhile did likewise to Thurloe's wounds. Then, no longer bearing any puncture wounds on their necks and hoping the injected venom had done all it was going to do - Xandro felt a little woozy but not all that much the worse for wear - they decided they'd seen all they needed to see here. It was time to return back to the Queen of Dreams and report back what they'd seen.

"She's not going to believe this, kupo," Kupek said.

"We all saw what we saw, kupo," Moki replied. "She'll believe us, kupo."

"And at least we now know what's causing the dream sickness," Alewyth added. "But what's the Nightmare King getting from all of this? And how do we stop him?"

Those were good questions, but nobody had any answers for now.

- - -

This turned out to be a good adventure to run on New Year's Day, as it gave some answers to what's been going on in the first quarter of the campaign. And it was different enough - an adventure taking place entirely in the Dreamlands - that running it on our traditional New Year's Day session made it kind of special. I printed out NPC stats for the five moogle guides, so for this adventure each player ran their normal PC as well as their own moogle guides. And I made up special initiative cards for this adventure, too, incorporating the PCs' heads cropped onto a moogle body.

The zoogs were a lot more fun than I had anticipated, for despite their bite only dealing 1 point of damage (1d3-2), they continued to bleed for 1 point per round until healed and each wound added separate damage. Thurloe took the record by having a condition of "bleed 6" at one point, so it became necessary to break off combat for a round to apply healing to those who might otherwise bleed out - that was a fun aspect that hasn't really come into play before.

And after we were done playing through the adventure and packing up, we headed upstairs to our living room and did our Christmas gift exchange, as has been our ritual for the past dozen years or so. (Dan and Vicki and family usually spend Christmas with various out-of-state relatives.) So all in all it was a good session, although we got the worst snow of the winter thus far and needed to shovel the driveway so Dan, Vicki, and Joe could head on home afterwards.)

- - -

T-shirt worn: My Einstein shirt, which has him blowing colored smoke from a pipe which forms galaxies above his head - it's my "go to" shirt to represent the Dreamlands.
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PC Roster:
Alewyth Putterpye, dwarf priestess of Aerik 5​
Thurloe Pulver, human fighter 3/wizard 2​
Wakuren, half-orc cleric of Cal 2/paladin 3​
Xandro Silverstrings, human bard 4/rogue 1​
Zander Quilson, elf sorcerer 5​

Game Session Date: 15 January 2022

- - -

"I'm just saying," Thurloe Pulver continued. He was sitting in the front of the wagon beside Wakuren, who held the reins to the mules. Thurloe's horse, Horse, was tethered to the back of the vehicle by a rope and was plodding along, while the others rode their own mounts behind the wagon. The road was little more than a mere suggestion by this point; Wakuren steered the mules over a shallow creek to stick to the smoothest section of land in a small gorge. On either side of them, some distance away, the rocks rose up ten feet or so. Scrub brush was everywhere, as well as a few stunted trees here and there.

Thurloe pressed on with his argument. "Lots of adventurers have a name for their groups. I just think we need a name for ourselves."

"I'm not inherently opposed to the idea," Wakuren said. "I just don't know if I want us to be known by that particular name."

"Why not? 'The Pulverizers' is a great name!"

"For one thing, it makes it sound like you're our leader," piped up Alewyth from her dire goat mount. "And I'm not sure if you realize it, but you're not."

"It also sounds inherently violent," Wakuren added.

"We are!" countered Thurloe.

"Some of us try not to be. I don't even carry a weapon for that very reason."

Fortunately for the half-orc, their conversation was interrupted by the sound of a little girl calling from behind a clump of heavy scrub ahead and to the right. "Hey, come over here and take a look at what I found!" the voice said. "Leave your animals and weapons behind, you won't need them - it's safe!" Along with the little girl's words, the heroes could feel a distinct twinge in their minds, trying to compel them to obey the implanted suggestion.

