Dreams of Erthe



PC Roster:
Alewyth Putterpye, dwarf priestess of Aerik 7​
Thurloe Pulver, human fighter 3/wizard 3/spellsword 1​
Wakuren, half-orc cleric of Cal 3/paladin 4​
Xandro Silverstrings, human bard 5/rogue 2​
Zander Quilson, elf sorcerer 7​

Game Session Date: 7 August 2022

- - -

"This is getting ridiculous," griped Xandro dejectedly. "Surely somebody's gotta know where there's someone who's been asleep for a long time and can't be awakened normally!" Since arriving in the village of Basutra, they'd been hitting the normal places - taverns, inns, the constabulary, temples - but they'd had no luck in tracking down the person who Mogo insisted was somewhere in town.

"Maybe we're going about this the wrong way," suggested Alewyth. "We ought to go back to the constabulary and see if there have been any missing person cases recently - maybe the dreamer is somewhere nobody's found them." It was as good an idea as any, but it too bore no fruit.

"Let's go check back in with Mogo," Wakuren decided. "Maybe he can help us fine-tune the location." And thus Scarlie Besker, the half-orc recently hired to look after the group's wagon and associated mounts while they were off adventuring, once again found himself performing one of the stranger functions of his new job: watching over an oil lamp that had been left in the back of the wagon, while one by one his bosses disappeared into it. But once inside the extradimensional space of the lamp, the five dreamwalkers prepared themselves for a mid-day nap, slowing their breathing and turning off all thoughts, allowing sleep to overtake them. One by one, they left their physical bodies and emerged in the Dreamlands, where they were met by their individual moogle guides and ushered over to where Mogo had set up camp in the Hall of Dreams, a series of seemingly endless corridors filled with side-by-side doors as far as the eye could see, each door the access point to an individual dream.

"Any way you can get us any closer to where this next dreamer's supposed to be?" Thurloe asked the humanoid kitten with the bat wings and the pom-pom dangling from a forehead antenna.

"In the town of Basutra, kupo!" Mogo repeated, surprised they hadn't been able to find the dreamer yet. After all, Basutra wasn't that big of a town, as far as human dwelling-places went.

"Let's take a look at the dream - maybe it'll give us a clue or something," suggested Zander Quilson.

"Okay, but I think Xandro's going to be a little embarrassed by this one, kupo!" Mogo replied, opening the door to the dream and fluttering back out of the way.

"What do you mean?" asked the bard.

"You'll see, kupo!"

Frowning in puzzlement, Xandro stepped into the dream and found a trio of humans standing all in a line: a teenaged boy flanked by a blond girl on one side and an older, dark-haired lady on the other. The blonde tugged on the boy's arm and said coquettishly, "Come on, Henry! We can use the barn - nobody will see us!"

"Don't waste your time with that one," answered the 30-year-old woman, tugging on Henry's other arm with equal vigor. "She's just a child - she can't possibly love you the way I do!"

"Like Hell I can't!" spat the blond girl, slipping her blouse up and over her head and rubbing up against Henry. "We can do anything you like," she purred, and Henry had a hard time taking his eyes off her.

But then the older woman turned Henry's head her way with her hand, revealing that her top had also disappeared. "She's just so...inexperienced," she told the young man. "Whereas I can teach you pleasures you've never before imagined."

"Don't be an idiot!" Thurloe yelled at the lad. "See if they'll both go to the barn with you!"

"You're the one being an idiot!" scowled Alewyth, swatting the spellsword on the chest in irritation with the back of her hand. "On the one hand, ew! And on the other, we can't interact with the dream since we're not there physically with the dreamer in the Mortal World."

"I'm just trying to help him make the obviously correct choice," Thurloe observed, gaining him another scowl from the dwarven priestess. Then he looked over at Xandro, who had averted his gaze from the trio in embarrassment, as the two young women were now apparently in a race to show their devotion to Henry by proving which one could strip the fastest. "Go ahead and look," Thurloe teased the bard. "You might learn something."

"Well, we've learned nothing about the dreamer's location," observed Wakuren. "But at least we know we're looking for a young human lad named Henry."

"Do we, though?" asked Alewyth. "Either of the girls could be the dreamer."

"Hmm, true enough," conceded the half-orc. "Okay, I think we've seen enough."

"Hey, speak for yourself!" argued Thurloe, who was willing to give this particular dream a lot more of his attention - all day and night, if it came to that. But Alewyth had opened the door back up and was talking to Mogo. "Can you track the dreamer any closer than 'somewhere in Basutra?'" she asked.

"Well, if one of you wants to stay asleep, I can triangulate between this dream and that of the dreamwalker, kupo," suggested Mogo. Wakuren instantly volunteered and the others woke themselves back up, then exited the magic lamp, startling Scarlie, who never had any idea when they were just going to pop back into existence like that. If not for the fact he hadn't had any alcohol that day (it was still only mid-morning), he'd have assumed he'd had too much to drink and was seeing things.

"Can you hear me, kupo?" asked Mogo, this time the voice coming from Alewyth's enchanted dwarven warhammer, Sjondra. The moogles had recently devised a means by which they could communicate with the dreamwalkers through the dreamstones embedded in the signature items they each carried.

"Loud and clear," Alewyth replied.

"You need to go further north from your present location, kupo!" The others climbed onto the saddles of their respective riding mounts and indicated for Scarlie to follow them. Once again thinking how oddly his life had changed since meeting up with these new bosses, the half-orc climbed back into the seat of the wagon and gave the mules a snap of the reins to get them going.

After a few more course corrections, Mogo eventually declared he couldn't get them any closer than he already had. "It's not that easy tracking you guys from an entirely different plane of existence, kupo!" he declared. "But the dreamer's somewhere close by, kupo!"

"I'll wake up now," Wakuren told the others through Sjondra's dreamstones. "Be out in a bit." And sure enough, in half a minute or so the half-orc had reappeared in the seat beside Scarlie, scaring his fellow half-orc half out of his wits. "I need a drink," Scarlie muttered to himself.

"So, where are we?" Wakuren asked the others, having missed out on the traveling through the town the others had experienced while he slept.

"Fancy part of town," Thurloe replied. "Where the noblemen all have their fancy houses." Their little caravan had ended up at a stone-and-wooden manor house, shaped rather like a squashed "H" when viewed from the top, with the southern wing being two full stories tall and the rest of the house just the one. Across the way stood a carriage house and stables. A few steps onto a front landing in the center of the manor house led to a set of double doors, upon which had been carved the Vesperman family crest: a flying wasp about to sting. "How do we want to do this?"

"What do you mean?" asked Zander.

"I mean," Thurloe explained, "if the dreamer's in there, there's gotta be a reason nobody's reported it. Remember, nobody's been to the temples asking the clerics to awaken anybody they can't wake up themselves. That means there's a reason for keeping it secret."

"Simple embarrassment?" guessed Xandro. "Nobody wanting to admit a member of a noble family could have that sort of thing happen to them?"

"Possibly," admitted Alewyth. "But maybe Wakuren and I should go talk to them. People open up to clerics."

"Fine. We'll stay back here with the animals," Thurloe replied. "I'm sure the human nobility will open right up to a half-orc." It was no skin off his nose, in any case; let the clerics do all the explaining. Alewyth and Wakuren walked up the steps and the priestess knocked loudly on the door. They'd both assumed the doors would be opened by a butler or maid and were surprised when it was instead a pair of armed and armored dwarves who answered.

"Whadda you want, orc?" spat one of them while the other got a good look at Alewyth and spoke with a much more cultured tone. "Why good day to you, Miss," he said. "And how may I help you?" The one who'd snarled at Wakuren noticed the dwarven priestess and all thoughts of him were immediately forgotten; the half-orc might have been invisible for all they paid any attention to him (although he had not, in fact, activated his ring).

Realizing their interest in her, Alewyth played it up, giving them her best smile and batting her eyes as she explained why they had come, painting the dream sickness in broad strokes and emphasizing it had struck many people across the continent from all different walks of life. "We're not sure why the Nightmare King is doing this," she added, "but I'm sure a pair of strong warriors like yourselves can see the obvious advantage of defeating an enemy's plans."

"Oh, absolutely," agreed one of the dwarves. "But why here, specifically? There's nobody here been sleeping any longer than normal."

"Are you sure?" Alewyth prompted.

"Positive," the other dwarf added. "So I'm afraid we can't help you...but you know, we get off shift at twilight. If you wanted to swing by then, we could show you a real good time."

The priestess of Aerik, God of Protection, swallowed any outrage and ignored the suggestion, pressing on with her original goal. "Well," she said, "would it be possible for us to see your Lord? I assume a pair of good-looking, fighting dwarves like you must be his bodyguards, am I right?"

"His personal retinue," bragged the first dwarf. "But Lord Vesperman is expecting company and probably wouldn't want to be disturbed."

"Would you mind checking? For me?" Alewyth battered her eyelashes something fierce, and while it had the desired effect - one of the dwarves sent a human maid to see if he'd take a visit by a priestess of Aerik looking for a trapped sleeper - the end result was not what she had hoped for. "Forgive me, Miss," said the maid, curtsying, "but the Lord is not taking visitors at this time."

"Sorry," replied one of the dwarves. "Remember, though: twilight." And he gave Alewyth a wink no doubt meant to make her weak in the knees as he closed the door in the clerics' faces. Instead, it made her want to spit. "Conceited, strutting rooster!" she snarled. But as she and Wakuren started making their way back to the wagon, Thurloe, still astride his horse Horse, heard a whisper coming from the back of the house. "Pssst!" signaled another maid, waving for the spellsword to come over to talk to her. Curious, Thurloe led Horse her way without bothering to dismount.

"What's up?" he asked her once Horse got to the back corner of the house.

"Mrs. Wiggins, the head housekeeper, wishes to speak with your group!" the maid said in a low voice, looking back behind her as if fearing to be found out. "She thinks she can help you find your dreamer!" Thurloe dismounted from his horse and motioned for the others to join him, leaving Scarlie to come fetch Horse's bridle and lead him back to the wagon with the other mounts.

The maid led the group into the back of the manor house, signaling for silence as she opened the door to the kitchen and from there through an adjoining door leading to a laundry room. They were met by an elderly woman, probably close to 60 summers if she hadn't already passed that age, who introduced herself as Mrs. Wiggins. "I think you might be looking for Lady Angelica," she said without preamble. "We'll sneak you upstairs to see her when Lord Andrus is busy with his business partner, who should be arriving any minute now. We'll wait here until they retire to the brandy room; while it's possible Lord Andrus might step into the kitchen to talk to one of the maids, there's no chance he'll come back here to the laundry room. We can talk, if we keep our voices down."

"What makes you think Lady Angelica is the dreamer?" asked Alewyth. "Has she been asleep for an unusually long time?"

"That's just the thing: none of us knows," Mrs. Wiggins replied. "Lord Andrus has forbidden any of us to see her for the past week or more. He takes all of her meals up to her, and we've not even been allowed to fetch her linen or bedclothes. She's with child, their first," she explained.

"How far along?" Alewyth asked.

"Eight and a half months. And she was right as rain up until we were no longer allowed to tend to her, all excited at her new role as a mother. She said she hoped it was a boy, because Lord Andrus wants a son, but all she wants is a healthy, happy baby, like any good mother."

"Why would her husband want to keep her status a secret?" asked Thurloe. "It doesn't make a lot of sense."

"I quite agree. The maids and I are quite worried about her, not having been able to tend to her as before."

"How would you describe Lord Andrus?" asked Wakuren.

"Very much an aristocrat," answered Mrs. Wiggins. "He wants what he wants and won't take 'no' for an answer. I wouldn't exactly say cruel, but determined. And somewhat cold. He spends much of his time traveling on his various business ventures, and when he's at home he spends a lot of time up in his arcane lab." The housekeeper sour expression said she didn't feel a nobleman should be tinkering around with something like spellcraft.

"What's Mrs. Vesperman like?" Thurloe asked abruptly.

"Lady Angelica," Mrs. Wiggins emphasized, "is a very dutiful wife. As I said, she's looking forward to being a mother, and--"

"No, no," interrupted the spellsword. "I mean, what does she look like?" Mrs. Wiggins went on to describe the lady of the manor, and Thurloe's face took on a smirk as the housekeeper described a dark-haired woman in her early thirties who could definitely have been one of the two women fighting over Henry in the dream. "I think we've figured out whose dream it was," he told the others. He didn't want to say anything out loud in front of the hired help, but it seemed Lady Angelica had been having a fling with this teenaged Henry person - and maybe Lord Andrus found out and was none too pleased.

"He's here!" whispered the maid, who had peeked through the door to the kitchen upon hearing a knocking at the front door. They could hear Lord Andrus's footsteps coming down the stairs from above as he met his guest. As anticipated, they went to the northern wing of the building, to the brandy room just off the dining hall.

"Now, we'll need to be quiet," Mrs. Wiggins advised, looking at Wakuren's metal armor and frowning. "We don't want Lord Andrus hearing you clanking up the stairs."

"That won't be a problem," Wakuren promised, as Thurloe passed over his ring of silent spells to the half-orc and then vanished into the oil lamp. One by one, the others likewise entered the extradimensional space inside the lamp Wakuren held, leaving only him, Mrs. Wiggins, and the young maid. Then he and the lamp vanished as well, when he activated his ring of invisibility. "I'm still here," Wakuren's voice announced quietly, "but I'm going to activate another magic ring that will create a zone of silence all around me. Nobody will be able to see me or hear me as I follow you up the stairs," he promised. "And when we get to Lady Angelica, the others will exit the lamp and we'll see what we can do about waking her up." Then he activated Thurloe's ring and, as promised, a zone of absolute silence surrounded the invisible cleric-paladin of Cal.

The maid went about her duties lest she be missed, while Mrs. Wiggins walked silently up the stairs to the second floor of the southern wing. She walked past two doors on either side of the short hallway and headed for the door straight ahead, making as if to insert a key into the keyhole when Wakuren's invisible hand on her wrist suddenly stopped her; fortunately, her startled shriek was absorbed by the silence spell in effect all around the half-orc. But before he let Mrs. Wiggins open the locked door of the master bedroom, Wakuren cast a detect magic spell and confirmed there were no magical wards upon the door. Releasing the housekeeper's hand, he allowed her to open the door, then he looked inside.

There, on the four-poster bed at the back of the room, lay Lady Angelica in a white nightgown, her belly extended in late pregnancy. Her eyes were closed and she rested peacefully. Looking around the room with his still-active detect magic spell, Wakuren noted a pair of dressers, a writing desk and chair, a makeup table with mirror, and doors presumably to a bathroom and a closet. But there were also magical auras glowing in the half-orc's sight: a zone around the foot of the bed which he took to be the trigger area of an alarm spell, as well as a three-dimensional sculpture of the Vesperman family crest, which Wakuren had no doubt would animate if triggered. This put a few wrinkles on their plan, for there was no simple way to get to Lady Angelica without triggering the alarm spell. It didn't look like they'd be able to perform the ritual in the bedroom - there was no way to ensure Lord Andrus would be involved with his business discussion for the length of time it would take to perform the dream-waking ritual - and if they tried to get Lady Angelica into the extradimensional lamp they'd no doubt trigger the alarm spell and activate the foot-long metal wasp from the Vesperman family crest sculpture.

So, it looked like the plan needed some finessing: he'd have to touch Lady Angelica, get her into the lamp with him, then pop back out, grab up the lamp, and cast a gaseous form spell upon himself and the lamp and head back to the wagon. Then they could put some distance between themselves and the Vesperman estate, performing the ritual from inside the lamp if need be. With that thought in mind, Wakuren - still invisible - crossed the room and opened one of the windows on the far wall, giving himself an easy escape route once in cloud form. However, there were several things Wakuren's hastily-modified plan had failed to take into account. While he'd successfully deduced that was an alarm spell trigger surrounding the bed, stepping into it would not activate the metal wasp from the family crest: it was a wasp construct (and, in fact, the familiar of Lord Andrus Vesperman), it was already aware there was someone in the room (having observed first the door open and then the window) and it had already mentally alerted its master via their shared empathic link, so Wakuren avoiding the area of the alarm spell wasn't going to prevent anything from happening that wasn't already going on.

Wakuren was still in the middle of the magical silence effect so he didn't hear the commotion downstairs as Lord Vesperman called for the dwarves to see his business partner back out the front door and then rushed up the stairs, but he did see the wasp construct animate and attack Mrs. Wiggins, the only visible person who wasn't supposed to be there. It stabbed at her with its abdominal stinger, catching her in the side of the neck, causing her to scream aloud (which was also not heard by Wakuren). But he summoned an air element hippogriff to keep the wasp construct at bay as he stepped forward (alarm spell be damned!), placed the lamp under the bed where it hopefully wouldn't be noticed, put his foot upon it to keep in contact, and mentally activated the command word that whisked both him and Lady Angelica into the extradimensional space inside the lamp.

Once inside, Wakuren deactivated the effects of both rings and gave the other heroes a very brief update of what was going on outside. He was not aware, however, that Lord Andrus was now pushing Mrs. Wiggins aside and stepping through the doorway to his bedroom, where he saw his familiar fighting it out against a hippogriff seemingly made of billowing clouds and an empty bed where his paralyzed wife should be. Nor did the half-orc cleric-paladin know that while one dwarf was stomping up the stairs behind his master, the other one, having gotten rid of the visitor, had activated the pair of dread guards standing in the entry foyer and the three were also heading for the stairs. Likewise, he didn't see Lord Andrus summon a creature of his own, a fiendish giant wasp, to help combat the air element hippogriff Wakuren had called forth to keep the wasp construct at bay.

But even had he been aware of all the commotion outside, the events inside the lamp would likewise have commanded all of his attention - as, indeed, was occurring right now. Lady Angelica, having been placed gently on the floor of the lamp just off the landing platform (because once Wakuren said the command word that would send him back outside the lamp, anyone else on the platform would be coming along for the ride), was at first sleeping as gently as she had been on her own bed. But then her eyes opened, she gave a shudder, and cried out in a closed-mouth gasp as her extended belly began undulating. The clean, white nightgown she wore suddenly sprouted a red dot along her belly, which slowly expanded. Her neck muscles taut, she gasped again in pain, trying to scream but hardly able to move.

Alewyth was beside the pregnant noblewoman in a moment. "Just give her minimal healing," Thurloe suggested, not wanting the dwarven priestess to expend her most powerful spells if a cure minor wounds spell would do. Frowning in puzzlement at the odd request, Alewyth did as suggested but had one of her most powerful spells ready to be converted to a blast of healing energy if needed. The cure minor wounds seemed to stabilize Lady Angelica for a moment, but then the stain started spreading again and a bone-white, triangular head burst through the noblewoman's stomach and nightgown. A massive grub burrowed out of the paralyzed woman's belly, streaked in her own blood.

Five involuntary cries of horror erupted from the heroes' throats at the sight of the giant larva crawling out of its warm-blooded host. Zander fled the room, but it was merely to fetch the chest the night hag who had previously owned the magic lamp had kept; dragging it over to the main chamber, he opened its lid and pointed it in the direction of the massive maggot. "Somebody throw it in!" he said, well aware that by being the one holding the magic chest he wasn't going to be the one to have to touch the larval creature.

As the monster grub crawled completely out of Lady Angelica's body, exposing its full twelve inches of length, Alewyth cast a cure serious wounds spell on the noblewoman's chewed-through body, closing up the hole the maggot had eaten open to make its escape from its unwitting host. Thurloe decided he'd have to be the one to take the plunge, so he set aside his bastard sword, grabbed the slimy, wriggling thing up in his hands, and tossed it into the open chest. As soon as its squishy body hit the chest's interior it started shrinking, until it was a mere one-eighth of its true size. Zander wasted no time in slamming the lid shut and Xandro helped him latch it closed.

Shaken by what he'd seen and now wondering just what kind of arcane experimentation Lord Andrus had been performing on his wife, Wakuren realized time was of the essence and reactivated his ring of invisibility before saying the word that shunted him back out into the master bedroom. Ignoring the melee going on over on the other side of the bed, he bent over, picked up the lamp, and cast a gaseous form spell upon himself before floating out the open window as fast as his nephomorphic body would take him. Once outside, he floated over to the wagon before deactivating his spell and telling Scarlie to drive the wagon further away from the manor house. The half-orc driver nearly jumped out of his skin at the sound of a disembodied voice giving him orders, but he quickly recognized the voice as belonging to the only other half-orc of their little group and complied. Wakuren deactivated the ring of invisibility, ensured the lamp was secure in the back of the wagon, and said the word that sent him back inside with the others.

"What's going on out there?" demanded Thurloe. Wakuren did his best to catch them all up to speed. Soon after, the paralyzation that had kept Lady Angelica all but immobile wore off and she looked about her with frightened eyes. "Where am I?" she demanded. "Who are you?" And then, looking down at her ripped and bloody nightgown, "Where is my baby?" Alewyth did what she could to calm her down, explaining that they were good people (showing her the dwarf's holy symbol of Aerik helped there) seeking to save her from terrible danger, and - after explaining what she'd see when they opened the lid - did just that, to expose the shrunken, writhing grub to its erstwhile mother for a moment before snapping the lid back shut.

"I don't understand - why is this happening?" sobbed Lady Angelica, distraught at the thought she wouldn't be the mother of her husband's healthy, human son after all.

"Your husband has been subjecting you to some sort of magical experimentation," hazarded Wakuren, before coming to a sudden realization. "And with you rescued and out of the picture--we've got to go back for Mrs. Wiggins and the maids!" The elderly housekeeper was undoubtedly too old for a normal pregnancy, but if the wizardly nobleman was somehow injecting these grubs in people, she'd serve just as well as anyone else as an incubator....

"I'll tell Scarlie to go back," Wakuren told the others, before shunting back outside to the wagon and giving the poor drunkard another near heart attack. In the meantime, Thurloe led the others in casting their get-ready-for-imminent-combat spells. He cast a mage armor spell upon himself and capped it off with a hit from his wand of shield, while Zander Quilson cast mage armor on himself and haste on the group (while realizing that this time Wakuren wouldn't receive the benefit of that second spell - oh well). Alewyth cast a bless spell on the group, shrugging that Wakuren would be missing out on that one as well. Xandro, lacking anything else to do, took out his Dardolian lute and began strumming its strings, beginning the words to his song of inspirational courage. Then, as Alewyth promised Lady Angelica she'd be safe inside the lamp and tucking her into her own bed, Thurloe joined the two half-orcs outside by the wagon.

By this time, Scarlie had wheeled the wagon around and returned to the side of the Vesperman estate. Thurloe had cooked up a plan and raced off to the back kitchen door, where he fished into his coin purse for a gold piece, which he then placed on the ground behind him but off to the side where it would hopefully catch the eye of anyone opening the door - he was counting on it being one of the dwarven bodyguards, and he was likewise counting on the tales of dwarven greed holding true. In the meantime, Wakuren grabbed the lamp - inside which were still Alewyth, Xandro, and Zander, along with a distraught Lady Angelica - and started peeking through the ground floor windows along the southern wing. He found the maids' room first, opening the window and letting himself in, which frightened three of them before the fourth recognized him and reassured the others he was an ally. She explained to Wakuren they had been locked into their room by a furious Lord Andrus, and he in turn told them the command word to the lamp, holding it out so they could join Lady Angelica in a place of safety. Once they were all inside, he crawled back out the window and continued his explorations until he found Mrs. Wiggins locked in her own room. He did the same with her, getting her safely inside before returning to the maids' room - it was bigger and thus better for his purposes. He popped back inside only long enough to fetch the other three heroes, and then set Xandro Silverstrings to picking the lock of the maids' room so they'd have access to the manor's interior, hopefully without Lord Andrus or his dwarven bodyguards being any the wiser.

Thurloe, however, was putting his own scheme into play. Pounding on the back door to the kitchen, he waited until it opened and a scowling, bearded face appeared. "'Scuse me, sir," Thurloe said in his best impression of an inebriated panhandler, "but would you have any change to spare for a man down on his luck?" He staggered a bit to help sell the concept, and made sure to sway away from the gold piece so it would be in full view of the dwarf. But the dwarf didn't take the bait; rather, he called out, "Beat it, bum!" and slammed the door in Thurloe's face.

The spellsword, realizing subterfuge wasn't going to cut it, kicked the door in as he pulled the bastard sword from its sheath on his back. "And what if I don't?" he taunted the dwarf, who met Thurloe's blade with a dwarven waraxe of his own. Just that quickly, there was a life-or-death combat going on in the Vesperman's massive kitchen area. Thurloe got first blood, but the dwarf scowled it off and ignored the pain, swinging with his axe and slicing the side of Thurloe's arm while calling out the estate was under attack. The second dwarf took a moment to activate the two dread guards once again before heading over to the threat in the kitchen. The animated armor took up defensive stances in the foyer, ready to attack any strangers who might enter. And up at the top of the stairs stood Lord Andrus, his wasp construct familiar hovering protectively before him.

Back in the maids' room, Xandro had made quick work of the lock and had stepped back, casting a heroism spell on Wakuren. Zander crawled out the window to go try his luck with Thurloe at the back door to the kitchen, while Wakuren and Alewyth crept down the central hallway of the south wing, headed for the door to the foyer. Xandro followed, but took a side route through the laundry room, ending up in the kitchen where Thurloe and the first bodyguard were fighting it out, with the second dwarf about to enter the kitchen from the foyer. Then things got even more interesting as a few more combatants entered the fray. Zander cast a scorching ray spell at the dwarf Thurloe was fighting, while Wakuren burst through the door to the foyer and summoned a celestial bison at the foot of the stairs. Alewyth cast a magic circle against evil spell upon herself and stepped into the foyer, Sjondra at the ready. The two dread guards turned to face the bison and attacked. Now one of the dwarves was fighting a losing battle against Thurloe and Zander while the second turned to swipe at the massive, shaggy-furred bison through the door to the kitchen.

From the top of the stairs came the sound of spellcasting, and suddenly a swarm of angry wasps appeared in the foyer, stinging in a frenzy at the bison. The wasp construct familiar took advantage of the attack to fly over the bison, getting itself lost in the swarm (although it was much larger than a normal wasp) long enough to enter the kitchen through the open doorway. It hovered in the doorway to the dining area, observing the progress of the fight in the kitchen and passing along its findings to its master. But the fight didn't last too much longer for the first dwarf, for Zander slew him with another scorching ray. The second dwarf, seeing the futility of trying to fight a bison through a doorway from another room, decided to cast his fate fighting a threat to which he was more accustomed: namely, Thurloe and Zander, and now Xandro as well as the bard came in through the laundry room door, stepping behind Thurloe and continuing his inspirational song of courage on his lute.

The bison, protected from the worst of the wasp swarm's stings by its shaggy fur, spun in place and stabbed at the nearest dread guard with a massive horn, putting a visible dent in the animated armor. Wakuren took the opportunity to squeeze past the bison's hindquarters, entering the wasp swarm for a moment as he did so, and make his way up the stairs to where Lord Andrus stood like a general overseeing the movements of his troops. The half-orc silently vowed to bring the battle directly to this particular general. Channeling positive energy through his body and into his shield, he slammed the wizard with a smiting attack, deciding to fight him on another front at the same time. "We've got your grub trapped in a secure location," he taunted the nobleman. "And your wife is fine, although you probably don't care a whole lot about her, do you? What a pitiful excuse for nobility you turned out to be!"

Wakuren had dripped scorn into every word of his last sentence, but Lord Andrus was fixated on what the half-orc had said before. "What have you done with my son?" he screamed in frustration, his face a mask of living rage. Below him, Alewyth cast a summoning spell of her own and brought forth a fiendish giant praying mantis, which wasted no time in flashing out with its barbed forearms and grabbing at the second dread guard.

Thurloe swigged down a potion of neutralize poison before the remaining dwarven bodyguard crossed the kitchen to face him; he didn't particularly like the look of that mechanical wasp and didn't trust it not to be filled with some sort of virulent venom. And sure enough, the familiar darted forward, headed not for Thurloe but for Zander, having determined the spellcaster was a bigger potential threat to his master. The wasp's clockwork abdomen thrust forward and a metal stinger pierced the elven sorcerer's flesh, pumping in a dose of venom, but Zander gutted it out and avoided the worst of the poison's effects. Then he counterattacked with a shocking grasp spell, learning in the process that the mechanical insect seemed to be particularly vulnerable to electricity - good to know!

The dread guards had now split up, one taking on the bison and the other concentrating on the fiendish mantis. The wasp swarm expanded, some of them continuing to try to sting the celestial bison while others went over to engulf Alewyth within their swarm. The bison continued to ignore the cloud of insects, continuing its attacks upon the dread guard, whose armor now included a few rents completely through the metal, revealing there was nothing inside the armor at all. Alewyth stepped out of the swarm and swung Sjondra into the side of the dread guard engaged in combat with her summoned mantis. The animated constructs continued fighting their current targets - the bison and mantis - apparently not capable of high-level reasoning to determine the optimal foe on which to concentrate their attacks.

Up on the landing past the staircase, Lord Andrus took a step back from the approaching Wakuren and cast a hold person spell on him, but it had no effect. Wakuren pulled back his right arm and summoned up a lightning bolt from his gauntlet of Cal, flinging the javelin of lightning directly into his foe's chest. Down in the kitchen, Thurloe cut a deep gash across the dwarven bodyguard's chest with his bastard sword and then Xandro stepped up and finished the job with a deep stab of his longsword. The dwarf fell to the kitchen floor, dead. The wasp construct then abandoned the kitchen, flying back over the celestial bison's broad back and up the stairs, attacking Wakuren from behind. But Wakuren ignored the poison's effects as well as Zander had earlier.

Lord Andrus stepped into his bedroom and slammed the door shut, leaning against it to prevent the enraged half-orc from pushing his way through. Still infuriated himself about the capture of his grub, he managed to focus on the words of a much-needed stoneskin spell. And then, most of his useful combat spells already having been cast, he saw no more need to remain in his human form and allowed the change to come over him, returning him to his natural guise....

Zander stepped out of the kitchen and into the foyer, casting a lightning bolt spell that took out most of the wasp swarm, as well as both dread guards, all in one fell swoop. "Nice one, Zander!" Alewyth called from the foyer, her battle foe now a collapsed pile of unmoving armor pieces on the floor before her.

Seeing the foes downstairs had been vanquished and there was no way the celestial bison would fit up the staircase, Wakuren casually dismissed him from service and focused his attention on the door before him. Lord Andrus was no doubt expecting him - a dumb, brutish half-orc, and a member of the common class to boot - to go smashing his way through the bedroom door. And though there was a part of him that very much wanted to do that very thing, Wakuren tamped down the impulse and decided to put his reason to bear. He opened the door to his left and sure enough, it was unlocked. He stepped into a spacious bathroom, with a door on the other side that no doubt led into the bedroom. Crossing the room, he opened the other door and stepped into the bedroom...

...and saw, there in the corner of the room, his massive bulk holding closed the main door of the bedroom, a six-limbed humanoid insect, with black and yellow chitin covering its body. Here at last was Lord Andrus Vesperman in his true form: not that of a human, but of a werewasp. Despite the nobleman's wizardly studies, Wakuren instantly realized the grub that had eaten its way out of the body of Lady Angelica wasn't some sort of arcane experiment but the werewasp's true progeny, the next in his line of insectoid generation.

These thoughts and realizations took but a moment, and then Wakuren was back to letting his rage take the wheel. He raced across the distance and slammed his shield into the werewasp, only then realizing the creature was protected by a stoneskin spell. Still, that wouldn't do anything but prolong the inevitable, the half-orc swore to himself. Lord Andrus spun to face Wakuren, abandoning his attempts at keeping the main door closed, and that allowed Alewyth to enter and attack the werewasp with her enchanted dwarven warhammer. And while she was engaging the lord of the manor, her summoned mantis managed to grab hold of the wasp construct in its serrated claws and break it into several pieces.

Thurloe pounded up the stairs behind Alewyth, opting to go through the bathroom to get into the bedroom, as the dwarf was blocking the more direct entrance. He attacked Lord Andrus with his bastard sword, smashing past the stoneskin protection and managing to cut into the werebeast's chitinous armor. With all the action now going on upstairs, Xandro cautiously walked up the steps and entered the bedroom through the bathroom, his lute back out and the song of inspirational courage being played as loudly as he could.

Lord Andrus looked about him and singled Xandro out as the weakest, no doubt due to his lack of heavy armor and the fact he currently had no weapon at hand. But despite lashing out with the claws of his two larger hands (he had a smaller set of limbs in his hybrid form, growing just beneath his longer set of arms, but they had nowhere near the reach and were typically not used in combat), snapping with his serrated mandibles, and jabbing forward with the sharp stinger poking out from the tip of his abdomen, Xandro expertly dodged each attack as it was made, infuriatingly not even missing a beat from his lute-playing - as if the werewasp were not even a big enough threat to cease playing his tune!

Then Zander came up the stairs behind Alewyth and sent a scorching ray firing over her shoulders to strike the werewasp. Wounded as he'd been from the physical attacks that had chipped away at his stoneskin protection, the blasts of flame were enough to push Lord Andrus over the edge and into death. He fell to the floor of his bedroom, all of his plans dashed. But if the whispering wind spell he'd managed to cast before being slain worked as he'd hoped, he might yet have his revenge....

The battle over, the heroes dragged the bodies of the dead outside into the back yard before allowing the women to exit from the lamp back into the manor house. Mrs. Wiggins and the maids had managed to comfort Lady Angelica in the meantime, and she stood regally and asked to be shown the body of her husband. She frowned in puzzlement at the form of the wasp-thing the heroes showed her, but even as a half-human monstrosity she could see enough of Lord Andrus in the shape of the brow to realize, deep down, that all she was being told was true: her husband was never a human but some sort of hybrid insect-thing, and her marriage was never anything but a means by which he'd use her body as an incubator to grow the next generation of his horrid race. "That white grub thing, that chewed its way out of my body...I want it slain," she declared.

"And we will," Alewyth assured her.

"That still leaves us up in the air about the dreamer," Thurloe pointed out. Wakuren, not wanting the spellsword to start describing the intimate details of the dream itself, stepped in and started describing the young man from the dream. "Why, that's Henry," one of the maids piped up after hearing him described, and Mrs. Wiggins added that Henry was a stable boy in the Vesperman employ, but he was inherently lazy and apparently took off about a week ago. "Probably went off to spend time with that farmer's girl, Glorinna Sputney," she opined. A press for details indicated Glorinna was likely the other girl vying for his carnal attentions in the dream.

A quick search of the stables revealed a large, empty area where the carriage was stored and two of the three horse stalls empty (Mrs. Wiggins explained their butler had taken it to town a few hours ago to fetch supplies), and there, hidden behind the bales of hay in the feed stall, the unconscious form of one Henry Baskindale. Thurloe tossed him over his shoulder and plopped him down in the carriage garage, and then Alewyth explained to the women of the manor what they needed to do to awaken him from his dreams. Lady Angelica and the house staff returned to the manor to start setting things right while the five dreamwalkers went about their ritual. In the end, waking Henry required the heroes to convince him to make a choice between the two women with which he was smitten: the unapproachable Lady Angelica (she was far above Henry's station and had no reciprocal feelings for the servant boy - although Thurloe predictably muddied the waters by pointing out she was now a widow and technically back on the market) or Glorinna the farm-girl, who was his own age and from his own common upbringing. Once Henry, in his dream, made it clear he was going to commit himself to Glorinna the dream started vanishing all around them.

Everyone woke up at about the same time, the five heroes sitting in a circle around the confused stable boy. "You might as well go head on over to Glorinna right now," Thurloe suggested, "because your ass is definitely fired from this job."

"Well, I'm glad that at least ended up fairly well for all involved," said Alewyth as she opened the double doors to the carriage house. In doing so, she heard the unmistakable sound of the flapping of leathery wings, looked up, and saw a horse-sized monstrosity coming in for a landing before her. The creature was a strange amalgamation of dragon and insect: large, bulbous, multifaceted eyes, with alternating bands of scales of yellow and brown down its entire flank giving it the appearance of some sort of insect hybrid. Alewyth judged she had enough time to cast another bless spell (as the original had run its course) before the creature arrived, so she did so.

Thurloe saw a draconic shape coming down from the sky, immediately realized it would likely have a breath weapon of some type, and dashed out the back of the carriage shed, running north. Wakuren ran south for the same reason: not wanting to be all bunched up such that one blast of a breath weapon could encompass the entire group. Xandro started back up with his song of inspirational courage as he backed behind the carriage house and stables, while Zander cast haste on the group before they got too far apart, then went out the back of the building in the opposite direction from that which the bard had gone.

And by then the arsalon had landed, spewing forth its breath weapon. Being one of the stranger types of greater drake, its throat sac was coated in a sweet, nectarlike substance that attracted flying insects and this particular arsalon had a hive of wasps living within its throat bladder. With enough pressure to disturb the hive, the creature ensured a swarm of enraged wasps came barreling out of its mouth at full speed, totally encompassing Alewyth and Henry, who still stood in the middle of the empty carriage parking area. They swatted furiously at the stinging insects but the stable boy was quickly overcome, his body swelling by the numerous stings he'd received from the furious insects. He collapsed onto the floor of the shed, unconscious.

Alewyth bent over and picked him up, dragging him out the back way and kicking the doors shut with her feet; they didn't automatically lock but it was enough for her to stop the swarm's advance. Thurloe, in the meantime, had done an about-face and was now charging the arsalon, now that it had disgorged its breath weapon and the spellsword anticipated he'd have a few seconds before the drake could employ it again. (Little did he know it, but the arsalon had a breath weapon generally employed but the one time, for once the angry wasps evacuated their nest inside the arsalon's throat bladder they generally didn't return until the combat was at an end.) His bastard sword came swinging in from the side, cutting deep into the creature's scales.

Wakuren likewise charged the hive drake from the other direction, using the bottom point of his shield as an offensive weapon that stabbed into its side, just behind its right wing. Xandro continued his song, advancing around the smaller out-building so he could see the combat unfold. Zander, a sorcerer, had no access to healing spells but he did have a way to help stabilize Henry and cast a bear's endurance spell upon the unconscious stable boy; the increased vitality helped him overcome the shock to his system from all of the wasp venom coursing through his body.

The arsalon swung to the right and snapped at Wakuren with its fang-filled mouth, trying to claw him at the same time; the half-orc dodged the one attack and allowed the other to slide harmlessly across his shield. The swarm of wasps, prevented by the closed doors in the back from continuing their attacks upon Alewyth and Henry, veered off in the opposite direction and came flying out of the other doors, quickly engulfing Thurloe. Alewyth cast a spiritual weapon spell, sending a warhammer made of solid force energy crashing down upon the arsalon's head while Thurloe did his best to attack the creature while nearly blinded by the dozens, if not hundreds, of individual wasps swarming between him and his intended foe.

Wakuren summoned another javelin of lightning into his raised hand and let it fly, blasting the arsalon's side. Then Zander came stepping up into range, his hands held together before him, thumbs touching, as he verbalized the words to the burning hands spell. A sheet of flames encompassed the wasps covering Thurloe (and singeing the spellsword a bit as well, but Zander was sure Thurloe would be fine with a little collateral damage) and burning the arsalon's head as well. By this time, it had pretty much decided to flee, having answered Lord Andrus's whispering wind call but finding the group waiting for it to be a bit more than it was willing to handle. It turned back the way it had come, flapped its leathery wings, and was soon aloft - but Zander wasn't about to let it escape. A lightning bolt spell soon had the arsalon back on the ground, crashing in an ungainly heap as its life was taken from it by the elf sorcerer's spell.

The creature dead and the few remaining wasps from the initial swarm wandering away now that combat was over, Thurloe looked around and said, "Let's get out of here." They checked on Lady Angelica one last time to ensure she'd be all right, and they were given all of Lord Andrus's alchemical equipment from his lab (she wanted nothing to do with his arcane experiments), the weapons and armor from the dwarven bodyguards, plus a sizable sum in gemstones as a reward for having saved her life and those of her retainers, and then the group was off.

And as per her promise to Lady Angelica, that night before retiring for the evening in the lamp, they dumped the werewasp grub from the magic chest and stabbed it to death.

- - -

I want to note this is the second adventure in a row that the players opted to try the "Trojan Horse" gambit with all but one PC inside the magic lamp while the other one carries it where they need to infiltrate, and neither time has it gone exactly as planned. And I named the adventure after a band my son Logan enjoys, "The Birthday Massacre." (I rather like them as well.) But it seemed fitting.

Also, a note about the campaign: we'll be taking a brief hiatus for six weeks or so, while one of our number undergoes some surgery that will require a bit of extensive healing up afterwards. We'll allow that to run its course and will likely pick the campaign back up in mid-October or so.

- - -

T-shirt worn: My Spider-Man T-shirt, for the most tenuous of reasons. For one thing, there's a spider wasp that lays its eggs in the bodies of paralyzed spiders, allowing the hatching grubs to have a living meal immediately upon hatching (rather like the unfortunate situation in which Lady Angelica found herself). For another, one of the many members of Spider-Man's rogues gallery is a Nazi scientist named "Swarm" whose vaguely humanoid body is made up of a swarm of bees. But mostly, spiders and wasps are both "bugs," which was all the justification I needed. (Plus, had I worn my "DAD: Cleverly Disguised as a Responsible Adult" T-shirt, which was my original idea, it would have potentially spilled the beans about Lord Andrus not being who he seemed to be.)
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PC Roster:
Alewyth Putterpye, dwarf priestess of Aerik 7​
Thurloe Pulver, human fighter 3/wizard 3/spellsword 1​
Wakuren, half-orc cleric of Cal 3/paladin 4​
Xandro Silverstrings, human bard 5/rogue 2​
Zander Quilson, elf sorcerer 7​

NPC Roster:
Streggin Cavedelver, dwarf ranger 3​

Game Session Date: 24 September 2022

- - -

"Hey kupo!" Mogo greeted the group of five dreamwalkers as they entered the Hallway of Dreams. "There's another set of dreamstones the Queen of Dreams would like you to fetch, kupo! Only one problem – it's deeper in the Underdark than you've ever been before, kupo!"

Mogo further explained the readings on these particular dreamstones were faint, possibly due to the deepness of the Underdark and possibly because none of the beings around the dreamstones were dreaming about them very often. As a result of the faint trace with this batch of dreamstones, there was no specific path to follow to get to them; the best the moogles could do was provide the correct entrance to the Underdark – and then after that it would be up to the adventurers. One thing Mogo was able to tell them was the pair of dreamstones had been carved into eyes and placed into the statue of a kobold, so it was probably a kobold warren they'd be looking for.

"Every once in a while we can make out an image near the location of the dreamstones, and it's always rows of kobolds lined up and facing the statue, kupo! It's almost like they worship it or something, kupo!"

The Underdark entrance was in the dwarven mining town of Agatesgate, so named because of the gem mines in the nearby mountains, where agates were recovered from beneath the earth. The dwarves were a friendly lot, although they were very focused on riches; not surprisingly, the city's primary deity wasn't Aerik but rather Farthingale, here depicted with dwarven features. The group decided to stock up on the items they envisioned needing on a journey deep underground, whereupon Thurloe, opting to pick up some pitons and a grappling hook, discovered the prices in Agatesgate were considerably higher than in other towns and cities they'd visited since they started wandering the continent coming to the rescue of trapped dreamers. He grumbled at the price increases, but he still made his purchases - to include 10 sunrods, three flasks of oil, and two vials of antitoxin. Like it or not, they weren't going to have the opportunity to make such purchases once they were wandering around in Underdark tunnels, for who knew how long they'd be down there?

"We ought to ask around, see if anybody knows anything about a kobold warren with a statue with eyes carved out of dreamstone," suggested Xandro. As this meant hitting the local watering holes, Thurloe was all for it - although he soon discovered dwarven ale was much stronger than the alcoholic beverages with which he was more familiar. Still, Xandro's good nature and way with people - not to mention Alewyth's presence, which got a lot of the local men talking with her, if not the others - soon led to confirmation that at least one dwarf had seen a kobold statue of the type they described. Sadly, he was dead, but a friend of his had heard the tale enough times before he was able to scratch out a map of the rough location. "Coupla days of travel there," he advised. "As much time as ye need dealin' with th' kobolds, an' then coupla days back. A week, tops."

Another dwarf suggested if they were going to spend a week in the Underdark, they'd be foolish not to hire a guide - and as it happened, his cousin was one of the best. The group agreed to meet with him, and soon enough they had Streggin Cavedelver on the payroll for 25 pieces of gold a day. Streggin had never been to the kobold warren they were looking for, but he looked over the hand-drawn map and suggested everyone pack for a week's journey. When he asked about their willingness to rough it in the wild, he was amazed when they showed him their magic lamp - they wouldn't need to "rough it" quite so much after all!

Naturally, they'd be leaving their animals and wagon behind them, so they got them settled into a stable and Scarlie Besker settled into an inn, with promises they should be back in a week or less. He in turn promised to check on the animals daily and ensure they were being well tended to. Then, deciding it would be best to get a fresh start in the morning, they adjourned to the interior of the magic lamp for a good night's rest.

Meeting up with Streggin in the morning, they entered the agate mine and were escorted to a vertical shaft in the back, which was under constant guard by a quartet of dwarven fighters. "No tellin' what might try t' find its way up here," one of them told Alewyth. "But we're ready fer anythin' might think about poppin' its head up an' botherin' our miners."

Even entering the Underdark led to the group's first decision. The entry hole was about 90 feet down a nearly vertical shaft, in some places narrow enough there wouldn't be room enough for two people side by side. Streggin was all for heading down one at a time - he even volunteered to go down first, in case there were any dangers waiting down there for them - but Wakuren came up with a much simpler solution. "Why don't you all go into the lamp, I'll pick it up, cast a gaseous form spell, and fly on down to the bottom. Then I can dismiss the spell and you can all come on out again."

"Save your spell - we might want it later," Thurloe advised. "I'm a decent climber; you all get into the lamp and I'll carry it down."

"Yeah, but if you fall you could get seriously hurt - and possibly damage the lamp," Wakuren countered.

"Are you doubting my abilities?" Thurloe demanded. "Anyway, I'm already hammering in a piton, see? We can tie our two lengths of rope together and it'll be no problem." And as far as he was concerned, that was the end of it. Wakuren just shrugged and led everyone else into the lamp. Thurloe climbed down without incident, then popped back inside to let everyone know they were at the bottom of the shaft and the way was clear. The dwarven guards above warned him they were pulling the rope back up, but to give them a holler when they were ready to climb back up. "Dinnae wanna make it easy fer any others what might wanna climb on up here!" he advised.

There were two passages from this starting point beneath the agate mines. In the light of Zander Quilson's everburning torch, Wakuren pulled out the hand-drawn map and examined the notes the elderly dwarf had written for them. "It looks like we want the left tunnel," he said, folding the map back up. Streggin nodded and led the way.