But the minds of the five dreamwalkers were tougher than that. "Well, that's not at all suspicious!" scoffed Thurloe, pulling the bastard sword from the scabbard on his back. Xandro notched a bolt into his crossbow and steered his horse White over to the right, since there was no room to pass it on the left. Off to his right was another clump of thick scrub brush and it was from behind there that the first wave of ambushers made their presence known. A humanoid hyena-man rode astride a dire hyena the size of a draft horse while behind him ran a hyena of a more standard size. Xandro got a shot off at the gnoll as the dire hyena bit at White, catching the upper part of the horse's right front leg in its jaws. Its bite prevented White from bucking but the dire hyena was unable to bring the horse to the ground. At the same time, the gnoll was busy making hand gestures and barking out gruff syllables that the bard recognized as some sort of spellcasting; sure enough, a dire badger suddenly appeared before the mules and bit at Mica's legs.

And that was apparently the signal for the rest of the ambushers to make themselves known. Up on a ledge to the right, eight gnolls popped up from behind a ring of boulders and scrambled to the tops of the rocks, pointing their shortbows down at the adventurers and their mounts. Four arrows went flying down at the wagon, narrowly missing both Wakuren and Thurloe. Two more gnolls dropped the clumps of brush they'd been holding up to shield themselves from view up on the ledge to the left and brought their own shortbows to bear. Another arrow went whizzing past Thurloe's ear while one more actually hit Wakuren, only to be deflected by the half-orc's metal armor.

Zander pulled the jade cooshee from his pocket and dropped it to the ground, activating it with a command word. The elven dog sprang to life, took in the situation in a moment, and raced for the dire hyena. His master brought his horse Eddy around to the right of the wagon to get himself into a better position. Thurloe, in the meantime, leaped down from the wagon - which Wakuren had brought to a halt given the dire badger in the way of their progress - and raced into battle, bringing his blade down on the summoned creature clawing at Mica. He activated his magical torc of the titans to increase the power of his swing. The dire badger hissed in pain at the blow and foamed at the mouth in outrage.

Alewyth jumped down from Pyrite and slapped her dire goat on his hindquarters to get him to flee back the way they'd come - she wanted him out of danger, especially given the presence of several carnivorous predators. Then she made a quick prayer to Aerik, God of Protection, for a bless spell to guide her friends' attacks against these gnolls and their animal companions.

It was at this point the "little girl" made an appearance: dashing out from behind the camouflaging bushes came a hideous creature with the head of a badger, the body of a hyena, and the legs of a stag, the whole thing as big as a riding horse. "None of you came to see what I found!" it pouted in its eerie, little-girl voice. Then its voice changed to sound more like that of one of its gnoll companions. "So I guess we'll have to do this the hard way!" It pranced forward, making a bee-line for Thurloe, still in combat with the summoned dire badger.

Wakuren cast a spiritual weapon spell and sent the heavy mace of force energy flying up to harass the gnoll archers up on the left ledge. Mica kicked out at the dire badger as the hyena bit at White, just as the horse had extricated himself from the jaws of the larger beast while the dire hyena fended off the attacks from the cooshee. Xandro, fearing his mount was soon to be wrestled to the ground and not wanting to be thrown prone as well, leaped from the saddle onto the back of the wagon. White panicked and fled, joining Pyrite out of harm's way - and Xandro breathed a sigh of relief. But then the gnoll druid leaped from his dire hyena mount and followed the bard into scampering up onto the back of the wagon, foregoing any spellcasting to bring his battleaxe swinging into the bard. Xandro just barely ducked in time, while Zander cast a magic missile spell at the gnoll druid.

The dire hyena bit the elven dog and grappled him down to the ground, tearing at the cooshee's throat, while behind them the dire badger took another bite at Mica's leg. Thurloe, Wakuren, and Xandro all found themselves targeted by the gnoll archers on the ledge to the right, some of them coming a bit too close for comfort. With a mighty struggle, the cooshee regained his footing - only to have his throat ripped out by the dire hyena's powerful jaws. But if the massive beast had been looking for a meal he was out of luck, for the cooshee merely reverted back to its statuette form and fell to the hard-packed earth. It didn't get long to mourn its lost meal, however, for Alewyth was upon it, striking with her dwarven warhammer Sjondra.