The tunnel meandered a bit, veering off one way before darting back the other, and the passageway's width and height varied wildly as well, on occasion opening up into a cavern with a ceiling height beyond the illumination of Zander's everburning torch, while in other places it called for walking single file and hunched over because that was the only way to make any forward progress. But after about 40 minutes, the "sameness" of the Underdark trail was broken by the discovery of a skeleton lying face-down just ahead, in an area where the tunnel made one of its random right-angle turns.

Streggin, as usual, was in the lead and he stopped suddenly when he spotted the skeleton, raising his hand to warn the others to hold up. There were no other creatures visible in the vicinity, but the skeleton had obviously been used as a food source, given the torn pieces of leather scattered about, likely where it had been ripped from the corpse's armor so whatever predator or scavenger had been making a meal of the dead dwarf - even at this range, Streggin could tell the remains were about the size and shape of a dwarf, probably a duergar - could get to the meat beneath. There was a light crossbow lying on the stone floor by the skeleton's side, and a quiver with a dozen or so bolts scattered nearby.

The others, stopping in place as directed by their dwarven scout, took the opportunity for some spellcasting; after all, if the predator was still about there was a good chance they'd be fighting it off soon. Zander cast a mage armor spell upon himself; Thurloe did likewise and then fired off a shield spell from his wand. Streggin had been looking this way and that, and eventually, he pointed up to the ceiling directly above the skeleton. "See that?" he asked his charges.

"What?" asked Thurloe, looking up where the dwarf was pointing. "That bald spot?" The ceiling, which held dripping stalactites of various sizes, had an area directly above the skeletal remains devoid of such hangings - and the ceiling was slightly lower than the surrounding area as well.

"Yep. That 'bald spot' is what we call a lurker above - a fairly large one, too." In the light from Zander Quilson's everburning torch, Thurloe could make out the creature's basic shape - it was rather like a levitating manta ray or something hovering up at the top of the cavern's ceiling.

"We could easily bypass it," pointed out Wakuren. "Everyone could jump into the lamp, and I'll pick it up and cast gaseous form on myself."

"But it'll still be alive when we need to come back this way, after we fetch the dreamstones," argued Alewyth. "And if it killed that dwarf, we know it attacks sentient creatures - it's a menace we should deal with."

Zander cast a mage hand spell and used it to drag the light crossbow from the dead dwarf's side, over to him. He watched the lurker above to see if the movement would trigger an attack, but apparently its senses knew the difference between an inanimate object being pulled away and an actual, living creature directly below it waiting to be attacked and devoured. Perhaps due to the constricting passageways jutting out in two directions from the larger cavern in which it hung about, it was apparently content to wait for prey to pass by beneath it; while it could probably constrict itself somehow and squeeze through the narrower tunnels (and in fact would have had to to have gotten to its present position), that didn't seem to be its first choice in the matter.

Slowly, the heroes all inched forward, weapons drawn and ready to attack if the lurker above made a move for them. Finally, Alewyth cast a spiritual weapon and sent a magical warhammer flying up to smash into the creature's underside. Zander almost immediately followed up with a scorching ray spell, likewise hitting it on the bottom part of its hovering body. Streggin fired his light crossbow at it, while Wakuren activated his gauntlet of Cal and sent a javelin of lightning crashing up against it as well.

Under the combined onslaught, the lurker above finally deemed to act. Flapping its two "wings" and spinning in place to face these attackers, it shot forward - but Thurloe blasted it with his wand of magic missiles and it died on its way down, its body hitting short of any of its intended targets. Its corpse did land upon the skeletal dwarf, forcing the group to lift one wing high enough for Zander to scramble beneath it to fetch the quiver, which held a total of eleven bolts. A quick detect magic spell confirmed the dead dwarf's light crossbow had a minor enchantment guiding the bolts fired from it, and as a result both it and the quiver of bolts were given to Xandro, who was fairly lacking in the ranged attack department. The threat handily dealt with, the group trekked on, Streggin Cavedelver leading the way.

After another hour or more of travel, the narrow passageway led into a much wider tunnel leading from side to side. There was another dwarven body lying upon the ground, with dwarven runes carved into the wall above him and off to the left a bit. Alewyth moved forward to examine the runes while Wakuren went over to look at the corpse. It was a duergar, no doubt about it, and unlike the one the lurker above had been eating this one had been slain fairly recently - within the past hour, by the half-orc's estimation. Streggin examined the corpse, noting something the others hadn't noticed: he was wearing chain mail armor and had a heavy steel shield at his side and a light crossbow strapped to his back, but no melee weapon. "Looks to be a typical duergar guard," the dwarven scout explained, "but any duergar in his right mind would have some sort of weapon at hand for hand-to-hand fighting."

"How'd he die?" Thurloe asked.

"Blow to the head," Streggin answered, rolling the body over so the spellsword could see the caved-in part of the gray dwarf's skull. "Simple bludgeoning weapon, likely: a hammer or club'd be my guess."

Alewyth returned to the others. "Dwarven runes," she said. "It's a warning that there's a duergar slave city that way." She pointed off to the left.

"That's not the way we need to go, is it?" Zander asked. Wakuren got out the map and they examined it in the elf's magic torchlight. "Nope, we go the other way," Streggin answered.

"Let's go, then," suggested Thurloe.

They headed off to the right, the wider passageway allowing them to spread out a bit instead of the single file they'd been forced to follow for a large section of the trip thus far. The passageway led into an enormous cavern ahead, from which the sounds of dripping water could be heard. But the closer they got to the cavern, the worse the air started to smell. It wasn't the odor of bad gas, or toxic fumes - more in the line of an animal stench, similar to that produced by the troglodytes they'd faced the last time they went delving into the Underdark, although this stench wasn't quite like that: it was less reptilian and more insectile. The reason for this became abundantly clear once they actually entered the cavern proper, and saw a few giant cockroaches in the light of the everburning torch. Alewyth, Wakuren, and Streggin could see much farther than the light's illumination and they saw a full nine of the giant insects - plus the fact that three of them were being ridden by large, shaggy-furred individuals, humanoid in build but with features slightly reminiscent of bears.

"Quaggoths!" swore Streggin under his breath, apparently much more familiar with the creatures than was Alewyth, who'd never seen such beings before. Fortunately, the quaggoths all had their backs turned, examining the various smaller exits from the tunnel, as if deciding which one to take. This gave Wakuren enough time to discern their auras and confirm that while the cockroaches bore no stain of evil, the shaggy-furred quaggoths certainly did.

Not liking the prospects of having to fight giant bugs, Thurloe unstoppered a vial of antitoxin and swigged down its contents, certain there was likely some sort of toxin or poison involved in the stomach-churning stanch the cockroaches put off. Before any of them got too far away from each other - and knowing that happened all too often once combat began - Zander cast a haste spell on the assembled group. Streggin already had a bolt loaded into his crossbow and was cautiously moving up, Xandro mirroring the dwarf ranger's actions with his own new light crossbow. Alewyth cast a magic circle against evil spell upon herself as she advanced, Sjondra in hand.

But before any of them could attack, one of the quaggoths turned around and noticed the light and called out a warning to the others. All three mounted quaggoths spun their insectile mounts about, and they no doubt warned the other six using some subtle pheromones or antennae movements, for the other cockroaches spun about in place to face the heroes as well. The quaggoths nudged their mounts forward into a charge, and Wakuren and the dwarves couldn't help but notice that while two of the white-furred creatures wielded what looked like broken-off stalagmites as clubs, the third had a warhammer of likely duergar make; it seemed as if the heroes had found the ones responsible for the dead duergar guard whose remains they'd discovered in the wide tunnel behind them.

Before the charging giant cockroaches could reach them, Wakuren cast a summoning spell and a celestial bison appeared in the middle of the cavern. Without waiting for instructions from its summoner, the shaggy bovine slammed its great, horned head into the side of one of the mounted quaggoths. But then the cockroaches reached their targets, one biting at Thurloe, three going for Alewyth, and four ganging up on the celestial bison. The stench only increased as a result of their actions, and Xandro, Zander, and Streggin found their stomachs churning in turmoil as a result of the horrific stench. They could only guess the quaggoths either had some natural immunity, had built up a tolerance, or just had iron stomachs, for none of them seemed discomfited in the least.

Thurloe brought his magical bastard sword slashing down into the hardened carapace of the giant cockroach before him, one of the six not currently being ridden. Alewyth, seeing the logic behind Wakuren's summoning, took a step back from the cockroach attacking her and summoned a celestial bison of her own. But by then two of the quaggoths advanced upon her, striking at her with stone greatclub and duergar-forged warhammer, and it was all she could do to block the blows with Sjondra. The other quaggoth was fighting back against the bison Wakuren had summoned, but it retaliated with a smiting attack with holy energy channeled through its horns.

The half-orc leapt into battle, swinging his shield onto the side of one of the quaggoths attacking Alewyth and almost knocking him from the giant cockroach's back, for Wakuren could see these shaggy riders used no saddles. Thurloe kept swinging his bastard sword against the cockroach trying to make a meal of him, looking back in disdain at Streggin and the two members of his own team who were currently nauseated by the cockroach stench to the point they couldn't contribute to the battle at hand. "Shake it off!" he yelled at the vomiting trio, not understanding why everyone wasn't as tough as he was. Obviously, they just weren't trying hard enough, that was the problem!

Alewyth's Sjondra took out one of the quaggoths with a well-targeted blow to the side of its shaggy head; it slumped to the ground in a lifeless heap while its insectoid mount tried biting at the dwarven priestess. But the other quaggoth - the probable leader, given he was the one wielding the duregar warhammer - got in a good blow of his own, nearly dropping Alewyth to her knees. Wakuren wasn't close enough to reach the other quaggoth, so he used the full amount of strength coursing through his half-orc body to bring the bottom point of his shield crashing down upon the mount of the quaggoth Alewyth had just slain. It gashed the side of the insect's head, slicing through a shiny, domed eye.

The other quaggoth was still focused upon fighting off a celestial bison, and the shaggy beast in turn seemed intent to slay that particular quaggoth. The other bison, in the meantime, satisfied itself with goring any and all giant cockroaches within reach. The insects, for their part, snapped their horrible mouthparts at any foe they could reach. But Thurloe's sword sliced deep into the carapace of the one he'd been fighting, nearly killing it, just as the nauseous trio started coming around. Zander hobbled forward and lined up a lightning bolt spell that not only slew the cockroach Thurloe had been fighting but also dealt some heavy damage to two others further back in the cavern. Streggin's crossbow twanged and a bolt stuck out from another cockroach's eye as its twin antennae whipped about in pain and fury. Alewyth almost knocked down her remaining quaggoth foe from his insectoid mount's carapaced back with a hearty blow from Sjondra. And then from the back of the cavern, the inspiring sounds of Xandro's favorite courage-inducing song could be heard, buoying the spirits of the heroes who were being wordlessly reminded of all of the various other foes they'd overcome in the past. Xandro had come to the conclusion his magic song would aid the group's battle overall much better than could another light crossbow being brought to bear; while the song wasn't creating any direct damage on its own, it was allowing his friends to each do better in their own fights: striking faster, with more power behind each strike.

The two quaggoths, perhaps fearing the eventual end result of this skirmish, started an all-out attack on their foes, one raining blows down upon Alewyth and the other finally slaying the first celestial bison that had been summoned to the fight. But by then Wakuren had made it to his fellow cleric's side and, fury blazing in his eyes, the powerful blow from his shield slew the offending quaggoth outright.

That seemed to be the turning point in the battle. Thurloe waded up and killed another wounded giant cockroach with his bastard sword, while the remaining bison crushed another beneath its stomping hooves. Streggin and Alewyth started attacking giant cockroaches as well once another scorching ray cast by Zander took out the last remaining quaggoth. Even Xandro decided he'd done enough support work with his music and, sliding the strap of his Dardolian lute back over his shoulder, drew his frost short sword and charged to the attack.

But that's when four more foes entered the combat. These were a pair of enormous spiders, much like tarantulas in build, but ridden by a pair of gray dwarves: a pair of duergar kavalrachni, or steeder-mounted cavalry, having been appointed to hunt down the escaped quaggoth slaves responsible for the death of the duergar guard the heroes had discovered. And while the kavalrachni could already see the quaggoth slaves had been slain, there looked to be a handful of various humanoids - a couple of surface dwarves, a pair of humans, a skinny elf, and some sort of mongrel orc - that could easily be gathered up to take their places.

Wakuren could see by the evil grins on the gray dwarves' faces - to say nothing of the evil suffusing their auras - their intentions toward him and decided to toss another javelin of lightning their way. As the spider-riders were lined up single file as they entered the cavern from a side tunnel, he managed to get all four with his blast of electricity. By this point, the giant cockroaches had all decided to flee the scene, although one passed close enough to both Thurloe and Wakuren that their reflexive attacks on it as it passed slew the giant bug outright.

As the steeders advanced, their hairy, banded legs moving like pistons, Thurloe shot at one of the duergar kavalrachni with his wand of magic missile. Zander cast a scorching ray spell, splitting the bolts between the two duergar, killing one of them (although the special saddles each steeder wore into battle kept the corpse in place). Alewyth centered an order's wrath spell to hit both steeders, both duergar, and one fleeing giant cockroach, causing no small amount of damage to each. The sole remaining celestial bison, farther away from the approaching kavalrachni than the scurrying cockroaches, stabbed at the nearest insect and slew it with its horns before its time on the Material Plane expired and it returned to its home in the Heavens.

One steeder climbed up the side of the cavern wall, temporarily out of melee combat range, while the other one, its rider dead and no longer giving it battle-prompts, scrambled over to the nearest dead cockroach and started dripping digestive acids upon its carapaced corpse. Then the one on the wall leaped forward and landed beside Alewyth, the duergar swinging at her leg with a battleaxe, hoping to lame her so she could more easily be taken as a slave. But Alewyth managed to step away from the axe in time for it to go swishing harmlessly before her. But he hadn't counted on Wakuren's battle-lust; the half-orc, as bloodthirsty as any of the orc raiders they'd fought in the desert weeks before, sent the edge of his shield slamming into the kavalrach's neck with every ounce of strength he possessed and the duergar's spine snapped under the onslaught. That left only the two steeders (for the giant cockroaches still alive had managed to scramble out of side-passageways from the cavern by that time), and Zander and Thurloe took them down with a few spells.

Wakuren felt his heartrate slow down now that combat was over and, his mind once again better able to focus on the priorities at hand, helped Alewyth cast healing spells upon those who needed them. Then, once a quick detect magic spell determined none of the equipment wielded by the duergar or quaggoths had been magical, the group pressed on, exiting through one of the passageways a few of the fleeing cockroaches had taken. But the panicked insects must have taken a few side branches after that, for the group never did see any of them again as they followed the path prescribed on their hand-drawn map.

Their next encounter wasn't until hours later, after they'd opted to take a quick break inside the magic lamp to take a meal. With Streggin once again taking the lead (for the passageway had narrowed a bit again), they came upon a junction with a wider tunnel and there before them stood a gray-skinned stone giant and a cave bear - a bruin easily twice or even three times larger than any bear the heroes had seen on the surface world. The stone giant carried a massive greatclub made of solid rock and wore an expression of weariness upon his craggy brow as he turned toward the sudden source of illumination.

Fortunately, Thurloe - often one of the first to leap into battle - picked up on the giant's expression and saw in it a willingness not to fight, if that were at all possible. "Greetings," he called to the giant before him. "Do you speak this language?"

"Some. Enough," replied the giant, shifting his grip on his weapon in case it became necessary to use it.

"Are you okay?" Thurloe asked.

"Hungry," admitted the giant, which did nothing to convince the others that battle wasn't on the table after all. But then he continued, "All day, hunting cavern lizard, track him to lair. But hole too small. Can't reach him."

Thurloe saw the obvious solution and voiced it on behalf of the group. "We don't want to have to fight you, we just want to pass by and be on our way. But what if we help you get that lizard you're after?"

"I have a soften earth and stone spell at hand," Alewyth proffered up. "I could widen the hole for you." The stone giant, Lorgar Borgusson, agreed at once and held back his cave bear, Brienda, who seemed perfectly willing to dine upon one of these strangers instead of the cavern lizard they'd been tracking all day. But after Alewyth cast her spell, widening the hole to the lizard's den, the group decided to slay the lizard on the giant's behalf and get even further on his good side. This worked wonders, and once they'd told Lorgar where they were headed, he had even better news for them: not only were they going to be allowed to pass by unharmed, he could even give them pointers on where to find the kobold warren they were searching for, for he'd been that way and seen the statue for himself, some time ago. Looking over their map, he agreed the path as drawn would get them there, but he added a few details on what type of landmarks to look for before each of the required turns into a new tunnel. "Got another six, maybe seven hours of travel ahead of you," Lorgar advised, not exactly sure how fast these little people could travel.

Thanking the stone giant and allowing him to enjoy the cavern lizard repast with his cave bear pet, the group moved on. And it was several hours later that they met with the last of that day's encounters. It wasn't a particularly dangerous encounter, but it was definitely the most puzzling and one that would cause them a considerable amount of worry. The passageway narrowed again and started twisting back and forth like a snake, so it wasn't possible to see very far ahead of where they were going. With Streggin once more in the lead and Zander - and his everburning torch - safely in the middle of the formation, the group moved on and almost bumped into a svirfneblin woman who had been moving down the tunnel toward them, apparently lost in her own thoughts.

"Eep!" she said upon turning the corner and seeing Streggin Cavedelver standing immediately before her. Behind the dwarf stood Thurloe and Wakuren, then Zander, and finally Alewyth and Xandro bringing up the rear. Her eyes grew wide at the sight of the assembled group and a shudder raced down her body. A strange word, likely of Gnomish origin, spilled from her lips - followed almost immediately by a flow of blood. More blood dripped from each of her nostrils and from her ears, as she began leaking tears of blood as well. She immediately staggered to one knee, then fell onto her side, her hands clenching and unclenching spasmodically.

"What's happening?" demanded Alewyth from the back of the group, unable to see past the press of bodies before her. But Thurloe was at the little svirfneblin's side in a moment, pulling the cork stopper to a healing potion as he knelt beside the young woman's body, ready to pour its contents down her throat. Wakuren knelt by her side, the words to his most powerful healing spell coming to his tongue. But the deep gnome's body gave a final shudder and Wakuren could see it was too late for any healing spells - the svirfneblin woman was dead. He told Thurloe not to bother with his potion.

"What just happened?" Thurloe demanded, looking all about him for an unseen attacker. "How'd she die, that quick?" With a sudden horrific thought, he pulled his cloak forward to cover his own face and demanded, "Is it poison gas? Are we under attack?"

"I don't think so," Alewyth replied, casting a detect poison spell and looking around the group, knowing full well some gases couldn't be seen by the naked eye. But while the air around them was clear, the svirfneblin's body was definitely full of poison.

"What was that word she said?" Wakuren asked. "Did anybody catch it?"

"It were Gnomish, all right," Streggin replied. Thinking of how best to translate it into the Common tongue, he finally settled on "deathborn."

"Deathborn?" repeated Thurloe. "What's that - the name of the poison that killed her?"

"That, I couldn't say," Streggin admitted.

"I don't like this," Zander admitted.

"Me neither," added Xandro.

"We'd best press on," suggested Streggin. Alewyth felt sorry for the svirfneblin and wanted to bury her, but the ranger advised against it - especially since her body was riddled with whatever virulent poison caused her to spill out her life's blood from each of her facial orifices. The dwarven priestess finally bowed to the inevitable and pressed on.

The group put another hour or two of travel behind them before deciding to camp out in the lamp overnight. "At this rate, we'll be at the kobold warren before mid-day meal," advised Streggin. It didn't cheer up any of the heroes much; they were still worried about what had caused the svirfbneblin to die like that right in front of them with no apparent cause.

- - -

I had warned the group that this adventure was just a "travel" adventure: a series of Underdark encounters with a few creatures they hadn't met up with before. (Well, with the possible exception of Dan, who had played AD&D first edition as a kid and likely had met up with a lurker above and/or quaggoths in past campaigns.) And Harry came through: as a result of his excellent Gather Information rolls in Agatesgate, he not only got word of Streggin Cavedelver as a potential guide but also got them a map to follow. (Without the map, they'd have had to decide which way to go on several occasions, which would have resulted in other encounters they were able to bypass. So they avoided combats with darkmantles, piercers, a phantom fungus, and a choker.) And because those avoided encounters lessened the length of time it took for us to go through this adventure, we had time to go through the next one as well, in which the PCs met up with the kobold warren and found the statue with the dreamstone eyes they'd been sent to fetch.

By the way, this was the first time we played since Joe went off to college, so his dad, Dan, ran Zander Quilson as well as his own PC, Thurloe. I did up stats for Streggin as well, and Logan opted to run him. But apparently the next time we play - on 8 October - Joe will be joining us, so he'll be back to running his own PC for at least that one session. In the meantime, I'll write up the second adventure we played this session, "Dreamstone Vision," hopefully posting it before we play one week from today.

- - -

T-shirt worn: My USA shirt, with fireworks on the top and a symbol somewhat reminiscent of Captain America's original (non-round) shield below. I chose it because the T-shirt itself is gray - a good representation of the stone passageways in the Underdark the PCs would be traversing - and also because I mentally gave the acronym a different meaning: "Underdark Survival Adventure."
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PC Roster:
Alewyth Putterpye, dwarf priestess of Aerik 7​
Thurloe Pulver, human fighter 3/wizard 3/spellsword 1​
Wakuren, half-orc cleric of Cal 3/paladin 4​
Xandro Silverstrings, human bard 5/rogue 2​
Zander Quilson, elf sorcerer 7​

NPC Roster:
Streggin Cavedelver, dwarf ranger 3​

Game Session Date: 24 September 2022

- - -

"That's the three-column landmark," Streggin observed, pointing to a clump of three stalactites who hung down so low from the cavern ceiling they had merged with the three stalagmites directly below, forming three lumpy columns reaching from floor to cavern ceiling. "Just like Lorgar said. That side tunnel on the left leads directly into the kobold warren."

The group approached cautiously, with weapons drawn and combat spells ready to fire. Turning the corner, however, was somewhat anti-climatic, for the corridor was empty - and rather than leading directly into a kobold worship cavern with a statue whose eyes were made of solid dreamstones, there was instead a solid wall of absolute blackness. Of course, that didn't mean there wasn't the kobold statue on the other side of the deeper darkness spell, just that it couldn't be seen.

"You hear that?" Zander asked, cocking his head. The others strained their ears and there was indeed some sort of rhythmic chanting going on, in a squeaky language none of the group could understand. It came from the other side of the magical darkness. The elf sorcerer cast a mage armor spell on himself, predicting imminent combat now that they were finally here. After all, he couldn't very well believe the kobolds were just going to hand over the dreamstones the Queen of Dreams had sent her five dreamwalkers to fetch and return to the surface world.

Thurloe cast a mage armor spell on himself as well and took a few hesitant steps forward. "Odd that they don't have any guards posted," he whispered to the others.

Alewyth was already tired of all of this pussy-footing around. It seemed to her as if none of the men wanted to be the first to step forward into the magical darkness. Of course, if what people said about kobolds was true - that they were devious, nasty trap-makers with a penchant for evil - their cautiousness was probably warranted. But her dwarven temperament wasn't geared for putting off the inevitable; if there was a trap ahead, the best way to deal with it was to press on ahead and trust in Aerik's protection to keep her safe from harm. With that thought in mind, she boldly stepped forward, Sjondra in hand.

Before she reached the zone of darkness, though, a pair of reptilian heads popped out of the wall at her side, mouths opened wide and long, venomous fangs exposed as they bit at her. She managed to dodge one of the snakes but the other got a grip on her arm with its jaws and the priestess could feel the venom being pumped into her system. But dwarves were a hardy lot and she gritted her teeth, ignored the pain of the bite, and willed the poison to dissipate harmlessly into her system. Unfortunately, these snakes were quick, and as she spun about to face them head on one of the two got in another poisonous bite. Alewyth grunted in pain and could actually feel the double-dose of venom start to have an effect on her vitality.

Streggin stepped forward, crossbow pointed at the snakes but they were gone - their striking heads had darted back through the seemingly solid wall of the tunnel. Still, the dwarven ranger had heard of these kinds of illusory tricks before, and even though he couldn't see through the illusion, he fired his weapon blindly into the illusory wall spell, hoping for the best.

Wakuren took the concept one step further, by stepping forward and sticking his head completely through the illusory wall spell, where he was the first to see that both snakes were actually the two ends of a single creature. He slammed his shield into the amphisbaena, causing it to hiss in pain from the powerful blow.

Xandro figured any attempts at quietly sneaking into the kobold warren were probably moot by this time, and decided if they were already making the sounds of combat likely to alert the kobolds, he might as well add to the cacophony with a tune of inspirational courage on his Dardolian lute. That way, his friends and allies would at least get the benefit of his magical music inspiring them to greater efforts.

Zander was worried there was going to be an army of kobolds spilling out of the magical darkness at any moment and wanted to be able to warn the others if this was about to occur. Activating the full power of his scout's headband, he granted himself the ability to magically pierce the deeper darkness via a true seeing effect, which allowed him to verify there was indeed the cavern they had hoped for on the other side of the darkness. And on the far side of the open chamber was the kobold statue they sought, raised on a natural outcropping of stone that elevated the 10-foot-tall statue even higher. As the moogles had surmised, the kobolds apparently worshiped this statue as a god, for there must have been 50 or so of the little reptiles, all facing the statue in ragged rows, their backs turned to the darkness. They stood in place, each with a spear in their left hand while their right hand thumped rhythmically on their chests. If they heard any of the sounds of battle coming from outside, they gave absolutely no indication of it. Perhaps, Zander mused, they were gearing themselves up into a religious frenzy, where the outside world no longer mattered to them. But then, with his true seeing enhancing his vision, he noted something he hadn't paid attention to himself at first - the kobolds, all 50 of them, were illusions! That made absolutely no sense to the elf sorcerer - why in the world would you craft an illusion of false worshipers? Were they really trying to pull a fast one on their statue god?

Thurloe, in the meantime, followed Wakuren's lead and stepped through the illusory wall, bringing his bastard sword crashing into the side of the amphisbaena's scaled body. He noted the light from Zander's everburning torch had no trouble illuminating this side of the illusion spell; he gave a moment's thought about canceling the illusory wall spell with his sword, Spellslicer being particularly useful in that regard. But then he decided not to let the kobolds know the adventurers had already tumbled upon one of their secrets. Alewyth stepped through the false wall and brought her warhammer Sjondra crashing down upon one of the dual-headed serpent's skulls, crushing it instantly. The remaining head hissed in pain and the creature's long, serpentine body lowered itself to the cold, stone floor of its lair cavern as it died.

Streggin, hearing the sounds of combat die down, closed his eyes and cast his dwarven senses about - if there was one illusory wall around here, it only made sense there could well be another. His inherent dwarven stonecunning allowed him to sense an opening behind him that, when he opened his eyes and spun about, wasn't at all visible to the ranger. But trusting his senses, he stepped forward and passed through the fake wall, finding himself in a narrow passageway sloping down and turning to the right. He backed up into the main tunnel and explained his findings to the others. Zander took the opportunity to tell the rest of the group of his own discovery about what was on the other side of the deeper darkness.

"The little buggers sure like their illusions, don't they?" Alewyth scoffed.

Wakuren took a moment to cast a light spell upon his shield of Cal. "Now we've got two sources of illumination, if we want to split up," he suggested. Xandro continued playing his tune while the others decided their next move.

"I'm going to check out the chapel," Zander told the others, stepping forward into the zone of darkness. It lasted only about 10 feet or so, and then he was in the large cavern with the fake kobold parishioners worshiping their stone god. He stepped up until he was level with the back row of illusory kobolds, continuing to beat their chests and grunt in their doggy language. Thurloe followed, and on a whim decided to use Spellslicer's ability to dissipate illusions by touching his blade to the head of one of the back-row worshipers. To the spellsword's surprise, the entire row of five kobolds popped like a bubble. There were five rows of kobolds, with a passageway down the middle of them; now the back row only consisted of the three kobolds on the other side of the central aisle. "Weird," Thurloe commented to himself.

Alewyth stepped forward into the darkness and emerged inside the chapel with Thurloe and Zander. "What's this all about?" she asked the others.

"We're still trying to figure that out," admitted Zander.

There was a sudden commotion behind them, and as the trio of adventurers spun around to face the back of the chapel, two feeble, wooden crates were tossed down on them by a quartet of kobolds from a sort of natural balcony off to their right and about 20 feet up. One hit Alewyth on the top of her head, while the other crashed to the floor at Thurloe's feet. But both crates shattered to splinters upon impact, almost causing Thurloe to utter a snide remark about kobold craftsmanship - until the swarms of scorpions skittering out from the crates' remains made it perfectly clear the crates had been built shoddily on purpose. Dozens, scores, hundreds of scorpions crawled along the floor in all directions, some of them scampering up Alewyth and Thurloe's legs, their venomous stingers doing the kobolds' work for them. Alewyth, already weakened from the amphisbaena's venomous bites, felt her vaunted dwarven constitution failing her as she succumbed to dozens of stings. Her body seemed sluggish, although her mental faculties were still all up to par and she realized she needed to get free of these pesky arachnids.

Wakuren and Xandro, in the meantime, offered to follow Streggin down the other tunnel and see where it led, the bard continuing his tune of inspirational courage. The tunnel descended as it curved to the right, and in a larger cave at the end of the sloping passageway stood two kobold sentries, each armed with a light crossbow. Streggin got off the first shot, skewering one of the kobolds in the throat, killing him instantly. The other got off a shot which went over the ranger's head, then both raced to be the first to reload. Streggin won that contest by a fraction of a second, but it was enough to fire off a shot at the other kobold, killing him as well.

Zander Quilson, realizing his true seeing had a limited duration, looked all around to see if there was anything else of note in the chapel. He started walking slowly down the aisle between the kobold illusions, paying special attention to the 10-foot-tall kobold statue at the far end. It, however, was exactly what it appeared to be: a carved stone statue of an enormous kobold, whose eyes were definitely dreamstones and not carved from the rock of the rest of the statue - they had to have been carved separately, or perhaps the stone of the kobold's head was shaped around the existing dreamstones. In any case, there didn't seem to be any other illusions or other types of magical auras in the vicinity.

Thurloe leapt out of the swarm of scorpions surrounding him, brushed off a few that were crawling up his body, and cast a scorching ray spell, sending one blazing blast at each of the two swarms. Alewyth also stepped away from the scorpion swarm surrounding her and fished out a tanglefoot bag from her backpack. Tossing it directly into the mass of scorpions that had flowed out of the crate that had bonked her on the head, the gooey mass flowed over the scorpions, pinning them into place. The scorpions weren't particularly harmed by this process, but they were immobilized and would eventually starve to death, she reasoned. In any case, short of someone lying down upon the glued-into-place mass of arachnids, they were effectively out of the combat. She thought of repeating the maneuver against Thurloe's swarm, but by then they had spread out too much to make a second tanglefoot bag an effective strategy.

From the balcony above, the four kobold scorpion wranglers pulled out slings and sent stones flying down at Alewyth and Thurloe. But their attacks missed; they'd already used up their "big guns" with the scorpions and were no longer much of a threat. The remaining scorpion swarm capable of mobility surged forward to encompass Thurloe and Zander, stabbing and pinching, much to the two heroes' annoyance.

Down in the lower side tunnel, Wakuren stepped forward towards the dead kobolds, for there were other passageways in the back of the small guard station he wanted to check out. Unfortunately, a section of floor just before him was an open pit, its presence masked by a horizontal illusory wall spell making that section look no different than the rest of the stone floor. Putting his weight down on a foot where there was suddenly no solid floor beneath him sent the half-orc plummeting into the pit. Fortunately. with the shield of Cal strapped to his arm, its innate feather fall abilities kicked in at once, so Wakuren had no concerns about falling for any great distance and injuring himself. What did concern him, however, was both the smell wafting up from the bottom of the pit and what he saw waiting there for him at the bottom: the kobolds used this 20-foot-deep pit not only as a trap for unwary invaders, but also as a latrine. Wakuren desperately wished the shield of Cal had a reverse setting allowing him to slowly rise instead of fall, or that the walls of the latrine pit were less smooth so he could grab hold of an outcropping or something and stop his leisurely descent. But such was not the case, and Wakuren steeled himself to the fact he was about to ruin his boots.

"You need any help down there?" Xandro called, cautiously sticking his head through the illusory wall spell so he could try to see if Wakuren was okay. By then the half-orc had landed in a pool of kobold wastes, much to his own disgust.

"No, I'll just use gaseous form to float back out of here," Wakuren answered.

Zander wandered to the front of the illusory kobold worshipers until he was at the foot of the statue's raised stone floor, then turned around to check out the back of the chapel. There was, he saw, a second balcony over on the left side of the chapel, across the span where the four kobolds were tossing sling stones down at Alewyth and Thurloe. Fortunately, there were no other kobolds in place there to toss down crates of scorpions; if it was intended as a higher ground from which kobolds could attack intruders from above, it was currently unmanned.

However, while Zander's attention was on the balconies in the back of the chamber, he failed to notice some movement from within the kobold illusions. There were six narrow holes in the floor scattered beneath six of the 51 (now only 46, thanks to Thurloe's experiment with Spellslicer) illusions, and scrambling up through these holes were six kobold warriors, each more or less identical to their illusory versions. They mirrored the movements of the illusions around them, blending in fairly well from "inside" the illusions, and then they each struck, tossing their spears at Zander. Two of them hit the sorcerer directly, one in the shoulder and one in the thigh, while the others either missed outright or just skimmed along an arm and harmlessly fell to the side. But the surprise - and fear - on Zander's face from this unexpected assault was genuine, and he plucked the spears from his body while frantically looking around to see where they had come from. With his true seeing still in place he was able to see the six real kobolds standing inside the rows of illusory kobolds, and he could also see six more spears being handed to them from someone directly below where they stood. The kobolds looked at the elf with smirking looks upon their reptilian faces.

Thurloe, in avoiding the mobile swarm, stepped onto the one encased in hardened tanglefoot glue, his hard boots crunching the immobilized scorpions beneath his tread, as he cast another scorching ray spell, this time focusing both fiery blasts at the still-mobile scorpions. Alewyth, in the meantime, cast a spiritual weapon spell up at the kobold slingers, slamming a dwarven warhammer made of solid force energy their way. The first blow killed its kobold victim outright; Alewyth was learning these reptilian beasts were not very powerful when it came to physical combat, which is probably why they relied so much upon devious trickery.

Not wanting to be the next victim of the spiritual warhammer, one of the kobold slingers raced down a sloping passageway that led up to the balcony (and the cave behind it where the scorpions had been raised) - and promptly found himself staring down Streggin Cavedelver, who had his light crossbow loaded and ready to fire. The kobold soon had a crossbow bolt embedded in the space between his eyes, and he fell to the ground, dead. Then, as Wakuren floated up out of the latrine pit in gaseous form and resumed a more solid existence, Streggin looked about and saw where the several other passageways led. Two, directly ahead of him, looked like they led underneath the central "chapel" cavern, but they were low and narrow - easily traversed by a three-foot-tall kobold, but more of a tight fit for a good-sized dwarf. Another passageway kept more or less to the same level, and it led into what looked to be a fungal garden. There was always the likelihood of some dangerous growths in there - violet fungus, perhaps, or an ascomoid - but the ranger figured it was more likely a food supply for the kobold warren, and therefore probably perfectly safe. He voiced his reasoning to the others and Xandro decided that was likely the best option.

Stepping into the cave with Wakuren - and the light from his shield - behind him, Xandro quickly learned the fungal cavern wasn't entirely safe, for there were two kobolds in there, harvesting fungal growths. They were armed with slings and several stones came hurtling his way, but he easily dodged the little missiles and then prepared a counterattack.

The remaining scorpions skittered over to Alewyth, the nearest warm-blooded target now that their dander was up and they were in a combative mood. But while she was dealing with avoiding them, Thurloe, near the entrance to the chapel, was facing the statue - and saw a reptilian head pop up from the ground by the statue's feet. It dropped down as quickly as it had risen up, but during that time Zander felt a magical attack trying to block his vision - a blindness/deafness spell, no doubt. Looking about and not seeing any likely spellcasters (just the six kobolds grabbing up spears being handed to them from below), the elf decided discretion was the better part of valor and went racing down the central aisle between the illusory kobolds, past Alewyth and Thurloe, through the deeper darkness spell effect area, and back over to the entry tunnel where the group had fought off the amphisbaena. Hoping he'd have better luck going down the other tunnel, he passed through the illusory wall spell and started following the path Streggin, Wakuren, and Xandro had taken. There, on the floor before him (with his true seeing still in effect), he saw the illusory wall spell covering the open pit Wakuren had fallen into earlier. He cast a prestidigitation spell that altered the coloration of the stone floor to make the square stand out, so any of his friends would know to avoid it. Then, giving the square a wide berth, Zander pressed on. He cast a bear's endurance spell upon himself, hoping to buoy up his physical fortitude after having taken those two hits from the kobolds' spears. It wasn't the same as an actual healing spell or potion, but it was what he had on hand at the moment and would have to do.

With Zander gone from the chapel, the six hidden kobolds spun around and threw their second spears at Alewyth and Thurloe, dividing the targets up evenly between them. Thurloe finished off the remaining scorpions with a well-placed scorching ray, much to Alewyth's relief, but then she signaled for Thurloe to join her in following Zander's path. "Splittin' up was probably not our best idea," she said. Thurloe shrugged and followed, while Alewyth fished around in her backpack and applied a dose of Keoghtom's ointment to her many stings, the magical paste helping neutralize the venom coursing through her system. Her still-active spiritual weapon floated beside her once she could no longer see any foes to which to send it to the attack.

They caught up to Streggin before long; the dwarf had stationed himself in front of the two narrow passageways leading below the chapel, light crossbow at the ready. "Anything pops its head out of either tunnel, it's getting a bolt to the face," he promised. "Xandro and Wakuren are in the fungal cave behind me."

Unseen by any of the others, the dark naga allied with the kobolds - and who had popped its head up from a narrow, corkscrewing tunnel at the foot of the kobold statue to cast a blindness/deafness spell at Zander, to no avail - crawled down from its sentry point and back into its own lair. It cast a mage armor spell upon itself, preparing for combat with the intruders it could hear in the fungal cavern, one short passageway distant. But then it was seen by Wakuren, whose darkvision was just as sharp as its own, and the armored half-orc came charging at the serpentine foe, shield raised and ready to deploy as a weapon. Xandro, in the meantime, had slain one of the kobolds in the fungal cave with his frost short sword. The twang of Streggin's crossbow and the startled cry of a slain kobold indicated the little buggers had tried exiting the cavern beneath the chapel, to no avail. But now Thurloe and Alewyth were within sight of the dwarven ranger, and Alewyth sent her spiritual weapon spell ahead to take out another kobold exiting the second of the to narrow tunnels.

After Wakuren's shield slammed into the dark naga's side, it opted to retaliate physically at first before employing any of its offensive spells. In the manner of a true serpent, it unhinged its jaws and bit at the half-orc, who managed to get his shield up in time to deflect the attempted bite attack. But the bite had been mostly a feint, allowing the sharp stinger at the tip of the dark naga's tail to strike just as quickly and pierce the half-orc's neck. The venom injected into Wakuren's system worked almost instantly; the half-orc staggered, then fell crashing over onto his side, poisoned into a nightmare-wracked sleep.

Seeing this, Alewyth passed her vial of Keoghtom's ointment over to Thurloe and pointed to the dark naga slithering over Wakuren's recumbent form; fortunately, the light spell was still in effect upon the shield of Cal so Thurloe, with his limited human vision, could see the threat for what it was. He took the vial from Alewyth and, bastard sword in his right hand, advanced cautiously towards the dark-scaled serpent with the disturbingly-humanlike head. Alewyth killed the other fungal-gathering kobold with Sjondra, dealing with the last threat in the fungal cavern.

Streggin took out another kobold in the rightmost tunnel, then rushed to reload before any of the others behind the newly-slain one could reach him. A flurry of kobold spears came flying up at him, but they had been thrown in hasty panic and none of them hit the dwarf. Alewyth's spiritual warhammer took out another kobold coming out of the leftmost tunnel as Streggin got his crossbow up again in time to shoot another kobold emerging from the tunnel to the right.

Xandro pulled out his Dardolian lute and started playing an intricate tune. This was not his song of inspirational courage, the tune he most often employed in combat - instead, this was a tune he'd only used once before, when he'd fascinated a pair of awakened apes in Baron's Haven who had been magically disguised by illusion magic to appear as a commoner and a large dog. But playing for all he was worth, he slowly, in a non-threatening fashion, started walking toward the dark naga, not a trace of fear on his face as he approached.

The dark naga wasn't quite sure of what to make of this strange behavior - but it was, there was no denying it, quite fascinating.

Having caught the dark naga up in his musical spell, Xandro entered the dark naga's cavern lair and circled around the serpentine beast; it followed his movements, turning its back on the fungal cavern passageway. This allowed Thurloe, quietly sheathing his bastard sword, to enter the cavern, pick up Wakuren, and bring him quietly back into the relative safety of the fungal cavern, where he applied Keoghtom's ointment to the stab-wound in the cleric-paladin's neck. Wakuren's eyelids fluttered as he woke back up from his nightmarish sleep, the venom from the dark naga's stinger having been fully neutralized from his system. In a whisper, Thurloe filled him in on the current state of affairs: Streggin and Alewyth's spiritual warhammer taking care of the advancing kobolds, while Xandro held the dark naga enthralled by his music.

"Then let's get him while he's helpless," suggested Wakuren, activating his ring of invisibility and stepping quietly back into the dark naga's cavern lair. Thurloe motioned for Zander and Alewyth to join them, and they each quietly entered the naga's lair, weapons and spells at the ready. Streggin was left alone to deal with the kobolds - Alewyth's spiritual weapon spell finally ran its course and disappeared from existence - but he managed to hold his own even when they charged him and he had to drop his light crossbow and deal with them using his handaxe. But then the dreamwalkers attacked all at once, Thurloe slicing deep into the dark naga's serpentine body with his bastard sword, Alewyth slamming Sjondra in a bone-crunching overhead swing that shattered several vertebrae, Zander blasting it with a scorching ray spell, and Wakuren bringing the point of his shield crashing down upon its skull (and reverting him to full visibility as a result). Against such a coordinated attack, the dark naga didn't stand a chance; it died on the spot.

"Nice one, Xandro!" Zander called out.

"Hey, what's this?" asked Alewyth, looking at a pile of stones up against a wall. The base was made up of a ring of ordinary stones, but they were used to prop up a larger stone, this one black with flecks of white and gold interspersed throughout. "Is that dreamstone?"

Closer inspection confirmed it was indeed, and a much larger chunk than they'd ever seen before. The group decided it must be tied in to the ones in the kobold statue in the chapel outside, and in that they were correct - the dark naga had learned to focus upon the dreamstone as it fell asleep, in such a fashion it was able to look out of the dreamstone eyes in the kobold statue, thus keeping an eye over the kobold chapel even while it slept. And it found the lucid dreams, from the statue's visual point of view, to be very appealing, with dozens of kobolds chanting in unison as they seemingly worshiped the dark naga. It was as close to godhood as the dark naga was ever going to get.

Zander saw a pool of water in a cavern to the north, with a short connecting passageway from the naga's lair. To the east from this pool cavern was another sloping passageway, this one rising up higher than the chapel level. "That's likely where the leaders of this kobold warren live," surmised the elf.

"Let's find out," suggested Wakuren, casting a summoning spell that brought an air-element hippogriff into existence, hovering over the pool. With a pointed finger, Wakuren directed the hippogriff, whose body was composed of compressed winds from the Elemental Plane of Air, into the cavern. The shrieks and yips that emanated revealed the accuracy of Zander's supposition, as the hippogriff made short work of the kobold leaders who had opted to remain in hiding while their lower, expendable minions dealt with the incursion into their warren.

Grabbing up the dreamstone from the naga's lair, Wakuren backtracked back to the temple, the others following. They picked up Streggin along the way once the ranger had determined there were no more kobolds coming out to attack him from either tunnel. Then, facing the kobold statue, Alewyth used a soften earth and stone spell to more or less "melt" the carved kobold's head into clay, allowing them to pluck the chunks of dreamstone that had been embedded into the statue out. The Queen of Dreams had sent them to fetch the two dreamstones and they'd be returning with three; not a bad haul! Zander, being the skinniest of the group, made his way up a narrow kobold tunnel to check out the leaders' cavern, where he verified they'd all been slain by Wakuren's hippogriff; he also found quite a bit of treasure stashed up there, including a coveted magical haversack that held more than its external dimensions would indicate. "That'll make hauling the dreamstones back even that much easier!" the elf sorcerer enthused. Thurloe realized they already had the magical lamp, which was an extradimensional space, but didn't say anything to dampen the elf's enthusiasm.

"Now we just need to retrace our way back to the surface," Alewyth asserted.

"Sounds like a plan," Streggin agreed, ready to be off. But Thurloe held him off with an alternate idea. "This place has fresh water," he pointed out. "It's fairly defensible, with plenty of ways to exit if anything comes heading our way we can't handle. We might as well hold up here for the day, and get off on a fresh start in the morning. That way we all start off with a full day's allotment of spells. You never know when that will come in handy."

Streggin didn't mind; it meant another day's pay for him. And there were blind fish in the pool of water he wouldn't mind having a go at catching; fresh fish while delving about in the Underdark was a rare treat.

And, as it turned out, the group would be plenty happy to have a full complement each of their spells in the morning, for the way back home wasn't going to be as easy as they might have hoped.

- - -

I'm glad we had time to go through this adventure in the same gaming session as "Underdark Trails," because this, I felt, was a more "proper" adventure, whereas the first one was just a series of unrelated encounters taking advantage of an environment in which the PCs didn't get to spend a whole lot of time: deep underground. And I had already planned that the next adventure would introduce them to a bunch of other creatures I was fairly certain none of them had ever encountered before - even Dan, who like me had been gaming since the AD&D first edition days.

Everyone leveled up to 8th level at the conclusion of this adventure.