Tapping into the power of his magical torc again, Thurloe slew the dire badger with his bastard sword; as a summoned creature, it disappeared back to wherever it had been called from by the gnoll druid. It was no longer blocking the path of the mules but neither of them was eager to move forward and close the distance with the approaching leucrotta; on top of that, Mica's right front leg was bleeding heavily where it had been savaged by the badger's teeth and he hobbled awkwardly in place.

Thurloe and Wakuren were each hit by an arrow shot by the archers on the the ledge to the left (one of them fleeing to the side to avoid the half-orc's spiritual heavy mace); Wakuren managed to deflect the arrow off his shield. But by then the leucrotta had crossed the span and was snapping its wicked teeth at Thurloe, who was hard-pressed to keep it at bay. Wakuren turned his attention to the eight gnoll archers over on the far ledge and cast a wind wall spell across the front edge of the embankment, just in front of the boulders upon which the gnolls were perched.

Alewyth now found herself in the unenviable position of being the primary target for both the hyena and his larger cousin; she wisely focused her attention on the greater threat, making sure those wicked jaws didn't get a hold on her. Over on the wagon, Xandro spun about and stabbed the druid through the midsection with his frost short sword, killing him instantly; he pitched off the side of the wagon to fall dead in the dirt.

Another volley of arrows came streaming from the eight gnolls to the right, only to have them suddenly swerve upwards as a result of the wind wall spell Wakuren had cast. The gnolls grumbled at the unseen effect; unable to determine how far the spell extended they stowed their shortbows and grabbed up their battleaxes, snarling in anger all the while. Then they leaped down from their boulders and started lowering themselves down the steep slope of the gorge, those passing through the wind wall effect yelping in startlement as their fur was ruffled in the passing.

Zander cast a scorching ray spell at the dire hyena and it fell over to the ground, its fur aflame as it died. Alewyth took the opportunity to focus her attacks on the druid's hyena companion and crushed its skull with Sjondra. Thurloe used his magic torc for the last time that day to put every iota of power he could into his swing, sending his blade deep into the side of the leucrotta, who spit blood and cried out in what the fighter had to assume was its natural voice, for it was no longer attempting to sound like a little girl or one of its gnoll compatriots. It snapped its jaws at Thurloe and lashed out at him with his front hooves, but the attacks were slow and sluggish as the creature's life-blood poured out of its side. But then another volley of arrows came flying down at Wakuren and Thurloe from the left. "Can't you do something about them?" groused the fighter as an arrow struck him in the arm and veered off, leaving a trail of blood along his bicep.

"I did all I could," Wakuren replied as his spiritual heavy mace took a final swing at one of the gnoll archers, killing him, and then winked out of existence. "I don't have another wind wall spell prepared!" But the half-orc ran around to the back of the leucrotta, hoping to catch it in a pincer maneuver while its focus was on Thurloe and his deadly bastard sword. Xandro wasn't particularly overeager to leave the relative safety of the wagon so he pulled out his Dardolian lute and began strumming his song of courageous inspiration, allowing the magic of his song to guide his friends' weapon-strikes. It looked like they'd be needing it soon, too, for the gnolls had scrambled down from the rise and were now racing over towards those of the heroes on foot in front of and to the side of the wagon.

Zander was still astride his horse Eddy and sent a magic missile at one of the approaching gnolls; it hit him straight on but the gnoll kept coming. Thurloe finished off the leucrotta in time to whirl about and face the approaching gnolls, each wielding a battleaxe and wearing a look of battle lust on its muzzled face. Then Thurloe took another arrow to the shoulder, cursed, and plucked it from his arm. Alewyth saw the glare Thurloe passed Wakuren's way and cast a spiritual weapon spell of her own, the force-weapon taking the shape of a dwarven war axe. She sent it flying up at the remaining gnoll archer on the left ridge that was sniping at Thurloe.

Wakuren faced the charging gnolls and cast a sound burst in their midst, causing three of them to slow and stumble to a dazed halt, stunned into inaction. Xandro set his lute aside in the back of the wagon and leaped back down from it, running up to the gnoll Zander had just hit with a magic missile. His lateral sword-slice almost decapitated the gnoll at the neck and it fell to the ground in an unmoving heap. But then the other gnolls struck, three of them surrounding Wakuren, the sound of their axe-heads crashing against the half-orc's shield causing a cacophony that echoed throughout the gorge. Two more gnolls took on Thurloe, but his bastard sword's extra reach managed to keep them at bay. Zander cast another magic missile at one of the ones fighting Thurloe, merely because he was the closest. Thurloe's blade wheeled on the other one attacking him, bringing him crashing to the ground in a dead heap.

Another arrow came flying down from the left ledge as the archer there got a shot off between dodging Alewyth's spiritual weapon spell. It missed Thurloe by no more than a hair's breadth and he swore again. But then the dwarven priestess charged into battle with Sjondra gripped tightly in her hand, slaying the gnoll Zander had just shot. Thurloe nodded his appreciation at the assist and turned to help Wakuren take down the three he was fighting.

It took a little longer - especially after the trio Wakuren had momentarily stunned snapped out of it and showed up as a sort of reserve force - but between a scorching ray spell from Zander, Alewyth's warhammer, Thurloe's bastard sword, Xandro's short sword, and Wakuren's shield, the last remaining gnoll ended up being the second sniper up on the ledge to the left. Seeing the one-sided pile of dead on the ground below him, he opted to high-tail it as fast as he could, fleeing along the ledge in the direction the mule-wagon had been going. Alewyth's spiritual war axe followed him for as far as the priestess could see him, then returned to her side once the fleeing gnoll was out of sight.

Alewyth went after her dire goat and Xandro fetched White. Healing spells were applied not only to the heroes in need of them, but also to Mica and White, both of whom had incurred serious wounds during the ambush. "So now what?" asked Zander.

"What?" asked Thurloe.

"Do we just go on the way we were going, or do we track down that remaining gnoll, the one who escaped?"

"What's one gnoll going to do?" countered Thurloe.

"We don't know there's just the one of them," pointed out Alewyth. "This might have just been a raiding party from a larger group, and if they're ambushing travelers...."

"Plus, there's those elven slavers," Xandro added. "They were selling human slaves to other races in the general area. Could be the gnolls were customers."

"...Fine," grumbled Thurloe. He was eager to get on with their original goal, to head over to the next dream victim, but he supposed checking out the remaining gnoll wasn't going to take too long. For one thing, he'd been bleeding from the spiritual weapon strikes from Alewyth's spell; for another, none of the gnolls had been particularly interested in covering their tracks and it wasn't difficult at all to backtrack the way they'd come. Their trail led inexorably to the mountains in the distance, trailing the main road. Wakuren was pleased for the mules' sakes that their trail paralleled the road, making pulling their wagon no greater of a burden than necessary.

Eventually, a stone structure came into view at the base of the Shieldwall Mountains. It was mostly oval in shape, with two main entrances the group could see: a standard-sized one along the long edge of the oval and a much larger set of doors off to the south end. "It's an arena," Alewyth said. As they got closer to it and could make out more details, she added, "Dwarven construction, several centuries old. And consecrated to Thunderwolf, it looks like - makes sense." Thunderwolf was the God of War, so it was perfectly logical a combat arena would be built in His honor.

"I don't see any guards," said Zander, shielding his eyes from the sun and scanning the arena from one end to the other.

"Gnolls tend to be lazy," Thurloe pointed out. "Probably think nobody'd dare attack them in their lair."

That turned out to be the case. The group abandoned their wagon and animals down the road from the arena and cautiously made their way to the dwarven structure. On the way, Wakuren removed his ring of invisibility and handed it to Xandro. "Here," he said. "You've been practicing being sneaky - you ought to wear this." It was true; Xandro had been expanding his repertoire beyond just singing and playing the lute and the boots and cloak of elvenkind he'd taken from Randalvael the elven slaver were certain to aid him in his sneaking about. But doing so while invisible was an even better deal, so the bard took the proffered ring and slipped it onto his finger, activating it and slipping from the visible spectrum.