- - -

T-shirt worn: My USA shirt, because we went through this adventure on the same session as the previous one.
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PC Roster:
Alewyth Putterpye, dwarf priestess of Aerik 8​
Thurloe Pulver, human fighter 3/wizard 3/spellsword 2​
Wakuren, half-orc cleric of Cal 4/paladin 4​
Xandro Silverstrings, human bard 6/rogue 2​
Zander Quilson, elf sorcerer 8​

NPC Roster:
Streggin Cavedelver, dwarf ranger 3​
Game Session Date: 8 October 2022

- - -

"Let's go," said Thurloe, gathering up his pack and heading back out of the kobold warren. "The sooner we get on our way, the sooner we're back to the surface." It had been his idea yesterday to spend the rest of the day and the subsequent night in the kobold warren, to rest up and allow the spellcasters to regain a full complement of spells in the morning - and he'd even spent the day poring over the spellbooks he'd gathered over his adventuring career, making sense enough of the summon monster II spell to figure out how to cast it on his own - but now it was the start of a new day and he was eager to leave the Underdark behind.

Besides, the kobold corpses were starting to stink.

Streggin, as their guide, led the way out of the warren, past the deeper darkness zone and into the tunnel that went sideways, both north and south. They'd come from the south and he led then back that way for only a short while before he held his hand up suddenly and brought the procession to an immediate halt.

"What is it?" asked Alewyth in a whisper.

"Thought I heard something ahead," Streggin replied. Then, pointing down the corridor, he said in a hiss, "There!"

With her dwarven darkvision, Alewyth was able to see exactly what the ranger had been pointing at - a pair of duergar kavalrachni, mounted on the horse-sized spiders called steeders, crawling down the corridor and headed in their direction. Then, looking up at the cavern ceiling above the two kavalrachni, Alewyth saw two more, the duergar and their mounts hanging upside-down from the ceiling and looking rather like an inverted reflection of the pair below. But recent experience with these spider-riders had shown the duergar kavalrachni used an intricate saddle that kept them belted into place so that traveling along the ceiling was no more dangerous than riding right-side-up on the cavern floor.

The duergar had darkvision as keen as any surface dwarf and they spotted the six adventurers at the same time Streggin and Alewyth had noted them. "There they are!" yelled one of them in the Dwarven tongue. "Get them!"

"What's that?" asked Zander, who had heard the shout but hadn't made out what was being said, nor could he see who was down the corridor yelling at them. Alewyth quickly brought those without the benefit of darkvision up to speed. "More of those duergar riding giant spiders," she said. "Four of each, headed this way." Getting a grip on Sjondra, she faced the approaching gray dwarves without flinching, showing them she wasn't afraid.

Thurloe cast a mage armor spell upon himself and stepped forward as he squinted past the edge of the illumination provided by Zander's everburning torch. Xandro unpacked his Dardolian lute and began playing his song of inspirational courage; after all, the enemy already knew where they were so a little music wasn't going to give away their position or anything. And he knew the team fought better when buoyed up by the power of his song. But unlike Thurloe, the bard took a few steps back, wanting to put a few of his friends - those better suited to hand-to-hand fighting - between him and the approaching foes.

The steeders moved forward with implacable determination. As they entered the circle of illumination, Xandro and Thurloe could see each duergar had a lance projected in front of the steeder he rode but also carried a battleaxe in his right hand. And as they got closer to the six heroes, the two on the ceiling each circled down along a different wall, falling into place behind the other pair of kavalrachni. After all, there wasn't room for more than two of the steeders side-by-side in the tunnel, nor would hand-to-hand fighting be possible from the tunnel's ceiling.

The lead steeders rushed at Thurloe, their duergar riders leaning forward and swinging with their battleaxes as the spellsword raced forward himself, dodging the lances and purposefully getting in too close for the lengthy weapons to be able to be a factor. But one battleaxe got past Thurloe's defense and he ended up with a gash along one arm.

Zander was even less of a melee combatant that Xandro; he cast a haste spell while they were all close enough for him to still affect everyone, then stepped back out of immediate range of the spiders and their gray dwarf riders. Alewyth also cast a spell on the assembled group - in her case, bless - and then stepped forward to come to Thurloe's aid. Streggin shot a crossbow bolt at one of the duergar attacking Thurloe, hitting him in the side.

Wakuren saw an opportunity and took it. Raising his right hand, upon which he wore the gauntlet of Cal, he invoked the power of his god and a javelin of lightning appeared in his upraised hand. Hurling the weapon down the corridor, the lightning bolt hit two steeders and the two duergar riding them, one of the gray dwarves being the one Streggin had just hit with his bolt. That one died from the magical assault, but his special saddle kept him upright despite his death.

The two steeders bit at Thurloe; the spellsword successfully avoided one but couldn't prevent the other from getting its fangs into him. He felt a burning sensation at the site of entry of the creature's mandibles and could already feel the venom start its work, making him feel sluggish, the weight of his bastard sword seemingly heavier in his hands. But there was a way to overcome that; the spellsword activated his torc of the titans and felt his missing strength return, if only for a brief moment - but long enough for him to swing his blade at the living duergar still within range. In the meantime, another steeder crawled up the side wall to get to Wakuren, the fourth one following behind it.

Xandro pulled his frost short sword from its scabbard and charged the spider whose rider had been slain, his blade slicing deep within a hairy, twitching leg. The three duergar were quick to react with strikes from their battleaxes at Alewyth, Thurloe, and Wakuren. Zander cast a lightning bolt through two of the steeders and their riders, slaying the spider with the already-dead duergar and killing the duergar riding the spider behind that one. That left only half of the duergar still alive with their mounts, as well as one extra steeder whose rider was now dead.

Streggin focused his aim at one of the remaining duergar, hitting him in the shoulder with a crossbow bolt. Alewyth attacked the other one with Sjondra, her warhammer striking the gray dwarf in the side of his helmeted head. Wakuren focused his attention - and the pointed bottom of his shield - on the head of the "extra" steeder, deeming the giant arachnids the bigger threat because of their venomous bites. With the full power of an enraged half-orc behind it, the shield buried itself deep into the steeder's head and it died, legs twitching spasmodically.

Xandro got bitten by one of the two remaining steeders, while the other went after Thurloe but failed to get a grip on him with its venom-dripping mandibles. But Thurloe took advantage of the steeder's nearness to activate another charge from his torc and lash out at its rider with his bastard sword, Spellslicer cutting through the base of the duergar's throat and causing his life-blood to go spilling down his torso. He slumped in the saddle, dead, but the oblivious steeder fought on.

Xandro cast a magic missile spell at the steeders, splitting the attack between the two. The missiles all hit, but the bard was disappointed to see neither steeder drop as a result. The sole surviving duergar swung his battleaxe into Alewyth's side, her armor absorbing some - but not all - of the blow. But then Zander took him out with a magic missile spell and the two remaining steeders no longer had anyone guiding their actions with the control rods kavalrachni employed to tell their mounts where they wanted them to go. Streggin shot at one steeder while Alewyth attacked the other with her warhammer. Wakuren ran up beside her and added his shield to the assault, then cocked his head to one side - despite the battle going on all around him, he thought he could hear footsteps approaching from further down the tunnel, from the direction these four steeders had come. Zander confirmed his findings with a shouted, "More gray dwarves on the way - lots of 'em!" to his friends, having picked up the sounds of the tramping of dozens, if not hundreds, of pairs of booted feet marching in unison.

"We need to retreat - this way!" shouted Streggin, pointing back the way they'd come; the map had them going back to the south but now that way was blocked by a duergar slaver army, so north would have to do. Of course, none of the passageways to the north of the kobold warren were on the map the elderly dwarf from Agatesgate had hastily drawn up, so Streggin would have to rely upon his instincts to find them an alternate way back to the surface.

The steeders bit at Xandro and Thurloe again, but the two were already starting to retreat back the way they'd come. "Hang on!" called back Thurloe to the others. "Let's take these steeders out quick so they can't follow us! They've got to be faster than duergar on foot!" In this, he was absolutely correct, for the duergar were of dwarven stock and weren't able to move as fast as a human or an elf, let alone an eight-legged spider the size of a large horse. Activating the last daily charge of his torc, the spellsword swung his bastard sword for all he was worth, killing the steeder that had been trying to bite him. As it crashed to the stone floor of the tunnel, Thurloe turned and started to sprint to the north. Xandro started jogging backwards away from the other steeder, casting a magic missile spell at it and only turning to sprint after Thurloe once he saw the giant spider had been slain by his spell. The others ran to follow, Streggin a bit distraught to note of the six people in his group, he was the slowest among them. But that was alright, for they stopped at each fork in the tunnel to allow him to catch up and determine which way they should go next. The sounds of pursuit were never far behind, though, and the dwarven ranger was well aware that what the gray dwarves lacked in speed they more than made up for in knowledge of the local terrain. While Streggin was making his best educated guesses about which way was the best to go, the duergar no doubt knew exactly which passageways went where - and likely knew of any shortcuts that might allow them to cut the heroes off as they fled. That was not a pleasant thought!

"We can hide in the lamp!" suggested Wakuren.

"Too risky," shot down Thurloe. "If they find it, we're done for. And we don't have any way of seeing if the coast is clear when we're all inside. We'd never know when it was safe to come back out."

"Then you all get inside and I'll pick up the lamp, turn invisible, and use gaseous form to fly past them."

"If the whole slaver army's out," Streggin advised, "they're bound to have spellcasters. They could likely detect you and probably dispel your magic. Then we'd get to spend the rest of our lives as duergar slaves. Better we keep running."

"What if we run into a dead end?" Wakuren countered.

"Then we can give your plan a try," suggested Streggin. Wakuren just shrugged and kept running.

They had been running for at least a half an hour and could still hear the marching footsteps behind them when there was a reddish light from the tunnel ahead. "Wait a minute - I think I know where we are!" Streggin wheezed, slowing to get his bearings and catch his breath.

"You've been here before?" prompted Alewyth.

"No, but I've heard of it. A temple, carved among pools of magma."

"It's a way out?" asked Zander, whose frail constitution was already tired of all the running they'd been doing - he had a stitch in his side something fierce. But Streggin was forced to admit he didn't know.

But the duergar apparently did. "Hold up!" the group heard one of the gray dwarf leaders call back to his men. "The temple denizens will make quick work of those surface-scum who killed our soldiers - and if not, they've got nowhere else to go but right back here, where we'll be ready for them!"

"Well, crap," said Thurloe, not liking the "temple denizens" part of that prediction. Still, there was no way he wanted to face down an entire duergar slaver army; better to take their chances with whatever "temple denizens" might be around. "Streggin, any idea what we'll be facing?"

"Nothing for certain," admitted the dwarf. "But this is the Temple of Burning Desire - a shrine to Infernia, said to have been built centuries ago by a powerful wizard. He built it here because there's supposed to be weak areas here between the Mortal World and the Elemental Plane of Fire."

"So we can expect to see fire creatures: elementals, that sort of thing?" surmised Alewyth.

"That would be my guess."

"Well, crap," Thurloe muttered again, going over a mental inventory of the spells he'd prepared that morning before setting out. Nothing in the way of protection from fire, or even cold-based attack spells, which would likely be especially dangerous to creatures made of living flame. Still, they might as well check the place out; maybe they'd get lucky and the elementals would have all gone home or something. He pulled a potion of neutralize poison from his belt and drank down its contents, so if any of the unknown dangers they'd be facing in this Temple of Burning Desire were venomous, he'd at least have a leg up in surviving the encounter.

Xandro, in the meantime, took the opportunity to cast a cure light wounds spell on himself now that he had a moment's respite from the constant running. The cuts in his skin where the steeder's mandibles pierced him and injected their venom healed up nicely. Zander, his earlier haste spell having worn off, cast an expeditious retreat spell upon himself. It was always to his benefit to be able to run faster than anything likely to be chasing him.

"Well, let's see what we're up against," suggested Streggin, leading the group into the natural caverns that comprised the Temple of Burning Desire. There was a leaf-shaped pool of magma off to the left, and the tunnel curved off to the right just past it, and just beyond the turn there were another two long pits of magma, one on either side of the tunnel. The passageway then opened up into a wider cavern, from which a much larger pool of magma to the southeast spilled into the larger space through a pair of jagged cracks in the floor. The level of the magma was within a foot of the cavern's floor.

There was a blur of motion from the right as Streggin advanced past the turn in the tunnel; before he could spin in place and aim his crossbow at the small, gargoylelike figure flying down from the cavern ceiling above the magma pool, it dropped to his level, opened its maw wide, and let loose with a cone of steaming vapors, engulfing the dwarven ranger and Thurloe, who had followed him closely as he advanced. Seeing combat was already starting this close to the entrance to the Temple, Alewyth cast a magic circle against evil spell upon herself and moved up to join the others. Wakuren did likewise, casting a bull's strength spell upon himself and feeling the enhanced power flow through his muscles. He'd already felt more physically powerful in recent days and wondered if Cal was sending him enhanced strength to deal with the travails he dealt with on a nearly daily basis as an adventurer.

From the pool behind them to the left, an impish figure rose up from the magma, its body seemingly composed of fluid, black rock with driblets of magma dripping through the cracks. It also belched forth a breath weapon, this one a cone of magma spray that covered Wakuren's back, charring his armor and causing burning welts to rise up from his exposed skin. He roared in pain and surprise, mentally chiding himself for not having given the magma pools a more careful visual examination as he passed them.

Another, similar creature dropped down from the cavern ceiling above the magma pool on the left just past the turn in the tunnel, only this creature seemed the most likely to be a fire elemental of sorts, for its gargoyle-shaped form was made up of living flame. The fire mephit breathed forth a cone of flames that briefly encompassed Zander, singeing his robes and his hair.

However, once the initial surprise of these unexpected attacks had worn off, the adventurers quickly gave back as much or more than they'd taken. Thurloe's bastard sword cleaved the steam mephit's body in two, causing it to lose full cohesion and scatter to the hazy air of the ceiling. In the back ranks, Xandro cast a heroism spell upon himself and moved up, ready for combat. Zander cast another magic missile spell, splitting the arcane projectiles between the magma and fire mephits, slaying both at the same time. He then congratulated himself on a job well done in taking out two-thirds of this initial attack force all by himself, as Streggin pushed on ahead, crossbow still at the ready.

It turned out, though, that the elf's self-congratulation was a bit premature, for the three mephits were just the initial strike force, to "test the waters," as it were. Three more steam mephits descended from the ceiling of the magma-flooded cavern from which the first one had come, surrounding Thurloe and blasting him with three cascades of steaming breath. As Alewyth and Wakuren moved up, three more magma mephits arose from their pool of molten rock and sprayed their lava-breath at Xandro, Alewyth, and Thurloe, while a trio of fire mephits dropped down from the ceiling of their own side-cavern and concentrated their fire (quite literally) on the dwarven priestess. None of the creatures was that much of a threat to the group singly, but in greater numbers their attacks were much more dangerous.

Thurloe's bastard sword killed another steam mephit, and then the spellsword took a step to the side, getting away from the deadly arc the three had formed around him. Xandro's frost short sword slew the closest magma mephit, whose fiery body froze up in death as it sank below the magma of its pool, never to rise again. Zandro, whose greater speed had placed him in the far front of the group's formation, spun about and had a perfect lightning bolt path lined up - only Thurloe was in the way. "Thurloe - move to your left!" the elf called out, and as soon as the spellsword complied he let loose with his spell, slaying one each of the three types of mephit in one fell swoop.

Streggin shot at a magma mephit and hit, but was disappointed to see the creature yank the bolt from its shoulder and toss it disdainfully into the pool of magma from which it was emerging. Thurloe cried out in sudden pain as a rainstorm of boiling water suddenly formed above him; he knew its cause by the sudden, evil gleam in the eyes of the pair of steam mephits still flying around the tunnel. Alewyth killed a fire mephit with Sjondra, the mighty warhammer easily crushing its fiery body into embers and sending them flying from the force of the priestess's blow. Wakuren slew a steam mephit with the side of his shield.

Having exhausted their most powerful attacks - which they could only use so often before needing to recharge - the two remaining magma mephits flew out of their pool and swiped their burning claws at Xandro. The two fire mephits continued their attacks upon Alewyth, each sending a scorching ray her way - one of which she was able to successfully dodge. It seemed the heroes would be able to make short work of these mephits after all.

And then four more creatures entered the fray. These four were each twice the size of the mephits, with glistening, hairless bodies dripping with magma as they rose out of the larger pool ahead to the right. Each of the four spit a hunk of burning lava into its hand and then threw the burning mass at their nearest target: Wakuren. This caused the lava children to giggle with frenzied delight at Wakuren's roars of pain as the hurled globules burned his flesh even more.

Thurloe didn't like the sheer numbers of enemies they were facing and decided to take out the ones in the back first so they couldn't attack the group from behind. Casting a magic missile spell from his wand, he slew the sole remaining magma mephit, causing it to fall lifelessly back into the pool from which it had come. Zander, in the meantime, was much closer to the lava children and cast another magic missile spell, splitting the projectiles between the two in the first row. Streggin's follow-up crossbow bolt slew one of those two and it too sunk beneath the burning magma pool from which it had risen.

Alewyth took the time to cast a prayer spell, aiding her allies' attacks while hindering those of their enemies. Wakuren cast a divine favor spell upon himself, boosting his combat abilities - and he was more than ready to dish out some physical damage to these creatures of fire! Infernia might be a Goddess of Love, but his heart held nothing but hatred and contempt for the creatures infesting her Temple. His hatred only intensified when the three remaining lava children rushed up out of the magma pool, clawing at the enraged half-orc with their burning claws. Thurloe slew one of the bald, glistening menaces with another blast from his wand of magic missile.

Xandro stabbed at the last of the fire mephits with his frost blade, but missed outright. It fled for the safety of the magma pool, diving beneath the molten rock where the heroes couldn't follow (and, over time, it could heal the wounds it had suffered at their hands). "I'll get him if he resurfaces!" Streggin promised, pointing his crossbow at the spot where the fire mephit had submerged. The bard, in the meantime, cast another of his cure light wounds spells upon his burned and battered body.

Just beyond the cavern in which he, Wakuren, and Thurloe stood, Zander saw a natural stone bridge rise over another long magma pool, the bridge leading to a smaller cavern in which burned a blazing bonfire. Off to the right of this cavern was an obviously carved passageway, inside of which sat a serpentine creature whose body blazed in flames, its upper torso not that dissimilar from that of an elf or a human, although it seemed to have a fin of flames running down its spine. It carried a metal spear, glowing red-hot from the heat of the creature wielding it. Zander was pretty sure he'd heard of these creatures before: salamanders, they were called, although they were nothing like the newtlike creatures of the same name with which the elf was much more familiar. Fortunately, the salamander's back was turned to the elf, nor did it seem to hear the sounds of combat behind it; its full attention was focused upon a black disk embedded in the wall of the small chamber in which he sat.

Beyond the chamber with the bonfire, the stone floor ramped down into a much larger pool of magma, at the far side of which rose up a sort of "island" of stone, upon which had been carved an obsidian statue of the burning form of Infernia, identifiable by her body sheathed in flames and the two great, curving horns projecting from her forehead. She had been carved leaning forward, holding out a bottle in one hand.

Alewyth advanced, catching up to the lava children right as Wakuren killed one with the sharp edge of his shield. The other two each took a final swipe at the half-orc before fleeing back towards the relative safety of their magma pool. But before either one of them could make it to safety, Thurloe slew one with another charge from his wand of magic missile, focusing all of the arcane projectiles into the one target. Xandro stepped up to the spellsword and, seeing his wounds, cast a cure moderate wounds spell upon him. Alewyth took the moment's respite to cast a similar spell upon herself.

Looking around the magma pool ahead and the bridge that spanned it (the elf noticed that unlike a manufactured bridge, this natural span had no "handrails" or anything preventing someone from falling over the side to their death) and saw a pair of creatures flying around at the top of the ceiling. These were no steam mephits like before, though: they were skeletal from the waist up, their lower bodies ending in trails of mist and sparking embers. The cinder ghouls dropped in elevation, coming down lower, the elf sorcerer feared, so they could attack the intruders in this Temple of Burning Desire. "It will do you no good," one cinder ghoul whispered in the Dwarven tongue. "There are too many guardians, too many defenses. If you try to reach the bottle in the statue's hand and gain your wish, you will be slain...like us." Zander, who understood the dwarven language, surmised these apparitions were some sort of undead creatures that had likely been duergar in life, which could possibly explain the duergar army's hesitance to follow the group into the confines of the Temple.

Wakuren raced after the remaining lava child, trying to smash its skull in with his shield before it could escape back into the magma pool, and this time the half-orc's rage worked against him, for he swung too soon and sent himself reeling off to the side, off-balance as a result of the swing and the miss. The lava child, just to be nasty, took a final moment to claw parallel lines of pain down the half-orc's arm before diving into the magma pool. Wakuren roared in frustration.

The two cinder ghouls surrounded Zander, one dissipating into a cloud of smoky vapors and flying directly at his face, entering the sorcerer's body through his nostrils and mouth. Zander immediately fell into a coughing fit at this intrusion, making him unable to prevent the other one from attacking him with its claws and stealing away some of his vitality. Seeing this, Thurloe cast a protection from evil spell upon himself and ran up to help his elven friend. Xandro pulled out his Dardolian lute and began the chords to his song of inspirational courage. Eventually, Zander managed to cough the cinder ghoul's vaporous form out of his lungs and staggered away weakly, casting a magic missile spell at the other one, who had thus far maintained its partially-solid, skeletal form.

Alewyth presented her holy symbol of Aerik and called out, "Begone, foul beings!" as she tried turning the two undead forms, channeling positive energy through her body and sending it across the chamber to the floating cinder ghouls. But her attempt met only in failure; undeterred, the dwarven priestess advanced, Sjondra held in her other hand. If one weapon failed, she'd give the other a try....

Wakuren raced up and brought his shield of Cal smashing through the vaporous form of the cinder ghoul who had trespassed into Zander's lungs, just as it was regaining a more solid form (at least from the waist up). The attack sent the newly-reformed bones of its skeletal torso flying in all directions and the half-orc congratulated himself on having slain one of these two strange types of undead. The other cinder ghoul tried clawing at him, but Wakuren caught the attack on the flat of his shield.

However, the lava child popped its head up from its magma pool at that point, spit into his hand, and tossed the glob of molten rock at Alewyth, who happened to be a closer target than Wakuren. It was a move generated out of hatred for the intruders, and it was one that cost the lava child his life, for Zander blasted him with a lightning bolt and he died with a wicked grin still plastered on his face at the success of his surprise attack against Alewyth. Thurloe cast a shield spell upon himself from his wand, while Xandro used his frost short sword against the cinder ghoul attacking Wakuren and discovered these vaporous creatures didn't like the cold energy from his blade any more than had any of the other fire-based creatures they'd met up with thus far in the Temple.

Closer now to her target, Alewyth tried another turning attempt, and this time the positive energy she channeled through her holy symbol had the desired effect: the cinder ghoul jolted as if physically struck, turned to face the priestess, and then fled at full speed across the ramp into the larger magma pool, to cower against the wall to the left of the statue of Infernia.

But as all of this had taken place on the natural stone bridge cresting over the magma pool just to the south of the blazing bonfire, the salamander finally became aware of the commotion outside his extraplanar chamber, where the black disk he'd been staring at occasionally opened up to the Elemental Plane of Fire, the place to which he desperately wished to return - it was cold here, and while his curiosity had drawn him to explore this strange world, he'd had quite enough of it. But, curiosity once again compelling him, he slithered out of the chamber and saw a group of a half-dozen local denizens of this world. A look of confusion crossed his features: now what? There had been sporadic incursions from the locals into the Temple during the weeks the salamander had been here, some seeking treasure, others seemingly content just to slay whatever creatures they could find. He raised his spear, pointing it towards the closest of these intruders.

Thurloe's actions didn't do anything to allay the salamander's suspicions about the ruthlessness of the local denizens of this mortal plane: the spellsword cast a ray of enfeeblement spell that struck the salamander in the chest and immediately robbed him of his physical vigor. Xandro cast a cure light wounds spell on Zander, and then the elf sorcerer followed up with a ray of enfeeblement spell of his own, such that the weary salamander could now barely even lift the metal spear he relied upon as his primary weapon and means of defense.

Fortunately for the salamander, the next attack upon his person was a spell from Alewyth: a dismissal spell that returned him to his own plane of existence. Upon realizing the effect of this "attack," the words - in the Ignan language, which sounded like nothing so much as the sounds of crackling flames to the dwarven priestess - "Thank you" spilled from the salamander's lips as he vanished from the mortal plane. There had been no telling how much longer he'd have had to wait for the planar gate to open back up to the Elemental Plane of Fire; this way was so much easier.

As the salamander was now gone and the only remaining cinder ghoul was cringing along the back wall, Wakuren took a moment to cast a cure moderate wounds spell upon himself, healing over the worst of the burns and gashes he'd received. Thurloe approached the bonfire, suspicious as was his nature, for he saw nothing fueling the flames. He was well aware the Underdark had a distinct scarcity of trees like the surface world, and he also knew there were magical ways to generate a burning flame like the one before him, but he also knew this could also be some sort of trap, if not some sort of flame-based creature itself. But, having attended to Zander's wounds, Xandro stepped up behind the spellsword and cast a cure light wounds spell on him.

Zander activated the full power of his scout's headband and looked around, his vision now powered with true seeing. With the ability to now see things as they truly were, he could see perfectly well that the bonfire was indeed a large fire elemental, but one content to just remain in place and not bother anyone. He stepped forward by the large pool of magma and saw three shapes beneath its surface, two of them about his own size and one much, much larger.

Voicing what he'd seen to the others, Zander stepped aside as Wakuren walked boldly down the ramp, stopping just short of entering the molten rock. The two smaller shapes were the first to break the surface; these were humanoid in build but covered in molten lava and burning flames. They each took tentative steps towards the half-orc, hands outraised as if trying to grab him up into their fiery embrace.

As Xandro picked back up his song of inspirational courage, Thurloe cast a magic missile spell at the first of the fire phantoms. Alewyth summoned forth a spiritual weapon, causing the warhammer of solid force to go crashing into the fiery body of the second phantom. Neither attack stopped them from moving forward, but fortunately they didn't move all that fast and Wakuren was able to stay out of the grasp of them both. Then, taking a step backwards up the sloping ramp, Wakuren cast his own spiritual weapon spell, sending his heavy mace crashing into the face of the one Thurloe had hit with his magic missile spell. And it was then that the third form rose up out of the magma, directly in front of the half-orc.

The creature had the shape of a giant snake, or perhaps it was more like a sea serpent, for all the heroes could see of it was a long neck and a wedge-shaped head with a mouth full on sharp teeth. It darted forward at Wakuren, snapping its black teeth at him, but he dodged back in time and the jaws snapped shut on empty air.

Thurloe continued his magic missile assault on the fire phantom he'd originally targeted, while Xandro continued playing his inspirational tune on his magic lute, well back from the fiery attackers. Zander cast a bear's endurance spell upon himself and backed up out of range himself. Then, in a sudden burst of speed, the fire elemental lunged out and grabbed at Alewyth, having been instructed to do so by the silent mental summons of the serpentine lava weird from the magma pool before it. Alewyth rolled to the side and summoned an elemental of her own to protect her, this one from the Elemental Plane of Earth. It wasn't particularly impressive, standing not even as tall as the dwarf, but it positioned itself between her and the fire elemental and was ready to give its all to see to her protection. And behind her, Alewyth's spiritual warhammer continued its attack upon the fire phantom it had first attacked, not having been given any orders to the contrary.

One of the fire phantoms waded up onto the sloping ramp and approached Alewyth. In a flash that belied its small size, the earth elemental interposed itself between this new threat and its mistress, slamming the flaming undead thing with its stony fists. The fire phantom returned the attacks, although the elemental's rocky build was not particularly flammable and it had not much to fear from the flames engulfing the undead foe. The other fire phantom reached up at Wakuren, but he managed to block the attack on his shield.

To the cleric-paladin of Cal, however, the fire phantom was a mere distraction: Wakuren wanted to take out the lava weird that had tried to bite him. Channeling all of his prodigious strength into an overhead blow, he brought his shield down upon the lava weird's head, cracking open its rocky outer surface and causing it to leak lava, which the half-orc hoped was the equivalent of a bleeding head wound that had opened up his foe's skull. The lava weird snapped its jaws at its half-orc foe but once again Wakuren was quick enough to avoid being bitten.

Thurloe pumped another magic missile spell into the fire phantom he'd been fighting, as Xandro pulled out his frost short sword and stabbed it deep into the fire elemental intent upon attacking Alewyth. Zander aided the bard's efforts with a magic missile spell of his own, but not before the burning creature brought its flaming fists down upon the dwarven priestess, hitting her hard and setting her cloak ablaze. But the dwarf took that all in stride, spinning about and slamming the fire elemental with Sjondra before taking the time to release the cloak's clasp and let it fall to the stone floor behind her. Also behind her, the small earth elemental continued pounding on the fire phantom intent upon reaching Alewyth.

The fire phantoms continued their own attacks with their flaming fists, one still trying to get to Wakuren and the other fighting the earth elemental. Wakuren ignored the attack from the flaming humanoid, concentrating on another devastating strike with the pointed bottom of his shield, which hit the lava weird on the top of its already-damaged head and split the rent there even farther. Wakuren had to dance back up the ramp as the lava weird collapsed onto the sloping ramp before him, then slowly slid back into the magma pool, unmoving and no longer alive.

Thurloe's next magic missile spell killed the fire phantom engaged in battle with Alewyth's earth elemental, at just about the same time Xandro's frost blade took out the fire elemental, which seemed to go out like a campfire doused by a bucket of water.

Despite most of the fiery foes having been taken care of, Zander was feeling particularly vulnerable, so he cast a new spell for the first time: stoneskin, which covered him in a protective sheath that would deflect the majority of most physical attacks made against him. He would discover later just how expensive a spell that would prove to be, as casting it devoured all of the diamond dust he carried in his spell component pouch.

The earth elemental continued its attacks on the sole remaining fire phantom, and with a bit of redirection there were now two spiritual weapons focused upon taking it out as well. Wakuren, still stoked at having slain the lava weird by himself, turned his attention on the undead thing beside him and provided the killing blow to it. Thurloe killed the cowering cinder ghoul with a magic missile spell just so they wouldn't have to worry about it snapping out of its fear of Aerik's holy symbol.

And then the heroes found themselves no longer in combat for the first time since stepping into the Temple of Burning Desire.

"So now what?" asked Alewyth. "This looks t' be a dead end. Are we going to have to turn around and face that duergar army after all?"

"Maybe not," replied Zander, telling the others what the cinder ghouls had whispered to him about the "wish" in the bottle in the hand of the statue of Infernia. Looking across the magma pool, they could see there was in fact some sort of bottle held in her outstretched hand.

"I'll send me bee t' go fetch it!" announced Alewyth, summoning forth the giant bee imprisoned in her amber amulet of vermin. The bee manifested in the air and at Alewyth's direction flew over to the statue and landed on the bottle. "Bring it back here!" Alewyth directed, but the insect just crawled back and forth over the bottle (and Infernia's hand), as if in puzzlement.

"I don't think the bottle detaches," observed Xandro.

"Hang on," replied Wakuren, fetching the rope of climbing from his pack. Holding onto one end, he commanded the magic rope to go attach itself to Infernia's outstretched wrist. While it did so, Thurloe began pounding a piton into the ground by the top of the sloping ramp and securely tied the end of the rope of climbing in place. Then, once it was secure, he used his own length of rope to attach around his waist and the rope of climbing. Finally, with precautions in place to prevent him from falling into the magma pool if he lost his grip, Thurloe climbed over to the statue of Infernia.

"Bottle's attached to the statue," Thurloe called over to the others. "But it's got a removable stopper."

"You know what this is?" asked Xandro. "It's a genie bottle! Release the genie, make a wish to get back to the surface!"

"In this place, probably an efreet," corrected Thurloe - and that proved to be the case. After having decided upon what exact wording to use (for wish-granting creatures like genies were often said to warp the wishes of foolish mortals when possible), Thurloe pulled the cork from the iron flask embedded into the Infernia statue and was immediately rewarded by a blast of smoke shooting directly into his face. Thurloe winced but held his grip, and the smoke flew out into the open air above the magma pool and coalesced into the form of a hovering, red-skinned giant with horns protruding from his head.

"WHAT IS YOUR WISH?" demanded the efreet, glaring down at the mortals gathered below him.

"The six of us wish to be teleported, safely, along with all of our possessions and gear, back up to the dwarven surface city of Agatesgate," Thurloe replied.

"SIMPLICITY ITSELF," scoffed the efreet, waving his hand as if shooing away an irritating insect. Just that quickly, the five heroes, their dwarven ranger guide, the rope of climbing and the giant bee, even Thurloe's piton - all vanished from the area. Looking over his handiwork with an appraising eye, the efreet nodded to himself in approval, turned back into a column of smoke, and returned to the iron flask in Infernia's outstretched hand.

- - -

I wrote this adventure with two goals in mind: I wanted to force the PCs to find a different way back to the surface (it's not a whole lot of fun and excitement going back the same way you came, having already cleared the path of any obstacles two days ago) and it gave me an opportunity to use some fire-based creatures the players had never met up with before. And my son Logan has a 5-inch tall female fire elemental miniature based on the same image he'd used for Infernia back in our Wing Three campaign (when she was the fire elemental familiar of his wizard Telgrane), which I used for the Infernia statue at the end of the Temple of Burning Desire.

We had a bit of a surprise during this game session, as not only did Joe join us (it was a three-day weekend so he drove home to his parents' house and decided he'd run his own PC, Zander Quilson, instead of having his dad run him for him as we did the previous session), but Joe's older brother Jacob also came to see how we were all doing. Jacob gamed with us during the Wing Three and Kordovian Adventurers Guild days, so we turned over the Streggin NPC sheet for him to use. He stuck around until the fight with the mephits, then had to leave to go deal with some scheduled stuff at his old work (turning in a laptop, I believe), but I could tell gaming with us again had him remembering how much fun our two families have together. I wouldn't be surprised if we see a bit more of Jacob in the days to come, now that he's living back in the same general area as the rest of us. (He quit our campaigns when he moved off to college, and now that's all behind him.)

- - -

T-shirt worn: My TSR 25th Anniversary T-shirt, for two reasons: it's gray, like the stone of the Underdark, and one of the D&D monsters depicted on it is a salamander.
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PC Roster:
Alewyth Putterpye, dwarf priestess of Aerik 8​
Thurloe Pulver, human fighter 3/wizard 3/spellsword 2​
Wakuren, half-orc cleric of Cal 4/paladin 4​
Xandro Silverstrings, human bard 6/rogue 2​
Zander Quilson, elf sorcerer 8​

Game Session Date: 22 October 2022

- - -

Once again back in the dwarven mining city of Agatesgate, the five heroes paid Streggin Cavedelver for his services and went off to find Scarlie Besker. He was in the inn where they'd rented a room for him, enjoying a dwarven ale. "Hey, you're back!" he said, finishing up his drink. "We ready to move on to the next village?"

"Not quite," replied Alewyth. "We need to head back to Basutra."

"Back? Why? Somebody else fall asleep there and get stuck in their dreams?"

"No, but there's a shrine of Delphyne there and we can use it to teleport back to Baron's Haven, where we have some business there that will likely take a couple of days at the very least. But I'm afraid we can't take the wagon or animals with us, so we'll need you to stay behind with them again in Basutra."

"Hey, if they got ale in Basutra, I'll be fine holing up there for as long as you need." Alewyth frowned at the half-orc's obvious addiction to alcoholic beverages, but she loosened up when they went to the stables to retrieve their wagon and animals and she saw he'd taken good care of Pyrite and the horses and mules. Saddling up, they turned about and headed back the way they had come, returning to Basutra, the city where they'd had the run-in with the werewasp. Thurloe spent the day in the back of the wagon, poring over the various spellbooks he'd acquired from the evil wizards they'd fought over his short adventuring career, trying to make sense of them. By the time they hit Basutra two days later, he had the grasp of a new summoning spell which would allow him to draw forth a creature from another entire plane of existence to serve him for a brief period of time. He'd seen Wakuren and Alewyth summon celestial bison and the half-orc had even figured out some way to bring forth a hippogriff made up of elemental winds; Thurloe was eager to be able to wield such magic himself.

Once they got the animals stabled and Scarlie tucked away into a comfortable inn (where he immediately went to the bar and ordered the first of no doubt many beers), the five made their way to the shrine to Delphyne, Goddess of Magic. Opening the hidden door behind the statue of the goddess, they flipped through the pages of the book attached to a podium until they found the one showing the statue of Delphyne in her shrine in Baron's Haven. Below the drawing were the following letters:


Fortunately, they already knew the trick to this particular passphrase. Starting with the "B" in the top left corner and "bouncing" up and down from left to right until hitting the end and returning back the other way, the group found the passphrase. Alewyth said aloud, "Baron's Haven ley one eight" and the five of them disappeared, stepping out into the Temple of Delphyne in Baron's Haven.

"Now remember, they don't allow public spellcasting here," Zander told the others.

"You already reminded us," Thurloe groused. "That's why I'm wearing my breastplate instead of relying upon a mage armor spell I won't be allowed to cast." Despite having been initially trained to fight with his bastard sword while wearing armor, since learning the spellsword arts he'd gone without, as the armor sometimes made it more difficult to cast spells. But he figured here in this backwards city he wouldn't be casting any spells in any case - he didn't want to get hauled before the magistrate again and sentenced to clearing out rubble from collapsed wizards' towers or anything. Once had been enough of that!

"But we're forgetting something else," Xandro pointed out. "We're wanted criminals here, remember? Apparently the Baron was none too pleased about us killing a bunch of his undead soldiers."

"Oh, yeah," Alewyth recalled.

"We should be fine," Thurloe scoffed. "As long as we stay out of sight of the hobgoblin guards the Baron sent after us, it seems like the local human population was quite okay with us taking down a bunch of undead abominations. Remember that 'warning' we got from those human guards as we were leaving town?"

"All the same, I stand out like a sore thumb," replied Wakuren - as indeed he did, being no doubt the only half-orc in the whole city (if not the continent) parading around in the armor and tabard of a cleric-paladin of Cal, God of the Air and of Healing. Activating his ring of invisibility, he disappeared from view. "The four of you blend in a lot better without me," he told the others.

"And you know, you look a lot better this way!" joked Thurloe. As the half-orc was invisible, the spellsword was unable to see the momentary look of fury crossing Wakuren's unseen face before he was able to master his anger.

They recalled the location of Iriadorrista's shop, for the elven gemcutter had done the carving on the smaller dreamstones they'd each had incorporated into their primary items: Thurloe's bastard sword Spellslicer; Alewyth's dwarven warhammer Sjondra; Zander Quilson's jade cooshee; Wakuren's shield of Cal; and Xandro's Dardolian lute. But Iriadorrista apparently remembered them just as well, for her face broke into a welcoming smile when she saw them enter her shop. "You're back!" she said. "But there's one less of you!"

"I'm right here," Wakuren said, dismissing his invisibility and finding himself inordinately pleased that the good-looking elf maiden had recognized his absence. Alewyth removed the Haggoth's handy haversack from her back and pulled out the three dreamstones they'd rescued from the kobold warren. Thurloe also retrieved the drawings he'd made while sound asleep, his body on the Mortal Plane mirroring the actions he took in the Dreamlands under the supervision of the Queen of Dreams herself. The parchment drawing showed how the three rough dreamstone chunks were to be sliced into five roughly petal shapes, and the runes to be carved into each. Iriadorrista took them into a side room where she often consulted with clients and looked over the drawings and the three chunks of dreamstone. "I can do this, sure," she agreed. "They'll be ready the day after tomorrow, if that works for you."

"That will be fine," Wakuren replied, giving the elf his best smile - one where his lips covered the slight tusks growing up from his lower jaw, which often caused others a bit of fright.

"In return, I wonder if you might be willing to do me a little favor," Iriadorrista asked. She then explained an issue she had with a recent customer. "This man came in yesterday with a blood diamond," she said. "He asked me to carve a rune into it, we agreed upon a price, and I told him it would be done today by noon. However, after I closed the shop yesterday and went to begin work on his gemstone, the very touch of it made me feel...uncomfortable. It was as if...as if the thing were emanating a palpable sense of evil. I know that sounds silly...."

"Not at all," reassured Wakuren.

"In any case, I decided I wouldn't be doing the work after all. He should be here in the next half hour or so, and while I have Hal here for security" - here she indicated the human security guard who stood in the front corner of the shop to deter theft - "I wouldn't mind it at all if there were five seasoned adventurers like yourselves on hand when I tell the wizard I won't be doing his job like I had said."

"We'd be happy to help," Wakuren replied on behalf of the entire group, his chest puffed out at having been described as a "seasoned adventurer" - he certainly liked the sound of that! "May we see this blood diamond?" he asked.

"Certainly," Iriadorrista answered, nipping off to the back room where she did the actual gemcutting and returning with a small, wooden box. She opened it up, revealing a red diamond the size of a thumbnail. "This is what he wanted carved onto it," she added, holing out a sheet of folded parchment.

Thurloe grabbed up the sheet, opened it, and grunted. "This rune - it means 'life eternal,'" he told the others. "Wizard dude's probably got plans to turn himself into a lich, and this, no doubt, is to be his phylactery."

"It's evil," Wakuren said, having actually winced at the level of evil emanating from the red gem.

"Do you have any other red diamonds you could swap with this one?" Zander asked.

Iriadorrista shook her head. "Blood diamonds are very rare," she explained. "I have diamonds this size, but they aren't red like this one. And I have red gemstones, but they aren't diamonds. I'm afraid if we tried exchanging this for another, he'll see right through the attempt."

"If he's somehow infused this with evil, he'll know any fake we give him isn't the same gemstone," Wakuren agreed. "You said he'll be here soon?" The gemcutter agreed, then further agreed to allow the five heroes to use the conference room off to the side of the shop to make their preparations. In the meantime, she had her salesgirl, a young elf named Kiirinarra, help her bring the dreamstones into the workshop through the door behind the sales counter.

Inside the conference room, with the door closed, the heroes made their "preparations" all right - but they consisted of spellcasting they didn't want either of the elven women to see them perform; better they have plausible deniability if the heroes were accused of illegal spellcasting within the city limits. But once they had all cast the spells they wanted in place, Wakuren opened the door again so they could see the sales counter. Iriadorrista and Kiirinarra took their places and waited the customer's return.

They didn't have long to wait. No more than five minutes later, a bald man with a dark moustache and goatee walked boldly into the shop, heading directly to the counter. He didn't even bother glancing over at Hal, the human guard, nor did he look over at the conference room where the five heroes stood, ready for trouble. "Do you have my blood diamond?" he demanded, reaching down for a coin purse at his belt.

"I have it right here," Iriadorrista replied, taking the wooden box from the shelf behind the counter and placing it within reach, along with the folded parchment. "But I'm afraid I will not be able to perform the work we had discussed."

"What? Why ever not?" demanded Corbin Mallaxus, his dark eyebrows furrowed in anger.

"It doesn't matter why not," replied Wakuren, stepping forward. "The lady will not be preparing your phylactery for you. And I would like to discuss your intentions as they might pertain to lichdom." A quick perusal of the man's aura confirmed to the half-orc he was every bit as evil as the blood diamond he had brought to the shop.

"My intentions are none of your business!" retorted Corbin, snatching up his wooden box and his parchment. He didn't even bother opening the box to ensure his blood diamond was in there; he either trusted the shopkeeper wouldn't have tried anything or had some way to sense its presence unseen. But the other four heroes stepped out of the conference room, hands on weapons. Corbin, apparently not liking the five-to-one odds (six-to-one if you counted Hal), turned back to face Iriadorrista. "I shall have to take my business to a more reputable gemcutter, I see!" he snorted in disgust, then turned on his heels and made to depart the store. Wakuren placed a hand on the wizard's shoulder but it was brushed away.

"Quick - inside the lamp!" demanded Wakuren, placing it on the floor. As the others touched the lamp and said "eintret," they were immediately shunted into the extradimensional interior of the living quarters originally crafted by the night hag Hesperna. Then Wakuren scooped up the lamp and, activating his ring of invisibility, faded from view. He stepped outside the gem shop just in time to see Corbin Mallaxus turn the corner into an alleyway. But by the time Wakuren had run to the corner, the wizard was gone - no doubt having followed their own course of action and cast a spell within the city limits once in a place he wouldn't be seen doing so. Wakuren couldn't be sure of what spell had been cast - teleport? dimension door? - but whatever it was, there was no way to follow Corbin Mallaxus now. Wakuren set down the lamp, deactivated his ring, and entered the lamp to tell the others they could come out now and that Mallaxus had eluded the half-orc.

Returning to Iriadorrista's shop, they reported what had happened and suggested she send word to the other gemcutters in the city about Mallaxus and his evil blood diamond. "Good idea: I'll write up some quick notes and have them delivered by messenger," she promised. Then, with two days to kill, the heroes made their way back to the Merry Minstrel Inn, where they'd stayed the last time they were in town. Xandro was friends with the owner, Jorbalee Bennicut, and she was more than happy to get him a single room (as they'd all really be staying inside the lamp's extradimensional interior) and hire his services as the evening's entertainment. They found out Tommy, the orphan they'd rescued from his uncle and put into Jorbalee's care, was doing fine in his new circumstances. "He's been a bit help," Jorbalee assured them.

At their request, Jorbalee opened the small room in which she'd placed the famed bard Carmen Melodius, one of the three dreamers the five dreamwalkers had thus far been unable to awaken. She was still asleep, the leather headband they'd put around her temple to keep the dreamstone in place on her forehead exactly as they'd placed it. "Shall we give it another shot?" asked Alewyth. "It's been a month or so since we last tried."

"Worth a shot, I suppose," admitted Thurloe, and the five took their places around Carmen's bed, sitting in a circle and slowing their breathing, each wearing a dreamstone on their own brow. Within moments, they were all asleep and back in the Dreamlands.

"Good luck, kupo!" said Mogo after his dreamwalker students told him what they wanted to do. But while they had indeed grown a bit in power since the last time they had entered Carmen's ongoing dream, the end result was still the same: the giant ape made quick work of them, tearing their dream-bodies apart with his bare hands and his massive teeth, causing them to be forced awake. After two further attempts, they gave it up. "Still got a way to go, I guess," sighed Zander.

"We should try to find out what we can about that bald wizard," Alewyth suggested. "I don't like the idea of him becoming a lich." At her prompting, they asked around if anybody knew the wizard and eventually Xandro hit pay dirt, not only finding out the wizard's name but the address where he lived. It was in the better part of town, among the more well-to-do. "Let's go check it out!" the bard enthused. Wakuren once again faded from view as they walked the streets of Baron's Haven into the more respectable part of the city. And they did find the Mallaxus estate: it was rather hard to miss, for the ten-foot-tall hedges flanking his property were distinctive enough to call attention to it. There was but a single entrance: a pair of tall, thick gates that bore the Mallaxus family crest. But trying to peek through the thick hedges was problematic, giving only the barest view of what seemed to be a single-story structure in the middle of the property. "I kind of expected a tall, wizard's tower," Alewyth admitted.