After a brief discussion, the group decided against the larger set of doors to the south, figuring that was the entrance the dire hyena and leucrotta probably used; if there were any more of those beasts around they'd rather not deal with them right away. The front entrance was flanked by what the group assumed were ticket booths: small rooms jutting out with barred open windows where presumably, when the arena had been active, one could purchase a seat to watch the gladiatorial combats inside. The doors were stone and neither locked nor barred; Wakuren was able to pull them open without any fuss. Then the group split up, with Thurloe and Alewyth heading south and the other three heading north. They ended up on opposite ends of a long hallway and decided to check out the doors accessible along that corridor, discovering a storage area; a sealed treasure vault with mostly empty lockboxes stored along the back wall (although Xandro found one whose contents, for whatever reason, hadn't been emptied after he managed to pick the lock to the vault's door); and an armory where the gladiator weapons were stored. It was obvious from the empty slots in the weapon racks that the gnolls had raided the armory and were using the dwarven-crafter weapons for their own.

But then the group decided to stick together and went back north. They found the baths, filled with brackish water, and then, around the corner, a room that had been modified since the dwarves had built the arena long ago: it now had a crude bar preventing the door from being opened from the inside. Thurloe pulled the bar away and Wakuren opened the door, only to find three human women who were shocked to see someone other than their gnoll captors opening the door. They explained they were from Baron's Haven and had been captured by the manticores in league with the elven slavers, then sold to the gnolls. There were three men in a similar room just down the hallway, on the other side of the northern door to the arena.

All of this explanation was given in hushed voices, for the entire southern wall of the women's slave chamber was open to the arena and covered in metal bars to prevent actual access there. But from the vantage point the group could see another eight gnolls on the arena sands, six of them curled up in sleep along the curved wall of the arena, with the other two talking to each other at the far side of the sands. Another dire hyena sat near them, while at least two gnoll archers patrolled the stadium seating. "There's also the Pack Leader," whispered one of the slaves, "but we haven't actually seen her for days now. She's made the royal box her personal lair." The royal box jutted out on the west side of the arena, providing the best view of the combats that would have occurred below.

"So what do the gnolls have you do?" asked Zander.

"We prepare their food for them, when they let us out to do so," whispered one of the slaves.

"And when they've been successful in their hunting," another added. "When the food gets low, they...just take one of us as their next meal." She shuddered at the memory of the few times she'd seen that occur since her own captivity.

"Well, we're getting you all out of here, and that's a promise," said Alewyth.

"Yeah, eventually," chimed in Thurloe. "For right now, though, you ladies stay put right where you are. It's safer here until we deal with the rest of the pack."

"What's the plan?" Xandro asked.

"I think Alewyth and I are going back to the south entrance, ready to pop through the south gate there when we hear the fighting begin. Zander, you stay here with the women - I assume you can cast your spells through the bars here?" Zander assured him he could. "Then Wakuren, you wait here at the door, and Zander'll warn you when he sees the first of the archers go down."

"And me?" asked Xandro.

"You're going to find your way up to the stadium seats there, invisible, and kill the archer. That'll be the signal for the rest of us to attack." Alewyth cast protection from evil spells on herself and Thurloe as the two made their way back down the corridor they'd explored earlier and found their way to the south gate. "And now we wait," whispered Thurloe.

Xandro backtracked the way they'd come, for there was a set of stairs leading up that he was pretty sure led up to the rows of stadium seating. Sure enough they did, and a quick perusal showed there were just the two gnoll archers among the stone bleachers, the only show of defensive force the gnolls had even bothered with. He slowly made his way around the stadium counterclockwise, with his frost short sword in his hand and ready for action, counting on his boots of elvenkind and Wakuren's ring of invisibility to keep him from being noticed.

The gnoll archers weren't particularly attentive to their duties; they had their bows out and a quiver of arrows at their backs but neither one had an arrow ready for firing, apparently under the mistaken belief that no one would dare try to infiltrate an entire pack of gnolls and their allied beasts. The one Xandro was sneaking up on sighed impatiently, hoping the raiding party would be back soon with some food for the larder, because he was getting hungry again and they'd just about finished the last horse they'd been eating. But then he cried out in pain as a blade pierced his torso, twisted, and was pulled back out again. The gnoll dropped his bow and staggered forward, fumbling to grab up his battleaxe, as the human who'd stabbed him went in for another sword-strike.

Zander saw the attack from between the bars of the women's cell and whispered to Wakuren that the attack had started. The half-orc dashed away from the doorway where he'd been waiting and pushed open the doors of the north gate to the arena. Then the elf took aim and cast a magic missile spell at the other archer over by the south gate. His sudden cry of pain alerted the two awake gnolls on the arena sands and the dire hyena that something was up; more importantly, Alewyth and Thurloe heard it from behind the south gate arena entrance and pushed the heavy doors open, spilling onto the sands themselves.

There was a sleeping gnoll huddled along the arena wall to Alewyth's right as she entered, and she took the opportunity thus presented to bash his head with Sjondra. But then the dire hyena was on her, snapping with its slavering jaws. Thurloe had moved to the left when he entered and slew another gnoll who had been sleeping on the warm sands. Then he too was under attack, in his case by the gnoll archer in the stands above him. The arrow came close but missed its mark.

The other archer was making a feeble attempt at fighting back against Xandro but the bard's initial attack had all but drained the fight out of him. Xandro killed him quickly with another stroke of his blade, then looked down to the arena below. Most of the other sleeping gnolls were awake and grabbing up their weapons (all but one, who was apparently a very sound sleeper), and Alewyth finished off the gnoll she had originally attacked as he tried to rise to a standing position. Then she had to divert her full attention to the dire hyena. But Wakuren had made his entrance and three of the gnolls were headed in his direction, battleaxes ready for combat.

Zander fired off another magic missile at the gnoll archer, deeming his ranged attacks made him the bigger threat at the moment. Alewyth struck the dire hyena with Sjondra, causing it to shake its head in an effort to stop the world form spinning around so much. Then it was back to snapping at the dwarven priestess with its wicked teeth. But in its fierce concentration on bringing down the dwarf it failed to see Thurloe stepping up behind it, and the fighter's bastard sword cut deeply into its back, severing its spine and killing it.

The gnoll archer couldn't see who was shooting at it with those accursed spells, so he continued focusing his attention on trying to kill Thurloe, who had just slain their beloved animal compatriot. A pair of gnolls pressed their attacks on Alewyth and another on Thurloe, while over on the other side of the ring Wakuren was fending off three rushing gnolls. The deep sleeper gnoll had by this time finally awakened and was scrambling to find where he had put his weapons before his nap.

Xandro leaped over the side of the arena wall and landed safely in the sands, then ran over to help Wakuren - who, admittedly, had been doing fine on his own, dodging the incoming axe-strikes or deflecting them off his shield, only to turn his shield into a weapon as needed, either striking with the flat surface in a bludgeoning blow or hitting with the pointed bottom edge. But the half-orc wasn't at all displeased to receive assistance and Xandro quickly flanked a gnoll and slew him with one blow from his sword.

Zander continued lobbing magic missile spells at the sole remaining archer, while Alewyth and Thurloe each dispatched one of the gnolls focused on them. By now the sands of the arena were stained with blood, very possibly the first blood spilled in combat the arena had seen since its disuse many decades ago. The remaining gnolls gave it their all but it was apparent they didn't have the combat experience of the five intruders. Those on the sands were soon taken out by hammer, shield, and blades, while Zander finally slew the archer with a scorching ray spell. And just that quickly, combat seemed to be over. Zander told the female slaves to remain there just to be safe and ran onto the arena to join his friends.

"What about the pack leader?" he asked them. "She's supposed to be up there in the royal box. Anybody seen her?"

Nobody had. But the reason for this became readily apparent once they had found the way to the royal box and there found a larger, female gnoll fast asleep. Thurloe, bastard sword in hand and pointed at the pack leader's throat, kicked her in the shoulder to wake her up, but she continued to sleep on. He tried again, with no better luck. "Oh, you've got to be kidding me," he said. "She's caught in the dream plague?"