"Guy likes his privacy," Thurloe grunted.

"Let's go check it out," Wakuren said from behind them. Hesperna's lamp suddenly appeared on the street beside them, the invisible half-orc having placed it there and stepped away. "I have a gaseous form spell that will get me over the hedges," he said. "We can take a peek through his house, see what all he's up to. If he's planning lichdom, he's probably up to something no good."

"That's technically illegal," Zander pointed out. "We don't have any authorization to go sneaking into his house."

"We're already technically outlaws here," Xandro replied. The bard touched the lamp and, saying the command word, disappeared inside. Sighing, the elf followed suit, with Alewyth and Thurloe right behind him. When all four of them were inside, Xandro added, "The bad thing about this type of plan is we have no way of seeing what's going on outside while Wakuren goes exploring."

"We could stay behind," Alewyth pointed out, "but then if he runs into any trouble we wouldn't be there to come to his aid."

"But we wouldn't even know to come to his aid in the first place," argued Xandro. "That's the whole problem with this setup."

Wakuren, however, saw no problem with his plan. Casting his spell right there on the street (while invisible, so he was fairly certain he wouldn't get caught), he - and the lamp he held in his hands - turned to a vaporous gas and wafted over the thick hedges flanking Corbin Mallaxus's property. As he lowered his elevation onto the grounds surrounding the little dwelling, Wakuren saw the wizard employed a set of guards. This pair stood motionlessly, one on either side of the house. Curious, the gaseous half-orc altered his path to get a close-up look at one of them.

At first, Wakuren thought he was dealing with a mummy, for the figure was wrapped head to toe in linen bandages. But as he got closer, he saw not only flesh beneath the bandages that showed an unhealthy coloration, but a great deal of stitches holding the skin together. The fact the "mummy" gave off no aura of evil whatsoever led Wakuren to the belief he was looking not at an undead mummy but a bandage-wrapped flesh golem. Both were made of reanimated flesh, but a flesh golem was given life by an elemental spirit rather than that of the person who had once worn that dead flesh. In any case, Wakuren had no desire to deal with the flesh golem guardians and instead made a full circuit around the house, finding only a front door and another to the side - no windows at all in his house; that was a bit suspicious! Given the building was a single structure flanked on all sides by 10-foot-tall hedges, it certainly seemed as if Corbin Mallaxus didn't want any neighbors seeing what he was up to.

Wakuren sent his vaporous form gliding underneath the front door, glad to see it wasn't airtight. Looking about, he saw he was in a main room lit by everburning torches, which made sense given the wizard's human visual limitations and the lack of natural light brought about by the total lack of windows. There was an open doorway to a kitchen to the left and beyond that a dining area; Wakuren checked them both out but they were empty. Retracing his path, he flowed underneath another door, this time finding himself in a simple bedroom. The bedroom was austere, with a single bed trunk, and a garderobe along one wall; the half-orc was glad the gaseous form spell prevented him from being able to smell, for he doubted the bedroom smelled very nice while connected to a latrine pit. There was another door at the northeastern corner of the room, which if Wakuren was picturing things correctly, lined up rather nicely with the side door, attached to a short projection along the eastern side of the building he suspected led to a stairwell leading down to a lower level. Instinctively sensing for evil, he was surprised when he got a strong reading coming from the other side of the door, this one just as strong as the auras from Corbin Mallaxus and his blood diamond.

Wakuren backtracked the way he had come, exiting the dwelling by flowing out underneath the front door and floating around to the side door. He got the same reading from this door and idly wondered if there was some sort of trap in place. If so, there was only one way to find out: flowing underneath the door, Wakuren got his answer, for standing there at the top of the stairs was a thin-bodied creature with large, batlike ears and a pair of wings equally suited to a bat, although this being had a separate pair of humanoid arms ending in clawed fingers. Wakuren couldn't recall if this was an imp or a quasit; then, noting the creature's greenish-gray coloration (and vaguely recalling imps as having red skin), he settled into the assumption (for now) that this was a quasit, and Corbin's familiar. He'd have to check with Thurloe to find out for sure; the spellsword studied such things.

Then Wakuren noted something he should have paid attention to right away: the quasit, or whatever it was, seemed to be staring right at him with a quizzical expression on its face. Could it see him, even though he was fully invisible and under the effects of a gaseous form spell? Experimentally, Wakuren shifted to the left and then to the right; the homunculus followed his every move. Well, that answered that, then - although there wasn't much Wakuren could do about it. Wordlessly, he allowed himself to float down the stairs to the lower level, the homunculus following behind inquisitively.

The room at the bottom of the steps was a library, complete with a small desk containing a book bound in black leather. There were two closed doors leading into other rooms; heading south, Wakuren slid his vaporous body beneath the door and found himself in a workroom of sorts, with several tables containing various projects in different states of completion. There was a skeleton standing in an open doorway, wearing what at first Wakuren took to be a purple feather boa - but then he realized they were three separate sections of intestine-like appendages, one along each forearm and another coiled up in the skeleton's ribcage. A mohrg, the half-orc realized, and turned back to exit the room the way he'd come - only to find the door now wide open and the homunculus hovering in the air, watching him.

Returning to the library, Wakuren slid beneath the other closed door, only to have the homunculus open it behind him and follow. This room was just as sinister despite being empty, for there were three empty cells along the north wall, each containing a wooden bench and an old bucket. Despite there not being any prisoners stored here at present, Wakuren could only imagine this was where Mallaxus kept the "components" for his flesh golems outside before they were slain and experimented upon.

There was another door from the room of cells, this one leading to an operating room of sorts where Wakuren imagined the flesh golems had been crafted, if the dried bloodstains on the central table and the row of surgical implements on the smaller table against the south wall were any indication. There was but one more door from this room - besides an open doorway leading to the workshop, for Wakuren could see the mohrg's bony back standing at the end of it - and it proved to be an empty room of a much notably lower temperature: a cold storage room for corpses, no doubt. Again, the current lack of dead bodies didn't give the half-orc any feelings of relief, for he was certain the room had been put to use before and would be again.

Since that seemed to be the entirety of the lower level, Wakuren retraced his path back to the stairwell and started rising up it - only to see the homunculus following his every move. This, he realized, was going to be problematic, for the little creature's wings allowed it to fly at a much faster speed than he could manage while in gaseous form. Still, there didn't seem to be much Wakuren could do about it at the moment, so he made his way outside, flew over the hedges, and landed on a back street behind the Mallaxus estate, where he dismissed the gaseous form spell and returned to solid - though still invisible - form.

But as soon as the half-orc had retained solid form, the homunculus moved in to attack, snapping at him with its wicked teeth. He dodged the blow and instinctively returned the attack with a swipe of his shield, which had the effect of dismissing his invisibility. He at least had the satisfaction of having slammed the shield directly into the homunculus's body, but it staggered away, wings flapping rapidly in an attempt to gain an altitude higher than Wakuren could reach with his shield. Having attained such a safe height, the homunculus took a moment to taunt the intruder into his master's house. "You're dead, half-orc!" he said. "You hear me? You're dead!" It grinned evilly at the thought of what Corbin Mallaxus would do to someone who had blatantly invaded his home, especially when the homunculus was able to give him such a good description of what Wakuren looked like. But Wakuren wasn't particularly concerned, for the vile creature couldn't report back if it were already dead. Raising his right hand, upon which he wore the gauntlet of Cal, he summoned a javelin of lightning into his hand and sent it flying up at the winged beast. The homunculus squawked in pain and outrage as the lightning bolt struck true, then turned and flew back to his master's home as quickly as it could. Wakuren growled in irritation when he realized he wouldn't have the opportunity for a second such attack, for the wizard's familiar was already over the hedge and out of view.

Grumbling to himself, Wakuren entered the lamp and briefed the others on what he'd seen. From the description he gave of the familiar, Thurloe was able to state confidently that was likely a homunculus Wakuren had fought, and almost certainly Corbin's familiar.

"But now what?" asked Alewyth. "Can we report this to the guards?"

"Not without admitting that Wakuren cast a gaseous form spell upon himself and then trespassed into a citizen's home," Thurloe pointed out. "That won't get Mallaxus in trouble so much as us. Face it: there's not a lot we can do about this. Hopefully Iriadorrista's messages made sure any other local gemcutters won't be carving up that blood diamond of his into a phylactery any time soon." They returned to the Merry Minstrel Inn, where they enjoyed a hearty dinner and listened to Xandro's performance on the Dardolian lute before calling it a night. Thurloe opted to stay in the inn's room for the night, with the lamp beneath the bed and the others safely inside its extradimensional spaces. Wakuren, for one, wanted the extra protection being on an entirely different plane of existence would afford him, knowing the homunculus would report back his intrusion into Corbin's house.

But the night passed without incident, and the next morning the five heroes ate breakfast in the inn, Tommy proudly bringing a basket of breakfast rolls to their table. However, once they had completed their meal, they were at a loss as to what to do with the day - for the dreamstones wouldn't be finished until the following day, as per Iriadorrista's announced schedule. Still, they decided to swing by her shop to see how progress was going on their project.

Kiirinarra was there at the shop, as was Hal, but the clerk was nervously wringing her hands. She breathed a big sigh of relief when the five heroes stepped into the shop, and she raced from behind the counter to fill them in. "Iriadorrista's missing!" she blurted out. "She's normally here to open the shop, but it was still locked up when I got in, but I have a key so I opened it myself, but there's no answer at Iriadorrista's door, and that man came back at the end of the day yesterday--"

"Hold on - slow down!" commanded Thurloe. "What man? The bald wizard, Mallaxus?"

"Yes, him!" replied Kiirinarra. "He showed back up at the end of the day, right before we were about to close up for the night. He had a wooden box with him - a bigger one, not the one he kept the blood diamond in - and he opened it to show Iriadorrista what was in it, and then she went all white and grabbed up her tools from the back room and went off with him. And we haven't seen her since!"

"What would have been in the box?" queried Zander.

Wakuren had an idea. "It could easily have been the finger of someone she cares about," he theorized. "I could see him threatening her family with further harm if she didn't cooperate." He turned to the elven shop clerk. "Does Iriadorrista have any family living here in the city?"

"Her mother, yes." Kiirinarra told them the street she lived on, but she was unsure of her exact address. Wakuren was ready to go racing off to see the gemcutter's mother at once, but before he could do so Xandro asked a few pertinent questions. "You say Iriadorrista is normally here first thing in the morning," he told the elven clerk. "So she lives nearby?" Kiirinarra pointed to a door from the workshop. "The other half of the building is her apartment," she explained. The door was locked, but Kiirinarra said under the circumstances she was sure her boss would have no problems with the bard picking the lock to her living quarters. It took him less than a minute to get the lock open, and then they went through her quarters; as expected, they were empty, her bed still made and obviously not having been slept in.

"The bastard kidnapped her," Alewyth muttered.

"Let's go," Xandro said, leading the group towards the Mallaxus estate. Fortunately, to get there they had to pass by the street where Iriadorrista's mother, Avaranella, lived. Xandro was able to ascertain her address by a couple of friendly questions of the people in the neighborhood; Wakuren did his part by remaining invisible so his half-orc countenance didn't scare off the locals.

Knocking on the door, Xandro called out, "Avaranella? Are you home? It's very important."

"Go away," came a woman's fearful voice from the other side of the door.

"It's about your daughter, Iriadorrista. We think someone's taken her, and we're on our way to go get her back. But we wanted to make sure you're okay. Did anyone come by yesterday evening, making threats?"

There was the sound of locks being undone on the other side of the door, and then it opened and in the doorway stood the gemcutter's mother. "He did more than make threats," Avaranella replied, holding forth the bandaged stump where her right hand had been. "But you say Iri's been kidnapped? By that horrible man?"

"We're going to get her back," Alewyth promised.

"He said if I said anything, he'd be back to kill me," the elven woman said, shuddering. "But you already know...." She looked up at the four adventurers standing on her porch (as Wakuren was still invisible). "Please, if you can save her from that monster...."

"You close this door back up and keep it locked," Thurloe told the woman. "We'll be back with your daughter." And after hearing her lock the closed door back up, the group rushed over to the Mallaxus estate with all haste. "Same deal as yesterday," Thurloe told the others, once they were all inside the lamp, on the street behind the Mallaxus estate, where nobody would witness them casting spells within the city limits of Baron's Haven without the proper authorization. Alewyth cast a magic circle against evil spell upon herself, following it up with a magic vestment spell on her armor and a bless spell on the group at large. Wakuren beefed himself up with more spells than he'd ever cast upon himself at one time before, with owl's wisdom, bull's strength, and eagle's splendor increasing his overall personal combat effectiveness, followed by shield of faith and entropic shield spells to make it harder for Corbin and his homunculus and mohrg allies to deal the half-orc any serious damage. Xandro even pitched in by casting a heroism spell on the cleric-paladin of Cal. Thurloe made do with a charge from his wand of shield, before passing it over to Zander so the elf sorcerer could do the same. Zander also cast a mage armor spell on himself and a haste spell on the group. Then Wakuren activated his ring of invisibility, stepped on the platform in the center of the lamp's extradimensional space and said the command word, "aussteig" - which shunted him back outside by the physical lamp. Then he picked up the lamp and cast a gaseous form spell upon himself, once again taking on the substance of invisible fumes. He floated up and over the hedge and flowed around the house to slide beneath the front door.

However, having been alerted to the half-orc's previous intrusion the day before, Corbin Mallaxus had been able to make some preparations. As Wakuren's invisible, vaporous body seeped beneath the front door, his living life force activated an alarm spell that made a raucous racket that had to have instantly alerted Corbin of the intrusion. Wakuren flowed over to the dining room, assumed solid form, set down the lamp, and said the command word that shunted him back inside. "Triggered an alarm spell," he told the others. "No need to try sneaking around - he's got to know we're here."

Advancing up to the bedroom door, they found it locked - but it took Xandro longer to unpack his lockpicks than it did to overcome the simple lock in the door. The bedroom was empty, but by now Alewyth was impatient and eager to get downstairs where she was sure Iriadorrista was being held. She crossed the room and, finding the door to the stairs locked as she had expected, brought Sjondra crashing into the locked door, sundering it from its hinges. Xandro just shrugged and rolled his lockpicking tools back up into their bundle, then stowed them on his belt.

Wakuren, still invisible, crept down the stairs as quietly as his armor would allow. The homunculus was squatting on the table in the library, gathering up the black-leather-bound tome, when the half-orc slammed his shield into the familiar's head, channeling Cal's smiting power through it as it struck home. The homunculus dropped the book and reeled drunkenly in the air, trying to regain his equilibrium, when a magic missile spell from Zander from the bottom of the stairs slew it outright. It crashed to the library floor in an unliving heap. Two rooms away, Corbin Mallaxus swore quietly to himself as he felt the link to his familiar go dead. But he carried on, casting defensive spells upon himself in preparation for the fight to come.

Xandro, in the meantime, took the opportunity to send the point of his frost short sword into the skull of the homunculus, just to make sure it was truly dead. Satisfied, he then pulled the Dardolian lute from his back and began the initial chords to his song of inspirational courage. Thurloe brushed past him, bastard sword out and ready for action, and opened the door to the workroom. Sure enough, there was Iriadorrista sitting in a wooden chair, bent over the blood diamond with a loupe on one eye and her gemcutting instruments in hand. But that wasn't all of note in the workshop: besides the mohrg, which still stood in the doorway on guard duty, there was a right hand crawling about on its fingertips on top of a smaller table in the corner; Thurloe couldn't help but notice the severed hand was wearing a tiger's eye ring on one finger that gave it the appearance of some cyclopean overseer watching the gemcutter's work. But as Corbin didn't appear to be in the room, Thurloe moved over to the other door from the library, which he recalled led to the room with the three cells.

Alewyth stepped into the workshop, her holy symbol of Aerik held before her. As she sent a blast of positive energy through Aerik's icon (hoping to cause the mohrg to crumble away to dust or at least flee the scene; to the priestess's disappointment, it did neither), Alewyth couldn't help but notice the manacle around Iriadorrista's left ankle, from which was attached a length of heavy chain mounted to the stone floor beneath the table at which she sat. Judging from the chain's apparent length, it seemed she had the full range of the workshop but that was about it. But the elf looked up from her work at the Alewyth's approach, and a look of relief passed over her face.

Wakuren pocketed the black tome the homunculus was gathering up and stepped into the workshop behind Alewyth, casting a spell that summoned an air element hippogriff into being. It immediately attacked the mohrg, its front talons clawing their way across the skeletal being's skull. It retaliated at once, sending its clawed "tongue" shooting forth from its open jaws; the slimy appendage hit the hippogriff, but its paralytic secretions had no effect upon a creature whose body was composed of the swirling winds from the Elemental Plane of Air. Not liking its nearness to this elemental force, the crawling claw - animated the night before, using Avaranella's severed hand - skittered to the far side of the table upon which it crouched, and the air elemental hippogriff, seeing the motion, instinctively swatted at it with its right front talons. That was enough to slay the crawling claw in one blow; it fell to the floor, landing upside down and preventing Corbin Mallaxus from seeing anything if he tried scrying through the tiger's eye ring it wore, using the linked amulet around his neck.

Then Zander ran into the workshop, scooting the long way around the table at which Iriadorrista sat, until he had a good line of sight on the mohrg. Then he sent a scorching ray spell blasting across the room to hit the undead thing square on with one fiery stream. (The other one, unfortunately, missed completely.)

Anticipating imminent contact with the enemy, Corbin cast a summoning spell of his own and set a bearded devil immediately before the door linking the construct lab - in which he stood - to the room with the three cells. It was just in time, too, for Thurloe opened the door immediately after having cast a mirror image spell on himself. He was surprised to see a bearded devil standing before him in the doorway (and Corbin standing at the back of the room, behind the devil), while the fiend was just as surprised to see six identical spellswords facing him through the doorway. Overcoming his initial surprise, the devil stabbed forward with his glaive, but the Thurloes successfully dodged out of the way.

Alewyth pulled Iriadorrista away from the mohrg and the hippogriff, admonishing her to hold still as she brought Sjondra crashing down upon the chain by the elf's foot. Several links broke under the assault, and the gemcutter found herself free, a mere half-dozen links jangling from the manacle around her left foot. "Run!" Alewyth called to her, and Iriadorrista did as she was told, rushing out of the workshop and into the safety of the arcane library. "Don't leave the house, though!" Alewyth amended, not wanting the gemcutter to run afoul of the two flesh golems roaming around the necromancer's yard. Back in the workshop, the mohrg and the hippogriff traded blows, the elemental creature getting the better of the deal, for all of its attacks could harm the undead thing, whereas the mohrg's paralytic attacks were useless against the being born of winds.

Zander cast a magic missile spell at the mohrg, trading a lower damage output (compared to a scorching ray spell like he'd tried using earlier) for a guaranteed successful strike. Corbin sidled over to the cooler chamber, casting another summoning spell before closing the door and cutting himself from view. But the yeth hound he'd summoned from the Fiendish Planes manifested behind the six Thurloes, snapping at the nearest with his teeth - and, surprisingly, missing entirely as the multiple images shifted back and forth in a rather confusing pattern. The bearded devil was having a similar problem stabbing out with his glaive and striking nothing but empty air.

Thurloe, taking inspiration from Xandro's magical tune, activated his torc of the titans and brought his bastard sword swinging at the bearded devil with all he was worth. The blade hit the fiend in the side of the torso and went in deep, but not as deep as the spellsword would have expected; he's forgotten to take into account the devil's insanely thick skin, granting it a level of protection against mortal weapons that only silver or holy magic could overcome. Wakuren departed the workshop in search of Corbin and approached Thurloe from the library, hitting the devil in the doorway with the side of his shield.

While the air element hippogriff and the mohrg each did their best to take the other out, Alewyth cast a searing light spell at the undead abomination. Unfortunately, due to their jostling about as they struggled to slay each other, the dwarf priestess missed with her spell. Zander took a chance and attempted another scorching ray spell, this time managing to hit the mohrg with both rays of flame.

Corbin, by this time, had come to an unfortunate conclusion: the odds were against him and it was in his best interests to escape the current combat in his house and restart his machinations elsewhere. He hated to give up his blood diamond, but he knew perfectly well the ritual to infuse a diamond with the slain souls of tortured captives; another blood diamond could easily be crafted in the days to come. But with his familiar dead, the necromancer needed the black tome the homunculus had been sent to fetch for his master, for it had the intricate ceremonies and rituals needed to ensure the successful transformation into an undying lich. Corbin need only fetch the tome before he could use the scroll of teleport he held in his left hand to ensure his successful getaway from these meddling heroes. And he knew exactly where the tome had been left: on the table in the library, and hopefully the others would be too busy fighting off his allies for them to notice his sudden appearance in the arcane library before he would be on his way to safety.

With these thoughts in mind, Corbin Mallaxus said the words to a dimension door spell and appeared standing next to the table in his library - where he saw, to his horror, the black tome was missing! Who had taken it? He looked on the floor by the body of his slain homunculus, hoping the loyal familiar might have dropped it at his side in his death, but no, it wasn't there either! Fury rose in the necromancer: who had dared to take what he needed to ascend to lichdom?

Iriadorrista screamed at the necromancer's sudden appearance by her side. She fled to the stairs, while Xandro was surprised to see he was now merely steps away from the foul wizard who'd cut off Iriadorrista's mother's hand just to force the gemcutter to do his bidding. "Guys!" he called out, breaking the flow of his song. "He's here in the library - come quick!" But then he thrust at the necromancer with his frost short sword, the blade cutting into Corbin's side and eliciting a yelp of surprise and pain.

The bearded devil, tired of being the target for Thurloe's blade, decided to teleport behind all five of the mirror images and the real thing, for he was having a difficult time sorting them out and had thus far been unable to land his glaive into any of them. However, Wakuren slammed his shield sideways into the fiend's throat right as he was about to begin his teleport maneuver, and as a result when he did pop behind the foes facing him in the doorway, it was only to collapse onto the floor with a crushed throat. Beside the bearded devil, the yeth hound snapped at one of the mirror images, but all six of the apparent Thurloes had by this time spun about to face the fiendish threats, and the hound's jaws snapped closed on empty air once again. But the real spellsword's blade came crashing down upon the yeth hound's back, cutting deep and pulling back before the confused creature could recall which of the six identical Spellslicer blades had been the real one.

Alewyth swung Sjondra into the side of the mohrg, who thus far had been gradually whittled away by the attacks from the air element hippogriff and Zander's spells. The undead thing's bones were cracked in several locations, and the dwarf got the feeling it wouldn't be long before they had brought about its destruction. And indeed, after it struck at the hippogriff and the hippogriff returned the favor, Zander brought the mohrg down with a final magic missile spell.

Wakuren left the yeth hound to Thurloe and his mirror images and ran over to aid Xandro in the library. As Corbin was standing behind the table, the half orc leaped up upon it and from that vantage point brought his shield slamming down upon the necromancer with all of his considerable strength. Corbin staggered away sidewise, somewhat dazed, which gave Wakuren the opportunity to leap down from the tabletop and bring his shield crashing sideways into the evil wizard's side. But Mallaxus wasn't out of the fight yet: frantically scrabbling backwards a step or two to get out of the reach of Wakuren's shield, he cast a chain lightning spell directly into the half-orc's face, the initial burst of electricity sending another arc flashing over to strike Xandro as well. The bard stepped back after the blast, sheathing his blade and returning to his song of inspirational courage on his lute. Let those more geared toward melee combat deal with such things!

The yeth hound snapped at another mirror image and once again missed. Thurloe, however, did not miss with his blade, and another deep gash opened up on the fiendish hound's body. It voiced a cry of pain that sounded surprisingly human.

But with the mohrg taken care of, Alewyth was now free to join the fight against Corbin Mallaxus. Returning to the library, she cast a hold person spell on the necromancer and was pleased to see him unable to shake it off. His body froze, his fingers up and in the midst of some sort of spellcasting, and Wakuren broke into a rather evil grin once he saw Corbin was - temporarily at least - out of the fight. Grabbing the back of the wizard's bald head, the half-orc spun him around and sent his face full-force into the side of the stone stairs leading up to the ground level of his home. He heard the sound of Corbin's nose breaking and a gush of blood poured from his wounded face, but Wakuren refused to release his grip. Instead, he pulled Corbin's head back (at which point a cluster of magic missiles came streaking in from the doorway to the workshop, courtesy of Zander), and then - just as he could feel Corbin begin to shrug off the effects of the hold person spell, sent his face crashing once again into solid stone.

One room over, the yeth hound made a final ineffectual bite at a random Thurloe before the real one cut his spine in two with his bastard sword. With a final howl of despair, the yeth hound vanished, returning to the foul plane from which he had been summoned. Over by the stairs, Alewyth shielded Iriadorrista with her own stocky body, not to keep her safe from harm but to prevent her from seeing the spectacle occurring in the arcane library, for Corbin was already quite dead but Wakuren, a look of fury blazing on his orcish features, continued pounding the wizard's face into the stone, again and again and again. By this time the necromancer didn't really have much of a face at all, merely a pulpy mess where his face used to be, and the red stain on the side of the stairs continued to grow with each slam. Finally, Thurloe put a stop to it by laying a hand on Wakuren's shoulder; the half-orc nearly responded by turning his fury upon the spellsword until he saw who it was and forcibly calmed himself down. He let Mallaxus's limp body fall to the floor when he released the back of his head.

The group then went about recovering what they could from the wizard's dwelling: the arcane scroll of teleport with which he'd planned on making his escape; the tiger's eye ring from Avaranella's severed and animated hand and the amulet from around Mallaxus's neck that had allowed him to scry through it; the contents of his arcane library (Thurloe had already discovered the necromancer's spellbooks and was flipping through them, seeing if there was anything there that caught his interest); and, of course, the blood diamond. Iriadorrista hadn't had time to finish the carving Corbin had forced her to begin and thus far it just held the rune for "life," without the corresponding "eternal" to go with it. Wakuren, now that his temporary rage had abated, offered up that the clerics at the local Temple of Cal could probably cleanse it of the evil with which it had been suffused, leaving behind a quite valuable gem. Iriadorrista agreed at once, vowing to use the money from the sale of the gem to pay to have her mother's severed hand regenerated, with the rest being paid to the five heroes as a reward for having saved her from Corbin Mallaxus. And she further vowed to accept no payment for the carving of the dreamstones.

"Are you sure?" asked Alewyth, not wanting to take advantage of the elf for having done something she considered to be part of her job.

Thurloe slapped the dwarf's thigh with the back of his hand. "Of course she's sure!" he hissed, amazed at the stupidity of someone turning down an offer of free services. And here he thought dwarves were supposed to have a good head for money!

Two days later, once the dreamstones had been finished up - the three rough chunks having been carved into a set of five petal-shaped pieces of roughly the same size and shape, each with arcane runes carved upon the upper faces - and carefully placed inside Alewyth's extradimensional haversack for safekeeping, the five heroes checked out of the Merry Minstrel Inn, said their goodbyes to Jorbalee and Tommy, and returned to the Shrine of Delphyne.

"I hope Scarlie's sober," commented Zander as Alewyth deciphered the code phrase to return them to Basutra. "I don't know how he manages to put away all the ale he drinks." Just then, a tendril extended from his forearm and the tiny eye at its tip pointed at the elf's face. <I've been focusing my attention on several other hosts in other worlds,> it admitted telepathically. <Has anything of interest happened on this world in the past several of your days?>

"Nah," scoffed Zander to his extraplanar symbiote. "Just the same old boring stuff."

<Figures!> scoffed the nibish-riule.

- - -

This was a fun adventure to run - and once again, the players' favorite plan of "Wakuren carrying everyone else inside the lamp while he flies around in gaseous form while invisible" went slightly astray when he couldn't shake the homunculus after rolling three natural 1s in a row when trying to be sneaky. (We joked that while in gaseous form, the only way he knew to move around must be by making fart noises - and especially loud ones when squeezing his vaporous body underneath doors.) However, I inadvertently helped them out a bit on that front, as if Wakuren's wearing the tiger's-eye ring while invisible and one of the other PCs wears the amulet of scrying while inside the lamp, they'll at least have some idea of what's going on in the outside world while he's carrying them around.

And there at the end, Logan came up with Wakuren's plan for taking out Corbin once and for all by announcing, "I Power Attack the stone wall with the necromancer's face!"

- - -

T-shirt worn: One of my two Red Cross T-shirts I got for donating blood, as it tied in nicely to the blood diamond Corbin tried to use as his phylactery.
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PC Roster:
Alewyth Putterpye, dwarf priestess of Aerik 8​
Thurloe Pulver, human fighter 3/wizard 3/spellsword 2​
Wakuren, half-orc cleric of Cal 4/paladin 4​
Xandro Silverstrings, human bard 6/rogue 2​
Zander Quilson, elf sorcerer 8​

Game Session Date: 5 November 2022

- - -

"Hey kupo," Mogo greeted the five dreamwalkers at the beginning of their nightly Dreamlands training session. There was a man standing beside the moogle, someone they'd never seen before, a burly human with shaggy, brown hair and long sideburns. "This is Garth Mankin, kupo. Tomorrow morning, before you start off towards the location of the next dream victim, he'll meet up with you and you'll give the dreamstones to him and he'll take them to where they're needed, kupo.” Garth said nothing, just stood there looking impassive, with his arms crossed and his feet shoulder-length apart, as if awaiting his next orders.

Mogo explained that Garth was a dreamwalker like them, but not an adventurer, so while he could be given instructions in the Dreamlands he wasn't being trained to interact in other people's dreams like they were.

"What are the dreamstones being used for?" asked Xandro. Mogo explained the Queen of Dreams was trying an experiment that might make it easier for them to stop the dream sickness. They'd know in the months to follow if the five newly-carved dreamstones were having any effect.

In the meantime, their training session that night involved entering an individual's dreams and changing the environment around them without being noticed by the dreamer. Garth, having seen the five dreamwalkers and thus able to recognize them when he met up with them in the Waking World the next day, nodded and took his leave; he was not needed in the night's dreamwalker training session.

But sure enough, when the group finished up their breakfast in the inn they'd stayed at the night before, Garth Mankin was there as promised. He took custody of the five carved dreamstones, packing each in soft linens so they wouldn't jostle in the back of his pony-driven cart. Then, without a word, he gave them a final nod and was on his way. The adventurers followed for a short while, but once out of town the heroes continued east while Garth turned to the south.

"Chatty fellow," scoffed Thurloe - during the entire time they'd met with him, in both the Dreamlands and the Waking World, he hadn't said a single word.

"Maybe he's shy," suggested Zander.

"Maybe he's mute," countered Alewyth.

"Maybe he's a monk having taken a vow of silence," added Xandro.

"Maybe I don't really care," answered Thurloe. "So, just how far is this next dreamer?"

"We've got about three days of travel ahead of us," answered Wakuren. "It's a small farming village called Sun Valley." Then, anticipating the spellsword's real reason for having asked the question in the first place, the half-orc added, "So there's no reason you can't sit in the wagon and study those spellbooks of Corbin's."

"That's what I thought," Thurloe replied, tying Horse's reins to the rear of the wagon and leaping into the back.

The first day was uneventful. But it was nearing noon on the second day of travel that they met up with a human paladin wearing the tabard of Cal over her armor. She sat astride a horse, having just ridden into the middle of the road via a side-road, and raised her hand to bring the small caravan to a halt. As Scarlie brought the mules to a stop and the heroes riding their own mounts alongside and behind the wagon followed suit, the woman called out, "I would have words with you, paladin!" to Wakuren.

"Is she evil?" Thurloe prompted in a low voice from Horse's saddle over on one side of the wagon. After having been kidnapped by the night hag Hesperna shortly after encountering her in human form on horseback, the spellsword didn't like making any assumptions about any strangers they met on the road.

"She's wearing the trappings of Cal," Wakuren answered back. "Surely she's--oh, wait, yeah, she's evil." He had trained his paladin senses upon the stranger and was definitely getting waves of evil from her aura. The half-orc growled under his breath, although it wasn't apparent which bothered him more: a pretender wearing the armor and trappings of the God of Healing and Air, or the fact that Thurloe was once again right in not trusting anyone he met for the first time.

"There is something I would discuss with you in private," the woman continued. "Will you accompany me around the bend? I do not know your companions, but what I have to say is for the ears of a member of the Church of Cal. I will leave it to you to decide whether to share what I have to say to you with them, after the fact."

"You want me to go with you out of earshot?" Wakuren confirmed. He looked over at Thurloe. "I will have one of my companions accompany us," he said. "Anything you wish to say to me can be said in front of him as well."

The woman clearly wasn't a fan of this plan. She scowled at Thurloe for a moment, then returned her gaze to Wakuren. "You do not trust me?" she asked. Then, as if realization had just dawned on her, she said, "You've detected evil in my aura, haven't you?"

"As a matter of fact, yes."

"That's part of what I wish to discuss with you. I, likewise, am detecting your aura as evil in nature. It's a problem that's become more prevalent in the church and we don't know what's causing it. However..." She paused as if weighing whether or not to talk about the issue in front of the others, but then finally relented. "Divinations have shown the answer to the problem lies with a half-orc paladin of Cal. I had not even known there to be a half-orc paladin of Cal, until I started hearing about your little band here, traveling from town to town. So I've been seeking you out."

Wakuren looked over again at Thurloe, who shrugged, as if to say, "Your call." "Very well, then," Wakuren said, rising up and stepping down from the wagon. "I will hear what you have to say." As he walked over to the female paladin, Thurloe kept pace with him on Horse. When they got to the branch in the road, Thurloe backed his mount off the road about 20 feet or so. "You should be able to talk in private," he said, and the paladin looked down at Wakuren, standing beside her own horse. She didn't dismount, but rather said, "I need to see your hands. Unshod." Wakuren removed his gauntlet of Cal from his right hand and placed it on the ground beside his shield of Cal. He held out his hands so she could see his palms.

The paladin held her own hands out to her side and touched Wakuren's, palm to palm. She closed her eyes as if concentrating. "There's some disturbance," she said.

"Disturbance?" echoed Wakuren.

"I'm trying to divine how you fit into this whole puzzle," the paladin explained. She opened her eyes back up and stared down at him. "Those rings you wear: are they magical? That might be causing the interference." It was a logical explanation, but it sure sounded awfully convenient, especially to the other heroes who had been stealthily eavesdropping on the conversation. Xandro was pretty sure this was a trick to try to get Wakuren to remove his magic rings - his ring of invisibility and his ring of mystic healing - and he led his horse White up to the front of the wagon, indicating for Zander to do the same. Alewyth guided her dire goat Pyrite off the road and into the scrub forest to the south of the road. She could see the mounted human paladin on the other side of a row of hedges and cast a detect evil spell of her own. Sure enough, there was evil coming from the two of them, and with enough concentration the dwarven priestess could determine it was coming from the human, not Wakuren.

"And I suppose you'd like me to take them off," Wakuren said, a tone of suspicion in his voice.

"It might help."

"I've got a better idea," remarked Thurloe. "How about we all head over to the nearest Temple of Cal and talk this all over with the clerics there? That sound like a good plan to you?"

The woman looked over at Thurloe with a look of irritation. "That's the problem," she said. "It could very well be someone from inside the church who's causing the effect. We'd have no way of knowing who we could trust."

"I'm not so sure I trust you, given you're emanating evil and Wakuren isn't," piped up Alewyth.

"Your senses might be off because you know him well and I'm a stranger to you," suggested the paladin. "You wouldn't be the first person to make a mistake like that." But she didn't like the way the dwarf was peering at her suspiciously, nor how the spellsword looked eager to cut her to pieces with his bastard sword the first time she made a wrong move. What a pity! They hadn't peered past her disguise self spell to see her true form, and the foolish half-orc hadn't even registered that when they touched hands she'd surreptitiously siphoned off a bit of his mental energy, but the draining process took time and she didn't like the odds. That was a real shame, too, since she'd really wanted the ring the half-orc wore on his left hand, since her detect magic spell had hinted there was a very strong possibility of it being a coveted ring of invisibility - how she'd have been able to put that to good use!

Still, maybe she could still get away with something for her troubles! The horse obediently bending low to the ground so she could snatch up Wakuren's gauntlet of Cal from the ground, she made a grab for it but missed; then, the jig quite up, she went fleeing southward, down the side road from which she'd come. Not too far away was an opening between the trees into which she could lose these "heroes" in the forest.

But Thurloe wasn't having any of it. Casting a ray of enfeeblement at the fleeing paladin, he hit her square in the back and she flinched as if struck with a solid object. Xandro began a tactic that had worked very well on the dark naga in the kobold warren and began playing his song of fascination, hoping to entrance the fleeing paladin - or maybe even her horse. But this was not to be, for in the very initial chords of the song a string broke on the Dardolian lute, making any such attempts at magical fascination a fool's errand.

But then Zander rode up to the intersection, astride his horse Eddy. He cast a lightning bolt spell, which struck the fleeing paladin and the horse she rode with a blast of electrical energy. This likewise caused her to arch her back in pain, and in so doing it became apparent she was not really a human woman astride a horse, for horse and woman were both part of the same beast: from the waist up, she had the appearance of a human woman (with features very similar to that of the paladin - why concentrate on altering features that were fine as they were?), only from the waist down she had the centaurian build of a lioness. Zander had heard of such creatures: lamias!

Wakuren picked up his gauntlet of Cal and placed it back over his right hand. Then, reaching up with it, he summoned a javelin of lightning into his hand. "You wanted to steal my gauntlet?" he called to the fleeing lamia. "Well, here it is!" And with that, he hurled the lightning bolt her way; it crashed into her hindquarters and caused her to cry out in pain yet again. This was definitely not how she had envisioned events unfolding!

Alewyth spurred on Pyrite and cut the lamia off at the edge of the row of shrubs growing along the side of the road. She swung Sjondra with all of her strength, bringing the dwarven warhammer crashing into the side of her human ribs, likely breaking a few of them with the force of her blow. Crying out in pain, the lamia fled from Alewyth, crashing into the brush much sooner than at the clearing for which she had been heading. She scrambled to make her getaway, confident she could make her way through the forest better than a bunch of cityfolk riding horses. But Zander didn't need to enter the forest on the eastern side of the side-road; all he needed was to be able to see the lamia's location to target her with another lightning bolt spell. She screamed in pain again and looked to be on her last legs; Thurloe finished her off with a blast from his wand of magic missile.

"See?" he said, looking back at Wakuren. "It pays to detect evil on everyone, no matter what they look like!" Wakuren just growled under his breath, not liking being talked down to in that fashion.

But fortunately, that was all the excitement that day's travel had for the group. Come nightfall, they made camp on the side of the road, Scarlie volunteering to sleep in the abandoned wagon under the stars while everyone else - riding mounts included - went into the extradimensional lamp they'd gotten from the night hag Hesperna. Scarlie promised to enter the lamp and warn them if he ran into any trouble; he even wore the tiger's eye ring that allowed another person to scry through it from inside the lamp using the amulet of scrying they'd taken from Corbin Mallaxus.

It was early morning the third and final day of travel when they ran into their next bit of trouble. They'd been on the road for less than an hour, with the Shieldwall Mountains off to their left as their little caravan ambled on down the road, heading east. The road had picked up a lengthy fence off to the left, a short distance away from the road, and on the other side of the fence were about a dozen cows, placidly grazing on the green grass at their feet. Not so placid were the four farmers racing their way, each wielding a pitchfork. "Those damn ants are back again, after the cows!" one yelled.

Wakuren looked over at the cows, puzzled - how were mere ants going to be a problem for a herd of such large creatures? Then he got a look at the ants approaching from the direction of the mountains. The first wave consisted of eight ants, each about the size of a large mastiff, and behind them came another wave of eight giant ants, as big if not even larger. The cows, busy with the important task of choosing which particular bite of grass to feed upon next, were unaware of the giant insects' approach until they were upon them, and then their frenzied moos caused the whole herd to panic.

Zander cast a mage armor spell upon himself as he sent Eddy over by the fence, although he was hesitant to jump into the fray just quite yet. Thurloe also cast a mage armor spell upon himself, but he leapt off of Horse and sprinted over to the fence, ready to clamber over it and take on the giant ants. Alewyth cast a bless spell on the group and sent Pyrite over by the fence, but stayed in her dire goat's saddle for now. But Wakuren wasn't wasting any time: he cast a summon monster III spell as he ran to the fence and scrambled over it; by the time her was on the far side of the fence a celestial bison had manifested behind the first wave of giant ants, as the second wave approached. Lowering its shaggy head, it ran towards the nearest ant in the second wave - made up entirely of soldier ants, the first wave being mere workers who lacked the soldiers' sting - and sent a horn piercing the soldier ant's carapace. From even farther back, four more insectoid figures approached, but right now everyone was so busy focusing on the ants and cows that they weren't even noticed.

Wicked mandibles closed around the necks of frightened cows; panicked bovines tore away from the pincers and made frenzied dashes for safety. The farmers advanced, waving their pitchforks and yelling at the giant ants to scram. Xandro, still on the safe side of the fence separating him from all of the action, pulled the Dardolian lute from his back and started playing his song of inspirational courage. After all, it was a wide, open field - no need for him to be in the middle of all the danger for his music to have an effect.

Then, in a sudden rush, the soldiers scurried forward, three of them focusing upon the celestial bison in their midst while the others chased down fleeing cows. Zander climbed off Eddy, scampered over the fence, and lined himself up such that a quick casting of a lightning bolt spell took out three of the worker ants and two soldiers. Thurloe cast a shield spell upon himself and then, deeming himself ready for combat, climbed over the fence and pulled the bastard sword from its scabbard on his back.

Alewyth pulled on Pyrite's reins and had her dire goat flee back the way they had come. But this wasn't some sudden act of cowardice; upon reaching far enough away from the fence, she wheeled her riding mount back again and had him sprint for the fence-line, leaping over the barrier and landing in the field surrounded by panicking cows and giant ants. She also cast a summoning spell and suddenly a second celestial bison was there in the field beside her. It stabbed at the nearest soldier ant with an impressive set of horns.

Wakuren cast a bull's strength spell upon himself as he moved toward the closest ant, shield at the ready to immediately switch from a defensive tool to an attack weapon. The bison he'd summoned slew the soldier ant it had just gored, flinging its head from one side to the other to dislodge its carcass from his horn. The shaggy beast felt a magical attack upon his bovine mind but fended it off; looking about to see who had just tried to dominate him, he saw the line of four larger insects approaching - it had been one of them. These creatures were also antlike in build, but their bodies bent between thorax and abdomen, leaving four legs for walking while the forward set served the function of arms. These centaurian ants were members of the formian race, from an extraplanar hive seeking to expand into these new lands on the Material Plane. Formians had different castes, just like ants, and these four were taskmasters, built to dominate the local life forms and bend them to the formians' will.

Now the farmers found themselves under attack by a trio of worker ants, for the taskmasters didn't care which of the local life forms were slain to provide nourishment for the hive; humans would serve just as easily as cows. The farmers fought bravely back with their pitchforks, but it was quite easy to see they had no experience fighting off giant ants using only farm implements normally used to gather up hay. Feeling a little guilty at remaining behind out of danger, Xandro stepped onto the rail-post fence and climbed up it using only his legs, both arms busy playing the lute. He swung a leg over the top rail and leaped back down on the other side, not having missed a beat of his inspirational song.

The soldier ants swarmed over the cows they could chase down, while two continued the attack upon Wakuren's celestial bison. Zander, having spotted the taskmasters and deciding their greater size made them likely the biggest threat (he wasn't sure at this point if they were just bigger ants or some other creature entirely), cast a summon swarm spell that had a cloud of bats flying in to surround one of the taskmasters, nipping and biting at the insect with their sharp teeth. Thurloe, still too far away to bring his sword to bear, chose a taskmaster and targeted a ray of enfeeblement spell at it, but the shot went astray. Alewyth, not sure just what these larger ants were all about, cast a magic circle against evil just in case. As it happened, neither the formians nor the giant ants were of an evil nature, but the spell had the beneficial side effect of keeping the dwarven priestess - and anyone within 10 feet of her - safe from the effects of any attempts at mind-control.

Alewyth's celestial bison slew a soldier ant, ripping through its carapace with her horns and then stomping on it with her hooves. By now, Wakuren was close enough to be able to charge another soldier ant, crushing its carapaced head with the edge of his shield. The celestial bison he'd summoned killed another soldier ant and moved forward to take on the nearest formian taskmaster.

Two of the farmers suddenly spasmed as their minds were successfully dominated by a pair of the taskmasters, one of them bleeding from dozens of wounds as it extricated itself momentarily from the swarm of bats surrounding it. The farmers stopped trying to fight off the worker ants and the ants stopped trying to bite those particular farmers; the two were now part of the same slave force. A third taskmaster tried to dominate Wakuren, but he was having none of it. The fourth had no such opportunity, for it was fighting for its life against the half-orc's summoned celestial bison, stabbing the bovine creature with its tail stinger while scratching its shaggy fur with both sets of front claws. One of the farmers still possessing his own faculties stabbed at a worker ant with his pitchfork, while the other was grabbed up by the two of his co-workers now under the taskmasters' mental dominance. "Hey!" he cried. "Lemme go!" Xandro, still playing his tune, started heading in the farmers' direction, dodging fleeing cows as he did so.

Another of Zander's lightning bolts hit two taskmasters in a row, one of them being the one besieged by biting bats. The bats refocused their efforts, diving back in at the one who had just escaped their swarm; the taskmaster was now dying a death of a thousand cuts, as blood dripped from numerous wounds in his carapace. Thurloe cast a magic missile spell at another of the taskmasters, for it was fairly obvious now that these larger bugs were the masterminds behind this entire raiding operation.

Pyrite ran down a soldier ant and Alewyth leaned over to one side, swinging her dwarven warhammer Sjondra full-force into the giant ant's head, crushing it to jelly. Her summoned celestial bison slew another worker, while Wakuren rushed a taskmaster and slammed his shield against it. The bison he had summoned from the celestial realms slew one of the taskmasters, bringing their number down to just three. With the creature dead, several of the ants stopped their attacks and seemed to look around frantically, as if just now realizing where they were and what was going on around them.

One of the remaining taskmasters bent its will to taking over Wakuren's mind, but the stubborn half-orc's mind was now a red haze of battle lust and the process was not as easy as the insect overlord had hoped it might be. The bat-covered formian scrambled away from its tormentors, just in time to die from its wounds. But the third one managed to overcome the mental defenses of the celestial bison Wakuren had summoned and it dutifully obeyed its new instructions, running over to the farmers, who were still being mentally controlled by the formians. The sole remaining farmer with a weapon - for the two dominated farmers had dropped their pitchforks to wrestle the free-willed farmer, who had likewise lost his impromptu weapon - stabbed at the worker ant still trying to catch him between its wicked mandibles. His pitchfork caught the ant between its bulbous eyes, stabbing into its head, and it dropped to the ground of the field, dead. Then, looking about for his friends, he found them climbing onto the back of a shaggy bison, two of them pulling a struggling third up between them.