"So now what?" asked Wakuren. "We can't just kill her."

"And why not?" demanded Thurloe. "One: she's the head of a bunch of gnolls who attack travelers and buy slaves. Two: we don't know why the Nightmare King is trapping people in their dreams, but if we kill her we deprive him of whatever he's getting out of the deal."

"By that logic," argued Alewyth, "we should just kill everyone caught in the dream plague. Surely you're not suggesting that?"

Thurloe actually gave it a moment's thought; it would actually be somewhat easier.... But finally common sense won over and he admitted, "Okay, no. But I'm not gonna free her from her dreams just so she can beat us awake and kill us!"

"We'll take precautions," promised Wakuren, pulling out his rope of climbing and binding the pack leader's hands behind her back, before doing likewise with her feet, leaving her hog-tied in the center of the royal box.

"We'll probably want someone guarding us, in case we missed any gnolls," Zander pointed out, and he went to go fetch the slaves. There were three men and three women, all very pleased to have been freed from servitude and more than happy to guard the dreamwalkers while they performed their ritual, especially after they had been armed with dwarven weapons from the arena's armory.

"Now no attacking the gnoll while we're performing the ritual," Wakuren warned the newly-freed slaves. "We're hoping to get some answers from her, so we need her alive."

"For now," added Thurloe. Then the five took their places around the sleeping gnoll, the dreamstones centered on their foreheads and kept in place by the leather headbands Thurloe's Uncle Marten had crafted for them. Another dreamstone was held in place at the gnoll's forehead with a bandana. After that, it was a simple matter of slowing one's breathing, one's thoughts, and entering a state of slumber, where the dreamwalkers' minds left their bodies and drifted into the Dreamlands....

"Hey, kupo!" greeted their moogle guides upon their arrival. They each escorted their respective dreamwalker to the Corridor of Dreams, where Mogo was waiting for them. "In you go, kupo!" he said, ushering them through the doorway.

At first, they worried that something had gone wrong, for they were right back on the sands of the arena. But now the seats were all filled with bloodthirsty dwarves, yelling and screaming at the combat being played out in the middle of the arena. There, bloody battleaxe in hand, stood the pack leader, surrounded by a dozen hyenas who kept dodging in and biting her. Already, she had bloody patches on her fur where previous bite attacks had succeeded.

And then they noticed something unusual: the pack leader swung her axe and cleaved the skull of a hyena, slaying it instantly. It fell to the ground, dead, and was they absorbed into the arena sands. At the same time, another hyena manifested on the outskirts of the battle and darted in to join the pack in worrying their prey.

"When she kills one, a replacement just pops back up," pointed out Alewyth. "At this rate, she'll never finish fighting!"

"We'd better go help her!" said Wakuren as he ran into battle, slamming his shield into the nearest hyena and sending it flying off to the side. It yelped in pain but then rejoined the attack against the pack leader. Some of the closer ones diverted their attacks to the half-orc now in their midst, however. Thurloe was in no mood to go risk his life to save some stupid bloody gnoll, but now that Wakuren was equally in danger.... "Fine!" the fighter sighed, swinging his bastard sword into the side of the nearest hyena. He was pleased to see it cut nearly in twain, and even more pleased to see no new hyena showed up as an automatic replacement. "Looks like when we kill them, they stay dead!" Thurloe called to the others.

"But not when I!" cried the gnoll in frustration as she killed another hyena, just for a new one to arrive at the outskirts of the combat. They were a bit surprised to hear the pack leader capable of speaking the Common tongue, but whether this was just part of the dream or if she could speak it in the real world was still a matter of conjecture. "Why they attacking me?"

"Guess they're probably a good judge of character!" Thurloe answered, but he continued aiding the pack leader by swinging his bastard sword into as many of the hyenas as he could, one after the next. The gnoll continued slaying hyenas as well, but hers kept coming back; only those slain by the adventurers were permanently removed from the arena. Eventually, all of the hyenas had been slain and the dream started to fade away, first with the cheering dwarves dissipating, then the stadium itself, until the group was standing on an ever-shrinking piece of sand....