Alewyth found herself under attack by a soldier ant and she leaped down from Pyrite to meet the attack head on, figuring she was better able to deal with it than her trusty mount, who was not trained in the ways of battle. Zander cast another lightning bolt spell at a taskmaster, even though doing so meant the blast of electricity went through his bat swarm as well. Fried bats fell from the sky around the taskmaster, and Thurloe followed up with another magic missile aimed at the same formian. And still it refused to fall!

After having slain the soldier ant she was fighting, Alewyth cast a hold person spell on one of the dominated farmers keeping his friend held in place upon Wakuren's bison. This gave the free-willed farmer enough of an opening to wriggle free from his dominated friends and leap down from the bison's back, while at the same time Alewyth's bison slew the last of the worker ants that had still been trying to bring down a cow. Wakuren slammed the edge of his shield at one of the remaining taskmasters, while another one managed to successfully dominate the farmer who had just gotten himself free from his friends' grasp and was looking for his dropped pitchfork in the grasses of the grazing field. Then a final lightning bolt spell from Zander slew one of the two remaining taskmasters, while Thurloe took out the other one with a magic missile barrage. The taskmasters now all slain, the formerly dominated mind-slaves found themselves with their own faculties back, and the farmers still on the back of the celestial bison climbed back down - and just in time, too, for shortly thereafter it vanished, returning to the celestial plane from which it had been summoned.

"Is everyone okay?" Alewyth asked the farmers. A score of insectoid bodies littered the field, but remarkably all ten cows had made it through the attack alive.

"We're fine, Miss, all thanks to you," one of the farmers replied.

"You said the ants were back," Wakuren said. "They had attacked before?"

"Yeah, two days ago," answered one of the farmers. "There were less of them, but they managed to kill two cows and drag them away."

"It wouldn't be very difficult to track them," pointed out Xandro, putting the Dardolian lute on his back now that the combat was over. "Two big, heavy cows being dragged along the ground, back toward the mountains...." He pointed off in the distance, where signs of such drag-marks were still evident, two days later.

"Tomorrow," Thurloe decided. "We've used up a bunch of our spells today and I wouldn't mind being at full strength if we're going to track those mind-controller bugs back to their nest. Those celestial bison were plenty handy in soaking up attacks that otherwise would have come our way, and they did their fair share of killing as well. Plus, I want to make sure we're all protected from being taken over. I don't want to be some bug-slave the rest of my life!"

"Would it be possible for you to put us up for the night?" asked Alewyth. "We'd be fine in a barn with our animals." The farmers readily agreed, feeling it was the least they could do for these wandering heroes who had just put their lives on the line for the four of them and their small herd. Of course, they didn't know the heroes were going to be sleeping in slightly more luxurious conditions than a pile of hay in a barn; they'd be inside the extradimensional lamp.

The next morning, fresh and relaxed - and, more importantly, with a full spell repertoire at the ready - the group returned to the field, surprised to see a few of the corpses from the previous day's battle missing. Fresh drag marks paralleled the ones from the first attack, when two cows had been slain by a smaller force of giant ants. It looked like two of the formian taskmaster corpses had been singled out, whether because they were the biggest (and thus would provide the most meat) or to hide their involvement (which would mean another task force would be sent to fetch the two other corpses soon enough) was unclear. But the group decided unanimously not to wait for the next wave of ants and formians to show up, but to backtrack them to their nest.

The way was not difficult, with the multiple drag marks all pointing the way the insects had gone to return to the nest. The ground was level for the most part, although it got slightly hilly as they approached the edges of the Shieldwall Mountains. But the drag-marks ended when the grass did; fortunately, there were spots of blood and scraped hide to show which way the cattle corpses had been dragged, and it wasn't too difficult to guess their eventual destination once the two columns came into view.

Two pillars rose up from the stone ground, one on either side of a wide, open cave in the side of the nearest mountain. All indications showed the cows had been dragged straight into the cave entrance. "How do we want to do this?" Xandro asked.

"We buff up, we go in," suggested Thurloe. He didn't want to hear any suggestions from Wakuren involving Hesperna's lamp, the half-orc's ring of invisibility, and a gaseous form spell. If the spellsword was going in, he wanted to be able to see what all he was getting into.

The preparatory spellcasting took some time, making sure everyone was covered with either a magic circle against evil or a protection from evil spell, to ensure nobody would be falling sway to a taskmaster's domination effect. Thurloe and Zander covered themselves in their standard mage armor and shield spells; Alewyth cast an entropic shield spell on herself and Wakuren followed suit; the half-orc followed it up with a shield of faith spell, bull's strength, eagle's splendor, and heroism, and only then signaled he was ready. "Then let's go," suggested Thurloe, leading the way up the hill towards the cave. Xandro cast a heroism spell on the spellsword as they headed toward the cave entrance.

As Alewyth and Wakuren approached, their innate darkvision allowed them to see inside the unlit cave's interior, and thus they were the only two to see the formian at the back of the cave. It was even larger than a taskmaster, but fortunately it had its back to the approaching heroes and didn't seem aware of their presence. But it had a quiver of a half-dozen javelins strapped over one shoulder, while it held some sort of slightly glowing stone in one hand.

But that wasn't the only thing they noticed as they got closer to the cave opening. There was a steady tone, rather like a single note being played by a flute. Looking up at the stone pillars flanking the cave, whose straight lines and sharp angles showed they had been carved or built into their forms instead of arriving in their shapes naturally, the heroes could see that near the top of each 25-foot column was an angled gap, and the wind coming down from the mountain blew past these gaps, causing the tone. They could see no effect coming from the pillars other than the noise and couldn't figure out its purpose: as a warning, perhaps? A means for the scouts and food-gathering parties to find their way back to the nest?

But then the wind died down, the noise stopped, and the cave opening winked out as if popped like a bubble. The group of five, who had been stealthily approaching the cave opening, now found themselves stealthily approaching the blank side of a mountain.

"Um, what?" asked Zander from the rear of the formation. But soon after the wind picked back up, the tone started back up, and like a shimmering mirage the cave opening was back in place. Thurloe thought he knew what was going on, but they were too close to the cave opening now to allow talk amongst themselves without potentially alerting the formian myrmarch of their presence. So, using hand signals only, he indicated for them to silently sneak onto the cave and take out the giant formian with the javelins.

Unfortunately for the heroes, there were two side passageways coming from the central cave chamber, and from the corridor to the right scrambled the familiar form of a formian taskmaster. It spotted the heroes, sent some telepathic signal of warning to the myrmarch (for the larger insect spun about to face them, glowing stone in hand), and tried dominating Thurloe, to no avail - his protection from evil spell kept him safe on that front.

Then the myrmarch waved a hand in the direction of the cave opening and a dictum spell exploded around the heroes. Neither Alewyth nor Wakuren were the least bit affected by the magical attack, whereas Thurloe, Xandro, and Zander all found themselves deafened and under a slow effect. But even though he couldn't hear himself speak, Thurloe decided to cut their losses. "Everybody out!!" he called back to his friends. "Alewyth - take out the pillars!"

Scrambling back out of the cave in an unaccustomed retreat, Alewyth looked up at the pillar to the left of the cave. It was too angular to be natural, that much was certain, but as she examined its texture she could see it hadn't been carved from an existing chunk of stone; rather, it had been assembled, likely by creatures chewing up stone into a pulpy mess and then shaping it, inch by patient inch. (She was correct in her assessment, but hadn't taken into account the other materials added to the chewed stone: the remains of local denizens, whose pulped bones and dried blood helped anchor the structure together.) But seeing as it wasn't unworked stone, her soften earth and stone spell would be ineffective if she cast it directly upon the pillar itself - so she cast it at the ground upon which the pillar was anchored. And then she ran at the pillar, toppling it over to fall to the ground and shatter.

The cave opening, with a battle-ready formian taskmaster and myrmarch still inside, winked out of existence at the moment the shattered pillar stopped adding its wind-tone to the other one. Not having a second soften earth and stone spell prepared, Alewyth made do with attacking the other pillar with Sjondra, and soon it too lay in ruins.

"Explanations?" asked Zander, once the deafness had left his ears.

"The other side of the cave opening, past those pillars - all that was on another plane of existence," Thurloe explained. "When the wind blew, it aligned the extraplanar gateway from the nest, so it could more or less open a door to our world. With the pillars smashed, they don't have a means to come back here. The rest of the nest is fine, on whatever plane it's on, but now they can't come back here."

"Then how did they get here in the first place?" demanded Alewyth.

"Easy: they opened up a planar gateway that just happened to end up here, pushed through a couple formian workers, and they got busy building those pillars. They'd serve as a sort of 'homing device,' so when the nest opened up another gate, it would lock in to this location. They can still open up a gate from the nest - that might even be what that shining stone the big guy was holding was all about - but they have no way of opening it at any specific location."

"So it'll just open up somewhere else in the world?" Alewyth pushed. "So we just made it somebody else's problem?"

"No guarantees the gate would even open up anywhere on this world at all," Thurloe argued. "The Material Plane is a really big place, and our planet is just one of who knows how many a planar gate could link up to."

"Still, maybe we should have taken care of the whole nest while we had the chance," Alewyth continued. "They could show up anywhere, maybe where there wouldn't be anyone to stop them like we could have."

"I got news for you, sister," Thurloe replied. "There's no way we could have taken down an entire nest of those things. Do you have any idea how many of those bugs there are in a full-blown nest? And that big one we saw, that deafened us? That's not even the most powerful type of those bugs there are. Believe me, this was the best solution."

"I guess," Alewyth sighed.

- - -

This was a pretty short session, lasting just about three hours. I had designed four chambers in the nest before the big door which led to the main nest, which was far beyond the PCs' abilities to handle. I didn't even bother designing the nest beyond the security doors, either, instead beefing up the security there to make it quite evident the PCs were in over their heads. But they didn't even need to enter the nest to figure out the importance of the pillars (the concept of which I got from an old movie, "Phase Four," about a nest of super-intelligent mutant ants out in the desert, although their pillars were sonic weapons, I believe).

I did introduce once change in procedures, though: before this session, I made initiative cards and flat tokens of the monsters typically summoned by the spellcasters. So when Zander used summon swarm to call forth a swarm of bats, I had a "Zander's summoned bat swarm" initiative card to place into the initiative deck and a 2-inch-by-2-inch "swarm of bats" token (with a "Z" in one corner to tell it apart from any other bat swarms that might be in play; Thurloe knows the summon swarm spell, for instance, so I made up a separate initiative card and token for his own bat swarm) to place on the battle board. After the session, I had Vicki go through her summon monster I-IV spells and pick out a couple from each list, the ones she'd most likely be summoning, so I could have them at the ready. (She's already summoned a celestial bison and Small earth elementals several times, so I already had those ready.) In any case, I think it should streamline play, so we're not coming to a crashing halt to gather up the stats for a summoned creature whenever such a spell comes into play.

- - -

T-shirt worn: My Einstein shirt, as it has the smoke from his pipe expanding into galaxies. It's my go-to shirt for depicting any of the Outer Planes.
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PC Roster:
Alewyth Putterpye, dwarf priestess of Aerik 8​
Thurloe Pulver, human fighter 3/wizard 3/spellsword 2​
Wakuren, half-orc cleric of Cal 4/paladin 4​
Xandro Silverstrings, human bard 6/rogue 2​
Zander Quilson, elf sorcerer 8​

Game Session Date: 19 November 2022

- - -

"Tonight we're going to examine a different type of dream, kupo!" Mogo explained, opening a door in the Corridor of Dreams and ushering inside the five dreamwalkers he'd been assigned by the Queen of Dreams to train in the art of interacting with the dreams of other people. Stepping inside, the dreamwalkers immediately saw the truth of the little moogle's words, for this dreamscape was unlike any other they'd ever seen. Instead of a dreamscape vista like the ones to which they'd become been accustomed, they seemed to be inside a large room, lit only by the moving images displayed on a vertical wall ahead of them.

"We call this a 'first-person view' dream, kupo!" Mogo explained. "You're seeing everything through the eyes of the person who's dreaming, kupo. And usually – but not always – it's because the dream is a memory of something that really happened, kupo!"

"Doesn't this make it more difficult to alter the dream?" wondered Alewyth.

"Oh, absolutely, kupo! It's not impossible, but it's much harder to alter a dream of a memory of something that actually occurred, kupo! But let's see what this dream has to offer - I picked a first-person dream of someone who was dreaming about one of you, kupo!"

As one, the five dreamwalkers gave the screen their undivided attention, eager to see which of them was the subject of the dream. So far, none of them was visible in the dream, for the screen showed the vantage point of someone riding a horse. Off to the side, another figure was riding another horse alongside the dreamer, but it was difficult to make out any features on the other rider. Then there was an audible cry of pain and the screen's image turned sideways - apparently the dreamer had fallen from the horse being ridden. The screen momentarily darkened, leaving the five dreamwalkers and their moogle instructor without any light at all.

"Did you see that?" asked Zander.

"See what?" asked Wakuren.

"Right before the screen went sideways - there was a little rock or something coming in from the left. Sling bullet, maybe."

Then the screen started lightening up again, and this time there was a face covering most of the screen. He rocked back and forth in a rhythmic fashion, and it took a moment for the dreamwalkers to figure out what the dreamer was experiencing, as all they were experiencing was the visual point of view of the dreamer - who was apparently laying upon her back where she'd fallen from the horse, and now had someone atop her, grunting and thrusting. Alewyth's mouth opened in shock and surprise, but before she could put voice to her outrage she gave a little shriek of surprise, for a long blade came swinging in from the side, cutting through the attacker's neck. Blood sprayed forward towards the screen as the head went flying off to the side, out of view.

"Hey, wait a minute..." began Thurloe, squinting at the figure holding the lengthy sword that had just been used to decapitate the person lying atop the dreamer. The figure was much younger than Thurloe had ever seen him, but he looked an awful lot like Fraser, the man who had taught him how to first wield a bastard sword. The spellsword suddenly had a pretty good idea which of the five of them was going to be featured in this dream....

Sure enough, the dream-screen went black again for a moment, and then suddenly the dreamer was still lying on her back, but she was in a decent house covered with a blanket, and she was holding a little baby in her arms, wrapped up in swaddling clothes apparently moments after having been born. Standing beside her was a man Thurloe instantly recognized as his Uncle Marten, which would make the dreamer his Aunt Charlotte, as he had begun to suspect. "Are you sure about this, Charlotte?" Marten asked, to which she replied, "What else can we do, Marten? We'll just raise him as if he was ours. If he ever asks when he gets older, we'll just tell him his parents died when he was little."

Mogo opened the door back to the Corridor of Dreams. "Uh, sorry about that, kupo," he said, visibly embarrassed. "I, uh, probably should have checked the dream out ahead of time, kupo. Come on, let's find a different point-of-view dream somewhere else, kupo." The others exited the dreamscape after the moogle.

"You okay?" Xandro asked Thurloe, looking over at the swordsman.

"Yeah. I guess I'll have a real interesting topic of conversation the next time I see my 'Aunt Charlotte,'" he replied.

The next morning, after a successful bout of dream training, the group awakened and went about their normal business. The next dream victim was in a place called Sun Valley, a little farming village. They arrived shortly after noon, to find a cluster of little farms, a single tavern, and a small temple of Cal - and that, apparently, was the sum total of Sun Valley. "It ought to be easy to find our dreamer," prompted Xandro, looking on the bright side. "What do you think, tavern or temple?"

"Temple," Wakuren answered at once. Having trained as both a cleric and a paladin of the God of Air and Healing, he was eager to see what this small temple had to offer.

"Temple it is, then," replied Scarlie, steering the two mules hitched to the wagon that way. The others followed on their mounts. There were a couple of hitching posts in front of the small temple, and - somewhat incongruously - a pair of angel statues holding up the roof at the building's front, a rather ostentatious display for the temple of a small farming village. But inside, the church was pretty much what Wakuren had expected: two rows of wooden pews with an aisle down the middle, a raised stage at the back with a podium so the cleric could give his sermons, and a pair of doors at the back. The door to the left was closed but the one to the right was open, and a man stepped out upon hearing visitors to his temple.

"May I help you?" asked Father Bristol, smiling at the newcomers - until his gaze reached Wakuren. Then his smile hardened to a frown, seeing the symbols of his god emblazoned upon the shield and tabard worn by a half-orc, of all things.

Wakuren chose not to take offense, realizing full well most half-orcs in the world didn't take up the calling of a servant to Cal, God of Air and Healing. "We're looking for anyone in your village who might have fallen into a dream coma," he answered, giving Father Bristol a friendly smile.

"What is the meaning of this...mockery?" demanded Father Bristol. "Are you seriously trying to pass yourself as a cleric of Cal?"

"A cleric and a paladin," corrected Wakuren.

"Preposterous! Who would dare ordain an orc as a cleric - or as a paladin?"

"Half-orc," Wakuren corrected him. "I did not get any choice in my parentage, but Cal has seen fit to grant me spells. I would tend to believe He has found me worthy in His eyes."

"But...a half-orc cleric...that does nothing but drag us all down to your level! I mean, if any old damned orc can cast spells, that really lowers the bar for the rest of us. After all, how hard can it be to become a cleric of Cal if a lowly orc can join the team?"

"Now wait just a minute," snarled Alewyth, angered on her friend's behalf. But Xandro, as always, managed to smooth things over with the locals. "Perhaps we can get back to our main reason for being here," he suggested. "We have been traveling the lands, rescuing people who have fallen asleep and been unable to wake up on their own. Is there anyone around here who fits that description?"

"Well, yes," admitted Father Bristol, seemingly pleased to be speaking to a human. "Allison Dormigliona. She's been asleep for about two months now. I tried everything I could to wake her, but none of my spells were effective. Strangely, she doesn't seem to have suffered any ill effects, though."

"That's the way this dream sickness manifests," Xandro explained. "The body undergoes a sort of magical stasis, requiring no food or drink while the person just dreams." But he got directions to the Dormigliona farm from the cleric, thanked him, and led the group back out the way they had come.

"Petty old bigot," grumbled Alewyth as she climbed back onto her dire goat Pyrite's saddle. They found their way to the Dormigliona farmhouse without any trouble; it was a series of connected buildings with a large barn. Leaving the wagon and the riding mounts in the clearing, the group knocked on several of the doors, with no answer. Then Zander saw the metal triangle on a pole to the side of the house and hit it several times with the metal clapper hanging from it by a leather cord. Before too long, Elmer Dormigliona came up to the side of the house from the fields where he'd been working alone. "Help you folks?" he asked, scrubbing his hands clean on a rag at his belt.

"We were rather hoping we might be able to help you," Alewyth answered, explaining the reason for their travels. Elmer brightened up at once, eagerly bringing them into the house and to the bedroom in the back, where his wife Allison lay asleep in their bed, on her back. The size of her belly showed she was quite pregnant. "How far along is she?" Alewyth asked.

"Well, that's kind of tricky," Elmer answered. "She was eight months along when she fell asleep, and judging by the looks of her she's still about eight months along. But she's been sleeping there for two months now. Whatever's put her in a trance or whatever's done the same thing to our baby."

Alewyth explained the procedure to Elmer as the others made their standard preparations: pulling the bed into the middle of the room so they could sit around it in a ring, placing a leather headband around Allison's head with a dreamstone centered on her forehead, and Zander activating his jade cooshee and setting the elven dog on guard duty. "What should I do?" asked Elmer.

"You stand right here and look after us while we're sleeping here," Thurloe answered. "We'll station Scarlie just outside the house, and you guys make sure we're not disturbed. And with any luck, you wife will be awake in a few minutes."

Alewyth, on a sudden hunch, cast a magic circle against evil spell upon herself before taking her position on the floor at the foot of Allison's bed. Then she closed her eyes, slowed her breathing, and entered a dream state. "Hey, kupo!" said her moogle guide Calliope as she entered the Dreamlands. Together, they met up with the others in the Corridor of Dreams, the doors of which Mogo had reshuffled once again to get to Allison's dream.

Stepping through the door, Alewyth and the others saw this was not one of the first-person dreams like the one they'd seen the night before, but a more standard one where they could interact with the dreamer. And there, sitting on a rock, was Allison Dormigliona, just as pregnant here in her dream as she was in real life - and had been for the past two months. Allison looked up at the five dreamwalkers, not at all alarmed at their presence. "Are you lost, too?" she asked.

Wakuren looked around the dreamscape and saw they were in a clearing, but all around them was a maze whose walls were made of stalks of living corn. The plants were pressed tightly together; unlike the standard corn maze, it didn't look like you would be able to just push your way through a wall if needed. "Apparently we are," he answered the young mother-to-be.

"The passageways are very confusing - they change when you're not looking. And we're not alone in here, you know," Allison confided in the heroes. "I keep hearing somebody following me, almost like he's stalking me."

"That's probably how we wake her from the dream," mused Xandro. "Deal with whoever it is hunting her in the maze."

"Well, the first thing to do is make sure whoever's after you can't get to you," suggested Alewyth, pulling out Hesperna's lamp. She pulled Allison to her feet, held her hand, and said the command word that shunted the two of them inside the extradimensional space inside the magic lamp. In a moment she returned, alone. "She should be safe in there," the dwarven priestess declared.

"You check her out?" Thurloe asked Wakuren.

"What?" the half-orc asked, perplexed. "In what way? She seems just as pregnant here in her dream--"

"No, no, I mean is she evil?" Thurloe interrupted.

"What?" repeated Wakuren. "I didn't check her aura to see if she was evil!" He was flabbergasted the spellsword even suspected Allison might be anything other than what she appeared to be - an expectant mother-to-be.

"What about her husband?" Thurloe pressed. "He's out there standing over our bodies. You bother checking on him?"

Wakuren sighed, starting to get angry at this line of questioning. "You can't just go around expecting everyone to be evil," he chided the spellsword.

"Yeah, well, I remember a time when it might have been nice to know ahead of time that the nice, old lady on the horse asking for directions was really a night hag! Prep spells," commanded Thurloe, changing the direction of the conversation and casting a mage armor spell upon himself.

"We don't even know what we're going to be up against," argued Zander.

"Doesn't matter - ready yourself for battle." The elven sorcerer complied with a mage armor spell of his own, followed by a haste spell upon the entire group. Alewyth repeated her magic circle against evil spellcasting, while Wakuren cast the spells align weapon and heroism upon himself. Once everyone indicated their readiness, Xandro started playing his song of inspirational courage on his Dardolian lute. "Might as well let whoever's stalking her know right where we are," the bard figured.

There was a rustling among the corn stalks as passageways in the maze reconfigured themselves to the stalker's benefit. Then the maze shifted such that there was now an open corridor right behind Thurloe, and in that passageway stood a nearly-nude man with batlike wings spreading out from his back. His skin glistened as if recently oiled. "You're not Allison," he purred.

"Nope," agreed Thurloe, spinning to face the newcomer. "We're her bodyguards."

"Fair enough," replied the incubus, claws flashing in to scratch across the spellsword's face. Zander blasted him with a magic missile barrage and was momentarily surprised to see them strike him in his oiled chest but have no apparent effect. This was either a peculiarity of the dream, the sorcerer mused, or the fiend had some sort of inherent resistance to spells. Fighting from inside a dreamscape, either or both might be true.

The incubus repeated his claw attack against Thurloe but this time the swordsman ducked back out of range as he pulled the bastard sword from its scabbard on his broad back. He brought Spellslicer in at a sideways strike, hitting the incubus but once again failing to do too much damage. Like its inherent spell resistance, the demon had an innate resistance to physical harm. Alewyth further proved this supposition when she struck at the fiend with Sjondra, dealing him a perfectly good strike but failing to cause him nearly as much harm as she would have expected. The incubus just smirked at their efforts, his smirk changing into a leer as he let his eyes roam over Alewyth's body. "I guess you'll do just as well," he purred to himself.

With Xandro's magical tune aiding in the power of his strike, Wakuren found his align weapon spell, cast upon his shield, managed to overcome whatever inherent protections the demon had against physical damage, for the shield of Cal met the fiend's body with a bone-crunching sound that had the incubus gasping in unexpected pain. Zander tried again with a magic missile spell, faring no better than he had with his first attempt. And despite the beating he'd just taken from Wakuren, the incubus focused his attention on Alewyth, the only woman on the scene. He tried clawing her face, but the priestess of Aerik stepped back from his attack in time.

Thurloe found he did not like being ignored in battle. Activating his torc of the titans, he swung again at the incubus, this time for all he was worth plus now with a little extra boost in the strength department. He grinned as his sword dealt what he felt was more in the range of what damage it should. Alewyth had no such strength-boosting magic at hand but she didn't let that stop her, for she knew each strike with Sjondra - no matter how much the demon seemed to shrug it off - took him that much closer to being defeated. She just snarled in wordless anger as she realized the incubus was suggestively thrusting his pelvis in her direction in between lashing out with his claws and trying to avoid incoming blows from her and her friends. But eventually, Wakuren and his good-aligned shield managed to take the incubus down - and with the fiend slain, the dreamscape started fading away all around them. "You think maybe this demon is the real father of the pregnant chick's baby?" Thurloe wondered aloud, earning him a barrage of "What's wrong with you?" comments.

Allison awoke from her two-month slumber to find herself surrounded by a ring of strangers. She stifled a gasp of fear, as her husband pulled her close to him in a welcome hug. Looking at the afternoon sunlight streaming in through the bedroom window, Allison gasped, "Oh! I'm sorry - I must have slept in!" Elmer just laughed and began explaining just exactly how long Allison had slept in. She obviously though he must be pulling her leg or something, when the bedroom door opened and Scarlie poked his head inside. "Uh, guys, you might want to get out here, quick - we got a situation!"

Xandro picked up the Dardolian lute and stepped outside, wondering what could possibly have worried Scarlie to such an extent. He got his answer at once, for rounding the corner and stepping into the area where the group's wagon and animals stood came a mob of a couple of dozen or more farmers, all wielding pitchforks or clubs or whatever convenient tool that could be wielded as a weapon had been at hand. The bard's keen eye picked up a couple of half-elves in amongst what was otherwise an exclusively human mob; they wore green cloaks and had scimitars at their belts - druids, Xandro assumed. He also saw four acolytes wearing the symbol of Cal around their necks. But most unmistakable of all was Father Bristol bringing up the rear, continuing a harangue he'd apparently started as the mob made their way to the Dormigliana residence. "She's been pregnant now for ten months!" the cleric called out to his followers. "I ask you: what human baby lies in the womb for ten months? None! This is evidence that this is no human baby waiting to be born, but a devil from the lower planes! And lo, the forces of evil have sent their emissaries to check on the demon-spawn's progress! Five devils, in mortal guise, their leader an orc blaspheming Cal by wearing the vestments of a cleric he slew on the way! I have detected evil in every one of them! They will not fool us with their schemes!"

Without conscious effort, Xandro's fingers began strumming the strings of his lute, and he began the words to his song of fascination, targeting both Father Bristol and one of a pair of roguish-looking scoundrels wielding short swords, deciding he was likely better versed in combat than the farmers surrounding him, none of which looked like they really wanted to be there. Fortunately, the magic of the song caught up both targets and they stopped what they were doing, intent upon Xandro's every sung word and every plucked chord. Father Bristol's diatribe sputtered to an immediate stop.

However, while most of the farmers were looking amongst themselves as if unsure of what to do without Father Bristol's words egging them on, the two half-elf druids were less uncertain. Motioning with his hand, one of them sent two eagles flying down from the skies above to attack Xandro, hoping to put an end to the magical song affecting the spiritual leader of Sun Valley. The great birds clawed at Xandro, but he effortlessly dodged their talons, never once letting up from his song. The other druid cast a summoning spell, causing a full-grown hippogriff to manifest on the ground beside Xandro, wings flapping in agitation.

"Haste," Thurloe commanded, hearing the fracas outside. Zander cast the spell on everyone as directed, then followed the spellsword as he dashed out the back door of the farmhouse, circling around the building so he could flank the mob from the north. His cooshee, still active even though his guard-the-sleeping-dreamwalkers duty was finished for the day, followed at his master's heels. The other human rogue, unaware that his partner wasn't with him, sprinted up at Xandro and tried stabbing the bard with his short sword. Xandro spun to the side and took a small cut in his arm as a result but that didn't cause him to miss as much as a beat of his song.

Alewyth strode to the north, past the doorway in which Xandro was standing, and opened another door from the kitchen area. From there, she could see the hippogriff and, realizing it was most likely here as a result of a summoning spell, cast a dispel magic spell of her own upon the great beast. It spun in her direction, beak open in fury, and then disappeared as quickly as it had first arrived, the dwarf's spell having successfully worked its magic.

Wakuren activated his ring of invisibility and stepped outside, slipping past Alewyth and dodging the shifting farmers. One farmer threw a rock at Xandro and then approached with a kitchen knife at the ready, but most of the others seemed apprehensive, nobody really wanting to be the first to attack people that looked like...well, people. And none of the farmers wanted to have to grab Allison Dormigliona, who was after all one of their townsfolk, somebody they'd known for years. Surely she hadn't been having relations with a devil or demon.

Two clerics, however, seemed intent upon doing just that: getting to Allison. They entered the house from the northernmost door, over by the triangle where Zander had first called Elmer in from the fields. Once inside, they made their way south through the house, heading for the bedroom where they expected Allison would be. Allison and Elmer, however, were being herded by Scarlie into the barn, the half-orc wagon driver holding out his dagger, the only weapon he had on hand, in case anybody tried getting to either of the farm-folk. Scarlie wasn't quite sure what was going on, but he had full faith that the five people he worked for would sort it out. In the meantime, he wished he had a drink on hand....

The two other acolytes cast shield of faith spells on themselves and prepared to move in, scimitars in hand - if the weak-willed farmers weren't willing to take on these demons in mortal form, then by Cal they'd do it! Xandro was still concentrating on his song, trying to weave in a suggestion that Father Bristol call his troops to stand down, but despite the cleric's having been caught up in the fascination effect, Xandro couldn't seem to magically compel him to confess he'd lied about the five heroes being demons.

The druids each cast longstrider spells on themselves and followed the two clerics into the Dormigliona farmhouse, while their eagles pressed on the attack from the air around Xandro's head. But Thurloe, seeing the bard's predicament, aimed his wand of magic missile at the closest of the two birds and fired off a charge, hitting it in the torso. Zander followed up with the same spell of his own, targeting the same eagle and killing it.

However, Xandro wasn't out of the woods yet. He now only had one eagle trying to claw him with its talons, but he still had a rogue trying to gut him with his short sword. Fortunately, the rogue's skill with his blade wasn't as developed as his bravado, and Xandro managed to dodge most of the attacks.

Alewyth stepped outside - and in doing so managed to miss spotting the druids turning the corner in the kitchen and make their way through the house interior behind her - and tossed a tanglefoot bag at one of the two acolytes outside among the farmers. The bag hit and exploded into a gooey mess which instantly hardened in the outside air, gluing the young man in place. Alewyth hefted Sjondra over her head, showing it to the assembled mob. "I've got much more deadlier tactics at hand," she called out, "but I've chosen t' use nonlethal methods! Let this be a demonstration o' me good faith - I don't wanna hurt any o' ye if'n I can help it!" Unnoticed, in her excitement her speech started devolving into the slang brogue preferred by most members of the dwarven races. But her words - and actions - caused the group around her to hold their actions, most of them wanting to believe this was all some sort of mistake.

Wakuren, by this time, had invisibly maneuvered himself over to Father Bristol and was surprised to note the man's aura held no trace of evil. That was certainly strange! Looking around at the assembled mob of farmers, the half-orc was similarly perplexed when he saw no traces of evil among any of the people there, either. In fact, the farmers were mostly egging on other members to go start a fight with one of the strangers Father Bristol had labeled as demons. "Go get 'im, Fergus!" one would suggest, pointing at Xandro, only to have Fergus come back with, "Whyn't you go get him, Billy?"

Inside the barn, the two acolytes crowded around Scarlie. They stabbed with their scimitars but failed to connect. Elmer, in the meantime, was steering Allison over to the back stalls, where their one horse and one cow bunked for the night. And then a little winged humanoid appeared in the air above Scarlie's head. "We must kill the humans, Master, to ensure the safety of the demonspawn about to be born!" it said, causing the half-orc to look up at it in surprise and confusion. Where did this thing come from and what was it saying? It didn't make any sense. By then, the half-elf druids had made it through most of the house and were entering the hallway leading to the door to the barn; their eyes widened as the quasit's words reinforced what Father Bristol had claimed - Allison Dormigliona had been impregnated by a fiend!

Xandro was still dodging the talons of the remaining eagle and the mobile rogue while trying to get Father Bristol to succumb to his suggestion, but the cleric's will was resisting the magical effect. Thurloe and Zander, with the elven cooshee following in their wake, pushed through the part of the crowd Alewyth had calmed and headed over by the barn. Alewyth continued calling out to the others to stop their attacks, but the rogue seemed focused upon killing Xandro - or at least getting him to stop playing the song on his lute that had somehow paralyzed Father Bristol. Wakuren, alerted by the shouts coming from inside the barn, focused his magical sight in that direction and was disappointed to sense a palpable sense of evil coming from that direction. Thurloe better not have been right about the Dormiglionas, he thought to himself as he rushed, still invisible, over to the barn doors. Once there, he thrust the doors open wide (the action causing the nearby farmers to fall back in surprise, for to them the doors seemed to have opened by themselves), and among startled cried of "Ghosts!" from the farmers, he saw the quasit flying above the acolytes' heads, slashing at them with his poison-dripping claws. The two slashed at the flying creature with their scimitars, but the quasit was fairly maneuverable in the air and managed to avoid their weapons.

One of the druids continued down the hall and entered the barn to see the quasit there, attacking the two acolytes of Cal, while the other one decided he'd rather take his chances with the demons that at least looked to be mortal. Ducking out a side door, he brought his scimitar slashing at Alewyth, whose back had been turned to the half-elf. Thurloe, seeing that, hefted his bastard sword and announced loudly that the next person to attack the dwarf was going to find his head separated from his body in no time. His fierce scowl in the direction of the half-elf druid certainly gave the belief that this was no idle threat. Zander, in the meantime, did his best to calm down the farmers over by the barn, telling them they needed to stop attacking people who weren't attacking them. "But by all means, defend yourself against actual demons," he added, pointing to the quasit.

Wakuren focused his detect evil sense on the Dormiglionas and breathed out a sigh of relief when he got back a negative response. Then he looked over at the quasit and sure enough, it had been the thing that had triggered his senses. The quasit, in the meantime, had noticed the barn doors were open and took advantage of the situation, flying over to them and calling out, "Excellent, my demonic brethren - let us slay all of the humans to save the demonspawn about to be born!" It chuckled at the confusion this statement caused, with farmers mumbling to themselves about how Father Bristol had been right all along. They started looking at Xandro, still playing his lute and avoiding attacks from a sword-wielding rogue and an enraged eagle as best he could, with a critical eye - was he really a demon in disguise? Xandro, for his part, was getting frustrated that the cleric was able to resist his attempts at weaving a suggestion spell into his song - he wasn't sure how long he could keep up the attempts before one of his foes forced him to stop the song altogether.

Unfortunately for the quasit, its showboating in front of the frightened peasants brought it within striking range of Wakuren's shield. The farmers all gasped aloud when an enraged half-orc suddenly appeared before them, his shield slamming into the flying demon and causing it to veer around erratically in the air, desperately trying not to fall to the ground. But no matter how erratically he flew, a magic missile spell from Thurloe's wand wasn't going to have any difficulty in striking him down, and it did just that - one blast and that was it for the troublemaking quasit. Wakuren bent down and lifted it up by the scruff of its neck. "We are not demons!" he called out to the farmer. "We are slayers of demons! Now everyone, put down your weapons!"

The farmers lowered their weapons and the druid waved away his eagle companion, who seemed more than happy to fly off to the top of the barn's roof and look over the mob from there. About that time, Xandro's spell finally overcame Father Bristol's willpower and he followed the suggestion the bard had woven into his tune. "Stand down!" Father Bristol reiterated. "This has all been a mistake!"

And then, as if having the suggestion spell overcome his will opened up a dam, more declarations came pouring forth. "Everything I said, about Allison's baby and demons and everything, it was all forced out of me!" He turned to Zander, the closest of the heroes to him. "But there is a demon, hidden in the mausoleum of the temple! He took over my mind, made me say things I never would have said if my will had been my own!" Looking over at Wakuren, who was approaching along with the other heroes, he added, "All of those things I said about orcs - that was the demon, trying to goad you into battle, for its own amusement! I'm sorry, I'm so sorry!"

Under questioning by Thurloe, Father Bristol described the demon as a "hunched over thing, with vertebrae growing up out of its back," giving the spellsword enough to go by to announce they were probably up against a cerebrilith. "They like controlling and dominating other beings," he told the others.

"Then let's go get it!" replied Wakuren, eager to slay this demon who had taken over the mind of a cleric of Cal and tried to get the heroes to slay a bunch of farmers in self-defense. Father Bristol, to his shame, said he feared returning to the temple, not wanting the demon to take over his mind again. Wakuren reassured him on that front, saying he was better off staying behind and keeping the villagers safe, while the five heroes went in to confront the demon. "This is part of what we do, as adventurers," he told the village cleric.

As they approached the temple, Thurloe had everyone cast whatever spells they thought they'd need. Wakuren and Thurloe had protection from evil spells cast upon them, as one of the effects of the spell protected them from mind-affecting attacks. Alewyth, with her magic circle against evil spell still active, would have to stick close to Zander and Xandro to ensure they remained safe inside her area of effect. Wakuren cast align weapon, divine favor, and entropic shield upon himself and his shield, enhancing his combat abilities significantly. Alewyth cast bless and prayer spells on the group, and Father Bristol cast what spells he had available on the group to aid them in their quest: an owl's wisdom spell on Alewyth, a bear's endurance spell on Wakuren, and a shield of faith spell upon Thurloe. "It's a good thing you took me out of the fight so quickly," he told Xandro, "or I'd likely have wasted those spells on myself, as I was forced to fight you." He then told the group the temple had a permanent hallow effect, which included a permanent light spell, covering all but his own quarters. "That was on purpose, so I could get some sleep at night," he admitted.

The group of five adventurers strolled boldly into the temple, Zander, Xandro and the cooshee sticking close to Alewyth, lest they become susceptible to mental domination. Xandro began the tune to his song of inspirational courage, figuring the demon would know soon enough they were there in any case - Thurloe was pretty sure it was telepathic, so it might already be aware of their presence. They moved between the rows of pews to the door at the back of the raised stage which led to the mausoleum. Wakuren opened the door and saw another door before him; it took a moment for him to realize there was no light back there and he was seeing via his inherent darkvision; the demon must have canceled out the hallow effect in some way, which took the light spell with it. But according to Father Bristol, the door before him led to the actual mausoleum, where the founder of the temple was interred; there were doors all along the hallway that ringed the mausoleum, where other bodies had been placed in their coffins. This whole area was built of stone, in contrast to the rest of the temple which was wooden; Wakuren supposed the cerebrilith liked it back here because the thick stone walls would block any detect evil spells that might give away its location.

After looking at the others and gauging their readiness, Wakuren pulled open the mausoleum door. Instantly, his body was covered in writhing spiders; the cerebrilith in the back of the mausoleum had cast a summon swarm spell it had at the ready for as soon as anybody opened the door. Wakuren involuntarily shook his body about, trying to dislodge as many of the spiders as he could, while they in turn bit at him where they could reach unprotected flesh.

Thurloe stayed well away from the spiders and cast a Mhaurgh's acid arrow spell at the cerebrilith, but the spell fizzled and sputtered upon reaching the demon, snuffed out by the fiend's resistance to spells. It retaliated with an unholy blight spell, catching all five heroes and the elven dog in its area of effect and causing them varying levels of pain, from Thurloe and Xandro, who were physically sickened by the attack, to Zander and the cooshee, who hardly seemed affected at all. The elven sorcerer, seeing Wakuren writhe under the constant spider-bites of the swarm of arachnids encompassing him, opted to get rid of the spiders the quickest way he knew how: by blasting his half-orc friend with a burning hands spell. Wakuren cried out in pain as the flames covered his body, but then the flames were gone and the spiders had all been burned to a crisp. "Thanks!" he called to Zander.

Alewyth cast a dismissal spell at the cerebrilith, hoping to send it back to whatever foul plane had spawned it, but it had no more effect than Thurloe's acidic spell. Wakuren summoned a celestial bison into the mausoleum, making it a tight fit in there with two large creatures, but he figured that might work to their advantage. The bison instinctively gored the cerebrilith with its massive horns, dealing the foul beast its first dose of pain.

Thurloe and Wakuren stepped forward, the spellsword swinging his bastard sword and the half-orc slamming the cerebrilith with his shield. Each managed to deal it some damage despite the thickness of its bony hide. Then the fiend reached into its magical repertoire and cast another summoning spell (although the pair of heroes each got in another attack with their weapons of choice as the demon's attention was focused on its calling forth allies), this one resulting in 14 dretches suddenly appearing. Two of them showed up inside the crowded mausoleum, but most of the others ended up inside the burial niches ringing the mausoleum. Doors to the niches popped open as the glistening, fetid bodies of the feral demons stepped outside, eager to attack their summoner's foes. However, this posed a bit of a problem, for the heroes at hand - Alewyth, Xandro, Zander, and the cooshee were all still back in the chapel part of the temple - were all protected by protection from evil spells that prevented the summoned dretches from being able to even touch them, let alone rend them with their claws or bite them with their teeth. It was a dejected group of dretches that realized they had been brought forth to attack a bunch of foes they couldn't even touch. (The two inside the mausoleum proper at least were able to vent their attacks upon the celestial bison.)

Zander tried a scorching ray at the cerebrilith, only for the spell to fizzle out upon arrival once again. Alewyth, seeing the ring of frustrated dretches (and knowing that if she attacked them directly, any of them she attacked would be able to reciprocate), summoned a celestial dire badger beside one of them and set it to the attack. The dretch actually seemed pleased to have a raging mammal biting and clawing it, for it meant he could do likewise, which certainly beat standing around not being able to do anything. The dretch even got the better of the deal in the first round of attacks - although the dire badger, once bloodied, became an even deadlier combat machine as it flew into a blood-red rage.

Wakuren pressed the attack with his shield of Cal, bringing it crashing down on the cerebrilith's armored head with every ounce of strength he possessed - and was pleased to hear the sounds of cracking and shattering bone as individual pieces of its outgrown vertebrae went flying. Thurloe activated the power of his magical torc to bring a bit more of his own strength to play, cutting deep into the fiend's body with the blade of his bastard sword. That was it, the cerebrilith decided; it had been fun stirring up trouble in Sun Valley after it had escaped days ago from a foolish wizard's planar gate, but discretion was by all means the better part of valor and the fiend didn't want these mortals putting an end to its potentially immortal existence. But that's exactly what happened; to the accompaniment of Xandro's song of inspirational courage, Thurloe and Wakuren brought their weapons to bear as the fiend tried instantly escaping, and while the spellsword's blade managed to bury itself a bit into a bony shoulder, Wakuren's shield crushed through its skull, slaying the demon instantly.

"Oh, praise Cal!" Father Bristol sighed when the five heroes returned outside the temple to inform him the demon had been slain - and the dretches it had summoned vanished as soon as it was dead, much to the consternation of a battle-crazed dire badger from the celestial realms. He shook his head at the thought of how much damage the demon could have brought to their little farming community, if it hadn't been for these traveling dreamwalkers seeking out Allison Dormigliona.

"Here," he said to Wakuren, pulling an item from a pocket of his robes. "This is scant reward for all the good you've done us - and in repayment for the terrible things I said about you upon your arrival - but I think this would see better use in your hands than in mine." Handing it over, Wakuren looked to see what it was the cleric had given him. It was a headband, which the half-orc placed around his temple. "It's a headband of Cal," Father Bristol explained, "granting its wearer a pocket of cool, clean air, even when underwater or in a smoke-filled room. I don't have many occasions where such a power would do me any good, tending to the farmers in the village."

Wakuren placed a hand upon the cleric's shoulder. "Thank you," he said. "May Cal be with you."

"And with you," Father Bristol replied, then watched as the heroes mounted their animals and rode off, heading to the next dream victim on their seemingly endless list of those trapped by the machinations of the Nightmare King.

- - -

This was an unusual adventure, as I wanted to try something different: none of the foes (save Father Bristol) was much of a threat against a party of 8th-level characters, but they were all innocent dupes unworthy of being killed in battle. Fortunately, Xandro's well-timed fascination took Father Bristol out of the equation almost instantly, and the players managed not to have their PCs kill any of their foes (with the exception of one eagle animal companion). And then, protected as they were from attacks by summoned creatures, the dretches were likewise completely ineffective. However, despite all that, I at least managed to deal some damage to each of the PCs this time, which hasn't been the case in recent history. (They all came out pretty much unscathed from "Nest Quest.")

Vicki was also a bit concerned when the dream opponent turned out to be an incubus; I don't think she's fully recovered from dealing with the incubus Malaterminus in our "Kordovian Adventurers Guild" campaign.

As for Thurloe's back story (as the PCs watched in the dream of his "Aunt Charlotte"), that was what Dan had come up with as far as Thurloe's parentage went; I took what he had given me and made it a dream sequence, since that seemed like a good way to get the truth of the matter out into the open. We'll see what all Thurloe and Charlotte (and Marten, for that matter) have to say to each other the next time they meet up. (Why they didn't just tell Thurloe he was their kid in the first place is a mystery to me - that seems like it would have been so much simpler....)

- - -

T-shirt worn: My "Moore/Hanes Family Reunion" T-shirt, because it has a silhouette of a "family tree" on it, and the Dormiglionas were just starting their own family.
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PC Roster:
Alewyth Putterpye, dwarf priestess of Aerik 8​
Thurloe Pulver, human fighter 3/wizard 3/spellsword 2​
Wakuren, half-orc cleric of Cal 4/paladin 4​
Xandro Silverstrings, human bard 6/rogue 2​
Zander Quilson, elf sorcerer 8​

Game Session Date: 4 December 2022

- - -

"Well," said Thurloe, looking down at the eight-year-old boy rolling around naked at his feet, "this is already a bit disturbing."

"It's still better than a first-person point-of-view dream of your conception," pointed out Xandro.

"Yeah, I'll grant you that," Thurloe admitted.

This time, finding their way to the next dream victim had been incredibly easy: upon entering the town of Centraldale, they found printed notices plastered all over the place, announcing a 1,000 gold piece award to anyone who could awaken the son of Lord and Lady Tandervale. The notices listed the address of the Tandervale estate and the heroes had had no trouble finding the place. Upon knocking on the door and offering their services, the five dreamwalkers had been escorted into Charland Tandervale's room, where he had been sleeping for the last five weeks. The Tandervales not only allowed the dreamwalkers to move his bed into the middle of the room and place a dreamstone upon his brow, held in place by a leather headband, but also provided two of their security staff to watch over them as they performed their ritual while sleeping in a ring around the bed. Ever suspicious and slow to trust, Thurloe had insisted Zander activate his jade cooshee and put the elven dog onto security detail as well, with orders to wake them up if anything suspicious occurred.

Now immersed into Charland's dream, Alewyth furrowed her brow in puzzlement and asked, "What's the matter, child?" Charland had his arms clenched around his stomach and was rocking back and forth as if in great pain, whining, "Don't leave me, don't leave me...."

"We'll not leave you, I promise," Alewyth began, thinking the young aristocrat child had been talking to her and the four men with her visiting Charland's dream. She quickly learned her mistake when, all of a sudden, Charland's left arm deflated as if an arm had been taken out of a sleeve. His right arm deflated as well, and quick as a flash two sets of bony fingers appeared in the young boy's mouth. The skeletal digits pulled the sides of the boy's mouth apart, far wider than would normally be possible - but this was merely a dream, subject only to dream logic. Once the mouth was open wide enough to allow it, the boy's skull popped out from between his rubbery lips, then the lad's entire skeleton crawled out of his body, leaving behind a flopping pile of boneless skin that wailed, "No! Come back! I need you!"

But the skeleton had other ideas. Dancing a happy little jig, it scampered about, singing, "Ya-ta-ta-ta-TAA-ta! Ya-ta-ta-ta-TAA-ta!"

Thurloe looked down in disapproval of the pile of discarded flesh that had once been Charland Tandervale. "Howzabout I cut this skin-blob to ribbons and see what happens?" he asked, pulling out the bastard sword from its sheath on his broad back.

"Nae!" scolded Alewyth, lapsing back into her dwarven brogue in irritation at the spellsword's suggestion.

"It seems likely we need to capture the boy's skeleton and return it to his body," Xandro proposed. "Hey! C'mere, you!" The bard made a grab at the skeleton as it danced back but it was unusually spry for a pile of bones without a scrap of muscle to go with them.

"Ya-ta-ta-ta-TAA-ta!" the skeleton sang as it did a fancy dance step, avoiding the dreamwalkers in its way.

Zander just stood still, looking at the dancing skeleton. He focused his will on the dreamscape itself, causing the floor of the room they were in to retract, shortening the distance between them and thus causing the fleeing skeleton to return to the boy's side. "Please!" Charland the flesh-blob pleaded from his position on the floor.

"Nah-nah-nah-nah-NAH-nah!" scolded the capering skeleton, continuing its jaunty little dance. "I'm a dancing bone thing - I'm an undead totem! You are just a flesh-blob! Just a living scrotum!" Charland just continued his blubbering, the tears from his eyes mingling with the bubbles of snot leaking from his nose.

Wakuren was tempted to try turning the skeleton by presenting his holy symbol of Cal and seeing if it truly was undead, but then, as it scampered on by, the half-orc lashed out with his hand and grabbed the skeleton by the arm. The entire right arm detached from the rest of the skeleton, who gave its missing appendage no notice at all as it continued dancing about. Wakuren shrugged and returned to Charland. Bending down, he grabbed the boy by his flopping lip, pulled open his mouth as wide as it would go, and dropped the skeletal arm into the boy's gullet. There was a flurry of movement inside the flesh-bag that made up the boy's current form, and then his right arm filled in, just as it had been before the skeleton's sudden secession from the boy's body. "Well, it works!" he told the others.

Alewyth followed suit, grabbing the dancing skeleton's left arm and having it snap off at the shoulder. She stuffed it into Charland's mouth and it too found its normal position; the flesh-blob now had two normal-looking arms growing out of it, and it propped itself upright as best it could, even though that did little but raise the shoulders on upright arms while the rest of the body flopped onto the floor.

"I got a leg!" Xandro announced, stuffing the skeleton's left leg into Charland's open mouth. The skeleton was now reduced to hopping about on one leg, but it was still making a pretty good speed and getting away until Zander "shrunk" the distance between them once again, bringing it closer. Alewyth grabbed the other leg, leaving the skeleton limbless and doing its best to roll away. As the dwarf stuffed the leg into Charland's rubbery mouth, Thurloe picked what remained of the skeleton up by the skull and dropped it into place. As the bones repositioned themselves in their normal configuration, the walls of the dreamscape began melting - a sure sign the dream was ending and Charland Tandervale was waking up.

"Back to the Waking World!" Thurloe commanded, before turning to Wakuren and asking, "Did you check the Tandervales for signs of evil?" Wakuren had already started the process of waking himself up from the induced sleep, so he answered once back in the Waking World. "No, I don't intend to live in a constant state of suspicion like you seem to like to do!"

"You'd probably live longer if you did," scoffed the spellsword. But now Charland was awake as well as the five dreamwalkers, and he looked around himself in confusion. He was probably unaware that he was doing it, but he patted each of his limbs as if confirming they were all in place. "Who are you?" he demanded. "What are you doing in my bedroom?"

Lord and Lady Tandervale were beside themselves with joy at the successful awakening of their only son. Lord Tandervale gratefully rewarded the five heroes with the promised thousand pieces of gold, and then insisted they stay for dinner, and overnight, and join him in a boar hunt the following morning with a pair of noblemen from the town. "I insist!" he proclaimed. "Never mind if you haven't been boar hunting before - we'll be more than happy to show you the ropes!" Xandro replied that Lord Tandervale was presenting them with a great honor, knowing full well boar hunting was a sport enjoyed only by aristocrats, not those of common birth like the five heroes. Lord Tandervale took that as acceptance of his offer and would hear no further talk of turning down the opportunity.

On the plus side, each of the heroes was given their own guest bedroom for the night, the dinner was quite delicious, and they were even allowed to avail themselves of the luxury of a hot bath. "I could get used to this," admitted Zander.

The next morning, over an early breakfast, Lord Tandervale explained the rules of the hunt. They would wear no armor and carry with them only the traditional weapons used for boar hunting: one longspear and one rapier per person. They would also be riding light horses from the Tandervale stables, although the master of the estate allowed the heroes could ride their own mounts, should that be their preference. (Thurloe, of course, opted to ride his own horse, Horse, and Xandro likewise decided to ride his own black mount, scampishly named White; Wakuren, having only a mule to ride - although Perseverance was usually hitched up to the wagon with Alewyth's mule, Mica - had no choice but to accept Lord Tandervale's offer of a borrowed mount. Alewyth considered riding her dire goat Pyrite but decided she'd blend in better with the others if she rode one of the proffered horses from the Tandervale stables, and Zander chose to ride a borrowed mount just for the selfish reason he didn't want his own horse Eddy to come to any harm if the boars got nasty, as he'd heard they could do.)

Despite the "no armor" rule, Wakuren chose to wear his shield of Cal upon his back; it was his only true "weapon" and he felt naked without it. He likewise wore his gauntlet of Cal on his right hand, thinking (quite rightly) that Lord Tandervale would consider them to be religious talismans and not make a fuss about his bringing them along. Thurloe had no such religious excuse for bringing along Spellslicer, but he did anyway, vowing he'd leave the bastard sword sheathed on his back unless they ran into trouble. Lord Tandervale chose not to comment upon this social faux pas.

As they were choosing their horses, the heroes opted to perform some surreptitious spellcasting as well. Wakuren cast the spells magic vestment and shield of faith upon himself, if he wasn't going to be allowed to wear his full plate armor he'd make sure he was similarly protected by spells! Alewyth also cast a magic vestment spell upon herself, and Xandro wore his Dardolian lute on his back, claiming he could perform for the noblemen on their way back from a no-doubt successful hunt. But if the heroes didn't have the rest of their gear, it wasn't too far away, for it was all stashed inside the extradimensional interior of Hesperna's magic lamp, which Wakuren carried with him.

Two more noblemen rode up to the Tandervale estate on their own fine horses; Lord Brokerville upon a white stallion and Lord Mantriculos upon a gray horse with a coal-black mane. Introductions were made all around, and if the other two noblemen were disappointed to share their hunt with a quintet of commoners they at least had the good grace not to show it. (They were, however, quite impressed that the dreamwalkers had managed to awaken Charland Tandervale from his five-week sleep, stating the most powerful clerics from the local area had been unable to do so.) Along with the two noblemen came a pair of commoners, holding the leashes of three hunting dogs between them.

"I believe we're all ready, then." announced Lord Tandervale, mounting his own horse, a chestnut brown in color. "Let's be off!" The dogs and their handlers led the way, followed by the three experienced hunters, followed by the five heroes. Thurloe and Zander each cast a mage armor spell upon themselves from the safety of the back row; the elf followed up his first spell with a stoneskin spell. He was, he knew, the frailest of the five and he had no compunctions about ensuring his safety when engaging in a dangerous sport he would normally stay well away from.

For the first entire hour, there was no action whatsoever. Alewyth took it to be a pleasant outing and enjoyed being out on the fresh air. The three lords did their best to seem interested in the heroes' tales of their exploits, but Xandro - who had been doing most of the talking - got the distinct impression the noblemen found "adventuring" to be somewhat beneath them. Then, however, the dogs' ears pricked up and they began straining at the leash. Up ahead, in a gap between trees along a forest path, the group could see the hindquarters of a good-sized boar, one of a group of eight. "Now you'll see how it's done!" promised Lord Brokerville, spurring his horse forward as he lowered his longspear.

By unspoken agreement, the heroes allowed the three noblemen to lead the charge; this was, after all, their own sport and it would be somewhat in poor taste for the untrained heroes to show up their hosts, even if wild boars were a bit on the tame side compared to some of the monsters they'd already fought and killed in their adventuring careers. But now that combat was imminent, Thurloe used a charge from his wand of shield on himself and then passed it over to Zander so the elf could do likewise. The noblemen, in the meantime, caught up to the hindmost boars but the pounding of the horses' hooves, and the baying of the hounds behind them, let the boars know there was danger afoot and they scattered, breaking off of the forest paths and scampering between the trees, especially where the gaps between the trees were too narrow to allow a horse to follow. As a result, none of the noblemen's held longspears found their marks.

Alewyth urged her borrowed horse to follow behind the noblemen, careful to keep her spear pointed up so she didn't accidentally skewer any of them. Wakuren also sent his horse speeding forward, but he took a path that led off to the west, where he hoped to flank the boars as they fled the noblemen coming in from the northeast. Zander followed close behind the half-orc, while keeping pace beside his borrowed horse ran his elven dog. The handlers released the hunting dogs from their leashes and they were all three off like bolts of lightning, barking furiously as they gave chase.

Xandro sent White racing off to the west, then leaped from the saddle and made his way on foot between the close-grown trees, getting in front of a fleeing boar. Before the boar even realized the bard was there he was stabbing out with his own rapier, unknowingly getting "first blood" in this sport of noblemen. The boar squealed in pain and surprise, as Thurloe rode Horse up behind White, who was pacing nervously now that his master had left the saddle. The boar lowered his head and charged Xandro, catching the bard with a set of wicked tusks jutting up from its slavering jaws. This, too, was "first blood" - the first wound the boars had inflicted upon their hunters.

Fortunately for the noblemen, two of the wild boars had stuck to the forest paths, as they preferred to remain mounted as long as possible and strike from the relative safety of the saddle. But the paths were twisty and narrow, which worked to the boars' advantage over the larger horses in pursuit. Alewyth still wisely followed, content to let them strike first (while she'd be nearby if any of them needed healing).

Wakuren sped past White and continued down the path, missing the three lead boars who sped past in front of him but catching the fourth by surprise as he dashed out at it from a side path. His lowered longspear stabbed into the wild boar, but the creature's thick pelt prevented the tip from doing much more than scratching a long, shallow gash along its right side. It bleated aloud, but the half-orc detected more anger than pain in its outcry. Zander came up behind Wakuren but there wasn't room for his horse to get past the half-orc's; the cooshee, however, simply bounded between the trees and cut off the three lead boars, who had made it into a wider clearing. Barking furiously, the elven dog managed to turn the three around, sending them back towards Wakuren and the approaching noblemen.

Wakuren had to hold on tight as his horse suddenly reared onto its hind legs, the boar before it having gashed it in the side with its wicked tusks. The horse kicked out feebly with its front hooves before landing again on all fours; Wakuren stabbed the point of his spear into the boar, catching it just above the shoulder. Then another spear struck the boar; Thurloe had approached beside Wakuren and was helping to bring down the beast Wakuren had been fighting.

Many of the other boars scattered wildly, with a few of them getting struck by the points of one or more of the noblemen's spears as they sought safety by running between the close-growing trees. The noblemen did their best to keep up the attacks, but they were hampered by the necessity to steer their mounts around the clumps of trees, sticking to the forest paths. Xandro retreated back to the relative safety of White's saddle, while Alewyth, having dismounted from her own borrowed horse, had followed behind the boar and now found herself in a position to stab it from behind with the point of her longspear. It squealed in pain, and the beast's cries were echoed by the barks of the dogs as they raced down the path behind the dwarven priestess. The wounded boar spun about and faced Alewyth, then charged forward at her, but she managed to step to the side and get in a quick stab with her rapier.

Back over on one of the paths, Wakuren and Thurloe stabbed their spears into the boar they were fighting, while it tried to fight back, catching the side of Wakuren's horse. But now Zander arrived on the scene, stabbing his own longspear at the wounded beast. His cooshee snapped at one of the three boars he'd deflected back towards Wakuren and Thurloe, and this turned out to be a troublesome event for Wakuren's mount because all three spread out and made a concentrated attack upon the wounded horse, attacking it from three different directions. By this time the other wild boars had scattered; only the four surrounding Wakuren and the one facing Alewyth were still in the fight. But seeing his friend in desperate combat with the cornered boar, Xandro leaped back off of his horse and ran back through the trees they way he'd come, stabbing his spear into the boar now attacking Alewyth. Blood flowed freely down both sides of its flank; surely it couldn't hold out for too much longer! And at that the bard was absolutely correct, for Alewyth slew the beast with a rapier-strike to the creature's throat, it having come too close to her for her to be able to wield her longspear effectively.

Thurloe finally killed Wakuren's original porcine foe and spun about to take on one of the three who had returned to the fight. The noblemen, having given up on chasing the ones that had successfully fled through the trees, focused their attention - and the points of their longspears - upon the closest one attacking Wakuren's horse in an effort to get to the half-orc riding it. The dogs ran past, apparently having been trained not to get in the way of the spears and blades once a boar had been cornered, and instead went running through the close-packed trees to follow the trails of those which had escaped.

Zander and Wakuren focused their attacks upon a single boar, while the cooshee went after the same one from behind. But then, in an unvoiced but smoothly-accomplished maneuver, all three boars swapped targets as one, focusing their tusks on the elven dog. The cooshee was unable to avoid three separate sets of tusks coming at him from three different directions, and blood spilled from his sides as he almost staggered to the ground. But rather than pressing on with their attack, the boars all turned about as one and sped off through the trees, where the horses couldn't follow - and neither, in his present state, could the elven hound.

Xandro and Alewyth came riding up to the rest of the group. "We got one!" Xandro called out.

"That makes two, then!" replied Wakuren, looking down at the slain beast on the ground before him as he leaned over and cast a healing spell upon his wounded mount. Alewyth did likewise to the cooshee, and then, at the noblemen's urging, they pointed their mounts in the direction of the barking dogs as they pursued their elusive prey. "This way!" called Lord Mantriculos, seemingly somewhat put out that these first-timers had bagged two boars on their first hunt while neither of the noblemen - boar-hunting veterans each - had yet to bring down a single beast.

"Are we still on your own lands?" Thurloe asked Lord Brokerville.

"No," admitted the aristocrat, "but we started this hunt on our lands, and we're going to get ourselves a boar!" Thurloe shrugged, assuming if the noblemen were okay with the legality of the hunt, he wasn't going to worry overly much about it.

The remaining boars led the hunters on a merry chase, during which time the heroes purposefully fell back, allowing the three noblemen to take the lead so they'd get the first shots at the fleeing hogs. The boars led them into a clearing by a short cliff, leaping between two large trees and veering off to the left of a log cabin built near to the cliffside. There was a rather large cave opening off to the right of the cabin, possibly where the boars were heading.

Lord Tandervale was the first to race his horse between the trees - and thus was the one who triggered the trap. His horse tripped over a taut vine near to the ground, sending itself falling to the ground and its rider taking a face-plant some distance ahead. But the vine released a log that had been held up by the branches of the rightmost tree, and as it fell - each end supported by strong ropes tied to a thick, high branch - the log slammed into Lord Brokerville, his horse, and Lord Mantriculos and his own mount, spilling all four to the forest clearing in a tangle of limbs and a series of startled cries. The log had been spiked, as well, with sharpened branches sticking out of it at all angles; the thing nearly hit Lord Mantriculos a second time as gravity sent it swinging back the way it had come.

Alewyth and Wakuren leaped down from their horses, applying healing spells to Lords Brokerville and Mantriculos. Zander, not liking the apparent booby trap that the wily boars had somehow known to lead their pursuers into, called for his cooshee. When the elven dog leaped up at his master, Zander deactivated him and put the jade statuette back into his pocket. Then he sent Eddy forward, skirting the remains of a campfire in front of the cabin as he eyed the area warily. There was a pen of some sort off to the right, with a fence and gate made of felled tree trunks. No doubt about it - somebody lived here, and possibly cared for these wild boars if they felt safe enough to come this close to someone's dwelling.

The boars - there were six of them in all - had by this time made it behind the cabin and were out of sight. Xandro, sensing combat of a very different nature than that of hunting down boars, pulled the Dardolian lute from his back and started the words to his song of inspirational courage. After all, if there was somebody inside the cabin allied with the boars, there was a good chance there might be combat any moment now - and with the ruckus that had already been raised by the triggering of the log trap and the squealing of the boars, whoever was inside the cabin had to already be aware of their presence.

Thurloe opted not to wait to find out. Riding Horse up to the cabin, he leaped off and landed immediately before the front door. However, there was another trap in place there: a shallow pit had been dug, merely a foot or so deep and covered with a framework of intertwined sticks just sturdy enough to hold the covering of leaves sprinkled onto it to give it the appearance of solid ground. Thurloe's weight broke right through the flimsy barrier and his foot hit the trigger of an open bear trap that had been placed beneath the false floor. Its metal teeth slammed shut around Thurloe's right foot, imprisoning him where he stood - and in considerable pain.

The noblemen, furious at this turn of events, regained their footing and climbed back into their saddles as their horses stood back up. Alewyth, having heard Thurloe's cry of pain, ran past the noblemen to see to her friend. She stepped down into the shallow pit and tried prying the metal jaws open, but giving it all her strength yielded no positive results. "It's okay--I got this," Thurloe hissed in pain, trying his hardest not to cry in front of the dwarf.

Wakuren, also on foot, ran around to the left of the cabin in pursuit of the fleeing boars. He cast wide his senses, seeking out the telltale stench of evil, but found no such emanations in the auras ahead. Zander flanked around the other way, by the east of the cabin, and saw three of the wild boars flee into the cave opening along the cliff side. He didn't see the other three, but he'd been pretty sure six boars had run behind the cabin, leaving three unaccounted for.

Those three made a good accounting for themselves, all right: one doubled back, altering its shape as he moved back around the side of the cabin to face Wakuren. By the time he met back up with the surprised half-orc, he stood upon his hooved back feet, while from the waist up he wore the broad chest and sagging belly of a rather fat man. Powerful arms ended in human hands, but his head was still that of a wild boar. One hand held a rock he'd picked up from behind the cabin, and he clocked Wakuren good in the side of the head with it, sending the cleric-paladin reeling off to the side. "What in the Hells--?" exclaimed one of the noblemen, getting his first look at a wereboar in hybrid form. The other two wereboars, opting to remain in their animal forms for now, sped around the east side of the cabin, charging at Zander upon his horse.

And then the cabin door opened, to reveal yet another wereboar in its hybrid form, this one wielding a battleaxe in its hands. With a grunt of effort, it swung its weapon down at Thurloe, trapped in place by the bear trap. But the spellsword mentally activated his anklet of translocation and disappeared from the wereboar ranger's view, reappearing inside the cabin just behind him, such that their backs were facing each other. Thurloe spun around first, hobbling on his wounded foot, pulling his bastard sword from the sheath on his back.

Alewyth, still standing in the shallow pit, took a step away from the axe-wielding wereboar ranger and cast a bless spell on the group. Wakuren also took a step back, but that was just so he could put his longspear to good use against the wereboar before him, stabbing its point into the upright beast's chest. He could feel the adrenaline in his system, feel some primal urge to forget about casting spells and deal with his foes in a more savage fashion.

Zander cast a scorching ray at the wereboar standing in the cabin doorway, hoping to take its focus away from Alewyth, who was the closest potential target. Unfortunately, the other two wereboars attacked his horse by then and the rays went astray, hitting the wooden side of the log cabin and setting it ablaze. But then one wereboar was upon him, goring his horse with its tusks while the other attacked Alewyth in a similar fashion, opening a gash along her leg. She hobbled back, grabbing a vial of silversheen from her belt, recognizing these foes now as lycanthropes - men who could turn into an animal form or that of an upright-walking hybrid. And the wereboar fighting Wakuren swung at the half-orc again with his blood-streaked rock. Wakuren dodged the awkward blow and pushed deeper with his longspear, then finished his foe off with a swipe of his rapier. He fell to the floor of the forest clearing, quite obviously dead, and Wakuren let the borrowed longspear go, pulling the shield of Cal off his back and back to its accustomed place on his left arm. After all, this was apparently no longer a mere wild boar hunt and the noblemen's rules no longer applied.

The ranger, picking up on some last-second sense of danger, ducked and spun as Thurloe's sword came crashing down at where he'd been standing. He grinned at facing this human interloper again, and swung his axe at Thurloe, catching him in the side. Xandro kept playing his lute, doing what he could to aid all four of his friends (and the three noblemen, not that they seemed particularly interested in fighting off boars that could turn into beast-men) while remaining in relative safety himself.

Ignoring the pain in his foot and now also in his side, Thurloe mentally activated his torc of the titans and empowered the next swing of his bastard sword, catching the wereboar in the side of his torso, covered in a thick pelt of wiry fur and bristles. Zander cast a haste spell on the group, and the spellsword felt vitality course through his body, speeding up his reflexes. He also noted the flames had spread along the cabin wall; very soon they'd be reaching the front door, which looked to be the only way out of the cabin (unless he felt like crawling up the stone chimney).

The animal-form werebeasts continued their attacks upon Alewyth and Zander, but Zander kept his leg out of the way and the boar's ragged tusks sank into the flesh and muscle of the horse beneath the elven sorcerer (Zander once again was grateful he'd left Eddy back at the Tandervale estate), and Alewyth had applied a dose of silversheen upon Sjondra and immediately saw the results of the concoction, for she clocked the werebeast a good one with her trusty warhammer that sent him falling upon his side and struggling to get back up.

The wereboar ranger swung his battleaxe at Thurloe again, but Zander's haste spell helped the spellsword avoid the blow, even with a sore leg that hurt when he put his full weight upon it. Another charge from his torc sent Spellslicer slicing a deep gash across the ranger's chest. And speaking of chests, Thurloe couldn't help but notice there was a wooden chest at the foot of a cot to his right, in an area that doubtlessly served as the ranger's bedroom, partially hidden by a curtain. Thurloe vowed to give that chest a good look after he'd dealt with the werebeast doing his best to kill him.

But now Xandro entered the fray, feeling guilty just playing his lute when everyone around him was engaged in combat. He pulled his frost short sword from its scabbard and flanked behind the boar attacking Zander, the blade sliding deep into the boar's flesh. And Wakuren, having slain his initial foe, ran into the burning cabin to help Thurloe fight off the wereboar ranger. The shield of Cal came slicing in horizontally to smash into the werebeast's spine, causing the brute to snort in pain and surprise.

Zander cast a magic missile spell at the wereboar attacking him, and then Xandro finished it off with another deep stab of his blade. Alewyth fought off her own beast, taking another gash from its wicked tusks before finally crushing its skull with her dwarven warhammer, currently coated in silversheen. The ranger, with blood now flowing freely out of its mouth and nostrils, gave a final swing at Thurloe before the spellsword nearly severed his head with a lateral strike from Spellslicer. Wakuren, seeing the ranger fall dead to the cabin floor before him, raced back outside the open doorway; Thurloe followed, but not before grabbing up the wooden chest he'd seen. He had to leap through a sheet of flames as the fire engulfing the cabin reached the doorway, but you never knew what you might find inside a treasure chest, and if the ranger had anything of value inside the otherwise practically bare cabin, Thurloe was willing to bet it was stored in the chest. He made it outside to find Wakuren rubbing silversheen upon the shield of Cal, then looking around to see the other wereboars had already been slain.

However, the half-orc's assumption proved to be somewhat premature. Zander turned his head towards the cave opening in the cliff side, his sharp elven hearing having picked up the sounds of something big clomping up the natural stone steps that led down into the caverns below. The others soon heard the sounds for themselves and turned to see what would exit the cave. Xandro resumed playing his song of inspirational courage on the Dardolian lute, getting the feeling they'd soon have need of the magical assistance it provided, for it seemed like combat might not yet be over after all.

Poking her massive head out of the shadows of the cave entrance, an enormous figure stepped forth into the sunlight. It was a hill giantess, with rolls of fat hanging over the brief garment she wore around her hips, a pair of pendulous breasts hanging halfway down her torso. But her head, although it sported the scraggly, matted hair common among her people, was that of an enormous warthog or boar, with tusks as long as Xandro's short sword growing up from her snout. She carried a greatclub in one meaty fist as she stepped forward, her beady eyes squinting at the burning cabin, then at the slain wereboars lying on the ground, and then at the assembled heroes. Finally taking in the entire scene, she bellowed forth a cry of anger and rage and started making her way toward the heroes.

Alewyth wasted no time in running back to her borrowed horse and climbing back up into the saddle; she wanted to have the mount's speed at her service should fleeing become necessary. Wakuren cast a divine favor spell upon himself, boosting his combat capabilities to face this new threat. Zander cast a detect magic spell, determining the hill giant dire wereboar had no magic about her (but also that there was magic emanating from the chest Thurloe had rescued from the burning cabin).

Thurloe was the first one to initiate combat against the giantess. Casting a ray of enfeeblement at the hybrid wereboar giantess, the beam struck true and he saw her flinch as some of her impressive strength was drained from her muscles. It even seemed as if the spell's effects caused her to shift the weight of the greatclub in her hands, as if it seemed suddenly heavier to her - that could only be a good sign!

The giantess brought her greatclub up over her head and sent it crashing down at Wakuren, but the half-orc managed to dodge out of the way in time and it just slammed a divot out of the ground at his feet. Alewyth cast a spell from her horse's saddle, and suddenly a celestial bison appeared behind the dire wereboar. It lowered its head and charged, goring a horn into the massive woman's back, causing her to grunt in pain and spin about to face this sudden attacker. But then Wakuren managed to tamp down the fires of rage and bloodlust threatening to overcome his senses and take a more practical approach. Despite having having coated his shield with silversheen, despite having cast a divine favor spell upon himself to aid him in physical combat, he cast a calm emotions spell at the dire wereboar. Then, seeing the spell seem to take an effect upon her, he called out, "Let's all stop attacking each other! We're going to leave you alone, okay? Do you understand what I'm saying?"

"...Some," agreed the giantess in a guttural voice.

"We didn't mean to attack the other wereboars - we thought they were just wild hogs," Wakuren explained. "And then we fought back when the wereboars attacked us. But now that we know you're peaceful, we're going to leave you in peace. We're going, see?" And Wakuren demonstrated his intentions by backing over to his horse and climbing back up onto the saddle. Thurloe did likewise, although his "peaceful" intentions were somewhat muddied by the fact that he took with him the wereboar ranger's chest, which he had stolen from the ranger as soon as he'd been slain, and that the boar-man's home was now completely engulfed by flames. In a couple of hours, there's be nothing left of the cabin but the stone chimney.

"We're going," Thurloe reiterated, backing Horse away from the confused giantess.

"Yes. You go," the dire wereboar replied. Then she watched the entire group turn their horses and leave between the trees, riding on either side of the dangling log with the embedded spikes the ranger had set as a trap.

"Are we okay with this?" Alewyth worried. "She's most likely the one who turned the others into wereboars. If we leave her alone, she might do the same again to others."

"Not our problem," argued Thurloe. "And Wakuren: is she evil?"


"There, see: not evil. I say we let her live in peace. And if the noblemen want to do something about her, they're more than welcome to hire local heroes to go deal with her at a later date." He didn't want to admit that he was worried about their ability to handle her on their own under the present set of circumstances, with many of their spells already cast, Wakuren without his normal plate mail armor, and most of the heroes already wounded from the fights with the regular wereboars. If the noblemen had anything to say on the subject they kept it to themselves; they practically sulked the whole way back to the Tandervale estate at their poor showing in front of these commoner heroes.

But their hearts were buoyed at the heroes' insistence they didn't want either of the two normal boars they'd slain; after all, that meant once the heroes had gone their way there'd be nobody to gainsay their own claims that it had been the three of them who had brought down the boars. They gave instructions to the dog handlers to grab a wagon and fetch the slain boars, as the heroes returned the borrowed weapons and mounts and gathered Scarlie and their own mounts and wagon for the trek to the next dream victim.

Thurloe, for his part, was momentarily buoyed by the fact the wereboar ranger's chest contained magic. But when said magic turned out to be nothing more than a half dozen human bane arrows in among a bunch of clothes, he turned them over to Alewyth so she could destroy them with Sjondra.

- - -

The PCs all advanced to 9th level at the end of this session. And Sjondra - "The Sunderer" - made it to a +3 dwarven warhammer after having absorbed the magical power of the six arrows. In addition, I advanced up their "signature items" as well, as the Queen of Dreams has been steadily sending additional power to them via the dreamstones attached to each item, so they each gained a new power or ability. Hopefully we'll get to see some of these new abilities in play soon.

I used a couple of Paizo's Flip-Mats for the forest paths where the PCs first fought the boars and then the clearing with the ranger's cabin and the cave to the hill giant's lair. For the wild boars, I used five pigs from a farmland set of minis I had purchased some years ago, and then printed off three "boar" tokens to fill out their ranks. (And I didn't tell the players this at first, but it allowed me to determine at a glance which of hte boars were just boars and which were wereboars in animal form.) For the hill giant, I also made a little "box" to plop over the head of a hill giant miniature, with the front, side, and top views of a boar's head visible. It made a fairly effective hill giant dire wereboar that way. I also made a three-dimensional model of the cabin out of carboard, built such that I could assemble it for play and then disassemble it to lay flat for storage once I was done.

- - -

T-shirt worn: Since I don't have anything that relates to wild boars, I wore my white "Walking Dead" T-shirt to represent Charland Tandervale's dancing skeleton. ("Ya ta ta ta TAA ta!")



PC Roster:
Alewyth Putterpye, dwarf priestess of Aerik 9​
Thurloe Pulver, human fighter 3/wizard 3/spellsword 3​
Wakuren, half-orc cleric of Cal 5/paladin 4​
Xandro Silverstrings, human bard 6/rogue 3​
Zander Quilson, elf sorcerer 9​

NPC Roster:
Lady Arabella Vulpina, human aristocrat 2/rogue 9​

Game Session Date: 18 December 2022

- - -

The five dreamwalkers were standing in the Corridor of Dreams with their instructor Mogo when another moogle - one they'd never seen before - fluttered up. This one was female and carried a leather satchel slung over one shoulder. "I have a message for you, kupo!" she said.

Alewyth took the sealed piece of parchment proffered by the little moogle, broke open the seal, and unfolded it. Then she read the message aloud to the others. It read:


I need your help – I'm being hunted by an assassin devil out for my blood. It's all I can do to keep one step ahead of her. I need to lead her to you so you can help me kill her.

I helped you before with the matter of Teresa Theringold – now I need that favor repaid, and quickly. Let my moogle guide know your location so I can meet up with you there – I'll get word from her as soon as it's safe for me to grab some sleep.

Thank you – and hurry.

The Fox

"The Fox is a dreamwalker, like us?" blurted out Xandro.

"She is, kupo!" affirmed Lasciva, who was hanging around to learn of the dreamwalkers' location on the Mortal Plane.

"The Fox is Lady Vulpina, isn't she?" asked Wakuren. "After all, Lady Vulpina helped us out with Teresa Theringold, not 'The Fox.'"

"If she wanted you to know her real name, she would have signed the letter with her real name, kupo!" replied Lasciva. "But she needs your help, kupo!"

Alewyth turned to the moogle, hovering on her tiny bat wings to keep her head at eye level with the dreamwalkers, and said, "We're on our way to a little village called Ebliston, on the edge of Lake Eblis. We're camped about two hours away, approaching from the west."

"Thanks, kupo!" replied Lasciva. "As soon as the Fox falls asleep and enters the Dreamlands, I'll let her know where you'll be waiting for her, kupo! You can expect her to catch up with you at Ebliston as soon as she can, kupo!" And with that, the little moogle spun about and flew back the way she had come.

Mogo, slightly irritated at the interruption, got the dreamwalkers back onto the task at hand. "Tonight, we're going to try something different, kupo!" he said. "You've tried altering individual dreamscapes with varied success, but tonight we're going to start trying to change yourselves and how you appear to others in dreams, kupo!" He explained how to perform the maneuver, which ended up being very much like the disguise self spell, and then they spent their dreamtime entering a selection of individual dreams and interacting with the dreamers. Inside the dreams, they took turns making themselves look differently than they normally did, sometimes trying to become duplicates of the dreamer.

But the next morning, when they awoke, they hurried to get back on the road, for they had no idea how long it would take the Fox to make it to Ebliston and they wanted to get there in plenty of time to be there for her. The land on the sides of the road started to become swampy, and before too long the road was the only bit of dry land rising up from a full-fledged marsh. The group fell into single file on the narrow strip of land, with Thurloe on Horse in the lead, followed by the mule-wagon ridden by the two half-orcs, then Zander on Eddy, Xandro on White, and Alewyth riding her dire goat Pyrite bringing up the rear. Off to the right, the waters of Lake Eblis came into view. Xandro had his Dardolian lute out, playing a merry tune. Thurloe and Zander had mage armor spells in effect - for the duration of the spell was long enough they habitually cast it upon themselves each morning - and Alewyth likewise had cast a magic vestment spell on herself. They weren't expecting any particular danger, but it never hurt to be prepared.

The wisdom of their automatic preparations became clear when, from the lake side of the road, several figures stepped forward from between the overhanging willow trees growing in the shallow waters by the shore. These looked very much like larger-than-normal herons, each taller than a man, with white feathers save for the ends of each wing, all down the chest and long neck, and a crest at the top of the head, all of which were a darker gray shading to black, with a tuft of red feathers at the crown. Four such creatures stepped forth, as well as a fifth such creature composed entirely of bone. From the skeletal eblis erupted a scare spell aimed at the various riding mounts; the leader hoped to get the mules in a panic, so they'd crash the wagon between a pair of large boulders in the road just ahead, where most carts and wagons had to go very slowly to ensure they could fit between the rocks. But the skeletal eblis hadn't counted on the reassuring presence of Wakuren, whose paladin training provided a palpable aura of courage that helped buoy the resolve of his nearby friends and allies. As a result, the scare tactic did nothing but make the riding mounts slightly nervous - as well as announcing the eblis's approach and identify themselves as attempted ambushers.

Wakuren cast an air walk spell upon himself and stepped off the side of the wagon into the air to the side of the road and started walking above the surface of the lake, toward the approaching eblises. A casual examination of their auras - for once not prompted by Thurloe - revealed a definite evil bent among the avian foes. "They're evil!" he called back to his friends, and that was all Zander needed to hear; he cast a fireball straight into the center of the eblis formation, slaying three of the five outright, leaving only the skeletal leader and one of its nestmates still standing. Xandro spun his magical lute around and aimed it at the skeletal eblis, blasting him with a sonic burst. The blast hit the skeleton and he jolted when hit, invisible feathers flying from his body and becoming visible as he froze up, stunned. That told the bard several things: despite its skeletal appearance, the eblis leader was quite alive, and his fearsome appearance was likely the work of some illusion magic.

Thurloe spun around in the saddle and grabbed up his shortbow. Fitting an arrow into place, he sent it flying at the eblis that didn't look like an animated skeleton - the leader's undead status was still somewhat up in the air as far as Thurloe was concerned, so he was going to aim at a definitely living target that he knew would be affected by his arrow. The arrow struck true, and the squawk of pain erupting from the eblis's throat was a good indicator that he'd dealt it some damage.

As Alewyth cast a bless spell on the group, the wounded eblis waded up and attacked Wakuren with its sharp beak. The half-orc deflected the incoming attack with his shield, then brought it around and slammed it into the bird's head, shattering its skull. Zander shot a magic missile spell at the skeletal leader, and he too fell over into the lake water, quite dead. Then the group, which had universally halted their train while fighting off the eponymous eblises which gave the lake (and the town) its name, moved on, Scarlie taking extra care to maneuver the wagon between the two boulders protruding onto the narrow road before continuing on to Ebliston.

Arriving in town less than half an hour later, it was apparent that fishing on the lake was how many of the townsfolk made their living. Asking around, they were able to find the name and location of the dream victim for whom they'd come to aid; it was a boy named Frankie Tusswallop, whose parents owned a tobacco shop. Heading straight for the shop (for they'd received no word from the moogles through their dreamstones that Lady Arabella Vulpina had yet received their message), they were met by the boy's parents, Portney and Edna Tusswallop. Portney informed them little Frankie had been asleep now for three and a half weeks, and upon hearing the dreamwalkers believed they should be able to awaken his son, he hung a "CLOSED" sign on the window of his shop, locked the front door, and led the group upstairs.

Alewyth, as usual, explained to the family what they would be doing as the guys pulled Frankie's bed into the middle of the room and the priestess affixed a leather headband around the boy's head, into which she placed a dreamstone. "What shall we do?" asked Portney.

"Just make sure we're not disturbed," answered Thurloe, tying his own headband into place.

Zander activated his jade cooshee and set the elven dog onto guard duty as well. "My cooshee will keep you company," the elven sorcerer advised the Tusswallops. Then he joined the others in sitting around Frankie's bed in the lotus position and willing himself to sleep.

"Hey, kupo," Mogo greeted them in the Corridor of Dreams. "Here's the dream, kupo." The little moogle opened the door to Frankie Tusswallop's dream and the five dreamwalkers stepped inside.

This time, they didn't actually enter the dreamscape scene as if walking onto a stage; they passed through the doorway and were instantly already immersed into the dream. They were sitting on a sofa, a love seat, and a stuffed chair, and Alewyth found herself sitting beside a sleepy-looking Frankie. "I'm supposed to go to bed," he told her, apparently not at all concerned that there were five strangers in the room with him. "But I can't get to my room, because the floor is lava."

Looking down at the floor of the room, the heroes could see that it was indeed made of bubbling lava. But as this was a dream, and the dream of a six-year-old boy whose knowledge of how lava worked was rudimentary at best, the floor looked to be covered in a bubbling tomato sauce - had it been actual lava, the heat would likely have already killed them at this distance, to say nothing of burning up the furniture.

"Where's your room, honey?" asked Alewyth.

"Down the hall."

"Well, don't you worry - we'll get you to your bedroom and tuck you into bed."


Zander took the blanket off the back of the sofa and cautiously draped it onto the floor. As expected, it landed and spread out exactly like it would on an ordinary floor made of wood, instead of bursting into flames or sinking into the liquid magma. Hesitantly, he put his weight upon it and found he was perfectly fine. Still hanging onto the corners of the blanket, he walked up to the edge of the blanket where it hit the floor and started walking. "This should work out just fine," he told the others. "Here, hop on board."

Xandro, being the closest to Zander, stepped onto the blanket and the two shuffled down the hallway, looking for Frankie's bedroom. It was at the end of the hallway, to the right. Just to be sure there ws nothing untoward, they walked the blanket all the way to the bedroom, peeked inside and saw no further dangers, and then turned around and walked back to the room in which they had started.

By then, Thurloe had grabbed up two stuffed pillows and was cautiously making his way towards the hallway, stepping on one, setting the other further down the way he was going, crossing over to that pillow, and then picking up the pillow in the rear and repeating the process. Wakuren and Alewyth had each found another blanket and were following the style of movement Zander had demonstrated.

"Would you like to hop on my back and I'll carry you piggyback to your room?" Alewyth offered.

"Okay," agreed Frankie.

Together, the group made their way down the hallway and into Frankie's bedroom, where Alewyth lowered the boy onto his bed and then, still standing on the blanket she'd used as a defense against the "lava floor," tucked the covers up to Frankie's chin. "You don't look a lot like my mom," Frankie confided, "but you look a lot more like her than the others do." Then, giving her a smile, he rolled over and faced the wall. The walls of the dreamscape immediately started melting, which was the indicator that the dream was ending and Frankie was waking up. Each of the five dreamwalkers took that as their cue to wake themselves up from the Dreamlands as well.

The Tusswallops were overjoyed when Frankie sat up in his bed and stretched. "Oh, thank you!" gushed Edna. "Portney, go fetch them a reward for waking up Frankie!" The tobacconist went back downstairs and returned with a handful of cigars, which he doled out, one to each of the dreamwalkers. "Portney!" chided Edna upon seeing his proffered reward. "You go right back down those stairs and fetch some money from the safe!"

"A reward is not necessary," interjected Alewyth. "Waking others trapped in their dreams is more or less our job." Thurloe cast her an immediate "Are you crazy?" look, but Zander supported the dwarven priestess by saying, "Actually, another of these cigars would be reward enough." Portney, glad to get out of having to fork over any of the money in their safe, hastily complied. Thurloe snorted in disgust - but took the second proffered cigar.

"Hey, kupo!" came a familiar voice, seemingly from several places at once: Thurloe's bastard sword, Aleyth's hammer, Xandro's lute, and Wakuren's shield. It was Mogo's voice, being broadcast through the dreamstones attached to their signature items (and would have come from the eyes attached to the statue form of the jade cooshee if the elven dog wasn't currently in full physical canine form at the moment). "Lasciva says the Fox has received your message and will head over to Ebliston immediately, kupo! She says to see if there are any churches or temples there with hallowed grounds, kupo!"

Wakuren turned to the Tusswallops, a query in his expression - for the couple had heard Mogo's voice as well.

"We've just the one temple, dedicated to Clem, Demigod of Fishing," replied Portney. He gave them directions to the Temple of Clem, which Wakuren repeated for Mogo's benefit. "I'll let Lasciva know, kupo!" the moogle promised before signing off.

The group departed the tobacco shop and headed immediately to the Temple of Clem, a building on the shore of Lake Eblis with a three-story lighthouse rising up at the back. There they found the head cleric, Milo Lagos, in attendance. There were also three women praying in the chapel for the safe return of their husbands, each of them out on a fishing expedition on the lake. Alewyth explained the situation and Milo convinced the three women to return to their homes and then, at the heroes' urging, went to the safety of his own rooms in the temple, where the hallow effect that permeated the temple would hopefully keep him safe from the assassin devil on the way. With any luck, the devil wouldn't be able to even enter the temple and Lady Vulpina would be able to escape the fiend's constant attacks.

Once the cleric had retired to his rooms and the others were opening the double doors at the front of the building, Thurloe turned to Wakuren and asked, "So? Is that Milo guy evil?" He was a firm believer that as Wakuren had the standard paladin's ability to sense evil in others, he should constantly be "checking out" the auras of everyone he met. Wakuren, on the other hand, was a firm believer in giving everyone the benefit of the doubt until they proved to be untrustworthy. It was an ongoing argument between the two, and despite Wakuren's insistence he wasn't going to suspect everyone they met was evil, Thurloe expected him to do just that. Frankly, the half-orc was getting tired of the questioning from the suspicious spellsword.

So he pulled back his gauntleted fist and popped Thurloe an unexpected blow to the face. "Hard to tell," he told the surprised swordsman, who was feeling the stream of blood dripping down from his nose. "I'm not evil, but I just punched you in the face." Then he turned his back on the spellsword and started making preparations for the Fox's imminent arrival. Thurloe merely narrowed his eyes and swore to himself this affront would be paid back, in time.

"I'm going up to the top of that roof," Zander said, pointing to a building in front of the Temple of Clem. It faced the main street of the village, through which the Fox would likely be speeding on horseback. "It'll give me a good vantage point from which to cast spells at the assassin devil." He headed off to the building to find the best way to scramble up to the rooftop.

"I'll be right here," Alewyth replied, standing to one side of the opened doors. The doorway was wide enough Lady Vulpina would be able to ride the horse right into the temple, should she need to. Xandro offered that he'd be over on the other side of the double doors, ready to attack. Thurloe stood in the middle of the doorway, his bastard sword out and ready. Wakuren was about to activate his ring of invisibility when he thought better of it. "You might want to borrow this," he suggested, dropping the ring into Xandro's hand. "It might give you an edge against the devil."

"It certainly will!" Xandro agreed, placing the ring on his finger and activating it. Once no longer visible, he stepped further out into the street and off to one side. At least his first attack should take the devil by surprise!

In preparation for an imminent battle, Wakuren cast align weapon spells upon Sjondra, Spellslicer, and his own shield of Cal; by temporarily granting them holy properties, he knew the three weapons would be able to bypass some of the magical protections inherent in most devils. Alewyth cast a magic circle against evil spell upon herself and a prayer spell on the group, while Xandro cast a heroism spell upon Wakuren. Wakuren buffed himself up even further by casting the spells shield of faith, entropic shield, and divine power on himself and his combat gear. And then they waited.

"Lady Vulpina ever say how she was getting all the way here from Port Duralia?" Alewyth asked.

"Teleporting, I'd imagine," answered Wakuren. "She probably knows about the shrines to Delphyne, and I think there was one in Centralvale. That's not too long a ride from there, especially at top speed on a good horse."

Sure enough, it wasn't too long before the sounds of pounding hooves presaged the arrival of Lady Arabella Vulpina, wearing a set of combat leathers and urging her stolen horse to top speed. She had a short sword in one hand and kept it busy trying to deflect the incoming attacks from the assassin devil that kept teleporting to either side of her. The many rents in her armor gave ample evidence that the assassin devil had made it past the noblewoman's defenses on several occasions.