When they all awoke, the pack leader was still tied up and still, but her former slaves had resisted the impulse to kill her. The five dreamwalkers snapped back awake, one at a time, and Thurloe went to examine their prisoner. "You able to speak our language?" he asked her.

"Yes, some." She looked up at the fighter and a look of recognition was caught in her eyes. "You were there. In dream. Fighting."

"Yeah, you're welcome for that, by the way."

"Was there ever a big snake in the arena, in your dream?" asked Wakuren. He was eager to find out if the dreamers actually ever saw the hypnalis viper the Nightmare King apparently slipped into people's dreams to put them into the dream coma.

"No, no snake - only hyenas," replied the pack leader. Then, muttering to herself, she said, "Is a sign. Hyenas shouldn't attack. Should be allies. Something very wrong."

"You think there was no viper, or she just didn't see it?" asked Zander.

"No way to tell," replied Xandro. "It could have attacked her from her blind side, or it might not have even looked like a viper at the time. Maybe it took the form of one of the hyenas."

"Well, what are we going to do with her now?" Alewyth asked. "I won't kill a bound enemy." And then, as Thurloe opened his mouth to offer his services, the dwarf cut him off with "And I won't let you, either."

"Fine," replied Thurloe. "So we let her loose in the arena and cut her down there."

"I don't think that will be necessary," Wakuren said, reaching over to untie the ropes binding their captive. "I sense a crisis of faith occurring." As the others steeled their weapons for the inevitable attack once the half-orc released the pack leader from her bonds, Wakuren just smiled and said, "I don't think we have anything to worry about from her."

He turned to face the gnoll leader. "If we let you go free, I don't expect to hear you've taken up your old ways," he informed her.

"No," agreed the gnoll. "Dream say to me: you on wrong path. We return to the old ways: hunt for our food, follow the game." She looked around the royal box. "No arena. No slaves. No...lazy ways."

"And no tribe, either," Thurloe pointed out. "We killed all of your pack. You're on your own, sweetheart." The gnoll flinched at that, but getting to her feet and looking down over the arena sands to the signs of the carnage below gave her ample evidence the human wasn't kidding.

"Then I go," she said, and Wakuren made the others allow her to leave.

"You're just too soft-hearted," Thurloe chided him. "She hooks up with another pack of gnolls, she'll be right back to her old ways."

"I don't think so," countered Wakuren. "With any luck, she'll convert them to her new way of thinking." Then he turned to the slaves they'd freed. "Where are you from?" he asked them. The majority of them were from Baron's Haven, or heading in that direction. The adventurers took them with them when they exited the arena, then showed them which way to go when they came up to the main road leading to Baron's Haven.

"Our way leads in the other direction," Wakuren told them as they headed east. The six thanked the group again for their rescue (and their dwarven weapons), and then the two groups went their separate ways.

"So," Thurloe said to Wakuren as the mules pulled the wagon to the east. "Where were we?"

"What do you mean?" asked the half-orc, incomprehension on his puzzled face.

"'The Pulverizers' as our adventuring name!" Thurloe gushed. "It's great! It shows we mean business, that we're not to be trifled with!"

"That one of us has an entirely too high opinion of himself," added Alewyth from her dire goat.

"I'm not using it in any of my ballads," Xandro pointed out.

"You guys have no sense of taste," grumbled Thurloe, and was thankfully silent for the next hour or so.

- - -

I used two separate Paizo Flip-Maps for this adventure: one of the "Ambush Sites Multi-Pack" and an old arena map I'd never used before. Of course, I had to design the ground-level support rooms that led to the arena itself, but that was kind of fun. The adventure was just "okay," though, in my mind, in no small part because of the very limited monster palette I used. In hindsight, I probably should have figured a way to incorporate a few different other monsters so they weren't fighting the same stuff all session, but the group seemed to like it okay.

- - -

T-shirt worn: My "Chaotic evil means never having to say you're sorry" T-shirt, which represented the chaotic evil gnolls.
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