From his perch on the nearby rooftop, Zander cast a haste spell on the group (all except for Xandro, who had moved too far forward while invisible and thus was out of range of the spell at the time of its casting). But he did manage to include his still-active cooshee, who was waiting outside the open doors to the temple beside Wakuren, and even Lady Vulpina as she brought her horse racing straight for the temple. Then he looked up and saw something odd: a raven or a crow flying in the Fox's wake, paralleling her trail from behind, off to the right, and several dozen feet higher than its target.

As the horse reached the steps of the temple, Wakuren cast a searing light spell at the assassin devil, who was on foot but keeping pace with a series of short-distance dimension door spells. The half-orc frowned when the spell failed to have any effect, the assassin devil's inherent resistance to spell energy causing it to fizzle to nothingness upon impact. Then she was gone - for Wakuren had definitely noted a feminine build to the devil, despite the goatlike build of her legs - having teleported directly at Lady Vulpina in an attempt to pull her from the horse's saddle before she could enter the temple. She missed, and went crashing to the dirt of the street before the temple steps.

Xandro was upon her in an instant, popping back into visibility as he charged her, striking her deep in the torso with his frost short sword. Thurloe likewise stepped up and brought his bastard sword crashing down upon her. Zander, in the meantime, was more focused upon the raven, figuring its intense focus upon the Fox likely meant it was no simple bird, but either an imp in disguise of maybe even a wizard's familiar. (He was wrong in that assumption, by the way, for the raven was in fact both an imp and a wizard's familiar.) He blasted it with a magic missile spell which caused it to wobble in the air erratically before it regained its balance, but it confirmed the sorcerer's suspicions, for he knew no common crow could take such a blast and still live.

The imp changed its shape as it altered course on a bee-line towards Zander. By the time he reached his target, he was in full imp form, striking at the sorcerer with its scorpionlike tail. So fast was the strike Zander - even with the benefit of the haste spell - had no time to dodge the stab, but at least he managed to overcome the venom's effects.

Alewyth had a dismissal spell ready and cast it at the assassin devil, hoping to banish her to whatever Hell she'd been called from. Unfortunately for the dwarven priestess, her spell was no more effective than had been Wakuren's searing light spell, simple bouncing off her spell resistance without harm. But if nothing else, it kept the assassin devil's focus away from Lady Arabella long enough for the noblewoman to scramble off her stolen horse and run up the steps into the temple, while the horse took a right turn and ran off down a side street.

Wakuren lifted his shield up over his head and brought its edge crashing down upon the assassin devil - or dogai, as he now recalled they were called. (The name had been bugging him.) He struck her, but then just that fast she was gone again, dimension dooring into the temple beside Lady Arabella (the hallow effect likewise not being powerful enough to bar her entry), bringing her cold iron longsword stabbing at the leather-clad noblewoman. With a cry of pain, Lady Arabella fell to the floor of the temple, bleeding from the deep gash in her side.

It was already getting crowded there by the doors to the temple, so Xandro brought out his Dardolian lute and began the initial chords to his song of inspirational courage. Thurloe thundered his way up the steps and brought Spellslicer down at the dogai, intent upon being the one to bring her down. That would teach the upstart half-orc a thing or two about fighting evil!

Up on the rooftop, Zander backed away from the flying imp and cast a summon swarm spell. Instantly, a vast cloud of black shapes appeared all around the imp, as bats swooped in, biting at random. The cooshee barked up at the imp from the street below, eager to help his master but unable to gain the rooftop on his own. The imp, now sporting several bleeding wounds from the bats' bites, flew out of the swarm and went straight for Zander again, hitting with his pointed stinger but failing to fully envenom the elf.

Alewyth followed the action into the temple, running over to Lady Arabella and casting a cure moderate wounds spell on her. She then pulled her away from the assassin devil. However, now that she outnumbered her attacker, Lady Arabella ran right back into the fray, stabbing at the fiend with her short sword. And it was at that exact moment that an older human wizard teleported into the temple entrance. "Where's my egg, you thieving bitch?" he demanded of Lady Arabella.

Columbrando was not a man to be trifled with. When he discovered the notorious thief known as the Fox in his arcane laboratory, stealing the metal-filigree egg he'd been painstakingly crafting over the past two months, he tried to stop her, but she grabbed it up and made her way out the nearest window before he could stop her. He had put a lot of time and effort into crafting that egg; when it was finished, it was bound for destruction anyway, but when hurled to the ground it would open a permanent planar gate to the Nine Hells, as he'd promised those fiends who had aided him in his mastery of the arcane arts. And so, unable to give chase himself, he did the next best thing: he sent his imp familiar after her, then called up an assassin devil from the Lower Planes to track down the Fox. She'd evaded the devil time and again, but with the aid of his familiar she'd always managed to get back onto her trail soon enough.

And now that she'd been cornered in some backwater fishing temple in a podunk little village on a lake, Columbrando was ready to teleport in and take back what was his.

Wakuren slammed his shield of Cal into the dogai again, and while it struck true, she managed to wriggle around it and make her way to her designated target, slashing at Lady Arabella with her cold iron longsword, the weapon with which she'd killed innumerable targets before in her eternal life of service to the devils above her in the hierarchy of Hell. Staggering on her feet, Lady Arabella finally gave in. "Okay, I'll let you guys handle her," she admitted, not too proud to know when she was outclassed. She stumbled away into the aisle between the wooden pews in the chapel.

Xandro had seen Columbrando teleport in, although the wizard had been focused upon Lady Arabella. Determined not to let the old wizard see him, he reactivated Wakuren's ring and slipped back into invisibility, stopping his lute playing so he could silently make his way over behind Columbrando. Thurloe cast a ray of enfeeblement spell at the dogai, but once again her spell resistance rendered the attack harmless. The spellsword snarled his disgust at fiends and their ability to shrug off spell effects.

Up on the rooftop, Zander backed up as far as he could and cast a lightning bolt spell at the imp. Unfortunately, it managed to weave beneath the bolt of electrical energy and made it through unscathed. But then the bat swarm had caught back up to it, a great number of individual bats swooping in, biting, and moving on. The imp's wings fluttered feebly and it started to lose altitude, nearly dropping onto the rooftop beside Zander. The elf could see the imp wore some sort of magical amulet around its neck, although what its purpose might be was beyond him. Still, the little fiend seemed to be on his last legs - that was good! It flapped away, veering off in a different direction, away from Zander and away from his master down in the Temple of Clem, apparently trying to flee for its own horrid life.

Alewyth gripped Sjondra tightly and brought the dwarven warhammer crashing into the assassin devil, swinging with all of her strength. Behind her in the chapel, Lady Arabella staggered back towards the altar and pulled a healing potion from her belt, finally able to provide herself a bit of healing now that she had a moment without constant attacks by her own personal assassin. But as Alewyth was blocking the entrance to the chapel, Columbrando decided to take her out first so he could get to the Fox. He cast a baleful polymorph spell at the dwarven priestess, and then snarled in irritation when Alewyth failed to transform into a rabbit. Curse all dwarves and their hearty constitutions! he swore to himself.

Wakuren moved past Alewyth into the chapel and touched Lady Arabella with his hand, releasing the spell he'd been casting at the same time. Immediately, the noblewoman thief's body dissipated into a fine mist, as the gaseous form spell took effect. Now, as a cloud of vapors, she couldn't be harmed by the assassin devil or the old wizard, so if nothing else he'd bought her the length of time before the spell ran out.

Not wasting any time with fury, the assassin devil simply switched targets and attacked Wakuren with her sword, realizing she'd need to take out her target's protectors if she was going to be able to get her when the gaseous form spell ran its course. The half-orc deflected the attack with his shield, while Xandro popped back into visibility when he brought his frost short sword stabbing into the old wizard's back. However, he could feel a lot of resistance tempering his strike, and he realized the old codger must be under the effects of a stoneskin spell. That would certainly expand the length of time it would take to take him down!

Thurloe, tired of spells failing him, turned back to his bastard sword and brought it swinging in to the dogai. Alewyth likewise attacked her with Sjondra. Zander, in the meantime, lowered himself down from the rooftop by hanging by his fingertips and then letting go. His cooshee, seeing the imp fly off, went running into the temple, where the action was taking place. Zander hurried to follow at his own best speed, while behind him the imp bled out in midair and went crashing to the street below. The bats went scattering to all corners, returning to their own abodes now that they were no longer needed.

Columbrando backed away from his attackers, giving himself enough room to cast a spell without interruption. Since the dwarf had proven to have a healthy constitution, he decided to target the half-orc; casting a flesh to stone spell at Wakuren, he cursed aloud (in the Fiendish tongue, no less) when he saw the half-orc fail to petrify to solid rock. But then Xandro and the cooshee were attacking him, the former with his magic short sword and the latter with his claws and teeth. Finally, Wakuren just leaped forward and grappled the old wizard, getting a good grip on the back of his bald head and slamming his face into the nearest wall.

The dogai stabbed at Alewyth with her sword, but the dwarf caught the blade with the business end of her warhammer and deflected the blade away from her. Then Xandro spun in place and sent his own blade deep into the devil's side, while Thurloe delivered the killing blow with his bastard sword. Just like that, the assassin devil crumpled to the floor, her life's blood spilling out onto the temple foyer.

Zander entered the temple and tried casting a touch of idiocy spell at Columbrando, but the wizard's body was in motion - back and forth, as Wakuren slammed his face into the temple wall again and again - and his spell failed to connect. Alewyth turned and brought Sjondra to bear against the wizard's back, sure she heard at least a few ribs crack from the force of her blow. In desperation, and unable to escape Wakuren's iron grip, he tried casting a blindness/deafness spell at the half-orc, thinking the sudden loss of sight might make him loosen his grip, but once again his spell had no effect, for Wakuren's mind was now in a blood-red rage and he slammed the wizard's face into the wall over and over again - if the spell would have taken his sight, it's questionable whether he would have even noticed. Eventually, his face now a smashed blob of pain, Comunbrando's spirit left his body and started the long journey to Hell, but Wakuren kept bashing the man's head into the wall until Thurloe finally had to pull him away (nearly resulting in another smash to the face himself, until the half-orc finally mastered his rage and calmed down).

Seeing the danger was over, Lady Arabella Vulpina dismissed the gaseous form spell effect and returned to a more physical existence. "Thank you - thank you all," she said, looking at each of her allies. Alewyth went over to her immediately and cast additional healing spells until she was back to the peak of health - although her slashed combat leathers would need the attention of several mending spells, by the look of it. Lady Arabella filled them in on the reason behind the attack and pulled the silver-filigree egg from an extradimensional pouch she wore on her belt. After Wakuren confirmed it was not yet magical - for Columbrando had been unable to finish his arcane project - Alewyth took it from her, laid it upon the floor, and destroyed it beyond recognition with Sjondra.

Lady Arabella was rummaging in her pouch again, pulling out bags of diamonds. "A reward for your services," she said, handing them over. "And yes, by now you're all well aware I'm the Fox. I'd appreciate if you kept that bit of knowledge to yourselves."

"But you're more than that - you're a dreamwalker, like us!" gushed Xandro. "Are you being trained in the Dreamlands, too?"

"To some extent," agreed Lady Arabella. "But I'm a noblewoman of Port Duralia - I can't go traipsing around the continent waking up people stuck in their dreams, like you do."

"We all play our parts," offered up Zander, thinking about Garth Mankin, who had showed up to take the five dreamstones they'd had carved per the instructions of the Queen of Dreams and deliver them to where they were needed.

"And we've something for you in return," said Alewyth, reaching into her pouch for one of the spare dreamstones they carried - and left on the foreheads of the dreamers they were unable to awaken. It had happened three times thus far: a dwarven miner in Deepshaft, a human bard in Baron's Haven, and a human paladin in Devlinshire. She handed the dreamstone to Lady Arabella. "If you bring this to a gemcutter named Iriadorrista in the city of Baron's Haven, she can attach it to the hilt of your sword."

"To what end?" Lady Arabella asked.

In response, Alewyth hefted the business end of her dwarven warhammer to her head, bringing one of the two dreamstones she had had attached to either side of the stone hammer-head, near the weapon's shaft. "Can you hear me?" she called out.

"Loud and clear, kupo!" came the response from the Dreamlands.

The noblewoman's eyebrows raised in astonishment. "Impressive," she admitted.

"It will be a way we can communicate back and forth between each other," Alewyth replied. "In case either of us gets into a spot of trouble and needs the assistance of the other, we can communicate through the moogles. They always have someone on duty, and they'll be able to pass on messages as needed."

"I can see how that would be a benefit," Lady Arabella agreed. "Very well, I'll do so." She looked around and saw no sign of the horse she'd stolen to try to escape from the assassin devil Columbrando had set on her - it had fled far away while they'd been fighting in the Temple of Clem. "...I don't suppose there's a shrine to Delphyne in this little village?" she hazarded.

"This Temple of Clem is all they have here," Thurloe answered.

"Hmm. I don't suppose you can give a fellow dreamwalker a ride to the nearest city of decent size? Or to somewhere I might at least rent a horse?"

"Not a problem, My Lady," replied Wakuren, back to his old gentle self now that the red rage of battle-lust had once again been extinguished. "You can ride in the wagon with Scarlie and me."


- - -

I was worried the players were going to blow through this adventure in record time, since they took out my eblises without much effort at all, and then Joe turned out to be an "expert" at "the floor is lava" - which I had the players act out, by moving the action from my man-cave where we play over to the family room, where I had everyone sit on the sofa, loveseat, and recliner before explaining to them they all had to return to the man-cave without touching the floor directly. Joe grabbed up a blanket and walked his way to the end of the hall like a pro and then returned to do it again, only this time with Harry on his back, Harry laughing his head off the whole way. (Joe's well over six feet tall, while Harry's just a tad bit under my own 5' 8" and probably weighs less than half of what Joe weighs.) I had envisioned the group making a string of "islands" with pillows and blankets, moving the back "island" to the front by passing it along the group, but the blanket-walking proved to be much quicker. Fortunately, the fight at the end took a lot of time, especially once Columbrando and the imp showed up.

As always, I had a series of episodes of "Music from the Hearts of Space" playing in the background on my computer as we went through this session, but I started it off in an appropriate fashion by beginning the playlist with Sweet's "Fox on the Run."

- - -

T-shirt worn: My black Dalek T-shirt with the caption "Exterminate" - since that was exactly what the assassin devil had been set to do to Lady Arabella Vulpina, AKA "the Fox."
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PC Roster:
Alewyth Putterpye, dwarf priestess of Aerik 9​
Thurloe Pulver, human fighter 3/wizard 3/spellsword 3​
Wakuren, half-orc cleric of Cal 5/paladin 4​
Xandro Silverstrings, human bard 6/rogue 3​
Zander Quilson, elf sorcerer 9​

Game Session Date: 7 January 2023

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"So, this is Billingsway," commented Thurloe as they entered the little village. "Gotta say: not entirely impressed. Still, a town this size, it ought to be easy to find our dreamer."

That indeed proved to be the case. There were two taverns in town, and when the group stopped in the first they were immediately given directions to the home of one Jerrick Consuelo, who had been sleeping now for about three weeks. "Drink up now if you're interested," recommended the barman. "We'll be closing up an hour or so before twilight."

"Really?" asked Thurloe. "I'd have though that's when you'd do your most business."

"Ordinarily, yes. But tonight there's going to be a big party in the village square; maybe you saw them setting up for it?" When Wakuren admitted they had seen some folks putting up streamers and moving tables and benches around, the barman continued, "Local wizard died a few days ago. This is some kind of party wake, or something. I dunno. But the guy in charge of it, Alabard Ducresni, he hired all my servers for the evening. Did the same with the girls at the other tavern, too, so the whole town could participate. You're all welcome to come, too, if you've a mind - everybody's welcome. Free beer and ale, I'm told."

"We'll keep it in mind," Wakuren promised.

The group found the Consuelo house easy enough, but when Alewyth knocked on the door there was no answer. "You folks looking for the Consuelos?" called a voice from across the street.

"We are," Alewyth answered back.

"Well, you're out of luck, I'm afraid. Thelma's out in the fields, and poor Jerrick's asleep and can't nobody seem to awaken him."

"That's actually why we're here," the dwarven priestess replied.

"Well, Thelma should be back in the next hour or so, more'n likely. Come on over and you can wait here on my porch. I'll make us some tea." That seemed as good of a plan as any, so before long the five heroes found themselves sitting on the porch of Edna Tallywack, who was somewhat of a nosy neighbor and a neighborhood gossip. It seemed Jerrick had gone to bed one night three weeks ago and had been asleep since, with nobody able to wake him back up, not even a group of traveling druids. "'Course, small town like us, we don't have a lot of high-powered clerics like they do in the big cities," Edna mused. But since Jerrick's coma, his wife Thelma had been doing his work in his stead out in the vineyards.

Edna also filled the group in about the night's planned festivities. "The wizard who died - Volossio is his name - nobody in town can recall ever seeing him. He's one of those - well, he was one of those 'stay in his keep all day studying new spells' kinds of wizards, I reckon. His apprentice, though, Alabard Ducresni, he's a real nice sort. Everybody in town knows Alabard; he's the one who'd come into town and buy groceries and whatnot for old Volossio. He's the one made all the plans for the festivities tonight, too - there's going to be free beer and ale, and I've heard he's got the two taverns in town agreed to shut down for the night and he's even hired the serving girls for the evening! It sounds like it's going to be a good time. Oh, here comes Thelma now!"

Looking down the street to where Edna was pointing, the group saw a bedraggled-looking young woman with bare feet and stains up to her knees - no doubt after a day spent crushing grapes. Thelma Consuelo had strands of blond hair sticking out from underneath her head-scarf, and she looked up at the strangers on her neighbor's porch with curiosity. The expression on her face became even more puzzled when they approached her as she reached her front door.

"Mrs. Consuelo?" asked Alewyth. "We've come to try to wake your husband up. He's suffering from a dream plague that's been affecting others all across the continent. We've had some success in waking most of them up." She went on to give a brief description of the things they planned to do to awaken Jerrick.

"By all means," agreed Thelma at once. "Please, come right this way." She led them inside her house, and to a bedroom in the back where her husband lay sleeping. She stood back, out of the way, as the five heroes pulled the bed into the middle of the room and tied a leather headband around Jerrick's temple. Then, as they put their own headbands into place - they all had a strange stone in the middle, Thelma noticed - and sat in a circle around the bed, Edna wandered in, not wanting to miss out on all of the action. "They do this all the time," she reassured Thelma, as if she'd known them for ages and was one of their closest confidants - an assumption she was all too willing for Thelma to make.

"Do you need us to do anything?" Thelma asked.

"Just stay quiet enough so we aren't disturbed," Xandro replied with a smile. "It's not going to be very exciting from this angle, I'm afraid; all of the action will be taking place in your husband's dream."

"You're going inside his dream?" Thelma asked, wanting to make sure she had heard correctly.

"That's the plan," Thurloe replied. "Now it's quiet time." He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and released it slowly. Around the bed, the other four did the same, and within a few minutes they had all made it to sleep and were transferring their consciousnesses to the Dreamlands.

"Hey, kupo!" called out their respective moogle dream guides, before leading them to the Corridor of Dreams where Mogo, the lead dream instructor, was waiting for them. His little wings were flapping furiously to keep him at head height with the five dreamwalkers, as the little kitten-thing was only about two feet tall. "Have fun with this one, kupo!" he said, opening a particular door and ushering his students inside.

Walking into the dreamscape, the five dreamwalkers found themselves in a field of grass abutting a dark forest. There was a path leading into the forest, which hit upon a clearing at the intersection of another path, this one perpendicular to the one coming from the field. It was on this second path that a group of figures ambled by. At first look, it seemed to be four adult humans with three children walking beside them, two of the former balancing a large, oblong box. But as they entered the clearing and could be seen more clearly, the group noticed the four adults were all dressed as clowns and the three "children" were merely goblin-sized harlequins, complete with pointy hats and ruffles along the edges of their collars and sleeves. Each of the seven wore clown makeup, no two quite the same - although their leering visages and sharp teeth gave off a distinctively creepy vibe. Without even a word of encouragement from Thurloe, Wakuren examined their auras and was not in the least bit surprised to see very distinct evil emanations coming off from each of the seven figures.

Of course, the caption "KIDS TO EAT" scrawled upon the box being lugged by the second clown in line and the six-year-old boy peering fearfully out of the top of the box were both good indicators as well.

However, as soon as Wakuren had determined the seven figures were as evil as anything he'd ever seen before, they all stopped their progression and stood stock still, moving only their heads, which swiveled in the heroes' direction. Painted smiles grew in size, the harlequins absolutely giddy with delight as they hooted and howled and broke ranks to race toward the heroes, exposed fingers sporting claws and their teeth all filed down to points.

"Get ready," cautioned Thurloe, holding his bastard sword Spellslicer in a defensive posture as he waited for the evil little harlequins to arrive.

"Yeah, brilliant idea," replied Zander, calling to mind the words to a lightning bolt spell. "Good thinking there, Thurloe!" At his side, Alewyth held her dwarven warhammer Sjondra at the ready; Xandro likewise had pulled his frost short sword out of its scabbard and held it up, blade pointed at the incoming terrors in their pointy little hats.

But Thurloe wasn't just spouting out obvious advice - he was also consciously attempting to reshape a bit of the dreamscape. The three harlequins ran side by side, and with pure effort of will - and his dreamwalker training - the spellsword managed to conjure up a patch of thick, gloppy mud immediately before the rightmost harlequin. The little menace sank into it almost up to his knees, dropping behind the other two who failed to even notice his predicament. That pair ran forward, and Wakuren smashed the leftmost one smack-dab in the face with his shield of Cal. But the half-orc saw, behind the cannibalistic harlequins, the clowns carefully set down the box and then join their smaller companions in running toward the heroes, their faces showing an eagerness at the opportunity to inflict pain. One wore a tiny little hat at the top of his head, and Wakuren idly wondered how it stayed in place while the clown dashed forward at full speed.

Alewyth cast a summoning spell and a dire wolf suddenly manifested behind the clowns. It leaped forward, clamping its jaws around one clown's arm, dragging him down to the ground. Behind the dwarven priestess, Xandro stabbed the point of his short sword into the soft ground beside him and pulled out his lute, beginning the chords to his song of inspirational courage. The path into the forest only allowed three people side by side, and the bard had no problem being one of the ones in the back row, unable (for the moment) to engage in hand-to-hand combat with these fiendish freaks.

Zander took a step to the side and cast his lightning bolt spell, which arced diagonally towards the rushing harlequins and blasted the second one into a burned corpse. But the first harlequin on the scene continued his attacks upon Wakuren, while the one Thurloe had slowed in a mud puddle made his way to Alewyth, biting and clawing for all he was worth. "Nasty little buggers!" the priestess swore.

Thurloe continued using his lucid dreaming training to alter the battle area: concentrating fiercely, he caused a tree to uproot and topple over, falling just in front of the three clowns not currently under attack by Alewyth's summoned dire wolf. It hadn't landed on any of the clowns, but maybe it would slow down their approach a bit.

Wakuren was more in a mood to get this battle over and done with, however; he swung his shield into the harlequin before him a second time and crushed the vile little thing's skull. It collapsed to the forest trail floor in a boneless heap. The clowns, in the meantime, all demonstrated that the flowers they wore at their lapels were more than mere decoration: each also squirted out a stream of acid. The dire wolf was the only foe currently in range, so he got the brunt of the attacks.

Alewyth clobbered the last remaining harlequin with her warhammer, eliciting a high-pitched cry of pain from the little freak. Xandro grabbed up his sword and ran up to it, skewering it through the heart; it died, leaking an oily, black substance instead of blood from the puncture mark in its chest. Zander moved into position and sent a lightning bolt spell crashing through the three full-size clowns that weren't currently grappling with Alewyth's summoned dire wolf; the electricity caused the clown's goofy-looking hair to stand on end, but it failed to drop any of them, and the looks of gleefully evil determination to pay back the elven sorcerer for his effrontery caused Zander to shudder uncontrollably a bit.

Thurloe raced up by the tree he had downed, casting a scorching ray at one of the clowns as he did so. Wakuren paced the spellsword, his shield at the ready as a weapon to take these jokesters down. Thurloe had no shield, and thus was forced to try to block the incoming streams of acid shot his way by a pair of the giggling clowns with his left arm, protecting his eyes as best he could. The clown being savaged by the dire wolf managed to regain his feet momentarily, before the giant lupine clamped down on an arm again and pulled him back to the ground.

Alewyth ran up to the downed clown to help her summoned wolf deal with him, but by the time she got close enough it had ripped out the clown's throat and he died drowning in his own black ichor. Xandro ran up behind the dwarven priestess, lute swung back into place over his shoulder and sword out for action. Zander, realizing Thurloe was in the way of his shot but also recognizing that this was just a dream and Thurloe couldn't really be slain as a result, cast a lightning bolt spell that blasted right through the spellsword to hit the three remaining cannibalistic clowns. Thurloe didn't even acknowledge the pain of the lightning blast; rather, he took advantage of the confusion to slay the clown immediately before him, taking his head off with a sideways swipe of his bastard sword. The clown's head came to a stop over by one of the trees of the forest, its goofy little hat still in place and its sightless eyes focused on its slayer as its painted-on smile never once wavered.

Wakuren slew another clown, bringing the bottom, pointed tip of his shield of Cal crushing the top of the clown's skull before him. That left only one more clown still in play, and he focused his attacks on the half-orc cleric/paladin before him, apparently already having long since forgotten the "kid to eat" in the box on the forest floor. But another lightning bolt spell from Zander - this time after scrambling to the side to make sure none of his friends was in the line of the blast - took down the last clown.

Seeing the threat was apparently over, Thurloe spun around and cast a lightning bolt spell of his own directly at the elven sorcerer, giving him a taste of his own medicine. But then a tentative voice whispered, "Is it safe to come out?"

Looking back over at the box on the forest floor, there was a pair of hands and the top half of a six-year-old child's head peeking out over the rim of the open box. "Are they all dead?" young Jerrick Consuelo asked.

"They'll not be troubling you any more," Alewyth promised the young lad. And then, with a sigh of relief, Jerrick started to climb out of the box - and the dreamscape started fading around him. As a young child, Jerrick had been taken to a traveling carnival, where he got his first look at a group of clowns. The experience had been a terrifying one for the young boy, no doubt the reason behind him having this particular dream. But now Jerrick, a young man in his early twenties, sat up in bed and looked around him in puzzlement, for a group of strangers (who looked somewhat familiar somehow) sat around his bed. Thelma shrieked in delight and hugged him fiercely, explaining how much time had elapsed since he'd last fallen asleep.

"We can't pay you much," apologized Thelma, and before Alewyth could even start to denounce any need for payment, the young woman added, "But you should come to the party! I wasn't going to go, but now that Jerrick's awake we have a reason to celebrate - and we can show the rest of the town that he's awake!"

It took little convincing to get the five heroes (and Scarlie, who had been waiting outside the Consuelo home with the wagon and riding mounts) to agree to head over to the village's gathering. There had been a few enhancements since the group had seen the area still being set up earlier that afternoon: now the two platforms were in place; at the front was a podium and a tarpaulin draped over some sort of blocky statue or something, with a canvas tent erected behind and to the side, while the platform in the back held a row of seats, upon which a group of merry bards was playing a merry tune. There had to be at least two hundred people mingling in the areas between the two platforms, some sitting at the 13 tables and benches, some sitting on the two curved rows of additional benches marking the edges of the gathering, and others standing and chatting in the areas between. Of important note were the six automatons scattered throughout the area: four of these were the size of a human and had a large beer barrel as a body, from which extended metallic arms and legs and a simple head formed from a much smaller barrel; the two larger ones - each close to eight feet tall - had multiple barrels making up their bodies, and were filled with ale while the smaller units were filled with beer. Eight serving girls, hired for the night from the two village taverns, made themselves busy bustling back and forth between the barrel automatons and the various revelers, passing out mugs of free beer and ale.

Wakuren gave a heavy sigh and, activating his ring of invisibility, faded from view. He wasn't sure what this revelry was all about, and it saddened him to think that Thurloe's suspiciousness was rubbing off on him, but he focused his attention on the auras of the people arrayed before him. The crowd was much too tight for him to be able to wander throughout unnoticed, so he contented himself with walking around the perimeter, seeking out auras which showed the taint of evil. And sure enough, as might be expected in a crowd this size there were a few "pings" to his paladin senses, but Wakuren comforted himself that the levels of evil he was detecting were more in the "shopkeeper willing to short-change a customer" range and not the "willing to sacrifice babies to a demon lord" level. He also noted, as he made his rounds, in the back by the bards' platform there was a row of outhouses and a pile of three large barrels, no doubt refills for the barrel automatons when their beverages started to run low.

Once he had satisfied himself that there wasn't any great evil about, Wakuren - still invisible - cast a detect magic spell to see if there were any magical auras jumping out at him. Again, he wasn't surprised to see a hit now and again, for a few of the wealthier townsfolk wore rings or amulets of a low-level magical nature, likely anything from minor protections or "lucky" pendants. He noted a few but not all of the serving girls wore necklaces with a magical aura, but made nothing of the fact. He did make note that there weren't any magical weapons about; in fact, hardly anybody wore any weapons more powerful than a dagger. Other than the heroes, that is: they were being introduced to the various townsfolk by the Consuelos, and once Edna Tallywack saw them, she made sure to insinuate herself into their group and give the appearance that she and the heroes went way back.

Making sure nobody was looking his way, Wakuren deactivated his ring and reappeared in the visible spectrum. He made his way over to the others, noting none of them had any drinks in their hands. "What, nobody drinking?" he asked them.

"Haven't had the time," Alewyth replied, giving a sideways glance over at Edna.

"Probably best to stay ready for anything that might come up, anyway," added Thurloe, ever suspicious. He also looked up at the full moon overhead, wondering if there might be any werebeasts about.

"Well, I'm going to get one," Wakuren said. "Anybody else want me to bring them something?" But the others turned them down; apparently Thurloe's suspiciousness was contagious. (Scarlie, however, was on his third or fourth mug by that time.)

Suddenly, a thin man in wizard's robes stepped up to the front platform and stood behind the podium. "If I could have everyone's attention please?" he called out to the crowd, and the bards, seeing him, brought their tune to a halt. All around the area, the crowd took notice and gave the man their full attention.

"Good evening, everyone," began the young man at the podium. "For those of you who don't know me, my name is Alabard Ducresni, and up until last week it was my privilege to be the apprentice to the man we're here to honor tonight: Seamus Volossio. Now, most of you know that name but not many here have ever met the man, and that was something that Seamus regretted deeply. However, it wasn't due to a lack of desire to be neighborly; it was due to a lifelong, crippling shyness. In fact, among his wizardly peers – among the few people he was willing to meet in person, and that due only to the occasional necessity – Seamus was often referred to as 'Shy-Mouse.'

"Besides his inherent shyness, Seamus Volossio also suffered from a weak heart, and it was this which finally took his life at a rather young age. But in the days before his passing, Seamus made plans for his own funeral; he wanted not a dire ceremony filled with sadness – indeed, he was well aware there would be few people willing to attend the services of someone they knew only by name and by reputation – but rather a celebration, a festive party of the type he desperately wished he could throw and actually attend himself. In fact, he took his love of magical automatons and designed these ale and beer golems specifically for this party, working feverishly to ensure they were completed on time."

Alabard moved over to the tarpaulin at his side and gathered it in his hands. "Now, please do not be frightened, but as per Seamus Volossio's wishes, I have his glass-covered coffin here on stage with me, with him lying in repose. His overwhelming shyness prevented him from ever attending any get-togethers like this during his life; it was his fondest desire that he be able to attend this gathering with the people in town upon his passing. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Seamus Volossio, the host of tonight's festivities." And with that, the apprentice pulled back the tarpaulin to reveal the body of a young man with a mop of red hair and somewhat oversize spectacles, lying back in his propped-up coffin, giving him the appearance of standing beside his apprentice and looking down upon the crowd before him. Although the wizard's eyes were closed, he wore a shy smile on his face.

Alabard returned to the podium and from behind it pulled out his own mug of ale. Raising it toward the coffin, he called, "To my mentor, Seamus Volossio: we party in your honor!" before drinking up. In the crowd before him, the townsfolk did likewise.

The next few hours were spent in vigorous drinking. Alabard stood by the coffin, smiling and answering questions to the revelers who approached to raise a glass to the body of Seamus Volossio. Wakuren made himself a quite popular figure; the town was mostly human with a few elves and half-elves, but for many of them he and Scarlie were the first half-orcs they'd ever seen. Wakuren saw it as an opportunity to show them that half-orcs weren't to be feared, and his joviality and drinking prowess soon earned him the friendly nicknames of "Beastman" and "Chugger." He stopped worrying about the others' reticence to drink any of the free alcohol being offered; it was their loss, as far as he was concerned. Zander, however, was worried about more than the beer and ale; he was in frantic telepathic communication with the nibish-riule embedded in his body, worried that the extraplanar entity would extend any of the tendrils growing throughout the elf's frame to have a look-see for itself. Zander didn't want any of the drunken revelers panicking at the elf being a "tentacle monster" or anything.

Thurloe, for his part, decided to try to pump Alabard for information. He accepted a mug of beer and held it, faking a toast to Volossio (and making sure not to actually imbibe any of the liquid), before hitting Alabard up with questions. He learned that Alabard would be remaining in Volossio's tower keep at the edge of the town, since he was the dead man's sole heir. He explained Volossio had been intrigued by mechanisms, experimenting in various types of golems and automatons like the animated barrel constructs serving beer and ale to the villagers. But after several hours of partying, and with the full moon high in the sky, Alabard once again approached the podium and called for everyone's attention. It took a lot longer this time for the crowd to quiet down - many of them were, by now, quite heavily drunk - but Wakuren pounding on his shield of Cal with his gauntlet of Cal helped get everyone's attention.

"If I could have your attention once more, please," Alabard called out to the crowd, and the laughter and merriment quieted down somewhat as the revelers listened to what he had to say. "Thank you. On behalf of my former master, Seamus Volossio, I would just like to say thank you, for allowing his final wishes to be played out. I'm sure he would have liked to have been able to thank you all in person..." and, saying that, the wizard's apprentice took a step back from the podium, "and perhaps, in a moment, he'll get his chance!"

Suddenly, a few flashes of light erupted in the crowd as four of the serving girls gasped in surprise and were whisked away. Standing in their place were four beautiful women, each with angelic wings sprouting from their backs and wielding longswords and coils of rope, with flaming composite longbows strapped on their backs, between the wings. As one, they started swinging their swords into the crowd, cutting down as many revelers as they could while their animated ropes shot out and found necks to strangle. Within mere seconds, eight dead bodies lay on the ground between the partygoers. As if that had been a signal, the six barrel-shaped automatons likewise turned on the crowd, no longer serving beverages but swinging fists of metal and wood into unsuspecting faces and unyielding fingers crushing windpipes. Worse yet, the booze-befuddled brains of those around them spent valuable seconds trying to figure out what was going on.

But the heroes weren't as slow to respond. Xandro already had his Dardolian lute out since he'd been playing tunes for the crowd, seeing the attacks, he immediately switched to playing his song of inspirational courage. Unfortunately, spread out as they were and with the screams of the victims and roars of befuddled confusion coming from the drunken revelers nearby, the bard knew he'd only be able to affect Zander and Alewyth for now, as Thurloe and Wakuren were too far away.

The elf followed suit with a haste spell cast upon himself, Alewyth, and Xandro, having to make do for now - the crowds were too thick for him to try to maneuver through at any speed to try to get the other two heroes within range. Alewyth cast a magic circle against evil spell on herself and started pushing her way through the crowd, headed for the nearest of these deadly "angels" - which, she was fully aware, were no angels at all but rather erinyes devils.

Thurloe was over by the front stage, and he saw Alabard leap off the side of the stage, casting what sounded to the spellsword's practiced ears as the words to a protection against good spell. That was all the proof Thurloe needed; rather than try to push his way past the crowd, he leaped up onto the stage, ran across it, and leaped down at Alabard, his bastard sword swinging in a deadly arc as he hit the ground. He caught Alabard across the back, slicing through the wizard's spine as he practically cut the man in two. Whatever horrific events Alabard Ducresni had set in motion, he wasn't going to be able to personally see them through, as he was dead before his body hit the ground.

Back in the crowd, the erinyes devils and the automatons continued their assaults upon the mostly weaponless and defenseless partygoers. The drunken townsfolk had no real chance against either threat, for the erinyes had sharp longswords and strangling ropes that seemed to move of their own accord, and the barrel golems were much stronger than mere flesh and bone and had no moral compunctions against slaying those they had been serving just moments before.

Wakuren saw the pointlessness of trying to push his way through the crowd and took a different path; casting an air walk spell upon himself, he rose up above the heads of the panicked revelers and started running through the air towards the nearest erinyes. The townsfolk were pushing against each other, looking for a safe path to freedom, but the party area had been laid out such that the automatons were along the outer edges of the crowd while the four erinyes were in their midst. Xandro happened to be at the edge of the crowd and ran along its outer perimeter, then dashed in between the panicked townsfolk on his way to the nearest automaton.

Zander, however, had become suspicious of the tent and was fairly sure there was a backup automaton or something in there - whatever it was, Alabard had wanted it kept a secret, for the tent flaps were all tied up in heavy knots. Rather than messing with the knots, the elf decided to burn it down with a burning hands spell and reveal its contents to the crowd. However, when the flames of his spell hit the tent it rippled and flexed, then retaliated with a rubbery pseudopod forming from the side of the canvas and striking the surprised sorcerer - it was no real tent, but a mimic in league with Alabard, no doubt to prevent anyone from exiting the field of fire from that direction. Fortunately, the mimic's adhesive failed to catch up the sorcerer in time and he managed to back away; the mimic followed, but slowly.

"Move it!" cried Thurloe, pushing his way past several drunks in an attempt to reach the nearest ale barrel automaton. Alewyth, in the meantime, followed Xandro's lead and ran along the edge of the crowd, approaching the nearest erinyes. She cast a dispel evil spell at her, hoping to banish her back to the Hell from which she came, but the female devil's resistance to spell energy protected her. Worse, she ignored the dwarf's attempt at banishment and continued her attacks upon the local townsfolk, cutting down one poor fellow while her animated rope strangled the life from another. Looking about, Alewyth saw the other erinyes were doing likewise, adding up to a higher body count than she would have thought possible in such a short time. The barrel golems followed suit, crushing skulls and throats while the drink-befuddled villagers ran this way and that, looking for a way out.

Wakuren cast a summon monster spell as he raced over the crowds and a dire wolf appeared beside one of the erinyes. Unlike the "standard model" Alewyth had summoned in Jerrick's dreamscape, this wolf was from the Elemental Plane of Air - one of Cal's realms - and was made up of swirling wind. It attacked the erinyes, bringing her down to the ground as the winds making up its head flayed at her skin as sharply as any real wolf's teeth could do.

Xandro caught up to a beer barrel golem and slashed at it with his frost short sword, scoring a groove in the wooden slats of its torso. Zander backed away from the tent-mimic, firing a scorching ray spell at it. The rays struck true and the mimic's form started losing cohesion, looking less and less like a canvas tent with every passing second. But, unable to catch up with the retreating elf, it lashed out at an older woman, snapping her neck and causing her lifeless body to fall to the ground before it. Its pliant body ran over her corpse, and likely absorbed her into itself, for she did not appear after the shapeshifting beast passed on from where she had been.

Thurloe swung his bastard sword at the ale barrel automaton before him, careful to ensure there weren't any revelers in the path of his blade. Alewyth tried using a dismissal spell on the erinyes and flashed a grin as the beautiful devil flashed in a bright light and was suddenly gone. That was one erinyes that had been sent back to Hell...but at the time, the dwarf hadn't yet realized that the serving girl who had been unwittingly wearing the magical amulet containing the body of an erinyes devil (which had been given to her by Alabard to wear at the night's festivities) was now trapped inside the extradimensional prison of that very same amulet, and thus she had also been sent to Hell....

Two other erinyes continued their ongoing slaughter, while the third tried getting back up to a standing position. The air element dire wolf was having none of that, however, grabbing up the erinyes' sword arm in its windswept teeth and dragging her back down to the ground, chewing on her arm for good measure. Wakuren finally reached the erinyes he'd been running toward and brought his shield of Cal slamming into her. But as he was doing his best to bring her down, all around him erinyes devils and barrel automatons of various sizes (to say nothing of a vaguely tentlike thing swinging a writhing tentacle of particular thickness) were still slaughtering the villagers. Xandro kept up his attacks against the beer barrel golem he was fighting, but the thing seemed programmed to take out the easier targets first, for it ignored the bard's sword-strikes and slew another panicked commoner as he stumbled past.

Zander stepped up onto a bench at the edge of the party area and fired another scorching ray at the tent-mimic, finally killing it. Thurloe and Xandro kept up their own attacks against their automaton foes, striking again and again with their respective sword-blades. But Alewyth decided to help the townsfolk escape as best she could, by picking up one of the benches on the border of the party area and flinging it angrily away. "This way!" she called as she moved over to the next bench, to send it flying away as well. There was now a rather large gap in the outer ring of benches along the eastern side of the park, and grateful townsfolk started staggering over that way.

"Alewick!" cried Edna Tallywack, exposing the fraud that she knew these visiting heroes that well. "What's going on?"

"Just run - get to safety!" Alewyth called back. "We'll take care of these monsters!" Edna wasted no time in following the advice of the dwarven priestess.

The erinyes managed to regain her footing and sent her rope lashing out to kill another villager before the air element dire wolf could do anything to stop her. But it chased her down, leaping upon her back before she could take flight and slamming her back down to the ground, snapping at her neck all the while. Wakuren pressed the attack against the erinyes he was battling, slamming her with his shield.

Xandro kept slashing at the beer barrel golem with his sword, while Zander, still standing on a bench, sent a scorching ray spell over the heads of the villagers following Alewyth's calls to escape, to strike the ale barrel automaton at the southern end of the party area. Thurloe broke off his attack against the northernmost ale barrel golem, but only because the erinyes Wakuren was fighting had wandered close enough for him to get in a strike against her; despite the size disparity, the winged devil-women were much deadlier than the automatons, slaying a lot more innocents between them.

Now that she had a flow of villagers making their escape, Alewyth's focus returned to the battle at hand. Not wanting to fight against the surge of pressing bodies, she cast a spiritual weapon and sent the warhammer of force energy flying over to the ale barrel golem Zander was shooting with his scorching ray spells, as its greater height made it an easier target.

But still the erinyes devils were ignoring the heroes and going after the easier-to-kill prey. Wakuren got the distinct idea they were going after a specific number of victims, piling up a body count high enough to fulfill some sort of devilish ritual. Then he recalled what Alabard had said in his second speech about the possibility Volossio could thank the townsfolk himself, and realized this was all an attempt to bring the dead wizard back to some semblance of unholy life. Flying into a rage at the very thought, Wakuren slammed the side of his shield into the face of the erinyes he was squared off against. His summoned air element dire wolf was likewise pressing the attack against his own erinyes target, and this one was starting to look a bit harried by the incessant attacks.

Xandro finally killed the beer barrel automaton he'd been fighting, cracking open its barrel torso and causing the remaining beer in its receptacle to leak out onto the ground. It tipped over onto its face and stopped moving. Zander continued his magical onslaught against the ale barrel golem, now joined in the attack by Alewyth's spiritual warhammer.

By now, the crowd had thinned considerably, in part by the numbers that made it out of Alewyth's gap in the ring of benches, but sadly also because of the great number of villagers who now lay dead upon the ground. Those remining no longer had to push and shove to try to get where they were going, and as a result many were trying to make a break for it through other gaps along the perimeter. However, the stack of three barrels at the southwestern corner seemingly gave a shudder and lurched into motion, a pseudopod growing out of the front side of one of the barrels to smash in the face of one of the townsfolk seeking to run past this second mimic.

Thurloe's bastard sword took out one of the erinyes devils, leaving only two of the angelic-looking devils still in place. Alewyth summoned forth a celestial bison from the Upper Planes, and the great shaggy beast seemed only too willing to add his curving horns to the task of slaying devil-women. The one erinyes finally was forced to stop trying to escape the air element dire wolf and take it on directly; if nothing else, this slowed the speed by which the villagers were being slain, although the other erinyes was still doing her best to get the death-count up to its required number. It was a shame, she mused, that the ritual called for deaths by physical violence only, for she and her sisters had spells that could have been brought to bear....

Wakuren slid up behind the erinyes devil fighting off his summoned wind-wolf and swung his shield of Cal at her as the wolf snapped at her from the front. Xandro jumped up onto a table and restarted his song of inspirational courage, aware that his whole group of heroes could now hear his song, for the other bards had either dispersed - or been slain - with the other townspeople. Zander continued his barrage of scorching ray spells at the ale barrel golem.

The triple-barrel mimic swung its rubbery limb at another stumbling villager, sticking to him and pulling him in, where a tooth-filled maw that suddenly opened up in the side of the top barrel ripped his flesh to shreds. Thurloe resumed his attack upon the other ale barrel golem he'd been fighting earlier, finding himself joined in battle by Alewyth's celestial bison. Meanwhile, Alewyth added Sjondra to the attacks against the one to the south, striking at the construct's knees while her spiritual weapon struck its head and shoulders.

The erinyes under attack by Wakuren and his wind-wolf finally realized she'd have to take care of these two if she wished to continue the ritual - in fact, if she could slay this half-orc, his death would likely be the equivalent of several of these sloshed villagers. But taking him out proved to be more difficult than she'd hoped, and he and the wolf continued their attacks from either side of her.

The remaining golems were still trying to kill innocent partygoers, but now they actually had to chase them down, and they weren't quite as fast as a panicked human or elf running for his or her life. Xandro took a moment's respite from his song of inspirational courage to send a blast of sonic energy from his lute shooting at a beer barrel golem walking by.

Zander finally took out the southernmost ale barrel golem with a final scorching ray. As it crashed to the ground, Alewyth pivoted and headed over to a nearby beer barrel golem, while redirecting her spiritual warhammer at one of the remaining erinyes devils. The triple-barrel mimic started lumbering in Thurloe's direction, but the spellsword kept up his attacks against the eight-foot-tall automaton he and the celestial bison were whittling down, bit by bit.

One of the erinyes devils flapped her wings and went after Alewyth, swinging with her longsword; the dwarf managed to hold Sjondra up just in enough time to redirect the blow. But now she was in a sort of line of combatants: her, an erinyes, Wakuren, the other erinyes, and then the air element dire wolf. Wakuren took a moment to summon forth a celestial bison of his own, sending it at one of the erinyes from the side. Then the wind-wolf blew away to nothing, its time on the Material World having been used up, and the shaggy bison took the wolf's place in the line of combat.

The barrel automatons were doing what they could to slay sacrificial victims, but the sole remaining ale barrel golem was now fighting off Alewyth's celestial bison and the beer barrel golems scurried back and forth trying to pick off stragglers. Xandro leaped down from the table he'd been standing on, bringing his frost short sword slashing across one of the beer barrel golems' wooden chests. Zander, still standing on a bench so he could see over the heads of those on the ground, fired another scorching ray across the area to strike the second mimic, which seemed particularly perturbed to have been targeted from so far away. It continued advancing towards Thurloe, unsure of where the sudden blasts of fire had originated. Thurloe, for his part, continued his attacks upon the sole remaining ale barrel construct, as did Alewyth's summoned bison.

Alewyth, however, was trading weapon-blows with one of the erinyes, the same one her spiritual warhammer was attacking from the air. The two erinyes devils focused their attacks upon the dwarven priestess and Wakuren, one on each, while the half-orc's own celestial bison stabbed its massive horns at the one attacking the cleric who had summoned it from the Upper Planes. Wakuren finally slew the erinyes he'd been fighting, then whirled around to aid Alewyth in taking down the last remaining devil-woman. The celestial bison likewise moved over to attack her, and the winged devil didn't last long under those odds, Alewyth finally delivering the killing blow with Sjondra.

By that time, Xandro had also made short work of the beer barrel construct he'd been fighting, and Zander had slain the second mimic using ranged spells (and without even having to step down off of the bench upon which he'd spent the majority of his time in the fight). Thurloe and Alewyth's summoned bison took out the ale barrel construct, and then there were only the remaining beer barrel golems still in combat. As they'd been programmed to slay people in the "kill zone," the heroes didn't even have to chase them down, for the villagers had all escaped out of the area by then and the heroes were now the only remaining available targets. The constructs didn't last very long at all after that point.

"Everybody okay?" Alewyth called out, casting a healing spell to close up the worst of the wounds she'd received from the swords of the erinyes she'd been fighting.

"I could use some healing," Xandro offered, and together Alewyth and Wakuren converted some of their prepared spells into healing energy.

"What now?" asked Zander.

"First off, I wanna check out the dead guy," Thurloe replied, storming off in a bee-line towards the glass-topped coffin of Seamus Volossio. The red-haired wizard showed no difference; none of the victims sacrificed in his honor had done anything to revive him; the ritual likely needed a set amount of life energy to grant him an undead semblance of life, and until that threshold was reached there was no effect. Which meant that all of this slaughter had been for nothing.

Thurloe tipped the coffin over on its back and lifted the lid, checking Volossio's corpse for anything that might be storing life energy or such. Wakuren aided him with a detect magic spell and identified the dead wizard had a belt and a ring that had magical auras; without a word Thurloe removed them from the corpse and stuffed them into a pouch at his belt to be examined more thoroughly later.

"So now what?" Zander repeated. "Are we done here?"

"We're done here at this location," agreed Thurloe, "but we're not done here in Billingsway. Alabard said something about a keep at the edge of town. We'd better check it out, in case these two chuckleheads had any other surprises in store."

Edna Tallywack approached; she'd escaped with the help of Alewyth but, nosy as she was, had stayed around in the general area to watch what all transpired. She gave the group directions to Volossio's keep, but after the combat at the funeral party, during which dozens had been slain, the remaining threats in Volossio's keep were hardly worth their time. A pair of zombie servitors stood inside the keep's outer walls, there to open the double doors at their master's command, and a single blast of positive energy from Alewyth, holding her holy symbol of Aerik before her, caused the zombies to explode into dust. Inside the keep, Thurloe quickly demolished a suit of animated armor in the main foyer, and Zander's spells destroyed a metallic cobra construct of some type that had been guarding the wizard's arcane library. The six animated skeletons guarding the rooftop were blasted into dust by Wakuren and Alewyth using turn undead attacks; the biggest threat was down in the basement, where a chain golem had been built into the rooftop of the construct lab (where a third ale golem was partway under construction; apparently Volossio's heart had given out before it had been finished). But the golem was destroyed soon enough, for even though it was immune to most spells, the group managed to take out the supports which held it to the ceiling (and allowed it to lug heavy construct components around the lab); once it came crashing down to the floor, the five heroes made short work of it.

In the end, having determined there were no automatons ready to be activated at the failure of the necromantic revival ceremony, the group gathered up the monetary treasure Volossio had had on hand, as well as his spellbook selection (Thurloe noted he already knew a great deal of the lower-level spells, and much of the higher-level spells were from the necromantic school of magic, but there were a few others he was interested in learning), and made their way back to Scarlie and the wagon and their riding mounts. "Let's get out of here," suggested Thurloe. "I know it's the middle of the night and we're all tired, but I don't wanna stay in this creepy little burg any longer than I have to."

"You guys head on into the lamp," suggested Scarlie. "I'm awake enough to get us down the road a piece." It sounded like a good idea to the others.

- - -

After the fight in the "kill zone" - a battle map I'd made on the back of two used desk calendar pages, which took up a good chunk of the game table in my man-cave - we more of less hand-waved the fights in the keep. After all, I had only built the keep as a place for Alabard (or Volossio, had the death count reached 110 HD of slain victims, which would have transformed Volossio into a necropolitan, a sort of "lesser lich") to retreat to, where they'd have some allies if the PCs came after them. But Thurloe took out Alabard with one hit and the death count "only" made it to 82 HD - the morticians and gravediggers in Billingsway are going to be busy for a while! - so the keep didn't really need to come into play, although it was where the majority of the treasure was located, so I didn't want to skip over it completely. Plus, this adventure session had already gone significantly longer than normal, so it seemed safe to bypass a lot of the fights against low-level threats that would be little more than a speed bump to my players' 9th-level PCs.

The metagaming index was pretty high this time, though, with nobody but my son Logan (who plays Wakuren) wanting anything to do with the free ale and beer being offered up; the other players were well aware I wouldn't have put that much effort into a two-desk-calendar-page battle mat if there wasn't going to be a big fight there, and they didn't want their PCs fighting at reduced efficiency (or worse yet, poisoned).

- - -

T-shirt worn: My "Evil Clown School - Graduate With Honors" T-shirt, because it has a grinning, evil-looking clown that fit in perfectly with the dream sequence that went along with this adventure.

Creepy Nightmare Image 14.jpg

This is a drawing by an artist named John Kenn that I discovered on-line. He does a lot of these ink drawings on Post-It notes, and I intend to use a few more of his drawings as nightmare inspiration in this campaign as opportunities allow.
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PC Roster:
Alewyth Putterpye, dwarf priestess of Aerik 9​
Thurloe Pulver, human fighter 3/wizard 3/spellsword 3​
Wakuren, half-orc cleric of Cal 5/paladin 4​
Xandro Silverstrings, human bard 6/rogue 3​
Zander Quilson, elf sorcerer 9​

Game Session Date: 21 January 2023

- - -

"Flamecleft, huh?" asked Thurloe. "That's...an interesting name for a town."

"It's a mining village," replied Alewyth, who grew up in an underground dwarven city very much like Flamecleft. "I'll bet you anything there's lava visible at the bottom of a big rent in the earth, and that's where the mine's located." Flamecleft was indeed primarily a dwarven village, and most of it seemed to be directly supporting the mining industry, but surprisingly the second most numerous race living in the city was stone giants. It seemed the miners were primarily made up of members of the two races.

And, being a relatively small village where everyone seemed to know everyone else, it was no trouble identifying the dreamer they'd come to rescue - upon asking, the dreamwalkers were not only told it was Dagda Ironforge they sought, but they were also given directions to her house. Knocking on the door, they saw another dwarven woman, Gemma Broadstone, answer. Gemma was Dagda's sister and was looking after her as she slept the weeks away.

Alewyth explained the reason for the dreamwalkers' visit and Gemma ushered them in, eager to see if these five could awaken her sister when all other attempts had failed. They lifted Dagda off of her stone bed (complete with stone pillow; these dwarves didn't really know a whole lot about comfort, Xandro decided) and set her on the floor in the middle of the room. Alewyth attached the leather headband around Dagda's brow and positioned the dreamstone so it was in place in the middle of the dwarven woman's forehead. Zander called forth his cooshee from its statue form, setting the elven dog in place as a protector while the dreamwalkers settled themselves to sleep in a circle around Dagda. And with that, their consciousnesses left their mortal bodies and traversed the planes into the dreamlands - no terribly difficult task, for everyone did the same thing each night when they went to bed.

Only usually, they woke up the next morning.

As always, the five moogle guides were there to meet the dreamwalkers and lead them to the Corridor of Dreams, a series of endless hallways filled with doors as far as the eye could see. Mogo was there, hovering before one particular door. "This is the dream, kupo!" he said, opening the door and allowing his five students to walk inside Dagda's dream.

However, this time they didn't just all show up next to each other in the dream. As each dreamwalker stepped through the door, he or she ended up in a separate part of the dwarf's dream, for Dagda was dreaming about a labyrinth, with stone walls reaching from floor to ceiling. The passageways twisted this way and that, and Dagda was doing her best trying to find her way out of the maze. One by one, each of the five dreamwalkers found themselves in the same predicament: alone in a section of maze without any idea about which way was which.

"DAGDA!" called Alewyth at the top of her lungs, hoping the other dwarven woman would be able to hear her. But the only answer was a brutish roar, which echoed up and down the twisting corridors. There was something in the maze with them.

Thurloe had been spending the last few days perusing several spells he'd collected in the spellbooks gathered from wizards he and his teammates had defeated over the months, and while he hadn't mastered any new spells in a few weeks, he was well aware there was a spell, locate person, that would be of incredible help in this dream. But although he knew he couldn't cast the spell in the Mortal World, he also knew this was just a dream and Mogo had been training them on how to manipulate dreams from the inside. Therefore, the spellsword decided, there was no reason why he couldn't cast a locate person spell inside this dream; going about the motions, he got a distinct sense that Dagda was currently located somewhere off to his front and right. Of course, even if the spell was correct, there was no way to know which particular passageway would lead him closer to her, so he arbitrarily chose one and decided to see where it would take him. As he moved, turning corners occasionally, he always had a sense of the direction Dagda was in with regards to his current location, so he could only assume the spell he had just dream-cast had worked.

Xandro likewise picked a direction and started exploring, but he soon found himself in a dead end. He cast a detect magic spell and wasn't particularly surprised to see the entire labyrinth giving off a magical aura. A sudden rumbling was felt throughout the maze, further indicating its magical nature: the minotaur prowling the maze was repositioning a slab of the maze, moving it sideways by a dozen or more feet so the tunnel he was currently traversing - which would normally have ended up in a dead end - instead now hooked up to a different passageway. Those lost in the maze had to wander the tunnels and hope for the best, but the minotaur could reconfigure the maze to his own advantage. Gripping his greataxe, he bellowed again and stomped forward, eager to catch up with these interlopers to his realm.

Because of the sudden shift of a full sixth of the labyrinth, Wakuren found himself in a section of passageway that dead-ended at each side. That was no good! But then, remembering Mogo's teachings, he decided this would be a good time to put what he had learned about altering dreamscapes to good practice. Lifting a hand and placing it on the stone wall before him, he imagined a doorway in the stone. While he couldn't make the stone vanish, he did see it wavering like a heat mirage and found he could no longer feel it under his hand; on a hunch, he stepped forward and passed completely through the wall. He found himself standing beside a rather surprised-looking Thurloe. "Oh, hey," the half-orc greeted the spellsword. Thurloe just nodded his greeting and concentrated on the direction in which Dagda lay.

Alewyth's explorations took her south, further away from the others - although she had no way of knowing that. She continued calling Dagda's name, hoping to hear an answer. Zander was off over to the west and found himself staring at a dead-end tunnel; taking advantage of the lack of immediate threat, he dream-cast a mage armor spell in place. Dagda, in the meantime, just continued her random wanderings, completely unaware of the five heroes now in her dream with her.

Thurloe cast a mage armor spell upon himself and felt his hand against a wall; he could sense Dagda was just on the other side of the wall, but had no way to get to her. He called her name, but there were no connections between the section of maze where he and Wakuren stood and the section containing Dagda - not under its current configuration, in any case. He tried using his lucid dreaming skills to open a hole in the wall like he'd seen Wakuren do, but his initial efforts were unsuccessful. Xandro, all alone by himself, had come up with the same idea but likewise failed to open a passageway. But then there was the rumbling sound again as the minotaur, having passed into the next section of maze, moved it to line up with the corridor he wanted to enter in the section north of it.

After Thurloe expressed his belief Dagda was just on the other side of the wall, Wakuren put his own mind to the task and was successful in passing through the mirage-like opening he'd conjured into being in this dreamscape. Sure enough, there was Dagda - he hadn't really paid attention before, but the entire maze was dimly lit by an unseen source - and she looked at the approaching half-orc with fear, imagining he might have been the creature stalking her through this maze. "It's all right," Wakuren reassured her. "I am a cleric of Cal, and I am here to help you escape this dream." Just to make himself appear even more harmless, he used his recent dream training to conjure up a copy of the headband he'd been forced to wear while traveling through the underground dwarven cities of Stonehold and Deepshaft, which bore the holy symbol of Aerik and designated the wearer as having been properly vetted by the dwarven leadership of the cities. Surprisingly, it did the trick; Dagda's worries about being alone in a tunnel with a half-orc vanished completely.

"This's just a dream?" Dagda asked, clearly pleased, no doubt thinking it would be a simple matter to wake herself up. Wakuren had to disabuse her of that notion, explaining that her sister Gemma had told Wakuren and his four companions that she'd been asleep now for three weeks. "Three weeks?" demanded the dwarf. "How c'n this be?"

"Time passes strangely in dreams," Wakuren told her. "As for how is your body still alive after three weeks without food or water, it's all part of the dream plague - the dreamer's body goes into a sort of stasis. We're not sure exactly how it works, but we've awakened people who have been asleep for much longer than you have."

"How do I wake up, then?"

"I imagine we need to kill the creature stalking you through this maze, or find the exit, or possibly even both." Wakuren took Dagda by the arm and started leading her down the twisting passageway to see if they could find the exit.

Alewyth, realizing rescuing Dagda was likely the way to free her from the dream, closed her eyes and imagined the woman traveling down a corridor. She willed herself by the dwarf's side, hoping her lucid dreaming training would allow her to teleport there. The effort failed, but she did get a better sense of the way of this maze: she could apparently walk through a wall if she concentrated hard enough, or even shift a section of the maze five feet in either direction. Zander Quilson walked through the solid wall before him, proving the concept to his own satisfaction. He still didn't know where he was, but at least he was no longer up against a dead end.

Dagda followed Wakuren's lead, while Thurloe hurried to catch up to the pair. He used his wand to cast a shield spell on himself, figuring if the bellowing monster ever caught up to them, he'd be glad he had done so. Xandro passed through another wall, figuring if he kept going in one direction he'd eventually find his way out of the maze. But the maze shifted once again, and what had once been a solid wall to the bard's right was now an open passageway, through which stepped a massive minotaur, greataxe held in one beefy hand. He hefted it up over his shoulder, bringing it crashing down at Xandro, who did his best to dodge the blow but ended up taking a hit in the leg, opening up a long gash that immediately filled his boot with his own blood.

Alewyth noticed this newest configuration change had undone a barrier that had been placed in her way earlier. She scrambled back north, unknowingly following part of a passageway the minotaur had taken earlier. Zander, in the meantime, ran forward because he could hear familiar voices up ahead; those of Thurloe and Wakuren, who were steadily making their way north with Dagda.

Xandro stabbed at the minotaur with his frost short sword, getting in a quick jab in the creature's belly before darting away, hoping to put a safe distance between them, for he wasn't sure he could fight off the bull-headed monstrosity by himself. But the minotaur allowed Xandro to flee from him, for with his perfect mastery of the maze, he knew by shifting the section he was in twenty feet to the right, he'd link up to the corridor currently being traversed by Thurloe Pulver, who certainly hadn't expected the minotaur's sudden arrival. Wakuren and Dagda were already around a corner and failed to notice the spellsword's predicament behind them.

Alewyth exited the corridor and found herself in a hallway facing the minotaur. She crept up on it as silently as she could, before sprinting the remaining distance and bringing Sjondra crashing down upon the bovine beast-man. Zander, however, found himself cut off from the others again by the maze's last shifting, but he found himself close to Alewyth and Thurloe, so he cast a haste spell upon the three of them. Thurloe's swing with his bastard sword was therefore much quicker than it would have been normally, and it got past the minotaur's defenses to cut a gash of pain across his furry chest. Xandro passed through another wall, getting himself farther away from the minotaur and inadvertently running into Wakuren and Dagda as they continued their meandering way northward.

The minotaur, bellowing loudly in rage and pain, brought his greataxe slicing into Thurloe, while Alewyth took advantage of his attention being focused upon the spellsword to bring Sjondra into play once again. Zander took the long way around and came up behind the minotaur, blasting at it with a lightning bolt spell that slew the beast, sending him crashing lifelessly to the stone floor of the maze. Any hopes that the dream would end with the minotaur's death were instantly crushed, but it was only a matter of everyone getting together (passing through the walls aided them greatly in this endeavor) and finding the doorway out of the labyrinth at the very northernmost wall before the dwarf's dream started dissolving around them, a sure sign she was waking up. As one, the five dreamwalkers snapped themselves awake, their consciousnesses returning to their bodies on the Mortal Plane in Dagda's bedroom.

"We thank ye fer wakin' Dagda," said Gemma. "But if we could ask ye fer another favor? Y'see, it's our husbands – they've not returned from th' mines in over a week. That's not normal, not at all. I've gone t' th' manager, Virgil Goldenglow, but 'e won't let none 'f us see 'em, nor will 'e let any o' 'em back up from th' mines. Got a special vein they unearthed, 'e says, an' the miners're supposed t' be all on overtime, but what good's th' money if'n ye're livin' down there in th' mine every hour 'f th' day? Plus, all we got's Goldenglow's promise o' overtime pay – none 'f us've seen a single coin yet. Will ye check it out for us? I dinnae trust that Goldenglow!"

"I take it staying down in the mines isn't a normal occurrence?" Wakuren asked.

"Nae, they normally go down fer a shift, 'n come on back up home fer th' night," Dagda replied. Wakuren promised the dwarven women they'd go check out the situation.

Heading over to the mines, they found Alewyth's guess about the reason for the mine's name to be entirely accurate: the openings to the mines were about thirty and sixty feet down a vertical chasm, at the bottom of which - another hundred or more so feet down - could be seen a pool of bubbling lava. Access to the mine openings was through a pair of metal elevators, each hanging by thick chains from a scaffolding that hung over the top of the near side of the chasm, and which were powered by the strength of ermalkankaris, or stone drakes: draconic creatures with thick, hard scales, stumpy wings, and a boulderlike club at the end of their tails. There was an ermalkankari chained to each of the elevators, and at the commands of their dwarven handlers they'd lower the cage to the appropriate level.

The dwarven handlers, however, wouldn't let the heroes talk to the mine manager. "Mr. Goldenglow, 'e said nobody's t' be let down t' th' mines an' nobody's t' be let up from th' mines until he says so," replied a sturdy-looking dwarf.

"And I suppose he's down there in the mines," guessed Thurloe. The dwarf nodded. "Then how are we supposed to get word to him that we wish to talk to him?"

"There'll be none 'f that, I'm afraid, 'til Mr. Goldenglow comes up from th' mines when he's good 'n ready," explained the dwarven drake handler.

"What if he's hurt or injured?" demanded Alewyth.

"Then one o' th' other miners'd send up word."

"But what if th' miners've all been attacked by some monster down there?" Alewyth pressed. Once again, when talking to her own people, her manner of speech started mirroring their own.

"Ye c'n hear them still at work," pointed out the handler. Sure enough, echoing back up from the chasm came the sounds of picks and hammers hitting stone. Wakuren, however, had stepped up to the edge of the cliffside and was looking down at the uppermost mine entrance, over on the far side of the chasm. A bald humanoid approached, who by his sheer size Wakuren assumed must be one of the stone giant miners. He started unloading a mine cart - which had been pulled by an ermalkankari - taking large crystals and laying them out onto one of the two iron "landing platforms" that jutted out from the cave opening; these were the stations where the elevator doors, which swung down from hinges at the bottom of the cage, would line up to form a sort of bridge when the elevator had been lowered to the appropriate depth.

"I thought this was a silver mine," Wakuren observed.

"Aye, it is."

"Then what's that miner down there doing with those crystals?" While the drake handlers came to the edge to see what the half-orc was talking about, Wakuren examined the aura of the stone giant miner. He was not of an evil bent. Wakuren then cast a detect magic spell and examined the stone giant's aura in further detail, sighing in satisfaction when he picked up the sign of enchantment magic at play. "He's under some sort of enchantment," he told the others. "Probably being dominated."

"What're those? demanded one of the handlers, as a crystalline scorpion skittered up the cliff wall and gathered up a pair of crystals in its claws, then scampered down the way if had come. Behind it, two more of the creatures did likewise. There was also a massive length of thick chain, of the type they used on the elevators, leading down from the lower level of the mines nearly to the top of the lava - that hadn't been there before, either! Then, looking at his partner in confusion, the drake handler came to a decision. "Okay, never mind. We'll lower ye t' th' upper mine level, so's ye c'n talk t' Mr. Goldenglow an' see what's what down there."

But by then, the heroes had come up with a different plan. "I'd rather not fight off a bunch of miners who are being mind-controlled against their will," Wakuren declared. "Odds are, they're not being harmed, just being forced to mine for those crystals instead of the veins of silver. That's not likely to cause them any harm, so let's go down to where those scorpion-things are headed. Maybe we can put a stop to the root cause of whatever's going on down there." As he spoke, the first of the crystalline arachnids made it to what was apparently a cave opening just above the lava pool, for it ducked into some sort of hole in the side of the cliff a mere dozen feet or so above the lava.

Thurloe and Zander cast mage armor and shield spells upon themselves and then entered the lamp. Xandro and Alewyth followed, leaving the lamp in the hands of Wakuren, who cast the spells air walk and gaseous form upon himself. His body now a loose gathering of fine mist, he floated over the edge of the chasm, sinking slowly down towards the bubbling lava. Inside the lamp, Alewyth kept watch on the misty half-orc's progress by scrying through the tiger's eye gem he wore on his forehead, using the items they had taken from Corbin Mallaxus's lab when they had rescued the gemcutter Iriadorrista some weeks back. She saw him enter a large cave, reassume solid form, and set the lamp down. "Let's go!" she called to the others, stepping onto the magical circle and calling out the command word that shunted them out of the extradimensional space and onto the stone floor of the cave. There was no illumination inside the cave save for the reddish light coming off the lava outside, which gave everything a hellish glow.

Thurloe, Zander, and the cooshee - still active since being put on guard duty back in Dagda's bedroom - wandered down a side tunnel heading diagonally deeper into the mountainside. There was a reddish light at the end of that tunnel, which turned out to be an open pit at the front of a side cavern, bit blocking it from side to side. Judging from the glow, the pit was filled with lava, and as a result none of the three wanted to get too close, for the heat it gave off was immense.

Wakuren bent down and picked up Hesperna's lamp, placing it back into his pack as Xandro and Alewyth looked around. The side passageway seemed to be the only exit from this central cavern, other than the front entrance leading out into the cliffside. But their error was made known to them almost immediately, when the crystal dragon came flying down from its ledge forty feet up the western wall, flew over to the exit, spun around in place, and spewed a cone of burning brilliance at the trio of trespassers.

All three cried out in pain as the light seemed to burn through their flesh and set their bones afire - that's certainly what it felt like, at least. Alewyth suffered even more, for she had been facing directly at the entrance when the dragon flew down, and as such the vision was temporarily burned from her eyes; she was completely blind, not in the sense that all she saw was blackness, but quite the opposite: the field of vision before her was nothing but an intensely-glowing white.

Wakuren staggered down the diagonal passageway and warned the others. Then he said the words to a summoning spell, calling forth an axiomatic giant wasp, which he sent into battle against the dragon on his behalf. The giant insect swung its stinger at the dragon's hardened hide, but the point slid off its crystalline scales, to no apparent effect.

Xandro pulled out his Dardolian lute and began the words to his song of inspirational courage, not wishing to rush into physical combat with the flying reptile, nearly twice the size of a horse. But even over his music he could hear the sounds of crystal striking rock coming from behind him, and rounding the corner of the tunnel just past the lava pit came the first of the three crystalline scorpions, creatures called crysmals from the Elemental Plane of Earth. They were each about the size of a small dog, but their pincers and the stinger at the ends of their tails seemed particularly sharp and could likely dish out quite a bit of damage.

Alewyth, blind and close to helpless, decided taking herself out of the combat was the best idea at the present moment, so she cast a sanctuary spell on herself and slowly backed up until she could feel the solid wall of the entry cavern at her back. Thurloe cautiously approached from the diagonal tunnel, casting a ray of enfeeblement at the crystal dragon. Big as it might be, the spellsword knew dragons could grow to be much, much larger as they aged, and he was glad to see this one was still apparently young enough not to have developed the natural resistance to spells that many older dragons possessed. His spell-ray struck true, leeching off some of the reptile's strength, diminishing its combat prowess by some unknown extent.

Zander ran back into the cave, placing himself protectively in front of Alewyth and casting a lightning bolt spell at the hovering dragon. The cooshee started to run up to the dragon but apparently thought better of trying to bite a creature whose scales looked to be the consistency of solid crystal. He just barked up at the dragon, voicing his displeasure.

With a mighty flap of its wings, the dragon soared forward and landed back on the cavern floor, snapping its teeth at Zander, then slashing at the elf with its claws as an afterthought. The claws both struck, sending the elf staggering first one way and then the other, the front of his robes now in tatters. Seeing that, Wakuren raced up and slammed his shield of Cal into the dragon's side, causing a chime as his metal shield struck the dragon's crystalline hide. Now behind the dragon, the giant wasp tried stinging it again, but once again its stinger just slid along the creature's hardened scales.

Back in the tunnel, Xandro spun around and faced the first approaching crysmal, blasting it with a sonic blast from his Dardolian lute. While the attack seemed to do some damage - fine cracks had appeared up and down the crystalline creature's body - it skittered forth and jabbed at the bard with the tip of its tail. Xandro felt the pain as the stinger pierced his thigh, but was surprised there was no follow-up poison, as one would expect from a terrestrial scorpion - and then he realized a creature made of living crystal would likely have no use for venom on its home plane, where most - if not all - of the denizens would be made of living stone and crystal.

Alewyth started scooting herself to her left, towards the diagonal tunnel she knew to be in that direction. Still unable to contribute much to the combat with the dragon in her blinded state, she cast a summoning spell of her own and brought forth an earth element giant praying mantis, a giant insect made from living stone. It sent its pincered forelimbs clawing at the dragon, to no definitive result.

Still deciding ranged spells was the way to go against a creature as powerful as a dragon, Thurloe cast a vampiric touch spell at the dragon and siphoned off some of its life energy, filling his own body with stolen vigor. Using similar logic, Zander cast his own ray of enfeeblement at the crystal dragon, weakening it even further, and then backed up against the wall to Alewyth's right. The cooshee tried clawing at the dragon and had no luck penetrating its thick, crystalline hide, so he backed over by his master, still barking loudly.

The dragon lurched over to its right and sent its head snaking out to Thurloe, biting the spellsword as punishment for that last spell he'd cast, which the dragon, Charirkethend, had apparently not appreciated at all. At that close-up range, Thurloe couldn't help but notice that the dragon had some sort of a red gemstone embedded in its forehead and idly wondered if that was a normal part of its body, an adornment of some sort, or perhaps some type of magic item. He was tempted to ask Wakuren to cast a detect magic spell on it, but the half-orc was busy slamming the side of his shield into the dragon's hide, cracking a few scales as he did so. Behind the dragon, the giant wasp continued its ineffectual attacks, and Wakuren wondered if a different animal might not have been a better choice for him to have summoned.

Xandro stabbed out with his frost short sword and pierced the head of the crysmal that had stabbed him, killing it. But now the other two came skittering up, rounding the corner and coming into view. One of them was upon the bard before he could put up much a defense, stabbing at him with its wickedly sharp tail-spike.

Not knowing what else to do while still blind, Alewyth cast a bless spell upon whatever members of her group were within range, which included the mantis she'd summoned from the Elemental Plane of Earth. It clawed at the dragon again, with little effect. However, now that the dragon had closed the distance with Thurloe, the spellsword decided a little hand-to-hand combat was in order, so he brought his bastard sword Spellslicer crashing across the front of the dragon's neck, activating a charge of his torc of the titans to put as much strength behind his blow as he could. The maneuver worked, and the dragon seemed genuinely surprised to be actively bleeding through his damaged scales. The astonishment didn't last long, however, for Zander finished the dragon off with another lightning bolt spell that went crashing through its crystalline body, causing it to crash to the floor in the middle of the entry cavern, quite dead. The cooshee continued barking at it.

Wakuren wasted no time rushing back into the diagonal tunnel to come to Xandro's aid. He brought his shield down upon one of the two crysmals lined up against the bard, cracking the top of its carapace. The giant wasp flew down the tunnel and tried stinging the crysmal as well, having just as much luck against it as it had with the dragon. Xandro managed to kill the one he had been fighting as the other one stabbed up at Wakuren, hitting the half-orc's hand with the tip of its stinger.

But back in the entry cavern, strange things were going on. There was a wavering of air above the dead crystal dragon's head, and then hovering in the air there was a floating brain, little crackles of electricity sparking off from it and flailing out in all directions. It focused its attention on Zander, and then an arc of electricity sprang between it and the startled sorcerer, sending the elf's hair sticking up as the blast of lightning burned his skin.

Alewyth still couldn't see what was going on, but she knew combat of a sort was continuing even though she was pretty sure the dragon had been slain. Unsure of what else to do, she cast a healing spell upon herself, restoring some of the damage she'd taken from the dragon's breath weapon. And she wasn't sure yet if she was just imagining it, but it seemed like her vision was starting to clear a bit along the periphery; while most of her field of vision was a brilliant white, she was starting to pick up other colors along the outer edges. She blinked rapidly to try to speed up the process.

The giant mantis lashed out at the floating brain with its claws, scoring a hit and drawing a few gashes along the side of the spongy material making up its body. At the same time, Thurloe was situated so he could see the massive chain dangling down from the lower mine level start to jostle and move; looking up, he could see one of the stone giants start to climb down. But then he brought Spellslicer crashing down from an overhead swing, cutting the brainstorm in two. It fell to the side of the dragon in two separate pieces.

"What the hell was that?" demanded Alewyth, whose vision had cleared enough to see Thurloe cut down some sort fo floating brain that certainly hadn't been there when the dwarven priestess had first lost her sight.

"Beats me," replied Thurloe, as Zander pried the red gemstone from the dragon's forehead with his dagger. To his surprise, it floated out of his hand and started orbiting his head. "It's an ioun stone!" he declared. "I've heard of these!"

Back in the side tunnel, Xandro and Wakuren finally killed the remaining crysmal and went back to check on the others. "We're about to have company," Thurloe informed them, looking up at the steadily-climbing stone giant making his way down the chain.

"No we aren't!" replied Alewyth, casting a wall of stone spell that sealed off the cave opening. It suddenly got a lot darker in the entry cave, as the illumination from the lava outside the cave was blocked, but there was still a reddish glow coming from the far end of the diagonal tunnel. She then gave her mantis a command and it earthglided through the solid rock to perch itself by the dangling chain, its arms spread out in an attack stance to hopefully ward off the approaching stone giant.

Via the light of an activated sunrod, Thurloe unpacked his coil of rope and his grappling hook, looking up at the top of the dragon's perch, forty feet above him. He made his windup and tossed the grappling hook up onto the ledge with his first try, then softly tugged on the rope until the hook caught on something sturdy up there. Giving the rope a few experimental tugs, Thurloe declared it safe to support his weight and started his ascent.

Zander and Alewyth, accompanied by a tail-wagging cooshee, went down the side tunnel instead. It got appreciably hotter the closer they got to the lava pit, but once they got close enough Alewyth was able to make out what she'd expected to be the case: the smaller cavern on the other side of the pit was the dragon's treasure hoard, filled with loose coins and gems and the occasional carved statuette. "We'll have to come back for it," she lamented. "Best we keep on exploring the place for now."

Rounding the corner, Alewyth led the trio into a much larger cavern, in the back of which the crysmals had apparently been crafting a humanoid body out of the crystals they'd been bringing down from the mines above. The statue seemed fully complete: it had a head, two arms and two legs extending from a thick, squat torso, and while it didn't seem to have much in the way of fancy facial features it looked to be perfectly serviceable if this was supposed to be some sort of golem or animated statue or something. But the crystal figure remained inert, lying on its back, face looking up to the cavern's ceiling some 50 or 60 feet above it.

Alewyth didn't like it. As Wakuren and Zander entered the cave behind her, she cast a prayer spell on the group, just in case. Zander followed with a stoneskin spell on himself, not trusting that the thing wouldn't activate all of a sudden and try to smash him into paste.

Outside the sealed cave, the mantis had noticed its offensive stance wasn't having any effect on the stone giant, who continued his cautious approach down the chain. So the mantis skittered over, grabbed the loose end of the chain in one of its pincers, and pulled it further away from the side of the cave. But that didn't seem to faze the stone giant any; by the time he noticed the shift in direction, he simply hung on the chain with his left hand supporting his weight, while he planted his feet against the cliff side for support, gathered up a section of chain in his right hand, and tugged. The chain was forced out of the mantis's claws, and the stone giant continued his descent. But when he was close enough, he could see the cave entrance had been sealed up and there was no longer any way for him to enter the dragon's lair by that method.

Thurloe hauled himself up to the crystal dragon's perch and was disappointed to see it was just an empty cavern, with no treasure. But there was a set of natural stone steps in the back, leading down to the large chamber with the inert crystal golem lying on its back. Thurloe stepped up to the edge and lowered himself down to the first "step." But as he did so, there were shimmerings along the ceiling of the golem cave as six brainstorms lowered themselves into the room, shifting in from the Ethereal Plane (from which they'd been able to glide through the solid stone separating the cavern from the mines above). A seventh floated in seemingly from the stone steps before Thurloe; this one had just exited the area on the Ethereal Plane linking it to the stone giant on the chain outside. The stone giant, now free of the brainstorm's domination, shook his head in surprise and started the long climb back up to the mines, ever aware of the lava below him if he lost his grasp.

Wakuren and Xandro fully entered the cave behind Alewyth, the bard starting his song of inspirational courage back up. Alewyth struck at a brainstorm with Sjondra, causing it to veer sideways in the air, fluid dripping from the side of its physical structure. Thurloe leaped down another natural stone step and cast a fireball spell in the back of the cavern below him, engulfing half a dozen of the gathered brainstorms and slaying three of them outright. Seeing that success, Zander did likewise with a fireball spell of his own, killing another three of the floating menaces. This left but a single brainstorm left alive from the original eight in the hivemind; it shifted to the Ethereal Plane and entered the inert crystal golem awaiting its presence.

Originally, the eight brainstorms were going to merge into one vast intellect and pilot the crystal golem together, giving the psionic entities a permanent physical body that would allow them to manipulate the world around them without depending upon dominated slaves. With just the one brainstorm remaining, the crystal golem wouldn't be as powerful as originally intended, but the brainstorm was much safer inside the crystalline humanoid than dealing with the five attackers in its own rather soft body.

With a silent lurch, the golem rose to its feet, towering above its enemies. Wakuren wasted no time in rushing the giant foe, slamming his shield into its knee, hoping to shatter it and render it incapable of further movement. Xandro aimed another sonic blast from his Dardolian lute at the crystal golem, hoping its crystalline structure would prove to be particularly vulnerable to the harmonics. But the golem swung out a massive fist much faster than the bard had anticipated, and even the glancing blow sent him reeling to the side, holding his lute protectively to his body so it wouldn't get damaged in the fall.

Alewyth cast a spiritual weapon spell and rushed at the crystal golem, striking it in the leg with Sjondra. Overhead, another dwarven warhammer took shape, this one made of solid force energy, and rushed over to strike the golem in its nearly featureless head.

Thurloe cast a magic missile spell at the crystal golem and the beams of energy from his fingers were reflected in random directions, the golem's crystal body acting like a prism. Fortunately, none of the missiles struck any of the other heroes; it was bad enough the spellsword's spell didn't have any effect upon its target, but it would be far worse if it hurt Thurloe's fighting companions.

Zander attempted a lightning bolt spell at the crystal golem and was glad to see it worked just fine. His cooshee stayed back, instinctive knowing his teeth, sharp as they might be, were useless against a creature made of solid crystal. Wakuren's summoned axiomatic giant wasp flew at the golem's head, ineffectually hitting it in a crystal eye with its stinger before the insect blinked back out of existence, returning to the Outer Plane from which it had been summoned in the first place.

Then the golem took a step forward and slammed Wakuren not once but twice, pinning him between its massive fists. The air from the half-orc's lungs exploded out of his mouth as his ribs were crushed, piercing the organs that were imprisoned within. With a final, gasping breath, the cleric-paladin of Cal, God of Healing and the Air, died and let his broken body collapse upon the stone floor of the cavern in which the golem had been brought into an unholy semblance of life.

Xandro's eyes grew wide as he saw Wakuren's body fall, and he fell back, well out of range of the golem's fists. Wakuren had worn much heavier armor than Xandro did, and if it could do that to him.... He continued his song of inspirational courage, hoping it would provide the boost to one of the others willing to take it on in hand-to-hand combat.

Alewyth was one of those perfectly willing to do so. She, too, had seen Wakuren fall, but she realized there was nothing to be done about it at the moment and the best thing she could do for Wakuren right now was to slay his killer, to ensure it never had the opportunity to kill anyone else. Later, when this threat was over, she would allow herself to grieve her fallen friend; for now, she channeled her anger into casting a shatter spell at the construct, while her spiritual warhammer continued to strike the golem in the head.

Thurloe dropped down another step and cast a lightning bolt spell up at the golem, who still towered above him although he was still several steps higher than the stone floor upon which the golem stood. Zander did likewise, striking up at the construct with a lightning bolt spell of his own. But the golem ignored both of these attacks to strike Alewyth; the second blow from its massive fists dropped her to the ground as well, although luckily she was just unconscious, not dead.

But that was enough for Xandro to find his courage - a courage inspired by outrage more than anything else. Setting down his Dardolian lute safely behind him, he charged the crystal golem and swung his frost short sword at the same knee Alewyth had been attacking, hoping she'd weakened it enough for him to be able to finish the job - and hopefully before its crystalline fists finished him! But as Alewyth lay bleeding on the stone floor, her spiritual weapon spell continued on with its last orders: striking the crystal golem in the head. This it continued to do, and would continue to do until either the golem was destroyed or the duration of the spell ran out.

Out of his really powerful spells, Thurloe activated his magic torc for the second time that day and charged at the golem, swinging his bastard sword for all he was worth, well aware that it had single-handedly dropped two of the five of them, one of them quite permanently. He hoped Alewyth wasn't about to join Wakuren in death.

Zander cast another lightning bolt at the golem, wisely sticking to a spell he knew worked (he'd seen how ineffectual magic missiles were against the thing). The golem was staggering a bit now, but it still managed to hit Xandro a glancing blow with one fist. But the bard managed to roll with the attack, staying on his feet and swinging his blade for all he was worth. The sword-strike hit the knee, causing the creature's entire leg to slough off at the damage point, whereupon it fell face forward onto the hard ground and shattered, psionic crystals flying in all directions.

"Thank the gods!" cried Thurloe, glad that they'd finally taken down the psionic construct. Of course, there was still the piloting brainstorm to deal with, but the spellsword had anticipated its return upon the golem's destruction and when it manifested in the Material Plane, Thurloe's bastard sword was there waiting for it. Burned as it was from the previous fireballs, one strike from Spellslicer was all it took to bring down this final threat.

Zander had run over to Alewyth's prone form, pulled her head up onto his lap, and forced a potion of cure light wounds down her throat. That at least stabilized her and dealt with the more serious of her wounds, but it took another such potion to rise her back to wakefulness. "Wakuren!" she cried upon waking up, recalling the damage that had been done to her half-orc friend.

"Um, guys," called Xandro. He had his sword drawn and its blade pointed at Wakuren, which the others found strange until they saw what was crawling out from the back of his neck. Phasing out of his body in a manner not entirely dissimilar from the way the brainstorms shifted between the Material Plane and the Ethereal Plane, the powerslug detached itself from the base of Wakuren's spinal cord and crawled out, seeking new prey. Its anesthetizing slime would make it such that its new potential host wouldn't even feel it crawl first upon his or her skin and then into their body, but the entire process hinged upon it not being noticed beforehand. Thurloe applied Spellslicer to the problem at hand, cutting the powerslug in half before it could get too far from Wakuren's body.

"What in the world was that?" demanded Zander.

"Not sure, don't care," replied Thurloe. "It's dead, whatever it was."

Now came the decision of what to do next. Alewyth insisted they bring Wakuren's body into Hesperna's lamp, and specifically into the chest the night hag had used to store her larvae, which shrunk them down so they could all fit inside. "Tomorrow, I'll pray for a gentle repose spell to cast upon ye," she promised her dead friend. Then, exiting the lamp, she handed it over to Thurloe, who used his anklet of translocation to dimension door over to the far side of the lava pit, where he could scoop up the dragon's accumulated treasure and transport it, bit by bit, inside the lamp for safekeeping. Once that was done - and it took a fair amount of time - he used his anklet to dimension door to the diagonal corridor again; the pit's edges were right up to the sides of the opening to the treasure cave, and trying to climb past it could easily become lethal with one wrong misstep.

When the four remaining heroes had made it back to the entry cavern, Alewyth used a stone shape spell to open a doorway in the wall of stone she'd erected earlier. "But now what?" asked Zander. "Wakuren had cast an air walk spell on himself so he'd be able to get the rest of us back to the surface while we were in the lamp!"

"Hold your horses," chided Thurloe, digging in his pack for one of the spellbooks he'd recovered from the wizards they had defeated in combat. Flipping through the pages, he found what he had been looking for. "Here we go: the fly spell. I don't know the spell well enough to cast it myself, but I have two copies of it in two different spellbooks. I'll use this copy like a scroll. The rest of you, into the lamp!"

Alewyth, Xandro, and Zander complied, while Thurloe concentrated on getting the words right for the fly spell; as he intoned each arcane syllable, it disappeared from the page of the spellbook upon which it had been transcribed. But once he had finished, he was under the full effects of the spell; picking up the lamp, he flew up to the lower level of the mine to check on everyone up there. Once there, the other heroes emerged from the lamp and they got the full story, about how they had unearthed a vein of psionic crystals, the coming of the first brainstorm (they were a little unsure of how it had come to be, none of them realizing this first brainstorm had been created from the psionic emanations of Charirkethend, whose psionic abilities were resonated in and amplified by the crystals), and how it not only could take over a person's will but also "download" a copy of itself into a living brain, which then exploded out of the victim's head as an identical clone of the first brainstorm, and how they had all been forced to continue to mine the vein of psionic crystals above all else. It had only been when the heroes slew the crystal dragon that the brainstorm that had been dominating the dragon alerted its brethren of the attack, causing them to abandon their hosts in the mines and fly to the rescue. Nobody knew where the "crystal scorpions" had come from; Charirkethend, under the brainstorm's sway, had brought them from the Elemental Plane of Earth, crystal dragons - even juvenile ones - having the ability to plane shift to the Elemental Planes at will. The crysmals had assembled the crystal golem using methods known only among themselves.

The miners were currently in the midst of shutting down the mine for the day, so they could bury the seven miners (all dwarves) who had been slain in the past week to create the seven follow-on brainstorms. Fortunately, a roll call determined that Dagda's and Gemma's husbands, Grigori Ironforge and Vlagdir Broadstone, respectively, were not among the miners who had been slain.

The fly spell still in effect, Thurloe flew his companions back up in Hesperna's lamp to the surface so they could deliver the news to the two dwarven sisters.

- - -

Well, this adventure turned out quite differently than I had anticipated, but I think for the most part it was for the best. I had been worried that this adventure was going to go a lot longer than my previous ones, but then the players had their PCs bypass both levels of the mines themselves and go right to the dragon's lair, avoiding a lot of unnecessary combat with the dominated miners (and their stone drake beasts of burden). I hadn't counted on Wakuren getting killed, either, but it brought to an end the powerslug infestation he'd picked up 16 adventures prior, when the powerslug infesting the slain orc leader in "Raiders of the Lost Orcs" found a new unwitting host when Wakuren was checking the body for loot. From that point on, every time the PCs leveled up I had Wakuren gain a +2 to Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution. Those bonuses were all at +6 when he was slain, and had been the cause of his irritability and lust for combat (including slapping Thurloe in the face a couple of adventures ago when the spellsword had been nagging him about detecting evil on everyone, and his recent penchant for smashing wizards' faces into unyielding stone walls until they were little more than mush). I mentioned to Dan at work the Monday after playing through this adventure that that had been why Wakuren had slapped his PC, and Dan understands completely - but he'd already devised his eventual payback and didn't see why he shouldn't go through with it anyway when the time comes.

Finally, I had put in over 23,000 gp worth of treasure in this adventure, thinking it would be a big payday for the PCs, but they opted to bring Wakuren back to life via a true resurrection spell (as the other options, raise dead and resurrection, would bring him back one level lower than the rest of them), so they decided to split the difference five ways and pay for the higher-level spell that way. So despite my intentions, this adventure actually had a negative amount of treasure. And I informed them they'll need to backtrack four days to get to Centraldale (where they went through the "Hog Wild" adventure) as it has a shrine of Delphyne, which will allow them to teleport to either Baron's Haven or Port Duralia, where there will be a cleric of Akari high enough to cast true resurrection on Wakuren; in either case it will be the Father Bones of that temple who'll do the ceremony. They at least have the advantage of having dealt with those cities' Father Bones before; the one from Baron's Haven even owes them a favor.

We also hit one other snag in this adventure - it became quite apparent that my 16-year-old nephew Harry, who runs Xandro, has come to a conclusion shared by many players: namely, that bards suck. So we talked about it over dinner, and decided Xandro will be adding rogue levels only from now on; at the end of the campaign, he should be a 6th-level bard/14th-level rogue. I also decided we'd be adding in a female NPC bard who could handle the "inspire courage" front for the PCs while Xandro was free to do something cool, preferably with a cool new weapon. I've decided that the weapon (a rapier, by Harry's choice) will add the +3d6 sneak attack damage he's missed out on by taking those six bard levels; he'll be behind on the other rogue stuff but I think that will help him feel more like he's pulling his own weight while still getting to do fun stuff. ("I continue to inspire courage" is not a particularly fun way to spend round after round, he's decided. We tried warning him at the beginning of the campaign that the bard is inherently a support character, but he wanted to try it out for himself.)

- - -

T-shirt worn: My Einstein T-shirt, a good representation of someone associated with a "brainstorm."
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